For the past couple of weeks we have been warned that November 1st is All Saints Day and that the day after is All Souls Day. I don't know much about All Saints Day nor All Souls Day, however we were told to prepare for some major celebrations in the Philippines during this time. It turns out that the majority of people, some 80%, are Roman Catholic in the Philippines. This is all thanks to the colonisation of the Philippines by the Spanish during the 16th century, who, apart from almost completely wiping out any form of pre-Spanish culture such as the script and literature, introduced Catholicism is a massive way. Since then All Saints day has been widely celebrated and the Filipinos do it 'Filipino style' in their local cemeteries.
We happened to be in Dumaguete, a hip university town in the south of Negros, which is hip thanks to the Americans. Shortly after they took 'over' colonial duties from the Spanish at the turn of the 20th century, the American's set up a schools, colleges and universities in a serious way. Literacy shot up from a few percent to over 50% within a few years which was no small achievement and really goes to show the differences in colonial thought between the Spanish and Americans. The American's believed in self rule for the Filipinos but only through Education, while the Spanish left ruling to the colonial power. But hey that's ok ? They liberated and 'saved' their subjects through Christianity. The Americans left it to missionaries. Hindsight is easy, but I am with the American's on this one and the Philippines is a whole lot better for it.
Duamguete Cemetery on the evening of All Saints
So we headed down the the cemetery on the evening of All Saints Day in Dumaguete. The cemetery was packed full of people sitting around their family graves with food, drink and candles. In between this were getto-blasters, food stalls and souvenir sellers giving the place the feeling of a mini Glastonbury. At first we were very nervous about walking on graves, but once we realised that it was quite ok and normal, we just followed suit. And as we walked around, we were quickly asked to join in peoples celebrations by sharing some food and drink. Result? Unable to refuse we ended up at a hog roast washed down with San Miguel followed by Poker till 3am. Yes, that was a full Texas Hold'em tournament, next to the family grave until the wee hours of the morning, with a large amount of beer and Tanduay flowing. The poker game was a lot of fun, although I did have to bite my winning streak and make sure I lost before the evening was out. So once we were down to three people, I went from Chip leader to out in three hands. Disaster !
On reflection it was a great celebration, no sadness, just remembrance for loved ones over a light evening of parting. And who would have thought? Celebrating on top of graves? All-in-all a great evening and one of my highlights of the Philippines. We got to know a Filipino family quite well and were made to feel very welcome. Fantastic.
Mikee's Tricycle on Siquijor ... A 175cc Kawasaki powering the cockpit.
Earlier in the day we planned to visit a set of old Volcano Caldera's in the area, called the twin lakes. Normally we would consider getting a tricycle to a nearby site, but we heard that the road was pretty rough and even a trike would not make it. Which is quite surprising, as Trikes, the Filipino version of a Tuk Tuk, are pretty tough. Consisting of a powerful bike, anywhere from a 100cc to 250cc depending on the local terrain, which is then welded to a carriage. But its no ordinary SE asian sidecar ... these side carriages have been really thought out by the Filipinos, who have sussed out a great design to maximise space efficiency. You quite regularly see a trike with two people up front, four in the rear and two on the back seat of the bike... that's eight people plus driver and they are all traveling in reasonable comfort. In my opinion that beats an India Tuk-Tuk anyday. I wonder how many people an Indian driver would be able to fit into one of these...!
But due to the rough track, we were advised that a motorbike is the only way. In town we were met by chaps flogging a ride to the lakes in their Habal-Habal's. Which is a motorbike with a extended rear... so they can fit up to five people on it at once, giving the bikes their names 'Habal-Habal' which means 'Pigs Copulating'. Another ingenious Filipino invention.
Habal-Habal ... seats five copulating Pigs
We did however pass on copulating like pigs and rented a pair of motorbikes. The lakes were rather good, apart from the extortionate price to get a boat to the other side of the lake.
Finally, I've had to finalised my plans home via Hong Kong, New Zealand and the Cook Islands. After seven months on the road its a little bit of a let down thinking of returning home. The most gutting of all is the realisation that to get to New Zealand, our last major stop, I have an ten hour flight from Hong Kong. Thats long haul and a little sobering. Gulp.Tomorrow we are off to Siquijor a small island a few miles away which is going to be a taste of small town, small island Philippines. We can be sure there will not be a Mcdonalds.