As usual, my impulsive optimism quickly fades. On my return from a one month shopping trip to Manila, not only did I discover an increasing number of seemingly unimportant things missing from my belongings, such as my sowing kit (invaluable for fixing tents ripped from the wind, or shorts with rips in sensitive places), some flashlights earmarked for guests, lightbulbs, and most importantly, the little portable amplifier for my viola, but yet another new phone is acting up again.
Ben brings over his construction crew to build us a big, communal hut for cooking and shelter from the rain.
I seem to be plagued by these phones. In Thailand, my first experience with ecstasy resulted in an hour long, rigorous dance in shallow water, as the waves and tide crept into shore and slowly up my shorts to render my three year old HTC useless. On a friend’s advice, I replaced this with a Nokia N8. Great camera, sturdy construction, but small display. And like most phones it seems, with a preprogrammed expiry date of about three years.
Rarely a nail or spike, a few notches, and 120 thick nylon string. Simple, genius and very sturdy.
For a while I had my eye on a Samsung, and one day in Kuala Lumpur I was dragged to the side by two aggressive salesmen. I spent an hour researching their offer on the net, at their stinky little stand on the edge of a mall, handed them the cash for their great deal, but when they came back from the storage room (probably just another stand), they asked, “How would you like to pay for the rest? Cash, credit card?” I really must learn not to be so trusting and gullible, but to hand over cash only once I carefully test a product, and equally, check the battery. I learned then that a different battery model is the first and foremost sign that the product is an imitation, and hence became the owner of my first LG Chinese back engineering ripoff.
Using a simple water hose to make sure the heights are equal.
At least, that is what was recommended to me by the snide salesman after I refused to pay for the rest of their Samsung swindle. The LG, a long, thin phone that looked like it would crack at first sneeze, held out pretty well until I went out on another boat tour with Benji. He loves the local brandy, and the combination with my beloved beer always seems to end in one disaster or another. In this case, after a wonderful evening on a deserted island with a boatload of beautiful women, he found me crawling on all fours towards their tents. He managed to divert me to my own, or rather rolled me towards it, such that I woke up the next morning with the highly predictable crack in my new phone.
On my second shopping spree in Manila, I was told it could not be repaired, and even if they could find the display for this imitation, it would cost as much to buy a new one.
Benches for seating.
The woman at the repair shop confidently suggests another LG phone, and predictably, I have gullible faith in her confidence. But on taking it back to my host, I find the internet extremely slow. Perhaps there are too many users in the metropolis. Now heading back south on the overnight ferry, I try one tower after another as I lay in my bunk bed on the overnight ferry, but the internet is still incredibly slow. Eventually I take it apart, check the battery, and discover, once again, I have purchased another fake. This time from some company in Qatar which has no contact on their website, but they do have 4G in that country – not something which is yet available in the Philippines. The sales lady confidently sold me some surplus and useless product, and I spend the next two months on Patoyo island with the most frustrating and slow internet experience I can imagine (since the local towers are 3G, my new phone defaults to 2G – a snail’s crawl).
Not only that, but it wont even connect to my laptop. I am forced to use the old Nokia as a bluetooth relay between the two. In a very inefficient manner, I manage to download and upload files with my customers, answer basic emails, and for real internet work, I use a 12V motorcycle battery a volunteer brought up from Princesa to circumnavigate my way around a volcanic point and connect my router to the tower above San Miguel, for a few hours before the battery dies. It’s a long walk to the point, I bring my umbrella as shelter from the searing heat, other times against the rain, lying uncomfortably on the jagged, volcanic rock, until I finally give up and decide to take a boat every day to San Miguel. I need more solid internet time if I am to promote this place or answer customer enquiries.
A somewhat expensive solution, with hours lost every day climbing over the mountain ridge, on the boat and setting up the router, but manageable, until my new inverter stops working. Was setting up for another regular day when smoke oozes out of the fan hole. The repairman later said I must have confused polarities. Without 220V I cannot charge anything and can no longer use my laptop’s limited battery to work or watch movies at night, as I lie in my small tent, staring up into the darkness, contemplating my existence.
Changing Winds, Changing Times
Since the trade winds changed only a few weeks ago, the waves have been magnanimous, not only forcing me to climb over the mountain ridge just to catch a boat every day to San Miguel, but the coast guard is preventing the boat operators from leaving harbour. At one point, a whole boatload of my guests sinks on its way to the mainland, the engine dying midstream while the operator struggles frantically with his little paddle. All were okay, albeit wet and miserable, while some lost their valuable electronics, such as their macbook.
The wind was so strong it completely ripped off the netting part of the volleyball/badminton net. About a week later even this remaining rope was gone.
Each day I make the trip to town, to charge up my battery, put in some internet time, and stocked with two t-shirts and extra underwear in my computer bag in case a boat can leave to Coron, where I can fix or replace the much needed inverter. After a week one finally does manifest and I look forward to another juicy round of chicken burritos for breakfast every morning.
Ben even built us a fancy toilet, to which I added a hinged door and the cushioned seat I had bought in Manila.
The repairman lacks the spare parts to fix my inverter, so I buy a new one and look forward to finally getting a new Samsung. I am prepared to pay top dollar, as long as I get something that works. I cross my way from one end of town to the other, but am appalled that the only smart phone on sale in all of town is a brand I never heard of – Cherry Mobile. Apparently Filipino, with nonexistent online service. The sales lady instructs me that they do not provide service or repairs, and that it has a warrantee of only one week. I have no other choice but to buy their most expensive model, have been extremely careful never to roll on top of it, and should be grateful that it has lasted me six months (and that it paid for itself three fold since it helped me get a $330 job shortly after purchase). Together with all the short-lived flashlights I have bought locally, extension cords, tents and virtually anything else I have purchased in this country, I promise myself that I will only buy from ebay from now on. At least there the sellers care about their ratings and will take all measures to make sure you are happy, as opposed to locals who just shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, you bought it a whole three days ago, so…”.
Coron turns out to be another blast. The people and night vibes are great, but it does put a noticeable dent in my wallet. I run into my good buddy Rodney, who sold me the African drum last time I was in town. He takes me back to his shop, serving as a secret bar in the evening, we have a great jam session with his various instruments, drums and friends, and weed is passed around the table in all its copious glory. I decide to stock up for the journey back.
The children love to hang out in the new communal hut and help beautiful the place with their little projects.
After all my shopping and nightly activities, I realise I forgot to transfer funds from my PayPal account before coming here. Since the start of the year PayPal has a new policy whereby its debit/credit cards are only issued to US citizens, forcing me to first transfer funds to my Bank of America account in order to withdraw funds from the debit card of that bank. This transfer takes 3-5 business days and I find myself with only a few thousand pesos in pocket.
I have my own projects, such as building this table for beers etc. next to the hammock, or securing my tent against the fierce wind and rain.
Fortunately, some new volunteers just landed in town on their way to my island and I was able to transfer funds to their paypal account. It has become routine for me to get cash from arriving volunteers who have a paypal account, since there is no atm in the vicinity.
The days go by as I wait with my new volunteers for a boat to take us back through the choppy waters, when I receive my first serious enquiry for a private boat tour to El Nido, from a group of 6 Hollanders. Since they too are in town, we decide to meet at my favourite chicken burrito breakfast venue. Since we are having trouble getting a ferry back, I ask the Dutch group if we can join them. They agree, but not before they grill me for details of the tour, wanting to know which islands we will visit and other matters. I stare blankly at them, not really knowing any of the answers and stuttering with guesses. After our meeting I surf Tripadvisor for a list of places with the best reviews, looking forward to document our route for future enquirers. However, it is too late, as I later receive a text message informing me that the group of six, after lengthy discussion, decided instead on Tao Expeditions at more than ten times my price. I realise I must better prepare myself for future enquiries, which may require I join a few of these tours and explore new ground myself. They tell me I can keep the thousand pesos deposit and explain that, since this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for them, they want to make sure they are happy. I think these sailing Dutch missed out on a great, custom journey, especially considering my new stock of green, but the day is saved as my travel agent scrounges up a boat and off we go the next day anyway.
Enjoying some last “Filipool” at Henkey’s before moving to the next island. Slides on chalk like shuffle board, and the table rotates so you don’t have to move.