After a (much needed) lie-in I head out to the park ‘Jardin Maria Clare Lobregat’ with Jenn, safe in the knowledge that ladyboys to Muslim fundamentalists are like garlic to vampires. Maria Clare Lobregat was the previous and (seemingly very popular) mayor of Zamboanga and this delightful park, filled with birds and butterflies, was built in her memory.
Funny – here’s me expecting Beirut in the 1980s. However, all is not sweetness and light – there are parts of Zamboanga that I was told – in no uncertain terms – I was ill-advised to visit, but we stayed away from them in the same way that you’d stay away from Scunthorpe if you ever visited Britain. Easy.
Jenn’s dream is to move to Thailand. She currently works in Malaysia and gets on with most people there, except for the few who call her haram and ask her to leave the house. I asked if she’d ever pulled a Crying Game on someone, but she said that she’s too honest.
Later we headed down to the waterfront where there are loads of cafes and bars (sadly none serving alcohol today). There’s a stage for concerts and a large outdoor cinema screen for films. Cool! There we met up with some of Jenn’s mates. I’ve met loads of Filipinos already on my travels, especially on the many boat journeys I’ve been on and they have to be some of my favourite people in the world – always ready to smile and laugh and everybody just seems so damn happy to see me.
Later on that evening, we were having a coffee when Jenn told me that the current mayor of Zamboanga – Marie Clare Lobregat’s son, Celso, was sitting on the table behind us. Jenn introduced us and Celso and I had a good chat about Zam and he introduced me to most of the top brass of the local government who he was having coffee with. Can’t be too bad of a place if here are all the city councillors out having a drink in the open. I somehow couldn’t imagine the top brass of Detroit doing the same.
So to sum up my weekend: Friday: Orang-Utans, Saturday: Muslim fundamentalists, Sunday: Ladyboys. Shame we didn’t all meet up in the same place, it would have made one hell of a tea-party.
I was woken by Jenn knocking on my hotel room door at 7.25am. It was time to go. We grabbed some breakie in the Chowking restaurant downstairs and then headed out to the ferry office to buy my return ticket to Borneo – this time I thought I’d splash out and get a berth in a four-person cabin. The ship was due to leave at midday, so we had time to go to the supermarket and grab some supplies (wet-wipes, mainly) and then it was down to the docks through the surprisingly cheerful mean-streets of Zamboanga.
I said my fond farewells to Jenn and thanked her for looking after me all weekend (although do I shake her hand or give her a kiss?). I wished her the best of luck getting to Thailand and promised to give her a shout next time I’m in town.
Leaving Philippines I was more than a little miffed that I didn’t have the time nor resources to make it to Manilla. Cramped into that tiny Zamboanga hotel ‘room’ (‘slot’ would be a more accurate noun) and having to suffer a trickle of cold water on my head as some lame excuse for a shower whilst staring forlornly at the seatless, broken communal toilet mere inches away from my bare feet, I couldn’t help but kick myself: a very very nice person who works for a major casino company here in The Philippines had offered me a free couch if I stayed in the capital… only I could have stood up from this particular couch, glided across my massive room in my complimentary bathrobe, sipping a G&T from the minibar, and flung my weary body onto the KING-SIZE BED that awaited me in a FIVE-STAR HOTEL… had I been able to take her up on the offer.
Ack! But The Quest, The Glorious Quest…
These windmills aren’t going to tilt at themselves, you know.
If I’m getting a little bit of Don Quixote complex, it’s because these last eighteen countries I need to visit are going to be nigh on impossible: borders drawn across continents by man are much easier to traverse than ones drawn across the ocean by nature: all of the final eighteen countries are islands or parts of islands, and since day sixteen, islands (together with visas) have proven the bane of The Odyssey.
With the lure of cheap plane rides knocking out any chance of a ferry service, attempting to get around this planet on ships has been a nightmare: the Caribbean took two months longer to complete than it should have, my infamous trip to Cape Verde ended in disaster and me being stuck there for over six weeks. Getting to Sao Tome and back cost me three weeks and I left Mauritius on 1st November 2009 and didn’t arrive back in Africa until 17th December.
And I still haven’t been to the infernal Seychelles!
This year I was trapped in Dubai for a month waiting for a ship, I tried to get to Sri Lanka from India, but after wasting two weeks India was having none of it, and that scuppered my plans for getting to the Maldives as well.
I’ve timed my entrance into Oceania perfectly to coincide with the summer cyclone season which runs until next May, so that even if I do find a well-meaning skipper he or she wouldn’t be able to take me to any of the TWELVE Pacific Island States even if they wanted to.
My only choices at this point are cargo ships and cruise liners. It’s going to take a lot of time and a helluva lot of patience. If you think I might get this finished this year, you’re sadly mistaken. If I make it to the Solomon Islands by Christmas I’ll be doing well.
Look at the stats for this year:
Countries visited per month (2010)
And most of that was OVERLAND. Even if I somehow keep up this rather dismal average of five countries a month (last year it was eleven), it’s still going to take four more months to do this: but I’m steeling myself for it to take much longer than that. At this rate I’ll be hitting country 200 around the time the last Harry Potter film gets released.
Then you’ll have to find somebody else’s tedious blog to read 😉
The ship back to Borneo was the same one I arrived on, but going back it was all but empty. It turns out that the people on the top deck who were sectioned off from the rest of us (I regrettably made a joke about them being the Irish third class passengers on The Titanic) were all being deported back to The Philippines after being caught working illegally in Malaysia.
Disturbingly, some of them had spent up to a year in jail before being sent home.
But the lack of return passengers did have one positive outcome: I didn’t have to share my cabin with anyone.
The karaoke machine fixed I spent the evening drinking, singing and laughing with the zany and oh-so-Filipino crew. What a great bunch of lads and girls. Although after this weekend, I’m having trouble deciding which is which…