Chicken Handbags

June 16, 2015 / by / 0 Comment

Tonight I’m sitting by the rails of a big shipping vessel as it makes its way slowly eastwards from Cebu City in the heart of the Philippines to Surigao in the eastmost province of Mindanao.  From there I’ll hop on another ferry to take me to Siargao, where lies the world renowned (and currently not working) surf spot dubbed ‘Cloud 9′. This time of year forecasts says the surf spot is flat, so there’s little chance of meeting any big surfers, but a buddy I met a weekend ago at a backpacker’s in Cebu City invited me to Siargao. Fast forward to a weekend of milling around and exploring Cebu City, I find myself on board the Cokaliong Shipping Inc’s overnight ferry, being cooled by the sea-breeze as I type.


Making plans for Siargao was a pretty tough choice as the original plan was to head to Southern Cebu to Argao, a skim-boarding town (which is currently flat as a sandal), and then Oslob to see the whale sharks and camp by a waterfall.

But if you want to catch a bird you don’t grasp it so tight that it dies in your hand.

An iffy weather forecast and a phone call to confirm that Argao was flat was all I needed to put Southern Cebu off for another day.


More about the ferry…real foreigner speak here. The whole experience is quite the adventure for a first-timer to say the least. Most people, according to the internet, choose to fly in to Siargao. But since my first year in university, I’d always really wanted to opt for a shipping freighter as a travel option. Well, that ambition is real now. I’m surrounded by endless rows of bunk-beds filled with local Filipinos. Halfway through this paragraph my computer gets to critically low battery and I weave through all the sleeping people to the power outlet, where there is no wind.


Anyway, Cokaliong Shipping sails out of Cebu City Pier 1 which is a bit of a chaotic area. It took some convincing from my local friends about safety to chide me into cabbing there – I liked riding the jeepneys and was planning to go from Jeepney from Maribago to the Metro ferry to Pier 3 and walk over to P1. For the whole cab ride my driver Jumar solidified this advice about safety with a story of how his cab got jacked just last week in that area when he parked for lunch break and came back to a car with a magically rolled down passenger window minus cellphone and cash.  In the following conversation Jumar filled me in on how these streets cradle many ‘drug-crazed’ criminals who will do serious gunpoint bad to finance their next fix. Having seen my first small handgun in Cebu just the same weekend (unloaded, but aimed at my melon for laughs) I wouldn’t say Jumar’s stories are too far off. But I don’t think these criminals are bad people. To me they’re just poor souls swallowed by the chaos of a Philippine city by fortune of birth. But of course, everyone has a choice with consequences to be held in light.



I copied this fellow who moved his mattress by the rails to get away from the stuffiness of the inner deck.



Befriending and seeing the good side of too many of these ‘bad guys’ and ‘gangsters’ totally destroyed my brainwashed perspective of what a ‘bad person’ is. The ferry challenges my constructs of luxury and poverty, too. Destitute is in the eyes of the beholder. We’re all just scared of unknowns. Experience lifts the veil of fear. The first time I dived off a vertical coral shelf into the deep unending blue was a scary experience until I saw what was out there. Once you do it you realize the blue is less full of sharks and more frequented by friendly sea turtles than you’d imagined. Just like the ferry and the coral shelf, reality is shaped by one’s experiences. The sea breeze is luxury enough to me.


There is nothing to do on this ferry but type and contemplate – thinking back to my time at HKU I’d say it’s nice to get away from the U-life bubble habits of my alma mater (famed and prestigious temple of learned minds that it is, according to itself). Out here, no one’s trying to force any ideas or faux traditions down my throat. It strikes me as irony that I’m more intellectually stimulated by my encounters with the outside world than the majority of people I was surrounded by at school. That’s a minor tragedy but probably a personal shortcoming considering that I was uninhibited from choosing my company. Anyway, it’s nice to get out into the world :-) .


Musings have to come to an end eventually. I changed my bunk-bed an hour ago because some guy on the lower bunk brought on board with him about 8 chickens individually carried in what I can only describe as some sort of curious woven-bamboo handbags. I’m sure there’s a local name for these chicken handbags, but I don’t know it. Tomorrow I’m waking up to the small port of Surigao to forward me onward to Cloud 9…

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Two or three of these buggers started rooster crowing non-stop from 5AM onwards :- )

Grad trip travel log 15 June 2015