I arrived to the Philippines a few days early in order to enjoy the diving in Sabang before the program started. After a couple days Sam, the senior programs officer, and Hannah, the Reef-World intern, met me for lunch. Within the first ten minutes of conversation about my travels and experience so far in the country, Sam pulled out what I would soon come to realize is the often spoken tag line, “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” Basically meaning that you should expect the unexpected. Things will happen but almost never has you have envisioned planned them to.
For example, I tried to extend my visa before heading out to Malapascua in order to save a day’s trip back to the mainland once there. To do this I had to give my passport, forms and money to the local immigration branch. They then send everything about 2 hours away to Calapan for processing. At this point it is a little murky what happens, but what I gathered is that they fax all the info to Manila before approving it and sending the passport back to my local branch where I would pick up my passport again the next day. The first time I tried to extend, the office had changed their hours from the week before to close for the day at lunch. Then the next time I tried they took the passport and everything seemed alright. However I woke up to a text the next morning telling me that they couldn’t process it and I could pick it up next week (due to them only being open M-W). Well this wasn’t going to work since we are flying to Cebu on monday. After a quick phone call, they said that the passport was in Calapan waiting processing and they could mail it to Cebu when it had finished processing where I could pick it up. They couldn’t currently process it because there had been too many power outages (they seem to happen 3-4 times a week) and it had broken the servers. I don’t really want my passport just floating around God-knows-where with the hope that it would meet me in Cebu. Instead Alan, a program officer, and I took the 2 hour hunched back jeepney ride to Calapan to hope that the reports were wrong and we could extend our visa or at least retrieve my passport.
After the warm ride in a crammed jeepney full of people and a handful of chickens we arrived at the Calapan immigration office. With surprising ease we were able to determine that the servers were in fact kaputt and retrieved my passport (and a full refund!). We rewarded ourselves for the journey with McDonald’s due to rumors of them having curly fries. They are called McTwisters, but were not as delicious as Arby’s. For the way back we were able to snag a van with A/C and plenty of leg room for only 20 peso more (~50 cents). This allowed us great views of the seaside (reminiscent almost of the road to Hana) which we couldn’t see on the way there due to us being too tall for the jeepney. Even this ride wasn’t without the Philippine touch though as we stopped numerous times so the driver could pick up some chicken feed, fruit and take a leak on the side of the road.
All considered, besides the occasional swindle amounting to the loss of a dollar or two, the people have been extremely nice and amazingly helpful. As long as you don’t get frustrated and can just go with the flow then the Philippines is very enjoyable. I mean who wouldn’t enjoy hanging out with goats every morning when walking through the coconut grove on the way to class?
Now hears to hoping that our day and a half of travel to Malapascua happens without a hitch.