As some of you may already know, they really don’t refer to the rural areas of the Philippines here as ‘the jungle’.. even though that’s what it is. A jungle. It’s not a metaphorical ‘concrete jungle’, like New York or Los Angeles. But a real jungle with coconut and banana trees, hanging vines, green foliage at every turn and let’s not forget about the cobras. Somewhere along the way everyone here decided it was preferable to begin calling it ‘the Province’. I suppose that sounds a bit more inviting. It almost has a regal sound to it. But, it’s basically the jungle.
But here in the province.. not so many such luxuries. The nearest fresh-water store is about three-quarters of a mile away. There are two sari-sari stores within walking distance. Each is about the size of a large bathroom and they only sell small packets of detergent, soy sauce, iced tea, coffee, soda pop, eggs and two brands of rum. So, not much of a store really. Unless you’re an alcoholic who lives off of hard-boiled eggs. Nightclub? Forget about it. Cathouse? None. It’s possible one of the neighbors might cut my hair with some scissors but I’ll wait til my next trip into town instead.
No, life in the jungle simply does not have all the amenities the city has. But that’s a good thing as well. For one thing, no traffic. Unless you count the occasional dog or rooster that meanders by the fence a few times a day. So, with no traffic.. no smog or honking horns. I’ve almost forgotten what a honking horn sounds like out here. And while every so often someone might burn their trash, it’s one neighbor about an acre away once in a great while. Unlike the city where it seemed someone was burning trash somewhere nearby on a daily basis. That can kinda suck if you’ve got your clothes hanging out to dry. I’ve since come to learn that the polite etiquette of trash burning is to do it at night. By then people should have their laundry in. Plus, at night there’s not much breeze so the smoke goes straight up rather than into your neighbor’s home while they are cooking lunch. In fact, the first of my faux pas when I arrived was during my initial clean-up of the yard.
The previous owners had left quite a bit of trash in the yard in their haste to move on. Plastic bags, old clothes, broken plastic toys, etc. That would not do. So one of my first orders of business was to clean up the yard, pile up all the stuff that was useless and light that baby up. Well, that happened to be about lunch time for the rest of the village and a comment I got from a neighbor later was, “So.. you burned a lot of plastic yesterday?” That was about all they said. Filipinos are not into confrontation. Subtlety is the name of the game here. But that nuance escaped me that day so my response was, “Yep, burned every last piece of plastic on the property.. I’ll never have to do that again.” They seemed somewhat relieved, so in retrospect I guess I’d call it a draw.
Another thing I’d anticipated and quickly found to be true when I got here was in reference to privacy and anonymity. This I was ready for and expected. I grew up in a rural environment for the most part but have always enjoyed visits to the city as well. Now, on Mactan I lived in a barangay (neighborhood) known as Basak, Lapu Lapu. I found out right away that despite the hundreds of people walking the streets at any given time, locals took notice of “the new foreigner” the first day I showed up. Continuing on throughout my stay there it seemed like everyone was texting my coming and going every time I stepped out of my studio. People I knew locally already knew I’d either been out to a certain restaurant, or had talked to some pretty girl or which particular night I’d gone to the local night club on the island. Now, Basak is not a big city atmosphere. It’s more like a small town that I preferred over the downtown area of Cebu. Yet even in this quaint, somewhat gritty residence I’d taken up it was already evident that the bamboo-grapevine was alive and well all around me.
So upon deciding to move here to the province I knew I’d need to extrapolate that even further. There is only one main road connecting “the village” to civilization. I live at the very end of that road. About 100 feet down from my place the road ends into a jungle-filled ravine that even I am not insane enough to venture down into. So, in order for me to get out of my place and into town I need to pass by the few houses between me and the jungle road, and vice versa. On my second trip here, when I was still scouting the area in search of a place to stay, even back then people knew I was about to enter the village area before I even made it from the jungle to the village. One older woman invited me in for lunch to get to know the new Kano who was interested in living there. She already knew that I had met her neighbors and been there once before for Christmas. Basically, there’s not a lot going on around here so when anyone moves about or there’s a new face in the village.. people start texting. Kinda like ground squirrels keeping a lookout for the entire community.
Texting and ‘chisme’ (gossip) are an integral part of how a remote village keeps tabs on what’s going on in the local community. I’m sure that even if I were to sneak three hookers into my place during the black of night, by morning everyone would know their names and texting the girl’s families with details. It’s not like the big city where everyone just minds their own business and forgets your face ten seconds later. No. The smaller the neighborhood you live in out here, the more you are under the microscope. Now, I only mention this because some expats are pretty fanatical about being anonymous and are really into having their privacy. For them, maybe the province life is not the best choice. You would think that moving to a remote area would give you more privacy but I’m here to tell you, no.. it doesn’t work that way. Not here. You’ll have more privacy and anonymity in the downtown area where there are more faces to mix in with. And even THEN.. within just a month or so enough people will know you by face that they will begin to take note of when and where they see you. Again, it’s a cultural thing. In the States, you’re practically invisible in a big city. Here, anyone from the cashier to the lady selling pineapples in the street market could know someone who knows you and they’ll text that you are strolling through the street just for the hell of it.
Now, the good thing is that in my own yard and home I have plenty of privacy. Nobody is peering into windows or any of that nonsense. It’s just the public coming and going that seems to grab people’s attention. Although there is the issue with the window-less homes and Nipa-huts here. You see, since the weather here on Bohol only moves in about an eight degree window all year at a warm temperature.. there’s really no need for windows in regards to the cold. Not everyone puts glass into the windows and many of the nipa-huts have an open space to the sky between the apex of the roof and the top of the wall. A bird could literally fly right through the home without skipping a beat. It’s just never cold here. Now, me, I close up the shuttered windows at night to keep the giant spiders out. I haven’t put in screens yet so that’s the only way I’ll keep them out. In the evening I enjoy the soft, cool breeze so until I go to bed I have the windows open.
Well.. as it turns out, sound travels very easily in a jungle that is dead quiet apart from maybe some crickets and the occasional rooster that can’t seem to tell time. My first few days here two neighbors made the comment that I “talk very loud at night”. What the hell? My home is made of brick. How is anyone hearing me through the window and across half an acre of jungle? But apparently they can when I’m making calls via my laptop back to the States late at night due to the time difference. And I’m not one of those people with a loud, booming voice either. In conversation I even tend to get lost in my head and drift off sometimes thinking other people can simply hear my thoughts. So it was kinda surprising to hear that talking in my own house was keeping people up late at night. But I’m still willing to chalk it up to them purposely listening out of curiosity’s sake since I’m the new-guy out here. Because I’ve listened and I don’t ever hear anyone else having dinner conversation from their homes, some of which are made of bamboo walls. Right now it’s 2a.m. and outside it is extremely quiet apart from the crickets. Same as when you go camping and can hear a twig crack from 40 yards away. It’s that quiet here every night. But I like it, it’s very peaceful.
Being so far away from town, one thing I instinctively put into practice right away was to never throw anything away until first asking myself, “Could this possibly be used for something else?” It’s like being Robinson Crusoe out here. Okay, maybe not that dramatic. But really, you don’t just throw away something like a mayonnaise jar, twine, wire (I’ve found so many uses for wire here).. if it even seems like something re-usable the prudent thing to do is clean it and store it in the pantry room for future use. One thing I use daily are mosquito coils. Usually one in the morning and then at nightfall since that is when the little bastards come out to draw my blood. I had at first fashioned a mosquito-coil burning dish from a plate and a small grill I’d found in the yard. Together they’d gather the ashes from the burnt coils. But the grill was sometimes extinguishing the coils so I figured hanging the coil was a better idea. So I took a piece of baling-wire I’d saved from the yard during clean-up and, with a bit of bending and some imagination I fashioned together a vertical hanger for the mosquito-coils. Now they burn longer, slower and I don’t have to keep re-lighting them.
Another case involved my first plastic bottle of drinkable water. I bought a tall, three-gallon plastic container when I first moved here and a few days later bought a permanent 5-gallon dispenser. As I pondered over the empty 3-gallon one I decided that with one minor alteration it would make a nice make-shift terrarium for growing some garlic. Even comes with a nifty handle for moving it into the rain for watering. I found a punctured bicycle inner-tube tucked into the rafter of the porch. I already know one thing I’ll be using that for.. making a bad-ass slingshot. For using on.. cobras. Besides, sling-shots are cool. It might come in handy for the bats that invade the fruit tree late at night as well. Bottom-line, you don’t just throw stuff away here. Plastic bags, bottles and cardboard I store in the pantry-room now rather than burn since I hear there’s some dude who comes around on weekends to buy that stuff up. I’ll probably just give it to the neighbor to redeem it. Hopefully that will help to make up for smoking out their lunch my first week here.
Speaking of water, water is Life. Without clean, drinkable water you are done. Especially here where you can sweat like a southern politician if you’re out moving around in the sun during the day for some reason. Even before I moved to the Philippines my sons got me into the habit of having bottles of drinking water in every room. All day long, I’m sipping water. First and last thing, next to my bed is a bottle of water. On my PC desk, another bottle. Three more in the fridge and a few half-frozen in the freezer on reserve. You gotta stay hydrated here or you’re just asking for heat stroke, fatigue, dizziness and a possible urinary tract infection (UTI). Soda and syrup drinks will not cut it. Gotta drink that water. Now, according to an article I read about a month ago, the Philippine government was happy to announce that the majority of piped water in most major cities was now ‘drinkable’. Yah, that’s nice. Me, I’m doing like the locals do and buying filtered water in 5-gallon jugs like they’ve done for years. That’s what I use for drinking and cooking up soup. The tap water I use for bathing, laundry, dishes and I’ll even use it for brushing my teeth. But that’s the limit for tap water. If I were to get stranded without water for some reason, well.. then I’ll boil it and take my chances. Until then, it’s purified water for me. Here they call it ‘mineral water’, not filtered water.
In regards to bathing here, it’s actually a bit nicer than when I was on Mactan. I still bathe the customary way here, with a basin and large scoop. That’s not a problem, I only make use of a real showerhead when I’m staying in a hotel these days. Now, on Mactan the water came from a water tower on the property and the water was always either cold or semi-cold. That was okay though since a cool shower is kinda nice in this heat here. But here on Bohol I can almost tell the weather outside simply by the temperature of my water. Here the water in pumped in via a 2-inch diameter black pipe that is not even two inches below the dirt. In many portions leading to my house the black pipe is above ground, snaking its way through the jungle floor. So, during the early morning hours, the water is cool. From 11am until 4pm, the water is somewhat hot. Not real hot, but just above warm and it’s kinda nice. With sundown, the water begins to cool again. Now, if you just absolutely have to have hot water you can purchase a ‘tankless’ water heater which creates hot water on-demand as you use it. It’s a fairly small contraption that bolts to the wall indoors and gives you hot water. Me, with this heat.. I can live without it just fine.
If you’re going to live in the jungle, I mean.. province then one other thing you have got to get used to is interacting and warring with Bugs. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t find some insect coming into play with my daily life. Most dramatically, in fact, was just this very afternoon. I’d gotten a phone call and as I was chatting away I decided to get comfortable in the hammock out on the patio and began to gently swing away in it as usual.
As I was talking the swaying stopped and there I was, just being motionless in the hammock as I talked on the phone. From beyond my feet I could hear a dull, slow crunching sound and just as I identified the sound.. it was too late; the hammock-pole broke in half and I landed flat on my back onto the cement only two feet below me. I didn’t get hurt at all, but I was bummed now at the hammock being temporarily put out of commission. Apparently, as I inspected the thick, wooden post that the hammock was attached to.. a colony of termites had been busy for years hollowing out the inside and chose that particular moment to remove the very last fiber of wood that could sustain my weight on the hammock. That’s when the pole snapped in half, leaving my stretched out on the patio half-tangled in a flat hammock.
I’m sure the termites got a real kick out of it. But I got the last laugh as within minutes the salamanders on the fence showed up for a feast on their colony which was now laid bare. I took some photos, those salamanders took no prisoners. It was a termite buffet. Circle of life, and all that.
On another occasion I saw what I first thought was a piece of thick cable. Nope. It turned out to be the largest millipede I have ever come across. I took some photos of him before letting him continue on in the yard. To give you an idea of it’s size, that wooden table he’s on is 3 inches thick. I don’t mind millipedes. They’re pretty benign and content to just roam around. I’ve mentioned before the giant (non-poisonous) spiders. During my 7 month stay on Mactan I only killed one and encountered another outside. But here, on Bohol, to date I’ve now killed 13 of them, including the one that had previously gotten away and scurried under my bed. You’d think I would simply toss them in the trash and be done with it. No, not even a dead spider or cockroach goes to waste in the jungle.. I’ve found a use for them as well. You see, here they have two kinds of ants I’ve seen so far. There are the GIANT ants, which are almost a half-inch long. They are incredibly big. Dark black and fortunately I have only seen them away from the house out in the wild foliage near the beach. I have never seen an ant get so big, ever, in my whole life. Those things are just off the chart insane and I’m glad they don’t come around the house.
The tiny, red ants though.. they do come around the house and are a force to be reckoned with. They come in three sizes, the smallest ones are extremely fast and are about 1/10th the size of a grain of sand. At first I thought they were fleas, but upon closer inspection found they are the fast ‘scout’ ants that tell the others where food is. The medium-sized red ants make up about 90 percent of the visible colony above ground and do all the grunt work of hauling food back to the hole while the rest are the ‘big’ ones who carry larger items such as entire grains of rice. But the giant, black ants dwarf even the big, red ants being about ten times their size.
One way or another the tiny red ants always seem to find their way into the house. Baygon will nuke them for a period but they always resurface somewhere else eventually. Colonies probably number in the millions of ants so spraying is only a temporary measure. They want any bits of food and if there is any in the house lying around, they’ll find it. The thing about these red ants though is that they are vicious and have a very strong bit to them. Not as bad as a wasp, but it’s a sharp pain and wills stop you from what you’re doing when they bite. So, getting back to the dead bugs I swat every so often. At my front door is a colony that managed to break their way up from under the cement. I have two choices. Either continually spray and sweep as I get bitten while they scout around my house or.. give them a peace offering.
Thus, every dead bug I swat gets swept right out the door to their colony entrance. So long as there is food there, they leave me alone. I’ve been informally timing them. It takes them 10 seconds to recognize it’s edible and 40 seconds to completely cover whatever it is for dismantling. And these ants work tirelessly. As an experiment, yesterday I laid out a three-inch section of hot dog bun next to their colony. In less than ten hours they had completely dismantled it and taken it down the hole for the rest of the colony to feast on. I really don’t care what they do underground. They can party all day for all I care. But I know they and I only cross paths when it comes to them looking for scraps in my kitchen so.. I make sure to leave them a little something and we all get along. Any time they get greedy and invade the kitchen.. I nuke them by the hundreds with some Baygon and balance is restored.
But not all bugs are a nuisance here in the jungle. Two in particular are wonderful to see. The first are the fireflies that come out every night just after sundown. That never gets old. It’s like magic to see them just flitting about, turning their light on and off in the darkness. I love seeing those things. Another nice surprise every once in a while are the butterflies. So far each one I’ve seen is huge, much like a Monarch butterfly, except all black with red circles on it. The first one I saw was so big I thought it was a bat at first except that it was out in the midday and I saw that it was in fact, a very large butterfly. It was so big that even as I watched it fly away, at a hundred feet I could still easily see it bouncing around the forest.
As for the heat here, it’s not so bad.. if you stay in the shade. The good thing is that here, there’s lots of shade. I haven’t even bothered to hook up my air conditioning unit yet because between the house being brick, in the shade and the cool breeze with the help of Ruby, the oscillating fan.. it stays nice and comfortable here in the house. Now, out in the sun.. yah, you’ll start sweating. Lots of people get around in the midday either with an umbrella or a damp cloth over their head to stay cool while walking in the sun.
There are also these small salamanders that I like seeing around. They come in and out of the house all the time in search of mosquitoes or any other little bug to eat. They are small, about 2 to 3 inches long and come in a variety of colors. Most are a tan color with light, green spots. A few others I’ve seen have been a lighter color and even several albino ones. The most interesting thing about these little guys is the sound they make. When I first heard one on Mactan late one night I thought someone was outside my window. They make a sound that sounds like a kid’s voice saying, “Uh-Oh! Uh-Oh!”. It took some getting used to at first but once I knew it was them it’s kinda nice hearing them in the afternoon and sometimes later in the evening.
All the ones I’ve seen so far have been very small, no bigger than a stick of gum. But there is one here in Bohol at my place who visits me every couple of days. I named him, ‘Big Daddy’. He is gigantic. He seems to be an actual gecko (??) and is roughly six inches long. I’ve seen him catch big bugs so he’s cool with me. It’s just he’ll scare the crap outta me when I suddenly realize he’s on the wall overhead. He moves like a frickin’ ninja. Slow, but with surety. I don’t mind having him around. I take photos of him every so often.
All in all, I’d say that province life is not for everybody. There is a steep adjustment curve at the beginning getting used to doing things a little different. There are counter-measures for dealing with the bugs; mosquito coils, screens, Baygon, mosquito-net for the bed, etc. If you absolutely need a mall or some sort of ‘city’ down the block then maybe province life isn’t for you. But for peace and relaxation you just can’t beat sitting out on the patio at night looking up into the stars or taking a leisurely walk along the main roads here winding through with jungle for miles on each side. I still love the city, movie theaters, restaurants, dance clubs and other amenities of city life. But having my preference, for now I’m enjoying spending most of my time in the province and visiting the city once in a while on an as-needed basis for when I’m in the mood for it. Who knows, perhaps I’ll eventually reverse and take up a place in the city sometime. But for now, I’m loving it just fine right here.
Henry ‘Reekay’ V.
After 49 years living in Southern California, USA, I decided to move to the Philippines despite never having been here before. I spent a year getting all the information I could online and in July, 2012, I took a leap of faith and transplanted myself first to Mactan and then began my trek through Cebu, Bohol, Panglao, Moalboal, Dumaguete, Bacong and now living in Cebu City, here in the amazing Philippines.
Starting in January of 2019, I will begin a slow trek through Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and possibly Malaysia, China and Japan. My itinerary is open with no big rush since I hope to share in detail what each place is like as I enjoy it for months at a time.
I am a single man taking an honest look at all that Southeast Asia has to offer, one day at a time. I hope you find my channel informative and/or entertaining. 🙂
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