Dubious about Davao
For those of you who have never been to the Philippines or even know where it is, you will be comforted to know that I was once just as ignorant of the country or where in the world it ‘s located. That was until five years ago when, for some bizarre reason, I was prompted to focus my attention on the country in an attempt to find new love in my life. Having now travelled to various parts of the Philippines at least once every year since then, I have a fairly good knowledge of some of the major cities. The first person I met online was located in Davao City on the southernmost island of Mindanao. Sadly the name of the island has become synonymous with terrorism because of the factions that are active in the westerly areas. So much so that the British government at the time painted the island orange in their travel guide with the westerly areas doused in red. The legend next to the map indicated that the orange areas were ‘Advise against all but essential travel’ while the red areas were listed as ‘Advise against all travel’, which basically means ‘Are you f@(king crazy?! Enter at your own risk!’.
I noted, with relief, that Davao City was located in the orange side of the island, so I figured I had a good chance of escaping unscathed if I planned a trip to visit my new friend. I also took the precaution of checking the malaria/dengue fever map to see where the mozzies (mosquitoes, not Moslems) were most active. Davao is shown as being in the ‘low to no risk’ category, but I had heard from my friend that some of the children she knew had contracted dengue fever. I considered buying a giant head-to-toe condom to wear while I was there, but the hot weather and humidity make such a thing impractical. Next best was a bee-keeper’s outfit, but that would have taken up too much space in my luggage. In the end I settled for vaccinations at my local doctor (which were administered in a vicious ‘take that!’ fashion) and a can of insecticide so strong that even the sales assistant at the outdoor equipment shop confessed it would ‘take off a layer of skin’ if applied too liberally! Armed with that, two sun hats, a family sized pack of sun cream, a camping towel and the pin pricks on my arm, I took my life in my hands and boarded a plane bound for the Philippines.
I arrived in Davao City in the early evening after having passed through the capital city of Manila just a few hours before. I wished I could have stayed in Manila which was supposedly a terrorist-free zone if you didn’t count the security guards who shook me down for Malaysian money while they searched me at Manilla airport for no reason at all. My friend arrived in a taxi to meet me and we travelled into the city. I tried to see something of the city, but in the darkness all I could see were the gaudy neon shop signs, the Jeepneys (bastardised and elongated Jeeps) and numerous motor bike and motor tricycle drivers weaving in and out of the traffic as if daring the car drivers to hit them. Most of the motor tricycles looked as if they would explode like a clown car into a pool of parts if anything were to hit them. Some carried as many as six adults in the small cab attached to the motorbike. I was reminded of the ‘anything-goes’ sense of insanity that I had become used to while living in South Africa.
Our hotel had looked presentable from photos on the internet, but on arrival I was embarrassed to find that not only had I booked a cut-rate hotel, but it was in a dubious neighbourhood down a side road that was barely wide enough for one car. The hotel looked new, but was sandwiched between two dilapidated residential houses. There was barely space between the boundaries of the properties to insert a human hand….not that I would have wanted to insert my hand into the dark gap. One could only speculate as to what might be in there. A blue light in the hotel porch cast a glow over the small parking area. I figured that the blue light was probably emanating from a giant electric fly and mosquito catcher. To the right of the main entrance was a diner type restaurant. I had no choice but to pay the taxi driver and check into the hotel.
The room was not big considering that I had booked a ‘suite’. It wasn’t small either, but it was definitely not suite-sized or even semi-suite-sized. It was the size of a regular hotel room. What would the standard hotel rooms look like? Cupboards with en-suite toilets? The dark wood parquet floor immediately made the room look dated. I have found out that parquet flooring seems to be the popular choice in the Philippines even in many of the new builds. There doesn’t seem to be any logical explanation for this. The next thing that assailed my nostrils was the rank reek of damp and mold. It was so bad that I almost choked on it. I told myself that it was probably due to the room having not been used for a while.
“Hmmm. I think we need to get some air in this room.” I drew back the curtains in the corner of the room only to be confronted by a tiny half-size window that opened onto what could only be described as a riser carrying drainage pipes to the upper levels. It was almost big enough to be a courtyard, but the word ‘courtyard’ implies something pleasant. The space in front of the window was a dirty grey with nothing pleasant in sight. The window would only open a crack and was no help at all except for attracting mosquitoes. In the short time that I had the window open, two mosquitoes managed to slip into the room. This was all becoming very depressing. I closed the window quickly before any more insects could pop in for a visit.
“Damn mosquitoes!” I selected a cushion from the bed as my ‘death pillow’ and proceeded to hunt them, hurling the cushion at the wall or ceiling every time they settled until I had successfully eliminated both mosquitoes.
It was a difficult night what with the air-conditioner clattering and whirring on the wall and me trying not to breathe in any of the mold-laden air – well not consciously anyway. I awoke in the morning pleased that I had survived the night and had not been kidnapped by terrorists or indeed been terrorized in any way except by two mosquitoes that I had sent to the great stagnant pond in the sky. So my time in the Philippines had begun. Soon I would have a much better sense of Davao City and the Philippines in general. More to follow….
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