I've been thinking about the situation in Malapascua (see my previous post), and I'm developing a theory on tourism and how it works and changes a place. I've decided that it all works in stages. The islands of the Philippines are perfect examples, because they provide small, closed environments, so it's real easy to see what's going on. Before the islands are discovered by the tourist crowd, they consist of several small fishing villages, and nothing aside from fish really matters to the folks living there. Eventually, a tourist will find their way there, and it's an exciting thing. The locals are intrigued by this person who looks different from them, and the occasional tourist is heartily welcomed. A short while later, the outsider returns with a more visitors. This continues, and eventually the locals are not as enthralled. A few places for travelers to stay might pop up, and the island will become more popular. At this point, the locals will begin to realize that tourists really are not concerned with their interests. The tourists begin to run around like they own the place, and pay the locals no mind. This seemed to be the attitude we encountered on Malapascua. When we passed people, most of them weren't unfriendly, but seemed to be thinking "Oh great.More of them." After the locals realize that the tourists won't be leaving any time soon, they begin to wonder if they can make any money off them. Of course, once people realize that the majority of tourists (especially white ones) are basically made of money, their whole attitude changes. They give up the fishing and farming life, and start to treat tourism as a major source of income. Boracay is a prime example of this. People start selling everything you can imagine, and once again, tourists and locals are both happy. I'm not suggesting that how things work on Boracay is necessarily a good thing, as the island has definitely lost something, but that intermediate stage sure is uncomfortable. I probably explained that pretty poorly, and I don't know what else to say. Tourism is a mixed blessing I suppose.
In other news, our next stop after Malapascua was the city of Tacloban on the island of Leyte. Decent enough place. Didn't spend too much time there. We continued north and ended up in the costal city of Allen. We arrived late, and by the time we got settled into our hotel, most of the restaurants around town seemed to have closed. The only place that was still open and not serving food that had been sitting out in a pan all day long was Voltz burger. While they were a step down from McDonald's (a big step) which is already almost bottom of the barrel, they were open and air-conditioned. After an awful dinner (actually, an awful day from a food standpoint.coke and saltines for breakfast, a bag of chips for lunch, and fast food for dinner), we called it a night. The next day was a full eight hours of travel (read eight hours of sitting on hour asses), but we made it to the city of Legaspi. On the way, we were once again astounded by the amount of littering that goes on here. From our seats on the side of the ferry from Allen to Luzon, we saw a constant stream of bottles, empty bags, candy wrappers, cigarettes, napkins, and other pieces of garbage being thrown from the ferry. We see garbage cans every day, all of them half full, but people here don't seem to realize the importance of actually putting trash in them. I guess that's one of the few benefits of tourism. When people realize the money it can bring in, they're generally a bit more concerned with preserving the stuff that people come to see.
As we near Manila, the number of stares we receive everywhere we go are dying down. The stares aren't threatening in any way, and almost everyone smiles and says hello if you smile at them, but it's still a bit odd. It's like being in a zoo, except we aren't really that exciting. We are probably comparable to the wolf. People pass by and take note, but the wolves really aren't all that interesting. People take note of us, but that's about as far as it goes.I know everyone here has seen plenty of white people. Most of their tv channels are out of the states, but we definitely do stand out. I realized it when I watched Virginia waiting in line to buy our ferry tickets. Not only was she a head taller than most people and the only person without brown eyes, dark skin, and black hair, but you could tell she just didn't belong there. The sense of personal space is different here. People waiting in line have about two inches separating them from each other. They just are used to having a lot of people crammed together. Virginia is not. The four to five inches between her and the woman in front of her was as apparent as if it had been four to five feet. People here also carry themselves differently. It's nice to get to experience such a different way of life, but sometimes I wish we didn't stand out so much. I guess it's just good preparation for Ghana, where I'll really stand out.
Another thing I've noticed as we near Manila is that the way people interact in restaurants is changing. In the more remote cities and towns, when you go to a restaurant, the waitress shows you to a table and then stands there waiting for you to order. In a place like this, where everything on the menu is different from what we're used to, it takes us a while to figure out what we want. This means that waitresses will end up kind of hovering over our shoulders for five to ten minutes. In some places, the waitress will even sit down at the table with us while she waits. At first it was pretty unnerving, but we've learned to expect it, and it has been kind of nice to experience service that doesn't make such a distinction between customers and servers. After you finish eating, you have to flag down the waitress and specifically ask for the check. If you don't ask, you can just sit there forever.Quite a change from places back in the states that get you in and out as quickly as possible.
Ok sorry. Enough rambling. We are trying to decide what to do with the next few days. We've got options of hiking to waterfalls, lakes, volcanoes, ruins, and beaches. The city of Legaspi sits at the base of Mayon volcano, which is said to be the most perfect volcano in the world. I didn't really understand when I read about it in the guidebook, but it's pretty cool to see a huge mountain that is almost perfectly conical. Looking at it on a topographic map just looks like a bunch of concentric circles. Something you don't normally see. There is also a nearby lake that contains the world's smallest edible fish. I'm not that excited to see the fish, but it seemed like an odd distinction. Are there fish that are smaller, but somehow inedible? In any case, we'll probably skip the lake and move on to other stuff.
I think I finally got the pictures from the past week uploaded. Check em out if you want. Hope all is well with everyone out there.