As we turned our phones off 'airplane mode' the last thing we were expecting was to see a text message from Jing (the Filipino we met on Boracay) saying he was at the airport with his girlfriend Jho-einah to meet us! We only had one night in Cebu City as we would be flying to Kuala Lumpur the next day. So it was really nice that we could see our new Filipino friends again.
Being an extremely hospitable and helpful nation, Jing waved down a metered taxi for us to jump into, to go in search of a room for the night. Jho-einah took the front seat, with Chris and I wedged with our two rucksacks and day bags on the back seat. Jing followed us on his moped, occasionally tapping on the window to ask the taxi driver which way he was going.
We stopped at a hotel, which I had seen on agoda, close to the big shopping mall. Unfortunately the rooms I had seen online had all been taken so there was just the really expensive rooms left. They did eventually say they could give us 10% discount. But still way over our budget we went in search of a different hotel.
About 45 minutes later we were back at the first hotel, not having found anything cheaper. However when we went to check in, the 10% discount price they had given us was just for a one person room, and for two of us it was a lot more money. We couldn't afford it, so were back to square one. Jho-einah recommended a hotel she had stayed in with her friends in the city centre after there trip to Boracay. They gave a 20% discount if you showed your flight ticket. So off we went in another taxi, with Jing scooting behind us. It was a pretty rough looking area, and when we opened the door to our room and were welcomed by dim red lights, no windows, the smell of stale smoke, and a terribly noisy AC unit, we were not too impressed. Luckily they did have another room, which was much cleaner, but still as dingy. Not wanting to dwell, since we would literally just be sleeping here, we rushed back out to meet Jing and Jho-einah.
Chris needed to get his mums birthday postcard sent off, so Jing kindly offered to take him directly to the main post office in the city. Myself and Jho-einah went in search of somewhere to have lunch (it was now gone 4pm and we hadn't eaten since breakfast). Much to our delight we ended up at Mang Inasal, our Nandos equivalent here in the Philippines. It was nice to get to know Jho-einah more as we sat and chatted away waiting for the boys.
When they finally arrived, Chris and I ordered the BBQ chicken with unlimited rice, and two Halo Halo to share between us all. We had been meaning to try Mang Inasal's Halo Halo for a long time, and being our last night in the Philippines, it was a given. Although it was a little disappointing and not any better than the Halo Halo we had tried from the street vendors.
Jing was keen to show us around his part of the city, and what better way than on a tartanilla (horse and cart). Chris was encouraged to jump up front with the driver, whilst myself, Jing, and Jho-einah squeezed ourselves into the cart. Not such a comfy ride, we were taken along a 'walking street' and down a side road where Jing lived with his cousin, Lloyd. Driving down this street felt like we were celebrities. Jing said it is rare for any of these people to see westerners, let alone westerners in a tartanilla on their street. We were waved at, stared at, run at, spoken to, and called 'Joe' (some internal joke that the Filipinos have, calling westerners Joe!). The street was part of a very run down area of Cebu City lined with shanti huts. We pulled over for Jing to retrieve his camera from his home and see if his cousin wanted to join us for the evening. His home was way up high, above all the shacks below, but was some simple concrete pillars with plastic sheets down the sides to protect them from the rain. We really didn't imagine Jing to live in such poverty, since he owns an SLR and works as a dog handler for the Bomb Squad. Perhaps he lives there so he can enjoy other luxuries, like the camera, and holidays to Boracay.
Camera and cousin retrieved, we just about managed to squeeze Lloyd into the carriage with us, before being carted around the corner to a bar. Little did we know we had been taken to a videoke (karaoke to us!) bar. Chris and I looked at each other in horror, thinking what have we let ourselves in for. But at the same time, we thought, well we had gone over six weeks in the Philippines and hadn't partaken in any videoke. In fact, we had been in SEA nearly six months and managed to get away with it. So it was about time!
The beers were flowing, but not in the usual way. The Filipinos tagay, which translates to shots/chug during a drinking session. Instead of having your own drink, they purchase a litre bottle of beer and designate a 'gunner' (the pourer). One small glass of beer, with ice in, is handed to someone in the group to drink. Once they have finished, the glass goes back to the gunner, who fills the same glass and hands it to the next person in the group. Although we participated, we didn't really enjoy it, as when you have the drink you feel under pressure to drink it fast, and when you don't have the drinks, you find yourself continuously looking at the person with the drink to hurry up! Another common act for the Filipinos whilst drinking is to eat 'finger food'. So despite having had a large portion of chicken and rice just over an hour ago, we were presented with a table full of pork BBQ skewers and hanging rice (parcels of rice wrapped in banana leaf).
The drinks and conversation flowed, with all sorts of topics covered. The food topic in particular led onto Lloyd disappearing and a short while later returning back with a plastic bowl full of pig's brain! It did not look appetising but we were convinced by Jing and Lloyd that it tasted good. Of course, Chris tried it first, and with his expression not being too bad, I thought I had to give it a go. I took about a third of a spoonful of pig's brain and quickly shoved it into my mouth. It was really soft and creamy, and if I could have gotten over it psychologically, then it's actually not so bad. But my brain was sending messages to my mouth making me gag at the thought of eating pig's brain. With it not being my turn with the drink either, I had to steal a gulp of beer from Chris to help get the thought out of my mind.
We were drinking our way through litre after litre of Red Horse, which of course helped loosen our inhibitions to enter our song choices for the videoke. With it being such a popular pastime across SEA, and especially in the Philippines, there is absolutely no need to feel embarrassed. No one even batters an eyelid when someone sings an awful, out of tune, out of tempo song. So we blended in quite nicely!
Eleven litres of Red Horse and two rounds of videoke later, we were told there was a street party to go to. We had now also been joined by Wendy, Lloyds girlfriend, who took my hand and led us through the slums of Cebu City. We came across the first street party which looked pretty intense and I didn't feel too happy about staying. Luckily Jing quickly moved us on, as this was not where we were heading. A few streets down we wiggled our way through another street party and to Jing's aunty's house. We made this our base for the remainder of the evening as we raved the night away. The entire street was packed, with a huge speaker and light system blaring out various tunes. It was insane and a hugely surreal situation to be in.
By 3am we were tiring, so Jing walked us over to the nightly fish market, as Chris was keen to see it. Not that I have ever been to a fish market, but I am pretty sure this was nothing like your average fish market. I have never seen so many dead fish, in all shapes, sizes, and colours. Thousands of beautiful Parrotfish; eels in all sizes; Pufferfish; rays; and even Manta Rays, which are illegal to hunt. It was too much for me, and seeing children, from babies to teenagers, curled up on the hard wooden surfaces next to all the dead fish, sleeping for the night, was a real eye opener. The girls left and Jing's other cousin, who joined us at the street party, very kindly poured some fresh water over my feet to try to clean and rid of the fishy smell. Chris and Jing walked around for a bit longer, as Chris was curious to see the Manta Rays. Succeeding, we all sat down for food. Not your standard cheesy chips, we ate fresh barracuda in a delicious broth, with corn rice.
It just so happened that Jing's other cousin was a bicycle with sidecar driver in the city. She kindly let Chris have a go, with me in the sidecar. Off we went up the road, performed a decent U-turn, but then...we knocked over a motorbike...woops! The crowds found it funny that the 'imports' were clumsily riding the tricycle around. Fun over, Jing's cousin rode us back towards the hotel, but we didn't get very far before the police ensured no bicycles were allowed past a certain area. The area where our hotel was. So we walked back most of the way, which seemed to go on forever. At 4am we found the hotel, said goodnight to Jing and Jho-einah, who had very sweetly walked us back, and passed out in our brothel room.
With the door bell ringing and loud knocks on the door, it was by far one of the worst ways to be woken up at 8am, especially having only gone to bed 4 hours ago! The only positive was that it was a waiter with our breakfast. However, having fallen back to sleep, when we awoke an hour later we had cold rice, cold fried egg, and cold hotdog and pork. Not very appetising, but we needed something to help set us up before meeting Jing, Jho-einah, Lloyd and Wendy. Jing wanted to take us to one of his childhood eateries, where they specialise in Pufferfish. Pufferfish contains deadly toxins and are not considered safe to eat without correct preparation. However, Jing informed us that no one had died (yet) from this eatery! It takes a fully trained, experienced and usually qualified chef (in Japan) to prepare Pufferfish, in order for it to be safe to eat. So the normal person would tend to choose to try Pufferfish from a certified restaurant. Yet here we were, at a road side eatery, in the slums of Cebu City, about to taste Pufferfish for the first time.
We were guided through to a back room and reluctantly plonked ourselves down at the plastic table and chairs. A bowl containing a whole Porcupine pufferfish was placed in front of us. My stomach churned at the thought of eating fish on a hangover, but Chris picked up the spoon and folk to have a poke around for the fleshy, edible parts. He waited for Jing to eat first, just to double check it was going to be ok, then opened wide for a first mouthful.....
Still alive, Chris said it was very nice, with a soft meaty texture. So in I went for a mouthful....still alive, I had to agree with Chris, it was nice. We slowly managed to eat a bit more, enjoying the tasty, refreshing broth it was served in. Then before we knew it, the time had come for us to head back to the hotel, grab our bags, say a very thankful and grateful goodbye to Jing and Jho-einah for showing us a crazy evening in Cebu City. It was the perfect end to our time in the Philippines.
We had an absolutely incredible six and half weeks travelling around the Philippines. We saw some breathtaking sites, experienced some unforgettable events, and met some of the most hospitable and trustworthy people. But for now, it was off to Kuala Lumpur, and then onto Chiang Mai for our next adventure...