Friday, July 2, 2010
My little speck of Earth
This is Asia. It’s real big.
Southeast Asia. Still pretty big.
And the Philippines. Not really that big, but it can seem big when it takes nine hours to get from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. Compared to some other volunteers, my travels within the Philippines haven’t been very extensive so far – but I have a long, long vacation coming up: I’ve only taken three days of Peace Corps leave since September 2009, and I’m about to cash in all those days I’ve accumulated.
This is my island, Panay. It’s roughly the size of Hawai’i (the Big Island), and getting from Iloilo to Boracay takes about five hours by bus (and a short fastcraft ride). I don’t live in Iloilo City – I’m actually in a small town a few kilometers outside the city. In all there are eleven volunteers on Panay, one on Guimaras and three on western Negros.
Bacolod is the city on Negros Island where I had my training from August to November 2008. (Yeah... 2008.) Up on the north coast is Roxas, a nice little city lacking many of the annoyances of Iloilo; Nueva Valencia is a small town on Guimaras Island where some of the good beaches are; and Nagarao is a tiny, pretty island off the southeast edge of Guimaras.
And here is downtown Iloilo, where I spend much of my free time. I’ve labeled some of my usual haunts: Coffeebreak is a decent cafe (part of a homegrown chain) that’s cheap and has wifi. Lumpiga, tucked into a pension house along Gen. Luna street, is a cramped, smoky pillow lounge with sometimes-good live music and an appealingly relaxed atmosphere. When I have to stay a night in the city, Ong Bun is my pension of choice – mainly since it has rooms for P150 ($3), although some of them resemble closets in their physical dimensions. Some of the cubicles on the fifth floor have nice (and rare) views of the city.
Traversing The Alley is a rite of passage for newcomers, mostly because I enjoy their mounting discomfort as the alley gets narrower and more twisty and appears to wind directly through people’s living areas. I refer to it as a shortcut, but in reality it cuts nothing short.
If there’s anything in Iloilo that could be called a Peace Corps hangout, this square is it. SM Delgado is a small branch of the mall chain that is represented in every somewhat major city in the country, and it’s good for buying groceries or other supplies. Dulgie’s has my favorite American-style food in the province (really on the entire island) and is usually where I meet with other volunteers when we have to plan projects. Also has delicious brownies a la mode. Blue Jay Cafe’s food isn’t as good, but it usually has reliable wifi and pretty good coffee, and they keep its aircon on frigid. JJV is a nifty open-air cafe that’s nice for cooler days, and it’s a thirty-second walk from Mang Inasal, a tasty and cheap Iloilo chicken place that has been spreading to a ridiculous extent around the Visayas (I’m aware of nine Mang locations just within Iloilo City, and I’m sure I’m missing a few). And, well, there’s a McDonald’s, which I’m not proud to say I visit with some frequency.