CEBU ISLANDS, Philippines
Let’s take a bit of a walk around this small corner of the Philippines.
A rough, narrow road follows the shoreline a short distance inland. Low-level buildings with coconut thatch roofs line the waterfront, many on stilts over the water.
Across the strait the mountains of the next island, blacks, are visible in the distance.
Six stairs lead down to a low cement wall that joins two beaches. There’s a small market.
“Buy T-shirt? Sarong? Necklace!” Vendors smile whether you buy or not.
A Filipina friend visiting from the island of Palawan bought seven T-shirts and a sarong; she later confided she may have paid too much, but that was OK.
A black dog swims out to welcome returning boats, tail wagging like a metronome. Coco is part Dachshund and, probably, part Labrador. His legs are barely long enough to keep his ears off the ground.
A woman hurries by holding a very large banana leaf over her head against the light rain.
A popular family restaurant perches over the beach. Here, when high tide rolls in, you can peek at the waves between the slats of bamboo flooring beneath your chair.
Boats, divers and fishermen come and go. During lulls on hot afternoons, staff sometime stretch out on the sofa for a catnap. They work long days serving friendly smiles.
There are a few tiny jewelry stores cut into storefronts. Here you can sometimes find real pearls and actual sharks’ teeth.
Two elderly women patrol back and forth, selling papayas, mangoes, peeled pineapples and fresh seafood from ice-filled pails.
A slouchy, open-air bar overlooks the street, In between chatting with customers and opening cold beers, the servers study a well-thumbed English dictionary.
You can order pasta from the kitchen or kebabs from the barbeque. The Christmas lights are always on. A few stray mutts linger on the fringes.
A combination dive shop, hotel and Italian restaurant occupy a stretch of beach. A tile patio, swimming pool and tropical garden with a waterfall feature overlook lapping waves.
The furniture is wrought iron. Two waitresses serve each outdoor table: one carries the tray while the other protects them both from the rain with a large umbrella. A frangipani tree scents the air.
A dusty cement building houses the internet café. The chairs are plastic and the wall calendar is dated 2006. No two computers are the same and some sport foreign keyboards, but should you happen to bring your laptop, high speed WiFi is right there for you at the same hourly rate. There is a rooster in the laneway.
A private home surrounded by bird of paradise plants houses a used-book exchange. The owner’s hair is purple. She says a book she wrote about “fate and faith” is due to be published in the United States.
An unusual collection of bottles, many with notes and prayers inside, are tied to trees in her well-tended garden.
A thumping videoke bar greatly favours yearning love songs; the theme from the movie Titanic is the run-away favourite. Patrons wear T-shirts with cheeky slogans emblazoned across the front: “This is what cute looks like”, “Entirely committed to being sexy” or “If you don’t like my attitude, stop talking to me.” There is always a lineup.
As we are enjoying a plate of sweet-and-sour prawns back at the family restaurant, the shoreline sits deserted.
Suddenly, Coco the dog appears, flying down the stairs at top speed.
Leaping into the surf, tail wagging double time, he paddles directly to his target: a floating coconut shell washing in on the tide.
Hauling it to shore between his teeth, he deposits it tidily on the beach. There, that’s better.
Catherine Millar is a Whitehorse-based writer on a months-long tour of far-flung places. Her chronicle appears here every Monday.