Friday, September 22, 2017

Anniversary


Yesterday I received this text from Ana:

“Would you like a toilet seat for your anniversary present? They are on sale.”

Wow. That is a conversation only a couple who have been married for 16 years could have.

Normally, we do not even buy each other anniversary presents, and even birthday presents are sometimes a hit or miss. This does not mean we do not love each other – au contraire. What it does mean is that we don’t like wasting money on stuff we don’t need.

While I would absolutely love the luxury of owning a Brondell Swash 1000 Bidet toilet seat for $479.99 on sale at Costco until October 1, 2017, I just cannot stand the thought of spending over five hundred bucks on it, especially after enjoying nearly the entire summer in super cheap Asia where that amount of money could buy dinner for four for 25 days in a row. My resistance is even more inspiring knowing that my buddy Tony, who stole my fancy toilet seat idea last year, has that exact same model and periodically taunts me for having a low class, standard-issue, budget toilet seat.

Yes, it is our 16th wedding anniversary today and we did do something to celebrate – last night we went to the kick-off show for the DT concert series in Paris and enjoyed the talents of Royal Wood and friends. It was an excellent show and the kids were happy to give us a night off on our own - although they did demand to join us for our actual anniversary dinner tonight. We are going to try out a new Vietnamese pho restaurant in Brantford. We have been home for a month now so Asian food is slowly being re-introduced back into our diets.

Last night we saw a bunch of friends we hadn’t seen all summer, so we spent a fair bit of time discussing our trip. It is still very fresh in my mind and, unbelievably, I haven’t yet completely adjusted to being back at home. Thursdays are feeling like Mondays, Mondays feel like they should be Sundays, and some nights I lay awake until 2am reading H.P. Lovecraft stories because I can’t fall asleep. And I find myself sometimes craving spiced-up noodles and rice for breakfast. I guess that’s what happens when your mini-retirement ends and you are abruptly plunged back into the working world.

So yes, life as we know it is back on its regular track. Ana has been busy as hell with her job since we returned and it’s not going to let up for at least a month or two. I decided to take a course that will allow me to get my Project Management Professional designation, but it is being run over four full weekends in October and November, so our autumn is proving to be exceptionally packed with activity. But that’s the way we like it.

I will finish this short journal with a big “I LOVE YOU” to my wife Ana. Even after 16 years she still continues to impress me.

Friday, August 25, 2017

August 24 – The Trip is Over - Back in Canada for Stella’s Birthday!


We arrived home at 1 in the morning on August 24 – Stella’s 11th birthday! As we were in the van driving back from the Toronto airport, the clock flipped from 11:59 to 12:00 and we sang Happy Birthday to her. She then asked if I could make her a peanut butter toast when we got home, which I happily agreed to since I was planning on making one for myself anyway. Yes, this is one thing we all missed.

So that brings us to the end of the trip. Within a day we will be back at work, adopting our previous schedule, and everything will be back to “normal”. But we have definitely brought some new ideas back home with us, not to mention a whole lot of great memories of the places we visited, people we met, and the fantastic time we spent with the Henrique family. It was an extraordinary trip, through and through, and once again, we were so impressed with the people of SE Asia – their resilience, their sunny dispositions, their work ethic and their legendary hospitality. In all, we visited two countries we had visited previously (Thailand and Cambodia) and two that were completely new to us (Vietnam and Philippines). After our two extended trips to SE Asia we have now covered a great deal in this region. The gaps that remain for us are the island of Borneo, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and, of course, a more thorough exploration of the Philippines. Is a third extended trip to SE Asia in the cards for the Olson family? As much as I would love this, I think it will be difficult, as the kids are on the verge of “young adulthood” and taking them away for an entire summer again at that age will probably not be realistic. But, as I have learned so many times in the past, you never know what may happen.

I have really enjoyed having the time to write during this trip. I had considered the possibility of starting work on a larger writing project during this time, but I found I barely had time to keep up with the daily journal, as we kept a pretty full schedule throughout. Now that we are home I am going to review all of these journals from start to finish and do a proper job of editing them and also adding photos. In the end I will produce a nicely formatted document with loads of pictures to complement the stories. This will be my greatest memento from the trip, and one that I know I will refer back to frequently in future years – especially during cold days in February.

Even though the big trip is now over, we are already thinking and planning for our next two trips, in line with our family policy of always having two in the pipeline!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

August 23 – Final Thoughts on the Philippines


We took the final photograph of the trip in our hotel room, wearing our backpacks, similar to one we took on the last morning of our previous trip to SE Asia. The taxi picked us up at 5:30 am, right on time, and from there our path went from Bohol airport to Manila to Vancouver to Toronto. Total elapsed time of around 30 hours, give or take a blurry hour or two. The worst part of the trip was going through an idiotic immigration process in Toronto (they have machines that are supposed to automate the whole thing, but after doing that you still have to wait in line to see a customs agent) and then having to wait for nearly two hours at the luggage carousel for our bags because the baggage handlers are on strike. Yay unions!

Let me share some final thoughts on the Philippines. I am extremely glad that we decided to spend the final week of our trip in the Philippines, because I think we got at least an initial look into what this country has to offer, and we have a much better idea of what to expect for a future trip. The Philippines is very, very different than all of the other countries we’ve visited in SE Asia as it feels like it could just as comfortably be located somewhere in Latin America.

This country is an island place. As previously described, the one city we visited – Cebu City – was horrible, and without a doubt the worst place we visited on this trip. The Philippines is all about the islands and beaches, which are indeed spectacular. Many travelers we met here were on their third or fourth trip to the Philippines, so there is so much to explore that you will never run out, no matter how many times you visit, and if you are into diving then this multiplies the options. But unlike so many other countries in the region, there is no defined backpacker trail, which is a standard route through the country that the vast majority of travelers take. Here it is not like that, and information on the various islands and how to get around is really not that easy to find - at least not nearly as easy as it has been in other countries. I think we got lucky in choosing the Bohol and Panglao region as there was enough to do to keep us busy, but was still not overly crowded and gave us the opportunity for some real beach chill-out time.

Accommodation in the Philippines is more expensive and of a lower quality than Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand. If you want to stay near a pristine beach, it seems you either have to pay a fortune to stay at fancy hotel, or you pay way too much for a crummy hovel. At least this is the impression we got from the travelers we met during our time there and our own experiences searching for accommodation bore this out, although we did get really lucky with the beach hotel we did find.

Food in the Philippines leaves something to be desired. This is something that you hear mentioned over and over again in the travel books and blogs, and it is certainly true. The problem for me was that it’s just too much like the food we generally eat in the Americas – lots of greasy meat and heavy, starchy sides. Fried chicken, fried pork, grilled pork bellies, and chicken cordon bleu accompanied by potatoes, fried rice, bread, or overcooked vegetables were typical menu items. I am sure that at the top level restaurants you can get fantastic food, but all of the restaurants we ate at were very mediocre (although they were cheap - only slightly more expensive than what we paid in other countries). This was a shock coming from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam where you have to look hard to find a bad meal. And here’s the clearest evidence yet that this kind of food is simply bad for you – as soon as we stepped off the plane in the Philippines we noticed a lot of obese people. This was something we simply did not see in any of the other countries, so it must be related to the diet, as the Filipinos worked just as hard and seemed as physically active as those in other countries. Even more reason for us to try and adjust our diets at home.

Lastly, how did we find the people? Well, the Filipinos were very kind, friendly, smiley, and willing to help, and we liked them a lot. But quite often, there seemed to be a bit of an edge just under the surface that we never once felt with the people in Vietnam and Cambodia. For example, we may not have been directly lied to, but we were certainly misled by a number of people during our time there, usually from hotel staff, but also a few others. But we also met some people that were absolutely honest, genuine and went out of their way to help, such as the tour guide who took us on the countryside tour in Bohol – he was amazing. The best way I can think to describe this, is when you are dealing face to face with hotel staff in most places, they are always very smiley. Now, you walk away for a few seconds and then turn back to look at that person. In Vietnam and Cambodia they would still be smiling. In Philippines (just like it usually is in Canada, the US, and Europe) they would not be. This really stuck with me. The Philippines reminded me of home in this regard, where you are not always sure if people are being genuine with you.  In Vietnam and Cambodia, the idea that people were not being genuine just never occurred to me. That is what made the people there so special. But I have a feeling that we simply did not spend enough time in the Philippines, nor cover enough ground, nor meet enough people to have a reliable opinion on this.

Would we go back to the Philippines? Yes, we would. There are a thousand amazing places to discover there and we’d love to go back, but we would do everything possible to avoid the cities and their horrible traffic problems. Being able to explore this country in our own boat would be amazing, so maybe that is something we will aim for in the future.

August 22 – Our Last Day in the Philippines

Our final day in the Philippines. At 9am our young tourist professional was at the hotel to meet us for our fishing trip. The four of us piled into a tricycle, which is the Filipino version of the tuk-tuk, built to transport two people comfortably, but I saw one with ten passengers, so the rules are flexible. The four of us fit in without too much trouble, but I had to side-saddle on the motorcycle, Stella and Ana got the nice chariot part, and Magnus got shoved into the luggage hold at the back.

The boy led us on his motorcycle and we ended up in a mangrove swamp, not too far from our original hotel. When I saw the boat waiting for us, I had to laugh. It was a tiny, Filipino style outrigger canoe with a driver who was obviously not used to taking tourists out. Our boy gave us two spools of line, wrapped on empty plastic water bottles, and a box of hooks and then put us in the hands of the fisherman, who instructed us all to jam into the front of the boat. He then took a rope, manually coiled it around the engine, gave it a mighty pull, and the small gasoline motor groaned to life and began propelling us forward through the mangrove pathways. I looked ahead to see that the front of the boat was nearly underwater because of all the weight, so I told the guy I needed to move to the back, which I did, putting me right in the tail of the boat with the engine exhaust pipe funneling fumes straight into my face.

The fisherman motored us through the mangroves and out to the huge coral reef that was just offshore, and surrounded by dive and snorkeling boats. He pulled up to a buoy that was anchored to a coral head and tied us up to it, and then baited the hooks for us. So I guess the fishing trip was going to be us jigging up tiny, colourful reef fish – not exactly what we had in mind, but sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. As we were fishing I noticed water starting to collect in the boat, and realized I had accidentally kicked out the flimsy, rubber boat plug, so I quickly jammed it back in, and avoided an ocean disaster.

I managed to catch one tiny little blue fish but the kids were completely skunked. It was getting real hot outside so I took off my shirt and then the guide handed me a mask, which I took him up on and jumped in the refreshing water. I donned the mask and did some snorkeling – the reef was beautiful and full of tiny fish, many of which were going after the baits on the kids’ hooks, but they were so fast it was hard to hook them. Ana joined me for a swim and took the mask for a bit of snorkeling.

After about 30 minutes of fishing he ran out of bait so asked if we wanted to go back in, but I asked him to instead take us for a boat ride. He did just that and toured us around the reef and then straight through the swimming area of the beautiful resort on the beach, where he had to swerve to avoid prop-chopping the swimmers. He then took us back into shore, and both our guide and the tricycle driver were sitting there in the shade, waiting, as they knew we wouldn’t be out too long, with the limited amount of bait and the hot sun beating down on the tiny boat without a shade. But well done, I say – very entrepreneurial. We gave him the balance of the 2500 peso charge for the tour and parted ways, not particularly happy with the quality of the fishing experience, but at least we had an interesting new travel story.

We returned to the French bakery for sandwiches and then just chilled out for the remainder of the day. There were a couple of beach walks, swimming, relaxing in the room, and some final sunbathing to rev up those tans in advance of our impending return to the Great White North.

I had picked up a bottle of wine the previous day so Ana and I enjoyed a glass while sitting on the beach at low tide, watching the sun fall, checking the people (and dogs, and naked kids..) walking up and down the shoreline, and talking about all the things we did and saw on this fabulous, incredible trip. We agreed that we were both ready to go home, but that we would miss the luxury of spending each day seeing new things, following no set schedule, and relying on our eyes and stomachs to guide our course.

We had a final, unspectacular dinner, and then head back to the room to do some final packing and get prepared for our early morning departure….to Canada!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

August 21 – Diving in the Philippines


Ana made the observation today that we are currently staying closer to an ocean beach than we ever have before. From the patio door it is 14 steps to the sand and another 23 steps to the water’s edge (at high tide). We are paying more for this hotel than any other on the trip, but at only $70 per night, it is well worth the price. I have been getting up at around 5:45 am every morning and going outside for a short walk and then usually some writing - sitting on a chair on the beach, looking up every once in a while to watch the waves, wiping the occasional ant off my chair, enjoying the salty smell of the ocean breeze, and enjoying the beautiful temperature. This is certainly the Philippines we had been hoping to find, and I am sure I will be reliving these moments on cold Monday mornings in February, when I am behind my work desk, looking at project reports and budget spreadsheets instead of rolling waves.

This morning I had a solo breakfast at a French bakery up the way, as I had to be at the dive shop for 7:45 am, so I snuck out of the room early and left the others sleeping. The breakfast was good, mainly because the toast was made from freshly baked bread, and while I was there the Divemaster from the dive shopped hustled in, picked up a couple of croissants, and ran back out. That was my queue to leave.

The Bohol Divers Club was right next to our hotel, and although they usually load up the divers in boats right in front of the shop, it was still windy and choppy today so instead we were all loaded into a jeepney and taken to a nearby beach on the other side of the island where it was calmer. We were ferried out in a smaller boat to the main dive boat which was one of the large Filipino outrigger canoes. These seem to be the workhorses of the islands and you see them everywhere. They are basically a single hull boat with one short mast towards the bow and one at the stern, between which is strung a protective sun canopy. Also, these act as supports for the huge bamboo outriggers that extend nearly the entire length of the boat on both sides, providing incredible stability, and lend the boats more than a passing resemblance to a Klingon ship. It is interesting to note that every place we have been to on this trip has their own, localized boat design, obviously built for the particular sea conditions there, but it is remarkable how completely different they are from place to place.

The dive site was located at Balicasag Island, which was a 30 minute boat ride in normal conditions, but took us much longer because of the heavy winds and huge waves – some of which looked to be in the three to four metre range, which provided for a good soaking of all the passengers as we crashed into the troughs of the big ones and sea water sprayed the deck. I was sitting next to a young Spanish couple from Madrid, and they were quite surprised when I started speaking Spanish to them. The Spain accent is much different than that of the other countries in Latin America (they lisp some of their “s” sounds) and it takes a while to tune your ear to it, but I did manage to pick up most of what they were saying. At times like this I am reminded how valuable it is to have a second (or preferably third, or fourth, or fifth) language to be able to communicate with people in their own tongue. I really must work more on the Portuguese, and it shouldn’t be hard for me to find a teacher, considering I have a native Portuguese speaker sleeping in my bed.

I was reminded today of how much I love diving, and how little of it I have done in recent years. I did the majority of my dives in the initial years after I received my SSI (Scuba Schools International) diving license in 1997 in Karachi, Pakistan, racking up something like 60 or 70 dives (somewhere along the way I lost my log book so I’ve honestly lost count). Since returning to Canada I have done very little diving, even though there are plenty of opportunities for fresh water diving in many places – especially the Great Lakes. All of my dives in the past ten years have been during vacations in the Caribbean or in the Azores.

Here is how a dive works. I boarded the dive boat and found the crate labelled with my name and containing my dive gear, which I had selected back in the dive shop when I first booked the dive. I made sure everything was there – a wetsuit, boots, fins, mask and weight belt holding 4 kilos of weights. Once we arrived at the dive site the owner of the dive shop split us into four groups, and each group was assigned a Divemaster. This is the guy who has had extensive training and is licensed to lead teams of divers. I was with three other divers and our Divemaster gave us the dive briefing, in which he explained how deep we would go (20 metres), what the terrain would be like (wall dive), what to watch for (frog fish, turtles, eels) and what to be wary of (touching coral, trigger fish that will chase you if you get near their nests), how long the dive would last (50 minutes) and what hand signals to use to indicate air level, when to descend/ascend, and other safety signals. He also paired us in into groups of two – called the buddy system, and it is your responsibility to ensure that your buddy’s equipment is all functioning and properly set up. Once underwater, your buddy is your responsibility, so if he has any trouble with his air supply or gear, you have to be there to help, and he does the same for you.

With the dive briefing taken care of, I spit into the lenses of my mask and rubbed it around, which prevents the lenses from fogging once underwater. Before we had arrived, the dive shop staff had assembled all the tanks, BCD’s (buoyance compensator device – the vest you wear underwater), and octopuses (a four branch device that connects to the tank and has two regulators to breathe from, an inflator for the vest, and a depth and tank pressure gauge) and they were ready to go. One of the helpers on the boat lifted up my vest and helped me to put it on. The whole contraption is very heavy, so once you are wearing it you need to move slow and steady so you don’t fall over.

I walked to the edge of the boat where there was a seat, and sat down to put on my fins and mask. I then stood up and walked to the platform over the water, filled my BCD with air, put the regulator in my mouth, put my left hand on my weight belt, put my right hand over my mask and regulator to hold them in place, and then took a giant step forward and plunged into the water. Since the BCD was full of air I popped right up to the surface, where I then waited for the rest of the group. Once everybody was in the water, the Divemaster signals to go down, and I held the inflator above my head and pressed the button to release air from the BCD, and then slowly started to sink. This is an exciting part of the dive as you slowly fall, weightlessly, down into the sea, watching around you and, in this case, seeing the bottom getting closer and closer. As you sink, you need to plug your nose and then blow from your nose, which is called “equalizing” and prevents your eardrums from blowing up from the underwater pressure. The equalization process basically pumps air in behind your eardrum, and increases the pressure there to match the outside water pressure, which becomes greater the deeper you go, so you need to keep equalizing every couple of metres until you get to your dive depth.

As I approached the bottom I added a few puffs of air into the BCD until I was neutrally buoyant, meaning my body was no longer going up or down. This is something you need to continually adjust as your depth changes, and is very important to master if you want to be a good diver. Once neutrally buoyant, it is like floating weightless in space, and now you can go upside down, face straight up towards the surface, do somersaults, swim sideways – whatever you like. Today’s dive was called a wall dive, and this is where there is a sheer drop-off on the ocean bottom which leads to a deeper plateau. The deeper plateau here was only about another 15 metres down, but when I used to dive in the Bahamas, some wall dives dropped down more than 6 kilometres, so when you looked down there was nothing but blackness, and it was more than a little scary.

During the dive the Divemaster led the way and pointed out objects of interest. He has probably dove this spot a hundred times, so knows where to look. Along the way he showed us moray eels, frog fish, ribbon eels, clown fish clowning around in sea anemones, and we even came across a few turtles! I was close enough to reach out and touch one of them, but I restrained myself, and instead just looked into its eyes and admired such a sleek, beautiful animal.

The Divemaster regularly checked to see if everything was okay, which I signaled back with the OK sign – done by making a circle with your thumb and forefinger with the other three fingers extended. When it was getting close to the end of the dive the Divemaster signaled for us to ascend to five metres where we did a three minute safety stop. When diving you cannot ascend too fast, otherwise the nitrogen in your blood can bubble and cause major complications (called “the bends”), so to be extra safe you do this safety stop.

I popped up to the surface, removed my mask and cleared my nose, which is a rather disgusting part of the dive routine. For some reason, breathing dry, compressed air through your mouth only for nearly an hour causes a huge accumulation of mucus in your nasal passages. Once everybody was up, the dive boat spotted us and slowly drove over to pick us up, as we had traveled quite a distance from our original starting point.

We got back on the boat, removed our gear and took a break, eating some fruit and crackers and drinking water. We went for a second dive about an hour later, and it too was excellent and at one point we saw five turtles all together, having some sort of underwater tea party, or perhaps they were mating – it was hard to tell.

The sea conditions on the return trip were very rough, but since we were traveling with the waves, it was a much more comfortable ride. We arrived back to the dive shop at 3 pm, nearly two hours later than expected, and the gang was waiting for me with noodle bowls for lunch. We had been scheduled to do our fishing trip at 1:30, but since the diving went late, the boy agreed to move it once again to the following day. The kids, Ana and I exchanged stories on the events of the day - I told them all about the dive and they reported back on a very relaxing day, just walking up and down the beach, swimming in the pool, reading, and chilling out.

They had spent some time watching the pack of young kids that we’d seen cruising up and down the beach every day. We had started calling them “beach urchins” which I guess was the Filipino version of The Rascals. There were usually four of five of them, possibly siblings or maybe cousins, and we assumed they must live very close to the beach. Their hair was tangled, some of them were perpetually naked, and one of the girls wore only a giant t-shirt, ten sizes too large, and unimaginably filthy. Watching them move around was a lesson in randomness. One moment they were digging around in the sand. The next moment they were seeing who could climb the highest on a coconut tree. Then they would be running back and forth on the beach, until one of them found something interesting, and they would all gather around to look at it. Then they would jump into our hotel pool for a rebellious swim, quick to exit before any staff from the hotel could catch them.

Rivaling the gang of beach urchins was a gang of beach dogs that roamed around from here to there, spending all day on and around the beach. Sometimes they would fight each other, sometimes they went for an ocean swim and sometimes they drank out of the pool. They did some mating (but that usually turned into a fight), but usually they were snoozing in the sand, and they never bothered any people. These two groups were almost like rival gangs in Alona Beach. I wonder if they ever met on the beach for a midnight rumble?

We went for dinner at Gina’s place, right beside our hotel, and by 9:30 pm we were back in the hotel. Only one day left…

Monday, August 21, 2017

August 20 – A Teenager Arrives to the Olson Family


Happy 13th birthday Magnus! Yes, we now have a teenager on our hands. And what better place to celebrate your 13th birthday than on a Filipino island enjoying the beach and ocean. In fact, we gave Magnus the chance to choose what he wanted to do for his birthday. We could have gone to swim with whale sharks, done an island hopping and snorkeling tour, a hot air balloon ride, or rented motorcycles for the day. He chose to go fishing, so we hired a local boy to take us out. We met him at 8:30 am but the tide was very high and the water choppy so he asked if we could postpone until 1:00pm, when he was hoping it would be calmer. 1:00 came and brought it with it even stronger winds and waves, so we decided to put it off until tomorrow afternoon, leaving us the rest of the day to do as we pleased.

Stella and I happily agreed to a game of Magic with Magnus on his birthday morning which, I think, made him very happy. For the rest of the morning and afternoon we simply hung around. We all spent a lot of time in the pool. We went for ocean swims. We walked the beach and raced hermit crabs. The hours came and went. For dinner, Magnus chose sushi so we went to the local Sushi Boat restaurant and enjoyed some of the best sushi we’ve ever eaten. We then went to Dunkin Doughnuts, bought Magnus the largest, chocolatiest doughnut they had on offer, and sang him Happy Birthday.

There was no birthday cake, no birthday presents, and no birthday party, but several times during the day Magnus called us all together, gave us a group hug, and said thanks for the best birthday ever. We are so very lucky.

This will probably be the last extended family trip that we ever do. The last time we traveled to this part of the world it was for ten weeks and the kids were 8 and 10 years old. This time we went for seven weeks and the kids are 11 and 13. In another three years they will be 16 and 14 and I just cannot imagine that our schedules will be such that we will be able to take that much time away. Magnus will be working and driving by then. Stella will be in her first year of high school and busy with friends and activities. Both Ana and I have been so fortunate to have been given these extended leaves from work, but unless we quit our jobs to become teachers, or retire, it’s just not the kind of thing you’re able to do frequently in a regular job. Does it make me sad thinking this may be the last time we do a trip like this? Yes, it does. These trips have been life changing for all of us, and something that we will have to cherish in our memories forever. Which is why we did them at this point in our lives, when we knew it would not be disruptive to our kids’ lives, and when they still think we are pretty cool to hang out with – and are picking up the tab!

It is certainly not the end of our travels – hell no, there’s plenty more of that to come, but unless our situation changes drastically, this will be the last full summer away for our family.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

August 19 – Alona Beach


How much did you pay for your last tooth filling? For me, I think it was about $250, but I didn’t actually pay a dime – my work benefits paid for it through the group insurance. It took about 15 minutes, making it an average cost of about a thousand bucks per hour. Seems high to me. The only guy I know personally who makes more than that per hour is Bruno Mars.

Today I went to the dentist. A couple of days ago I was eating a nice piece of chicken at dinnertime and a piece of filling broke off my front tooth. You see, I have these things called “peg laterals” which are basically small teeth located on either side of my front top incisors. When I was a kid – maybe 13 years old – my cousin Colin Bowerman (the greatest dentist that ever lived – you can read all about him in my book “The Found Vagabond”) did some bonding on them to make them larger. And that dental job lasted for about 25 years. One day, a piece of the bonding chipped off and I had to get it redone. Now I don’t know what happened to dental technology during that time, but ever since then the damn fillings chip off every few years and I have to get them redone. I’m thinking it’s similar to the “planned obsolescence” for any sort of electronic device these days where stuff just breaks a day after the warranty period expires and you have to buy a new one because nobody knows how to repair them, and they are built in such a way that they can’t be repaired anyway. So that seems to be what they are doing with teeth, and since Colin is retired I have no choice other than looking like a hillbilly, or getting the teeth patched up.

I am always looking to try new things in new countries and one thing I’ve never tried is having dental work done (or plastic surgery… maybe next trip when my jowls are sure to be sagging more), so I found a dentist and booked an appointment for Saturday at 11:30 am, which was today. I arrived at 11:15, filled out my new patient information card, and then kicked back and watched World War Z, which was playing on the television in the reception area. Right when Brad Pit was escaping from the zombies by jumping in a helicopter, I was called in and the dentist invited me to sit in the big chair. The room looked just like every other dental office I’ve been into in Canada and the youngish dentist spoke perfect English, was professional, and made me feel very comfortable. But he didn’t waste any time goofing around - I briefly explained the problem and he immediately went to work.

15 minutes later I was done and my tooth was fixed and looked beautiful. How much did it cost? Well, the receptionist told me the price in pesos, and I thought I misheard her. So I asked her to repeat it. Yes, it was definitely 700 pesos, which she asked for in cash, and I paid her. The converted amount in Canadian was 17 dollars. 17 bucks for a filling. At home, I don’t think dentists will even let you sit in the waiting room and read their magazines, or use the toilet, or sign a passport application for 17 bucks. Except for Colin, of course.

Earlier in the day, I had gone for a very early morning snorkel at the nearby Momo Beach, and since it was high tide it was much better than the day before. In fact, I found some coral banks just a short ways offshore, full of fish. I can’t think of a better way to start the day than an ocean swim.

We checked out of the Veraneante and had a final chat with the wonderful girl at reception, and also played with her pug Woo Woo. He took a liking to me so I thought I’d do a little roughhousing with him. When we were kids my grandparents had pugs – Benji and Jasper, and my uncle Michael used to torture them. One trick he had was to roll up a drying towel into a whip and flick the end of it at the dogs, taunting them. When they got mad enough they would bite the towel and clamp on and he would swing them around in 360’s until they let go and went cascading across the room. I didn’t have a towel handy to do that one, but I did remember the other routine he had, called “Spin the Pug”. So I called little Woo Woo over, put one hand on his head, the other hand on his ass, and gave him a mighty spin. He did one full rotation, and didn’t know what the hell was going on, so I grabbed him again and got nearly two rotations out of him this time, thanks to the nice slick tile floor. When Michael did this to my Grandma’s pugs they would get all riled up and start barking and having loads of fun, but this little sucker obviously wasn’t used to all the exercise, because he just fell over for a second, panting, and looking at me with his extra buggy, bulging, drippy eyes, and then got up and staggered away choking, wheezing, and gasping for air. I thought for sure he was going to barf, or maybe die, but he held it together and wobbled back to safety behind the reception desk, where we crawled into a cupboard and that’s the last we saw of Woo Woo. I’m not sure if his momma appreciated my pug trick much, because she locked the little reception gate to make sure I couldn’t get near him again. Good thing I didn’t try the towel trick.

After my dentist appointment I hitched a ride with some kid on a scooter and he drove me to Alona Beach, where Ana and the kids had already checked into the new place, Bohol Divers Resort, and were walking up for coffee when I met them. We went to Dunkin Doughnuts for morning coffee and a doughnut (the kids said the doughnuts were superior to the Tim Hortons versions, but Ana said the coffee just didn’t compare), and I read the local paper that I had bought at a mini-mart. Yesterday, the police in Manila had executed 70 suspected drug dealers, and this sort of thing has been a regular occurrence since their new president Rodrigo Duterte came to power. No arrest, no trial, no evidence – just a bullet to the head. Most Filipinos seems to feel this has been a good thing, as the drug problem in the country was completely out of control before Duterte came along. Yes, no doubt some innocent people have also been killed in the crossfire, but many here feel it is an acceptable price to pay for law and order in a country of over 100 million people.

We went for a nice long swim at the hotel pool and then walked to the Thai restaurant next door for lunch. Now I’m going to piss some people off here and expose my ignorance when I say that I know there are many types of non-standard genders, such as non-confirming, transgender, gender-neutral, non-binary, bi-gender, but to be honest I really don’t understand the difference, and have never put in the effort to learn, so I use the term “he-she”. This is something Ana and I started doing during our last trip to Thailand when the kids were asking why the men sometimes looked like women, and it seemed like the best way to describe it. Our restaurant server, Gina, was a he-she and was probably the best server we’ve had on the trip. And we’ve seen many other he-shes in all of the countries we have visited this trip, with the strange exception of Vietnam. We did not see any there, and I have no idea why. Is it maybe something to do with the communism?

The four of us took a long walk down to the end of the beach and the kids found some crabs for us to race, but they were not the regular type of hermit crab – these ones were larger and covered in algae. We set up the standard crab racing circle, dumped them in and stood back to watch the action. No movement. One of them eventually moved a little, and then stopped. So we then put them into a small water pool, which sort of brought them to life, but they just didn’t get it, so Stella went out scouring the beach for regular racing hermit crabs and found four, although only two of them wanted to race. Perhaps the crabs round these parts aren’t used to racing?

The beach was full of activity, and we sat there in the sand for a very long time admiring the view, but eventually decided it was time to wander over to the Bob Marley reggae bar for cocktails. Here, Stella invented a new game for kids. There was a big board with an expansive list of cocktails, and beneath the name of each cocktail was listed the various types of liquors used to make the drink. So the game was I would select a cocktail and Stella would have to try and find each bottle of booze used to make the cocktail, which were all lined up on shelves behind the bar. See, kids can have fun in bars too!

We enjoyed a long, leisurely dinner on the second floor of a Greek restaurant, overlooking the beach and the steady stream of people passing by. Thus far, the Filipino food has not been particularly inspiring, probably because it just reminds us too much of the food at home, as it is quite similar. They seem to love their fried chicken; you see advertisements of all types nearly everywhere you look, all flogging fried chicken. I would be very scared to be a chicken in this country.