Plans? We Don’t Need No Stinking Plans! (Or How I Ended up Sleeping on a Filipino Painter’s Floor)


During Lunar New Year, Alona Beach, a smallish haven for divers on the end of Panglao Island, gets as bloated and swollen as a pimple on the tip of a person’s nose.  Tourists come rushing in like imperial forces, overtaking the beach and claiming it for Lonely Planet readers everywhere.  Hotel rooms fill up faster than seats for a Duran Duran concert in 1983; women working at beachside massage parlors touch nearly as many vacationers as the security guy doing pat downs at the airport.  The sales of beer and sunscreen go through the roof, and prostitutes do so much overtime even they feel slutty.

TTD and I were warned.  Going down to Alona Beach at night during Lunar New Year with no room booked was not a good idea.  It would be like buying a pizza with your fattest friend and expecting to get the last slice.  But, as is the case with most warnings, we paid it little mind.  When our friend told us that we wouldn’t be able to find a place to stay, we chalked it up to silly paranoia.  Besides, aren’t most warnings based on overblown negative thinking, like when your parents tell you not to take candy from strangers or the surgeon general says smoking is bad?

By the way, if the surgeon general has kids, their lives must be a nightmare.  Warnings everywhere.  Don’t smoke, don’t take candy from strangers, don’t take candy cigarettes from strangers, don’t take real cigarettes from strangers, don’t give cigarettes to strangers without warning them that it could cause emphysema first, etc, etc.  Those poor children.

I digress.  On our second night in the Philippines, TTD and I decided to throw caution to the wind and head down to Alona Beach without a place to stay.  We took a cab from Tagbileran and, our backs saddled with all the clothes and toiletries we could shove inside our backpacks, set out to prove the naysayers wrong.  We’re not really the type to make arrangements in advance; my idea of planning for the future is putting a condom in my wallet before going out to a bar.  We wandered down the beach, bouncing from place to place, hearing the same thing over and over again:

“No rooms.  Fully booked.”

The first half hour or so of being rejected by every hostel or hotel we stepped foot in wasn’t so bad.  However, it gets distressing after awhile.  It’s sort of like that first week on OkCupid, when nobody has responded to those winks you sent out.  It’s fine, nothing to panic about.  But after you’ve winked every girl within 100 miles and your inbox is still as empty as an Ethiopian refrigerator, you start to worry a bit.  The sun had long gone down on the beach and our remaining options…well…there were no remaining options.  I stood there with my backpack on, wondering why my clothes suddenly felt so dang heavy.

“What are we gonna do?” TTD asked.  “Everything’s booked.”

We decided to ask the tricycle drivers if they knew any places.  They didn’t.  “Shit,” I said, defeated.  “I guess we’re going to have to tricycle back to Tagbileran.  This could take ages.”

With all hope seemingly lost, a motorcycle pulled up next to us out of nowhere.  A Filipino man drove it with an older German woman on the back.  “Do you need a room?” she shouted over the sound of the engine.  “I have a room.”

TTD and I exchanged a look to make sure we were on the same page.  “We’ll take it,” she said.

A few minutes later, we were in a large house located well off the beaten path.  This wasn’t a hostel, but the place where these two lived.  The German woman had to go someplace, so the man showed us around.  His name was Kiko and he was an artist, a painter.  “We bought the house to make art,” he said.  “Then…we have no money.  We rent out our rooms so we can stay.”

There were a bunch of people living in Kiko’s house.  Alex and Ninette were from Denmark and had come to Panglao to dive.  They had a room there.  Nelson was from Manila, but had come to the island to work in a tattoo shop.  He also lived there.  In addition, there was a Canadian who would start shooting a feature length film there the next day.  All of them, except for the Canadian, were sitting out on the porch drinking Red Horse and passing around a joint.  They invited us to join them, and we did.

Nelson poured us beer and nobody seemed to mind when we passed on the joint.  “Do you know the Thresher Shark?” Alex asked.

“Thresher Shark?” I asked cluelessly, clearly indicating I didn’t.

“It is very rare,” he said, and then explained how he and Ninette had come to the Philippines with vague hopes to see one.  The Thresher Shark can only be spotted in a few places around the world, one being Malapascua.  They had gone there, hopeful, but weren’t surprised or disappointed when they didn’t see one.  “They swim so deep in the ocean,” he said.  “You have to hope one comes up.  We will go back to Malapascua soon…maybe we will see one.  Maybe not.”

Kiko bought another case of beer and the drinks started going down quickly.  We all smoked cigarettes and talked.  We talked about Koreans being afraid of the sun, and how the Americans and the Japanese destroyed Manila in WWII; Alex talked more about diving and his Thresher Shark and Kiko talked about the subtle differences in how Filipinos from different areas speak Tagalog.  Nelson was cool.  He sat there quietly with tattoos covering his brown skin.

“What’s the craziest tattoo you ever gave somebody?” I asked him.

“It was on a very crazy man,” he said.  “His brother brought him to me.  This man…he was a soldier and he was hit in the head.  He couldn’t remember things and he would get very drunk and lose his way.  I tattooed him right here.”  Nelson held out his forearm, palm up, running his finger across the area between his wrist and his elbow joint.  “I tattooed on him his name, his address, and his telephone number.  His brother said to him, ‘Be good and I’ll take you out for food.  What do you like better?  McDonald’s or Jollibee?’ and the man said he wanted McDonald’s.  When I finished, the brother told him to thank me but the man said no, and he put his finger in my face and said, ‘You hurt me.’”

Nelson shrugged.  “I didn’t get mad.”

Eventually I would drink until I couldn’t keep my head up, and then I would pass out on Kiko’s floor.  Later, in the morning, TTD and I would pay them for the room and the German woman would give us necklaces that she had made.  We would walk down to the main road and get a taxi back to the city.

It was a strange and wonderful night, the type of thing that doesn’t happen to people who get their names and addresses tattooed on them.  Nor for people who are good at making plans, or who figure that the chances of seeing a Thresher Shark are so low, there’s no point in trying.

What would Alex do if he actually did end up seeing a Thresher Shark, I wonder?  It would have to come up from the deep at the perfect time, in lovely synchronicity with his dive, like they had both arranged to meet but didn’t know it.



21 thoughts on “Plans? We Don’t Need No Stinking Plans! (Or How I Ended up Sleeping on a Filipino Painter’s Floor)

    • Hi Hope! That’s a good quote you left. Hopefully Life is busy planning something good for me right now as I’m busy worrying about the future yet doing nothing about it. Great to hear from you. : )

  1. Unplanned adventures are the best! Sounds like a fun bunch. And yes, there are indeed different nuances/accents on hw Filipino speaks Tagalog as we have over a hundred dialects in the country. Crazy. Ha ha.

    Good job on the Red Horse and the tricycle experience. Sometimes I curse the invention of that vehicle when the driver smells or when the roads are too rough and my head bumps the roof of it a million times.

    I think I was in Binondo (Manila Chinatown) a day before the Lunar New Year. Oh no. I was in Katy Perry’s concert on Lunar New Year. Oops.

    Cheers! and more epic adventures for you Bill! 🙂

    • Hi Jishi! I was sleeping at Ninoy Aquino Airport that night, while you were at the Katy Perry concert. I didn’t get to spend much time in Manila – just went into Malate and Intramuros for about half a day. I wish I would’ve had more time to explore the other areas a bit. Ah well! Always a next time…I hope.

      Red Horse was very good and the beer (ie San Miguel) was a massive improvement over what we have in Korea. Riding the tricycle was interesting – I never tried to figure out the jeepneys, so shame on me there. Really the hardest part about traveling to the Philippines (especially Manila) is figuring out how to get a cab without being badly ripped off! : P

      Always good to hear from you Jishi. : )

      • I live near Malate and my sibs go to school in Intramuros. I like the old Spanish, colonial era feel of Intramuros, especially streets in cobble stones–it’s hell on stilettos. ; )

        You need to try the jeepney next time, man. You’ll find it a unique social experience –on wheels. You have to pass the fare of the person beside you until it reaches the driver. Lol

        Yeah, San Miguel has lots of variations in beer or something.

        And omigod those cab drivers! They do it to everyone. Shame.
        I heard cab drivers in Baguio are the best though. They don’t scalp you and they give exact change for your fare, plus the flag down of the meter is lower. : )

      • I liked Intramuros and Rizel Park a lot – really lovely area. People were friendly, although it was a little scary that the door guy at Jollibee had a gun. Not used to that. I was happy no one tried to steal a chicken sandwich and it escalated into a gunfight.

        When I was in Bohol I took this crazy bus ride that I might write about later. There had to have been 200 people packed onto the bus. Fun times!

  2. Ah yes, I recall your distaste for preplanning from Thailand. I’m basically the opposite, though I veered more your style on this trip. I assume you will be posting more? I haven’t heard a peep out of TTD and I want to know how it all went.

    • Yeah man, more stories to come. It went really well…not a heck of a lot of zaniness though. We actually, for the most part, had things go smoothly. We should catch up this weekend, bro, and get us girlfriends.

    • Extremely disappointed! I should’ve got my password for online banking tattooed on me cause I can never seem to remember it. Or a tat of a goat on my chest. That would look badass.

  3. Where is Alona Beach? I thought you stayed in Cebu, and just Cebu? Did you go to Boracay? Bohol?

    Ugh. I’m so excited to read about your adventure in the Philippines…. I mean, almost afraid….. aaaargh. But do tell.

    • Hi Renx! Alona Beach is in Bohol. I only ended up staying in Cebu for one night. Spent most of the time in Bohol and Boracay. Panglao Island is at the end of Bohol and has the beach and stuff. It’s sort of like a smaller version of Boracay. All I can think right now is that I need to go back and see Malapascua and Palawan…maybe I should’ve just stayed there!

      Nothing to be afraid of, Ren. Definitely nothing as scary as that pic of you and Michael Jackson. That guy is creepy! : )

      • Ahahaha ! Michael Jackson ! ( don’t say a word…. did u see my smile ? )

        Anyways, I hope you write a post comparing Bohol beaches to Boracay’s. My parents have a property in Boracay. Had them fenced in immediately when they found out adjacent property is owned by a hotel conglomerate( Hilton, I think ). They’re capable of encroaching on someone elses’ property.

        However, they say Bohol is so much better. Boracay is too commercialized.

  4. E.

    a beautiful post, Bill, i have to say. such a beautiful post! “prostitutes do so much overtime even they feel slutty” is probably my favourite. =)

    i’m glad that you had such a cool night with awesome people.

    sorry that i have been quiet for awhile. i checked your blog but was too busy and/or crazy to leave you some decent comments. let’s blame everything on the madness of the so-called Lunar New Year, and the heat. i’m glad that the madness is over, though the heat will only go up as April approaches. but the heat alone i can handle.

    i had a spontaneous trip to Dalat during Tết (a.k.a Lunar New Year) holiday. my friend and i wanted to go somewhere but we had no strong desires for any particular places. last Monday, out of the blue, we mentioned Dalat in one of our random conversations and on Tuesday morning, we found ourselves riding a motorbike from Saigon to Dalat. we went for 6 hours straight, at about 80km/h — i still have butt-ache thinking about it. we didn’t have any rooms booked and it was cold — not for you, obviously, since you’re living in Korea; but for somebody who grew up in the temperature of 30 ºC (or more), 15 ºC with winds is definitely a challenge. we had a friend who had heartily invited us to stay with her family, but we didn’t really feel like it. after several phone calls, i found a room with reasonable price for us to rest our butts — i always knew that going to Dalat almost every summer would benefit me in some ways. we slept like babies that night. on Wednesday we rode to small towns in the mountains, outside of Dalat. the journey was just wonderful. in the evening we went back Dalat for some delicious food (nem nướng and bánh mì xíu mại), 2 hours of pool, and a bottle of Dalat wine — if we had had 2 hot bowls of bò kho and some whisky, it would have been perfect. we rode back Saigon on Thursday. we went much more slowly. it took us 10 hours and an accident. how ironic!

    also, the other day, i saw a friend of mine and his girlfriend. my friend and i are same age, 24, and his girlfriend is 2 years younger than us, which makes her 22 already. yet she was annoying as much as a 15-year-old snobbish girl could be. which reminded me of your post about age gaps in relationships, and i thought sometimes, it’s not the age that matters but what’s inside your brain. and the scariest part of this meeting was to see that my friend somehow turned himself into a 15-year-old snobbish boy going out with her.

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