Dear American woman I met in Panglao,
I don’t remember much of you, except that you were relatively young, maybe 28 years old. You were blond and had, perhaps, an American accent. You also had words tattooed on your forearm, but I did not make them out.
I am very thankful for the help you tried to provide me in the streets of Panglao. I’m also very sorry, as I must have appeared completely crazy to you that day. You most likely approached me because I looked relatively distressed as drivers were calling prices at me trying to get me to hire them to take me back to Tagbilaran. I was flustered despite the fact that the prices they were quoting were fairly regular and reasonable prices.
I will agree with you that there was apparently no reason for me to make a scene. Truth is, I wanted to be left alone. I was even considering going to the police to report a situation that had happened to me earlier. But, first and foremost, I needed a bit of time to recuperate from what I would later refer to as “The boat ride of Hell”. I was not ready to be assailed by the constant stimulation tourists experience in Filipinos streets.
I wish now that I could have formulated clearer thoughts. That I could have explained to you what was wrong. Maybe you would have taken me to a shop where we would have had a coffee and I could have gone through the events of the afternoon to make sense of them. But these events, the general cultural shock and the homesickness got the best of me at that particular moment.
You see I woke up early that morning in Cebu, grabbed my bags and happily made my way to the bus station to catch a bus that would take me to Oslob for a swim with whale sharks (after I had failed to see them in Palawan). I wanted to be on one of the higher end buses, but I got put on a regular non AC bus for almost the same price. I didn’t mind though, I was going to see whale sharks! It was so exciting!
Once it was over, I headed to the side of the street where I would catch my bus, which would take me back to Cebu in time to catch one of the ferry. I was told by one of the guys from the resort about an alternate ferry that would take me straight to the island from here. This would save me time and money. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this… The amount of pressure the guy was putting on me should have been an indicator that something was wrong (of course, I learned later these guys get commissions anytime they bring unsuspecting tourists). I got pressured the whole time I was waiting for my bus and finally gave in. I was talked into taking the ferry, despite my gut feeling. This proved to be a horrible mistake.
I could have comfortably made my way back to Cebu where I would have taken a comfortable ferry to Tagbilaran. It would have cost very little. Instead, I found myself pushed into a boat with a dozen other tourists. This boat was not meant to cross the channel. Within 30 minutes, we were all soaked from head to toe. By an hour into the trip, we were shivering. Full waves crashed into the boat, making it impossible for our clothes to dry. My luggage got completely soaked by seawater, which damaged and ruined quite a bit of equipment.
About three hours into the trip, the bench I was sitting on – which turned out to be rotten – gave way and one of the Danish fell in the water. He was lucky to not have hit his head on one of the bamboo floaters – his chances of drowning would have dramatically increased. We fished him out. If I hadn’t been holding on to something at the time, I would no doubt have needed to be fished out as well.
Everyone was wondering if the boat would make it to shore. We didn’t have life jackets. When I looked around, I could see the fear in other people eyes. Some of the girls were crying. One woman was sick and went through all the plastic bags we were carrying.
I spent the rest of the trip considering the situation. I evaluated the shore behind us to be about 3 to 4 kilometers away. The other shore must have been 8 or more kilometers away. Even good swimmers would not be able to make it and that was without even considering the waves. I looked at people around me, trying to figure out who would be able to remain calm if the boat did go under. Who would be good enough swimmers to stay afloat? Who would need to be towed? I tried to take notice of other boats in the distance; there was none. This route wasn’t used often it seemed. I noticed the boat wasn’t equipped with a communication device. Our odds were not great if the boat did sink. One could only hope this barge would hold. These were not nice thoughts to have.
Eventually, passengers asked the captain to stop the boat and one by one they climbed down the latter into the sea to relieve themselves. People turned their heads to give them a bit of privacy. When everyone had gone, the boat went forward once more.
Thankfully, we finally made it to Bohol. We were dropped, not at the pier, but at a random beach in Panglao. From there, I had to find my way to Tagbilaran on the opposite end of the island.
All in all, this ordeal took three times the time and cost five times the price of my intended trip through official channels. Once safe on solid ground, I was relieved and furious at the same time. I could have cried in anger, if crying was something I was prone to do. I wanted to go to the police to report this crook of a captain, but I could not find them. I was being called by taxi and tricycle drivers. I was upset and distressed, and nobody was giving me any space.
That is when you intervened. Yet, you see, I was upset not because of what they wanted to charge me, I was upset because I needed space. I didn’t need a transport right away. What I needed was time to process what had just happened.
I am thankful for your good intentions. I am sorry that I appeared so crazy, but what I really needed at the time was to feel safe again. After this incident, I became paranoid of everyone who smiled at me or said hello. That is how I knew I had to leave soon and that I had two choice: head on or head home.
I decided to head on. If my experience in the next country proved to be no better, I would then head home.
I should have trusted my instincts and I hope next time I have the wisdom to do so.
While I am thankful for your good intentions when you approached me, I wish you had said something along the lines of “It looks like you are having a bad day. Come let’s have a coffee and you can tell me all about it. Then we can figure out what your next step will be.” Then again, how could I have expected you to see past the situation to uncover to real cause of my distress?
I am still thankful and I do sincerely wish you the best on your own journey.