Snackless and Frustrated in Romblon, Philippines

     Not many people know this, and I’m not sure I should be sharing this with you, but we at the CIA (plenty of people suspect that all this traveling I do is just a front for my job at the CIA, so I might as well come out now. I do work for the CIA—as a janitor, but still) are in advanced development for an effective alternative to waterboarding, which has been too controversial for the namby pamby public. The new plan is to have detainees ask for directions from Filipinos. Early studies have conclusively shown that it is the same level of torture.
     It’s true. We are going to lock them in a room with a Filipino and then ask a few basic questions until they pull all their hair out or blood comes out of their ears. Very effective.

carabao sunrise

     Leaving Carabao Island at sunrise for Tablas, then Romblon.

     It is nothing less than sheer agony to try and get directions from a Filipino. A root of this is the school of thought that wrong directions are better than no directions as it is a way of “saving face” by not having to admit you don’t know something, which drives me insane. It is by no means strictly a Filipino phenomenon, but it is an epidemic here.
     The woman in the Romblon tourist office was dumbstruck when I asked her about places to stay in town. (I asked if I was really the first person to ask this question, and another woman gave a fantastic answer, saying that usually only couples come in.) When she finally came up with something, she pointed to a street and said it was on the left side. Fifteen minutes later I come back red-faced, telling her there is nothing on the left. She then said to go left, then right, then when I got to the market, ask someone. (I felt a little bad later when someone told me that her job wasn’t “supported” by the city, adding that “she doesn’t even get a snack.” Well, OK then, I give poor directions when I am snackless, too.)
     At least she tried. Usually Filipinos start looking nervously left and right and say to take a taxi. Taking a taxi is the answer to everything.
     I made small talk with a girl in a shop in tiny San Agustin, Tablas and when I asked where the Sharapova Internet Cafe(!) was, she started to formulate an answer in her head but then burst into anxiety-ridden laughter at being unable to do anything but freeze up. She could have pointed, she could have said to go one street that way and one street that way, but she was unable to communicate anything, and she spoke English fine. I don’t get it.
waitress and boy

     “Hi, I’m here to apply for the boy position. I have experience.”

     For a country that purports to speak English, I have a lot of communication problems. I can’t put my finger on why. English on a basic level is spoken, yes, but either I am not expressing myself the right way or my accent/mumbling throws them or my word choice isn’t right or I don’t know what the problem is, but it’s a problem.
     My frustration is misguided. I know I am the one in the wrong. I am the one making the demand that we communicate in a language that isn’t their first. English isn’t the lingua franca here, Tagalog is. Still, this is a common exchange:
     Me: What time is the next jeep?
     Filipino: 2pm.
     Me: There isn’t one earlier?
     Filipino: Yes, 10am.
marble starbucks

     Romblon is famous for marble production. I wonder how much a handmade marble Starbucks mug goes for on ebay?

romblon view far

     This is the view from the cell phone tower above town. It was a little hazy, but not this hazy. Why do my photos have that foggy, washed out, Barbara Walters soft focus to them?

romblon view near

     Romblon town is not a big place, but its dense with three and four-story buildings as it sits ensconced among hills on three sides. When Typhoon Yolanda crushed the country last year, devastating large swathes of the Philippines, a guy told me they played basketball on the covered court during the storm as it was passing over. No damage.

     I was in a foul mood by the time I got to Romblon. A boat from Carabao to Santa Fe, Tablas (one hour, 100 pesos), then an excruciatingly slow jeep where I couldn’t sit straight, another uncomfortable boat ride from San Agustin (I think another one hour and 100 pesos) and then the snack-less tourist office lady.
     I might have been imagining things, but the people on Romblon island seemed a little reticent towards me. After you talk with someone, it is like anywhere else in the Philippines and you are fast friends, but at first contact people seem a tad aloof. I was wondering if it was related to the other foreigners I saw. I met one traveling couple, but otherwise, it looked to be only long-term residents (i.e. the old, the fat, and the haggard.)
     In the course of doing research about this island and the one next door, Sibuyan, I came across this guy’s story about a German living there. Westerners might not be held in the highest regard, though it could be a skewed perspective or it all could be in my head.
     Foreigners aren’t allowed to own land so they either marry a local or go through an intermediary. One foreigner told me the trick was to get a dim local as the front man and he/she is happy if they are paid a small stipend every month. That sounds like a risky strategy, as I can’t believe someone isn’t whispering into their ear that they are the true owner and can take over. It’s a shame to hear people talk like that about Filipinos, too, as it perpetuates the idea that the land and the people are ripe for exploiting.
bicycle roast chicken

     A bicycle roast chicken business. I would have killed to have one of these in college.

tiamban beach

     I went to nearby Tiamban, but they had an entrance fee for access to the (public) beach, which I can’t abide, so I walked back to Bonbon Beach and then through Tiamban. I wish I could have gotten away with a picture of a couple I walked past, a classic scene of a very old western man making grunting noises while reading the paper as his young, vibrant-looking Filipina wife was painting a beach scene but with her back to the beach.

romblon high school

     Spacious Romblon High School. It initially feels a little weird to trespass on to a big high school campus, everyone staring at the outsider, but I went slowly toward the court, made some small talk, and was invited to play with a bunch of students and their basketball teacher. I set the good example, passing a lot, playing defense, taking one shot in half an hour, and afterward, the teacher was so thrilled that when I saw him in town later he wanted me to take his motorbike the next day to tour around the island.

giant squid

     A couple of giant squid sold at the market.

kid posing
     I stayed at Fel-Mar Pension House in Romblon town, also known as Marble Pension because it’s made of said stone. 300 pesos, as I recall. It’s just on the left. Shared comfort room (shower and toilet) but TV with cable that shows NBA games live. I believe it is the only cheap place in town, though I saw a sign for a lodging room by the port that looked from the outside too sad to even consider.
     Romblon, by the way, is the name of the province that incorporates Carabao, Tablas, and Sibuyan islands, and then Romblon is also an island in Romblon province.

     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

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Snackless and Frustrated in Romblon, Philippines — 11 Comments

  1. I want to do some serious island-hopping in the Philippines, maybe with my bicycle. I feel as though I’ve only ever scratched the surface.

  2. Ha! I knew you were CIA! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Seriously though, Kent, it’s great following along with your trip through the Phillipines – it seems to be such an interesting place. On some levels, it reminds me of South-East Asia (mostly-friendly locals, but a distrust of visitors in some places), but completely different at the same time.

    Having an awesome time reading these posts!!


  3. Thanks, Alex, I’m glad you are reading them! I am really enjoying it here. I don’t get why they only give 30 day free visas.
    It is a great place, but I have one more rant in me about the food!

  4. That would be a good plan, Graydon. There are so many little islands that go undiscovered, too. However, the headline on this morning’s paper was about coup rumors. I hope it all doesn’t go to hell

  5. Great read, Kent. It sounds like (the) Philippines (I always have trouble with the p’s and n’s myself.) would be a good place for me to try some island hopping. I’d probably end up completely lost what with their gift for giving directions, but I bet I’d love it. Did you castigate the foreigner who made the exploitive remark? I met only a few people like that and I usually gave them a good Amish shunning.

    In regards to the haze, isn’t that the most annoying thing? From what I was able to find out researching while I was gone it boils down to your camera just sees it different than you do. Filters and tripods can help, or HDR photography techniques as well. There is some info at but it is all after the shot is taken. Choose a better time of day if you are going to shoot the wide land and avoid humid climates. Now that I have reliable bandwidth there might be better answers out there.

    I can’t wait to read your next adventure.

  6. Thanks! And thanks for the tips, too. I will check out the links.
    My camera is getting long in the tooth, and there is a spot on my lens. I am still playing around with it.
    I have some unkind things to say about Filipino food soon, but it’s a fun country; I’m sure you will like it.

  7. I find it rude that you’re in the Philippines and you expect people to speak your language. When I’m in the states, I dont expect Americans to give me directions in Tagalog. Stay where you came from!

  8. Thanks for the Kamilla House tip . We are overnight in San Augustine…and itโ€™s great! Thanks!

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