I am woken up by the voice of Damien: "Lève-toi Étienne!"
I am on my feet in seconds. Quick look at the clock: 4am. Drink a little bit of water. Put the last of my things in my bag. Open the door, it's raining hard.
The taxi driver is here, all smiles. "Good morning!" I mumble a reply. He grabs my bag and tells me to follow him. I first run to the bar and steal a banana.
Get to the vehicule, a motorobike with a sidecar, a floor and seat built over, and a crude roof fashioned.
The night is an ebony fog. The rain, a warm, heavy shower that shows no signs of slowing down. The smell of gasoline invades my senses as we ride through the streets towards Dapa, where my ferry is.
I'm trying to ignore my hangover.
Get to the ferry, I only have a 500 pesos bill, so I get cheated out of 200 pesos by the driver. I do not thank him.
Buy my ticket, and get on the boat to Surigao. I will arrive there in 5 hours.
Sit on a bench by the rails, outside. Watch the sun rise and the people arrive.
5 am, we leave. I put on my earphones, play some Lucero. I think about my friends back home. I focus on the fact that in a month I will be doing most of my traveling alone. I lean down on the bench and fall asleep.
Wake up 2 hours later, still traveling. We arrive in Surigao at around 10am. A big city, compared to where I have been staying. The taxis are lined up for foreigners like me.
Again, it's a motorbike with a sidecar, but this time the roof is made of metal. I tell the driver I'm going to Cebu. "Yes, yes, Cebu, come!"
Move through tight streets, big enough for 2 small cars. We're inches away from taxis in front and behind. Cross streets without stopping. There's no street lights here, you just snake around other cars.
We leave the city. As we cross a tiny bridge on the side of the ocean, it starts raining again... Sideways. The driver gives me a shirt for me to hold up as a shield.
We start going up a steep hill. His bike stops in a curve. We will be stuck on the hill for 10 minutes as he swears and plays with wires and bolts. I am drenched. Cars and bikes pass by us slowly. It is my first "what the fuck is going on" moment.
Get to another ferry, leaving in 5 minutes. The driver overcharges me but I have no time to argue. Get on the boat, walk inside and get a cheap chicken soup, those where you just put hot water in.
The newspaper shows a picture of Harper with the president of the Philippines. A worker comes to chat with me.
An hour later, we dock at a new island. The port consists of one building and a gate, with one road turning into the jungle. I get a little nervous.
A worker points me to a bus I need to take. Smaller than a city bus, with no windows. I am lucky to get a seat.
We will be traveling on the road for 4 hours, going up and down mountains by the ocean, around towns and villages, stopping often to grab people on the road. We quickly get over-crowded.
In a curve on a hill we almost get in a head-on collision with a car that was going too fast. The girl next to me gasps loudly. 10 minutes later and she will still be holding her head. I start to ask her questions to change her mind, and it seems to work.
There's hutts scrambled everywhere along the road, and sometimes they become a pile of houses, and suddenly it's a town with a little store that sells text messages and rum.
I am happy to see that schools are always the nicest buildings. A yard in the middle, often with a basketball court and a garden so they learn about plants and farming. and classrooms lined around the yard.
We finally get to Sogood, at 3pm. I am very hungry. I need to get to Bato and no one seems to understand me. Finally a man tells me I just have to wait for the right bus.
I decide to leave the bus terminal to get some noodles and a bottle of water, and eat it at the bus terminal. The terminal is just several rows of plastic chairs in between two buildings, about 20 feet wide, with a small tv playing 101 dalmatians. The people laugh as they watch the movie.
As I am absantly eating my noodles I start walking towards the buses, when I notice one about to leave. It says Bato on a piece of paper in the window. I quickly dispose of my food and run to the bus as he is pulling away, and manage to get inside.
No seat this time. I am crunched between 3 women which I tower over, and am leaning over an old lady sitting on my left. I hold on to poles and switch hands often to conserve my strenght, I have no idea how long this bus ride will be. I am too stresses to realise how hungry I am.
After 30 minutes enough people get off for me to get a seat, but at the next stop an old lady comes in. I am the only one to offer her my seat. She gives me a warm smile and says "thank, thank".
I will be riding this bus or another 3 hours, and sometimes I feel like I am in those cheap old cartoons where the background would repeat itself several times: everything starts to look the same.
Finally arrive in Bato. A man on a bicycle with a sidecar that looks like a grocery store cart offers to take me to the ferry. I accept, i have no clue where it is and I am in the middle of a market.
I get to the office to buy my ticket. The young lady comes to the window, sees me, gasps and hides behind a paper taped to the window. I wait for a few seconds until she reappears.
"I am sorry sir, you are very handsome foreigner, I lost my breath. I need a minute!" As everyone in her office laughs, I give her a wink that makes her blush and tell her that she is very pretty too.
We flirt as I book my ticket, and she asks me if I have a wife or a girlfriend, and if I will be back in Bato.
"No, but I will be in Cebu for a few days"
"Cebu! Good for foreigners. Good bars. You get a lucky wife there"
I walk around the pier a little bit, and venture a few meters in the market to get chicken brochettes and rice at a stand. They are the best brochettes I have eaten in a long time. Across the street people are gambling on a "rolling rock" table, an old man keeps screaming "oh!" as regularly as a metronome.
A lady with her kids at the stand asks me where my wife is, and is surprised that I am single, and traveling alone. She asks me if I like FilipinAs, or FilipinOs. I confirm the former and she laughs, tells me to make Filipinas happy.
The sun sets, on the pier are speakers and a Filipino cover band is playing covers of american songs. "Wish you were here" starts, and as I lay down on a bench and watch children play, I think about a girl back home. I wonder if she's thinking of me. I feel far from home, but I like the feeling.
At 8 I finally get to board the next ferry, an overnight trip to Cebu. Bunkbeds are everywhere. I took the Tourist class, in an AC room, where my toes are freezing. I get in my bunkbed, spoon my bag, and promptly fall asleep.