A Storm in a Bamboo boat

Phil and me and clouds closing in.
The dark clouds closed in and rain fell in great sheets making it impossible to see any of the islands around us. It thundered onto the too small roof of the local boat we had sailed out on. It was made of bamboo that seemed to be held together with string and there was not really enough shelter from the rain. 

The crew simply settled into their seats and smoked, relaxed, or made another bowl of rice and meat over the gas stove perched on the front of the boat. We had no choice but to sit back and rely on our crew to know what to do, and hope the rain would let up soon so we would know which way to go home.

Detail from the boat
Phil had just completed a deep sea dive onto a coral shelf, complete with schools of exotic fish and large manta rays. I decided not to attempt scuba this trip and had stayed by the boat floating crazily in the swell, holding tightly to a boat line and peering into the gloom through my mask, not really seeing anything but having fun and probably causing the crew some amusement.

Earlier I had snorkeled near a tiny island where Phil and the others were diving, I decided to walk across to the other side, just because I could. I thought the remaining crew were busy ignoring me until I heard loud shouts as they called me back in Filipino and broken English.

Love the blue of the water here.
They sounded serious, but I never found out whether I had walked on private land, or offended some tribal law, or maybe been in danger from wild tigers. They went back to ignoring me when I went back on board. I think it was how they coped because their English was so limited.

When the torrential rain started, we were as far from land as we could be. There were islands all around us, but I couldn't see any of them.

Since we didn't speak Filipino and the crew had limited English, we spent the time talking to a young English back packer who was the only other tourist on the dive trip. The crew fed us some of the meat and rice they had cooked on board. Within an hour, the clouds lifted, the rain stopped completely as if it had never been, and now that we could see land, we set off home.

Our boat and crew
The breeze of the moving boat over our wet bodies chilled me, but who could complain as we sailed back over the now sparkling waters to a picture perfect tropical beach. 

And the adventure wasn't over. That night we had a date with thousands of fireflies.

It was fully dark and the slope down to the river was slippery. The tiny torch one of the men carried was not helping much. The best view of the fireflies was from the river so we prepared to board another home-made Filipino boat. One I could hardly see.

Entrance to a home
I clambered over the bow as instructed, carefully holding the poles for reference and stepping awkwardly over what I knew was a narrow bamboo floor. My son once fell through a bamboo floor in a Filipino home, so I was terrified I was going to break through the boat deck and sink the boat. It took me some time to find the strongest bamboo beams to sit and walk on, especially since I had to feel my way around. It was so dark, I still don't know how many others were on the boat with us.

We skimmed along the river for a while, listening to the gentle thrub of the engines, and the quiet voice of the guide. I began to relax, and enjoy the cool scents of the evening. Then the guide pointed out a group of trees. 

To my surprise, each was outlined by thousands of specks of pulsing light, like the scattered sparks of fireworks in an ink black sky.

The pilot told us about the families living in the area, many of whom did not have electricity or TV. He had other interesting stories about the area, but the best part was when we all sat quietly and listened to the light slap of the water against the boat and a small hum coming from the insects above us.

He moved in closer and, reaching out to the trees, he gave us one each to hold. Mine was as inconsequential as a piece of sand. A tiny and weightless speck of light in my hand and gone too soon. Phil's continued to crawl around on his shirt for most of the trip.

It was another incredible experience in the Philippines, and well worth the fourteen hour drive from Manila.

We went to Donsol to see the whale sharks it is famous for, but we went in the wrong season. The only shark we saw was the statue outside our hotel. But there is more to do here than whale sharks. 

More even than diving and fireflies. In my next blog I will introduce you to the tiny village of Donsol and some of its interesting people. See you there.

P.s. Check out the sample of my new book Junk Mail Princess, due out soon. 

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