There is something immensely frustrating about being ill and not getting better.
I awoke at Rex Tourist Inn after another night of fitful sleep and power outages. Groggy, I rubbed my eyes to see Sarah standing, fully-dressed, by the door.
“You have to see this! There’s a river!”
Minutes after I woke up, I found myself standing on a large bamboo dock overlooking a very buggy brown river. Yesterday, I’d seen signs for kayak rental, so we had decided we’d do that today. Now, at 8am, standing in the muggy heat and feeling wrecked, that seemed like a lot less fun.
Sarah and I spent the morning indulging in breakfast that we didn’t have to cook – tasty omelets with rice, fresh pineapple slices, and, much to this caffeine-addict’s joy, Nescafe. It had been a while since I’d had something resembling coffee. (By a while, I mean two days.)
We nursed our breakfasts and talked at length. I will say this again: it’s amazing how much you can talk about with someone you’re spending 24 hours a day with. We did a lot of cool stuff on this trip, but I have to point out that I cherish those long morning chats, and looking back on them only makes me more grateful to have found that good of a friend. (All the feels!)
Back in the air con of our room, Sarah and I decided it was time to intersperse our shoddy accommodation with some “posh” places. We were off to Legazpi tomorrow to hike/ATV Mount Mayon, so we skimmed Booking.com for nice hotels. When we officially booked The Oriental, I was beside myself with glee. A clean bed!
And then we booked The Farm, a popular vegan spa/retreat two hours outside Manila. We had a long journey back that we’d wanted to break up, and while The Farm would be a 10-hour slog from Donsol, it seemed worth it.
Invigorated by the possibility of a good night’s sleep, I joined Sarah and asked to rent a kayak. The folks at the hotel, with the exception of Jerome, didn’t know how to handle this request.
“We want to rent a kayak,” we’d said to the receptionist. Beside her was a sign saying “Kayak Rental – 350/hour”. She blinked and looked extremely confused.
By the time we were all on the same page, it was 2pm, and Sarah and I were standing on the river bank slathered in bug spray and staring at the kayak and the hotel employees as we all stood around.
“Um…are we waiting for something?” Sarah asked.
“Yes. Your guide.”
We both exchanged wary looks.
“Do we need a guide?” we asked.
To be fair, this was probably a good thing. Earlier, we’d asked where the river went and how far down we could go.
“30 minutes,” they’d replied.
“30 minutes…in which direction? Does the river end? Or do we have to turn around?”
“…is there a spot where we have to turn around? How will we know when to turn back?”
We clambered into our kayak, tied up in comical bright orange life vests. Our guide got into his kayak and immediately blasted a reggae version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”
“You like reggae?” he shouted to us as we paddled down the glassy river through mangrove trees. Us, nature, and reggae Adele.
Immediately, he turned and led us down a small stream before calling back to us, “Ah! Wrong way! Turn around.”
The workout of paddling the kayak spirited some life back into my ailing bones, so when he suggested we go out over the ocean, Sarah and I were eager. Halfway to the island he’d pointed at, we vetoed the decision and went to a closer island instead. On the way back, the river current diminished until we were paddling along a ripple-free glass surface. Birds and insects croaked from the nearby trees, and we imagined snakes were wrapped around some of the branches. It was peaceful.
Once back at Rex, we learned we’d been out for nearly two hours. It was after 4, and we decided tonight it was time for some exquisite cuisine. We were off to find West Peninsula.
We did this after hitting an ATM and leaving our car parked down a dodgy road, since there was no way the beast would make it down the narrow street leading to West Peninsula. I felt a little nervous leaving it – would it get hijacked? Would someone put a tracking device underneath it? Would someone break in and hide in the trunk? – but the idea of tantalizing food calmed my nerves.
West Peninsula beats both Rex and Breeze & Waves as far as ambiance – everything looks balmy and cozy on the surface, but Sarah peered into the rooms and confirmed that they were identical to ours. Still, West Pen was thriving with life – frogs hopped along the pathways, cats slunk among the chairs, and geckos plastered themselves to the canopy overhead.
We ordered bravely – butter chicken for me, crabs for Sarah, and a plate of ginataan pumpkin to share. In the Bicol region, they cook with coconut milk and it’s supposed to be absolutely bangin’.
It was hands down the worst meal of Caramoan.
My butter chicken was actually just fried chicken, and Sarah’s crabs were completely slathered in greasy garlic sauce. They came with a silver crab cracker that was basically pointless. I thought back to Crab Feast in Maryland where I’d learned to properly eat crab, and helped Sarah open hers – to an extent. I missed the bucket of soapy water you get at Crab Feast and the little wooden mallet. This was a feat in itself, and once we’d finally opened the crabs, the meat was minimal.
The ginataan was surprisingly bland. We ended up feeding the chicken to a cat and drinking some San Migs, which were good because how do you screw up a bottle of San Mig?
We left feeling dissatisfied but also a little giddy. When something is that far off your expectations, it’s best not to get too upset. Laughing about it is better.
We laughed the entire way back to Rex, with Sarah refusing to look in the trunk to see if we had a stowaway. By the time we got back to our room, we were in stitches for no reason apart from being tired of crappy food and sub-par accommodations.
“I really hope we keep having funny adventures like this,” Sarah said to me as I went into the bathroom. She cranked Macklemore on the iPad and I closed the bathroom door, turned, and saw a gigantic cockroach.
It was huge. Imagine a cockroach. Then multiply its size by ten. It was like Gregor Samsa on the wall in front of me.
It was a moment of paralysis. What do you do? Go to the bathroom? Warn someone? Its long antennae waved in the air.
“SARAH!” I screamed. “SARAH, it’s huge!! I’ve never seen one this big!!”
At that, the thing started scampering along the wall. I had no choice but to throw open the bathroom door and observe Sarah, looking confused and stunned.
“Cockroach!” I finally got out.
The thing scurried out of the bathroom and across the floor. Some shrieking ensued.
“Let me kill it!” I cried.
“No! It will have babies on the floor if you squash it!”
“That’s a myth!!”
Still, I wasn’t about to try it. Sarah managed to open the door and catch the cockroach in the welcome mat, which we both shoved outside. We slammed the door, breathless and quiet, save Macklemore’s “American” blasting in the background.
Relieved, we shook our heads and laughed, our hearts pounding. I was not thrilled about the idea of sleeping there.
“Cockroaches don’t climb, you said?” I told her.
And then – above the door, there it was.
“God, another one!”
Was it the same one? A family member? We had no idea, so we attacked it with a flip flop and attempted to shoo it out the door. Eventually, it scampered under my bed and Sarah went to get help.
Jerome entered the room with a broom and a look of nonchalance on his face. He stood beside my bed and began whacking the curtains with his broom, and
THREE MORE GIGANTIC COCKROACHES FELL OUT OF THE CURTAIN.
I cannot explain to you the level of disgust and horror at seeing these massive things tumbling out of the curtains that hung down beside my bed. Sarah and I stood at the other end of the room, huddled together and shouting. Jerome shrugged and swept the family out of the room.
We pushed the beds together, away from the curtains, but even as I drew my cocoon around me, I felt like I was going to be assaulted by an army of cockroaches in the night.
It was with great joy and exuberance that I awoke the following morning, ready to leave Caramoan and its cockroaches behind – even if it meant an hour of driving over those hole-y mountain passes.