Lantau Island resident Christopher Mercer, British, flew in to the Philippines to bring back to Hong Kong his couple Blaesy Amar, and their children Jacob and Jude. He tells of his journey, starting on arrival at Kalibo airport in Antique Province, on the island of Panay, in the Western Visayas.

Day 1.

Five in the morning in Kalibo bus station after a 5 hour wait, and now on the bus to Culasi, Antique [in the Visayas, Philippines]. I hadn’t slept in the bus station as I am too obvious a target to be robbed especially during a brown out, but no sleep on the bus either as I love the journey and seeing all the villages and towns as they wake up. Arrived in Culasi about 8am and waited for Blaesy and the boys to arrive, 15 minutes later I was hugging and kissing them.

Jacob insisted I sit next to him on the back of the tricycle which was lovely as he wasn’t at all shy. We then went to the market, where I have to walk around stooped down as the covers are too low, within 5 minutes I am drenched in sweat. Jude has had a fever due to teething so he wasn’t enjoying the market much either. We went to a cafe/restaurant which didn’t actually seem to sell anything but let us stay as they wanted to stare and spy on us and ask our life stories. About Jacob they said ‘she” is beautiful!!

Then back in the tricycle where Jacob and I roasted in the back as we waited for something. By this time I was beginning to feel very tired and overheated. The tricycle took us to La Paz where we got on motorbikes up the mountain, as only motorbikes can make it. We took 3 motorbikes Blaesy assured me the road had been tarmacced since we last went up 2 years ago on the most terrifying ride of my life. ‘Some’ had been tarmacced most had not!

The ride was ok, very steep and fast but this time I had somewhere for my feet, Jacob looked dizzy when he got off, so was I. By this time it was 10am and well over 30 degrees C. The view is fantastic and so was the heat. We loaded up the bags and began the trek to the house. Blaesy chose the most difficult dangerous path as she has no idea that our heights and weights are vastly different, and although she can hop skip and jump like a mountain goat, the ground falls away under my weight. I carried a bag and Jacob which was fine at first, the main problem being the intense heat, I was sweating like a pig.

As I began to get heatstroke the ‘path’ got steeper (down into a valley), less secure and rockier and my legs got weaker and shakier. The temperature was going up and I couldn’t trust myself carrying Jacob any more so I swapped with Blaesy’s cousin Laisa, she carried Jacob and I got 2 heavy bags. Laisa skipped ahead, but by this time my head pounded with the heat and this had become the walk of hell.

We eventually made it to Blaesy’s uncle’s home where I collapsed and everyone else rested for half an hour before continuing the trek. The final half hour wasn’t as dangerous but the heat was getting worse, and then we arrived at Blaesy’s brother’s home where I lay down as I definitely had heatstroke. I managed to rouse myself in stages over the next 2 hours.

The home in the mountains is a wooden house on stilts with no windows (not with glass anyway) near the bottom of a valley, a lovely house although no electricity, water or toilet and no neighbours, roads or anything….just the fields and river.

I told Blaesy to cancel the wedding as I was not going to do that walk again and we would have to live here! After lunch (the food is always fresh and delicious) and a long rest I had recovered enough for us to walk down to the river where we all swam and Blaesy also washed some clothes. The water was quite warm and Jacob loved swimming with me.

That night when dusk fell the torches and candles came out and so did dinner, some strange coconut and vinegar drink which Blaesy told me the next day that it can still get you ‘high’ although it contains no alcohol, and then the beer too.

Later Jude had a fever of 39 degrees C, which becomes much more scary when so far away from a town or village during the night. I helped sponge him down until his temperature eventually dropped and then I slept the sleep of a thousand days which took on a surreal hallucinogenic feel as the heat, mixed with the clear mountain sounds of distant dogs, birds and water and the continuing drinking chatter of the family. A good day.

Day 2.

I sit here on the step outside at 9.14pm. Everyone is asleep. Without light it is impossible to read, no Internet, no TV. I would say it was quiet but with the symphony of insects and birds and others sound is constant, as well as Led Zeppelin!

We went swimming early this morning and late afternoon in the river, which was great. Water was bloody cold in the morning and warm in the afternoon. I went for a walk to take some photos in between which is not easy in the heat. Kids played, Jude seems much better.

Soon after dark I ventured outside, avoiding the tree trying to kill me by throwing coconuts at me, I have been repeatedly warned to walk quickly under it, I was once hit by lightning so I am steering clear.

The sky to the west was unbelievable, a long streak through the sky full of constellations and galaxies, breathtaking, and fireflies are still around as I sit here now. The dark is pitch black here, until your eyes focus on the sky and the glittering multitudes of stars.

Early start tomorrow, for the walk I am dreading. But not going to bed at 9pm early. Fireflies and distant galaxies, is what I am doing now. Oh and I thought a chicken was looking at me funny this afternoon, think it had a premonition I was going to eat it, I did!

Day 3.

It’s now ten in the morning. Up at silly o’clock, quick coffee then begin the walk. We went a different route this time and although hot it was quite easy. I can’t believe Blaesy hasn’t taken this way every time. We rested in the village (Pitac) and at last I was able to use the facilities! The bike journey down was so clear and beautiful it was a breeze.

Back down the mountain now next to the beach where the four of us will take the bus to Kalibo and look for a hotel for the night.