We arranged that I would go over in February, 1998. As I had never met her family and they seemed only to have a small house containing many bodies including, she said, many noisy children, I suggested she might find me an economical lodging in an hotel or, preferably, a self-catering accommodation; or even a room with a friend or relative. She seemed worried about the smell in their lavatory too. She said her cousin had a spare room where I could stay in the nearest town, Medina, a 15 minute jeepney ride away. That sounded fine to me.
But then she was offered a relief teaching job for a few months so I agreed to change to May, 99. It was a relief to procrastinate for I did not look forward to visiting the Philippines. I had been reading articles, books and the postings to Mahalkita. It seemed a threatening, hot, humid and polluted place. As one book on the economics of South East Asia called it: "The basket case of Asia." Not only were there malarial mosquitos, travellers' diarrhoea (TD), hepatitis, dengue fever, tetanus, typhoid and Japanese encephalitis but pick pockets, kidnappers, guerillas and extortionists - taxi drivers included. What about rabies? I do not remember that being mentioned.
I visited a couple of web sites which advised on prophylactics for malaria, typhoid, hepatitis, TD, tetanus and Japanese encephalitis which is epidemic and fairly rare; but a killer. Haemorrhagic dengue fever is also epidemic and not so rare but can be a killer. There is no vaccine so one must prevent the mosquito bites that transmit the bug. The Centre For Disease Control (CDC) <http://www.cdc.gov/visitors.htm> in Atlanta, Georgia, is particularly good and is a must read for regularly updated information on hazards to travellers.
(In view of my recent, 1999, trip where I was laid low with influenza I would now advise taking a "Diskhaler" of Glaxo's Relenza "For The Treatment Of Influenza A and B" which has just been approved by the EU and the US Food and Drug Administration.
"The drug is indicated for treatment of uncomplicated acute illness due to influenza virus in adults and adolescents 12 years and older who have been symptomatic for no more than two days. Patients inhale Relenza orally using a hand-held, breath-activated device called a Diskhaler. A couple of puffs delivers Relenza to the surface of the lungs, the primary site of influenza infection, where the drug is thought to inhibit the virus from multiplying.")
There has been much scepticism voiced by some medical authorities about the effectivenes of this drug. You will have to make up your mind whether it is worth it.
So I visited my doctor and was vaccinated against typhoid, tetanus, influenza and hepatitis B. He prescribed Larium as an antimalarial prophylactic and some Noroxin antibiotic tablets to abort a full-blown TD. Anyone reading Jeff Hollis's diary of his trip to "paradise", Ozamis City, where he was hospitalised on an intravenous drip, close to a lavatory, after eating "green bananas" will realise the necessity for these tablets. My flu shot was under the Australian (Au) scheme for protecting children and the aged so cost only a couple of dollars - as did the tetanus which was a routine booster. The hepatitis vaccine (Havrix) cost $Au 98 ; the Antimalarial (Larium) course of 8 tablets $Au 57.40; the typhoid vaccine (Typhim-VI) $Au 55 and the antibiotic 6 tablets (Noroxin) $Au 17.35. Total $Au 227.75 or, at $Au 1 = $US 0.65. that would be $US 148. Not bad when one considers these will prevent severe illness at least and save your life at most. Larium had to be taken in place of the regular antimalarials because these latter are no longer effective in certain parts of the RP - Mindanao for example. As the course must start a couple of weeks before one arrives in the RP one should consult the doctor a few weeks before then. Be warned that Larium (Roche) can cause severe side effects in some people - particularly mental illness lasting for months. There is/was a class action under way for damages. There was an epidemic of typhoid on Mindanao just before I went.
To treat stings or allergic skin reactions I packed a tube of a cortisone analogue cream; for scratches, cuts and tinea some BFI (MSD) powder and Tincture Benzoine Co. (Friars Balsam). For colds and pains, paracetamol and codeine (this could cause trouble at immigration as it is an opiate.) It is a very soothing treatment for TD too. For nutritional deficiencies, cod liver oil and vitamin E. To prevent stings some cream. To prevent sunburn some cream. To sterilise drinking water a bottle of iodine tablets. A couple of sterile suture needles with thread, some sterile dressings, plaster patches, cotton swabs and a scalpel completed my little kit. If one were the allergic type maybe some antihistamine would be a good idea. I used to be a Boy Scout and happen to be a RN. But what I really needed I did not take. That later! But I did take a mosquito net - optimistically a double size. I saw not one mosquito the whole three weeks in the Philippines. They were under the influence of El Nino and drought. So I had risked the possible severe side effects of the Larium for nowt. It is a good idea while at the doctor's to obtain a statement that the drugs were prescribed. Particularly codeine (Endone).
Then there was the finance question. I am widely travelled and have generally found that US dollars and US dollar travellers' cheques to be universally acceptable. I now have reservations about the latter in the Philippines and found (1999) that a Visa card is, after the local currency, the most useful. But not in rural towns where there are, as yet, no Automated Teller Machines. But where there is an ATM (they are listed on a Visa web site) it is an economical and speedy way to collect cash; and Visa is acceptable to airlines and hotels - with a caveat that some hotels will not give a promised discount for Visa. I took a flesh coloured money belt (more later on this) and a bum belt - but I did not like this as I felt rather marsupial. (On my last trip a friend loaned me a fishing waistcoat to slip over my shirt. Full of zipped and Velcro flapped pockets and a "secret" pocket. This was invaluable for travelling there and back with accommodation for passport, tickets, three different currencies, cashew nuts, paracetamol and pens. It would have been perfect with a large map pocket for tucking away a book or computer magazine.)
I booked an evening flight via PAL to Manila (MNL) from Brisbane and a connecting PAL from MNL to Cagayan De Oro (CDO), Mindanao. There seems no way of buying competitively priced air tickets in Australia. We are particularly unfortunate in Townsville because Japanese sweethearts have decided that Cairns is a desirable honeymoon destination. So Townsville, the capital of North Queensland, lost its international airport to Cairns. The quid pro quo is no oppressive presence of tourism as in Cairns with its associated kitsch. Townsville has a better, drier and sunnier, climate and an air of laid back normalcy. But it means a trip to Brisbane to enplane - 1,000 miles; or to Cairns, 250 miles. I took the overnight sleeper to Brisbane. It cost $$Au 30 for the sleeper as I am allowed two, free, return trips per year with my Seniors status.
Towards the departure date I increased my regular $2 bills to my pen pal to enable return postage to larger sums to enable emails from a CDO cybre cafe. But she lives a 2 hour bus journey away and, with teaching, this was not frequent. In view of the latter factors I asked her not to meet me. Her family has no phone for making arrangements, and anyway she does not like using them - and I am not too keen.
All too quickly the departure date of Monday, May 4, sped up. I had the sons for the weekend so they helped me to put the motor bikes and cycles in the shed and generally clean up around the property. They tied the cable to logs which I dragged out of the long grass with the tractor so that I could slash the long, dry grass to make fire breaks. Bush fires are a constant worry in our long, dry, sunny winters. In spite of this cleaning up, I still ran over a log and one of the slasher blades sheared off its swivel bolt. So I had to get onto my belly to replace it. All hot and sweaty! But it was all done eventually. Now for a shower, pack the wagon and drop the boys at their mother's place on the way to my city duplex to overnight. Almost unbelievably, the water main under the pavers on the back veranda had burst and there was a flood. The first ever since I built the house 10 years ago. By this time I was wondering whether this gave me a sufficient excuse to cancel.
The boys, 11 and 12 yr. were great. They got stuck in and helped me crow bar up the pavers and dig out the sopping sand to reveal the 1 1/2 inch plastic main - after turning the pump off. There was a 3 inch longitudinal split so I cut out a metre and replaced it. We back-filled the sand and replaced the concrete pavers which had to be pinch-barred into place. The boys ran down to switch the pump on and we went indoors. When we came out the flood was back. We had to repeat the operation with me swearing through gritted teeth. I nearly gave up on the desire to acquire a Filipina wife. But I staggered into the auto and drove into the city 30 miles away after dropping the key at my mate's place next door. The boys were left at my ex's and I went to bed at my duplex. What a day! Even the Philippines would seem easy after that.
Copyright © Clive Halliday 2001.