The World's Friendliest Country, Part 2

  Can you spot the shipping container?

Can you spot the shipping container?

I realized it was an earthquake almost immediately, but I wasn't terribly concerned. I was standing inside a great big metal box; I knew a few shakes wouldn't collapse it. As the tremors continued for many seconds--and the aftershocks continued on and off for the rest of the day--I felt fortunate to be staying at a resort that was constructed entirely out of retired shipping containers. Several additional conex containers were in the process of being reformatted there at Anika Resorts, and it was fun to see how the ubiquitous steel boxes were being transformed into cute, comfortable beach cabins.

  How about now?

How about now?

Just a few weeks later, Anika Resorts on the Philippines' Bantayan Island withstood another natural disaster--Typhoon Haiyan. It was the only resort left standing on the island. Those shipping containers sure were a great idea.

The devastating effects of the typhoon made international headlines. But the fact is, the Philippines suffered a one-two punch in October and November, with the 7.2 earthquake preceding the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record by just a couple of weeks. My husband and I were there when the earthquake hit.

The island that was hardest hit by the earthquake was Bohol. We were on Bohol the day before the earthquake, as part of a two-plus week island hop around the Visayas, the central islands of the Philippines. 

  A picture I snapped of St. Michael Parish Church, Bohol, one day before the earthquake that destroyed it.

A picture I snapped of St. Michael Parish Church, Bohol, one day before the earthquake that destroyed it.

  St. Michaels after the earthquake. Photo by Erik de Castro/Reuters

St. Michaels after the earthquake. Photo by Erik de Castro/Reuters

We joined a one-day bicycle tour around Bohol, passing the St. Michael Parish Church, countless peaceful rice paddies and small villages, and the odd Chocolate Hills in the central part of the island. In the summertime, the grass on the hills turns a roasty brown color. Don't they look like a box of chocolates stretching to the horizon?

  Chocolate Hills before the quake.

Chocolate Hills before the quake.

  Chocolate Hills, shredded by the earthquake. Photo courtesy of Philippine News (philnews.ph)

Chocolate Hills, shredded by the earthquake. Photo courtesy of Philippine News (philnews.ph)

We had a great day on the island, and I managed to stay off of the Bus of Shame (the jeepney trailing the group of cyclists and picking up exhausted stragglers) until we were really really very close to the top (I swear!) of the Chocolate Hill overlook!

  Cycling up to the Chocolate Hills overlook

Cycling up to the Chocolate Hills overlook

  The Bus of Shame! 

The Bus of Shame! 


This is a large but otherwise fairly typical Filipino jeepney. They're available for private hire, and they are also used as public transportation. Jeepneys are the equivalent of buses here, nutty paint jobs and all. Jeepneys are not the most comfortable ride, especially if you're a very tall American.

  The jeepney: long on style, short on headroom

The jeepney: long on style, short on headroom

While on the cycling trip, we stopped at a butterfly sanctuary (the second one we'd visited in the Philippines--and I'd recommend the one on Bohol over the one in Cebu for its extensive and well-maintained gardens.) We also visited a tarsier sanctuary, though it was a bit disconcerting because it was basically just a big cage that tourists could walk through, gaping and taking pictures. Well. I was one of them. That said, there are government conservation projects for the tarsiers on Bohol and two other Visayas islands. Tarsiers are tiny primates, smaller than squirrels, with huge eyes.

  Tarsier

Tarsier

The Philippines was one of the friendliest, most culturally comfortable countries I've visited since we moved overseas. The world-class diving, gorgeous beaches and unfailingly friendly and kind people there make it easy to gloss over the Southeast Asian traffic chaos, the poverty, and the need for tighter environmental regulations. As an American, I do cringe a little when I see litter on a pristine beach and families living in tin shacks. But conditions here seem vastly better than in other parts of Southeast Asia. And after the twin disasters of last fall, life goes on.

A friend just returned from visiting his family in Cebu. It's business as usual for the dive operators and other tour operators (tourism is an enormous source of income here.) Our friend swam with whale sharks and went on a stunning dive trip with his 10-year-old son. The whole family went on a zip-line trip, and stayed in a family-owned hotel overlooking the sea.