In the back of my mind, I was fully aware of the pain and torment I was setting myself up for, but I didn’t give a shit. I was just happy to be on the roof-deck of a bar floating in the middle of the bay of Sabang in the Philippines. This was it! This was the vacation I’d been waiting for. Sure, I hadn’t updated my blog in three weeks. Sure, Korea had been a bit… underwhelming for my travel standards. Sure, there were entirely too many overweight old white dudes in search of Filipina girls younger than most of the sperm they carried in their saggy testicles. But the view from this sunny roof-top was spectacular.
Coconut trees, sandy beaches, blue skies — the works. I was glad I took the time to swim around in the tropics that day while getting blitzed on beer with my new Swedish friends. My arrogance lead me to believe that my pasty soft skin was somehow impervious to the gamma rays being blasted at me by a titanic ball of plasma. This error in judgement would lead to a chain reaction of carelessness unprecedented in any of my previous travels. Both my patient girlfriend and I would suffer greatly because of my mistakes to come.
Since I decided that sunscreen was not necessary, I soon discovered that about 60% of my body had been covered with a laughable degree of sunburn. It didn’t really start to kick my ass until the following morning. Most people would take one look at their cherry red skin and say “No more sun for me!” Not me though. I figured that a bit of sunscreen would surely prevent further damage. I spent yet another day sitting in the sun, drinking alcohol and swimming in the clear, salty water. By the following morning, it became apparent that lathering sunscreen on my already over-cooked skin would not pan out to be a plan for success. My skin was as tight as wet leather left to dry in the desert sun. This burn was no joke. I felt like writing apology letters to all my tattoo artists and future physicians There was no more denying it; I had fucked up. No more sun for me.
By that point, Lani had been sick for two weeks. Bronchitis, it turns out, is not a whole lot of fun, especially when on the road. I had to take some time off from nursing her back to health to address my own newfound (and self-inflicted) ailments. Between aloe-treatment sessions and avoiding the sun like some tween who has read too much Twilight, I managed to squeeze in another terrible decision that would leave me paying for it with high interest. This brings us to my second epic blunder that could have easily been avoided with a modicum of foresight.
Food was expensive at most of the restaurants in Sabang. Street food was not. I always say that if it’s good enough for locals, good enough for me. This motto usually holds true, but as with anything enjoyable in this world, moderation is key. After one particularly sleepless night fueled by Lani’s incessant cough attacks and the searing hot pain radiating throughout my body, we felt like a day of rest was in order. Not wanting to wade through the sweaty sacks of white meat crowding the narrow sidewalk more than I had to, I decided to buy a day’s worth of food in one fell swoop.
Walking past bakeries, fruit stands and all sorts of other healthy, delicious and perfectly acceptable looking things, I found myself walking pretty far down an island backroad that not many tourists ventured. Down this road, between a pile of burning trash and some feral dogs, I found a burger shack. At only 30 cents a burger and not a fellow white man in sight, I deduced that this place must be totally legit. Shortly after I slid the fourteen year old shanty dweller my $1.60, I was walking away with a sack of street meat doused with rancid mayo that would have made the dogs suspicious, but not me. Proud of my thriftiness, I returned to the hotel with something I mistook as dinner. Lani was not convinced. After eating only one of the “burgers,” she wisely left the other five for me to devour… which, of course, I did without much thought.
The sickness the following morning was not all that surprising. Clearly, this was an unavoidable consequence of my actions. Though I never planned to get bowel discomfort on a level such as this, I knew in my heart that this was going to happen to me. I was doing this to myself all along. My complete lack of foresight and planning had beaten my adult mind to the punch again. Crouching over the toilet every half an hour in the room was not so bad. It wasn’t until we decided to venture to the neighboring White Beach that my mistakes truly came back to haunt me. I’d been popping Imodium like Tic-Tacs, but you can’t put a bandage on a bullet wound.
I waddled onto White Beach looking like the Kool-Aid Man with a frown and intense bowel discomfort. My second-degree sunburn had yet to begin to fade and the Imodium left me backed up with a criminal amount of toxic displeasure. I decided that a good way to cope with this pain that I had, once again, inflicted upon myself, was to drink a copious amount of liquor. After finishing a pitcher of some god awful sweet rum cocktail, I had no choice but to find a toilet.
The “Comfort Rooms,” as they are called in the Philippines, are never comfortable and rarely rooms. The one I stumbled across this evening was not even a formidable tomb for the anonymous cockroaches that died there. No toilet seat and no flusher. Just a large stained piece of broken porcelain next a bucket of brown water. Somehow, as if some angel had graced me with its white magic and foresight, I thought ahead for the first time in days and brought a stack of cocktail napkins with me. As if this place couldn’t get any more foul and offensive to the senses, I sprayed everything I could muster in all directions and stormed out. As luck had it, a police officer had been waiting to find his comfort there. Fearing deportation, I ran away quickly and continued to drink until I could do so no more.
The next morning we started our journey back to Manila to catch our flight to Palawan. The day started with a hangover that was quickly replaced by an itching fit. My skin was beginning to peel and the itching was unbearable. Regardless, we had a boat to catch. In addition to my regular morning Imodium tablet, I had to take a double dose of Benadryl to quell the itching before I lost my mind.
Walking onto the boat, bright red, itching uncontrollably, I must have looked like some kind of irradiated crackhead. By the time the boat took off, however, the Benadryl kicked in and my incessant scratching came to a halt. The drowsy side-effects took hold right away but I managed to keep my eyes open until we docked and found a bus taking us back to Manila. We threw our large backpacks in the boot and I put my day bag in the compartment above my head for safekeeping.
During the ride back I was either knocked out by my medicine or mindlessly watching “John Wick” on the TV screen above the aisle. Did I really just shoot a Russian gangster in the head after killing my dog? No, of course not, that was Keanu Reeves. Go back to sleep.
After a couple hours, we were back in the sweaty, poverty-ridden and highly polluted city of Manila. We jumped off the bus, grabbed our bags and took a taxi to the airport. We had already spent three days there earlier on our trip and I felt done with it. I couldn’t have been happier to reach our terminal and prepare to board our flight to a new location.
“Passports.” said the stone faced security guard at the entrance to Terminal 4.
I reached for my bag and that’s when I came to a ghastly realization: It wasn’t there. I had left my bag in the overhead compartment of our bus… and my fucking passport was in that bag.
“Oh fuck. My god. Shit! No no no! We need to go back to the station!” Lani quickly concurred and within a minute we were back in a cab heading to where we got dropped off.
When we got to the station, I frantically began showing my bus ticket to anyone in a button-up shirt trying to locate the bus we were on. The bus had left, but was not far away. It was being cleaned just up the street. We stormed up the street as fast as we could and found the bus we were looking for. The guy who sold us our tickets hours earlier was mopping out the inside. I walked up and looked above our seats, but it was gone. I begged for advice on what to do, hoping that there was a “Lost and Found,” where some Good Samaritan had turned it in, but this was Manila. There is no concept of a “Lost and Found,” but there is one for Lost. It’s called stolen, which means “Say goodbye, you are never getting that shit back.” I tried searching through my backpack thinking that I might have left it in there instead. Nope. It was time that I came to terms with my fuck-up.
It was mid-afternoon and the heat was making it hard to breathe. Buendia Bus Terminal is not the best place to be wandering around with giant backpacks, looking horrified. Dozens of men wearing tattered flip-flops and torn board-shorts kept approaching us asking if we needed a taxi. We did not. We just needed a place to sit for a minute and collect our thoughts. We found refuge inside a Mini-Mart and began discussing the next logical course of action. We knew that I needed to contact the Embassy and that I would need to stay in Manila until I got things worked out. This meant that we were going to miss our flight to Puerto Princesa. Our trip to an island paradise had been replaced by some bureaucratic nightmare in one of Southeast Asia’s dirtiest and most dangerous cities… and it was entirely my own fault.
We booked an over-priced hotel close to the US Embassy. My first course of action was to get some new passport photos taken. Unfortunately, it was Easter Sunday and all the passport photo shops were closed. After realizing this, I started heading back to our hotel and was approached by a pack of street kids. The dirtiest of them was a pretty girl who was probably about eight years old. She started grabbing for my dick and asking me if I liked sex. I could barely believe what I was hearing. I was beyond appalled by this and needed to get away before I could process what had happened. I began to walk faster and telling her repeatedly to go away but all my attempts to get her to leave me alone were futile. The more agitated I got, the more effort she exerted to draw attention and make me squirm. Hearing a child moan in a sexual manner to grab my attention was, unfortunately, not an image I will be able to wipe from my mind anytime soon.
Returning to the hotel, I felt disgusted by my surroundings. How many children like her had been brought up to this room by men like those I saw in Sabang? The thought of this made me sick. I needed to clear my mind. I needed to focus on my own situation and stop getting distracted by my atrocious surroundings. I cleared my mind a bit and began to focus back to the matter at hand.
How could I have been so careless? Money and time would have to be wasted. I could deal with this fact. What I really struggled with was the fact that all my stamps and visas from the past eight years of traveling were gone. I could get a new one but I could never replace the one I had. I’d recently had to add pages to it due to all the stamps I’d been collecting since I was twenty one years old. My proof of travel to five continents and more countries than I could remember — the one thing that I had carried with me to all of these places, and it was gone.
In the end, losing my passport would prove to be nothing more than an inconvenience. There were much more real and devastating effects put forward by people’s actions than losing a booklet with some stamps in it. Just earlier that day, while I cursed my sunburn and upset stomach, I received the news that a friend of mine from high school had hung herself. She left behind an infant daughter. She made an impulsive decision that could not be undone. Later that day I was harassed by an abused child on the street who did not get to be that way by accident. Someone had ruined her innocence because they decided not to care about the consequences of their deranged actions.
This world is not a playground for the reckless and irresponsible. It’s a harsh place that replies to your mistakes with destructive consequences. Sunburn, sickness and a lost passport only add up to equal one shitty day. However, if I don’t grow out of this invincibility complex from my youth that I’ve clung onto so desperately, my next big mistakes might not be so easily forgiven.