I was less than a week into my first trip to the Philippines. The trip was not so much about visiting the Philippines, rather it was about visiting a lady that I had met some 6 months earlier and exchanged a lot of mail and a few phone calls with… Feyma.
Of course, visiting a country which I had never set foot in was a side benefit, and I was excited about that, but I was very excited to meet Feyma and see if she was the “great catch” that I had thought she was through the mail.
I had spent one day in Manila and 5 days in Cebu City. When I was in Manila, admittedly for only a short time, I was very unimpressed with the place, and figured at the entire was the mess that I saw in Manila. When I went to Cebu the next day, I was somewhat uplifted with what I saw. It was much nicer than Manila, and I was much more impressed. It still was not my cup of tea, but much better than expected.
After spending time with Feyma in Cebu, getting to know her extended family there, and such, it was time for us to head to Mindanao. Feyma was from the area around General Santos City, in Southern Mindanao. I had heard a LOT of bad things about Mindanao. It seemed I was taking my life in my hands even going there. But, even in just 6 months of letter writing and 5 days of getting to know each other in person, I had already come to love Feyma, and whatever the risk, it was worth it to me, so we scheduled our trip.
There were not a lot of people going to Mindanao in those days. And, I mean both Filipinos and Foreigners. The flight from Cebu to General Santos City was on a small 50 seat propeller plane, a Fokker 50. Very small, somewhat uncomfortable. It was about an hour and a half flight, as I recall. Flights between the two cities are much quicker now, since the flight is on modern jets.
As we left Cebu, flew over the ocean, and started approaching Mindanao, I started getting excited. I was not really scared of Mindanao, although I had some “healthy respect” of the place, I could see things from the plane that looked pretty nice to me. No real modern infrastructure, nothing like that. I saw a lot of farmland, plantations, etc. Back in those days, most of the roads around the island were dirt roads. Mindanao is a very large island, in fact it is the 2nd largest island in the Philippines and the 8th most populous island in the world! The Island of Mindanao is larger than 125 countries! So, it is a large place!
The closer that we got to General Santos City, of course, the plane was at lower altitudes. I just kept my eyes out the window to get a feel for the place. I loved seeing all of the coconut plantations. Other kinds of agriculture too. In Manila everything was chaos. In Cebu it was better, but everything was fairly unorganized. In both Cities there was garbage all over the place, let’s of litter and pollution. As I flew over Mindanao, everything looked so clean and so orderly. It was like a different world compared to my previous 5 or 6 days in the Philippines. I was really liking what I was seeing.
When the plane landed at the old Buayan Airport, just outside the City of General Santos, I was finally on the ground in Mindanao. Some of Feyma’s siblings were there at the airport to meet us. They were unsure how much luggage we would have, so they had hired a big truck to meet us in! It was a flatbed truck, our luggage was thrown on the flatbed, and we climbed up to ride! It was all dirt roads from the airport to Feyma’s family home in Lagao, a (at that time) somewhat remote Barangay of the City. Along the road there were Carabao (Water Buffalo) all along the road. Some where laying down resting, others were being used to haul things from one place to another. I had never seen anything like this in my life, but I was really feeling the adventure!
I did not really feel any danger, but I was keeping my eyes peeled, based on all of the negative things that I had heard about Mindanao.
After maybe 20 minutes of riding on the “dirt highway” we came to the place where we would turn off the highway and onto a smaller dirt road. We were in Lagao, and getting very close to the family home. People saw that there was a foreigner on the back of the truck, and foreigners were rarely seen in Mindanao back in those days. Kids started running after the truck to see why a foreigner was in town! By the time we reached the house, we had quite a following of curious people.
Next week, I will tell you more about meeting Feyma’s immediate family when we arrived at the house.