That Damn Virus!
At a time when the world was heading into uncharted territory, Paul and Andrew were doing the same, and heading deeper into a part of the great globe to which they had never been. They were sailing to the remote Camotes Islands, a small archipelago in the western Pacific making up part of the Philippines.
They left the insalubrious, yet friendly, Cebu City and cruised past the island on which Ferdinand Magellan was killed in the 17th century. Murdered by an angry chief obviously most unhappy with the Spaniard’s new ‘discovery’ of his old world.
The tiny land of Pacijan, on which Paul and Andrew were to stay, was populated with the luckier members of Magellan’s crew, those who had managed to escape. Here, they made sure Spain maintained a strong foothold in the Philippines, and it was not long before they infected the locals with a fervent Catholicism. A religion which the natives caught terribly quickly by all accounts.
Pacijan was beautiful. Paul and Andrew fell immediately in love with her exotic charm. Her beaches were pristine. Her body strung with jewel hued flora and her personality alight with laughter and joy. A character that was truly infectious.
She was the ultimate Miss Philippines.
A worthy winner of the politically incorrect Miss World title.
But then the Philippines was politically incorrect in many ways. Not least in the way it was governed.
The Filipino president was controversial to put it mildly. Paul usually stayed away from politics whilst blogging, but the current situation, which was literally going viral, made it most difficult.
The ‘man of the people’, President Duterte, had put his people on lockdown in the crowded, over-populated capital, Manila. A city which sometimes struggled to feed it’s people and where it’s poor often lived together in one room without running water. Telling these folk to self-isolate seemed a touch far fetched. And giving the residents of Manila a forty-eight hour window to leave the city before being quarantined – a touch stupid.
Paul and Andrew were now well aware there was a veritable tsunami of terrified people on the move in the Philippines.
A wave of desperate humanity heading in their direction. The boys were beginning to get a little nervous. Even though they were in paradise, the Camotes were a place in which to be well, not sick. The hospital was smaller than the Mayor of Manilva’s house and not a ventilator to be seen.
Although Pacijan was a breath of fresh air, they did not want it to be their final one!
There were now rumours circulating that they were to be locked-down at any moment.
The boys were out of cash and out of Tequila – things were looking dramatic.
Paul climbed onto his bike and hit the road to reach the one and only ATM machine which was situated on Pacijan’s sister island of Poro. This was reached by a land bridge, which had been built by the conquistadors using rocks. It ran straight through a lush mangrove swamp.
The ride was stunning.
Paul spluttered along through the countryside as smiling kids came out from their roadside shacks to shout ‘Hi’ and ‘Hello sir.’ By the time he reached Poro Port his smile was as wide as theirs.
It didn’t last long.
It was wiped away by the sign on the scruffy cubicle door leading to the cash machine.
‘Off Line’ said the scrap of paper stuck to the glass.
‘Shit’ thought Paul. ‘Bollocks’ – ‘How will we buy beer?’
He was then sent, by a friendly tourist information lady, who donned a severe looking nuclear-war style mask as he entered her office, to a small resort at the other end of Pacijan Island.
It was a bumpy ride along the coast road. Some of the potholes could have swallowed a large dog!
Paul thought he did rather well to stay upright as his motorbike juddered and banged along like a turbulent twin prop. It was not the most comfortable of journeys, even if the scenery was beautiful, the concentration the road required made most of it redundant.
He was on the look out for potholes – not nature.
When he eventually reached the beach resort at Santiago, he was filthy. The dust from his trek had covered him and he looked as if he’d driven through an ash cloud. The fear of coming off the bike had also added to his deathly pallor. The receptionist looked at him with alarm as he took off his crash helmet to reveal a flop of flat yellow hair stuck to a grey face. Paul thought for a second she might call security. But no, she was as charming as most Filipinos that he’d come across.
Yet she had no cash!
The resort did not provide that service.
But she assured Paul that if he drove to the capital, San Francisco, he would be able to withdraw money from a pawn shop there, using his card and passport. Paul was relieved. Enough so, that he used some of he and Andrew’s remaining dosh to buy himself an expensive tourist beer. He needed the edge taken off, and he was just a few miles from being in the money again – so he treated himself.
It was glorious.
He climbed onto his bike and hit the road once more. Retracing his tracks and just about managing to avoid the cracks and crevices along the highway. At San Fran, as the locals called it, he could no longer feel his crotch. He thought this a good thing, as it had taken quite a pounding, and he’d only just recovered from his kidney infection.
He dismounted and made for the pawn shop/come money exchange.
‘San Francisco here I come’, he thought, imagining that he would soon be on the paradisiacal beach opposite his and Andrew’s digs.
Cash in pocket and beer in hand.
Unfortunately San Francisco did not open her golden gate! In fact, she kept it tightly shut, as the girl in the pawn shop told Paul she would only except local credit cards. He was beginning to wonder if he and Andrew would eat again – let alone drink!
Apparently, his only option now, was to drive to the port of Consuelo, on the opposite side of the island, where he could catch a two hour ferry to the larger island of Cebu. There he could probably get to a cash point. He had a half hour window of opportunity before the boat made it’s return passage.
He sped, much too fast for someone who’d not had a powerful bike between his legs since his early twenties, through the island’s interior, towards the quay at Consuelo. Luckily the load less travelled was easier to travel along. It was the smoothest ride he’d had yet.
But he was flagging slightly.
He had been on the bike for nearly three and a half hours now – and he was no Valentino Rossi!
Thankfully he made the boat office in time and queued for a ticket. He hoped to God that there was an ATM close by on the other side, as he had used his last cash for the ferry ticket.
He was remaining positive.
Unfortunately, it seemed that the excited crowd waiting to embark at the quay, thought that he had tested positive. Wherever he moved to, that section would empty . It was very clear his white Western face was not what they wanted to see right now. He was also nursing a heavy cold which probably didn’t help.
And he was still grey!
But surely there was no need for such treatment.
Bloody cheek, he thought.
That damn virus had started in the east, and now he was getting leperous treatment for being from the west.
Slightly unfair, as in his opinion, it was the Chinese authorities who should be taking the blame for the audacious way in which the thing had spread. After all, it was their less than meticulous cleanliness and illegal wildlife trading which had allowed the virus to jump species. Plus their hideous government, who’d covered up the disease, allowing it extra time to spread out into the population.
The heroic doctor, who had tried to break the news about the novel illness, had been silenced by the Chinese authorities and threatened with imprisonment if he spoke out further. The poor brave man had now succumbed to the disease, but at least his message had got out to millions.
The ordinary Chinese people were most upset when they realised their government had misinformed them, and protests had began to take place, before quarantine was implemented making them practically impossible. Paul wondered what would happen when the good people of China were allowed back onto the streets. Would they still be unhappy with the political machine which had so effectively engineered the cleanup operation?
The world would have to wait and see.
They were living through interesting times.
So interesting, that the journalist who had broken the cover-up story had now been covered up too.
He had been missing for over a week!
Paul was almost certain the Chinese authorities knew his whereabouts, but wasn’t going to over speculate. His blog had a small Chinese readership, which had formed ominously, when he had been banned from blogging in Vietnam, after writing a less than flattering piece on the country’s politics. When he was next able to sign into his site after he and Andrew had left Hanoi, he’d discovered he had eight new Chinese fans.
He was most flattered !!!
The ferry bobbed gently, as she slowly made her away across the straits to the port of Danao. The sun was already low in the sky and the breeze blew steadily from the east. When the bow opened, and the bikes and cars began to roll off, Paul did the same and sprinted for the disembarkation exit. He asked a friendly taxi driver for directions to an ATM. Luckily, he learnt, it was positioned just around the corner, and even better, it was stocked with heavenly thousand peso notes.
The boys were solvent once again.
To Paul’s absolute delight directly opposite the cash machine stood a ‘Seven Eleven’ store.
Paul, a lightning-quick shopper at the best of times, was in and out in a flash, furnished with toothpaste, chewing gum, a bag of crisps and two bottles of cheap Tequila. With ten minutes to spare, he was back on the boat and having a crafty swig as he congratulated himself on a mission accomplished.
He did feel knackered though.
The voyage back to The Camotes went rather smoothly. Other than Paul being chastised by the captain for looking into the bridge.
‘I’m sorry’, Paul said ingenously, ‘I thought it was the toilet.’
‘Turn around’, the skipper snapped, gesticulating fiercely with his hands, as if Paul might infect the cabin with his mere presence.
‘Twat’, snarled Paul, but slightly under his breath, he didn’t want to end up in the brig.
They’d been enough drama for one day.
When he reached Pacijan the catholic night was as black as mortal sin. He had trouble finding his scooter.
Paul then had to make a fairly terrifying trip across the island with just the stars and the potholes for company. He swerved twice to miss two errant dogs who had trotted straight into his high beam on an obvious suicide mission.
He just wanted to be back now.
He’d set off at ten in the morning – it was now way past nine. He knew he was almost too old for all this palaver – but only almost. He had secretly loved the whole adventure.
When he met up with Andrew he was so high, his partner had had to tell him to calm down.
The following morning the adventure continued.
The small island to which they’d been heading, to spend the day, was now under quarantine. The boys’ lovely German neighbours, Tony and Stefanie had informed them that all tourists were now excluded.
Tony was a detective in his homeland, which Paul and Andrew found ridiculously exciting.
Especially when they knew he packed a pistol too.
And he was devilishly handsome, so it was a fatal combination.
Paul found himself giggling like a schoolgirl each time Tony strode out onto his terrace with his highly toned torso in order to puff on his smoking machine.
The thought of being on lock down with Tony next door was not altogether unappealing. But neither he, nor his equally beautiful girlfriend seemed very pleased with the idea. They had lives to get back to.
As did Paul and Andrew.
The news in the Philippines was becoming more troubling by the hour.
The rumour was if they didn’t get off the island by the following day then that would be it. They were to be kept there for at least a month.
Information was coming sporadically. None of them could do anything until they knew the situation for sure.
‘Fuck it’ said Paul, ‘let’s think of it as a huge adventure. There are worse places to be quarantined. And we have two bottles of Tequila!’
Everybody laughed, though nobody looked totally convinced.
But there was truly nothing they could do. They were in the lap of the Gods.
They may as well make themselves comfortable there.
So instead of worrying about repatriation, the group, now joined by Tom, a very affable lad from Bavaria, headed to a small hotel which had a pool, and a decent bar.
It seemed like the wisest thing to do.
On arrival they were told the pool was full of chemicals and they wouldn’t be able to swim until late afternoon.
They all shifted uncomfortably in the gods lap.
It seemed nothing was going entirely smoothly.
‘Perfect’ said Paul, ‘the sunset here is beautiful! Tequila anyone?’
In the immortal words of Scarlett O’Hara,
‘Tomorrow is another day.’