What’s happening with COVID-19 cases surging in America is alarming, and not surprising. When you don’t follow the laws of science, you will suffer accordingly. In a major contrast to the hard-headed ‘individualist’ Americans who claim their freedom from masks trumps other people’s lives, Filipinos generally take wearing masks seriously. And social distancing.
The picture you see above is from my first big city trip in the new normal. I have not been to a big city since we went through Iloilo on our way to the remote Gigantes Islands in the Philippines. We spent only one night in Iloilo.
Just to give you a better idea on how ‘rural’ we have been since March of this year: as of 2015, Iloilo’s population was about half a million people. Kalibo, the provincial capital of Aklan where I went yesterday, has a population of about 81,000.
Malay, the town where we rent an apartment at the Hangout Beach Resort, encompasses a large area that includes the nearby vacation-famous island of Boracay. The rest of Malay’s population is spread out over a large rural area. Its population is about 53,000 people.
So yeah, a big city felt weird.
From Malay to Kalibo
It takes about 1.5 hours by shared van to get from Malay to Kalibo. It’s only about 50 miles, but most of the highway is only two lanes. No passengers are allowed to sit in the middle seats, so the van was nearly half empty.
From the Boracay port town of Caticlan, the vans on the main road in a parking lot are express rides to the Kalibo airport. The vans at the jetty port for Boracay Island go to the City Mall parking lot.
The ride to the City Mall cost the equivalent of $3. The vans, called V-hires, reminded me of Mexican colectivos – also shared passenger vans that act as taxis. It made me miss Mexico.
Pandemic protocol on city trip in new normal
There are some things you just cannot get at the public market nearest us in Caticlan: ground coffee, certain cooking spices, all-cotton underwear big enough to fit our American asses. So some shopping was my main goal, but I also wanted to see some of the provincial capital. It was a rainy day, so I thought a mall visit would be good, with walks in neighborhoods as weather permitted.
I don’t know how they’re doing it in America, but here is what happened when I went to the grocery store.
Most large grocery stores in the Philippines are anchors in malls. So to enter the mall, a guard waves a temperature gun at your head, and another guard takes a peak inside your bag.
Once inside the mall, but outside of the supermarket entrance, there were about 20 seats spaced about a meter apart from each other. You sit down in the back row. When shoppers leave, the guards motion you to move up one row. When you get to the front row, it is your turn to enter the store.
Once inside stores, there are markers for where to stand while waiting in line to pay at the checkout.
Filipinos follow rules
Inside any store – not just the supermarket -there are reminders everywhere about social distancing. Signs warn: No Mask, No Entry. Hand sanitizer is freely available everywhere. Some places dispense it right into your hands upon entry.
Everyone accepts masks and social distancing are the bare minimum that is needed to prevent the spread of a killer virus that has brought world economies to their knees.
At one mall, I experienced my first thermal scanner. There is nothing like this in the rural area where we stay. The guard was amused at my request to take a picture of the contraption. He said, “Welcome. We’ve been waiting for you.”
Special greetings on city trip in new normal
I am sure there are Caucasians somewhere in Kalibo. But I never saw any. In fact, security guards, store clerks, and random fellow shoppers actually said to me: “Glad to see you here,” as they looked at me with a sort of bemused wonder. Everyone was super helpful. From directions, to trike fare negotiations – everything. I could hardly believe how kind people were.
There is an airport in the port town of Caticlan, near Boracay ferries on the mainland. But the bigger airport is in Kalibo, and tourists take buses from there to Caticlan. So Kalibo hotels, shops and restaurants probably do a fair amount of business from Boracay tourists. But not in the new normal.
I think it’s going to be a long, long time before they see many other tourists in these parts. Philippine officials are more optimistic. They have to be: roughly 14% of jobs in the country are in the tourism sector.
COVID-19 Panay Island update
Aklan has relatively few COVID-19 cases. The government has been strict about its various quarantine measures because Boracay Island is an economic engine for the entire province. Iloilo is another city on Panay Island that is more like an industrialized center. It’s not known as a vacation mecca.
But, Iloilo has had a recent surge in COVID-19 cases. In fact, the Philippine defense secretary suspended flights with overseas workers headed back to their Iloilo homes. Also, six more doctors in Iloilo tested positive for the virus. I would not be surprised if Aklan closed itself off to travel if cases continue to surge.
Iloilo feels like a world away, but it is on the same island, and supplies do go through there to get to here (as well as Manila). The chickens for the Ati henhouse will probably come from Iloilo, which is on the southeast corner of Panay Island. We are on the northwest corner in Malay. Kalibo, Aklan’s captial, is on the north coast.
I have to go back to Kalibo. I still need underwear, we eventually will run out of ground coffee, I want to visit a museum there, and I still want to walk around the big city more.
But I must say: I am glad to be back to the calm, peaceful environment near the sea, in a neighborhood called Motag that is our temporary home during these crazy, crazy times.
Thanks for reading, “First big city trip in ‘new normal’.”
What to read next on other ‘big’ cities:
- Retired budget travel guide to Rome
- How to save money on slow travel in Athens
- Casablanca: Modern, Massive, Muslim
Earth Vagabonds advocate for authentic travel in a post-pandemic world as a way to learn about other countries, cultures, and one’s self.