It was a relief and a pleasure to come upon a town relatively free of the din of those motorized trikes, clogging its streets hunting as much as transporting passengers. It was almost enough to make me grab a hotel in Allen, but after sitting on a ferry for two hours, the first half hour waiting for it to leave, I wanted to do some biking in the ninety minutes of light remaining in the day and make my introduction to the countryside of this new island.
The road hugged the coastline for a few miles and then swung inland and back to the coast all down the island.
A resort on the outskirts of town gave promise that there could be more. It was a false promise, as both sides of the road were lined with shacks and there didn't seem to be much if any of a beach. There were occasional water faucets along the road where people were filling containers of water, another indicator that the standard of living wasn't as high on Samar as on Luzon. Most of the faucets had people filling jugs of all sizes from five gallons to a liter, the smaller for the toddlers who accompanied their mothers, breaking them in early to the water detail. When I came upon an untended faucet I stopped to do a bit of bathing in case my sleeping spot didn't have water, ducking my head under and using my bandana to wash my face and arms and legs.
After an hour I saw a fenced in church up ahead. I had been turned away from such a one earlier in the travels, but was willing to give this one a try. It was a Mormon Temple, the first I had seen. I knew they existed as I had encountered a couple of missionaries a few days before. It had a basketball court to one side and an extensive well-manicured lawn. Three men were at the entry gate, one with a hose washing down the entry. I told them I had just gotten off the ferry and was hoping to find a place to camp on the beach, but wasn't having any luck and wondered if I might camp there. One man was older than the others. As he somewhat blankly considered it, I told them I'd just spent three weeks bicycling around Luzon and would bike until near dark and rely on the goodwill of someone to give me a place to stay.
He asked when I would leave in the morning. I told him at first light. He seemed to begrudgingly say I could camp, but I wasn't entirely sure. So I continued a friendly patter, telling them I had lived in Salt Lake and had been to the Temple there and had been to Nauvoo in Illinois where the Mormons established a community before going West. One of the younger, friendlier fellows, said, "You sure know a lot about the Mormons." He had a basketball under his arm, so we talked basketball a bit, which warmed them all up.
So it was agreed I could camp. The three men were doing work on the church and spent the night sleeping over, so they could unlock the gate and let me out at six. As I set up my tent the basketball player and I continued talking. After several minutes his austere elder summoned him back to work. Their work had nothing to do with the typhoon that hit Samar in November killing over 6,000 people, as it hadn't affected this part of the island. The big city of Tacloban, 150 miles south and on my way, took the brunt of the storm. I would see plenty of evidence of it there.
After a good night's sleep I was back cycling shortly after dawn at six in the pleasant cool of the morning. As the evening before, people were out and about but the road was relatively free of traffic and so it remained all day. This was the cycling I had hoped to find in the Philippines and had had only brief tastes of on Luzon.
Homes, best described as one-room huts and shacks, were much more rustic and primitive than on Luzon. Another sign of its impoverishment, along with so little motorized traffic and people using communal water faucets, was men and boys along the road breaking rocks into small stones with hammers for road construction gravel such as I've seen in India and Africa. Huts tightly lined the road in the villages.
The people were more curious than elsewhere drawn to me for a closer look when I stopped to rest in bus shelters, young women as well as children.
Children would inch up close to take a peek at what I was reading. People seemed almost stunned and didn't know how to react when I'd pass them on the road. In Luzon when I was on roads that weren't strangled by traffic people regularly greeted me with variations of "Hey Joe, where ya going?" There was very little of it here. I missed it. The greeting was invariably delivered with a hearty and exuberant friendliness by people of all ages and both sexes. It hearkened to the days when GI Joes were stationed in the Philippines and were welcomed by most, especially since they were remembered as their liberators from the Japanese in WWII.
On stretches in Luzon where the traffic wasn't so thick, the "Hey Joes" was a non-stop refrain. Sometimes kids would throw in some of the English they were learning such as "Hey Joe, what's your name?" One kid blurted out those words he most liked to hear from his teacher, "Hey Joe, you can go now."
I've passed the three-week mark here, and more and more unique features of the Philippines are emerging that gladden my heart. Along with the "Hey Joes," are people telling me to "Take care," and "God bless you." I like it too how when people tell me the cost of something they'll add "only," as in "ten pesos only" or "forty pesos only," and they are generally correct that the cost isn't much. And it isn't meant to me, but I hear them quoting prices to their fellow citizens in the same manner.
I am developing many favorites too when it comes to eating, and I’m continually making new discoveries. So far there's only been one new food on Samar, fried sweet potatoes served with sugar. These three clusters were five pesos each, a little more than a dime, the most calories per peso so far.
Halo-halos have been more common on Samar than on Luzon. This young woman grabbed the drink she had made for me as I was scooping out the crushed ice on top and demonstrated the proper way to drink it, thoroughly stirring its contents after the ice had had a chance to melt a bit, turning it into a much more flavorful slushy drink than I realized it could be.
But topping all the good eating and great cycling on Samar was an encounter with a fellow cyclist, a young man who passed me on the road early in the morning mist, almost like an apparition, in a brand new white SUV without license plates carrying a mountain bike strapped to its roof almost as if it were a halo. When he pulled over he didn't need to wave me down. I immediately began braking. He lived in Tacloban, a city of a couple hundred thousand about 140 miles away, that was devastated by typhoon Yolanda. He knew I had to be headed that way and offered me a ride, though I doubted he expected me to accept it, as he too was one who lived to bike.
He owned a shop that sold sporting equipment and bicycle knick-knacks and also led bicycle tours in the area. He presented me with one of his pieces of art--a good luck bracelet, he called it, that he fashioned from bending and twisting a spoke, with the nipple the device that opened and closed it, a most ingenious creation that would be a hit among all cyclists. He was returning from Manila, where he had left a bunch with various bike shops as well as some of his other merchandise.
He invited me to visit his shop when I passed through Tacloban the next day. It was in the center of the city. I asked him if there was a bike shop that sold cycling socks, as I needed a pair. I was down to just one-and-half pairs after having one pair stolen and then a single sock disappearing on me. My socks didn't always completely dry over night when I washed them at the day's end, so I'd been starting the day with slightly soggy feet lately. Then he made the most startling revelation--he sold cycling socks with his company logo "Mortal" and he actually had a spare pair. It was as if he were sent to my rescue. I squinted my eyes and gave him a closer look, trying to see if there were any clue, other than his mysterious appearance, that might indicate he was a guardian angel. I knew they come in many guises. His demeanor gave hints of a celestial being. He didn't object when I asked if I could take his photo.
I dug out a "Bicycling" magazine I had brought along to read and to give to someone who did me a favor. It was last summer's Tour de France issue. He was at first hesitant to accept it, thinking it had importance to me. When I told him I had been saving it for someone such as him, he was willing to accept it, but only if I autographed it. It was all I could do to resist putting on the socks then and there to see if they made climbing the hills any easier. I hardly needed them though as such an encounter gives me plenty of extra power and had me looking forward more eagerly than ever to what awaited me down the road.