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Once upon a time, at a volcano, in the Philippines
Its name: Mount Kanlaon.
It was a volcano, and it was in my path. I was attempting to cross the Philippine island of Negros by bus to get to the country’s southern part. But I figured I had room enough in my agenda to at last visit an active volcano.
The Kanlaon is not the Philippines’ most active volcano, but apparently it is active enough, as a British student found out the hard way a few years before I set my foot on the mountain. While attempting to reach the summit, the beast suddenly decided it was time to blow. The student never made it back alive.
My problems started way before that. Somebody had told me I could go by bus pretty far up the mountain side, from where it would be possible to get to a hotel that was in my guide book by motorcycle taxi. But I soon realized, though, that the bus would tale me nowhere here the cone-shaped mountain. So as the bus pulled in at a small village, I jumped off.
But it began to get dark. It soon became apparent that continuing up the mountain side would be hard. No one wanted to drive me. A police even came to my help – or did he? – trying to explain that it was too late for the drive, and that I would have to wait until the next day. Finally, by offering a huge sum, an MC driver with a sidecar to his bike agreed to take me. We put my backpack on the vehicle and took off.
Against the darkening sky I soon watched the mountain side looming above us. Threatening, as if trying to tell me to stay away. The road became worse, the bike jumping up and down on stones, until it stopped being a road at all and turned into a path of rocks and stones. We passed more villages, with its inhabitants sliding past like shadows. Further up, the road came back, but now there were no villages and no houses. I explained where I wanted to go, but the driver looked skeptical. As we made it there, I could understand why.
They got me a room with a water damage, smelling molds and filled with insects. I ate some crackers and fell asleep.The hotel was closed. Or so it seemed, as I and the driver walked towards the front doors. As it turned out, a few kids ran the place, and I never found out if this was their idea of keeping an establishment open, or if the real owner was just out of town.
The next morning, as I had some kind of breakfast and looked at a fabulous view of the lands below the mountain, I started to think that going here probably wasn’t my best idea so far. There was absolutely nothing to do, with everything closed and not even one single person around that spoke English. I took a walk, pondering how I would be able to catch a lift down again. Then two guys came walking down the road. Sensing a foreigner, they said “Hey, what’s up?”
As it turned out, these teenagers worked for the AT&T telephone company in the US, taking calls from Americans wishing to file complaints about their services. Few AT&T customers in America probably know that their customer service calls are forwarded around the world, and that the person they unload their anxiety on actually is a Philippine.
I think often of those days, and how they turned into the best part of the whole journey. The Philippines will always be one of my favourite destinations in South East Asia – a conclusion I might not have come to at all, had it not been for AT&T’s desire to save money on its customer care by outsourcing the “AT&T, how can I help you?” customer care service to the other side of the world.I hung around for two days with these kids. Their friends came up later that day, and we stayed in a small cabin in the woods, owned by some relatives, walked through jungles to swim in waterfalls and had a party in the evening, drinking a Philippine beer called Red Horse.