The Travel Episodes

An Odyssey in the Philippines

Me, Love and Other Catastrophes

Fresh from a break-up, Marco Buch sets out on an emotio­nal roller­co­as­ter ride in the Phil­ip­pi­nes, meeting dancing killers and tattooed girls, and expe­ri­men­ting with Tinder. 

Cock­fighting, spit-roasted pigs and a cemetery where people live, in a capi­tal city full of contra­dic­tions.

Manila. It’s abnor­mally hot. The airport is cram­med. I can’t quite get my head round it: the Phil­ip­pi­nes. Three days ago I had no clue I’d end up here.

I’ve just broken up with my long-term girl­fri­end. For this jour­ney (and, for the time being, in my life in gene­ral), the plan is that there is no plan. I’m going to follow my intui­tion and just let myself blow where the wind takes me.

My hostel is at the other end of town. A throng of taxi drivers surround me as I leave the airport. After some nego­tia­tion, I find a young Fili­pino who takes me to Santa Cruz for a good price.

On a broad street I realise that giant brothels are alter­na­ting with churches.

After the first, rather slee­p­less night in a fourteen-bed room I’m sitting in the kitchen, tired, watching a couple of hippie types slicing fruit into their muesli. A Spanish man with curly hair barks at me, ‘The tour starts now, get ready!’ I can’t remem­ber booking a tour, but I’m too weak to object.

Some time later I’m crossing a busy street with a crowd of unfa­mi­liar people, and suddenly find myself stan­ding in the middle of North Cemetery. I don’t think I’m fully awake yet.

Only now does it dawn on me that this is exactly the place I’ve been wanting to see for years. A cemetery as big as a small city – and rather lively: in the tombs live people. For two hours, we’re guided through the area by a friendly old lady, accom­pa­nied for most of the time by a gaggle of child­ren.

A friend of our guide opens the door to her home. Her cheer­ful kitchen is directly next to the graves of her rela­ti­ves, and a few mattres­ses lie in a kind of cubby­hole. But the old lady seems content. There’s water and elec­tri­city, and you can’t say that of every home in Manila.


I make a piece of paper disappear behind my hand, then reappear from my ear. The kids are clever, and see through my magic trick the second time round.

I make a piece of paper disap­pear behind my hand, then reap­pear from my ear. The kids are clever, and see through my magic trick the second time round.

For lunch we have Lechon Baboy, which is delicious. Whole pigs are prepared on a spit in the restaurant.

For lunch we have Lechon Baboy, which is deli­cious. Whole pigs are prepa­red on a spit in the restau­rant.

Back at the cemetery, we spend the afternoon with a French aid organisation. I find myself cutting out letters for a game with Joshua, an Australian.

Back at the cemetery, we spend the after­noon with a French aid orga­ni­sa­tion. I find myself cutting out letters for a game with Joshua, an Austra­lian.

Trying to dodge the merciless sun, we sit in a small crypt. The craft supplies rest on the coffin lid.

Trying to dodge the merci­less sun, we sit in a small crypt. The craft supplies rest on the coffin lid.

Joshua is a man with a plan, and I quickly decide to join him: he wants to see a cock­fight, a popu­lar form of enter­tain­ment here. We enter a comple­tely packed arena. 

On the benches the audi­ence scream at the top of their lungs; they’re largely men, but there are also a few women. Bund­les of notes are chan­ging hands. The noise level is inde­scri­bable, and we feel like we’re on a film set. Then they let the roos­ters have at it. Each has a five-centimetre-long razor blade atta­ched to one foot. Often, the fight is over in seconds.

‘Some­ti­mes I lose, some­ti­mes I win.’

A Marl­boro hanging out of the corner of his mouth, our neigh­bour is plea­sed to initiate us into the finer points of cock­fighting. We don’t put down any bets. The lowest possi­ble amount is about 30 euros.

Often, both roos­ters die. It’s a grue­some display, and I can’t under­stand its appeal. In the course of an hour, we see at least twenty roos­ters brea­the their last. We leave. 

In the evening there’s a group meal on the roof of the hostel. As well as the travel­lers, there are some locals present too, all from the couch-surfing commu­nity. I’m struck by a diffe­rence from my expe­ri­en­ces in other coun­tries (Thai­land, for instance): the Fili­pi­nos meet the foreig­ners on an equal footing. 

Gradually and plea­s­antly, the meal turns into a boozy party. Soon I’ve got a guitar in my hand, and I’m enter­tai­ning the assem­bled mob. It’s been years since I last did that, and I enjoy every second of it. During a ciga­rette break, I get to know a very beau­ti­ful French woman, Aure­lie, imme­dia­tely falling under her spell. I’ve abso­lutely got to go to Bohol, she says, and Duma­guete too. I try to store this infor­ma­tion some­where in my inebria­ted brain.

At some point ever­y­body else leaves to go to a club.

I’m just thin­king that Aure­lie and I are about to kiss when anot­her girl shows up.

The two of them imme­dia­tely get along well – I’m no longer requi­red. I take it prag­ma­ti­cally. My flight leaves early the next morning.

* * *

Chapter Two / Cebu

Love Songs

Whale sharks, a dark village and heart-broken karaoke.

Someone told me that in the Phil­ip­pi­nes, flying is the simp­lest mode of trans­port. So now, not thirty-six hours after my arri­val, I’m sitting in anot­her plane. It spits me out in Cebu City, the capi­tal of the epony­mous island. 

I share a taxi, which lets me out at the bus station. For my jour­ney to the south of the island, I stock up on provi­si­ons: water and fried pork rinds. ‚Chichar­ron‘ – they love the stuff here! Not for the first time, I find it funny that many products, but also stre­ets, have Spanish names, even though hardly anybody speaks a word of Spanish.

On the screen in the bus they’re play­ing an action film, as outside it begins to rain. Next to me two over­weight Fili­pi­nos are stuf­fing their faces with pizza, mayon­naise and hot sauce. I doze off.

When I come back to my senses they’re alre­ady onto Part 2 of the piece-of-fluff movie, and shortly after­wards, equa­to­rial darkness falls. 

Then some­body yells ‚Oslob‘ and I grab my things.

It’s inte­res­ting how without a guide­book you have no idea how place names are spel­led. You just have the sound in your head. 

It’s pitch black and the bus disap­pears into the darkness. Suddenly a moped appears out of nowhere. The driver has a grin on his face, and wants to be my perso­nal tour-guide. Sure, let’s go – I’ve hung out with crazier charac­ters than this!

Daniel takes me strai­ght to a guest house, where I’m the only guest. While we’re still on the moped, he tells me ever­y­thing there is to do for fun around here. I book a whale-shark tour and an addi­tio­nal trip to the port. He’ll be here at five in the morning, he says. I’d better go to bed, then.

My head has barely hit the pillow, howe­ver, when I realise that sleep isn’t an option. My window is directly over a karaoke bar, and the party is in full swing. I dress again and go to have a look.

Cut to a few minu­tes later: I’ve fetched a few bott­les of beer and some menthols from the kiosk next door, and I’m singing karaoke with five young students. For hours.

At times it’s so emotio­nal that I almost want to cry. 

After the students find out that I’ve just been through a break-up and my heart is still aching, we only sing love songs, falling into each other’s arms.

Next morning I’m insa­nely tired, of course – and hung-over.

I can’t go on like this. No alco­hol for me today.

Daniel stuffs my ruck­sack between his legs on the moped and heads off into the sunset. A coas­tal road, gentle waves, people just waking up – wow, it’s gorge­ous here.

The whale sharks are a well-organised activity for tourists. You pay, get a number, chuck your stuff into a locker and get on the boat. Thank­fully it’s not too crazy yet.


What an incredible experience!

What an incredi­ble expe­ri­ence!

I share my boat with two Dutch people, who tell me that their favourite activity in the Philippines is going to bed with local girls. They're even using Tinder on the boat.

I share my boat with two Dutch people, who tell me that their favou­rite activity in the Phil­ip­pi­nes is going to bed with local girls. They’re even using Tinder on the boat. 

My next destination! The island of Negros, as seen from Cebu.

My next desti­na­tion! The island of Negros, as seen from Cebu.

The two Dutch guys are heading north, and I’m off to Duma­guete. ‚Hell’s Inn!‘ they call after me – at least, that’s what I hear. I’m imme­dia­tely intrigued!

One deli­cious chicken-and-rice break­fast later I’m sitting on a small ferry. Soon I’m on the third island of my jour­ney – and I’m only on day four.


* * *

Chapter Three / The Island of Negros

Lotte's Shoulder

A half-developed duck embryo and the ques­tion of why I’m really here.

Arri­ving at ‘Hell’s Inn’, I realise my mistake (it’s actually called ‘Harold’s Inn’) and clap the motor­bike taxi driver on the shoul­der, glad that he took me to the right place anyway. I check into a small, dirt-cheap room and sleep for the rest of the day, with the fan maxed-out. 
The vibe reminds me of my first back­packing trip fifteen years ago, and I love it. 

‘The small beers are really a waste of money. Shall we share a big one?’ asks Cumhur, a very nice Turkish busi­ness­man passing through town. So much for not drin­king.

From six till three, Cumhur and I down one litre-sized beer after anot­her, chat­ting about God and the world, forget­ting to eat and having an amazing time. 

People come and go, a Fili­pino gives a great concert on his guitar, and I’m crus­hed at pool after noti­cing two tables. Once people start giving me weird looks when I talk to them, I go to bed.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt as bad as I do the next morning. I stumble out onto the terrace, getting laug­hed at by a few people for last night’s esca­pa­des, and down three coffees in a row. 

Then I’m over­come by a comple­tely inex­pli­ca­ble urge to leave Duma­guete at once, even though I’ve seen abso­lutely nothing beyond the roof terrace! 

Wait, why did I come here? Right, Duma­guete was recom­men­ded to me a few days ago. But why was that again?

I check out and wait in vain for a motor­bike taxi. To be honest, I’m not sure where I want to go. And why the hell do I always have to get so stres­sed out about stuff? Can’t I just stay some­where? After all, it’s nice here! But I always feel like I’m missing out on some­thing else­where.

Good old FOMO – fear of missing out! And since the break-up, espe­ci­ally, I’ve basi­cally not given myself a minute’s peace. 

I go back inside, pay for a second night and ask the staff to change my sheets, which are soaked in sweat. Then I go back up to roof terrace and sit down. And I’ve got to laugh. 

I’ve probably never been such an idiot on a trip before.

The hango­ver gradually ebbs away and I get to know a few new, amusing people. Go-getting Lotte from Holland and timid Lore from France. A few Danish girls from last night are still there, and hesi­t­antly start talking to me again. They’ve done a motor­bike tour of the Twin Lakes which they stron­gly recom­mend, but right now I’m not in the mood for so much activity. 

Some time later I’m wande­ring through the centre of the small student town of Duma­guete. It’s sweet here! A few colo­nial buil­dings, sickly-sweet coco­nut shakes, a great market where I get an excel­lent meal for less than a euro. I’m now back in good spirits, clearly having swea­ted out the alco­hol.

But back on the roof terrace people have alre­ady brought out the booze, and I sense that it’s the main attrac­tion of the town. I risk a small beer. It’s tasty. Lotte and I decide to take a look at the food market on the prome­nade, and agree to meet the others later at a bar. 

At the market they’re mainly selling fried bits of seafood, not exactly a culi­nary sensa­tion. But then the cook offers me a true specia­lity: balut, a half-developed duck embryo, served in the egg.

Before I have time to think twice, I peel the egg with its black, feathery contents. Although I have to suppress my gag reflex, I dunk half the egg in vine­gar and chomp it down as quickly as possi­ble. It’s comple­tely and utterly disgus­ting, and I can’t get the slightly stale smell off my fingers. Feeling nauseous, I look around for a tricy­cle.

I need to get to the nearest bar!


The two-storey wooden buil­ding Haya Haya is right on the water, and looks great. A pretty decent cover band is play­ing on the ground floor. On offer: cock­tail pitchers, large cara­fes full of gaudy liquid. Lotte’s gaze brooks no refu­sal. We eat oysters with melted cheese and an enor­mous moun­tain of spicy nachos, downing first two neon-blue pitchers then two bright yellow ones in record time. 

I start thin­king she looks like a famous german actress. Must be pretty power­ful stuff!

Down­stairs we meet the others, who also seem to be well on their way. There’s a DJ play­ing now, and he’s surpri­sin­gly good. A Fili­pino biker gang love my hairstyle, and treat me to endless rounds of schnapps. I have no clue what we’re talking about, but it seems like they don’t either. 

In the heat of the moment I kiss Lotte’s shoul­der, which makes her spend the rest of the night hanging out with the bikers.

To be honest, things aren’t going all that well with the ladies. 

I can’t go on like this. I’m having trou­ble remem­be­ring my own name. I’ve got to leave. As I’m drin­king a whole litre of orange juice in one go the next morning, I bump into Cumhur. He looks the picture of health, and I hate him for it.

When I tell him that I’ve got to leave, he claps a hand on my shoul­der and shouts:

‘Bohol, man! Bohol!’

I ask what’s so great about the island, as I’ve heard it mentio­ned alre­ady. Cumhur tells me about white beaches, funny little monkeys and choco­late hills.

* * *

Chapter Four / Bohol

Green Eyes and a Pout

Suici­dal tarsiers, sex tourists and a bit of a crush.

A jeep­ney, at last, it’s a jeep­ney! Having been fasci­nated by this vehi­cle for years, I suddenly find myself sitting in one. With about forty other people. Comfy. For an hour we judder along bene­ath a setting sun, stop­ping at every single crossing. Then, finally, I’m there: Alona Beach.

Is this where I wanted to go? Whate­ver, the beach sounds good. 

I throw my stuff into a plain but clean room and head strai­ght out. 

Alona Beach is the new Bora­cay, they say. That should have made me think twice. Ever­y­thing here is built-up and cram­med with tourists. Sure, the sand is white and the rolling boats are colour­ful. But I’ve seen that sort of thing too many times to get exci­ted about it.

Along­side hordes of over­weight old people in diving gear I shuf­fle through the sand and play with a few feral dogs. Then I drink an over­pri­ced cup of coffee and walk back down the main street to my hostel. It’s really not that great here. German beer gardens, red-light bars, gross old perverts from the West.

The signs on the bars: ‘Bei Hans’, ‘Schnit­zel­wirt’, ‘Paul­chens Eck’. 

On the way back I see a woman cove­red head to toe in tattoos, and I wonder how anybody could disfi­gure them­sel­ves like that.

Five minu­tes later I meet that exact girl. Her name is Kat, and she’s in the lobby at my hotel. Her incredi­bly green eyes and gorge­ously pouty lips instantly make me forget all about the ink on her body. I’m hypno­ti­sed. When, after five minu­tes, Kat asks me if I want to go on a trip with her next week, I hear myself saying yes without hesi­ta­tion.

What?! Me? I never want to go travel­ling with anybody. 

We talk for a while. About break-ups, exes, life, God and the world. We have very diffe­rent lives, but uncan­nily simi­lar problems. Then, for once, I get a good night’s sleep. 

I drea­med about my ex-girlfriend. In it, we made up.

In the after­noon I meet Kat again, and for a second time we sit in the lobby and chat for hours. I’m kind of infa­tua­ted. But I can kiss good­bye to that idea – like me, she’s into women. 

Early next day I’m sitting on a 125cc Enduro scoo­ter. Kat leaps up behind me and we clat­ter off into our adven­ture.

I haven’t felt this free in a long time. The old motor­bike feels good, the sun is blazing in the sky, and a beau­ti­ful woman is clinging to my back. 

Ever­y­thing screams: adven­ture!

First stop: an old church north of Tagli­ba­ran.
The traf­fic is better than expec­ted. Kat’s hands are resting on my stomach, her breasts pres­sing into my back, which feels wonder­ful. Let’s face it: despite our many diffe­ren­ces, I’m head over heels with this weird girl.

We cruise onwards through the postcard-pretty island. Coast­line, hills, anci­ent forests, smiling faces ever­y­where. Loads of Fili­pi­nos point at Kat. Women don’t get tattoos round here. She’s the star of the show where­ver we go, and I like her even more.

We press deeper and deeper into the jungle. At the edge of the road, people are drying fruit. After a while we reach a small house. Here live the tarsiers, tiny monkeys that always look like they’ve been on a three-day bender. We check five times that we’ve swit­ched off the flash before we photo­graph them. The smal­lest things can stress this species out so much that it’s not uncom­mon for them to commit suicide by beating their heads repeatedly against some­thing. It’s no joke.

Onward to Loboc. Gree­ted by the sight of tour groups, we hesi­tate, but then book a lunch cruise on one of the barges. A maria­chi band is play­ing on the pier. I feel like I’m in a film. 

We pass trees from which child­ren are leaping into the cool water and houses split in half by the last cyclone, and travel through unspoi­led forest.

Kat and I are smiling fit to burst, feeling very happy. Suddenly a thirty-strong ukulele band strikes up.
It can’t get any weir­der …

On the way back I spot a large cross on a moun­tain. I point at it with a ques­tio­n­ing look, and Kat nods eupho­ri­cally. So we get back on the bike and shoot off. We’re on fire, coming up with one crazy idea after anot­her!

On the way down the moun­tain I can’t wipe the smile off my face.

I’m burst­ing with happi­ness!

We’ve had enough for one day. ‘Some­thing to do with nuts,’ says Kat when I ask her where we’re going to sleep. And then it occurs to me that some­body else mentio­ned that hostel to me.

‘Nuts Huts?’ Yeah, that could be it. Aure­lie, the beau­ti­ful French girl from Manila – despite the kiss that never was, our meeting wasn’t in vain.

After some asking around we find oursel­ves stan­ding in front of the Nuts Huts, far away from ever­y­thing. And it’s fantastic. An endless stair­case leads from the viewing spot down to the restau­rant, then it’s a few more steps down to the bunga­lows, which are situa­ted directly on the emerald-green river. We check in and sit down in the restau­rant. The view is magi­cal. In the most beau­ti­ful spot they’ve put a four-poster bed, and a couple are stret­ched out in it as if nowhere else exis­ted.

Several hours later, all the other couples have gone to bed. We’ve gradua­ted from beer to gin and tonics, and have been feeding each other with pancakes, vanilla ice-cream and rum-raisins, still high on this amazing day. When at last we get hold of the four-poster bed, the waiter turns out the lights and asks us to go back to our room.

On the veranda of our wooden bunga­low, Kat lets herself be drawn into a kiss in which she very nearly rips my head off. As I’m cons­i­de­ring whether I should inter­pret her bruta­lity as passion or as irri­ta­tion at having ente­red into the whole kissing scen­a­rio in the first place, I realise it’s alre­ady over.

So nothing’s going to happen with us …

Still, we cuddle the whole night, chat­ting every hour or so about the asto­nis­hin­gly loud sounds of nature that keep waking us up.

‘Want an insi­der tip?’ ‘Always!’ I say. The Belgian mana­ger of the shop points out a precise loca­tion on a map hanging on the wall and says, ‚This water­fall.‘ I shake his hand and we get on the bike.

The Belgian’s insi­der tip is so insider-y that it takes us ages to find. But after a few wrong turns and conver­sa­ti­ons with people on the edge of the road, we know why he recom­men­ded this spot. The water­fall is almost impos­si­bly beau­ti­ful. We spend almost two hours just marvel­ling that such places actually exist.

Then it’s time to return. We make a bit of a meal of it, as neit­her Kat nor I want this trip to end.

We drive directly towards the setting sun. The sea glit­ters by the roadside.


* * *

Chapter Five / Palawan

In Good Times and Bad

A moped, lots of dust and many tears.

Shortly before our moped tour we bought a flight to Pala­wan. We agreed that at any time we were free to go our sepa­rate ways.

A band consis­ting exclu­si­vely of blind people plays cover songs by REM in the airport waiting room. It really is an odd coun­try.

On the flight to Puerto Princesa I’m remin­ded of my break-up when I hear some old music. Gazing down at gorge­ous beaches, I cry like a baby. Kat comforts me, which I think is very sweet. I realise that this, at least, binds us toge­ther: a recent turning-point in our lives.

In the late after­noon we have a substan­tial meal, and I ask at recep­tion whether you can explore Pala­wan on a moped. You can. Onwards with the plan.
Wir passieren uralte Gefährte, kleine Dörfer und Menschen, die Wasserbüffel an Leinen hinter sich herziehen.
We pass anci­ent vehi­cles, small villa­ges and people leading along water-buffaloes on a rope. At some point we roll up to the flat land­s­cape of the west coast, which is still steaming in the humid heat, even at night. Sabang.

We sleep in a bamboo hut. Outside we’re surroun­ded by the noises of the jungle, and as I doze off I think about the story of the python who recently ate a dog here.

I awake to the sun and a wonder­ful view, staring at the misty moun­ta­ins for ages.

In the after­noon we cruise along on the moped through the merci­less heat, and find a beach very close to the village that seems too beau­ti­ful to be real. Although it’s huge and cove­red in white sand, we’re the only people there. Fate is smiling on us.


In the afternoon we cruise along on the moped through the merciless heat, and find a beach very close to the village that seems too beautiful to be real. Although it's huge and covered in white sand, we're the only people there. Fate is smiling on us.

In the after­noon we cruise along on the moped through the merci­less heat, and find a beach very close to the village that seems too beau­ti­ful to be real. Although it’s huge and cove­red in white sand, we’re the only people there. Fate is smiling on us.

Sabang is practically magical.

Sabang is prac­tically magi­cal.

Again and again we stop at tiny kiosks to drink coke or coffee. But Kat never stops talking, and is getting on my nerves. I'm always pleased when I put my helmet back on and can't hear her anymore.

Again and again we stop at tiny kiosks to drink coke or coffee. But Kat never stops talking, and is getting on my nerves. I’m always plea­sed when I put my helmet back on and can’t hear her anymore.

After nearly eight hours in the heat we reach Port Baton in the late after­noon, looking as if we’ve been drag­ged through the desert. Exhaus­tion sets in. Concen­tra­tion and the shaking of the moped has comple­tely done me in. 

On the beach we search for a guest­house. When at last we find one, a young Fili­pina tells us that they’re closed for a family func­tion. Then she stares, fasci­nated, at Kat’s tattoos. 

After a few seconds she says that maybe we can stay after all. Assuming we take part in the cele­bra­tion.

It’s a deal! Once again, I’m surpri­sed at the situa­ti­ons Kat’s body art gets us into.

The young woman intro­du­ces herself as Cindy. It’s her birth­day, and they’re roas­ting a whole pig to cele­brate the day, as well as several large fish and all sorts of side dishes.


We sit together for a while on the beach, listening to Filipino pop and having a good time. Cindy and her boyfriend James are really good-hearted people. They tell us about their plan to marry and open a restaurant exactly where we're sitting.

We sit toge­ther for a while on the beach, listen­ing to Fili­pino pop and having a good time. Cindy and her boyfri­end James are really good-hearted people. They tell us about their plan to marry and open a restau­rant exactly where we’re sitting.

Little Seisei is having the most fun of all.

Little Seisei is having the most fun of all.

Even­tually Cindy and James invite us to explore the island with them the next day. 


With us on board: Several of Cindy's family members.

With us on board: Several of Cindy’s family members.

In a shallow part of the water we go snorkling.

In a shal­low part of the water we go snor­kling.

We swim in a waterfall.

We swim in a water­fall.

We're shown baby turtles by the only family there.

We’re shown baby turt­les by the only family there.

Finally we travel to ‘German Island’, an island named after the Germans who lived here on their own for a few years. I imme­dia­tely under­stand why. The island is wonder­ful. I think I’d like to be the next German who lives there.

On the way back we’re lost for words about this fantastic day. Arm in arm, we wander down the misty beach. And on top of all this, Cindy announ­ces that she’s had a word with ever­y­body and they’ve deci­ded not to charge us any petrol money, as we’d previously agreed – she says her family liked us so much that they consi­der us their guests.

I have tears in my eyes.

The next day we head furt­her north. This stretch of the jour­ney is pretty tough and long, and Kat’s comp­laints about her back and my driving are begin­ning to get under my skin. It feels like we’ve been in a rela­ti­ons­hip on fast-forward, and a comple­tely plato­nic one at that, putting my tole­rance to the test. 


* * *

Chapter Six / Palawan

What Does Tinder Have to Do with Ants

Break-ups, illnes­ses, dating apps and a dance-group full of friendly murde­rers.

El Nido is famous for its count­less offshore islands and hidden beach para­di­ses.

Kat decides to make the rest of the journey there by bus.

Kat deci­des to make the rest of the jour­ney there by bus.

When I'm alone at last on the road, I let out a literal whoop of joy. This is decidedly more fun.

When I’m alone at last on the road, I let out a lite­ral whoop of joy. This is deci­dedly more fun.

The fabulous view from our terrace!

The fabu­lous view from our terrace!

I’m not really in the mood to do much, as unfor­tu­n­a­tely I’m not really myself at the moment, emotio­nally speaking. But here in El Nido there’s no getting out of anot­her snor­kel­ling trip.

On a wooden boat we cruise from one stun­ning bay to the next. But time and again I’m struck by a sense of loss and heart­break, so while the others explore the turquoise water in a kayak, I sit on the deck of the boat, listen­ing to fami­liar music and crying.

Next morning I’m fit and full of beans. We’re off to Nacpan, where there are no roads. But Kat’s back problems return, and I can liter­ally feel the atmo­s­phere getting worse and worse by the minute. Then I get lost again – perso­nally, I’m quite glad when that happens.

She isn’t.

We’re like an old married couple.
I can’t do this anymore! 


When we get back to El Nido that after­noon, I’m rest­less. Something’s got to happen today. I down­load Tinder, try to under­stand it, and quickly find a few pretty girls who like me too. All three ‘matches’ want to meet in the Reggae Bar. That’s handy, I think, and go for a quick swim outside the cabins. 

Only once I’m in the water do I remem­ber that I’ve seen several sewage pipes leading directly in here. I look around – I’m comple­tely alone …

The Reggae Bar isn’t bad. There’s a pretty great band play­ing and everybody’s in a good mood. Ever­y­body except me. What the hell is wrong with me? It would be easy to blame ever­y­thing on Kat. Thank­fully she stayed at home, and we’ve deci­ded to part ways the next morning.

But even without her, I’m not myself.

I drink rum-and-cokes from jam jars, trying to get into the party atmo­s­phere. As it starts to work a bit, out of nowhere I suddenly get terri­ble diar­rhoea, and only just make it back to our cabin. Maybe it’s from the sewer I was swim­ming in before?

Once I’m feeling better, I go back to the bar on the beach. Among the crowd, I reco­gnise one of the women from Tinder, obviously looking for me in vain. But she has an almost crazed expres­sion on her face, so I pull down my cap and slip past her on the dance­floor. Now or never, I think. 

But just as I’m laun­ching into my dance moves, I step in an ant’s nest.

The little crea­tures bite me all over my lower leg, and by now I’m really fed up. Angry and disap­poin­ted, I stomp back to my bunga­low.

I spend a while sitting and crying on the terrace. Then I spend most of the night on the toilet.


I’m still feeling pretty unwell the next day, my whole body aching. I can’t eat anything, and I don’t want to do anything. Plus it’s cloudy anyway.

My stomach bug has been joined by a depres­sive mood. 

I get over it, howe­ver, and drive Kat to the bus station. That was some emotio­nal roller­co­as­ter we rode toge­ther. She thinks so too, and we laugh about it. After a long hug, she gets into the jeep­ney and disap­pears in a cloud of dust.

The rest of the day is pure agony. I wander through the stre­ets for a bit, ride the moped around, try to sleep. In the evening I’m at least able to eat a few bana­nas.

If I could, I’d fly home right now.

Right into the German cold. I’ve been travel­ling for nearly three months, and somehow I’ve had enough. The crazy Tinder lady keeps sending me expli­cit messa­ges every few minu­tes, so I delete the app.

I’m feeling better again. Luck­ily, as I have a long day ahead of me. That said, I think I’m coming down with a cold. I eat a big break­fast and strap my ruck­sack to the front of my moped. 


Slightly feve­rish, I struggle through a ten-hour trip back to Puerto Princesa. I compare the photo I took of the mileage clock the day I left with what it says now.

I’ve ridden 900 kilo­metres!

The next day I’m facing anot­her jour­ney: it’s one hour to the other end of the city, to Iwahig Prison. I over­he­ard on the first evening in Pala­wan that you could visit it off your own bat. I can’t let the oppor­tu­nity pass me by.

The prison is also an organic farm, and many of the inmates are free to move about the whole area. One of them gives me a tour, and I give him some cigarettes in thanks.

The prison is also an orga­nic farm, and many of the inma­tes are free to move about the whole area. One of them gives me a tour, and I give him some ciga­ret­tes in thanks. 

Then I follow him into a large room in a wooden building, where a group of prisoners rehearsed a choreographed dance for tourists.

Then I follow him into a large room in a wooden buil­ding, where a group of prison­ers rehe­ar­sed a choreo­gra­phed dance for tourists.

It turns out that all the members of the dance troupe are murderers, many of them multiple. And that they're super friendly.

It turns out that all the members of the dance troupe are murde­rers, many of them multi­ple. And that they’re super friendly. 

I spend the rest of the after­noon with them, and they tell me their hair-raising stories. One man killed three people who had raped and murde­red his mother. Anot­her stab­bed to death a rival gang member in cold blood.

Many of them have been here for more than fifteen years. Dancing gives them a reason to get up every day and ignore the fact that their child­ren are growing up without them. It’s an unusual after­noon, and it makes an impres­sion on me.

Why did I travel like this, plan-less and follo­wing my intui­tion?

My Phil­ip­pine jour­ney only arose through some unfo­re­seen events a few months prior, above all the unex­pec­ted end of my rela­ti­ons­hip. It made me simply accept things as they were, loosen my grip on the reins and trust myself to fate.

The mini-relationship with Kat showed at light­ning speed how part­nerships can deve­lop, and I saw many paral­lels with my failed rela­ti­ons­hip back home.

I set off on my travels imme­dia­tely after my break-up, in the hope of getting over things more quickly. But on the one hand I’ve thought about it very often during the trip, only some of my expe­ri­en­ces here helping to dim it, and on the other I feel chea­ted when I get home out of three months‘ valu­able post-relationship work.

Was the trip just an unsuc­cess­ful escape attempt?

Today, a year after the break-up, I’m ready to give my life some more struc­ture. Still, one day I’d like to follow my intui­tion again, on anot­her such jour­ney.

Bye bye, Phil­ip­pi­nes!
It’s been intense! 

* * *

Trans­la­ted by Caro­line Waight

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Bochum: Steel Heartbeats

My city: home (1)

Bochum: Steel Heartbeats

Bochum, I come from you. There aren’t many who can say that. Annika Engel­bert can. A story about culture, educa­tion and lots of love in the Ruhr, visua­li­zed by Ronald Krentz. 

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Ever­y­thing in the small town of Moab evol­ves around outdoor activi­ties. During the high season hund­reds of thousands of visi­tors are pulled in by the spec­ta­cu­lar nature. Dirk Rohr­bach set out to explore.

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An Episode by

Life Is A Trip

Marco Buch

Marco Buch is a filmma­ker, the author of three books, a blog­ger and world travel­ler. He is a curious person and is always on his way some­where. He’s had more than 130 diffe­rent jobs and visi­ted 60 coun­tries. He loves having expe­ri­en­ces then telling other people about them. On his blog he wants to bring tradi­tio­nal camp­fire story­tel­ling into the digi­tal age.

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  • Alex Sefrin on 8. November 2015

    Einfach nur wunder­schön!
    Auf diese Art zu Reisen ist wie das Leben im Zeit­raf­fer. Man durch­lebt in nur kurzer Zeit so viele Höhen und Tiefen, unend­lich viel neue Eindrü­cke, aber dennoch ist man irgend­wie immer auf der Flucht und gönnt sich nicht die Zeit in sich hinein­zu­hö­ren und Eindrü­cke zu verar­bei­ten.
    Auch wenn es viel­leicht nicht die perfekte Methode war, den Herz­schmerz zu über­win­den, es war auf jeden Fall ein unver­gess­li­ches Erleb­nis, dass Dich weiter­ge­bracht hat.

    • Marco on 10. November 2015

      Danke Dir, Alex!
      Leben im Zeit­raf­fer trifft die Sache ziem­lich gut!

  • Lena on 8. November 2015

    Hallo Marco,

    ich bin gerade am „Ich, die Liebe und andere Kata­stro­phen“ hängen­ge­blie­ben. Und habe mit jedem Abschnitt mitge­fie­bert, mitge­lacht, mitge­lit­ten und mitge­freut. Ich habe dieses Jahr selbst das Erleb­nis auf Gili Air gehabt, im Momen­ten der abso­lu­ten Natur­Schön­heit und nach körper­li­chen Stra­pa­zen und Entbeh­run­gen, alles aus mir heraus­zu­wei­nen.
    Dein Bericht gibt mir das gute Gefühl nicht allein damit zu sein und dass es kein Frau­en­ding ist, sondern einfach nur mensch­lich, Gefühle zu leben, über die Stränge zu schla­gen, Wege auszu­pro­bie­ren, manche Gren­zen zu akzep­tie­ren und dafür andere zu öffnen.
    Vielen Dank.
    Nächs­tes Jahr März geht es auf die Phil­ip­pi­nen.

    Liebe Grüsse

    • Marco on 10. November 2015

      Danke, liebe Lena!
      Wenn man irgend­et­was Gutes über Tren­nun­gen sagen kann, dann, dass sie alle Eindrü­cke wahn­sin­nig inten­si­vie­ren.
      Und nein, sich auf all die unter­schied­li­chen Gefühle, die einen zur glei­chen Zeit bestür­zen, einzu­las­sen, ist auf keinen Fall nur ein Frau­en­ding!
      Ich wünsche Dir ne tolle Zeit auf den Phil­ip­pi­nen!
      Liebe Grüße,

  • todayis Magazin on 12. November 2015

    Was für ein emotio­na­ler Arti­kel. Durch die Videos und die verschie­de­nen Kapi­tel fühlt es sich an als wäre man live dabei gewe­sen. Ich hoffe die Reise hat dir gehol­fen dich zu Ordnen! Ich bin auf jeden Fall gespannt auf den nächs­ten Bericht :)

    Lieben Gruß,


    • Marco on 17. November 2015

      Liebe Sabrina, das ist ein tolles Kompli­ment! Denn genau das möchte ich errei­chen: Der Leser soll sich fühlen, als sei er direkt neben mir.
      Danke und liebe Grüße!

  • Wibke on 12. November 2015

    Dieses Format und vor allem die Geschichte ist wirk­lich einma­lig klasse. Ich hatte beim Lesen fast das Gefühl dabei zu sein :-) Vielen Dank dafür!

    • Marco on 17. November 2015

      Danke, Wibke, das freut mich sehr!!

  • Oli on 14. Januar 2016

    Maroc, die Geschichte ist gran­dios!
    An eini­gen Stel­len musste ich laut lachen, beson­ders bei deiner ersten Begeg­nung mit Kat. Bei ande­ren Passa­gen konnte ich sehr gut nach­voll­zie­hen, wie du dich fühlst. Im Nach­hin­ein ist es schon erstaun­lich, wie du diesen Trip über­haupt gemeis­tert hast. Neues Jahr, neues Glück! Ich wünsche dir mehr Erfolg mit der Liebe und mir mehr Geschich­ten von dir ;)


    • Marco Buch on 14. Januar 2016

      Danke Dir, Oli!! Dein Lob freut mich sehr!
      Ich habe so ein Gefühl, dass weni­ger Liebe die besse­ren Geschich­ten hervor­bringt. Was die Frage, was ich mir für 2016 wünschen soll, zu einem klei­nen Dilemma macht… ;-)
      Hoffe wir sehen uns mal wieder, sei es nun in der Berli­ner Tram oder auf einem fran­zö­si­schen Fluss!
      Liebe Grüße,

  • Samira Streit on 26. Januar 2016

    Hallo Marco,
    in Moment mache ich noch meine Ausbil­dung, die dieses Jahr abge­schlos­sen ist. Ich war vor 4 Wochen in ein Buch­la­den und habe zufäl­lig das Buch „The Travel Episo­des“ hinter den versteck­ten Büchern aus dem Bereich „Asien“ entdeckt. Wahr­schein­lich hat es dort jemand abge­legt weil diesem jemand es doch nicht so gereizt hat. Ich konnte nicht anders und musste dieses Buch kaufen.
    Du musst wissen ich liebe die Welt, und habe schon für mich selbst ein Buch erstellt wo alle Länder rein­ge­schrie­ben sind die ich gern einmal in mein Leben sehen möchte, darun­ter auch Indien Phil­ip­pi­nen etc.
    Mein Freund und ich lieben fremde Kultu­ren , ich beson­ders lerne gern leiden­schaft­lich Spra­chen, einer meiner Hobbys.
    Als ich das Buch inner­halb von 4 Tagen verschlun­gen habe musste ich es noch­mal durch­le­sen und noch­mal bis ich es drei­mal hinter­ein­an­der durch­ge­le­sen habe. Und rate mal was mir am besten gefal­len hat? Dein Arti­kel über Phil­ip­pi­nen. Es hat mich sehr sehr sehr inspi­riert, und ich hab es zu meinen Lieb­lings­ka­pi­tel auser­ko­ren aus diesem Buch!!!

    Mitten­drin musste ich doch auch mal tatsäch­lich weinen, weil es mich einfach auch sehr berührt hat. 

    Mein Freund und ich wollen wenn wir reisen, Kinder helfen vor allem medi­zi­nisch weil ich aus einem sozia­len Beruf komme. Mitten drin ist es mein größ­ter Traum mit Kindern aus ande­ren Länder Kultur zu erle­ben und jeden von ihnen eine indi­vi­du­elle Zukunft zu geben.

    Deswe­gen sind wir , mein Freund (der es natür­lich auch ratz­fatz verschlun­gen hat) durch dein Arikel noch moti­vier­ter gewor­den und deine Reise­orte in Phil­ip­pi­nen stehen nun auch alle in mein Zukunfts­rei­se­buch! Danke das du uns die Welt noch näher bringst!

    • Marco Buch on 3. März 2016

      Liebe Samira,
      Deine Worte haben mich wirk­lich sehr gefreut! Danke dafür!
      Ich bin sehr stolz, dass ich mit meinen Worten solche Emotio­nen in Menschen auslö­sen kann.
      Ich wünsche Euch weiter­hin tolle Reisen!
      Liebe Grüße,

  • Marcel on 24. November 2018

    wow, kurz vorm schla­fen gehen wollte ich noch etwas lesen und bin auf diesen Beitrag gesto­ßen.
    Sehr viel und umfang­reich aber so fesselnd und span­nend. Danke und weiter­hin für Dich alles Gute :)
    Grüße Marcel von http://www.mein-mallorca.org

  • Nina Green on 3. April 2020

    This is one of the best narra­ti­ves I’ve read. Love the photos and your perso­nal expe­ri­en­ces are pain­ted beau­ti­fully! It really was so accu­rate, it remin­ded me of my time in the Phil­ip­pi­nes.

  • Džangir on 31. Juli 2020

    I really liked your way of describing expe­ri­ence on the road. Also, this desti­na­tion is on my bucket list. I hope this corona will blow over soon and I’ll get to Asia again.