From the sweet perfume of honey-marmalade topped pink rice to the lazy sensuality of a mongrel blend of spices rubbed into a rotating chicken, a myriad of scents assault my nose in the family-run market.
To my left were a group of middle-aged Filipino men, gathered around an old, flickering TV set, watching a sporting match that was evidently very exciting. Every few minutes the cacophony of raucous cheers and jeers and the toppling of chairs as the men leapt to their feet were heard throughout the open-air market.
To my right were my traveling companions, a duo known for their ability to charm anyone. A jolly Filipino woman, clad in a T-shirt bearing a plethora of colorful parrots, was eagerly handing them spices and slivers of vegetables to smell and sample.
It was our third day on the island of Siquijor, a small island south of Cebu in the Philippines. Our trips to the market had become habitual. We’d spent all the prior mornings lazing in a beach hammock with a book in one hand and a mango in the other, the afternoons cooling off by zipping around the island on motorbikes and leaping off waterfalls, and then hitting the market with just enough time to race back to our rented apartment to watch the sun sink behind the neighboring island of Negros.
As day turned to night we’d sit on the porch, our feet dangling just too far from the sand below that we couldn’t squish our toes into it, completely mesmerized by the colors that exploded across the sky and glinted off the sea.
Every few minutes the scene would completely change, like a montage of oversize Jackson Pollock paintings. Pale shades of blue, daisy yellows and delicate pink would yield to lavender, salmon and fiery red, which would in turn succumb to rich purple, maroon and burnt orange.
When all that was left was the white of the stars and the crests of the surging waves on a background of black, we’d stir, as if woken from a dream, blink and slowly go about making our dinner. Eventually the rhythmic chopping of garlic and onions mingled with the crackling beach fire where our three tunas roasted and the gentle hiss of cold ice giving way to warm rum in plastic tumblers.
It was easy to feel at home here. Our micro-sized apartment sat mere meters from the sea and was owned by a gregarious middle-aged Filipino woman and her quirky, senior-aged British husband, who had formidable eyebrows and a bend in his back that mimicked his hammock.
After dinner we’d regale our host with tales of our afternoon adventures: exploring an abandoned Catholic school, having a fire quite literally lit under my ass by a mountain mystic, playing a game involving skipping flip flops across the pavement with some village kids, drinking rice wine with construction workers, motorbiking down seemingly forgotten roads and following another band of children to a secluded waterfall and getting a lesson on rope swinging with style. He’d nod his head, partially in approval, partially as he fought impending sleep.
Only to awake to the smell of honey-marmalade topped rice and the promise of more adventures.