I recently jumped ahead in my storytelling a bit to bring you the breaking news of Tropical Cyclone Winston, but now that all that excitement has passed, let's return to where we left off in the Philippines on the island of Bohol. 

Late Friday

The sun was low in the sky when we got back to Oasis, so when Suzanne and Ian invited us for one last drink, we politely declined, deciding that it would probably be a good idea to try and get where we were going. We were heading into the middle of the jungle after all, to a place called Nuts Huts, highly recommended by a friend and Lonely Planet both. “It was like staying in Jurassic Park!” my friend had told me. “Legendary backpacker Shangri-La” were the words Lonely Planet had used to entice me further. Yes, this was the beginning of something cool.

We had the reception at the hotel call us a taxi. The guy wanted to charge us 1700 pesos, and finally agreed on 1500. We were probably still overpaying by a lot, but he was already there and standing his ground. Sometimes bartering is like a game. Sometimes it turns into a chore.

Fletch and I hugged Ian and Suzanne goodbye, with promises to visit each other in the future, and loaded our heavy luggage into the trunk of the taxi. We were basically carrying our lives with us, having just packed up from a year in Palau and being in transit to wherever our next home might be. We were heavy travelers, but we were basically carrying our homes if that's any excuse.

We drove north, into the jungle, while the sun set and it gradually got darker and darker. Our plans of arriving before dark were thwarted. There was nothing but darkness around us, as our surroundings slowly became more and more isolated. The paved road turned to dirt, and eventually even the dirt road seemed to disappear and we were driving on nothing but a pathway of rocks. Then, quite abruptly, our taxi driver stopped and jumped out of the cab, saying that he couldn’t go any farther. Fletch and I looked hesitantly out the window. There were no lights in sight, only never-ending darkness. There was no sign of any place to stay, or of people for that matter, just trees and jungle. Fletch got out of the cab with the driver to ask him to please take us further. I sat where I was, a little afraid to move. The driver unloaded all of our heavy bags and refused to go any further. A guy on a motorbike appeared out of nowhere and said he would drive our bags ahead. Those were his only words. Fletch said we would stay with our bags. I sat in stunned silence, clutching my smaller backpack. There was nothing left for me to do but to exit the cab as well. I finally did, and the taxi carefully turned around on the small, rocky path and drove off, abandoning us in the middle of the jungle with no sign of where we were or where we were going.

The stranger on the bike stated one more time that he would drive our bags ahead. When we refused to let him carry our bags off without us, he turned around and drove off in the opposite direction, with no more explanation. We were left in darkness.

The jungle grew louder around us and we fished out our iPhones for light. We stood there, stunned, for a few more moments, and then started picking up our luggage, one piece at a time, trying to figure out how to carry everything at once. I had my backpacking pack, half my body weight, and a smaller day pack. Fletch had his massive roller bag, heavier than me probably, and two backpacks besides. We started making our way across the rocks as that was our only option. It was all we could do to put one foot in front of the other and repeat. The farther we tromped into the unknown, the more my nerves tingled uneasily.

We finally happened across a wooden sign on the side of the rocks that said 500 meters to Nuts Huts. It felt like we had already come that distance. We kept on trudging along.

I tried to lighten the mood by pointing out how brilliant the stars above were. That was all I had.

Our pace was slow but consistent. We fell into a dreary silence. The only sounds were those of the jungle around us and the heavy roller bag bouncing clumsily over one rock after another after another.

At long last, once we were thoroughly drenched in sweat, we found the Nuts Huts sign, and nothing else but a crooked staircase descending down a never-ending hill into complete darkness. This had to be a joke. I looked around for some other option, some building we had missed, because once we started climbing down those stairs, we were never going to make it back up. Maybe there was a hut hidden behind a tree somewhere. We hadn’t missed anything. There was nothing around but the pitch black jungle and the staircase down into the abyss. I think I saw a horror movie once that started like this and ended with everyone getting their kidneys stolen. I didn’t want to lose my kidneys. My yoga master guru had been teaching me how to tap them out like little tea bags everyday, which was every bit as silly as it sounds, but nevertheless, left me with a warm fuzzy feeling.

After realizing that there was absolutely no other option but to descend the staircase of doom, we began carefully making our way down. One step. And then another. And then another. I refused to notice whether or not I was getting tired. Tired wasn’t an option. Continuing to descend one step at a time, oh so carefully, was the only option available. Not toppling over from my high center of gravity caused by the backpacks was also becoming increasingly more challenging.

Top portion of the stairs taken during the day time. 

The stairs kept going. 

Middle portion of the stairs taken during the day time. 

And going. 

Bottom portion of the stairs taken during the day time. 

It felt like an eternity later when we finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Halfway down the staircase was where the reception building was located. I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved for the break or disheartened that there were more stairs to make our way down after the reception building. We arrived at the desk looking completely disheveled and dripping with sweat. The reception lady laughed as she told us that there were still more stairs to come. I tried my best to smile, even though it wasn’t particularly funny. It should have been funny. Funny because it was so awful. But at that moment it was only awful.

The lady said that their security officer had offered to bring our bags for us and we had sent him away. Figuring she meant the man on the bike, I tried to politely explain that he had never given us any explanation of who he was, but had merely tried to take our bags without reason. We were carrying more than just a few, worthless, changes of clothes, and as such weren’t about to abandon our belongings with a complete stranger. Especially one who couldn’t at least state that he was the security man for the place where we were going.

We received our key for our room, the Clockwork Orange room, and an explanation that all the rooms were named after novels that had been left at the place. The rooms named after novels had been a cool idea when I'd first looked into Nuts Huts, but in my exhausted, sweaty state, the pretentious explanation was now just annoying.

Clockwork Orange key in hand, we continued our journey down the never-ending stairs. They really did just go on and on. I learned that I favor my left leg, because it was sore for a good week afterwards. I swear I'm not as whiny and out-of-shape as I'm sounding right about now. I just wasn't mentally prepared to be hiking through the Philippine jungle in the middle of the night while hauling my body weight in dive equipment. Note to self: dive gear and hiking go together about as well as toothpaste and orange juice.

Finally we reached the bottom, and a long row of spaced out huts. Ours was towards the end of the line, and when we finally stumbled up to it, it was to find a ladder leading up to a little shack on stilts. We tiredly hauled our bags up the ladder, and just stood and stared at the dingy, dark little space for a moment. We had a thin mat, covered in a worn, used, flowery sheet, and a torn, traffic-cone orange mosquito net hanging there all limp like an apathetic ghost. I knew it was meant to be a backpackers' spot and as such nothing fancy. I’ve stayed in some grimy places before, and enjoyed every moment of it, but none of those places ever claimed to be a “backpacker’s Shankgri-La.” Really, Lonely Planet? Really?

In the corner, half a wall was built to section off the bathroom. The toilet had to be flushed by dumping bucket-fulls of water down, and the shower had enough water pressure to drain the entire Loboc River. It was nice to have a descent, if cold shower, but I also wondered why this place wasn't more eco-friendly, to make up for everything else that it wasn’t. Of course I guess you have to pay more for eco-friendly and a shower that only spits. That’s the world we live in. After the refreshing waterfall sent all my sweat and dirt pouring down the drain like a hurricane, I wrapped myself in the towel provided. At least they provided towels, even if they looked like something purchased from someone’s grandmother’s yard sale.

Fletch and I had to decide whether we had enough energy left in us to hike all the way back up to the reception area for dinner. The hike in had made us hungry, but we were almost too tired to be bothered with the journey back up. We finally did go back up. The dining area was next to the reception, and had a nice assortment of cushions and hammocks to compliment the wooden dinner benches. A brief flicker of something along the lines of excitement crossed my mind as I realized that now must be the time for travel-weary backpackers to sit around in a drum circle and share tales of their journeys and misadventures. After all, that is the essence of backpacker culture. That was what this place was trying to be. But the dining hall was filled with people all keeping to themselves. No more than two people sat together in a group, and even the groups of two seemed at a loss for conversation. No one appeared particularly happy. No one seemed disheveled after an exciting day of romping through the jungle. The room was lifeless. A room full of solo travelers who had all grown bored with finding themselves perhaps.

We ordered a couple of salads and sat and read the activity book. The food was fresh and made a satisfying meal. The activity book gave us a welcome laugh. Walking the access road was listed at the top. As if people would come all this way just to walk the lack of road. Relaxing in the rooms was another activity. News flash, Nuts Huts, when people want to spend time relaxing in their rooms, they find a nice hotel room or resort to relax in, not a shack in the woods with a well-used mat as a bed. People stay in a shack in the woods with a well-used mat as a bed because they are going to be spending the day doing real activities and just need a roof to crash under at the end of the day.

We exhaustedly hiked our way back down to our orange shack and ate sandwiches until all we could do was laugh ourselves silly at how horrendously our day had turned out. At least we should have laughed. My memory in retrospect is of us laughing. We also discovered the leftover muffins from the Bee Farm and devoured those, before falling asleep to the nearby sounds of whispers drifting over from the next shack.

Saturday

We woke up to the charming sounds of woodland critters, of kids screaming, and of gun shots. The sound of kids screaming was drifting over from the village across the river. I don’t know where the gun shots were coming from, but there were five at least. So much for tranquil jungle atmosphere.

Nuts Huts
 
We decided to leave, right after breakfast. A memory of my yoga teacher had been playing and replaying in my head ever since we had arrived. Shortly before leaving Palau, the two of us had gone away to some little bungalows on the beach to practice yoga and chant under the power tree. Before departing on the overnight trip, she had reassured me over and over again that if I didn’t like the place, we could leave right away. She said we could leave if I didn’t like it at least on ten different occasions, until I began to wonder if we were going to some scary, dingy place out in the woods. (It wasn’t). I didn’t see what the big deal was either, even if for some reason I didn’t like the place, it would only be fore 24 hours. Anything is bearable for 24 hours. As it turned out, we had a magical 24 hours of meditating our way into another world.

I’m not the kind of person to change plans once they’re made. I’m the sort of person to grit my teeth and bear whatever nonsense I’ve gotten myself into. I discovered that Fletch is the same, because he kept saying over and over that he didn’t want to run away from the situation. But my yoga teacher’s sweet voice wouldn’t stop singing in my head “...and we’ll just leave right away if we get there and either one of us is unhappy.” Thanks Michelle. So even though her words had never been necessary at the time, now I couldn't stop thinking about them, and I listened and insisted that we leave Nuts Huts. Pronto.

We packed up the few things that we had bothered to pull out of our bags and walked up to the reception (sans bags) to order some omelets and inform them that we couldn’t stay. The reception lady said that since we had so many heavy bags, perhaps it would be easier to leave by boat. I stared at her blankly. Thanks for sharing the information about the boat now. She said another couple was taking the boat at 10 and we could go with them.

We shoveled breakfast down our throats and ran back down the hill to gather our belongings and be at the boat by 10.

At ten minutes til 10 I ran back up the portion of the endless staircase as quickly as I could to pay our bill. I passed the wooden plank that was the dock to see the boat already well on its way away with the other couple. Lovely.

Out of breath, I told the reception lady that the boat had left early. She said she would call him to come back. Why she hadn’t just called him in the first place to tell him there would be four people instead of two I have no idea.

A small bamboo outrigger canoe picked us up, and as we fled Nuts Huts, we left behind a massive could of negative energy. Suddenly the sun was shining and everything seemed serene once more. 

Escaping down the Loboc River.

The boat ride was all of 20 minutes down the river. We pulled up to a few half-rotten planks of wood that somewhat resembled steps leading up the hill. The boat driver was kind enough to help us up and then asked if we needed a tricycle. After expressing our concern that a tricycle wouldn’t be big enough for us and all of our luggage, he assured us that it was a special tourist-sized tricycle. So we agreed and he pulled a bicycle out of nowhere and began peddling down the road. Several minutes later he returned with his friend who was riding the tourist-sized tricycle. Sure enough, they had made it big enough to fit a couple and all of their luggage.

Steps leading up the hill out of the Loboc River.

We asked the tricycle driver to take us back to the Bee Farm. That would be as good a place as any to spend the night before heading to the airport in the morning. He was friendly and started asking us about our travels. When we brought up Nuts Huts he agreed that no one there was happy. So we left that unhappy nonsense behind and rode away towards a much nicer adventure.