The Philippines has been a Catholic country for centuries now, thanks to the arrival of the Spanish nearly 500 years ago. Ferdinand Magellan himself started the conversion efforts on the island of Cebu, which is the island we flew into, and the people in the area are rightly proud of their many old churches. One of the most famous is Baclayon Church on the island of Bohol:
But pretty much every major church on this island is surrounded by scaffolding or construction materials, because a major earthquake hit in October 2013 and sent most large buildings tumbling to the ground. The entire center of the church in Loboc is still in piles of rubble on — you can see the frescos on what is left of the ceiling just by looking up from the sidewalk. Restoration efforts are clearly taking a while. Even the cathedral in Tagbilaran, Bohol’s largest city, remains partially hidden by support braces:
One church that appears to be in reasonably good shape is this smaller one in Batuan:
You’ll also find small chapels all over the place. This one in Loboc is on the larger side — often they’re just one story tall. They’re usually gated (I’m not sure when or by whom the gates are opened — every single one I saw was closed).
As a side note, you may see that every single church picture here has a wire somewhere in front. There are wires everywhere in the Philippines.
Statues of the Virgin Mary are common; you’ll find them everywhere from people’s front yards to our ferry terminal in Bohol. And I found this statue at the Cebu airport, just before the security gates:
There’s also ample evidence of Catholicism at local graveyards, of course, which are built into the hillsides (both for reasons of flooding and to keep the best agricultural land free for rice planting):
Catholicism is so much a part of people’s lives that you’ll find Bible quotes on the back lefthand corner of every single tricycle (that’s a motorcycle with a cabin made for two or three riders). Here we have “God is love,” from John …
…and “Do not forget to do good and to share,” from Hebrews:
My favorite quote from the back of a tricycle was, “Go to the ant, Osluggard, consider her ways and be wise.” I spent a while trying to puzzle through whether “Osluggard” was some sort of a Norse god, and whether I had found a pagan Filipino tricycle driver, before I figured out that “Osluggard” should be read as two words.
Another tricycle had a bumper sticker that read, “this vehicle was washed clean in the blood of the savior.” That seemed very hard core to me.
I was continually enthusiastic about the tricycles, for four reasons: (1) I don’t know the Bible very well, so I enjoyed reading the quotations; (2) they fascinated (and somewhat terrified) me as a form of transportation; (3) I loved the paint jobs; and (4) they reminded me of Luigi and Guido from Cars.
Here’s Prescott settling into the tricycle that we took from Bohol to Panglao:
Religious icons were also often in evidence somewhere on most jeepneys (Prescott and I both though that was Princess Leia on the passenger’s side door below, until we drew closer and realized it was either a very young Virgin Mary or a very feminine-looking Jesus):
I was a huge fan of the detailing on the jeepneys. It makes me think that most cars should be more interesting.
A final word on transportation in the Philippines: it’s generally either very hot, very inefficient, or both. Those jeepneys are usually packed with people (sometimes they’re even sitting on top or hanging off the back), and there’s no air conditioning. Same goes for the tricycles (though because they’re powered by motorcycle engines, they’re limited in the number of passengers you can cram inside).
Then there is the ferry-taking experience. This starts with buying a ticket. Then you stand in another line — and pay more money — for a “terminal fee” (yes, you have to pay money to get into the ferry terminal, and there’s no other option for accessing your ferry boat). Then you stand in another line — and pay even more money — for a luggage check fee. It’s crazy. And don’t get me started on the Cebu airport (more lines, and a huge terminal fee)…