Tombstones and Firecrackers, Cebu Afternoon

We stepped out Palazzo’s doors after a breakfast of eggs and instant coffee, our bags still newly packed, the port a 10-minute cab ride away, our boat to Bohol scheduled to depart at noon.  A boy smiled to me from the Pensionne’s road and the cab pulled up, a figurine of Mary dangling from the rearview mirror as the driver placed our bags in the trunk and we piled into the back.  During the ride a girl holding a baby scurried from the curb where she sat to our window, tapping on it while the driver waited for the light to turn green, the baby’s hair matted to its head, the skin on its scalp red and dry and bumpy, unwashed, the girl, maybe 13, peering through the glass, tapping on it with her knuckles, her eyes pleading, the baby sleeping.  The light changed.

Palazzo Pensionne, home for the night

At the port we learned our noon boat wasn’t sailing Christmas Day, which hadn’t been mentioned on the site Joe searched back in Busan.  Another boat to Bohol with a different company would depart, we were told, at 3:30 that afternoon.  It was 11 a.m.  Killing four hours at the ticket office didn’t appeal to either of us, so we climbed into a cab, rode it back to Palazzo, stored our bags, and left to walk through Cebu City, a black and white map folded into the pocket of my shorts.  The trees were an iridescent shade of green against the concrete. People called out Merry Christmas everywhere we walked, past homes with barbed wire strung above the gates, down a narrow side street where a church service was ending, along a busy main road crowded with jeepneys–colourful trucks that delivered citizens around the city for a few pesos, stopping when someone tapped the ceiling with a knuckle or coin.

Chapel and firearm poster

From the cab I’d noticed a wall of tombstones and an entryway–to a cemetery I assumed–so with the time to explore I suggested we try to find it.  The map led us there, flower-selling women waving as we crossed the street toward them.

Outside the cemetery. Photo by Joe

Inside, roofless rooms housed graves and their Christmas Day visitors, women and men laying on hammocks or sitting on cement steps, waiting for nothing, watching the afternoon air.  Kids played among the cemetery grounds, lighting firecrackers, aiming a basketball at a hoop with no net; was this their playground or did they live here?

Tombstones stacked in plaster and cement surrounded a field where boys played and ran…

Photo by Joe

and kids wandered, following each other through the tombstone paths.

Photo by Joe

This boy held the firecracker stick…

Photo by Joe

This girl asked me to take her picture, posing beside the star.

Another firecracker lit, time to run…

Photo by Joe

Photo by Joe

After, I bought a cold bottle of sprite from a shop on the street and we sat curbside, watching the jeepney’s drive by…

Photo by Joe

then walked some more.

A deal for the dealers?

Someone's front yard. Photo by Joe

On the map we saw a street called Alcohol Road.  Curious, we made our way there, the time creeping closer to our boat’s departure.  Perhaps it was in the area for tourists, an avenue of bars where they flock on holiday.  We turned a corner and followed the map. No sign marked it, but the street’s location matched the map’s black line.  People sat on the side steps of their homes, music playing from ghetto blasters or old televisions, kids gathered next to a yard populated with chickens and a couple grey goats.  They called out Merry Christmas as we walked along their road, no bar in sight, just people celebrating the day.


Next up: Journey to Lobok


6 thoughts on “Tombstones and Firecrackers, Cebu Afternoon

  1. strange place to play, in the cemetary amongst the tombstones. Obviously, accept death as a part
    of life just as birth is. A foreign concept to us in North America, however, one that makes a great
    deal of sense. Gritty work, very revealing!

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