We heard about it. We knew about it. We just didn't think we would be doing it. "It" refers to the habal-habal, a unique mode of transportation in the Southern Philippines. First of all the name is derived from the Visayan word "habal" which means "having sex" although the reference is usually to animals in general and to dogs in particular. Basically a habal-habal is a motorcycle with an extended back portion to accommodate more than one passenger. Three adults behind the driver would be squeezed in such a way that they would resemble dogs in the act of procreation.
We made arrangements with renowned bird guide Rene Vendiola that we will visit him at his home early Thursday morning. When he said he will have us picked up from the town of Valencia, we thought all along that a motor tricycle would be sent at our disposal - it being the most common way of getting around in this area. When a guy on a motorbike showed up Cynthia and I looked at each other with trepidation. We've never ridden a motorbike before and now we were about to board not just an ordinary bike - we will be riding a habal-habal. Without helmets even. Taking a deep breath and uttering a short word of prayer we began our trip. After what seemed like an eternity while hanging on for dear life, we arrived at Rene's place. He was smiling naughtily as he witnessed two grinning senior citizens, who apparently had a great time having "sex", trying to dismount from the motorcycle with great effort.
Then came the birding. As expected we saw the martial arts specialist of the birding world, the Black-belted Flowerpecker. This species is a can't-miss here at Rene's backyard.
Roaming around the patch of woodland that he owned, Rene was able to present me with another lifer, the noisy Philippine Tailorbird.
The Spotted Wood Kingfisher that he said frequented his place was there momentarily but was chased away by a Collared Kingfisher even before I was able to take a good look at it. The Pygmy Flowerpecker was also quite elusive that I only got a few glimpses. The Purple-throated Sunbird though was more accommodating than its Siquijor cousins.
Rene had other commitments that morning, so we thanked him for his time and hospitality. Inasmuch as it was still early, he suggested that we visit Forest Camp. Although severely damaged by Typhoon Sendong, the place was now accessible, he assured us. And the best way to get there was by, you guessed it, the dreaded habal-habal.
The trip to Forest Camp took even longer and negotiated some road undulations. But we were now veterans to this type of transportation. "Bring it on", my wife and I both said with great confidence as we pasted ourselves to the driver's back.
Forest Camp was indeed accessible and some parts had been restored to a degree of normalcy. But the birds were still sparse. The usually brazen Crimson Sunbirds now remained at the tree tops. The Visayan Bulbuls were calling but were unseen. Only the Philippine Magpie Robins gave us good looks.
After about an hour later, our beloved habal-habal driver, George, came to pick us up per agreement. He volunteered to take us to Dumaguete but we politely refused and asked that we be taken to nearby Valencia instead. After all, at our age, we can only handle so much "sex" in a certain span of time.
A refreshing lunch at Kri somehow brought us back to a sense of reality. Did we really do what we just did? were among the questions that hovered in our minds as we indulged in mahi-mahi and prawns.
Back at the hotel, our birding day ended through the courtesy of a female Olive-backed Sunbird which was building a nest only a few feet above the ground and not far from the laundry room where hotel employees come and go.