Life under COVID-19 quarantine in Cebu, Philippines9 min read
Life under COVID-19 quarantine in Cebu, Philippines9 min readReading Time: 7 minutes
How ended up in Cebu city
I have been travelling for about two years now from country to country, staying on a tourist visa everywhere. At the end of 2019 I was in Bukittinggi in Indonesia, when my visa expired, and I chose Sri Lanka as my next destination, and I was planning to spend about three months there. But I was so disappointed there, that I quickly changed my mind, and “escaped” from Sri Lanka to Cebu city in the Philippines.
I didn’t have an exact plan, but wanted to spend about 3 or 4 months in the Philippines altogether. I stayed in Cebu city the whole time, working like a dog, I actually never left the city. So in February, I decided I should go somewhere within the country. I booked accommodation in another city, bought ferry tickets and even a flight ticket out of the Philippines some time at the beginning of April.
And then the news came of the COVID-19 epidemic. And then things started to change so quickly that you didn’t even have time to realize what was happening. From one day to another, whole regions were closed, and then the whole country was closed, and then the night curfew was announced in Cebu, and then the day curfew, and here I am now.
I am extremely lucky, I think. First of all, at the outbreak of COVID-19, I was in the Philippines, which is one of the best countries of the world regarding tourist visa rules. You can, in theory, extend your visa several times and spend as much as three years in the country at one go. I have already extended my stay three times, the last time for an extra 6 months’ stay. That will be valid until October, and I am now contemplating whether I will be given another 6 months extension after that. I just don’t think that things will change entirely by that time, but at least, international air travel is not likely to resume completely, not to mention visa policies.
Then the other lucky thing is that I have an apartment, which doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Although it is very small and not very modern, it has a kitchen; and cleaning service, change of bedsheets and Wifi is included in the price, and they even bring drinking water for us to buy, so we don’t have to worry about that either. We meaning there are about 4 or 5 flats here that are rented by various people. It has a small garden too, here it is:
How I live during the quarantine
A day in my quarantine life
I am also fortunate enough to be able to go on working. As a translator for one of the largest IT companies, at the moment there doesn’t seem to be a very high risk (knock on wood). Indeed, there is perhaps even more stuff to translate now, some of it related to COVID-19.
So I actually carry on doing what I always did. I wake up very late, but still only after 6 or so hours of sleeping, because I’m a night owl. Then start working right away – well, after drinking a good cup of very strong mocha. I now have enough ground coffee for my mocha maker to last for at least a month I think.
I would normally go out in the early afternoon, even if I have nothing to do or arrange in town, and most often, I would walk quite a bit, and spend about two hours outside: doing some grocery shopping, having lunch somewhere, buying some snacks or a piece of cake, or simply walking around the city.
Now this is something you can’t do any more, and I miss it a lot, and more and more. After about two weeks, I started to feel really uncomfortable.
The quarantine pass
In Cebu city, just like in many other places in the Philippines, the local government provides quarantine passes to people. One per household. Only one person is allowed to go out, and only with the purpose of buying essential food, visiting the pharmacy or to arrange something which is absolutely essential and which cannot wait. No walking, no meeting anyone, no wandering about aimlessly in the streets. I wonder what happened to the thousands and thousands of homeless people, including small children.
In Vits Apartments, where I rent one of the apartments, we were initially told that every apartment would get one pass. It turned out to be false. We only got two passes, so this means that one must be shared by four apartments, irrespective of how many people live in one flat.
But this doesn’t seem to be a problem. Both passes are placed on a table outside in the garden, together with a piece of paper, where you need to register yourself if you want to use the quarantine pass, and write down the star and end time of your usage period. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of registrations.
Trying to walk a little
After about two weeks of staying inside all the time, I decided to venture out to the streets. I actually had a good reason for that: I needed cash, and had to use an ATM. But I decided to walk a little more than necessary to reach the nearest ATM, and I was hoping that it would make a lot of difference to my mood and well-being.
I saw very few people in the streets, all of them wearing of course face masks – I was wearing one too, because you are required to do so outside. And the few people that I saw didn’t seem to be overly happy (understandably of course), which in turn didn’t make me overly happy either.
I went to the tiny marketplace very near my home (and the ATM that I was using), and bought some tomatoes. Then I went into a 7-eleven to buy some chocolate, and then I returned straight home. It’s not fun to walk when you see apocalyptic scenes, and people are protecting themselves against dangers. Dangers that other people may pose to them. At the market, the stalls were separated from shoppers, and in the 7-eleven, the shop assistant was protected by a large transparent plastic, with only a small hole in it.
The entrance to my small street was blocked and guarded, and people got their hands sprayed with some alcohol. I quickly returned to my home.
At the very beginning of the lockdown, I stocked up on food to cook. Chicken breast, pasta, vegetables, eggs. Then I realized that I didn’t have some essential things like ground coffee.
In Cebu, there are no supermarkets with home delivery or online purchase options. There is Foodpanda, where you can buy food for home delivery from a variety of shops, but it’s too expensive for me to use for every single meal.
Some new small businesses sprung up at the beginning of the pandemic, which will do the shopping for you in some supermarkets, and deliver the goods to your doorstep, for a hefty 10% of your shopping bill. I did use one of them, ordering various things for more than 7000 pesos, which of course cost me more than 700 pesos. But I thought it is still worth it, since otherwise you would have to spend hours and hours just standing in a queue outside of the supermarket, with people all around you and the risk of catching something.
Anyway, they did buy most of the things that I ordered, but not all of it was what I expected. They bought me 2 kilos of chicken breast – with bones. My fault, I should’ve told them to buy boneless, fillet chicken breast. Next time.
My biggest problem was ground coffee. In this part of the world, the supermarkets are loaded with dozens of types of instant coffee, and perhaps a few terrible quality ground coffee. I used to buy my coffee in the shopping mall from a shop where they ground the selected coffee beans for me. That place is of course closed now. I was searching and searching, and after about a week, I eventually found a company that delivered coffee, and you could also select the type of grinding that you want: The Good Cup Coffee Company. Bo’s Coffee, a good café, also offers home delivery now – both of them are rather expensive though, but who can live without good quality coffee?
There is also a service at Carbon Market in the city centre (the largest and most famous public market in the city), where you can order vegetables for home delivery. The problem is you never know what quality their produce will be. Tomatoes were green, some of the potatoes bad, green beans stringy, mangoes not sweet enough. But at least they save you from having to do it yourself, spending half a day on a shopping, and risking your health (or even your life).
My social life is of course next to nothing. But it was not much better before, I have to confess. For some reason, I haven’t made friends with anyone in Cebu. Yes, I was working too much. I had to, because before I came to Cebu, I spent so much money on travelling from place to place, enjoying adventures like jungle trekking and visiting orangutans or visiting a tribe on the Mentawai islands, among many-many others, that I felt I had to pause for a while, and earn some money before I can do the same again.
The only locals I have any kind of relationship with are the owners of my rented apartment, but that is also limited. I keep in touch with some friends in my home country, Hungary, though, mainly on Facebook, and my close colleague in Budapest via Skype. These are very important now.
All the more so, that these are highly stressful times for me. I have lived a completely stress-free life for quite a few years travelling around the world before the pandemic started. For some reason, nowadays there are a lot of very serious problems which sprung up out of nowhere – official, financial and related problems that are very hard or even impossible to solve online, from a distance.
Meanwhile, the political thugs who rule my home country, Hungary, have introduced a full blown dictatorship now, (ab)using the pandemic as an excuse for doing so. They suspended the rule of law entirely, and the prime minister has all the authority, and he is the sole source of law now.
Bad times, but I do hope it will eventually be better someday, hopefully sooner than I expect it now…
Written by: Csaba, a freelance translator and an eternal student, that has finished four colleges/universities, and has three degrees and a PhD. Originally published in Digital Nomad Updates.