The other tourists from the boat had already mixed in with the crowd of spectators on the far side of the ring, but I’d shown up too late to join them (and I wasn’t particularly eager to have a front-row view of the bloody event, anyway). Instead, I climbed a tree, settled onto one of the branches and turned my camera onto the crowd.
It seemed as if the whole village was there. The two roosters were outfitted with short knives strapped to their legs and pushed together into the ring, and it was all over in less than a minute. Both roosters died. (The “winner” died second.)
After the fight, the guide told me that local governments take a portion of the gambling proceeds to fund development projects.
Back on the boat, I saw Kathrin, a 29-year-old graphic designer from Switzerland, gazing quietly at the water. I sat down next to her. As the island gradually disappeared in front of us, children ran back and forth on the beach, waving and shouting goodbye. Kathrin and I waved back at them.
“So what’d you think of the cockfight?” I asked.
“I just feel so much—” she paused, thinking. “I don’t know the word to describe it.”
The solution to everything
There was something about those five days on the boat that unleashed the wilder, more untamed versions of us all. Men and women who in real life spend our days in offices or cubicles suddenly swam with floppy white jellyfish and watched roosters fight to the death as if we did those things every day in Frankfurt or Lyon.
My hair, which I normally straighten, had relaxed back into its natural mess of tangled curls. My skin had turned into a Picasso-like maze of tan lines, sunburns, inexplicable bruises and long scratches from where I’d swum into a cliff or, in characteristic gracelessness, fallen off the boat into the water. My body looked like a map of the Philippines.
I loved it.
Our beach camp on the penultimate night was equipped with a generator — not for charging our phones, but to power the ancient karaoke machine that had been improbably set up inside an open-air hut. Late into the night, we tourists, the Filipino crewmembers and a few locals gathered around it to drink beer and rum and sing love songs in Tagalog, English and a handful of other languages. For a second, as I watched our tiny United Nations drunkenly bleating “Bohemian Rhapsody” from an island speck in the middle of the ocean, that moment of harmony felt like the solution to all the world’s problems.
I’ve changed back into myself now, more or less. My hair is straight again, those scratches and jellyfish stings have faded away, and my Internet addiction has returned with a vengeance.
But my new bikini is carefully folded away in a drawer. I decided to hang on to it. I’ll need it next time. And besides, it makes me feel so much —
There isn’t a word to describe it.
Keenan is a freelance writer in New York.