Coping with the darkness in the tropics

Coming from Helsinki, 700km from the arctic circle, I thought I knew what darkness is. I’m talking about the Finnish winter where there is no sun for up to 22 hours. But how wrong I was.

Here in the Philippines–so close to the equator–it turns dark every day of the year. It stays dark starting around 6pm until around 5am. As soon as the sun sets, it’s like somebody switched off the light: boom, suddenly it’s dark. With dark, I mean, VERY dark.

night at the beach

Here in the province, far away from metropolitan Cebu, there is no light pollution. Some people here don’t even have electricity in their homes, or only very poor lighting with 1-2 light bulbs to illuminate their homes.

Also, typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) has destroyed many of the street lamps. As a result: darkness all around due to lack of illumination.

The nights here seem so black, so dark. I find it uncomfortable because I don’t know what animal or critters might be close by, all without me being able to see them; although I can hear them. It’s the unknown of not being able to see where or what I am stepping into. Suddenly all night sounds coming from the animals (bats, lizards, geckos, birds) seem so much more intense and close.

Every night, when I step through the darkness on the street, it occurs to me: wow, I really am in a third world country. A country where brownouts (local power cuts) and blackouts (regional power cuts) happen with regularity; and when that happens at night, it suddenly turns everything, as in everything, pitch black. I find it exciting and scary at the same time.

Since these brownouts happen so often, we are all well prepared. In every room is a flashlight. (The use of candles at power cuts is very dangerous, we prefer flashlights). When a big typhoon is announced to make landfall, sometimes, the city cuts the power already in advance, to prevent the deadly combination of flooding waters meeting the power lines.

But I have to admit, the darkness also has a very nice side to it. The stars here, so close to the equator, shine much more bright, much closer and get much more visible in the darkness. So, even though I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the darkness, I absolutely love sitting at the beach, looking at the clear night sky and watch the stars.

This is a typical night at the tropics