Tuesday, May 17, 2011

that time i fell down to my death, or something like that

May 17, 2011
K’s dad and sister are in country so of course we went caving. The cave is out at S &P’s sight and I went along with the family and J. Our tour guide is an English teacher at a local high school and the founder of an adventure club or sorts. Which is huge. For the most part Filipinos in rural areas don’t go to the mountains because they are full of witches and aswangs and such. Some places they won’t even go to the beach. Because of this J, K’s sister and I are probably the first females to go in this cave. We were only the second group of American’s to go through, the first being PCVs last year. Because of a lack of traffic this cave is also still pristine. Which means lots of bats and bugs.
We took a pump boat to the island the cave is on then on through the jungle. It was kind of rough going and people were falling but not me, not yet.
We get to the cave and one by one go down, the person waiting his/her turn dodging bats flying out the door, glad for the helmet to protect from bat droppings. We shimmy on down the rocks and then go into this little wing of the cave with so many bats and a cave sparrow nest with the tiniest egg. While in there it started raining through the big opening in the top. Which cooled us off after the trek up and in and got us ready to repel down. It was a neat repel down into the darkness, I’m not sure how deep maybe 30 feet, but that could be a lie. The hardest part was coming over the ledge, and I’ve got some awesome scrapes to prove it. Then we stood on squishy rocks, squishy from the guano rocks. Oh and under all that guano plenty of cock roaches (pause to shutter). Did you know there are types of cock roaches that can bite!? And fly!?
Then we went down father. Side story: When I was little when ever we went up country I usually ended up tumbling head first into a lake or stream. This time there wasn’t a body of water to break my fall. While everyone else fell with his or her feet on the ground I chose to go big. I was coming down off a rock looking for a foothold or two and down I went a couple of feet. I tucked myself up and landing pretty squarely on the bum and only got some awesome scrapes and bruises on my back and tweak to the ankle. Ain’t no thing.
After everyone else climbed down we went exploring and saw more bats, more cockroaches (pause to shutter), cave crickets, alien like spiders, centipedes and other creepy crawlers. Then turned and left, back up that fateful ledge I fell down to that taunting rope. Sure anybody can strap on a harness and slide down a rope but not anybody can climb back up it unless you’re a Filipino of course. There was another rope with knots every now and then. They wrapped their toes around this rope and climbed right up. P climbed up this rope but chose to wear the harness just in case. K followed suit. Luckily at this point there was enough manpower to pull us on up. Then we climbed up and were in the jungle again.
It was pretty slick going up before the rain. Going down post rain it was ridiculous so we just went down on some leaves on our butts. We were already covered in guano so a little mud didn’t thing like too big a deal. It for sure saved a lot of time and just scraped off the rest of my skin.
When we got back to town we went to a waterfall to wash up. A good day. I was afraid to go to sleep because I was sure I’d wake up sore. This was not the case. My ankle is a little swollen and tender but I’m walking fine, the majority of my scrapes are not oozing (of those I can see). Now I’m ready for my next big adventure whatever that may be.

In reading through I saw a mention to aswang. Not sure I’ve mentioned it before so I’ll do it now. Filipinos are very superstitious. They believe in charms, and witchcraft, and signs. One thing is an aswang (sometimes called a white lady), which is like a vampire. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

a lot can happen between fights

May 12, 2011
After, count ‘em November, December, January, February, March, April, six months it finally stopped raining.
On Sunday, as I’m sure you all know, Pacquioa had a fight. We were going to go see it at the movie theatre but decided that 450 pesos was just not worth it and 6 in the morning was really not worth it. Instead I watched the fight at home with my Auntie. It was nice. It would have been nicer if Mosley had actually decided to show up that day, but Manny handled it well. That South Paw is so fast, he for sure does not float. And to think, some people are lucky enough to have him as their congressmen.
The fight had me thinking of his last fight. I had just got to site, and maybe like Mosley I was scared and barely fighting. In fact, I know I was scared. I was all alone in the world and went to the mall to see a movie, any sort of reminder at home would do. Low and behold the theatre was closed because of the fight. This pert near broke me and I was amazed that they could do this. Oh how I’ve changed!
After helping C on a project at her site the other day I was getting on a Jeep to head on home. The conductor knew I lived in Alang Alang and was excited to get me home. However, there was no room in the back. No problem I squeezed in the front. There were five us up there. Three passengers, the rider, then me hips barely fitting in the seat between the driver and HIS door. I awkwardly hung out the window and thought I love my life! Just around Sta Fe the engine over heated so we stopped for water. Because there was now free space on the other side they had me run around to sit shotgun next. Just outside Sta Fe the other lady in the front got out and was replaced by a less than sober guy who kept telling me how nice Alang was. I just laughed and trusted the driver would keep things straight.  When he got out at my site I rode a block or two down the way. Just a typical day in the Philippines. Six months ago I would have not been so que sera sera about it.
As I mentioned before, the rain has stopped (other than the occasional typhoon) and now it is so stinkin’ hot! There is not much as far as AirCon in town so of course you head on in to the mall. I was sitting there drinking my royal milk tea with tapioca pearls checking my email on my iPod (probably the best thing I brought here next to my head lamp) when I noticed a little girl right over my shoulder. I started talking to her. She will be 11 in December, will be in 5th grade, lives in Palo, plays guitar, and has an older brother who is not at the mall today. While I’m talking to her 4 more people sit on the bench, making it 6 (there was a weird guy on when I sat down). Then her sister comes and I get the run down on her. Neither one of them are married because they are only kids, there mother is upstairs talking and were curious about where my mother was. These two girls were standing so close I could feel their breath on me. Four of the people on the bench had left, but the girl next to me didn’t see a need to move on down. It was so Filipino. Six months ago I had a huge bubble and never would have gotten the bubble tea with the tapioca pearls.
I’m getting braver and loving life more because of it. Reflecting back to how I felt that first week at site and how I am doing now makes me feel really great about things. I came back from vacation empowered. I feel like I own this place, and ever for the most part know Tacloban. I know how much things should cost, people don’t rip me off, and I can pretend to speak the language some days.
I am a volunteer!

Friday, May 06, 2011

the week that was holy

May 5, 2011
There is so much to blog! I have no idea how to do this so here goes, bear with me!
So first the first week in the mountains!
Tuesday: Traveling Through
I flew up to Manila on the 19th and the plan was to get on a night bus to Banauae. However when the rest of my crew tried to buy the tickets all buses were booked so we went to Baguio instead. We got there way early in the morning around 1 and it was cold. I could see my breath!
Wednesday: Summer in the City
We spent this day in Baguio just strolling around. Here in the Philippines they have what are called ukay ukays, which is basically cheap American clothing. Not really my scene. I don’t do garage sales, or TJ Maxx well and that is basically what this place is. We ate some good food that had real dairy products. And I had a couple hot showers. Baguio is also known for its strawberries and we were there when they are in season. Yum.
We woke up early and managed our way onto a bus bound for Sagada (part of the original plan). That was quite an adventure in itself. Then we took off some time between 5 and 6. Right when the sun was coming up. The area was gorgeous, we drove through clouds. I felt bad because I kept nodding off. It was quite a road. Plenty of switchbacks and parts of it were single lane dirt roads. We were going up country!
We got there and checked into our rooms and then went to the Yoghurt House for lunch. We shopped around, checked out the local shops and textiles, made plans for the next day, and found the Pie House I’d heard about. They had lemon pie, egg pie, and a seasonal blueberry pie. For dinner we went back to the Yoghurt house.
Friday: Using your coconut on Good Friday
On Friday we went caving! This was so cool. A volunteer in Sagada had set us up with a guide and we took the long route. On our way from breakfast a volunteer and I found 500 pesos in the street (which is about 10 dollars but spends more like 50, chaching!). We met up with the guide and he showed us the hanging coffins. This how they use to ‘bury’ their dead before Christianity came. A way for their souls to soar post death and not be owned by the land. The cave was amazing and quite a work out. We would have to navigate over, through, and down intense obstacles in just lantern light. The guides would tell us what to do, where to step and spot us. There was one time when the guide told us to put our foot on his shoulder then our other foot on his leg then step onto the other guides leg. Oh ya, and he was wearing cheap flip-flops. Then when we got to the bottom we looked we saw the guide was bracing himself in the splits between two crazy boulders. We’d sit and wait for everyone to go through and speculate where we’d go next. Usually it was the least likely option down some hole we didn’t even know was there. There was one part where it opened up and you could hear millions of bats and see them all perched on the ceiling. We basically slid down the guano to get to the bottom and the guides kept telling us to use our bukos as brakes (buco is coconut, referring to our bums as they also said) Then there is one part where we had to take off our shoes and go adventuring through these crystal clear pools and navigate under and around stalactites and stalagmites. Then the slow ascent out of the cave. Because it was Holy Week there were so many people.
We stopped by the pie house again on our way out and then went to get cleaned up for dinner and bed.
Saturday: So many steps!
Originally when we planned to go to Banauae it was to the rice terraces, the really old rice terraces. So we had to settle for rice terraces in Sagada, the just old ones, but we also got a water fall in the deal. From where we were staying we hiked up the road for about an hour or so, got to the place where we went down to the terraces and were feeling sore from the walk and yesterdays adventure. We hired another guide and started to descend hundreds, wait, maybe thousands of stairs down to this barangay of about 5,000 people. This trail (more like foot path) is the only way in and out for these people. Kids ran past us carrying flats of Gatorade on their backs. Everything has to be taken up or down on foot. The kids trek up to go to school. Quite amazing. We hiked on down, went through the town, and then it opened up into the terraces. We got to walk on through, now these terraces may only be 800 years old, but it was still amazing. Then we turned the corner and there was this gorgeous waterfall. We sat and waited and then a brave few of us decided to jump. We had to climb up and around the pool, under the waterfall and then onto this rock. It was amazing. After hanging out we decided we were just starving enough to go back up those thousands, now that I think about it maybe millions of steps. (joke la) At the top we treated ourselves to yogurt and then L and I made the mistake of running down the mountain. It wasn’t that bad but we probably should have waited a bit after our snack. Then for dinner we went to the Yoghurt House again.
Sunday: The crusade back to Manila.
We woke up early again to throw more elbows to get on a bus out of there. This time we got the very last seats on. The ride was just as beautiful in reverse and again I felt badly for dozing. When we got to Baguio we rushed to the bus terminal to see if it was a nightmare. Our plan was to take a late night bus so we wouldn’t have to get a place to stay in Manila that night, but being Easter and all everyone was traveling home. Here in the Philippines Easter doesn’t get much attention, but lots of attention the week before. The earliest bus we could get didn’t leave until 12:45 a.m. so we bought our tickets and went to the mall and park. At the park some religious group was having a Crusade Miracle of Jesus. It was in Tagalog so the only things we understood was high blood and other things like drinking alcohol. It was some sort of healing revival thing. That was fun to watch but then we got hungry again and spent the rest of the time waiting in a bar with amazing gelato and then a pizza place. Then the uneventful freezing bus back to Manila. We got there early and just waited at the PC office until it was time to go to my training.

tales of an island hopping beach bum

May 6, 2011
Oh Borocay, how I have mixed feelings about you. You were extremely beautiful yes and I had an amazing time, but I don’t know it just wasn’t me.
As much as the mountains had us feeling like we weren’t in Kansas any more Boracay had that feeling in a very different way. To be fair, a lot of it is timing. I’m not the kind of person that enjoys tourist destinations in the peak of their tourists’ season. Boracay is a hard-core tourist destination. There are people that go straight there off the plane, turn around get on the plane and leave the Philippines not seeing anything else of this country. Those people choose to do that this time of year. So it wasn’t so much Borocay that I didn’t like but the feeling like a tourist I had while there. Here is how wonderful Borocay can be though.
Beach Getaway: Monday we flew ourselves there got there just after sunset, found our room and then had some good food.
Island Hopping: On Tuesday H set us up on an island hopping snorkeling tour. We slathered on the sunscreen and hopped in the boat. The first place was a little choppy which made for not as fun snorkeling but there was lots of fish still the same. Even puffer fish spottings. The next stop was much calmer. We got to see more fish, and some corals. After this spot we went to lunch on a gorgeous beach with very few people (much more my scene). Then we went back to the water one more time. This time when we went snorkeling H was very surprised to see sea snakes. After calming her down we all got in. This place had manmade frames to help promote coral growth (most of the corals we saw were very much dead), more fish, starfish, and those snakes. We were actually kind of lucky to see the snakes, they are very skittish. We got back just in time for the gorgeous sunset then went to dinner. A very good day.
Beach Bumming: On Wednesday we did nothing. Which is what one does on a white sand beach right? It was nice, we set up on some beach chairs and lazed the day away. The water is so clear in Borocay. We walked out to our shoulders in water and could still see our toes. Which is amazing considering how many people visit Boracay. We hung out there all day. Grabbed food when we wanted, laughed, read, slept, everything you do at a beach.
Going Home: We took our time waking up, went to the airport and sat around and waited. That is the Reader’s Digest version. You can read more details in another blog post, keeping this one on the shorter side!
Love the Philippines!

everything but the kitchen sink... or pedicab

May 5, 2011
To start with a tangent, this particular post will have several tangents to follow. Being the early-morning seminary graduate that I am I love some well placed footnotes. So I’ll be taking the liberty of making some footnotes to help with flow (or could just make it all the more chaotic, these are the risks you take). With or without them this a long one. They all are these days.

I’m sure it has gotten to the point that you have all decided you absolutely must come to the Philippines to see me. And for that I thank you all and will now take you on a walk through the logistics of vacation here using my 3 week adventure I just got back from as a guide.
Step 1: Fly. I flew from Tacloban to Manila. It was my very first solo PCV flight and I think I did it rather well. 2. Taxi. This will be your first introduction to the fact that sometimes transportation will try to milk you for your money. Be firm in demanding the meter gets used. I actually used a fixed price cab the airport set up. 3. Night bus. Bundle up and sit back for the en route entertainment. Hopefully the movie won’t be too crass. Because I tell you what, nothing defines awkward like a bus full of Filipinos staring at the 8 Americans in the front thinking that Hot Tub Time Machine is an accurate measure of the USA. 4. Wake up early to get a seat on a no-reservation bus that leaves when filled. First one takes off at 5. If you see something that looks like a line* don’t stand in it. When the bus comes get a tall traveling partner to block the door and the rest file in under his arm. If there are not enough seats remember your in the Philippines and make your own,** but you’ll still have to pay for it.
5. Again wake up early and take the early no reservation bus. Avoid any crowd mentality and wait on the side of the road you know the doors will be when the bus pulls up even if the waiting shed is on the opposite side of the road. Also don’t buy into people telling you they are saving a seat for someone down the road. It is a no-reservation bus. 6. Take a late night bus. This will save you on finding a place to stay. Again bundle up,+ or else despite the late hour you won’t be getting any sleep at all.
7. Taxi to airport. Be a stickler on that meter. 8. Airplane. You may be sitting on the runway for a good 40 minutes before take off. 9. Tryke to the bus stop. If you are super starving or dying of thirst this may take two trykes so you can stop and get a mango shake. 10. Bus to the Jetty Port. Unlike previous busses this one will be super hot and super duper crowded. 11. Ferry to the island. Terminal fees are never included in anything so make sure you pay all those. 12. Another tryke, know the prices, don’t be had!
13. Luckily enough this step is just 12 and 11 in reverse. 14. Take a van. It is not that much more and it’s better than being late and missing your flight, and you deserve that AC. 15. Fly back to Manila. Beware, there will be delays in one airport somewhere in the Philippines that will cause all other airports to back up. This is when you can start to bring that stress you’ve had all week about that hour you had between your flights to Manila to the flight back to Tacloban to the forefront of your life. If you’d not been worrying all week because you had 3 hours between flights, start worrying. Spoiler alert!!! Someone is going to miss a flight. 16. Hope you’re wearing your running shoes! Take not 1, not 2, but 3 mad dashes through the airport. One off the plane to the ticket counter (with a second lap to the other side after you’ve cut everyone), one to the terminal and security, and then one to the gate where you will find your other friend who took the flight giving her 5 hours between flights. Helpful hints: avoid escalators. Say scuse po as you fly by people.++ Avoid eye contact as your cutting people in line. And apparently tell people your pregnant.† 17. Sit and wait. After all that running and worrying the flight in front of yours is way behind backing yours up. Eventually you will move gates but not for another 20 minutes. 18. Relax on your flight but be prepared for a rough landing. It is actually going to be the second rough landing of the day. If when you get off the airplane there are no airport crew waiting with umbrellas to get you from the plane to the bag claim start worrying. You’ve gone to the wrong airport, in the wrong city, in the wrong region. If it is raining, good job! You are in Tacloban in Region 8 where it refuses to stop raining! 19. Now you’re going to take 3 different Jeepneys to get to AlangAlang. If the last one doesn’t have at least 3 roosters sleeping in cardboard boxes you’ve done something wrong. Which is a shame because you’re so close to home. 20. When you get home text your RM… oh wait that is only for Volunteers. Everyone else can start planning your next big adventure of getting 3 weeks worth of laundry clean.

Now about that spoiler alert. J and I had bought our flights extremely close to each other because it was the only option we had. We set it up so we wouldn’t have to check bags and either check in on line or have C or M check in for us, worse case scenario stay the night in Manila. C and M’s flights had a nice big cushy window. Due to delays they actually ended up boarding their plane the same time ours did, which had them also landing in Manila the same time. The only difference was ours was in the same terminal. Theirs was in a different terminal and they couldn’t shuttle over in time. The girls missed their flight and are going to be taking one at 5 in the morning. What a day!

*So Filipinos don’t believe in lines. Which is frustrating. Most business is done by throwing your money on the counter over all the people in front of you and grabbing what you want. They do have lines but they don’t really mean anything. It is super frustrating, especially when they are at the bottom of the popcorn at the concessions. That’s why the hardest part about cutting people in the line at the ticket counter of the airport is being brave enough to swallow your idea of what I line is actually and just doing it.
**Something not so frustrating but very Filipino is the idea that there is always room for one more. On our bus ride to Sagada we all threw our bags in a pile and that was a seat.
+On the buses will be the coldest you will ever be in country. Wear your hat, coat, gloves, every pair of socks you own, a towel, anything to keep warm. Everyone on the bus, driver included, will be freezing, but the aircon will stay on full blast.
++ Filipinos love it when you use the language. Scuse po just means excuse me. Scuse means excuse, and po is just a way to make anything respectful. They love the irony of two Americans with 3 bags apiece running by cutting them off using their native tongue to some how justify how rude they are being.
† After we decided we had to cut the hundreds of people waiting to check in the guy had us running around to do our bags. After we got that settled he said go hurry then said something I didn’t understand. The only word I heard was pregnant. Our best guesses were either tell them your pregnant or I hope you’re not pregnant. Either way I got to be that person running through the airport, you know the one.