Two weeks in the Philippines
03.02.2011 - 17.02.2011 29 °C
David, a friend who also came on the road trip in Australia, told me a few months ago that he was going to the Philippines and that he would be going there on the same day that my visa in Australia expired. I was at that time looking for a ticket to Europe and David wondered why I didn't come with him. Hm, I thought: why not? And that's how I ended up in the Philippines.
David is a former Peace Corps volunteer and have lived in the Philippines for three years. Not only was he a knowledgeable guide but also dedicated both to the Philippines per se, and to making me see the best of "his" country. I could not have had a better guide.
Though i have only seen a very little bit of it I think I can say that the Philippines is a really beautiful country with volcanoes, beaches, clear turquoise water, and most importantly: a very nice and pleasant population. Manila is more than a bit like Mexico City, but instead of hearing loud salsa music by the train stations it's Asian pop and karaoke. I of course like it a lot. In fact a lot of what I saw in the Philippines reminded me of Mexico, and even many of the words were Spanish. For example all words relating to time were in Spanish. The reason is of course that the Philippines (named after king Philip of Spain) were a Spanish colony for 300 years. It wasn't until my last day in Manila however, that I realized why I was reminded of Mexico, and not Spain. It turned out (as any thinking person would have figured out) that the Spaniards didn't sail eastwards from Spain, to do that they would have had to pass Africa, India, and China only to mention a few. Instead they reached the Philippines westwards from Mexico. This also means that the sailors and governors were more likely to be born in Mexico than in Spain, and bring Mexican influence.
David decided that I needed to see the 8th wonder of the world and so we packed our warm clothes (sigh!) and took a night bus to first Sagada and then Banaue. The rice terraces, are one of the original wonders of the world. The stone terraces that create the leveled terraces are more then a 1000 years old. In fact they started to be built 2000 years ago and as far as I have learned it took about 1000 years to build them. Also, according to David, It's the only one out of the original wonders of the world that is still in Use (no one is being buried in the pyramids any more...). They were absolutely gorgeous! The hike we had to do to get there was long and rather strenuous but it was really beautiful. Banaue, and the other places that we visited in northern Luzon were all on a high altitude and as we are now in the cold season we often had rain at night and cold evenings. Still it was very enjoyable. We went on a cave tour with a very funny, but extremely safety oriented guide, entering through one cave ad getting out through another. We swam in an underground lake and got to climb here and there. The only thing we missed was Dana, who would have loved it! The following day we saw the famous hanging coffins. The people of Sagada don't bury their dead. Instead they put them in coffins and staple them in caves. The more prominent people get to have their coffin hung up on a mountain wall. I guess the reason for this strange tradition is that the area doesn't have a lot of soil. The newest coffin we saw was from December 2010 so we were warned to go to close, in case it would be smelly.
After our trip to the north we booked a flight to Dumaguete. David warned me that the flight would lift well before schedule and that we needed to have passed security 45 minutes before takeoff. Still, at 6.30 in the morning when we arrived at the airport, the line to go through security to even enter the airport was phenomenal. We were short of time and asked a guard if we could jump the line with the result that an airport official helper took our tickets and id's and walked us through security. Mind you, we were still scanned and patted down, just faster. Our nanny took us to the check in line and got us in to a shorter line, made sure that we didn't have any problems and then walked us through airport security before we convinced him that we were fine. A very helpful man indeed. As we approached our gate 20 minutes before boarding time they were already boarding and without stopping once since we got to the airport we just walked on to the plane and took of 20 minutes before scheduled time. Three hours after we had woken up we had already landed and got our luggage. Very efficient indeed.
David wanted to show me his island so after a day in Dumaguete where I snorkeled in a reef for the first time, we took a boat to Siquijor. Every few steps David took we stopped and said hi to people. David hadn't told anyone that he was in the country so when we got to his head office everyone there looked as though they were seeing a ghost. In fact we went to the office to drop our things of. The Bureau of Fishery and Aquatic Resources has a dorm for visiting regional workers and that's where we set up. We had to run around for a while to find a mattress for one of the bunks but then we were set up. You don't need much in the ways of blankets there. Or, in fact I did since everyone uses a fan when they sleep. I suggested that we'd turn it of but it turned out that the fan was not only used against the heat but also against the plentiful and vicious mosquitoes. In any case our dorm was basic and not all that functioning but it had geckos running around the walls and beautiful palm trees outside the window. And best of all, no spiders bigger than what I can handle.
On Siquijor I got to see all of Davids spots. In fact we hired a dirt bike driver for a day who drove us around the island and down all the little impossible tracks that David knew about. We went to small beaches with white sands and lime stone formations that made me think of pirate movies. We drove up the mountain in the middle of the island and saw the view. We got lost walking the last bit to a lighthouse cause the vegetation had totally covered the trail but med two coconut harvesters who gave us each a coconut to drink before we continued in the heat. We walked out to an island that the Japanese had dug shafts into during WWII, looking for an ancient Japanese treasure. We snorkeled, waded in water, climbed on rocks, and finally we were invited to a birthday party. One day we randomly stumbled over a fiesta, a yearly village feast in honor of a saint. Judging from what I experienced, it consisted of people from neighboring villages visiting houses and eating there. In every house they had more or less the same food.
What surprised me was that fish hardly seemed to be on the menu, it was all pork and chicken, not only on Siquijor, but also in other places we visited. Rice came with all food, even with noodles (I'm not kidding) and all food contained meat. If I ordered vegetables, they would come in pork sauce and with pieces of pork fat mixed into the food. On the upside however, their grilled chicken with local lemons was excellent and we had that at least once a day for almost all of the first week, until I had had too much of it.
We went snorkeling several times and I saw the most amazing things. I saw a reef shark, about one meter long and entirely harmless to people, I swam with sea turtles, and of course I saw all kinds of colorful aquarium fish, sea stars, and corals. It was really cool. Oh, and for Johanna: I also held a sea cucumber, they are really slimy!
The observation of the week:
1. I knew that the US puts its long nose into everybody else's business with their military so I was glad to hear that it also has the decency to to have a Peace Corps that helps poor countries with social issues, or environmental protection for example. In fact the volunteers are working for local organizations, learning the local language and customs, living like the locals, on a local wage. I'm not an expert on the Peace Corps but to me it sounds like the best type of help.
2. a funny thing here is that as soon as I'm alone for even a second everyone who I come in contact with ask if I'm not married, or where my husband is. also, all of Davids local friends and acquaintances assumed that I was his girlfriend or wife. This interest in peoples marital status definitely didn't come from any idea that women need to be with a man or anything like that, but of what I gather people here marry early, and your family situation seems to be a public business. It was actually really amusing seeing David starting to look uncomfortable about one minute into every conversation he had with locals. That's when I knew that he was trying to explain that we were only friends. :-)
3. One kilo of mangoes for $2=10 SEK is heaven. Five top class mangoes for less then the price of a cup of tea. Odd on the other hand is to see a 75cl bottle of rum for $1.50=8 SEK, when a cheap meal costs $1.20 to $4.50=6-25 SEK. As is often the case in developing countries the prices were generally very inconsistent where some things were extremely cheap while other are the same price as home, fx milk.