Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Philippines - Chapter Four - A Dead Sheep, a Monkey, and a Sunset

In the morning, Aris picks me up and we head to his home, where breakfast is served.

Spam, eggs, fish, rice, and my new best friend Milo

One interesting thing about traveling to places where friends call home is that I get a look at their day-to-day lives.  After breakfast, Aristotle takes me to a different piece of land he manages.

Noteworthy: When we get there, we find a dead sheep up in a tree. How...?

The sheep question will have to wait. We've gotta go.

We head to Balanga, the provincial capital. Aris has an errand to run, and I have a few clothes to drop off at a laundromat, so I go exploring. As I wander, I notice the continuation of a trend I've seen in Tagbilaran, Hermosa, and now Balanga; there's a town square pattern that follows a very Latin trend. The city hall (or some kind of administrative building) is across from a Catholic church.

One of the major heroes of the Philippines, Jose Rizal. Incidentally, we were here on Rizal Day.
Another thing that is hard to not notice: traffic.

Aris finishes his errand, we find a laundromat, and we stop by the Bataan building. Aris is a board member (kind of like a state legislator), so this building is definitely familiar turf for him.

After lunch, we hit the road, and soon, I see this in the distance...it may be tricky to see, but it's a large cross on a mountain.

We go up to this cross. It's actually a monument/museum (Mt. Samat) for the Filipino and US soldiers who lost their lives during the Bataan Death March. It's unreal.

I'm not allowed to take pictures in the museum, so I look at the exhibits (definitely recommend it) and hike up to the summit with Aris. The cool thing about the cross: We can go up to the top. So we do.

Awesome sculptures on the cross
Awesome view
Another awesome view
Awesome parking lot monkey
We're off again, this time to the small city of Bagac, home of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. Basically, some rich man acquired several historic properties, tore down the buildings, kept almost every material that was disassembled, brought the materials to Bagac, and rebuilt them as they were before. I found it intriguing. Apparently, you can stay overnight in one of these buildings for a hefty price.

It's a beautiful area, though it's interesting that the buildings, while original, aren't in their original locations.

I've loved these flowers since Hawaii.

Puto Bumbong in all its sugary, buttery glory

Find me if you can.

Break time.
Then...the sunset.

The sunset is not only beautiful, but perfectly timed. As we get back to the main area of Las Casas, a cultural show is about to start. The show includes several young men and women. They dance, and it's incredible. Sadly, my phone doesn't capture the show, but thankfully, Aris has a more reliable camera.

We are exhausted at this point, so naturally, we head back to Balanga and listen to a live band. I may or may not have acted as lead vocals when they performed "Wherever You Will Go." Sadly, there's no photographic evidence...consider this a test of your trust in the story.

There is photographic proof of the awesomeness of Rizal Day, as shown by this shot of the Balanga town square:

The mayor was speaking to this crowd, and he had been speaking for several hours at this point.
It's at least 1:00am when we return to Hermosa. We crash and sleep in, and rightly so...the following day is New Year's Eve.

And what a New Year's Eve it turned out to be! That's a story for another entry, though.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Philippines - Chapter Three - A Storm, a Yum, and an Ant Colony

As a prelude to this entry, I'll mention something I noted on my first day in Bohol. Abel had mentioned that there was a low pressure system moving across the island. I'd heard the term low pressure from watching reports, and I figured that it was typically connected to storm systems, but I don't often hear them in daily conversation. Because of where Bohol lies on the globe, "low pressure" seems to be a frequently used part of the vernacular.

In the last entry, I mentioned that it had started to drizzle a bit.

Now to today. I wake up to rain. The low pressure system has turned into a tropical depression. This puts a bit of a damper on my plans...I was hoping to catch a boat to Cebu, spend a few hours there, and fly to Manila in the evening. Because of the rain, all boat transit from Bohol to anywhere else had been cancelled.

I'm going to have to book a flight out.

However, one big factor makes this tricky...apparently. on the previous day, a departing plane had trouble with one of its tires. The tire had to be repaired, which took a long time. After the tire had been replaced with a spare, things were looking alright...until it was discovered that the spare tire was defective. I mentioned before that the airport was tiny. Tiny airport = small tarmac strip. That one little tire prevented any other planes from departing from or arriving into Bohol FOR THE ENTIRE DAY.

As a result, several tourists had been stranded in Bohol for an extra day. Granted, there are certainly worse places to be stuck. However, as Abel and I arrived at the airport to book the ticket, we were greeted by this sight:

Please note Manny Pacquiao's face.
Abel is very well connected, so after a few text messages, we are told that someone is looking for a ticket and will notify us if they can find, though it sounds like the odds aren't great. Abel wisely says, "Hey, it's all part of the adventure." True words, my friend.

This gives us a chance to go back to Abel's home for a bit. I say a conditional (in case I'm able to stay in paradise for another day) goodbye to everyone, and Abel and I head into town.

We stop at a fine Filipino culinary establishment: Jollibee.

Ever since I heard about Jollibee from my friend Michael, I've wanted to experience it. It's a fast food chain , and its menu includes epic items such as Yums (burgers), Champs (1/3 lb burgers), and Chickenjoy.
We then head to the governor's mansion. It's beautiful inside.

Abel is a board member (legislator) for Bohol, so he's in frequent contact with the governor. He tells me that he would like me to meet the governor, and as he checks to see if the governor is available, I wait in one of the wings while watching a Top 20 Countdown of overreactions caught on tape...time well spent.

After a while, Abel calls me over, and I meet Governor Edgar Chatto. He's a very nice guy! We relax and talk shop for a few minutes about...stuff. (Fourth wall break: It's been a while, some of the details are foggy.)

Abel then gets a text. There's a flight to Manila available at noon. It's 11am. Time to rush...

We rush back to the hostel (thankfully, all my stuff is packed), we rush to the airport, we rush to the ticket agent and buy a ticket, we rush to the check in counter, Abel and I say a rushed goodbye...and I make it into the terminal with time to spare. This never would have worked in a big city, especially in the US.

Well...maybe it would have. The plane was about an hour late, but I was safe and not sorry.

The plane lands safely in Manila. My next mission is to meet up with another friend, Aristotle (Aris) Gaza. Aris came to the US on the same trip that Abel was on. He is also an amazing and very hospitable guy.

Per Aris's instructions, I head to a shuttle that takes me to a place called Resort World. I am reminded of how large the airport is. Thirty minutes after driving away from Teminal 2, we pass Terminal 1.

After a while, I arrive at Resort World, which is a large casino within a mall. It's ginormous.

Multibus display with neon steps to the left

Christmas is alive and well.
I search up and down for a wifi spot. Eventually, after much ado, I establish contact with Aris and agree to meet him at a cafe across the street. After a foot massage that runs a bit overtime, I head to the cafe. 

Before I can get there, Aris spots me crossing the road and picks me up...good timing! I meet his parents (amazing people), I become acquainted with Manila traffic (and I really don't wish to become better friends...wow), we pick up Aris's sister Angie, and we head to dinner.

Aris, Angie, Papa Gaza, and Mama Gaza. Oh, and me. And so much food.
The drive to Hermosa, Aris's hometown, is about three hours long. Hermosa is a rural town in the province of Bataan. My lodging for the night is in a house in the middle of a small taro farm. Inside of the house, I see something that's just awesome:

On the left is a photo of the 2010 ACYPL Filipino delegation, including Abel, Aris, and me. On the right is Aris's ACYPL certificate. I love that Aris preserved these.
It's been a good day. Aris wishes me a good night, and I get ready for bed. I hit a light switch to turn off the lights. This proves unsuccessful, though I do manage to wake up an ant colony living behind the light switch. Wasn't expecting that. There's a broom close by, so I grab it and just start swatting. And swatting. Threat alleviated.

I laugh and head to bed.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Philippines - Chapter Two - A River Cruise, Shy Primates, and My Hill Obsession

Day #2 arrives. Time for a shower.

The shower head worked the first day. For the rest of the time, the bottom spigot and the bucket became my shower.
I meet up with Abel and family, and off we go. The ride is entertaining, with Bluey teaching me how to play Plague Inc. With Bluey's help, I successfully create a disease to destroy the human race! (Sorry, everyone.)

Anyway...stop number one: Loboc River Cruise

I join the Damalerio's as we step onto a boat. After several more passengers board (including a few Koreans, who probably don't notice me kind of eavesdropping), off we go.

Again, so much food. This time, we have live music to accompany the meal and the ride.

Abel is too wise to let a photo op distract him from good food.

From left: Bluey, Pinky, Daryl, Abel, me, and Alan
The views are beautiful. I just look and enjoy relaxing with the crew.

Credit for many of these awesome photos goes to Abel.

Cheska, Daryl, Abel, and Miguel
Cheska, Miguel, and my plague specialist Bluey

Standing: Daryl, me, Cheska, Abel, Miguel, Alan, Bluey. Sitting: Pinky
It gets better. We stop at a dock and watch a very cool Filipino performance.

They even let us in on the fun!

Off we go, back to the main dock. I am soaking up this amazing experience. 

At the same time, I'm reminded of the impact the earthquake has had.

Another reminder of the quake.
Next up: The Hanging Bridges of Sevilla

Our next challenge lies ahead...we have to cross turbulent waters on a tightrope. Twice. Don't worry, it isn't as scary as it sounds, because by turbulent waters I mean a mellow river, and by tightrope, I mean twin bamboo bridges.

We survive. We continue.

Now arriving at: Tarsier Conservation Area

We take a little walk to find everyone's favorite haplorrhine primate, the tarsier. The critters are shy today.

Oh well. We aren't shy.

Around the corner: Chocolate Hills

We approach the parking lot for the Chocolate Hills and I'm flipping out (and trying to do it silently). When I first met Abel, he showed me pictures of the Chocolate Hills. Through the miracles of geology, hundreds of hills were formed in the middle of Bohol. In the dry season, they turn brown...thus the moniker.

I've mentioned on this blog that I have an odd love of hills, so I was really excited about this. After a trek up some stairs, I take stock of the surroundings.

People. Hills for miles.

We head down the stairs, but our time with the Chocolate Hills is not even close to done.

Coming your way: Chocolate Hills Adventure Park

As you may have noticed, the day was cloudy. By the time we leave the viewing deck and arrive at the adventure park, the skies have worked themselves into a veritable drizzle. But we press on over treacherous bridges.

Not all is threatening...

One more shot of the vista...I can't help it!
Then we encounter the ultimate challenge. The bicycle zip-line awaits.

I accept.

Honest review: It was a cool photo op, and the view was awesome, but the rain and wind pushed me to get done quicker than I would have wanted to.

At this point, we're either soaked or getting close to it. Back to the van we go.

We return to Casa de Damalerio for dinner. As we eat dinner, a stray dog continuously tries to help himself to some food by strutting into the house. Each time, he's shooed away. Brazen fella, but he's persistent. You've gotta admire that.

After shooting the breeze, Abel takes me back to the hostel. Another awesome day is in the books, and I'm loving the Bohol experience.

Little did I know that the rain we experienced earlier would become a bit more of a nuisance than anticipated, but I'll save that story for the next entry. Ingat (take care) until then!