Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Scooter Diaries - the Filipino TeleNovela

I've had a really great last couple of weeks and I figure that showing pictures would be the best way to share my experiences this last month. I was inspired by the amazing last couple of days I had renting a scooter and booming around Negroes Oriental. I loved it! To me, it's everything that the Philippines should be - friendly, safe, fun, laid back, beach and great waters. To be honest, if my family came from somewhere awesome like this - I'd be here for even a longer time! In any case, this is November through my eyes and experiences:

For some reason, I associate random wild animals and religious icons as Filipino phenomenon.

Undas - Usually hanging out in the cemetery is not my idea of a good time, but hey, anything for the sake of culture! I wish my picture of the cotton candy man turned out better...

After that, it was finally time to start seeing some of the beautiful sites the Philippines has to offer:

Banaue Rice Terraces - The 8th wonder of the world. 2000 year old rices terraces carved on the side of a mountain. I've always wanted to see them so it was awesome to finally get a trip up Northern Luzon to see it!

Scorpio week long appreciation - Holy, it was a never ending Birthday of good times! There was a total of 4 celebrations! A few lessons learned:

1. Don't break a glass in the Philippines - they make you pay for it.

2. I'm still a dangerously wicked bartender. Energy shooters will keep you up all day.

I finally got out of the "mainland" and went to Cebu to visit my uncle, Boss Mike and my Tita Ruth.

Enjoying the fresh seafood.

Ended up taking a boat to another island - Negros Oriental.

Apo Island is in the world's list of “100 dives to do before you die.” Ya, no kidding! They have the most biodiverse reefs in the world!

I did 3 dives it was so awesome!

Renting a scooter and seeing Dumaguete, Negros Oriental. I really do love the feeling of the wind as you whip around in speeds that a 100cc scooter really shouldn't do. There's something liberating about having 360 views of everything as you drive by

And the ride was ridiculously beautiful.

I mean, it's not all glamorous with the bugs, smoke from the cars, and getting rained on, but I suppose it's all part of the experience.
Right before a downpour!
I drove a total of over 200 kms and checked out Mabinay to see caves. I'd have rappelled down them but I've learned that unfortunately, the Philippines isn't as conducive to independent travelers - I'm having a really hard time justifying paying for a solo adventure priced for 4-5 people!

Kayaking around Twin Lakes - basically the Filipino version of Buntzen Lake!

I headed over to Siquior looking for some beach action and found an awesomely cheap place near the ocean.

and made some new friends.

I feel like I'm in the traveling groove again - check my fresh mango juice with an umbrella
and my new Finnish boys!

Snorkeling in the Marine Sanctuary in San Juan with my awesome underwater camera!

Finding Nemo ;)

Going to see a faith healer up in the mystical mountains of Siquior and getting her to explain the voodoo preventing amulets and resisting buying the Love Potion...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mmm, The Philippines...so far...

It's interesting to be back "home" to the Philippines. I'm here - well, for so many reasons.

HOMETOWN: My family comes from a small town in the province of Nueva Ecija. For years I thought it was really far away because it always took anywhere between 5-6 hours to get here. Since Google Earth came out, I learned that apparently it's only 150kms north of Manila - ya, not so great road conditions. There's not much around, my sisters call it "Boringville". All that's really here is the university that my family has been an integral part of. It goes back generations - My grandparents were a big part of elevating Central Luzon State University - my Lolo and Lola (grandpa/ma) were Deans, my uncle is called the King of Goats (sounds better in Tagalog), my father was the Dean of Fisheries and my mother was a Director of Research, my cousins teach here - it's like a Cruz stamp across the whole campus. In that sense, it's cool to be reminded daily where you come from and what a difference my family has made in the area.

CULTURE: A big part of it is to get back in touch with my cultural roots. To be honest, I'm proudly Canadian and have never really felt very Filipino. In many ways, I'm here trying to either fall in love with the country and the people or find peace with not really belonging here. I'll let you know the verdict in the end. Part of my struggle is not really understanding how the people think, while I speak Tagalog relatively fluently (and it's getting better everyday) - I'm neither very conservative nor am I Christian (for those that don't know...I'm agnostic - I'm a believer in all faiths). However, when you're in a country that was ruled by the Spaniards and Catholicism for close to 400 years, you're surrounded by highly judgmental and fairly religious people...not necessarily my favorite combination. Here, white is good and dark is bad. I mean, all you have to do is go to the lotion section and you're surrounded my whitening everything. It's worse than Michael Jackson - seriously, there's whitening soap, lightening lotion, fairer toners, bleaching creams, there are injectables and even pills you can take - it's an insane obsession that boggles my mind. I mean, you all love my skin tone specially when I get darker...imagine the opposite here. There's a post colonial trap that's prevalent everywhere and I struggle with all the discrimination - forget the basic socio/economic gap - there's a plethora of other issues like gender, level of education, generation, last name, job title etc. However, *** Travel Advisory: If you are white and reading this, holy moly, COME TO THE PHILIPPINES - Wanna know what's it's like to be treated like royalty?! This is the place!! *** So, ya, it's a struggle and I'm trying to find the beautiful parts of what I know is/can be a glorious country.

WEATHER: I'm seriously melting here. Either it's ridiculously hot or it's flash flooding torrential tropical downpour. So far I've experienced a signal 2 (out of 3) typhoon. For those who have no idea what that's like, it's basically insanely gloomy, dark, gray and it rains so much that roads turn into rivers. There's a constant raging wind that slaps the coconut leaves around, trees sway maniacally and you're bombarded with constant wind. The skies are just plain angry. The last one hit the northern part of the Philippines, wrecking millions of pesos in damage. Unfortunately, the torrential rain barely cuts the debilitating heat that engulfs this area. It's 34 at 9am!

FAMILY & FRIENDS: To be honest, I'm kinda lonely. I mean, not all the time, but I terribly miss my family back home in Canada and my best friends. I don't have a crew here or as they say "barkada". Hanging out with my sisters' childhood friends and hearing stories that the people I played with when we were younger already have 2-3 or more children, some of whom are teenagers is a constant reminder that I don't have solid roots here, nor do I have much in common with most people. However, I've been blown away by the sheer love and how so many family, friends and people have opened their houses and welcomed me. The Dela Cruzes who've set me up with swank accommodation - complete with TV, AC, private bathroom and a balcony. Forget hostels, this place is the bomb! Staying with Gian Karla and her roomie in Makati and chilling with Mojitos (the by way, you can find everything here but mint is really difficult to find!) The best part is being able to reconnect with family and all it's extensions - I suppose I'm getting to that age where it's so important to know where you come from, your heritage and your family tree. I'm having fun bonding and truly getting to know people.

  • Liquor Ban - Ya, who knew those still existed?!? I went to Manila just in time for a liquor ban due to local elections. I can't believe that they actually stopped serving alcohol for 3 days!! So insane! Not that I wanted to drink, but seriously, take away the option and that's all you can think about! Oh well - we made up for it as soon as it was over.
  • Superstitions - There's an eerieness about the dark parts of this country that makes me believe that ghosts, dwarfs, vampires and other odd urban myths are actually true or could possibly exist here. Hard to explain but with Halloween and all, it makes me think weird things. The bats flying everywhere do not help...
  • All Saints' Day/Day of the Dead/"Undas" - Filipino tradition dictates that people go to the cemetery and celebrate/remember the dead. Translation? It means that everyone goes and has a reunion - I mean, hordes of people go, picnics are set up, drinking, gambling, popcorn, cotton candy, there's even kara/videoke in the cemetery for the whole day!!!
  • Malls - The shopping malls here are epic and legendary. There are so many of them. So. Many. You think capitalism is bad in North America, we've gotten nothing on the wide array of choices here. It's ridiculous - they have more of everything (um, expect tampons...) but aside from that, they have all the European, North American, Asian brands. Seriously, there's a La Senza, Aldo, GAP store all next to each other and more that I'm sure are actually popular but just haven't heard off cause I don't like shopping.
  • Money - I don't understand how I can buy a brand new cell phone for the same price as treating 5 people for coffee. Or how I can buy lunch for the family and have it be the same worth as someone's salary for the month. Or how it can be ridiculously cheap here and yet be so expensive at the same time.
I'm off to go up north for a little adventure...so pics to follow.