Monday, June 30, 2008

Into the Soup

Flying into Legaspi, we get some good views of Mount Mayon, a perfectly cone-shaped volcano that is a major attraction for the Bicol region. When the plane lands and we step off, the heat and humidity immediately hammer us. It's intense! We see Fran and run to hug her. It's early in the morning, Monday, June 16. Weird.

We all pile into a van Fran has rented to take us to Tabaco City. The ride to Tabaco is our initiation into Filipino traffic. As we pass vehicles on blind curves, it becomes apparent that signs and lines are suggestions, that the horn is the most vital part of the van, and that what seems like two lanes really are three or even four, in practice.

In Tabaco, the van creeps through a crowded market and delivers us to our hotel, the Gardenia Hotel. The Gardenia seems small and cramped from the outside, and the elevator is tiny, but the rooms are spacious and clean, and the bathrooms have Western-style flush toilets.

We rest awhile, and then Fran tells us it's time to visit her host family for merienda, the afternoon snack. We trike or jeepney out to her host family's compound and are greeted by Helga and Leo (pronounced Lay-oh) and their extended family. Helga and Leo both look much younger than their ages. Leo has just come back to the Philippines after working several years at Diego Garcia.

Helga serves us pancit, a noodle dish; batter-fried bananas; rice cooked in sweet coconut milk, almost like rice pudding; and coconut milk. Then Leo and Nair, one of the adult men who live here, give us a tour of the compound. Nair shows me the place he built for him and his wife after typhoon Reming (typhoon Durian) destroyed the house he used to live
in. Their new home is open-sided and has a beautifully thatched roof and a loft. Nair tells me he loves the simple life. He asks me whether there's any place in the U.S. where people live as simply. I can't think of any.

We walk down the road to the San Lorenzo beach. Then it's back to the Gardenia and off to bed. I didn't realize that in the tropics, it always gets dark around 6:30 pm.

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