Friday, July 4, 2008

Odds and Ends from the Trip

Happy Birthday Shirt

Di wore a red top a couple of days, and we learned that when a Filipino sees someone wearing a red shirt, they will tell you "Happy Birthday." No one seems to know when or how or why this custom began.

Fresh Fruit

We bought fresh mangos and bananas a couple of times at the markets in Tabaco and Legaspi. They were delicious! The bananas had a more intense flavor than the bananas we buy here in the States, and the mangos were wonderfully juicy and tasty.


Kalamansi are small green citrus fruit and are served instead of lemons and limes, with iced tea, for example. I ordered a lemonade at one restaurant and got kalamansi-ade. It was all right, different from lemonade, not what I expected.

Traveler's Tummy

None of us came down with traveler's tummy on the trip, even though we weren't completely conscientious about trying to avoid it. For example, we used tap water when brushing our teeth. American food did give me a little stomach trouble for a day or two after we returned.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Home Again, Home Again

Monday, June 23--This is our last full day in the Philippines. I feel much better, but I don't push my luck. I stay at the Pepperland while Di, Fran and Ed hike up Lignon Hill, a high hill at the outskirts of Legaspi, with a great view of the city and the area.

In the afternoon, Fran takes Di and I for a massage at a place Lance recommends. Aaaaaaahhhhh!!! Then we all meet Helga and Leo downtown for a good-bye meal. The restaurant that Fran wanted to go to is not open yet, so we dine at the Jollibee, the Filipino version of an American burger chain. It's an emotional good-bye. Helga and Leo give us a bag full of gifts--pili nut candy, shoes, some key chains. And when Di admires Helga's bracelet--hand-made by Helga's sister--Helga takes it off and gives it to Di to keep.

Tuesday, June 24--Fran goes with us to the Legaspi airport. We've had a great trip, and we're sad to say good-bye. Soon, though, we're in the air, headed for Manila. Navigating security and immigration at the Manila airport is a real adventure, but eventually, we're flying into the night across the Pacific.

After 12 hours in the air, another layover in Vancouver, and a much shorter hop south, we're in the arid 104-degree heat of Las Vegas--and it's still June 24. The ways of the International Dateline are mysterious.

Our flight home doesn't leave until next morning. We've booked a night at the McCarran Best Western. The hotel van doesn't show up, and when we're finally in our room and order a room-service pizza, it's half an hour late. Says Ed, "Isn't it great to be back in the U.S., where everything works?"

Note: All the pictures from our trip are available here.

Missed It By That Much

Saturday, June 21--In the morning, we learn that typhoon Frank veered westward overnight. The main part of the storm misses us. We did get some wind and rain, but nothing damaging.

We're determined to go to Rizal Beach. We've heard it's one of the nicer beaches in the Bicol region, which is not a touristy area and is not known for its beaches. We walk downtown, trike to the jeepney terminal, and take a jeepney to Gubat, where we get on another trike and head out of town for the ocean.

At the beach, we rent a cabana for a couple hours. The cabana has bamboo walls, a dirt floor, a shower, a comfort room (the Filipino term for bathroom), and even a little sink and wood stove. We take a long walk up the deserted beach. I've been spoiled by south Florida, and the trip is finally catching up with me and I feel exhausted, so I just hang out in the cabana while Di and Fran and Ed go for another walk and wade in the surf.

Then we head back to Sorsogon and rent another van and driver. We head back to the Villa Isabel, load our stuff, and motor up to Legaspi. We check into the Pepperland Hotel, the most luxurious hotel of our entire stay: huge rooms, bathtubs, and they even take Visa.

We watch CNN International and learn that typhoon Frank capsized an interisland ferry, and scores of people are missing and presumed drowned. We'd been watching CNN occasionally all trip--the flooding in Iowa has been headline news, even here. It was strange, seeing our hometown on the tube halfway around the world. But even with all its damage, the flood did not kill anywhere near the number of people that Frank has.

Sunday, June 22--As Di and Ed and I eat breakfast, Fran walks into the Pepperland with Marcus, a Peace Corps volunteer who lives in Legaspi and Fran's close friend. We all have breakfast, and then Marcus leaves and the rest of us head downtown for some shopping. The people in Legaspi apparently are used to seeing Anglos, and we don't get the stares and the "Hey, Joe" that we did in Tabaco and Sorsogon.

This is my worst day of the trip. I'm exhausted, and my throat is raw, either from the jet lag, or the trike and jeepney fumes, or both. I trike back to the Pepperland alone and hang out in the room. But I rally in time for dinner. We meet Marcus and his roommate, Lance, at the Small Talk Cafe and have a great time. The food is excellent, kind of a Bicol-American fusion.

The Coming Storm

Thursday, June 19--We check out of the Gardenia Hotel. Our plan is to spend a couple days in Sorsogon, a town down the coast from Tabaco, and spend a day at Rizal Beach, near Gubat, a smaller town near Sorsogon. We've had a nice stay in Tabaco, but it will be good to get Fran away for awhile. She's been trying to please not only us, but also her host family and her principal. Away from Tabaco, we'll have her all to ourselves.

Fran gets us a van and driver, and we head for Sorsogon. It's some ride! In the Philippines, lines on the road and signs by the highway are just suggestions. Our driver passes vehicles even on blind uphill curves and uses his horn at every opportunity. Slower vehicles--jeepneys and trikes--scoot over and allow us to pass. The two-lane road becomes a three-laner at times. People--men, women and little children--walk on the shoulder, right next to the highway, as we zip by just inches from them.

In Sorsogon, we check into the Villa Isabel, a beautiful hotel on a back street. We have lunch and finally sample some San Migs--San Miguel beer, made in the Philippines. It's pretty good, especially on a hot day, and every day is hot here.

We walk downtown. A pili nut festival is going on. We've had pili nut candy before, sugar-glazed pili nuts. They're yummy. As we walk along the street, I look down into the gutter--a small water-filled ditch, actually. I see a thick electrical cable snaking through the water, and I wonder about the average life expectancy of Filipino electricians.

Friday, June 20--Fran has been texting busily. The Peace Corps has told her a typhoon is in the area. It's named Fengshen by the international body that keeps track of these storms, but it's Frank in the Philippines. Originally, it was supposed to scoot along off the coast, east of the Philippines. Now, we're told it's heading straight for us. But no one seems concerned. Many typhoons hit the Philippines each year, and unless the storm is especially potent, they're not a big deal--to Filipinos, anyway. Fran doesn't seem too concerned, either. So, instead of a day at the beach, we just plan for a day of hanging around the hotel, maybe taking a walk into Sorsogon, too.

The breakfast menu at Villa Isabel includes scrambled eggs and bacon, ham or sausage--and pancakes. Fran cautions us not to get our hopes up about the pancakes. She says we'll almost certainly be served corn syrup, not maple syrup. But, surprise! The waiter sets a small cup of maple syrup on the table. Fran is impressed!

In the evening, Fran and Ed go to a pizza place with Aaron and Whitney, two Peace Corps volunteers that live near here. Di and I go to bed and hope that the approaching typhoon is not too nasty.

A Walk in the Sun

Wednesday, June 18--I get up and throw on some clothes and head out of the Gardenia Hotel on my own, on a mission to get some donuts and some fresh-brewed coffee. Di has been drinking instant so far this trip, but I'd spotted a Mr. Donut on Fran's map of Tabaco City. Determined to brave the streets on my own, I plunge out the door of the hotel and into the pounding heat and humidity.

I walk past the food market and make my way to the main street--Ziga Avenue, by Fran's map. A parade is inching its way down the street. I stop and watch one of the many marching bands. The bands are like any U.S. high school marching band, and for a second, it's easy to forget I'm in the Philippines.

I've been disoriented in Tabaco. There's something about the streets that makes me lose my sense of direction here, and even with Fran's map, I have to backtrack several times before I find my way to the Mr. Donut. Inside, it's like any convenience-store donut shop in the U.S., but staffed with Filipinas. I buy a dozen donuts and some coffee, and I head back.

Today, we take a jeepney to Malilipot and then walk up a country road to Busay Falls. As we walk past several homes, Fran points to the rebar sticking up from the concrete walls. Many Filipinos build this way so that they can add a second floor later when they have the money. Fran also points out that few of the houses are painted. Exterior paint is a mark of wealth.

We walk under the beating sun past rice paddies and into a cool, shaded valley. Busay Falls pours down into a shallow pool, cooling the air. We spend an hour or so enjoying the break from the heat.

After heading back to town and cleaning up, we go to Helga and Leo's again for a good-bye meal. Helga serves up a feast--baked fish; curried chicken; Bicol Express, a pepper, coconut and pork dish; a fruit salad; and several other tasty dishes. Afterward, we say our good-byes. Fran flags down a trike. Di, Fran and Ed climb aboard, but I have to step onto a tiny platform on the back of the sidecar, lean over the top, and hang onto a couple of rails on the roof. It's a fun ride back into Tabaco.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Halo-halo Time

Tuesday morning, we groggily crawl out of bed and use our shower. The shower has an electrical flash water heater and a handset-type shower head. There's no enclosure--the entire bathroom is the shower stall. I just have to be careful where I aim. I take a stingy shower, soaping with the water turned off. As I adjust the water heater while rinsing, I wonder whether this is a wise thing to do, and for the first of many times this trip, I speculate about Filipino building codes.

After a light breakfast, Fran shows up. We all head out on foot and trek past the open market. We're greeted with "Hey, Joe!" from all sides. Filipinos still call Americans Joe, after GI Joe, from World War II. We walk to the Tabaco City LCC department store. The store has everything, and great service. We're continually surrounded by eager salespeople. We buy laundry detergent--a small brick of solid Tide; drinking water; and a few snack items. Then we go to the ChinaBank and use the ATM.

Back at the Gardenia, we unload our loot and hand-wash some laundry. We traveled light, with no checked-in baggage, so laundry becomes part of our daily routine, along with finding drinking water and a usable ATM--everyone wants pesos; no one takes credit cards. We also become used to taking multiple showers each day. Between the showers and the laundry, much of our hotel time is centered around the bathroom.

We go to Fran's favorite restaurant in Tabaco City for lunch, Solamente. It's an open-sided roof, basically, with a kitchen. They serve us a fish dish--fish "cooked" in citric juice--and a regional chicken dish. It's all very tasty.

Then we head to the San Lorenzo National High School, Fran's place of employment. We meet her principal, Rose, a very pleasant person who leaves no doubt as to who is in charge at her school. She treats us to colas and batter-fried bananas. Then Fran's co-teacher guides us on a tour of the school.

Fran leads us into a couple classrooms, where we say hello to the students and answer questions.
For the girls, Ed is the center of attention. Apparently, it's the dream of many young Filipinas to marry an American. Ed is greeted with much giggling. One of the girls brazenly asks how old he is, and when Fran asks her how old she is, she replies, "Sweet sixteen!"

After the tour, Rose and Jai, her assistant, take us to a place in Tabaco City for merienda. We have pancit again, and then Rose orders halo-halo for each of us. We're each served a dessert bowl filled with shaved ice and topped with a glob of purple goo and grated cheese. There's a layer of syrupy-looking liquid in the bottom of the bowl, with some unidentifiable stuff floating in it. We each mix our halo-halo together with a long spoon--that's what halo-halo means in Tagalog, mix-mix. Then we eat. It's surprisingly good, very refreshing in the heat. I taste the cheese, a sweet coconutty syrup, and occasionally, peas and corn, maybe, and gummy candies.

After our good-byes, we head back to the Gardenia and off to bed.