Saturday, March 29, 2014

One Week in Boracay, Philippines

Everyone we talked to with knowledge of the Philippines told us Boracay was a must-see. Lauren even heard how great it was from a Filipino lady in line at FedEx in Las Vegas. From Leyte, it was just a ferry ride, a plane, and another ferry ride away. 

White Beach

Boracay is an island in the Visayas region of the Philippines with white sand and crystal clear water. The main beach, White Beach, is a long stretch of sand packed with restaurants and resorts. It was hard to have a conversation while walking down the beach path because vendors were always trying to lure you in and sell something. We spent a week enjoying the postcard-perfect views while constantly being offered sun glasses, hats, massages, hair braids, and sail boat rides.

White Beach has so many people even Starbucks wants in on the tourist dollars.

Kermit enjoys stand up paddle boarding too.

We walked to the northern end of the island to the restaurant Spider House, which overlooks Diniwid Beach. The view was spectacular, and with comfy loungers, wifi, a ladder down to the water, and tasty drinks we spent a lot of time here just taking it in.

Lauren on the platform at the Spider House.

Puka Shell Beach

Another refuge from the busy White Beach is Puka Shell Beach. We hopped onto Boracay's version of a taxi (a sidecar welded to a street bike) to get there, and the difference between Puka and White beach is night and day. At White Beach, you are bombarded with vendors and have to step over people to get to the water, while at Puka we had practically the entire beach to ourselves.

Pirates like to sail to Puka Shell Beach.

Kite Boarding

Another break from White Beach can be had at the kite boarding beach on the opposite side of the island. I really wanted to try kite boarding but didn't want to commit to a three-day course that was required before they would even let you on a board with a kite. I'll have to do it some other day I suppose.

Kite boarding beach

Boracay Sunsets

The sunsets in Boracay are a popular event. It seems everyone on the island comes out to White Beach to say goodnight. Pawraw boats start heading to shore in the late afternoon to pick up travelers for a sunset sail and again, you can't walk down the beach without being offered a boat ride, and if not tonight, "maybe tomorrow?" they hope. We opted to just enjoy the sunset from the shore.

D'Talipapa Market

One night we headed out to explore D'Talipapa, a "wet market" or open-air fish and meat market where the day's catch is waiting to be dinner. We had heard that you can buy fish there and then take it to a restaurant and have them cook to your liking. We didn't realize that those restaurants were about 10 feet from where you buy the fish. We thought we'd just take a look around, but after we entered and saw the chaotic process we just had to buy something. Rows and rows of shiny fish gazed out as people jostled to make their purchases. Fish as big as your arm were plopped onto waiting grills. We got two pieces of marlin and had one grilled and one pan fried.

How to buy fish: point to what you want, it gets put in the basket and weighed, then a price is shown on the calculator. Then begin bargaining. Take the calculator and enter a lower number until a price is agreed upon.
Our meal at the market. The grilled fish was a little dry (as was most of the meat we've had so far =/)
but the spicy sauces added a nice kick.

A typical road-side shop selling eggs, fruit, drinks, and little packets of everything from instant coffee to
laundry soap and shampoo.

Goodbye Boracay!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Day In Paradise: Kalanggaman Island

Early one Sunday morning, about 20 of us headed out on the promise of a beach day. John and Carlo, two of our volunteers, knew of a fantastic and seldom visited island off the coast of Leyte but it would be a bit of a chore to get to. A rickety hour bus ride took us up through the winding green and lush hills of Leyte before depositing us in Palompon, a small coastal city where we would catch a pump boat to Kalanggaman Island.

Another bumpy and wet hour in the sea and Kalanggaman slowly came into view. A row of palm trees jutted out from the blue ocean, a small strip of white sand below. As we got closer, we could see this beach more than lived up to its promise. Sand as white as sugar, ombre turquoise seas gently lapped the shore, a white sandbar stretched lazily into the ocean. It was paradise found.

We lazed in the shade of the palm trees while John, Carlo and Brett prepared us a beach feast. Fish, mussels, pork belly, chicken, rice from the market in Palompon was all devoured with our fingers. It was some of the best food we had in the Philippines, and probably some of the best food ever. 

After lunch our group disperesed a bit. Some laid in the shade in a food coma. Some walked around the island, you could probably lap the whole thing in 20 minutes. Tom climbed a palm tree. A spirited game of volleyball broke out.

As the sun sank low, we loaded up the boat that would take us back to shore. Sunburned, sandy, and salty we rode home as the sun sat on our perfect beach day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tindog Tacloban!

On one of our Sunday’s off, we took the 2-hour journey with some friends to Tacloban, the costal city that bore much of the brunt of Typhoon Yolanda. Our friend on the project, Alix, had met two ladies on her ferry ride to Ormoc who were from the city, and they very generously offered to meet up and show us around for the day. 

We asked what there was to see around the city and they told there was nothing to see, the storm had destroyed everything. We wanted to see the damage Yolanda had inflicted, but none of us knew how to say that is actually what we wanted to see. 

Driving through town, it was honestly sometimes difficult to tell whether what we were seeing was storm damage and recovery or just a tired, run-dow city. You couldn’t miss, however, the bright blue tarps on many houses, the line outside an aid agency for rice, tents in place of school rooms, and of course the huge ships that the storm surge had brought ashore. There were families around and even under the ships living on top of the rubble. It was hard to tell if they were simply rebuilding where they lived previously, or if they chose to move there after the storm.

In all honestly, it felt a little vouyeristic and maybe even a little disrespectful to be walking through this destruction, taking pictures. We wanted to understand what had happened to this community, what they were still dealing with, what we had come to help with, yet it somehow felt like we were only there to take our “token” disaster pictures and then move on. 

A family piled out of a car and stood in front of one of the ships, snapping pictures. They asked us to take a picture with them, “to remember,” they said. They said they were from Tacloban but had not been to see the ships yet because they were rebuilding their own homes. We told them we were working in Kananga and they thanked us.

There is still much work to be done. It is estimated that 4 million people have been displaced. Many livelihoods are gone as fishermen have lost their boats and nets, and farmers have had their crops damaged or destroyed. 

Amid all this destruction and loss, though, life continued on. Some children flew kites among the rubble while others collected rebar to sell. Men carried groceries back home. Laundry was hung out to dry. Pigs were fed slop, unaware they would soon become dinner. A little girl smiled and giggled as she showed us the puppies their dog recently had. Life goes on.

Tindog Tacloban! 
(Rise Tacloban)