Friday, January 17, 2014

A Windy Beach Ending



10 to 18 January, 2014 - Tagaytay, Naga, Caramoan, Manila - (Philippines)

It turns out that the back to back transports of getting to Pinatubo were not the end of it. After getting down, we went straight to the highway; caught a bus to one terminal in Manila; negotiated traffic in the chaotic capital to get to another bus terminal (over an hour and a half, and it wasn't even peak hour); and finally got out again, heading south, to Tagaytay.

Volcanic Cones in a Crater Lake
Volcanic Cones in a Crater Lake
The outer crater is 75 kilometres round the rim. In the lake (Lake Taal) are numerous volcanic islands, cones, and craters, many still quite active. The main cone has a lake, which in turn has a crater with a lake, which has an island in it.

Unforturnately, that "matroishka doll" of craters is not visible from the rim. And, unfortunately, due to the haze, we were lucky to get anything at all in our photo. But here it is, anyway, albeit with the levels adjusted somewhat.


It did take us an extra night to recover from all the travelling, but after an extremely lazy day, we were ready to face travel again.

Lazy? Well, we got up, and went for brunch at a place on the crater's rim with a fantastic view. But the real marvel was how early everyone was eating lunch! Then we finally looked at a clock to find that our brunch was commencing, and it was nearly 2 o'clock. We dragged brunch (now lunch, or more correct in Seinfeld terms, linner) until about 5, when we went to another venue to celebrate beer o'clock while looking in to the crater from a slightly different angle. Yes, lazy.

Windy at Caramoan
Windy at Caramoan
We had visions of this dog doing a Sally Fields impression, from the Flying Nun. He seems to be angling his ears in to get the aerodynamics right for a lift off.

The wind blew so hard on our second day at the beach. The rain was not as constant, but still had us running every now and then, sheltering for only a few minutes at a time. Coffee shops, behind beached boats, under random tarpaulins, beneath the biggest tree, or sometimes, well, it was too much trouble, and easier to face getting wet.

Despite the weather, we found the place very beautiful, and although we obviously would have enjoyed more if we had been able to enjoy a swim or a trip to islands, it was still a great final stop before returning to Manila for our flight home.


Queueing For Lumpia
Queueing For Lumpia
We walked past and saw more than 40 people lined up at this Lumpia House, which proudly proclaims it has been here since 1956. Knowing nothing more than its apparent popularity, we waited our turn. It was nearly an hour, and as it was take-away only, we found a space on some nearby steps to eat.

The juices and provided dipping sauce ran down our arms, over our shorts and shoes, and generally covered our faces. This elicetted comments from passers-by: "Enjoy your food."; "Looks good."; "They are tasty, aren't they."; "We wanted some but didn't have time to wait." All we could do was wipe our faces with our fore-arms, further smearing the mess, smile, nod, and keep eating. They were delicious, but impossible to eat with any decorum.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Rest of Northern Luzon



5 to 10 January, 2014 - Vigan, Pagudpud, Mt Pinatubo - (Philippines)

It was time to lose some altitude. After all, we didn't come to The Philippines to be cold. The most obvious route, on a map, was not the easiest, with very few transport connections and options. But soon enough, we were delighted to be in the warmer climes of the coast.

Our first stops, though, were not to be beaches. World Heritage Spanish Colonial architecture was our focus for a couple of days, and Vigan was a great place to have our anniversary. We upped the accommodation a bit, and spent two nights in a former mansion, full of delightful antiques. It had that touch of class that we are becoming familiar with, now that we are "business class worthy" travellers!

Spanish Colonial Architecture
Spanish Colonial Architecture
The Spanish centre of Vigan, The Philippines. It was spared in WWII just minutes before being flattened by American bombers. The architecture is actually a mix of Spanish and Chinese influences.


Frangipani and Bell
Frangipani and Bell
At Santa Maria.


Santa Maria
Santa Maria
Church of Santa Maria, near Vigan. Huge, and solid.


Happy Anniversary
Happy Anniversary
Celebrating 24 wonderful years together. Vigan.


Spacious Interior
Spacious Interior
The incredibly light and airy interior of the church of Paoay.


Paoay Church
Paoay Church
We saw this style referred to as "Earthquake Baroque". Made primarily from coral rocks, the walls are incredibly thick and have huge fortress like reinforcements. While very Spanish, it still displays many other influences. Hints of Indonesian and Chinese can be discerned.


A bit further north, and we reached our first beach stop.

Saud Beach, Pagudpud
Saud Beach, Pagudpud
An idyllic stretch of sand in the north Luzon, Phillipines.


Art Effect
Art Effect
A nice "art effect" added. Saud Beach, Pagudpud.


After some confusing phone calls, and a bit of weighing up of options, we hopped on what was supposed to be an "overnight" bus south. Have you ever noticed, that when you want a bus trip to take a bit longer, it is usually a bit shorter? Subsequently, we were deposited by the side of the highway at 2:30 in the morning. A couple of motor tricycle rides later, and we were near the foot of Mt Pinatubo.

The driver implied that the building was accommodation of some sort, and proceeded to wake the inhabitants up. Dogs barked wildly. Chickens started flapping through the yard. And after a few minutes, lights appeared from within the building. It was nearly 4 a.m. We asked about the possibility of a room, and were dutifully informed that perhaps we should forego sleep. After all, we could commence ascending the mountain at 5:30. Jo managed to convey our level of tiredness, having been deprived of rest for much of the bus trip, and what sleep we got being very light and intermittent.

By now, most of the family seemed to have been awakened by our arrival, and they began busying themselves with various jobs, one of which was preparing a room for us to sleep in. As we went to the room we passed a figure, covered head to toe, trying to sleep on a couch. Perhaps the only person in the place still doing so. Nearly two hours later, when we got up and had breakfast, we worked out that the person on the couch was the teenage daughter. She had been evicted from her room so that we had somewhere to sleep!

6:30, or maybe approaching 7:00, and we were in a jeep taking us up to where the walking was to commence. Less than 3 hours later, we stood on the rim of Mt Pinatubo, admiring the incredibly beautiful crater lake within. The sulphurous smells, the discoloured rocks and water, these reminded us it was active. And the local guide we chatted to, his story of lost loved ones in the 1991 erruption, that reminded us that looks can be deceiving.

Looking Down Into Mt Pinatubo Crater Lake
Looking Down Into Mt Pinatubo Crater Lake
After an overnight bus, and feeling very sleep deprived, we climbed Mt Pinatubo. Admittedly, we got driven a fair way up, but the last couple of hours to the rim were on foot. And looking down in to a superbly beautiful lake with some stunning scenery made it all worthwhile.


Lakeside, Mt Pinatubo
Lakeside, Mt Pinatubo
Photo from the shore of the crater lake inside Mt Pinatubo. There is little evidence of the fact that the volcano is still very active, having significant erruptions in the last few decades.


Driving Down, Mt Pinatubo
Driving Down, Mt Pinatubo
The river down from Mt Pinatubo is largely just loose ash from recent erruptions. It is a significant hazard, as any decent amount of rain, particularly a typhoon, does not get absorbed, but turns the river very quickly in to mud and ash flows, with dangerous land slides possible at any time.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Getting High with Filipino Mummies



28 December, 2013 to 5 January, 2014 - Manila, Baguio, Kabayan, Sagada, Bontoc - (Philippines)

Manila. Well, we were bracing ourselves. We were forewarned it would be polluted, but it proved to be not quite as bad as we expected. I guess, though, being the weekend after Christmas, Monday being a national holiday, followed by the standard New Years break, it was quite calm on the roads, and I'm sure that helped immensely.

Anyway, a few good meals always helps one to ignore other problems. Food is like a masking agent ...

With all the businesses taking time off, we struggled to find information about transport, and ended up changing our plans quite last minute, as we found a bus going to a different place but sort-of in the right direction.

Crablets with Garlic and Chilli
Crablets with Garlic and Chilli
Our first meal in the Philippines, and we were dining on these fabulous beauties. Snails, goat stew, and frogs legs. A fantastic introduction to an amazing variety of Philippine cuisine.


Hitching a Lift
Hitching a Lift
On the streets of Manila.



A "Jeepney"
The roads of the Philippines are dominated by jeepneys. They are the staple of travel. Many are beat up and decrepit, while others are decorated magnificently. Some scoot through the traffic of the cities, and others ply the mountain roads between remote villages. Generally overcrowded, but efficient and quick.


After many hours travel, including an overnight stop in Baguio, we arrived in Kabayan. Here we were already well within the highlands. This is the island of Luzon, and the northern part has a magnificent mountain range (the Cordillera) which runs roughly north-south. Travel east or west is very limited, with most major routes running in parallel with this mountain spine. This means the potential for doubling back and spending an extra 8 hours in a bus is huge, so planning is important.

Then something comes from left field, and it throws all your plans, and suddenly you end up in Kabayan. Not a bad thing, as we were intending to come here anyway, but not in accordance to our timing.

So, we stepped out of the minivan, and Jo headed to the only hotel we knew about. She climbed the stairs, and found offices, and no hotel. She tried to discretely ask, but discretion got her nowhere as she quickly had the attention of all the people in those offices. Quickly it was ascertained that 300 metres up the road is a replacement hotel.

It turns out the Pine Cone Hotel was not in fact ready for guests, but had been forced into an early opening date by the premature closure of the other inn. So, all good, other than the lack of running water.

On our way, we met Richie, and he filled us in. And he introduced us to the owner of the hotel. And by the time evening came, it was apparent that we were to join them for their New Years Eve celebrations.

Here's a Heads-Up
Here's a Heads-Up
Skulls piled high in the Opdas Mass Burial Cave, Kabayan. The bones are aged between 500 and 1000 years. The cave is literally in the backyard of one of the village families.


Preparing the Feast
Preparing the Feast
As the only guests in the only hotel in Kabayan, we scored an invite to the owners' New Years Eve celebrations. Early in the evening, we sat for hours in their kitchen, laughing and exchanging all sorts of stories, while the food was prepared. As time passed, we moved to the lounge, and eventually around a large fire, where we sang songs until the fireworks filled the skies. After midnight, we ate our fill of barbecued meats and pasta.


The caves at Timbac are 1200 metres above the town of Kabayan, and they contain fantastically preserved mummies. There are many more caves, as this was once a common practice when dealing with the departed, but they are either looted, or they are kept closed to the public. You only need to see a handful, though, to get the idea. The clearly discernable tattoos, though, were amazing. On skin, hundreds of years old.

Mummies in Timbac Cave
Mummies in Timbac Cave
Most of the mummies in the Timbac caves appeared to have tortured expressions. The bodies were dried and preserved with heat, smoke, and herbal preservatives.


Mummy Toes
Mummy Toes
Detail of the feet of one of the Timbac mummies.


Mummified Child
Mummified Child
Although, the skull probably does not belong with this body, as the teeth indicate an older child. Although, the low set eyes still indicate quite a young age. Hey, we're no experts.


Tattoos
Tattoos
Tattoos on the skin of this mummy are well preserved and very easy to make out, even with just a torch.


New Years Day ended up being a very long day. We got going late; stopped at Timbac; discovered no buses were running on the highway; tried our card in every ATM for 200 kilometres; and eventually made it to Sagada. And then we partied till late, again.

New Years Day - The Party Continues
New Years Day - The Party Continues
Arriving in Sagada, we managed to get invited to yet another fire and feast. Singing and drinking, and finally eatin. Leftovers, we think, from New Years Eve, and what better way to use them up than by having a party the next day.

The singing here was a little more professional - on arrival, a man looked at me with anticipation. "Are you a tenor? We need some more tenors, because it's just me at the moment."

We sang carols. We sang more John Denver than I thought I knew. Simon and Garfunkel featured. Many other randoms in similar genres.


Did I Mention the Dancing?
Did I Mention the Dancing?
Yes, there was dancing, too.


Oh, money turned out to be a problem. Many ATMs did not accept foreign cards. Some did, but were selective in which ones worked and when. One ATM happily acceped our card, but then told us that, due to low cash levels over the extended break, our maximum withdrawal was going to be tiny (about $10!). Useless. And the ATM at Sagada had a message saying it was down for maintenance and would be working again shortly. That message had apparently been on the screen for over a week. Running dangerously low on cash, we ended up using Western Union to send money to ourselves!

Around Sagada we did some small walks.

Coffins Stacked High
Coffins Stacked High
In the entrance of the Lumiang Burial Cave, Sagada. Centuries old, the coffins are stacked in an apparently haphazard fashion.


From Bontoc, our next destination, we did a more significant walk, through Maligcong to Mainit, amongst the World Heritage Listed rice terraces.

On Her Way to Work
On Her Way to Work
Hunched over and withered, an elderly lady heads to one of her family's rice plots, in Maligcong. Looking closely, you may be able to make out some of the tattoos on the backs of her hands.


In Maligcong
In Maligcong
Some ladies gathered in the village of Maligcong. My eyes were drawn to the white "head piece", which is actually snake vertebrae.


Let's Photograph Each Other
Let's Photograph Each Other
Kids in Maligcong, one with my hat on. I wanted to take their photo, and they reciprocated.


Rice Terraces, Maligcong
Rice Terraces, Maligcong
Stone walled rice terraces were first built here around 2,000 years ago, by Chinese immigrants. Although repaired and maintained, meaning some sections are recent work, others are extremely old with many parts dating hundreds of years. These terraces, and others here high in the cordillera, are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.


Maligcong Rice Terraces
Maligcong Rice Terraces
Another view of the breathtaking stone terraced rice fields of Maligcong.


Jeepney
Jeepney
A jeepney climbs a mountain road, carting locals and their belongings between a remote mountain town and an even more remote mountain village.