Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Wake Up Call

After Sagada, Brian and I along with the "Three Dutch Girls" (Chocolate, Margali and Susan) travel to Banaue where the girls are performing research into the local tourism industry to complete their studies in the Netherlands. Banaue is the home of what the Philippine tourism industry is touting as the 8th Wonder of the World. While few man made developments truly merit the term "wonder" the Rice Terraces of Banaue are certainly a candidate. In this wild, undeveloped country we take a three day trek into deep mountain villages where roads and electricity simply do not reach. The scenery in the region is fantastic and the rice terraces built over 2000 years ago are spectacular marvels of engineering, even rivaling the Great Pyramids of Egypt.

After this fine visit we return south to Manilla and reunit with our family of friends in Sampaloc for the birthday of nine year old niece Lizetta. The children are fantastic, the company grand and the food delicious. The evening proves an excellent goodbye to our great hosts in Manilla, JJ, John and Flor Javier.

From Manilla we jump a last minute plane to the sunny island of Borocay, the number one tourist destination in the Philippines during the number one time of year Holy Week (Easter) weekend. Despite all adamant assurances that we wouldn't be able to go because "Everything is booked" we prove once again the travelling fact that being physically present is far more important than booking in advance. Leaving after breakfast we catch a plane in an hour and are checked into our hotel before noon. We spend a week basking in western style hospitality, ruckous partying and fun in the sun.

On Monday, Brian and I sit to have a chat on what and where to go next. After some deliberation, we decide it is time to part ways for a while and pursue different paths and different goals. Tuesday morning we have breakfast, pack and after a hug I head for the boat and catch a bus to Liolio on the southern tip of the island of Panay. I check in late to the Family Pension and run into an old face from Sagada, now three weeks distant. Jeremy a Canadian from Victoria travelling the Philippines and a companion during our caving expeditions.

Morning comes and I wake early for breakfast and seeing Jeremy's companions, two young missionaries working in Iloilo decide to sit with them. I am sipping a quiet cup of coffee when perhaps the most startling experience of my trip befalls us. We hear a crash in the kitchen just footsteps behind us and suddenly a scream burst forth, turning we see a young Philippino (the man who'd checked me in) fly backwards out of the kitchen door with dishes crashing around him. He leaps up and runs headlong back into the kitchen where an obvious fight is underway. To the left of the door is a large window looking in and we can see the fight crashing back and forth, dishes flying, the screams of the women inside and a knife flashing. Suddently the grandma rushes out of the door screaming in terror as the security guard runs up pulling his gun. David and I leap from our seats and run to the kitchen and looking into the narrow interior see no course of action as a woman and the man who flew through the door are fighting in close company with a knife wielding maniac, both the maniac and the woman are covered in blood screaming histerically in Tagalog. Suddenly a host of police officers burst through the door and manage to subdue the crazed man, cuff him and taking the woman and flying man along depart the establishment leaving a bloody trail to the street. The entire process must have taken no more than two minutes. What an intense two minutes they were!

It turns out, the man, having been arrested earlier that morning had escaped the police as they stopped at a light outside our establishment. In a crazed state he had run into our hotel with the intent of doing himself in and grabbing a knife had taken a good wack at his own neck. The woman working in the narrow kitchen was trapped behind the counter and it was her son who had gone flying out the door when trying to grab the knife from the mans hand. At this point the man turned on the son's mother, thus he leapt back into the kitchen to save her life.

Let me assure you, there is nothing like a life or death struggle to wake you up in the morning, coffee holds nothing to it.

Friday, March 25, 2005


March 8th, we spend a cacophonous seven hour period jostled relentlessly by the poor suspension of a Lizardo bus bound for Sagada on the cruel, unpaved roads of the Philippine Mountain province. Flexing our stiffened legs we find ourselves in a serene one lane village as the dying sun sets behind a haze of blue-grey smoke, slipping smoothly behind a western peak ablaze with an unattended fire. Peace reigns in the air, broken only by the populous calls of the local livestock, pigs, roosters and dogs. Pursuing our nightly quest to find suitable lodging we move into the cabinesqe Masferres Inn and discover a village wide curfew of 9pm is in loose effect. A difficult six hour time change from our usual evening terminus. Entering the delightful eatery The Yogurt House I decide to break my two day fast, initiated after the base episode of the past weeks in Manila, on a simple dish of fried rice. We retire early and awake refreshed to a crescendo of well voiced cocks announcing the mornings light.

What truly frames Sagada a meritorious objective is the combination of tranquil solitude fabricated by the unmistakably clean and cool mountain air, and the presence of a tantalizing web of dark, spidery caverns.
It's in these caverns, my heart thrumming with spring, that we dispense the bulk of our marvelous five day stay.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Into the Current

The city of Manila is a jumble of activity, a thriving, bustling hub of energy which can neither be ignored nor easily left behind. Into this swirling tempest we fall and struggling to catch our breath find ourselves swept along in a modern, breakneck current.

After our first taste of Manila, we learn more about the web we've landed in. A twenty block region of Manila known as Malate littered with every trap, trip wire or explosive mine conceived to snag the unsuspecting tourist. In two days our taste for the town has expired and on Saturday Brian and I opt to spend the evening apart. I head down the street, select a good patio spot with a view and order up a beer. As always, all eyes are turned my way and not surprisingly a friendly voice is heard from the table next to me where two young Filipino men are sitting. I learn the speakers name, also Josh, and we strike up a conversation. To my surprise I'm treated to a delightful time as we sip our beers and the conversation slides from surface to submerged. The beer catches up and we decide to find some trouble. Our night ends at 7am and as fast friends we agree to meet again the next day.

Sunday, Josh arrives at the hotel and offers Brian and I the option of sleeping at his place. A dubious proposition under any circumstances, and certainly with two total strangers. Despite the obvious risks, the opportunity is great, and our guts say ok. We agree and catch a cab across town to Sampaloc. Thus we find ourselves with Josh and John, Filipino brothers, Josh working for a Global One call center, John studying Law at a nearby University and a new Manila is revealed to us. Josh suggests a "tour of class". In Filipino society like all society there are the haves and the have nots. In Manila those distinctions are very clear.

We begin with class C (back in Malate) and its trouble and damn fun as always.

Monday we move up to class B in Quezon City and have a great night, not surprisingly we end up back in Class C (where we really belong) by the end of the drunken night.

Tuesday night, at our request, Josh takes us to his office. We are hoping for a tour of the facility, but after two hours of sitting in the lobby and introductions further and further up the chain of command we are graciously turned down. It seems corporate policy clearly excludes our drop in visit. Sitting in the lobby and feeling the corporate environment our conversation turns to work, and in short order we find our speech, mannerisms and mood quickly reverting to our former selves. Quicker and more abrupt, less tolerant and impatient. We start wondering why we are wasting our valuable time, like we have somewhere better to be! The anxiety is nearly intolerable and we try to shake it off as we leave the building.

Still buzzing from our near real world experience we arrive in Makati for our class A evening. This central district in Manila might as well be LoDo in Denver. We stroll past several martini bars, a couple of bars and stepping into a small club (Absinth)we are home. As always, we had planned a "couple of drinks". Soon we're carousing the bar, making new friends and join up with a crew of people heading to the next establishment (Z-Bar). It's not until the next day we learn we've spent our evening with a local celebrity who has since been a great friend to us. Class A turns out to be right up our alley, and we're invited to play some Ultimate Frisbee with the gang the following night.

By Thursday, we find ourselves in a complicated predicament. Josh and John and their sister Flor have been fantastic hosts. They have introduced us to a side of Manila we could never see on our own, cooked us great food each day and despite our obvious burden on them, have opened their home and hearts to us. Although they insist we stay longer, weigh in our growing restlessness, we inform them that it is time for us to go. Friday evening we take them to crab dinner and end up back in Malate again for what turns out to be the last straw in this crappy part of town. The evening ends as I make the mistake of pulling a bill out of my pocket on the street and twenty kids mob us, even jumping into our cab, and onto the hood and roof of the car. Flor apologizes to me the whole way home. Clearly, she has nothing to do with it.

Saturday, after a wild experience at the cock fights (see Brian's post), we move into a great hotel in Makati for a couple of air conditioned nights and Sunday play in our first overseas Ultimate tournament. A brutal, humbling experience as a random team of misfits is thrown together on our behalf and we get massacred 37-0 over 4 games. At least the after party is great.

The city is hard to resist. In less than two weeks in Manila, we regressed from the thoughtful, no where to be, slow paced backpackers we had become to our former, what do you do, time driven, lightning fast Denver lives. Even so far as to acquire a cell phone! Thus swings the pendulum I suppose. This morning, in response, we lightened our packs, turned off the phone, shipped a bunch of things home and hopped a long bus to Baguio. For now, we'll step back out of the current.