Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Diving again

It was sad to say goodbye to my new friends. But we agreed to meet up again when I return in a few weeks to Manila. So I took the ferry from Luzon island (where Manila is located) to Mindoro island. Here is a picture from the side of the ferry on my way. The scenery in the Phils is just gorgeous.

I ended up in Sabang, part of the Puerto Galera area in the north of Mindoro Island. Sabang is a beach town catering to divers with a population of around 20,000 people. I dived here for a few days, paying around US $25 per dive. It was a lot of fun. I got to explore coral reefs, steep dropoffs, shipwrecks, etc. Also, it was a great chance to polish some of my diving skills. What I had forgotten was a lot of the prep stuff before I get in the water -- once I am under the surface I am fine. But making these dives really helped me to hone my diving skills. And the diving sites were all near our beach -- basically within five minutes of leaving the beach on our boat we were underwater.

Toward the left side of this picture, if you look carefully, you will see a "floating bar" out in the water.

Barbeque at the Lake

The largest lake in the Philippines is nearby Pagsanjan Falls and called Laguna de Bay Lake. We actually had to increase elevation to go up to the lake, which is quite large, generally shallow, and has good water quality.

My friend knew about an old abandoned house on the lake and so we went up the day before to see if we would be able to use it for a grand barbecue. Here we are in our transportation for the lake reconnoitering mission:

Picture of a part of the lake itself:

We took a boat out to see the abandoned house and we found it! The owner mysteriously disappeared seven years ago. There is a caretaker on the small island who has his own place and takes care of this larger house. He also raises Talapia fish encased in nets about 60 meters offshore.

We found a farm that had a bunch of extra vegetables. We talked to one of the workers, and they said we could have all the veggies we want for 30 pesos (about US $0.70).

Here is the scene after he told us the price:

Well, the next day all of us went out to the abandoned place. My friends made a special Filipino vegetable paste out of the veggies we gathered and it was really good! I swam out and we netted some Talapia fish (we paid the caretaker). We barbecued the Talapia and they were so good! This was all polished off with some San Miguels, the national beer of the Philippines. I have never been much of a beer drinker but those San Miguel Lites are actually quite tasty!

It turns out that most Filipinos cannot swim, much to my surprise. I can swim like a fish, so I even gave a few swimming lessons for those willing to try. It was a great and relaxing day!

The Falls

After visiting the Tagaytay area, my friends and I went by bus, tricycle, and jeepeny to Pagasanjan Falls, located about 92 kilometers south of Manila. One the way I got to try a buko pie, which is a special coconut pie for which this area is famous. I don't like coconut in the USA, which is usually shredded, but it is different here -- chunky and apparently made from some special kind of small coconut. Well, it was great and I had an extra piece!

The Falls are famous here in the Phils, and many of the river scenes from the classic movie Apocalypse Now were filmed in this part of the river on the way up to the Falls:

Unfortunately, the bigger upper part of the Falls is closed this time of year, so we stopped at the smaller Falls downstream:

Some of us also opted for the special raft pull that takes you directly under the falling water. The water is coming down so hard that it can be a bit painful, but fun nevertheless!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


My late uncle raised fighting cocks but I never got a chance to see a real cockfight since it is illegal in most of the USA. Most of the folks interested in this sport from the state where I come from, southern California, either go to certain parts of Arizona or Mexico for the fights (where they are legal). And most of them are Filipinos -- it is part of the culture. Even though I know this is a cruel sport, I have always wanted to see what it was like up close. Well, I finally got my chance!

On the way back from Taal Volcano we happened by chance upon a cockfighting ring that was holding fights. I had told my companions of my interest the day before. So three of us popped in for about 20 minutes to see what it was like. Until recently, women were not allowed inside, but this has now been changed. Actually, none of my Filipino friends had ever been to a cockfight, so they were also curious!

The way it works is that a sharpened blade is attached to at least one of the rooster's legs. Then they are both put in the ring together. What often happens is that they prance around for a few seconds, sometimes pretending not to even look at one another:

But then the feathers start flying when they attack:

What drives this sport is gambling. I think there was a fight about every 5 to 7 minutes, and you can see the frenzy of people placing their bets before the roosters are released in the ring:

I actually found this sport crueler than I had imagined. One rooster always dies and sometimes they both die. After each flurry of attacks, the roosters are reset in front of each other until one has made the other completely helpless (and bound for death). Even if the roosters can no longer stand, they will place them close to each other in hopes that one will regain strength to kill the other:
Here is a close up shot at some of the prize money offered for an upcoming day of cockfighting. There are around 43 pesos to the dollar, so one thousand pesos is equivalent to about 23 US dollars. The prizes range from a refrigerator down to 1500 pesos for the fastest kills. Also, notice that there is a 5000 peso prize ($115) for the *slowest* kill:

Well, I am glad I went for the experience, but I think this will be my last cockfight for awhile!

Tagaytay City and Taal Volcano

We all went to Tagaytay City (by combination of jeepney and tricycle), which is about 55 kilometers (35 miles) from Manila. Jeepneys are smoke belching trucks with a bench on each side in the back that provide transportation in the cities and shorter distances between many cities in the Philippines. The fares to ride the jeepenys are very cheap (typically less than 20 US cents for shorter distances) and you can stop them almost anywhere on the street as they are driving. You just look for a jeepney with a sticker for where you are going. Here is a typical Jeepney:

Tagaytay City is next to Taal Lake and in the center of the lake is Taal Volcano which has another lake inside it. It is quite spectacular!

We rode horses to the top of the volcano. Here is a picture of Aru (center) on her horse:

Here is a picture of Michelle and I with the lake inside the volcano in the background:

We had such a great time around Tagaytay eating local food and our place had a private picnic bench with a great view of the lake. I can't believe how friendly the Filipino people have been to me!

Meeting people in Manila

I was randomly walking along a tourist area of Manila (Intramuros) on my first full day in Manila when I ran into a grandma (Liza) and we started talking. She offered to show me another tourist site and taught me to ride the jeepneys. Liza wanted to invite me over for dinner but I already had a dinner commitment to a couple of nice Filipinas that I had met earlier and I had offered to take them out for dinner that evening. So Liza said let's meet at a certain location tomorrow.

Anyway, the dinner with the Filipinas went great (6 hours we stayed there!). The next day I met with Liza and her son came and then her sister-in-law. Little did I know that this was the start of a week long adventure with all the friends and family! We visited a local tourist site, the Chinese Cemetery (below), then went to a friend's place for lunch and then went to a karaoke restaurant/bar until late into the night (yes, they endured some of my singing!). I ended up staying at their place. The next morning they offered for me to join them on their vacation which was starting that day! So I retrieved my things back at my guesthouse and we headed for Tagaytay and the volcano there (more on that later).

The tourist site we saw in Manila was the Chinese cemetery. It is a large area of maybe 1 kilometer by 1 kilometer (at least) of what looks like houses or condos. But it is really a graveyard and the local rich Chinese people get buried there along with their familes. If you didn't know better, you might think it was a (very!) quiet suburban subdivision. Mostly there are just some security guards going around.

Here is a picture of one of the graves from the street (yes, there are streets just like a subdivision):

Here is a picture inside a typical "grave house" for lack of a better term:

Here is a picture down one of the "streets". For the most part, I saw only maintenance and security people during our visit (those are their cars in the picture):

Many of the "grave houses" are air-conditioned!

So is this elaborate burial rite only a Chinese practice in the Philippines? I have not seen anything like this elsewhere. What beliefs (Buddhism?) drive this behavior and why?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Loving the Philippines

I just wanted to post a quick update from the Philippines. I love this place! It is easily the most interesting place that I have visited so far.

I randomly met a grandma in Manila, and then her family and then their friends and spent a week with them on vacation. I have attended cockfights, sang karaoke, eaten Balut (cooked chicken embryo) and other local foods, gone diving at exotic destinations, and am currently staying at one of the world's best beach resorts, Boracay.

I hope to post more details and pics soon!