Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mid Service Training, Mountaineering, & Guardhouse Construction

The prodigal son has returned to Buenavista after being gone for two weeks.  The first week was spent in the province south of Manila for our MST or mid service training then last week I was on an astonishing hike in the Cordillera, (a mountain range about 12 hours north of Manila). 

PeaceCorps put the entire 269 batch up at a really nice hotel for the 3 days mid service training.  It was the first time our batch as all been together since August 2010 because of the distance and expense of having a solidary conference.  It takes some PCV’s a lot of time and money to travel due to rural site placements.  We had discussions and lectures on a variety of topics some interesting tid bits included our opportunities after we finish our service (1 year non-competitive eligibility for federal government employment), a CRM session that seemed like an A.A. meeting where we all sat in a circle and talked about our work at our respective sites, aquaponics lecture (integrating aquaculture and gardening), organic gardening, the “stash bash” and some really amazing food.

The CRM session was nice to hear about other people’s issues and triumphs, a reassurance that a lot of my peers are going through the same hurdles that I am too.  The stash bash has become a sort of tradition in PeaceCorps Philippines I believe.  We got an email from another PCV asking the males to grow out their facial hair for a contest that had a few different categories, such as: best moustache, most creative, etc.  In light of this, I grew out my beard for about 4.5 weeks which is pretty miserable in a tropical climate.  If you have noticed in a lot of my pictures here in the Philippines mostly male locals will pose for pictures using a “poogi or gwapo face.”  It is where you put your thumb and index finger under your chin like a check mark to emphasize your “poogi or gwaop” face.  It is something I have never seen before I came to this country, so I thought it would be a good idea to try to shave in a poogi face into my real FACE.  It didn’t turn out quite like I wanted to, but it was a good time with some seriously wacky moustaches/facial hair.  Morgan drew mustaches and almost all the female PCV’s which was pretty funny.  Some of the girls’ moustaches actually looked normal which was sort of disturbing. 



Jay and I at stash bash

I cannot adequately finish summing up these conferences without talking about the FOOOOD.  I do not own a refrigerator at my site and have become apathetic when it comes to cooking for myself (pretty much a vegetarian here).  I have pretty much relegated myself to canned tuna, vegetables, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and protein bars my grandparents recently sent.  I have lost about 15 lbs since coming to the Philippines because of paltry amount of calories consumed and all the basketball I have been playing.  So, when these conferences offer buffet all you can eat style meals I always get over zealous.  I go in with the mentality to eat a normal amount of food, but after my first plate of deliciousness my restraint goes out the window.  Eggs, pancakes, bacon for breakfast, fish, pork, salad, TACOs for lunch and dinner!  So, after these conferences I can always be found on the toilet for the next 2-3 days feeling like I’m about to give birth.  We only have one more conference left in our service and that is when we COS (close of service).  I will go in with the same mentality, but once I see the food my resolve will be broken again I’m afraid. 

I had to preface the food because the following day after the conference most PCV’s went back to Manila to fly home, get medical done, go on vacation, etc.  As I had mentioned in my last blog; a group of 5 of us (Morgan, Brad, Ian, Steph, myself) went up to Northern Luzon to hike Mt. Apuyao .  Since my gluttonous ways got the better of me again, I was forced to take an Immodium the night before we left to keep my bowls in check.  There is nothing worse than going on a 3 day hike having to stop every hour to use the “bathroom.” 
We left Manila bound for Banaue on Saturday evening at about 10 PM.  This bus ride was pretty miserable because we were assigned seats.  I have been on countless bus rides in this country and never have I been assigned a seat to sit in.  As luck would have it, 4 out of the 5 us were assigned to sit in the last two rows of the bus.  The back of the bus is the last place you want to be on an overnight bus ride, it’s almost impossible to sleep because you’re getting bumped around like you’re on an amusement park ride.  8 hours later we arrived in Banaue with about an hour of sleep under our belts.  I had been in communication with a local guide that has lead previous PCV’s on hikes in the Corderilla.  We waited in a little sari sari store for him to arrive, but before he did a random guy came up to us, using our guides name to try to get us to go with him.  He almost had me convinced until he told us the price and then I asked him for his cell phone number.  He claimed he forgot it and we dismissed him and our guides Chris and Barry came and got us.  We didn’t do any hiking the on Sunday because we had to take a 4 hour jeepney ride to our jump off point which was the town of Mayoyao.  I think we were all happy not to hike the first day because of the awful bus ride we had just endured.

2,000 year old rice terraces of Banaue 

The jeepney ride to Mayoyao from Banaue was the nicest and most exhilarating ride I have ever been on... anywhere.   We were on paved cement for about 20% of the ride, navigating through the mountains on a narrow dirt road.  On one side of us was the step mountain side and the other was a cliff that dropped down hundreds of feet.  We passed by countless waterfalls, spectacular views, and tiny villages along the way to Mayoyao.  We arrived at Mayoyao with some real sore butts and stayed at the barangay captains’ house.
We started our hike early Monday morning and headed for the village of Pachay, which lies at the foot of Mt. Apuyao.  It took us about 7.5 hours to get to Pachay and it was probably the easiest leg of the 3 day hike.  The toughest part was the last quarter of the hike which seemed like we had to climb a 1,000 stairs.  This was the most remote village I have seen in the Philippines.  Our guides asked a random family which just happen to have finished building a wooden hut if we could stay with them for the night.  After changing out of our wet clothes we bought a chicken from the family and our guide prepared it the local style…  He took a metal rod or sorts and beat every inch of the chicken to get its blood flowing and also to tenderize the meat.  This is completely different than the way they prepare it here in the coastal areas of the Philippines.  I know it sounds pretty brutal, but it did taste better than the chicken I have here at my site.  We talked to the husband who surprisingly spoke a little English and he told us that 6 of his siblings had passed away.  This was normal for these remote villages because the closest hospital was in Mayoyao, which took us over 7 hours to hike from…  It takes the locals about 4 hours to get to Mayoyao.  To better paint the picture for you back at home.. there are NO roads, NO cars, just “trails”.  All the materials it took to build his house he either carried on his back from Mayoyao (like cement, rebar, etc.)  or went out and got from the forest.  If someone is really sick they have to be carried on a 4 hour hike to the hospital.

Brgy Captain and his family in Mayoyao

Two of the many waterfalls we came across

Filling up the Digitek bottle!

We departed the next morning to hike the remaining 7 hours from Pachay to the top of Mt. Amuyao.  This was the most difficult leg of the hike due to the lack of trails to follow.  Our guides warned us about leeches that were prevalent on this part of the hike.  Morgan got four leeches on her leg and I go two on my butt (which I didn’t notice until the hike was over in the shower).  We hiked through rivers, across 2,000 year old rice terraces built into the mountain side, waterfalls where we filled up on water, and through wet and dry sections.  The last part of the hike we climbed/crawled up a very steep section that took us to the top of Amuyao.  The view from the top of the mountain was awesome!  The various mountain peaks of the Cordillera growing above the clouds, you could see 100’s of kilometres in all directions.  The view alone made the 15 or so hours of hiking to get to the peak worth it.  There is a radio tower on the top with a staff that had built a new house to live in…  We stayed in their abandon rest house with no electricity.  There was a fireplace, but no chimney so we had to choose whether to smoke ourselves out to stay warm or use the blankets we had bought our first day in Banue.  We kept the fire going until we couldn’t stand the smoke any more than put it out and went to bed. 

Our second night in Pachay

At the top of Mt. Amuyao w/ Morgan

Group picture

The third and final day of the hike we made our descent to the town of Barlig.  It was about a 4 hour hike down the other side of the mountain.  There were stairs built into the mountain to make the descent much easier, but the stairs were quite narrow so we had to go down sideways most of the hike.  During the hike down we crossed paths with quite a few Filipinos from Barlig that were bringing fuel up to the radio tower to help power their generators.  Some had 20 and others had 40 litres of fuel attached to bamboo poles slung over their shoulder.  The only way the radio tower was able to get fuel was to hire these local people from Barlig to lug fuel up to the peak for 350 pesos (around 8 dollars).  The entire hike is extremely steep and we were all feeling it just coming down the mountain with ¼ of the weight they had.  The Filipino mountain dwelling people are extremely rugged. 

We spent the night in Barlig and departed the next day to meet about 20 other PCV’s in Sagada for thanksgiving.  Sagada was about 2 hours from Barlig and the hometown of both of our guides.  We had a nice thanksgiving dinner where everyone in attendance was required to cook or contribute something.  Morgan and I cooked an improvised apple/banana crisp.. there were NO leftovers.  Probably because we were heavy-handed on the butter and sugar…  On Friday morning we met up with our guides again to do one last activity before we made our way back to Manila; we went caving in one of Sagada’s four famous caves.  There were crazy rock formations, underground rivers/ponds, bats, and everything one can think of a cave would entail.  Our guides were great guys that did our entire 3 day hike in rubber sandals and carried all of our food and cooking materials.  Really going to try and make my way back up north to try do another hike with them before I head back to the states next year. 
Awesome formation in the cave
Our guides, Chris and Barry

Cavin' in Sagada

We left Friday afternoon from Sagada and headed south the Baguio City.  Morgan and I had already been there in July after our surf trip, so we just hung out went to dinner and had a few beers and took the overnight bus in Manila.  Needless to say I was pretty exhausted on Saturday, so I just laid around the pension house and rested my sore legs.  I got back to Buenavista last Sunday. 

I finished our CRM training design workshop proposal on Monday and turned it into the provincial government for approval.  Tomorrow I will be going to our sanctuary to help start to construct our catwalk for our guardhouse.  We will be building a 100 meter catwalk that jets out into the ocean so our bantay dagat boat can dock at the end of it.  Our guardhouse will be built about 75 meters out on the catwalk.  We are hoping to finish the guardhouse by January to start organizing trainings for the local community on how to conduct bio physical assessments, put on a bantay dagat training to deputize more members for enforcement of the sanctuary, and continue environmental education to the local schools. 

The regular season of our basketball league came to a close this past Friday.  We have the 2nd seed for playoffs out of 8 teams; the playoffs will start sometime next week.  The format is double elimination round robin style, so our first game will be against the 7th seed.  The police grabbed the first seed for the playoffs and I was up in Luzon when our teams played.  I hope we finish the playoffs before I head to Bohol for Christmas.  I have been waiting all year for revenge on the police; my neighbour is a policeman and is constantly reminding me who the champions are.  I probably won’t post another update until I get back from Christmas/New Years so.. Merry Christmas to everyone back home.  I can’t believe it’s my second Christmas in the Philippines.
Dason lang

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sports Festing!!

The month of October has been relatively slow because my counterpart is the head of the sports committee.  Consequently, I have been stuck in the office writing a proposal to our Provincial government for a budget for my next project…writing a coastal resource management plan for my municipality.    After we finish implementing our sanctuary, which I hope will be complete by January or February I’ll start on the CRM plan.  The plan is a comprehensive view of fisheries in Buenavista which will include a workshop for barangay captains and leaders of people’s organizations in all barangays that contain fisherfolk.  Exercises will include, but not limited to: discussion on what a CRM plan is and why is it needed, cover coastal ordinances, coastal law enforcement; discuss current and future fisheries projects, issues on pollution, illegal fishing, and coastal delineation or zoning of waters between barangays. 

I participated in a tree planting with my fellow municipal employees in a rural barangay the first week of November.  We caravanned it to the nursery which contained about 250-300 tree seedlings.  I personally planted 6 trees and as a group I would venture to guess that we planted 200 trees.  It was the first time I have participated in a tree planting here in my municipality.  It was a fun morning where I was able to meet a lot of other employees.  My office is not connected to the municipal hall and as a result, we are sort of segregated.      

In mid-October our municipality had a parade to kick off the 2.5 month long sports fest.  There is an inter-agency basketball league, which I am playing in.  There are 8 teams in the league: White House which includes municipal employees (my team), water district, educators, association of barangay captains, police, Buenavista business owners, fathers of St. Nino catholic school, and navy.  There is also a volleyball and basketball league for under 16 youth.  There are games going on almost every day in the gym, so it’s a lot of fun…. But not much work gets accomplished unfortunately.  The fest leads up to our municipal fiesta which is on January 15.

Tomorrow, I will be heading to Manila for MST (Mid Service Training) which starts on Wednesday.  Saturday and Sunday I will be hanging out at Morgan’s site and then I have to return to Manila for a dental check up on Monday morning.  I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t a little nervous for this affair.  Filipinos love sweet foods and soda, although I have lost about 15 lbs since coming here I think my teeth have taken a beating.  I have drunk more soda than I probably ever have since I was 12 in this country.  Anyway I’ll let you know how my teeth fair in the dentist chair on my next update.  So, MST is Wednesday-Saturday, and then 4 other PCV’s and myself are heading up to Northern Luzon to hike Mt. Amuyao. (http://www.pinoymountaineer.com/2008/05/mt-amuyaotraverse.html)  Mt. Amuyao is one of the highest peaks in the Philippines and will take us 2-3 days depending on our pace.  I have been in contact with a guide that many other previous PCV’s have used for hikes.  I’m really looking forward to finding some cooler weather and getting out of dodge for a few weeks.  After our hike we will be meeting up with 20+ PCV’s for Thanksgiving.  Keeping my fingers crossed that one of us can find a turkey! 
Dason lang

Parade through town proper for opening of Sports Fest

Teams gathering for opening ceremony (Gym in background)

PULIS raising the Filipine flag.  Police man on the right was last years MVP

Thursday, October 13, 2011

1 year remaining..

I am almost through rainy season which has been a grrrrrind to say the least.  Two weeks back we had our worst typhoon (at least here on my island).   It provided extremely powerful winds and rains that never seem to want to quit.  We were without power for about 18 hours and no work gets done during these typhoons because nobody wants to go outside.  They are a test your mental capacity to its utmost breaking point.. I think I spent most of my time reading, attempting to cook food, sleeping, and getting munched on by mosquitos.
I had some ringworm that I have since gotten under control thanks to the wonders of anti-fungal cream.  I had a mosquito bite on the back of my leg that got infected and it turned into ringworm.  Not the most pleasant thing to be sporting on the back of your leg, so I am glad that is gone now.  I am training for a ½ marathon in mid-December and I have developed some gnarly blisters in between my pinky and next bigger toe (not sure what that one is called).  Other than that I am as healthy as I can be.       
In the month of September my counterpart and I progressed on implementing our sanctuary in Avila.  We have elected a management committee made up of influential stakeholders in the community and also representatives from the local government unit.  The management committee wrote a resolution to the municipal government stating that the marine sanctuary was to be protected and enforced.  Currently, it is being reviewed by a committee called the SB and should be enacted into law by the end of October. 
We conducted environmental education to Avila elementary school; students were composed of 5th and 6th grade students, about 50-60 kids.  I lectured on the establishment of the sanctuary and the significance of conserving marine resources.  My counterpart gave a lecture on organic farming and my supervisor made some opening remarks.  The overwhelming majority of students come from households reliant on on fishing, so it was a very relevant lecture.  In closing, we invited the students to participate in a coastal clean-up that I had organized the following week…. And or course took lots of pictures!

An engaged and enthusiastic student asking me a question

We had our coastal clean-up in front of our sanctuary on the last Sunday in September.  Much to our delight about 30-40 kids from the elementary school came to participate in the clean-up.  Other participants included the barangay council of Avila, 4-H club of Guimaras (out of school youth), and local fisherfolk.  We spent about 1.5 hours cleaning up the beach and found some interesting things: diapers, batteries, clothes, sandals, beer/liquor bottles, and tons of plastic.  It was a really great event to raise awareness not only about our sanctuary, but the deterioration of coastal resources due to the immense pollution problem here in the Philippines.  We still have two more schools to conduct environmental education to; one more elementary school and one high school.

Cleanin' the beach

Majority of the participants 

I got on the municipal basketball team again!  The season starts October 29th and there is 8 teams participating in the league.  I do not think the mayor is going to be playing with us this year because he injured his back a few months back.  We tended to get more whistles in our favour when he was playing with us because he is the mayor after all.  I’m hoping he is at least on the bench so the referees can sense his presence.  We should have another strong team that will contend for the championship again.  I am hoping I do not get injured like I did last year when I broke my thumb in the semi-finals against the Police who eventually went on to win the league.
This weekend I am headed to Bacolod City for Masskara festival.  It is the equivalent of Mardi Gras here in the Philippines… well almost, I don’t think there are any beads involved.  There are teams that compete in dancing, costume, best mask, etc.  About 25 PCVs will be going and most of us are staying in a school sleeping on mats.  I’m looking forward to enjoying this festival that everyone in my region talks about.   
Dason lang,

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

life after mumpzz

I am officially recovered from my cause of mumps.. However, I do have some sort of mosquito bite that got infected on the back of my leg that is “healing”  I am really lazy with my blog updates and am consciously trying to make some extra efforts to keep them coming quicker. 
Leaving off from my last post I was in Barotac Neuvo doing a lecture on CRM & PeaceCorps Philippines with some other PCV’s.  I arrived back home and continued work at our tilapia hatchery with my counterpart.  We sexted and segregated over 150 tilapia to cross bread the two different strains of fish we have in our hatchery (see pictures).  It was very difficult at first to identify the difference between male and female tilapia because of their similar looking reproductive organs.  My counterpart gave me some pointers and I eventually caught on, but we spent about 4 hours going through fish. 
I was at PCV- Brads site in Buruanga, Aklan which is in Northwest Panay island last week conducting scuba bio physical assessments.  Along with 4 other PCV’s (all male) we did 9 dives in three days assessing corals and fish.  5 guys in a nipa hut that is about the size of a kitchen in America was quite interesting.  We rotated every night so everyone was able to sleep on the “bed.”  It was my first time to get up there and it was quite different than my site… Lots of mountains areas that run along the beach, where as in at my site all the “hilly” areas are towards the middle of the island.  It was great to finally do some diving in the Philippines.  I came into that week with 1 local dive and left with 10 under my belt, so I am hoping my dive luck is finally changing. 
As everyone knows I am setting up my sanctuary… We had our 2nd meeting this past Monday (see pictures) and it went great.  I was able to set up a meeting on Saturday to elect a management committee to oversee the sanctuary and write laws/ordinances, scheduled a coastal clean-up in front of the sanctuary for next  Saturday, and some environmental education for a local elementary school on Tuesday.  My goal for our sanctuary to open sometime in December and it is looking like we will achieve that goal.  Everyone that I have been working with through this process has been really motivated which makes my life a lot easier.   I will be quite busy the next two weeks with the meetings/projects I have scheduled. 
The last Wednesday in September all the volunteers on my island will be getting together to celebrate PeaceCorps Philippines 50th anniversary.  There are 6 volunteers on my island and they included Coastal Resource Management, Education, and Child Youth and Family Development.  We will be having an event with out of school youth that has an aspect of all of our respective sectors.  For me, we will be doing a climate change lecture and teaching the kids how to build plastic bottle bricks with left over plastic and trash. 
In other news.. I am thinking about transferring (moving) to another place.  I am feeling very claustrophobic at my current place because of the lack of open space.  I went and saw a nipa hut last night with on my friends that is a lot more rural than my current housing.  The hut is made out of bamboo and nipa which is a local plant here they use for roofing.  It is quite rustic, but with the necessary renovations I want to try to move in around November or December. 

I participated in an indoor soccer tournament two weeks back in Guimbal, Elliotts site.  There were about 12 teams that signed up to play in the tournament.  Our team name was PCFC (peacecorps futbal club) and we had 8 PCV’s come to Guimbal to play.  We made it to the semi-final game and it went into a shootout… Unfortunately I missed the penalty kick and we ended up losing and getting 3rd place in the tournament.  It wasn’t my entire fault, I ended up led the team in scoring, so I didn’t feel too bad about blowing the penalty shot… At least that was my logic.  Not too bad for a bunch of volunteers who are really out of shape and don’t play soccer on a regular basis.  We will be back next year and are gunning for the title. 

My parents made their flight reservations to come to the Philippines which is quite exciting.  I am looking forward to taking them around my site as well as to Boracay and Coron.  We are going to do some diving at some amazing places and I am sure they are going to blown away by the underwater beauty.   I have been here for over a year now and have not had one visitor come from the States so I am really looking forward to it. 
Hope everyone is doing well at home and I will try to be more diligent about posting.
Dason lang

Counterpart (middle) and caretakers in pond

Sexting a tilapia

Friday, August 19, 2011

RRR... mga Mumps, Manila, CRM Lecture

Hey hey hey-

I’m back in Buenavista with quite a lot to catch you all up on… Some of it good, or even great news…other pretty dreadful, so sit back and enjoy this one.  Also a side note, yesterday was the mark of my FIRST YEAR in the Philippines.  I cannot believe I have been here for a year already, time has really gone by fast!
As I had mentioned in a previous blog post I bought some scuba gear recently (BCD and regulator).  Since, there are not too many dive sites (1) within 7 hours of my site I am going to have to either get on a plane or a long bus ride to dive.  So, the first weekend of August I planned on going to Anilao to break in my NEW dive gear.   Anilao is about two hours south of Manila and one of the more popular dive spots in the Philippines because of its close proximity to Manila.  I woke up the day before I was supposed to get on a plane to Manila with two pretty significantly sized lumps under my jawline.  So, I immediately got on a boat to go to the hospital in Iloilo.  I saw an ear, nose, and throat specialist who told me I had a block salivary gland and prescribed me some anti inflammatories and some sort of mouth rinse.  He said I was ok to get on a plane, but diving would be a bad idea because of the combination of pressure and swelling.  I woke up the next morning and the swelling had gone down and I felt way better. 

I decided to get on the airplane and spend the weekend at Morgan’s site instead (3 hours south of Manila).  However, my sickness only got worse throughout the weekend and I woke up on Sunday morning with my face looking like it had been in ring with Manny Pacquiao for 10 rounds.  My face was swollen out to my cheekbones and I had trouble opening my mouth to brush my teeth, eat, I had a fever of over 100 degrees, hot and cold sweats, sharp pains in my forehead area, etc.  So, I spent most of Sunday sleeping while Morgan got me more pills from the “pharmacy” and cooked me a cream of corn soup.  Major thanks go out to her for putting up with my sub-par attitude for three days!

I took the first van to Manila on Monday, August 8th at 4:30AM because I had a meeting with some PeaceCorps staff about my grant and also to see a PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) about my face.  I arrived back in Manila around 7 AM and went straight to the office to turn in my last remaining documents for my grant.  I then got checked out by a PCMO who immediately diagnosed me with parotitus… aka MUMPS!  Considering this is the first time I have been sick in the Philippines parotitus isn’t the worst thing in the world.  Some other illness common here among volunteers are: amoebas, intestinal worms, dengue fever, hookworm…  So not so bad, always got to look at the glass as half full as a PCV.   I was put on medical stay by the PCMO and told to report back to the office the next morning for a check up.

 I received a text from P.C. staff later that afternoon saying my grant was approved and I would be getting my money on September 1st!  Finally after two months of writing and revising I got the funding secured and immediately texted my counterpart with the good news.  We were both very excited and will start working on the long implementation process in early September.  This was the one piece of good news that I received while in Manila.  If anyone wants a copy of my proposal just let me know. 

So, I went back to the office on Tuesday the 9th for a check up and there were no signs of improvement.  I ended up sleeping in a little makeshift hospital room they have at the office for ½ the day on Tuesday.  PCMO made me another appointment to come back on Thursday which I did.  There was improvement, but still not enough for me to get cleared back to site.  I finally started to feel better on Friday.  While I was not quite 100% I felt better, but the PCMO decided to keep me for the weekend just in case. 

Being sick always sucks no matter where you are, but it sucks even more when you’re in Manila..alone.  Walking around doing menial tasks like… trying to find food while constantly being harassed by beggars, lady boys, pimps, and street vendors is very taxing.  I almost exploded a few times because of combination of the heat, illness, noise, smell, and constant pestering I felt.  Don’t get me wrong I felt like this because I was sick and it amplified everything to a new level, but these things one needs to accept when in Manila.  I pretty much spent most of my days sleeping, trying to find food, drinking copious amounts of water, avoiding mosquitos, watching shows on my computer, and reading.   I stayed at PeaceCorps Pension house which is pretty similar to a hostel.  I had my own room with a fan, so I didn’t have to sleep in a dorm with 12-15 other strangers.. that was a plus.

There were finally some other PCV’s that came to Manila on Friday evening and by then I started to feel like myself.  It was nice to be social for a change .. I was a reclose for 5 or 6 days there.  Saturday Morgan and I went to Chinatown and Rizal Park, both places I haven’t been yet in Manila and I enjoyed them very much.  Sunday we went to a farmers market and was completely blown away.  There was music, crafts, so much foooooooooooood… bbq, thai, vegetarian options, French, Mexican, burgers.  It was unlike anything I had seen before in this country, really reminded me of home and will definitely be returning next time I am rolling through Manila.

I went back to P.C. office on Monday the 15th (marking 1 week in Manila) to get medically released and finally was successful.  They bought me a flight back to site later that afternoon.  I spent Monday and ½ of Tuesday back in Buenavista and departed for Barotac Nuevo to conduct a lecture on (CRM) Coastal Resource Management at Iloilo State College of Fisheries (ISCOF). 

All of the CRM volunteers on my islands have counterparts who graduated from ISCOF, so we were invited to give a lecture on CRM and also PeaceCorps.  It was one of the more rewarding experiences I have had here in the Philippines.  The audience was made up of about 150-200 fishery, eco tourism, graduate students, professors, and other staff.  We presented on Wednesday morning starting at around 9 A.M. and finished our lecture at around 11.  There was then about an hour Q&A session with the audience.  I personally presented on PeaceCorps Philippines and my main project at my site, implementing a Marine Protected Area.  The audience was really engaged.. taking notes, asking questions, one of them even asked if they could help us with some our projects at site.  We got invited to give the same lecture at the same college and at another college in Nortern Iloilo province as well.  After we finished our part of the program we were given really nice certificates of participation (Filipino culture) and we had lunch with some of the professors.  They all had taught our various counterparts and told us funny stories about them.  My counterpart was MR. ISCOF, at some point when he was a student there hahaha!  Overall it was a great few days and I am looking forward to going back sometime next year to do another lecture. 


Lecture on MPA's

PCV's with fisheries students

That’s all I got for now.  I’ll keep everyone updated on how my MPA implementation goes over the next 4-6 weeks. 
Halong gid!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Surfing, Cold, MPA pa..

CRM news… The main focus still is getting my MPA up and running.  I submitted my grant for a little over 3,000 dollars to PeaceCorps and USAID the last week of June.  It was reviewed and I received some constructive criticism from the panel.  So, the month of July has seen me tweaking and revising my VEG proposal.  Since, this will be the first Marine Protected Area in Buenavista, PeaceCorps thought our proposed sanctuary was too large.  I shrunk it from 50 to 20 hectares and from two to one barangay, Avila.  This makes sense; however since I already conducted community meetings with the two barangays in June this created a minor issue.  I had to go back and re inform both communities that the MPA would be shrunk to 20 hectares and only Avila would be receiving the MPA.  I am aiming to re submit the proposal by today (Tuesday) or tomorrow.  When the proposal is passed though the committee funds will be availed to me within 4 to 6 weeks.  I am really excited to finish the proposal and get down to the information drive to the community and the whole implementation process once the funds are transferred.  The process is so long and drawn out it has tested my patience and stress level on a number of levels.  If anyone who reads this blog is curious of how I wrote it or what a VEG proposal looks like you can e mail me and I will be happy to send you a copy of the proposal.  I also have been going out with my counterpart and monitoring our many tilapia hatcheries.   We were in San Fernando last week to change three large nets that contained about 5,000 fingerlings.  It is important to keep the water and nets clean and free of bacteria and other parasites to minimize our mortality rate. 
In social and community news… I have been going over to my counterpart’s house a few times over the last month to help him with the construction of his new rest house.  It is a nice cement house on his property with a CR (bathroom), bedroom, kitchen, and deck.  Its always nice to spent the day over at his place because he has a good amount of land in a barangay which is rather remote.  His wife always cooks a good meal and I get to play with his three kids too.  Who sometimes are more interested in my cell phone games than me. 
It was the mayor’s birthday in July and he had a party/gathering for all the municipal employees.  It was a very long, lasting about 3 hours.  He had his mom and wife make a speech, a slideshow was presented with pictures of him, happy birthday was sung over 8 times.  We finally got to eat with the food being your standard Pinoy party food….Pansit (noodle dish) and lechon baboy (roasted whole pig).  I spoke to the mayor for a few minutes to catch up since I haven’t seen much of him in the last 6 or so weeks.  He told me he is not going to be able to play basketball this season because of a back issue.  He was in the hospital for 3-4 weeks undergoing procedures.  Which leads me to.. I am playing basketball again after a 2 or 3 month hiatus.  Played last Monday for the first time with some fellow municipal employees and boy was I rusty!  I couldn’t get a jumper to fall and was playing some rather weak D to boot.  It was still nice to get back out on the court and play with some cool guys.  The exercise was also an added bonus; the rice might be starting to catch up! 
I went surfing for the first time in the Philippines the first week of July with Morgan.  We went to San Juan which is a municipality about 6 hours north of Manila.  We took an overnight bus from Manila which was rather interesting after we had consumed a few too many beers.  Then we continued to make another bad decision by wolfing down two Jollibee champs (biggest fast food burger in the Philippines) right before we got onto the bus.  Morgan does not really eat burgers very often so her ride was not very enjoyable, haha.  We spent three days there surfing, eating mangoes (that I brought from Guimaras), swimming, and enjoying the sun.  The waves were perfect for Morgan because it was her first time to surf.  She got up on multiple waves and had a great time doing it.  We rented boards for 200 pesos an hour.  The scene in San Juan was very unique, there were minimal western tourist.  The majority of people were either locals or Filipinos from Manila.  There were lots of very good Filipino surfers and the vibe of the place was very laid back.  I definitely will be returning to San Juan sometime in the future because I had such a great time. 
After San Juan we took a two hour bus ride into the mountain town of Baguio.  This is where Manny Pac Man does his training before fights because of the high elevation (5-6,000 ft).  I have not used my fleece or a jacket prior to this trip because the weather here is always hot and humid.  However, Baguio is not your typical city in the Philippines.  It was COLD!!! When I say cold I mean around 50-60 degrees, but when you’re used to 85 plus everyday with high humidity that is cold!  We stayed with another PCV that lives in Baguio and she recommended we try and go to a waterfall half way down the mountain.  It was really beautiful.  About 7 or 8 waterfalls cascading down the mountain side, but the weather was cold and rainy so we weren’t able to hike the whole trail.  Really step green cliffs with the peaks breaking through the clouds.  There is a big Korean population in Baguio and we were told to go to “Korean restaurant” that is the name.  We found it and ended up eating there back to back nights.  The city is very young because of the 5 or 6 universities which makes it very vibrant.  We only were able to stay two nights because I had to get back to Manila to catch my flight home.  We took another overnight bus from Baguio to Manila.  We arrived early in the AM and crashed out at Morgan’s cousins place for a few hours then went to the PeaceCorps office to take care of some work stuff.  Then went out for lunch at one of our favourite restaurants in Manila, a Indian place called Kashmir.  After that we went to a dive shop so I could buy some dive gear.  I got a bcd and regulator now!  I am really eager to use it for a trip to Palawan I have planned for the first week of September.
My parents are also planning on coming to the Philippines for the first two weeks of March.  I am very excited to see my parents and brothers and to show them around the country I have been living in for almost a year now.  They are going to be getting their dive certifications, so we can do lots of diving when they are here.  That’s all for now.  I’ll keep everyone updated on how much VEG grant goes.

Morgan, Febe, Me, and Cousins in Manila

In San Juan

Surfing in the Philippines

Sunset in San Juan

Dason lang-

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I have settled back in at site after some crazy traveling as I have outlined in my past blog post.  Since returning from Morgan’s camp, PDM, and VEG training a lot has progressed with my two main projects at site.  I will begin with the assessments I conducted first being, in Nueva Valencia (Jensen’s site) which is the southernmost municipality on my island.  We did assessments for 4 days at three different sites around his municipality.  We conducted coral and seagrass assessments, snorkeling.  I point this out because it seems like CRM PCV’s in other parts of the Philippines have gotten to scuba dive while doing these assessments.  However, with us being on an island that is 40 km long we don’t have access to compressors to refill tanks.  Sorry for the rant…..  Jensen lives in a small nipa hut…. Steph (PCV in Jordan) and myself were there to help with the assessments.  Needless to say trying to find a place to sleep was an adventure.  I slept on the floor which is made up of bamboo and Jensen’s “mat.”  This entails a 1 to 2 inch thick mat that you blow air into.  Steph, being the only girl got the bed and Jensen was relegated to the hammock outside.  The mosquitoes were also quite bothersome.. We all got tons of bits during the night, so Jensen had to sleep in sweatpants tucked into his socks and a long sleeve shirt.  The first day we did seagrass assessments and were all viciously attacked by tiny jellyfish.  I was in the water for about 1 hour and had to get out because my whole body was getting stings all over it.  There are tons of little jellyfish, some you can see and some you can’t all over here in the Philippines.  The silver lining…. Jensen was a great cook for us… making vegetables and rice every night, WELL DONE SIR!
The next week was assessments at Steph’s site, in Jordan.  This is the capital municipality of Guimaras and a neighboring municipality of Buenavista.  PCV’s helping with the assessment were Steph, Elliott, Laura, and myself.  We spent 4 days assessing 2 different sites for a potential MPA that Steph wants to implement, snorkeling of course.  One of the highlights of this week was the awesome lunches we got to eat on the bantay dagat (coastguard) boat everyday.  In the AM we would head to the market and get fresh fish, rice, and veggies.  The PCV’s would do assessments in the morning and the bantay dagat would have some awesome grilled fish for us right when we got back.  Additionally, we found a little cave that had two holes or passage ways under the water that we swam through.  Overall both assessments in Nueva and Joran went well and we got some really good data for Jensen and Steph to use in the future.  I also was able to meet some representatives from NGO’s in Guimaras that I can tap for future projects.

Some brain coral in Nueva

Jensen's gnarly rash from either fire coral or jellyfish

N.V. Assessment Team

I came back to site with a newfound vigor and enthusiasm to my MPA project off the ground.  The MPA will be affecting two different barangays, so my counterpart and I went off to set up meetings with the two barangay councils.  These are like city councils, the lowest level of government that exists in the Philippines.  The first week of June we went to brgy Avila and the second week we went to brgy Umilig.  I presented the data we gathered during our assessments in February and also presented on what an MPA is and why it should be implemented in their specific baranagay.  The meetings went pretty well, but you can never expect anything to run smoothly. 

Brgy Avila thought that since the MPA is contained more in their brgy that they should have more say when we form the management council.  Brgy Umilig wanted to move the entire MPA to the north, taking it completely out of Avila and into the neighboring brgy to the north.  With the help of my counterpart and supervisor we were able to convince them to leave the proposed site as is.  Next week were trying to conduct a joint meeting between Avila and Umilig to get on the same page.  With the goal being to get a management committee formed and a barangay resolution written.  The resolution will then be passed on to municipal hall to enact the MPA into law. I am about 75% done with my VEG grant in which I am requesting 3,500 dollars for a plethora of items to get the MPA up and running.  Will have the grant submitted by Friday and hope to hear back from PeaceCorps by late next week. 

Presenting to brgy council of Avila

Avila brgy council

Lecture in Umilig

Counterpart breaking it down

Brgy council of Umilig and myself

Seal of Avila.  Map of Guimaras... Buenavista is in blue, jordan red, and nueva green.

BACKFLIP off the bantay dagat boat in Jordan!

Today we conducted our tilapia in cages aquaculture training to some beneficiaries (local farmers) for alternative livelihood.  There were representatives from my office, the provincial government, and the bureau of fisheries and aquatic resources for my region of the Philippines.  If you remember this was the grant my counterpart and I wrote back in November for 50,000 pesos…. Were just starting the project now.  Even though it is taking so long to get going it is going to be really helpful to the farmers, we are projecting they will make around 6,000 pesos per month.

I am just about at 10 months in country and I cannot believe it has gone by this fast.  It seems like times goes by at a snails pace or too fast.  As I look back at almost a year in country it is really amazing the amount of new friends and relationships I have developed here in the Philippines….. both, PCV’s and my Filipino friends.  I am happy with my experience here so far, trying sometimes but very rewarding.  I know when I go back home in a little over a year I will be a completely different person from the one that came here in August.  Those are my words of wisdom/deep thoughts.  Halong mga migs!
Dason lang

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Patience is a virtue

Maayong adlaw mga partes!

Its been quite a long time since I have posted a blog update, and for that I am sorry.  According to my blog its been since March, 8th the last entry was put up, yikes.  However, I have come to work today (Monday May, 16th) ready to redeem myself for the lack of regard for my blog and its loyal followers.  So much has happened since early March here I really do not know where to start.  I have settled into my place rather nicely and only need to purchase some curtains and some flooring to make it complete.  I have been doing some “cooking” which entails pasta, fish and rice, and lots of peanut butter and bread.  Also, summer has been here for the past 6 weeks.  This is my first summer here in the Philippines and it has been pretty treacherous.  The heat and humidity are stifling; it is really similar to Southeastern summers with the humidity.  However, the one thing most Americans take for granite is AC, which we do not have much of here in the Philippines. So, there is not much relief except for taking multiple showers.. usually one in the morning, one at lunch, and one before bed.  I have developed a few small heat rashes that I also got during training when we first arrived here in mid August.  They have not been too bad, just have to throw some ointment on them and put some baby powder to dry the area out.  So, I shall transition from my ranting about the heat to some CRM work I have accomplished in the past 2 months.

I just came back from 20 plus day trip around the Philippines for work travel that has taken me to Calatagan (Morgan’s site) for a environmental youth camp, Manila (where I missed my flight back to site), Bacolod city (5 day long Project Design Management training, and Sagay (week long Volunteers for Environmental Governance training).  Starting with Morgan’s youth camp.. I spent 3-4 days prior to going to her site preparing lectures and games for the kids.  There were 5 PCV’s that pretty much ran the entire camp from morning till evening.  I presented on some various topics which included: Materials Recovery Facilties/ Recycling, Interconnectivity of Ecosystems, Water Saftey Training, and Tropical Reef Fish.  The camp went really well except for the last day when we took the entire camp (80 kids) snorkeling at a mangrove island.  The US Ambassador to the Philippines, head of PeaceCorps Philippines, and the head our sector (Coastal Resouce Management) were there as well.  So, Morgan had to leave the boat where we were helping kids snorkel to meet everyone.  Due to lack of communication which tends to happen here every once in a while.  Me and the other 3 PCV’s were stuck on the boat for over 2 hours waiting for the rest of the kids to come snorkel.  We got on the boat around 9 AM and finished with the snorkeling at 2:30 with some gnarly sunburns to prove it.  However, we were rewarded for our hard work at a cocktail party that was put on by the Ambassador, PeaceCorps, and USAID.  The party was held at the clubhouse of a golf course in Calatagan.. I know what your thinking…. PeaceCorps Volunteers and golf courses shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence or even same paragraph.  But, Calatagan is a really nice municipality which is pretty affluent due the close proximity to Manila.  The party was awesome… free food and beer and we got to “mingle” with the Ambassador, our Country Director, and some high ranking USAID people.  Some of the kids from the camp got to come as well, which was a great experience for them.  The camp gave me some motivation to start working with kids at my site.  It was awesome to see how much the kids learned and how into the camp they were.  I have been doing all fisheries work here and I hope to start working more with kids in the future.

The 5 of us at the youth camp... Peace Corps Volunteers planting trees, shocking

Water Safety Lecture

 I departed Calatagan to go to Manila to catch my flight back to my site (for 1 day) before I had to go to Bacolod for PDM.  However, usually a 3 hour bus ride took over 6 hours and I missed my flight.  So, I just stayed in Manila for two nights and grabbed a flight straight to Bacolod instead of going back to my site.  This presented one problem…I brought enough clothes for one week.  I was planning on going back to my site to grab more clothes before PDM and VEG conferences which were back to back.  I was not going to be returning to my site until May 14th, I left for the camp on April 21st.  Needless to say my clothes were pretty ragged and disgusting by the time I came back to site yesterday.  I was the brunt of many dirty/vagrant jokes during PDM and VEG.  PDM was helpful… all counterparts and PCV’s came to receive training on how to properly design a project that can be implemented and become successful over the long run here.  The project that my counterpart and I worked on was the implementation of our MPA.  We came up with a pretty solid plan that we are going to try to implement throughout the next few months here.  We also received training on the various types of grants and funding opportunities we can apply for a PCV’s in the Philippines to help assist us with projects down the line.  (Best part of the training)

After Bacolod the PCV’s and counterparts took a two hour bus ride north to Sagay City for VEG training/ coral gardening.  Sagay has a giant marine reserve and three well managed MPA’s with great corals.  The first four days were lectures about how they established the reserve and other ways they manage it.  The last 3 days were the best because we were all able to get out in the water.  The first day we visited an MPA on a nearby island and had lunch and did some snorkeling.  We meet with the community members who are really environmentally conscience.  The last two days were coral gardening training.. Tyler and Elliott (two other PCV’s) put this whole thing together and therefore get a major props and a shout out on my blog.  We went around a reef and found fragments that had fallen off corals and were in the sand, but still alive.  We then cut the corals into smaller pieces and wound them into a rope about 50 ft long.  Also we put more fragments into mesh nets that were tied to pvc pipes which we then zip tied to a table underwater.  Lastly, we did coral transplantation in which we made our own epoxy and “glued” on the broken off corals to a barren rock.  Our trainers were local Filipinos that were the authority on coral gardening, not only in this country, but in SE Asia.

Our banca during coral gardening.  Looks like a postcard

Me swimming under the coral ropes, PCV's & counterparts put  together 15 ropes with coral frags attached.

Me tying the rope to metal table.  There are about 25-30 little coral fragments tied into the rope.
Now that I am back at my site.. Actually, only for today because I am going to help another PCV on Tuesday- Friday with assessments because he is also proposing to implement an MPA at his site.  So, I will be leaving this evening to make the trip to Jensen’s site.  We will be doing seagrass/coral assessments and fish identification as well.  It was nice to be able to attend these conferences with my counterpart to put us back on track again.  We were staring to fall off a bit before the conferences and I can see he is motivated again to get our MPA implemented. 

CRM plans for June: The first week of June I will start to write a VEG grant for funding for our MPA, meet with the mayor to secure 25% of the funding from the LGU (Local Government Unit in which I work in)  which is required to get VEG grants.  Set up a meeting with the Department of Education head to see if I can start to get into some high schools and set up an environmental club for high school students and out of school youth.  Lastly, we will be setting up our Tilapia hatchery here in June as well which I spoke about during my last blog post.  So, things are starting to get busy which is a great thing! 

Vacation/Social Plans: I will be heading back to my training site.. BANATE for fiesta on June 24th.  Really looking forward to seeing my host family whom was so good to me during my first three months in the Philippines.  It seems like so long ago when we all left for our sites in mid November.  I have booked a trip for 4th of July weekend to go SURFING in San Juan with Morgan.  It is about a 4-5 hour bus ride north of Manila.  First time I will be able to surf since I left the states, almost 10 months.  I booked a trip to Vietnam in February as well.  Hope everyone enjoyed reading about a few highlights of my life in these last two months.  I will try and be more diligent when it comes to updates. 
Dason lang-