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