Christmas and new years has come and gone for the last time while I’m here in the Philippines. I have mixed emotions about it; it will be strange to be going home and not being able to walk into a mall, or just outside from September –December and hear Christmas music blaring. I have always been a pretty big fan of Christmas and the Filipinos definitely know how to play it up to another level that westerners cannot comprehend until they experience it. On the other side of the coin, I will be aiming to be back home in so cal sometime in early to mid-December. I do miss some of the Christmas traditions at home like the gluttonous seafood meal we always eat on X mas eve and the meat based dinner on X mas evening.
My first Christmas here I spent with all other PCV’s at a site that is only about 1 hour away from me. We stayed in the seediest place in town because it was so cheap. I remember there being mosquito larva in the toilet, strange black hairs all over the place, a shower that didn’t work, and a fan that sounded like one of those M1 Abrams tanks cruising down the street in Kabul. Of course, we made the best of it and had a great time though.
My Christmas this year was completely different. I went to Bohol and the small attached island called Panglao to meet up with Morgan and her family for 6 days. Panglao is just like Boracay (where I spent new years 2011, but smaller and less congested). I got picked up at the wharf and driven to the hotel which was magnificent! We had our town upper level which consisted of three rooms with air con, tile floors, king sized beds, and a balcony. The first night the hotel had a Christmas party, Filipino style which consisted of lechon baboy (whole roasted pork/if you have been reading this blog you have got to know what lechon is by now. I will no longer be inserting parentheses to describe this dish), giant grouper, rice, lumpia (fried Filipino egg rolls), and MANGO FLOAT which is the best Filipino dessert everrr. After dinner there were fire dancers and I was obligated (by morgan) to go up and let them spin fire three inches from my face and body. We went on three dives the next day to a reef about 30 mins away by banca. It was some of the best diving I have done, ever. We saw 4 turtles, a massive school of jack fish that we swam under and around, tuna, barracuda, beautiful corals, and eels. Our guides were pretty awesome as well; they took a ton of pictures and a video of us swimming with the school of jacks.
|Eel in the wall|
The next day we went to the Bohol Bee Farm which keeps thousands of bees and they use their honey in almost all their food products. It is also and environmentally friendly resort that composts their waste to grow fresh herbs and of course the bees help with the many beautiful flowers. We had lunch at the bee farm and Morgan ordered a salad with tons of edible brightly coloured flowers. I bought some Banana chips covered in honey and a coriander spread that is really good on crackers or toast.
|Some bees at the farm|
Another day consisted of seeing the tarsiers, which is the world’s smallest primate. They are only found in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. We went to the country’s only tarsier sanctuary where our entrance fee went to protecting this endangered species from poaching. At the sanctuary we were able to see the animal in its native habitat. There are many places you can go in Bohol to hold the animal, but they are kept in cages and only live 2-3 years while in cages.
Morgans dad, brother, her brothers girlfriend, and I did two more dives at the house reef on Panglao. Our first dive was a wall dive which was really cool; saw lots of eels hiding in little holes in the wall, pipefish, trumpet fish, frogfish (they look exactly like soft coral), and stone fish that blend into the wall using their distinctive colours. The second dive we did was in a marine sanctuary which was nice as well; the coolest thing I saw was a giant grouper hiding behind some coral. I called the other divers over to check it out but, I ended up scaring it away before anyone could look at it. Some other highlights of the trip included some awesome dinners… I had steak, risotto, good wine, and lamb for the first time in the Philippines. Her family left on the morning of the 30th and Morgan and I headed for Cebu City to meet up with some PCV’s for new years.
|Beach on Panglao|
It was a quick reality check when we checked into our hostel for the night in Cebu City coming from the complete and utter decadence that we experience in Panglao. Long story short, we all ended up moving to another hostel for NYE night. NYE was fun, we arrived at a pretty nice restaurant that apparently closed at 9 P.M. We arrived at 830 and just kind of sat around waiting for a waiter to give us a menu and by the time he did he said the kitchen was closed. Thanks to some really hungry and angry PCV’s we got them to open up the kitchen and got some free drinks and appetizers out of the deal. I just ended up going to the deli and got a pastrami sandwich (2nd deli sandwich in 17 months) I couldn’t resist. After our dinner we took a taxi to a café/bar that overlook the city and watched an amazing firework “show.” When I say show it was tens of thousands of people around the city lighting off their own fireworks. From 1145-1230 the sky was constantly illuminated with fireworks; I was amazed at the amount of people that were lighting off their own fireworks at their houses.
I headed back to Buenavista on Sunday, New Years day completely exhausted from all the traveling I had done in the past 8 days. We are in the midst of our municipal fiesta from January 6-15th now and its quite crazy around here. Our basketball team played three games last week, since we qualified for the final four. We lost two and won one, which means we play for third place on January 13th. The police completely destroyed us, and the water district and firemen beat us by 3 points. I was really confident in our team this year, but we are just too slow and lazy. Nobody likes to get back on defence to defend the fast break and it ended up costing us in a big way.
We had our LGU Christmas party on December 24th which is always fun. I sat at the mayors table and met some of his extended family that live in the states and Canada. There was lechon, tons of fish, games, dancing, and our LGU hired two girls from Iloilo to basically sing karaoke to us off a laptop. We had a gift exchange and I received…… wait for it…… 8 plastic plates!!!
I have settled into my new nipa hut rather nicely. My neighbours are really friendly and they have some really cute kids that help me cook dinner on occasion. I have been living there for almost a month now and have gotten used to living in a real province dwelling. Since I don’t really have walls in the traditional cement or brick sense I get a lot of dust and dirt that blows through my hut. The mosquitos are as bad as I first had anticipated and I haven’t even had to hang up my mosquito net which I am really happy about.
|Bathroom with bucket shower|
|My new nipa hut|
|My house on left and my neighbors hanging out|
In work news… my counterpart is in charge of the sports program and coordinating the motocross race on the 15th. So, unfortunately I won’t be doing any work until the Monday after fiesta ends. We have a lot of work still to do for our sanctuary. I am really hopeful that we can get the guardhouse built before I go to Vietnam on February 10th. We also will be putting on a CRM training design workshop for all 17 of our coastal barangays sometime in the 2nd quarter of 2012. My counterpart and I will be going to all 17 brgys to do PCRA (participatory coastal resource assessment) analysis which is a technique we learned during training before we put on our training workshop. Will we gather all the fisherfolk and brgy officials and have them come up with community assets, liabilities, have them draw out a fish catch diagram spanning the last 20 years, draw a community map, etc.