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A Trip to Tabaco    

A loaded jeepney in Tabaco
Rowshan and I got up early to see the sunrise on Mt. Mayon. The sky was pink behind the mountain. On the hill we admired the sun rising over the water and the clouds beginning to be caught on the mountain. Rowshan delivered his photos to the people he'd taken photos of the previous day. One guy walking through the market was wearing a cut open rubber ball as a hat. Later he was swimming in the filthy river, picking up trash and throwing it around to the amuseument of everyone on the bridge. "He is crazy," Rowshan said. A girl replied, "No, he is not crazy. He just wants to swim." The village between the market and beyond the Embarcadero wall is actually built on the river and soggy mud flats. We took a wrong turn and found we were walking over wooden planks on the water.


Cat patiently waits

Buildings built on the river
Having a bit of time we decided to go to the town of Tabaco. Tabaco has nothing to do with tobacco. Legend has it the name came from a misunderstanding by the Spanish. A Spanish ship arrived in the port and asked the name of the town. A man, the father of a woman who was a healer, prophetess and much loved by the town, thought they had come for his daughter and yelled out, "Tabak Ko! Tabak Ko!" which means, "My knife! My Knife!" The Spanish thought that was the name of the town. The brochure about Tabaco City calls it the "Padyak capital of the Philippines." Before we even noticed this, Rowshan commented on the number of bike powered tricycles. "Everyone here must work as a tricycle driver," he said. There were designated "parada" almost every couple blocks where they waited for passengers.

One of Tabaco's numerous bike cabs
The town had a fresh breeze blowing from the water and was cleaner than Legazpi-- with a city plaza with souvenir stands, a small port, and the standard combination of malls and markets. The dominant feature was the St. John the Baptist Parish Church which had been built in 1864 from lava rocks. The stones had been mortored with a combination of hay, molasses and egg yolk. I think, however, since that time they'd replaced it with concrete. It was an open block shaped building with stained glass windows and high ceilings and a bell tower next to it. Since it was Sunday and they had back to back masses, we didn't really look around inside.

Carrying ice to a boat at the port

Cathedral in Tabaco
We went back to Legazpi to meet Kelleen (my sister, for those of you who don't know) at the airport. Her plane arrived on time and we crammed into a tricycle back to town. In the afternoon we went to Albay to the festival to see the coconut extraction competition. There were various teams with wooden/bamboo/metal coconut husking seats. They were called up and each captain introduced his/her team. This turned out to be a long process. We wandered off and saw people playing a gambling game where they chose colors and put money on them on a board. Then they pulled a string releasing colored blocks. If their color combos came up, they would win money.

Tamia and Kelleen at the airport

Coconut tools
Back at the stage, the game had started but it had nothing to do with coconuts. The moderators were explaining rules for a game called "rumble" in English and Bicol. There seemed to be a lot of confusion and the explanation took a long time. All the teams had to throw their shoes in a pile and stand in a line. Then at the whistle they had to retrieve them, put them on and the first with them all on in a neat line won.

Getting ready to rumble

The mad rush
The whistle was blown and chaos ensued as everyone rushed to the pile. We saw shoes being hurled out of the pile and someone grabbed shoes from someone else. The orange team was declared the winner with the "moderator's decision is final". There was some argument and the decision was changed. Then they announced another game. We decided that we couldn't handle another drawn out explanation of rules so we went off to get fried bananas. There was a line and the bananas were cooking. The cook overloaded the pot so it took longer. Eventually we got our bananas. I objected when after waiting 1/2 hour he handed us one from an earlier batch so we got 3 fresh ones instead.

Hurry up with those bananas
We headed back to the stage joking about the scene of blood and carnage that would greet us from the rough games. As we approached we thought our jokes had materialized when we saw police dogs and heard sirens. But they turned out to be part of the procession and marching band competition.

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Legazpi: In the Shadow of Mt. Mayon    

Sunrise and Mt. Mayon
Legazpi is much nicer than Manila. This morning I woke up to the light coming in through the window. The sun was rising and the sky turned pink. I went back to sleep and woke up to someone making a lot of noise walking either down the hall or outside and singing badly. We got up and it was only 6:30. So we decided to hike up Kapuntukan Hill (means sleeping lion and come to think of it, the 2 connected hills do kind of resemble that).

Tricycle stop

Jeepney passenger
It was already hot and muggy. We walked along the Embarcadero-- a work in progress set to open in September-- perhaps for the 50 year anniversary of Legazpi City. Mt. Mayon rose impressively across the town from us with a cap of clouds covering the top.

Since we couldn't get to the hill via the closed waterfront, we went behind the curious wall which sheltered this newly developed area from the village behind it. Beyond the wall were tiny winding streets lined with shacks made from a collage of materials: wood, corrugated metal, bamboo, thatch, concrete, and blue plastic. The people we passed smiled and said, "Good Morning". Rowshan's photography was met with enthusiastic approval by both kids and adults. As Rowshan was taking photos, a woman at a shop introduced herself and asked me where I was from . Everyone seemed helpful and friendly-- even the tough looking guys with their handmade tatoos. Outside the shacks, roosters were tied by leashes to their legs as if they were watch dogs. They boisterously crowed to one another.

Boy and his rooster

Kids from behind the Embarcadero
We got to the path up the hill, the start of which was a barbed wire fence which had been pushed open from large numbers of people going through it. The cow who occupied the area didn't seem to mind us climbing up the well trod dirt path.

It was still only around 7AM but we were drenched with sweat making me think hiking anywhere on Mt. Mayon is completely out. Fortunately the trail wasn't long. We emerged at the top of the lower hump of the hill into a small cleared spot surrounded by bushes full of purple flowers. Then we followed the trail down and back up the other hill. The hill not only gave us a view of Mt. Mayon, we also saw the harbor and black sand beaches stretching north of the town. Green tropical hills and fields rose up over the other side of town. It is so beautiful compared to Manila. I'm so glad we left Manila as soon as we could.

Mt. Mayon from Kapuntukan Hill

After coming down from the hill we walked through the village neighborhood past some basketball players (a popular game here-- we see it played but soccer isn't played anywhere.) In the fish market we saw lots of exotic fish-- swordfish, parrot fish, flounder, and friendly fish mongers who laughed as they posed with their wares.

Basketball is a popular sport

Showing off a squid

Colorful fish

Pouring some fresh fish onto the table
In the afternoon, we decided to walk up the beach. The beach was accessed through another neighborhood of shacks, some of which were constructed right on the beach.

We encountered more friendly people and Rowshan with his camera was like the Pied Piper and soon he had a crowd of kids following him and posing for photos. Kids swimming in the water (which was terribly dirty and had a dead pig floating in it) called out, "Hello! Photo!" Kids came up to us asking, "Where are you from? Where do you go? What is your name?" One kid came running up yelling, "Hey, My name is America!" The teenagers and young adults would say things like, "Hey, Joe!"

Friendly residents of the beach front houses

Kids on the beach

I'm not sure about swimming in the water

Which camera should we look at
One group of kids were playing beach basketball using a coconut for a ball. Rowshan tried to impress them by shooting a basket with his foot but missed (several times). Sill, he acquired an enthusiastic group of fans.

Coconut beach basketball
Another group of guys called to to take a photo of a guy climbing on the roof of a house. By the time Rowshan got there the focus of attention had moved to a game of "pool" which used wooden chips instead of balls (on a wooden chalk covered table). Unlike Nepal, however, they had a cue. It seemed like we'd walked quite a ways but back on the city street we were soon back in the center of town.

A game of pool
On our way back to the town we passed a house where they collected scrap metal. One guy wanted a photo. He'd been playing a small tambourine from the metal cart. Rowshan asked him to sing a song but he broke into an American pop song. Rowshan objected and eventually he sang a snippet in Tagalog.

In the evening Rowshan went out to take photos of a storm and was welcomed by the people we'd met earlier at the beach. The kids were having a lantern parade.

Lightning and lights

Lantern parade

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Arrival and Escape from Manila    

Streets of Manila in the rain
Manila is hot, humid, crowded, dirty and overpriced-- a bad combination indeed. To make things worse, we arrived early in the morning and hotels not only don't allow check-in until 12 or 1, they also can't even say if they will have a room. We looked at several. Most that were within our price range were stuffy, smelly, dirty and otherwise crappy. We finally found an acceptable one where we left our bags until we could check in. Rowshan went to try to fix the computer. I wandered. Of course, both of us really wanted to sleep. We had left our hotel in Chiang Rai at 7 AM on the 21st. We longingly thought of that hotel (Morning Dew Lodge) which had been the best we'd stayed at during our travels.

We got into Bangkok around 10 AM and found the public transportation to the center 35 baht to Victory Monument, 20 baht/sky train to Siam square = 55 baht vs 150 which is they price of the standard airport bus. There Rowshan attempted to find out what was wrong with the computer. I went to Center World hoping for more interesting design related exhibitions. Instead there were just shoes for sale. Zen didn't seem as swank and color coordinated either. I don't know if it changed or my perception did. It seemed very cluttered-- like typical Asian stores.

Eventually we went back to the airport to kill time there. We had about 6 hours before our flight. The flight was supposed to leave at 12:30 AM but was delayed maybe 30 minutes. So to make a long story short. No sleep that night.

We took a jeepney to the center of Manila. Jeepneys are like Sawngthaew except instead of being made from pickup trucks, they are made from Jeeps (or at least were). It looks like they make the outside out of sheet metal-- the same stuff they use for air vents and things.

The jeepneys have destinations painted on the side and some have pictures. The style struck me as Mexican with eagles and flourishes and Jesus of Nazareth or Mary written on them. They whipped around cars and corners with surprising speed considering the amount of other traffic.

Manila makes me think of a crowded and soggy version of Tijuana. However, among the grime there are the luxury edifices: fancy hotels and gleaming shopping malls with every chain in existence inside. I can't help wondering how the people we see could afford the expensive prices in the mall... but maybe they spend money sent by relations working abroad.

Ronald McDonald makes a friend
It is strange when a country's major export is workers. All over we see employment offices: many for Dubai, others promising placement in Canada. They look for nurses, cleaners, sewers. The clinics advertise drug tests and STD tests. All the signs are in English-- it really is the 2nd language... maybe vying to be the first since I see more signs in English than Tagalog. I speculate all the domestics get jobs overseas so the hotels here are a bit short handed in this department. I imagine all the workers in the shops/restaurants are just beefing up their resumes to get jobs overseas.

We decided to leave Manila as soon as we could. We planned to leave the morning after Kelleen's arrival but then, today, I realized she arrives on the 25th, not the 24th because of the dateline. Her itinerary said she left on the 24th and didn't specify arriving on a different day but she pointed out to me that today is the 23rd here but the 22nd there. She leaves on the 24th which is the 25th here. Oops. So we decided to meet her in Legazpi. I hope it all works out. I hope Legazpi is better.

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