Friday, August 26, 2011

Salamat Davao

I had some very cool pictures that would have accompanied this blog post but I forgot my flash drive in a public internet cafe and now they are gone... You live and you learn I suppose. I'll write anyway...

The city of Davao is on the island of Mindanao, the southernmost "main" island of the Philippine archipelago. Davao is the second largest city in the world in terms of land area. There are many things to do around the city. To the south stands Mt. Apo, the highest peak in the Philippines at 2954 meters or 9692 feet. To the east, an ocean playground, and all around, friendly people and good food.

The small island of Samal, a short ferry ride across the channel, is home to the World's largest colony of Geoffrey's Rousette fruit bats. The smell  is worth the experience. Millions of tiny winged rodents chatter as they hang throughout the day in the caverns, five or six skylight openings allow a view of the bats. Every inch of the cave wall is occupied by a little snout nosed bat and mothers may hold a little one under their wings. The bottom of the cave, as expected, has been filled up with excriment from it's nocternal residents. When the breeze blows the right way a warm, thick, can I say sweet?, aroma finds it's way to your nose. On the way out of the viewing area we spotted the "princess bat", the colony's only albino member, a small white spot in a sea of brown.

 We have taken advantage of the cheap rates and have enrolled in the PADI Open Water Scuba course. For only 13,500 Pisos ($321 US) and four full days of diving and studying, you can have a life-time dive certification. The ecology and environments under the surface reveal themselves as both thrilling and meditative. The Philippines lays right in the middle of the "Coral Triangle". This is the area most densely populated with corals, and therefor, extremely biologically diverse. In the past year, 50 new species of sea slug, a sea star who only feeds on decaying drift wood, and a deep water shark who swells to fend off predators, have been discovered in the Philippine archipelago. When we dive, the reefs come in to view displaying multicolored corals, giant sponges of varying shapes, fish of bright colors and amusing shapes, and alien like crustaceans. Underwater photography interests me as a possible future pursuit. The ocean floor is a totally different world from the one we walk and it's such a privileged to have the means to visit it, if only for the duration of the air on my back.

 In Davao, a culinary hot spot, one can visit any number of  markets where fresh fish, chicken, beef, pork, vegetables, fruits ect. can be bought. Rows of open air stalls fill a huge warehouse like space. Fish and meat is laid out over ice that has been shaved and broken off of large, delivered blocks. The quickly melting ice, the smell of fish, and the pairing of the words "open air" and "meat", may be enough to scare away a lot of people wary of health risks. I was cautious at first too, but was quickly assured by our native Davao host and guide, Mary Lou, that the meat is the freshest cut and the fish, the freshest catch you can find. "They will not have a chance to go bad before we prepare them." We bought fresh squid, green oysters, live crabs, the largest shrimp I've ever seen, and a whole chicken. Outside we hopped on the back of three motorcycle taxis, bags in hand and weaved our way through traffic. When we got home Mary Lou fixed the feast and we enjoyed every last bit.  Cheap, fresh and delicious.

The Kadayawan Festival is a large festival held every year in Davao in August. It started when local tribes came together to celebrate the bounty of the years harvest. Now it's just a big week long celebration with parts of the past interwoven. The Festivities climax with a huge parade and a tribal dance competition. Colorful costumes inspired by bright flowers are worn and floats are adorned with plants and flowers. People eat, drink and dance all night, (as they seem to do anytime of the year) and schools and businesses are closed. This festival is only held in Davao. Every other province has it's own festival, some celebrating harvest, fishing seasons, or saints. It doesn't take much to get people to celebrate in the Philippines, and why should it? Life is a celebration!

I will miss the fun here in Davao and will take the memories with we to the next great place. Salamat, "Thank you"- in Filipino, Davao! Your people, atmosphere, food and way of living make it hard to leave. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Good MorningThe Philippines!

Makati City, Manila, The Philippines
Waking up in the City of Manila is like being in the New York of the Philippines. With 16 million people it is a bustling capitol and economic center during the day and reveals itself as a non-stop sprawling party scene when the sun goes down. The locals are fun, hospitable and they all seem to have rhythm!

Wide variety of fresh street food
Jeepneys, a major source of public transportation, were converted from US jeeps left over from WW11
 The streets are full of a variety of Asian foods from Thai to local fresh fish and soups. You can find just about anything to satisfy a hungry traveler. If your feeling gutsy try a local Filipino delicacy, Balut - a fertilized, half developed, boiled duck egg!

If that's too much for your eyes or gut to handle just stop for a bite at Jolibee, the Philippine's most popular fast-food restaurant. Although the Manila area is the most costly area of the country your money can still go a long way. A filling meal anywhere should not cost you more than 300 Piso ($7USD) per person. And the Philippines is home to "The World's Cheapest Beer", San Miguel. If the all nighters of dancing and eating don't completely wear you out, hop on a Jeepney or catch a cab to explore the rich history of the city. Visit Intramuros, the the Spanish walled city built during the Spanish Colonial Period in the 16th century.Walk through Rizal park or find any number of useful and novelty items at the market in Old Manila. When it's time to get out of the city hop a cheap flight to one of the southern provinces and be on the beach before you know it.

With a Guard dressed in Spanish Colonial era uniform

Friday, August 12, 2011

Aloha and Mahalo Maui

After we finished house sitting for Kelly and Allan Cozette and I set out on a mission to see the remaining eastern shore of the island we had not gotten to yet. From the house in Haiku we hitched up to the 10,000 ft summit of Haleakala, House of the Sun, "the world's largest dormant volcano". The road to the top from sea level to summit is only 37 miles, ending above the clouds. From there we spent three days packing across the crater floor and descending down the Kaupo Gap on the eastern side of the National Park.

Yellow Line Shows Our Route.

Once we reached the Kipahulu area on the eastern coast we camped for a couple of nights before continuing through Hana and back around, Northwest, to complete our circuit. The trip took a total of 6 days and was a great end to our stay on the island. We managed to circumnavigate the entire island while we were there for our month and two weeks, seeing everything there is to see on a backpackers budget. From our calculations we spent roughly $500 each while on the island, including concert tickets and a couple of nights eating out. Not bad considering Maui will probably be the most expensive leg of our trip.

Here are the pictures from our last bout of backpacking around up and over Haleakala and around the Eastern coast.

The 'Ahinahina, "Silversword" is found in the Haleakala crater and nowhere else in the world. It's leaves are covered in small silver colored hairs to reflect sunlight and retain moisture. It is a member of the Asteraceae or sunflower family.

Areas of the crater floor are devoid of life. No plants, insects or animals are found here. It is uncomfortably silent. It's rarely windy and on calm days scientific instruments used to measure sound have read zero decibels.
In such a lunar scape we thought it appropriate to take gravity defying pictures.
Near the Paliku camp. On the other side of the ridge is a restricted tropical rainforest preserve.
Views of the ocean coming down the 7000ft decent of the Kaupo Gap.
The steep 8.6 miles to the coast was hard on our knees and feet, but worth the view.

When we made it to the coast we camped for two days and played in the pools before continuing through Hana and completing our circuit.
The "Seven Sacred Pools" are formed in a gulch as the rain water flows down the mountain out of the rain forest valley.
The pools are right where the steam meets the ocean. The top pool at the largest waterfall has been carved out to a depth of 40ft!

A beautiful red sand beach with clear blue water and a perfect wave break made for good swimming. In Hana.
You enter the cave by swimming a little ways under water. The cave extends 800 ft back or so.

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