Monday, June 27, 2016

And now for something completely different-A Trip to an Island

The ferry to Boracay from the mainland
I am writing you today from an island called Boracay. It is south of Manila. To get there we took a short plane ride, a bus ride, a boat ride across the water from the mainland to the island and finally a sort of jeepney ride to the beach.

We are taking a long weekend (Sunday-Tuesday) staying at a resort on the beach. I am not totally clear on who owns this resort, but it is the only private resort on the island. It feels like real luxury to stay in such a quiet and secluded space right next to the beach. We are here with friends of our friends Maricel, Father Vic and Elsa. They are taking amazing care of us. Every meal has been cooked for us and activities planned. 

On the trip I experienced some very interesting things at the airport and along the way. 

We arrived early enough to stop and have breakfast and so I had a chance to visit the "McDonald's of the Philippines" which is called JolliBee. They serve fast food, but with a Philippine flavor. On the menu were many meals with rice. The one burger that they had was an Adobo Burger (Adobo is a way of cooking meat that has a certain Philippine flavor). Steve and I had something like egg mcmuffins, but they had pancakes instead of bisquits as a bun for the egg, bacon and cheese. This picture shows the egg, sausage and rice meal along with the Jollibee logo-a happy bee.

Then we went to the waiting area for the flight we were taking and there was another surprise.... a massage from a blind person!  The government gives space at the airport for blind people to set up a massage location. Cel, Elsa and I had back massages! 

Cel told us that massages in the Philippines are very affordable and so she had a really hard time living in Belgium where they were expensive.

I also enjoyed taking a picture of Steve dressed up as a traditional Filipino warrier. 

On the island we have enjoyed relaxing on the porch while it rains around us. Getting in the water and walking in the fine white sand out quite far and it is still under 3 feet of warm water.

We also took a ride in a Paraw and went snorkeling. There was not a lot of wind while we were on the Paraw, so the sailor was rowing to get us out to where we could snorkel and back to shore.

We have also eaten quite a bit and I will tell you about that in the next post.

Sunday, June 26, 2016


On Saturday we took a day trip to see a parish in the poorest areas just outside of Manila. It is a place called Payatas. The town is on the edge of the city garbage dump. Many of the people make their livings as scavengers. They risk their health and lives by sorting through the trash in the dump for things that they can sell or reuse. Much of the trash is from hospitals or is food waste that is rotten. Everywhere in the area you can smell trash. There is no sewage system.

The reason we went there is that it is a parish ministry of the Fathers of St. Vincent. Father King took us to see it and explained why the church has become involved there. The area was designated by the city of Manila as a place for poor people to live and has become a shanty town. It is also right next to the city dump which has grown and overtaken some of the land that people were living on. In fact in the year 2000 there was a tragedy and 800 people were killed when the trash exploded and created a huge 'trashslide'. Because trash is biodegrading it creates methane gas. If the gas gets trapped underneath, when there is a hard rain it can explode almost like a volcano.

For the second time that day we were serenaded!  This time by this group of children from the church. They are a fantastic choir and sang a song about the Philippines which they are going to sing at the inauguration of the newly elected vice president later this week! The church is involved in order to support the poor and advocate for them so that something like this never happens again. They have a priest who lives there full time. The church runs several programs in different locations that feed children who are under-nourished. 

These curtains are made of plastic straws which were scavenged from the trash. The vases of flowers are also made of straws and then planted in plastic soda bottles from the trash.

This picture shows someone building a new brick wall. All over the area you see people building very rough lean-tos out of simple materials. 

This is a chapel which is one of the places that meals are distributed. 

This is a memorial that lists the names of the people that were killed in the 'trashslide' who were identified. There were many killed, but not listed because they were not identified.

What does crossing the International Dateline feel like?

This morning (Saturday) when I woke up I felt like I had just been shot through a long tunnel and popped out in Manila. I think it is the same feeling Captain Kirk had when he was "beamed down" from the starship Enterprise onto a planet. I guess that the feeling is more from the long trip than from crossing the dateline.

Our trip was three legs: Austin to LA (3 hours), LA to Tokyo (11 hours), and then Tokyo to Manila (4.5 hours). With the layovers we were on the road for 24 hours. We left Austin early on Thursday morning and arrived in Manila Friday night. Somewhere in there we crossed the International Dateline and lost a day. I cannot seem to wrap my head around it, but when I look at my iPad it says that it is yesterday.... so I guess I am living in tomorrow. I wish I could explain it better than that. In Tokyo I saw this interesting sign on the wall of the bathroom stall.

At the airport we were met by our friend, Maricel and Sister Ann (a nun), who took us to the retreat center for the Religious Sisters of the Virgin Mary (RVM) in new Manila. We were surprised to find out that we would each have a separate room with a single bed! So, we woke up the next morning on our 39th wedding anniversary in our separate rooms! What an adventure it has been to be married to Steve!!  

Traveling this way is the best!  We are tourists and foreigners, but we have a connection to people who actually live here. We don’t stay in luxury hotels, but we have really interesting experiences where we stay.

Here are some things that happened in the first day:
  • Waking up to the crowing of a rooster that lives at the retreat center
  • Eating breakfast (an apple, a roll with bacon flavored mayonaise, nescafe) with Sister Ann
  • Being greeted with a Welcome song by three young nuns
  • Meeting many friends of our friend and being treated so warmly
  • Observing all sorts of strange transportation (jeepney, motorcycle with sidecar that holds 3 or 4 people)

Tomorrow’s blog will be about a visit to a part of Manila that most tourists do not visit.