Friday, January 9, 2009

Life in Los Banos from Simon's Perspective

We live in Bernardo Village, Road 4, yellow gate, unit 3. We live in an apartment with five other families. We only know two really well. We know Lem and family, and Ivar and family. The apartment also has a flat roof, perfect for lighting fireworks and playing tag.

We live close to a street that normally has lots of 3-wheeled motorbikes. To take a trike to the closest supermarket they will make you pay about 7-8 pesos per person. Los Banos is famous for coconut pie or Buko pie. It is also famous for its one and only Mer-Nel chocolate cake place. Los Banos also has many internet cafes and restaurants.

This is a trike with lots of kids in it. Kids fit better than my day.

I like Los Banos mostly because there is less pollution than in Manila.

A few minutes after it became 2009. On the water tower on our roof.

Our New Year's Eve of 2008 was the loudest that I have ever had. I saw at least 500 fireworks. Some were just a big bang, but others were really pretty. We spent close to that whole night with our neighbours. We played games, watched tv, lit fireworks and watched fireworks. It was one of my favourite New Year's Eves ever. I wish that they could make no-smoke fireworks because the only downfall was that the air had a very thick layer of smoke.

Life in Los Banos from Danielle's Perspective

First our house/apartment is small. In the living room, which is attached to the kitchen, we have a fridge, two lounge chairs, and inbetween the two lounge chairs there is a small table. In the kitchen we have our dining table, four plastic chairs, sink and counter. We also have a pantry with the normal stuff in it. And both bedrooms are also normal like our rooms at home. The bathroom is a little smaller than normal but it is good. I think normally we are supposed to do our school in the morning and in the afternoon play with Wakim and Jako, or go out somewhere. Sometimes we don't because we have to go out in the morning. For example, we sometimes help the teachers and students in Kinder 2 at Grace Christian Community School.

Christmas and New Year's in the Philippines: Christmas was out of the ordinary because we were at the rice terraces, it was hot, and we did not really know what we were doing. That is ok. I don't know if going to the rice terraces was the best part of our trip. I think it is second on the list. (First on the list is Bowron Lakes or Volcano Masaya). Now I'm going to talk about New Year's Eve. Fireworks are all day because there is no snow. And we ate to keep ourselves awake. New Year's was not that organized either because everyone has a different watch time, so everyone just says it is New Year's.

These are the rice terraces at Batad.

This is me and my neighbour, Bunny, on New Year's Eve.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year 2009!

A Journey to the North - Part 1

During the Christmas Break we traveled to the northern mountain provinces of Ifugao and Benguet. We attended a wedding and spent Christmas Eve in the town of Kiangan. We traveled from Kiangan further north to Banaue and the village of Batad to experience the Eighth Wonder of the World – the ancient rice terraces. We rounded out our trip with a short stay in the Summer Capital of the Philippines, Baguio City.

We’ve never made the winter road trip from Southern Ontario to Florida, mainly because the idea of driving for that long in one stretch is just not that appealing. Well, I think we spent enough time in the car (6 adults and 2 kids) that driving to Florida would seem like a snap. It felt like we traveled to Florida and back 3 times! I know the saying is, the journey is more important than the destination, but this time the destination held much more spectacle than the journey!

Part One -

Our journey started with August, a hired driver, picking us up in Los Baños at 4am. We met our traveling companions Rachel, Jeff and Andrew in Manila around 6:30am , and by 4pm we arrived in the town of Kiangan, in the northern province of Ifugao. We’d only traveled about 250km but the quality of the roads, the other vehicles of all shapes, sizes and speeds on the road, and just the geography of traveling around and over mountains made it quite the road trip.

Rachel works with CRWRC, the organization we are volunteering with in the Philippines. For this trip, Rachel was our cultural guide. She is from Kiangan, and her family has many historical roots to the people and the region. Her great grandfather was the first deputy governor of the region in the U.S.-formed Philippine Congress. Her nephew is now Governor. We learned so much about Ifugao history and culture through the family stories that she shared. And through current family events. We attended a wedding in Kiangan, and experienced elements of a traditional Ifugao wedding reception. The music, dancing and rice wine went on for hours. Different groupings of people would perform the Eagle Dance – the groom’s family; the bride’s family; representatives of each of the “barangays” (neighbourhoods); the elders; and, of course, the visitors. Fortunately, we had seen enough groups of people dancing that we had some idea of what we were supposed to do. But I think they looked much more graceful than we did! The wedding was truly a community event. The wedding feast was shared with everyone. Apparently 14 pigs, 2 cows and 2 caraboa’s (water buffaloes) were slaughtered for the meal. There is always a large quantity of food at a Filipino event!

It was in Kiangan that the Japanese General Yamashita surrendered to U.S. troops, ending the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, in 1945. We visited the site of his surrender and toured a shrine in memory of those who heroically defended the country during the war.

We spent a couple nights in Kiangan before traveling on to Banaue and Batad. We were supposed to travel to Segada for Christmas Eve but a landslide on the road forced a change in plans. We traveled back to Kiangan. Over and over again we have experienced generous and gracious hospitality in the Philippines, including Rachel’s family who made room for the travelers from afar. We attended Midnight Mass at the local Catholic Church. The message, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (Isaiah 9:2)”, had particular meaning to our family. Earlier in the day, we learned of the death of Pam’s cousin Ian. The assurance of hope and love that we celebrated together that evening was a beautiful gift.

A Journey to the North - Part 2

The rice terraces of Banaue and Batad were on our list of “Philippine sights to see.” Although we had regular rain and clouds they still did not disappoint.

The history of the rice terraces is more than 2000 years old. They were built to allow people to cultivate on steep hill slopes. They level off a small area of the hill and build a stone or earth wall. Depending on how steep the slopes are, the walls can be over 4m high to allow farming on relatively small plots of land. The terraces are family owned and passed on from generation to generation.

Batad is where some of the most spectacular rice terraces have been built – the terraced hills in this area form an amphitheatre. We read they have been built over a period of 2,000 years and we never could get a good answer of how old they are. I think partly because they are constantly in repair so they are always new. To get to Batad we had to charter a Jeepney from Banaue for an hour and half drive about 10km up and down a very scary road. We saw some people hiking this road in the rain and there were times we thought we’d get out of the Jeepney and do the same.

From the end of the road we had an hour and half trek down to our inn. On the hike we could see some slopes covered with terraces but this paled in comparison to the actual village. We arrived in Batad just before dusk and had half an hour to begin to appreciate the scale of the terraces. Our inn was located above the village and the view was stunning. The terraces completely cover one mountain and cover a great part of a valley around the village.

The next morning we hiked down among the terraces , through the village and then half way up the mountain. To get from one terrace to another you walk up stairs that are often made of rocks sticking out of the side of the walls. The rocks are not well spaced and there were many times we had to push and pull Danielle up the side. This gave us a good sense of the work required to work your plot of land high up the mountain.

Another way we could learn about life on the rice terraces was by spending some time with an elderly man and woman. They were preparing rice seed to plant while we asked directions and this turned into a half hour conversation. They told us about how the terraces are passed down to their children, how they use the rice and a few other facts of life in Batad.

The next day we hiked back up to the Jeepney and to our adrenaline-pumping ride back to Banaue. These two rides are interesting bookends to a very peaceful time in a marvel of engineering, agriculture and effort.

A Journey to the North - Part 3

Eating corn-on-the-cob and fresh strawberries on Boxing Day (Dec. 26), now that’s a Christmas treat!

John and the kids explored Burnham Park while I caught up with family at an Internet café. They had a blast – row boats; bumper cars, pedi-cycles and candy floss. They had humongous grins when we met up again. My grin was not quite as big as theirs but I was pretty happy about having been able to talk with my parents, my sister and her family, and John’s parents.

Baguio City is known as the Summer Capital of the Philippines. The cool temperatures make it a natural draw to tourists. The pine tree forests are unique to this part of the country. We spent the afternoon in the Historic Core area of Camp John Hay. Early in the 1900’s, when the Americans discovered the cool climes of the area, which the original mountain people had managed to keep hidden from the Spanish, it was built up as a “rest and relaxation” base for military personnel. Unfortunately, the entire city has continued to grow, and the crush of people and traffic wasn’t that relaxing. I wish the original inhabitants of the area had been able to keep it hidden for another few centuries.

We arrived back in Los Baños in the dark, in the wee hours of the morning, as we had left it. We drove through the night back from Baguio to our home. We’ve been in our apartment less than a month but we were thankful to experience one of the sweet, sweet comforts of home - resting your head on a familiar pillow.