New adventures afoot...

New adventures afoot...
where in the world...

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Back to "work"... UK style!

Well.  My how things can change in the space of a day, or night as it happened.
Skipping over the second half of my Philippine experience, in the end I had to come north for more ship work.  Left Manila after a great last night with good friends, flew back to Chennai India to pick up my body bag of gear, and hopped on a night plane to London.

It was rather surreal as we dipped below the clouds on the landing approach... it looked rather like we were flying into a diorama set, a museum exhibit with AstroTurf and plastic houses set up for a game of Monopoly... Everything so tidy, clean lines, big blocks of similar simple colors (green grass, brown / brick houses,  grey asphalt)... was there any life?  It was hard to tell, everything went in the same lines same flow, nothing standing out except the absence of things standing out.

And then I got off the plane at Heathrow and was reminded there most certainly was life in this new land ;)
This began my UK season, exploring the western coastlines from Portsmouth around the toe of England, pinballing back and forth between Ireland and England, up to Scotland's Outer Hebrides islands where we experienced (among other things) gardens, sea birds, seals, seaweed, and the outer island culture of peat cutting, blackhouses, and Harris Tweed to name a few regional icons.

Just a smattering of images from several trips... I'm in the "get it out there" mode, while wifi and a few remaining minutes of freedom on a turnaround day are still in my grasp... captions, explanations, and more images to come!

xoxo friends!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Tropical dreamstate transition...

Leaving the blue waters and amazing underwater world behind, I bussed up into the highlands.  I had been recommended by friends to see the world heritage area of the rice terraces around the village/town of Banaue.  I had seen rice terraces sculpted into the hills in northern Vietnam so this didn't feel like the end-all-be-all sort of sight to see for me, but I was intrigued by what friends and travelers were saying, and internet pictures looked pretty cool (is there anything that hasn't been documented and posted in the virtual world at this point?!)

Catching a bus out of Manila isn't the easiest thing that one can do... multiple terminals for different destinations... and private businesses running busses to the same destination have their own terminals in usually differnet parts of the city.  Fun.  But here's the beauty of either traveler's hostels or AirBnB... the local knowledge. I had planned to stay the night at an AirBnB place I found, just renting a room from someone in their apartment.  After arriving that morning my host was a young real estate agent and he was super hospitable and was keen to chat so we went out for a bite to eat and had great conversation about different cultures and what it's like to live in Manila, etc.  He helped me to realize that maybe there weren't so many bus options heading up into the highlands and after I did some research I realized it would be best if I tried to hop on a bus that night to arrive at Banaue in the morning so I didn't loose too much time just waiting around for a bus in Manila (not the most relaxing place for me I found).  So my host was great, I made the decision a bit late in the day, which meant I had limited time to get to the bus terminal to see about buying a ticket as the online system wasn't working properly (no surprise).  So he ordered an Uber taxi ride and came with me to help out, which was very sweet.  We got there in time, but the tickets had been sold out... but two people hadn't shown up... so maybe I could still get a seat?  So stuck around and waited and voila, was able to get one of the no-show tickets.  And my host stayed the whole time just to make sure it all worked out... and then once I'd boarded the bus, he even came on to give me a bottle of water, making sure I was comfortable enough for the overnight trip.  Super sweet and totally uncalled for... but really Filipino folks are by and large so lovely and thoughtful, it was just one more example of niceness I'd experienced while there.  So in the end I didn't stay for my booking, but didn't ask for a refund, the help and conversation that my host offered was truly priceless and worth the wee amount I'd booked his room for.  Yay for AirBnB!

After an uncomfortable night on the bus we arrived at about 6am or so in Banaue and was able to organize a trek to begin that morning, after getting some breakfast and repacking my stuff into a small daypack.  There are a lot of walks possible up in this highland region but I decided not to get too fancy and just for the "typical" three day/two night route since I was on limited time... hate not being able to dawdle but had to pull up the panties and be a goal-oriented tourist for this one :)

And so, we went!  I lost a lot of photos on my dead ipod, but luckily had taken a bunch on my camera as well.  I was entranced with the mountain/jungle vegetation... so thick and lush.  Big trees, vines, flowers... just very cool.  The walk went through some pristine mountain forest and then dove down into some valleys and such that were terraced here and there.  The terraces formed a part of the village defense... the village was placed in the center of the terraces so to make the approach of any contrary folks very obvious and over open territory.  The terraces and the way they were built into the landscape were endlessly absorbing.  Have lots of photos that very well could be of the same exact valley but a variety of viewpoints just because they were continuously changing but beautiful, you just wanted to capture and recapture the essence of the place endlessly.

It was neat too to see the progression of the rice cultivation.  All stages were in evidence-- ready to harvest, being cleared for planting, fallow, newly growing seedling plants, and all inbetween.  The villages had "modern" buildings of wood and/or tin but also many of the traditional huts-- square sided with thatched pointed roofs, elevated off the ground to minimize rodent predation on the grain that would be stored in the attic area under the roof.

Stayed the first night in the small, more isolated, village of Cambulo.  The folks were very friendly and welcoming and had some of the village children do some dancing for us, and then we joined in.  The boys especially were wearing traditional outfits.  There was a very deep cultural history there, well portrayed in a few museums in Banaue (sadly, pictures lost on the ipod) which I was glad to have visited the morning before starting the trek.  Amazing wood carvings and examples of the variety of dieties and rituals associated with harvests and living in that highland society.  National Geographic had an article about the "headhunters" of the region, published maybe in the late 70s or so that discuss the culture from a vantage that was closer to when the culture was more active and remembered and "real" than it is in today's changing (technologically advancing) environment.

Second night stayed in the village of Batad that is a bit more touristy (several guest lodges with signs and such, within the village center but most on a hillside across the valley and closer to the paved road where folks can hike in within a few hours).  Another friendly place, and nice food.  I had hired a guide to lead me through the villages which wasn't strictly necessary but I thought it would be a nice value-add to ask questinos about what I was seeing and to not loose time if I got turned around.  I'd bet I could have found my way on my own but some of the paths and ways to get around/through the terraces were a bit obscure so I think it was well worth it.  My guide was young, a bit of a dandy really, and was interested in working for the police force, so the guiding job was going to pay for his college education.  It was fun to kid him about the girls he was chatting up here and there along the trail-- there were little kiosks every now and again selling cookies, crackers, bottles of soda (kept cool by being placed in a few inches of water inside a tub), etc.  All of this would be hauled from the nearest commercial center... perhaps hours away.  One even had "young coconuts" which is a lovely treat-- you hack off the top to get the coconut water inside... and the entrepreneurial lady who ran the kiosk bought them in Banaue and carried them in several hours to sell to trekkers... not cheap as they have to be transported from the coast but so worth it. Especially as there were some cheeky chickens hanging around that ended up doing some sneak attacks on some unsuspecting trekkers, trying to get at the coconut meat inside the coconuts, leading to some very loud exclamations of surprise and ensuing protestations... pretty funny actually.

And so, here are some images!

rice just beginning to grow after seedlings planted out in new paddy

new and old together.  the older huts often used for storage, like a garage in a way.
the guest house in Cambulo, the "Am-Way", and an older photo of the children's dance we were treated to below

there are different kinds of rice grown in different areas and for different reasons, this was just one in seed I found one day

getting closer to harvestability

wee seedlings are densely planted at one end of a cleared/muddy paddy, not too wet, and then they are taken from the "nursery" and out planted to a prepared paddy somewhere else.  These seedlings are being protected by strands of tape pulled maybe from an old VCR tape... very effective as they catch the wind and shine and flicker in the sun...

a more modern version of the traditional hut... elevated on amazing tree-root trunks, but newer timbers, really nice aesthetically and obviously in regular home-like use.

Chewing of betel palm nut (fruit) is a regular activity here, my guide was doing it all day long.  You take a pepper leaf (or some other leave that has a bit of flavor) and wrap the nut and some lime and stick the wad in your gum.  As far as modern medicine is concerned it's not great for the health, especially if you add lime into the potion as it scratches your cheeks/gums to allow the intoxicant more readily into your system... but also increases chances of mouth cancer.  though when i mentioned something like this to my guide and some of his buddies who were chewing they said that they know old men who have chewed their whole lives with no problems... so.  Do what you will :)

The nicest kiosk we came across, the one selling young coconut.  you can see one on the left of the counter.  No hairy husk yet, you use a machete to cut off the thick husk (that becomes hairy later) and then just a bit at the top (if you're skilled you don't cut off a finger nor lose any of the water inside!) so you can drink it up then scoop out the gelatinous pulp (on its way to becoming the harder stuff we know of as "shredded coconut" etc.)

sometimes the coconut inside is a bit more congealed and you can scoop it out just as this sweetie has done... rewards for concentrated work :)

the center of Batad village

too small, but this is Batad from on high... just surrounded by tall peaks and a river way below off to the left... steep steep sides of these valleys, so very cool to wind your way from valley to valley around curves and twists... not for those with weak legs!  (or knees! mine were swollen and tight for about two weeks after my three day trip... sigh, not so young anymore!)

This is how rice is harvested and stored up here.  They're bunched up in topknot sort of things and then hung over rafters or in the sun to dry

Typical house scene, where these rice bunches were on a table in the courtyard.

a bit of modern with traditional, neat to see technology and utility merge.

I discovered this crazy amazing moth in my room, seemed like it had been stuck  in there for a while, with raggedy wings.   I couldn't hardly believe it was real.  I wanted to help it out, but also get a picture before it flew away... luckily I was able to do both!
so beautiful!!!

and of course... flowers!  didn't capture too many great photos of the things I saw but this turks head mallow was one beauty...

Parting photo of the heritage village of Bangaan that we passed on the paved road driving from our exit point from the trek near Batad, back to Banaue.  Pretty sweet.
Then I went further into the highlands to the village/town of Sagada that's known for the tradition of putting their dead into coffins hung from cliffs or put into caves.  It was a beautiful area in pine trees and neat limestone cliffs/caves/hills... did some cave exploring and hill walking-- very set up for tourists but still interesting.  It's been a long-time retreat for Filipinos and others for years... a respite from the heat of the lowlands.  There was somewhat of a hippy/drop out time as well, but now it's properly "discovered" and a building boom has been on for several years now.  You can still find a quiet corner, but it's hard to overlook/under-hear the construction mania.  The highlight of my trip here was seeing coffee plants/bushes/trees in person, discovering that civet coffee is collected/made here, and then finding the local species of pitcher plant... so awesome.  Not like the ones we have in the states that grow upright as sort of cones from the ground... these develop from tendrils growing out of the tips of leaves, and have a flower spike like an aloe or something like that.  Pretty cool.