Finding the Rabbit
Monday, March 05, 2007

Hello, my loyal ones –

It took much longer than I’d expected, but I have finished the final post of this blog. Though I’d promised I get this out to you before I left Taiwan, I couldn’t quite live up to that, so I am back home now


but I’m going to write as if I’m not. You may recall that February 15 was my last day at Shane (lots of good-byes), then over Chinese New Year I took a vacation with my friend and former housemate Rodger, then returned to Keelung for six more days (lots more good-byes), and came home on February 28. A whirlwind tour of four countries, as it turned out. But in case you didn’t catch all that, here it is again in slow motion:


On February 17, Rodger and I caught a 4:30 pm flight out of Taipei, connected in Hong Kong, and landed in Manila sometime later that evening. We spent the first night in a small, stuffy room in Manila, then caught an early flight out the next morning. Because the Philippines is a series of islands (7,107 to be exact) they’ve got pretty good air and sea travel options. But this was Chinese New Year, and the whole of China- and Koreadom had emptied out for the long vacation and many of them headed south to this country. We tried to catch a domestic flight to El Nido, the access point for Miniloc Island, which I’ve had my eye on, but that was booked full. Boracay Island, which is far more popular, was not, oddly enough. So at 8 am we were shuffling shoeless through several security checkpoints, paying various taxi and airport fees, and then loaded onto a prop plane headed down to Boracay Island, the single hottest tourist destination in the Philippines. We hadn’t planned to come to this place until later in the week, but spending four days there was far from disappointing.

The Hong Kong airport. I really liked this place. It was very spacious, new, clean and easy to get around. Unfortunately, on this trip I was stuck in two of the three airports and this was not one of them.
A Catholic church service in the Manila airport.
The Manila skyline. From here, we took a puddle-jumper down to the Caticlan airport a few islands to the south, then hopped across to Boracay Island.
Manila from the air
There's not really anything in Caticlan except for the airport and maybe a tiny village that sprang up around it. Caticlan is the jumping-off point for Boracay.
We were brought to the docks in a tricycle (see below) where we boarded one of these bound for Boracay. This is a bumboat, and they zip between the islands like bees among flowers. They are motorized, but still have a crew of three or four to escort the tourists aboard and push off from shore with a long bamboo pole. They have virtually no keel, hence the wide braces.
We arrived on the back side of Boracay at Boat Station 1, and had to take a hilly hike or ride around to the front side, where White Beach - read: tourist zone - was. This is a tricycle, and one of the most common ways to get around on the Philippine islands. There were a few cars on Boracay, but mostly trikes like these, bicycles, and bumboats.
Nikko's, the place we stayed. It's not a grand resort but it was clean, comfortable, a two-minute walk from the beach, away from the late-night music of the bars, had air-conditioning, and had a free continental breakfast. The family who owned this place was very friendly and helpful. They booked our island-hopping and parasailing tours for us, and promptly fixed our AC when it broke.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Ah...White Beach! Boracay Island is known as the crown jewel of the Philippines, tourist-wise. The island's not that big, but White Beach runs for at least two miles, I think, down its western side. The sand is pure white and powder-fine, the water is clear, warm, shallow far out and very calm, perfect for diving down and digging up bits of broken coral and shells.
Behind the strip of palm trees running along the beach was a sand corridor that closely resembled Fifth Avenue. Shops and stalls like these squeezed in between the grand entryways of big-moolah resorts, restaurants, bars, and even a couple of "malls," which were just more streets full of shops and stalls. The good thing is that these tiny businesses are clearly not internationally owned. The whole family worked there, and maybe they quadrupled prices during this busy season, but I didn't have a problem with that because this is their only income. The local Filipinos were not people who could go on vacation very often, if ever at all.
[You may have to click on this picture to see it better.] Rodger was constantly badgered by men like these, local Filipinos selling gadgets the tourists might desperately need. These guys are selling sunglasses, mostly way overpriced and not that well-made. The Filipinos are extremely persistent salesmen and women (and children). Always exceedingly polite, but able to hang on with the best of them. Rodger got irritated with them rather quickly, but luckily for me they're also very sexist. Whenever they came upon a man and woman presumably together, they invariably honed in on the man and ignored the woman completely. So I just sat back and watched Rodger fend them off. Normally being regarded as an extension of any man in my company would have lit fires under me, but not this time! Once they were gone (and before the next lot set upon us) I ribbed him myself about the endless responsibilities burdening the more credible sex. Rodger took it all in excellent stride. Rodger's the last person you could accuse of being macho or chauvinistic. (And whenever I went out by myself, they swarmed around me as fast as they had him.)
Rodger wholly in his element
Every day we went to the same English cafe for breakfast. Here are mango juice and chocolate milk, just a piece of the bliss we came there for so often.
The mother of all pancakes: banana, pineapple, mango and papaya. I don't even like mango and I couldn't resist this stuff!
Oh yeah....
The resorts along White Beach were sparkling-pretty, and I'm sure the cost of a room equaled that, though we didn't check. It made me marvel at the lifestyles of the people who could afford such opulence - or who could pretend they had this kind of money anyway, at least until their credit card statements came. That's running water on either side of the stairs.
Here's a resort we didn't stay at, but we took a tour as if we were interested in renting rooms. I liked the "tree-house" look of this place.
It seemed to me that each resort had its own set of chairs. You either got to sit there for "free" if you had that resort's beach towel, or you could sit there for a fee. We tried it sitting on these once, without paying anything, and got shooed away.
Every day there were three fantastic sand castles like this on the beach. You could commission them to carve your name or some message into the sand. The people who built them offered to take your picture beside the castle for a donation. Then they demolished the castles every night and built them anew the next day.
On the morning of day two, we joined a six-hour island-hopping tour which included snorkeling and lunch. We didn't know that it was six hours at that point - only found out after the trip was over, because our hotel told us three to four hours - but luckily we had nothing to get back for, and only regretted not bringing more water and snacks with us. But it was a beautiful trip, and a great way to see other places beyond White Beach.
Our first snorkeling stop was just off White Beach. They lowered a bamboo ladder a few feet into the water for us, gave us a mask and snorkel, and then we hopped in. This was really my first experience playing in the ocean, and adjusting to salt water took me a few minutes. That, and my mask was too loose, so I had to climb back up onto one of the boat's braces and reconfigure the whole thing. But once I got the mask and snorkel put together I had one of the best times I'd ever had. The water was so clear, and I found myself staring down at an immense coral reef - albeit a dead one. The coral was just bare bones, literally, killed off by pollution from humankind and from changes in the ocean temperature. But there were still fish and some plants down there, white and brown, for the most part, the same color as the coral, but they were there. This bobbing facedown in the water was how I got my sunburn.
Rodger at left there, and some of the other people on our trip. We seemed to be a mix of Americans, French, Filipinos, and I think Spanish. They were all very nice people and we talked to all of them at some point. We were the third of three boats on our tour, and looking at the other two boats we really lucked out. The others were crammed with passengers, and we had space to spread out.
Every bumboat seemed to have a crew of three or four young Filipino men, who leaped back and forth barefoot across everything. Two in the stern pushed the boat off the beach, and they also handed the passengers up, because we weren't quite as lithe as they were. The bumboats had motors, not sails, for propulsion, so during our journey these guys got to relax and hang out. I can think of worse jobs to hold.
What wasn't sand seemed to be rock, and this odd volcanic rock at that. It was very sharp like thousands of needles, though it looked fragile, so I avoided walking on it. You can see how the see carves out the rock from below, creating shelves.
Drinking raw coconut juice on the boat
Our second snorkeling stop was near Crocodile Island - seen out there in the water - off the back side of Boracay. The water was deeper and much choppier over here, and I kept being pushed into the anchor line of one of our sister boats. But the coral was coming back much more quickly, too. There were a lot more fish and they had more color to them. There were also bits of color down on the rocks and shelves below. I don't want to call them coral because I'm not sure what they were, but there were anemones among them and some other living, swaying things. But for the salt water pushed into my mouth, it was quite enjoyable.
We stopped for lunch on a sharp spit of land crusted with this volcanic rock. Here you can see better how the sea carves it out from underneath, creating these rocky shelves over the water.
We ate lunch in outdoor shelters on top of the island. The food was cooked in a separate shelter by very kind Filipino families.
Lunch was great and filling - rolls, shrimp, a tomato-and-onion salad, lots of fresh fruit, and barbecued chicken, beef and fish. Afterward, true to form, the families of those who'd cooked for us came around and tried to sell us things.
Hibiscus grows wild here.
On our last day at Boracay, we decided to go parasailing. This is flying in a parachute behind a speedboat, drifting above the sea and the earth for fifteen glorious minutes.
The three guys who took us out. These are also the people who took the pictures of us while we were up. You can see the wrapped-up parachute tied to the deck behind them. They stopped the boat in the water, then unfurled it and let it go. The whole time we were in the air we were tied to the boat by a rope. They raced the boat around on the water while we soared through the air above them, and at the end they reeled us back in.
We were strapped into a semi-parachute (full body) harness here, which strapped over the PFD but never attached to it. The bottom was a seat harness like you'd use for rock climbing, and the top strapped over your chest so that you couldn't fall out. Then we were clipped into a bar which was suspended from the parachute. You can see in the next picture that there are clips for three people on it. I think they spread Rodger's lines out wide to balance our weight.
This isn't us, but we flew over a ship like this. Everybody on the ship waved to us, and we waved back. How wonderful to fly over the ocean!

After getting fried on the snorkeling trip we started spending the afternoons inside the hotel room rubbing on cooling gel and watching CSI on TV. But after the sun went down White Beach became a different place.

Friday, March 02, 2007
The sunsets here were stunning, of course. Hooray for pollution! Rodger developed a taste for taking pictures as the sun went down fairly quickly, and the last night I joined him on the beach. My last attempt at doing this was back in July, for the Ghost Festival in Keelung, and my camera hadn't handled that all that well. So I was pleasantly surprised when these came out so well.
There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign. - Robert Louis Stevenson

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Location: Keelung, United States
November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 /

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