a while since the last update. And now we have August already. August
started incredibly busy but fortunately the busyness will slow down
somewhat in the second half of the month. Which would be good.
As I am writing this blog I am sitting here in my bedroom watching the
short rain shower outside. It's lovely when it rains here, the smell of
the rain and the freshness of the air after. It hasn't been raining so
much lately. We are currently in a low between the two wet seasons and
we had sunshine all week long. Also while I am typing here a cute
little puppy dog is lying at my feet watching my every move. It's only
a borrowed one. Only for one day. It belongs to one of the Seals
volunteers and since all of them are out of town for the weekend they
left the little puppy here for Jen and me to take care of. It's such a
friendly little dog, I wish it could stay...
August has been busy with business as usual. They are not many
highlights to report. But it's still been good and the longer I do
business as usual here, the more I like the routine of my new job. I
love the feeling getting up in the morning, knowing there is lots of
enjoyable work waiting, and finishing up in the evening, tired,
exhausted but after a good day of useful activity. Thinking about my
job in Sydney I think this is one thing I felt lacking there, working
member of a big team for a big international company. It lacks the
perception of the usefulness of the job as it is only such a tiny share
in a huge undertaking. Whereas in Aklan, everything I do has a positive
impact, often straight away. And tasks vary much more widely. Just
for the last two weeks my job here included preparing a powerpoint
lecture about map reading and navigation, supporting 150 new rescue
volunteers of the town of Nabas in water safety training and abseiling
from their town hall building, organising a first aid scenario for an
earthquake drill at a college here in Kalibo, being judge in a cooking
competition during a scout meeting comparing 18 delicious ways of
cooking chicken in a bamboo stem, participating in the Provincial
Hospital's plan to implement an Incident Command System for mass
casualty emergencies, help our office to design our future operations
after more than tripling the staff numbers soon and meeting the
Australian Volunteer Programs Manila managers to talk about progress
during my remaining months in Kalibo. It's all really interesting work
and I love every bit of it, every detail is still exciting, even after
6 months of being here. What I like most is the large amount of time
spent in interaction with others. And find it hugely fascinating how
people cooperate in the Philippines. The large level of awareness for
each other and the sticking together in all stages of life. And the
sharing of what they have which each other and with me as a guest.
The everydays operation of the Seals volunteers is an example that
amazes me every time. Over the months some of the Seals volunteers and
me became pretty strong friends. Which gives me a great insight of how
things happen here. And I find it so fascinating to see and learn about
life for Philippino people. Up to a degree where I probably
neglect my Aussie co-volunteers a bit in favour of my new Philippino
friends. But I can't help but being
fascinated by local people and their community spirit. Imagine this:
out of the 10 or so permanent volunteers in the Kalibo Seals Office
only one has a job. He had a good upbringing with a relatively well off
family, often talking about the good old college days where he and his
friend would ride around on the motorbike from fiesta to fiesta, about
party nights, pub nights, visits to restaurants, girlfriends. Just what
young people do when there is some money. Enjoying life. But it has
stopped now. Why? He is the only one out of the volunteers who has an
income. So without any hesitation he supports the group. The entire
group. with the entire income. Which is enough to buy the rice needed
to feed everyone everyday. And to afford the cheap small fish from the
market to have dinner. And to buy the gas for the stove. He no longer
lives at home. But sleeps with the others in the office. He no longer
drives his motorbike. It's broken and in the repair shop. But there is
no money for the repair left. No more pub nights, no more
drinking, no more karaoke parties, no more girlfriends. And you know
what? This young man has never ever complained, never ever thought
about changing things. In contrary it's a happy young man in a happy
group of young volunteers. That's just the way to do things, if one has
resources and others have not there is no question about it and things
The courtesy and awareness of each other extends into all fields of
life. The slightest change is instantly recognised. Like a new haircut.
That's easy. But also a new shirt. New shoes. A tired look. Or a fresh
sometimes too extreme. Like the lady in the market selling bananas. But
not to me. Since she knew that I'm a volunteer she has not accepted any
money for my bananas again, they are all for free. I feel sometimes too
embarrassed to accept this and buy bananas from another stall. But hey,
how nice is it? Or our neighbors, they see me coming home later than
usual and bring me
food before I even have a chance to cook. Or in return for entertaining
her son for a while in English in our house. The community in the
town house complex where I live is really tight knit. So it seems. But
it's nothing special in the Philippines. During the day the doors are
open and people walk in and out of each others house. Babies are
carried along and being baby-sitted across the board and across the
households. In the evenings
we often sit together outside just talking for a while. And even though
language is still a challenge we can communicate and it feels good. And
most of all - there is no need to arrange anything fancy, no need to
make appointments with friends to going out. No, here socialising just
happens. You can't plan it but you can rely on it. And 'hanging out' is
an acceptable enough reason to spend time with strangers. I like that
in Philippino society and am glad to be part of it for a while.
The coming two weeks of August will remain busy enough. For September
the Provincial Rescue Teams will for the first time ever have a course
in map reading and navigation. It takes some effort to organise maps
and navigation gear but I got it all done. All I need to finalise is
the lecture. It will happen during 4 days in the first week of
September in the remote municipality of Malinao.
And next weekend is a long weekend. With both Thursday and Monday being
public holidays. Jen and me are still looking into things we can do
during that windfall of spare time. Which island out of the 7000 would
you go to? Our first pic is Sibuyan Island for it's reputation of being
a wilderness heaven. We'll see if we can get there.
an Earthquake Drill in a Kalibo college
the water safety training in Nabas
the best 'workplaces' I've ever had
such a tranquil spot...
the rescue trainees arrived.
Aid scenario in a village in Nabas
aid scenarios are part of the assessment procedure after the course, I
like the fact that they happen in public.
the results of the rescue and first aid scenarios, we had very patient
or "Rapelling" is a must-do part in all rescue courses.
poor chicken will soon be cooked by this group of girl scouts
the Scout event we trained basic knot tying...
basic first aid using triangular bandages...
had a cooking competition about said chicken cooked in Bamboo. I had
the best job in the world that day testing and comparing 18 delicious
here right now. While working hard typing this report others are
month has gone and my time here in the Philippines draws slowly to an
end. I am glad now that I got my extension approved, an extra two
month to stay here. Otherwise I would have only just over two
big highlight of the last two weeks was the August long weekend. A
weekend surrounded by public holidays on a Thursday and a Monday, a
sudden windfall of spare time. Although the original plan was to
visit Sibuyan Island together with my housemate Jen, the plan fell
over when Jen had to work on that Friday. Irregular ferry schedules
made a trip to Sibuyan impossible then. But by then all our
Philippino friends from the Seals were booked on a weekend training,
all Australian friends in Kalibo already booked somewhere else. With
not much else to do I decided to go exploring on my motorbike. Just
like back then in Africa, the old trip that has changed me
smaller scale this time. Pack up the bike. Which is much smaller than
one. Travel to the far end of our island. Which is only 160km away.
Hop over to the next island. And start exploring.
on a motorbike is still magic. It turns the world into a beautiful
movie. With a 3D real life animation rushing past all around you. And
you are in full control, you can participate by stopping for a while.
And change the movie by interacting with everyone when you stop. Or
you can be lazy and let the movie simply run by riding along and
enjoying. On a little 125ccm motorbike such as my little Rusi here
in the Philippines, everything goes much much slower. But i's the
perfect bike for here because even with a more powerful motorcycle
you would not go faster. The speed is determined as much by the limit
of the bike as it is by the quality of the road and most of all the
action happening on the road. The people walking along or across. The
kids playing basketball on the road. The stray dogs everywhere who
each own their section of the road. The overloaded slow tricycles.
It's a lot of action to watch and to keep the trip exciting. A complex
systems of all things moving in all possible directions. It also
keeps the trip slow. The 160km to Iloilo took over 4 hours to
Iloilo my bike and myself set off on a sea journey. Not a long one,
only two hours. But quite exciting. It was an early morning sea
journey, catching the 6 o'clock RoRo ferry to Bacolot. And in the
sun as my own island slowly faded into the background a new island
appeared on the horizon and grew into a huge grey wall as we slowly
closer. The grey wall being the massive Mt. Kanlaon volcano, rising
more than 2500m out of the northern tip of Negros Island and
dominating the landscape. It was the main reason for me coming here,
I am fascinated by volcanoes. And Mt Kanlaon being the closest active
volcano to my home in Kalibo - it was an easy choice of destination.
was only a weekend trip but during the journey so many things
happened. For the first ever time I experienced the biggest city of
my island, Iloilo and as such I can now claim to have visited every
province and every capital city on Panay. There was a return sea
journey with my bike. During which friendly people provided me with a
map that was so much better than the one I had and therefore
completely changed the course of the journey. There was the starting
point and end point of the Negros island lap – the City of
where friendly shop keepers remembered me between the first and last
days of the trip and just buying a bottle of water ended up in a
proposal to marry the nice shopkeeper girl. There was a mountain
resort to sleep in, hot springs to bath in, waterfalls to explore
with a newly found friend and his motorbike, beautiful vistas half
way up a volcano. There was a lot of getting lost along the way
because even the new map reflected the situation on the ground only
partially. Lots of nice people though giving me direction with a big
smile. There were old spanish cities. Huge churches. Ocean beaches.
Vistas across to the next island, the Island of Cebu. Monkey
sanctuaries advertised as being the habitat for the friendliest
monkeys in the world. Only that no monkey was home at the time, not
even one. There was the old sugar capital of Silay City, a town
sprawling with the evidence of past wealth from the sugar industry.
The local Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction team showing me around
their office and their vehicles while playing basketball. Winding
mountain roads, roads through endless sugar cane fields, roads along a
turquoise ocean. And the huge freedom to do whatever I wanted, to go
wherever it seemed to be nice and to do my favourite thing –
Kalibo has me back now as work has me back too. Times are getting
good again as with the end of the rainy season the time of fiestas
recommences. Fiestas are religious celebrations and there is one per
year in every village. Usually a one day event with some live music
on a public stage. And residents of that village inviting everyone
they know into their house for a feast of spit roast pork, chicken,
fish, seafood and mountains of rice. We had two of them just in the
last two weeks. And there was also a wedding for the brother of one
of the Seals volunteers. I am included into all these things and
that's why I love life here so much. Because there is always
something to do, there are always people and good mood. And happiness
has a pretty high priority in everything that's been done here. The
of happy life that makes time fly and gets you addicted.
we move into September work will remain interesting. For the first
time ever we will run Map Reading and Navigation courses, something I
developed during the past few weeks. And there will be another week
long training event as well to introduce basic Search and Rescue
training to the town of Makato. And there will surely be some more
surprises popping up along the way.
Riding in the rain - rain is nothing
evil in a tropical country. The water is actually not too cold and the
surrounding air temperature remains pretty warm. So rain gets you wet,
okay. But nothing to keep you from enjoying your road trip.
My first boat journey with my
motorbike in the Philippines. My little Rusi eagerly waiting to get on
board for the two hour journey from Dumangas to Bacolot.
The island of Negros, town of Murcia.
It was the last major town before the cold mountain area around Mt
Beautiful empty roads leading through
endless fields of green sugar cane
Reminding me of Northern Queensland
in Australia. Sugarcane forms the base of the local industry.
Riding up Mt Kanlaon, a local friend
guiding me up some small tracks, perfect for our two motorbikes
There are 13 waterfalls just on that
one side of the volcano. This photo shows a really spectacular one.
Up on the mountain the air is much
fresher and cooler, a very pleasant refuge in the otherwise tropical
A big Karabow with plenty of green
food to choose from
Up to here but no further - that's
the end of the track to go by motorcycle, from here it was another
climb by foot to the waterfalls
In the mountains the sugarcane is
replaced by your usual rice fields
Even though the sun is shining bright
we are still in the rainy season. Rain usually falls from late
afternoon and into the night. It turns the rivers muddy brown.
After visiting the volcano the
journey through the rice fields continues to the Eastern side of Negros
Mt Kanlaon posing in the background
with my little Rusi bike
Something I can't do in Australia -
riding my motorbike around an active volcano.
Towards Eastern Negros the
road passes through a beautiful mountain range. There is no traffic
either disturbing the serenity.
And as the mountains grow bigger the
rivers turn faster and the vistas wider.
The mountains and a very remote
Our rescue friends from Silay City
The City of Silay has passed a
glorious age of the sugar cane industry. Once the sugar cane capital of
Negros many historic buildings and the huge cathedral still stands
witness of the glorious past ages.
The 'Ruins', one of the main sights
in Bacolot City. Once the mansion of a sugar baron it was burned down
by American forces during World War 2 to prevent this building becoming
a head quarter of the advancing Japanese troops.
Back on my own island of Panay, just
coming off the ferry from Negros.
Weekend past time - hanging out at
some tasty fresh fish from the market