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August 2014


It's been 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 as a 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 get shared.
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 pimple. It's 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 little 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.

During an Earthquake Drill in a Kalibo college

During the water safety training in Nabas

One of the best 'workplaces' I've ever had

It was such a tranquil spot...

...until the rescue trainees arrived.

First Aid scenario in a village in Nabas

First aid scenarios are part of the assessment procedure after the course, I like the fact that they happen in public.

Comparing the results of the rescue and first aid scenarios, we had very patient casualties

Abseiling or "Rapelling" is a must-do part in all rescue courses.

This poor chicken will soon be cooked by this group of girl scouts

During the Scout event we trained basic knot tying...

...and basic first aid using triangular bandages...

...and 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 meals.

Right here right now. While working hard typing this report others are sleeping.


Another 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 months left!

The 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 forever. Only smaller scale this time. Pack up the bike. Which is much smaller than the Africa one. Travel to the far end of our island. Which is only 160km away. Hop over to the next island. And start exploring.

Travelling 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 complete.

From 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 morning 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 moved 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.

It 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 Bacolot 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 – riding my little motorbike.

However, 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 sort of happy life that makes time fly and gets you addicted.

As 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 Kanlaon

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 heat.

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 Island.

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 waterfall

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 the beach

...and grilling some tasty fresh fish from the market

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(c) 2014    marco hoffmann