ang pilipinas 2 and a weekend in Hong Kong

Here is the second and final installment from the trip to Southeast Asia in May. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Images from an old Spanish church on Bohol. Incredible light in this church—I can only imagine shooting a wedding in a structure like this!

A visit to the Philippine Tarsier Foundation was a high point. My thanks to the people who recommended this place over and above some nasty little petting zoo which equates to torture for these fragile little nocturnal creatures. The Tarsier Foundation is basically several acres of walled off habitat on the island of Bohol—(house cats are now their greatest predators). A guide takes tourists on a walk through this bushy property to spot the tarsiers in repose. No touching allowed, thank heavens.

A marine sanctuary–this is my happy place. I am never so filled with delight and wonder as when I’m snorkeling on a healthy coral reef. I think I spotted six different species of clown fish alone, in all sorts of anemones. I would float quite still for a time and would be swarmed with iridescent fish of the richest hues (these underwater photos are garbage by the way)—it was two days of goose bumps, and not from cold because the water was absolutely balmy. You can imagine my dismay, then, to see guides walking on the corals in their shoes while schlepping little boats of tourists around who didn’t care to get wet. I yelled at them. I am not a confrontational person but I could not restrain myself—little good it did I’m sure—they looked at me like I was nuts. I personally would sooner take a sea urchin to the chest than skiff a coral with my fins, but it was soon made clear to me on my trip that awareness of or concern for these doomed wonders is all but nil.

Ian working out some angst and working on his ‘tan.’ I have not included his face in this shot in case he ever decides to run for office, despite him saying he doesn’t care.

In Manila we rented a car so that we could drive through northern Luzon and see the famed Banaue rice terraces. Getting out of Manila in rush hour traffic was nothing less than terrifying. Renting a car in Hawaii? great. Manila, suicide. We were also stopped by the police twice, who wanted bribes for our ‘dangerous’ driving moves. The second time we were wise to them and thought their suggestion to take away our license was a very good one, and told them we didn’t care to drive there any more anyway.

In the mountainous city of Bagguio. The city has such an elevation that pine trees are the norm, and calla lilies grow by the side of the highway all through the misty mountain passes.

A man drinking tea on the main drag in Bontok

Technically one is not supposed to take a rental car on gravel roads. We did some pretty fantastic 4x4ing for two whole days, and the road from Bontok to Banaue was particularly treacherous. It had been washed out by a typhoon the week before, and just the day before, someone had died on the road, having been washed over the side by a mud slide. I lost count of how many times we bottomed out. We were held up for periods of time waiting for back hoes to clear some of these slides—and we counted down and cheered every time the odometer registered another kilometer had passed. If I could buy a 2007 Toyota Aveo in Vancouver I would have already done so.

We were extremely grateful to have made it alive. Despite the fact that this is a UNESCO world heritage site, we saw no other tourists either that evening or the next morning. Considering our near-death experience perhaps it is no great wonder.

Banaue in the brilliant morning sun! The rice terraces are around two thousand years old.

Fortunately the beautiful market in Banaue was open late. Doesn’t this look kind of Dutch still life? Attractive produce, but since I had no washing facilities I stuck with the standard ‘buko’ or coconut.

I have to say: accommodation sucked! I got pretty tired of night after night old foamies with no mattress protectors. As soon as one’s body heat hits those bad boys the rancid oils of sweaty bodies past wafts up and combines with the mould spores from the diseased air conditioner which vented into the sour bathroom lacking toilet paper or soap. At this particular place (one of the better options according to the guide book) a cockroach was perched on my face cloth when I went to wash that evening. Am I too fussy? Maybe.

After the rice terraces we drove all the way to the very northern tip of the Philippines, Santa Ana. Unfortunately the waters were infested with jellyfish and swimming was impossible. This was a shame because we had come here for the cleaner seas… and even from the surface I could see an army of robust clownfish.

The Spanish ‘Intra Muros’ section of Manila. We walked there against the advice of the concierge at the Pan Pacific. The breakfast buffet at Pan Pacific Manila was quite a switch from our usual market pickings. I actually had this cake for breakfast, well, breakfast dessert. FYI, it costs the same amount to stay at the Pan Pacific Manila as it does the same hotel in Vancouver or Seattle, but I’m pretty sure they’re not paying the staff comparable wages. One of life’s little mysteries, eh?

Our fancy pants hotel was two blocks away from the ‘seawall’ which smelled funny. Why did it smell funny? We looked over the edge and saw that what may have been beach was covered in poubelle as far as the eye could see into the unfortunate water.

I turned around and saw two men laughing at me—no doubt my poker face had been left at the hotel.

clipped hair and a woman on the pavement outside the hotel.

Disembarking at Legaspi in southern Luzon in order to get to Donsol, where the whale sharks live.

These images were taken on a river boat near Donsol. The top two frames are star scapes, the bottom three are trees filled with fireflies! It was a wondrous sight—punctuated by the futile flashes of lesser cameras on the boat which only disturbed the bugs.

Cruising on a chartered boat off southern Luzon

Unfortunately the place we paid a bundle to go snorkeling (the boat charter was 7000 pesos!) was infested with jelly fish again. We had asked about the jelly fish before booking the charter, and by all reports it was ‘fine’ but … it wasn’t. Marine biologists say jelly fish thrive in unhealthy conditions and are on the rise globally.

It was my idea to stop here and thought it looked an idyllic white sandy beach from the distance. As we approached we were greeted by a gang of curious kids.

The plastic refuse extended from their beach into the water and onto the coral reef. The kids greeted me with dead sea creatures floating in the plastic near the shore, including these two baby sharks. I know they meant it in a playful friendly way, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a wee bit mortified.

The kids competed for camera time. I felt very awkward though because we had arrived out of no where on this tiny community’s island. When I realized what we had done I told the boat crew that I didn’t need to go to the bathroom anymore and perhaps we should just leave. They insisted, however, that I disembark, so I wandered aimlessly around the little village with the kids, saddened that the ubiquitous plastic refuse was choking even their remote little bay. Oh, and I’m peeved that the lens I got off the boat with was a tilt shift! Good grief.

As mentioned the reason for traveling to this region of Luzon was to encounter the whale shark, the biggest shark in the world—a gentle plankton eater. Unfortunately the crummy Olympus underwater camera died after this shot, so this bad pic will have to do. Despite watching a video all about respecting the animals and staying 4 meters back, limiting the snorkelers to 6 per animal, ten boats full of snorkelers would converge on a single animal and everyone would jump out at their guides’ prompting and torpedo towards it. Because the water was so murky I did not see the shark until I was almost face to face with it (I saw two over two days) and the experience had me breathing pretty hard through the snorkel. Unfortunately ‘swimming with the whale sharks’ is a kind of non-lethal whaling. I even saw someone grab onto a dorsal fin and try to ride the frightened shark. I smacked this fellow’s hand underwater, but he was still boasting about his feat to the guide when he surfaced. The guide meekly asked him if he had watched the info video… I don’t think the question even registered. To the right of the endangered living creature you can see a picture of its fins for sale in Hong Kong.

Other than the shark fins for sale I quite liked Hong Kong, although I was soaked to the bone for the two days I wandered about.

show hide 7 comments

C.J. Scott It’s so awesome seeing little clips of your trip through these images. Even magical some of them. Those wee tarsier primates are incredible to look at…so cool and peculiar. I wish I could see exactly what you saw when you were underwater with all those beautiful creatures…it’s a whole new world down there.

I know the experience of traveling through Philippines was one hell of a trip for you though and I’m glad you made it back safely.

Jasalyn Wow, what an eye-opening experience!! I’m amazed that they don’t seem to care about their waters. Looks like you had an amazing time!

melia I think that the garbage disposal infrastructure is lacking, so more of it ends up in the ocean than it does here. I think that’s it–I am sure some people care. Not that we have figured out a brilliant garbage solution either, but most places we went in the Philippines garbage was burned, so air quality suffered too, unfortunately.

veronika melia! the pictures look amazing! i have never really had a desire to go to hong kong or the philippines and your pictures almost make me want to go there!! you make every picture look amazing even if its of GARBAGE!! looks like you had quite the adventure!!

Genevieve Beautiful colours in these photos. I love looking through your new photos (and still enjoying the ones you did for our wedding in 07). Gorgeous!

sean wow! looks like it was an amazing trip. how fun. I haven’t seen a lot of your new work, I think your RSS broke for me. just subscribed again.

kat – sikat ang pinoy mazing pics… ganda ng pilipinas.