Friday, January 23, 2009

North Luzon

Let's make it official and say I really like it here in the Philippines. Every day I say to myself that it was a great choice to come here and Sky got screwed coming to West Africa. People have been so smiley and friendly here and I'm tempted to stay forever, like a few people we've seen already. Our hosts and other locals must think we're a little nutty because sometimes we still act like we just crawled out of the wilderness where we were raised by wolves...."Look! A Starbucks! Look, a skyscraper! Wow, traffic lights and garbage cans!" Yeah, ok, so culture shock works both ways....
The Philippines has a couple unique variations on the usual public transportation systems in existence. The first is the jeepney instead of a public minibus. A jeepney looks like the mutated offspring of a US military jeep and a Pakistani truck used to transport people around. All that means is that it has a jeep front and an elongated back with benches for people, and on the outside some very personalized and creative artwork decorating it. The second is that instead of tuk-tuks, they have tricycles which are the standard motorbike but with the people carrier on the side and smaller than the tuk-tuk they are replacing. They sound about the same and seem to make up most of the traffic, noise and pollution in the smaller places so far. It's also good to see that compared to Africa, there isn't going to be a shortage of casual wildlife (though so far it's mostly birds, giant cockroaches, butterflies and a couple of geckos), the buses run on time, you can almost take the electricity for granted, and things generally seem to work better. I'm writing this from a small mountain village internet cafe that has a better connection than Cape Town did and my pen which has given me nothing but stress since I got it in Rwanda actually writes better too. I kid you not!
Our bus ride to Vigan was an over-nighter so we arrived exhausted, our 3rd night of no sleep in a week. We had another amazing host in Vigan, this time with a local family that took great care of us. We spent a few days there, alternating between sightseeing and relaxing. Vigan is a Unesco heritage town (and I've never been in one that was more proud of that fact and so quick to advertise it) as it is the best preserved Spanish colonial town in Asia since it was spared destruction during WWII. You can see the old churches and important homes, now museums or hotels, and although not all the buildings are well maintained, it's still interesting. They have horse carriages to ride and the doors of the buildings, were obviously originally made for them. It was an easy comparison of sizes :)
You'd think it would be touristy but there was no hassle and the tourists were mostly locals. To make it even more fun, the Vigan City Fiesta had just started as we arrived for a week of local celebration. We didn't see much of it and it was very small townish but we did watch 100's of kids parading along the street and I swear while we were watching from the sidelines most of them turned to stare at me as they walked by. That's not the only attention I've been getting either. People have asked me for photos with them and boys will stand up when I walk by to compare heights. I suppose it's a doubly big thing here since basketball is also the national sport. It's all quite fun and I'm thoroughly enjoying getting positive attention again. I no longer need to assume everyone approaching is a beggar.
Filipinos are mostly Roman Catholic and the diet has consisted of a lot of pork and seafood including prawns, so I am no longer a good Muslim or Jew (yes, I actually pause and think about it when pork is placed in front of me). They also eat dog in some parts of the country but at the same time, many people have dogs as pets. Seems like it should be one or the other but not both....
From Vigan we exhausted ourselves on another early, early morning bus to get to Sagada. I hadn't heard of it before but everyone here raves about it as the perfect mountain getaway. Maybe it is. The village has only a few thousand people high up in the mountains with both rice terraces and evergreen trees in the same place between sharp limestone pinnacles. It's a great place for relaxing or trekking and they also have a number of caves to visit. The most unique feature is the presence of hanging coffins, where locals have been "buried" with their coffins attached to the sides of cliffs in groups left totally exposed. Very bizarre to come upon them when hiking in the woods, but after one or two they quickly get overrated.
From Sagada we travelled to Banaue on the top of a jeepney on some amazing mountain roads. With good weather the scenery was spectacular but the journey a little scary with some sheer drop offs on a narrow road that in parts has been destroyed by landslides that are still being cleared. Banaue is the main village for viewing the world famous Ifugao Rice Terraces, considered to be one of the natural wonders of the world. It's not the best time of year to be here right now because they are mostly brown and not green and growing, but you can still see how they've been walled in stone and carved out of the mountains. It's believed they were started 2000 years ago and now cover and area of 400 square km and if the walls were stretched end to end they'd go halfway around the world. It's very impressive and scenic even at the wrong time of year and with overcast skies. We've had a lot of rain here in Banaue in the afternoons/evenings so haven't done a lot of hiking around or visiting of neighbouring villages with other terrace views.
Tomorrow we head back to Manila and then further southeast to Naga.


At 6:48 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Guys!! We just looked through the Israel photos!! Looks cool! When do we get to see the next set?? Hope you guys are safe and fine and all that!

Love love


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