Philippines

Chennai – Good bye

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This was our only photo in Chennai (CHUH – NYE) – our last dinner on the roof our hotel.

We only had two days in the city. The last two days of our 10 month long trip, and we chose to spend it at a buffet table and a shopping mall. We were tired, and wanted a couple of days to gather our stuff and relax before our next leg of travel back to our home and native land.

Suffice it to say, we didn’t have any grand tales to share from our time in Chennai.

Instead maybe some advice:

1. Go to more breakfast buffets.

2. Take your time there: don’t blow your appetite on an overfilled, first plate of waffles and pancakes.

3. Aim for four plates. For example, start slow with salad. Move over to the omelette station next, and pay service to some sausage and bacon. Then for your third plate, you could bring in some insulation like pancakes, waffles, or french toast. This means you can finish on a light note. As your reliever, go with some fruit.

4. Get the fresh stuff: is there one piece of french toast left in the container? do another couple of laps, or distract yourself with the colours at the salad bar then double back to get the new batch.

5. Treat it as your own food museum: people spend hours touring museums, taking history in slowly, one piece at a time. There’s no reason you can’t do the same. Consider a buffet, your own edible museum or art gallery that you can enjoy, bit by bit, digesting it all slowly.

Enjoy.

We’ve now been back in Canada for a couple of months, and I can confidently say that the first impression of life here is cold. Not groundbreaking news for winter in Canada – but we’d been living under sun for the past 10 months, and hadn’t been below zero in a long time. Our East Coast is having it rough, getting hammered with one snow storm after the next, which I think, is well summed up in this ditty:

Toronto is just cold. I know, in comparison to other parts of Canada like Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northern B.C, and Quebec we’re living in a paradise. My eyelids aren’t freezing shut, my nose hairs aren’t growing icicles, and it doesn’t hurt to breathe outside. And yet, I still feel cold. Maybe the sun has made me soft.

There’s a lot of good things to being back:
– fast WiFi
– good coffee
– personal laundry
– maple syrup

And some bad:
– The Toronto Maple Leafs

It was an amazing trip overall – with a ton of different experiences along the way, which I’m sure we’ll return to again and again as our memories are randomly triggered.

” Do you remember that drunk guy singing in a microphone on that Indonesian ferry?”

” Remember those mountain goats we saw off the trail in Nepal”.

” Remember that Chinese trekker who had a teddy bear on his bag to remember his wife”.

Blah, blah, blah. We can go on forever – and think it enormously interesting, while boring the shit out of everyone around us. However, in place of our subjective impressions, here’s something we can include people on: our trip by the numbers.

Months spent travelling: 10

Countries visited: 10

Planes taken: 32

Longest single flight: 14 hrs 35 mins. (Vancouver to Auckland)

Trains taken: 5 (overnight) + 2 (day)

Longest single train ride: 14 hrs (Delhi to Varanasi)

Buses taken: 2 (overnight) + 19 (day)

Longest single bus ride: 13 hrs (Mumbai to Goa)

Tuk-tuk/rickshaws taken: 100+ (at least)

Cars/Taxis taken: 40-ish

Cars we rented and drove ourselves: 2

Mopeds we rented and drove ourselves: 5

Boats/Ferries: 7

Longest continuous day of travel: 26 hrs (Phuket to Sukothai)

Guesthouses stayed: 84

Nights sleeping in airports: 2

Bouts of food poisoning: 2 – Marc 0 – Rose

Countries where one or more nationals mistook Rose as a fellow citizen : 8

Scuba dives: 12

Highest altitude climbed: 5416 metres (16, 878 feet)

Lowest depth swum below sea level: 30 metres (98 feet)

Trail hikes: 4

Longest hike: 20 days (Annapurna Circuit)

Major news stories of our disappearance: 5 (Google search: Marc + Rose + Nepal)

Strangers who asked me to pose in a photo with them: 4

Temples visited: beaucoup

How many times we changed time zones: 10

Most times zone crossed in a single day: 10

Total distance travelled: 98, 885.4 kms (two times around the earth + 18k leftover)

I may fill in a few spots here and there, add some more travel books and odds and ends. But otherwise, that was our trip.

Merci bien. Thanks for reading.

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Travel Books: Philippines

Good books I read on Philippines this trip: 

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A novel within a novel following a Filipino author trying to understand the death of one of his Filipino literary heroes. Told from the point of view of someone whose left the Philippines and returned, offers insights into life in modern day Manila and cultural identity of being Filipino.

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Not directly related to the Philippines – in fact, the story is likely set in Pakistan, based on some descriptions (it’s kept ambiguous to accomodate a larger Asian theme) – but travelling through Manila and seeing tons of high rises and other developments going up plus whispers of a new middle class thanks to customer service centres popping up in the Philippines I was intrigued. It’s a quick read based on a young entrepreneur who chronicles the steps it takes to get up and out of poverty and join the industrial class, including how to bribe and sidestep laws. It was an interesting read.

Book I didn’t read but have on my list: 

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The American influence in Philippines is huge. Obama was on a visit while we were there, reinstating more of an American military presence after they had officially pulled out of all bases in the mid 90s. Interestingly, I learned from papers while I was there that many Filipinos are fine with American influence  (Not all. Some were protesting Obama’s move. But on the whole, pro.)- some even admitting they wished they were an American colony. Anyhow, heard this book was a good one.

We gone to Vigan

 

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After a week of bobbing in the waves of Palawan, wondering if I had it in me to live a simpler life here, fishing, swimming and sleeping days away, I was broken from my daydream by our merry band of travelers – Rose’s Mum & husband and Rose’s sister -who said it was time for our next destination, Vigan City.

Vigan is a city, eight hours North of Manila, given a UNESCO world heritage designation for its Spanish colonial architecture that’s survived since the 1600s, including occupation of invading forces.

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But all of that would only play a backdrop to the real reason we were here: FAMILY. A lot of it.

This was not a journey into a quaint countryside home to connect with a handful of cousins and aunts and uncles.

This was a journey into a village, populated almost entirely by Rose’s family.

30 cousins, 11 aunts and uncles, a smattering of second cousins, and a sprinkle of third cousins for youthful diversity.

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While I would claim that the main activity in Palawan was solitary meditation on the environment and rolling waves, in Vigan, the primary activity was group mediation.

With so many people with varying interests and activities, Rose’s mum with the help of her immediate inner circle of sisters and brothers, undertook a colossal, military operation, to ensure food somehow showed up at the house, got cooked, tables got laid. Plus transportation showed up and we ended up exactly where we were planned to go.

Seeing the velocity at which these wheels of industry spun, I took as far a backseat as possible to avoid getting crushed. In fact, on one occasion, I sat so far back I was in the back of a truck with a group of other children on the way to the beach:

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Aside from the machinations of moving a horde of people, Vigan city also proved impressive. Our visit coincided with its annual fiesta, that brought out dancers:

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Entrants into a carriage design festival, which owners rode through town:

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But, of all the activities in the Philippines, there was one that I was steeling myself for, well before I arrived. Karaoke you might think? Yes, that happened:

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However, I’d ripped through enough Bon Jovi on the mic in Canada to not feel entirely taken by surprise. Although, the biggest challenge for karaoke in Philippines was learning to do it with a straight face. As I learned, everyone who sang karaoke, REALLY sang. Regardless whether someone could hit a high note, they were going for the karoake machine’s high score.

No, this activity was much nastier, and more nervewracking than stage fright. Here’s what my nightmare looked like in the flesh:

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What you’re looking at is a fertilized egg, containing a bird embryo that, judging by the darkness of its feathers, is probably 18 days old. It’s called Balot and it’s a Philippine delicacy.

So, I put it in my mouth, and chewed:

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Then chewed some more, wondering if I could get it into my stomach or if my stomach would change direction:

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Luckily, it stayed down with the help of some spicy vinegar, and a half bottle of beer.

But I wasn’t the only daredevil.

Rose and her sister each ate one, plus Rose’s mum’s husband, who admitted to me afterwards that he hadn’t eaten one in over 25 years, and was just as worried about it.

While Balot weighed heaviest in my mind, in the scheme of animal’s to be eaten at Rose’s mum’s house, it was of least importance.

Rose’s mum was having a party for the entire family, and the honoured guest was a cow she had purchased just for the event that would appear in various forms in various dishes.

However, this was no supermarket cow, already covered in cellophane wrap ready to pick off a shelf. It mooed, it licked, it sweat – it was alive and someone had to dispatch it.

Yes, even in writing this, I feel the inevitability of where this is heading:

“Marc. As a first time guest to the Philippines, please honour us by being the one to kill the cow”.

My heart’s beating faster as I read it.

Thankfully, that was only fantasy.

There were much more qualified guys in charge of the job – namely, Rose’s cousin Atong who is a certified butcher, and was one of the guys involved in doing the deed.

The weather in the Philippines is so hot, that they arranged the killing in the middle of the night in Rose’s mum backfield. By morning, this was all that was left of the killing floor, while beef dishes were already well underway:

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While I shied from this slaughter, on a separate occasion, I put on a strong face and practiced calm as I ripped out a handful of leaves from the ground, plus, barbarian-like, tore hot peppers from their branches, all sacrifices for that evening’s meal.

I have no regrets.

Later on we headed to the Vigan town square to watch a laser fountain show, which depending on where you stand could be seen as amazingly avant-garde or insanely disparate as it mixed music from Skrillex, the song “the eye of the tiger,” Katy Perry, some Korean pop bands, and a Journey song.

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That brought our time to a close in Philippines as we headed to the airport and our next destination, the hot, humid environs of the capital city of Laos, Vientiane.

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