Monday, July 23, 2012

Sea Walk

Pangan-an Island

Going to Pangan-an island by boat is easy, but if boat rides make you dizzy, you can take a walk….

Pangan-an is an island-barangay that belongs to Lapu-Lapu City. It is situated east of Mactan and right next to Olango. It used to be a legendary fishing ground with fish stock abundant enough to feed China. Fishermen from faraway places regarded the waters surrounding the island as a place in wh
ich to fish, and the island itself as the place on which to eat - kan-anan (dining area). In time, kan-anan became Pangan-an and the name stuck, but the fish stock gone.

An old riddle asks, in the middle of the sea, what can you see? The letter “e” you say? Wrong! In the middle of the sea is - a waiting shed! Yes indeed, a waiting shed stands proudly right in the middle of a channel that separates Olango Island from Pangan-an. It is used by tricycle drivers waiting for riders, and vice versa. Tricycles, in the sea? That’s right. At low tide, the area will be completely dewatered as if a hole underneath sucks the seabed dry. This is not your typical sand bottom seabed, but an immense flat-coral-bedrock. You can see the two-wheel mark that snakes across the channel and thins toward Pangan-an. It is a visible nautical highway. But who needs a ride, when you can walk? You will see flocks of birds in v-formation against the backdrop of all imaginable cloud formations. If you are lucky you will see a distant rainfall or a rainbow. It is a walk you will not soon forget.

Halfway through on our way back, water started to seep on our path. As if having minds of their own, little headwaters crawled toward our feet. The sea has awakened. Within minutes, this vast expanse of flat rock was covered with sparkling ankle-high water. At this time, the waiting shed was half-submerged and we were soon surrounded by waste-high seawater. It feels like Moses’ Red Sea crossing. The walk was longer and tiring, but the open space and the ultimate freedom it brings was worth tiring for. On the edges are coconut islets, protected from strong waves by walls of mangrove forests.

It was late afternoon. The clouds already started to pale on the horizon. We met locals along the way, traveling the same path as we did. I waved hello and was rewarded by shy smiles. I figured, our ancestors from faraway places came here not necessarily on land bridges, but on foot, just like we did at low tide when seawater retreated to reveal that flat bottom bedrock….

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Terraced Masterpiece

Rice Terraces

The rice terraces look majestic but there is more to it than meets the eye. The concept of the terraces is simple enough: In order to grow, rice needs water, which the mountain slopes can not hold. But what was borne out of necessity has become something else - a terraced masterpiece, a baffling transformation, a phenomenal sight worthy of UNESCO’s world heritage list. Due to its sheer size, the rice terraces flood your vision. But it is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the other senses. The vast space, the absolute quiet, and the wind softly brushing your skin almost bring you back to the dawn of civilization when our ancestors were carving those mountains. Come. Be there. Be awed. And let your spirit be lifted up the heavens.

There are as many rice terraces as there are little villages in the canyons of Ifugao. The world famous Banaue Rice Terraces is just one amongst many. It offers a stunning panorama you can view from a platform on a bluff surrounded by shops selling souvenirs. But the best way to go is visit Batad, one of the more famous and photogenic rice-terraces-villages. From the bus station, a tricycle will bring you in an hour on its foot. From there, a good one and a half hour trek on backcountry trail will bring you to Batad’s view deck, making those postcards come alive, and your adrenaline pumping for more. When we came, a shaft of light fell directly on one of the terraces squeezed beneath two slopes. It was long and narrow, and creeping up towards the mist and low clouds. It was mesmerizing, surreal, literally, a stairway to heaven.

The massive 10-foot rock walls that hold the rice terraces together is the heart of the matter. No special mortar was used, just plain rocks, mud and hay, but strong enough to survive generations. Water from springs on mountaintops is channeled through irrigation canals beside slope fissures which are then brought to individual paddies by hollowed out bamboo poles - What struck me the most is its simplicity in such a grand setting, and the fact that it hasn’t changed for thousands of years.

The 8th wonder experience has brought a fresh perspective of who I am. I suddenly became proud of my heritage, of who we are as a people, and of what we have contributed to the world. It is time to pay homage to what our ancestors have ingeniously created and which has given them immortality. I did already....

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Friday, June 22, 2012

The Fanged Descendant

Eastern Europe

Harvard educated Dan is from Romania but works for prominent politicians in Washington D.C. We’ve worked together in the Philippines in 2010 for a candidate in the presidential election. As the campaign went full throttle all over the country, we watched a newsflash featuring a pregnant woman allegedly blood-sucked dry by a mananaggal (a witch with bat-like wings and flies with only its upper body). Laughter erupted at this amusing break in the barrage of political campaigning. I said, “Dan, do you have witches and monster stories like these in your country? “ He was obviously taken aback at my query. He said, Are you serious? Haven’t you heard about Count Dracula? I replied, “Yes of course, so?” He said, “Well, Dracula was Romanian!”

Romanians are among the friendliest and most hospitable people on earth with an innate sense of humor. They speak a Latin-based language called Romanian, a phonetic language, so words are pronounced as they are spelled. For a bit of trivia, Romanian is the second language spoken in Microsoft, because the company is full with Romanian IT specialists.

Central Romania encompasses Transylvania – home of Dracula! But it's also a place with unique architectural treasures, such as castles, fortified churches and centuries-old houses. Fringed by the peaks of the Carpathian Mountains is the medieval city of Brasov, located just three hours north of Bucharest. Its famous landmark is the Black Church which got its nickname after the Great Fire of 1689 blackened its walls. A designated European Capital of Culture is Sibiu. It has colorful houses on cobblestone streets, bounded by imposing city walls and defense towers overlooking a river. And located just a half-hour drive at the foothills of the Cindrel Mountains is Marginimea Sibiului - a string of 18 ancient villages!

Romania was a kingdom in 1881 then a republic in 1947. This was when Nicolae Ceausescu headed the Ministry of Agriculture, then Deputy Minister of the Armed Forces. He rose in the Politburo so fast until he became General secretary in 1965 and consolidated power in 1967 by becoming President of the State Council. His condemnation of Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia earns him praise but he soon became a dictator obsessed with megalomaniac building projects and eventually overthrown by a national uprising in 1989. When he left office, he almost drained the country’s finances.

I told Dan, “I’m sorry man, our finances just can’t keep everybody for the duration of the campaign.” He said, “Oh no worries and good luck, and I missed my coffin.” I said, What? My coffin. I slept in it. He grinned and attempted to bite my neck! It was a joke that kept me thinking - He did have sharp and longer than usual incisor teeth, and he smelled differently, and the suits he wore were old fashioned, more like 15th century fashion. And he did say he came from Transylvania! Could he be a descendant of the Count?
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