Friday, April 4, 2014

The Nine Cycle Touring Books of Bettina Selby

My Telluride bicycle touring friend David, who rode along with me in Turkey three years ago, enjoys travel writing as much as I do.  He lets me know from time to time of a book or author he has recently read that he thinks I would enjoy.

The latest was Bettina Selby, an Englishwoman who wrote nine books about traveling by bicycle in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe from 1984 to 1996 until old age caught up to her.  She didn't begin her traveling life until she was 47, after raising three children and serving as a primary school teacher in London.  Somehow or another neither of us had stumbled upon any of her books or had ever heard of her.  

David discovered her while reading up on the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage route across northern Spain that he intended to ride this winter.  She had written a book about bicycling it in 1994, the eighth of her nine touring books.  David was also pleased to report that another of her books that he had gotten his hands on, "Beyond Ararat, A Journey Through Eastern Turkey,"  recounted roads we had ridden and experiences similar to ours being set upon by dogs and stoned by kids and chased by mobs of teens.

Chicago's public library had her book on the Camino.  It had eluded me when I read up on it before riding it in 2008, as it was filed amongst the large type books and not on the shelf with the handful of books on the Camino, including one by Shirley MacLaine.  For her other books I turned to my  Northwestern University librarian friend Elizabeth.  They could all be found at various universities, including Northwestern, as her writing has a sheen of academia to it, with a little more commentary on history and culture than most travel books.  They are still mostly personal recollections of the travel experience, but with a school marmish temperament.  She scolds and reprimands behavior that she deems rude and inappropriate, sometimes getting her in trouble.

In her third book, "Riding the Desert Trail," bicycling from Cairo to Uganda following the Nile River for awhile, she rather harshly asks some partiers at a hotel she is staying at to quiet down.  They are so incensed at her demands they charge up to her room calling out, "Where you white woman?  Come out of there sister, we going to pull you apart."  Luckily they couldn't find her room.

In India on her first trip, a 4,000 mile ride from Karachi, Pakistan to Kathmandu, she is knocked off her bike by a mob of young men.  She was paralyzed by fear, but rose up "so incensed by rage, I could have done murder." She gathers her wits and "icy calm and authoritative, as though I was addressing a class of fractious eight-year olds, said, 'I am going to fetch a policeman.'"  That stilled the mob and she managed to ride on.

Later, on the same trip in Nepal a group of school children enthusiastically greet her chanting, "Hello tourist."  She found that disrespectful and "sternly told them that this was not a suitable form of address for a female visitor of mature years."

She regularly has to fend off unwelcome advances by men, once even chasing after a young man who pinched her bottom as she slowly passed him on a climb in Jordan.  She is sustained by an indomitable spirit and an optimistic nature.  In nearly every one of her books she comments that travelers are optimists at heart.

She likewise makes mention of a "guardian angel" looking after her.  In "Fragile Islands, A Journey Through the Outer Hebrides" she continually battled winds.  One day when a particularly malevolent blast had reduced her to a standstill, a blue van came to her rescue.  She wrote, "I was convinced that it was another instance of the Hand of Providence intervening in an hour of need."

In her final travel book, "Like Water in a Dry Land--A Journey into Modern Israel," Selby returns to one of her favorite cities, Jerusalem, starting in Cyprus and passing through Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.  At the outset she assures her readers that she sets off with little worries as, "I have come to believe that I have a guardian angel who looks out for me when danger does threaten."  A while later in thick traffic in Beirut she acknowledges, "My guardian angel had his work cut out."

Another one of her defenses is tears.  She would prefer not to be driven to tears, but there are occasions so dire, she cannot help herself and they wheedle her out of trouble.  She wrote that if she hadn't given in to tears at the Israeli/Jordan border in "Riding to Jerusalem" her second book, after being kept waiting for hours by the Israelis, she didn't think she would ever have been let it.

The shedding of tears were a constant feature of her first trip before she realized she had a guardian angel, one of the few books that she doesn't mention such protection.  Another is "Riding North One Summer," where she rides around England and hardly needs one.  But in Pakistan and India she cried so often it worried her until she met other female travelers who had the same proclivity.  "Tears were almost impossible to avoid," she wrote, "because of life being so difficult and frustrating for women in that male-dominated world."

Most of her books include several pages of photos, but rarely one of her. The photos of her first Africa book were mostly of people. There were no photos of bare-breasted woman, but one of males baring their gentilia.   She reveals little of her personal life.  Her husband and children rarely merit more than a single mention.  In her book on bicycling around England she reveals her husband is involved in the film industry.  She acknowledges she is a grandmother and that her son is an ardent traveler too.  Of her two daughters we know nothing other than one was traveling in South America during her first trip and one, who may have been the same, helped her pick out her wardrobe for that trip.

She comes across as very prim and proper.  The worst part of fixing a flat tire for her is getting her hands dirty.   She turns her nose up at grimy linens.  She likes to finish her day with a good shot of whiskey.  When she lists all her gear she includes whiskey among her luxury items, but then corrects herself, calling it a virtual necessity as "a universal catholicon for all manner of ailments."  She mentions having a drink at the end of a day more often than getting a shower or bath, which is much more frequently referred to in most touring cyclist books.

Though she is easily irritated, there is no denying her toughness and fearlessness and daring spirit.  She even had the audacity to enlist as a bicycle messenger as a fifty-year old before her ride down the Nile to get in shape for the ride.  She loved it, despite never working so hard for so little monetary reward.  She gained the fitness she needed and also enhanced her riding skills.

Before her first trip she sold her car so she could buy a first-rate bike and equipment.  That was the only one of her trips where she didn't have a name for her bike.  As an ardent cyclist she is inclined to disparaging remarks about the automobile, even in her only non-cycling book that she wrote five years after her final touring book.

"Two Cats Walking" is the narrative of two cats who abandon their owners, upset with them for forcing them to move from the home they have become accustomed to.  After being on their own for awhile they begin to miss their owners and set out on an odyssey to return to them.  They always hated being transported by car and escape from their owner's car on the way to their new home in rural Wales.  The cats are perplexed by "this perverse generation of humans who both worship the motor car, but at the same time crave peace and quiet."  They are relieved to be back on foot, "as you don't find that kind of magic on a car journey."

Selby's books have been translated into Dutch, German and Japanese.  Some have been made into documentaries.  Though her writing can be a bit dry and impersonal compared to other travel writing, she captures well the travel experience and fully endorses the bicycle as a means of travel.  She should be better known than she is.  She ranks right up there with the two more prominent and equally prolific women touring cyclist writers from the British Isles--Dervla Murphy and Josie Dew.  Murphy preceded her and no doubt was an inspiration, but curiously not once does she pay her homage.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Cycle of Lies" versus "Wheelmen"

Juliet Macur brings a strong female perspective to the Lance Armstrong saga in "Cycle of Lies," the latest book detailing the downfall of the seven-time conqueror of The Tour de France.  She cultivated many female sources in the decade that she covered Armstrong and bicycle racing for the "New York Times."

She's the reporter who convinced Frankie Andreu to confess to his use of EPO, revealed in a front page story in the "New York Times" in September of 2006.  She had been visiting Betsy Andreu at their home in Michigan.  Her husband wasn't happy at all that Macur was there.  He argued with Betsy about it, but relented to Macur's persistence and became the first of Armstrong's teammates to bravely acknowledge that things with Lance weren't so clean. Jonathan Vaughters also admitted to drug-taking in that article, but anonymously.

Macur spoke with Betsy hundreds of times over the years.  Macur's book answers the question, "Did the wives and girl friends of the racers know about their doping?"  Of course they did.  At the bachelorette party for Christian Vande Velde's wife-to-be, Leah, she tearfully comments to Vaughter's wife Alisa, "All the needles.  Its just so hard."  They hugged and they both cried.

Macur uses tears repeatedly to emphasis a point, citing over thirty incidences, including some of her own.  It is quite a contrast to the mere nine in "Wheelman," a similar version of the same story published just a few months ago by the two "Wall Street Journal" reporters, Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell, who had been on the case for years too. The third book in this trilogy of books published after the official report documenting of Armstrong's doping, "Seven Deadly Sins," by Lance's chief nemesis the Irish sportswriter David Walsh, mentions tears twelve time.  

The latest two books by rival Amrican writers have a slightly different focus, though they both are determined, as was Walsh, to portray Armstrong in the lowest light possible. The "Journal" reporters go on at length castigating the money-man behind Armstrong, Thom Weisel.  Macur doesn't pursue that side of the story at all, barely even mentioning him.  

She directs her strongest ire, other than that for Armstrong, at his mother.  She calls her a fraud for claiming to be a single mother, as she was married during most of the years of Armstrong's youth to a very hands-on husband who very avidly supported Armstrong in his athletic endeavors and takes partial blame for making him such a beast of a competitor.  He officially adopted Armstrong, with Lance taking his name, and would correct anyone who referred to him as a step-father.  He considered himself his father, though Armstrong later renounced him and refused to have anything to do with him, just as he did with his biological father.

Macur devotes several pages to the mother and sister of the young man who fathered Armstrong when he and his mother were just teens.  Even though he and Armstrong's mother quickly divorced, the women on his side of the family still helped out babysitting and looking after Armstrong.  Once when Armstrong's mother came to pick him up from his mother-in-law when he was four years old, he reluctantly left in tears.  When Armstrong's mother broke off relations with them, refusing to let his grandmother give him some Christmas presents when he was five or six, she was brought to tears.

Lance's tears as a four-year old is the first of five instances Macur cites of Armstrong crying.  The next was a few years later when he crashed at his first BMX race.  "Wheelman" also mentions this, one of three crying episodes both books share.  The other two involved Dave Zabriskie.

Zabriskie was a prime source for Macur.  He earns an entire chapter, more than any other of Armstrong's former teammates.  He was a close friend of Floyd Landis, acknowledging they doped together while training in the off-season before his 2006 victory in The Tour.  When he learned that Landis had been stripped of his title, he cried for hours, unable to leave his bathtub.

Landis chose not to talk to Macur, evidently having enough after Albergotti spent two weeks interrogating him at his cabin in a small town in California.  Besides the assistance of Zabriskie, Macur pursued the Landis side of the story through his physiologist Dr. Allen Lim.  He reveals that when he discovered Landis injecting himself with EPO when he was with him in Spain in 2005, he dropped him as a client and flew back to the US.  But he was hard-up for money and when Landis sent him a check for $7,000, he returned two weeks later.  

Macur states that Lim's time with Landis in Europe that year was the first time he had been to Europe.  Evidently she does not keep up with the podcasts of Michael Creed, essential listening for anyone interested in the true ins-and-outs of professional racing.  When Lim was a guest on the show while she was writing her book he tells of racing in Europe in 1989 as a sixteen-year old.  While there he attended The Tour de France and met Greg LeMond.  He can also be seen in the one-hour highlight video of that year's Tour standing at the top of a mountain pass on the tenth stage of The Race cheering the passing peloton.  That was about the only factual error in the book.  Macur had better fact-checkers than did Albergotti and O'Connell, who had quite a few mistakes, even referring to the Colombian Santiago Botero as a Spaniard.

Lim was a great source, as he went on to be one of Armstrong's coaches during his comeback.  Lim claims that Landis was a much stronger cyclist than Armstrong and makes the bold assertion that if there had been no doping in cycling he would have won The Tour ten times.  Lim also corroborates the story of Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel flushing a bag of Landis' blood down the toilet during the 2004 Tour, as they were upset with him and they knew that it would make it harder for him even though he was on their team.  

Zabriskie also confirms this story, a story that Landis inexplicably denied to Paul Kimmage in his seven-hour interview with him.  The story first came to light during the trial when Armstrong sued the company that didn't want to pay him a five million dollar bonus for winning The Tour five times over the suspicions of his doping.  It was introduced as evidence in a text message between Frankie Andreu and Vaughters.  The several pages of their conversation is published in its entirety in David Walsh's "From Lance to Landis, Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France."

 Macur doesn't give the background on the story, but she implies she knows its uncertainty, as she mentions the dumping of the blood three different times.  "Wheelman" avoids it altogether.  The two books also differ on their perception of Eddie Borysewicz, the coach of the 1984 American Olympic team that blood-doped.  The "Wall Street Journal" reporters write most favorably of him and say he was only marginally involved, while Macur, as if in response to their book, refers to his "dubious reputation" and that  he pressured riders to take blood transfusions, the more accepted version of the story.

Although Macur does not list "Wheelmen" in her bibliography, her extensive footnotes list several "WSJ" articles by its authors, and its clear she read the book as she also allows Armstrong to respond to the mention in that book that he dated Tyler Hamilton's wife.  In one of his diatribes to her during a June 2013 interview at his ten-million dollar mansion in Austin on the day he was moving to a more modest two-million dollar house in central Austin he ranted, he "didn't sleep with his idiot teammate's wife, but the thought crossed his mind."  Macur does not identify the idiot teammate or provide any footnoted explanation, just offering this juicy morsel for those knowledgeable enough to be aware of the story.  She also somewhat forsakes her responsibility as a journalist to give the full story when she does not Identiy the seven Olympians Borysewicz convinced to take blood, just that two became sick and four won medals, including a gold.

Both books recount Armstrong's one and only meeting with Travis Tygaart, the investigator who made the case against Armstrong.  They met in Denver with lawyers and the ex-governor of Colorado on December 12, 2012 to discuss reducing his life-time ban from competing in any Olympic sport.  Macur had better sources than Albergotti and O'Connell, going into more detail, having the advantage of being published second.  Macur quotes Armstrong as calling Tygaart  a "motherfucker."  She may have a feminine slant to her coverage, but she is much less restrained including Armstrong's profanity.  The f-word turns up eighty-one times in her book, compared to just twenty in "Wheelmen," and thirty-three in "Seven Deadly Sins."  She says Armstrong "gave profanity a bad name" during her Austin interview at his home.

It would be impossible though to choose one book over the other.  They are both written by reporters who have covered the story for years and know it well.  They differ in having closer relationships with different sources.  Macur virtually ignores the LeMonds, while they were a principal source for her rival book.  Both mention Armstrong's mother and his close friend J.T. Neal flying up to Minneapolis to talk with the LeMonds.  Macur says it was to discuss dealing with sponsors, with also the subject of how to rein in Lance's runaway ego coming up, while the "Wheelmen" authors imply that was the main reason for their visit, as the LeMonds would probably have it, being such ardent Armstrong-haters.

Both books share a most one-sided portrayal of the Armstrong story.  Long-time Armstrong friend Jim Hoyt, who I spoke with for an hour this past January in his mammoth bike shop in Richardson, Texas, refused to talk to any of these reporters, knowing their agenda.  Still  the story of him helping Lance buy a car when he was a teen is recounted in both books.  The car was in Hoyt's name, and when Armstrong abandoned the car after a high-speed chase from the police, they came to Hoyt.  Hoyt has long since forgiven Lance and only had positive things to say about him during our conversation.  He was there in Paris when Lance won his first Tour in 1999 and Lance was a surprise guest at a ride celebrating his 60th birthday and his bike shop is full of Lance memorabilia.  That is a side of the Armstrong story these attack-books ignore.

The dust-jacket of Macur's book calls it "the definitive account of Lance Armstrong's spectacular rise and fall."  It is difficult to say that it is even more definitive than "Wheelmen."  It is far from the last word on Armstrong.  That won't come until Armstrong fully opens up and an author receives the full cooperation of all the prinicpals in the story.  But both books are a giant step towards gaining that definitive account of this tragic Greek-myth of a story.



Saturday, March 15, 2014

Manila, Philippines

When I closed to within a couple hundred miles of Manila and began telling people that was my next destination I'd ocasionally ask, "What should I see there?"  No one had a ready response except a couple of young women who excitedly blurted, "The Mall of Asia."  

I hadn't come to the Philippines to go to the mall.  I could understand why it could have an attraction for young women in the hinterlands, but hardly for me...that is until I arrived in the big city and began wilting from the heat and choking on the stew of the stench that hung heavy in the air and was overcome by the noise and fumes of the traffic clogged streets.



Even before I found a hotel my throat and lungs were stinging from the polluted air and my nose was burning from the strong odor of raw sewage and urine and thick exhaust spewing out of the many jeepneys.  The homeless were sprawled everywhere, even along the main boulevard hugging the Bay of Manila.


Little kids had their hands out wherever one looked.


I had three days to explore the city before my flight home, but I knew from my previous two brief visits  passing through earlier in these travels that pollution, traffic, noise and poverty were the dominant features of this city of twelve million and would be hard to escape. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go back out into it once I had checked into a hotel. One of the things I was looking forward to was the sanctuary of a movie theater, a pleasure I had yet to experience in the Philippines.  

I learned from a cyclist I met while drinking an ice-filled cup of Gatorade at a 7-Eleven that there are multiplexes at the malls and that the nearby Robinson Mall was his preference as it provided bike parking. He was another of the many ardent and generous cyclists I've encountered on this trip.  He had a spare reflective wrap that one can place around one's ankle that he gave me.  He was a ship's navigator and had traveled the world.  His bike accompanied him on his voyages and he used it as often as he could. 


With his news of bike parking and cinema at the mall a few blocks away, all of a sudden the mall became my promised land.  I'm not sure which I welcomed most when I walked through its doors after being checked by a security guard, the cool air or the clean air.  It wasn't particularly quiet, as it was thronged by people, but at least the noise wasn't the roar of jeepneys.

It was a considerable hike and then climb up three floors to the theaters, but it was a relief to be in a clean, semi-orderly universe and amongst relatively well-dressed and beaming consumers.  This was an oasis and sanctuary for all of us.

I had seven movies to choose from, all recent Hollywood fare.  The only one I was familiar with was "Non-Stop," a Liam Nesson air marshall thriller that was very topical with the recent disappearance of the Malaysian jet.  But when I noticed Colin Firth and Reese Winterspoon on the poster for "Devil's Knot" and that it was directed by Atom Egoyan, that had to be my choice.  At first I thought I was going to get in free when I saw a notice on the box office stating that seniors were given free admission on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, but then I looked closer and saw it only applied to residents of Manila.

After I slipped into my seat I could have been back home, at least until the commercials and public service announcements began, preceding the trailers.  One was devoted to an award-winning local artist who designed wicker furniture.  It concluded with "once again he proves Filipinos can conquer the world."  Another spot encouraged people to read English newspapers to improve their English and ended with the slogan "Filipiinos can be better."

The movie was the true story already recounted in several documentaries of the trial of three teens in 1992 in Arkansas for the murder of three eight year olds. The teens were wrongly convicted in a sensationalistic trial that painted them as Satanists.  It bore little evidence of an Egoyan movie, virtually devoid of any of his early distinctive style that won him accolades from cineastes and that hasn't been evident in his last few films.  Firth seemed to be the only one who much cared about his role and gave more than a perfunctory performance.  Still, it was nice to be in the familiar embrace of the world of cinema, especially with Cannes less than two months away.

Manila's less than desirable, and well nigh repellant, cycling conditions couldn't make me totally forsake the bike.  But rather than meandering all day exploring the city, as I would have liked to have done, I restricted myself to just a few hours, though I did manage nearly forty miles on a day when I venutred to the neighboring Catholic and Chinese cemeteries.  They were both refreshingly quiet, traffic-free retreats full of grand mausoleums.  Although they shared a wall, they had separate entrances.  Both were a challenge to find, padding my mileage for the day.


The Chinese cemetery was much better maintained than the Catholic cemetery. 


Many of its tombs looked like luxury condos.


There was more wild extravagance on the Catholic side.


Some of he tombs had shelters providing shade from the hellish heat.


My sight-seeing also included the city's World Heritage San Augustin Cathedral, the oldest in the country built between 1587 and 1606.  It has survived seven major earthquakes.


It is within the old walled city of Intramuros that also contains the prison where Jose Rizal was held before his execution.  Nearby is a statute of him holding an open book.



His cell, like that of Nelson Mandela's outside of Cape Town, is a national shrine. Free tours are given of the site.  My guide was a very enthusiastic young devotee of Rizal, who acted as if it was a privilege to be able to share all he knew about his hero.  Among the artifacts on display was a ten pound dumbbell that he used to strengthen himself when he was a young man.  He was only 5'2" and wanted to bulk himself up a bit.  His museum also contained original copies of the two novels he wrote castigating the Spanish, both written abroad.  They are read by every Filipino in high school. Rizal was inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to use the novel as a means to galvanize his countrymen against the Spanish.  He was just 36 when he was executed.  My guide said that Rizal never married, though there is reason to believe he wed his Irish girl friend an hour before he was executed.  She was one of many foreign girl friends he had from his years of living abroad.

I concluded my exploration of the city with a visit to the gargantuan Mall of Asia, a virtual Disney World of hundreds, actually thousands, of shops in several huge adjoining malls.  



It was another of the many Filipino sites I have come upon that was beyond imagining.  It was so ambitious and sprawling, it seemed something the Chinese would have devised.  And on a Saturday it was absolutely mobbed.  Swarms and swarms of jeepneys were dispensing full loads of passengers.  It was too overwhelming to wander by foot, but had walkways that I could cycle, the only one doing so.  It contained an ice skating rink and casino and IMAX along with seven regular theaters.  Countless food and drink stands lined the passages.  It was on a different planet from the city on the other side of the main boulevard of Roxas.  It was part of a monumental development with amusement parks and other attractions along the Bay that made Manila seem more livable.  It was a mile from a Cultural Center that Imelda Marcos led the construction of in 1966 shortly after her husband became president. And just beyond it was a one mile strip along the Bay with a bicycle path and palm trees and benches. It was scattered with homeless and people with cardboard signs offering massages.  Like much of the Philippines, the extremes of wealth and dire poverty were cheek by jowl.


The heavily polluted air provides technicolor sunsets out over the bay, but clouds deprived me of any my three final evenings in the country.  But I hardly felt deprived having been treated to so many other delights including a fine evening with a college professor who Janina met at a conference for art critics in Washington D.C. in 2009.  Sharon was a high school student during the final days of Marcos' presidency and was among the mobs who stormed his palace demanding his ouster.  She gave me a broad list of books to read on the Philippines to help me put my 2,000 miles of cycling around the country into perspective.  One that may not be so easy to find is a PhD dissertation on the thousands of stautes of Rizla and the significance of his many poses.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cabuyao , Philippines

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One of the common sights of these travels, at least a once a day occurrence, has been seeing the same blue sign for "Ang Dating Daan."  I initially assumed it was some sort of match-making service like "Its Just Lunch," never looking close enough on those occasions when it disclosed in smaller print that it was also known as "The Church of God."  It wasn't until I met the Australians Dud and Pearl that I learned it was another of the many Christain churches that have gained a foothold in the Philippines. Pearl's brother is a member.  He told me that if I was ever in need of a place to sleep for the night, that they would happily accommodate me.  

Ever since I learned that nearly a month ago, I have been awaiting such an opportunity, especially as their churches were basic, totally unpretentious buildings that blended into a neighborhood, the most unchurchly buildings imaginable. That alone was enough to make me want to learn about this religion. It wasn't trying to capture attention or win converts with grandiosity, such as its chief Philippine-born rival, the Church of Christ, that erects strikingly magnificent, but generic, edifices with fences around them and nice watered lawns.  It was such a church that turned me away one evening.  

My wish was finally granted last night on my last night on the road twenty-five miles south of Manila just outside of Calamba, the birthplace of Jose Rizal, the great national hero of the Philippines, who was executed in 1896 by the Spaniards and who is memorialized in nearly every Philippine town with a statue.  After seeing him at least once a day in a variety of poses I didn't mind at all going a bit out of my way to see the home where he grew up. A few blocks away there was a statue unlike any I had seen.  He was holding a cane and a jacket, a different version of the quiet dignity each has portrayed.


A plaque on his house said that it had been restored with money donated by school children all over the Philippines.


The urban mayhem of Manila with the streets clogged with jeepnays and tricycles spewing noxious fumes extended all the way to Calamba.  It was on a bay where there were some hot springs.  I was hoping I would find a resort where I could pitch my tent.  I was told I would have to go south away from Manila towards Banos to find such a thing. That was too far in the time before it would be dark.  As I headed north to Manila in search of a hotel I passed a couple advertising rooms for ten hours for 490 pesos.  Twelve hours was barely enough to accommodate me.  This was the first time I had seen ten hour rates.  Before I started asking where I might find a budget hotel I saw an Ang Dating Daan sign without even thinking that I should be hoping for one.  It was down a side street near a bus station.  There was a bustle of people out front.  Wednesday night happened to be one of three days a week when they hold a service and people were streaming in.  The others are Saturday and Sunday.  

I immediately attracted attention and was welcomed.  I told those drawn to me that their church had been recommended to me by one of their members and I had been looking for an opportunity to make its acquaintance and was hoping I might be able to spend the night there.  They all responded favorably but was told I would need the permission of the brother in charge.  He was a little more inquisitive and suspicious and not so warmly welcoming, but after several minutes said he would find a place for me, though they had no bare ground or grass for my tent, just concrete.  

He introduced me to John, a fine young man with a most sunny disposition, and my latest Facebook friend, who works for a television station and was quite computer savy.  He looked after me when the head man had to tend to other responsibilities.  He explained to me that Ang Dating Daan meant The Old Path in Tagalog and that like many Tagalog words "dating" was derived from a related English word, "past."  During a lull he took the time to search out my blog without me even mentioning it and was full of questions.  But they had to wait until after the service held under a large open air pavilion, similar to some of the basketball courts I'd seen in villages.  I sat in the back and ate my dinner of noodles and hard-boiled eggs.


There were television monitors broadcasting a sermon by the church's charismatic leader and founder, Eli Soriana, that was being beamed to its churches in 73 countries.  It was mostly in Tagalog, but there was some English interspersed and some English subtitles.  The ceremony lasted from 5:30 until seven.  There was an hour break and then an hour more, which not everyone stuck around for.  The weekend services run four and five hours.  

The head brother could tell I was exhausted and let me put my bedding down on a wooden examination table in the church's medical center at eight.  I was extra tired as I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, victim of the only stomach upset I've had here.  I struggled for hours to vomit up whatever it was that had my stomach in turmoil.  I was too exhausted to depart at six a.m. when my twelve hours were up at the hotel I was at and slept for an extra three hours and could have slept for more if I hadn't been aroused by the hotel owner concerned whether I'd pay for all the overtime.   

I had been hoping to get to Manila that night, but instead my delay and weakness allowed me the privilege of being introduced to Ang Dating Daan. They have two branches in Chicago, one less than two miles from where I live.  I'll have to give it a look.  The religion was founded in 1977 and has grown into a substantial religion.  YouTube has a wide range of Soriana commentaries.  The head brother was quite conversant with the Bible and read me passage after passage as we sat in his office between services.  He didn't approve of Christain Science, the religion I was raised in, as it was founded by a woman.  He didn't think it right either that a religion would renounce medicine, and he produced  Biblical passages supporting his case.

My fatigue was also compounded by a hard day that culminated with my illness that had a final  twelve-mile, two-hour climb to a ridge 2,000 feet high overlooking the Taal volcano, one of the Philippine's most notorious and scenic in the middle of a lake, one last spectacular sight that the Philippines had for me.  Less than fifty miles south of Manila, it is a big draw, not only for its beauty but also for the cool temperatures of its highlands.  Hotel after hotel lined the ridge advertising its view.


One of the best views is at a place called the Picnic Grove that I was hoping to get to that night, as it offered camping.  But I was too weakened by my stomach disorder and fell eight miles short.  The view had to wait until the next morning.  There was a fifty peso entry fee and an extra charge to use one of the covered picnic sights.  I actually took a nap at the Grove before continuing along the ridge for a few more miles and then descending to the flatlands and Calamba.


Before Picnic Grove was a huge construction project of high rise condos for the haves of the country.


Down off the ridge I came to the first golf course I have seen.  It was surrounded by a thin forest that I might have camped in if I had more water.  I was down to two bottles and didn't think that was enough to get me through the rest of the afternoon and the night.  It would have just been my second night of wild-camping in the Philippines, something I really longed to do, but it wouldn't have been as worthwhile as my evening getting to know Ang Dating Daan.  








Sunday, March 9, 2014

Libertad, Philippines

I've had a fine two days cycling the southern and western coasts of the triangular-shaped island of Panay from its bottom right-hand corner up to its upper left-hand corner where I will catch my next ferry over to the island of Mindoro.  It has been scorchingly hot, but a breeze off the water has had a hint of cool in it.   I've been taking advantage of the five peso ice cream cones sold by vendors with small carts, mostly in towns but also occasionally out along the road.  The most refreshing treats though have been mango smoothies in five pesos cups.  One is never enough.


Mango is the flavor de jour as I also use mango Tang to make palatable the warm water in my water bottles.  I'll be bringing home a bunch of those nine peso packs with whatever leftover pesos I have.

The locals use the heat of the sun to dry all manner of things along the roadside.  Chief among them is rice, often tended to by someone with a rake making sure the grains dry uniformly.


There is so much rice along the road, at times its primary purpose seems to be a vast drying bed.


Coconut is another common item being dried.


When the road is close to the coast, trays of fish can be seen.


And on occasion corn.


Drying clothes, too, are draped on fences or guardrails or laid on rocks along a river bed,



or hung in the traditional way.


Some stretches have so little traffic dogs bed down on the pavement.  Rarely do they give chase or bark.



Yesterday my route took me past the imposing Miag-ao Catholic cathedral, one of a quartet of churches scattered about the country granted World Heritage status.  



The others are all on Luzon, one in Manila that I'll visit in a few days, and the other two up in the northern corner of the island on the coastline that I forsook when I went inland for Bagio and Baneau.  The churches are all heartily constructed like fortresses to make them earthquake-proof, though not completely so, as Miag-ao's was damaged by an earthquake in 1940.  It was built between 1787 and 1797 and survived a fire in 1910 and revolutionary fighting in 1898.

Across the street from the Cathedral is a municipal building with the first library I have come upon.  It was very modest, just a single room with all the books donated, some in English, but most in Tagalog.  There was one computer but no WIFI.  The librarian was quite proud of the three-year old library, one of the few around, and asked me to add my signature to the registry people sign when they check out a book.  

If the Philippines had had a library consciousness they could have taken advantage of Andrew Carnegie's offer to donate a library to any community in the world that would pass a bond issue to maintain it.  His philanthropy was going strong at the time when the Philippines became an American colony. Its American administrators, beginning with president-to-be Robert Taft, were doing much to Americanize the country, even bringing over Chicago architect Daniel Burnham to design Bagio and Manila and construct many neo-Classical buildings.  Carnegie libraries would have fit right in.


The roads of Panay have offered up many of the trademark items of the Philippines that I have grown fond of--coastal views,


lush green rice paddies surrounding a traditional home,


mountains always in the distance,


a statue of revolutionary hero Jose Rizal in the town park,


always with an air of quiet dignity,


and of course the frequent rustic basketball courts,


and also the occasional beach resort that might be my refuge for the night.  They can range in quality from a couple of primitive bungalows to genuine, concrete constructions with hotel-like rooms and a swimming pool.  



Signs and messages in a quaint, fractured English, as is so common in India, kept me entertained.


Toilets are referred to as "Comfort Rooms," or CRs, not too far removed from our "Rest Room."  Cemeteries are known as "Memorial Parks."

Down to my last week of these travels, I have been reflecting on these and the many other charming idiosyncracies and unique qualities of the Philippines that I've come to appreciate.  Foremost among them is the exceptionally cordial, considerate nature of its people, manifested in so many ways so many times a day.  Their exuberant friendliness, all the "Hey Joes" and such, transcends just being nice.  

Nearly every time I stop at a small roadside store for a cold drink and take a seat on a bench or a cement barrier or on the ground, within moments a plastic chair is produced for me to sit on.  There have been times when I've simply stopped for a rest in the shade and a drink from my water bottle, plopping down on the ground, when someone from a nearby store has brought me a chair.  These are common occurrences that I have never experienced elsewhere.

The parting words of many when I take leave of them to resume my riding is often a most sincere and heart-felt "Take care" or "Be careful."  I can see this caring nature bred into them very young with kids going to school with their arms wrapped around one another or holding hands, mostly girls, but boys occasionally too. The five and six year old brother and sister I overnighted with at the Chocolate Hills played together like great pals without a single quibble.

People have been most generous in countless ways as well.  At a small store adjoining a motorcycle repair shop I stopped at for a cold soda yesterday, the young proprietor of the repair shop presented me with a chair and then a cold bottle of water that cost about as much as the soda and then asked if he could have his picture taken with me and my bike.


The owner of the beach resort I camped at last night initially told me the cost to camp was twenty pesos, the same as the entry fee, but I need not pay until I left.  He was a retired seaman who had been on freighters all over the world, including Chicago.  He'd been through the Panama Canal many times and used to make a regular run from Brasil to Milwaukee.  He'd passed the Somalia coast a few times, always during daylight hours and in convoy with other ships if possible, but it was always a nervous stretch.  In the morning I told him most resorts charge me one hundred pesos to camp and offered him a one hundred peso bill.  He waived it off and said "No need."

The next night though I had my first rejection from a beach resort.  I had a bad feeling when I saw a notice on the gate saying no food allowed to be brought in.  The owner said his guests would not appreciate someone camping.  If I wanted to stay I could have a room for 2,800 pesos.  It was nearly dark.  I had been pushing to make it to this resort.  Fortunately there was a bed and breakfast place half a mile back that I had stopped at asking how much further it was to the resort.  I doubled back to it and asked if I could camp there.  No problem.

There is the occasional sign reminding people to be good.


The strong Christian influence is reflected with churches everywhere.  One could devote one's travels seeking out the many Stations of the Cross that towns have erected.  The Ten Commandments are posted here and there.


The eleventh commandment could easily be "Thou Shalt Exercise."  In the early morning hour and the evening hour joggers are a frequent sight, even more so than cyclists in Lycra getting a workout.  The two most frequent responses I receive are "nice bike" and "good exercise."  Someone once commented as I was riding at a reduced speed on an incline before seven a.m., "early morning exercise."  There is organized exercise in town plazas not long after sun rise.  



And also in school yards to start the day.


The vast majority of people I encounter can't conceive that I have bicycled as far as I have, but they can accept I'd want to ride my bike for my health.  Indeed yes, it is good exercise among many other things.




Thursday, March 6, 2014

Iloilo, Philippines

I began today with the option of two routes from the port of San Carlos, where I had arrived the evening before by ferry, to Bacolod, where I would catch my next ferry to Iloilo.  One was 53 miles straight across the island of Negros through the mountains and by the 8,000 foot Kanlaon Volcano. The other was 90 miles up along the northern coast of the island through sugar cane country, the first I had encountered in the Philippines. 

The owner of the hotel in San Carlos, where I had spent the night, warned that the coastal road was rough for the first few miles, but he also warned that the mountain road had very steep grades.  I had hopes of reaching Bacolod in time to catch the five p.m. ferry over to the island of Panay, just as I had successfully made it to Toledo that afternoon in time for the last ferry of the day to Negros.  Either way would be a challenge, especially not knowing how high I would have to climb.  If it weren't more than 3,000 nor steeper than five or six per cent, amounting to a two-hour ten mile climb, I might have opted for that, but since that was an unknown I decided on the flatter, longer route so I could experience an area that up to fifty years ago had supported the largest sugar refining factory in the world.  It was still in operation, but was no longer number one.

I was doubting my choice, though, when road was rougher than I anticipated and remained so for over twenty miles. The pavement was badly broken up and hapzardly patched, worse than riding on gravel or dirt. This was almost as bad as Cambodia's Road from Hell from Angar Wat to Thailand.  I was extra wary, as I had broken one of the two arms on my rear rack that attached to a brake and kept the rack in place.  It wasn't weight bearing, so it wasn't too crucial, but if the other side broke, that wouldn't be so good.  At least it has been my own mechanical so far.  No flats or broken spokes, despite some pretty rough going.  

Every so often I came upon someone with a shovel filling holes with dirt they just dug from the side of the road, hardly adequate patching material.   What should have taken me an hour-and-a-half to ride, took two-and-a-half hours.  This less than smooth riding was straining my legs as if they were climbing.  

At least once the road turned into a real road, I could turn my concentration from the road and enjoy some scenery I hadn't seen on this trip.


I can't say though that it was as scenic or as pleasing as the vistas of rice and their many hues of green that had dominated the scenery for the 1,500 miles I have ridden.


Plus I had to be on guard from stalks of sugar cane flying off the overloaded trucks that regularly passed me.


The road was also an obstacle course of stalks fallen off the trucks, though most had been nudged to the road's edge.


But I was moving along at a steady clip once the rough road ended and enjoying all the activity in the fields.


And also along the road loading up the harvested cane.


It was labor intensive, though heavy machinery was involved too.


All manner of trucks were involved in its transport.


With the vast fields of the sugar cane and with it head high and higher I thought I might be able to make it a campsite that night if the road turned against me again or if the heat got to me with my prolonged spells on the bike trying to knock off  ninety miles in less than eleven hours.  At one of my rest stops I feaity sixty-six year old woman with a grandchild on her lap warned me that I should be careful of heat stroke.  She noticed I was turning as brown as a Filipino, but I was a little red-faced.

She told me that I must be rich to be able to fly from America to the Philippines.  I might have disputed her except that I was drinking a cold soda, a slight sign of wealth, and something I haven't indulged in too often on this trip.  Even though it only cost twelve pesos, just a quarter, it was the same price as a plate of noodles.  Spending as much on a drink as on a meal is a sign of someone with some extra money.  I have generally been content with water here, especially when many restaurants have a cold pitcher of it on the table, but this small village, when I needed a break, only had a lone store.

There were some more rough patches, but nothing prolonged that slowed me too much, and I managed to keep the heat steroid at bay.  When I gained a tail wind at the northwest corner of my circuit of the island and turned south, I knew I would definitely make it to Bacolod before dark and had a good chance to catch a ferry as well.  My map showed a ferry wharf four miles north of the city, making it all the more possible.  I was there twenty minutes before five, but it turned out that it was for the ferry to Manila.  The terminal for the shorter ferry route was all the way into the city.  So much for the five p.m. ferry.  

Rather than getting a hotel, I went straight to the ferry hoping the terminal would still be staffed so I could purchase my ticket for the next day.  But lo and behold there was a 5:30 ferry and there was time to board and also buy some hard-boiled eggs.  There was a fast, expensive ferry that made the crossing in one hour.  This was the slow, cheap ferry that took two hours.  That meant it would arrive well after dark.  I assumed the ferry would dock near the town center as most have, and I could easily track down a hotel as I had the night before.

In my rush to grab the unexpected ferry I didn't realize that it was more of a cargo, than passenger, ferry and docked fifteen miles from Iloilo at Dumangas, which wasn't much more than a wharf and had no.  It would be near suicide attempting the ride into Iloilo in the dark.  I'd have to find a place to camp.  When I saw a fenced in Coast Guard compound I hoped I had found that place.  



The officer at the desk wasn't immediately receptive to the idea.  He said I ought to be able to make it to Iloili in a couple of hours on the bike.  I told him I didn't have a god enough light to bike in the dark.  He said he ask his commanding officer.  But first he had to deal with a few truckers who needed papers signed.  Five minutes later he disappeared and then returned with approval to sleep there, but not in my tent.  I could sleep on a bench under a an waning that was the compound's picnic area.  That was fine for me.



Once again all had worked out and without any need to be upset about a seeming disaster. I'd had a similar such case the day before.  When I showed up for my 10:30 a.m. ferry to Dumaguete on Negros I was told it had electrical probleams and was canceled.  It might be repaired in time for the next day, but there was no guarantee.  Luckily I had shown up plenty early at nine a.m., as there was a 9:20 ferry to Cebu that I could take and then bike across the island to Toledo and catch a ferry to Negros there, but not to the southern tip of the island, but at a more northerly point in San Carloa, that would actually save me one hundred miles of bilking. That would give me a chance to see the second largest city in the Philippines and see another island.  I hadn't initially chosen that option as it would require an extra ferry trip.

The ferry arrived on Cebu at 11:30.  It was thirty-six miles to Toledo, fifteen miles down the coast then twenty-one miles and a 1,200 foot climb over a mountain ridge to the other side of this narrow island.  Toledo had a very relaxed and informal ferry terminal.  Like all of them it tacked on an extra, nominal terminal fee one had to pay after paying for one's ticket.  The sign at the desk where one purchased it used that quaint Philippine expression "only" to describe what one had to pay.


Unlike my ferry to Cebu and the one I took to Bohol, this was a genuine sea-going vessel that could handle cargo of all sizes.


I've taken five ferries so far and have two to go if everything goes as planned.  I have nine days to get to Manila.  With luck I'll arrived with a couple days to spare and will have the opportunity to find something to like about a Philippine city, something I have failed to achieve.  Hopefully I will be able to  track down a couple of colleagues of Janina's that she met at a conference and they can help, especially recommending books that will explain the uniquely pleasing Philippine demeanor, molded by  four centuries of Spanish rule followed by two generations of American control.  I will want to read more about its history and culture and its significant figures and what travel books there might be of the experiences of others here. The longer I am here, the more fascinating and significant it becomes.