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 scorching 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 idiosyncrasies 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.


dworker said...

Another good trip, George. As always

Dud said...

Thanks for a nice read George.

Sounds like you are enjoying the provinces more as you go.

Dud & Pearl.