Sunday, December 4, 2011

Philippines 2011 - Part 2 - Donsol

Here's a map of Southeastern Luzon, so you can follow along in our travels. I don't think they teach this geography in school yet.

We arrived at Legazpi by bus and checked into a hotel located inside the Embarcadero. For those of you familiar with Chicago, think Navy Pier... restaurants, shops, arcades... all in a waterfront mall. We did not know this is what the Embarcadero was when we booked the room, but we were nonetheless amused when we checked in. There's no excuse for me though, embarcadero means "pier" in Spanish.

Legazpi is the capital of the Albay province with roughly 200,000 inhabitants, called Legazpe├▒os. The city's tourist attractions include, and are limited to, the Mayon Volcano. It's a cool volcano though, a perfect cone. And it's still active, very much so. It recently erupted in 2009, 2008, and 2006. Its tip was shrouded in a clouds the whole time we were there, like whipped cream melting over a sundae. Apparently it has a permanent wisp of smoke coming from the tip on clear days.

We spent a couple hours walking around an area, some area, talking to locals, looking at stuff, etc.

The railroad appears to be out of order at the moment, as it is cluttered with chickens, children, and abandoned cars.

We only stayed one night at the Embarcadero, so esther and i left BloomFat behind and headed to Donsol, The Whale Shark Capital of the World. Whale sharks are not whales, they are massive filter-feeding fish, and are the largest animal in the world outside of the whale family. There are daily sightings off the coast of Donsol and visitors can go on guided snorkling trips to swim with them, but only during the peak season of November to June. Unfortunately, we were a little early and they hadn't yet come in from the open ocean to feed on the coming plankton bloom.

We checked into Giddy's Dive Resort located in the town proper, rather than beachfront. I called ahead and asked one place how the beach was... "Well ma'am sir, here in Donsol we have da black sand, sooo, i tink maybe the beach is not so nice." ...

Being low season, there were only a few guests in the resort and they upgraded us to a deluxe suite. The food was pretty good, the service excellent, the pool clean... highly recommended!

There isn't much to do in Donsol aside from seeing the whale sharks, but both the town and the village are nice to walk through. People are incredibly friendly and curious, which i've grown accustomed to when traveling off the beaten path. Walking in the village, we find wood and grass huts raised on stilts, chickens, dogs, and cats running free, hand pumps for water, clothes drying outside, carefully swept pathways cleared of all debris, all in a tropical jungle environment.

We say hello to an old lady, her underbite prominent, as she goes for water. We stop to peer into a small yard and house, its dirt grounds immaculate. The lady walks back and says this is her house. We are surprised, unsure if we should apologize, but she invites us in. Her english is quite good. She is 78 years old, born and raised in this little town.

She lives here, a widow, with her son of about 30. Their house contains few posessions. There is no bed, and the living room doubles as the dining room, and triples as their shared bedroom. They sleep on the floor on simple bedding which is folded neatly in the corner. They have a TV, and I wonder if it works. The walls are bare, save for two photographs: one of her son, one if her husband. She says the picture of her husband is older than she is.

We pause outside for a photograph and, apologizing for interrupting her lunch, i give her my loose change of 20 pesos, about $0.50. She is surprised, but thankful.

Back in town, we wander the public market, which is mostly meats, fish, fruits and veggies. Children follow us and make faces or play hide-n-seek, alternately shy and curious. There are a few souvenir shops selling all manner of whale shark memorabilia. The whole town thrives on these animals, called Butanding in the local tongue. Murals adorn city walls, and there is a festival where people dress up like the butanding and sing butanding-related songs.

The local police department waves to us, and comes over to welcome us to the town. I ask a few standard questions people ask of the police, like, do you have much crime here?

Him: No we don't have much crime here. This is a baseball town. (pronounced "beesebol")
Me: Oh, i see. This is a baseball town?
Him: Yes, a very baseball town.
Me: Hmmm. So people play a lot of sports to stay out of trouble?
Him: *looks confused*
Esther: Kevin, he said peaceful, it's a PEACEful town.
Me: *nervous giggle*... Yes, that makes more sense. Can we go onto the roof of your police station?
Him: Of course! It's a nice view from up there! Very very baseball.

We ascend to the roof so i can take an important picture of Gangster Esther. Gangsther?

The next day we spent our time lounging at the pool, reading, and relaxing before heading back to Manila for the tournament.


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