Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Heading to the Philippines in 8 days! whoo-hoo! Going to a friend's wedding. Spend 18 days there. Some people asked me if I was scared of getting SARS. I said, "just add it to the list: malaria, dengue, hepetitis, etc. Pick one!"

I hear the mosquitos are up because the Philippines, a tropical country, is undergoing less than normal rainfall so people are conserving water in barrels, but the covered kind are 200 Pesos each! Which is $4 US, but most Filipino families can't afford that, especially when you need probably 4-5 of them. So, there's plenty of mosquitoes for all the nesting grounds.

OK so here on Gura's blog, I'm going to go through all of my survival tips of getting through the Philippines in relatively one piece. First off, you have to realize the Philippines is a third world country, and unless you plan to spend your entire time in the first world enclaves (high end resort or in Makati financial district) then there are quite a few realities that you'll get slapped in the face with, such as the pollution, the traffic, the heat, the bugs, etc.

I'm skipping over the pollution and traffic in Manila and heading straight to a smaller province. If you ever need to take a local connecting flight out of Manila, take Philippine Airlines (PAL), though pricier at times, it pays to get the convenience of staying in one terminal to get from one flight to another. If you fly in on one flight say Northwest, you have to get out of the old terminal then find your way to the domestic terminal which is a ways a way. With PAL, you and your luggage stay in the same terminal without hitting the tropical heat.

In terms of health, I start taking extra doses of Vitamin E about a week before I go. This helps boosts the skin and immune system. I learned about it from a friend who went to summer camp every year, she said the vitamin E keeps the mosquitos at bay. The other way to keep them at bay is to take up smoking, it makes your skin so toxic none of the mosquitos find you tasty anymore. But, I prefer to stay smoke free, so start popping the Vitamin E tablets. I continue to take one a day for the duration of the trip. OH, and don't miss a day, the mosquitos will notice. One-a-day general vitamins are good too, for overall health. You can get vitamins in the Philippines, but I hear they're not as potent or consistent quality.

Next, head on down to your doctor's office and make sure all of your shots are up to date as well as get ones specific to the area you are travelling to. Thank god, they finally developed the hep B shot that you can get in one dose instead of 3 over a 6 months period. I've actually never gotten the shots before, but I figure, might as well, now that it's super convenient. Tetanus is a good shot to make sure is up to date too.

Water. Actually, much of the water in major municipalities is quite excellent, when it's running. But if you're sensitive, buy the bottled water or boil it. Stock it up in the fridge if you can. And keep a bottle or two when you go travelling around. My day pack often consists of: bug repellant, bottle of water, camera, notebook with relevant phone numbers, handkerchief. Handkerchiefs are good for general dust repelling and sweat wiping.

Travel local. Travel with local folks as much as possible. One steadfast rule with Filipinos is that if you are in their degrees of separation, they watch out for you. Usually within 3 degrees will make you family, 4-6 a friend, 7+ depends on the strength of the previous 6 degrees. Local folks also know where to go and what to do. For example, I love Oakland, but there are neighborhoods I wouldn't go walking through. Locals can tell you which neighborhoods those are.

Car with driver trumps LRT trumps Bus trumps jeepney trumps tricycle trumps taxi. Unless you're taking a taxi to the nearing jeepney line or other public transit, don't take a taxi. Taxi drivers know when you don't know where you're going and they'll spin you every which way. Unless you've been there before and know when they're taking you for a loop. Jeepneys are cool during the day cuz you know exactly where they are going, but practice getting on and getting off while it's still moving. At time, it can get a bit sketchy but so are most things at night. Ideally private car with a trusted driver is the way to go.

But I do love riding Jeepneys, the colorfully decorated jeeps modeled after the old American WWII jeeps. Even though they make brand new jeeps, they still look like the WWII ones just bigger. When I travelled in Laguna, I would just jump on a jeep and take it to the next town or wherever it went. I find it the best way to site see and they tend to go down all the major roads.

I'm looking forward to the trip and being away away for a few weeks. I won't be detached from technology however. I'll be getting a sim card for a cell phone and txt messenging folks when I get there. There's no way around it. Filipinos use cell phones way more than Americans and at this point it's the only way to find people. But Filipinos don't talk on the phone, that's too expensive, they txt message, developing a whole new online language that can be written in a couple of keypad thumb presses. I hope to be a quick study. There are also numerous internet cafes in most major towns.

I'm mostly there to visit friends and take it all in. As a traveler I much prefer seeing how every day people live over the tourist spots, though a tourist spot now and then isn't so bad. I'm not the type to do a Club Med stint, though I do appreciate a hot shower when I can get one. And since I'm going by myself (while hooking up with various friends there, don't plan to be totally alone), I usually take a camera and a tape recorder. I like to keep a low profile and I find video takes me out of the scene. With a camera I can pause and take in moments, with a tape recorder I can get things like the sound of the Our Father in Cebuano or the sound of tsinelas/slippers, sliding over gravel roads and the honks of tricycles about to run you over. Still pictures and sound tracks let me fill in the gaps of the story in between frames.

From the times I've gone back before, I remember crossing the main road in Laguna with my toes tightroped on the faded yellow dividing line while cars spun past me as I waited for traffic to clear. I remember the sound of tsinellas flip-flop up and down the basketball court, the sound of mass being broadcast on speakers outside a church and how everyone in the jeep made the sign of the cross as they went past. I remember the thrill in Arnold's eye of finding a new seed for a tree variety he'd hope to plant, the sound of his son practicing guitar in the early morning while his sister grumbled for his younger brother to stop disturbing her sleep. Then there was my aunt's 10 year old niece who became our tour guide in a Baguio neighborhood as we watched kids christmas carol for coins along the street. There was also the sandy shore in Lingayen where relic WWII tanks marked MacArthurs arrival and where we wrote our family name in the sand to mark our own landing only for it to wash away with the high tide.

I ended up writing a performance piece that captured a trip in 1996, it's called, The Weaver.

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