Friday, June 06, 2003

Water, water everywhere

It's now Tuesday, May 13. Ros is going to Davao today. The Tarzan's resort is empty except for me, Loy (repair guy and cook) and Peter (Ros' brother). She has some time before the ferry leaves, so we go snorkeling at a reserve on the south side of the island near Guinsiliban. This side of the island is not as developed because there is no water here. While streams and springs pop up everywhere else, this side of the island waits for rainfall. It's still lush here, it's still the tropics. In my travels, water is key. Coming from drought ridden California, I understand the politics of water.

When I visited Oahu, Hawaii once, I met with Taro farmers. Taro is the Hawaiian diet staple the way rice is for Filipinos. They are trying to reestablish the ancient taro farms throughout the island, but it's difficult when water is funneled to agri-business like Dole or to the growing cities. One side of Oahu is like desert, the water does not flow there. There are native fish that can no longer spawn because there are no rivers that reach the ocean in Oahu.

Ros asks an old man there if he could pick us some coconuts for water. One out of two of them have no water. It's really a crap shoot. You can taste a bit of the ocean salt in the coconut water. These trees naturally filter out the salt from the ocean to place the water fresh in its fruit. Several small children come running up and stand watching about 5 feet away. There are very few visitors on this side of the island, so we must be wonderously entertaining particularly when we don our snorkel gear and flippers. The old man shoos them away.

Ros is taking scuba lessons from Camiguin Action, a group that leads hikes and gives scuba lessons on the island. I've always wanted to learn how to scuba. I ask her if I could finish the course by Sunday. She talks with Barbie at Camiguin Action, scores a discount. There are no real "set" prices in the Philippines. Everything is negotiable. Barbie will send over the scuba manual to read. I start my scuba class tomorrow. My schedule is set: scuba lessons in the morning, kali in the afternoon.

We snorkel at the reserve for about an hour or so. The reefs are lush, even more so than the coral reef reserve in Hawaii. I'm not used to dealing with water in the snorkel. This is only my 2nd time snorkeling. I get a big claustrophobic. Choking is a really big fear that I have from a panicky water experience lodged in my memory.

It's 11am. Time for Ros to head to the ferry. I stay and snorkel a bit more on my own, but the wind and waves are getting bigger and crashing into the snorkel. At one point I just lie on my back and float, letting the waves bring me in like drift wood. I dry off and eat the lunch that was packed.

Lolong returns from dropping Ros at the terminal. He will be my motorbike driver for the week: take me to scuba in the morning then kali in the afternoon or wherever else I may want to see on the island.

Ros often hires him to take around guests. She trusts him. I've only known Ros in person for 2 days. I got hooked up with Ros from Joey. I emailed Joey saying I was coming. He emailed Ros and told her I was coming. I trust Joey. Joey trusts Ros. Ros trusts Lolong. Which means I trust Lolong as well. This is how it works in the Philippines. It's all about association. If someone I know can vouch for you, well then, I'm good with that. Here paper is easily forged. You cannot forge friendship.

After eating, we go by some of the old wooden houses in Guinsiliban. The architecture of Filipino homes is really gorgeous. There are wooden slats called Ukil, that have various designs stencil designs. Ros told me that when the light shines through in the morning, it's like rainbows from a crystal. But many of the old homes around the Philippines are being replaced by concrete and tin. The old hardwoods are scarce and expensive. The coco wood that people can afford melts into dust after three months eaten away by the anilao/termites. It seems like every isle is just one big termite mound. The hardwoods, the termites leave alone. Personally, I would much rather stay in an older wooden house, even a bamboo one. They feel safer and cooler than the tin ovens now built. The wooden houses let air circulate and sway with the storms and earthquakes rather than tumble to dust like the bricks. But concrete and tin is cheaper, plus you don't have to replace it all the time like the thatch roofs.

We stop by another cold spring, Macau, so I can wash the salt off my skin. Last year near here, there was massive flooding and mudslide which killed over 200 people. You can still see where it cut down the mountain though the vegetation is already starting to fill it in. We head back to Tarzan's so I can change and rest before the kali class.

I lost a few students from the day before but it looks like most of them have stayed. I struggle through the teaching again, but today they're asking questions. It's a good sign. I want them to ask questions. It means they're thinking about the techniques and want more information. Since only a few of them speak English, I watch the groups carefully reading their faces. A question looks the same on a person's face no matter what the language they speak: that crinkle of the forehead, the focus of the eyes. They often stop to watch other people do the techniques.

After class I meet Bangladesh (that's his nickname). His real name is Hubert. He lives behind the market near the basketball court in the back. If you ask for Hubert, no one will know who you're talking about. If you ask for Bangladesh, they will show you his home. He had seen us practicing after leaving the church nearby. He had taken some other Filipino martial art, which was very hard and linear. He likes our softer circles.

Bangladesh earns some money guiding tourists on mountain hikes. There are three waterfalls on the island: Katibuwasan which is developed for tourists, Tuasan and a third one that takes a half day hike to get to. Other than that, there isn't much in Camiguin for livelihood. He attends church every day. He comes to visit the class every day to watch. He is not a baranggay Tanod so he doesn't join in on the class. We often talk after the classes about what he sees and thinks.

He says he knows Spanish, English, Visayan, and a bit of Tagalog. He says his English is not so good. I tell him his English is very good. It passes the most basic requirement of communication: I understand him. His English is WAY better than my Tagalog.

We watch a white man drive a large truck with several children in the back. Bangladesh tells me the man is a retired US army man retired here on the island who attends the Catholic Church every day. He asks if I'm in the military. I politely tell him no, I work for the university. He wants to join the US military, but he is already 45 years old. Their cutoff is 35. He says he will lie on his application and maybe one of the retired officers he knows will pull some strings for him. He tells me each year becomes harder and harder to live here. He has faith that God will bring him a better life.

There are numerous foreigners who have retired in Camiguin. I don't blame them, it certainly fits that South Pacific island getaway. I wouldn't mind living here. It is mostly foreign men who come here to settle. Often they have Filipina wives. I will end up meeting more of them later this week at a full moon party on Friday.

Tonight I cram 2 chapters of the scuba course book. Learn about buoyancy and equipment.

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