Monday, July 14, 2003

are we there yet?

We make it back the next morning to Surigao and by 9am we're at Jollibee's eating breakfast. Sunnie arrived in Surigao last night and meets us there. The plan today is to try to get to Siargao, one of the islands around Surigao. Siargao sits along the Pacific Ocean and is known for its resorts and surfing competitions in September/October.

After breakfast, we try to go to the Siargao ferry office. The ferry fits 80 people. There are 2 ferries that go there, 4 trips a day. All booked!

Jun must check back on his students. They are preparing for an event for the district's principals. Jun's track record of being able to coordinate students into fabulous performances has made him Surigao's unofficial welcoming committee. Fortunately, he trains his students in a way that they have to manage themselves and he only comes in to check up on things. He wants kids to think for themselves and not have to rely on him or the person in authority to tell them what to do next on every little thing.

We head back to Surigao high with him. The students sit on raisers on the stage in the back. "Good morning, Michelle!" they sing in chorus. I'm still not used to it when they do that. He introduces them to Sunnie, then proceeds to ask them the tasks remaining to be done. I hear him reply to them, "What did I tell you when you don't have something? That's right! You go find something." He sends them off to their tasks.

The high school is bustling. It's registration time and the district teachers are here going through seminars. Jun is supposed to be in these seminars too, but he's excused himself out of them. The building is in the shape of an "o" and has a rectangular open courtyard. There is construction here to put in a covered canopy, so people can still walk across during the rains. There are workmen with blowtorches and on scaffolding chipping away at the concrete sides to put in the supports. There are no orange cones or yellow warning tape separating us from their work, just a lone rolling chalkboard in the middle that says: "Caution, Falling rock." Yet, people still walk through just making sure they don't step with the chips of stone have accumulated.

Just another one of those situations where it's left up to the individual to take care of themselves. Don't blame me if you get knocked by a flying stone piece, you were warned.

We meet the principal of the school and a few of the teachers. Jun introduces Sunnie from MSU Marawi, then introduces me from San Francisco, one of Kambayoka's sponsors and truck driver in the U.S. They look at Jun then turn to me and simply nod in this "aaahhh" recalling Jun's previous stories to them as they connect face to tale.

Since we can't go to Siargao, we will try tomorrow. Today we'll head to Lake Mainit, about 30 minutes outside of town. It's the 2nd largest lake in Mindanao I believe with hot spings emptying into it, thus the name, "Hot Lake." We take a Jeepney out of Surigao. We reach main town near the lake and walk to the shore a few blocks away.

The Lake is huge! It almost looks as if there's an opening where the lake forms the horizon from the cascading mountainsides. There are a pair of ferries half filled with passengers waiting for a full load before heading to the villages across the lake. They say there are New People's Army groups around the lake living alongside Memanua villages. This is their home.

There's a man in a canoe bailing water out on the shore. Jun and Sunnie want to take a short ride around the lake. Jun scouts out some of the local fishermen to see if they'll take us around a bit.

The scenery around the lake is breathtaking. Besides the few canoes and pump boats along the shore, the lake is calm. The green mountain peeks measure how large the sky really is and the lake's water reflects the blue above.

Remember the guy bailing out water from his canoe? He says he'll take us. I'm not too sure about this. But we get in anyway. We sit as low as we can though there's still a small puddle at the bottom. The canoe shakes, we try to sit directly in the middle, hoping not to tilt our wait from side to side. The canoe owner pushes it out to the shallow shore, the canoe trembles under our weight and we're not even out onto the deep water yet! Sunnie screams, "balik, balik, balik! go back, go back, go back!" I can't help but laugh out loud as the canoe owner pulls us back. I imagine what it may have been like flipping the canoe out in the middle of the lake.

ok, back to shore. We like shore. There's a young boy, about 9 years old, who takes interest in us tourists and follows us around. He looks as though he spends all his time out on the water, his skin a deep kayumanggi, his hair lightend to a brown from the sun.

Jun finds a pump boat fisherman to take us aboard. We like pump boats. They have the side pontoons that keep the boat from tipping too much either way. As we board, I watch the canoe owner paddle away. He sits high on the back end, the bow skimming just above the water's edge.

We ride the pump boat out on the lake for a few minutes, our young guide, tagging along. I never get enough of being on the water. I swear I was a fisherman in a previous life. The past 2 weeks I've either been on, in, or under the water. I can't describe how rejuvenating it's been.

We get back to shore. Our young guide takes us to the marketplace, through the shortcut around the back. Kids know where everything is. We shop for some swim trunks before lunch. 15 pesos for a pair of shorts.

Sunnie orders some chicken adobo. He loves eating local chicken, the true free range variety. Chicken tastes different here. They grow at their own pace, not the hyper-grown agri-business chickens that Americans are used to. There are numerous flies in the still afternoon heat, but I've become used to it.

Our guide brings us to habal-habal drivers to take us to the hot spring nearby. We take two of them. I personally wouldn't drive a motorbike, especially on U.S. roads with the SUVs and Semis, but I love riding one on the open roads out here in these small towns, no helmets.

A friend of Jun and Sunnie who lives here on Lake Mainit told them they were building the road to the hot spring. We ride this road for a few minutes before hitting the regular dirt roads. The rain from a few days ago has washed out and made the road muddy. The bikes can't go any farther so we walk.

Jun tirelessly leads the way. We walk along the road both sides dense with trees and coconuts. Though you can still get a strong cell signal and all the coconuts have wedge cuts indicating we're not in the middle of nowhere.

After walking several minutes, Jun stops to ask a man chopping wood along the side of the road. "How much farther to the hot spring?" The man replies, "oh just over the hill, you're very close" as he point with his arm extended in the direction we've been walking.

Another 10-15 minutes later, Jun asks a family by the road, "How much farther to the hot spring?" "oh, you're very close, maybe two hills more. just over there!" We continue to walk. It try to keep with Jun's pace, my steps stepping into the prints he just left.

Again, several minutes go by and he asks another man by the side of the road, "Manong, the hot spring, is it in this direction? how much farther?" "oh," he answers, "quite far still, maybe another kilometer or two."


Sigh. There's no turning back now. It's either keep walking to hit the hot spring, or walk back to motors and go home. I'll bet on the hot spring. Jun tells me Filipinos never tell you how far by their words, if they point with their arm it's still really far, but if they point with their lips, it's close. We should have paid attention to that first guy's extended arm.

I send a few txt messages as we walk. Txting is always something to pass the time. I send a few messages to friends updating them on my location.

We reach a pair of kids with a carabao. "Dong, how far is the hot spring?" "It's right over there. Very close, we'll walk you there." We've gotta be close now, they're willing to walk with us and kids know everything.

We cross a cold spring and hike up the hill following the hot water stream. The area is lightly cemented. The stones are washed smooth, the minerals in the water painting them orange, green and yellow. The water is so hot, I can only dip my feet into the pools for a few seconds. i try to splash in the water as much as possible to keep the mosquitos away. There are always mosquitos...everywhere.

The hot water eases our tired muscles. Funny, hot springs are the list of things I'm to avoid based on the list from Kaiser Hospital. According to Kaiser, I should stay away from natural springs, food at road side stands, drinks with ice, tap water, etc. I mean, what would my trip have been like if I listened to that?

The hike back doesn't feel as long squishing in our flip-flops. The motors are still where we left them. They take us back to the main road where we pick up a jeepney back to town.

Day 3 Jun Pilapil's Survival Surigao complete.

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