Sunday, September 07, 2008

Only one pic on Blogger. Too long ago. For more pics check out Facebook.
Ati-Atihan Festival -
All Photos --


These are the Chocolate Mountains on Bohol Island in the Philippines, named this because there are more than 1200 hills in the area that turn brown in the fall and look like scoops of chocolate ice cream. (still green in our picture)

We arrived in Manila with no real plans. We just knew the air tickets were really cheap from Xiamen, China (550rmb or $75 CAD) to Manila, so let’s go. Our friend Ken came from Canada to visit in China, but we only had 6 days there before the Phils so he thought he better come along too. So Ken, the boys, Colin and Scott, Jerry and I all jumped on the plane and here we are. Initially we thought we would only stay in the Phils with the boys for 2 weeks and then move on, but…. We love it so much it will be 6 weeks here instead! In fact, I like it so much I’m thinking it might be a good place to come back and teach next year. It’s great because the majority of people here (except village people) speak English. It makes it so much easier to travel and live than in China. (the teaching would be to Koreans who come here to study) Secondly, I love the people here. They have non-stop smiles, not just for tourists, but for each other. I’ve seen the very poor and still they are happy, smiling and participating in social fun. I think because the country is made up of thousands of islands there is lots of fish and seafood and people have enough food. As well they have a large family and community for support and socializing.

We started by arriving in Manila, hearing about a huge festival held on an island further north called Palay. It is the Mardi Gras of the Phils. We arrived in Iloilo. It was a bit off a culture shock. The main methods of transportation in the Phils are Jeepneys, which are like an elongated jeeps with an open back door for people to jump in and out. The back has 2 long benches and when it’s really packed a third bench can run down the middle. It can hold lots of people, especially if they are all Filipino. The roof has racks for holding… tires, bags of rice, people, goats, chickens, bamboo, beds, sofas…basically anything that needs moving!
The other common transportation is the tricycle which is a motorcycle with a sidecar attached.

As you can see the Filipinos are better at fitting onto/into a tricycle than us !
You can see the empty spot by Jerry for me…but I had to jump out to get the photo!
Loading up the drums, ready for the festival to begin.

All of the same things can be carried on this tricycle that can be put on the Jeepney! The tricycles are noisy and put out a lot of pollution which are the things I don’t like about the Phils. I like the tricycles, just not what they produce for noise and fumes. We’ve been having fun piling into the tricycles and now have the seating arrangement perfected for the best ride.

The Kalibo festival was crazy and so much fun! Have not danced so much in years. Basically the Phils is made up of many different tribes, speaking different dialects as well as Tagalog and most English too. Each tribe or neighborhood creates their own dance and costume for the competitions.

The huge and numerous drums begin at 7 am and the street dancing begins
carrying on all day and night until about 4 am, then all begins again the next day. They welcome visitors and pull you into the crowd to join them.
It is the tradition to wipe charcoal on your face and body before dancing. Large burned woks are upside down along the street so people can take off the black soot from the bottom to smear on your face and body.(so..ok…you have to be there to appreciate this one) Some people cover their whole body in the charcoal.

If it wasn’t a festival and I ran into some of the people on the street I would be afraid. After all, the head hunting days here aren’t that long ago. (Apparently today they use guns for tribal wars, tourists aren’t at risk and they use animals for the sacrifices and mount their heads on their sticks instead of people’s heads… this isn’t all areas …according to some Filiponos I’ve talked to)

One of the dance highlights was the snake dance. Basically it is like the western train dance where you hold on to the person shoulders in front of you and make a long dancing line. The difference was this was 100’s of ‘snakes’ and thousands of people so sometimes you moved fast, others you were squished and ducking other ‘snakes’ of people. It managed to keep us amused for 2 nights for hours on end! They love the golden oldies songs here so it was a trip down memory lane too.

Many of the elders still have the elaborate tattoos of the past and in the villages wear traditional clothing instead of western clothing. The clothing choice of the middle class in the cities is basketball shorts and jerseys Every area has a basketball hoop, albeit some are very rustic. Filipinos at the beach usually swim in their clothes rather than swim suits. The culture is a very interesting combination of conservative sexual thinking in their dress and public attitudes, yet the jokes conversations and innuendos are very sexually vivid. Some places the dancing has also been this way. Of course the villages and small towns are the most conservative. One town had a sign at the tourist center which stated “Tourists must dress appropriately in the town and there is no kissing or petting allowed.” I questioned our tour guide about this. He said men cannot be without a shirt in the town, only in their homes. Women shouldn’t wear spaghetti straps or short shorts. He said as a guide it is difficult for him because often couples ask him to take their picture in a scenic spot and then they kiss in the picture. He must ask them not to do that in this town. This was after he took us on an unexpected spelunking trip through some beautiful caves. The nickname of the caves were the ‘Pornographic Caves” where he was eagerly pointing out all of the vividly sexual formations within the caves. I asked him not to corrupt my poor boy’s mind. Now, the interesting thing is that we thought we were mountain trekking for the day and didn’t realize the caves were there. Usually people wear their swim suits because in some parts you have to get your ‘navel wet’ as he said. … we didn’t want to miss the caves, but we didn’t have a change of clothes with us because ewe left our bags in the next town. He agreed we could just take off our clothes in the cave as long as no other people were there. So, I imagine this 27 year old guide had a few stories to tell about us that night at the bar!

The last week the boys were with us we headed to North Luzon north of Manila.

There we headed up into the mountains into the northern provinces. Once we crossed the border into the Mountain Province, the roads became dirt with many washed out places and ruts. One person we met said the province didn’t vote for the current government leader so no money was given to the province and people, instead it lined the pockets of the government leaders. The roads were dramatic and harrowing.

Often there was only a foot to spare to the edge with hundreds of feet dropping off on the side. Sometimes the bus top would barely clear the rock overhangs we went under, so much for the luxury bus.... “…air conditioning …”of course…they said. Well, it was hot and to make matters worse Ken was riding in the front seat, the rest of us were scattered throughout the bus. Ken kept complaining about the lack of A/C to the driver and then the driver’s helper would turn on the fan up to High to keep him happy…unknown to Ken every time he said something…the fan sucked up all the dust from the dirt road and blew it right through the A/C vents into everyone’s faces. Soon there was a routine, everyone would hear the big guy up front start to complain and then grab something to cover their heads and mouths. By the time we got to the first rest stop we were all filthy, looking as though someone had dumped brown talc powder over our heads… and feeling a little peeved at Ken.

We filled in him on the problem with the fan…of course he was about the only clean person left on the bus. When I slapped my leg a huge cloud of dust rose from my pants. So when he got in he said to the driver…”look, just tell me if the A/C doesn’t work and I will leave you alone. Everyone cringed when they heard him talking to the driver again…but now he was content and just sat back and enjoyed the heat. We did remind him he could be home in the snow, rain and cold! So we arrived to a mountain city to explore.

The buses drive into the river after for a much needed ‘car wash’.

The Filipinos there are much more traditional than other places and have a little different culture than on other islands and of course each one has their own local dialect to speak. We enjoyed going to the villages and learning about their traditions. For example, in the mountains, weddings are held outside and a water buffalo is sacrificed for the wedding food. The woman’s family must supply the food.

Then the horns are mounted on the walls of the building in remembrance of each of wedding couples. There were fire pits where the men would meet, Each rock of the fire pit is a symbol of victory over a neighboring tribe.)

The elder council, to decide things about village life, they still have their own methods of enforcing tribal rules/laws that are different than the usual Philippine laws. They used to sacrifice and hunt human heads, but now use pigs and chickens. There was also a hut where all unmarried women must move and live together once they reached puberty and became women. Women often were married by their teens.

One night in another nearby town we had asked about getting a massage. The owner of the guest house called in a woman for us. Well, the 4 guys all looked at each other and shook their heads no…I also felt this, but then tried to rise above her appearance and just enjoy a nice massage. Ok…I admit, she looked liked one tough cookie…I felt she could break me in two…she came up to my room and she did shed her big jacket, but never her wool toque (winter knitted cap) She turned out to be very nice and gave a decent massage too. However, it was difficult to relax when part way through a pig was squealing for a long time. She explained that the funeral we had seen on the streets earlier had been going on 10 days and nights and every night at midnight the family must sacrifice a pig. The pig’s squealing was when it was tied upside down to the pole and paraded down the street. It was killed in the middle of the town and a big fire was made for cooking it right in the middle of the street. Apparently the man who died was rich so the funeral had to last many days and the family had to feed the town every day. The masseuse invited me to go and join her, the food was free and I was welcome to join, but somehow I had no appetite for pork.

We hiked for the day through the terraces.

It was beautiful, the view was great and I really liked meeting and watching the local hill people.

They live a very simple and isolated lifestyle. They sleep inside, work and cook outside underneath their houses. The wealthier ones have tin roofs like this one, the more poor have a thatched roof.

Colin - Yup, it was an amazing trip. A little of everything, white beaches, mountain treks, partying, dancing, great people and of course all with the familia.

We had to do another jumping shot at the waterfall!

We visited a school up in the mountainside village. It was very simple, but I was surprised at how nice the classrooms were.

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