Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! Yes typical, but I must send that greeting out to everyone. Must is the wrong word. I truly want to send that greeting out to all of you. I hope it finds you all in good health and high spirits!

Over the last 10 days I took Stuart on a bit of an intense "bike training" trip. We biked from Bagio City to Sagada and than back again to Bagio City. The distance is not that impressive, it is a 150 kilometers between the two destinations, so a 300k total trip. Bagio and Sagada are also at roughly the same altitude. However when traveling form one to the other you traverse a number of larger mountains, often times on rough, rocky road.

The first day was not that bad. By not that bad, I mean Tintin wanted to kill me for talking him into biking this trip. He was, as was I, very tired at the end of the day. However compared to the following day it was not that bad. Most of it was very nice, well paved road. We did 84k, and stopped at a hotel just before the mountain, Mt. Data. The next morning we set off to finish the ride to Sagada. After the initial climb up Mt. Data most of the day was fairly easy, with plenty of downhills, but on very loose rocky road. The kind at that tied the front wheels of my bike up and sent me sumersaulting over the handle bars. But only once. I learned going that fast downhill, on that type of road with 16 kilos of wieght strapped to the back of my bike was not wise. Ten kilometers before reaching Sagada, the road took it's revenge with a 10k climb that was beyond difficult, on a very bad rough, loose, rocky road. I managed to bike the entire 10k without walking my bike but it took me nearly 2 hours. That is not fast.
Sagada was simply amazing. An extremely secluded town in what seemingly was the middle of nowhere. It contains sweeping vistas of mountains and rice paddies. We stayed for 3 days. While there we managed to do a fantastic day of spelunking in two separate caves which can be linked with one another. They were awe inspiring. At times we would climb through spaces that I swore I would not be able to fit through, only to emerge into huge caverns or into underground rivers and ponds. Other times we found ourselves descending on ropes into what looked like an abysses, not because of the depth but because of the light, or lack there of. We would emerge among gorgeous pieces of natures statues, stalactites and stalagmites. We also did a great trek to a large waterfall, of which I enjoyed tremendously. I always find waterfalls to hold a spiritual essence to them.

Biking back from Sagada was easier because we were on our way to being in better condition and shape, however I think it was a more difficult ride returning to Bagio than leaving from Bagio. On returning there was one stretch were we climbed at a fairly consistent steep incline for nearly 30 kilometers on mostly rough road. It took the better part of the day to do that 30 kilometers. Upon arriving in Bagio we were famished and took refuge in the king of comfort food, the Golden Arches. It was the best double w/ cheese I have ever tasted.

We fly out of the Philippines on Christmas day. Not the most lovely day to travel but it will surely be one I won't soon forget. By that evening I'll be in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo. It really hasn't sunk in yet that I'm leaving the Philippines. It feels just like a long vacation from my home. Perhaps once I'm in a different country it will really hit me. We will see.

Just as I began this post, I will end it. Wishing you all a fantastic Christmas and Holidays. I wish I could be there with you all. You will all me in my thoughts. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year with all my love!

Oh and new videos are up too...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Being a Tourista. First few weeks.

Its been a great two weeks. My last week in Miag-ao, my home for the past 30 months, went as well as one could ever have hoped. I had to beat my own melancholy off at times, sometimes it was difficult. Yet I tried to refuse to let the thoughts of leaving have a negative impact on my few remaining days. I was able to say as many good-byes as I could have hoped, and left with great closure. The last 2 days were relatively intense. Starting with the planning of my going away party (I'm sorry for lack of pictures, my camera was getting repaired throughout this whole week, however videos are coming soon). With lots of help from my friends and family I was able to throw an amazing party that consisted of one roasted pig (thank you Rotary Club of Miagao!), another 100 kilo pig that was slaughtered and prepared into seven separate local dishes, and lots of snacks, deserts, soda, and of course rum and brandy for all. My best estimate is nearly 300 people were in attendance throughout the day, it started at lunch time, carried through till dinner and lasted till two in the morning. A fantastic day. A fantastic way to say goodbyes.

The next day was focused on cleaning, final packing, and watching Mayweather destroy Hatton, much to Tintin's discontent. Yet that night, as we were preparing to hit the hay for my final night in Miagao I had a number of good friends stop by my house to say some more final goodbyes and give me some parting presents. It was all very touching, and as I've said time and time again, how lucky I am to have been assigned there.

Getting on my bike and leaving Miagao proved to be an emotional battle for me. My final goodbyes to the little kids of my host family and neighbors were the straws that broke the camels back. I caught myself breaking down, with tears growing in my eyes, each time. This happened again as I passed my work and left town, riding into the sunrise. What a great few years it had been!

Today I'm sitting in the first of many new locations, Bagio City. We arrived yesterday morning from Manila. We had left this morning to bike to the Eco-haven, Sagada. I was, and am, extremely excited to visit there. Many of good friends have come back with nothing but high praise for the place and now it is my turn. However this morning, after leaving Bagio early on our bikes and covering around 20 kilometers, my rear spoke on the sprocket side of my wheel broke. For the non-bikers out there, that is basically the only thing that can occur on the road that cannot be fixed on the spot (unless you happen to carry the big/heavy tools needed, which I don't). The next bike shop was 120 kilometers, so I had little choice but to return to Bagio for the repairs. Tomorrow early Tintin and I will set off for "take II" with our fingers crossed for a bit better luck.

In this area of the Philippines it is actually cold. At least by my standards, getting down to 15C, which is around 55 F (I think). I know you Midwesterners out there are laughing at this, but after never feeling anything colder than 70 the past two years it was a shock at first. I have grown to rather enjoy it over the past 2 days. It is nice to wear a sweater and not sweat. It is nice to walk a kilometer and not sweat. I realized I have missed the briskness. Now I have to soak it up over the next 7 days, because by Christmas day I'll be in Borneo, on the equator, sweating my ass off. Literally.

Keep your eyes open for our videos. We have a few ready now but need to wait for higher speed internet to upload them.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Video Blog. Our first week.

Tintin, upon arriving in the Philippines, surprised me by bringing with him a new Macbook and HDV video recorder. It seems that not only will our trip be documented in words and pictures but also with video. We are still working out the technicalities of uploading his HDV video to the Macbook however we have managed to make and edit some short video blogs this past week. Okay by "we" I really mean Tintin. Below is the end result.