Thursday, April 03, 2008

Step back - travels in two weeks

Last year, R and I took our first trips around the Philippines together. On his recent return, we retraced a couple of trips, spending a bit more time in two spots; taken several mediums of travel (plane, bus, ferry, car, train, and motorbike under our belts); plus a few more sights to look forward to. We also changed the route around this time, starting with the northernmost, heading a bit south before going further south to Central Visayas.

As we had a couple of days before our holiday trek up north, we spent a day in Manila and Chinatown, going to the newly opened Ocean Park, and seeking out a "lamien" - northern noodle soup restaurant. I'll have more about some of the meals we had in another post, otherwise I'll muddle myself up, and go round and round the topics. Wouldn't want that, I tell you. I had some reservations about the Ocean Park, but figured who best to see a big aquarium with than with R, who is in the business of marine creatures? I had been warned that the lines at the entrance were LONG, but maybe everyone was flaking off that morning as we got in with minimal fuss. The first few tanks were a bit puzzling. River fish, Amazonian fish, fish and plants that don't really have anything to do with "oceans" but I guess we have to show diversity and accessibility. We moved onwards to the small tanks holding ocean creatures. Reef fish, a few samples of corals, shrimp, a large alaskan crab that looked a bit awkward in its cubby. However, we both thought it was sad that the exhibit had to resort to fake coral, and very plasticky looking fakes at that. Stuff you'd find in Bioresearch! By the time we entered the larger tunnel walk and shark tanks we were in need of something awe-inspiring (although the mandarin fish were very cool, so look out for them).

The walk under the tunnel was fun, and watching the diver mobbed during feeding is always a blast - partly because you don't see that kind of interaction in dives in the wild. The rays and the one leopard shark give the kids a thrill, not to mention the larger shark holding tank full of black and white tip reef sharks. I loved the large tank with the three or four large puffers, the zebra puffer had lovely patterns. Then you face a rather confusing exit link back down, through construction as the hotel and the rest of the edifice has a lot left before completion. There are a few more restaurants they plan to add and a small hotel (fish beddings? a goldfish by the bedside?) on the upper stories. I say give the place a few more months before deciding whether it's worth the ticket price (P400 for adults). But for days or weeks when you can't get out to the ocean, this is one option for families over the summer.

Up north, we spent time at R's family ancestral home to attend and take part in the religious ceremonies and processions through the first few days of Holy Week. This is the same house that his relatives had told me was haunted, and even R told me about the footsteps heard around the kitchen late at night. Still no ghostly sightings, even after three nights and days. I am so not sensitive to uncorporeal revelations. Oh well.

We watched two processions, the Tuesday and Maundy Thursday marches. We spent the time before the processions watching and photographing the preparation of the 'santos', the large religious statues and dioramas; R's family has had the Mary Magdalene santa in their family for generations. She was dressed differently for each procession - a gold and silver dress on Tuesday, a dark green cape on Thursday. We were told she'd be in black on Friday or Saturday, then in full color on Sunday. The Tuesday procession only had about 8 santos, while the Thursday procession had at least 13. A lot more people too, which meant feeding a lot more too! But it's that kind of purpose that whips people into attending the gatherings. The kids, the babies, their parents and grandparents, all support the march through the streets. They build the rest stops, called abong-abong, imagine if you will, large scale diaromas depicting religious themes, decorated with local fruits and vegies or just plain vegetation. On Thursday night we walked around to view as many of the abong abongs as we could, everyone else was jammed into cars cruising around the stops taking photos. We may have been the only ones using our own ambulatory power.

After spending Easter in Anilao, Batangas, we headed south to Dumaguete, city of smiles (did you know that was the tag line? I want to go to the city of grumpy people next!). There was work to get done, but we fit in a day trip to Siquijor. I'm thrilled that I can add one new province to my list. And Siquijor has such an interesting reputation, a mystical land full of faith healers, mystics, witches, warlocks. Magical! We rented a motorbike and toured the western part of the island from Siquijor City to Lazi where the old cathedral and convent host a small religious museum. Massive stone pillars keep the building stable, and the floor planks hark back to the days when we had narra trees and molave trees. Forests, people!

Trying to find our way back through the central road, we ended up lost in the middle of the island, high enough to see that we had to head towards one side of the island. Twas a good thing we found our tracks back to Lazi and rushed back to Siquijor city in time to catch the 4:30 ferry. We lost a cap along the main road, and our arms and faces were tanned by the sun.

The last few days in Negros Oriental, we followed the recommendation to try out Antulang, which is supposedly at the very tip of the island. Go look at a map of Negros island (yup, go now and find one), see how it looks like a boot? Now look at the tip where the toes would be and that tip that sticks out into the sea is where Antulang resides. With some luck, you could actually wake up to a sunrise and gaze at a sunset, except our rooms didn't have much luck in the latter. We did have a gorgeous view of the vast waters with a shadow of Mindanao peeping above the horizon. Every hour a pair of fishing bangkas would troll the waters for fish, their nets cast between the two, which must mean there's a vast horde of fishies in those waters offshore. We strolled along the limestone and coral fossil cliffs, along walkways that spoke Gothic novel to me, trying to find any large schools of fish in the strong waves below. Except for some surgeon fish that fought for the bits of bread we threw in, we didn't see much of marine life.

I would definitely cast my vote for another trip to Siquijor, but I dearly want to bring R to Mindanao next. Hopefully his plans pan out and we can do so soon.

Next up - cooking and tasting!


Katrina said...

What an eventful summer you've had so far, and it's only April! Glad you had fun. :-)

Thanks for the Ocean Park review. We've been itching to take the kids for some time, and you've convinced me to wait. The fake coral is a major turn-off!

I'm looking forward to the food post!

ChichaJo said...

What fantastic sounding trips! Nice to read about it :)

This long weekend we spent at my mom's place in Serendra. A cheap "resort getaway"...hahaha!

Gotta save up for another trip...your post is inspiring me!

So Siquijor wasn't scary? Carlo's ninang's stories about it make my hair stand on end!

mtan said...

katrina, the summer heat may stop me from travelling much. Is too hot! If you go to OP, just don't have high expectations of it all. The kids will enjoy it, they will love seeing the fish and the sharks and rays.

Joey, I was far more scared that we'd have a bike accident than get voodoo'ed on Siquijor. And the only mishap was getting lost on the trail and then losing our only hat. But the day was breezy so we didn't feel the heat that much.

Katrina said...

"I want to go to the city of grumpy people next!"

-- We LIVE in that city! ;-D

christine said...

Katrina, you stole the words right out of my mouth! haha - the grumpiest in all of the country at least. :) Mila, I can't wait to hear more about Siquijor. I'm so jealous you got to go back to Dumaguete. Sigh, I wish I can go this summer again but looks like I'll have to wait until November.

The hot weather actually makes me want to travel more. Especially to islands and beaches and cooler places. At least the travelling bit will help me forget about the heat. Ugh, it's gonna get worse in May!

Can't wait to read about the eats! :) But no pressure, heehee

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