Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kamagong Journals Part Ten: Side Trips

When traveling anywhere in the Philippines, due to road and traffic conditions one must spend long hours in the vehicle to get to your destination. Needing to stretch now and then, we often pulled over at attractions along the road. One of the things I noticed is that a lot of the attractions were created by current and past governors of nearby towns. I wondered if it was a legal way of bribing constituents to keep them in office.

At one particular attraction, there was a lion, the birds seen above and below and miniature horses pulling carts to give children a ride around a track. Nearby was also some sort of dinosaur themed exhibit judging from the large fiberglass dinosaurs standing guard. Because we had a long ways to go, we let the kids take a ride with the miniature horses and watch the birds before hitting the road again.

Another stop along the way was this old Spanish church at Paoay (pronounced pow-why). The Spanish started a missionary there in 1593 and started building this church in 1704. Spain had a long reign in the Philippines until the Spanish-American war was ended in the fall of 1898 and America gained control of the Philippines for the sum of $20 million. It always thrills me to see buildings older than our country and this one was still a functioning church.

At the northernmost point of the island of Luzon, the mountains running north and south eventually run smack into the water. Engineers wanting to build a loop road around the island found this obstacle and had limited options. They could either go up and over the mountain or through the mountain. Neither of those options were particularly appealing and horribly expensive so in the end they came up with a third option. Build a bridge around the end of the island. The bridge is set back from the mountain so that it doesn't get covered up in frequent mudslides that occur and it is elevated 31 meters so that it doesn't get washed away by frequent typhoons that hit the area. This 1.3 kilometer long bridge is now quite famous and called Patapat bridge and connects the provinces of Ilocos Norte and Cagayan. Some enterprising fellow even hung up a basket in a tree at the only pullout where you can get a good photo of the bridge asking people to pay P10 (about 23 cents) to park there.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Kamagong Journals Part Nine: Killer Spider!

For the most part, bathrooms in the Philippines are stripped down versions of the one here in the States. Many of them contain only a toilet and a sink. They are fully tiled with a drain in the floor and if you shower, you do so with a tabo or dipper which you use to poor water over you. As the country becomes more affluent, houses are starting to install at least one actual shower in the house but these are plumbed up to inline heaters with lots of dials, switches and scary looking electrical plugs plugged into sockets right in the shower with you. All this is leading me away from my main point which is that most bathrooms are very tiny compared to those here in the States.

The one where the above picture is taken was about three feet wide by about five feet deep. In order for me to use it, I had to open the door, squeeze between it and the sink and get turned around in front of the toilet so that I can get the door shut again. On this particular trip early in the morning when I was still waking early due to jet lag, I closed the door and sat down to do some business when I looked over by the hinge side of the door and saw this guy.

To give you some scale, I later measured the tiles and they are 10" tall. This guy was every bit the size of my hand. The first instance I saw him, my heart leaped in my chest and possibly skipped a beat. I hate spiders and I figured word had gotten out and someone had placed it there to scare me. They had done a good job I thought but as I sat there keeping an eye on the thing just to be sure, I saw it mandibles moving near its mouth. Suddenly muscles in my body all tensed up and I knew taking care of business would no longer be possible. I carefully, every so slowly, eased my camera out of my pocket to snap the only picture seen above thinking it might be a good blog post on the biggest spider I have ever seen out of captivity and then started to ease up my drawers to prepare for a careful exit.

Just as I got ready to reach for the door handle, the darn thing started skittering around the door at 90 miles per hour coming to rest on the gosh darn door handle. My heart may have reached somewhere around 3000 rpm and a little yip of fright might have escaped my mouth or I might have manly shooed the spider away and walked away. I'm guessing you all know which way was true.

As I stood there debating what I was going to do at three in the morning trapped in a claustrophobicly small bathroom while everyone else was sleeping by a killer spider looking to kill me with one venomous bit and use my body to hose millions of spider eggs. We eyed each other for awhile and I finally came to the conclusion that one of us was going to die and I slowly started reaching down to grab my Teva sandal to smack the spider with or die trying. My hand had just made it somewhere south of my knee when the spider made a break for it.

Now in a three by feet feet wide bathroom, making a break for it has limited options. In this case, the spider leaped over to the wall above the sink and dashed along the wall mere inches from my shoulder. This time I definitely screamed as I lunged for the door. It takes me a full 30 seconds to maneuver my large frame in around the door and sink so that I can get it back closed. Somehow with the killer spider now lunging for me, I was able to leap towards the door, in mid air open the door, clear the sink, fly across the threshold and slam the door behind me, all in about .05 seconds. Somehow the door slamming or my screams of terror weren't loud enough to wake up the house but my heart beats nearly did.

Later when every one woke up, I warned them of the killer spider on the loose in the bathroom and of course was laughed at. Then about three hours later I hear my wife screaming like she was being murdered in the same bathroom and like me, she came flying out the door at record speed. After that, my brother-in-law, who evidently is immune to killer spiders, trapped it in a very large plastic container with a tight lid and he spend the rest of his days on the balcony as a show and tell object. It took me a few days before I was able to use that bathroom or again and even then, I checked every corner of every bathroom for sibling spiders seeking revenge for their brother before I ever put one foot across the threshold.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Kamagong Journals Part Eight: Filipino Art

A bulul carving is a traditional carving done by the igorot people of northern Luzon and used to guard the rice crops or in some healing ceremonies. Many non-igorot people keep a bulul statue by the front door as kind of a good luck talisman. While on some down time between trips in Baguio City, we went to a new art museum that contained a lot of these bulul statues along with more modern art. It was definitely worth the trip because I love wood carvings and this museum had them in spades.

As you can tell in the above picture, the bulul front and center is definitely male. I'm not sure what or who is driving this but if you visit many wood carving shops in the Philippines, the carvers definitely have a fascination with genitalia, male and female. Everywhere you look are penis and vagina carved into wood. Some like above, I could write off as art but much of it is pretty much in your face. One of the most common is a man standing in a barrel and when you pull the barrel off, a huge penis falls down towards you. On the female side you got nude women carvings which are meant to crush 'nuts' between their legs.

One of my dreams is to buy a container load of furniture similar to the one above and ship it back to the States where I can use some, give some away or perhaps sell it. I just love how native wood carvers can take odd chunk of wood and turn it into a work of art/functional chair like the one above which was in the museum. The mountain roads are full of carvers who make this chair look like plain old vanilla ice cream. This trip I did make a contact who does ship stuff to the States from the Philippines and perhaps in the future we might be able to make some sort of deal for part of a shipping container but to get an entire 2m x 2m x ?m tall container costs $1600 to ship. I would need to pack it full and sell a lot to recoup my costs on that one. So for now, I still dream of buying carved furniture and placing it in the perfect nooks of my home.

Just a sculpture that reaches out and grabs my interest. I've never seen something like this in any wood carving stands.

Another bulul statue sitting in the corner of the stairway.

Yet another large snag that has been carved and polished into a couch of sorts. I'm not sure what kind of tree this is from but it is absolutely gorgeous. I'm not sure this would fit in a 2m x 2m container anyway so I'll just have to view it in our trip slideshow from time to time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kamagong Journals Part Seven: Rice Paddies

Down in the low lands, rice is a big part of the economy in the Philippines. My brother-in-law has been managing the family farm inherited after my wife's father died when she was just a little girl. Recently he has been trying to get it deeded over in his name so that it is his legally too. In the photo above, you can see his land in the strip where I am standing. The strip is about 40 feet wide and extends through the submerged rice paddy all the way to a distant strip of taller grass near the trees in the background. The other strips of land to the left and right of my brother-in-law's strip belong to other farmers.

In the Philippines, land is more community based that here in the States. You still physically own the land and farm it but there aren't many fences and nobody really cares if someone walks across your paddy on the way to their paddy. You will see big fields of these paddies belonging to many farmers who live nearby.

In the off season, it is common to see carabao (water oxen seen above), cows, goat (seen below) or other animals grazing away in the paddies. When it gets close to planting time which coincided with my visit, they will prepare a paddy among all the paddies and sew rice seed thickly in it. When the rice sprouts and gets to be about 8 or 10 inches tall, it is pulled in clumps and divided among the patty owners who will then plant it in their paddy in more orderly rows spaced out a couple inches or so. Before they plant their paddies or even flood them with water, the earth is first tilled with small tractors and equipment. This kills all the weeds growing in the paddy and loosens the soil for the next step.

Once the earth has been tilled, the paddy is flooded with water pumped in from a nearby stream. The farmer will then get his kuliglig which is the device seen in the picture above. It is similar to a tiller but with reel like blades (similar to the old lawn mowers) on each side in place of the wheels. An engine powers those reel blades which stir up the water and the loosened dirt into a mud slurry. Once the slurry is thick enough, the farmers take the clumps of rice grown from see and they poke them roots first into the slurry as they are doing in the picture below. There they continue to grow as the slurry dries out and eventually are harvested.

Traditionally the farmers lived on their land in nipa huts similar to the one above. These structures were build on bamboo poles stuck in the earth and had suspended floors that kept the occupants dry above their paddies. I still seem some of these in use in the rural areas but most of the farmers now live off their paddies in nearby houses looking like the one seen below. The nipa huts that I still see around appear to be shade relief for the farmers out working in their fields. The one above that I took through the windshield of a moving car is actually in a harvested tobacco field which you see here and there throughout the Luzon province. Another fairly common crop you see if cassava and occasionally dragon fruit. I also saw a few paddies of corn too. I'm not sure if it was the field corn variety or what passes for sweet corn in the Philippines. Their sweet corn is more like our field corn, tough and no sweetness. It really blows their mind when they sink their teeth into some Iowa grown sweetcorn. I usually cook two or three times more corn than I would for native Iowans and they will go through it all in one sitting like crack junkies three days after their last high.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Kamagong Journals Part Six: The Eating of Food

After the lengthy post that I wrote previously on the ins and outs of shopping for food, I thought I would show you a few miscellaneous food pictures that I took during the course of our trip. Above is a plastic bag of quail eggs which we boiled and snacked on. It was my first time to eat them and while they were similar in taste to a boiled chicken eggs, their texture was creamier and not as dry as a chicken egg. In fact, I liked them better than hard boiled chicken eggs though you had to peel three or four to equal one chicken egg.

Fresh shrimp cooking on a little charcoal grill on the patio. Many Filipinos use these as a sort of summer kitchen to keep the heat outdoors.

Above is dragon fruit which has a taste and texture similar to kiwi fruit. I saw numerous dragon fruit plantations as we were driving around. They consisted of a field of posts set into the ground about five feet apart with a used motor cycle tire fasted to the top of the post in a horizontal position with a cross brace. The dragon fruit plant was a cactus like plant that would be tied to the center post and as it grew up and through the tire would drape over it. I'm not sure when harvest season was but I didn't see any plants with fruit on them while I was there.

When is the last time you had bottled pop? For me, I'm guessing my last time was nearly 20 years ago when I was in college. I was happy to see that bottled pop is still alive and well in the Philippines. The only drawbacks were that it came in teeny 8 oz bottles which are shadows of their American plastic counterparts and that the servers inevitably stuck a well used and recycled straw in it when serving it to me. I always took the straw out and just drank from the bottle because I'm guessing the straws were probably never sterilized or even rinsed.

Road side vendors abound on the island and you are never more than a stones throw from food if you want to pull off to the side. Many times the vendor isn't there but if you pull over a honk your car horn, one will quickly appear and quickly open up a buko (young coconut) or as in the picture above, wrap up some tupig in a plastic bag to eat on your journey. Tupig is just one form of a gelatinous rice and coconut mixture that is found in snack type foods. In this case it is wrapped in banana leaves and grilled. Another form called tinubong finds it in the cavity of a bamboo shoot and steamed. In all cases it is a sweet and tasty snack.

When visiting restaurants in the Philippines, everything is served with rice as can be seen in the above photo. This platter of food was served family style for about a dozen of us and we quickly went through all the mountain of rice seen above and ordered and consumed a second mountain to go with the BBQ meats, salads and sides. I think it cost me about $25 for everything.

While in Baguio, my mother-in-law wanted to throw my oldest daughter a Filipino birthday party at their most popular fast food restaurant Jollibee. The two pictures above and below are their versions of the happy meal. The one above is fried chicken, a cake of rice and a side of gravy. In the picture below the cake of rice has been replaced by spaghetti. I have eaten pretty much everything put in front of me during my time in the Philippines but I have yet been able to try fast food spaghetti. I chose the option above with the rice cake and it wasn't too bad though I was confused about what to do with the side of gravy. I ended up pouring it on top of my rice.

Above is charcoal grilled squid purchased from the wet market earlier in the morning. Below is a pinakbet pizza which we saw while driving though a town and bought for a snack along the road. Traditional pinakbet contains fish sauce, bitter melon, string beans, tomatoes and a few other ingredients and is served as kind of like a stew eaten with rice. The pizza form which was a first for all of us, American and Filipino alike, was pretty tasty.