04.01.2006 - 11.01.2006
I'm now in the Philippines, in a city called Los Banos, 'the baths' in Spanish. Ever since I stepped out of the airport, I've been feeling much more alive. Palm trees, heat, mist and smiling faces make me happy. And the other thing I'm happy about is that since I got here I got my appetite back. I'm once again eating with passion, making up for the starvation in past couple of months. Philippines has had much to offer!
Los Banos is home to a branch of the University of Philippines, the International Rice Science Research Center, as well as many hot springs (hence the name 'the Baths'). Although very small, the town is lively because of its young population of Filipino and visiting international students. The UP campus is huge and it's filled with coconut palms and many beautiful exotic-looking trees and plants. It's hot and humid, even in January which is considered winter/dry season in the Philippines. The temperature can be as high as 35 degrees during the day. It hasn't rained at all since I got here and I consider that great luck since I was prepared for too much rainfall and therefore lots of staying-in.
The first thing that got my attention as uniquely Filipino was the jeepneys, the taxi/minibus jeeps which take you wherever you want to go. You tell the driver your destination, and if he nods, you jump onto the back of the jeep and sit next to as many as 15 other people. After my first ride I decided that I like jeepneys not only because they're an extremely inexpensive way to get around, but also because my hair flies in the wind and gets all tangled up. It reminds me of Cambodia and the Tuk Tuk rides. And you never have to wait more than 10 second to flag down a jeepney.
Today I went to the Rice Research Center and found myself in a pool of little school children running and screaming around the museum. There was so much information about rice and how the livelihood of many countries depends on rice production. For example, an average Asian person consumes about 200 pounds of rice per year. An average European person on the other hand only consumes 20 pounds a year. It was interesting and informative and I would definitely stay longer if the museum wasn't so noisy.
Then I took a jeepney back to the town and asked the driver to take me to the Makiling Botanic Garden on the Mt. Makiling. The driver agreed but a Filipino guy who was sitting next to me suggested that I get off at the university gate and take a jeepney in the other direction to save time. He then pointed his index finger to the sky and said this is how you tell the driver you want to go to the Botanic Garden, because it's on the way to the top of the mountain. He invited me to go scuba diving with his scuba diving club next weekend, which I politely turned down since they were all certified divers and I still don't have any training at all.
So I got out of the jeenpney at the campus gate, crossed the street and waited for another jeepney with my finger up in the air pointing to the sky. The first 3 jeennies didn't stop, the fourth did and I hopped in.
At the Botanic Garden's ticket office I was told that the eagles' exhibition is closed and the garden will also close in an hour. So I hurried inside, got my camera ready and started walking. I expected lots and lots of flowers and plants carefully planted but it was actually more like a tropical rain forest, tall trees, wide leaves, uncomfortably humid, and no room for the sun to shine through. I followed the sign to the 'pool' and found myself to be the only one in the area. It was absolutely empty. I was wondering where all the visitors are when a Filipino man approached me and asked if I wanted to see the pool. I hesitantly asked him where the visitors are and he said this is the quietest time of the day. Most tourists come to visit in the morning. I asked him about the pool and he explained that the pool is not actually a pool but a lake where people can swim in but nobody's there at the moment. I thanked him for the info and continued my way in the other direction. He followed me explaning that he works at the garden as an artist and offered to show me the endangered eagle's exhibition. By then I was already on the main road. Later he explained to me that when the ticket agent saw me there alone carrying a camera, he asked him to accompany me for my own safety. He said it's not safe for girls to be by themselves and that a tourist got robbed there a couple of days ago. 'You're so brave!" he said, "in the Philippines we don't let our sisters go to places like this alone."
Although I was at first annoyed by his uninvited company, he turned out to be a good man who genuinely seemed to be concerned about my safety. He walked me to the eagles' exhibition in the forest and asked them to let me go inside even though they were closed. It was nice of him. (I learned that eagles are as mean-looking in person as they are in pictures). Then He walked me back to the gate and advised me to keep my camera hidden in my purse. I thanked him again, jumped into a jeepney and got back to my room.
My mission tomorrow is to go to a town which is the shoe mecca in the Philippines. It's an hour away from Los Banos on the way to Manila. After the long walk at the museum and the botanic garden today, I'm ready to take a break from heels for a while. Flip Flops have never sounded more intriguing.