We are in Pokhara, Nepal right now and will be heading out trekking tomorrow morning. We’re doing the rather straight forward “Poon Hill” trek (5 days) and if all is going well we’ll extend to the Annapurna Base camp in the “Annapurna Sanctuary” area. We have 2 guides and 10 porters hired to help us with our Annapurna summit (8091m) attempt. We picked up some extra socks and packed some extra coffee, because we understand that this can be quite a difficult climb and the weather can be sketchy at this time of year. If we are successful we’ll be the first Canadian family of 4 to summit Annapurna. Oh .. Yvonne’s calling out … a change of plans … apparently as of 2012 191 climbers had successfully submitted Annapurna while 61 died trying. With a family of 4, the odds aren’t perfect for us. So I think we’ll just turn around at the base camp 😉 OK, how many of you were still with me? Actually we have hired just one guide and our high point would will be 4100m which hopefully will be manageable. We were a bit higher in the Andes but had much more time to acclimatize to the altitude. So, we”ll be offline for a while … don’t worry if you don’t hear from us. We’ll have some Hong Kong entries ready when we get back. I am really excited … have dreamed of this for many years.
Another long travel day awaited us in our journey from Whitebeach to our next destination of Sablayan. I had been fascinated the night before with the dueling Ladyboy shows that Jake described, but otherwise was anxious to leave the overdeveloped and tacky feeling Whitebeach. We were still hoping to head out to the highly touted Apo reef for one last hurrah of diving. But it really seems that from anywhere to anywhere in the Philippines is far. The overloaded tricycle habit continued as we made our way to board the boat at Balatero cove.
I really didn’t think it wise to try to put all us and our stuff on one trike but the driver insisted. I was sure we’d blow a tire or worse. The Canadian in me worries that short term financial imperative overrides good long term business thinking.
But … he got his 4 fares with his trike intact. He knows best.
After a rather perilous disembarkation from the boat (in high seas, dodgy gangway, 15 ft above the water) at Abra de Ilog we were rushed onto a bus that sped its way 2hrs south along the coast to the town of Sablayan. The road was covered in drying corn and rice – so much that we were swerving violently side to side. But it all works out. We got talking on the bus to Christo from Belgium who had a great approach to travelling … moving slowly, staying with families wherever possible. He had a wonderful way about him and we ended up spending the next 3 days together.
Sablayan had a refreshingly authentic feel to it, especially after having come from the touristy Sabang and Whitebeach. Not another tourist it sight here. It did have a modest “ecotourism” office that connected us with two Apo Reef dive operators and we immediately headed off to “Gustav’s Place” to see what we could do. Gustav is off the beaten path … really off the path. We left our bags at the tourism office and grabbed a trike down one twisty gravel road after another, ending at a river. On the other side of the river was a welcome sign for “Gustav’s Place”. OK, so we needed to take a boat to cross. Gustav’s Place had some bungalows and was otherwise very understated, as was Austrian Gustav himself. His boat going out the next day to the reef was full with divers, but we negotiated to be taken along as snorkellers then dropped on Apo island to camp for the night. He would send his boat out the next day with our diving gear and a dive master. Sounded pretty good! Expensive, but good.
Apo reef is the second largest continuous reef in the world (after the Great Barrier reef) and is located about 30km out to sea from Sablayan. The core area is 34km square in area. It was protected in a National Park back in the 1980s but fishing continued. In 2007 the boundaries were expanded, a buffer zone was put in place and fishing (including the destructive dynamite fishing) was stopped within park limits. Divers were then courted to provide income for locals – especially the displaced fishermen. It is known for fantastic biodiversity, including huge schools of pelagic fish, sharks, turtles and manta rays. We were really excited!
We rushed back to town and headed straight to the local market to get food for our overnight outing on the island. Christo offered to work up a curry; we didn’t argue. Veggies and rice bought for dinner, eggs, onions and cheese for breakfast omelettes.
Back to fetch kids and bags at tourism office then back to Gustav’s Place. Unfortunately his boatman had his earphones in grooving to some tunes so we had to work pretty hard to find a boat to cross the river this time. Some 10yr old girls found one and got us across. We squished into a tiny bungalow with Kaia and Jake on thermarests on the floor.
Something I’d eaten didn’t agree with me that night … I hardly slept a wink. And we slept in for our early morning (6:30) boat departure. We’d hoped to leave half our stuff behind … that wasn’t to be after sleeping in so we threw all our bags into the boat and away we went.
Two and a half hours later we arrived at the first dive site on the reef. We donned our snorkelling gear as the divers set out. Snorkelling was a bit of a bust as we were in at least 8m of water. The second site was better though .. we saw schools of huge bump headed parrot fish ( 2-3 ft long) and some lovely turtles.
Lunch was enjoyed under a thatched roof on Apo Island. The island is small .. maybe 500m x 200m. Great lunch, shared with the dive clients. We then had the afternoon to explore, snorkel, swim and otherwise chill. This was ocean paradise.
We had just enough time after dinner for a trip up the island’s light tower to catch the sunset.
I slept soooo well that night after my horrible previous night and the fact that there were no car/kareoke/dueling ladyboys/rooster noises – just the lap of the sea. We had time for a leisurely breakfast before the boat/dive crew appeared off the horizon to meet us.
The diving at Apo was phenomenal! On all three dive locations we descended to the ocean floor then made our way to the “dropoff” (yes, Marlin .. the dropoff!). The 15m deep floor ends abruptly and you look down into deep blue nothingness.
It was so thick with fish .. of every shape, size and colour. It’s impossible to put into words the feeling of being surrounded by such vibrant beauty in such a quiet, peaceful place. You want to call out your amazement to the other divers but can use only your wide open eyes to communicate. The photos here come nowhere close to capturing the visuals … but they at least remind us.
The coral was in such great shape here, so there were infinite little things to gaze upon in the nooks and crannies. Colours fantastic. Every now and again Albert would tap is metal pointer stick on his tank to get our attention, to point out sharks, turtles, jack fish, Napoleon fish etc etc. It was all quite overwhelming.
Perhaps that’s why I ran through my air so quickly. I am always the first in our family out of air. I am relaxed in the water, and try to breathe slowly. But clearly I am doing something different. We all start with about 200-220 “bars” of pressure. When you get to 50 bars you need to be near 5m of depth so you can do your 3 minute “safety stop” at that depth (to prevent nitrogen release into the blood) and still reach surface with a reasonable amount of air left. I would hit 50 bars around 35-40 minutes while Kaia, Jake and Yvonne would still be at 120-150!! At Sabang we all came up when I ran low on air, which meant the other 3 were cut short in a way. I am the week link! I asked Albert if I could do my safety stop and surfacing on my own and he said that would be OK. So he pointed me in the direction where the coral rises and I made my way up to 5m. As I was waiting my 3 minutes I came across a large school of large bumphead parrotfish that were more or less indifferent to me. They are huge, and a bright blue/green colour.
I have to say it was lovely to be alone in the sea like that and have these giant fish to myself. Clearly there is safety in numbers/buddies. But I was only 5m from surface and knew I could easily reach the surface in one breath. I just hovered with only fish moving around, and only the sound of my own bubbles. Ahhhh..
I surfaced and hailed the boat over for a pickup, then waited about 20 minutes for the others to surface (they stay down for about an hour, air permitting).
You need “surface time” between dives to ensure nitrogen levels are down before starting the next dive. So we relax/snack on the boat while the crew changes our tanks over and the captain maneuvers to a different part of the reef.
I had a plan for staying down longer on the final 2 dives of the day (3 total). All divers have secondary (breathing) regulators attached. It can be used if the primary fails. But mostly it is to be used by your “buddy” if they run out of air – “buddy breathing”. This is supposed to be done in emergencies only, but I asked Albert if I could buddy breathe from one of the kids when I run low so I can stay down for the full dive. He said that would be OK. So down we went on 2nd dive, this time with current, ,so we descended the anchor chain then headed “up current” to this second reef dropoff. Equally enthralling!Sharks were cruising by in the deep the schools of fish surrounded us.
True to expectations I ran out of air much before anyone else. So I linked arms with Kaia (the hoses are short) and took my regulator out and put her secondary in. Though we practiced this in our training, it is still unnerving as a new diver to take your regulator out when you are 18m down. But all was fine and away we went together. Thanks for the air, Kaia! Together we lasted the full hour which was a nice change for me.
Lunch was taken onshore again and we had time to explore the island a bit more.
Third dive after lunch was equally sublime. This time I buddy breathed Kaia down to 70 bars so then set off to mooch from Jake who helped me get through to the full hour. I knew there was a good reason to get my kids certified for scuba!
And so ended the diving on our year adventure. Kaia was so right on an earlier blog entry where she noted that our diving experience has given us new appreciation of what’s at stake in our oceans – an emotional attachment if you will. It is stunning, precious.
Apo reef marks the northern tip of the “coral triangle” which stretches through the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and East Timor. Coral experts describe it as the epicenter of marine biodiversity and it “seeds” reefs and fish through the Pacific & Indian oceans. Coral reefs cover just 1% of the ocean floor but harbour over 25% of the oceans fish. A heathy square km of coral reef can provide over 40 tonnes of food. It has been noted by marine biologists many times over that “as the corals go, so goes the ocean, and so goes the world”. If we can’t protect the coral, the ocean is in a dire position. Ocean and terrestrial die backs are historically linked to vanishing coral. It is now well known that our coral reefs are in trouble. Over fishing, coastal development, destructive fishing practices, pollution, sedimentation and climate change are taking their toll. In the Philippines and Indonesia only 5% of reefs are identified as being in good condition. It is with this knowledge that these countries have been setting aside marine protected areas (MPA) like the Apo reef. The Philippines leads the charge, with 500 MPAs. Encouraging is the fact that many if not most of these MPAs, including the Apo reef, are the work of local communities/governments. Discouraging is the underfunding of the management programs; one estimate has only 1/5 of the MPAs possessing sufficient resources to actually protect. The rest are “paper parks”. Further complicating protection is foreign fishing. Chinese and Vietnamese boats have been found with enormous numbers of endangered turtles aboard, to say nothing about the actual fish.
Since full protection of Apo was put in place in 2007 (and corresponding opening of the ecotourism office and alternative livelihoods program), the reef has shown some very promising signs of recovery. And the MPA financing means for Apo are unique. Almost all the management funds come from an initiative of regional Cebu Pacific Airlines where fliers are encouraged to donate to the Apo reef MPA as a means for offsetting the (climate change) damage of their flights. Have a look at https://www.cebupacificair.com/WWFBrightSkies/index.html
I wish we had known this when we flew with Cebu Pacific twice …. but we didn’t see anything.
Here are the words of WWF Philippines president Jose Lorenzo Tan: “In the face of worsening climate impacts, protecting biodiversity enclaves makes perfect sense. Our work in Apo Reef and other protected areas focus on more than just biodiversity conservation: should we succeed in halting climate change, these pockets of marine resilience will provide the building blocks needed to restore natural mechanisms which provide food and livelihood for millions of people. This is a natural investment.”
Where will our next dives be? Hard to say. But we’d all like to rent for a dive on Kennisis lake at the family cottage this summer.
We were all lost in thought as we made the return trip to shore, arriving at sunset.
We had a couple more days before needing to get to Manila for our flight out so took some time to lay low and explore Sablayan. We enjoyed the always vibrant markets, delicious (but repetitive) road side food stalls otherwise roamed around.
The kids were really a novelty here. Philippines is not a huge family destination, and most of those that do come end up at resorts. Eyes lit up when they spied the blondies and often pictures were requested. But it was done with grace so K&J didn’t mind too much.
Christo spent a day at Sablayan’s 2nd biggest tourist draw – the large prison just outside town. Really! You go part way into the prison security and chat with prisoners and maybe buy some of the crafts they make. It is a garden-prison – the inmates have to largely feed themselves. Although the Lonely Planet says you can only meet with the low and medium security prisoners, Christo had some very moving conversations with two 2nd degree murder inmates. We considered going, but the kids weren’t super enthused and kids can’t really get past the gate so we left that experience to Christo’s stories.
On our final day Kaia and I made our way about an hour out of town and climbed to the Mindoro Pines. I had arranged a guide but he did not make the bus on time so I thought we’d do it alone, but he found a friend to zoom him out behind the bus on his motorcycle so we had guidance … two of them as it turns out. The hike starts out at a Mangyan village. The Mangyan are Mindoro’s indigenous peoples and are known as the indigenous group with the best preserved culture in the Philippines. This despite continued interference and persecution by just about every group that has since occupied the island. Remote Mangyan villages are still very traditional (including non western clothing) but those like the one we passed through have partly embraced new ways, including the use of cell phones.
Kaia and I were glad to stretch our legs, even though this wasn’t a particularly memorable hike. Jake wanted to stay back at the hostel to work on his blog and Yvonne was happy to have a down day. After we left however, they had a visit at the hostel from “Bert” who we’d met the day before. Bert used to live and work in Brampton and has 8 children all over the world, including one in Mississauga. He really liked Canada but his wife insisted that they return to the Philippines. Bert invited Yvonne and Jake to lunch at their house his wife and cook put on a great spread of Filipino food and shared stories of their globetrotting children and their time in Canada.
We caught a bus 2hrs south from Sablayan later that afternoon, to the city of San Jose. I had a major boil at an inopportune place at the top of my leg that pretty much prevented me from sitting down and I couldn’t get my head around the 10-12 hr bus/ferry ride north to Manila. We could catch a short flight from San Jose instead. San Jose was absolutely bustling that evening and we savoured our last street-side dinner and tricycle rides in the Philippines. We were airborne for Manila by 9 AM next morning and lifted off for Hong Kong later that afternoon. Philippines had offered up some rich experiences. People were welcoming always. We loved the tricycle as a means of transport. I would LOVE to make one back home as a car alternative (groceries, running the kids around). Can you imagine the look on the cop’s face as I drive by?
Looking back, I think we could have done better with our planning. 2 weeks is really short in the vast array of large Philippine islands so for this time frame we would be better to have looked for just one island – maybe Palawan – with a multitude of experiences. I do wish we’d been able to visit the villages in north Luzon with the spectacular rice paddies. I’ll throw a net photo in in case you haven’t see the visuals before.
Northern Luzon is known for it’s amazing rice paddies. Lush, green staircase-looking fields on hillsides as far as the eye can see, and villages are built on “islands” in the fields. They’re so beautiful that they’ve become a UNESCO world heritage site. With about a week left in our time in the Philippines, we planned to go see these (my dad seems to have an obsession with rice paddies), but we also wanted to do our last scuba diving on this trip, because we’d be leaving warm ocean soon. The plan was to travel overland from Caramoan to Batangas, a town south of Manila, where we’d go diving, then travel north to Banaue, the place to see the iconic rice paddies. In case you’re wondering, that’s a long way, and it would take 2 full days of traveling on a lot of different kinds of vehicules. Our travel day started in Paniman (on the Caramoan peninsula) at about 7am. Here’s a list of all the modes of transport we took that day:
-a tricycle from Paniman to the town of Caramoan, 15 minutes
-a minibus from Caramoan to Naga City, 3-4 hours
-a bus from Naga to some place I forget (the bus was going to Manila, but we got off early), 8 hours
-2 jeepneys between places I forget, 40 minutes
-a bus to the Batangas bus terminal, 15 minutes
-a tricycle to a hotel in Batangas, 5 minutes
A VERY EXHAUSTING BUT BORING DAY!
Okay, so after 2 tricycles, 2 buses, 2 jeepneys and 1 minibus, we were pretty fed up of traveling. And we’d need to do another day like that to get up to Banaue, so we gave up on our original plan. Instead, we decided to go to Mindoro, an island south of Luzon that we heard had some good activities, including great diving. So the next morning, we headed down to the Batangas port and caught a 2 hour ferry to Porto Galera, a town on the northern coast of Mindoro.
Then, we took a short jeepney ride to Sabang, a small town on a beach that’s all about diving. In fact, they’ve built the shops so close to the ocean that there’s hardly any beach left.
Most of the businesses there provide accommodation, dining and diving, so we got a deal with one of them for a room because we dove with them too. It was a nice room, and there even was a swimming pool with a diving board!
At about 2pm, we got ready for a dive. There were the 4 of us, the divemaster Joel, and Mikka, a diver from Finland.
The boat ride to the dive site was really short. Within 5 minutes of us leaving the beach, we splashed into the water. We went down slowly, but for a while, my dad had troubles equalizing the pressure in his ears. Eventually, he got down, and we started our dive. It was beautiful! What really stood out to me was the amount of soft corals, that unlike hard corals, move and sway in the current.
There was a small shipwreck, and lots of fish and coral were living around it.
We went back to Sabang, and spent the rest of the day playing in the pool, blogging, and trying to organize a trip to Apo reef, which my dad will write about. My mom, Kaia and I went to a pizza restaurant for dinner.
The next morning, we had a light breakfast, did the usual swimming & blogging stuff, and did an 11am dive. This time, it was just the 4 of us and a divemaster, Bunny. The boat ride to the dive site was even shorter than it was the day before. The dive was quite different from the one the day before too, because it wasn’t on a coral reef. Instead, it was a sandy bottom, but with a few small shipwrecks with tons of coral and fish on them. A while before, we noticed that the photos from the GoPro camera while snorkeling were great, but when we took it diving, everything in the photos looked blue-green. So in Sabang, my dad bought a red filter, something you put on the GoPro lens to make the red and orange come back. You’ll notice that the fish and coral in the following photos are much more colourful, but the filter sometimes makes stuff look too red.
We can all agree that that was one of the best dives yet. It really goes to show how weird creatures in the ocean can be.
There’s not much to do in Sabang other than diving, so we decided to take a short boat ride to White Beach, a place that the Lonely Planet travel guide said was a bit more “family oriented”. It was pretty touristy, but at least they didn’t build right up to the water like they did in Sabang. After finding a room, we got into our bathing suits and swam out to a floating bar. We had great fun on their slides and jumping platforms!
Then, we went to a cafe for some drinks (and WiFi). While we were sitting there, a man dressed in women’s clothing and makeup walked by. Seeing that we looked a bit confused, the waitress said “That’s a ladyboy”. They’re similar to what we know as transvestites, but more committed to their feminine identity. She said that there are a lot of them in White beach, and many of them are part of a show on the beach every night. We went for a simple dinner on the beach, and while walking back to our room, the show began. Music started, and dancers ran onto the beach spinning fire poi.
We stopped to watch them for a while, and during that time, a show started at one of the bars. Women, or so we thought, were dancing and lipsyncing to super loud music pounding out of the bar’s 2 metre high speakers. Then, we realized that they were almost all ladyboys. Even some of the firedancers we thought were women were ladyboys. I think I only saw one real woman in the show. The rest were either men or ladyboys. Since no one’s making money if you’re standing and watching, there were ladyboys trying to get you to sit down at a table and buy drinks. And as if the night weren’t crazy enough, shortly after the one bar started it’s show, the neighbouring bar started a very similar show, and started competing with the other bar by pounding music even louder! When one bar started a slow, exotic dance, the other would start a rock or hip hop dance that would completely mess up the other’s music. There was a little sheet hanging to “divide” the 2 bars’ parts of the beach! It was very, very obvious that the 2 bars just hated each other.
If it wasn’t for the fact that the 2 bars were trying to outcompete each other in terms of music volume, it would have been quite an enjoyable experience, because a lot of the performances were quite impressive. Curious, my dad went back to the cafe we were at earlier to ask the owner about the show. She said that White Beach is a hub for ladyboys from all over the Philippines. One bar did a show alone for a while, but another started right next door, and it’s been going on like this every night for a year and a half! There wasn’t a crazy amount of people watching, so we were wondering how the bars could afford to pay all the performers, but apparently, since it’s not too far from Manila, it’s very busy on weekends. And during Holy Week there can be as many as 10 000 people on the beach. That whole thing really left us wondering why the Lonely Planet said White Beach was a family friendly destination!
Well, with the fish in Sabang and the ladyboys in White Beach, I can definitely say that we saw some interesting stuff during our time in northern Mindoro.
The Lonely Planet guidebook suggests that half the fun of going to the Caramoan peninsula is the adventure of getting there. After our successful snorkeling outing with the whale shark in Donsol, which Kaia described in the previous blog entry, we decided to head up to this area, known for its beautiful coastline and islands. We got to the bus terminal with our big packs by motor-tricycle, then rode a minibus to Legazpi where we transfered onto a second minibus that took us to a town called Tiwi.
In Tiwi, we felt like a real spectacle — we hadn’t felt so stared at for a long time. It turns out that Tiwi is not a very touristy place, but since we arrived too late to catch a jeepney to the next town, we would need to spend the night. However, Lonely Planet doesn’t list any accommodation there, and there are no TripAdvisor reviews either. We started asking around. Eventually, someone said (with at least some certainty) that there was a place to stay about 3km out of town. Back onto a tricycle went the packs and off we went. Sure enough, there was a motel at the far end of town called the “Springs Resort” (formerly known as the “Hot Springs Resort” — maybe some recent tectonic activity cut off the flow, I don’t know!) But they did have a pool, which was clean even though it was only about half full. We swam and then caught a ride back into town to get dinner at the market. It was our first experience with Filipino street food; somewhat puzzling since they served each type of food on a different plate and definitely didn’t want us to put any sauce, veggies or meat on the plain rice. So we each ended up with 3 or 4 plates or bowls with portions of various things (rice, fish, beans, chicken, boiled greens) and sat down at a picnic table next to the food stall. Then we really were a spectacle!
We were impressed with some people’s excellent English and american-sounding accents, and learned that the biggest industry in Tiwi is call centres. So next time you call a customer service number to change your phone service or get technical assistance for your computer, you just might end up talking to someone in Tiwi, Philippines!
Back at the Tiwi Springs ‘Resort’, we were the only guests that night.
Next morning, we got a tricycle into town where we soon boarded a “jeepney” heading north. Jeepneys are an amazing form of transportation:
– part taxi (you can hail it anywhere and just yell “para” when you want to get off),
– part bus (it seats about 12 people inside and a few more standing on running boards at the back),
– part jeep (the front looks like a jeep),
– part graffiti wall (they are painted in vibrant colours), and
– part church (they are generally full of religious paraphernalia, and I saw several women crossing themselves as they got in — although this probably has more to do with Filipino roads and drivers).
Three different jeepney rides got us to Sabang, from where we could catch an outrigger boat for a 2-hour journey to the port town of Guijalo. Lonely Planet got it right — getting to the Caramoan peninsula is not straightforward and can be quite an adventure!
And we weren’t even quite at our destination yet — we still had to cross over to Paniman, on the north side of the peninsula. We had hoped to rent kayaks for a couple of days, and Cam had been in contact with an outfitter, but we decided to play it by ear (we would see what the weather and waves were like before committing — how uncharacteristically prudent of us!)
The Caramoan Peninsula may be difficult to get to, but it is definitely “on the map” as it has been the venue for “Survivor Philippines” — you know, the reality show in which participants have to “outwit, outplay, and outlast” their opponents and teammates while hanging out, scantily clad, in stunning locales. I knew about the American version of this show, but had no idea that almost every western country has their own version. We saw photos from “Survivor France” and “Survivor Croatia”. Apparently the Dutch version is due to begin filming here in about a month. Luckily, our visit did not coincide with any filming because that would have meant that the islands were off limits. As it was, we were able to rent kayaks from a neighbouring guest house and visit the beautiful islands and beaches where “Survivor” took place.
Unaware of how much infrastructure is required to stage a season of Survivor, we were shocked to see the village that was created solely for that purpose.
This is the beach in Paniman with many small boats ready to take people to the islands:
We stayed in a room at the “Mushroom Bar”, run by Dennis and his wife, Rizalie. Dennis’ sister (whom we met) had spent 2 years in interior British Columbia, working as a caregiver for a man with Alzheimers. With the money she earned there, she has opened a purified water refill station and helped her brother build his guest house. She has applied to immigrate to Canada with her husband and 4 children.
While trying to go to sleep the first night, we were introduced to another Filipino obsession: videoke! Basically the same as karaoke and taken VERY seriously. The neighbouring guest house had a videoke machine right on the other side of the wall and several customers who were very persistent but bad at singing harmonies! It was a bit painful to listen to. Even the earplugs didn’t block it out.
The next day, we went on a great day trip with Dennis and a German friend of his who also runs a guest house. It started with a jeep ride (or motorcycle for Cam since there wasn’t enough room in the jeep — he didn’t mind because he got to drive!)
Then we paddled across a reservoir in local canoes,
through lush jungle with simple homes,
then hiked up beside the shallow river,
to get to a nice waterfall with multiple swimming holes.
Dennis barbecued fish over a fire for our lunch that was served on banana leaves.
It was a nice day, and we finished it off with a drink at the Mushroom Bar.
We more than survived our Caramoan experience, and left in the same way as we arrived — on an overpacked tricycle, beginning another epic travel day!
Les Philippines! Population: 100 million Monnaie: Pesos Philippines (PHP). $1 canadien = 35 Pesos. Religion: Catholique Langues: Tagalog (langue officiel, un mélange d’espagnol, anglais et autre), Bicol (dialecte dans le sud-est de Luzon), Anglais (enseignée dans les écoles. Leur niveau d’anglais est très haut, alors on pouvait communiquer avec presque tout le monde), et plusieurs autres dialectes! Histoire: Colonisée par les espagnols en 1565. À la fin de la guerre Espagnole-Américaine en 1898, les États-Unis ont prit possession des Philippines. Ils étaient un endroit très important pour les américains pendant la deuxième guerre mondiale. Les Philippines ont eu leur indépendance des États-Unis en 1946. L’influence Américaine est très évident partout, avec l’anglais et le basketball!
Comme d’habitude, notre horaire de vol de Bali à Manila était horrible. Départ de Denpasar à minuit, et arrivée à Manila à 4h. On ne savait pas qu’est ce qu’on allait faire aux Philippines, mais on a lu qu’il y avait des bonnes choses à faire dans la région de Legazpi. C’est dans le sud de l’ile Luzon, la même île que Manila. Legazpi est au moins 10 heures de Manila dans un autobus, mais seulement une heure de vol. Après une nuit sans sommeil, un long voyage en autobus n’était pas très invitant. Et, le vol était vraiment peu cher… alors on a choisi l’avion.
Dans l’aéroport de Legazpi, un couple suisse nous a approché. Ils nous ont demandé si on allait à Donsol, comme eux. On avait aucune idée de quoi on allait faire, alors on a décidé de partager un transport avec eux et aller à Donsol. On a trouvé quelques autres personnes qui allaient à Donsol, et une heure plus tard on était là.
La chose à faire à Donsol c’est nager avec les requins-baleines, ou “Butandings” dans la langue locale. Il y a plusieurs butandings dans la baie de Donsol, et il y a des bateaux qui peuvent t’ammener pour les voir. Puisque c’est une région marine protégé, c’est organisé par le gouvernement. Après qu’on a trouvé un accommodation à Donsol, on s’est organisé pour notre “Butanding Interaction” qu’on allait faire le prochain matin.
Le système est très organisé. Chaque bateau est pour 6 personnes, alors on a partagé le bateau avec Omar et Tanja, les suisses qu’on a rencontré à l’aéroport. Sur chaque bateau, il y a un “Butanding Interaction Officer” (BIO), un guide de snorkeling qui peut trouver les butandings. Il faut regarder un vidéo de sécurité avec des règlements pour s’assurer qu’on ne fait pas peur au butandings, par example:
-6 personnes par bateau
-1 BIO par bateau
-1 bateau/6 personnes par butanding
-Il faut garder 3m de distance entre toi et le butanding
-Interdit de nager en avant du butanding.
C’est vraiment “l’écotourisme”! Quand la baie est devenue un endroit protégé, plusieurs pêcheurs ont perdu leur emploi, alors le gouvernement leur a donné le travail de BIO. Ça montre qu’un écosystème vivant va attirer les touristes qui vont payer pour voir, alors il ne faut pas détruire la nature pour gagner de l’argent.
Le matin, on s’est rendu au bureau de butandings. On a regardé le vidéo, et on a rencontré notre BIO. On était tous très excité!
Les butandings/requins-baleines sont les poissons les plus grands du mondes. Ils peuvent atteindre 14 mètres de longueur! Mais, ils ne sont pas dangereux du tout, parce qu’ils mangent seulement le plancton et l’algue. Ils vivent dans les eaux tropicales autour du monde. L’espèce est considéré comme vulnérable.
Les BIO cherchent pour les butandings. Apparemment, ils peuvent voir un ombre sous l’eau!
Un autre bateau a trouvé un butanding, mais on ne pouvait pas leur joindre dans l’eau, à cause du règlement d’un bateau par requin. On a cherché pendant 3 heures mais malheureusement on n’a rien trouvé.
Mais une partie du prix était le tarif du parc national, et c’est bon pour 5 jours. Alors aller chercher pour les butandings une deuxième fois serait moins cher. On a tous décidé qu’on allait rester une autre journée et essayer encore!
La deuxième journée, on s’est réveillé super excité! On s’est rendu aux bateaux, mais on n’avait pas besoin de regarder le vidéo encore. On a été assigné un différent bateau et BIO cette fois.
Ça n’a pas prit longtemps à trouver un butanding cette fois! Même s’il y avait deux bateaux déjà là, notre BIO s’en fichait. On était un peu confus avec les règlements, mais quand on est entré dans l’eau, on a vu ça:
Wow… incroyable! On a nagé avec lui pendant 10 minutes avant de retourner sur le bateau.
Le BIO a cherché pour un autre requin-baleine sans succès, et finalement on est retourné au butanding original. Mais il y avait trop de personnes, alors c’était difficile de l’apprécier.
Même les BIO brisaient le règlement de 3 mètres. Notre BIO a dit “Quand il y a plusieurs butandings, on adhère au règlements. Mais quand il y a juste un, on s’en fiche”. Intéressant… le jour avant, le BIO était plus conservateur, il a suivi les règlements, et on n’a pas vu un butanding. La deuxième journée, on a brisé les règles, mais on en a vu. Maintenant on est plus intéressé à les protéger. Mais quelles sont les effets négatifs sur les butandings? À l’avis d’Angela Quiros qui a fait des recherches à ce sujet, les touristes qui nagent autour d’eux font que les butandings sont plus inclinés à plonger, ou changer de direction soudainement. Puisqu’ils mangent seulement le plancton, l’algue et des autres choses microscopiques, ils doivent économiser leur énergie, alors cette sorte de comportement n’est pas naturelle. Qu’est ce que vous pensez? Comment est ce qu’on peut mélanger le tourisme avec le bien-être du butanding? Cette expérience nous a fait penser à Tortuguero, Costa Rica quand on a vu le procès d’une tortue de mer pondre ses oeufs. On était dans un groupe avec un guide, et on pouvait seulement regarder la tortue pour 30 secondes à la fois. Après, il fallait laisser un autre groupe la voir. Ce n’était pas très relaxe, mais au moins c’est pas trop stressant pour la tortue. Peut-être que les BIO pourraient apprendre des guides de Tortuguero…? On va écrire une lettre au gouvernement à propos de notre expérience, alors laissez-moi savoir ce que vous pensez! Est ce que c’est possible d’avoir une industrie de tourisme et en même temps un écosystème vivant?
Même si on se sent un peu mal qu’on a peut-être agacé le butanding, on a encore vraiment aimé notre temps à Donsol avec ces géants de l’eau. Nager avec le plus grand poisson du monde est une expérience que je ne vais jamais oublier, et je pense aussi que c’est la preuve que j’ai surmonté ma peur des poissons!
Just arrived in Kathmandu Nepal hotel 10 minutes ago, after a 7hr through the night layover in Mumbai after leaving Hong Kong last night. Wow … sensory overload here! Lots of planning in the next few days, but we’re really excited to be in such a place. The entry below is the last from Indonesia.
We had just more than 24 hrs after getting back from Kalimantan before our departure to the Philippines. The near-airport town of Kuta is not a place you’d want to spend time. Full of tourists, tourist shops, over-priced food, and a very dirty beach. Ironically though, it is the Kuta beach that put Bali on the tourist map decades ago. We knew that the peninsula that juts out at the south of Bali was supposed to be beautiful, laid back and ringed by cliffs. So we went to Bingam beach in the Uluwatu area. We imagined we were in a Greek seaside town because it is a maze of little paths leading past little guest houses and restaurants perched above the beach. We mostly just chilled out here -swimming, snorkeling but mostly enjoying bbq fish beachside.
The architecture here was quite stunning – houses seem to hang off the vertical cliffs. Yoga studios and spas abound. And it was soooo quiet, which can’t be said for many other parts of Bali. Kaia and Jake made some more “buisiness” cards because we were almost out. I’ll share some photos of those in a separate entry.
Uluwatu is most well known for its spectacular Hindu temple jutting out into the ocean. Tourists and locals alike flock to the temple for sunset and we joined them.
We loved the location but could have done without the macaques (monkeys). A guard warned me to take my glasses off before the monkeys did. I thought this rather impossible until about one minute later when I heard a very animated lady shouting that “he took my husband’s glasses”. She found a different guard who without missing a beat got a banana (kept specifically for this purpose) and coaxed the monkey back down from the tree and traded the banana for the glasses. So smart these monkeys! On the walk out we met a woman who had been bitten badly at the “sacred” Monkey forest in Ubud the day before and lost her glasses here – she wasn’t too impressed.
We really liked Indonesia. Up till this point on the trip Vanuatu had been my favorite country. But Indonesia now holds that place for me, Jake and Kaia. Why? The diversity and the people.
– cultural diversity (Hindu, Islam, Christianity) that was apparent in day to day life. The ubiquitous Hindu offerings remind you of the humble and peaceful nature of the Bali folks.
– delicious, cheap and easy-to-find food that changed notably from island to island. I can’t wait to try to whip some of this stuff up at home!
-Bali is quintessentially “chill”
-fantastic geographic diversity from island to island (beaches, jungles, rivers of all sorts, volcanoes, cliffy seashores and the rice terraces (my personal favorite))
– AMAZING diving and snorkeling
– we always felt safe (though we did not travel to most of the big cities)
– subsistence farming and fishing everywhere you look
– Kaia even commented that she had gotten used to the Indonesian (squat) toilets! She explained to me that in the women’s washrooms in airports there are both kinds of toilet with a sign on the door to distinguish. Elsewhere, flush toilets were more common, but usually without toilet seat or toilet paper.
-More than anything we loved the way we were received by the people. They seemed genuinely interested in who we were and were so easy to approach. The “friendly locals” cliche is much over-used. And we’d encountered lovely open folks throughout our journey. But the Indonesians’ faces lit up with smiles as we approached. I think it was more about Kaia and Jake than me or Yvonne. At times we were well off the tourist track, and for most of our time very much off the “family” tourist path. K&J were real novelties – you could see people’s attention zero in on them. They would sometimes ask for photos with the kids. This was fun most of the time. But at the Surabaya airport returning from Kailimantan, it was a steady stream of photo requests (they got pinned down and Jake walked away after a few minutes). It is a very healthy tourist experience to find oneself at the other end of the camera and to be left wondering “what exactly is it about what I represent that they want to photograph?”
– we were encouraged by optimism Indonesians hold for their new president Joko Widodo’s commitment to tackle Indonesia’s HUGE corruption problem. Initial signals look good.
Indonesia is not without its challenges though. It is drowning in refuse from the new “packaging” disease that comes with western style materialism (hastened no doubt by the growth of tourism). Jake has described the desperate plight of its forests and critters from foreign driven deforestation. You can see that the balance between maintaining the strength of traditional culture in the face of modern conveniences is not easy. And we found the smoking habit of most Indonesian men downright repugnant. Our dive masters, tour guides, taxi drivers and so many others that we enjoyed the company of all smoked like chimneys. They had some broad understanding that it wasn’t great for their health, but were not concerned enough to do anything about the habit. I guess they are now where we were in Canada 40 years ago. But with 250 million Indonesians, the cancer deaths of men are difficult to imagine. Just have to hope that women don’t start up!
Indonesia is VAST. We saw parts of 4 islands. But we have little idea what 98% of the country is like. And we’ve learned that it likely quite different from island to island. And pretty fantastic all round. As Arnold says … “I’ll be back!”
Happy World Water Day everyone!
When packing for this trip back in August, we obviously had to put some thought into how we would carry and treat water. We knew we’d be traveling in many places where tap water should be purified (at least for our ‘delicate’ western stomachs), or in some cases, we might be drinking out of rivers or lakes. We definitely did not want to be dependent on buying bottled water! The options I was familiar with were: 1) boiling (takes time to cool down), 2) adding iodine tablets (leaves a bad taste and not good to use long-term), or 3) using a water filter. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), we had lost our water filter on a canoe portage somewhere in the Kawartha Highlands Park, so we needed to buy a new system. What I purchased at Wildrock Outfitters in Peterborough has become our most prized possession on this trip and I wanted to highlight it today. March 22 has been chosen by the UN as World Water Day, a day to address the many challenges related to water. There are some great images and information at http://www.unwater.org/worldwaterday . For example, can you believe it takes 15 000 litres of water to produce 2 steaks?
Anyway, back to my favourite item in my pack: a CamelBak All Clear ultraviolet water purifier. It is light, effective, and so convenient to use! Fill up the water bottle, screw on the UV cap, turn it on and agitate for 60 seconds… and presto, you have purified water! My understanding is that the UV light sterilizes the bacteria, meaning that it doesn’t actually kill them, but makes them unable to reproduce in your stomach. So far, none of us have gotten stomach illnesses (except for that macadamia nut incident), so we feel confident that it is working.
The cap is recharged with a USB connection, but does about 80 cycles per charge (the bottle holds 750ml, so that means about 60 litres of drinking water per charge). I just think this thing is awesome and would recommend it to anyone for traveling or camping. For extended camping trips, you’d probably need to take along an external battery pack or a solar charger.
My only complaint is that the LCD display on the cap doesn’t show up very well anymore. We can generally see when the battery is wearing down, though. Apparently, the unit’s UV light has a lifespan of 10 000 cycles, so it would be nice if the display showed how far we were through that. However, 10 000 cycles would be like using it three times a day for nine years, so I don’t think it will expire on this trip!
We bought ours at WildRock in Peterborough and noted that they are available at the Mountain Equipment Coop.
The only place we couldn’t drink purified tap water was on the Gili Islands, Indonesia, where it was just way too salty. We were appalled by how many empty plastic water bottles our family generated during the time we were there.
We are blessed with an abundance of fresh water in Canada. Let’s all do our part to conserve and protect this precious resource!
In Jake’s Orangutan blog yesterday, WordPress dropped his photo captions initially. Many of the captions tell little stories, and they have now been restored so those of you who “follow” our blog (get emailed our entries) might want to have another look at https://1year1family1world.com/2015/03/17/the-awesome-orangutan-trip/ We’ve had 4 great days in Hong Kong and leave for Nepal tomorrow evening.
Anyone who has read our postings from our 3 weeks in Vanuatu knows that we fell in love with the country. It is so tragically ironic that it is some of the very qualities we admired that made Vanuatu so vulnerable to cyclone Pam. Nivans build their homes from local materials. Woven bamboo walls and thatched roofs. I can’t imagine how any of these homes would withstand a category 5 cyclone.
We also admired their food self sufficiency. They work very hard in their gardens so they can eat all year. Very little food is canned/bagged/stored and consequently their food “footprint” from carbon or packaging is next to nothing. But many of these gardens have been destroyed, and there is no store of any size to find food. And even if there was they don’t really focus on saving cash because they are self sufficient.
They live close to the sea and so many homes in Lamen Bay (where we had such a wonderful Christmas) are not more than 1 or 2 meters above high tide. Apparently the storm surge was 8m in some places. Their home-made wooden fishing (read “food”) boats will be smashed.
We haven’t been able to find news of how Lamen Bay made out though we did learn that our hosts Rob and Alix at the Epi Island Guest House at the south end of island (we spent Christmas Dinner and evening on their beach) are alive and that their guesthouse is intact.
I wanted to write this post for two reasons. The first was to highlight what has been well documented in the media – that they are so vulnerable as described above. But I also wanted to pick up on a theme also in the media – that this cyclone is a result of climate change. This is the assertion of Vanuatu’s president Baldwin Lonsdale and it has received much comment in the media. I follow climate change science closely, and the consensus among peer reviewed science is that:
a) it is not possible to link any particular storm event to climate change
b) storm events in general are becoming more frequent and severe as a result of climate change
c) the frequency of cyclones and hurricanes in particular is NOT increasing, but the severity is
The folks in Vanuatu say they’ve never seen a cyclone like Pam.
What troubles me most is the fact that these Nivans have done virtually nothing to contribute to climate change and hence the severity of Pam, but are ultimately the ones now without homes, food or water. With the exception of some folks living in the main centers their carbon footprints are virtually zero. They cook on carbon neutral wood fires and source their food and building supplies locally. Many Nivans know all about climate change from government and school education programs. So it is not lost on them that it is us in the wealthy north that are basically responsible for their mess. And I use “us” quite literally, because I am actually rather ashamed of the carbon generated by our air travel this year.
Friends in Canada who follow climate science will know that the brutally cold winter at home is not out of line with the “more frequent extreme weather event” prediction of scientists. And extreme flood events in Canada and abroad have unmistakably increased in frequency and severity.
Another climate “summit” approaches in December (Paris). I can only hope that an election comes in time to rid Canada of our federal “leadership” that alternately denies/lies/obfuscates and otherwise does nothing to solve the problem. I am at least relieved that our Peterborough riding is no longer represented by Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro. The first time he visited my classroom (on invite in 2008) he denied that the climate was changing and said that Al Gore had it all wrong. Last year some of my students and Kaia and Jake and friends visited Mr Del Mastro at his office. When Jake told him that he was ashamed of Canada’s record at climate conferences and Canada’s perpetual winning of the “fossil award” (given by NGOs to the country that has done the most to prevent the successful negotiation of a climate treaty), Del Mastro cut Jake off before he could finish, turned all red in the face, then barked at Jake “who produces more CO2, Canada or China?” Dean Del Mastro is irrelevant of course, as he awaits his sentencing on election fraud. But that he would have this asinine quip on the ready speaks volumes of his party’s approach. Was that ever a powerful hour of learning for my students and kids!
Yes, Vanuatu is a half world away from Canada. But we are connected to them much more closely than most Canadians know or care to admit. Good thing the proximate Australians, with carbon footprints similar to ours, are at least lending a hand.
To our Nivan friends: Famili blong mi givim yufala nambawan wishes blong spid recovery.
In Indonesian, “orang” means “person” and “utan” means “forest”.
Now before I begin, for anyone planning on going to Tanjung Puting national park (in Kalimantan, Indonesia) to see orangutans like we did, I’d like to highly recommend to you 2 things. Firstly, you should do it even if it’s out of your way, because it was definitely worth it, and secondly, I recommend our guide, Herman Ningrat. It was the best thing we did during our month in Indonesia, and Herman was an amazing guide. He spoke great English, was very friendly and taught us a lot about what we saw. If you’d like to contact him, his email is email@example.com and his mobile number is 0822-5478-0777.
Last summer, when my mom, Kaia and I went to Florida, we visited a place called Monkey Jungle, a kind of “open concept” zoo, where humans walk in caged walkways through big monkey enclosures. There were mostly small monkeys, but there were also a few great apes, including a female orangutan named Mei. She was very cute and lovable. Then, the zookeeper explained that in their natural habitat, on the island of Borneo in southeast Asia, orangutans are under threat because the jungle is being cut down to plant palm plantations, to make palm oil. She told us that a way to help orangutans is to not buy palm oil or products that contain it. I thought that it was a great idea to let people see an orangutan, then explain how to help, because Mei made people feel an emotional connection with orangutans, which motivates people much more than just hearing about them. And let me tell you, after we did what I’m going to write about in this blog, we’re even more motivated to help the amazing “red apes”.
Our time left in Indonesia was winding down, but there was still so much that we wanted to do. We’d heard about a 3 day trip on Borneo where you go up a river through the jungle on a boat with a personal guide, cook and captain, and you’re almost guaranteed to see orangutans. It would require 2 short flights from Bali to get there, and 2 flights back, so we didn’t know if it was worth doing it, but we read reviews on TripAdvisor saying it was “the best thing I did in Indonesia”, so we decided to go for it and my dad went to work booking tickets online. Most people arrange the trip ahead of time, but since it was the low tourist season, we figured we’d get a better price by hiring a boat and crew on the spot.
We spent the night in Kuta (the super touristy part of Bali) for no reason other than being close to the airport. We had at least 3 hours between flights in Surabaya, on the east side of Java, which I believe is the second biggest city in Indonesia (similar size to Toronto). We then flew to Pangkalan Bun, in the southwest part of Kalimantan. Most people consider the whole island Borneo, but that name only applies for the Malaysian part in the north. The Indonesian part is called Kalimantan, but when I’m talking about the whole island, I’ll call it Borneo, because that’s the only term I’ve heard for the whole island. We took a 15-minute taxi from the Pangkalan Bun airport to Kumai, on a big estuary that most rivers in southwest Borneo flow into. We found a pretty basic hotel (the first place we’ve stayed that doesn’t include toilet paper in the price), and my parents went to the port and found a boat captain and guide that would take us the next day. We didn’t do much in Kumai, so I’ll skip straight to the trip.
The boat, or the “kloktok” as they’re called, left port in the morning, with 8 people on board. The Douglas family, guide Herman, captain Anjung, assistant Rudy and cook Alu. We went downstream on the estuary for about 30 minutes, and Herman told us the plan for the trip: We’d enter the Sekonyer river off the estuary, and travel upstream until we got to the first orangutan feeding station (I know you’re wondering why they feed them, but I’ll explain later). We’d hopefully see orangutans, and we’d spend the night on the boat there too. The next day, we’d go further up the river to the second station, then turn off onto an even smaller river, and go to the third feeding station. We’d then head back downstream and spend the night somewhere along the small river, and the next day, we’d go all the way back to Kumai. We had an exciting trip ahead!
We turned off the estuary onto the Sekonyer river, the entrance to Tanjung Puting Notional Park.
As we cruised along, Alu brought us a delicious lunch of fried squid, vegetables and rice. She’s an amazing cook!
Herman told us that you can sometimes see orangutans in the trees, so we kept our eyes peeled. We didn’t see any, but we saw several troops of proboscis monkeys, known for their big, floppy noses.
Finally, we arrived at the first orangutan feeding station. Most of the orangutans in the area, the north of the national park, are semi-wild, meaning they spent most of their childhood in captivity (probably because they were orphans), and have been rehabilitated, then reintroduced into the wild. They’re able to survive in the wild, but they still need a little bit of help, so are fed fruits, vegetables and water once a day. During the dry season, when fruits are hard to find, they almost entirely rely on the daily feeding, but we were there in the wet season, so they don’t always come to the feedings because they can find food and water by themselves. First, we went to the little visitor centre at the ranger station. Then, we walked for about 20 minutes to the feeding platform, and sat down in the viewing area. There were about 15 people, and all of us had come by kloktok that day. We watched the park rangers put out bananas, sweet potatoes, lychees, and many more kinds of fruit onto the platform. Almost immediately after they left the platform, we heard rustling in the trees. Then, we saw something big and red moving through the forest. We watched in awe as a huge male orangutan climbed from the treetops down onto the platform. We couldn’t believe our eyes!
We watched Gungul eat for a long time. He was in no rush to finish eating and leave the platform, so the other orangutans needed to be patient for their turn. A while later, one of the rangers told us to come back on the path a bit. There was Kucao, the second most dominant male, waiting for Gungul to leave. We saw him right up close!
Gungul ate for a long time, but he finally got full and left. Kucao didn’t realize this though, so he kept waiting. A female orangutan, Chelsea, swung in on a vine and climbed down onto the platform. Kucao eventually realized Gungul was gone, so he came to the platform too. It seemed like after Gungul left, there was no order of who eats, because Kucao and Chelsea ate at the same time.
2 more females came, and both of them had a baby about 3 years old. They were so cute!
Later, we learned that one of the mothers and her baby are completely wild, but they come to the feedings too. We watched for at least 2 hours, then walked back to our boat. And after that amazing experience, we had a delicius fish dinner! Rudy and Herman set up mattresses and mosquito nets for us to sleep, and they slept on the bottom deck. We had a good first day of the trip!
The next morning, we woke up to the sound of birds singing. We had breakfast as we continued up the Sekonyer river. We saw many birds and more proboscis monkeys. They’re mainly active in the early morning and late afternoon when it’s not so hot, so we saw them jumping from tree to tree! We arrived at the second feeding station and walked about 10 minutes to the platform. The rangers put out food and we waited for them to come, but there wasn’t any sign of them. While waiting, we saw the biggest stick bug I’ve ever seen.
We waited patiently for an hour or so, but it was getting hot and it didn’t seem like the orangutans were going to come, so we walked back to our kloktok. In a way though, it’s a good thing that they didn’t come because it means they’re learning to live independently in the jungle.
Alu had another delicious lunch ready for us, this time baby lobster, and we ate it as we cruised up the Sekonyer river, and turned off of it and went up a small river, what they call the Coca Cola river, because of its clear, but brown colour.
It was even quieter on the Coca Cola river, and we saw hornbills and other birds flying over us. We went a couple of hours until we arrived at the third, and biggest feeding station, Camp Leakey. Right as we were coming up to the dock, we saw a female orangutan in a tree right next to the river! And as we looked more carefully, we saw this:
She had a baby! She turned around, and we got a better look.
We wanted to watch them forever, but we had to get to the feeding platform in time to see the feeding, so we said goodbye to Peta and Peter. To get to the camp, we needed to walk along a boardwalk, but there was quite a ridiculous obstruction. Siswi.
Everyone got by Siswi safely, and we walked along the boardwalk to the visitor centre. The camp has quite an interesting background. In 1971, Louis Leakey, a anthropologist from Kenya, was researching the origin of humans. To do so, he found 3 young women to research some of the closely related animals to humans. Jane Goodall went to Tanzania to study chimpanzees, Dian Fossey went to Rwanda to study gorillas, and Biruté Galdikas, a Canadian, came to Borneo to study orangutans. She and her team established Camp Leakey as their base. But orangutans had, and still have, several threats that are making their population decline rapidly. The biggest is habitat destruction, either for lumber or for palm plantations. Some orangutans are killed by the forest burning, or by trees falling, and others are forced into other troops’ territory, and there isn’t enough food for all of them. An even sadder problem is the pet trade. People go into the jungle to find a baby orangutan. They kill its mother, and take it and sell it as a pet. They seem like great pets at first, but they get big, and their owners don’t know how to take care of them anymore. All these threats make so many orphan orangutans and adult orangutans that don’t know how to survive in the wild, so Prof. Galdikas found herself not just researching, but rehabilitating orangutans.
At the visitor centre, there were great displays to teach people about orangutans and their threats, and all the other plants and animals living in the jungle around Camp Leakey.
There was also a big orangutan family tree on the wall, with pictures of all the semi-wild orangutans around Camp Leakey. They always name the babies with the same first letter as their mother (like Peta and Peter).
After the visitor centre, we headed to the feeding station. The platform was much closer to the seating area than it was at the first feeding station. Rangers put out similar food to the other stations, but they even put out cow’s milk here, because a lot of the adult orangutans’ old owners fed it to them as babies. Again, the orangutans didn’t come immediately like they did at the first station, but we waited. After about an hour, people were starting to give up and leave, but this time, our patience paid off. We saw a few red shapes moving in the trees, and as they got closer, we realized it was a family!
They were so cool! Just like at the first feeding station, it seemed like orangutans’ favourite fruit are bananas, because they ate lots of them before eating anything else. A few other female orangutans showed up later too.
We saw some other animals around there too. Wild pigs were under the platform, hoping the orangutans would drop something. We also saw Boy, a young gibbon who lives around Camp Leakey and apparently comes to every feeding and takes a few bananas.
Well, that was a pretty awesome afternoon! We walked back to the camp and to the kloktok, and had another delicious dinner as we headed back down the Coca Cola river. The place on the side of the river where we spent the night had the best fireflies I’d ever seen. It looked like all the trees were covered in Christmas lights! We slept very well that night. Busy, fun day + quiet night & fresh air = sleep.
We had another relaxing wake up, with hornbills and kingfishers flying and singing around us.
Alu made us Nasi Goreng, or fried rice. We went back down the Coca Cola river until it joined with the Sekonyer river.
We weren’t planning on going to a feeding station that day, but we visited Sekonyer village, across the river from the first feeding station. It was bigger than I’d expected it to be. The village is on the side of the river that’s not in the national park, so they’re allowed to have small farms and plantations.
We went back to the kloktok and continued cruising down the river. I want to emphasize how sweet it was on the kloktok. We’re eating lunch, listening to monkeys and birds, with not a care in the world. We felt like royalty!
The highlight of that day came as we were nearing where the Sekonyer river opens up onto the big estuary. There was a group of proboscis monkeys in the bushes beside the river. We’d seen lots of proboscis monkeys in the past couple of days, so we did little more than notice them. But Herman told Anjung to stop the boat, because he thought it looked like the monkeys wanted to cross the river. He said that they wait for a boat to be nearby, then swim across, because they’re so smart that they’ve figured out that boats scare the crocodiles away! We waited for a few minutes, and noticed that there were a lot of monkeys, at least 30 of them.
Finally, one brave monkey climbed down towards the water, then slipped in and started swimming across. After that, there was no hesitation in the rest, and they all started jumping in! The whole group was in the water within a minute of the first monkey crossing. There were sometimes 3 in the air at once!
The river wasn’t too wide, so every monkey made it across without drowning or getting caught by a crocodile. We could tell that the reason they crossed was because there were good fruit on the other side, because they all climbed into a big tree and started picking fruit. That was so cool!
A few hours later, we got back to Kumai.
We said goodbye to the crew, and took a taxi to a hotel in Pangkalan Bun. The next day, we flew back to Bali again, with a couple of hours in the Surabaya airport. The orangutan trip was the best thing we did in Indonesia, and that’s saying something!
But orangutans are endangered. Their numbers have dropped by 1/3 in the past 10 years and they have lost 80% of their habitat in the past 20 years. The threats are:
– deforestation for oil palm plantations. Palm oil use has gone up by 50% in the past 10 years – we use it in food, cooking and cosmetics
– illegal logging. The trees in these forests are worth a lot of money, especially to poor farmers. Our guide Herman told us that it happens in some remote places that the conservation officers can’t patrol, but also in obvious places where the loggers pay the officers to say nothing (corruption).
– illegal gold mining. These many small mines in remote places strip all the trees and soil away, so after the mining is done nothing can grow back. As you saw in that earlier photo, illegal gold mining was even a problem in the park that was set up to protect orangutans!
– hunting. People still hunt orangutans for food. And this often leaves orphans that they sell for pets. When the babies get too big, they are killed or given to the rehabilitation centers (like the one we saw).
– forest fires. Rainforests usually keep their moisture. But the logging and clearing has resulted in drier areas that have burned a lot more than natural in the past few decades.
So these orangutans need our help. When you’re shopping, check the ingredients of the products you’re buying, and if it contains palm oil, buy it only if it has the RSPO logo on it. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is an organization that gets all the people in the industry (growers, refiners, manufacturers and consumers) together to try to solve the problem. Preventing further deforestation is the main objective. I read that there are still problems with RSPO but it is a step in the right direction.
Baby and other orangutans that end up at rehabilitation centers are lucky. Birute Galdikas’s foundation is one that takes in guys like this. They first get the traumatized orangutans to play on play structures like they have at schools. They also spend a lot of time holding them because most of them didn’t really have time with their mothers. Once they can swing, they are taken into a little forest for more integration. All this happens in the rehab center.
Once the orangutans seem to be able to manage in the forest, they are taken out into Tanjung Puting park (where we saw them) to continue their reintegration. From what we saw, Galdikas’s foundation does fantastic work. You can support them by going to their website: orangutan.org
As I post this blog from Mindoro Island, Philippines, we are thinking of the people in Vanuatu who were hit by tropical storm Pam. Many are without homes, water and electricity now. Subsistence farmers will struggle for a long time if crops were wiped out, as I know they were in some places. Y ——————————————————————
Have you seen Al Gore’s movie, AnInconvenientTruth? I remember being glued to the screen when I first saw it, and troubled by its powerful message. When John Hardy saw it (John is a transplanted Canadian who moved to Bali and created a successful jewelry business with his wife Cynthia), he was deeply affected. He felt that the solution lay in education and decided to do something tangible to help train young people who can lead the world towards a more sustainable future. He was also inspired by Alan Wagstaff’s design concept called “three springs” (a model for a quality living community with a school at its ‘heart’). Hardy and his wife sold their shares in their jewelry company and founded the Green School of Bali in 2008. The vision was (and is) to create a “natural, holistic, student-centred learning environment that empowers and inspires students to be creative, innovative, green leaders”. And what an inspiring place the Green School is! I think the four of us would have been quite happy to drop our bags and enroll on the spot!
Green School attracts students from all over the world who are looking for an alternative style of education, involving a positive and deliberate focus on environmental stewardship. I was impressed to learn that many families relocate to Bali, either temporarily or permanently, specifically to send their children to Green School. It offers programs from preschool to grade 12 and has about 400 students coming from something like 30 different countries (we met a few Canadians during our visit). And the administration tries to maintain a percentage of local Balinese students (presently it’s 8%).
The first thing you notice about Green School is the phenomenal bamboo architecture. John Hardy, the founder, is an artist and has a bit of a love affair with bamboo — it really is an amazing, fast-growing, strong, flexible, and beautiful building material. And in Bali, it’s locally grown, too! The school is a collection of buildings on a piece of land that has a river running through it. The central structure, known as the “Heart of School” has a phenomenal, double-helix shape and no walls. The ‘no walls’ part is central to Green School philosophy. The Heart of School houses some classrooms, open office space, meeting space, the library, and the area where students and teachers eat.
Other classrooms are scattered around the campus and have a similar airy, open, and bright feel.
But Green School is not just a collection of cool buildings, it really seems to be a community. Parents are visible on the campus and some have started businesses there such as a coffee shop, a raw food counter, and a shop with environmentally friendly, locally made products.
On their campus, there is also a project run by the Begawan Foundation to help breed and release the critically endangered Bali Starling, an endemic bird that has been almost wiped out by introduced predators. When well-known personalities such as Dr. Jane Goodall or Mr Ban Ki Moon (UN Secretary General) visit the Green School, they’ve been involved in releasing pairs of starlings. Why does Green School get attention from such celebrities? Well, it was recognized as the “Greenest School on Earth” in 2012 by the US Green Building Council. Since then, it has gotten a lot of publicity and they actually run tours each day to accommodate everyone who wants to see it.
However, we wanted more than just a glimpse at the campus — we wanted to meet some of the teachers and students, and felt we had something to offer them as well. So after some email exchanges, we had an appointment to meet Glen Chickering, the head teacher of the middle school. He saw the link between the theme of our travels and their upcoming unit on energy. We were invited to kick off the unit with a presentation. Glen then gave us a tour of the campus and shared some of his experiences with the evolution of this unique school community (he has been involved since year 1).
So we knew we’d be coming back to Green School in 2 weeks. During that time, Kaia would often remind us, “Our presentation is in 8 days — we need to get started,” or “The presentation is in 5 days, we need to work on it!” Thanks to her insistence, we actually started early and gave ourselves enough time to put it together without much stress. I need to transfer this technique to other aspects of my life (specifically report-card writing!)
Anyway, we divided our presentation into 5 sections: ecotourism (Cam), ocean health (me), sustainable transportation (Kaia), invasive species (Jake), and green energy (Cam). We showed pictures and spoke about the issues and solutions we have encountered in our travels during the past 6 months.
The students were a receptive audience and had many great questions for us. One boy asked us if we had used public transportation to travel from country to country and we had to admit that we had only done that a couple of times in Central and South America. Otherwise, we have traveled by air (leaving a massive carbon footprint in our wake). We then learned that that boy had traveled overland from the UK to Bali in order to avoid taking an airplane. It took him and his dad 59 days! Wow. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. I bet they have some stories to tell about that one.
While preparing my piece on ocean health, and in particular, the problem of plastics accumulating in the oceans, I learned that a couple of middle school students at the Green School have started a “bye bye plastic bag Bali” campaign and have convinced the governor to take initial steps toward reduction. These young ladies are definitely showing the leadership that Green School founders were hoping to encourage. Anyone can sign Melati and Isabel’s petition at http://www.avaaz.org/en/bye_bye_plastic_bags_on_bali/.
As expected, we learned a lot during our visit to Green School and were inspired by what we saw there. I hope to apply some of those ideas to my life and teaching as well! A description of our visit appeared in their middle school newsletter: http://www.greenschool.org/weekly-newsletter/feb-26-2015/one-year-one-family-one-world#.VP0fZ_mUede . Yvonne