August 31, 2011

The Giant Tree's Nephew on Steroids at the Hidden Pools


You are lucky we have pictures of this trip.

It was my birthday, so Lady Hiva wanted to have a fun day. We planned to drive to Hidden Valley Springs, about an hour away, for the day. As we got up to leave, things were chaotic to get out of the door before traffic starts (oh you know all the reasons it always feels like you need to rush even when you don’t have to). Hiva was packing the clothes, we were both grabbing whatever we could quickly eat and we raced out to Boeing. Once in Boeing, Lady Hiva realized we were missing towels and I thought about  needing the IPod considering Boeing’s CD player does not work, poor guy. We went back, got the stuff and off we went…

Ten minutes into the freeway drive we were gloating about missing the traffic and were singing out load to our favorite tunes and I realized we did not have the camera! MAN! So we took the next exit, paid the toll, got back onto the freeway, paid the toll again, and went home. So our day started great, I had to laugh as I found myself at the fridge getting another drink of water one hour, $150 pesos, and 4 liters of petrol later and we were still here at the house! HA!

The drive was nice, it did not take us long to get back into singing, the only hard part was following directions. The official directions off the resort website literally included, “Take exit 52” which does not exist! (Actually, in fairness it existed but it was not labeled we found it on our way home) And instructions like: “Turn left after the National bank” and “Follow the road behind the cathedral” (do you KNOW how many cathedrals/churches there are in the Philippines??) or “you will pass a lime green mosque.” Which we did—it was the greenest mosque I have ever seen! We eventually found our way. This resort said secluded, it was NOT false advertising, after being in Manila for a few months it was so refreshing to see greenery, animals, blue sky, and trees. We turned off the A/C and rolled down the windows as we drove on the half paved half homemade ‘cobblestone road’ to the resort. I drove slowly partly to absorb the situation and partly because the ‘cobblestone’ was threatening to rattle out my teeth if I went over 10 miles per hour!
We entered the resort and paid our fee which we were informed included “entrance, welcome drinks, facilities (like showers and bathrooms), lunch, afternoon merienda (snacks) and of course all the pools and hot springs.” We used the bathroom at the reservations desk before we went to the pools, something we have a habit of doing now, in the Philippines if there is a clean bathroom don’t pass it up because you never know how long until you see another one. I stood and waited for Hiva to finish and looked out at the small cabins you can rent. The cabins are beautiful for a nightly stay over, Hiva and I thought it is too bad family is so far away because it would be a fun place for a reunion. As I waited I watched as an employee cheerfully sang as she brought a bucket of water from the back of the building to refill the ‘welcome drinks’ that turned out to be water and some brown juice looking stuff. She offered me a drink and since I was the only guest there I awkwardly took a cup and viewed my choices.  Not being daring enough, I went with the water over the sludge. The girl went on singing. As Hiva came out she said, “I was using the bathroom and I could hear someone singing, but there was nobody in there with me. I realized it was her,” she pointed to the employee now wiping the tables, “she was just outside the bathroom singing while she filled buckets of water.” GREAT! I just drank toilet water! I should have gone with the sludge.

Lunch was really great—plenty of choices on the buffet and everything was wonderful. We made our way down to the pools and again the brochures on the website did not let us down. The manicured walkways and old bridges lent beautiful views of the falls and pools. It was gorgeous. We explored all the pools and waterfalls before deciding which to get in.

We were truly out in the jungle and we learned today that everything in the jungle, or maybe there is ultra-miracle grow in the spring water because everything was on a LARGER scale than usual. The ants were huge and would raise a full scale attack if you got too close to their work line; the leaves on the tropical plants were huge, some spanned almost 4 feet by 4 and a half feet--One Leaf! Amazing; Hiva went to pick a large white ginger flower (one of her favorite flowers) and she yelped because inside the blossom was, of course, a huge spider; then we crossed one of the bridges and saw a HUGE tree. As we were both straining our necks to see the top of the tree Hiva said, “Woa, it is the Giant Tree’s nephew…” It even had its own plague!

We had a great time just relaxing in the pools. Once we were done with one pool we would go to the next. As we left we had our merienda which consisted of typical Filipino fashioned rice and sugar manipulated into several dishes. Some we loved and some were a bit…too slimy for me. It was a perfect birthday, totally worth the weird directions and paying several extra tolls to have the camera. And we really recommend Hidden Valley Springs it is a perfect place for a small, quiet get away.

August 28, 2011

The Worth of a Grain of Rice

Yesterday a childhood friend of mine wrote on her Facebook Wall that she wonders if anyone sees the “good in life anymore?” because all people do is post complaints. I tend to agree with her, it is so easy now to voice our problems and inconveniences in a public forum. We are entitled to it right? However after living here in the Philippines, my perspective on the phrase, ‘life is HARD’ has changed. Here are a few stories to explain that change.

Last week we heard a local man, now successful in business, tell a story of growing up and his father owned a construction company. Every night his mother would invite a few of the construction workers over for dinner because she believed in sharing their blessings. One time, this young man asked his father why the construction worker ate ALL of the ligaments and fat off of their chicken, not just the meat; he saw this as distasteful. His father responded, “Son, not everyone can afford to eat chicken.”

Lady Hiva and I went to do errands at the chapel before doing our normal Saturday explorations. I happened to bring my Ipod with me and a few of the young men in the ward wanted to listen. It was fun to watch them try and figure out how to use it and which of all the songs to listen to next. I thought about how kids their age in America not only know how to use these electronic devices that inundate our lives, but they also complain when they ‘only have last year’s model.’

We decided to explore Divisoria, an area in North Manila proper, part of Chinatown. There are several malls and miles and miles of winding roads full of street venders. Hiva has wanted to go for quite a while, and today is the day! It was raining, but rain has never stopped us before! We were forewarned by some of the locals not to wear anything shiny, of value, or in our pockets because of the theft problems there.

As we rode in the taxi—we did not want to drive for Boeing’s safety—on a busy street through the center of Manila, we saw a man out in the rain crouched over in the middle of the street. Cars were parting around him and a jeepney full of people were stopped watching. When we got nearer, I could see he was scraping up rice off the wet and muddy road. It was then I realized he must have been riding the jeepney and his small bag of rice fell out of the open door in the back. My heart broke. That bag, no larger than a small grocery bag, must have been a whole week or months’ worth of pay. My mind quickly created an imaginary story of his hard labor to buy food for his children back home and then the shear panic to see that food scatter out onto the road. Here he was, drenched, muddy, and facing on going traffic to collect every grain of rice. We passed him slowly and I could not pull away my stare, I wanted to cry with him, for him. Now that is a hard life…something worth complaining about. But I guarantee you he never did. He was probably thankful to have the rice in the first place, then thankful for every grain he salvaged.

Divisoria is just short of chaos! People were everywhere! You can buy just about anything either in the malls or on the street. I was mesmerized by the hustle and bustle of people doing their daily thing—buying or selling…or both.

Again, I was the only white person for miles, so we drew attention. We are getting used to that now. It was fun to see their faces and nods of approval that we were willing to walk in flood water with them, or laugh at their jokes and stop and look in their stores. The prize, though, was having their photo taken! They would smile, pose, laugh and ask to see the photo as we passed. One lady selling vegetables asked why I was taking pictures of her and her friend sitting next to her said, “you should feel happy, your photo will go back to America!” (Or down the road to our house, but they did not know that).

These street vendors sell all kinds of wares. We even walked down Recto street, which is well known at work because you can buy any kind of fake document you want to there.They even have Christmas stuff out already!
Because of the rain, some people were packing up their make-shift stores for protection. Within minutes large tents and displays of products were folded, sorted and packed into a wheeled cart and pushed home.

Innovation abound in places like this. Instead of complaining that they do not have what they want, they make use of what they have. We saw flood water being channeled by man who only had a coconut leaf rake held together with duct tape; tarps used as jackets, roofs, or blankets; and my favorite was a street shoe store using a bucket tied to the second story window with a rope to convoy merchandise. When the customer needed a different size the boy on the street would yell up to the widow, the boxes of shoes were placed in the bucket and pulled over the street, the boy then jiggled the rope overhead until the boxes fell out and he caught them. Simple but amazing. We stood there watching for a few minutes and at one point the wind picked up and the tarp over the shoe selling boy dumped its load of rain water right on his head as he was trying to catch a box of shoes! His infectious laugh echoed down the street.

The malls, in contrast, were squeaky clean with white walls, white floors and white lights. Kind of hospital like. We wound in and out of stores. Hiva loved all the clothes and jewelry to choose from. I think we may find ourselves back to Divisoria sometime soon.  I did find the ad for a new employee interesting…most important: you are nice and pretty. Hmm…what if they cannot count money? I guess that is unnecessary if you have the looks. YIKES!

On our way back we walked through what they call Chinatown. A beautiful basilica overlooked a town square and of course people and cars zoomed everywhere. We tried to catch a taxi but they were all full. We ended up talking with the traffic controller, who apparently thought we were more interesting than directing traffic. I cannot blame him, from what I see people do what they want anyway. When Lady Hiva told him where we were from he broke out in his own hula right there on the street! It was great! He was wet from standing in the street all day, but he was happy—happy enough to sing and dance with some foreigners. Puts a whole new meaning to dancing in the rain.

So whether it is a new Ipod, selling fruit out from a cart, catching shoes out of a bucket, or doing the hula in the streets…maybe we need reevaluate if our “hard life” is really that difficult. So yes, I agree with my friend’s post, we need to see all the blessings we have. Sometimes that one grain of rice or last piece of chicken means is worth being thankful for.