This time from “de pill-ah-peenz”;. As Rob will fill you in on our comings and goings, I’ll try to give a little insight into our first dose of Asia We hope to catch up by early September, so stand by for a rash of updates!
On Land--The big cities are relatively the same with buses, cars and taxis. However, one version of the bus is a snazzy "jeepney". They are constructed from old US military jeeps and fit about 15 very small Philipino/Philipina rear ends. The jeepneys are decorated wildly with scenes, metal hood ornaments and cool sounding horns. These serve as the only long distance transport out of the cities and carry people, freight, mail, and livestock. In Palawan (see Rob’s write-up) this translated to a 15 seater with approximately 30 people inside and 10 to 15 more on the top and sides. In between is squeezed luggage and boxes of stuff. Next come the livestock and to top it all off very large bags of rice are thrown in just to test the shocks. Sometimes the rides are 10 or more hours. We discovered the best ride is on the top, for the room and scenery. For anyone who doubts, I have pictures to prove my report.
For shorter distances we became found of the tricycle, a bike or motorcycle that has been converted with a covered side carriage big enough for two. Again, usually 5-6 are seen merrily riding along with arms and legs askew.
By Sea--Most boats used for 30 or fewer people are outrigger canoes with an old lawn mower or jeepney motor attached for speed We made 2 scuba dives, a ferry ride, and island hopping off an outrigger, a little unsteady but okay.
The “backpacker placess”; here are referred to as pensionnes. We decided to stay clear of the dirt-cheap $1-$4USD places and head for the mid-range options. For $5-$20U5D we got a comfortable and clean double room often with private bath. Most places in the country were simple bamboo cottages with thatched roofs. All came with a private gecko or two for insect control and some even have a friendly cat or dog on the porch. All are equipped with fans and mosquito nets. Showers are always cold and are often simply a bucket and scoop. Western toilets have made it to the remotest pensionne but do not flush; instead you pour pails of water into the bowl. In public places, the locals often remove the seat and squat on the rim. Most places have a good but overpriced restaurant.
The Philippines Islands consist of 7,107 islands. After flying over some and doing some reading I would say it is more like 50 islands and 7,057 large rocks with trees, beaches and beautiful reefs. We have a very limited scope as our time was spent in Manila and northern Palawan only.
Palawan is covered in lush rain forest with enough diversity to keep it interesting. My two favorite spots in terms of what I picture Asia to look like were the emerald rice fields outside of Sabang with mountains rising in the distance and the Basuanga River with huts and palms lining its shores.
Most everyone we encountered was friendly and helpful to us. Many people went out of their way to help. From casual observation, they appear to be very family oriented with large birth rates. Many families have up to a dozen children. Most people speak some English and can understand most of what we say even if they lack the confidence to engage in conversation. The children, as we’ve found worldwide, are always excited to see foreigners and yell out “hello”, “what is your name”; “where are you going?”; and “goodbye”. Off the beaten track, whole crowds of them form, beaming from ear to ear
The Filipinos are from an extremely diverse background and have influences from all over Asia. Micronesia, Spain, Britain and the US. The typical person is of small stature with dark skin, hair and eyes. Everyone, even the poorer people, dress well.
-Great scuba diving.
-Good economy on transport, meals and accommodation.
-Nice hiking areas, especially the rain forests.
-Good food with lots of rice.
-Inflated tourist prices in taxis and at the market
-Transport anywhere is a long and arduous journey.
-Some waterfront towns lack adequate sewage, which equates to trash and waste ruining the reef and ambiance.
-The hassle of boiling, treating or buying bottled water, as tap water is unsafe.
-Clothes’s shopping is limited as the sizes are all so tiny. “Oh, for you? Sorry, no biggers”
***OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY (OT) IN FO***
I spent 5 days visiting 2 facilities working with the pediatric population. The departments were similar to ours just less equipped. From observation and speaking to the OTs, they utilize the NDT approach most often. SI is new and techniques such as MFR are unheard of. Outside the larger hospitals, OT is rare.
There are dozens of schools graduating hundreds of therapists a year. Only two schools have been accredited. If a therapist graduates from an accredited school, they are allowed to sit for the boards. Their boards consist of two sections, a medical exam (15% pass rate) and an OT theory/practice exam (60% pass rate). If a therapist fails either, both must be taken over. The prestigious hospitals require board certification, other places do not. You can train students as soon as you graduate and OT train PT students and vice versa.
From what I gathered, the Filipinos can sit for the US boards without having passed their own boards or graduating from an accredited university. Many of the therapists and students are in the process of applying for job permits in the states. Most indicated they would work for lower wages just for the opportunity and most want to settle in the states.
Talk to you soon,
Well folks, we’re back on airplanes again. Our hopes to make it to Indonesia were dashed by colliding holidays. Ramadan and Chinese New Year occurred at about the same time making a cheap flight impossible. We could have taken another flight, but that would simply have provided a license to hunt for the impossible hotel room and bite to eat. NO THANKS. Instead we bought a flight to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) through the Philippines (PI) for $600AUD each.
We arrived in Manila in the evening and made our way to the grottiest hotel room so far. We were tired and crashed there anyway. The next day we upgraded to the Malate Pensionne (great place). Manila is HUGE with a population over 10 million. Conditions vary from atrocious (sewers running onto the streets to the 5 star fantasy hideaways of the Makate district. We decided to bail on Manila ASAP and headed to the remote (malaria and rebel infested) island of Palawan (The one that points to Borneo). Here we got a first hand look at country life in the P1 and some wild scenery.
Arriving in Puerto Princessa on a $6OUSD flight we headed north after a few days exploring this capital city. The first stop was Sabang, home of some beautiful beaches and the premier (7) tourist attraction of the Underground River. We stayed at a set of thatched huts run by a German and his Philippina wife. The place was great. They had a terrace cafe overlooking the surrounding jungle, mountains, rice paddies, beaches and etc where we could pine our evenings away drinking San Miguel beers. After a few days checking out the area we decided that this sort of luxury was too good for us so we packed it up and headed North. This involved a 12 hour + bun crushing, bone rattling jeepney ride back to PP and then up to Tay Tay on the north end of Palawan. Although rough, the ride gave us a look at loads of villages, rice fields and seemingly endless expanses of tropical rain forests.
Tay Tay was a former Spanish capital of this island and the town centers around the old fort on the waterfront. Here we recovered from the ride and explored the surrounding waters We rented a boat and made our way out to one of the nearby islands catching a tuna on our hand line. We snorkeled, sunned, and ate lunch on the beach. The islands around here are mostly limestone peaks that jut out of the depths This one had a guard to keep the locals from dynamite fishing or disturbing the swallow nests (used for birds nest soup and quite a valuable commodity)
From Tay Tay, we took a ferry to Coron Island. The ferry ride was great as we spent the day snaking our way through various impossibly deep channels separated by beautiful palm and coral fringed islands with mountainous exclamation points on each end. The water was a deep blue.
Our arrival in Coron set the stage for some spectacular wreck diving as a number of Japanese warships were sunk in nearby waters. The visibility (viz) was OK as there was a lot of plankton, but made for dramatic scenes at we dove down conning towers and the rest of the ships would become evident. The wrecks vary from about 20 - 30+ meters at the bottom, so we chose a couple of shallow ones for our diving. We were able to do lots of swim throughs as the ships we dove on had cavernous interiors and 100-meter lengths. There were only 3 of us on the dive, and the dive master was excellent. Prices run about $40 for a 2-tank dive with their gear
From Coron city we set out to Busuanga to explore the nearby river and small towns of the island. We spent a day on the Busuanga River, having rented a dugout canoe from a village woman who seemed to be shocked by the fact we would give her money to use it. She took time out from weaving roofing materials (from palm fronds) and gathered ropes and paddles scattering the numerous pigs, chickens, and fighting cocks running about the lawn. The river was excellent. After about 3 hrs of paddling, we left behind all signs of human life and entered the jungle. Lots of things swirled around in the water, but we saw no crocs. Lots of colorful birds flew around and brilliantly colored kingfishers plied their trade along the bank
Things were slow in the countryside, so we headed back to Coron City. Here we spent a few more days exploring the nearby sights. Across from the town is an island of forbidding limestone peaks with sheer drops to the sea. A Negrito tribe occupies the interior of the island; descendants of the first people who lived here. Some still live today as they have for 100s of years. We saw a few of them in town and they look like small Fijians with a strong Asian mix. Along the coast were lots of small beaches and coves filled with coral. We headed over to see a fresh water lake located just over the first ridge.
As we approached the island the limestone wall showed off its immense size. Drawing near we could make out the beaches and small lagoons along the side. We entered one of the lagoons and passed over a beautiful coral garden before landing. The sight of an impossibly beautiful lake framed by jagged limestone walls rewarded our hike up the ridge. The turquoise water invited us in. Obligingly we dove in and were treated to 100 + foot viz. As we swam out, we passed over a ledge that descended to oblivion. It felt like we were falling out of a plane We explored caves on the side and the usual formations along the bank for a couple of hours before heading back to the lagoon.
The lagoon was outstanding. Viz was about 20 + meters and there was lots of coral, shells, and surprisingly (so close to Coron City) fish. The interior of the lagoon was shallow but as you worked your way to the mouth, the water got deeper and deeper until it finally dropped into a chasm as you entered the bay area. Apparently a channel circles the island providing good water movement for coral and viz. The wall extended as far as we could see, promising excellent diving. Coron City (though a bit rough in town) provided a good base for excellent diving. There are even a few live-aboards that pass through here as they head out to the more isolated places.
Palawan and Coron are known for excellent seafood and we really enjoyed ourselves. Once we got here, costs were cheap. Rooms or cabanas run about $8-$IOUSD per night and dinner about $2. San Miguel about $.50 a bottle. Those so inclined might enjoy some of the local rum at about the same price per bottle as the beer. This area really lived up to its billing as one of the more remote and beautiful areas of the P1 (at least those we saw). Lots of spectacular beaches, beautiful islands, and virgin jungle. Few (tortuous) roads.
From Coron, we flew back to Manila ($6OUSD). Here we toured the sights and caught up on our eats. The Makate area had a TGI Fridays and even a Chili’s. We also caught up on US movies at $1 a pop. The big sightseeing highlights included the old Spanish fort at Intermurous and Rizal Park (Named for the National Hero Jose Rizal), Corregador, or the American Cemetery. Next time.
Back in Manilla
Conditions of the Country
The PI goes from 5 star to really rough in the blink of an eye. The country still suffers from a huge gap between rich and poor. People Power is still on the sidelines watching the working of the current Head of State Fidel Ramos. He is expected to end his last (legal) term and is hinting that he wants to change the constitution or find a way to continue in power.
Much of what development that is occurring does not seem to be for the benefit of the general population. 5 star hotels and you cannot drink the water. A continued legacy of the Marcos era. While in Manila, there was a cholera outbreak in one of the universities from the water supply. Also forgotten are the environmental impacts of development. As new locations are developed, the towns crowd around (as encouraged by the Central Government) and no public sanitation is provided. This leads eventually to environmental degradation on a significant scale and everyone looking for a different area to develop. This sort of slash and burn policy is common. The pristine stuff is there, but you have to work (or pay) to see it.
Other forms of damage come from dynamite fishing the reefs (apparently more productive than conventional means) and the use of cyanide. The government is trying to address this, but all politics are local. Tropical hardwoods are harvested both legally and illegally. You can buy some really beautiful things here for a low price, but it is hard to ignore the damage. Fortunately, there is a large market in antiques. Almost everything wood is made from teak or other local hardwoods, and the antiques are magnificent (try the 4 level store in intramurous (sp?)).
Well enough of that. We had a great time here and recommend it to the hardy traveler. There are a lot of beautiful places to see. You could easily spend 3+ months checking them all out. If you happen to own a yacht, the place really opens up.
HP ALERT!! Technical info approaching!!!
While in Manila I had the opportunity to visit the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute and the Department of Health. The people at both facilities were outstanding and made my visit and TLD song and dance a learning experience. Timing is everything and our timing was good. During our visit, the Department of Health was hosting an IAEA regional meeting discussing dose limitation during diagnostic radiology. I found the visits and the meeting to be informative as to the state of the art of HP practice and the limitations associated with working in developing countries.
The PNRI had recently received a Harshaw 6600 TLD reader (who has not?) do the IAEA, and were trying to work out some software problems (sound familiar?), before placing it in service. I also had the opportunity to visit a cobalt irradiation facility they are thinking of converting to commercial use.
My visit with the Department of Health coincided with their hosting the IAEA meeting and I was graciously invited by HP Department Director Peralta to participate as an observer. The meeting itself was a learning experience both due to the topic (Rad Protection during Diagnostic Radiology) and the participants. Attendees included physicist and doctors from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Viet Nam, China, Bangladesh (a former teacher of Abu Ahmed), and India. Heading the meeting was an IAEA Rep from Nigeria, with technical assistance provided by a HP from New Zealand (who I had met while there) and a Radiologist from Italy. The Philippines Department of Health was an excellent host.
Of particular interest was the relative advancement of each country in the fields of radiology and HP, and the problems of relating doses from diagnostic radiology in the participating countries to computer models designed for reference man. The study calls for patients who fit the reference man model, but the patients studied in these countries weigh SIGNIFICANTLY less.
I found that the IAEA is a rather significant player in much of the world (except the USA). Many countries rely on the Agency for technical assistance and intercomparison of practices and standards. From what I have seen they do excellent work.
Yours in faithful and relentless travel.
Copyright © 2002 by Robert and Melissa Gunter. All rights reserved.