Sunday, June 11, 2006

Some rest...

After 2 weeks of orientation, site visits, hard working and sickness, it was time for us to take a break from the capital city, exercise, get some fresh air and experience the native Filipino dishes…

Destination Banaue and the rice terraces,

After an early wake-up call and a 9-hour car ride through valleys and mountains of Northern
Luzon, we finally arrived in Banaue, a small town in the province of Ifugao, known for its amazing rice terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage site and considered as the 8th Wonder of the World.
We thus spent our first day resting and walking through this amazing landscape, an engineering achievement created by the native tribes 2000 years ago. A model of sustainability, the terraces now show scars of aging, resulting in a need for protection of the area. Natural erosion, tourism and labor shortage (for repair and rice farming) are a few examples of causes leading to the slow destruction of this unique feature. Locals’ interests have changed, people are turning into tourist activities (touring, artifacts production) or are moving in Manila because of their inability to generate enough revenue from rice harvesting to fill their families’ needs. As a result, 65% of today’s rice supply in the surrounding area is coming from importation, and this figure is unlikely to improve with the current situation.
After our encounter with the Tam-an village inhabitants and our walk through a minor portion of the 20’000km stretch of paths and trails in the Banaue rice terraces, it was time to get some rest and meet the “locals”. For our first night outside Manila, we had the surprise to share our dorm with some more or less pleasant visitors. Moths, cockroaches, and a few other “over-sized” companions were to join us and give us some unforgettable moments.

After the mountains, the beach…. But before...

Swamp. This one word could describe our night in Locap, a small town located in the region of the Hundred Islands. While some of us were struggling with the heat and humidity of the area, others were fighting with the always memorable cockroaches, ants, mosquitoes, geckos and small mammalian specimens. The most lucky ones would have the combo, unexpected roommates AND temperature.
Our ‘journey’ in the Hundred Islands would thus never happen and would be traded with a more pleasant one in the area of Bolinao, Puerto del Sol Beach Resort where the group was to enjoy the warm water of the China Sea, the baking sun, sand and the comfort of some more decent hotel rooms. We shall also mention this unforgettable dinner on the beach during which we were to satisfy our digestive tracts with some local fish and vegetables, cooked by our guide Pastor Choy and driver Jesus.
Our last day outside the scented Manila lead us to a quick visit of the enchanted cave, where some of us enjoyed the cool underground water pool, naturally formed within the volcanic ground of the island, before taking the road back to the sweaty Manila.

(Sunset in Bolinao)

Local dishes… An initiation to the Filipino culture,

A journey outside Manila would not have been complete without tasting the so-famous Balut, a special Filipino snack. Before going further into the details of this unique tradition, it is my duty to warn of the nature of the following, sensitive hearts please avoid.
To make this a short story, the Balut actually consists of a duck embryo. The eggs are specifically chosen by the farmers and merchants and the embryo should not be over 18 days-old in order to be eaten. The eggs, containing the embryo (which may already contain the beak, feathers and internal organs) are cooked and served with the shell. Local beliefs mention eating Balut brings strength and virility to the man and is said to improve lactation for the opposite gender when pregnant or lactating. Balut is also part of the wedding ceremony. If the egg is consumed, union between the newly-weds is said to be reinforced during their honeymoon, making the first night a spicy and memorable one.
So it was our duty to try the special treat. With some moment of hesitation, it is with some good courage that Omar and I were to be the first ones to taste the chicken-tasting egg. Holding our breath, and adding some salt and sauce to give some flavor to the thing, it was time to bite into this unique meat. The event attracting several curious, it is with a small crowd, all eyes turned on us that we chewed into life (almost literally speaking…) and had our first taste of Balut. The experience was a success, and so was our very unique initiation and integration to the Filipino culture.

(A close-up view of the famous Balut)

It is thus with our stomachs full of goodies that we drove back in Manila, fresh and ready for some more adventures and eager to go back to work.

So many sensations come through...the visual beauty of the rice terraces (great pictures), the calm of the sea, the tactile intrusions of the bugs and finally, the gustatory adventure which I've thankfully been spared. Keep up the enjoyable communication.
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