Thursday, September 26, 2002

Siargao Stories: 2002, final chapter


Our last morning. We woke up refreshed and not at all hung over. We decided to go over to Cabuntog to arrange if we could ride with whoever was also leaving for the airport (that way we wouldn’t need to pay for the ride). And wouldn’t you know it, Useless R was once again… completely inept!

Us: Hi! We were wondering if we could hitch with the group that is leaving for the airport later?
R: Good idea. I don’t know who they are.


We had breakfast at Cloud Nine… chilled out with Django and Joel… said goodbye to them and to Ana and Alex. I took Kaz to the other side of that stretch of beach and showed her my favorite hut… this bamboo bit on stilts overlooking the water… really peaceful there.

Next thing we knew we had time for one final swim outside Sarah Jane’s and then we needed to haul ass to the airport.

We took last photos with Sarah… went to Cabuntog in search of a (free) ride to the airport. But it was not to be. The Mayor’s van was off somewhere and we really would need to hire a habal for the 45 minute ride. But before we left we ran into a friend who had just arrived. Angelo is the most fabulous man… I met him last year on the island (Kaz knows him from Manila) and last year I had such a blast being a diva with him and his friend. We chitchatted for a while then Zeny reminded us that we had better get going if we wanted to catch the flight. Which was good advice since we hadn’t even bought the tickets yet!

The ride there was amazing. Kaz and I kept saying “Wow” and “Look at that!” that we hardly noticed that our butts were taking a major beating from the ride. We saw the island unfolding alongside us. I had never seen this side of the island before. All of it was beautiful.


Airport time. If you can call an open-air tiny cement structure fronting a grassy field an airport. We’d been told that sometimes people have to chase carabaos off the runway before a plane can touch down.

We got our tickets --- wooohoo – and waited for our flight. And waited. And waited. The damn plane was delayed by 3 hours! When we realized how late it was going to arrive we did the math … we had to be in Cebu by 6pm to catch our flight to Manila. And if the plane arrived at 5pm we would never make our flight. There was a brief moment of pure panic – it was as if our bad luck with transportation was following us around. But the wonderful people of SEAir made a call to Cebu through their radio or something (we didn’t have mobile signal – not even Kaz) and had us moved to the 7pm flight. We would make it home to Manila after all. Woohoo!

The planes finally arrived and we watched as a horde of bodyboarders piled out of them carrying their board bags and backpacks. None of them were cute. Haha. Well there was this one guy we immediately called ‘Wolf Boy” because he had this awesome kind of afro going on. (We later found out from Ana that his name is Kelly Hunt and that he is some hot shit bodyboarder).

So on the plane we went… landing in Cebu an hour later… where we were whisked by airport staff through these secret hallways straight to the departure area. We lined up, checked in and settled down at Bo’s Coffee Shop to while away our last hour before heading back to Manila. Throughout the whole thing people still back in Siargao were texting us… telling us about the party they were going to have… making us feel so bad about having left a few days ahead of everyone else.

Apparently we spend too much time chilling out cos the next thing we knew we could here our names being called! Last call for boarding! So laughing hysterically and running at full tilt we managed to make on to the plane in record time. And literally when we got on they shut the doors! Hahahahahaha.

An hour later, the doors opened and we were greeted by Manila rain. Sigh. Talk about apt – to land in Manila after four days of paradise and be greeted by rain.

And that ladies and lads, concludes the longest travel story I’ve ever written.

(post script: The very next day Zeny called me to say that someone had TURNED IN THE DIGICAM! A fisherman found it and gave it back to the local DOT people. Gotta love that island.)

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Siargao Stories: 2002, part 4

Off we trundled again to Cabuntog to enjoy our last night. Sigh. We were getting so sad about having to leave the next day. But this was no time to be sad… not when there was TEQUILA to be had. Hehe. (Back story: I rang Zeny from Manila to ask her what she wanted me to bring her for her birthday. And without skipping a beat she said "tequila." This tequila bringing would later become a tradition for subsequent island visits.)

Dinner at Zeny’s was great. Olin had this entire spread ready. And everyone who knew her was there to partake. It was a real Filipino kind of deal – with people serving themselves, sitting where there was space… things like that. And then BOOM, the lights went out. So there we were eating in the dark. Hee.

Later on we moved out to the beach to watch the band playing. Had a lot of beer… and busted out the two bottles of tequila. Boy we moved through all that booze hella fast. And I mean fast! In like half an hour there was no more tequila left and we’d demolished almost the entire case of beer.

And since I am highly allergic to alcohol, I had turned into my customary shade of red. A shade, mind you, that no human being has any right to be. I looked like someone had basted me in red wine. Needless to say, my pulse was going nuts as well. That’s the thing about me and drinking though – my body reacts to alcohol really fast but my mind takes its time to get fucked up.

Django and Joel totally freaked when they felt my pulse doing the lindy in my throat and wouldn’t let me drink anymore. Then again, I totally needed water by then anyway. So off Ana and I went to buy water. We came back and I found Kaz totally wasted as well.

That was the basic gist of the evening: us drinking and having a really good time. At some point I made friends with this coconut tree trunk… leaning against it while I got my pulse in control and my skin back to tan instead of super-red. Kaz joined me after a while… we hugged a lot and told each other how glad we were to both be there. I think alcie makes me huggy. Heehee. Django periodically came over to hand me water… and at some point we asked if he would take our picture sitting under our favorite coconut tree (I would like to point out that the danger of having a coconut fall on our heads did NOT cross my mind… proving that I am also an idiot sometimes).

Django: Can I take a picture of your feet?
Kage and Kaz: Why?
Kaz: Do you have a fetish?
Django: Maybe

But we let him do it anyway cos he’s such a nice guy.

At some point (I had lost pretty much all track of time) Kaz, Django, Olin and I walked down to the beach. We met this Canadian guy (James) who’d been in the country for almost a year and spent six of those months in Siargao. He’d never surfed before coming over and was totally charging those waves already. Hard core. The beer and the tequila were still kind of messing with our bodies though cos Kaz and I seriously needed to not only pee but maybe even throw up. So we walked back to the party proper and headed to Zeny’s cottage.

As luck would have it, no one was there. I was slumped on the floor, leaning on the door trying really hard to not pass out. Kaz wandered off so she could throw up somewhere dark. A few minutes later one of Zeny’s roomies arrived and opened the door for us. Five minutes later we were back at our favorite coconut tree… and, on my part, feeling a whole lot better. In fact, I was pretty much near sober again.

We waited for Kaz to feel up to standing and decided to call it a night. Oddly enough, it was really early… like midnight. It felt much later than that. The choices were to walk back to White Beach or take the habal-habal. Of course we took the habal!

Kage: Sit in the middle Kaz.
Kaz: No, I want to sit in the back.

So there we were speeding back to our resort with Kaz precariously perched in the back of the motorcycle with me clutching her wrist in a death grip. And I'm thinking "if she falls off, what am I going to tell her father?!" We get home finally.
And thus ended our last night on the island.
The saga is almost over...
for photos... you should know by now where to go! ;)

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Siargao Stories: 2002, part 3


After consulting with Sarah and her folks we figured that the camera had been picked up by someone in the hours between 2am (when we got home) and 7am (when we woke up). Not wanting to let this spoil my trip – also following the philosophy that being bummed out wouldn’t bring my camera back – we went off to Cabuntog to report the loss and to Cloud Nine to do the same.

Note that we hadn’t eaten anything since 2pm the previous day. But I really had zero appetite. We told everyone we ran across about the camera loss and went to the tower instead to watch the finals. By about 11am the finals were over and our stomachs had told us they meant to be fed whether we wanted to eat or not.

Lunch at Cloud Nine – damn, that was good food! Over lunch we were also told that Zeny (whose birthday it was that day) had arranged for an island hopping boat trip that afternoon. Woohoo! A quick stop at Sarah’s to get our gear (and put plastic over my remaining camera) and a brief delay trying to sort out our boat transfer back to Surigao for the next day – oh wow, can I just take a break from all the feel good stuff here and say what a supreme hassle it was trying to get Romy to be of ANY help to us?! The man forgot to book our boat transfers… then upon realizing the boats back were full, didn’t know what other alternatives to give us! So, in effect we were STRANDED on the island and would miss our flight back to Manila the next day!!!

Thank God for Zeny who is uber efficient. She clued us in that SEAir was going to have a special chartered flight at 330 pm the next day. She also hooked us up with the digits to call since Useless Romy didn’t know them either.

Tirade over. Time for the island hopping! A whole bunch of us -- including Baler Boys Mako and Olin, and of course Paolo loaded up into “the chariot” and headed over into town to pick up supplies – a cooler of ice and half a case of soft drinks. Then got to the pier, put everything – drinks, surfboards and people -- into an outrigger boat and went off to our first stop: Dako Island. This was my first time ever to leave the area of Cloud Nine, in three years of coming to the island at that.

Dako Island. We didn’t actually land on the island. We dropped anchor in the middle of the ocean near to where to waves were breaking. The boys tossed their boards into the water, jumped in and paddled out to catch the waves. Kaz, Zeny and I dove in after them but we mainly just swam around and talked. A little bit later I was able to borrow a board and I practice paddling (no way was I going to try and catch a ride on that itty bitty board). Somewhere in the middle of this Olin decided to take a few underwater photos of us which came out hilarious!

The thing with swimming in the middle of the ocean is that it’s a. hard to get back into the boat and b. it’s hella tiring just trying to get within reach of the boat! You know those swimming lessons you take where your instructor says “swim up to where I am standing, I promise I wont move” and then they do? That’s exactly what that stupid boat was doing… moving every time we got close enough to catch hold of the outrigger. Needless to say by the time we got everyone into the boat we were all ready to head off to the next island.

Guyam Island (islet actually). In a word: beautiful. There’s a P5 fee to get on the island – which goes towards paying the caretakers. Guyam has 27-kilometers of pure white sand, palm trees and little huts you can rent for a picnic lunch. We didn’t spend a lot of time there… just enough for pictures and fresh coconut juice (you pay P10 and they climb the tree to get you the coconut).

Got back to the pier, went back to Cabuntog. Couldn’t get a hold of the SEAir person so Kaz and I decided to just hop on a habal and head to Pansukian… a good thirty minutes away. The ride itself was boring – until we came upon a woman lying down in the middle of the road. A dirt road mind you. Facedown. In the freakin’ dark! And our driver just veers off to the side and passes her!!!

Kage: Um, aren’t we going to see if she is okay? (Inside: or alive?!)
Driver: She’s probably just drunk


We passed some guy a few seconds later and the driver did tell him to go check on the woman on the road.

We get to Pansukian and find the woman in charge of the SEAir special flight. Yey! Two tickets home! Thing is, they only took cash. And since neither one of us thought we would be needing a lot of it we didnt have enough for two tickets. In fact, pooling our cash together, we were short by like a whole P1000 just to get the tickets... and that meant ZERO cash for anything else (food, transport, BEER)... so yeah, we were royally fucked...

Long story short: when we got back to Sarah's place we asked if anyone could change dollars on the island (no banks or ATMs on the entire island)... cos I had like a spare $50 left over from my South Africa trip. We were going to go to this one woman who owns a store in town but Sarah's mom was kind enough to change the money for us (at a lowered rate of course but at this point I was willing to take any exchange)... and boom... once again we had enough money to not only buy the tickets but to survive the rest of our stay. Wooohoo!!!

That same night – our last on the island – Sarah’s family invited us to have dinner with them. Not as paying guests but as guests of the family. So we did. And it was really nice. I mean this is the thing about Filipinos (especially those in provinces) that I love – how warm and accommodating they are. We couldn’t stay long though cos it was Zeny’s bday and there was going to be a small party at her place… Olin had cooked all these good things for it too.
the party... the drinking... the tequila ... next!

Monday, September 23, 2002

Siargao Stories: 2002, part 2


Woke up early. Like seven in the morning early. In Manila there is no feasible explanation for me being awake at 7am. But for some reason being out of town changes my body clock. Anyway, we get dressed go over to White Sand again for breakfast AND to move our things there. Okay, not actually White Sand but the area behind them people just refer to as Sarah Jane’s.

Sarah Jane is this local girl married to a Scot and they have this neat house right off the beach that they are developing into a small resort. The type that will eventually have tents and a common bathroom. As it wasn’t ready yet they generously gave us their bedroom to use for the duration of our stay. Her husband, Terry, is great… very friendly. But it’s Sarah who really cracks me up. She has this empowered woman vibe going on and she is totally with it. Plus her family is just the best. (post-script: I didnt realize exactly what kind of empowered woman she actually was til the next year...)


Most of the beach along this stretch of General Luna is rocky. But at Sarah’s place it’s just all pure white sand and transparent water! We’re talking gorgeous beach spot. With the requisite palm trees and occasional wild bird alighting for a snack in the tide pools. Heaven.

So after settling in and seeing the lovely beach, we headed straight back to Cabuntog to get our id’s and then off to Cloud Nine to watch the competition. Which was intense by the way. The waves had become a bit fickle but those guys were carving what they could out of the swell! And a fair amount of them were able to catch some super sweet tubes. As with surfing Cloud Nine, a few boards broke and more than some of the surfers donated skin to the reef gods. And off to one side were all these grommets (young surfers, technically between the ages of 8 and 13) practicing near the channel.

We headed back to Sarah Jane’s place to swim. The tide had sort of gone down a bit… well okay, a LOT. Enough that Kaz and I had to walk out a fair bit to find enough water so we could sit under the sun. Semi-wading. We kind of just sat there and talked. Among our best bits of conversation were:

Kage: The crew should all pick a place to build a house.
Kaz: Yeah. That way we have a lot of homebases to chill at.
Kage: Exactly. I pick Siargao. I don’t want the house in Boracay.
Kaz: Sounds like a plan.

Ah the pipe dreams of the sun-stroked!

We’d talked so long that we didn’t notice the tide had completely gone out and we were no longer sitting in shallow water… rather, we were sitting on damp sand! Hahaha. Which was cool cos by then we were ready to eat anyway.

Late lunch found us back at Cloud Nine, ordering breakfast food for lunch. Go figure. Now, I have to be honest here… I am not sure exactly how we spent the rest of our day. I know that at some point we watched the special grommet division. And we met up with Zeny and made plans to go island hopping before we left. And invited her over to our beach (yes, by then we were calling it ours) for a sunset swim. Which we did… along with Mark and one more guy. The water was super warm even after the sun had gone down. But getting up was a whole other story cos the wind was blowing and we were starting to get cold.

There was a fashion show scheduled for that night so we showered up and decided to chill at Sarah’s before heading over. At this point I think I should mention we were sharing the place with a group of British bodyboarders. We thought they would be fun to hang out with but, no offense to Brits in general but they turned out to be rather cliquish… and a little boring.

While hanging out at Sarah’s we met her husband Terry… an Irishman who has settled into island living. He regaled us with tales of his years in the Navy. And of how he met and fell in love with Sarah. He was a blast. Not at all the kind of crochety old man you think he would be. He has plans of developing the place a little more… but he definitely wants to keep it rustic. None of that commercialized Boracay stuff you usually see.

Eight o clock rolls around and we walk over to Cabuntog. After Terry pimps us to the Brits and makes us all walk over there together. Well, his plan was a bust cos they talked amongst themselves. With the exception of this one guy Daniel whom we’d met the day before. So it wasn’t a surprise that once we got there we went our separate ways.

Armed with the first of many beers that day Kaz and I tried to pick a spot close enough to the stage so we could shoot the fashion show. Ah the models – tall mutant giraffe women. Filipinas were never genetically meant to be that tall… or skinny. But the boys… some were quite yummy. The area near the stage was crowded… people were in the water already. One enterprising crowd even got into a banca and set themselves afloat near the stage. Meanwhile there we were up to our thighs in water taking photos.

After a bit I got tired. Gave Kaz the camera and looked for people we knew to chill with. Lo and behold Nigel and Paolo just a few feet away hooting and hollering about the “booty” onstage. (Sigh, boys.)

The coolest thing I think that happened was I got to see my first moonrise… so I was barely paying attention to the rest of the fashion show. I mean, wow… the moon started below the horizon… all orange and angry… then as it started to rise it got lighter and lighter… until it was this benign white orb hanging in the sky. Unreal!

Kaz joined us a little later and a night of drinking and general vicery ensued. Spent a lot of it with Paolo and Nigel (who can talk like its going out of style). At some point we got very inebriated and tired. So we decided to walk back to Sarah Jane’s. We must have been more tired than we thought because it wasn’t until the next morning that I discovered I’D DROPPED MY MOTHER’S DIGITAL CAMERA somewhere on the sand!
tune in for more action and suspense!

Saturday, September 21, 2002

Siargao Stories: 2002

(fair warning: this is going to be a really long series as I did this as a daily travel journal. but in the interest of armchair traveling, i've cut it down into five segments.)
Siargao Stories:
September 26 to 29, 2002

Kaz and I meet up at the airport at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m. for our flight from Manila to Cebu. Nothing much happens so I’ll skip the rest of this part and take you straight to us at the Surigao airport where our Provincial Office contact takes us to the pier for the last leg of our trip – the boat ride to Siargao.

The boat is small but fast. And, thankfully, airconditioned. I say that only because our seats were below deck so you can just imagine what it would have been like to sit there for two hours without any source of air. We got to our seats and lo and behold – they were playing a Westlife VCD on the tv!

Kaz: They aren’t going to play that vcd for the whole trip are they?
Kage: Two hours of Westlife. In a boat. Welcome to hell.

But once the boat pulled out of the dock they switched over to a real movie. Something with lots of guns, biochemical warfare and, of all possible action has-beens, Dolph Lungdren.

Kage: I don’t know if this is better or worse than having to watch Westlife.
Kaz: Let’s nap instead.

So we did.

We land in Siargao at 430pm. We get off the dock. And our contact person on the island is not there to meet us. Fuck. I get the local version of a motorcycle called the habal-habal to take us to Cloud Nine, where I figure most of the people are going to be (it’s where the competition is held). Kaz had never been on a motorcycle. And these babies have extra long seats to accommodate more than one passenger. In fact, last year there were four of us plus the driver on one of those puppies.


We were there for an adventure right? So off we went for a twenty minute habal-habal ride to Cloud Nine. Basically, we get to Cloud Nine and I see people I’d met two years ago. One of them is this sweet girl Zeny who works for the Department of Tourism. Introductions all around and much discussion about where the hell Kaz and I are supposed to be staying. Zeny suggests that we head over with them to Cabuntog resort which is where the secretariat office is always located (its also where the nightly parties are held but that’s another part of this story). To cut this portion short since not a lot of excitement happens we eventually do hook up with our contact (Romy) at Cabuntog. We sit on the beach with our feet in the sand drinking ice cold San Miguels and are told that for one night we will be staying at one place then we’ll be moved to where we really are supposed to be staying for the rest of our trip. A little complicated but... no worries.

We have dinner at White Sand then head over to Gaga’s place to unload our things, wash up and get ready for the night’s festivities at Cabuntog. We meet up with some people I’d met before like Ana and her (then) boyfriend Alex and some of the other local surfers… not really friends friends but not really acquaintances. You know? They’re fun to be with and really nice people to boot. They introduced us to the other people they are hanging out with. Among them were these two guys from Santa Cruz California – Django and Joel. They’d been to the country before so they kind of knew what being in the Philippines was about. Turns out Django is a lifeguard and Joel is studying astrophysics. They had another friend Matt with them but we didn’t get to meet him that night. Anyway, we sat on the beach facing the stage where some band is about to play. As cover bands go, it was a pretty bad band. So we didn’t listen to them much really.

We met this one other guy Nigel who was super funny. The kind of person who just exudes stoke. He’s this student who managed to find a program that allows him to study in other countries and have those units credited. He’d been in Siargao for like two weeks already I think. About Nigel… hmmm… it’s hard to explain but the way I told Kaz was that he’s the kind of person you want to stick in your back pocket and bring home with you. He had this great vibe going on. And the way he talked about his family made you want to meet them cos they sound so cool.

By like midnight, maybe a little past it, Kaz and I were tired. We’d been traveling all day. So we decided to just turn in so we could be more rested for the next day. Someone gave us a ride back to Gaga’s place and wouldn’t you know it… the door was locked and we didn’t have a key. Hahahahaha. So we sat out by the shore for a while and waited for people to come home. We didn’t have to wait for long though. Man, that was good sleep. I had a pounding headache from the beer and the being tired. But I slept really well. I assume Kaz did too cos she was out like a light.
And thus ended day one on the island.

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Friday, September 06, 2002

Random Musings: post-South Africa

Among the numerous reasons why I love to travel is this: seeing more of the world changes the person that you are slowly becoming. Meeting new people, seeing new things... it opens your mind and your eyes... and, if you meet new experiences with the right frame of mine, you come away from traveling a better human being.

I've posted an article I wrote... which of course had to take on a certain tone and mood for publishing's sake. Now, the following is actually an email I wrote to my friends when I got back home. Minus the gossipy bits of course. ;)

Sept 05, 2002
Hullo out there!

My mom was in South Africa for the World Summit... so I tagged along. For most of the time we were in Johannesburg. It's a biiiig city! Plus there isnt much by way of public transport so you either need to get a cab or have someone pick you up. We were picked up by the couple that ran a very nice bed and breakfast operation. It was my first time to stay at one of those type places. The couple along with her parents do all they can to make you feel like you are part of the family. Such lovely, warm people. They had two dogs, three cats and a parrot... (one of the cats had to be the biggest cat i had ever seen! He'd curl up in my lap and purr and I would feel it reverbrate up my spine. I think it was the fact that we were staying at a house... I mean even if we were paying for our room and board, it felt super cozy and stress free. As a plus, the wife is a certified cordon bleu chef. And oh wow, the meals that she came up with. Mmmmm.

More thoughts:

1) I think Jo'burg is a very interesting city... there’s a lot of really cool things to do nearby so it’s a good jump-off point. On the Lonely Planet site they make it sound like this evil, dangerous place... but my impression of it is like of any large developing city... like what people think of Manila but it’s not like there's a mugger on every corner.

2) One of the things we did that I thought was very eye-opening was we took a tour to the Apartheid Museum. It showcased the history of South Africa and how apartheid started and of course how it ended. They want you to have a real feel of what it was like to be discriminated against so from the very beginning you are asked to line up for your tickets according to the color of your skin: white, black, non-black (mixed). Then even as you enter the museum, these lines hold true. After you’re inside though, it becomes a free-for-all and you are once again, on equal footing with everyone. I cant put into words the sense of history, loss and subsequent hope that permeates the whole museum. It was very moving to be there.

(It boggles the mind that that kind of racism and prejudice was so blatant all the way up to the early ‘90s. if you think about it though, pockets of that still exist everywhere in the world today. Even here in the Philippines.) They have a website that you can check out if you’re thinking of looking into visiting.

After that we went to see Soweto, one of the townships. A township basically used to be the only places where black people were allowed to live. Whether you were rich or poor, if you weren’t white, that was where you had to stay. There are several different kinds of houses there now... from the shanty looking ones much like the ones you see in slums around the world to upper middle class neighborhoods. This is where i was able to take some really cute photos of the kids. The way their faces were so open and the way their smiles just lit up their faces… I don’t know how to explain how warming it was to have met them.

4) . I know I’m a far ways away from being able to claim myself a world-traveler. But I’d like to think that I have met a wide variety of people, nationalites and whatnot. One thing about the people we met in South Africa... they reminded me a lot of Pinoys and Hawaiians. Super hospitable and super friendly. They asked a lot of questions about where we were from and what the Philippines is like... and how we were finding our stay... things like that. One lady shared her table with us at the organic market. She had her two children with her… this beautiful girl of about 6 and a baby that looked so cherubic I was looking for wings. We had a pleasant conversation with her about the Philippines and about Jo’Burg. It ended with her giving us a list of really good restaurants we might enjoy trying while we were in the area. Even in the Sandton Mall, there was a café that became part of my daily routine. While Mama was off saving the world with the other delegates, I’d sometimes stop by this café and have coffee or dessert. The waiters were unfailingly polite… having recognized me as a familiar stranger after three consecutive visits. Once, a man at the next table bought me and my mom dessert because he’d overheard us trying to decide which one to share. And no, he wasn’t trying to put the moves on us. He joined us at our table and we had a good time chatting with him. It’s moments like that that flavor the meat of your trip.

5) Promise this is my last segment. I know this is super long already.

As part of the World Summit, there was this Expo Village that was built to showcase African crafts, sustainable projects etc. It was really interesting. There was a flea market and people selling goods made by cooperatives and made from mostly indigenous or recyclable materials. And there were a lot of stalls that showcased their earth-friendly projects. One of the coolest places at the expo was a stall called "The Unplugged Kitchen" ... they made this cafe where everything was cooked by solar power and this new gel that doesn’t use fossil fuel. To make sure nothing went to waste they tell you to tell them how much to put on your plate. Real meals people... (chicken curry, mashed potatos, frankfurters, beef stew). The chairs and tables (actually even the cafe itself) were made from discarded soda cans. Quite possibly one of the neatest and most clever ideas I’ve come across ever.

Interesting photos:
The Lesedi Women
The Unplugged Kitchen stove:

*Whew* Nine days in a kind of nutshell.

Love you all muchly,

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Tuesday, September 03, 2002

South Africa: part 2

continued from the previous post about South Africa (taken from an article I wrote, published in Preview Magazine).

Toting three cameras, and eight rolls of film we headed to Sabi Sabi Game Reserve in Skukuza, South Africa. An hour away from Jo’burg by plane (five hours by land) the reserve has three lodges all set up to suit different tastes. The Selati Lodge is intimate and best for couples still in the throes of love. Earth Lodge is modern and more suited for families. Being a mom and daughter team on the go, we stayed at Bush Lodge instead. The prices at the reserve are on the higher end of the scale but the staff of Sabi Sabi make you feel like you are getting far more than your money’s worth.

Our three-day tour included four safari drives. Each guest is grouped into vehicles of six and given their own rangers and trackers for the duration of their stay. The morning drives begin at 6am and last until 9am, after which a lavish buffet breakfast is served. There is nothing quite like seeing the sunrise as you drive through the veld to whet your appetite. There’s a mid-morning walking tour through the bush guided by your ranger that brings you up close to the animals. Then there’s a lazy lunch (buffer style again) at the lodge restaurant. After bulking up, retreat to your personal lodge, wash up, sit on the porch and read. Or laze in the main lodge’s pool until you leave for the afternoon safari.

The afternoon drives last from 4pm to 7pm, including a sunset drink taken out in the bush. You cap the day off with a communal dinner at the open-air boma with a blazing fire in the center to give you warmth. Buffet again by the way. Your safari drive group determines dinner seating and your ranger joins you again. He tells you all sorts of interesting factoids throughout your stay. Like did you know that a warthog has zero percent body fat? No wonder its meat (which we had for dinner once) was so tough and stringy. Or did you know that most of the belly of a zebra is actually filled with gas, making it among the most flatulent animals on the African plains?

As if four safaris and full buffet meals weren’t enough, the personal lodges on the reserve are out of this world! A complimentary snifter of brandy, a coffee tray and a large bottle of cold water wait for you. Then there were huge beds, the two sitting areas (one inside, the other out on the porch overlooking the bushveld) and the nicest bathroom I had ever seen. There’s an indoor shower stall, an outdoor shower area and a tub so deep toddler could learn to swim in it. The craziest thing of all? One wall is made entirely of glass so you can look out into the plains while you lazily soak in a bubble bath. I was once in the middle of such a soak when an elephant crossed over from the plains to have a snack from one of the trees right outside our lodge! Intense!

And not only did they think of plush robes for after the bath but they also provided sunblock, mosquito repellent and all the toiletries you think you’ll need. De-ca-dent much? Oh yes, and worth every Rand spent.

It’s almost impossible to want to leave your lodge but there are animals to spot. On our safari drives we saw all shapes and sizes of animals. We saw the Big Five (the leopard, elephant, rhino, hippo and buffalo) along with cheetah, impala, giraffes and all sorts of birds. I kid you not, the entire cast of the Lion King was captured on many rolls of film. The animals have become so used to the jeeps that they walk right up to you, seeing your group as just another large, oddly-shaped creature of the plains.

The best thing about the reserve is that the nature watching doesn’t need to end when your jeep pulls into the lodge. The entire area is built without fences so animals come and go as they please. The same elephant that played peeping Tom to my bath walked into the main areas and trampled through the gardens on an eating binge. Sometimes we would look up from reading by the pool to see a family of monkeys traversing the trees above us. All lodges are built near natural watering holes as well so all throughout the day we would spot wildlife coming over for a sip.

All in all, it was an amazing experience. The drive away from the reserve to make our flight back to Jo’burg was not without it’s sad moments – watching the bushveld disappear as the tiny airport came closer to view. But there was one thing that consoled us – a return trip to the Rosebank and Sandton malls for last minute shopping!

For a visual safari click the link and wander through Skukuza, South Africa

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Monday, September 02, 2002

South Africa: part 1

August/September 2002

This an article that I did for Preview magazine on a trip to South Africa. Yes, South Africa. I never thought I would ever set foot there -- it just seemed so far away. But, thanks to my mother and the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development (of which my mom was one of the delegates/participants), I was able to.

This article has been shortened for blog purposes... and will be cut into two parts because, even edited, it comes out a tad long.

So, children, recline your seats and strap yourselves in... tis time to travel to South Africa.

(edited from Preview Magazine)

A sixteen-hour trip put us halfway across the globe and into a time zone six hours behind Manila. Johannesburg, South Africa (or Jo’burg to the locals and anyone who doesn’t want to immediately sound like a tourist) lay before us.

We had been told that Jo’burg was best left as soon as possible – that is was crowded, dangerous and noisy. Sounded just like Manila to us. Most tourists usually speed through the area without bothering to explore it. What a mistake. While there are pockets of poverty and violence, it was not by any means any worse than any other large city. The people as a whole are friendly and accommodating.

Jo’burg is a massive, sprawled out province that encompasses diverse ways of life and cultures. It is, much like Manila, a city that lives in duality. Mansions-turned-offices sit back on manicured lawns while the impoverished stand on corners eking a living by hawking day-old produce. Roadside stalls selling carved safari animals give way to shopping centers that house designer brands and five star hotels.

It is a bustling place that continues to bear the scars of decades of racism and prejudice. But it is also a site rising from its stained past and recovering quite well. So, exercise common travel sense and do not let the buzz stand in your way of having a truly amazing time.

Talking to locals leads to good things – tips to good restaurants and even better tips on shopping areas. The Michael Mount Organic Market in Bryanston is open thrice a week until 1pm. Set up in concentric circles with a food courtyard in the center, the stalls promote a community feel. The products sold are all-natural – from the loose printed dresses and tablecloth to bromate-free pita bread with cottage cheese and smoked salmon. My favorite stall contained nothing but antique and costume jewelry sold by this lovely lady who scours trinket conventions for rare finds. Sometimes she runs across broken pieces and restrings them into new-old bracelets and necklaces. It’s worth it to just stop by and have a little tête-à-tête with her. Another stall sold children’s toys made entirely from cut wood. And of course, there was the chatty young woman who hand-rolled and painted her paper accessories (which didn’t look like paper after she was done with them by the way). The best part was finding African curious like tiny beaded dolls that resembled the women of the Lesedi tribe and beaded placemats and coasters… the perfect pasalubongs. And waiting for summer are the shell and twine necklaces that I bought without a moment’s hesitation. Some were meant to be given to friends but… well… we’ll see.

One Tuesday a month they hold a Twilight Market with live bands playing while you browse through the shops or sit under the night sky sipping your organically grown brewed coffee. Families come out and bring their children and groups of friends sit around to relax. Even if you have no intention of blowing cash, it’s a good experience and a far cry from the bustle of city life.

Much fun as the hunt through the commercial jungle may be, there are a host of other things to do in South Africa. A safari comes to mind. And when you are in South Africa, there are copious amounts of safaris you can book yourself into.

As we’d done our best to save money while shopping, we decided to go whole hog on the safari. Go big or go home right? And we weren’t ready to go home.

Safari stories... coming next...

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