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Get ready for the biggest news of the trip so far – I can spell the Philippines (does small dance to herself)! This last week or so has been very interesting on a totally different level to Singapore.
As part of my trip around the Philippines I decided to do some work at IRRI in Los Banos, a 65km drive south of Manila (which can take up to 5 hours!). IRRI is one of those lovely non-profit organisations which works very hard to alleviate poverty through sustainable rice research (how nice). Obviously I wouldn’t be designing new rice, but instead, helping them fix some website and engagement issues, great.
Lovely though it is, Los Banos is not a town heaving with excitement. There are no hostels, so no meeting other travelers. It’s not a safe area, so no walking to the town at night. No sun at the moment, so I’m still very very pasty (particularly sad about this one) and it’s very cool, temperature wise, for this time of year (so no swimming). Basically the only things there are here are rice fields and rainforests. Awesome in their own way, but hard to spend a whole week just looking at them, particularly, as all I can do is look (it’s too dangerous to explore alone)! This has made for a rather quiet week getting to know the ex-pat lifestyle and hanging out with some lovely Post-docs I’ve met.
Although Los Banos is not the busiest place, the surrounds are absolutely stunning. Rice Paddies lay before you like a glossy green carpet as far as the eye can see. Volcanoes coated in rainforest dwarf the local markets and reach up to meet the cloud line and the Filipino people are so so friendly. Filipino culture in general has a really odd feel to it, something near to ‘USA meets developing world’. There are MacDonalds, Malls and their own fast food ‘Jollibee’ dotted about, but these lie in stark contrast to the local food markets and stalls which line the streets filled with beeping Trikes and Jeepneys.
The Markets are very tropical with a locals only vibe (great to explore as the only tourist there). Stalls sell chicken, fruit, rice and fish in Los Banos, and I even found a coconut stall which made fresh coconut cream which gave me a nice bit of respite from looking at the bags full of pink chicken heads at 7am in the morning. Filipinos are a very resourceful people, they fix anything and everything and make so many products from scratch. Beautiful fresh flowers line the market stalls, so distracting you can almost forget the stench of rotting pig heads that floats by. Almost.
Los Banos has a slower pace of life, which means the only place to party is in Manila. Heading out to shake off a week’s work with some of the Post-docs, we headed for the big lights of the capital. 3 hours later (not having traffic jams would be a novelty here), we arrived and tucked into more than a few well earned beers….. which turned into tequila shots…. which turned into 3 big bottles of tequila… I like to think of it as a necessity to endure the incessant 30 second song changes… painful. Needless to say we crawled back to Los Banos, our dignity semi restoring itself as the sun came up. Though not for the guy still being sick out of the window. Nice.
The aim of the game was to get out of Los Banos and explore what I could, so this weekend I headed to Anilou with some rather lovely Belgians. The sun finally came out and we spent a beautiful few days at Arthur’s taking in the views, swimming, snorkeling and lazing, with beers by the beach finishing off the evenings. Arthur’s was great on price (about 50 pounds for a basic but clean 3 bed room which is the cheapest by far in the area), location (completely stunning beachfront setting) and diving (you can rent bottles and gear with ease) but food was not so good. The Filipino food left us with fries and burgers (possibly dog) all weekend but the Banana pancakes were bloody marvelous! A rather narcissistic dog from Belgium called Sloeber and crispy M&M’s kept us entertained and well-fed for the weekend. Bliss.
Speaking of food….let’s get to the most important part! Well let’s just say for me, Filipino food is not really my favourite. Lots of rice and very sweet curry with very few vegetables. They even have a specialty here called Balut; fertilised duck egg, boiled alive and eaten straight from the shell. I won’t make you all throw up by posting a pic but you get the grizzly jist. What I do love though is the fruit, which makes breakfast my most cherished meal of the day. Passionate fruit jam on toast, fresh pineapple, yellow watermelon and crepes with mango, honey and calamansi (Filipino lime) all make me go weak at the knees.
Right, my mouth is watering so i’m off for a beer and some mango….fingers crossed for me the sun comes out for my trip South to Boracay Island in the Western Visayas!