Journal 53: The end of my Southeast Asian Travels


Well, this journal ends almost three years of wonderful travels throughout all but one country in Southeast Asia.  In order, I have visited Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia, Borneo-Malaysia, Brunei Darussalem and the Philippines.  In the fall, I will be headed out to East Timor to begin my video trek which will bring me east and then north as I make my way up to Myanmar, the last country on my documentary goal of hitting all eleven countries on one shot.

In a way, this blog marks the end of a period of wonderful memories in my life.  It also stands as a series of lessons that I have learned.  It also resembles the broadest expansion into my photographic and journalistic efforts.  And through it all, I have been able to do enough in-country studies that my documentaries at the end of this year are sure to be complimented by experiences throughout these great countries.

All told, I have collected more than 10,000 fully edited images (almost half my career total); created a feature length documentary along with many outtakes, interviews and shorts; two published books on research from two separate countries in the region — and about to publish my third; eight manuscripts awaiting publication ranging from the religious and cultural, to the traditional and historical aspects of the diverse micro-societies in each nation; traveled nearly 14,000 miles; and lived and worked here the entire time.

But while seeing all this in my rear-view mirror might inspire pensive appreciation, it is the future that brings me more joy.  As I look with anticipation to the year ahead, I know that it will be just as memorable and meaningful as these many months in my past.

Coming up this year is a full lineup of some really great things that I plan on incorporating into my focus for the blog, for my commercial website, cyleodonnell.com and for my travel lust.

Firstly, I will be releasing tons of new books.  I have been writing for the last eight years (as you know) throughout my travels about all sorts of things.  And in the last year I have been able to bring many of them to completion.  So in the next year, as more of my works become completed, I will be releasing ebooks in droves.  These will mostly be articles that I have written for magazines, articles I’ve written for myself and the enjoyment of my close friends and, of course, this blog.

I have also written several full length novels.  And as soon as I am more settled, I will be sending them off for professional editing and then publication.  But I wanted to release all the smaller works first so that by the time the larger works arrived, I will have established a wider reader-base and hopefully a larger audience.

I have also been working with designers for a few ideas that I have had to incorporate my photographic and video exploits into apps for the iPhone, the iPad and Android phones.   I won’t ruin the surprise, but they should be finalized soon and I will be really excited to see them come to life.  It will provide a lot of people access to the photography that might never have knew that travel photography could be so interesting.

Additional books planned for release on the iPad, Kindle, eReader, and others, are photo books of specific regions that I’ve gone and taken some amazing images.  These photo books will be available in hard copy, but the primary mode of publication will be within the obvious future of book publishing — electronic copy.  So look for those to start coming soon.

Also, because I have been spending a lot of time filming for my most recent film, Travel Geek: Documentary Taiwan, I will be releasing snippets and teasers of that in upcoming blogs.  It will be really exciting to finally release that.  The date, by the way, that I have slated to release it is set for May 10th.  If I can get it out before then, I will definitely do that.  But because I will be going to Macau and filming for the Hong Kong/Macau documentary and editing double-time, that might not be possible.  But, again, I am working on it!

Here in Taiwan, they have some really strange holidays.  For instance, every year in a new place the entire town dons protective gear and has an all-out fireworks war where they shoot each other with flaming, exploding firecrackers.  Some people stand atop huge pires of billowing flames and rockets shooting out all around them.  Some people spin in circles while swinging enormous ropes of M-80 fire crackers blowing up as they move and filling the streets with huge pockets of smoke.  It’s really amazing.  And that is the type of thing that I have traveled all over Taiwan and filmed for this latest one.  It’s going to be pretty exciting.

And finally, the big one:  For the last six months, I have been preparing for the grandest of all my exploits.  Over the summer, I will be returning to the states and take a refresher course in film studies.  Then, when I have finished the intensive (and expensive) six-week course, I will be putting the hands-on studies to the test.

This fall I will be headed back out to this are of the world to complete four months of filming documentaries in all eleven countries of Southeast Asia.  I am slated to start my journey in the country that I missed on the first run, East Timor, and then make my way west and north until I reach Thailand.  Midway there, in Malaysia, I will be flying out to Borneo to tackle both Indonesia and Malaysian island life, but also to Brunei Darussalem which I wanted to see more of the last time around.  And then after a run through the southern islands of the Philippines (which I sourly missed this last time) I’ll continue my trek back through peninsular Malaysia.  Once I’ve reached the mountains of Chiang Mai, Thailand, I will be headed over into Laos, south to Cambodia, east and then north through Vietnam and then straight over to Myanmar.

Because visas expire and require careful planning, I have chosen to do Vietnam and Myanmar back to back.  So that will be the end of my trip.

After this trip I will likely be settled in Thailand while I edit the content for the videos, tackle the gargantuan task of compiling the library of photos from the trip and updating the website, completing the journal entries and begin marketing the release of all these materials.

I hope that by the time I am finished with the films I will have enough support with ad sales and book purchases that I can simply release them for free right here and everyone can enjoy them.  But not everything works out the way we hope.  I have been keeping this blog for more then 7 years and have even transferred an old blog that I used on Blogger to import it into the new and improved WordPress format.

But in all that time, it’s never been quite as expensive a hobby as it’s become in the recent past.  So I am asking all of you who enjoy this blog to visit as often as you can, to spread the word to others about the site and to bring the site stats up so that I can offer advertising and help replenish the expenses that have gone into the content that you see here.

It won’t cost you anything to come back and visit, read through and click on all the photos.  It’s free to send a link to friends who might enjoy the blog.  And I have never charged for any of the content I put up.  So return the favor and keep the blog alive by visiting everyday and spreading the word around.

Hopefully I will get enough followers that I can move to a bigger site that will support more traffic and I will be able to keep blogging as more than a hobby — a passion that pays!

Below is a video of my fond farewell to the Southeast Asia Journals and the welcoming in period of this year’s coming projects from other parts of the world.  I also discuss my slated return to the region to compile several more Travel Geek Documentaries.  Exciting stuff!

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Journal 52: Philippines Day 15


Last day in the Philippines — and Last day for the Southeast Asia Journals:

This last day in the Philippines was very bittersweet for me.  While I have loved this trip and been able to do a lot from it, it also symbolizes the end of my journey throughout Southeast Asia.

From the Philippines alone, I have made a full length feature documentary spanning the middle to the north of the country.  A gallery of more than 300 photos was produced from the HDR image above to the black-and-white still-lifes that capture the essence of its timelessness.  Documenting in journals and articles, I have savored my thoughts and reflected on the amazing times that can’t be conveyed in visual media.  And then, of course, are the amazing friends and experiences that will remain in my memory throughout the rest of my days.

Here, I am setting up for taking the picture shown above. What a great shot it turned out to be.

But for the rest of Southeast Asia, I will have similar and unique experiences that memorialize my time in each country Ivisited.  Each province had its own rules — attempting to better itself for the benefit of its inhabitants.  Each town remains in my memory with its own feel — its own energy.  Each village carried an air of playfulness or excitement, based on the number of children running after me as I walked through.  Every beach drew different waves.  Every face brought new emotion.  And they all add up to something deeply personal for me as I worked my way through every country in the region.  Every country except one.

Photographing the Bomod-ok Waterfall, Sagada, Ifugao.

I have visited all but East Timor.  I tried to get there when I was in headed east in Java.  But it simply wasn’t in the cards for me to make my way there.

Of course, I don’t mean that in the sense that I will never be returning.  In fact I will be back this fall to start filming on a huge project that will hopefully take me through all eleven countries of Southeast Asia.  But I will be talking more about that in upcoming journals.

This last day in the Philippines really brought home the sense of awe that I remember having upon the first day that I arrived in Thailand.  And while the surprise may have dulled with each new experience, that sense of awe has never faded.  The culture and diversity that exists here is more than just the metaphorical “world apart” from the western society that encompasses most of my memory.

And these were my thoughts as I walked along the beach, leaving behind me the incredible place that, while no less impressive, stands as a symbol representing the many years, countries, miles and memories that I have spent and acquired in this part of the world.

Quite a moving experience indeed — pun proudly intended!

The final part of the six-part series is below, please enjoy it.  And be sure to watch the full length video on my Youtube channel HERE.

Journal 51: Philippines Day 14


Cuyo to Palawan:

If the first night was not bumpy enough as we plied through the coastal waters getting to Iloilo, the choppy, unfriendly waters from Cuyo to Palawan certainly were.

Apparently, Palawan used to be its own district in the Philippines.  And it claimed Cuyo as its capital city.

All told, Cuyo envelopes 45 islets but only has a total area of about 50 square miles. Cuyo, itself, takes up about half that area.  And Palawan, the longest of the islands, holds more square mileage than all the islets and Cuyo combined.

At Palawan’s southernmost tip, is the pirate-infested Sulu Sea.  This is where you hear about all those terrible stories about how the Islamic radicals who fund their terrorist campaign by boarding tourist boats, stealing from and killing the inhabitants and then tying the resisters to the anchor and send them overboard.  It’s not pleasant what people do in the name of religion.

Boasting a culture all its own, the Palawan area of the Philippines is home to more than 350 years of recent heritage as the region’s unique center for traditional festivals.  The park, I am assuming, must have been its hub.  Because, as the encampment was constructed of four, squared-off bastions which were 10 meters high and 2 meters thick,  it was even used as a fort to stave off attacks from the Moros in the late 17th century.

Interestingly, Tabon Man was also discovered here, too (well, in the Palawan region — not sure exactly where). In 1962, an American researcher by the name of Dr. Robert B. Fox, found what was thought to be the earliest human remains, dating back to more than 40,000 years ago from the Carbon-14 dating system which was available then. In 2007, however, Callao Man, found elsewhere in the Philippines, was uranium-series tested to have been around about 67,000 years ago — almost twice the age of Tabon Man.

By the way, he was named Tabon Man because he was found in Tabon Cave, a dwelling which was in use all the way from the upper Pleistocene period to about 10,000 years ago (about 30,000 years in all).  That’s a long time to be in one cave. I guess they had things pretty well the way they wanted them. Plus, moving all your things without a u-Haul can be pretty cumbersome.

Sometimes I wonder how, that long ago, people made it to these parts of the world. What kind of boats or floating constructions would have given them the ability to cross vast expanses of very intimidating waters — and without navigation tools, maps or even the promise of actually finding land.  They’re almost always found in singles, too.  So what’s confusing to me is that these lone migrants just sort of make their way around to uninhabited areas and die there, alone without heir.  Were they outcasts?  Were they failed explorers?  Were they lost?  Or did they simply roam about like wandering animals in search of less competition for food?

The things I ponder while in transit in the far reaches of the world…

Heavily influenced by the Malaysian settlements in the 16th century, Cuyo has celebrations which include a Malay folk dance called “Pondo-Pondo” even today.

Later, in the year 1622, a Spanish Count San Augustin formed the first mission of Christinan Colonization and gave the island its current name.

Interesting fact: People who live in Cuyo are called “Cuyonos,” rather than Filipinos. And this dates back to the Augustin baptisms when they were indoctrinated into the new way of life. I think this is funny, however, because that would be like someone coming to my house from the other side of the world, telling me that they know better than me the spiritual traditions that have been passed down through more than 40,000 years and then telling me that if I believe them, I can be renamed and allowed to continue living there. Well, maybe that’s not very funny after all.

But regardless how morbid the humor, it only lasted another 15 years.  They were invaded by religious zealots — this time in the form of Muslim pirates who burned their newly built churches, killed their proud religious heads and stole everything they could get their hands on.  This included of course, everything from heirlooms to the island’s women.

And aside from a few punctuated periods of extreme scandal the Republic of the Philippines, the history of the 12th most populous country in the world, has remained pretty much the same since then.  The Islamo-Christian tug-of-war over the Muslim-pirated seas in Mindanao, the height of radicalism in the Visayas and the staunchly Catholic resistance in the north has been surpassed in profundity only by extreme political corruption, bloody revolutionary sieges and World War II.

And I was smack in the middle of all of it as the Milagrosa Shipping vessel pulled into the main port of Palawan, Puerto Princessa.

Along the trip, I met a really cool guy named Michael Rammassammy.  He’s the guy holding the camera while filming the “Balut” consumption on the documentary.  Camera-Dan was out cold from being seasick for three contiguous days anchors-aweigh.

Michael was from New Caledonia.  Don’t worry, I have never heard of it either.  In fact, that was the running joke.  He told me that when he traveled and people asked him where he was from, he’d tell them and then wait for their response which, he said, normally came in the form of a confused look.

At any rate, I knew that because I was so late coming in, I might not get over to the other side of the island in time to see the underground river — one of the “can’t miss” goals of my trip.  And since the last bus had already left by the time we got to the bus station, we’d be hard pressed to get the earliest bus the next day, go to see the subterranian river, hop on another bus and make it back to this side of the island in order to make our flight back to Manila and then back home the next day.

So all together, we rented a private van that would get us there in less than two hours.  I don’t recommend this unless you have a pretty unlimited budget.  It was quite expensive.  But it was air conditioned, comfortable and we could stop wherever we wanted along the way.

And speaking of that, we stopped at this really cool place where the farmers had come together and started their own tour company of the areas around their land.  And, I have to say, if they do this thing right, they won’t have to be farmers for much longer.  They have what I consider to be the best rock climbing, spelunking and zip-line location in all of the Philippines.

They have set some of this up, too.  So I was able to see it all in its infancy.  And it doesn’t look like it has any signs of slowing. It’s great, really.  Lots of ideas running around this place.  Hiking into really cool limestone rock formations is always a blast. And since they already have a few

The caving and zipline tour website is HERE.  And the permalink is here [http://www.dutchpickle.com/philippines/palawan/ugong-rock-caving-palawan.html].  The websites are not that exciting, but remember, they are run by farmers and their families.  So be kind!  And besides that, there are some pretty good photos that show the fun people have spelunking and climbing.

I strongly recommend going there to support this very eco-friendly accent to your Philippines trip.  I was even tempted to stop and hike for a while, but then I remembered I was running out of time and had a tight schedule to keep.  But the driver let us get out and check out the grounds.  Perhaps I will go and take the zip tour next time.

Anyway, back on the road, we finally got to the other side of the island.  And when you go there from Puerto Princessa, the southern route brings you up through this cliffside vista that’s just breathtaking.  You can see other islands.  And along the road there are little souvenir shops attached to eateries and nooks to stop and see different things.  More importantly, most of them have a trail out back that will lead you all the way to some break in the foliage where you can get a great view of the islets off the coast of this long, thin island.

The thing about this slow pace of life, including not having electricity until 6pm everyday, is that no one’s really in a rush or to provide you services on the fly.  And normally I wouldn’t mind that mentality.  When I go to an island getaway, I do so fort he very purpose of slowing down and taking it all in.  But today was not a take-it-in type of day.

I needed to be on the west coast by 3pm so that I could have the best shot at making one of the last boats leaving for the subterranean river for the day.  But I would run into a few hassles before then.

I also had to secure a hotel room, drop off my things and get a ticket for the boat and the tour.  But in all this, I also realized that I hadn’t eaten anything all day.  And this went for Dani and Michael as well.

The problem that I started to run into was that my driver suddenly decided two things without the forethought of discussing the matter with his passengers.  First, he decided that he was not going to drive us to the hotel and then back to the boat dock.  This was not acceptable, seeing as I was paying him quite a lot of money to get us to where we needed to be.  And secondly, he decided that the price of the ticket to bring us to the other side of the island would cost us even more than we’d agreed upon.  Again, unacceptable.

The video of the scandal unfolding is available to those receiving the ebook.  And trust me, it’s an interesting show.  It documents just how fervently one must argue for ensuring that would-be third world scammers know their place.

But after that was settled, I found myself at the dock having bought a ticket, checked in with luggage secured, and on my way to the nearest restaurant.  We ate quickly and made it back to the boats just in time for our trip to be afoot.

The ride was pleasant.  A little choppy.  But pleasant.  There was a storm making its way off the mountaintops on the horizon that threatened to put a damper on our trip.  But it was stayed long enough to go to the tour and back.  And I must say, it was a really encredible time.

Once you get to the dropping point you walk through this completely jungled area where the monkeys have become completely accustomed to people and roam about without too much concern for what you’re doing.

Then there are the monitor lizards.  These land dragons are pretty amazing.  And in their own way, they have been desensitized to humans as well.

At the launch, you meet your guide who, in our case, is a cheeky, entertaining fellow.  And what he might have lacked in ability to talk with technical knowledge of the formations along the inside of the river, he made up for in jokes about the appearance of eroded structures like “Sharon Stone” and “Chris Rock.”

There’s also a resident boa constrictor living in the cave that seems to love a certain perch.  How he got there, I am not sure.  But he’s definitely chosen that cave as his home — frequent visitors or not.

The outtakes from the documentary capture these interesting occurrences.  This, too, is available through the ebook.

When we arrived back at the dock, there seemed little sense in rushing around anymore.  We’d seen what we came there to see.  And so the rest of the evening was ours to lounge around, soak up what little sun poked through the overcasted clouds.

We chose to walk along the beach, which is a wonderfully peaceful hike, back to the hotel from the boats.  The rooms that I rented were little more than bamboo huts with very little privacy from the neighbors beyond the next wall.  But the staff is accommodating and friendly.  And they have no problem with people lounging with a beer on their driftwood furniture along the headwall of the shore.

I found a great spot that I knew I wanted to take pictures from later that evening around sunset and Michael joined me as I set up for the shot.  The surf is powerful and the jagged rocks are not to be trifled with.  But from a photographic point of view, it’s definitely worth taking the risk to get out there and shoot at the golden hours of the day.

The shot that I was hoping to get is at the top of this blog entry and is for sale in high resolution.  Through this blog, I am pricing it at $24.99 plus $7 shipping from here in Asia.  The dimensions are about 24 x 14 inches and can be processed as large as 48 x 32 inches from here in Taiwan.  And once I am in the states, I can do other varying sizes.  Larger copies will be priced per order, but just inquire and I will see what I can do.

After returning from the rocky coast, I toasted my new friends from the hotel grounds and went to bed.  Tomorrow would be my last day in the Philippines.

For everyone reading my latest ebook, Postcards from the Pavement: Southeast Asia, look for the password at the end of this entry to see the hidden footage from Cebu, Cuyo and Palawan.

Journal 44: Philippines Days Three and Four


After Pinatubo, I headed farther north into the western peninsula of Luzon.  Hundred Islands National Park was next on the agenda.

As I rolled into Alaminos, on the long bus, I hadn’t realized how much time had gone  by.  But that last leg took me almost six hours.  I just spent most of the time snapping photos at passers by and trying to scribble a few words into my journal as the bus bounced roadward.

Getting into Alaminos doesn’t mean you’ve made it to the park, however.  Once there, you still have to pay a tricycle to drive you the rest of the 7km distance to the coast.  The price isn’t that bad (only about $2), because the driver probably will have a brother or cousin who owns a hotel, restaurant or boat.  Good people to know.

Hundred Islands National Park:

Probably the thing I liked the most about the Hundred Islands National park was area surrounding it.  Staying in Alaminos and Lucap was sort of what I was hoping to see since I got to the Philippines.  The slower pace of life, the small town feel and the quiet streets that, once you wake up, you’re happy to have had the night before.

The place I stayed at was a reasonably large place that had recently been built by a small family.  I couldn’t tell if the husband was a perpetual drunk, because it was Christmas Eve when I arrived.  To be fair, both towns were equally stocked with drunkards, I suppose.  So perhaps I was being a bit harsh on the old man.  But it was his reliability as a boat captain what I was more unsure of.  Because the next day I’d signed up to have him drive me out into the park.

I approached to set up a time to leave to the park the next day and it felt like he’d thrown up an entire bottle of malt liqueur within five minutes of our meeting.  But as I had begun to find out, there were many people who could captain the rickety little vessels passing as the latest influence for the aquatic tourist conveyor belt out to the islands.  So if he fell through, I was pretty sure I’d be okay.

And that turned out to be the case as I wound up snatching up a younger, more sober looking driver at the entry to the pier.

Being as it was the morning time and I had arrived to the crumbling docks in time for the sunrise, I thought I’d snap a few photos.  They became some of the best shots I’d made yet on this trip.  So I was happy that I went out early.

Being the first national park that resided in the ocean that I have ever seen, I thought that this was one was particularly special.  The islands themselves were interesting.  But they weren’t mindblowing – as played out in the advertising all along the coast.

Shaped like the average blooming mushroom, these islands display a headdress of green foliage under a short canopy of failing coastline.  They are also very close to one another in proximity.  So there are lots of shallow pools, swimming areas, neat beaches and what is left of the coral that was swept nearly away from the latest wave of seasonal typhoons and covered by annual sediment brought in by lahar flows.

I don’t want to give the impression that I wasn’t impressed and didn’t enjoy the trip.  But if they were a little less dramaticized before you got there, they  might seek less awe and find more of it in the people that gaze upon these eroding structures.  Nevertheless, among the two packages (a half day [3 hours] and a full day [can include an novernight stay on Governor’s Island]), I opted for the short tour.

But I was no less excited about the day in the islands.  The driver took us out to little coves and swimmable spots.  There was this great little island that had all sorts of little pagoda-looking huts that appeared to have lived through many a noisy party echoing through the inlet.  And probably my favorite part of the trip was… well, the trip.  I guess I mean that literally.

When we arrived at the last island, there were lots of people swimming in the crystal clear waters at the south-facing beach.  And I was happily prancing along watching them when I stubbed my toe on this enormous shell jutting up through the sand.  I definitely broke my toe and I was down for a ten-count.  But once I was back up and snapping away, I found this great little oyster bed that had been “salvaged” by the last heavy weather that had come through and torn up the coral bottoms.  

I crept out into the sectioned off nursery and snapped a few photos of these giant oysters.  They must have been two feet across.  They were bright blue and green and seemed to change color under the shifting light of the cloud-strewn sky.  It was a great additive to the trip.  But after that, I headed back for the trenches.

Today, it was off for Banahue and Bontoc on my way to seek out the home of the native headhunters of Ifugao.  That trip would prove to be exciting and full of great views.  I would spend the first half on top of one vehicle and the other half hanging out the rear door of another.  But you’ll have to wait for the next journal to see photos and read about that.

And speaking of photos, be sure to stop by cyleodonnell.com for the photos from the whole Philippines trip.

Below is a part two of the six-part documentary film, Travel Geek: Documentary Philippines (be sure to subscribe to my channel). It covers much more than this journal. But since I’ve already made the video, I might as well put part one of the six-part series in here to add some reference:

[Wanna Help?  One way you can help is to sign up for blog updates.  You can also share this video (which can be found on my channel), my photography website and this blog.  Email at least ten of your email contacts who might enjoy it.  Help spread the word so others can enjoy my travels!  If you have any questions, just email me at: cyle@cyleodonnell.com. You can also follow me on facebook, sign up to receive my tweets on Twitter, and see my latest pins on Pinterest!]

Journal 43: Philippines Days Two and Three


Jeepneys:


Be sure to check out the Philippines photos at cyleodonnell.com

There’s an interesting and flavorful addition to the Philippines that is home to no other location on earth.  What is this delectable, endemic treasure: the Jeepney.

Short is its history on this green earth, but fascinating is its time here.  The Jeepney came about through an unexpected gap in the Philippines chilling and exciting past.

For only a short period of years, about (#) years or so, the United States occupied this small, island-speckled nation.  But in those short years they peppered the countryside with the vehicle most appropriate for bouncing around its rugged terrain, the Jeep.  So godlike is this amazing entity bestowed upon the Filipino people that they created many different Jeep-esque country crawlers in its honor.

Useful in hauling everything from livestock to construction materials up the slow-to-progress hinterland road system, these smoke-belching beasts are seen all over the country – especially in Luzon and the larger islands.  The classic front end, the heavy steal construction and, of course, the diehard suspension system are all akin to their master.  But Filipinos have added girth, length, an upper rack system that could rival the strength of boardwalk pilings.  And that’s all in an effort to tote as much as possible (and therefore make as much money as possible) in one trip.  But little else has changed about from the Jeep’s original design – including its not-so-environmentally-friendly miles-per-gallon ratio.

I was scammed and always charged the local rate on these mobile social clubs.  And it was never a boring ride.  People were crammed everywhere; in the nooks aboard the body, on the rack above, in the front seats and even clinging for dear life off the back.

I could have taken the big bus liners to the areas I wanted to go – mostly.  The air condition going through the city would definitely have been nicer.  But I would rather see the Philippines the way it’s seen from the inside – not the outside or looking down.

Mount Pinatubo:

Once near Angeles, I could tell that getting the rest of the way would have to be done a little more discerningly.  Angeles is a dirty, crowded town where little English is spoken.  People are willing enough to help you get to where you need to be.  But the drivers seem more to be out for the buck.

At the local depot, I was approached by lots of “tricycle” drivers asking to take me to my destination.  But I have learned that generally, you don’t want to just jump into the first offered ride when you’re fresh off the boat, so to speak.  So I haggled a little bit and met a few guys that were willing to discuss the idea.

The first price was offered.  I turned it down, of course.  Then I walked a little further and they sort of teamed up against me, saying that this was the regular price and that the distance was far away.

I knew that we were only about seven kilometers from the dropping point for what I had researched was the start of the hike for the mountain.  So I eventually just moved on.  They were not pleased that I had not fallen for their game.

Lesson from memory: be willing to walk away… a long way (in order to A, find out of the driver is serious and B, ensure that you’ve done as much as possible to help guarantee that you’re not the next white dupe to fall out of a bus and right into a scam).

Down the road a little bit, I hopped into the least formidable looking jeepney headed in my general direction and cut my lost time.  On the trip I found just what I needed.  A relative of the person in charge of the next leg of my trip.

Cindy, the cousin of Wendell, had told us that we were approaching O’Donnell Village and that we should stay at her relative’s place overnight and then, in the morning, take his jeep tour into the Pinatubo region for a quick day hike.

And just like that, I had a place to stay, a hookup into the trek up the mountain and the closest thing to a personal guarantee that I had secured the best price possible – the local price.

And what a hookup I had: Wendell turned out to be the president of the Four-Wheel Club in the entire area.  And as a bonus, it was his birthday.  So he was celebrating with a huge banquet of food, complete with servers and free beer.  So, besides the all night bash that included seemingly endless karaoke until all hours of the morning, it was definitely a good night to stay at Wendell’s place.

The next morning I was overcharged for my room and headed toward the mountain.  It was the first time I had been swindled, so I didn’t take it to heart.  And since I’d been given plenty of food and beer the night before, I didn’t really waste much time debating it.  But Wendell gave me a price the previous evening, 500 Pesos, which had somehow turned into a per-head price by morning.  But nevermind that, it was off to see one of the world’s most famous mounds of dirt.

Once at the gate and registered, it was 16 kilometers to the base camp.  From there I’d end up hiking another 12 klicks to the summit.  Or should I say what used to be the summit.

In 1991, Mount Pinatubo breathed its most recent breath (well, the lesser of the famous ones was actually in 1993), casting a billowing haze of smoke, ash and flying debris 40 kilometers into the air and combining its efforts with a tragically coincidental typhoon that had pummeled the west coast that same day, adding insult to injury.  The resulting lahar flowed down the mountain and through the surrounding villages, killing scores of people in its path.

Once I reached the crater left behind by this destruction, I instantly felt the helplessness that must have been a part of the psyche of the victims of this massive sleeping goliath.

Below is a part one of the six-part documentary film, Travel Geek: Documentary Philippines (be sure to subscribe to my channel). It covers much more than this journal. But since I’ve already made the video, I might as well put part one of the six-part series in here to add some reference:

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