A lot can change within just a quick flight. That has been very evident with the flight we took this week to Kalibo, Philippines. Skyscrapers from Shanghai gave way to a mess of electrical wires that would give Garth, or any electrical engineer, a heart attack. The 20 odd lines of the metro were replaced by fleets of tricycles getting you between all parts of the city. The biggest shocker for us though was the heat. While Shanghai gave our thin sweaters a run for their money, the absence of clothes would still be too many.
The weeks prior to our arrival in the Philippines, we were constantly checking the weather, hoping we wouldn't get caught in the tail end of the wet season. To our dismay every day we looked, the rain seemed to get worse and worse. When we arrived to sunny skies and heat worse than the underworld itself, we were surprised. Asking the locals we found out the rain only happens for very short times and pretty much only at night. Moral of the story: it doesn't matter where you are, don't trust the weather people!
Our highlight in Kalibo was our visit to the man-made mangrove forest on the edge of the city. What was once a vast swampland has now been turned into a highly awarded reforestation program. While it is only about 220 hectares, it has brought back fish, birds, crabs, and turtles, but most importantly saved the town numerous times from flooding. With the fall typhoons, the swampland wasn't able to retain water, and thus flooding was a constant concern. The mangrove forest has helped soak up the water and has kept the city dry for the last few decades! This forest is essentially the Red River Spillway (worth checking out if you are unfamiliar with it) of Kalibo!
Prior to coming to Kalibo, we knew there was pretty much nothing going on in town so it was a nice surprise when we stumbled upon several dozen young men parading through town with massive instruments. It turns out they are practicing for Ati-atihan Festival "the mother of all Filipino festivals". Held in the small city for 2 weeks during January, the festival is held in honour of Santo Nino (infant Jesus) and is essentially their version of Carnival. Unfortunately, we will be missing it but it was amazing to hear and see these guys play for hours on end in anticipation of the festival. Just a reminder, they played at about 7 PM when the temperature was still over 30° with 75% humidity. We were both dying just walking beside them so we couldn't imagine the stamina they have to endure this during the day!
The food has probably been the biggest change for us in Kalibo. There are surprisingly few restaurants with the exception of fast food and street food. Anyone who has ever been to Asia before knows that street food reigns supreme however the street food in Kalibo is something else. While we expected at least a bit of sanitation (thinking hawker markets in Thailand or Malaysia) the food stalls literally have nothing. No water, no electricity, no refrigeration, no nothing. Just plates of food sitting in the hot sun. While we are always up for an adventure, we will have to wean our stomachs into food like this!
One interesting thing though is the presence of handwashing stations through all major restaurants. Just outside the washroom is always a sink with soap and a hand dryer to try to curb the presence of illnesses spread through improper handwashing. While they are of course important for the staff, these stations are mainly focused on the diners which is something we rarely see back home.
Our second flight of the week took us to one of the Philippines' largest cities, Cebu City. A major tourism hub, the change between the two cities is bigger than between Kenora and Toronto. The major hotel chains are back along with name brand clothes like Levi's and Aldo. While we may not have done much in Kalibo, we still enjoyed our time more than in Cebu. The locals smiled when you walked past with many asking where we're from or why we were there and the dirty streets somehow seemed cleaner. But maybe that's just us, we do love our small towns.
Cebu is home to Christianity in the Philippines. It was the first spot that Magellan landed and planted a cross and later became the spot where the first church was built. While that original church is long gone, the one standing in its spot now is from the mid-1700s. It is an understatement to say that Filipinos are faithful, often attending mass several times a week. It is not a surprise to see churches full of people at random times during the week especially leading up to Christmas or Easter. Needless to say, if we are able to stay for Christmas, it will be quite the experience!
The most memorable aspect of the church for us was its beach theme. Over the years, we have been to hundreds of churches, many of which were along the coast, but none have ever had such a mixer of scripture and local folklore. Everywhere you looked was a painting or statue that detailed Magellan's historic "discovery" of the Philippines and his introduction of Catholicism to the country. Rarely was there any true depictions of Christ on the cross or other scenes from the Bible, rather scenes of Magellan arriving and planting the cross, or other great Filipino miracles were portrayed. This gave a very interesting and unique perspective on the evolution of religion in the region.
We start our true island-hopping adventures. We can't wait to get some downtime on the beautiful Philippine beaches.