Our visit to the Phillipines Boat Project
Following our club's decision to name our fishing boat Elaine, we had to go and see her named.
Our adventure began on Tuesday afternoon 5th April when a taxi whisked us off to Manchester Airport where we joined Emirates flight EK020 to Dubai and some 15 hours or so later after a change of planes we were in steamy Manila, 7 hours in front of UK time and somewhat disorientated.
Our colleagues from the Rotary Club of Workington had arrived 24 hours beforehand from Malaya and after a splendid evening of entertainment by the Makati Edsa Rotarians were ready for bed – we needed to stretch our legs and have a beer or two, Pat and Alan Hoggarth give us a quick rundown of the area before bidding us goodnight and we sat at Café Breton and quickly demolished a couple of San Miguel Lights before also agreeing we also needed to hit the hay !
The following day, after breakfasting in the upper penthouse of the Prince Plaza 2 Hotel (not quite as grand as it sounds) we were met by Jaz from the Makati Club who was to act as our guide to Manila. The plan was to visit the Manila Cathedral and then to have lunch with some of the club members before returning to the hotel and preparing for the Makati Club meeting.
Traffic in Manila is out of this world – it was peak time and Jaz and her driver had to use all of their local knowledge and some satellite technology to avoid the pinch points. The cathedral founded in 1571 has been rebuilt many times owing to several earthquakes and world war 2 bombing. It is sited in Plaza de Roma in the Intramuros District which is part of the original walled city established by the spanish. After viewing the cathedral and the unusual ground mounted bells (re-located to avoid earthquake damage) we retired to nearby Barbara’s Resteraunt, the building, built in traditional spanish style with lots of timber and airy high ceilings proved to be pleasant and very popular with the locals. As we dined we were also serenaded by the 3 piece band who seemed to be able to play anything and everything.
After lunch in the blistering sun, we were ushered onto a traditional pony and trap. To us it seemed to be overloaded but the driver moved us about a bit to balance the load and urged his tiny pony into a trip around the Intramuros district. Named because it is between the outer walls of the old city. Half an hour later, after a running commentary from our one toothed driver we returned to Barbara’s and eventual return to our hotel to freshen up before the Makati Edsa meeting.
PE Robin collected us all and took us to the sports club where they meet. As we entered we were invited to sign in and soon afterwards were each given the club newsletter, printed for each meeting and even included our photos as we were met by the club members at the airport. The format of the meeting was quite different to our own and began by President Rene calling the meeting to order by ringing the club bell. The National Anthem was then played and sung as each member faced the countries flag and held their right hand over their heart. Then followed the club song ( a jolly sort of hip hop song) which was lead by one of the members Rtn Rina Lim and actively orchestrated by PP Caloy (Carlos) Yturzaeta – all of the members participated with lots of enthusiasm. PE Robin then welcomed everyone and announced some business items followed by an aknowledgement of visiting rotarians by PP Roger Guadalquiver.
There was then a break for dinner followed by the induction of new member Dr Nikki Isaacs an American currently living and working in the Phillipines whilst having an “adventure” to quote her words. The induction involved firstly PP Dr Malou Maligaya introducing Nikki and informing her of her obligations followed by the Oath of Membership by President Rene and the presentation of her rotary badge.
We then moved onto the business of the meeting, a report from IPP Emelita Alvarez (Emily) and PP Enrique Santos (Ricky) who told us about the Batayan Project and handed out a balance sheet of expenditure and a description of the work that had been done educating training the fishermen. The Rotary Club of Makati Edsa (RCME) had partnered with the Global Peace Foundation (GPF) for this project. GPF screened and identified the 80 recipients of the barcas who were trained and encouraged to organize themselves into an Association. To this end GPF conducted workshops, gave presentations and conducted team exercise on the current challenges faced by the fishermen and their families and the solutions available. Accordingly an assocoiation All-lights Village Kinatarcan Island Fisherfolks Association (AVKIFA) was formed with Meliton Sayson as their elected president.
Emily reported that all on the island were eagerly looking forward to the 9th April when the barcas will be handed over.
Earlier in the day Alan Hoggarth had told us that the original plan had been to hand the boats over in Cebu and the budget had been arranged on that basis. No thought had been given to the practicalities of getting the fisherfolk to Cebu nor the cost, which would be a significant part of their slight income. RCME concluded that the presentation would better be done on their home island and that RCME would stand the cost of transportation of the barcas and engines to Kinatarcan Island. Alan was concerned about this and we all agreed that as full partners we would contribute to the shortfall which had fallen on RCME’s shoulders.
Several presentations followed, we had all received sashes and exchanged banners and finally Alan handed over the additional cash we had contributed to.
Then to bed for a 03:00 start for our flight to Cebu, that did not quite go according to plan, embarkation was delayed by repairs to the plane but we eventually arrived in Cebu and quickly boarded a couple of mini-buses to commence our 3 hour drive to the north of the island.
Our journey broke for a quick lunch break at Borussia a tranquil oasis around halfway
along the road to our embarkation point at Maya (thought it was a port but just turned out to be the end of the road at the beach where the barcos (larger boats than the canoe like barcas) could run ashore to permit their passengers board on a gangplank run out from the prow.
In blistering sun we arrived at Maya and immediately our minibuses were thronged by porters all shrouded in cloth, eyes only visible, to guard them from the sun. They quickly loaded our luggage aboard a waiting barco and after we had also clambered aboard was poled out of the shallows and headed off for the short trip to Malapascua Island.
Malapascua Island is a very popular resort for divers and has a number of hotels, we were booked into the Blue Water Hotel and were welcomed by the hotel staff with a cooling drink made from cucumber and shell garlands draped about our necks.
Our rooms were soon allocated and we deposited our bags in the basic accomodation whose only luxury was air conditioning, without which I think sleep would have been impossible. Then down to the bar for a relaxing drink and a quick exploration of the island before sundown.
The following day, Saturday all togged up in our rotary poloshirts and shortly after breakfast we clambered aboard another barco which had drawn up onto the beach outside the hotel. This was from Kinatarcan Island and was scheduled to take us to the island and if time permitted circle the island before landing. But the plan did not quite work out and so we went direct to the island, the circuit would wait for our return journey.
As we approached the beach we were due to land on all we could see was a sea of red barcas, neatly lined up on the beach and because there were so many also on the land behind the line of palms marking the edge of the beach. An awesome sight that created a lump in everyone’s throat. Soon a stern anchor was dropped and our craft slid up onto the beach. Quickly the gang plank was installed and we proceeded to disembark into a sea of faces welcoming us to Kinatarcan each receiving a welcome garland of beads or seashells. Then after a quick look around and finding our barca we carried on up the beach and across a flat area where a Shelter Box tent had been erected to the Island school which had an awning erected shading the 60 or so fishermen waiting patiently for our arrival, all dressed in matching tee shirts with the AVKIFA (All-Lights Village Kinatarcan Island Fisherfolks Association) logo.
We were treated like VIP’s and ushered onto a dias above the seated fishermen and around the perimeter taking advantage of whatever shade was avialable was a curious audience of children and women. In the distance a portable generator throbbed powering the public address system which the organising group from the Global Peace Foundation (GPF) had organised.
We started with a rousing chorus of the Phillipino National Anthem, lead by MC Ann Marlita G Montejo (a Director of GPF) and then there were speeches of welcome from the mayor of Santa Fe the Hon Jose Esgana , PP Ricky from the RC of Makita Edsa introduced us all to raptuous applause and IPP Emily gave an outline of the project to all, PP Alan from the RC of Workington spoke briefly explaining the RC of Workington and Workington Derwent involvement and the generosity of a small town many thousands of miles away from Kinatarcan Island, that brought even more applause.
After more speeches from the local governor, and regional directors we all had to append our signatures to several documents in the deed of donation which was accepted by AVKIFA with a brief word of thanks from the association president Mr Meliton O. Sayson.
Then began the distribution of Solar Lanterns and the ceremonial turnover of the Barcas to AVKIFA , with closing remarks from Dr Michael G Zablan from Global Peace Foundation, Asia Pacific.
All of the wives of the fishermen had prepared food for a buffet lunch, there was everykind of fish, shell fish, crabs, lots of rice and some very tasty seaweed which I thought was excellent but Frank thought played havoc with his internals (we were well equipped for such emergencies).
Then all of the fishermen zoomed off to their allocated barcas standing for photosessions, at our barca, “Elaine” Frank was able to explain the naming of her using Emily to translate for him and the fisherman and his wife were most touched when he also gave them photos of Elaine.
I don’t think I have ever seen or been to a place so supercharged with emotion as Kinatarcan island on that day, the scene and the gratitude of the fishermen, their wives and children will live with me for a long long time ! But soon it was time to go and as our craft slid away from a beach thronged with people waving farewell we continued to complete the circumnavigation and returned to Malapascua.
We had our farwell dinner on Malapascua, confusingly served several restaurants further along the beach from our hotel and with no street lighting it was not the easiest place to find. Another jolly evening in excellent company with the centre piece Lechon – roast suckling pig. After a half hearted attempt by a waiter to carve it up, Emily took charge and in short time had the beast carved up and dished up to everyone. The meat was suculent and the crackling superb and there was even a little bit left for breakfast the following day whan Frank had the snout !
After breakfast we boarded our craft for our return journey, the intended trip to an excellent beach for lunch had to be abandonned when it was realised some may risk missing the return flight to Manilla. There was also some brooding cluds in the east which could possible herald bad weather, so prudence prevailed and we did a final visit to some beaches on Malapascua before haring back to Maya and our waiting transport to Cebu City.
A quick stop at Borussia was made to purchase bread, and we who were not rushing for a flight lingered and had lunch whilst bidding farewell to the RCME guys.
After lemongrass tea, and some excellent mango drinks and the pick of Borussia’s menu, fully sated we continued our journey to Cebu and onto another island, Mactan Island where we were booked into the Be Hotel to relax for a couple of days.
After our brief sojourn we returned to Manilla and hosted RCME members to a meal, another evening of great fellowship, our Phillipino colleagues showered us with gifts, does their generosity know no bounds ? But soon it was time book back into the Prince Plaza 2 and the following day we bit adieu to our RC of Workington colleagues, they were flying off to Kuala Lumpur for the remainder of their Far East Tour. Frank and I were staying for another day and were due to be collected by Rene at 07:00 on the Thursday morning, we also had to book out of our hotel and would be returning about midnight to collect our bags.
Promptly at 07:00 Rene was waiting for us in the lobby and soon Frank and I were being wisked off to his farm in the countryside. Nicky was joining us but was being collected by Colloy who would also join us for our visit to “the Little People” (Aeta).
After a brief stop at the Phillipino equivalent of a motorway services we met up with Colloy and Nicky and were soon continuing our journey until we got to Rene’s farm – St Vincent’s Arbor – a young kid opened the gate and was greeted by Rene, “Hello Lester”, he was one of his caretaker’s children.
A leg stretch after the journey and a quick look around, mango trees in abundance, also jack fruit, chickens, turkey, ducks and guinea fowl and over to one side Rene’s prize pigs each with a litter of piglets, some pure wild boar, distinguished by the broad dark stripe along their sides.
In another compound are his dogs all friendly rusty coloured, penned up because they were gobbling up the Turkey eggs which are left all over the place !
Rene called us all to order, and with several helpers off the farm and loaded with trays of food we sallied off up a dusty mountain track to the Aeta village. We drew up outside of the leader’s home and met “Tony” and then walked over to the school (closed for holidays) and in a shaded space outside set up some tables and ladies from the village proceeded to sort out the food.
Kids and some parents appeared from nowhere with plastic plates and spoons and jostled for position in the queue for the food. In no time it was shared out and in even less time consumed by a chattering throng of folk happy with Rene’s little treat. Meanwhile Frank had found the well Makati Edsa had installed and busily pumping and teaching the youngsters “Row row row the boat….etc”.
Soon it was time to retire to St Vincent’s Arbor for a super lunch followed by a meeting with the local administrator which enabled Nicky to kick off a possible health education project she has in mind for the Aeta.
Eventually it was time to move on and return to Manilla but not until we had visited the ex Clark Field airbase which is now changing into a complex of hi-tech business and a heritage park Nayong Philipino where there were examples of traditional buildings from throughout the Phillipines. Rene arranged for us to be guided around the park by some young guides, one was an Aeta who had used his education to escape the traditional subsistence existence in his village.
Close by Clark is Mt Pinatubo an active volcano which last erupted in 1991, then 260m of the mountain top disappeared in ash, as we approached Clark, we crossed a river which was choked with ash and to this day is being constantly mined by gigantic excavators. Tons and tons of ash is removed daily, not that you would notice, so much was deposited! But apparently it makes an excellent building material and is being used on construction projects as Manila constantly re-invents itself.
We carried onto Manila and dined with Rene at his club, our plan had been to collect our bags at midnight and freshen up at the hotel as best we could before taking a taxi to the airport. RCME had other ideas, despite them all attending a District Conference the following day, Rene had arranged for Roger and Christine to collect us and our bags from the hotel and to take us downtown to another area thronging with vitality, to meet BingBing (BB). BB had missed us all at the Makati EDSA meeting , she and her son had been on a business trip in Australia. She was anxious to touch base with us, hence joining us with Christine and Roger. We met with her on the street and went to another one of the great bars Manila has in legion for a few drinks and even more food! We had a super night just chatting and drinking and at midnight we transferred to BB’s car, as BB lives close by the airport we would go to her home and freshen up and then her driver would take us along to the airport around about 3 am. At BB’s home we met Paolo (one of her sons) and after a welcome shower, shave and change of clothes sat and chatted until it was time to leave, we bid farewell (showered with gifts for home) and were very soon handing our bags in at the airport to commence our long trip back home.
We have been on an adventure of a lifetime, not only have we been witness to another great rotary foundation project, experienced unbelievable rotary fellowship but have met some exceedingly wonderful people, with generosity their watchword.
Thankyou Makati EDSA and Workington for your kindness and fellowship and allowing us a very minor partner to participate in such a brilliant venture.