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Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Walk Around the Hotel

The view from our room was lovely - ocean, mountains, boats. Sunrise was my favorite time to hang out on the balcony as the city was waking up to a new day.

As soon as you left the resort you were in the midst of third world life. Of course there was no reason to leave the resort, so I don't think it was common for guests to walk the streets of this area.

The photo on the right is a pay for water machine. There is a stack of plastic bags (think 1 qt. size) that people filled to get their drinking water.

These are the gas meters for all the bamboo and corrugated metal shacks.

Food stands lined our walk. We got a bit of fruit, some pop and sausages that we watched being cooked.

There was a line of Christmas decorations in the town center area. They were all made out of recycled or natural products.

There were a few shops that sold seashells. Their main business wasn't tourists walking by, rather they export to places like Miami.

We were confused by all the beautiful roosters we saw tied up with little shelters.They had about 1' of string holding them to their stake. Eggs were for sale everywhere, but we didn't see a single hen. I finally asked someone about the roosters. There was a long explanation and I finally realized they are for cock fighting. Considering how many we saw, it must be a pretty big form of entertainment.

The kids are so happy and just want to trail along. They loved having their picture taken and wanted to impress us with smiles and giggles. As you can see, Elena attracted a following.

Motorcycles serve as taxis. From grabbing a ride on the back of one to these side cars with awnings, they are an easy way to get from point A to point B. These trucks have benches along each side. The driver and a collector sit in the front. When you get on you just hand your money through the back window. We took one on the end of our walk to get back to the hotel.

These little babies were 6 weeks old. Their moms let me hold them. 

Christmas Party
Our walk ended in a basketball court area that seemed to be used for community events as well. The place was full of women and children. They were dancing and having fun. When they asked me to join I thought why not? I jumped in to their cheers and danced away. 

A Day with Whale Sharks

While relaxing in the Philippines at Christmas, we took a day trip to swim with the whale sharks. I didn't know what whale sharks were or the appeal of swimming with them, but while planing our trip, people continually told me that we couldn't miss the opportunity.

We woke up ridiculously early, stumbled in the dark to a van and began the several hour journey down the island to Oslob. I don't know what I expected, but this wasn't it. We've done a few other type sea tours before and typically we get on some sort of yacht or day boat and go out into the sea before arriving at the snorkeling or dive site. Maybe it's whales we're after, but we definitely go away from land in a sizable boat. 

We got our life jackets, masks, snorkels and fins and waited a short time before being herded into a wooden canoe type boat with bamboo pontoons. We went about 30' off the shore then were paddled perpendicular to the shore to an area full of other boats. 

We were pleased to find that we were literally the only ones in all the boats who actually wanted to get in the water and swim with the whale sharks. It was amazing. We weren't supposed to touch them, but when they bump right up against you, it's impossible not to. 

Whale sharks are huge – the largest fish in the sea. They can grow up to 40' long. The ones we were swimming with were around 18' long, weighing 20 tons. To give you perspective, that's the size of a school bus. From the neck down they look like a shark, which indeed they are. They have that scary top fin, side fins, tail and slits in their side. They have a shark's cartilage type skeleton and smooth skin. But their head is a bit odd with a flat 5' wide mouth. They feed on plankton, filtering it though their bristle like teeth. 

I really wasn't sure if I was going to get out of the boat as we were driving down. Just the word "shark" had me thinking of beady eyes staring at me, a sharp toothy grin and a tail whipping again some sort of metal cage that I had been lowered into the water in. (I've seen a few too many shark week episodes.) But when we rowed out and I saw a few of them swimming around I couldn't wait to jump in. These giants of the sea are more whale like as they float around sifting dinner through their mouths. So we swam with the sharks. It was great fun. I'd do it again in a heartbeat if I had the opportunity. There's just something amazing about being in the water with these huge animals.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Urban Backpacking in Taipei

View of Taipei from our hammocks

I don't know if there even is such a thing as "urban backpacking" but that's what I'm going to call our latest getaway. A day off means a day to rest, relax and enjoy the country we live in. A few weeks ago  we were hiking when we stumbled across this spot overlooking the city. We commented how perfect it would be to hang some hammocks and spend the night. Now that I'm working full time, a day off means a day to get all those little nagging things done so we didn't want to take a full weekend to get away. We packed the bare necessities and walked out of our apartment, across some busy streets where we connected to a road that wound up the mountain. We passed a temple then came to a trail that took us to an awesome look-out. 30 minutes after leaving  our apartment we were hanging the hammocks between some trees. We spent the evening staring at the city. No computers, no cell phones, just simple quiet. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Mid Autumn Festival

Mid Autumn Festival, also known as Moon Festival, is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. The full moon fell on October 4 this year. The festival began long ago as a celebration of harvest and rejuvenation at the time of the full moon. 

A popular fairy tale helps explain the story of the Moon Festival: 

"A hero names Hou Yi saved his people by shooting down the other nine suns that burned his people to death. He was then bestowed with the elixir of immortality by the Queen Mother of the West. 
He did not want to consume the elixir and leave his beautiful but very mortal wife, Chang Er, so he gave the elixir to his wife for safekeeping. Unfortunately, Hou Yi's disloyal apprentice forced Chang Er to swallow the elixir. She then became a supernatural being. She flew to the moon, and from there watched her husband. 
Knowing that his wife had now been separated from him, Hou Yi was crazed with grief. Looking up at the moon one night, he saw a figure like his wife. He hurriedly took cakes and succade (preserves in sugar, whether fruits, vegetables, or confections) as offerings to his wife. 
Upon hearing this, people developed the custom of watching the moon and eating moon cakes annually on this day."

Today the Moon Festival is celebrated with eating moon cakes, family gatherings, moon gazing and lanterns. Lanterns were not part of the original celebration, but have come to be a festive activity that I had a chance to experience this year. 

I'll be honest, our group was run with such Taiwanese efficiency that much of the fun was sucked out of it. Our group of 80 arrived on two buses to Pingxi, an old mining town near Taipei that is known for its lantern festivals. We were ushered from the buses to a school classroom where we waited for about 30 minutes. We could see and hear the festival beginning in the courtyard below, but they kept us in the room, afraid that we might loose the group. From the room we were taken to a gymnasium where they divided us into lines and gave instructions on how to "do" the lantern process. While waiting in the gym, we saw the first batch of 100 lanterns be released. There was a collective "ohhh" as we watched them float past the windows. Right after the lanterns disappeared, we were taken single file out to a large courtyard where 100 squares were taped onto the cement. 3-4 people stood in each square with a helper to give us our lantern and instruct us. 

Once in our square, we were given our lantern and a marker to write wishes for the year to come on it. We then held the four corners of the lantern while the helper lit the flame in the base. We lowered the lantern to the ground and stepped on the rim to keep it from floating away while the air began to heat and pull the lantern upwards. A group next to us somehow tipped their lantern and it burst into flames. Soon the group was given the signal to release our lanterns. It was beautiful to see the lights in the night sky. They grew smaller and smaller until they mingled with the stars in the distance. Just as they were disappearing from sight, we were ushered back to our bus. We didn't get to see the next group go before we were safely driving away. All in all, I'm glad I went and enjoyed the evening with my friends. It was fun being part of the festival and sending up a lantern, but I really would have enjoyed the opportunity to watch a few other groups release theirs.