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Dislocating my Intestines in the Philippines

In the "Cult of Escapism": Dislocating my Intestines in the Philippines

Friday, December 30, 2011

Dislocating my Intestines in the Philippines

Dodging mud puddles, sweating and swatting insects – it’s a standard Peace Corps kind of day. Except I’m on vacation with my family, 6,000 miles from Panama, supposedly escaping those types of conditions. What the hell?

I’m visiting my family in the Philippines, which happens to be on almost the same latitude as Panama and houses many similarly itchy insects. We spent the past four days at a small beach resort on one the islands – a resort that mostly specializes in diving a nearby reef. Unfortunately, none of us are divers so we had to look into the other activities offered by the resort. My dad read me the options our first day there:
“There’s a jet ski, ATVs, snorkeling, and a hike into the jungle.”
“I’ll do anything but the hike.”
We ended up doing the hike.

I live and hike in the jungle every day, so I wasn’t thrilled about the trip, but luckily, it turned out to be more of a cultural experience than I had anticipated.

A jeepney, with silly white people on top

This began with riding on a Jeepney – an American army jeep retrofitted into a roughly twelve passenger van. Like many dangerous forms of transport in developing countries, Jeepnies often ride at triple their maximum capacity, with people crushed inside like tuna fish and spilling out and on top of the roof. Riding the roof is one of those things people do only if there are no actual seats left. It’s an inconvenience and a hardship that any rational Filipino would rather avoid, but like most idiotic tourists, we wanted the “real” experience, so we happily climbed on to the roof for the 45 minute drive.

Roof Riding consists of dodging a lot of power lines, branches and other passengers that lose their grip and fly off the back. Just kidding! There’s weren’t many branches over the road. But seriously, the ride was a butt-banging, intestine-dislodging experience. But at least it was scenic.

Knee deep in rice
The Filipino countryside is beautiful, albeit very similar to Panama. That is, deep green tropical trees everywhere, mountains in the distance and wooden houses with zinc roofs in between. The big difference is that Panamanians don’t do rice patties. Here, we were consistently surrounded by the quadrants of green-brown patties and their farmers hunched over and knee deep in the mud. 

We made our turn off the main road and the houses were even more rustic, though again, the similarities struck me. Like Panama, people ran small stores out of a window of their houses; most houses were made of some combination of cinderblocks, wood, thatched roof and zinc; each house was swarming with farm animals and children; houses with electricity had TVs blasting; everyone carried a machete. Unlike Panama however, more people here seemed to have pigs and I saw a lot of goats and water buffalo, which I’ve never seen in Panama.

We arrived at the end of the dirt road, butts soar and intestines relocated or missing altogether, and began the hike. Everyone was impressed with the serenity of the countryside and the simplicity of country living. I took like 75 pictures of water buffalos - I don’t know why, I just got a huge kick out of those damn water buffalo.

The hike ended at a pool created by a river; large rocks jutted from the water and our guide told us that we could jump off of them. And jump we did. Fifteen white people (including my family and other resort guests) awkwardly climbing the rocks and timidly jumping, holding our noses as we fell. I am particularly proud of my mom for jumping twice, despite being 55 years old and not a fan of jumping off of things. What a badass.

Go momma
As we jumped and swam, local kids began to gather and watch. They just stared and absorbed the novelty until it seemed like us white folk were done, then they dove in and embarrassed us, climbing the rocks like ladders and jumping without hesitation and from heights that we didn’t dare attempt.

After taking our turn at staring at the kids, we had a picnic lunch on the shore and the kids lined up again to stare. My dad was visibly uncomfortable, “I don’t know what to do, should we give them food?” I ate with ease. If nothing else, my Peace Corps experience has made me impervious to people staring at me – particularly kids. I could tell these kids, while poor, were far from starving and were partly continuing to absorb the novelty vapors emanating from our persons and partly waiting for leftovers. We ended up cooking them some fish and giving them a good amount of food. Silly white people and your white guilty sympathy.

Part of an indigenous town
After eating, we visited a nearby town of indigenous Filipinos. This was particularly interesting for me, since I live with indigenous in Panama. With its thatched roofs and elevated wooden structures, the town reminded me more of an Emberra or Wounaan village in Panama (rather than the Ngabes that I live with). One of the more memorable differences for me was the makeshift basketball hoop in the town center – a common structure in rural Philippines. Panama has many makeshift soccer fields and as an American, I still just assume that every other country worships soccer, but here, they worship Manny Pacquiao. And basketball. 
Makeshift basketball

So while the mud and the jungle weren’t particularly thrilling, I enjoyed the cultural comparison. The Philippines is definitely poorer than Panama (this is a fact but also clear after casual observation) and much larger. I’m guessing the Peace Corps experience here can be more intense (in terms of how poor it is), more isolated (many volunteers literally live on an island) and more linguistically challenging (the official language is English but there are dozens of dialects, depending on your province). I admire those serving here and hope for their sake that their butts are thicker than mine and their intestines more securely fastened inside of them. 

This blog post was brought to you by this guy


At December 30, 2011 at 2:35 PM , Blogger Ila said...

by "this guy" i assume you are referring to the water buffalo

At December 31, 2011 at 6:44 AM , Blogger Lara said...

Love this

At January 11, 2012 at 1:31 AM , Blogger Stella said...

I am a little offended at the "awkwardly climbing the rocks and timidly jumping, holding our noses as we fell" description. I think we were quite agile (except that dumb guy in his toe shoes), and you might remember I went leaping off that extra high rock quite gracefully.

PS I finally figure dout how to comment on these, so expect constant replies.

At January 10, 2013 at 8:40 AM , Blogger Melissa Starr said...

First of all I LOVE your blog and can tell you honestly that nearly all of us in group 70 heading to Panama have found entertainment and insight in it...

Also I lived in the philippines for a bit did you get a chance to see smokey mountain? It's mind blowing


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