March, 2013: I just landed at Manila airport. The beauty pigeon’s airport itself did not seem glamorous to me. After passing the immigration counter, we found ourselves standing outside the airport in the capital city of Philippines surrounded by friendly taxi drivers and literally felt the warmth (an early spring day in Philippines is so hot that a fish can be fried without oven).
The cab in Manila made its zigzag way through the road amidst cars, buses, rickshaws and people coming from all direction leading to mini traffic jam in each lane, provided there was a notion of lane. Dodo, my toddler, although tired from past ~ 24 hours journey from USA to Manila, sat straight and exclaimed “crazy, damn crazy”! I watched the city’s skyline, roadside brick buildings breathing close to each other. Ah, what a homely feeling! Nothing is different from what I have seen in India.
Our cab passed the Roxas Boulevard running along scenic Manila Bay. Roxas was formerly known as Dewey Boulevard named after the American Admiral under whose command the Spanish navy was defeated in the Battle of Manila Bay more than a century ago. It derives present name in the honor of President Manuel Roxas, the fifth president of Philippines. Accustomed to frequent street renaming in Calcutta, I kept feeling at home.
Next, check into the hotel and get ready for the day. Shortly I got a call from REEF. And I remembered the unforgettable forgetting. Back in January there was a change in initial plan; we were supposed to be picked up directly from airport and to head towards the province of Zambales. The fact complete slipped of mind while juggling with office priorities. Ralph (REEF’s founder) and Grace (REEF’s Philippines Operations head) were about to report to police that a family went missing in Philippines! We packed and were on the way to Candelaria, Zambales.
Manila to Candelaria of the province of Zambales is ~4 hours drive. After crossing the city of Manila landscape is tree lined, sometimes curvy mountain road ragged over the sea. We stopped at Subic city in the evening. It was one of the largest US military facilities outside of mainland USA during American colonial period in Philippines. MV Logos Hope, the largest among the floating libraries anchored in Subic Bay same time of last year to bring knowledge, help and hope to local folks, especially children. We walked around and had dinner. Filipino people consume k, vegetables and herbs. Curries are neither spicy nor oily. Tropical country offers variety of fruits. A green mango shake complemented our dinner.
It was night when we arrived at the town of Candelaria. Provincials believe that the name means a place of many candles as once the place used to have many candles. Jet lagged, we soon felt asleep.
Next morning I would wake up in a two storied wooden house to discover a splendid architecture. Philippine islands have two seasons – dry and wet. To stay cool during prolonged warm months the rustic house has wall to wall ventilation, big windows, large balconies shaded to shelter from the rain and sun. Near the windows the locals put a small coffee table and a pair of chairs – ‘Merienda’ (late morning/afternoon snacks) place. People here go to bed late and start day late. They grab four meals in a day breakfast, late morning snacks, lunch, afternoon snacks and dinner. After breakfast we went to a fishermen’s neighborhood, boarded a raw yacht and toured the Patipur island, which welcomed us with little bamboo huts, shades and lukewarm water of South China Sea.