Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Little Islands, Little Creatures, Little Hills

The small, teardrop-shaped island of Bohol lies a little off the eastern coast of Cebu. It's one of the main beach and diving destinations in the Visayas. But I wasn't there for the beaches. Instead it was a cute little creature that lured me over. The Philippine tarsier is one of the world's smallest primates and looks like Gizmo's long lost brother. Its big, owl-like eyes and general cuteness make it a favourite of the tourists who flock to come and have their pictures taken with the little fuzzballs. Unfortunately for the shy tarsiers captivity and constant petting stresses them out big time and very few kept for public display live for more than a year. Despite the desire to pet one I knew better and visited the official tarsier sanctuary that works to protect them and satisfied myself with a few zoom shots of a couple of tarsiers dozing in the trees. It's often the way with wildlife tourism that the act of visiting a site and interacting with the animals is detrimental to their well-being. It's usually better to curb the urge to pet and get too close and content yourself with a fleeting glimpse and the knowledge that the animals are there, alive, thriving and living the way that they were meant to.

The nocturnal tarsiers have suffered greatly due to habitat loss and the mistaken belief amongst local tribes that they were evil creatures that ate their crops (they prey solely on insects). Nowadays habitat loss is still a big threat as is the demand for tarsiers as pets or display animals.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Filipino Thoughts

The Philippines is divided into three main regions: the large islands of Luzon and Mindanao in the north and south respectively, and the cluster of islands in between that is known as the Visayas. It was to the Visayas that the first Europeans came. It is here that the Spaniards first converted the locals to Catholicism, here that they founded their first capital at Cebu (although at the time, in true Catholic fashion, they called it Villa del Santísimo Nombre de Jesús, until they realised that they were spending half their time writing the name on official documents). That the Visayas was the epicentre of Spanish colonialism in the Philippines is evident from the local place names: Toledo, Compostela, Sevilla, Santander, Cadiz and Valladolid all named after great medieval Spanish cities. However political and economic power has long since moved to Manila, with the local Manila language of Tagalog being imposed as the national one despite the fact that more people speak Cebuano and Visaya, a fact which still rankles amongst the locals.

The Baroque church of Miag-ao is the best example of the merging of Spanish and local architectural influences. The main relief shows Saint Christopher walking through a landscape of papaya trees and coconuts.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I Get Around

Spending a lot of time getting from place to place is a natural byproduct of travelling the way I do. Not only actually sitting (or standing) in some sort of vehicle, but also researching about how best to get around, where the bus leaves from, what time, whether I need to buy a ticket in advance, and so on. I have therefore become something of an expert on public transportation around the world. Although it isn't something that we often consider when thinking about a country's culture or traditions, mobility is an important aspect of our lives and impacts it more than we might think. Especially in poorer countries where people can't afford their owns means of transportation then it is their lifeline to employment, getting their goods to market, accessing basic public services or shopping for life's necessities. Sitting on a bus can therefore end up being a small study in anthropology rather than a dull commute between point A and point B.

An old-school, overloaded jeepney plying the mountain roads of northern Luzon.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Paradise Flawed

As I mentioned in my last post, in a country made up of tropical islands, Palawan is the place to go for your dose of tropical paradise. More specifically the northern part comprising the karstic Calamianes and Bacuit archipelagos centred around the towns of Coron and El Nido respectively. Here black, jagged, limestone islands, their sharp pinnacles rising through their jungle cladding. The landscape very similar to that of Halong Bay in Vietnam and the Krabi province of Thailand. And, quite justifiably, they attract just as many tourists, both foreign and domestic.

A view of El Nido beach and bay, with the nearby islands of the Bacuit archipelago in the distance. Viewed from atop the karst cliffs overlooking town.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Leaving Luzon

From Luzon (the main island of the Philippine archipelago) I took the boat to Coron, at the northern tip of the Palawan group of islands in the western Philippines. The island group ignores the prevailing directions of the rest of the archipelago (towards the southeast) and juts out at a right angle towards Borneo, like its own, personal sword of Damocles. Palwan is a region apart from the rest of the Philippines, with a small population and little development, and so getting there by boat is not straightforward. My guidebook mentions several companies that do the trip, but unfortunately it was published in 2006. Since then budget airlines have eaten into the market for ferry passengers and as I contacted the ferry companies one by one I discovered that their Coron services had long ago ceased to run. Luckily I found a single company that still plies the route twice a week. I rushed to buy myself a ticket and, with it safely in my pocket, proceeded to find things to do for the next few days as I waited for the departure.

A view from a boat. Whilst lazing on our ferry before it left Manila I had plenty of time to contemplate the city's uninspiring skyline (as well as the nearby slums).