Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mountain Of Rubbish

The great advantage in travelling the way I do, with no fixed timetable, deadlines or impositions, is that I can change my itinerary on a whim and respond to new opportunities in a second as they present themselves. And so it happened whilst I was up here in the Cordillera region. During my stay in Sagada I was lucky enough to meet Russell, a Canadian artist who has been living in the area for the past two years. His speciality is transforming ordinary, everyday rubbish into art and usable objects; what is nowadays known as "upcycling". He works with local communities and people, mostly women, in small villages where he has been successful in designing small bags and purses made from discarded wrappers that the women weave in their spare time with a view to selling both abroad and locally to both increase the peoples' income and reduce waste. Thanks to him I drastically changed my plans in a way that allowed me to see and interact with local communities that would not have been possible as a simple tourist passing through.

Close up of the bags made by local women around Sagada using used wrappers. The one on the left is from Sprite labels and the right one from coffee sachets.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Slivers Of Quicksilver

For most visitors to the Philippines there are two main attractions that draw them to the tropical archipelago: the beaches and associated diving and snorkelling activities on the one hand, and the mountains and tribes of the north of Luzon on the other. Seeing as I was already in Luzon, and that I'm not a huge fan of beaches, the decision as to where to head to after Manila was really a no-brainer. North to the mountains it was, with a little side-trip to the beautiful colonial town of Vigan on the coast, which still displays some faded splendour of bygone days. My little detour accomplished I finally made it to Baguio, the self-styled capital of the Cordillera.

Cute kids vying to have their photos taken by the beach in Vigan.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rucks And Malls

I had bought my plane ticket to Manila online with Cebu Pacific, the Philippines' answer to Ryanair. I had no problems buying the ticket, with the online check-in, or even with getting to the airport by midnight (my plane was scheduled to depart at half past one in the morning). What I hadn't counted on awaited me as I came to deposit my rucksack at the check-in counter and get my boarding pass. I handed over my passport and check-in printout. "And your return ticket sir?" I replied that I was not returning to Taiwan and that from the Philippines I was travelling onward to Malaysia. "But Philippine immigration requires that you show us an onward ticket." Ah... I tried explaining that I was planning to catch the scheduled ferry to Borneo and that these tickets were impossible to purchase without turning up in person. This failed to make an impression on any of the staff of the airline. So, with 15 minutes left before the end of check-in I persuaded the stewards to let me use their computers and quickly bought the cheapest online ticket I could find, one that I don't intend to use at all. I suppose it's an unofficial visa.

The streets of Manila are overflowing with life. Around every corner there's a hive of activity.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Taiwan 101

There are many different calendars in the world. Different cultures and religions each have their own, preferred watershed dates from which to start reckoning the beginning of time. For most Christians it's 2012, for most Muslims it's 1433, for Jews it's 5772, it's 1132 for Nepalis, 1390 for Persian Muslims and 2004 for Copts and Ethiopians. As you can see there's plenty of diversity out there and the Republic of China doesn't want to feel outdone, so they count their years from the demise of imperial China and the foundation of the Republic in 1911. This year is 101. Although the official year is based upon the Western, Gregorian, calendar, for celebrations and festivals it is still the traditional Chinese calendar that rules the roost. And that is why I have stayed in Taiwan so long.

A dragon dance, but with a difference, in Maoli. The dragons head is garlanded with firecrackers and during the dance  people throw more firecrackers at the dragon. It's very loud and smoky.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Museums, Shopping And Bad Weather (Could've Stayed In London?)

My mountain escapades got me some way to filling my time, but not all the way. Another project was the tying up of some administrative loose ends. Whilst at home going to the bank, shopping for sundries on the weekend, sorting correspondence, or just simply going down to the bank to give your accounts the once over are things that we don't really give much thought to and generally do them as and when we get round to them. But when on the road not only do you rarely have time to do these simple house-keeping tasks, sometimes it's hard to know how to do them at all. In the UK I know exactly where to go to buy myself an annual diary, but where do I do that in Hong Kong? or where do I get a new pair of hiking shoes in Taipei.

After 2 years on the road my shoes were beginning to show the strains of continuous use and hiking up various mountains. They can retire with dignity as I have managed to find a reasonable replacement pair. RIP shoes.