From Batangas to Davao and Back

Saturday, May 30, 2009

This May has been one of the most hectic, fun, and adventure-packed months I’ve ever had.  I can hardly believe it – in the span of a mere thirty days Cat and I have gone to some great places in Davao, then to Iba, Zambales, and ended the month with a bang, or should I say a splash, in Anilao, Batangas.  Whee! 

We started the month with an overnight trip to Batangas city to give a workshop for the Batangas City Camera Club, which they sponsored to recruit new members.  Cat and I had great fun with that group, and just a few days ago I received a YM from their president Bhoyet that all the participants from the workshop ended up joining the club. 

Even better, one of my students from the club told me she got my lecture, and found it better than the class offered by another photography center here.  That was really heart-warming for me, as it validated the course Cat and I designed and my decision to switch the normal sequence of teaching photography.  Most photo instructors teach the camera first, but I decided I’d give my students a ‘softer’ entry by teaching light and composition first, then teach them how to use their cameras only after they had an idea what they were trying to achieve.

Mere days later, we were flying off to visit Cat’s parents in Davao, a visit made even more fun by the presence of Cat’s sisters, Jerrie with her family and Arlene, with her boyfriend, Leo.  Cat’s mom really rolled out the red carpet for us, or should I say, the red tablecloth – there seems to be no word for ‘meal’ in Davao, as every time we sat at her table there was a feast! 

We missed the durian harvest from the family farm (darn!), and it seems global warming has altered the weather in Davao from the usual sunny mornings and rainy afternoons to all-day rain for days at a time, but we still got to check out some good places.  Cat and I did a ‘bridal shoot’ with a white peacock in Eden Park; I got to shoot an injured but very dignified looking Brahmin Kite at the Philippine Eagle Sanctuary; and the day after we did the 380 meter long zipline at Camp Sabros. 

Peacock sunrise, Eden Nature Park

White peacock, Eden Nature Park Brahmin Kite, Phil. Eagle Sanctuary
Rainwater on Lilies, Phil Eagle Sanctuary
"Mickey Mouse fruit," Eden Nature Park
The night after doing the zipline we had a great lechon dinner with Cat’s cousin, Nena, and the Palma Gils – a very large clan indeed! – but had to eat and run so we could interview Rhonson Ng for a DPP article.  Rhon gave us compli tickets to a concert by The Dawn at Matina Town Square, but as the night was running late and the opening acts were not quite to our taste (Viva Hot Babes singing – not hot, and no good singing either) we wandered off and found this nice reggae band doing their thing in another part of the mall.  I really liked the expressions of their lead singer, and he didn’t have a bad voice either.  ISO 3200 on my Nikon, and damn the noise we’re going monochrome!
DSC_3793 DSC_3763 DSC_3784

There was a fortunate break in the weather when we visited Chema’s resort on Samal Island, where Cat’s cousin-in-law, Quincho, treated us to his Kapampangan cuisine and a virtual river of beer.  The weather was less kind when we visited Samal Island again a few days later to shoot Hagimit Falls and the Monfort Bat Caves, with intermittent cloudbursts throughout the day – but I’m now convinced the gods like photographers, for every time we took out our cameras the rain would stop! 

Chema's Chema's

We were joined on our Samal odyssey by Cat’s adventurer cousin, Raymond, his sister Josie who was our guide around the island, and very very luckily by another cousin, Chubby, who manages the Sonriza resort.  Had Chubby not volunteered to drive us to the falls and caves in his van, we’d never have gotten there – Cat’s old Mazda would not have been up to the steep dirt roads to the falls.  We ended the day with a feast of grilled fish at Sonriza – nice, simple, Filipino fare, eaten with a tasty dip of soy sauce, native lemon and chilies.  (I say ‘native’ lemon to differentiate it from the yellow American lemon, but what we had was more like the Indonesian jeruk nipis than the dayap.)

Bathers at Hagimit Falls, Samal Island Upper Hagimit Falls, Samal Island Flying Foxes, Monfort Bat Caves, Samal IslandFlying Foxes, Monfort Bat Caves, Samal Island

Raymond at the Bat Caves

We capped our stay in Davao with a visit to the Crocodile Farm, where again Cat and I shot some wildlife – I got a nice one of a sleepy binturong, a very Jurassic Park-ish portrait of a Philippine Sailfin Lizard, and two crocs having a territorial tussle.  My only quibble with the croc experience was the failure of the damn things to jump when baited – seems it was mating season, and they had their minds on other things.  I also had a huge surprise when I ran into Ron Rocero, who I shot about to do something unspeakable to a poor innocent yellow python.  I also got a shot of Cat holding a Burmese Python some four Cathys long and almost one Cathy wide.  We capped our visit to the farm with a lunch of spicy Crocodile Sisig.  Yep, croc sisig! Crunchy, spicy, sizzling hot – and yes, it kinda tastes like chicken. 

Binturong, Crocodile Farm, Davao Sailfin Lizard, Crocodile Farm Young Osprey, Crocodile Farm Battling Crocodiles, Crocodile Farm

The most dangerous wildlife in the Crocodile Farm ...

Spicy Sizzling Crocodile Sisig!

I was actually reluctant to return from Davao, but Cat had already committed to go with her choirmates to Zambales, and there was work to be done for the magazine (DPP).  So back to Manila, two days’ rest, and then we’re off to Iba, Zambales via the new SCTEX highway.   Cut through the hills of Zambales only last year, the highway goes through some very scenic country – Cat and I are now planning to go there again by ourselves, stopping to shoot landscapes wherever we find a good spot.  The place we stayed at in Iba, Tammy’s, was a letdown however – the resort’s owners were not taking care of their beach at all, and the shore was littered with plastic debris – a lot of it from careless guests.  I’ll not record my rant here about the masa losing their rights to the sea in my eyes, but suffice to say I was mad.  Would we take better care of our environment had we remained animist instead of converting to Christianity? I wonder. 

The morning after we arrived in Iba, however, we hired a boat to take us to a snorkeling spot farther south, and here at least I got to see some living things (there were none by the shore of Tammy’s).  In fact, we got to see a beautiful reef in very shallow water, but I also saw a sight that filled me with foreboding: there were hordes of crown of thorns starfish crawling over the corals.  We also noted that the reef contained no large fish – in fact I saw nothing more than a foot long.  All the fish seemed to be juveniles, even those of species I could identify being smaller than what I usually see in Batangas.  Is there a correlation between the scarcity of mature fish and the proliferation of the crown of thorns starfish? Again, I wonder. 

On the road to Iba, I found that Cat’s choirmates John and Jong were about to complete their scuba course (I think I got Jong hooked on the sea after introducing him to snorkeling last year), and they invited us to go with them to the Outrigger resort in Anilao for their checkout dive.  Could I refuse?  Turns out I could, but not Cat.  Before I knew it Cat was tempting Arlene with the prospect of a dive, and the lure of the sea being what it is, Saturday morning found us all driving down the Star tollway again, this time to Anilao. 

Jong checks his gear! Jong and John suited up and ready to dive! Divemaster Roger with the Drunken Dugong

It had rained dire wolves and sabertooth kittycats Friday night, but breaks in the clouds had led us to hope the skies would clear in time for our dip.  No such luck!  A squall caught us just as our boat was approaching the designated dive site. I was soaked before I’d even seen a single fish!  The only remedy to the situation, of course, was to jump overboard.  Oh glory!  There beneath the rain-stippled water was a paradise of soft and hard corals and hordes of varicolored fish.  Schools of sergeant-majors, apparently used to being fed by divers, rose to greet us, and all around grazing on the corals were several kinds of parrotfish, triggerfish, Moorish idols, and  surgeonfish.  I also spotted some javelin-slim cornetfish, several cleaning stations with their cunning wrasse attendants, and some electric blue bird wrasses. 

(Photos of fish below not mine – follow the links to the source sites; species shown also not necessarily the same as what you find in Anilao)

Sergeant-MajorsParrotfish Triggerfish Cornetfish    Sailfin Tang Moorish Idol

The sight just brought me back to my childhood days learning to snorkel in the rich waters off Puerto Galera, and I was in bliss.  I was actually following John, Jong and Arlene as they descended, and if it would’ve been all right to bum some air off them I think I would’ve followed them down all the way to the deepest spot they reached, some 40 or so feet down.  Hi there! See the friendly drunken dugong?  Or is it the Philippine Giant Albino Puffer?  Alas, though, I had to stay near the surface with my snorkel. Now I’m really determined to get certified as a diver!

Pounding surf at the Outrigger wharf

Our snorkeling however was cut short as the waves began to pick up, and we were called back to the boat before conditions got even worse.  We were riding a substantial chop on our way back to Outrigger, and I just had to ask Cat how many Hail Marys the water would rate from her mom (she’s been known to take to her rosary when the water gets a little rough).  Getting off the boat however was an ordeal, as the rising surf made the light craft bob and weave like a Pacquiao.  I eventually opted to jump into the water than chance the wildly weaving ladder, but badly miscalculated my ascent to shore.  A wave took me by surprise and my knee slammed into a rock with force enough to break the skin – but fortunately, not the bone.  So there I was with my knee running with blood, stinging with the seawater wash I’d given it and ringing like a gong, but … I wasn’t even cussing as I normally would.  That’s how happy I was.  Damn, I love the sea.

And that is how I’m ending the month of May.  Not bad, eh?