Friday, May 30, 2008

Today's Blog Title Changed Four Times

1: The Most Adventurous Day I've Had
2: I Had a Coconut on Top of a Volcano
3: What the Guide Doesn't Tell You
4: The Universe is Balanced

Too much happened today to sum it all up easily. I really had to exercise my courage... no matter how much I thought I stretched myself on Semester at Sea, I think today topped that even more. Needless to say we made it to Lake Taal and the volcano that makes it famous, but getting here was almost more interesting.

1: The Most Adventurous Day I've Had

After securing supplies (water and some snacks) and having a good breakfast, Jim and I set off to follow directions to a small town that were given to us over the phone by the Talisay Green Lake Resort. On our second attempt we found a cab that could take us to the bus station, which entailed careening through little alleyways dodging pedestrians. Upon reaching the bus station, two men who were “being helpful” grabbed our backpacks out of the trunk for us, asked us where we were going, and without a moment's more discussion took off with them and put them up on a bus that we could only guess was headed to Tanauan. (Tan-ow-ahn)

I'm not going to lie, I was really nervous about them just taking our backpacks like that (luckily that's only clothing... all our valuables are in our day bags for that reason). We got even more nervous when it looked like the bus driver wasn't going to let us on, and since we weren't 100% sure that this bus was the one we wanted. Then we got annoyed when, of course, the men wanted a tip for carrying our bags for us (when I would have been much happier keeping them in my possession, thank you very much). But, that's culture for you eh?

Thankfully, the bus attendant was friendly and helpful and assured us that we were going to the right place, and that it would only be 98 pisos (approx. $2.25 US). That's super cheap. We headed on the “highway” south toward Tanauan, getting caught in what I must assume is one of the monsoons we were supposed to hit (it's monsoon season). The leaky windows allowed a few raindrops to come inside. Apparently, it's normal to stop halfway to fuel the bus. 52 pisos to the liter... 42 pisos to the dollar... there's a fun math problem for you! Which is cheaper, gas in the Philippines or gas in Colorado? Don't forget to convert liters to gallons!

When the bus finally stopped in Tanauan (which didn't look much different from any other place along the way... shanties and run-down shops surrounded by enormous amounts of tropical vegetation) we hopped off. We then found a “tricycle”... a motorbike with a side car attached... to take us for the “one hour” trip to the market in the small town of Talisay. It actually ended up being 40 minutes or so. Picture this: Sarah and Jim squished into a seat that's barely big enough for one of them with a giant backpack on their laps and the other riding on the back seat of the motorbike. We were definitely quite the spectacle for the locals! It's a good thing we brought backpacks and not suitcases.

We then transferred tricycles at the market to take us directly to the Green Lake Resort.

Now when I say resort... that's a loose interpretation of the word. I'm not complaining of course, but it's not what you're thinking. Small room, stiff bed, in-window air conditioner, nobody around. Mom, this is probably non-touristy enough for you, anyway.

I think that has to be the craziest transportation I've ever taken. I'm sure it could get even crazier... but I'll stick with this for now.

2: I Had a Coconut on Top of a Volcano

After putting our bags down at the 'resort', we hired a boat out to the island in the middle of the lake (which is the volcano). The boat ride itself was actually spectacular... the views were incredible and the lake was as smooth as glass.

The part they don't tell you is that the "guide" is extra, and they're going to chase you with horses the entire time because they don't think you can hike the thing. They didn't understand the part where I said I was allergic to horses and that we're from the mountains where hiking is a normal activity. Halfway up the volcano the horse guys finally gave up, but our guide was booking it up to the top. Jim and I took this as a personal challenge and kept up as best we could. We didn't see anyone else actually on foot... I think we amazed some people. I will admit it was the steamiest, hottest, sweatiest hike I've EVER taken.

But, when we got to the top, we had some fresh buko (coconut) juice straight out of the shell and it was delicious. The views were spectacular. It was incredibly beautiful! You could actually see steam coming out of the vents and feel the heat coming from the earth. Gorgeous.

3: What the Guide Doesn't Tell You

What the guide doesn't warn you about is all the hidden costs. An extra 500 pisos for the guide. 100 pisos for face masks (which, of course, you don't actually need). 50 pisos to buy a drink for your guide and 100 pisos for drinks for yourselves. 20 pisos to tip the person who helps you out of the boat and a tip for the boat driver. Tips, tips, tips. Oy vey.

It's not even the amount of money... 20 pisos is only about 50 cents. It's that the ATMS only dispense 1000 and 500 piso notes (sometimes you might get some 100 notes if you're lucky), and NOBODY seems to have change. By the time we got back from the volcano, we had zero change left. Just a bunch of large bills that nobody could break. There was no way to pay a tricycle driver to get us back to town to get some dinner. The "restaurant" at the "resort" could not give change either. We were getting pretty worried about being able to get back.

Back at our room, we met the only other guests at the resort... two Belgian fellows who were having similar change problems. They were friendly, but could offer no advice.

4: The Universe is Balanced

Just as we were about to lose hope and had resigned to eating up all the snacks we had packed for dinner, breakfast and lunch the following day... we ran into the resort manager. She didn't have change of course, but she did suggest having a tricycle take us to the gas station to see if they had change.

Sure enough, telling the tricycle driver what we needed and assuring him he'd get paid when and only when we got change did the trick. There was a native restaurant right across the street from the gas station, so we went over to get some dinner.

The place was EMPTY aside from three young waitresses. If I've ever felt like a rock star it was here. Lee Ann spoke really good English, come to find out she is 16 and dreams of going to New York (she has family there). They attended to us so much that it was almost a little uncomfortable! It was nice that Lee Ann chit-chatted with us while we waited for food, but then I just had to laugh as they literally just stared at us while we ate. Lee Ann said they liked to see that we were enjoying our food. That seems to be common here... the waiters and waitresses stand nearby while you look over the menu, eat, and pay the bill. They don't leave your side very much.

We had a whole grilled native fish that starts with M, I forget the name... Makalputi? along with some delicious vegetable fried rice. It was very delicious.

Lee Ann and her cousins as we came to find out really enjoyed having us there. They wrote us a cute note thanking us for coming on a napkin (addressed to maam and sir, as everyone calls us here) and wanted hugs on the way out. They were the epitome of giggle teenage girls... they were cute.

The universe was right again, and Talisay wasn't such a bad place after all... and after all, it was a gorgeous sunset.

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