Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pics and stuff

Just thought I'd drop in here some images of the boardwalk, market and general towns pics of General Luna that faces out onto the water and looks out onto Dako Island. I love taking a "bangka" pumpboat out to Dako to surf or snorkel.

Fresh crabs

So today, as I was using the Asian brooms to sweep the floor  (an aside here – on a trip to Thailand in the early 80’s my Mother bought 5 of these. They used to sit up off a cast iron cauldron in the entrance of our 6th floor apartment growing up in Madrid, back when I didn’t have a clue they were actually useful for anything. Anyway, why hasn’t anyone made the sticks longer? I break my back sweeping with them and I am not particularly tall...hmmmm note to self: must engage in broomstick expansion venture when I return. That and import Spanish mops - such a great invention!). Anyway, as I was saying, I was proudly sweeping the floor when a lady stopped by with a bucket filled with fresh crabs and prawns. Ay!!! I do love this place. The crabs were tied up with a string of banana leaf, trying to wriggle themselves out of there. So shortly after, I found myself with 100pesos (2 euros) buying a kilo of fresh prawns plus 2 fresh crabs to have for dinner. I placed the crabs in the fridge, unbeknownst to me that would “put them in a slumber”.  As I took them out to dump them in the boiling seawater that I picked directly from the beach opposite, I inadvertently rinsed them off in tap water only to find them coming alive AGAIN desperately sensing their demise was-a-coming. That is when I had fleeting thoughts of becoming a vegetarian. It was painful to think of the cruel death I was about to put them through, blessed animals. In fact, I had a whole stream of thought about why it is so easy to eat just anything unconsciously… since we don’t experience the sacrifice of animals we eat anymore (instead neatly and cleanly cling film packed in the supermarket isle), or watch the caged hens laying the eggs we have for breakfast and all that stuff. It is quite depressing to think about and I truly do understand why people become vegetarians. However, faced with an appetite and love of food like mine, my guilt did not last long. I made a choice. I took a deep breath, dropped them in the water, and turned around to peel the prawns in the sink. Done deal. What I love about it is the consciousness and awareness of the entire process. I suppose that is what all this “conscious living” fuss is about.  The crabs were delicious, by the way. 

Yoga at Glenn's

I’m staying at my friend Glenn’s property. (Thi is the view from his balcony). His round house sits pretty in the middle of a 4000Sqm property dotted with palm trees and with a neighbouring plot of land that is, curiously, the home to 2 goats – the only ones I have seen on the island, and must admit, have dreamt of savouring for an oven roasted dinner, Ay gulay!!!!!

The house is not built on stilts but is the typical house built one floor above the ground, for no other reason than to have unbeatable views of the waves crashing in onto the Clou9 reef from the balcony. I must admit, whether you surf or not, waking up and looking out onto the water with a cup of anything liquid in your hands (in Glenn’s case a Red Horse beer will do nicely!) is perhaps one of the most soothing and motivating ways to start the day.

So after a bit of TLC, the ground floor underneath the house, usually reserved for drying laundry or parking motorbikes in the shade, has become the venue for my sunset yoga class. It’s perfect and offers me the excuse to do some house-work. I reckon I am one of theose weirdos who find sweeping and mopping to be somewhat sedative. Maybe it’s the physical aspect of it, but I’ve taken nicely to cleaning the area daily before the class, plus it gives me something to do during the late morning when the tide is low and I cannot swim. I much prefer this to hand washing my dirty laundry. Water is not very abundant here – it’s not uncommon to walk past people filling buckets with water at the local pump or well.  I had never stopped to think about anything other than the convenience of a washing machine’s capacity to ‘plug and play’ but apparently (comparatively speaking) they are quite water intensive which is why hand washing is the predominant if not the only way to do laundry here. Yep, large basin, washing board and bar of soap… off you go. So I decided to do it myself. It’s not expensive to get it done and the local women will gladly earn some extra cash from it. I suppose I just felt the need to try it out myself…perhaps the guilt of paying someone to clean all my dirty laundry by hand no less… and I’ve grown used to doing a lot of washing… I don’t know. I felt a certain curiosity to try out the washing board too. I had never tried one before and figured it might make the task easier on a newbie like me. As it turns out, I ended up with 4 blistered fingers and leaving the clothes to soak way too long in the water. Instead of that fresh laundered smell I was so looking forward to, I was left wth funly smelling clothes that needed to be washed again! There is a certain technique and art in hand washing, I know that now, and for only 100 or 150 pesos (3 euros) it certainly made me not take my fresh laundry for granted anymore. There is a reason why people stick to doing what they do best, and so they should. I am far better off sweeping and mopping… and paying for the experts to do the laundry, especially if it helps them earn a living. 

Life on the island is traditional. I am not sure whether the challenges of not having everything at your fingertips (except for the internet!!) and returning to a more traditional lifestyle - that interestingly makes me value those mod coms even more - is what draws me so much to this place. Or perhaps it is nostalgia for times past. I suppose while I am here I am reminded of my childhood, from which I have very happy memories. It’s seeing children playing in the dusty road unsupervised, using a coconut tree trunk as a trampoline on the beachside, riding a carabau water buffalo into town or dancing over an elastic (two kids stand apart opposite each other, holding a round elastic band with their knees, while a 3rd kid sings a rhythmic song and dances on the elastics). I feel reminded of simpler times, of when I was growing up and entertainment meant using your imagination with what little you might have. It was carefree, un-adultered fun. Maybe it’s not nostalgia, but escapism.  I am not negating the value of my life until now and everything I have lived and learned. Had it not been for that I would not be here now, which is why it is funny. After everything I’ve experienced, I seem to be walking a path to a far simpler life that I was not able to see made me so happy until now. Taking the long route has been the fun part, because whilst all roads eventually lead to Rome, some are surely more scenic and exciting than others.   

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Life these days

I couldn't have planned a better way to overhaul the frantic and very off work-life balance of the past 18 months than to come here. We often speak of slowing down the pace but frankly, some places simply lend themselves far better than others.

Over here the sun sets at 5:15 more or less, which is why my afternoon yoga classes begin at 4:30. It's just a nice, cruisy and rather mystical way of putting a final dot on the day (and often-times to also mark the beginning of the evening's shennanigans :-))

So  this year instead of indulging in the Halloween candy spiral, I started the day at 7AM (no alarm clock required) with a composite 20Km bike ride: to and from town (in search of ingredients for my upcoming Spanish food night) and to and from Pansukian Resort, my friend Gai's place ( The excuse? A dip in her large ocean-front swimming pool followed by lunch. I thought we were getting the leftover Thai chicken panaeng curryshe kindly offered, but instead she had prepared a small feast, offering me the leftover chicken in a tupper wear to ride home with (hmmm no need to think up dinner now!) So I got back home in time for my daily 4:30 PM yoga class: made up of the usual suspects, Although I might add I do also love the beginner classes, particularly when they're made up of 5 sexy French surfers (he he). After all that cycling and swimming and eating and stretching, I was so exhausted I was in bed by 20:45, not even hungry, so left the curry for the next day, which was today.

An early night like that leads to an early start like today's: 6:30 AM bangka pump boat ride over crystal-clear turqouise waters  to Dako island for an early morning surf :-) Can't beat the warm salt water substituting for the early morning shower...just immersing yourself and feeling that "je ne sais quoi" in the waves crashing down on me. I caught some waves, actually, but mostly paddled, which is fine by me. The exercise was in for the morning.  Riding back as the sun started to burn on my back, I felt exhilirated. If only every day could start this way. A little light breakfast before sweeping the floor and lighting the mosquito coils, turning on the fans and getting the zen music for Sunday's morning yoga class at 10:30. Hmmmmm it was great. Had 2 new students today who will be joining tomorrow's full moon yoga over on the platform rlooking out onto's the raised wooden walkway that leads out to the surf. So sunset takes on a whole new dimension when that big, fat, beautiful full moon shines down upon your deep, even and relaxed breathing. Can't wait!

(Above: a bit of the road I cycle into town daily)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A hammock by the beach

Yesterday I ventured out to Bones’ Sports Bar, right here in Cloud9 with wooden benches that face the water and a whole host of outdoor games to keep the young and old busy with their ice cold beer: swings, pole tennis, darts, badminton, table tennis, hoop football… you name it! It’s got that element of tacky that we sometimes cringe at in western ghetto-ised tourist locations but somehow, fits right into the local colourfulness and knowing the sweet owner personally makes all the difference. Bones has got these wooden tables and stools propped in the white sand for you to indulge in some food and drink while you’re there, and best of all, two great hammocks (the comfy type) hanging from the shade of 4 palm trees.  So there I went yesterday with a beer in hand, at a rather unspeakably early hour of the morning (well they say it can cure the hangover from the night before) to just look out onto the horizon and be lazy. Reality check: could this truly become my life (at least for 6 months a year)? Honestly, I cannot think of much more to ask for… a place that is warm and beautiful, natural and inviting, where I can offer massage and yoga classes, help out at the local school, bathe in the ocean at my doorstep when I wake up, watch one of the starriest skies on earth every night… where I can actually go to bed at 8 or 9PM and wake up at 6 or 7AM naturally and without alarms… well cause that’s the rhythm out here and it’s cool…things just revolve around the natural daylight hours (well, until you start going out to 9Bar until 5 am and get trashed, but that’s not that often!) Well, the jury is out. Yes…yes I can.

But hey, let’s not kid ourselves here. Nothing and nowhere is perfect and somehow when things become routine they sometimes loose their charm and attraction. Which is why most people out here come and go juggling jobs overseas during the rainy season and coming back during the hot dry season. They get their fix of city life, concrete and glass, culture, music and rush hour traffic to then come back to the respite of the very slow island life with enough of the modern comforts to keep you sane and still connected (namely a computer, internet connection and a few good hard drives)  I have decided this is the way for me. I knew some time ago but had not quite figured out exactly how it was going to work out or where. Now I have a much better idea. The challenge is to actually engage in work I can do year-round via my computer and internet so I can actually be here for 6 months a year. So we’ll see how I get on with that when I hit Miami this winter. And yes, I have been looking at a few properties so that’s all moving along nicely too. Fingers crossed!

Reality sets in

Reality has set in - I am making a life for myself out on this island. I’ve been living outside of the comfort zone of my friend’s resorts. It sure is different to be on your own, organising your water and food and getting a proper feel for things out here.

So after renting out one of the cottages on Glenn’s property facing Cloud9 surf, my friend Hippie offered me to house sit at her surf shop (and house). She has a great space for yoga too so I’ve transferred the sunset classes I do daily out to her place and it’s been working out very nicely. Classes start at 4:30PM every day and some days I’ve also done a class or too in the morning either here or in one of the resorts. There’s been an average of 4-6 people coming to the classes and now finally the surfers are catching on too. It really is a perfect complement to surfing.

So last week saw the start of the yearly international Billabong surfing competition here. I wasn’t going to stay for it cause things get so busy and whacky during that time compared with the day to day the rest of the year. However I figured if I was going to get a true feel for the island life on and off season, I had to stay for the comp… well, yeah ok, AND because I do like prancing around the fit surfers!!! Tee hee. Lucky for me Sue and Gerry my friends running Sagana resort, actually organise the comp and host most of the event coordinators. And this year, I was not just some groupie hanging about to watch the eye candy but actually had something to offer: yoga classes and massage. So I’ve been getting busy with work during the past week and it’s been quite rewarding, to the point where Q TVs crew came to interview and film my sunset class at Hippie’s last night! Hahahahah really, my life is just hilarious at times and makes me smile even more. It was really cool actually cause the crew actually came and did the class with us making it easier for them to relate and interview me afterwards. So after all that they asked about the nightlife hot spot and of course that’s where I found them afterwards!! Ay ay ay…what a good bit of water and soap will do! The presenter didn’t even recognise me so then the cameras started rolling again and there I was again, talking about the opposite of yoga and mental meditation: getting boozed up at the local haunt! I don’t know when the Siargao special will air but rest assured I will get my hands on a copy of it to share with you all J

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Teaching at Catangnan School

These are the 5th and 6th grade students I teach on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Now I am being asked to teach English to the 3rd and 4th graders.... hmmmm enticing enough to remain here during the rainy season? Dunno really.  But I am excited about setting a reciprocal program up with my own school of some sort... at least to get some old textbooks out here. More on that when it starts developing.  Sending my love from the Phils!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

yoga anyone?

Teaching in the local school is not the only motivation I had to come here. As most of you may already know, I am looking around for some land. I think I may have finally hit on my life motivator and I think Siargao is the place to set u the next chapter of the book called my life.

As a young girl I loved gymnastics, and apparently was quite good at it. However, being on a scholarship in my school requiring a minimum B grade across the board and after-after school gymnastics training until 7PM did not really gel quite well. I started losing ground on the studying front and was promptly reminded by my parents that school and my grades came first. And so much to my dismay, I abandoned gymnastics after almost 4 years, at age 12.

Much has changed since then, and my body certainly is not the same, however, if there is anything to show for all those years of ballet, tap and gymnastics, it is a love of exercise and a flexibility maintained to this day. Yoga is to me not just an opportunity to tune into the here & now, to re-tune my body and to combat stress. It has also become a reminder of that dream I had as a child to slowly chisel my body and perform movement with grace. It seamlessly combines the physical and spiritual aspect that does me such good, with my other love: performing arts. Throughout my careers at P&G and managing the Spa, I ended up joining the teaching programmes for staff because I enjoyed being onstage and helping others learn what I had learned. And so, now comes the time to unite all of those things into one: yoga teaching.

It was never my plan. As the story goes, I was quite happy to learn and be the student, and for the past 5 years have gotten fairly good at it. Funnily enough, my local friends arranged a merienda recently that was to be preceded by a yoga class. Unbeknownst to me, I was to lead the session (while I thought it was the host fo the house who would be leading) and that was soon to become the beginning of what I can now say is turnign into a bit of a following. I always thought the Spa would be successful here, with massage and some beauty treatments. I also thought the yoga would work and envisaged bringing in some friends to run retreats and such. Now, whilst I still believe that is how it will be, I also know I will be getting my yoga teacher training in order to run the classes myself the rest fo the season. I am excited about my project and love the fact that it is not just the women who are keen to join the classes, but also the surfers, for whom yoga is such a great complement to their time in the water. And surprisingly to many, is often something they have all tried before and quite enjoy.

So bring on the challenge, and bring on Siargao Spa. Watch this space! :-)

math teacher?

Ahhhh if only my 7th grade math teacher could see me now! Who would've said I would ever be seen as a math teacher myself? I know I wouldn't have. But then again, life has a funny way of turning things around on you and this has got to be one of them.

My main objective when coming to Siargao this time around was to fulfill a long-time dream of volunteering at a school where the means are scarce and where a contribution, however small, may have a significant impact. I've been coming to Siargao for 4 years, and fell in love with the school near my friend Gai's resort, in the town of Malinao. After meeting with the Principal and explaining my plans, all seemed to be arranged and being almost 8km away I figured what better way to keep fit than to cycle there and back daily. The plan was set...or so I thought. As I returned home that afternoon, my other friend Susan who also runs a resort beside where I am staying asked me if I had been to the local school here (in the town of Catangnan, beside Cloud9 and only a 5 min cycle away from my place).  Now I know why. This 2nd school is really quite neglected and needs all the help it can get. As she then pointed out, it's a lot closer (so now the fitness is confined to a daily 4km cycle into to the market for food and upplies instead). This 2nd school has 160 students split between grades 1-6 and only 4 teachers.  And to be honest, they were so glad to take me in with my offer, how could I resist. And that is how my 3 days a week volunteering began (cause the other days they teach in Tagalog or Visayan and do other subjects). The Principal at the other school fuly understood as she had been a teacher in Catangnan previously and knows how neglected it is.

And so after speaking with the Catangnan teachers about my time and availability, I offered to teach English and help with any other subjects I could. That is how "math" suddenly came into the picture.  If any subject can be deemed universal, it has to be math. Numbers are numbers, no matter what language you teach them in. And so, I was offered the chance to help teach 5th and 6th grade math. The teacher mentioned she only had 1 book, and it is the one she used herself to teach, i.e. the kids don't have a book. They follow what is taught on the chalkboard in front of them in a 60 sq metre room with dusty and often-times broken windows on either side. The slats on these windows, often missing, become peek-a-boo games for the younger ones next door when something exciting like a foreign girl comes to teach math. The students each have a spiral notebook and use pens. So my gift of pencils and erasers proved useful for math, considering the amount of erasing and re-calculating we often have to do (well, if my own personal experience is anything to go by). So promising I would take utmost care of the book, I took it home that night to review what is being taught, and thank goodness for that too! Dividing by double and triple digits, or adding, subtracting and multiplying fractions with different denominators is certainly something I can do....but so many years out of practice had me back with the pen and paper trying to figure it all out myself first, and then making a plan of how to teach it. Ay ay ay!!!! Ahhh if my math teacher could see me now, after so many after-school remedial classes I put up with (or rather SHE put up with!)

So as I arrived, all the students got up from their chairs and chanted in unison, "good afternoon Miss Teba, thank you for teaching our lesson today!!" yes...excalmation marks because they were screaming at the top of their lungs. One sentence... that is all it took to feel humbled and bring tears to my eyes. And so, slightly nervous at my performance and what mischievous business might be taking place behind my back as I wrote on a chalkboard,  I set foot inside the classroom at 2PM on a balmy september afternoon to begin my lesson. Today: Dividing by double digits (traditional style... no calculators... try it: 68952 / 373) I won't say it was easy... after all, despite understanding some English, it gets harder to get why one must round 373 to 400 to guesstimate how many times it fits into 689... ya know how it goes.
And so, after 2 hours of explaining, trialling, practising and grouping teams to solve problems, one team against the other, I concluded my 1st day of school. It is hard not to feel humbled (yes, I know I am repeating this description but really no other word springs to mind), and at the same time so blessed for the superb education, facilities and opportunities we have received while growing up, that perhaps these children may never have. There is no videogame or computer to be seen anywhere, no track, tennis courts, swimming pool or library around, no swings or established playground (save the vast field facing the school with roaming carabau water buffalo) and no sophisticated cafeteria or lunchboxes anywhere... no swanky new back packs, tennis shoes or polo shirts to show off to your neighbouring student, no shiny cars to pick up and drop off the kids.... just 20 students in their best kept uniforms sitting eagerly (well most of them...I'm not gonna lie to you, the slackers are everywhere on earth!)  and listening while their teacher explains and requests their work. After school is out at 4PM (after a 7AM start), it is time for "clean-up"...which means helping tear out the weeds in the garden. How wonderful a way to care for your school and feel involved with the place where you are at. These are the things that remind me of how important travel is. We learn so much from seeing how others behave and live, we appreciate so much of what we have and have had and often take for granted.

And I won't kid myself. Looking around and remembering how lucky I have been sometimes draws out pity. However, I have realised how the pity is sometimes unnecessary and at times comes too close to feeling superior. Indeed, it takes but a humble and natural gesture from a 10 year old island kid to make your world come tumbling down and drive you to realise how much you have yet to learn. I parked the bike outside the other day on a sweltering hot day and left it out in the sun. One of the children came to me and said "your bicycle is in a very hot place" and I dismissed it saying "oh it's ok....the seat will be a little hot later but that is fine" only to find the kid (Anna-Mae was her name, by the way) looking at me worried exclaiming "... but your tire might pop". A-ha! There I was thinking "whatever" and here is a 10 year old kid who's probably seen this happen a million times and knows that spending 35 pesos to fix it (60 cents) is something her parents cannot afford.  I might be teaching math, but here's me doing comparative life learning.

Homework for me? You bet! I'll be in touch with my school very soon to try and get text-books donated, perhaps set up a pen-pal system and who knows... some teachers may wish to take some time out and volunteer over here. Every little bit helps. In the meantime, I plan on staying for a month, continuing with my Monday, Wednesday and Friday Math class.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Happy 33rd birthday

I woke up today feeling great. Yes, it's 33 but I don't feel a year over 28.... I haven't felt a year over that age probably since I quit work at P&G and took off travelling. Definitely a turning point in my life. So working up to my birthday I retreated to revisit my yoga teachers in northern Thiland and re-acquaint myself with the practice that gives me so much peace. Now, back in Chiang Mai and waking
on a day like today, I realised I wanted to do it in the morning. for the first time in a while I actually  wanted to do it 1st thing in the morning, because it somehow sets the tone for the day.

Today is a day for celebrating not just where I have come to but, the successes of my friends and family, in helping me become who I am today. So with that in mind, I went to a local Wat (Buddhist temple) and took time out to say a deep-felt thank you. In giving thanks and offering a donation to the monks I was blessed by one of them, and now wear the white braided bracelet on my left wrist (quite a common thing here).

Following from a yearly birthday tradition my friend Aun introduced me to, I visited the local orphanage and made a donation to those who have unfortunately not been as lucky. They are well cared for, yet unavoidably lack all the love, care and affection that a tightly knit family like mine has given. Sometimes it takes looking at other people's lives to remind myself of how lucky I am and how much I can share.  And so, in asking what they needed, we were given a small list of suggestions and I opted for the dental care - something so close to my heart - not just because it helps me enjoy food so much but alsobecause a big smile is so irressitibly attractive. In fact, seeing those children smile with a full set of white teeth is contagious. So I donated 144 toothbrushes and toothpaste (plus a box of biscuits to make the day sweeter... and brushing all the more worthwhile). It may sound like such a cliché but it made me feel good inside, particularly comparing it to the amount of money I spend on traveling, eating and clothing myself on these trips. I know I don't need to come all the way out here to do this sort of thing, but it just so happens I was here on my birthday and it's nice to have the autonomy to choose when and how to do it. After all, I spend so much money on myself and on gifts for my friends and famil, this small gesture is hardly a dent in the bank and I know brings much needed support.

As for me, I've treated myself to this trip (and a few additions to my wardrobe may I add!) and will be off to celebrate with some good friends I made a few years back whose friendship grows stronger with
time. Who would have said it only 4 years ago!

Blessed day and so lucky to have the health, drive, motivation and will to enjoy it fully.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

statues in Nong Khai

I figured I'd go see the park hidden amongst a forest of trees in Nong
Khai, the main attraction here (although I still think the draw here
is the Mekong). Cycling down a dirt road all of a sudden I could see
concrete face smiling at me, towering over the coconut palms and
various foliage along the path I was on, and seemingly coming up from
within the low hanging clouds. It was one of the 100's of massive
stone carved statues in Sala Keoku. This place reminded me of a coral
sculpture park I saw with my family in Forida. So this quaint little
park,has both the small scale flower pots along the edges of the
footpath as well as these massive hinduist and buddhist-inspired
statues dotted in between the pots.... making you feel like you're
somhow in ¨middle earth¨. It's not an old relic although the mold has
grown on the concrete giving it an air of wisdom and age that is most
becoming. After all, it was built in the 1970's by a fleeing Laotian
royalist. As I walked along on a very hot and humid afternoon I
noticed that all the statues, without exception, had very long ears
and huge eyes. Very large but oddly not disproportionate to the rest
of their features. How cunning, I thought. This must be indeed a way
of protraying the importance of listening and observing over the habit
of mindless speech. At least that as what I took out of my stroll
around the park. The wheel of life was also quite interesting in how
it depicted the different stages and influences on our lives, no
matter what hemisphere you may find yourself in.