Getting acquainted with beaches

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March 4th 2019
Published: June 2nd 2019
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Philippians - week 1

Current group: Yaron 45.4, Liya 11.5, Ariel 8.8

I'm not a beach guy. I cannot sit and do nothing as expected from someone at the beach. I was never able to spend hours rolling "from stomach to back". I get restless. Check my phone. Walk around, look for what there is at the end of the beach. Dig a hole in the sand then build a large pile with the sand I just dug out. Go eat something. Look at my phone some more. And that covers just the 1st hour.

So going the the Philippines was not an obvious choice for me since it is a nation comprised of over 7000 islands. All these islands are surrounded by... beaches

The beach experience so far has been more than tolerable and has even exceeded my expectations.

The atmosphere on the islands is inviting and the setting ideal. The air temperature never raises above 28deg at noon and does not fall lower than 23deg at night. There is almost always a gentle tropical breeze. Not too humid. Not at all dry.

The fluffy clouds on the horizon do not hide the sun and create a picture perfect backdrop.

The water is comprised of all the shades of blue. It is a constant 28deg making it easy to jump in to it without fuss to acclimatize to the temperature. It is abundant of marine life and any place you stick your head in the water with a snorkel reveals colorful fish, turtles, schools of sardines, coral and starfish. Every beach has some activity. Jumping from a cliff, kayaking, swinging from a tree, listening to music.

I have my gadgets to play with. My phone, drone and under water camera. I take photos, look at the kids playing, look at sea shells, drink a beer, examine the old coral in different stages of disintegration into sand. And before you know it, you have been to the beach for a few hours.

I could get used to this....

Contrast this beauty to the poverty and lack of any planning all around. Many houses are mere bamboo huts covered with tin roof and tarpaulin front waiting to fall apart in the next tropical storm. No city street or rural road is void of little shops all selling the same combination of spicy potato chips, energy drinks, phone cards, lottery tickets, fire wood, home made liquor, rotten bananas, bottle of petrol and sacks of uncooked rice. No street corner lacks 4 guys just sitting on their motorcycle waiting to take someone on a ride. Every km there is a cage of chickens with someone next to them selling eggs or meat. It baffles me how such an economic system exists. All is dirty, dusty (or muddy, depending on season) and dilapidated. You don't see that part on the travel blogs.

It takes time to appreciate that the natural beauty is probably conserved due to this poverty. After all, if one wants an orderly planed beach with it's high environmental impact, one goes to Miami or Cancun. Or a Disney resort.

As an example of how backwards and remote these islands are - consider what happened after we lost Liya's hairbrush the other day. We put it on a rock while taking photos and ten minutes later it was gone. There was no shop on this island that sells hair brushes! This was on an island with 130,000 thousand people on it! Roughly half of them female with long hair. All we could find was a place selling small plastic combs for 15¢. We wanted a $2.5 brush but I guess there was not enough demand on this island for such luxury. We could only find a brush when we arrived to Cebu City, a large city.

We all had some complaints that we had to solve together.

Ariel's complaint had to do with the fact he is less than 9 year old. As a 9 year old, he can be a nudnik. When he does not get what he wants, he can repeat the same thing over and over and over again. He then complaints we ignore him. Liya and I promised to be more attentive and challenged him to say something once and demand a response instead of repeating his request, a task he is trying to meet, making him less bothersome. I'm sure that he will improve with 3 or 4 years of practice.

My grievance had to do with the most special time of the day, sunset. I consider sunsets solemn and spiritual. A half hour to reflect, shut off your thoughts and be enchanted by the rapidly changing colors. It's no chance that Judaism identified this time as the end of the day and set a prayer time for the moments after the sun disappears. Abei Nathan used to have a moment of silence on his radio station when the sun set. I too need my quite at that time. With or without beer. However, the sun sets early and the kids are still well into the swimming/jumping/playing noisy part of the day. For 3 evenings I pleaded for some quiet, but although they wanted to help, they could not manage half an hour of sitting still and kept distracting. After some talk, all 3 of us realized that this is the pinnacle of my day we agreed that they will continue thier activities but at a distance of a few tens of meters away. Not too far, so I can see them. not too close so I don't hear them. They get to do what they want 23.5hrs of the day and I get my quiet during sunsets. All-in-all, a fair agreement we managed to uphold in the last days.

We started our stay in the Philippines very intensively with some of the most challenging activities planned all packed in the beginning. Having meticulously arranging the trip for the last months, pre-ordering flights, hotels and guides, I had no actual plan for the first week in the Philippines. We had to decide day-by-day where to sleep and what to do.

Leaving our hotel room in Singapore at 6am, we landed in Cebu City after noon. Cebu is a large, crowded and filthy city and I did not want to stay there any longer than needed. So we pulled through and took a five hour taxi arriving to our first destination after sunset (pausing to see the sun set for my benefit).

The following day we woke up at 3 a.m. to take a 2 hour taxi to the place where we could swim with whale-sharks. By 7am we were already out of the water and on the way back to rest. Swimming with the sharks involved a dilemma that I shared with the children. The sharks in Oslob bay are fed by the locals so they stay around for tourists. Although they are in the wild, their migration patterns are disturbed. On the other hand, having them in a known place allows to regulate the visit and protects both the local population of sharks as well as other groups since all the tourists leave them alone. The interaction with the sharks brings the visiting guests to relate to marine life and are more likely to be environmentally conscious after the visit. We made a joint decision to visit the sharks understanding the pros and cons of our actions. admittedly, like every chairman of any committee ever formed, I was able to sway the decision to my opinion. Still, I believe the children not only got to swim with sharks but also learned about conservation.

On the third day we did a tour that had us walking down a jungle river canyon. I was afraid of this route since it involved a full day of jumping from cliffs into the water and sliding through waterfalls. I was not sure it was safe for children. Nor was I sure they had the strength for a full day of walking. In hind sight I worried for nothing. The tour was very safe and the day ended up being the best day of our first 2 weeks. The steep gorge was mystical. The clear, cool water invited us. The grandeur of the green jungle engulfed us. The mist created by the waterfalls and humidity reflected the sunlight through the tree tops. I felt remote from civilization and cocooned by nature.

That is ultimately the reason I make the effort to come to these places

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