It’s All Fun & Games Until Your Driver Runs Over a Dog

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Despite the title behind this week’s blog, I had a very good weekend. Saturday was easily my favorite day that I’ve had here in the Philippines, which is why this entire blog will not be devoted to my work week at GK, but instead to my fun and rewarding weekend off of the farm in Zambales.

On Friday morning we left the farm to head to Manila. Manila is actually in the opposite direction of where Zambales is, but because we took public transit, we had to travel there first. Don’t ask me why, I’m still confused about it. But I’m not complaining, because spending a day in Manila means getting to eat American food (kind of!!) I budgeted my remaining money 5 days ago and then I absolutely ruined that after being in Manila on Friday. Oh well, it was a good idea for those 3 days that it did last. Plus even though I broke the budget, I bought myself a cute pair of jeans.

Anyways, so our day at a mall in Manila was great, and then in the late afternoon we boarded a bus to take us to a hostel in San Felipe. I am not sure what I pictured a hostel being, but I was wrong. The hostel was basically an outdoor hotel kind of. All the beds were together, like triple stacked bunk beds, each with their own mosquito netting. It was very interesting, but I kind of enjoyed the set up, except for the rooster crowing at 3 am. He was a little confused, poor guy.

On Saturday morning, we woke up early to begin our adventure with MAD Travel. A little side note, MAD stands for Make A Difference, and it is connected to GK where I am doing my internship. For this particular excursion, we had signed up to help plant tree seeds and then visit with a native tribe, the Aetas, in the village Yangil. It was around a 2 mile hike to our first stop of planting seeds. It was so pretty, there were mountains all around and we had to cross over four streams to get there. It was actually a really nice day, the sun wasn’t out which made it the perfect temperature. We were lucky, because there was no tree cover, so if the sun would have been out, it would’ve been pretty miserable.

We were hiking through grayish sand which was actually ash from a volcano that erupted over 20 years ago. The volcanic eruption is a big reason why planting seeds is such a necessity for the people of this area. The eruption killed a lot of trees, and the ones that remained became a main source of income for the people, because they were unable to grow other things due to the ash-covered soil. So, as our guide explained, the beautiful mountains we were seeing actually used to be a whole lot more beautiful as they were once filled with trees. The program we were with, their goal, is to fill 3000 hectares with trees. In just over a year, they have filled 1.5. Therefor, their goal is going to take some time. That’s okay though, because good things do take time. In around 2 hours, my group and I planted 1,064 seeds, which once grown to shoulder height, the saplings will be planted along the mountain side.

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I learned a lot about reforestation and it’s importance from my experience on Saturday. It’s not just important to the people of that area to have more trees planted, but it’s really vital to our earth’s health in general. They told us the Philippines used to be some 70% rainforests literally 70 years ago, and now it’s only 3%. This might not seem like an issue to us, but rainforests help to cool the land down, and so with out them, the land has heated up drastically over the past few years. During the summer season, it is is so hard for farmers to grow anything successfully with how hot and dry it gets. The presence of more trees will cool the land down, rebuild the ecosystem that was destroyed by the volcanic eruption, and help the people of that area out economically. I was so excited to be a part of something that actually had meaning.

Once we completed our planting, we then hiked a little further to the village Yangil. We met many of the tribe members and they prepared lunch for us which was very good. We got to shoot some bow and arrows with tribe members, watch and participate in native songs and dances, and just visit with the people. There was a woman there named Nanay Milyang, who was 96 years old, the oldest woman in the community. She was dancing and moving all over the place, hugging and kissing all of the visitors too. She was the absolute sweetest, didn’t know a lick of English, but still gave me a kiss on the cheek when I told her she was a great dancer. She is married to the oldest man in the village, who they believe is 106. They are not for sure, though, because they didn’t have birth records at the time he was born.  He seemed like a happy guy, even though he didn’t talk or move around too much. He probably didn’t need to talk since he has Nanay Milyang to do all the talking for him.

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I also really enjoyed talking and playing with all of the kids. We drew with chalk on the ground, and taught each other different games. I also got my hair braided by the sweetest girl named Princess. A lot of the kids were shy, but that is understandable. They were all so cute. There was one little boy who had long hair, I actually thought he was a girl because it’s so abnormal for boys to have long hair. And his sister told us that they don’t cut his hair anymore because every time they have he gets very sick and they think it’s connected. I found that really bizarre, but interesting. The kids all seemed very content running around the village finding their own fun. I will say one thing that bothers me is how the kids treat the animals. They throw rocks at the dogs and kick them and it is really kind of awful. Animals are held to a whole different standard in the states than they are in the Philippines for sure. I mean, I suppose it’s because they have different priorities in life, it’s just one of those cultural differences.

We left the village in the late afternoon, trekked back to our drop off point and then had dinner at a Chiefton’s home. It was another delicious meal, as usual. The native cooking has yet to disappoint. After dinner, we went back to the hostel. A few of us went to the beach which was just a short walk away. The tide was insane, really not safe to swim in, but it was beautiful. Hanging out on the beach was a great ending to a truly amazing day. I had so much fun visiting with all of the tribe members, and learning about their way of life. The Aetas were so grateful for our help of planting seeds. I loved being a part of it (I say for the 100th time…..I must have really enjoyed myself, who knew??)

So as I said, it was a great weekend, up until our ride home. We avoided public transit by having a van from the farm come and pick us up. We hadn’t been on the road long when our driver hit a dog. There are so many dogs here, and he didn’t mean to, but he also didn’t see it as a big deal. I, of course, was screaming my head off and probably made him feel bad, which I feel a little sorry about. But yes, it was an unfortunate ending to an otherwise wonderful weekend. Life is still good, and I am still chugging along. I will be home in 2 weeks and 6 days! There are still a couple of adventures left to come (hopefully with more positive endings.) Hope you enjoyed!

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