Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A busy month: a wedding, whale sharks and COS

It's been a busy month. Not with work mind you, no silly, with travel! After we got back from the farm, the next week we were invited to a friend's wedding. Actually, it was the brother of a friend whom we had never met, but that's ok. Weddings here seem to be less about family, and more about how many local celebs you can get to show up: the vice mayor, us, a barangay captain from a neighboring municipality... We didn't see the actual service, but went to the reception expecting a party. I mean, receptions in the US are usually a party, and Filipinos can turn anything into a fiesta, so I figured it would be huge. I was wrong. It was just food, and then the gifts came out. This is where it all got weird, because you never, ever open gifts at a party here. You give someone a gift at their birthday party and they hurry it out of sight as quickly as possible before they die of shame. But here at the wedding, all the money was brought out and counted, out loud, over a giant sound system. I was really surprised by the whole thing, but no one knew because I was hiding in back, trying to avoid being brought in front of everyone to give a speech or some shit. Other interesting wedding facts: people at the reception buy incredibly expensive rice snacks and shots of good booze, as a way of giving money to the couple; the night before the wedding a traveling band of bakla (men who dress/live as woman) come by the party and put on a show, get everyone dancing, and the guests pin money on the bride and groom; everyone is expected to make themselves scarce by about 4pm, when just the family goes back to the house; local officials and other rich people are listed as sponsors, which means they get a seat of honor in exchange for helping pay for the wedding.

A few days after that we headed down to Bicol, which, if you look at a map of the Philippines, is a bit like Luzon's Florida, dangling precariously off its tip. Bicol is known for their love of spicy food, and for being repeatedly decimated by every storm that blows through the area. We went for the whale sharks that hang out there in March and April. We stayed at a really nice (and by really nice I don't mean fancy, just, you know, nice) resort down there that was within walking distance of the WWF
sponsored whale shark eco-tourism project. Back in the day, the locals would just kill the sharks, selling parts in the market, and the rest to the Chinese to blend into heart powder, or whatever the hell they do with all those endangered animals parts. Now they've realized that by taking tourists out to swim with them, they can make a lot more money. That's where we come in. The weather was pretty terrible when we were down there - cold and rainy - so the first day we didn't see any. We didn't even get in the water. Despite the expense, we decided that we had come all the way down there, we might was well go out the next day and try again. The weather the second day wasn't much better, in fact it was worse, but within the first 10 minutes we were Navy Sealing off the side of a bangka. The experience was pretty amazing, they did a fairly good job of keeping the groups small, so the spotter would see one in the water, yell at us to get ready, and then we'd jump off the side of the still moving boat and follow our guide. The water is full of plankton, the main reason why the sharks are there, so the water is pretty murky. The first one just burst into view from the murk, about 5 feet below us. We ended up seeing 7 really good ones, and a few we were even able to swim along with for a couple minutes before they dove back down. After 3 1/2 hours being out in the pouring rain, we called it quits and went back, still on a high.

Those are just some pictures I took, no big deal... Wow, I'm funny. No, they're from the internet, but that's what they look like. Pretty sweet when they're only 5 feet away from you in the open ocean!

After that I had PDM, Abby came back to Calapan, and a week later we met back up in Manila for our COS (Close of Service) conference. The conference itself wasn't too rigorous, just some talks on readjusting to life in the US (ironically given by two people who had left their service directly for PC jobs and hadn't, in fact, been back to the US yet themselves), paperwork and medical. If there's one thing PC loves, it's paperwork, and boy do we have a lot. So, much fun was had by all, a few alcoholic beverages were consumed (ok, fine, an entire dump truck full) and some goodbyes were said. With that we enter our last month, saying goodbye to people in town, our friends, our coworkers, our PC friends... Between that, going away parties, paperwork, last minute work around site and facing the reality of going home, I'm kind of wishing I could just close my eyes, wake up and have it be June 1st. Am I ready to leave? Yes. Am I ready to return? Not really.

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