Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Christmas Holidays in the Philippines

picture above- Steve & Pat on holiday - Boracay Island, Philippines

After a far too brief return to North America, we came back to the Philippines in late November. The culture continues to both amaze and fascinate us. Being here at Christmas time, the strong Catholic presence is felt, with the entire culture being very bound up in the Christmas spirit. Not nearly as materialistic as we are used to (these folks have no money) but lots of singing, feasting and revelry. We had a medley of Xmas carols sung outside our windows every night for several hours for the whole month of December. While we tired of the music, the spirit and enthusiasm of the little kids was fun to watch. The funniest one was being woken up at 5 am with Christmas carol karaoke.

Some of the bigger holiday parties around here are hosted by employers. Our little boatyard hosted an incredible party for its 20 "boys" or young men who work on our boats. There were caterers, seafood delicacies,roast pig, cakes, drinks, decorations, tablecloths and a live band. It was the nicest event any of them had ever attended.

The makeshift boat yard was a great venue, with the space under the bows of one catamaran being an ideal backdrop for the band.

For presents they got sacks of rice, food baskets, and some toys if they had kids. Not much for us, but meant a lot to them.

Our next door neighbor has been raising pigs for the past several months, this is the season when they are most valuable as there are lots of feasts. We have learned that the aroma of pig pens tends to waft upwards, so we on the 4th floor get an especially good sample of it. Also, pigs squeal when displeased, unhappy or scared, which is much of the time. It is an unearthly and alarming noise. We will be glad when the last of the pigs are gone. Speaking of pigs, several weeks ago, we came home and found a small (40 lb) pig and a small goat tethered along the narrow walkway that leads to the fire escape that we use to get up to our apartment. After asking, we learned that the second floor tenants were having a holiday party for their company in our back patio area. Naturally, Pat fed the pig and petted the goat. A few days later the pig and goat were on the BBQ and the centerpieces of a local feast.

We missed being with our families, especially on Christmas Eve, but had to make do with using the high tide to pull Silver Tern a bit further up on the beach and rearranging the sand bags that support her during the low tides (I have such an amazing wife). After pulling the catamaran up, we looked across the bay and there were fireworks. Driving home about 11 pm, (about 1 mile), we passed lots of revelers and partiers, it turns out that the tradition here is to stay up until midnight on the 24th and then have what seems like a New Year’s eve ceremony, complete with firecrackers, fireworks and lots of music, ranging from sappy Xmas to raunchy rap. We passed a very full trike (125 cc motorcycle with covered sidecar) and I asked the driver how many people were on it. He thought for a second and said “I think 15”.

The weather here is another challenge, being hot and humid even though this is the cooler, drier time of year with the NW monsoons. In one day you might have thundershowers that soak through your clothes in less than a minute followed by intense sunshine that makes the aluminum boat deck so hot you could fry an egg on it. But we are sweating it out and enjoying the holidays.

The one restaurant in our small town of Carmen had a Christmas party on the 23rd for the locals and invited the foreigners too. Santa gave out bags of candies to all 50 kids that were there and they put out two buffet lines, one for adults and one for kids. They had lots of food for everyone which is typical of parties here, people have very little but they love to share and enjoy each other’s company.

On Christmas day we went on a Hash Club run and had a pot luck turkey dinner after. I made the Strand’s cranberry jello salad and mashed sweet potatoes. The slow cooked turkey and fixings were wonderful and reminded us of home.

Boracay Island

We got invited to go along with Ben Mumby, his younger girlfriend Jenny and her Filipino family to Boracay

for a holiday and naturally jumped at the chance to sail on a Mumby catamaran. We were impressed with the sailing as well as the accommodation on this catamaran as there was plenty of space for everyone.

Boracay is a small tourist island north of Panay Island that is a real tropical paradise due to its white sand beaches and palm trees. It has many scuba diving resorts and lots of cafes along the beach that serve inexpensive pina coladas and ice cold beers. We spent New Year’s walking along Boracay’s white sand beaches watching fire dancers perform at different beachside restaurants and waiting for the midnight firewoks.

The island is far enough away from Cebu that it took a few days to get there since we don’t travel at night here if possible. We had two overnight anchorages, one at the north end of Cebu Island and the other on Gigante Island anchored in front of a charming fishing village. Our Filipino family was disappointed that the squid fishermen had sold their catch of the day, but promised to have some for us on our trip back, which they did. I had time to walk the beach and pick up beautiful shells, since very few shell collectors visit this out of the way island.

The only one who didn’t enjoy the sail was Ben’s dog Jack, who was seasick and scared the whole trip.

Anyway, while work on the boat progresses slowly, the workmanship is excellent and the interior will be beautiful. Steve is able to install equipment as he works around the 6 boys that are gluing up wall panels. It's so much nicer here than the old boatyard. We don't know how long the fit-out will take, but we are being patient and trying to enjoy the Philippines.

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