Monday, October 31, 2011

Olongapo and Subic Bay

We arrived back in Subic Bay from the states in late June of this year (2011).   We began right away with the projects, a formidable list as always, and expected to be in the water and on our way within a couple of months.   Well, it took two months just to get back into the water, but the project list somehow never seemed to shrink, so we plodded on for another two months.    We improved our rudder, painted the decks, cleaned out all the bilges and painted them, installed shelves in lockers, installed a new toilet, shower sump, hot water heater, divider for the chain locker, removed all the old plywood from the aft cabin and installed new wood and made the bed a bit longer to accommodate Jim's long legs, installed some new electronic gizmos, notably an autopilot, and basically got the boat all cleaned and shiney and bright for her return trip home.

All the painting and polishing was done by Ed, our worker for the last 4 months.    He was amazing, always looking for something to do in between tasks, never stopped working while "on the clock".   We hated to let him go when we left.

Olongapo is a busy town which used to be filled with young Navy men during the Vietnam war era but now is filled with young Filipinos going about their daily lives.    Whenever we did business with them they were eager to be friendly with us and know a little something about our lives.    Doing business can be very frustrating.  There is definitely a difference between Filipino time and American time as we learned.    Patience isn't just a virtue here, it is absolutely necessary.     Even so, we easily accomplished daily tasks, like filling up our phone card:

Picking up laundry:

Getting some courtesy flags made by the slowest tailor in town.    It took me 10 visits and more than two weeks to get her to complete the flags she said would be done in 4 days.    She had every excuse in the book.  In the end I had to sit right next to her machine and watch her as she finished the flags.  Even then it almost didn't happen as while I was there I could smell something burning, a real danger in a crowded market.   The electric fan exploded into flames next to me, while a lit cigarette burned a hole in another client's order.

Jim found a paint shop not too far from our boat.    They didn't have color charts or computer mixing machines.  You just brought in a sample of the color you wanted, and the mixer would drop a little of this and a little of that into the can and voila you would have your can of paint and the color would be right.

Don't tell the authorities, but we could buy DVD movies here for 35 pesos (less than a dollar) and a whole year of a TV series for 50 pesos.    They had everything as soon as it hit the theatres.    Quality   was hit and miss, sometimes the movies were clumsily filmed in a crowded theater and you can here the popcorn crunching and cell phones going off in the background.    Sometimes the shilouette of a head goes by the screen and sometimes the whole thing goes dark as the video thief covers his camera to avoid being discovered.

One of the reasons we stayed so long in Subic was because of the SW monsoon.  This year's monsoon was stronger than usual and dumped a lot of rain.    While we were on the docks at Watercraft Venture Typhoon Nesat came roaring right up the bay.    We were a dead hit and although the winds weren't particularly high, 40 knot to gusting around 60, the waves broke up the fragile and unprotected docks.   Fortunately we had already moved to the yacht club, just a few yards away, but protected behind the drydocks.
As you can see, there was nothing to go back to after the storm, so we stayed at the Yacht Club for the next month, a bit of an upgrade for us.

We enjoyed our time in Subic, but we were chomping at the bit to get moving again.  Finally in late October the wind direction changed, the monsoon laid down and we prepared to leave.    We still will be in the Philippines for another month or so as we make our way through the Visayas.   Right now we are anchored just outside of the small marina at Punta Fuego, where the rich people live in beautiful homes overlooking the South China Sea and some small islands.    We especially like the Filipino people, the real people, like Ed, Rona our laundry gal, who work for peanuts just to survive.    There's hope for their future, though.   I met this likable young fellow, Gabe, in the market one day and he told me his dream which was to grow up and help to feed the people who were poorer than he was and help everyone build a home.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Flashback #2 - Mali: Timboktu

Yes Virginia, there is a Timboktu and it is in Mali.     It's a big difficult to get to so we chose to ride the ferry boat from Mopti to a landing near Timboktu.    The trip would start on the Niger river bank in Mopti.    Jim was laid out with his turn to deal with the African trots, so Erin and I went down to check on the "reservation" which was for a lst class cabin on the upper deck of the ferry.    When we got there, we discovered that our reservation had been sold out from under us upstream and our only choice now was to sleep on the decks with all the other travelers.    Not bloody likely!!!    Erin got to work and we walked along the stream until we found a pinasse that was heading back down river toward Timboktu.    Great news, the pinasse would sell us space.   Erin was careful to indicate that we wanted our own benches and got two other groups of western travelers also left stranded by the ferry to go in on the pinasse with us.    The idea was to not be crowded in by locals for the 3 day trip.    Well as soon as the lines were let off, a mad dash by bystanders on the river bank resulted in the pinasse being filled up with local travelers.    We westerners howled our discontent and the loading stopped but only after about a dozen additional travelers had boarded.  It was going to be a hot, 3 day trip, sleeping on the river banks at night and we did not want to be squashed for the duration.

We would stop along the way at small river villages to buy a fish for dinner.    We were always mobbed by the villagers curious about the westerners traveling on the river.

At the end of the 3 days, we arrived at a port which was still about 10  miles from Timboktu, so we hired a van to take us into town and then we all split up looking for lodging for the next couple of nights.    Erin had organized rooms for us in an old caravanserie.   It was a bit dreary so on our walk through town we discovered a brand new hotel had opened up and we moved the next morning.    While having our breakfast we were hounded by Tuareg salesmen.   Finally, we promised one we would go see his "shop" after we had made our move.   His shop was actually just his home which was a berber hut on the outskirts of town.

The ritual inside the hut was to first have tea, their version being a sugary concoction, and then get down to bargaining.    They showed us their stock, mostly a few pieces of jewelery, and we would bid, then everyone would laugh at each other (asking too much, bidding too low) until an agreement was made.  We actually had a good time with these guys.

We acquired a guide and walked around town.    Here is the door to a mosque.

Timboktu actually translates to Boctou's Well.   This is it, supposedly.  At one time, the only well for hundreds of miles.     Our guide took us to a museum where we could see on display some very old Korans and even more interesting for us sailors, an ancient disk used to navigate caravans across the desert by the stars.

Kids at the war memorial in Timboktu.  Note the lighter skin colors and more Arab features on some of these children.  The girl in the red top is a beauty.

We took a camel ride into the desert, which really was a shopping trip cleverly disguised as a camel ride. But it was fun nonetheless if not a bit uncomfortable.    The saddle horns were spike shaped and dug in with every lurch the camel made.     This closed out our journey to Mali.  A quick plane ride (in an antiquated Russian prop plane which had me wondering where I had last seen my rosary) back to Mopti and another journey back to Bamako where a new hotel and nice swimming pool and a bottle of wine were waiting to round out our stay in Mali.

Flashback #2 - Mali: Boungel

Erin's peace corps assignment was in Boungel.    She did a number of projects there, including getting a grant for a millet grinder so the women would have an industry.    In order to qualify for the grant, the women had to become somewhat literate first, so they could read the manual that came with the grinder, and keep up on the maintenance in addition to learning to operate a business for profit.  

During her stay in Boungel, Erin became very close with her villagers.   They became family and when it was time for her to leave she was grief stricken for awhile.   While there we got see what life was like in this very pleasant village.    It was hot, though, and the heat (well over 100 degrees) was too much for us and we spent the better part of our time there seeking shade and a cold drink.  At nighttime, we slept outside under mosquito nets and we could hear the young people playing clapping games and off in the distance, friends getting together to play their instruments.

When she told them that her parents were coming to visit, they were beside themselves with excitement and planned a huge party for us.   Of course, such parties for these simple villagers is a big expense so we had to donate for the rice and the goat.   The entertainment was home supplied, though,  and an awesome event.

The day started with the women showing up in Erin's backyard and transforming it into a giant kitchen.   They dug holes, put in the firewood and then placed the huge pots with water for cooking rice on top.   There was a lot of activity at Erin's house that day.   First, we were fed, while the villagers looked on.  Then they fed themselves, and only after that did the children get fed which was more like a scramble of wild puppies to get at the big bowls of rice placed on the ground.

Then came the entertainment.    Each village can have a dance troupe which will compete for prizes and fame with other village dance troupes (a more interesting version of Dance with the Stars).    Boungel's troupe had won first place and they were very proud of their group.   So the whole village moved from the feast to the town square for the festivities.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Boungel Village Dancers!!!

The dancers were accompanied by griots.  These are talented musicians trained on instruments since they were children.   These two griots were brought in from another village.   We couldn't understand much of what they sang, except every once in a while  you could hear them say, Amerakee, referring to us.  After a while everyone else joined in.   This young guy is just starting out.

The men are making fun of Erin's dance moves.

Sooner or later the young ones get into the act.    A fun time was had by everyone.....

 Well, almost everyone!!

Flashback #2 - Mali Bamako to Dogon Country

By far, the most "out there" and interesting trip we have ever done was when we visited our daughter, Erin, in Mali.  Erin was in the Peace Corps and living in a small village, Boungel.   Her home was a mud hut, actually a really sweet little place.    That's her best friend, Yama and her helper Banu is in the chair.

We arrived first in Bamako, the capitol of Mali.   We knew right away we weren't in Kansas anymore, you can bet on that.   First things first, and it was off to the market after Erin spent a morning haggling terms with our driver for the trip to Dogon and Djenne.   

We picked out some fabric to make a skirt for me, which was done on the spot while we waited.

Most of this clothing comes from thrift stores like Goodwill which are bought up in bulk for pennies then shipped to places like Bamako for sale for cheap.

Our first stop on our tour was to Djenne, home of the world's largest mud mosque.   It needs to be recrepped every year (new mud applied).

We had a great night there eating outside at our "hotel".    In town we watched a man weaving cloth using his toes.

This one is a little hard to see but this is a Koranic school.  The little boys are studying from tablets which you can see against the wall

After Djenne, we made a very quick stop at Boungel to drop off some of our bags.   The villagers were anxious to meet us but Erin held everyone at bay as we needed to make the journey to Songha for the night and prepare for our hike into Dogon country.    Banu met us at the car and gently knelt down in front of us in respect.    Then we were off to Songha, a village perched at the edge of an escarpment along which there are many Dogon villages.      We met our guide Amassagou Dolo and made plans for the hike.

  By looking at the map, I was concerned at to how far this hike was going to go, I really couldn't hike too far for too long, but Erin assured me it was only 7 kilometers over 3 days, so how hard could that be?   Well,, it started out pretty easy as we walked through a valley and looked up the cliffs to see ancient Dogon dwellings abandoned long ago  and burial caves with stacks of bones.

Then we walked through a cleft in the rocks and at the end, I got the surprise of the day.....

There were some anxious moments clambering down these rocks.    It was literally straight down.   So much for an easy hike.   About half way down we met these two women climbing up so they could do some shopping.   When we met them they were naked from the waist up but when we wanted to take their picture they covered themselves up.    These women climbed effortlessly up this escarpment.   We found out that children do it every day in order to go to school, sometimes twice in a day.   It was also very hot, over 100 degrees F.  

This is looking back up at where we had started from:

These structures are the graneries and store houses.   From the village looking out over the desert you can see where desertification is threatening all of this part of Mali.    That's sand in the distance and the border to Burkino Fasso is not far off.

One of the most interesting structures was the Togona.    It was a council house of sorts, where elders could sit and visit as well as make decisions about the village.   If there was a contention between villagers, the problem would be brought to these elders and they would make a decision.

In the picture below you can see the different "levels" of villages from modern times back up the cliff where they lived hundreds of years previously for protection from raids.

Next stop:  Boungel and the big party!!