Arriving at NAIA Terminal 3 and proceeding to Cebu Pacific's domestic departure is almost second nature now as I must have done it 35 times in the last 5 years. I had time for a coffee and availed of the free wireless to check my emails before making my way to the gate. There was the usual delay on this route and then an announcement to say that the weather in San Jose was poor and that there would be an update in 30 minutes! Five minutes later there was another announcement to say that we were now ready for boarding! As you can see from the following two pictures of the plane and the airport at San Jose, the weather was perfect and the mysteries of flight in The Philippines continues to baffle me.
San Jose Airport is small but seems to work efficiently. Waiting for checked in luggage can be tiresome and a little crowded. I was met at the airport by a couple of friends and a trike and traveled to Central via San Jose Market. San Jose is a small city with a large market and a good variety of stores and fast food outlets. There is also a Cathedral and a plaza that is the social focus in the evenings with stalls selling a wide variety of fresh fruit shakes and other tasty snacks.
You can also buy balot there. These are boiled eggs with baby chicks inside. Balots are very popular with Filipinos but are an acquired taste. I have tried them often and not yet acquired the taste!
In 1570, the Spanish began to explore the island and named it "Mina de Oro" (mine of gold) after finding some of the precious metal, though no major gold discoveries were ever made.There are two provinces, Mindoro Occidental (West) and Mindoro Oriental (East). They are separated by the Halcon Mountain rage that runs from north to south. Mt. Halcon, in the north, is the highest on the Island and the 18th highest in The Philippines at 2586m. The mountains are home to the Mangyan, made up from eight ethnic groups that adhere to a traditional culture and way of life. Halcon is one of the ten "must climbs" in The Philippines. In the south, The Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park
is dominated by the twin peaks of Mount Baco
(2488m) and Mount Iglit
Barangay Central is situated about 15km outside San Jose, along the highway that runs north to Calintaan, Sablayan and Abra De Ilog, where you can take a boat to Batangas and from there, a bus to Manila. The lowlands are generally flat and are used for cultivating rice. You will see palay (rice prior to husking) being spread accross the highways or any available concrete to dry in the sun. it is spread from sacks, raked and re-raked and then bagged up again before the sun goes down.
The residents of Mindoro are very nice people. They love a party and don't need much of an excuse for a get-together or a party. This usually consists of a karaoke machine, hired for 300 pesos a day, a crate of Red Horse beer and a few bottles of Tanduay.
Food would vary depending on the occasion from a Lechon (whole roasted pig) to a large yellow fin tuna or just spaghetti. On this particular occasion it was Pork Sisig (made from pig's ears!) and the occasion was a 9th birthday party. The karaoke machines are not waterproof and the onset of rain brings a visit from the rental company to check that it has been appropriately covered and protected. This happened several times during the evening, even when the power went out. The electricity supply is never great in Mindoro and you can expect a "brown-out" daily, but due to the power issues acros sThe Vasayas, there were more interruptions and they went on for hours and hours. Anyone who has tried to sleep in South East Asia without at least a fan with sympathise.
The next day i visited the local elementary school, The Siete Central Elementary School. This is a regular privilege for me. When I first visited Central in November 2010 I visited this school and was moved by the levels of malnutrition evident across the school of 108 pupils. After discussion with Alice Agar, the Principal we set up a feeding programme which we called Nourish-A-child. The first funds came from my pocket to get the programme started but since then, pupils at the school in London where i am headteacher have raised over £8000 to allow the feeding programme to continue over the last three years.. Fresh food is purchased at daybreak from the market in San Jose and cooked by parents on a rota basis, feeding up to 200 pupils every day. The pupils are delightful and always give me a warm welcome and i look forward to visiting as regularly as I can. I am grateful that I can, in a small way, make a difference to the life chances of pupils who live in poverty and come to school hungry.
That evening I was lucky enough to go to a local fair that was on in San Jose to celebrate the 63rd anniversary of the creation of two provinces in Mindoro. It was evidently the highlight of the celebrations and children were enjoying the rides and the gambling with their pesos. From there we all went to a restaurant situated in the Aroma hotel Complex just north of the entrance to the airport on the coast road. The food was good and the service was excellent.
There was also a couple of live bands that made me feel very welcome and were happy to sing anything that I requested and also gave the birthday girl a mention. There were at least 13 of us and we got through a serious amount of Red Horse to wash down Sisig and fried chicken.
Because of the 63rd anniversary, there was no school the following day but a large number of pupils from Siete Central were to receive their first Holy Communion at the Holy Family Church in Central. Girls dressed in their white dresses and boys in white shirts and trousers lined up to make their first commitment to the Catholic Church following a sermon from the priest that had the congregation in fits, with the exception of the foreigner that didn't understand a word!.
It struck me that whilst this was an occasion, family were not concerned if they were there or not, indeed the mother of one girl hadn't any intention of going although it was important that her daughter had a suitably expensive looking dress - until I told her that she absolutely MUST go! Given the size of the congregation and the number of candidates for first baptism, as you can see from the photo, it was clear that several children had no one there to watch this event..
During the afternoon I went to the beach which is opposite to The Aroma Complex and the other side of numerous Karaoke bars that line the beachfront. I sat down with a large Red Horse and listened and watched a group of guys and girls enjoying a drink and a sing-song just a stone throw away from the sea. Strolling along the beach later I surveyed the sea, the happy faces of the young people gathering on the beach, the palm trees and the beautiful sunset and I thought how much I love this Island and feel comfortable here.