Update: Well here I am back from the Philippines, sad to say! What an amazing trip. A fabulous country to travel in, extremely friendly people, unique culture, beautiful scenery, and, sadly, a lot of poverty. The beautiful thing is however, how happy people seem to be even when living in such marginal conditions. It makes me feel really guilty when I think about how often I complain and then see children literally living on top of a mountain of garbage and they have big smiles pasted to their faces
. It's amazing really. We saw just that in Manila. One of the days we were there a girl told us that we should visit a place called Smokey Mountain. This is the nickname of a retired garbage dump in a terribly poor area of Manila called Tondo. The dump has been out of commission for about 20 years, but what remains is a 20 meter high mountain of decaying waste. At this stage, it almost looks like an actual mountain at first glance: it is covered with vegetation, and the upper layers of trash have formed soil. Dig into it a little bit though, and you find nothing but plastic bags, tires, you name it. The area surrounding Smokey Mountain is one of the poorest places in the Philippines. I read that the housing projects next to the mountain (18 of them) house over 30,000 people. We were guided by a community leader up to the top of the mountain and followed a path running between little fields of vegetables growing out of the garbage and came across a few shanties. We met a family of about a dozen kids covered from head to toe in filth and they had a whole litter of mangy little puppies. I can't imagine this to be a very healthy place to live. Surprisingly, many of them spoke english and they were all very excited to have visitors. We took a lot of photos with them, gave some snacks, some airplane rides, and talked with the older kids a bit. It was a really strange experience. I didn't really know how to feel. I felt happy, sad, guilty, and hopeful all at the same time. I think we all left with heavy hearts wondering what the future holds for most of these cute little kids. Wes came across this article from a couple years ago on CNN World's website where a reporter had much the same experience that we had on that very mountain. The girl in the photo is one of the girls we met there. Take a look:http://articles.cnn.com/2010-04-05/world/philippines.smokey.mountain_1_coal-mine-rubbish-plastic?_s=PM:WORLD
That was by far the most memorable part of the time we spent in Manila. We did do some walking tours of the old part of the city called Intramuros, as well as take a day trip to Lake Taal, and the Taal Volcano a couple hours south of the city. Lake Taal is a huge crater lake inside of an old volcano. In the middle of Lake Taal is a smaller volcano that also has a crater lake inside of it! We took a boat to the small volcano and hiked 45 minutes to the top and took in some nice views and a refreshing coconut juice. The captions with the photos will tell the story.
This Spring festival, myself, Wes, Richard, and Simon will spend our time in the beautiful Philippine Islands. The plan is to start in Manila, travel across Luzon Island to Donsol to hike up a volcano and swim with Whalesharks, then head to Palawan Island to relax. Before heading home, we will stop in Boracay, and finally Cebu Island. Will write the stories and post pictures when we return. Should be a fabulous trip!