Thursday, May 26, 2011

Planning Stages

As promised, we have a new adventure brewing. We're headed south! To the island of Okinawa and down under to Queensland, Australia!

I thought it would be a good idea to go over the plans that I'm excited about and then compare them in a few months to what actually happened. I love planning fun trips, but I also leave lots of room for spontaneity, because that's where the fun usually comes in.
Joe visited Magnetic Island with some Marines on his other visit to Australia
Joe is involved with an exercise in Queensland, Australia and will need to be there for two weeks. He's already been there once since we arrived in Japan, and his pictures of koalas basically sold me on a trip. We both got really psyched about diving around the Great Barrier Reef, so then we realized we needed to get scuba certified in order to go see all the wonders we've heard about. More about that later! So, Joe is getting his flight, hotel, and a "per diem" bonus taken care of since it's a work trip, and we decided to try to take advantage of the system a little.

I'm not officially allowed to go on the base in Australia, but I bought a commercial ticket to Australia for June 23rd to July 17th! This means I'm definitely going to be there...but what I will do once I get there is a little fuzzier. Plan A is for me to hang out on the base, share Joe's hotel unless he gets assigned a roommate, and venture out into Cairns and Townsville while Joe's working long hours. There is so much to do in this area! A few things I was looking into are: sea kayaking around the GBR, jungle swinging (you swing back and forth like a pendulum over the jungle and GBR - sounds exhilarating and way cheaper than skydiving), a waterfalls hike, morning and afternoon tea every day, and koala thievery.
Honestly, just give me one already. [source]
If they make a big stink about me going on base, I've also been looking into some amazing hostels in the area. One called Bungalow Bay looks pretty bad ass. Resident koalas and crocodiles? Okay! I've also been writing to a few nonprofits to see if they need volunteers, because maybe I could get a little closer to some of these crazy creatures. One opportunity was to work in a zoo's kitchen weighing fruit, vegetables, and meat for the inhabitants. I wouldn't mind being a chef for animals for a few days.

After Joe's two weeks of work, he's taking a week of leave (military lingo for vacation time) before flying back to Japan, and we're planning on spending a lot of time at the Great Barrier Reef. We haven't made any decisions yet, but staying on a boat and diving a few times a day seems to be winning us over. I'm so excited!

In order to do all this diving, I'm taking advantage of yet another one of Joe's work trips. He'll be on a planning committee in Okinawa, Japan next week and I'll be tagging along- for free this time- on one of the regular flights from Iwakuni to Okinawa. I'm so relieved that I'll be flying with the military because getting to Osaka for a commercial flight is incredibly laborious and expensive, not to mention awkward because I can't talk to anyone.

So, the plan in Okinawa is to see some of the best military wives in the world: Kara and Kaylie! I met them while our husbands were at The Basic School (TBS) in Quantico, Virginia and they definitely helped me keep my sanity over random lunches out, glasses of wine, and plenty of girl talk. Part of me feels like it was just a few weeks ago that the girls were getting together while the guys were in the field, but I'm realizing that a good portion of our other friends from Quantico have babies or are now pregnant. I can't believe it's been over a year, holy crap! I can't wait to see them again and catch up.
Along with seeing important people, Joe and I are also hoping to get scuba certified at the Kadena Marina. The rumor around Iwakuni is that you can complete the academic portion online and then do your five pool dives on a weekend in Okinawa. We're looking into this opportunity and really hoping everything pans out! I'm also excited to check out the commissaries (military grocery stores) on this much larger base and the restaurants. Fun fact: we are huge fans of Japanese steakhouses and discovered once we got here that there aren't any Benihana-style food entertainment nearby. However, friends say teppanyaki is available on Okinawa, woohoo!

Right now I'm hoping that the hurricane conditions pass with no trouble to places that are threatened and are inhabited by people I care deeply about: the Philippines and Okinawa.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day trip to Miyajima!

We're about 45 minutes by train/ferry from Miyajima and decided to take advantage of it on Sunday.

Miyajima is most famous for the floating torii gate to the Itsukushima Shrine. Shinto practitioners believe that shrines are sacred spaces and otherworldly spirits reside there, so one must enter the space with respectful bows and through the sacred gate. At high-tide, the torii gate here appears to float in the water!

The village on Miyajima was incredibly inviting and walkable. It was sprinkling earlier in the day, and the vendors on the main street extended a retractable roof over the street. We had a great time checking out all the curiosities like the shops where you can pay to stick your feet in a pool full of fish who feed on dead skin (no thanks!), oysters grilled in their shells on the street (yes please!), and every possible deer stuffed animal you could think of. I also saw Hello Kitty boxers for men and we had hot stuffed buns for lunch along with a deer sundae for dessert - the chocolate covered rice puffs on top are supposed to look like deer droppings.

The highlight of this trip was that I really didn't know that tame deer wander all around the island. They are so relaxed and you can get close enough to touch them even though you're not supposed to. Joe is playing with his new camera, and we captured what it's like to wander around with the deer:

Here are a few other glimpses into our trip:
Jet ski racing on our way to the island!
I'm constantly stunned by how gorgeous Japan is.
My dear with a deer.
Fresh oysters cooked in their shells on the street
They're amazingly gentle for wild animals

A huge gate for the gods to pass through
We walked by once and laughed, then decided to try steamed buns on the way back
Buns filled with beef or conger eel
Five-tiered pagoda influenced by Chinese building style
I hadn't read much about Miyajima before going there, so it was such a surprise to find out what a great getaway it was. It's so close to home, but a totally different feel from industrial Iwakuni. We stopped by a place called Bluebird Cafe (cafes are so rare here!) and had perfect cups of coffee in Bodum double-wall thermal glasses that kept our hands cool and coffee hot. Fun fact: I'm the slowest coffee drinker on Earth, so my coffee always gets cold halfway through, except for in these glasses!

We've got some really exciting travel plans coming up, so stay tuned!


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Internet Access!

Oh boy, I finally have internet access at our house here in Iwakuni. It's been way too long. I missed my giant monitor and keyboard quirks from spilling coffee so many times.

Joe and I have been up to our usual shenanigans, but I haven't been taking many pictures. Over the last few weeks, we've taken an overnight trip to Hiroshima, Joe went to Hawaii for work, and we climbed a mountain to see the Iwakuni castle. We've also built a bookshelf, dealt with an unruly teenage Mini Cooper, discovered Mongolian BBQ night on base, and completed some joint scheming about another international trip - uh oh! Maybe I should try updating more often so I can detail some of the crazy stuff that happens around here. 

One huge thing that's been on my mind lately has been my job search! Iwakuni is a very small base and the job opportunities reflect that. Fortunately, it's PCS (Permanent Change of Station) season, so a lot of jobs will be freeing up in the next few weeks. I've given up hope for a job as a technical writer, but I know my skills can be transferred over to a number of other interesting fields.

We decided on a last-minute trip to Hiroshima because Joe was flying to Hawaii at 7am on Sunday morning out of the Hiroshima airport. We'd never been to Hiro before, so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to find the airport. 

We decided to stay at the Oriental Hotel on the main street of Hiroshima at the recommendation of one of Joe's co-workers. We made the mistake of staying during Golden Week, when every office in Japan is closed to give all Japanese a week of vacation. Great for them; expensive for us! The hotel room was spacious for Japanese standards and came with complimentary pajamas, slippers, hair ties, and tooth brushes (take note, America!) There were even controls at the bedside for every light in the room, along with background music (one option!) and buttons for temperature adjustment.

When we first arrived, the parking attendant explained through charades that our car was too low for the parking system. Here is Joe learning that he has to reverse out of the car chamber:
Our Mini, a low rider.
We dropped our overnight gear in the room and then went out to see the city. On our way down, we stepped out of the elevator and saw a Japanese bride and groom step in! Anyway, most people recognize Hiroshima as being the first city to ever be attacked with an atomic bomb. Everywhere you go in the city, there are reminders of the tragedy the city endured. Fortunately, Hiroshima has rebranded itself as the City of Peace, so you can see Hiroshima's Peace Park, Promenade of Peace, Children's Peace Museum, and more.

My toes: the Promenade of Peace
A tree that survived the bomb
The Eternal Flame
Personal favorite: the Children's Peace Park
Paper crane art
More artwork made of paper cranes

The Atomic Bomb Dome at the end of the Peace Promenade: one of the only structures left standing

Joe in front of Hiroshima Castle
I liked that Hiroshima not only has a Peace Park to commemorate the end of WWII and all the lives that were lost, but they also celebrate the samurai and emperors of the past. We had a chance to check out the Hiroshima Castle after we saw the Peace Park and we were reminded of the rich history of Japan. We also found a temple, but I'm still shy about going into one until I make sure I learn all the proper etiquette. I don't want to accidentally curse someone's ancestors or bring filth into the temple by wearing shoes.

We had a nice walk around all five levels of the castle and saw some samurai gear, katana swords, kimonos, traditional furniture, and had a view of Hiroshima from the top.

View from the top
At the top!
Thanks for checking out the blog!


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Two Weeks with Ma'am Shea!

I don't even know where to begin trying to describe my trip to the Philippines! My expectations were completely blown away and I had opportunities to be a part of Filipino culture that I never thought possible. I was visiting my friend Shea, who is a Peace Corps
Each pin represents a city I spent some time in.
Volunteer and is six months away from reaching two years of service. She is teaching English to high school kids on the island of Marinduque in the heart of the country. Her dedication to the kids she works with is truly inspirational  and her ability to learn fluent Tagalog is even more impressive! Everywhere we go, taxi drivers or cashiers would be shocked that a blonde American girl was razzing them in their native language. It was great.

Well, let's get down to business! I want to try to encapsulate the two weeks I was in the Philippines into a blog post, and there is no way I'll do it justice, but I'm going to try for posterity's sake.

When I first arrived, I got off the plane and single-handedly made my way to the hostel. This sounds daunting but Shea is a serious girl scout and made sure I was prepared to explain myself to the taxi driver. I arrived at the Pension Natividad hostel and got my bunk in the women's dorms. It was a little after midnight when I checked in. After a few hours of sleep, I was awakened by a Shea sneaking into bed with me! She had just spent nine hours getting to Manila by tricycle, boat, and bus!
A view of the Mayon volcano after we touched down.

The next morning, we had plans to go to Legazpi. The Philippines are a network of islands and are therefore incredibly laborious to navigate - illustrated by the 9-hour trek Shea took to get to Manila! Anyway, we had made plans to catch a flight from Manila to Legazpi to save ourselves time. I met Shea's friend Keith, another Peace Corps Volunteer,  (PCV) and we all made our way to Legazpi for a week of water safety and environmental education classes for local kids in Salvacion, a city named for the salvation it provides during destructive volcanic eruptions nearby.

Keith in a Filipino tricyle!
Before our trip to Salvacion, we were meeting up with more volunteers in Sorsagon. We met Kaitlin and Laurel and Laurel’s host family invited us to their bahay kubo, a mountain house. I was expecting a modest little cabin, but we hiked up a ways and saw a brand-new bamboo house with a wrap-around porch. The host father explained that he was clearing an area to start a coffee plantation and used the bamboo to build the house.
Kaitlin on our way to the bahay kubo
The gorgeous house made of bamboo
Shea about to relax on the hammock with a view of the coffee plants
Beautiful view of the ocean
A little friend I made along the way
We went back to Laurel’s new house and had tuna sandwiches, rum and fruit smoothies, and cookies Laurel made! We went to bed early to prepare for the incredible events the next day.

We woke up at  4:30am to catch jeepneys to see the whale sharks! It was bright but rainy and warm by the time we got a ride and we all hopped on top of the jeep for a better view. I sort of felt like we were in a parade because all the locals would stop and stare at the foreigners (us!) on top. I also learned that women do not top ride for the most part, so the fact that we preferred the view from the top was also shocking.
We found our way to the whale sharks and paid for our registration and rental fees and then sat on the beach for a while to relax and tan. I enjoyed a halo halo, a dessert made of shaved ice, noodles (!), condensed milk, mango, corn (!!), and corn flakes. It was no ice cream cone, but it was refreshing in the heat, and the condensed milk of course made it sweet and tasty.
Laurel, Kaitlin, Shayla, Shea, and me ready to see the whale sharks!
After we boarded the boat, we had a lot of trouble seeing the whale sharks. The men driving the boat and keeping a lookout for whale sharks said the whale sharks were being shy. We finally came to a site where the whale sharks were feeding (on plankton, not humans) and jumped in. I was slow getting off the boat because everyone jumped in and started kicking frantically, so I was okay with not getting kicked in the face and perhaps not seeing the whale sharks the first time. I was looking around with my snorkel and only saw the spotted ocean floor. I came up for air and heard Shea’s voice: “Heather! It is right under you!” So, that spotted ocean floor was really the whale shark’s spotted back! It was so shocking to be so close to a creature that could be confused with the ocean floor! They are truly remarkable creatures. We found a few more as the day went on and had better views of the side and fins.

On our way home from the whale sharks, we took van to Laurel’s site. There were three guys in the back who weren’t Filipino: an Austrian and two Canadians. They were incredibly obnoxious and stereotypical westerners. One ate a mango by biting into it, skin and all, even after Shea warned them that the skin is related to poison oak and can cause stomach and skin problems.
Nice people throwing buckets of water at our flaming tire
After smelling burning rubber for a while, we pulled over because people were yelling the word for “fire” in Tagalog. The van filled with smoke and I leapt out of the van, losing a shoe. I really thought the van was going to explode! Everyone got out safely and Kaitlin even grabbed my shoe on her way out! Everyone at the stop started throwing buckets of water at the back right tire, which was now legitimately flaming. We were all safe and just got into another jeep. The non-PCV people in the van were all a little surprised that there was no police involvement: nobody asked for our names or contact information.
Our beachfront!
A view of the volcano in the distance
Our home for the week!

We joked that we were on The Real World when we saw the house and had to pick rooms.
Pretty little Charlotte was there all week to keep us company.
Breathtaking sunsets!
Shea's hand and a FROG. I had no idea they could be that big!
The inviting table at Glenda's house.
The next day, we slept in until about 10am and started our journey to Salvacion via Legazpi for water safety. Glenda welcomed us into her home with banana bread and iced tea. Her house is amazing! She’s a retired teacher and nurse practitioner. She’s Filipina and met her husband when he was a PCV. After they married, they went back to the Philippines for another few years to volunteer together. Their house is beautiful! It is right on the beach with a view of the Mayon volcano out of their wall of windows. We got to stay in their “guest house” which was a two-bedroom house also on the beach. This was their original house before the built their current one. For dinner, we had rice, bicol express, green beans in a curry sauce, and chicken with potatoes. Very tasty!

Woke up to one of the volunteers playing B.B. King singing the blues. It was so mellow and a great way to wake up! We had oatmeal and coffee, got our bathing suits on, and went to a local pool. We worried about the chemicals, but they just filled the pool with fresh water – kinda gross. The kids were so great. I’ve never worked with 6-13 year-olds who were such fast learners and didn’t cry or throw tantrums when they didn’t get their way. Some were terrified of the water and didn’t want to put more than their feet in. By the end of the day, all the kids were submerged, blowing bubbles, and at least moving themselves along the side of the pool. 
Mel is planning how she is going to make these Filipinos into superstar swimmers.
Brian and Chris tell the kids that safety is the most important part of the camp!
This is how the kids got to us each day!
A shivering boy uses an MSU t-shirt to dry off with Shea's help.
Shea getting the kids to play in the water. They're very motivated by the opportunity to splash her!
Storytime during the environmental awareness workshop
Brian teaching us how to make tortillas
 For the rest of the water safety seminar, I decided that my skin infection on my ankle would probably not benefit from swimming in the pool with kids. Since the pool was a little too small for all the kids and volunteers, we split the kids into groups and I took whichever group was sitting out for a little while and played games like Simon Says.  There was a huge language barrier on top of the cultural differences. Kids are taught to do whatever their teachers say, without questioning. Getting the kids to play and have fun in front of me was a stretch. By the end of the day, they even taught me a Filipino game!

Woke up around 6am  as usual and had breakfast of leftover fajitas from the night before. Tasty! It was raining, so we got off to a later start. I stayed out of the pool and pop quizzed the kids with math problems for a little bit and then made up a story for “story time”. I felt like my stories were a. boring and b. not understood anyway, so I got some of the more outgoing kids to start telling stories in Tagalog. It was adorable.
We went to Glenda’s for lunch and had fried tuna with lots of bones, a lot of rice, and a cabbage and snap pea salad on top. And mangoes! The mangoes really deserve a post of their own. They are so soft and juicy – absolutely incredibly delicious.

This morning, Glenda also started me on antibiotics for my skin infection I got from tripping over a rope on the beach. I visited her clinic and received enough for three days. I ended up making a donation at the end of our stay to make up for taking medication from the barangay, or neighborhood.
In the afternoon, I went to the barangay’s mother’s society with Mel and Keith. The mothers have a business selling “garbags” or bags made from colorful candy wrappers, less eloquently known as garbage. I was going to write descriptions of the products, but instead was surprised that all the board members from the mother’s society were there to greet us. I was able to meet the artists and do interviews with Glenda’s translation. Keith ordered a pair of sandals and we watched as they were sewn and sized right in front of us.
Our final view of Salvacion! The gate is a volcano!
On our last day in Salvacion, the leaders of the summer camp decided we would do a beach clean-up for a short time in the morning to learn about recycling and to teach kids about what can happen in the community when trash isn’t disposed of properly. I learned that most Filipinos simply burn their garbage instead of recycling or taking it to a dump. This causes pollution in the long run, but also causes asthma and other conditions for people, especially children, in the more immediate timeframe. During the clean-up on this beautiful beach, we found razor cartridges, toothbrushes, broken shards of glass bottles, ceramics, and lots of plastic packaging. It turned out that there was a dump up the river a little ways, and when it was flooded, all the garbage came pouring down the waterways that fed into the ocean. It was an important lesson for me, and also for the kids who live in the area.

Shea and I left after the clean-up to catch our ride to the airport. Glenda arranged for a tricycle to take us and our luggage directly to the airport instead of making it to the city and jumping on the next form of transportation.

When we arrived in Manila, we saw Kaitlin at the hostel and met a girl from MSU named Tricia. We went out for lunch and then decided to all get facials at the mall: a luxurious break from the sweaty work we’d been doing! I thought it would be a soothing and relaxing experience, but they actually squeeze every single pore on your face trying to remove your gunk. It is painful! First, you wash your face, then you lay down and the woman massages your face with lotion. This part feels great. Then, the woman starts suctioning away at your pores with a little tool that looks like it belongs in a dentist’s office. They steam your face, put a towel over it, and then go back to scraping more. I mistakenly decided to try my first threading experience at the same time and it was even more painful!
The Peace Corps crew at the bacla karaoke bar
Reunited at last-- me and Shea!!
All the baclas on stage entertaining the crowd.
A dramatic Celine Dion cover
Something a bit more spirited.
A Motown cover band in the Philippines! Perfecto!
Mo, at the bar
The girls taking a break from the dance floor
Me and Shea
Shea, traipsing around the bar!
We did a little shopping and then went back to the hostel to get ready for a night out in Manila. We went out with a big Peace Corps group and visted a bacla, a gay transvestite, karaoke bar. Baclas are one of the most perplexing cultural differences that I encountered. Boys who are gay are raised as baclas, which is seen as being it’s own gender in a way. Baclas are thought of as comedians and entertainment, but not taken seriously by other Filipinos. I also learned that baclas are often prostitutes for men in the Philippines. It doesn’t make a man gay if he has sex with a bacla, and cheating on wives is not as frowned upon as it is in American culture.
Anyway, we went to another bar after karaoke and found a club with a live band playing Motown and soul! We ordered more drinks and danced with the Filipinos. It was great! We stayed out until about 4am and were going to try to get on a bus immediately afterward, but crashed at the hostel for a few hours of sleep, followed by showers, breakfast, and packing.

The trip to Shea’s island was so long! We took a taxi to a bus station in Manila, then a bus to a ship, and a ship to Marinduque. Once we arrived, it was chaos getting off the boat and we walked swiftly over to the tricycles. I could tell Shea was well known in the area because we kept hearing “Ma’am Shea!” from different people she’d worked with. Shea found a tricyle driver she recognized and he drove us to her host family’s house. I  was incredulous at their hospitality! We arrived around 11pm, and her host mom still set out an entire meal for us and stayed up to chat for a little while. Shea introduced me to her kitties and they didn’t bother me at all, thanks to the wonders of allergy meds.
Preparing the wall for a world map!
In the morning, we met up with some of the kids from Shea’s environmental club. We were going to paint a huge world map on the side of a building, but first had to scrape off the old paint from the last project. We started with bamboo sticks, but then moved on to using real scraping equipment, metal spatulas, and sandpaper. Later on in the day, Shea’s host mom made us fried bananas! They were so good and we enjoyed our afternoon merienda, or snack, on the patio.

We had about ten kids helping us prepare the building and paint a large rectangle, but Shea wanted her class to be able to help during the school year, so she postponed the activity so she’d have more help painting the world map. I’m so excited to see how it turns out!

After a few days of working at Shea’s school, she introduced me to a Norwegian Missionary Association (NMA) volunteer named Anders, and his co-worker Tokz. They are working on an eco-tourism project to promote hiking on the island for travelers. They asked if we’d like to join on a hike, and we were very enthusiastic. Then, we found out that we’d be camping outside after the hike, that there would be no water available after the ascent, so we’d have to bring our own, and even later, discovered that it was not just a hike, but a mountain climb to the peak of the second highest mountain on the island!

Tokz gave us a packing list that included closed-toe shoes and socks. I didn’t have any shoes—just sandals—so Shea and I rummaged through her collection of shoes, asked her host mom if she had extras in my unbelievably large size (9) and we didn’t come up with anything. It was too late to try going anywhere else considering we were on an island with no mall, so we went grocery shopping for trail snacks. While we were food shopping, we came across a shop selling knock-off Converse All-Stars and I jumped to snap up a pair. The women running the shop were incredibly nice and came down on the price when Shea spoke with them in Tagalog and explained that she was teaching the kids on the island.

The next morning, we met up with Tokz and Anders along with a group of about ten mountain climbers from Manila. This was a group of Filipino Senate staff members! Wow! We also found out this morning that the trail was partially unblazed, so it would be a rough climb. I’d never gone mountain climbing before, but the exercise, fresh air, and mountain views were magnificent! Our thighs were screaming as we hoisted ourselves uphill and we took breaks once in a while so the shaking would subside and we could catch our breath.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the hike!
We started the hike at a community center that a local resort had donated to the island. I thought this method of keeping tabs on those in need was interesting - and would be considered a huge privacy breach in the US.
Anders found a praying mantis!
Just starting off! A view of the Japanese resort.
Goin' up
We stopped here for lunch .
Found some goat friends just hanging out.
Anders and Shea showing a depression on the stone from doing laundry
My super fly shoes and my spoons for the coconut!
You use a slice as a spoon, how earth-friendly ;)
Our lunch feast!
I could feel every stick, stone, and boulder through my thin shoe soles, but I kept thinking that our Filipino trail guide was wearing nothing but rubber sandals! My journal from the day after describes my feelings of “grueling pain” but I think I was being dramatic.

A few of the men set up our tents for us while Shea, Lennie, and I frolicked around the mountaintop and enjoyed the sunset while delicately stepping over wild cow dung heaps. When we got back to the camp site, we realized our tent was on an incline. We realigned ourselves so that our feet pointed downhill, but the downside was that we didn’t have enough room to completely stretch our bodies out! The ground was incredibly lumpy and uncomfortable. We were trapped in our little stinky tent, but we were warm and happy that it wasn’t raining. Then, what else? It started raining! The wind was fierce and blew our tent around to the point that if we drifted off to sleep, the force of the wind would blow the tent side into our heads to wake us up.

Then I heard the distinct sound of a wild cow getting closer. The lowing seemed to be getting more irritated and persistent, while I was hiding in the tent and causing endless headaches for Shea—“They are going to stampede and squash our heads in this tent!” and other predictions that didn’t materialize.
Beautiful views on our way up
Shea pondering life and the universe
Our campsite, right on the top of the mountain!

Here's Leinne, happy to be done climbing!
Maybe this isn't what you came here to see, but I spent the entire trip avoiding stepping in these: dung heaps.
Shea and Leinne showing off their yoga skills
Incredible sunset.

Me, jumping for joy!
Hiding in the tent after no sleep, but glad the rain is letting up.
At daybreak, it was still raining, though not as violently. The view was possibly even more breathtaking with a misty cover over it. We had breakfast of fried dried baby fish, rice, spam, and some other things. We then began our descent, which even more painful to me than the ascent. The treadless shoes I was wearing slipped on every rock and I had to use all my calf muscles to brace myself, as well as my thighs during each step down. I had to take a ridiculous number of breaks on the way down to steady my shaky legs. I blame the shoes, but it was a combination of the shoes and just generally not having worked out those muscles recently.
A fine reward: a coconut and water to splash around in. Fantastic! The peak we climbed is in the backgroumd.
After we finally made it down, and many empty threats of staying on the mountain forever and starting my own civilization rather than move my muscles again, we got into a truck that took us to a ocean cove where the proprietors had rice, fish, and vegetables ready for us, as well as fresh buko, or coconut! The cove had a great little dock that Shea and I ran over to, dipped our toes in, and decided we needed to take a dip. We both jumped in with our clothes on and the cool, clean salt water was just what we needed to wash the stenches and filth off our bods.

Eventually we made it back to Manila and Shea and I decided it was time for massages. The great part of this is that spa services are shamefully cheap, like less than $20 for an hour-long Balinese massage that removed two days worth of thigh fatigue. During our girl fest in Manila, we also went shopping, saw Sucker Punch in the iMax theater, got dark chocolate-peanut butter smoothies at a peanut butter shop, and had delicious middle eastern food!

I miss it so much already! Shea was honestly the best tour guide possible and made sure that I got to see her work, hang out with other Peace Corps people, get my dance on, meet her incredible family, spontaneously hike a mountain, spontaneously attend a wedding and house blessing, enjoy the craziness of urban Manila (I want to be a Manilianaire!) and most importantly, spend time with one of my closest friends! I’m still in shock every time I try to recap the trip. It was a huge eye opener to how fortunate I am to live with all the western comforts I start taking for granted, and made me enthusiastic to get back into activism for causes I believe in. I hope I can stay involved with the Philippines for a long time to come. 

More to come: one of the highlights of the trip was the Moriones festival on Shea's island. Stay tuned!