Quin's Progress


4 Comments

Some Stuff – Pacific Islands Edition

In Batangas, Philippines.

In Batangas, Philippines.

As of today, I have been on the road for exactly six months. I can hardly believe it. Seems like just a few weeks to me, and yet, when I consider how much ground I’ve covered since leaving San Francisco, how far away my life as an office denizen feels, and how many truly lovely people I’ve been privileged to meet along the way, it seems like an awful lot for such a short period of time.

IMGP0621

One of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. Steven, of Yap.

In this edition of Some Stuff, I bid adieu to the islands I’ve visited since New Year’s Day 2014, in Micronesia and the Philippines (I know the Philippines is officially categorized as part of Southeast Asia, but it’s also one of the Pacific island nations, so I’ll cover it here). There are so many wonderful people and amazing things I will remember fondly from my travels around the Pacific. Without repeating things I’ve already written in other posts, here are just a few.

Everything’s Pretty in Saipan

Saipan

Saipan

Banzai Cliffs in Saipan

Banzai Cliffs in Saipan

Saipan is pretty. It’s quiet and lush and the water is so blue it looks fake, like it was dyed with Tidy Bowl toilet cleaner.  But, when I say everything is pretty in Saipan, I mean everything is “Pretty” in Saipan.

Kokoda, Kelaguen & Corndogs

Foodspotting App.

Foodspotting App.

I hope I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings by saying that I don’t think the food is the best reason to travel to Micronesia. The Philippines, yes. But, Micronesia’s culinary offerings are, to me, a bit less of a draw, in part because of the difficulty of obtaining fresh ingredients, other than fish and taro root. That’s just my opinion, but I don’t think I’m alone in it. In fact, the Foodspotting app—which uses GPS to direct foodies to delicious dishes in their immediate proximity—recommended popcorn at K-Mart as one of the top lunch options in Guam. This, I don’t understand, when there are corndogs on that island.

IMG_6843Yes, corndogs! There is a Wienerschnitzel inside the airport, and a Hot Dog on a Stick in the Micronesia Mall, where, on weekdays, it’s buy one get one free. IMG_6737I was so happy! By the time I left, the girls at the Hot Dog on a Stick and I were on a first name basis.

As much as I would like to try, one cannot live on corndogs alone, and there are a couple of stand out Micronesian foods that I still crave.

Kokoda

Kokoda

Kokoda is the Marshall Island’s coconutty take on ceviche. It’s a soupy concoction of lime-marinated seafood—squid, fish, clams, whatever is fresh—with chopped tomatoes, onion, cilantro and coconut milk. You scoop it up with salty tortilla chips and wash it down with beer. So delicious, so rich, so messy.

Kelaguen is Guam’s culinary crowning glory (if you don’t count barbecued fruit bat, which is illegal now). Saipan’s, too. A Chamorro specialty, it is actually pretty healthy, and would be a huge hit with anyone watching carbs, or looking for a unique dish to bring to a barbecue or potluck. KelaguenEvery local family has its own recipe, and most of it is inexact kitchen science; a little of this, a little of that, spicy or not, as you like. Originally, kelaguen was made of minced raw fish or shrimp, cooked only in the acid of lemon juice. Today, the one I saw most prevalently was made with barbecued chicken, but you see it at the night markets made with any and all types of lean protein, including beef, shrimp, fish or even octopus.   Some add shredded fresh coconut, usually to chicken or fish versions, but I prefer it without. It’s served by itself with “titiya” flatbread, as a salad topping, or as a side dish with barbecue, or grilled fish. Here’s the recipe and instructions I got from Randy, the ATV driver on my jungle safari, after we bonded over a mutual love for kelaguen. It’s his family’s recipe.

Randy’s Chicken Kelaguen

ŸBarbecue a whole chicken, cut into parts, making sure to get it black in places, so the flavor of the smoke and char gets into the chicken meat, without drying it out. (You could use a rotisserie chicken, but Randy says it’s best to barbecue the chicken yourself, so you can make sure it’s good and charred and smoky.) Let cool, and remove skin and bones.

Ÿ Chop the meat very finely. The chopped bits should be about the size of grains of rice. You can use a food processor, or if you have some aggression to get out, a Chinese cleaver works well, too. Transfer chopped chicken to a mixing bowl.

Ÿ Finely chop about six or so scallions, and add to the chicken. You could use a red or a Spanish onion, if you prefer, or a combination, but the classic has scallions.

Ÿ If you like a little spice—and Randy and I both do—finely chop a Serrano, jalapeno, or bird chili—any hot pepper of your choice—and add as much or as little of that as you like. You can take the heat level down and keep the flavor by removing the seeds and ribs before you chop the chili. Add to the chicken and onions.

Ÿ Add the juice of one large lemon, and toss to coat well.

Ÿ Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ÿ If you want to add some coconut (I don’t care for it in this), mix in a handful of FRESHLY grated, unsweetened coconut. Don’t even think about using dried coconut. If you do, the police will spontaneously show up at your door and…pull your hair. I don’t know, just don’t.

Ÿ You can serve it right away, but Randy says it’s better if you let it sit in the fridge, and allow the flavors to marry really well, for a few hours at least.

Enjoy!

Candygram

Dear divemasters of Palau:

This guy was probably 12 feet long.

This guy was probably 12 feet long.

If there is even a slight possibility that there will be a school of huge sharks circling under the boat, please do your divers a favor and tell them about it before they jump in the water.  It’s just good manners.

Coconut-Eating Chickens & Snorkels the Pig

ChickenutsHere’s something I bet you didn’t know: Chickens love coconut. I learned this in Yap. I know chickens aren’t typically discriminating diners. I had chickens when I was a kid, and ChickensI saw one eat a piece of string so long once, that it started pooping out one end of the string before it had finished swallowing the other end of it. But, they go really bonkers over coconut. It’s like…chicken nip.

Also learned in Yap, vis-à-vis barnyard animals and coconuts: you shouldn’t park your pig under a coconut tree. This is Snorkels. Snorkels was my friend. Snorkels lived under a coconut tree.

(If the video doesn’t show above, click here.)

Gentle friends, may you never hear the sound of a coconut falling on a pig. (Don’t worry, Snorkels was okay.)

Tuba

IMG_6543“Sweet Tuba” is not a really nice brass musical instrument. It’s a milky wine made of the fermented sap of a coconut tree. You see Tuba all over Micronesia and the Philippines.

Bottles of Tuba

Bottles of Tuba

The Tuba Man has to climb up the tree and hack at the base of the fronds every day to make sure the sap continues to run, so he can gather enough to make Tuba.  Tuba comes in sweet, for beginners, or the regular, high-octane variety for the hardened Tubaholic.

Sweet Tuba in a coconut cup.

Sweet Tuba in a coconut cup.

I only had the sweet version, which is not as lethal, but will still give you a hell of a hangover. The morning after I hung out with the Yapese Tuba guys, I felt like Snorkels after the coconut.

Subterranean Flows

On an island in Palawan, in the Philippines, there’s a deep system of limestone caves, through which one of the longest navigable underground rivers in the world flows directly to the sea.

The mouth of the Underground River, Palawan, Philippines.

The mouth of the Underground River, Palawan, Philippines.

UNESCO put it on the World Heritage list in 1999, and in 2012, it was named one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature” by that group in Switzerland that has appointed itself arbiter of such things. I can see why, too, it’s a pristine and eerie Underworld.

He's about to snatch my friend's purse.

He’s about to snatch my friend’s purse.

The mouth of the river is guarded by a band of extremely larcenous monkeys. Underground RiverIts vast caverns are full of bats, stalagmites and stalactites. They said there were tarantulas, too, but thankfully, I didn’t see any, or I would have jumped out of the boat.

Midget Boxing

If you’ve been watching the news about the vanished Malaysia Airlines jet, you may have noticed reports that the USS Pinckney—a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer—was dispatched to assist in the search. IMG_6853It was close by, according to the Pentagon’s official explanation, conducting “training and maritime security operations” in international waters. Well, apparently, by “training and maritime security operations in international waters,” they mean refereeing midget boxing matches over drinks at the Ringside Bar in Manila. Busted!

I want to join that Navy.


2 Comments

Gettin’ Around Manila

Manila

Manila

Manila is a lovely old city, but it has notoriously ghastly traffic.  If you’ve ever driven in Rome or India, it won’t scare you much.  But, car rental companies, even big ones like Avis, all offer “chauffeured” rentals (which aren’t much more expensive than self-drive rentals), to keep tourists from mucking things up even worse with their panic and confusion.  Insurance is much cheaper if you go that route.  If you don’t want to hassle with your own car or driver, thank goodness, what the public transit options lack in number and clarity, they make up for in color, literally and figuratively.

Jeepney

Jeepney

The most common, and the one with which Manila’s identity is inextricably interwoven, is the jeepney.  Jeepneys are jitneys—little buses that run along a regular route—fashioned out of converted jeeps.  Hence, “jeepneys.”  They came to be after World War II, when the Americans left a bunch of army jeeps behind in the Philippines, and the ever-resourceful Pinoy folk put them to use for much needed public transport.

Jeepney8A typical jeepney has a standard jeep nose, and a paddywagon-type caboose, with two bench seats set in the back, lengthwise along the sides.  The routes are established, but there are no set stops, except the start and end points on the route.  So, you can stand anywhere along the route and hail them like a taxi.  Jeepney13Passengers hop in and out the open back, cramming themselves in like sardines, passing their 8 peso (about 18 cents, US) fare to the driver, and hollering or banging on the roof to signal when they want to get off.

Jeepney1The routes and fares are all regulated, but the jeepneys are privately owned, so the owners/operators are free to let their creative juices flow, and emblazon or festoon them in any way that tickles their fancy.  It is here that Manila lets its personality show.

Jeepney2Some are semi-tasteful, two-toned jobs, whereas others are the canvas on which to flamboyantly express style or devotion, to God, or the wife, or maybe Superman.  Many have bright tiaras of letters spelling out the vessel’s name above the windshield, almost always female, like a ship.  Jeepney11The siding artwork is often evocative of those awesome black velvet paintings they sell in Tijuana, that glow in the dark.  These festive arks zip, careen and shove through the clogged arteries of Manila, giving it a comic, carnivalesque sparkle.  You almost expect plumes of glitter to emit from the exhaust pipes.

ManilaJeepneyFBCManila is so proud of its jeepneys, that it even has a professional football team called “Manila Jeepney.”

There are jeepneys outside of Manila, too, of course, but they tend to be a bit less flashy.  No less crowded, however.  JeepneyGoatsIn the countryside, if the jeepney is packed, folks just take their goats and climb up on top.  No ladders or steps, no boarding platform.  I don’t know how they do it.  Jeepney10Maybe those goats are not cargo, but there to teach people how to jump on top of the bus.  You know…because goats are always getting up on top of things.  See here.  And here.  And here.  But I digress.

Jeepney5Alas, jeepneys, beloved as they are, have their downside.  They tend to be a haven for pickpockets, purse-snatchers and thieves.  I was told that armed robbers sometimes jump in the back while they are still moving, rob the trapped passengers, and jump out before the driver even admits to knowing what is happening.  Muggings at the congregation spots along the popular routes are also common.

Tricycles2Not to fear, though, if you don’t want to rub elbows and everything else with the hoi polloi in the back of a jeepney.  There are other options.  “Tricycles” are motorbikes or bicycles with covered or enclosed sidecars, and are sixteen kinds of fun to travel in.  Not the most comfortable, but quick and cheap, and also resplendent with style.

Taxis are also plentiful, and relatively cheap, but you have to be careful.  Some are nice, late model sedans, and others are heaps, just barely holding it together with rubber bands and chicken wire.  If you get in a taxi at a hotel, the bellman will hail a good one, and likely ask the driver for his taxi license and write down his name and license number, as well as the license plate number on the car…just in case you go missing or something.  He’ll also tell the driver where you want to go, which is important, because communicating with the cabbies isn’t always easy.

Jeepney7For example, one morning, I was in a hurry to meet some friends across town, so instead of waiting for the bellman to hail me a proper taxi, I just hopped into one that I saw pull up to let someone out.  It was kind of busted, but I’m not fussy.  I told the driver that I needed to go to Makati, and I handed him a business card for the building to which I was headed, so he could see the exact address.  He looked at it, put it in his shirt pocket, and off we went.

Manila

Manila

Well…the car started to stall every time we came to a halt, in traffic or at a light.  He’d get out, pop the hood, fiddle with something, and get back in and start the car up, and on we’d go a few hundred meters until it happened again.  Then, after a while, the guy was so visibly distraught, soaked with sweat, he turned and asked if we could please pull over to a service station so he could use the “comfort room,” as the restroom is called in the Philippines.  “Of course,” I said.  So we stopped, and he disappeared for about fifteen minutes.  I figured he must have been sick.

.Another way to get around

Another way to get around.

On we went, stalling every time we stopped, until we got to Makati, whereupon he began to drive in circles, clearly lost.  We stopped three different times to ask directions of a traffic cop, to whom he would show the business card and ask, in Tagalog, where to find the listed address.  After much pointing and gesticulating, we’d drive on, until it became plain we were lost again, and have to stop and ask someone where we were.  Finally, after an hour and a half, we turned down a street that I recognized, and I was able to guide him home.  When we finally got there, the poor man looked so miserable and distressed, I really felt badly for him, so I tipped him extra well.

Along the roadside.

Along the roadside.

Then, I went inside and told my friends what happened, and they laughed at me.  Apparently, everyone but me knows that many of the cabbies in the Philippines are illiterate.  “Quin, he was probably too embarrassed to tell you he couldn’t read the card, so he did all those things to frustrate you and make you get out and take another taxi.”  Hence the showing of the card to everyone we stopped to ask directions from.  I was stunned.  The idea that the man would drive off with me, without the remotest clue where we were headed, and then try to irritate me into abandoning ship, never occurred to me.  Well, the laugh’s on him, because I just sat there, a model of patience and understanding, and then I gave him a big, fat tip.  That’ll learn him.

No one likes to get stuck in one of Manila’s famous traffic jams, but at least one hack is doing his part to make the ride more entertaining.  For a few pesos, you can have your own private, inflight concert of the musical stylings of the Karaoke Cabbie.

(If video does not show above, click here.)

For a few pesos more, you can do the singing, if you want.  There’s even a screen with the lyrics, just like at a karaoke bar.  But, this guy’s got a pretty nice voice for a serenade, actually.

(If video does not show above, click here.)

He’s going to have to get a Bluetooth microphone, though, as soon as legislation catches up and bans karaoke while driving.

(Thanks to my friends Ariel and Ghie Gubatina for the karaoke taxi videos!)


Leave a comment

A Little Bonus For Helping Victims of Typhoon Haiyan

As I travel around East Asia, I am so thankful I did not happen to be even closer to the mind-boggling devastation that is still unfolding in the Philippines as a result of Typhoon Haiyan.  The news coverage I have seen of the disaster while I was in Korea, and am now seeing here in Taiwan, is just breaking my heart on a daily basis.  At times like these, it feels as though nothing I could do or contribute would make even the tiniest difference.  Yet, I know that the aggregate of donations that people like me can make could mean the difference between a truckload of bottled water reaching a remote village or not, or a rural medical clinic getting medicines or not.  So, I throw my paltry coins in the pot, and hope.

UnitedFor any travelers among you who care to do the same, United Airlines is now matching customer donations to AmeriCares, The American Red Cross and Operation USA for Typhoon Haiyan relief, as well as offering to give Mileage Plus members up to 1,000 extra bonus miles for making donations of $50 or more, as a thank you for your generosity.  So, if you fly United, and you want to make a donation to help typhoon victims, do it through United’s donation website, here, in order to take advantage of the matching program, and to claim your bonus miles.