Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Trip We Opted Out Of

     I spent several weeks planning a trip to the Philippines. I had heard that the nation was an interesting place to visit but when I began to read about it in detail, I got quite excited because it featured my major travel fascination- various indigenous peoples whose lives were quite distinct from their neighbors'. I learned that the geography of the area was also worthy of exploration- diverse urban areas, wonderful isolated islands, lonely and lovely beaches, etc. So I did the usual trip planning and off we went. As soon as we arrived in Manila, it started raining. It never stopped. We made the most of our stay in the Manila area by sampling the delightful festivals held in nearby villages. Each day, we got up and headed for another village. The celebrations were varied and colorful and never disappointed us. And the rain kept coming down. It poured on the parades, it drenched the religious objects carried on palanquins and on carriages propelled by massive bulls, and it soaked the multitude of creative displays constructed for whatever festival was being celebrated. We usually had good luck with the weather in our travels, but not this time. We decided it was time to leave Manila.

     We headed north in our car toward Banga-an, a small village located in the center of the Ifugao culture. We were on our way to visit the wonderful rice terraces in that area. The awe inspiring  Banaue Rice Terraces are located in the north of Luzon. More than 2,000 years ago, the lfugao people who lived in that area, carved the rice fields out of the mountainsides with peaks rising up to 6,000 feet high using simple tools and their bare hands. Our visit was not to be. When we left our Manila hotel, it was still raining heavily. At the entrance to the toll road which led to the terraces, we were informed that the road was closed and no cars were permitted in that area. It was flooded. It was then that we finally came to realize that the infamous monsoons had come early and our weather timing was destined to make our Luzon tour impossible.

     From the toll road entrance, we made our way to the tourist agency we had made a few reservations with and discussed our intended travel to the southern islands, most of them rich with beautiful beaches, interesting tribes and lots of worthwhile sites. No such luck. Of course the weather in the South was fine, mostly sunshine and warm breezes; the political situation was not.  It was strongly suggested that a trip to Palawan and the towering marble cliffs of El Nido or a stop in Cebu with its lovely shores and snorkeling as well as its fine cultural sites would be a great risk to our safety. The Maoist guerrillas were apparently quite active in the that area. Their effort to peel off southern islands where the Muslims were a majority was brutal and destructive. Tourists had been captured and even beheaded. Even the airport we would have flown into had been bombed and damaged significantly. If that was not enough to discourage us, perhaps the headline in the Manila papers the next morning would have been. It was about a bombing at the department store where we had shopped the previous day. Manila was more than wet. I did not customarily worry greatly about safety but I did have to confront the reality that was presented to me

     My wife, sick of the rain and our relative immobility, said to me that morning  "Get me out of here." Although I do not quit such activities easily, I had to agree she was right. We pleaded our case to the agents which they immediately empathized with and we got a refund on whatever reservations they were holding for us. They secured a convenient flight to Spain for us the next morning and off we went. When I told my son what had happened, he had two responses. You guys don't have the clothing for Spain- a completely correct observation (we take few clothes and usually our oldest attire on our typical trips) - and you won't get Mommy back to the Third World after she visits Spain. That turned out not to be accurate. We had a different kind of trip in Spain which we enjoyed very much but we both relished a later return to the kind of places we were used to traveling to and we have continued to roam the Third World ever since. Life goes on as ever.

                                                       Restaurant, near Madrid, Spain

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