The long awaited, the PCV daydream, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the close of service (COS) trip.
PCVs spend the tougher days of service dreaming about the day PCV turns to RPCV and they finally get a little bit of cash to discover the region they’ve lived in for +2 years. So, upon finishing a scavenger hunt of paperwork to close out my volunteer contract with a few of my batchmates, the daydream was slowly becoming a reality. We got ready to ring the COS bell, a Peace Corps Philippines tradition, but for some reason the excitement of the future was somewhat dulled by the realization that we were all now finding ourselves unemployed and without health insurance…. After the final checks were made, and we all turned into RPCVs we sat in Peace Corps office, wondering what we were supposed to do next.
And after being coxed to leave the IRC by the air con turning off at 5, we wandered back to our hostel and in each other’s company, we pretended we were not freshly unemployed and played volunteer for a while.
But now, almost two weeks since ringing the bell, the dust has settled and I’ve realized that COS trip is a amalgamation of backpacking, job hunting, sightseeing, and attempting to have it all on a shoestring budget (and by have it all, I mean a COS trip, student loan payments, and life starting money for the states). Going from dollars to pesos was exciting! The return is a little nerve-wracking. However, for now I’ve got a few more conversions before I finally find U.S. Dollars in my wallet. My first step, the Indonesian Rupiah.
We had a quick trip in Indonesia, but as with any new place there’s so much to talk about! So, I’ve divided my time in Indonesia into 3 different stories. Island Hopping in Komodo, Diving in Penida, and Temples in Bali, all of which I’ll post through-out the week. Next week I’ll get to this weeks adventures in Malaysia, including diving in Sipadan, renowned as the best dive spot in the world!
Living near volcanoes is not something I had ever experienced before living in the Philippines. When I arrived at my site, I found my Municipality snugly tucked between two sleeping giants; Mount Mayon and Mount Bulusan. Both of these volcanoes have been active during my service. Mount Bulusan was raised to Alert level 2 when I first arrived and I could see smoke pouring from the crater from my house. Mount Mayon has only just recently calmed down from her activity earlier this year. Mount Mayon was raised all the way to Alert Level 4 and I could see the crater glowing from the Casiguran pier.
But with both the giants subdued, I can sit peacefully on the pier in the early morning and gaze at the volcanoes on either side of me. I can only see Mount Mayon on clear days. The iconic cone peaks above the Sorsogon Mountains from across the Sorsogon Bay. Mount Bulusan is hard to miss. Directly opposite of Mount Mayon, inland, Mount Bulusan towers over my little Municipality. Unlike Mayon’s perfect cone, Bulusan is far from perfect with it’s flat, slightly lopsided, top.
In Bicol, Bulusan means the place where the river flows (Gintong Aral). This name couldn’t be more accurate. Mount Bulusan feeds a number of freshwater springs, lakes, and waterfalls, that run into 4 different municipalities. If there’s one thing I’ll miss, it’s an impromptu day of discovering the hidden uniqueness to each spring and waterfall running down the sides of Mount Bulusan.
Coincidentally, most of these spring hopping adventures have the same beginning. Me and my sitemate, sitting drinking coffee or tea with our friend Kenny. During a lull in conversation, he would ask:
‘Have you ever been to Masacrot Springs?’
or Bayugin Falls, or Nagsipit Falls, or Buklad River, all places that would one day take the place of Masacrot.
Most times Perri and I would reply ‘not yet!’
‘Well,’ Kenny would start,
‘We should go there! Let’s go there now!’
And just like that we would be in a jeepney, tryke, or car, off to see some part of Mount Bulusan we had never seen before. Although they all have the same source, each spring and waterfall in Sorsogon is unique in some way.
Masacrot Spring is shaded by giant crawling jungle trees, the water is a deep blue-green that compliments the sandy colored stones that line the pool. The name Masacrot Spring is after the water found there. The water is ‘masacrot’ which means acrid. The water tastes as if it’s been carbonated. I asked Kenny why it was like this and he said “it’s because of the mineral content of the water. It’s a soda spring, so the dissolved solids make the water taste that way.”
At Nagsipit falls, just above Urok cold spring, the green layers of moss, leaves, and vines crawl forward as the falls erode backwards sinking further into the forest. It makes the place look like the perfect watering hole to spot water sprites taking in the dewy breeze rushing out of the narrow cove.
San Mateo Hot Spring has water so hot you can’t help but respect the sleeping giant looming above you as your muscles melt to mush. Kenny told us his favorite time to visit the hot spring is when it’s raining. It happened to be raining when we visited, and I realized exactly what he meant. As the pool elevates your body temperature, you can feel the refreshing but sharp contrast of each individual rain drop hitting your face.
Bayugin Falls is back in the middle of the jungle. Before arriving at the waterfall, there is a long metal bridge that passes over a canyon that has grown deep into the earth. The canyon meanders through the forest and leads to a waterfall. The water of this waterfall doesn’t all fall down, it seems to spray in all different directions. The jagged boulders at the bottom of the falls have not yet smoothed. So the water falls downward, but is then launched into the air by the jagged rock. The water flows down to a pool that is bordered by a tall wall of green. At the top of the wall giant trees appear to float on air as their branches grow away from the crowded jungle out over the edge of the wall.
Buklad River, the perfect spot for an early morning walk, the sunlight streams into the crystal clear water and the rocks that peak out of the water just a bit are the perfect height for sitting and combing your mermaid hair.
These are only the few falls, rivers, and springs , I’ve been able to visit while here. There are so many others I won’t get to explore, this time around. I’ve always been a salt water girl, but fresh water is alright…as long as it’s in Sorsogon, of course.
“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.”
– Flora Lewis
After my most recent Language Proficiency Interview, I started thinking about words in Bicol and Tagalog I’ve come to love. I like these words for a variety of reasons, I like how they relate to Filipino culture, I like that some of them have no direct English translation, and others have become such a part of my vocabulary I use them with Filipinos and Peace Corps Volunteers alike.
This means expensive and it’s probably the tagalog word most commonly used between Peace Corps Volunteers. No one knows when it started, but now it has become synonymous with expensive.
Example: I looked into that hostel but it’s mahal so I need to find a different option.
Lang means only or just but it’s used after the subject. So if something is only 20 pesos, it would be ‘20 pesos lang’. It’s a super easy word to just tack on to every day speech and it’s an easy way to ask for clarification.
You: Tag-pira ang pamasahae? (how much is the fare)
Me: 30 pesos
You: 30 pesos lang?
Me: Oo (yes)
This word doesn’t directly translate in English. It’s used to describe the light in your stomach, racing heart feeling. Most people have explained it to me as the way you feel when you see your crush, and I think the closest English translation would be what we call ‘having butterflies in your stomach’. Learning a new language, I’ve realized how much a language says about it’s associated culture and I believe this word is a perfect example. The Philippines loves love, and they have a lot of words to describe feelings of love that we don’t have in English.
Pronounced Ma-si-ram / Ma-sa-ra-p
The first (masiram) is Bicol and the second (masarap) is Tagalog, they both directly translate to delicious. While these words are directly used to describe the taste of food, I love these words because they’re often used to describe things other than food. They’re also used to describe when something is particularly refreshing. When a strong, cool breeze blows through on a hot day, it can be described as masarap or ‘sarap.
“‘sarap ang hangin”
Or when jumping into a cold pool on a hot day, the water can also be described as ‘masarap’
“Masarap ang tubig”
5. Ate, Kuya, Nanay
Pronounced: Ah-tay, Koo-yah, and Nah-n-aye
These words mean older sister, older brother, and mother respectively, but they’re not reserved only for those people. Ate and Kuya apply to everyone and anyone. The kids in my community call me Ate Chelsea, I call tryke drivers and jeep conductors ‘kuya’. It’s used a term to get someone’s attention but it’s more informal than ‘ma’am’. I would say the term ‘nanay’ is used more as a term of endearment. When an elder woman is getting off a jeep and has to walk crouched over to the exit, the jeep conductor might tell her ‘luway luway nanay’ (slowly, slowly, nanay). I like the use of these words because it reflects the closeness of community here. I know I will miss being called Ate Chelsea.
6. Salamat sa Dios
Pronounced: Sa-la-ma-t sah Di-o-s
The first time I heard the direct translation of this phrase was after I first met my counterpart. We took a taxi from our hotel to the bus station to go to my site for the first time. When we arrived safely at the bus station, she turned to me and said ‘Thanks God’. Since then, I’ve heard the tagalog phrase used whenever something favorable happens. For example, when the fans have been off all day because of a power outage and everyone is sweaty and uncomfortable. When the power suddenly flips back on and the fans come to life, people will sigh and say ‘Salamat sa Dios’
This is a small house lizard that I can say with confidence inhabits every home of the Philippines. They skitter across the walls chasing one another and the bugs. They are welcome house guests keeping away the mosquitos and cockroaches. Sometimes they fight with one another and make loud territorial clicking noises. When I still lived at my host family’s house, our cat had a bunch of kittens and when they were big enough they started pouncing on the butiki that skittered across the floor. One time, one of the kittens caught one by the tail and the lizard quickly detached it’s tail and took off. The tail kept wriggling and kept the kitten entertained while the butiki was able to escape! Evolution, one point; Kitten, zero.
I once accidentally confused binuton (a glutinous rice snack) with butiki and my host family still won’t let me live it down because it sounded like I said I wanted to eat lizards.
8. Palay, Bigas, Kanin, Tipo
Prounounced: Pal-aye, Bee-gas, Ka-nin, Tee-po
The Philippines has a bunch of different words for different types and conditions for rice! I like these words because it’s a reflection of how important rice is here. Are there any English words that behave this way? Something Americans use different words to describe different details or conditions of one subject that other languages would just use one word to describe? If you think of one, leave it in the comments!
Palay is unmilled rice
Bigas is milled rice
Kain is cooked rice
Tipo is burnt rice
9. Niyog, Buko, Copra, Nata de coco, Gata, Lambanog
Pronounced: Nee-y-og, Boo-ko, Ko-pra, Na-ta de ko-ko, Gaa-ta, Lam-ba-nog
What do all these words have in common? They’re all words for coconut!
Niyog is a mature coconut.
Buko is green coconut that is not yet fully ripened. At this stage the coconut contains coconut water, or buko juice. Sometimes entire coconuts are sold on the side of the road. A kuya will cut off the top so you can drink all of the buko juice. When you’re finished with the juice, they’ll cut it in half for you and fashion a spoon out of the piece they cut off the top earlier. Then you use the coconut spoon to scrape the sides of the middle for the buko meat. Buko and buko juice is one of the food items I will absolutely miss the most. The coconut water in the USA just CANNOT compare with juice from a fresh coconut!
Copra is dried coconut. Whenever things need drying they’re laid out on the sides of the road in the Philippine sun. So, it’s not uncommon to pass sections of the street covered in copra (usually there is still a narrow lane for vehicles) drying out. You can usually smell these areas before you see them because they have a pungent, somewhat sour, smell. When the copra is done drying the meat is used for coconut oil.
Nata de coco- fermented coconut water (Wikipedia) the coconut water gels together when fermented and creates a jelly that is used in buko salad, a filipino dessert.
Gata is coconut milk which you can get fresh at any filipino market, however it may not come how you expect it to. The inside of the ripe coconut is shredded and put into a bag. You use this to make coconut milk by pouring hot water over it and squeezing the pulp with your hands. Then you drain the milk from the pulp, and viola you have gata!
Lambanog has been explained to me as coconut wine, but I believe it’s closer to a spirit than a wine (EDIT: Lambanog is a distilled coconut spirit, Thanks Kenny!). It’s made of fermented sap from coconut flowers or palms and it is a strong but cheap alcohol, commonly drank in tagay circles on the beach.
This is a style of drinking where people sit in a circle with a bottle of alcohol, wine, or beer, in the middle. They then pass around one cup. The person who has the cup pours a little into the cup, finishes it, and passes it to the next person who repeats the process. In the Philippines this is primarily used to describe this method of drinking, but between my batchmates and I we use it to describe consuming almost anything in this, one serving-pass it on, fashion.
Example: Wanna tagay the last slice of pizza?
What’s your favorite word (in any language!) and why? Post it in the comments below!
Your alarm goes off and you peel your eyes open to be partially blinded by your phone’s screen. The time reads 5:30am and you sit up straight and begin to stretch. Out in the kitchen you make yourself a cup of coffee and rest before beginning to prepare the biggest feast of the year. The menu is the same every year, but you still find yourself meticulously going over each recipe to make sure you didn’t forget any ingredients. No one wants to run to the neighbor’s house today to ask for a forgotten can of cream, or half cup of sugar.
After you contend that you have everything you could possibly need you begin to prepare the traditional dishes. Slowly and steadily the table begins to fill. The rest of the house wakes up to the sweet aroma of cooking foods. The family is immediately hungry and eager for the feast to come. You take a short break to watch the parade, and get ready to welcome family and old friends to share in the spirit of….
Thanksgiving? Fiesta? The end of that sentence is entirely up to you, Bahala ka.
On the surface these events seem very different, but the purpose of these celebrations is rooted in values that know no cultural bounds. Family, food, and cultural pride.
Christmas has begun
Fiesta, or Thanksgiving, family travels far and wide to come home and celebrate with their loved ones. The house is brought to life by warm hugs and conversations of life in the year (or years) past.
These holidays are nothing without the food! Buko salad, lechon, pansit, fried chicken, macaroni salad, fruit salad, among others grace the table during fiesta as stuffing, turkey, sweet potato casserole, and cranberry sauce do during Thanksgiving.
Both of these celebrations have parades that go along with them that highlight distinctive traits of their respective cultures. It had never occurred to me how deeply cultural the Thanksgiving day parade was until I saw the fiesta parades of the Philippines.
To me, the fiesta parades illustrated cultural value, history, and folklore. The dancers describe historical happenings, and the floats are designed to highlight important foods and exports. The Thanksgiving day parade is no different. The Thanksgiving day parade highlights foods that are typically used in it’s celebration, turkey, pumpkins, apples. We also dress in costume that is meant to be a tribute to the history of the holiday (the accuracy of this costume and version of history is another story). Many of it’s floats and acts are unique to the United States, whether they feature TV cartoon characters, a scene from a new Broadway show, or well-known celebrities.
It’s a fascinating experience to take a step back, and analyze my own culture on a larger scale. Describing the culture of the United States to people who have never experienced it, is a very difficult task. People want generalizations.
What do Americans eat?
What do Americans wear?
What sort of things do Americans do?
I always find it impossible to answer questions that generalize about the United States, because we are a country of such vast cultural diversity. Of course not EVERYONE in The United States celebrates Thanksgiving the same, but it’s one of the few generalizations I feel comfortable making.
Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, it holds a different meaning for different people. For my family it’s the epitome of autumn celebrations. Thanksgiving signifies the end of fall and the beginning of the Christmas season. It’s a time for family and to be thankful. Usually at my home we celebrate by cooking up all of the traditional foods, and a few of our own specialties (chocolate chocolate cake, cheesecake by mistake, to name a few of my mom’s famous dishes). We eat far too much and end up watching the movie ‘Elf’ in our sleepy, stuffed, stupor to officially start the Christmas season.
Christmas has begun
1 Thanksgiving dinner later…
Post Thanksgiving Food Coma
This year I taught my host nieces how to make hand turkeys, baked apple pie and stuffing. Tonight I’ll feel a little homesick while I video chat with my family, and I’ll make them turn the camera towards the television so I can watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
As the ‘firsts’ turn into ‘lasts’ this year, I can’t help but wonder maybe next year I’ll be experiencing similar feelings as I force feed my family in the United States buko salad to celebrate fiesta…
If there’s one conversation that is surprisingly similar whether I’m in the United States, or the Philippines, it’s about where I’m from.
[In the United States]
Stranger: Where are you from?
Me: I’m from New York
Stranger: The city?
Me: No, I’m from upstate
Stranger: Oh like Syracuse?
Me: Umm, not quite that far upstate…
[In the Philippines]
Friendly Ate: Taga-saan ka? (Where are you from?)
Me: Taga New York ako. (I’m from New York)
Friendly Ate: aaaaahhyyeee New York City?! The Big Apple?!
Me: haha, uhhh actually dai sa New York City. Malaking an New York. (Not the city, New York is big)
Friendly Ate: ah okay, pirang an oras sa city? (how many hours to the city?)
Me: siguro cero o duwang oras. (one or two hours)
[Friendly Ate still thinks I’m from the city because an hour jeep ride doesn’t get you very far in the Philippines]
To be fair, the United States is huge. Even Americans find it difficult not to generalize when it comes to understanding where someone is from. For New Yorkers who aren’t from the city though, this can be a bit of a sore spot.
So, here are some pictures to help paint a clearer picture of where I’m from.
Small Town USA
Small Town USA
My favorite apple Orchard
St Mary’s Catholic Church
Where I’m from can be referred to as ‘Small Town USA’. There are no skyscrapers, no subways, no busy sidewalks and certainly no yellow taxi cabs. I live among farms, orchards, and forests on the outskirts of a few small towns. These towns have certain features that you may not find in the city, but are nonetheless, iconic to New York.
Fresh produce at Roe’s Orchards
Apples Apples Everywhere!
Betty’s Country Kitchen, a local diner
Smiling faces at Betty’s Country Kitchen!
A few of these features include Apple Orchards, Pizzerias, and Diners; and in preparation for my visit home these were all on my ‘to do’ list.
Visiting my favorite apple orchard for it’s crunchy sweet corn, the crisp juicy apples, and the ripe delicious blueberries. Luckily, I came home in the correct season when the orchard was open! In New York we can’t harvest these fruits and vegetables all year around because we have such drastic seasons. Most fruits and vegetables are ready for harvest at some point during the summer, or the beginning of fall.
Eat as much New York Pizza as I possibly could. Each small town I’m surrounded by has at least one pizzeria (if not 2 or 3). Truthfully, I had forgotten just how good New York Pizza was!
Eating at a diner. Diners are unique to the Northeast, and Midwest USA. They have a wide selection of food, and you can eat whatever you want at any time of day. In the mood for pasta at 6am? You’ve got it. Feeling like pancakes at 9pm? Still on the menu! ALSO, most diners are open 24/7 making it a perfect late night road trip stop. The diner featured above has a warm and welcoming feel to it, and has become the heart of my hometown.
And of course, what’s home without family!
My Grandpa makes the best steak!
Me and my sister Tiffany at our cousin’s wedding
My best friend, I avoca-don’t know what I would do without her.
My dog Maisy is not too happy about me leaving again
My baby sister Quinn at her brand new college
Besides getting to visit my favorite state, I also got to see a bunch of my favorite people (and canines!). Not all of them were in New York but a bit of travel was well worth seeing their smiling faces after over a year of living in the Philippines.
My beautiful cousins
A quick stop to Florida to visit family and friends!
We’ve been friends for almost 20 years, a trip to NY wouldn’t be complete without seeing Gabi.
Penny the new addition to the Fowler Family. She’s an odd pup
My last New York feast for another year, with my favorite faces around the table!
After an unforgettable two weeks home, 77 hours of travel, countless hugs and laughs, enough pizza, cheese, and bagels to get me through another year, and about 40 kilos of pasalubong, I’m back in the Philippines once again!
Trading the brisk breeze of my New York, for the humid habagat of my Philippines.