Mount Bulusan: The Place Where The River Flows

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.

img_8304

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.

img_9574

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.

img_7217

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.

img_8659

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.

Bayugin

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.

Magandang Umaga Po

PEACE CORPS CBT: DAY TO DAY

That is the sentence that starts my every day. I wake up to roosters and motorcycle engines outside my window. I sit down to a breakfast of rice and tortong talong. My host sister and brothers leave for school and I walk down the dusty paved road toward the Peace Corps staff house for class. On my walk I greet everyone: “Magandang Umaga Po!”. Curious eyes watch as I walk around kal-asos and trykes, or as I squish to the side of the road as a large truck comes through. Mornings are usually language sessions and during breaks, we walk less than 100 paces to stand on the seashore. We stretch our legs, stand in the surf, and breathe in the salty air. We break at lunch and I head home where Kuya greets me. He makes me food for lunch, usually chicken (manok), and of course, rice. Little Job is usually home from Kinder-one by then and he hides behind my chair and pokes me while I eat. The afternoon rolls in and I accept the slow melting feeling that will loom over me for the rest of the day.

The afternoons are usually technical sessions. The past two weeks have consisted of learning to perform coral seagrass and mangrove assessments, learning fish coral seagrass and mangrove identification, in both English and Tagalog, and learning to perform a participatory coastal resource assessment. To say it’s been a busy couple of weeks is an understatement. But sitting on the edge of a pump boat at 7am waiting to jump into the water and assess coral is a pretty great way to start the work week.

To say it’s been a busy couple of weeks is an understatement.

When I come home at night I am greeted by ‘Ate Chelsea, Ate Chelsea!’ And hugs from little Job and Denise. I live with an Ate and Kuya. They have a daughter and two sons, but several cousins live close by so there are always kids around. The kids and I enjoy coloring, countless games of monkey monkey (go fish), and reading. At night everyone watches television and does their homework. We eat dinner, and I go to bed to the sound of videoke, kal-asos, and my fan turned on its highest setting.

…each day brings unique unexpected moments of being present.

Aside from my daily schedule each day brings unique unexpected moments of being present. Whether it’s drinking the best buko juice I’ve ever had from freshly cut coconuts on a beachside goat farm (and subsequently getting that coconut stolen by a goat), or dancing with the Ates at a birthday party while singing videoke. I’m amazed at the world of the Philippines as it unfolds before me.

Peace Corps Philippines: New Beginnings and Songs About Pizza

The moment I received the email inviting me to join the Peace Corps as a Coastal Resource Management Volunteer I knew I was going to say yes. But replying to an email is easy, just a few keystrokes and clicks. There was no way of truly envisioning what I was signing myself up for. All I knew was that I had to find out.  Finally, 4 months later, I am beginning to do just that.

Arriving at IO

I’m finding out that it’s waking up at 6am to enjoy the crisp fresh air before the heat of morning kicks in. It’s embracing that sweaty is no longer something that happens on hot summer days or after a tough work-out, it’s a chronic condition. It’s having merienda at mid-morning and mid-afternoon. And it’s tiny red ants marching in and out of everything you own. It’s videoke, it’s Jolibees, and it’s only just beginning.

Peace Corps Philippines has three different sectors: CYF (Children, Youth and Family), Education, and CRM (Coastal Resource Management). Right now we are all together at initial orientation getting acquainted with each other and the Philippines. This includes dancing at Disco Disco night, and learning Pinoy games and pastimes, including videoke.

Pinoy game night

Of all the Pinoy games and pastimes, videoke has to be my favorite (so far). Videoke is very different from its American counterpart, karaoke. Videoke actually has absolutely nothing to do with being a good singer, or knowing the lyrics, or even knowing the tune! It is all about your ability to put on a show with confidence. There are thousands of songs to be performed in English, Tag-lish, and Tagalog. We learned a song called Picha Pie (here is the link for your videoke-ing enjoyment). Picha is not a tagalog word, the –za sound in pizza is just difficult for Filipinos to pronounce.  So Picha Pie is a song about Pizza and it is sung to the tune of ‘I will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor. I’m not quite sure why this didn’t make it back in America but it is truly a work of art (see full translation here). Also quite different from American karaoke, videoke is not something you just do at parties, or bars. Videoke is a part of the Filipino way of life and almost every household comes equipped with its very own! Family gatherings, office parties, solo, even in department stores, videoke is EVERYWHERE.  So I’m looking forward to all of the videoke-ing I will get to partake in over these next 27 months.

Merienda: mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks

Aside from videoke we have started our Tagalog studies, begun learning about the Philippine environment, and internalizing what it means to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.   On top of the formal seminars and meetings, every day in this beautiful country is full of learning and full of surprise. I am never quite sure what Filipino habit or daily ritual will emerge in my routine and force me to experience the world in a new way. Whether it is greeting strangers on the sidewalk with ‘Maganadang umaga po’ or growing antsy for mid-morning merienda at 9:45am. My world is changing and it’s only the beginning.

Stay tuned!