Come here little fishy

Trip Start Nov 06, 2006
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38
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Trip End Jun 15, 2007


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Flag of Philippines  ,
Saturday, April 14, 2007

We're blasted by a wave of sticky heat the moment we step out of the plane in Manila. The bus ride from the airport to downtown reveals incredible poverty - entire neighborhoods of leaning piecemeal shacks with rusty tin roofs, shantytowns built beneath the elevated highway to take advantage of the shade. This scene eventually merges with the cement jungle, interweaving overpasses, traffic-packed roads, and dehumanizing urbanity of downtown. We suddenly pass through the upscale Makati neighborhood with its sparkling mega-malls and western-style restaurants and it feels like we've been flung into a completely different country. I'm more uneasy in this city than I have been anywhere else in the past six months.

Armed guards man the doors of the bus station where we have a layover until our bus south arrives. We're the only obvious foreigners in the entire place. With no sidewalks along the traffic-clogged road outside, we're limited to one option for both lunch and dinner - Jollibee, the home-grown Philippine fast food sensation that has swept the entire country. It's hamburgers, spaghetti, and fried chicken all under one roof. It looks like they can't get enough of it, since we must have passed at least 30 of these places on our way here. All eyes are on us as we order and eat.

Through all the obvious attention we're getting, we're also quickly discovering how welcoming and generous the Filipino people are. It's a huge relief to be back in English speaking territory, and several friendly people are quick to strike up conversations with us, help us find our way, and even pass us their cellphone numbers.

An overnight bus lands us in Sorsogon near Donsol, our base for something we've been looking forward to - snorkeling with whale sharks! Here we are, jumping into the ocean off a small outrigger with nothing but snorkel and fins as a gigantic 24-foot-long bus-sized creature is swimming straight toward us just a few yards away. During the first interaction I was screaming so hard through my snorkel I had to remind myself to breathe. But these enormous, gentle fish soon had me mesmerized. Our last shark swam slow enough that we were able to swim beside it for over 1/2 hour - magical! Often, the sharks were just below the surface, close enough for us to swim with them at eye level, to spot remora fish attached to their lateral fins, and to watch as a 6-foot-high tail fin swooshed by. An unbelievable day and one of the most memorable wildlife encounters either of us has ever had!

I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to travel, to wake up every day having the freedom and the means to chase dreams and hunches and experiences. Every day I'm reminded how rare this opportunity is and how amazing and beautiful every person is in this big world of ours. To everyone I've met along this journey, thank you so much for sharing your hearts, minds, and lives so generously!
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