I had a pretty interesting holiday season. The family I’m staying with didn’t do much. We didn’t have a dinner on Christmas eve, and there wasn’t any family around. Even though brothers, sisters and cousins live everywhere in this town. I think the reason I stick out so much in this town isn’t because I’m white, but because I don’t have any relatives in this town.
On Christmas day, I slept in until 10, then drank as many cups of coffee as I could (Thanks for the Beans mom and dad!), read for a little while, and then a Christmas lunch was prepared for me. The parts that I remember the most were the roasted chicken (It’s a native chicken, which they say tastes better. Smaller, so more taste packed into a smaller chicken unit), rice (naturally found at every meal and street corner), a cheese ball (don’t cringe, it’s the only cheese I’ve had in 5 months, I don’t know what cheese tastes like anymore. Everybody on three, ready: One, Two, Three “Awww”), and then I drank a liter of wine ( I don’t need to say anything about that).
I ate the meal alone, as I do every meal. But being Christmas I was blessed with the presence of a little company. A 4 year old in all his curiosity and bravery decided to sit down with the big nosed white stranger at the table. I don’t recall him saying anything to me. A few hand gestures, but that’s all that came from him. Given the state that I was in (about a liter), I had the best conversation with this young man. It was nice to have company.
That just about sums up Christmas in the Philippines. Oh yeah, everybody goes to midnight mass at 11 on Christmas eve, and they ring the church bell for the entire 4 hour service. And I didn’t see any presence or Christmas trees. People do decorate their houses though. And children go house to house caroling for money so they can buy fire-crackers. Those funny kids.
For New years, I went to Donsol, Bicol in Southen Luzon (bottom of the middle part in the Philippines) and I got to swim with whale sharks. I was expecting it to be amazing and intimidating and beautiful, and it was. We showed up on a perfect day. It had been raining for the past week and a half and only saw one Butanding (whale shark) and that was the day before, and they had to wait 4 hours to see it one time. So we were just looking forward to a nice boat ride at the very least.
We were on the boat for 20 minutes and the guide started up in some jibberish, and told us to get ready. We jumped off the boat 30 yards away from the Butanding, and then we started swimming in it’s direction. They swim very slowly. The water is a little murky, so it’s hard to see. It’s actually just like any child’s nightmare of swimming in a large body of water and not knowing what’s beneath them as they slowly anticipate a monster.
Had I been swimming any faster, I would have swam right into the side of this impressive animal. And just like that, I was face to face with a 60-foot long fish (shark at that). I thought I would have been frightened, or might have been taking quick shallow breathes or scared. But this animal was so large and peaceful. I can’t begin to describe how I felt next to this creature. Swimming around the Butanding’s mouth were a countless number of different fish. Some were as large as a foot, and some were 4 inches long. And they were all just hanging out around it’s mouth. Butanding eat plankton, and have small teeth, but filter their food through a sieve like material that filters out the plankton. Just like some whales.
After a while the Shark descended and we were not able to follow it any further. We get back on the boat and talk about the experience for just a moment before we spot another one not far off. So we race to the next Butanding. They are pretty easy to see. There is a large dorsal fin sticking out of the water, and a huge dark spot in the water (I’m telling you it’s like a nightmare I’ve had a hundred times). We ended up swimming with 6 different sharks that day in the course of 3 hours. It was an amazing experience, and something that I will never forget. And do again, because I live in the Philippines! Sorry I don’t have too many pictures of the event. My camera isn’t water-proof anymore.
I’ve been getting lots of email from folks! Thank you soooo much. I look forward to every chance I get to go into town and hear from my friends back home. I hope everybody is off to a great 2011 and had an awesome holiday season.