Tonight we say "Paalam", goodbye in tagalog, to the Philippines after a great 16 days here together, and completing the 2nd stage of the epic journey and time in SE Asia. Connor is in flight right now on his way back to LAX, and Rosanna just landed in Hong Kong for her connection back to LAX. Haley & I begin a new journey for our first trip to Africa. Weird feelings abound, as Haley had to say goodbye to Connor for a month, and Rosanna and I said our tearful goodbyes and once again won't see each other for a month. Yet, at the same time, we have exciting adventures ahead of us in Cape Town, South Africa, a safari in Zambia, and volunteer work at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre in Malawi.
We all enjoyed Philippines thoroughly. From hotel resort staff, to divemasters, to drivers, to people around town, the Filipinos have welcomed us and made us all feel comfortable and well taken care of at all times - very service oriented, and super polite and formal (Thank you MomSir !).
And besides, President Duterte is shaking things down in a big way around here, and perhaps makes Trump look timid. Not a good place to be for drug dealers and drug addicts, as Duterte is hell bent on cleaning the drug scene, by hell or highwater. The people love him (90% or so approval rating), but at the same time enjoy some laughs about his demeanor and bold and raucous comments in public. Terrified drug dealers in the Philippines are being forced into a rehab program where they build caskets for the thousands already killed in the crackdown on narcotics. The message is loud and clear, either clean up your act and help build caskets, or you'll be inside one very shortly ! And since land values are increasing, we'll bury your casket vertically to save space !
Sounds funny, but the guy isn't joking around -- thousands have been killed in some fashion, lawfully or not, vigilante style, since he's taken office. One of his infamous quotes to the press: "You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I'll kill you. And I'll dump the bodies into Manila Bay and fatten all the fish there."
Recently, the Waze app (for driving directions and navigation) had the contest to provide the voice overlay to be substituted for the standard English navigation voice. The voice recognition hasn't worked well with the Filipino accent, F for P etc., so they're improving the system. One clever Filipino contestant submitted the "Duterte" Waze voice, and it featured a response to each turn-by-turn with his voice and commands such as "Ip you don't turn lept now, I'll kill you."
In Dauin, at the Atmosphere Resort, we soaked up the luxury treatment whether it was the massages at a beautiful spa facility onsite, or diving in bathwater at Apo Island, or wine tasting and private dinner in the treehouse. Rosanna made 2 visits to the Atmosphere Soup Kitchen philanthropy program. They provide a lunch each day to about 85 elementary students that otherwise don't receive regular meals. It's an extremely poor area, and some are rummaging through the dump site for items to be reused, and kids will sometimes miss school in order to focus on survival. With the soup kitchen program in place, school attendance has improved significantly, and kids are getting at least one solid meal per day. They also receive vitamins and brush their teeth after the meal, but many have rotted teeth already unfortunately. Rosanna helped out with serving, fell in love with some of the cute Filipino kids and is trying to fit a couple into the luggage.
Then onto Manila for a couple days, and nice accomodations at the new Conrad Hotel. Rosanna's cousin, Agnes, spent a good amount of time with us and it was a real treat to visit with her. Rosanna especially enjoyed her company and can't wait to see her again. We all purchased some formal and traditional Filipino dresswear for Ramon & Maribel's 50th Anniversary next year, including myself with my new barong. I'm going to try to fit in, pinoy style. The uber driver didn't believe Rosanna was full blooded Filipina, despite her speaking tagalog to him, and he didn't believe I'm pinoy -- he said my nose is the wrong shape.
While shopping, Haley wanted to bring home a few packs of cigars from Philippines, as gifts for friends, and the required packaging here includes graphic pictures of the various diseases and side effects from smoking. As the guy is trying to suggest which brand is better quality, Haley is responding with "ok, great, but can I get that one with Gangrene or some Emphysema" -- shopping for the most graphic images on the packaging.
With Connor turning 21 on our last evening together of the trip, it was call for a special night out together and partying at the Cowboy Grill & Bar. Big crowd, 3 different live bands performing on stage, and time to get the booze pouring. The first band was kind of like the "Spice Girls", except they're the Filipina version, called "Classy Girls"-- all dressed the same, all synchronized dance moves, all about the looks, and not really much in singing talent. Not so sure about the "Classy" part, with grinding hips and all, but that's fine -- fun to watch, and Haley & Rosanna managed to get backstage and get a classy picture with the Classy Girls, and buy the epic Classy Girls shirt for Connor to cherish as memories of his Classy 21st birthday.
The next band comes up and it's all punk rock -- shaved head, mohawk spiked up, and screaming into the microphone. Ummm, kind of missing the Classy Girls now, but ok, I'm open to new things. Haley jumped in on the action and did some head banging. Then after several punk songs, he transitions into a punkified version of Journey, and the crowd goes bonkers. Quite good, the guy is turning it on now, and everyone's really getting into it. He's drenched in sweat, rips off his shirt to show his young stud body -- girls didn't mind at all. Too bad the Classy Girls didn't rip their shirts off. That would've been a classy moment that I would've cherished.
The 3rd band takes over, and I don't remember the name -- we'll just call her "The Not-So-Classy Girl", as she touches her privates, grinds, makes sexual gestures with the microphone, etc etc. Well, 2 out of 3 isn't bad for a fun night out, right ?
Haley and I departed Manila and have just arrived in Singapore. After a few hour layover, we'll take off again at 2 AM for an 11 hour flight to Johannesburg South Africa, on Singapore Airlines A380 megajet. Connor left this morning for a direct flight to LA, and will arrive just before we're taking off to Johannesburg. Rosanna left Manila shortly after us, with a connection in Hong Kong. With a 1.75 hour delay, that now has her landing at 11:59 PM, and her Hong Kong - LAX 13 hour flight departs at 12:05 AM !! Should be interesting . . . Will Cathay Pacific hold the plane for her, we shall see in another hour or so. She may be doing the OJ Simpson run and hurdle across the airport (remember, the Hertz commercials . . . you know, from the pre-murder days). A little bit of a crazy day of flights going here, there and everywhere !
Update: just found out Cathay Pacific didn't hold the plane for her. Missed the 13 hour flight by about 10 minutes. They're putting her up in a hotel for the night and she'll fly out in the morning.
We've now hit the halfway mark in this journey, with 26 days remaining, almost all in Africa (our first time to Africa). I'm looking forward to some really cool things to do in Cape Town -- climbing Table Mountain, Great White shark cage diving, great jazz bars, cool shopping, and reuniting with Jenna and Dylan (who we met while volunteering in Malaysia). I'm looking forward to our first African safari, in Zambia. I'm looking forward to volunteer work at the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre in Malawi, and Haley's Wildlife Veterinary Course. And I'm certainly looking forward to spending quality father-daughter time with my not-so-little girl.
Onward to Africa !!!
Robert & Haley