A Forest Trek to Remember

Forest

A couple of weeks ago, we got up at 4AM on a Sunday morning and drove 188 kilometers (a little over 3 hours) to Subic, Zambales. We have enlisted in MadTravel‘s trek at the Bataan forest of Subic Bay – one of the last thriving rain forests in the Philippines. It was their first official trek with guests on this route and we were quite excited being part of this adventure.

After a quick Jollibee breakfast (we didn’t want to miss the call time), we drove from the Lighthouse Resort Hotel to El Kabayo, where we were welcomed by the elders of the Aetas of Pastolan with homemade Bataan coffee and sweet bananaQ. The aetas, the indigenous people who were the first race who inhabited the Philippines, were awarded ancestral land in Zambales. Five percent of the income of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) goes to the aetas. They use this funding for education, health, and providing allowances for their seniors.

As we began to walk through the forest trail, the aeta elders showed us the different trees and plants they use for medicinal and housekeeping purposes. The trees that stood out for me most were the cupang, tangisang bayawak and the lauan trees. These native tropical trees stood tallest among the rest of the trees and filled the path with their shade – hiding birds of different species and beautiful sounds in their canopies.Bamboo forest

We were told that the cupang tree’s parts had medicinal properties: from its bark, seeds and fruit. The leaves are small and clustered, and when they fall off the trees are quick to decompose, fertilizing the soil around the trees easily.

The tangisang bayawak (Ficus variegata Blume), is called such because of its bark’s smooth texture that lizards are unable to climb the trees at all. The base of the tree are huge, and they remind me of the trees that grew in the temples of Siem Reap.

The lauan, my new favorite tropical tree, produces flowers that are so fragrant. It was a breeze walking under the lauan trees as the scent was very good – it reminds of me potpourri that are sold in shopping malls.Forest

After about an hour, we reached the river and a small falls. Some of the folks in the group took the time to dip into the cool, clear waters. My small group walked up the stream and met some locals and their friendly dog, Lasing. Doggie

Sitting on the rocks on the stream and gazing up to the green foliage, I saw different colorful birds fly above us. It was at this moment that I said a little prayer of thanks for having been able to see this little piece of heave on earth, and being given the chance to be one with nature.NatureWater

Later on, the elders told stories under mahogany trees that were planted by the army. Mahogany trees are not really friendly to the tropical rain-forest as they consume the nutrients of the soil around them. Notice how there are no plants growing directly under the mahogany trees. I think this is one of the things that environmental organizations like Haribon have been communicating more on during tree-planting volunteering activities to increase the public’s awareness, as most of the trees in Metro Manila urban areas are not native tropical trees and do not really help in propagating rain-forests.Hearing stories from an Elder

The aetas make their own honey, and D and I had a taste of different sweet varieties: mango, lauan, and pamulaklakin. Because the latter two were so new to us, and to support the local livelihood, we got bottles of lauan and pamulaklakin. Now we are able to enjoy our tea with these sweet varieties of honey.

As we got back to where we started, I reflected on what our generation now can do to be able to preserve these rain forests.  I remember when I was a child, whenever I go to our backyard, I can see the mountains of Sierra Madre from afar, and I used to think that if i was able to cross those mountains, at the other side I will get to see my family in the United States (well, that was my then perspective on distance). Now, I am told that the mountains can hardly be seen because of the houses and concrete that block the view.

When we got back to the parking site, we spent another hour planting seeds of tropical trees like rambutan, marang, durian. When these seeds turn into seedlings, the aetas will replant them into the rain-forest so that the biodiversity can be enriched. To date, there is only two percent of rain forests left in the Philippines. The number is shocking, but I believe there is hope – if people become more aware and appreciate the importance of saving our earth – not just for ourselves but for the generations, of different creatures, yet to come.

 

 

 

 

Taking a Stand for the Earth

Contribution

In recent years, I have become more conscious of the impact of plastic pollution. Tons of plastic end up in the seas, and these cause great harm to the animals who ingest them – hundreds of them dying choked or trapped by the plastic. Knowing how these animals suffer break my heart, and there was a time a couple of years ago that I had a break from Facebook because I was deeply bothered by animal photos. I appreciate that many countries have taken big steps to reduce the plastic pollution. In the Philippines, I know that some cities have already moved to paper bags in the supermarket counters, or switching to paper straws in cafes. I have also seen more effort in terms of waste segregation, where composting and recycling are encouraged. But we have a long way to go in this war against plastic pollution. D and I join coastal cleanups regularly, and I feel that the amount of trash in the oceans are just not getting any lesser.

As I  start this year, I made a pledge to go as plastic-free as much as I could. I locked in this pledge at National Geographic’s Choose the Planet campaign. The goal is to prevent 1 billion items from reaching the oceans by 2020. This initiative incites everyone signing to drive the change beginning with ourselves. So, hand on my heart, this is how I’m going to contribute.

Contribution
Little ways to contribute

Ditching the plastic bag

Now I’m so happy I’ve received several eco-bags from family and friends, more so over last Christmas. I have them neatly tucked in my bag so I can use them whenever I end up buying stuff from the supermarket. This should cut off at least 3 plastic bags from me per week. Annually, that’s at least 156 bags.

Bringing my own cutlery

When I eat out, or purchase food to go, I use my own cutlery. I won a set of foldable cutlery two years ago, and glad they’re quite handy. This helps cut off plastic spoons and forks.

Stainless over Single-Use Plastic Straw

Single-use plastic straw is smaller compared to the plastic bags and plastic spoons and forks – but these are one of the most commonly found items in the oceans. I remember picking up dozens from my coastal cleanups. Lately, big cafes in Makati and BGC have switched to paper straws, and some do not readily offer straws for folks taking out drinks. I’m not sure if paper straws are really plastic free (I read some comments in forums that they still have plastic linings), but one thing’s for sure: my stainless straws are. So, they’re also one of the items neatly tucked inside my bag. Last Christmas, I received around 3 of these from different friends. I hope it’s not just a fad and people will consistently use them.

Refillable containers

I’ve found shops where I can refill my shampoo, body wash, liquid castile soap, conditioners and laundry detergents. And since I am into DIY, I am also able to recycle the containers I use for my cologne, face wash, salt scrub, and linen spray. Another way to reduce plastic is through packing my own lunch using reusable containers.

I know that there are thousands of people in the world who are as concerned, if not more than I am, in taking measures on preserving our mother earth. I am grateful to them, for taking a stand and for not giving up in sharing their knowledge and passion to the people around them, sparking inspiration and change everywhere they go. #ichooseplanet

Solar Panels

Solar Panels

I first saw solar panels in 2010 when we were on a train ride from Prague to Munich. D was amazed at houses lined with them as we passed through German towns. We saw them again when we were in Osaka later that year, during a train ride yet again en route to Kyoto. Since then, D had been researching their availability in the Philippine market. At the time, it was still very expensive so he just kept it within radar.

Then an opportunity came knocking in 2014. Solar panels became more affordable, and D read about a distributor based in a nearby city. After making some calls, he was sold to the idea and easily convinced me to invest in them for our house. D’s primary reason was to save on our electric bill, whereas mine was to do our bit to help address climate change.

Solar Panels
Solar Panels

For the technical stuff:  before installation, we identified an area that is well exposed to sunlight. An analysis of the daytime electricity usage was conducted by the supplier to determine how many panels were needed for our house. One panel emits 250 watts, and we got a total of 6 panels. We also bought an inverter which is the device that converts the harvested solar energy into electricity. We applied for net metering so that any unused wattage harvested by the panels would be sold back to the utility company, which, in our case, is Meralco.

For the administrative stuff: we secured a permit for the solar panels from the city hall. The city hall’s technical team inspected our house prior to the installation, assisted by our solar panel distributor. As for Meralco, they were the ones that granted us net metering for a fee. The requirements we submitted to them included copies of the title of the property and electric bill.  It took 3 months for our net metering to be up and running because we were the first in our area who applied for such. At the time, net metering was so new, that they took a photo of the team once it was done – for documentation purposes I guess?

Meralco
Meralco

Investing in the solar panels was one of the best decisions D and I made. I’m glad when friends express interest in having them installed at their homes, and more so when they do. I wish it will be encouraged more in the Philippines (maybe even subsidize it for consumers). Sadly, as with electric cars, we may have a long way to go before this happens as more favor is given to the utility companies. On a bright side, some big companies are already starting to use them like shopping malls, farms, and factories. My dad, who had been dreaming about solar energy, was finally able to put up a solar energy company partnering with friends who share the same passion. It now keeps him busy, and I am happy to see him share the advocacy to a bigger audience and making it happen.

 

 

 

 

A Week in Bantayan

Sta Fe Bantayan

I’m not really a beach person, and I’d prefer to go to the mountains at any given time. However, this year, I had my fair share of the beach life: from learning how to surf in Baler, Quezon; to biking and discovering hidden beaches in El Nido, Palawan.

I was blessed with an opportunity to volunteer for a week in Bantayan, an island known for its white sand and crystal blue waters north of Cebu City. I was to support the preparation for the reopening of the SEACAMP.

So I packed light and flew from Manila to Cebu on a Monday morning. From Cebu, I commuted almost three hours by bus to Hagnaya port, passing along seaside towns and letting my mind wander and imagine how it would have felt like waking up each morning to the sound of waves and seagulls. The three hour ride almost felt like forever – I got off one town away from Hagnaya port because I shouldn’t have drank too much water before embarking a long ride (I realized that too late). I  took a tricycle to get to the port and hopped on a ferry to Sta. Fe, Bantayan. I got to the white house where I was to stay for a week at around 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Yes, I spent my first day commuting.

LTE signal was weak, so I braced myself for a week without internet – I took it as a sign that I should just be one with nature. After dinner, we would have a short quiet stroll at the beach, and later on I would get to sleep early because it would be lights out at around 9 o’clock. For the first two days it was daunting but I eventually got the hang of it.

Before I get carried away with my memories, do you know what this shell is? My friend, Nadine and I saw heaps of this while we were walking along the shore. They have a star shape embossed on them, and they’re pretty delicate, really. They easily break, like eggshells. I think they’re so pretty.

Delicate little shell
Very delicate thin coated shell

What I loved about Bantayan are: the white sand, the singing and gliding birds, halo-halo, fresh air, clear waters, and the colorful picturesque sunsets.

hammock view
View from the hammock, Bantayan, Cebu

One night, just after sundown, we went to the beach to see the ‘dancing fish’. One of our hosts lit his flashlight and let the skim over the water. Lo and behold, hundreds of fish jumped up towards the light as the beam passed them – they looked like they were dancing indeed! Our host told us that it was a way the fish communicates back to them, as the stretch of sea in front of the SEACAMP is a marine-protected area. The fish were dancing to say thank you for protecting our home. While I watched that phenomenon, I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Who would have thought something so simple could be so powerful as to touch my stoic heart.

At the SEACAMP, I was able to learn and practice composting, which I later on applied at home. We planted malunggay trees, experienced fetching water from a well, fed fish in the kois, and prepared the newly built school. We also recycled plastic waste by grinding them. Later on they would be mixed with cement and be converted into what would become fish homes (I forget what they’re called). We saw the marine protected area up close when we got on a glass-bottomed boat. I am truly inspired by SEACAMP’s efforts to protect the environment.

I got to know some of the locals and my heart leaps knowing that they love Bantayan so much and would do all that they can to preserve it.

Church in Bantayan
Catholic church in Bantayan – Took me about 40 minutes (and 30 pesos) to get to the town by commute. The church is right smack in the middle of the plaza of Bantayan.