As an island nation that straddles five geological fault lines along the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines endures far more than its fair share of natural disasters. Earthquakes, tropical storms of all stripes, and volcanic eruptions routinely exact a fearsome toll on the archipelago. On the upside, this is a uniquely beautiful country to call home for a few years and, in some ways, Manila has proved a far better posting than our previous assignments. The last couple of weeks in particular have underscored this dichotomy, as a volcano we hiked just a few months ago blanketed Manila with ash several days before we headed out to Palawan for a beach vacation with S’s visiting family.
Posts tagged ‘nature’
Last weekend may well go down as the wildest of our Manila tour. On Saturday, we welcomed S’s parents and aunt to the Philippines. It was a beautiful, sunny day. On Sunday, the sky went dark. Taal Volcano, located 37 miles away from Manila, erupted for the first time in 43 years, triggering hundreds of volcanic earthquakes, spawning a lightning storm inside its 10-mile-high ash column, and blanketing the capital and a good part of the country’s north with volcanic debris.
It took us a couple of weeks to recover from our kids’ antics in Japan. Once we did, an irrepressible desire to get away, even for half a day, set in. We revisited our list of hiking destinations in the Philippines, made dinner and massage reservations at a nearby hotel, arranged for childcare, and hit the road for a day trip outing without the kids. Our destination: Mt. Maculot, an hour-and-a-half south of Manila.
We saved the best for last, spending the tail end of our journey to Japan at an onsen in the Japanese Alps. Fresh mountain air and spectacular scenery greeted us in the mornings. Elaborate home-cooked meals and a natural hot spring right outside our door awaited in the evening when we returned from the day’s adventuring. At the outset, when our kids were putting us through our paces, we had caught ourselves looking forward to the end of this trip. As soon as we had checked into the onsen, donned our yukata robes, and taken a hot dip in the chilly shadow of the Hida Mountains, however, we wished our sojourn to Japan would stretch on indefinitely.
One of the reasons we had chosen Japan for our late October trip instead of the numerous destinations in Southeast Asia that are on our travel list was our nostalgia for autumn. Kyoto, in particular, was rumored to be breathtakingly beautiful in the fall, with its ancient temples surrounded by colorful foliage. We got a heavy dose of autumnal weather, but not much in the way of scenic landscapes during our five-day stay in the Kansai area. Fortunately, we found what we sought in the mountains.
Several weeks after returning from Japan, we are still sorting through our photos and mentally processing the trip. Culturally, Japan is unlike any other country where we have traveled. The half dozen posts we have already devoted to our ten-day visit barely scratch the surface of what we want to share, both in terms of our observations and our favorite images of the striking places we visited. To avoid Japan overkill, however, we’d like to break up our overseas travel tales with a post about our adventures closer to home.
Considering that we are living in an archipelago nation known for its beaches and dive spots, our beach-to-trail ratio appears to be a bit off. We have gone on several day hikes. On the other hand, it took S four months to make it to the ocean, and the only sand D has seen in nearly two months in the Philippines is the beach volleyball court in Manila Bay, where his ultimate frisbee team practices.
Lakes, volcanic craters, and mountain trails abound just beyond Metro Manila’s urban sprawl. To reach them, one just needs to penetrate the metropolis’ omnipresent traffic. Gridlock can be a powerful deterrent for a day trip, especially since the only reliable solution for escaping it is to hit the road before the sun is up. There is usually no dodging the congestion on the return trip, but by that point an epic adventure is in the books, which makes a couple of hours in traffic seem like a small price to pay.
While D was still fighting the fog of jet lag, S was burning up with wanderlust. It’s not that her first three months in the Philippines were uneventful; far from it. Moving to a new country, then moving again a few weeks later from temporary housing to our permanent apartment; getting the kids settled with school and daycare; figuring her way around Manila while tackling the steep learning curve of her new job – there were more than enough challenges and new experiences to keep S thoroughly occupied during our separation. After spending a couple of months in Manila, however, S longed for a break and an opportunity to begin exploring our new country.