Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Weathering Typhoon Pedring

With the exception of our off-island tours or vacations, we closed every window on our house for the very first time on Tuesday. The occasion? The arrival of Typhoon Pedring, internationally named Nesat. This is easily the strongest typhoon to hit Corregidor since we have lived here, with the possible exception of Basyang, which blew through while we were in the States in July, 2010. Pedring was a very large storm, causing high winds here for over 48 hours, with eight inches of rain measured in our backyard during a 24-hour period. Pretty amazing considering that the center of the storm was north of our area by a long shot. It was raining and blowing so hard that it reminded us of snow squalls at times. A young swallow even sought refuge under our over-hanging roof, clinging to the upper edge of our American flag.

The Corregidor “family” came through the storm unharmed. Because the 100-year-old drainage system is still functional, Corregidor can pretty much take all the rain a typhoon can dish out. Metro Manila, only 26 miles from here, is recovering from flood waters now, some of the worst along the Manila Bay beachfront in decades. We’ve been told that you can see some interesting footage of the waves shooting over Roxas Boulevard on YouTube. Try searching for “Manila” and “Pedring.” We also read that the American Embassy, which is along the bay, had some flooding.

It’s kind of strange spending a whole day indoors, but we really had no choice. The winds were so strong that if we left any windows open, things were blowing around inside the house, and rain blew in as well. Obviously one should not go outdoors during such storms, given the risk of being struck by flying objects or falling trees. Fortunately the house suffered no structural damage – it is quite sturdy – although we of course had damage to some trees and bushes. As usual the rains came in waves, super-heavy for awhile and then almost stopping briefly. We have encountered similar rain patterns in Michigan and Minnesota, but to our recollections they were always accompanied by lightning and didn’t last nearly so long. No lightening, no thunder with Pedring.

Normally when we lie in bed at night some of our bedroom windows are open, and we hear all kinds of sounds. Most of them are birds, frogs, lizards, and insects, especially crickets. Once in a while we will hear a branch fall, and sometimes we hear sounds that neither of us can identify. Almost never are these sounds scary. Recently Marcia awoke, hearing a scratchy sound at one of the bedroom window-screens. She had to drag Steve out of bed, and they walked toward the nearest open window, looking for what was making the sound. There, clinging to the outside of the screen, we spotted a land crab with maybe a 12-inch leg span, harmless but a little scary looking at four in the morning, especially having been startled from sleep.

Being inside in a totally closed house on the island is a different sensation entirely for us, the wind vacillating between near-calm and howling, and rain occasionally lashing the house as well. You feel kind of helpless, like there ought to be something you should be doing, but you just have to wait it out and trust that everything will be alright when you get up the next day.

On the second morning – Wednesday – Steve took a walk from our house on Middleside, following the road to Topside. Workers were already busy clearing the fallen trees that were on the road, but it was evident from all of the leaf debris that a lot of damage had been done. Most obvious was a large, old tree at Topside which is in front of the former Fort Mills Administration Building. This massive tree completely blocked the road and a crew of six men worked the whole morning to cut and clear it. This required skillful chainsaw work, since it is very easy to pinch the blade when a tree is not lying flat on the ground.

The road in front of the Ordnance Repair Shop was blocked, a tree having been torn from the ground by its roots. It’s kind of surprising to us that a tree here could have such shallow roots, since it can often go six or seven months without measurable rainfall, but with the ground saturated it was hard even for deeper roots to withstand the wind gusts. Steve observed many trees down on the road to Batteries Hearn and Grubbs on the western part of Topside. Three of our bougainvilleas out front are lying on their sides and will have to be cut back to the ground to await new growth. A few of our cili (hot pepper) plants are lying down as well, though still rooted.

As he was walking back down to Middleside, Steve was surprised by what he saw at Battery Geary. In the middle of the battery is a hole in the ground where the central powder magazine was originally located. It was blown to bits by the Japanese in 1942, leaving a deep crater behind. It is temporarily a pond, with so much storm water having accumulated that it apparently has not yet had enough time to seep into the ground.

Steve was also able to drive down the hill to access the Internet on Wednesday morning, after missing email since Sunday. At the south beach, the waves were occasionally coming up as high as the dock. It was very difficult to photograph because the spray from the waves was hitting the camera lens. Also, winds were so strong at times that it was difficult to stand up straight. You can really feel the power of nature while standing on a beach, even at the backside of a typhoon. And remember, we weren’t even that close to the center of the storm!

Because of rough sea conditions, boat traffic is – of course – restricted by the Philippine Coast Guard. This has stranded a number of the island’s regular workers in Cabcaben on Bataan. And of course it means the banceros who bring supplies are not able to make their daily runs. We try to keep a good supply of non-perishables – canned fish, corned beef, Spam, spaghetti, rice, beans, etc., on hand just in case we are cut off from the mainland for an extended period of time. At present there is another storm that could choose to head our way…we hope it will track north of here. If not, we could be in for more surprises. Ahhh, tropical adventures!

Steve and Marcia on the very wet Rock

Friday, September 16, 2011

Buying basketball uniforms

Excitement is growing as everyone on the island anticipates the upcoming basketball tournament. To say that some of the players “can’t wait” would be an understatement. Soon after the announcement was made, 56 players had registered, and the 5 captains held a draft. The teams will be named after the five most-visited gun batteries on the island, namely Batteries Way, Hearn, Grubbs, Crockett, and Geary.

On Tuesday, our helper Roy and I took the 10-kilometer banca ride to Cabcaben, the first leg of our journey to Orion to order team uniforms. Off to the northwest, the Bataan Mountains were bright and beautiful in the morning sun as we departed, and the sea was calm and blue. We hadn’t traveled very far before we could see the aftereffects of a landslide that occurred recently along the old, now unmaintained north access road. Just the other day Marcia and I had walked that route with fellow Corregidor-lover Julia, and we were shocked to see the huge gaping void that now leads down to the shoreline. The landslide covered such a large area that it was impossible to get a decent photograph. Fortunately the road is still partially in place, but it may not take very much more rain – maybe the next major typhoon – for 100 feet or so of the road to disappear completely.

In Cabcaben we picked up Jerry and Rowena, who have a home there but reside most of the time on Corregidor. Because Orion is on the old highway (where the Death March took place) we had to travel partway by bus and then switch to a jeepney. I made the mistake of getting in the front seat which was made for Filipino legs. I had to sit sideways, and my left knee kept bumping into the metal dashboard, or more specifically, into a thin piece of metal running horizontally along the dash. I could not see out the front, the top third of the windshield being covered with a “Lord Guide Us” banner. Needless to say, the driver, about 18-inches shorter than I, had no trouble seeing the road. It was interesting from one standpoint: in the past we have observed how a man collects money on the local bus trips, somehow keeping track of all of the passengers and knowing exactly how many pesos to charge each one. In this case the driver not only has to maneuver his jeepney through often wild traffic, he has to collect fares and make change all at the same time! I handed him a 100 peso note for our foursome, and he returned a twenty peso note and four one peso coins, so I guess the Jeepney fare from Lamao to Orion is 19 pesos, or about 45 cents, each. Not bad.

Orion is a small town with a typically crowded main street, one MSE (medium-small enterprise) after another. My fellow travelers knew where to get off, and we proceeded to the uniform-making shop. It is a small store with knock-off team jerseys hanging on the wall. One man was cutting out jerseys, and several others were sewing them together on very old machines, one a Singer, another a Juki, and some on which I couldn’t see names. They were all treadle machines with electric conversions. One, which I have included in a picture, was like something I’d never seen before. The photo may make it appear quite large, but in fact it is probably only 8 by 10 inches surface-area and six inches in height. Just looking at the photo, Marcia thinks it may be some sort of serger.

We spent a couple of hours there, working with the proprietress and making sure that she understood exactly how each team’s uniforms were to appear, since they offer many options. I am not into NBA teams like folks are here, but I guess that they could say, “I want this uniform to look like the Chicago Bulls uniform,” and they would make it. For Jerry and Roy – captains for two of the teams – it was almost like watching them dreaming about what Santa was going to bring them for Christmas.

I think that the uniforms are a big part of the excitement of the upcoming tournament. Only one team is going to win the trophy, and only one player will be named tournament MVP. But every participant is going to get his very own jersey with his name on the back and the player number of his choice. Once this tournament is over, these young men will sport their uniforms until they wear them out, getting many years of use out of them. They are a source of pride that we are happy to be able to furnish them, with generous help from a number of our readers.

Once we were done, we headed to Balanga for lunch. I gave them their choice of where to eat, and they decided on a restaurant called Inasal, which is Ilongo for “barbecue.” Inasal has meals for around p90 ($2.00) which include limitless white rice. There’s nothing liked unlimited white rice to get you excited. Me not so much, although I must say that the food – I had a barbecued chicken leg quarter – was very good. Unlike Filipinos I can’t get excited about plain white rice, but the meal included a small bowl of sinigang, a soup with a sour broth, and that made the rice quite tasty. I had one extra half scoop of rice, the others each had two more full scoops. I was glad that they enjoyed their meals, too.

We took a tricycle to the restaurant and another after lunch to the bus terminal. Since there were four of us, we decided that the other three would share the sidecar while I would ride on the back of the motorcycle. The sidecar makes it impossible to sit astride the bike, so I sat sideways behind the driver. Some of the pedestrians must have been able to spot me a ways off. A number of them looked curiously in our direction, no doubt spotting my long, gangly, whiter-than-a-Filipino’s legs appearing from behind the driver’s rear end, with my head hidden behind the driver’s under the canopy. They smiled and laughed with me when they realized what they were actually seeing. Although I do not have a picture of myself in this position, I have included one of Keith, a guest on this year’s April tour.

We took the bus back to Cabcaben. Unlike conditions in the morning, the water was now grey and choppy. In fact, we didn’t head straight for the north dock, but started out heading more west toward Mariveles on the southern tip of Bataan before turning toward the north dock. The bancero knew what he was doing, because once we changed direction the going got rough. Some of the swells may have approached five feet, and we got a good splash each time the outrigger dug into a wave. It wasn’t dangerous, what with experienced boatmen and their sturdy boat. It was actually kind of fun being out on the open sea and at the mercy of Mother Nature. As we approached, Corregidor acted as a breakwater, but then it began to rain. Luckily I had my rain-jacket…safely tucked away inside my backpack, so it stayed dry, but most of the rest of me arrived back on the Rock soaked to the skin.

I never get tired of taking this trip, knowing it is the same one that Gen. Jonathan Wainwright took many times in early 1942 to visit Gen. Douglas MacArthur on Corregidor – Mac only went in the other direction once to visit the troops, and that was in early January before the fighting in Bataan had gotten underway. I can only imagine, and not very well, I’m sure, what it must have been like to cross the North Channel, as Wainwright did more than once, with bombs falling and artillery shells flying overhead smashing into the Rock with such force that they are said to have reshaped the silhouette of the island. Can you imagine approaching Corregidor, seeing it under heavy siege, and then knowing you’d be spending the next few hours there? Kind of gives one a chill to even think about it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Corregidor basketball league

It’s still rainy season, and Steve has not conducted any tours since we returned, so there’s not much news to report. The book is in the editing process, with files going back and forth between us and the editorial staff.

We had a bit of excitement a few nights ago. Bear in mind that we have never heard of any spiders on Corregidor that are especially dangerous to humans, but this is the tropics and you can expect to run across the occasional spider. We were lying in bed, Marcia reading and Steve watching a video on his laptop, when Marcia spotted a rather large spider on the other side of the bedroom just below the ceiling. Marcia reached across to her bedside table for the flyswatter, which was, quite frankly, narrower than the spider’s leg-span. This guy could have straddled a deck of playing cards.

Being that the spider was high up on the wall, Marcia told Steve the kill was his job – ah, the benefits of height. Steve was standing at an angle off to one side when he took a mighty swing. Wham! This guy was too large to get smashed into the wall, so guess what happened? That’s right, it behaved according to Newton’s “equal and opposite reaction.” The spider came flying back off the wall and landed right at Steve’s feet! We both jumped toward the bedroom doorway to make sure that the spider would not hop up looking for revenge. When we saw that it was balled up and not moving much, Steve went over and smacked it a couple times for good measure.

We wonder how a spider that size could have gotten into our house. Marcia also wondered if “spider guts” is part of the recipe for Rugby Contact Cement, because the clean-up the next morning took some real “elbow grease.” We’ve included a photo of the same type of spider, one that we saw outdoors – where they belong, in our way of thinking. It was not as large as the one in the bedroom, but still plenty big.

As we wrote in late 2008, shortly after we moved here, the annual Corregidor basketball tournament was held. We used the tournament as an opportunity to get to know a number of the players, mostly men employed on the island. It was a good competition with an exciting final round and an underdog winner.

It has been our aim ever since to get the tournament started again, and to be honest, the men on the island have been hoping that we would sponsor another tournament. Since the last tournament a number of the players have had to be laid off due to a poor economy. Last Christmas we decided that we’ve waited long enough and took the leap of faith that the money would be there when we needed it.

Knowing that some of you are willing to support us, we have begun to organize the new league. Steve has been named Commissioner. Previously the teams were divided by work groups; hotel staff, security staff, etc. This time we will appoint four captains who will pick their players by draft, in hopes of creating four roughly even-strength teams. Instead of the teams being named for their work groups they will be named for four of the points of interest on the island, such as Battery Way, Topside Barracks, Corregidor Inn, or Malinta Tunnel.

Each player will receive a uniform consisting of matching shirt and shorts. We have found a business that can supply them for a mere p650/$15.25 per set, quite reasonable considering that the shirts will have names and numbers. Each player will be expected to contribute p200/$4.70. Be aware that this is about two-thirds of a day’s pay here, not an insignificant amount to these men. We expect that there will be about 24 games in total, and each one will require two referees paid p200/$4.70 per game. Adding in incidentals such as a basketball or two, nets, etc, it’s easy to see how it will take about 50,000 pesos (around $1200 American) for the tournament to take place, of which the players’ contributions will cover about 20 percent.

We cannot tell you how excited many of the men are to have another basketball tournament, and we are pleased to be able to help them make this happen. We have already received one generous donation that will cover about one-fourth of the costs, and another to cover the cost of one basketball. Some of you expressed an interest to help when we broached the subject before, and we are hoping that you will come through. It will take place in any case, but we are looking for anyone interested in furthering the tournament to step up and offer to help. We would be happy to name a team for your favorite Corregidor landmark for a significant contribution. However, no contribution is too small. If you are able to help with a non-tax-deductable gift please let us know soon and we will tell you how. We will make a full accounting to any contributor who asks, and should we exceed expenses we will bank the money for a future tournament.

We’ve included a few photos of the 2008 basketball tournament for your inspiration and amusement.