Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Clearing trails and taking hikes

If you like hot, humid weather, then you’d love Corregidor about now. It has been sunny most days, with the very occasional time when it will cloud up, then clear again. Watching basketball has been pleasant except that on a couple of windless evenings, there have been tiny black bugs – maybe a type of beetle – that don’t bite or anything, they just land on your skin and “bug” you.

We have also watched a few games where the players have had to consider the wind-factor for their longer shots. The regular season only has a few games remaining, and already Battery Grubbs has clinched first place. They will play the winner of the game between the fourth and fifth place teams next week. The games have mostly been exciting, with Battery Way losing two games this week in overtime. Battery Geary looks very strong, being the only team to beat Grubbs so far. We think these two teams have the best chance of meeting in the final, which will be a best-of-three event. One other note: Battery Crockett, one of the weaker teams, has a player who scored 45 points in their 71-69 overtime win against Way.

It is back to trail-clearing time now that rainy season is over. Last week, we took our friend Gilbert to help us clear the trail from Battery Way to Battery Hannah. We were hopeful that it would not require much clearing, and for the most part that was true. However, there were complete blockages due to 1) downed trees from Typhoon Pedring, 2) bamboo, and 3) rattan. Where the trees were large we left them alone and made paths around them or cleared for hikers to go over or under, hoping that someday we can get a chainsaw to complete the job. Bamboo is usually easy to clear if you don’t let it get too mature, since when it is young the shoots are soft as grass. Later of course, they harden and can take serious bolo (machete) work. The frustrating part is that, no matter how well you clear, the bamboo will grow back, sometimes rather quickly. The same is true of rattan, which has nasty, sharp little thorns on its fronds and vines. Even gloves do not always help. We got the trail cleared about two-thirds of the way, and then realized it was time to head down for lunch. From that point, we just slashed our way through to the trail’s end, knowing that we’ll have to go back or hire someone to finish clearing it.

You can also start hiking from Battery Way and choose go to James Ravine, so we decided to check out that trail from the three-way intersection to the ravine. Unlike the Way-Hannah trail, which was worse than we had hoped, this section wasn’t too bad between the intersection and the ravine. The worst part was near the bottom, where we ran into, you guessed it, bamboo and rattan. Steve used a bolo (machete) and Marcia used a sturdy garden shears, and we managed to get through with no problem, although we both got a few rattan “bites.” Just to make sure we got it well cleared, we returned the following day and walked it again. It definitely was an easier walk without having to hack our way through obstacles.

Along the way we took some photos that we will include and describe now.

1. As many times as we have walked the trail from Middleside to Battery James, this was the first time we noticed this staircase from the road up to what was once the trolley line. However, there it is, if you know what to look for.
2. Several years ago, there was an authorized project moving mature male-female monkey pairs from Corregidor to other Philippine islands. You may have heard that there are 3000 monkeys on Corregidor. Having learned that Philippine long-tailed Macaques live in colonies of 30-50, and since we have only been able to identify 6-10 colonies on the island, the numbers are probably more like 500, and certainly not more than 1000. In any case, if you want to see one badly enough, spend some time at with us at Middleside. Photo is of the abandoned monkey quarantine area.
3. A typical Corregidorian monkey.
4. There are hibiscus bushes all over the island, and they date back to pre-war landscaping. Here is one blossom along the trail, likely descended from that era. Sometimes they act as signs alerting us to ruins in the jungle.
5. One-hundred-year- old guardrail extends along the road near Battery James, both on the way to Middleside and down to James Ravine. Some broken sections are evident, and could be due either to war damage or falling trees.
6. We love the roots of some of the trees on this island. This is an example of one of our favorites, with Marcia standing alongside for scale. Absolutely huge.
7. This tree branch, about a yard/meter long, lay on the trail above the 1918 tunnel. Isn’t it beautiful?
8. There is a very large retaining wall at the three-way intersection. If you look closely you can see Marcia standing behind a bush at the top-left of the photo, and can get an idea of the size of the wall. We didn’t measure it but it’s probably close to 30 feet high at its maximum, tapering to follow the slope of the trail. In the photo, you can see several of the drainpipes placed in the wall to prevent it from water damage. A part of the wall is missing, almost certainly due to a bomb dropped by the Japanese in 1942 or an the Americans in 1945.
9. Vines, vines, everywhere vines. Some make hiking difficult, since you are constantly tripping over them. Some are larger than Stone Cold Steve Austin’s forearm. Occasionally you come across two identical vines that decided to intertwine each other, as is the case here. Notice that Steve cannot encircle the vines with his long fingers.

We saw many fruit bats flying overhead. They were so quiet that we did not hear them, unlike their noisy behavior at night. However, their giant shadows caught our attention, and looking up into the trees, we were able to spot a few.

A much rarer sighting is the sulfur-crested cockatoo. Although we hear them often – their natural call is obnoxious, like loud ducks with sore throats GACK! GACK GACK! – they are extremely shy, and this is only the second time that Steve has seen them. After leaving the trail, we spotted a pair flying across the road at treetop level. Unfortunately we could not take a picture, as they were there and gone too quickly.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Brigada, basketball, birds, and butterflies

GMA TV, a network here in the Philippines, sent a film crew to Corregidor for a couple of days this week. They were filming for a segment on one of their news shows, “Brigada.” In addition to interviews with Corregidor Foundation staff regarding the Philippine government funds recently allocated through the Department of Tourism for preservation of the “Cine Corregidor” ruins as well as several related Topside projects, they expressed interested in the story behind our stay on the island. The crew spent several hours with us, asking many questions about the motivation for our decision, about our life here and some of the ways we spend our time, and the efforts we make to support the Corregidor Foundation in its mission to protect, preserve, and promote the island as a War Memorial and tourist destination.

The segment will be one of three shown during a one-hour time slot, airing initially at 8:00 P.M. on Monday, November 21, on Channel 11 in the Manila area and throughout the country. It will also be aired internationally on GMA-LIVE and/or GMA-PINOY, so, if you have access to these channels, watch your scheduling information We cannot predict if we will be featured, since, as you know, hundreds of minutes of footage are shot for each minute that is actually aired. We will try to watch the show on Monday, probably at the Corregidor Inn. We rarely see live TV while on the island – some of Manny Pacquiao’s fights – so we would appreciate if someone could record this week’s Brigada episode for us “just in case.”

Due to holidays and other vacation days, the basketball league schedule was suspended for two weeks. This week the weather forced a postponement of Tuesday’s game and the suspension of a game on Thursday, rescheduled to be completed the following evening. In spite of the rains, the teams managed to complete another five games.

For the second time, the Battery Way team had to play with only five of its players, and they lost their second game. Battery Crockett finally gained their first win, beating Battery Hearn 55-50 in a very close game. The best game so far – the most exciting for the spectators – saw Battery Geary lose by 1 point in overtime to Battery Hearn. When competing teams have each had a good complement of players, the games have been quite close. For example, Battery Geary has lost its two games by a total of 3 points. We won’t even try to predict which team will win the tournament. Currently they are only half-way through the regular season, with players and fans enjoying the competition.

Going into the final ten preliminary games, the team records are as follows:
Grubbs 3-1
Hearn, Way and Geary 2-2
Crockett 1-3

Recently a bird flew into our glass front-door. It was a Hooded Pitta, pronounced PEE-tuh – similar to the Middle-Eastern pita bread. Before it regained its composure, Marcia was able to get some pictures. As you can see, it has a striking green on body and wings, a black head and neck, bright turquoise bands on its wings, and red-orange on the vent-area of its belly. We were very glad to see it fly away into a tree after a few minutes rest.

Several weeks back, Steve was able to photograph a member of the largest butterfly species we see on the island. It was lazily flying from plant to plant near the former butterfly garden. The body and the upper surface of the wings are mostly black, with a bold slash of orange-red on each wing. The undersides of the wings have larger areas of the orange-red, marked with black dots. As you can see, this one was not as shy as your typical butterfly, being attracted to Marcia’s brightly colored blouse. We do not know the name of this species, but trust that one of our readers will inform us.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

The American Women’s Club of the Philippines gathering went very well. We gave a 45-minute slideshow presentation, highlighting the flora and fauna of Corregidor as well as its history and our reasons for being here. Of course we encouraged them to come visit The Rock sometime in the future. Several of the attendees have already been to the island, so we suggested that they return to explore the island, maybe staying a night or two.

For the fourth consecutive year we attended the Veterans Day ceremonies at the American Cemetery in Manila. The ceremony was held on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, as usual, but this year is also the 11th year of the century. Lots of elevens!

We thought it best to include photos showing beautiful views of this peaceful and impeccably maintained final resting place for over 17,000 soldiers and a few of the civilians caught up in the war. We include one picture from the Walls of the Missing. Notice the name “Robert Beedle,” one of over 36,000 names listed. He was the brother of movie star William Holden

After the ceremony we were treated to lunch at the Big Buddha restaurant (excellent Chinese food in Greenbelt 3) by our friends Ely and Ging. You may recall Ely from an earlier newsletter. He is the man who takes the spectacular bird pictures using his gigantic Canon telephoto lens.

We finished out the day, and our stay in Manila, by touring Everest Academy in Taguig with our friend Fr. Eric Nielson, a member of the Legionnaires of Christ. The Academy, currently 1st through 6th grades and planning to eventually include all grades through high school, is the only Catholic School in this area, very close to many of the international schools and following the international calendar.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Steve and Marcia to speak at the AWCP this Wednesday

The American Women’s Club of the Philippines has invited us to be guest speakers at their General Meeting to be held this coming Wednesday, November 9. The meeting is open to the public, runs from 9:30 to about 11:30, and includes breakfast. The cost is p500 for non-AWCP-members, p300 for members. The meeting will be held in the Palm Grove Room of the Rockwell Club, which is in the Amorsolo Building in Rockwell Center, Makati. The address is : # 23 Amorsolo Drive, Rockwell Center, Makati City.

Also, we will once again be attending the Veteran’s Day Ceremonies at the American Cemetery in Manila on Friday, November 11. Those who wish to attend are asked to arrive no later than 10:30 if coming by private car, since all vehicles entering the cemetery will have to be cleared by security. If you are dropped off outside the gate, you can walk or catch a short shuttle ride to the ceremony area. It is requested that all are seated by 10:45.

We hope that we can see some of you at one or the other of these events.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock