Think back to your favorite parts of summer from your childhood…perhaps a summer cookout, ice cream shops, family trip to the beach, watermelon, swimming pools.
It’s summertime in the Philippines! For the months of April and May school is out and children enjoy playing in the ocean and eating halo-halo (this dessert translates to mean mix-mix and contains a wide variety of ingredients including but not limited to shaved ice, sweet milk, jello, bananas, corn, fruit, ube jam, peanut butter, beans, sweet potato).
San Jose Island, better known as Carabao Island, launches the summer season with its annual fiesta!
As an unbiased foreigner, I was asked to serve as a judge for the fiesta competition. We thought we were judging the numerous groups of costume-clad dance teams…really they wanted us to judge the carabao!!
The carabao on the left was my favorite! I also participated in their annual fiesta mountain bike race. Don’t left the beautiful scenary fool you, a beach start over loose sand gave way to mountains so steep all contestants had to get off and walk. And the race started at 2pm in the afternoon (you don’t truly understand the meaning of the phrase ‘heat of the day’ until you have experienced summer in the Philippines and then try to do a bike race in it).
As we raced through each village on Carabao Island all the children came out to cheer us on, particularly me, the only female contestant!
Peace Corps Volunteers may be English teachers, but also public health advisors; environmental camp facilitators and also aquaponics specialists. We are often assumed to be an expert in an innumerable amount of fields and our opinions often carry weight in circumstances we would have never expected.
Most recently I was asked to evaluate the environmental impact of an underwater submarine tour: a new tourist experience offered off Carabao Island in Romblon Province to view the coral reef without even getting wet. Of course this also meant going for a ride in the submarine!
My evaluation included:
“Benefits of the Experience,” such as tourist education regarding the coral reef ecosystem.
“Areas of Concern,” such as issues of noise pollution or structural damage, both of which were unfounded during this tour experience.
I also highly advised AGAINST fish feeding at this site. Fish feeding disrupts the natural balance of the ecosystem because fish are not eating their natural food. Perhaps more algae will begin to grow if these fish are not grazing on it and soon the reef could shift from beautiful corals to overwhelming algae. Also if need approximately 10 essential amino acids that they cannot make on their own and must get from their diet. Imagine the malnutrition caused in humans and reef fish alike if your diet is solely bread rolls! Finally, fish feeding causes behavior changes in fish populations. While the submarine owner may be excited about schools of fish which readily approach people and the submarine, this may cause them to be easily caught by predators. Or they may display aggressive behavior to other fish or even people as they compete for these free handouts. Therefore my recommendation is always to take only pictures and leave only bubbles when you explore the reef as a scuba diver, snorkeler, or submarine tourist.
Lastly, I offered my recommendations for improvement including the possibility of future giant clam farming or providing tourists with red lens glasses to explore the underwater world when red wavelengths of light are added back into your vision or your photos.
Although Peace Corps Volunteers may not always be an expert, we are incredibly resourceful and dedicated and oftentimes those two qualities can lead to the possession of expert knowledge.
Just south of Tablas Island is Carabao Island, only 8.5 sq miles (22 sq km) in size, I competed in their fiesta Bike-a-Thon: a 32km race around the island.
About 40 participants competed in the event coming from various regions throughout Romblon and the Philippines. Biking is a growing sport here, although mostly among wealthy communities, because a mountain bike is an expensive pre-requisite to joining.
Transport to and from Carabao was via banka, boats loaded to the brim with people, bikes, and beer for the event and the upcoming weeklong fiesta. The race course was super intense with extreme vertical climbs, requiring a dismount from the saddle to make it to the top, but the views were worth it! White sand beaches, remote communities and my favorite part: a downhill single track on the ridge top of the mountain with bright red dirt flying beneath our tires.
The day definitely lived up to the national slogan: “Everything is more fun in the Philippines!”
SJ Byce as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. And Intern at CIEE Bonaire '17