Tag Archives: Odiongan

How to get to Odiongan?

When I travel to Odiongan, Romblon the 2Go boat (see below) is my preferred method of travel (the photo above shows the Montenegro shipping line boat, not quite as nice and comfortable as 2Go but more likely to be on time). The 2Go boat features beds to sleep and store your things, a restaurant, a sitting deck, and even videoke! The trip from Batangas to Odiongan takes 7.5hrs, but I usually find myself waiting at the pier for the boat to leave for several additional hours because of delays, thus embarking to Tablas Island is a full day travel affair.

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The 2Go boat. And if you travel on a holiday the boat and staff will be appropriately decorated!

But perhaps this travel investment is a qualifier for the reward of arrival: Romblon is a small, island province, rated the most peaceful in the Philippines and in my opinion the most beautiful because so much is left still undeveloped and pristine! We have waterfalls, caves, coral reefs, large rice field valleys, mountain climbing and biking, a huge public market, fish ponds, mangrove forests, scuba diving, snorkeling, sea turtles and so much more!

As of last year it is also possible to take a flight to Tablas Island from Manila. If you are short on time or prefer a one hour trip to a 7 hour one the extra expense will save you a lot of hassle, but for those of you elbowing through the nonlinear crowd waiting to board or disembark from 2Go realize that this journey is truly part of the reward, because you now understand what middle class locals must do anytime they wish to leave the island. Poorer locals may never even leave the island at all by boat or plane.

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The crowd waiting to board the Montenegro. Montenegro is the other shipping line in addition to 2Go which offers trips from Batangas to Odiongan.

And somewhere on your boat trip is at least one child who has never ridden on such a large boat before in their life and this ride is actually the greatest source of adventure.

What is the Peace Corps?

“Our mission is to share knowledge and culture with people in other countries, and to bring their cultures back to the U.S. to share with Americans. Fundamentally, we work to build capacity of other peoples to foster sustainable peace.”                                                                                –Sarah Blazucki, Editor of the Peace Corps Time Magazine

Sharing a bit of coke and mentos culture...
Sharing a bit of coke and mentos culture…
Coco launching coke from a tower overlooking our island during a family activity event I coordinated.
Coco launching coke from a tower overlooking our island during a family activity event I coordinated.

I am a Peace Corps*. The official Peace Corps Office in Washington D.C. would call me a “Peace Corps Volunteer” or “PCV” for short. But here at my site in Odiongan, Romblon, Philippines, locals refer to me as their “Peace Corps.” My title is associated with characteristics of diligence, knowledge, and foreign appearance, though I have heard the title mistakenly applied to individuals of several different nationalities including, “She is their Australian Peace Corps” or “We had a Korean Peace Corps.” Others ask how they themselves can become a “Peace Corps.”

I do my best to explain that the official program is the United States Peace Corps and therefore you must be a U.S. citizen to be a “Peace Corps.” Other foreign governments, like Australia, offer different international volunteering programs distinct from the Peace Corps.

Possibly because the term “volunteer” is often omitted from my title, the idea that I have no salary and receive only a living allowance from the U.S. government to cover basic food, housing and transportation expenses is groundbreaking. My host family did not even realize until two weeks ago, when it came up at the dinner table.

My house is just down the block. Walking with fellow volunteers Loren and Drew.
Walking down the national road with fellow volunteers Loren and Drew. My house is just down the block.

Today is my one-year anniversary of becoming a “Peace Corps.” Last year, I was sitting in an airport wearing a bicycle helmet and strumming my ukulele, on my way to begin training, and today I am calmly listening to the sounds of typhoon rains outside my window while I prepare to lead training for the newest batch of Peace Corps Volunteers currently en route to the Philippines.

View from my front door this morning amidst typhoon rains
View from my front door this morning amidst typhoon rains

* “Corps” is properly pronounced like “core” but just as frequently I hear it improperly pronounced by Americans and Filipinos alike as “corpse.”

Mountain Biking in Odiongan

“Will you bring your bike to the Philippines?” many of my friends from the Coastal Cyclists in Charleston, SC asked as I prepared to leave last July 2014. No, my Specialized road bike with centimeter wide tires, clip in shoes, and no shock absorption would not have gotten me very far on the roads of Romblon.

My roadbike in the US after I rode to the top of Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina in Spring 2014
My roadbike in the US after I rode to the top of Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina in Spring 2014

While the national road is paved for nearly the entire circumference Tablas Island, each day I must also navigate the rocky, dirt roads common to small neighborhoods. Roads, whose large rocks and gravel in the dry season and muddy potholes in the wet season would have eaten the tires of my Specialized roadbike while easily tossing me from my seat and into the rice fields lining their borders.

The motorbike is the most common form of transportation here. When I first arrived, I had to stop myself from pointing and laughing every time I saw an elderly Filipino grandmother whizz past me with no helmet operating a motorcycle. (While motorcycle grandmas would be out of place in America, apparently the sight of a blonde white American girl jogging through the neighborhood is also equally worthy of a point and laugh in this part of the world.)

The epitome of motorbike's in the Philippines: room for the whole family. That is Kuya Nono and Ate LingLing plus their 3 kids, Maxine, Coco and baby Barry Lee
The epitome of motorbikes in the Philippines: room for the whole family. That is Kuya Nono and Ate LingLing plus their 3 kids, Maxine, Coco and baby Barry Lee

A consequence of abundant motorbikes and rough, unpaved roads is AMAZING mountain bike trails! The best way to spend a free afternoon is biking a mountain ridge on a dirt, packed single track overlooking the ocean.

Mountain biking on a sweet single track overlooking the ocean!!
Mountain biking on a sweet single track overlooking the ocean!!

For Odiongan fiesta this past April I helped to plan a 28km Mountain Bike Race. Expecting maybe 30 participants if we were lucky, our registration booth was initially overwhelmed by over 70 riders including school kids, seniors and out-of-town professional riders!

The poster advertising the Odiongan Bike Race that I helped to plan this past April. More photos from the race to come!

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The participants gearing up...
The participants gearing up…
Me just before the race. Notice the difference in this mountain bike and my US roadbike shown earlier.
Me just before the race. Notice the difference in this mountain bike and my US roadbike shown earlier.
And we're off!!!
And we’re off!!!

Check out the video John made with GoPro footage of the bike race mixed in with clips of my other favorite pastime: snorkeling. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYhgRYDOeec

Our Peace Corps Bike Gang after the race with Sir Bilshan who helped me to plan the event.
Our Peace Corps Bike Gang after the race with Sir Bilshan who helped me to plan the event. Success!!

Happy 25th Birthday!!!

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The celebration with my host family complete with a huge birthday banner.
The celebration with my host family complete with a huge birthday banner.

On the day of my birthday, a Wednesday, my entire office spent the day cooking an elaborate and delicious meal which we then enjoyed at the Fish Ponds, where I frequently help with aquaculture field work.

I learned how to kill, de-feather, chop and cook a chicken - this chicken!
I learned how to kill, de-feather, chop and cook a chicken – this chicken!
Cooking meal does not mean removing it from the bone, that is the task of the eater. And chicken's feet are a delicacy here and were included in my bday stew.
Cooking a chicken does not mean removing it from the bone, that is the task of the eater. And chicken’s feet are a delicacy here and were included in my bday stew. Notice the cell phones in the background. Free time here is spent playing games on phones. Filipinos may eat chicken’s feet, but some parts of life are not so different!
We seined these fish from our fish ponds. Then I learned how to gutt them. Fish are cooked whole, thus it is also the responsibility of the eater to separate meat from tiny fish bones.
We seined these fish from our fish ponds. Then I learned how to gutt them. Fish are cooked whole, thus it is also the responsibility of the eater to separate meat from tiny fish bones.
This was the freshest meal I have ever eaten: a chicken I killed, fish I caught and gutted, vegetables collected on site at our garden. The furthest items were from the local market, yet still grown within Odiongan.
This was the freshest meal I have ever eaten: a chicken I killed, fish I caught and gutted, vegetables collected on site at our garden. The furthest items were from the local market, yet still grown within Odiongan.
The Office Celebration!! (The second huge pot is full of rice, a meal is not a meal in the Philippines without rice - quite literally because a Filipino will instead regard it as a snack and be hungry for more food shortly after)
The Office Celebration!! (The second huge pot is full of rice, a meal is not a meal in the Philippines without rice – quite literally because a Filipino will instead regard it as a snack and be hungry for more food shortly after)
Finally, many thanks to my fellow PC Volunteers who decorated my room with fish and filled my bed with a balloon ocean.
Finally, many thanks to my fellow PC Volunteers who decorated my room with fish and filled my bed with a balloon ocean.

Welcome to Odiongan, Romblon!

The first site of our future home! With other volunteers Kendra (education), ME (Coastal Resource Management), Loren (education), Ata (CRM), Drew (CRM), and Kalen (education)
The first site of our future home! With other volunteers Kendra (education), ME (Coastal Resource Management), Loren (education), Ata (CRM), Drew (CRM), and Kalen (education)
Biggest boat I've ever ridden on for the ~6hr journey to Romblon. There were beds to sleep, a restaurant, and of course videoke aka karaoke.
Biggest boat I’ve ever ridden on for the ~6hr journey to Romblon. There were beds to sleep, a restaurant, and of course videoke aka karaoke.
My office and the huge welcome banner they had waiting for me, complete with my photo.
My office and the huge welcome banner they had waiting for me, complete with my photo.

It has been a busy first week here in Odiongan, Romblon. I think that the entire community already knows who I am because they see me running every morning. Since arriving I have assisted in the care of an injured green sea turtle, visited local fish ponds, helped collect and transfer tilapia at a fish hatchery, met with the governor, the mayor, and various school officials, and even done zumba with the Odiongan police force. I have the fortune of 5 other Peace Corps volunteers from Batch 273 also placed on my island including Kendra who is a short walk away, Ata, Loren and Kalen, who are within an 1hr and 30mins run from my site (Loren’s host dad was extremely surprised when I actually did run this distance my second day at site and stopped by for a glass of water and a picture to prove I made it), and Drew, who is a few hours drive to the north. Because I work for the provincial government, I will be traveling extensively throughout the 17 municipalities over the next two years. This could not be a more ideal place to spend the next two years: wonderful host family, supportive office staff, numerous potential work projects, and gorgeous mountains and ocean!

First snorkel experience with my Filipino friend Rolanie, a high school student
First snorkel experience with my Filipino friend Rolanie, a high school student
Various species of butterflyfish and surgeonfish at a local marine protected area (MPA)
Various species of butterflyfish and surgeonfish at a local marine protected area (MPA)

Supervisor’s Conference

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Within Romblon, I will be living on the largest island, Tablas, in the municipality of Odiongan, which serves as the island’s commercial entry port. Odiongan is a 1st class municipality and home to 43,676 people. The name “Odiongan” comes from the local term for arrow, “odiong” because legend has it that the first inhabitants found an arrow stuck in a tree here upon arrival and thus named the site, “Inodiongan” meaning “struck by an arrow,” which was later shortened to “Odiongan” as it is known today. I will be living in the town proper only a short walk from my office.

I recently met one of my supervisors Ma’am Rita, who works as an aquaculturist for the Provincial Government. Currently, we are working together for training sessions, which will set the groundwork for a successful two years. We have 17 municipalities to manage and I will likely visit each of them, including the sites of other Peace Corps volunteers, with whom I may collaborate with for projects.

Romblon is famous for its “Blue Hole” dive inside an old volcano. Divers can descend the vertical chimney into a series of caves and explore corals, other invertebrates like shrimps and lobster as well as schools of fish which live throughout the site. Sharks, manta rays, stonefish and sea snakes have also been sighted passing through.

Here is a video I found of the dive! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqqZe4kbQ2Y

A short boat ride from my island of Tablas is Sibuyan Island, known as “The Galapagos of Asia” for its terrestrial diversity including 700 plant species and 131 species of birds. Furthermore, Mt. Guiting Guiting (2050m) and neighboring Mayo’s Peak (1530m) are already on my list of future adventures.

Tomorrow I swear in at the US Embassy as an official Peace Corps Volunteer!!! And then 4am departure for Romblon the next day!

Permanent Site Assignment

 I just received my permanent site placement!!! I will be spending the next two years living in Romblon. This island province has a population of 283,930 and consists of 3 major islands. I will be living on Tablas, the largest island of the three, in the municipality of Odiongan, in close proximity to several other Peace Corps volunteers. Romblon’s islands are of volcanic origin and mountainous with lush vegetation. I have already heard word of beautiful white, sandy beaches. The economy is primarily agriculture with major copra and rice farming as well as coconut, corn, and fruit trees, along with abundant fishing. There are also numerous mineral resources, especially marble. Although there is an airport on my island, it is not currently functional. Therefore I will be taking an ~8 hour boat ride to get to my site.

My job assignment is with the Provincial Government (most other volunteers work at the municipal level). As a provincial employee, I will may have the opportunity to travel throughout the 17 municipalities and explore the other smaller islands. Romblon is known for being very pristine and I will be working to preserve this quality through the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Additionally, I will be involved in ecological profiling, reef assessment, research, and training for the provincial reef assessment team. My office specifically requested a volunteer who was dive certified. Additionally, my office is blessed with available funding, support and technical resources. Finally, there is much potential for marine thesis projects as I continue to earn my Master’s degree from the College of Charleston. I am so excited to be joining such an active office, where I can contribute my technical skills and easily collaborate with other Peace Corps volunteers.

More good news: Tagalog is the dominant language meaning that I can continue learning the same language I have been studying throughout training rather than transition to an alternative dialect. On September 18th I will travel to Romblon and I could not be more excited!! Still no word about the details of my host family but it is soon to come.