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essays | places


culture puree


Christian devotees during the Black Nazarene celebration in Manila, Philippines

Manila / Philippines · 2015   devotees



   Out of all the Philippines’ 7,641 islands, I’ve been to exactly one. Arguably, the center piece, but numerically speaking still just one. Luzon. Island hopping anybody? You could see a new island every day for more than 20 years straight. Hop, hop. Both the Spanish and the US rule have left visible marks on Filipino culture, which begs the question: what part of colonialism is worse – what they take, or what they bring?


a glimpse

Thousands of Christian devotees during the Black Nazarene celebration in Manila, Philippines

lines   BLACK NAZARENE | Black Nazarene, you didn’t call, but they came, by the millions. Are you seeing this?


Spotting whale sharks in Donsol, Philippines

passages   SPOTTING GIANTS | You’d think the world’s biggest fish is hard to overlook, but then again, the ocean isn’t exactly a bathtub. To spot the chubby needle in this liquid haystack is an art that takes ample practice and ampler patience. As the only place in the Philippines where the interaction with whale sharks in governed by a tight framework of regulations, Donsol has brought forth a multitude of these artists. Day in day out, they climb the mast and scan the sea, while a group of goofy-looking tourists in snorkel gear sits on deck and keenly awaits the signal to hop in. While more popular whale shark hot spots like Oslob lure the animals with bait and don’t striktly enforce no-touch policies, the interaction in Donsol is ecologically responsible. Sightings aren’t guaranteed, but the encounter is natural when it happens and all the more magnificent.

How casually everybody exists around active volcanoes. And how beautiful they are for the tourists to look at. And a volcano inside a volcano? That’s beauty to the power of two. Everybody jostling around the crater, jolly as jelly, worriless as Pompeians. As though Taal wasn’t a serial killer.

Taal Volcano / Philippines · 2015   beautiful killer

Taal volcano in the Philippines
Rice terraces in Batad, Philippines

Batad, Luzon / Philippines · 2015   terrace life

A mall in Manila, Philippines

Manila / Philippines · 2015   skyline mall






places / stories

Manila / Two in a Million

Church in the old town of Manila, Philippines

Intramuros, Manila / Philippines · 2015   coloring concrete


Impoverished neighborhood in Manila, Philippines

Barangay 393, Manila / Philippines · 2015   humble homes


We stayed near Manila’s airport in Parañaque, a frisky cluster of narrow alleys and fragmented houses. The planes came in low and heavy, wobbling through the air over the runway like bumblebees intoxicated with nectar, and seeing them like that made it impossible to believe that any of our aircraft technology actually works. The place was run by Geno who had a guitar, a gun, and a lawyer’s degree. His helpers were Pinky and Mary-Jane.

I hadn't seen Joel since we fell in friendship in Nicaragua. Used to call him Joelle for the first couple of weeks until he told me that it was Jowl. Geno woke me up from a nap as blissful as any to tell me that my friend had arrived. A moment later I arrived too. Hugs and drinks and cigarettes.


Kids with ducklings in Manila, Philippines

Barangay 393, Manila / Philippines · 2015   ducklings and other ducklings


We only ventured into the depths of Manila's cement pit once. That was on the 9th of January. I know that because we happened upon, and then fell into, a crowd of millions of Black Nazarene devotees, a red marshland of flesh and t-shirts that swallowed us whole without a moment's notice. Like a thickened, starchy soup, it transported us from Chinatown to Barangay 393 where people lived between landfills and nothing. The Nazarene had forgotten about them, but he'd remember any day now.


Landfill in Manila, Philippines

Barangay 393Manila / Philippines · 2015   backyard landfill


Golden Mosque in Manila, Philippines

Barangay 393, Manila / Philippines · 2015   spiritual gold


Banaue / Life on the Terrace

Rice terraces with mist in Banaue, Philippines

Banaue / Philippines · 2015   watery sky


Rice terraces and village in Banaue, Philippines

Banaue / Philippines · 2015   miniature village


Man and rice terraces in Banaue, Philippines

Banaue / Philippines · 2015   Jowl


Two thousand remarkable years ago, they built these rice terraces, tall as skyscrapers without ever leaving the ground, and ever since they've cultivated that rice and lived that rice-life, and now non-rice people hail from all over the world to see those villages and their impossible accomplishments and their nostalgic momentum, all perfectly preserved in that slice of time.


Rice terraces and fog in Banaue, Philippines

Banaue / Philippines · 2015   soil skyscrapers


Rice terraces in Banaue, Philippines

Batad / Philippines · 2015   2000 years of rice


Donsol / Spotting Giants

Hotel pool in Donsol, Philippines

Donsol / Philippines · 2015   a pool and a sea


Before long, the spotter spotted, and now one tourist butt after another plopped down on deck, feet dangling over the lush blue, a row of snorkel clowns. I didn't care much for the comical fin-race and so I got the worst spot to plunge in from – before I could even fix my goggles on that first whale shark, it had disappeared in the underwater fog. That missed opportunity stank, even underwater, but it also put me in the sweet spot for the second round and that was the big ride. This time I hopped in ahead of that second behemoth from my front row seat, which gave me ample time to maneuver my clunky water-body into the opportunity. A fish, on paper, that benevolent beast was certainly a whale in the water. It glided towards me like a dotted submarine with an open mouth that was somehow more amusing than scary. I got out of its way even though it looked like it would have done the same for me. Less than a moment later it was right under me and its skin was smooth and shiny like a plastic shell, strangely solid and artificial. I could keep up with it until it dove, or sank, but I can't be sure whether our encounter lasted ten seconds or a hundred. Moments like those don't lend themselves to calculated words. But they always share one sober feeling that can be articulated – the feeling of "well, I guess this is happening and that's what that's like."


Spotting whale sharks in Donsol, Philippines
Jeepney in Legazpi, Philippines

Donsol / Philippines · 2015   finding whale sharks


Legazpi / Philippines · 2015   Jeepney


Hotel pool in Donsol, Philippines
Reflections in a pool in Donsol, Philippines

Donsol / Philippines · 2015   whale shark pool


Donsol / Philippines · 2015   water mirror





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