Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Running the scenic Halong Bay in Vietnam

I have not been able to appreciate running in open pavement for quite a while since I was introduced to trail running five years ago. The road running experience I had lately in Vietnam, however, gave me a different perception of racing through the pavement when I participated the Halong Bay Heritage Marathon on November 25, 2017. I took the 42K category and you might not deem it factual but believe me, it was only the second time I ran a full marathon in the road after the 2011 version of Phoenix Marathon in Davao City.

The Halong Bay Heritage Marathon (HBHM) is one of Vietnam’s most prized foot races where the beautiful scenery of Halong Bay was showcased. The whole course was relatively flat and all runners were treated with some dose of panoramic backdrop. The last week of November signals the start of winter in Vietnam and was perhaps one of the reasons why I succumbed to physical glitch especially in the last 15 kilometers of the race. Somehow, the beautiful view of Halong Bay gave me a bit of relief.

Meanwhile, Halong Bay is worth a destination everybody should visit. Located in the north-east region of Vietnam, it is an attractive open sea scape consistently speckled with mixes of small, medium and big rock formations. The bigger ones have formed into majestic islets while the smaller structures are like milky ways embedded opposite the clear waters of Halong. The UNESCO has not left Halong Bay unnoticed as it was declared one of its World Heritage Sites.

With the very tight schedule I had in Vietnam, I was able to visit few but interesting sites in Halong with my running buddy Oliver Enot. Just beside the starting line we dropped by Bao Tang Quang Ninh Museum, a modern structure in Halong Bay where numerous combat weaponries are exhibited. Of course, who could forget the costly armed conflict that pitted the communist regime of North Vietnam and its Southern allies including the United States of America in the 1970s.

The cityscape of Halong is also very colourful especially in the evening as highlighted by the dancing lights of Bai Chay Bridge. From Wyndham Hotel where we stayed for two nights Bai Chay bridge is very visible. And then we visited Halong’s wet and dry market where we bought some souvenir items.

After a few walk through the city streets and hard 42K running I considered Vietnam as another worthy overseas destination. Once again I am gratified by the help of a very good friend Pin for giving me this chance to do the things I love doing – travelling, running and taking pictures. The success of this trip is being offered to you in compliment to your kindness throughout the decade of knowing you as a very generous person.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The plight of the Aetas after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo

I have personally observed the troubles of the Aetas in the foothills of Mt. Pinatubo when I hiked the mountain last November 19 in line with my participation to the Northphil Tourism Exposition held in Clark, Angeles City Pampanga. Their co-existence and survival for 26 long years after a tragic outbursts is very evident as I gauged their subsistence until today based on how they eke out a living without the so-called “ecosystem services” that were provided to them by the good mountain prior to its eruption in 1991.

Physically, the eruption damaged thousands of hectares of agricultural lands in areas bordered by the provinces of Tarlac, Pampanga and Zambales. After lahars and  cobblestones overlayed the green mountain ranges the opportunities for livelihood through farming were all swayed out as well. Even structures and settlements surrounding Mt. Pinatubo were scrubbed out by volcanic cruelty. The trails going to the crater are wide lahar remnants which have formed into multiple gullies where rainwater gushes anywhere else downstream. Biodiversity is nowhere to be found in Mt. Pinatubo and the agriculture sector is literally dead.

The lone economic opportunity left for Mt. Pinatubo is tourism. It is a good model for Dark Tourism, a concept being honed by for localities which is being assailed with catastrophic experiences but stood out very well and became a popular destination showcasing leftovers of a disaster. The 18 kilometers 4x4 off road ride from sitio Sta. Juliana, Capas to the jump off area is quite tedious which is being tinted by an exciting 7-kilometer plain to moderate terrain trek. Nonetheless, the majestic crater at the top is very rewarding.

Some interesting facts surround Mt. Pinatubo crater as well. Being the deepest lake in the country nestled 996 meters above sea level, the crater also distincts itself as a beautiful tombstone behind an obnoxious and fatal experience. I have yet to see a lake all over the country as splendid and mystical as that of Mt. Pinatubo crater lake.

Despite several success of the tourism industry in Mt. Pinatubo, the economic dilemma of the Aeta tribe is very obvious up to these days and remains a big challenge. To some extent the primary local dwellers of Pinatubo are all below the poverty level. I had some casual talks to some of the tour guides there and I learned that they are earning very minimal income because most of the community members also do similar means of livelihood. The magnitude of guides as against the arrivals could hardly suffice with the villagers’ basic needs which to me immediately demands further and more receptive economic options from the local and national government agencies.

With the outlying locations of primary learning institutions in Mt. Pinatubo the Aeta children are almost deprived of basic education services. Some of them just settled along the trails hoping that tourists will buy their stuffs or give them endowment while resting in their cute stone files located beside the trails. Some kids sell ice candies and other food items in key stopover stations. If only given enough attention I believe the Aetas are a good breed of Filipino citizens who could very well be an added asset to the already-chequered Philippine cultural subdivisions. I saw it in the way they behaved while I listened to their sentiments during our humble conversation.

They say everything happens for a reason and the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo is no exemption. All the avatar-like sceneries along the trail of Mt. Pinatubo that were formed after its eruption is a testament that there is indeed magnificence after a tragedy. In terms of ecotourism Mt. Pinatubo now is one of the bests in Central Luzon. However, the economic troubles of the Aetas after 26 long years have been addressed like a snail mail. Unless government functionaries can craft good livelihood programs of the Aetas with the prevailing tourism activities in the area then we could safely say that certainly tourism is an all-encompassing industry. 

P.S. The Northphil Expo which happened in SM City Clark was a 3-day tourism trade show showcasing nationwide destinations in the Philippines. Davao Region was an active participant of the expo through the Visit Davao Summer Festival (VDSF). Sta. Cruz events for next year were also marketed, to be particular the two extreme races scheduled in April 2018 – the Mt. Apo Boulder Face Challenge and Mt. Apo Sky and Vertical Race.

Gratitude is due to Department of Tourism XI Regional Director Robby Alabado for insisting that a Mt. Pinatubo hike be integrated into the schedule for us to experience a Luzon-based hiking activity; and to VDFS through its Executive Committee Chairperson Benjie Lizada and Miss Tessa Piansay (Executive Director) for facilitating the entire expo events.