More islands than days in ten years

All of the Philippines is made up islands which makes the country the second-largest archipelago in the world. It is estimated that it is composed of around 7,500 islands with only 2,000 of them inhabited.

Out of all of them, the small island of Palawan has been named one of the best islands in the world due to its incredible natural beauty. It is no surprise once visitors start discovering the big range of lagoons to swim in, accessibility to do island hoping tours, marine biodiversity to discover snorkelling or diving world class sites; and white sand beaches to laze and enjoy the sunset from.

Once devastation, now a destination

At 9 am on the 24th of September 1944 the US Navy strike force fighters and dive bombers attacked and sunk a dozen Japanese ships at the height of World War II. Considered one of the biggest naval victories of WWII for the Americans, the attack only took 40 minutes, and when it was over, a wide area of devastation was left behind in Coron Bay. Almost 80 years later, it is now home of some of the best shipwreck diving sites in the world.

Near Lusong island, a Japanese submarine hunter and gunship boat with a length of 30 meters is a popular snorkelling site. Presumed to be an auxiliary patrol boat, the Lusong Gunboat, lies close to the surface at a depth that ranges from just 5 to 15 meters. It is amazing how in such a short time the ocean has take over this man-made machine.

Islands of the Tagbanuas

A few hundred steps up and down take you to see the majestic Kanyangan lake. Though this is one of the most photographed views in Coron, this view is actually not the lake itself but the middle point viewing deck looking back to the open ocean into Coron bay. The lake itself sits behind the photographer and is composed of 70% fresh water and 30% salt water.

In the Calamian islands, the local native tribe, the Tagbanuas live. Tagbanuas people believe their ancestors still live on this island and thus entrance is limited up to 4pm everyday. Tagbanuas only let visitors into Kanyangan and Barracuda lakes, 11 others are Panyaan (sacred) and closed to public. Both lakes have been awarded the cleanest lakes in the Philippines; and Kanyangan lake was even awarded cleanest in the world recently.

Tagbanuas used to make a living by collecting swiftlet nests at the top of the island’s high limestone cliffs. This edible bird’s nest is used for making the bird’s nest soup. Now every visitor pays a fee which gives the tribe a much less hazardous means of income.

Never quite the same

Manila’s name is thought to be a corruption of its prehispanic name Maynilad. This pre-hispanic name is believed to come from may, there is, and nilad, a mangrove plant abundant around the banks of the Passig River.

There is a Manila before and a different one after the WWII. It is said that the city never recovered its sense of self after the war and thus never regained its “Paris of Asia” splendour.

A popular overnight stop to head to paradise islands, Manila hosts 1million tourists per year. Makati, one of the many Barangays (barrios) of Manila, a good one for such one-night stops. Interestingly enough, in 2011, an underground tunnel was discovered 3.5 meters below the street level where a lot of high end buildings, modern shopping centers and big companies can be seen. The tunnels are said to be wide enough for trucks to enter and were designed and used as an “underground highway” to transport food, medicines, and supplies for the military.

Pooping log

Christmas is around the corner and with it, it comes a myriad of traditions. Each place has its distinctive customs. Here in Catalunya there is the Tió de Nadal (Christmas Log) or more commonly known as Caga tió (pooping log). As with all traditions, families have adjusted this one and some details of it may vary from household to household.

The Caga tió used to be a regular log but nowadays it is a smallish wooden log with stick legs, has a happy face, wears a red, Catalan ‘barretina’ hat and is covered in a blanket. The log poos lollies and small presents at Christmas though it is not as simple as just that.

From the 8th of December (Día de la Inmaculada Concepcion) the log “appears” in the house doorstep or found in the woods. From that day onwards, children must feed and look after the log until Christmas eve. Sometimes the feeding is recommended to be dry bread, orange peel or dried beans. Others, turrón (nougat). Sometimes parents might replace the small log by increasingly bigger ones as time goes by to make the children think that the log has grown after being fed.

On Christmas Eve, the tradition becomes bizarre and quirky. In order for the Caga Tió to produce its gifts, children are to beat it with another smaller wooden stick and sing to it, ordering it to poop presents. Whilst the words may vary from town to town, the tune stays the same, and translated to English it goes something like:

Poop, log,
poop nougats (turrones),
hazelnuts and cheese of mató,
if you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
poop, log!

The song should end with a final load cry of Poop log! (Caga tió!) to command to the log to poo. The children then reach inside the Caga Tio’s blanket and find whatever the log has defecated. In some households children must go to a room to pray that the log has pooped something.

Traditionally, the Caga Tio produced relatively small gifts that were for all to share, and not individual gifts. The most common droppings offered by the log include turrón (nougat), small sweets, biscuits and dried fruits.

When the log has nothing left to evacuate, it finishes the feat with a salt herring, a head of garlic, an onion, or it ‘urinates’ by leaving a bowl of water. If there is a fireplace, the Caga tió can be burnt afterwards. Though these days many people keep it for next year.

It is said that the origins of this tradition date back to the days when the fireplace was a central and important part of family life. The ashes of the burnt log were kept and spread by crops and near the stable and even on the beds as a rite to promote fertility. Others say that the log symbolized the gifts of warmth and light that were given by the earth in the form of wood.

Whatever the beginnings, in this corner of the world, comes Christmas eve, many children will be wacking a log with a stick to make it poop presents and lollies.

A house or a clinic?

This place, which has been frequently visited by me, is also known as Quinta San Isidro, it is a 1920-21 building by Joaquim Lloret Homs. The opening of the Avenida JV Foix where there used to be an old torrent, has given it a great prominence. Some might not believe that the beautiful residence now houses a medical centre.

God’s fruit

The Shreemanth Dagdusheth Halwai Ganesh temple in Pune, built in 1893, is dedicated to Lord Ganesha and has an idol which has been insured for $160,000 USD as it is adorned with more than 8 kilos of gold. The sculpture of Ganpati (another name for Ganesha) is 2.2 metres tall and 4 feet wide and is most famous for its beautiful and detailed facial features.

The name of the temple is after a famous trader and sweet maker, grief-stricken, Dagdusheth Halwai who lost his son to the plague. The temple thus became a healing outlet for the merchant and his wife.

Dagdusheth Halwai’s sweet shop, which made him an extremely popular sweet maker in the city, is still operational but with the name of Kaka Halwai.

Many visit this temple to pay their respects, offer prayers and with the hope of receiving the blessing of Lord Maruti (Ganesha). For those foreigners like us, it might come as a surprise to recibe Ganesha’s blessing in the form of a Coconut. However, the coconut is an essential offering in almost all rituals of Hinduism as in Sanskrit, Sriphala – the name for this fruit, means God’s fruit.

Giant swinging chunk of silver

Imagine a cathedral full of people, pilgrims, from all over the world that have spent weeks or months walking. And back in the day, with limited to no access to water for washing up…

To clean the air when these crowds of pilgrims arrived in Santiago de Compostela after their long journey, the Cathedral used a giant censer or thurible, the ‘Botafumeiro’. The 62kg censer swings through the air dispensing clouds of incense. The ‘Botafumeiro’ forms an impressive 65-metre long arched trajectory along the cathedral for around minute and a half, sometimes reaching 68km per hour and suspended at 20 meters above the ground; it is pulled by 8 men (‘tiraboleiros’) using a complex mechanism of ropes and pulleys.

This censer dates back to 1851 and it’s made of silver-plated brass. It is not swung during every mass but rather on Sunday 12:30pm mass, special occasions or if someone pays the 400€ donation.

An enormous swinging lump of silver is not without its disasters. It is said that the first one was when Princess Catherine of Aragon visited in 1499. Whilst being swung, the rope that held the Botafumeiro snapped and the giant piece of metal flew out of the cathedral through a window. Supposedly, no one was injured by the censer.

The second incident is said to have been in July 1937 when the cords holding the Botafumeiro failed and hot coals toppled onto the floor.

The current operation of the ‘Botafumeiro’ is to attach its ropes with sturdy sailor’s knots which means that pilgrims, tourists and church goers can be at ease when watching this amazing spectacle.

Arrive clean!

The river in Lavacolla is the last one before Santiago de Compostela, only 10.3 kilometers away. There are many theories in relation to the origin of this place. One of the stories states that the name Lavacolla comes from the fact that pilgrims in the Middle Ages used this river to wash up and thus arrive clean in Santiago.

Australian invasion

Walking Galicia through the Camino de Santiago gives the opportunity to see endemic vegetation and trees like chestnut and oaks trees. They contrast with the introduced Australian species of the eucaliptus. Much like the heated debate that has been foregoing for years in the Spanish country. Eucaliptus was introduced on the XIX century and since then it has adapted and spread to the Galician soil. The controversy is between the paper industry and the ecologists fighting for better forestal planning as this foreign species threatens to kill this beauty.