A Day with Friends – Haiyan/Yolanda Ground Zero!


The day started one way, then took a completely different tack.  That is life in the Philippines.

Praxy wanted to go to Guiuan to shop hollow blocks (we call them cinder blocks), so she talked a niece into taking her in on the motorcycle.  I asked about going, OK, but we’d have to ride three on the bike.  I replied, “Why don’t I drive you and myself in to town?”  That decided it.  We rented the motorcycle for day.  $250 Php plus fuel, which amounted to about one liter.  Problem solved.  Besides, I wasn’t wild about Praxy having a 12 year old driving.

I took a quick spin around Asgad to get used to the bike.  No problem.  It’s an older Honda.  Reliable, handles good, runs excellent.  Totally bald tire on the front, so careful careful, careful on any bumps or sharp rocks.  Worn out suspension.  Shifting is opposite any bike I’ve ever owned.  Neutral at the top, down for first, second, etc.  Automatic clutch.  Foot pegs were bent back from crashes so it was difficult for me to shift to lower gears with the back shifting pedal.  I had to pull up on the front shifting lever with my foot.  I’ve only ridden one other bike like this, the one I rented in Siquijor.  As I used to race motocross and desert in the US for three years, I can and will adapt.  Quickly.

Driving in was uneventful, thank goodness.  I hit my foot on a rock in Jagnaya, the only damages were a scuffed tennis shoe toe and my pride.  Traffic was light and the road was dry.  When I went in the other day, the road was terribly muddy.  Not so good with a racing slick on the front wheel.  It took us about 45 minutes for the trip to Guiuan.

What’s the driving like?  I’ll tell you.   Pretty easy.  You absolutely have to drive defensively.  But everyone here in the Philippines is an excellent defensive driver.  And, aside from the busses, scheduled vans, and the occasional jerk or idiot, totally courteous.  Everyone works together.  One cab driver I met in Cebu described driving in the Philippines as “dancing with the other drivers.”  I couldn’t agree more.

I kind of longed for my Kawasaki from home.    It has great tires and superb suspension.  There was hardly a place on the whole trip that I couldn’t have gone over 35 mph except for the back road near Asgad.  Bumps?  No problem.  Riding that bike over bumps is like watching riding on a movie.  You see them, but you can’t feel them.

Back to reality.  This little Honda needed great care to avoid hurting it.  So I took my time.  Riding back and forth across the road (when safe) picking the smoothest line.  Just like my motocross racing days.   Slowing to crawl for any rough edges or rocks.  Pulling out of the way of trucks, buses, and vans that were in a big hurry.  Passing slower motorcycles and tricycles, much to Praxy’s surprise at first.  Dodging dogs, pedestrians, and pedicabs.  Great fun, but a bit stressful when you have a passenger.  Harder to make quick moves.

There are few hard and fast rules.  Tend to stay on the right side of the road.  Passing anywhere is OK at your own risk. (Blind corners kill.  5 people died in a Van-Van’s two weeks ago near Salcedo.  Doesn’t seem to dissuade the crazy drivers, though.)  Obey marked one-way zones; if a cop is posted there, you will be ticketed.  Kind of obey construction zone signs.  Plowing into a pedicab or pedestrian is your fault unless you know someone important.  Signage is a suggestion, not a rule.   Mud and road grime on your clothes is bonus or perk on a rainy day.   Dogs in the road are fair game if your rig is big enough.

I know, I know.  The dog thing.  True, but most drivers really do to try to avoid them if possible.   They might be some child’s pet.  I’ve encountered  6 week old puppies in the road, totally oblivious to the traffic.  Everyone does their utmost to miss things like that, including me.

We stopped at Prince and parked the cycle.  The exchange was closed until 11, so we walked to the Metrobank.  Praxy needed money for her party and the carolers.  I can safely write this as this blog will be published long after all the hoopla.

She has promised her home barrio a big Christmas party for many years.  They remind her every time she comes home.  Well, this is the year.  No expense is too great.  We are supplying food, karaoke, drinks, shelter, the works for a couple hundred people.  The locals are gladly doing the cooking, we don’t have the facilities for large amounts or cooking.  The little town square across the road has been cleared.  I don’t know what all is going to happen (I’m always the last to know anyway so I’m not thinking about it) so I’m watching and waiting.   I don’t know how much she is putting in, but I gave her $300Usd myself.

Plus, she got enough money to give 20 pesos to each and every caroler on December 24th.   That is ONE BIG PILE of 20 peso bills sitting in a suitcase that no one knows about but us.  About 8 X 8 X 4 inches of brand new bills.  There might be $200Usd worth of them or more.  No worries about thievery.   Praxy is LOVED by the locals.  She is part of the family and very popular.

Caroling is huge here.  The kids run from house to house singing.  Most places can’t afford much and may give the whole pack a peso or so.   They show up every night, three or four packs.  It’s totally amusing listening to the 1st and 2nd graders.  Disorganized, the songs are a hodge podge of whatever they can think of.  I laid in bed last night snickering while they sang and sang; Praxy slept through it and I’m not giving a single peso away until the 24th.

Those twenty peso notes will go right into the sari sari stores over the next few days.  Some kids might go play computer games, but I’m thinking candy will sell hot for a day or two around here.  I mentioned to Praxy to tell her store owner friend to stock up! 

I waited in line for the ATM.  No thousand peso notes, so I got the max allowed.  Now a large bulge in my hidden pocket proclaims that I’m carting forty 100 peso bills around.  Easy to get change, but difficult to hide.

Done, time to get the hollow blocks.  But, I had an idea.  Call Graham and Rowena and see what they are up to.  Maybe buy them lunch.

Yep, they were home.  Their house, the one Praxy rented just before Yolanda arrived, was nearby on the road south out of town.  We caught a tricycle and were there in five minutes.

Although we had met on line, it was nice to meet Rowena and Graham in person.  Their house is under construction, but the completed parts are stunningly beautiful.   We chummed around and talked a bit, then a worker was dispatched to return me to Prince and pick up my motorcycle.  We went and I brought the bike back.  (The worker ran off with Graham’s bike and didn’t return after he dropped me off.  Graham was pissed, I think that “worker” is now an “ex-worker” unless he crashed on the way back and was hospitalized!)

They asked us if we wanted to visit their other house and the resort under construction in Sulangan.  Hell yes, we’d figure out something with getting hollow blocks later.  Both of us were a little tired of sitting in Asgad.

So, we set off.  First stop, Baras

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Graham and Rowena lived in this house until Yolanda.  Now, it is kind of a house to visit when they want to see relatives.   Looking out to the Leyte gulf.

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And here is Graham, Rowena, and Praxy.  The girls rode in back.  They were comfortable here.

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Not very many palm trees on the way.  Because two miles from here is…Ground zero for Haiyan!

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Graham came by here two days later.  The area was totally stripped of vegetation, not one piece of green anywhere.  Haiyan struck here at peak intensity, category five, with sustained winds of 195 mph and gusts to who knows what, maybe 220 or 230.  No way of really knowing, the anemometer at Guiuan airport failed with a reading of 90mph!  As the eyewall crossed here, tremendous winds went first from north to south, 25 minutes of calm, then south to north.  Trees were felled in both directions.  Those that didn’t fall were mostly snapped off.  As you can see, a few survived.  I can hardly imagine anything larger than a microbe surviving, but some trees did manage!

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Huge boulders like the one in the right foreground littered the roadway.   Clear up to the size of a large car.  These were plucked off the seabed by the storm surge and waves.   I didn’t photograph to the west as it wasn’t really photogenic.  Pictures cannot describe it anyway, you have to be there.  It looked like a gargantuan lawn mower went through.  A rider lawnmower with a two mile deck set at eight feet high.  The height at which the coconut palms were sheared off.

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Entrance to the Calicoan Surf Resort, on the southern edge of the impact.

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Only thing left are the bathrooms, made of solid concrete.  Two years later and there still hasn’t been much progress made by the plants.

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But progress is progressing.  Across from the ex surf resort is a brand new Andok’s restaurant.  One employee and three patrons.  And one chicken being roasted.   Profit margin?  Nil.

And to think that Graham road out this typhoon in his house in Baras, on a line, about 5 miles north maybe just outside the eyewall.  He described his harrowing experience to me. 

(paraphrasing)  We thought we’d be OK, as the house was made of blocks and concrete.  Also on the lee side of the peninsula on the Leyte gulf.  So my father-in-law and I decided to ride it out and our families were safe (we thought) in Guiuan.  First came the winds.  Then the roof flew away.  We were unharmed, but very scared.  More debris started flying so we had to stay inside.  Everything was flying, glass, roof tin, rocks, pieces of wood, so we huddled against the wall.  And…the seawater came in.  Slowly and painfully, inching higher and higher.   Over our feet.  Up to our knees.  A cooler floated by us and we opened it to find two cold beers.  There was nowhere to go, no hope.  Outside, the flying debris would kill us.  Inside, drowning will kill us.  So, we opened the beer, drank it and shook hands, a goodbye gesture.   The water reached our waists, our belly buttons, then stopped rising! 

And we lived.  We crossed the few meters over to my father-in-law’s house.  Other people floated by or staggered into the house.  The water was streaming by like a river.  We huddled in a doorway with everyone, maybe 15-20 people.  Hanging on to each other.  One father was a little vexed when his 5 year old daughter, packed in the middle of the adults, announced that she had to pee.  Humorous now, but then it was “Are you kidding?  Just pee in the water!”  

Now Graham’s houses are built like bunkers.  No more tin roofs.  Reinforced concrete instead.  When Ruby came through in 2014, 45 people sheltered in their house in Guiuan.  Anyone that asked was admitted.  No one was injured.

On to lunch.  Graham and Rowena own a resort just south of here, the White Sands.  We explored a bit.  A scenic and peaceful location.

 

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Water tower for the barrio of Sulangan in the background.

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They ordered pizza and pork chops from an Italian restaurant in Sulangan.  Yes, Italian.  We chose a shady table and waited for the watchman to bring it back.

Real pizza, tasty and perfectly cooked in a wood fired over.  Yummy

After lunch, off to Sulangan.  I wanted to visit a couple of resort to report back in to Trip Advisor.  We went to two.  La Luna was the first.  Owned by an Italian.

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This is where the Italian lunch came from.  Perfect setting on the southern tip of Calicoan island looking out into the Leyte gulf.  Immaculate rooms for about $60 Usd per night including breakfast.  Check out behind the bar, the wall is covered with Italian wines.  Quite a selection!

Next, Bonago resort.  Owned by an American.  He’s not too far from us in Bend, Oregon.

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Last picture is the dining area over the water.  Many weddings receptions come here.  The views west are stunning.

We also had a look at the suite, but it had been occupied the night before and wasn’t straitened up.  No pictures because of that.  Perhaps one of the most beautiful motel rooms I have ever seen in my life.  Prices from $60-80 Usd, depending on the room.

As with La Luna, this place was immaculate.   Some day, we hope to spend a night or two at each of them.

One last stop, the abandon Naval Supply depot just 1 mile north of Haiyan’s land fall.

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Graham showed me where the typhoon had destroyed a 2 foot thick road that had existed here since 1945.   It used to continue on another 100 yards or so.  Note the stretch of beach.  I’m showing you this as this whole beach, as far as you can see and beyond, was covered with dead fish two days after Haiyan.  All types.  Shallow and deep water fishes.  Sharks, rays, every type.  Big and small.  None were spared.

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Looking the other direction from the broken road.  This intrigues me.  For some reason, this point has an odd break and waves that shoot 50 feet or more into the air.  I want to hike out to that point and have a look.  I guess.  The spray might be too intense and kick my donkey end.

As it was getting close to 3pm, we decided to retrace our steps back to Asgad.  The roads suck and neither Graham or I want to be on ANY of them after dark.   They gave us a ride home.  A fun day in paradise.

3:20pm  12/23/2015  Asgad, Eastern Samar, Philippines.

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About Ken

I am a federal employee that loves to travel. I don't get any time off during the busy salmon tagging season, March through November. So, I save my leave and explore the warmer parts of the world during the winter.
This entry was posted in 2015 Philppines, otro vez. Bookmark the permalink.

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