Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From Surf to Turf

This blog will no longer be solely for my sailing stories but will now cover my life as – surprise!- a farmer. Believe me, I’m the one most surprised.
My first harvest of lettuce
What started as loose talk between Raul and me is becoming a reality. I never thought we would become farmers but here we are now in Coron, Busuanga, Palawan, our favorite place in the Philippines and our retirement place of choice, growing lettuce, peppers, squash, beans, coriander, etc. In 3 months, we have transformed almost 4,000 square meters of idle mountain land into neat plots with miniature greenhouse-like tunnels of fine mesh with an assortment of vegetables and herbs. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to check that I am not dreaming.
Taken 5 May 2014
Taken 5 August 2014
There was, and still is, so much anxiety diving into something we don’t know anything about. We depend completely on Manuel, our agricultural consultant from Manila, for guidance and training. But the more I learn, the more I learn that there’s so much more to learn. When Manuel starts talking about enzymes and phosphorous, I panic.

Our first harvest of lettuce and pechay
Everyday is a new challenge- the tomatoes that refuse to live, the lettuce that stopped growing, the squash leaves that just shriveled up one day. I suffered under the sun at the height of summer with its oppresive temperatures of 35-37C and watched with envy as the carabao we hired while waiting for our tractor is given a shower every half hour by its handler.  When the habagat came with its torrential rains, I sat helplessly as our seedlings drowned in mud and our tunnels swept by the winds.

First harvest of peppers

But every step is a learning experience and an absolute joy. Every day, a surprise. Seedlings sprouting overnight into miniature plants, growing, flowers blooming then turning into fruits. The thrill of our first produce- the first cucumbers taking shape and expanding 5-6 cm overnight until they are harvested at 30 cm. I watch with wonder as nature transforms in front of my eyes- thimble-like bell peppers into fist-sized wonders, the lettuce leaves that finally blossomed into shape. The happiness of our first harvest. The fulfillment of our very first sale even if it was just 3 kilos of cucumber for P100 in the market with Raul as stevedore. The luxury of cooking and eating my very own produce.

First harvest of bell peppers
A friend told me that I am lucky I have a green thumb. I don’t believe in green and black thumbs. You just need a dream. And a consultant.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Amihan is Here

Smiles are wider than usual. There’s a spring to every step, a certain lightness in the air. Sailors all over the Philippines are giddy with excitement because it's official. The stars have aligned. Windguru and PAG-ASA have confirmed it. And you can feel it in the air, even smell it. The northeast winds are upon us. Amihan is here.

As usual, my windsurfer/kiteboarder friend Bo is on the dot. He comes to the Philippines from the US every year on the 3rd week of October to sail. As Peter Capotosto, Taal Lake Yacht Club Commodore said, "The Tres Marias, Orion's belt, The Three Kings, whatever you want to call them, when you see them in the sky, you know the rains are leaving. There may still be a DEVASTATING typhoon or two, but the season is DEFINITELY changing. The cool winter winds are coming, and so is the best part of the sailing season."

I'm excited because although I can ride Paraluman year round, windsurfing is still my favorite kind of sailing. Just because it's the fastest.

Windsurfers, kiteboarders, hobie aficionados, all kinds of sailors have silly grins on their faces, flexing muscles that have been dormant and sporting faces pale from staying indoors while the habagat winds blew. Board shorts and rash guards will be tighter as a few kilos would have been gained from inactivity. Everyone starts out fumbling with their moves- relearning how to gybe without stalling, fine tuning equipment- but will be back to racing form after a few sessions. In a month or two, everyone will be tan and muscular again.

Equipment is being brought out of storage and inspected for repairs, assembled and rigged, checking for cockroaches and whatever critters would have taken residence while the owners were hibernating. We once found a bird's nest snuggled within the folds of our hobie catamaran main sail.

Weekends will be spent sailing once again instead of on extended siestas, pigging out, getting drunk and fat. Time to set aside the mountain bikes, wakeboards, and other feeble attempts at offseason sports. No more reason to be grumpy. Monthly races and regatttas will resume, old rivalries reborn with last season's winners ready to defend their titles and the rest out to do better.

Sailors are ecstatic and welcoming amihan with wide open arms. I'm tired of making do with habagat's unpredictability, constantly wrestling with my sail or kite, always either under- or overpowered by shifty winds and unexpected gusts. Add rain, lots of it, and being constantly pummeled by squalls to the misery.

Oh sweet amihan! I missed you.  You bring so much happiness. As I sit here typing I can feel your cool sweet breeze on my face, hear the gentle rustling of palm trees, and see tiny ripples on the calm blue waters of Maricaban Strait. But I am not fooled. I know that sometime this season you will wield your full power- howling mighty winds over breaking waves- that will whip us around like puppets, throw us down to our knees and bring out the wimp within us. I'm looking forward to it.

Amihan is here. This must be how people in countries with four seasons feel when spring has sprung. It's a festive mood with everyone is saying it over and over again, to confirm something we already know. Mouthing words to oneself or to each other, all nodding in agreement with a silly grin on the faces. Or a feeling of disbelief with a quick check again at Windguru for the nth time just to be sure.

I still can't get over it so I'll say it again. Amihan is here. WOOHOOOOOO!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Unravelling the Probability of Truth

23 September 2013 

I received crushing news today. I got an email from the University of the Philippines (UP) saying that I failed the admission test to the Graduate Studies in Creative Writing. Although I was expecting it, I am still heartbroken. 

I'm bursting with ideas and have hundreds of pages of notes and sailing stories I want to share- extraordinary experiences full of drama, comedy, romance and suspense. I have this dream of writing a book about my sailing adventures which no Filipino has ever done it before. However, I often find myself struggling with the actual writing and don't know where to start when I think about my "book". I end up staring at my computer for hours, days, overwhelmed with the task.

Nine Muses by Napoleon Abueva outside the UP Faculty Center
A writer friend of mine advised me to take formal writing classes to help me with structure, crafting and methodology. I consulted someone from the Creative Writing Department in UP, my beloved alma mater, and was told to take Graduate Studies in Creative Writing. So I applied.

After submitting the requisite requirements such as my transcript of records, references from former employers and samples of writing work, I was surprised to find out that there is an admission test. Silly me thought that pure desire would be enough for UP to support my dream. I had no idea what the exam would be like and how to prepare. So I did what I normally do when I don't know what to do. I did not do anything.

I arrived in the test venue last September 2 half an hour early with butterflies in my stomach. It was in the "new CAL Building" which looked about 10-15 years old despite its neatness. My fellow examinees were at least half my age. 

There were only 3 questions: 

1. Name 2 literary works that you read recently that you feel will make for a worthwhile study of the art of writing. 

Woah, that's deep, man! Tough question and I wasn't sure how to answer it. I thought long and hard and replied to the best of my abilities about Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco and My Life by Keith Richards. 

2. Adapt the following passage into the genre of your choice. Do not exceed 2 pages.

         The misery of us that are born great!
           We are forced to woo, because none dare woo us;
           And as a tyrant doubles with his words.
           And fearfully equivocates, so we
           Are forc'd to express our violent passions
           In riddles and in dreams, and leave the path
           Of simple virtue, which was never made
           To seem the thing it is not. Go, go brag
           You have left me heartless; mine is in your bosom:
           I hope 'twill multiply love there. You do tremble:
           Make not your heart so dead a piece of flesh,
           To fear more than to love me. Sir, be confident:
           What is't distracts you? This is flesh and blood, sir:
           'Tis not the figure cut in alabaster
           Kneels at my husband's tomb. Awake, awake, man!
           I do here put off all vain ceremony,
           And only do appear to you a young widow
           That claims you for her husband, and, like a widow,
           I use but half a blush in't. 

What? I was dumbfounded. I read and reread the passage and still couldn't understand it. Who died? Plus "Adapt the following passage into the genre of your choice". Huh? I could not answer the question because I did not even understand it. And finally- "Do not exceed 2 pages"- puede bang one line lang (is one line ok?)? I asked the teacher for help but she was just a proctor and could not assist me. 

3. Make a literary analysis of the attached short story "The First Day" by Edward P. Jones. Include a discussion on verisimilitude or the probability of truth. 

Verisimi-what?! I read the seemingly simple story numerous times, turned it upside down and inside out but could not find any profound or hidden meaning in it. And even if I did, I had no idea what verisimilitude is and what probability of truth means.

We were given 3 hours for the exam. I spent an hour on Question 1 and the rest of the time grappling with 2 and 3 while the rest of the examinees were bent over their desks furiously scribbling away. For the first time in my life, I wrote a letter at the end of my test paper addressed to whoever will check it and made a pathetic attempt at explaining my incompetence and begged him/her to please oh please accept me.

Proud Bareboat Skipper Certificate holders with our instructor
As I said, I'm not surprised that I failed the exam and I blame myself for overconfidence. Instead of preparing for the test, I spent my time daydreaming of being back in my minamahal kong UP (beloved UP) after 28 years with its familiar acacia-lined avenues, stately old buildings, students sitting on the corridors studying and playing the guitar, even the same uncomfortable wooden chairs and smelly toilets.

My mom, my number one fan and cheerleader, told me to "try and try again!" I am normally quite persistent but I now recall an interesting character I met last June 2012 when Raul and I with 4 other friends took an International Bareboat Skipper Training Course. Conducted by International Yacht Training Worldwide (IYT), the global leader in yacht training and marine certification, this course is the equivalent of earning a driver's license so you can rent and pilot a sailboat on your own anywhere in the world.

We flew in a British instructor from Thailand, the only IYT school in Asia, to Anilao, Batangas for this class. It is a 5-day intensive course with two 3" binders of lectures, classroom and water exercises, and written and practical exams. We learned advanced theories like meteorology, collision regulations, pilotage and passage planning. An interesting topic was how to read the lights of other vessels at night so you can tell its direction, length, whether it's towing or pushing something, if it's stalled, sail- or power-driven, and other crucial information required for safety.

Water exercises in 20-30 knots of wind

Students should be experienced sailors who have logged at least 200 miles at sea. At that time, Raul and I had already sailed thousands of miles on our own without formal lessons, learning by reading and trial and error, persistently practicing in all kinds of weather, without crashing our boat or killing anyone.

In a practice session during our course, our engine broke down and no one in our boat could fix it. We anchored in Puerto Galera, Mindoro and asked for the help of this solo sailor in a catamaran since he was nearest us.

He was sixtyish, strong and lean, with stringy blond hair, reeking of body odor, and fixed our engine in minutes in exchange for a beer. He spent his adult years working as an engine mechanic in a fishing boat in his native New Zealand but boarded a sailboat for the first time in his life when he bought his catamaran 2 years ago. He set off from France not knowing how to sail and figured everything out on the go. He had been sailing- by himself- for 2 years, just arrived from Thailand, encountered pirates in the Gulf of Aden which a support helicopter blew out of the water, was jailed for carrying a shotgun for protection which he picked up illegally in Turkey. He didn't know how to read night lights and his face registered an Aha moment when we told him what they mean. He wasn't just surviving- he looked like he was enjoying every minute of it. All of us taking this prestigious and expensive course were in awe of this man who went off to pursue a dream armed only with pure guts and determination.

With my Bareboat Skipper Course classmates and instructor
I will not compare the importance of proper sailing vs. writing classes because there is an element of danger to the former. But since I've never heard of anyone who has been killed for bad writing, I think I will ignore my mom's advice even if she is always right. I will allow myself a few days to mope over my rejection then just keep on writing and hope I figure everything out on the go. Maybe I will find out the meaning of verisimilitude along the way.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

When 2 Become 1

After Raul and I joined our first Philippine Hobie Challenge in 2003, I became convinced that we were truly made for each other. Known as Asia’s premier extreme sailing event, the Challenge is a gruelling 7-day race with a different island destination everyday, entailing sailing 30-50 nautical miles or anywhere from 3-10 hours per day depending on the wind conditions. It is a test of skill and endurance with each team composed of 2 people on a 16-foot Hobie catamaran. On this particular event which ran from Donsol, Bicol to Matnog, Masbate, Leyte and ending in Cebu, we had all the ingredients of high drama- powerful winds of 20+ knots, 2-3 meter waves and strong currents. 

The 2003 Challenge Route
Raul and I worked flawlessly as a team, perfectly attuned to each other’s motions, communicating wordlessly, reading each other’s minds. We kept our respective duties, Raul on the tiller and main sail, me on the jib, GPS, food and water supply, despite our weary bodies and chattering teeth . We depended on each other, aware that to lose even a second of concentration or to despair would bring the other down. I unquestioningly obeyed Raul’s orders as skipper but he always asked for and respected my inputs as his crew. We sailed, tacked and gybed like perfectly oiled machinery without the usual bickering that plague teams.
We drew strength from each other as we crossed the much feared and respected San Bernardino Strait with its powerful cross currents and terrifying eddies. We put on a brave front to each other as we zoomed uncontrolled on a terrifying downwind leg from Masbate to Leyte at 20+ knots and breaking waves, always at the edge of a forward catapult. We dealt with our fears by facing them head on, with proper preparation and 100% focus. One small mistake or a tiny loss of concentration cost a lot. We made errors and admitted our shortcomings, learned how to right the boat in minutes after every spill, reviewed what went wrong so it did not happen again.
We celebrated each big wave we crossed, every success no matter how small with smiles, high fives, or a resounding “thank you” to the skies. We rejoiced together as we finished each day’s race, reveling in successfully hurdling the day’s challenges. Through it all, we took the time to appreciate the beauty around us- the frolicking dolphins, uninhabited islands, pristine beaches, the full moon at night. We gave each other a massage no matter how exhausted we were, thanked God for keeping us safe and spooned in our tents for warmth at night. We woke up at daybreak every morning with a smile for another day of tough racing.
Running a marathon together before we got married.
This Challenge was a spiritual and humbling experience for me as I felt like an insignificant speck amidst God’s creations. But more than being humbled, it further emphasized something I had known for years- that Raul and I are made for each other.

I walked down the aisle 25 years ago, at 22 years of age, 5 months pregnant, surrounded by doubting Thomases. It felt like walking off the edge of a cliff marrying a 23-year old jobless man I hardly knew when we were simply, in today’s lingo, friends with benefits. Ours was a marriage statistically doomed from the start. And yet we beat the odds. We are truly blessed.
Batanes, 2003. We have a family tradition of visiting a new Philippine destination on our wedding anniversary.
Time flew because we were having so much fun. 25 years of unconditional love, 2 wonderful daughters and a grandson. The Hobie Challenge was simply a sample of our power as one.

Raul, thank you for being my husband, best friend, lover, the father of our beautiful daughters. What can I say but you make me laugh! And I still have a crush on you until now. Thank you for always keeping your cool, for tolerating my cooking, for carrying me when I’ve had too much to drink, for always saying the right thing at the right time.

Today we are treading on unchartered waters but I face our new post-corporate lives with happiness, courage and a smile knowing we are doing this together. I will cross oceans with you. I want to grow old with you.

Raul, you hold my heart in your hands. You are the reason for my happiness. Thank you.

Printed on the cover of our wedding invitation, 11 June 1988
"My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep.  
The more I give thee, the more I have, for both are infinite." 
- from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Office pictorial, 2010. A rare picture of us in decent clothes.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Violence at Sea

Illutuk Bay, Busuanga, Philippines, December 2010 

We have been craving for crabs since the start of our trip. Somewhere on our 10th day or so, just when we were about to give up finding fresh crabs, a man in a makeshift styrofoam boat approached us to offer his catch. We paid P600 for 6 larger than average live crabs, approximately 5 kilos total, each with a shell of at least 16 cm across for about 1/5 of the price in Manila. We were so thrilled and couldn’t wait for dinner. But first I had to cook them. 

Crabs are easy to cook- just drop them alive in boiling water till they turn orange. I have never thought twice about this until last week as I was reading the book "Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child" by Bob Spitz. Julia Child, who brought French cuisine to and revolutionized cooking in America in the 60s, caused havoc amongst animal activists and was dubbed a murderer when she chucked a live lobster in boiling water in an episode of her show The French Chef for a lobster recipe. I wonder what these animal lovers would have thought of me as I continue my story. 

I had 6 big vicious very much alive and kicking crabs and one small pot. Space is a luxury in a boat so everything in Paraluman comes in efficient sizes. After figuring out how to cook the crabs (one by one), I got ready to work then realized that a single one won’t even fit in my cute pot. I had no choice but to tear off the claws and legs first so the bodies will fit into the cooking pot.
This man in a makeshift styrofoam boat sold us the crabs

How do you amputate 6 hyperactive crabs who suddenly seem to sense that they are about to be dismembered by a clueless cook? Although their pincers are tied, here they are crawling, gesticulating, waving their hairy thorny legs, fighting to stay on top of each other and climbing over my tiny sink. 

Do I kill them first to spare them the agony of seeing their appendages severed? How do I kill them? Spear them? Whack them on the floor? It’s too late for hypothermia in the refrigerator because dinner is one hour away. The only way I know is to pitch them in boiling water but as I said, they’re too big for my pathetic pot.

So I proceeded to breaking off the claws and legs of these living crabs. It was violence at sea.

The legs looked easy enough to yank off with my fingers but the crabs’ survival instinct kicked in as soon as I grabbed them, jerking their sharp legs and scratching me until I was bleeding. So I just set them on the sink and, with practice and good timing, cut off each writhing leg with scissors. Strangely enough, the crabs did not seem to notice that they had just been disjointed and were still attempting to crawl with their claws. 

Detaching the claws was the most difficult part. I couldn't yank off those bulky ferocious sharp claws with my bare hands. Both claws were tied by one string and if you pull one off, you free the other one for attacking; you needed to jerk off both claws at the same time if you were to use your hands. I asked Raul for help and we set in motion teamwork gleaned from 22 years of marriage. I held each crab down with pliers (the longest tool we could find in Paraluman with a blunt edge) while he cut off the claws with scissors. It was a struggle to set the scissors in the muscle in the joint and Raul accidentally cut through the tough shell several times. Our daughter Marina and grandson Diego watched with amusement and disgust from the safety of the cockpit and cheered each successful amputation.
Just when we were developing a rhythm, a crab came untied and lunged at Raul who was bending down for a closer look. Raul, all 74 kilos and 1.8 meters of him, squealed like a girl and jumped back 1 meter at the same time. I tried hard not to laugh as I watched him battle this runaway crab with claws unfettered going after him in our tiny kitchen.

Finally, after destroying a pair of scissors in the process and experimenting with other heavy duty instruments in Raul's toolbox, we were ready to cook our crabs- sans claws and legs but their hearts still beating (crabs must have nine lives!). Paraluman looked like a war zone with bits of shell and other crab parts everywhere. We felt like barbarians- drenched in sweat, smelling of raw crab, our arms and hands scratched and bleeding, but victorious in battle.
Crabs with our favorite dips- calamansi with butter sauce for Raul and sauteed garlic in olive oil for me.
It was one of our best meals ever, made delicious by the sweetness of success. We took our time, dined under the moonlight and ate with our hands with the juices dripping through our fingers. The crabs were fat and fatty, the meat tasty and succulent. We nourished every bite and picked and sucked each crab dry and licked our fingers clean.
I just bought a 28 cm wide cooking pot for Paraluman. It can fit 6 big live crabs.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Continuation of "Bird --t and Karma"

It's been 4 months and the birds are still shitting on this boat! I was back in Busuanga for Holy Week and this sight greeted me. But I'm not laughing, ok?! (straight face)

Read this to know the whole story and why you should be good to your neighbors.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hanging On For Dear Life

White Beach, Boracay, Philippines, December 2007 
It’s nighttime, the wind is blowing steadily at 20+ knots gusting to 25+. The anchor line is pulled taut like a guitar string, it looks ready to snap any second now. We are not used to anchoring in these conditions. I am so stressed out and wondering if our rope and anchor will hold. I ask Raul for the umpteenth time if we indeed have the correct rope and anchor for the sandy bottom, if we set it properly and let out the proper amount of line. I envy my husband's cool state of mind. After a while, I surrender to our conditions and decide to have a few drinks and smoke some weed in order to relax and fall asleep.

Boracay's cool powdery sand was too tempting for Mariel.
Around midnight, Raul wakes me up to even more powerful winds and a boat that’s rocking like a horse. The wind is whistling, no it’s shrieking, howling fiercefully around me. The boat is creaking and groaning, ropes banging. He wants to take down our trapal, the tarpaulin we use to cover the rear half of the boat. This was our first sailboat then, Marikit, which did not have a bimini so we used a makeshift piece of heavy canvas to protect us from the sun during the day. It hangs over the boom then tied to the lifelines on the sides and measured approximately 3 x 4 meters. Because the wind is now blowing 30+ knots, Raul wants to bring it down because it was catching wind and pulling Marikit with it, and it might tear off and fly away.

Huh? I am stoned senseless and still drunk. But you always obey the captain, right? So we go out on deck and get to work. We have to do this properly or else we will lose the trapal, or one of us gets hurt by the billowing canvas and its numerous ropes, or, worst of all, someone falls in the water. My job is to hold the trapal down while Raul unties the sides from front to back until we are ready to fold it together.

But it takes me a while to understand what Raul is saying. I can’t get his instructions through my thick skull. I look at him blankly as the words slowly travel to my ears and my brain struggles to understand. Tell my ears to tell my brain to tell my arms to.... until one minute later- ohhh ok so you want me to hold down the trapal!

One of several overnight stops we made to break the trip from Batangas to Boracay
I can’t hold the trapal down with my hands. I am too small and powerless against the wind and the jerking boat. So I fling myself across the boom and use myself as a human paperweight. I lose my footing so I am draped across like a piece of laundry, my feet dangling, the boom swinging wildly from side to side with me on top of it like a rag doll, a stoned rag doll, hanging on for dear life, with a single thought- hang on, don’t let go. One thing about weed, you get wasted so you’re only capable of one thought at a time- hang on, don’t let go. I can’t think beyond that. I hold on until Raul tells me what to do next. I don’t have the mental faculties to check what he is doing, how we are doing. I am just waiting for Raul to give me his next instructions like an obedient child, a spaced out obedient child.

I’m not really sure how we did it but we finished the job without losing the tarpaulin or anyone falling overboard. I am happy to crawl back to bed in one piece. Good thing about weed, when Raul asked me to go out on the deck with him, I was too stoned to argue or process the pros and cons of what we were going to do. I just accepted the captain’s orders. If I were sober, I would have told him that we shouldn’t do it, it was too dangerous, we might fall off, it was too dark. But then again if I were sober I could have managed the job easily and then there would have been no need to say that, right?

Kids, don’t try this at home.

We had a pod of dolphins swimming with us for more than an hour on our way home from Boracay east of Mindoro.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...