Lessons from the Farm

During the pandemic I was one of those who left the city for the farm, to succumb to quarantine orders. It was grueling, for the many sudden changes that need to be adopted in order to dodge from the deadly virus. Pandemic indeed have changed us all. At the same time, living in quarantine for months has offered us a rare opportunity to reflect on our lives and, potentially, to reset them. It was about slowing down, spending more time with nature and growing own food – and that’s what I exactly did while in the farm. Admittedly, growing veggies and raising animals helped my well being, taking some grasp to be productive and occupied during the crucial period. Spending more time with nature gave me lessons, reminding some truths if to live a life driven with purpose and meaning.

I have few stories about lessons learned while living in the farm…

The Missing Hen

One morning while cooking breakfast, my sister handed me her hat filled with eggs.

Organic eggs from our hen

“Here are eggs.” She said with some hint of sadness. “My hen is nowhere for a couple of days now. I didn’t know it has laid somewhere hidden in the barrel.” I stared at the eggs neatly piled on the hat. Poor hen. ”I suspect it died, There has been an epidemic of fowls in the neighborhood in the past weeks.”

More than glad for the organic eggs, I felt sorry for the hen, it could have been sick all along, yet it continued to lay ten eggs, good enough for 1 hatch season. It continued to do its purpose as a hen unminding of illness. It continued to carry itself with dignity for the last ten days to her nest.

We lost the hen, but I learned a lesson, it reminded me to do our mission till the end of our days, even at the point of death. To live life with purpose, to remain useful and productive till the end. And it’s not for our own self, but leaving a legacy for others. That is to die with our boots on, like a good soldier.

The Patola

The routine of doing garden rounds was more of pleasure as I got to see new fruits, new flowers or finding something to harvest. Few days back, I went over the plot occupied with the patolas, it’s been more than six months since it produces its fruits giving us constant supply of patola in the

Patola continued to bear fruits

kitchen. Its leaves started to wither, there are more browns than greens. I took this as a sign that it would soon gone for good. Surprisingly, there

Butterfly on its flower

were still  new fruits and even flowers! Again, it reminds me that being fruitful and productive don’t depend with my age, our mission will extend until our last breath. To live until we die, as Fr. Orbos said, “Inspire before you expire. “

The Orchid

The front yard had few mix match of ornaments that we maintained to give at least color not only for the household but also for passersby. At the far corner are few collections of ordinary orchids, most of it I don’t even know its variety. Few months back, we gathered all and replanted them on anislag trunks to give the plants a permanent place of their own.

Orchid leaves almost gone

They seldom give blooms and I could easily ignore them as they are tucked in between other plants. Couple of days ago, some fuschia flowers caught my attention and to my surprise, was the orchid which all its leaves were half-eaten by Lala, our calf! I remembered I was bit disturbed when I saw it and feared it will die.

But what an inspiration! Unmindful of the pain, it continued to bear colorful flowers to all. Just like in life – we experience pain, sorrows, difficulties.  If plants able to withstand hardships and even continue to live and share beautiful blooms, why not for us humans? Let us rise above our storms and be an inspiration to others. We are all called for a mission – to be a blessing to others…

Yes, even in plants or animals we can learn a lesson. 🌱

Grace in Uncertain Times (Reflections amidst CoVid19 Pandemic)

I always believe that everything happens for a reason, or reasons for that matter. Philosophically, I keep in mind and heart the advantages, never allowing myself to dwell in the negative ones. And again, this can only be possible if we chose to think outside the box, chose to be non-conformist and have keen eyes to see beyond the surface.

The pandemic experience has taught me a lot of things, those that were basic and we’re taught of as young kids.  I guess we all need some revelations, perhaps an epiphany to serve as guide in this life’s journey. Admittedly, it was during this episode that I learned a lot about myself, the people around me and life in general.

I have understood that in order to cope up with the demands of dodging the illness, I need to step back and re-learn the ropes of simple living or I must say, mindful living.    I was aiming to put things in order at the beginning of CY 2020, believing I must get it done to start a new decade afresh.  There were personal issues by then, a lot of them. At the start of March, I breezed through a panel interview for some consultative job in a nephrology clinic, churning figures again though I made it clear it’s not a 9-to-5 fare. Unfortunately, before I could finish up reviewing their existing financial system, covid19 pandemonium have overtaken the country and the world, in general.

Leaving the city immediately was just logical and I guess the only option I had, as lockdowns and border controls have surfaced for safety measures. I left for the farm because for me, it was the safest place to hid from the imminent danger of the disease.  The global pandemic has immobilized the life as we know it.

Living at the Farm

When I left the city, I had all my essentials in a backpack just like going on weekend trip. While I was clueless when its gonna end, my sole concern at that time was to leave immediately for safety.

There was much peace and total immersion in nature, and the assurance that the virus could hardly caught me.  I didn’t wear mask in there – inside or outside the house, got fresh air to breath, picked veggies for kitchen needs, ate fruits from our own trees, etc. There was total freedom.

It was the perfect quarantine episode, there was no telco signal in our home and so I was out of circulation from social media, gadgets do not consume my day and I was more mindful and doing other things that are enriching both physically and mentally.  I realize that one can truly survive without being online or connected to the net. 😊

I was missing my hustle and bustle while in the city, yet staying in the farm was altogether a learning experience, it was like a reorientation of simple living and understanding more about agriculture.  And I was grateful that we have a place to come home to, a place to run for safety and a community that wasn’t difficult to fit in.

Life Support Systems

During quarantine there were lot that has to be given up, we were all immobilized due to travel restrictions.  Obviously, my diving trips plan was cancelled and I was pretty dried up longing for my grand element.  But then, I went to focus more on activities that I have grasp at the moment – plants, animals, environmental advocacy, reconnecting with old friends, household tasks that were deferred for some time, so on.

I guess it was about refocusing my mindset to be productive doing tasks that were at hand and just set aside matters that were beyond my control.  Indeed, there is a time for everything.

Most importantly, Maxine & Bronson were always there for me (“mother & son” aspin tandem) whose love and loyalty can never be outdone, I never expected them both to be sweet and endearing when they are ferocious and aggressive to other people.  I guess they just gave back what they received and more. We had walks in the afternoon when it wasn’t raining and it seemed they had body clock that made them bark at me for our afternoon rendezvous!

Lessons and Reasons

We can’t deny that the effects and aftershocks of the pandemic have affected us all, no one is ever spared and obviously we all have survived the test.  If there’s one important lesson I learned was that the Almighty carried us through and He has reasons for all of these.  Our views may be different from one another, but I always believe the Author of Life will reveal in due time when we are ready for more challenges.  No one has ever imagined that we will experience the global pandemic in our lifetime, definitely it is a lesson to be larger than life. In life’s storms, we can all rise with the waves instead of swimming against it.

In between, I realized that even with the catastrophe – our needs were provided – food on the table, good health, love and support from family. Even with our limited resources, we were able to share to others in need notwithstanding the possibility that the situation might get worse in the next days. In those times, I was only hoping for the best.

In the end, we become better version of ourselves after we overcome our challenges. The pandemic was not our own choice, it came to us unexpectedly but life continues. 

The hullabaloo had quieted in the past three months. Everyone is slowly, with caution and being very measured and very careful, emerging out their cocoons and looking around and figuring out what they can do.  And, I got back in the city a couple of weeks ago for some unfinished business at the workplace. I looked back with fresh eyes, understanding better that in life there is no certainty but we could always carry on if we believe that what happened is for good reasons and trusting that the all-knowing God has in store for us latent resources that could prod us to move on wherever life would lead us.  His promise of graces is overflowing for all of us. Yes, and that’s the way LIFE is!

Climate Justice Now! 🌏

This is our cry, and it’s getting louder every year. How could you imagine that scientifically, if humans won’t do something about this global crisis, our beloved home Mother Earth has only thirteen (13) years to live!  And even with such miniscule years left, can anyone do something about this emergency?  Do we have time left to save our common home?  Can there be effective ways to restore the health of the planet? Do nations in the COP2 consistent with the agreements in the convention? Do governments (local and national) have enacted laws effectively for the protection of the environment?  So many questions, with no clear answers.

On second thought, are we helpless and Mother Earth doomed to destruction?

We are not at all powerless, if we integrate our passion and our love for life, environment and for making this world a better place to live, especially for the next generation, then we can do so much for this global problem.  Our lifestyle has much to manifest if we desire to contribute and do workable solutions to help in this crisis.

CY 2019 was a crucial year, yet in many ways grateful being able to do practical ways that lessen my carbon footprints and impacts in the environment. I had an inventory of few radical changes that was done if not to engage myself in a conscious environment-friendly living.

  • Limit taking flights during travels

My trips last year were limited, I guess for very good reasons including my environment impacts. For frequent travelers this could be hard. I had only 3 round trip flights to Manila in the past year, and those trips were mandatory in nature. Compared in prior years, most of my flights were for recreation, so for my dive trips I chose the boat and bus to reach my destination. Shooting two birds with one stone – it was cheaper and less carbon impact!

  • Grow your food and grow more trees anywhere possible

Last year, with the help of my sisters we finally expanded our backyard garden for vegetables and have promised to maintain it. Although, we have veggies garden in the past, it wasn’t as extensive as it ought to be. Growing plant-based foods is not only healthy and cost saving, it lessens the impacts of commercial agriculture.  And what a joy, to watch your gardens blossom every day!  I guess it’s more therapeutic. We planted around the backyard more trees – golden showers, indian tree, and fruit trees – guayabano, guava and bauno. I was glad that our rambutan had its first fruits last year! Aside from alleviating global warming, we can enjoy eating fruits from our own backyard!

  • Think twice before buying new clothing

The fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to global wastes and carbon emissions, so stuffing much clothes in our closet without using them is mortal sin. And so, never buy that new blouse, jeans or jacket if you think it could never be use at least 15 times! Just few days back, I went inside a second hand shop just to take a look, that distressed jeans and summer dress were not costly and still looked new but I know I do still have mine of those stuff for my need. Women must say no to fast fashion, to share in the unsatiated need of the less fortunate who can barely cloth their backs. We are talking here about need, not the wants.  Now and then, I unload my closet and hand down my unused clothing to those who need them.

  • Utilize public transport and consider not owning a personal vehicle

Public utility vehicles (PUVs) are common means of transportation in the Philippines, so this is not all too difficult.  All my life I relied on public transport – be it motorela, tricycle, jeepney, bus, rail, boat.  The comforts of cars or privately-owned vehicles were limited to hitch rides from friends, my sisters or official vehicles.  Getting my own personal car is too far from sight, for more than a decade now my driver’s license was never renewed.

  • Reduce consumption of single use plastics

I admit that I still have struggles in this area, while I wanted to eliminate them in my day to day routines there are still products I need wrapped with plastics. I have avoided fruits and veggies in plastic packaging, sort of non-sense I believe. I refuse plastic utensils when eating out, and I chose food chains where it can be requested, and always thank them for the favor. I am grateful that the local government of the city where I am based have implemented effective Jan 1, 2019 the no plastic policy for all establishments in the locality, and I admire the political will of the city administration.  Now in it’s second year of implementation, the people are now fully aware and have adopted this in their daily routines.  It is mandatory and the fines are hefty for the violators. People are now used to have their eco bag when going to market or supermarkets, or buying food at your suki carenderia needs containers now. These are visible improvements and I’m looking forward when plastics are totally banned in all communities. And let us all be trash advocates as a lifestyle – whether diving or trekking, picking up trashes is the least we could do for mother nature.

  • Be mindful in sorting trash and garbage and treat this task with importance

All over the country, trash bins were provided in public places, government offices, schools, hospitals and even the lowly Motorola here in Cagayan de Oro. We can all utilize them but let us be mindful which bin to throw our trash, stop and think – plastic bottles, cans, food wastes, paper/cartoon, plastic wrapper, and more. The bins sometimes are down to these specific labels, so please let us treat this simple chore with importance.  Especially at home, let us be consistent in waste segregation. Our garbage collection system will be in peril, the mix-up will cause delay, will destroy facilities and will cause more working hours with corresponding costs.  Let us cooperate and be responsible with our wastes.

  • Invest on environment friendly personal essentials

Slowly, I bought for myself personal needs that don’t harm the environment, bit expensive but not hazardous.  My Lush© shampoo bar and soap with matching tins were not cheap, this brand sell their products naked and I believe patronizing them will encourage more producers which will eventually lead to affordable merchandise. Now, I have reusable pads, bamboo toothbrush, tooth tabs, plant-based insect repellent and set of bamboo straws. The good thing is local businesses started to produce environment friendly products, readily available in the local market.

Here’s hoping that everyone shall be good stewards of what was entrusted to us by the Creator, each of us plays a vital role on this fight for the environment.

In one of the speeches of Greta Thurnberg with the youth currently fighting for climate emergency, she said, “It’s like the children setting off the fire alarm, then parents went out, smelled the air and affirmed the house is indeed on fire, but went back inside the house, finished dinner, watched TV and went to bed. If a house is on fire, we don’t wait for years to call the fire department!”    This Swedish girl has a lot to say and she is right, we are aware of this sad situation yet our actions were not justifiable, the reactions especially our governments took so long, much has been left undone even now!

So, what kind of Planet Earth we want to leave to the next generation?

Wonders in Moaboal

I am a firm believer as a diver, that the underwater has always surprises in store so that a certain spot can give one different sightings every dive. The underwater realm is a stash of dynamic organisms, today and tomorrow’s encounter is never the same. A decade of diving has taught me so, the wonders of marine life can never be exhausted.

Millions of Sardines!

Indeed, coming back again in any dive sites gave new encounters which can never be compared from the last. Let it be marine creatures, new acquaintance, locals, or even circumstances where one can reflect lot of good things are always in store in every situation. My dives this year were few, yet our destinations were undoubtedly our favorites and probably few of the best in the country.

It was a last minute decision to return in Moalboal last October, as usual I had the last word where to go as there was no previous plan. I needed to go away a little farther and it was a random choice to revisit South Cebu. We were so blessed that our arrangements went smooth – our home Moalboal Backpackers Lodge for the accommodation, and Savedra Dive Center for the dives.

Swarm of these juveniles…

Isla de Pescador

Our 5am bus trip from the city allowed us a very early arrival in town, giving us ample time to relax and prepare for the dives.  The town was all in motion as we got in Basdiot, weekends like any destinations are full and bustling with tourists.  The cheery weather lifted my spirits, forward looking for wonderful encounters during the day. We were welcomed warmly at the diveshop, the wall chart indicated that we belonged to Lyndon’s (DM) group on our first dive at Pescador Island!

Aboard the Seastar, we sped through the surf, the lowly island looming before us as we got nearer and in 15 minutes we dropped anchors.  Few boats already moored indicative of other divers ahead of us. Our DM briefed us of the current, so from northeast point we should drift to the northwest but first we need to cross against the current until the wall, navigating with our right shoulder against the wall. I informed Lyndon that I wore a brand new wetsuit and it might affect my bouyancy, he assured that he would bring extra weight in case it is necessary. And it was fierce indeed, I have always avoided swimming against current. It was exhaustive!

Watching from inside the Cathedral

Every inch beyond was filled with so much life – from echinoderms, hard & soft corals to swarming variety of fish – there was so much colours! I kept myself close to the wall as I searched for some critters just floating until we got to the Cathedral! It is a cavern with holes, and getting inside with keen eyes you were like staring a large monster face! We linger a little longer inside just watching the illuminated holes, trying to absorb its grandeur, how magnificent! There was a stonefish, giant clam, bivalves that snap as you got close, and a lot of linkia laevigata. There were turtles and we found a huge one sleeping on a crevice, while we left it alone, unfortunately another group of divers came and poke the poor animal. 😦  The wall has few caverns and lot of crevices that were undoubtedly shelter of various critters. We ended up at the northwest end of the island, actually half-circled Pescador. Thankfully I didn’t have trouble with my new wetsuit.  Maybe if we got to dive here in the future, we will reverse the route to get the full circle, without the current of course! 🙂

Sexy shrimps, can you see them?

We cruised back to mainland and while halfway on the waters, to our surprise a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins appeared and sailed alongside our boat! They lingered for a little while to everybody’s delight, until finally we sped our way to the shores with all our smiles. The warm sun, sea breeze and salt waters spraying on us was pure delight.

Sardines Shoal

Since I first came in Moalboal decade ago, we always aimed for the sardines and this trip was no exception. The house reef was listed for our second dive in the afternoon, and it was an exclusive dive for us! Our surface interval was more than enough for our quick bites and relaxed a bit longer before we got back at the dive shop, just a few meters away from our hostel.

The sardines was all around us!

We geared up excitedly but our DM changed the plan due to the afternoon current, instead of a shore dive we shifted for the boat. So, we sailed shortly to Panagsama Sanctuary and descend there and drifted for the shoal eastward immersing in the warm afternoon waters. We maintained our depth in the shallow reef along the Basdiot shores scouring the bottom for trashes. We gathered some plastic debris, thankful there wasn’t much when the area was filled with many settlers and establishments just few meters from the shoreline. In spite of this, there was much marine life in the area – sexy shrimps lurking on soft corals, ornate pipefish, nudis, lobster and juvenile frogfish! We drifted until we got into swarm of big eye scad, there was lot of them swerving and shifting direction as we moved along. There were other fish specie that came in schools also, and to my mind they knew and learned that being in cluster commanded force and they were less threatened.

I kept looking up until in an instant a dark patch clouded over us, the sardines shoal was upon our very eyes! Like a magic but for me, it’s purely mystical. I know I will never get tired watching again and again such incredible marine sight. 🙂 How majestic are His creation!

Nudibranch!

We kept floating mindful too of other fish in our midst, there were five barracudas that tried to invade the swarm but wasn’t able to penetrate at all. And how marvelous that they could go that shallow, barracudas are generally deep sea dwellers! We still linger floating until we reached the end of the stretch, Lyndon signaled accordingly to turn around and went against the mild afternoon current. Angel and I immersed much longer finning coyly with the massive sardines’ swarm above us, engulfed myself few more moments of wonder until our DM signaled for surface which we both agreed. We ended up at the front of the dive shop entrance channel. Angel helped me with my fins as we walked back to the shop with our gears on. I guess even with the current I still felt energized with such wonderful encounter, it was for me another relaxing experience with the phenomenal sardines. I could only wish they would remain to have Panagsama as refuge, shelter and home forever.

The sardines clouded over us!

We capped our day with a big dinner in Marina, yet many times our encounters for the day came into our chats until we retired for the night.

Moalboal will always be our favorite destination for diving, its wonders endlessly captivated my soul. That brought home how amazing the marine world is and why it’s worth protecting the rich biodiversity we have in the country or this planet, for that matter.

Travel Notes:

  1. Leaving Cebu City at 4:30am by bus, one can reach Moalboal before 8:00am still having enough time for 2 dives during the day
  2. Tricycle to Basdiot costs P150.00 for special trip, otherwise P20.00/pax for ordinary trip
  3. Be sure to book your accommodation and dives before heading to Moaboal to avoid trip hassles
  4. Sardines Shoal can still be encountered through snorkelling
  5. Pescador (which literally means fisherman) got its name being refuge of fishermen during inclement weather.

Bucas Grande: My Island, My Home

Serenity is where home is…

There are places you wanted to come home to even how far and remote it could be. A place where one can find comfort surrounded with green and blue waters listening the crashing waves, yet secluded from great structures. Bucas Grande Islands has always been my favorite get away.

After a lull of almost two years, I was back in the islands. There was no plan actually, my summer was void with trips except my farm visits. Things just fell its place, randomly our good friend in municipal tourism gave a ring and my travel buddy just pop up to visit the islands. My mind drift off to serene waters, blue lagoons, green environs, patch of white beaches, the nocturnal crickets singing, and the crashing waves that lull me to sleep. Simple pleasures that can be savored only in these remote islands.

We arrived Port Hayanggabon in time for lunch, so had a stop in a seafood shack while waiting for our boat. Lot of new structures sprouted at the port since my last visit. We found our boat and wasted no time for the cruise amid the waves, smiling our way as the sea breeze blew on our skins cooling the hot afternoon. And headed straight to tourism center for some pleasantries with our hosts and picking up where we left off since our last meeting.  After more than ten years there has been changes to cater the growing number of tourists and crew, and in a way surprised of new structures around the area.. The old tourism center almost dilapidated gave in to a larger shack with wider receiving area, surrounding ramps, platforms and docking area. There’s a floating cottage and floating restaurant nearby – well, I was wondering about its waste disposal!

Rushing up to get most of the remaining afternoon and the low tide, we head straight to Sohoton Cove – the mystical maze of islands covered in green foliage. We entered smoothly, our boat maneuvered perfectly with no hesitation or doubt. Once inside, I still had that same feeling of wonder like getting into a different realm, into another world – a city on the waters! We did our homage in Hagukan Cave, swam the warm waters glad of the super low tide, most importantly it was all to ourselves, such perfect timing! That rock in the middle was all to ourselves to stand on, as we view above the rock formations. I skipped the Magkakaub Cave, it was bit crowded. Angel did the climb and the plunge perfectly. 🙂 It started to drizzle as we did the last round and finally headed for the exit and in few minutes we were back in the center.  Later, we hopped to Puyo Island but decided to settle for Marka A Island for a swim.  We picked up few trash from the shores as we went around, the good thing was because it was already late, it was all to ourselves again.

We had a relaxing dinner back at the center, all the crew and tourists called it a day so we were left in tranquility, savoring again the serenity of the islands. The crickets started to chirp in the dusk. The center is now lit with few colored bulbs, a new improvement I guess as they were able to generate energy supply from few solar panels installed.

Unfortunately, Cinnamon Island where we had our lodgings for the night were full of guests so we missed its relaxing mode like it used to be. The crashing waves though, muffled the laughing and singing of the people.

Time was too limited, the next day though we revisited few sites we love. Our first agenda was the Tojoman Lake in search for the sting-less jellyfish, but there was none and instead looked up as brown giant bats started flying above the trees. We paddled around and our boat guide led us to Lubogon Lagoon, we found few juveniles silently floating the waters.  Tiktikan Lake used to be operated by fishermen coop, more structures were now at the entrance, bigger shack, slides, catwalk, platform and diving board. The interior lake itself was maintained but was deserted when we got there after a short trek, more people preferred the fronts which offered diving from heights.

La Fortuna was our last stop, the small strip of white beach at the front was an attraction but more was in store for us.  We trek for ten minutes for Bubon Lagoon, we have explored this secret nook before but now went beyond watching the placid waters. We kayaked around the lagoon, the lush foliage covering karst cliffs reflecting on the waters was purely a relaxing sight. It was all to ourselves! We’re on the run, yet we snatched few minutes to swam and play at the beach as we got back in the front.  Clottie joined us without complaining, this cute curly pup goof around with us, I gave her a bath but didn’t like it! And we enjoyed Raffy’s fresh buko, enough to quench our thirst and made us full!

We had late light lunch back at the center with our hosts, had brief pleasantries and finally bid bye. It was so short.  We cruised the afternoon waves for the port, again the sea breeze blew gently on our skin as we watched the vast blue sea before us. So brief, yet it felt so refreshing!

Last Note

It’s now more than a decade since I kept coming back here and I am glad that the islands have maintained its pristine waters and still free from trash. As we get around hopping to our fave spots, my keen eyes noticed few scraps which I pointed out to our boatman, in turn he assured me that a team was assigned for such task on a daily basis. The lesson I learned from the locals was that, getting the community involved to protect and preserve their invaluable resources was an effective strategy, they understood that nobody would do it for them except themselves and its protection is their ultimate mission if not to sustain this nature’s gift for their livelihood.  The coastal communities around the islands understood well that natural resources is always worth of care and preservation for the next generation.