In the hotel garden outside our apartment, stands a large mango tree that is hundreds of years old.
Its fruit are small and round, and if we are lucky enough to find some fallen mangoes before the ants get to them, or the groundskeeper rakes the area, we are treated to a culinary delight.
I estimate that we have eaten five mangoes per day since we arrived on Negros Oriental Island.
We eat fruit for breakfast, accompanied by one of the resort’s breakfast specialities, a large plate of fruit for lunch, and after our lovely dinners by the seashore, we skip the sugary desserts and I make us another fruit plate for dessert in our apartment.
I love the slow pace of island life… Picking up fallen mangoes, swimming with turtles or diving with tropical fish, eating by the seashore, and the natural friendliness of the islanders here who really are curious about how other people live around the world.
I love diving and would do it often, but I also wanted to see the island beyond the sea.
We chose to visit the small mountain town of Valencia and its surrounding area.
The town itself is small and somewhat charming, but beside the market, the church, and the Central Park which runs through town, there is not much to see.
The beauty of the region is in the surrounding areas.
We drove on a narrow, recently paved road up the mountain.
An active volcano was emitting sulfur smoke from the rocks by the road, which were colored ochre red and black, by the mineral deposits.
Chito was our guide for the day.
Chito is 36 years old but he looks like a twenty year old boy who still lives with his parents.
In fact, he is a widower with a twelve year old son.
His wife passed away when she gave birth to their son.
Chito lives with another woman, and they have just had a baby together.
Chito told us that traditionally, families in the Philippines lived together for life.
The children stayed with their parents, their grandparents and the sons’ new wives; everyone lived together, adding rooms to the main house as the need arose.
The daughters usually move into their husbands’ family’s homes.
Nowadays young people choose to live alone if they can afford it.
Not many can afford it.
Rent is expensive, and buying new land and building your own home is getting more and more expensive for the locals, as more foreigners are choosing to come to live on these islands.
Forbes Magazine has rated Negros Oriental Island as one of the world’s best places to retire to, and the Philippine government has made it easy to get residency statue for those who wish to make these islands their home.
The owner of our lovely resort is an English woman named Gaby.
We met her one morning as she kissed her little children goodbye on their way to their local school.
Gaby told us that besides owning the resort, she also runs the local elementary school and that they have 22 kids, all from expat families who live in Dauin.
The school complies with the curriculum of schools in England, and the kids must pass standard exams sent to them from England as well.
Gabi and her partner do an excellent job, not just in running a first class resort with a fabulous dive shop that operates four boats, but also in generously giving back to the community.
Every day Gabi feeds 30 local kids from the resort’s restaurant.
Guests of the resort are invited to join the kids if they wish to do so.
We drove past the town of Valencia into the mountain.
The mountain is covered with tropical vegetation and rivers and streams run from it.
I could see small farms, with their charming traditional houses made from a wooden frame with thatched roofs and walls made from strips of bamboo and woven banana leaves.
Chickens and pigs run in the backyards and small triangular chicken coops dot the gardens.
Chito told me they use these chicken coops to raise roosters for the Cock flights that take place every Saturday and Sunday.
Our first stop was Casaroro Falls.
At the entrance to the trail we met a couple who live in Melbourne. They used to live in Christchurch, NZ, and for many years in Hong Kong.
We chatted awhile about our lives and about each of our traveling plans in the Philippines.
They warned us that the steps down to the falls are a tough descent.
There were 330 high concrete steps going down.
The view of the river and the surrounding hills was magnificent.
I saw large bamboo, coconuts, Lychee trees, breadfruit trees, Jackfruit trees, Mango trees, Banyan trees and an array of tropical ferns and flowers.
When we arrived at the riverbed, the river was wide and full of boulders.
Rock clambering is a fun part of hiking.
We had to climb over and between the boulders and to cross the river a few times, jumping on very slippery rocks.
Yes, I slipped a few times when it started to rain, but we carried our cell phone and money in a dry sack so nothing stopped us from having a terrific time.
The waterfall was beautiful, but the day wasn’t hot enough for me to swim in the cool pool that gathered beneath it.
We saw a foreigner who came with a bar of soap, jumped into the water and started to soap himself.
I thought that perhaps he was camping somewhere and has no access to a shower, but Chito said that he thought that the man just liked bathing in waterfalls.
From there, we started to climb up the 330 high steps, and huffing and puffing, I made my way to the top.
Jules was already waiting for Chito and me, since he is so used to climbing many steps in our home in NZ.
Chito asked me how old Jules is, and how come he is so strong and healthy.
Chito’s own father is younger than Jules by four years.
Chito said that his father looks much older than Jules and that he drinks too much rum, making him not very healthy.
Chito said that he used to give his father a part of his salary every week, but that he no longer does so.
Instead of seeing his father drink himself to an early grave, he just brings him groceries when he comes to visit him.
Chito said that his father started drinking too much after his mother passed away four years ago, and that his father aches and misses her very much.
From Casaroro we continued on to Pulangbato Falls.
A popular picnic and bathing place for the local since the falls are easily accessed by a car.
There were a few smaller waterfalls and cold water pools with kids playing in them.
Many of the kids waved enthusiastically at us and some adults came asking to take their photos with us.
The families had come for the day to enjoy the cooler mountain air, the cool pools and the scenic waterfalls.
They brought coolers full of food, fruit and cold drinks.
Again, I felt amazed at how warm, generous and friendly they all were, and I felt that if I lingered a bit under their covered picnic area, they would offer to share their food with me.
Since I do not like to refuse nor to overeat, I did not examine their interesting cooking.
At Malungcay, there were a few small hot spring pools on both sides of the road.
We soaked at the “Red Rock Hot Springs,” which used to be just a family’s private pool, but now they have expanded it to welcome the public.
It is a small hot spring with mild temperatures, but it is very pretty and scenic.
Chito brought a cooler with watermelon and mango for us to eat.
There was also a small shop on the premises, and I bought some corn on the cob and handmade cassava and yam chips.
I was given a taste of one of the local dishes made of boiled Breadfruit, which they dip in a paste made of salty fish mixed with chillies, lime and chopped tomatoes.
I loved soaking in hot springs and I left Jules and Chito to talk about life, while I floated around in the hot spring pool.
I looked at the volcano and the remains of the black ash that had recently spilled from its peak.
I felt so connected to the earth and to everything around me… So blessed… So euphoric.
My mind wandered….
Why is it that we fight one another on this green earth?
Why is it that we do not stop to enjoy this beautiful place, and the abundance of interest and bounty that it offers us?
Why is it that we narrow our vision to see what is missing in our lives, and not recognize our many blessings and our connection to one another and to the Universe?
I cannot really describe the feeling that seeped into me at that moment, because I have not had enough time to process it yet, but it felt like a combination of simplicity, humble gratitude and expansion into the surroundings.
My consciousness was not focused on that speck of life form called Tali, but was free and vast, one with all.
Day Trip to Valencia And Mount Talinis, Negros Oriental, Philippines
On our last day in wonderful Dauin, we decided to see a little more of Negros Oriental Island, by taking a day trip into the mountains. Our destination was the small town of Valencia, located about 30 minutes’ drive from Atmosphere Resort.
Our guide for the day was Chito, the expeditions manager for the hotel.
Valencia is a pleasant village, nicely laid out with a fresh produce open-air market, a spacious park called “Central Park,” and several large public swimming pools, which attract lots of locals and visitors during the hot summer months.
We slowly drove through town, passing a few resorts offering zip line adventures and ATV rides in the forest on our way, as we continued up Mount Talinis to the entrance to Casororo Waterfalls, Negros Oriental’s most photographed waterfalls.
It was a brief climb up a dirt track before we reached the entrance to the path to Casororo. It is a descent, down about 330 concrete and then metal stairs from the roadside, which is midway up Mount Talinis, to the valley, and then through a gorge which has the river flowing through it.
The gorge is beautiful, with a rainforest feel, and dense mixed growth that includes bamboo, banyan trees and many varieties of native fruit trees.
Typhoon Sendong tore through this area in 2011, destroying the concrete walkway that once led from the bottom of the steps over the river, and strewing sizable boulders, all the way to the falls.
Post-typhoon, the waterfalls are only accessible by clambering over and around all of these boulders, and crossing the river several times by stepping on mostly submerged rocks.
The clambering is precisely what makes visiting it so much more of an adventure than it probably was before the typhoon hit.
Chito, Tali and I all managed the bouldering and river crossings well, despite the slipperiness of the wet rocks.
I thought back to when we first starting hiking these kinds of rocky and slippery paths during our travels.
It was in Japan a few years ago, and at that time I was much more tentative in clambering over slippery rocks.
I would try to cautiously think out each step to take, and I would actually wind up walking with clumsy and heavy feet.
Now I have a new model in my mind for how to approach boulders like these.
I move more instinctively, quickly and lightly, and it seems much easier and more effortless than it was then.
We continued up river, crossing from side to side, depending on the path that the Typhoon had left available.
Soon, we were in front of the beautiful Casororo Waterfalls.
It is a narrow, but tall falls, about 30 meters in height, with the water cascading dramatically into a cold water rock pool.
Tali thought about taking a dip, but once she felt the temperature of the water, she quickly reconsidered!
The climb down the stairs and across the boulders was challenging, but reversing our direction now required those 330 stairs to be climbed.
After admiring the falls for a while, we started in, retracing our steps down the river bank, towards the ruined walkway.
Soon, a light drizzle quickly turned into a downpour, as the rainforest received a drenching. By the time we were at the base of the steps, we were soaked, but the rain had stopped, and the sun came out again.
Our house in New Zealand is built into a steep hillside, and we have constructed a wooden stairway of about 60 steps from our driveway up to the uppermost level, where the kitchen is.
Every week, we carry our bags of groceries, household items, LPG tanks or building supplies, up those stairs – sometimes 8-10 trips in all.
So we were well prepared for this climb up Casororo’s steps!
Our next stop was the Pulangbato Waterfalls.
Pula is the native word for “Red,” and Bato, for “Rock,” and this waterfall is aptly named, because the minerals in the water have turned the rocks bronze in color.
It is much more accessible than Casororo, and also much shorter in height, but its red color is striking.
This is a cold water waterfall, but the man made swimming pool nearby is warm, and it was packed with happy locals.
When we showed up, they greeted us with cheers and screams, and two young guys even wanted to pose for a picture with us! The warmth of the local people here is genuine and spontaneous, and I have rarely felt so welcomed.
Red Rock Hot Springs, a bit down the road, started out as a hot springs pool for a family living in the area.
As more and more of their relatives heard of the therapeutic value of the volcano-heated mineral waters in this area, they also came to bathe, and the family expanded the pool.
Now it is open to the public, and it offers warm mineral hot springs bathing in a beautiful setting.
We stopped in and enjoyed the heated waters, then sat near the pool in a bamboo gazebo and snacked on fresh fruit and locally grown corn on the cob.
I had a long conversation with Chito while Tali enjoyed the hot springs pool, each of us sharing some details from our lives, finding connections between us, despite our very different paths in life.
Chito, who is now 36 years old, has a twelve year old son from his wife, who died in childbirth.
He has been with his current partner for almost ten years, and they now have a six month old baby.
Twelve years ago, when the misfortune of his wife’s passing occurred, Chito had just begun his career as a dive instructor. Back then, there were many fewer dive shops around Dauin than there are now, and work was hard to find.
Chito had to work from early morning to late at night six days a week, and so he was unable to care for his son by himself. He arranged for his son to live with his parents, and he saw him only once a week, at best.
By the time that Chito had met his new partner, and was doing well enough to take care of his son, a few years had gone by. His son was now attached to his grandparents, and was not so comfortable with his father and his new partner. Chito told me that despite his best efforts to make the boy feel secure and happy, it has been a difficult relationship for him ever since.
Chito feels that, at the age of 36, the book of his life has been written, and it is filled with struggle. I shared with him my feeling that this book is constantly being rewritten, with new chapters, and different endings than we can even imagine.
Chito is talented and intelligent, and I told him that his future looks bright to me, if he chooses it to be so.