Thursday, April 27, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies, and Belinda Cunanan

Rizalist suggested an old-fashioned means of responding to Ms. Belinda Cunanan's column piece entitled "Nine million hits for Sigaw website". I'm responding to that challenge. Call it the online equivalent of heckling which, I believe, is the appropriate response to Mrs. Arroyo's antics.

Dear Editor:

Ms. Belinda Olivares-Cunanan's column piece entitled "Nine million hits for Sigaw website" gave me a much-needed laugh as I read through your opinion pages. Nine million hits indeed! It's a wonder that Raul Lambino and company aren't lending their expertise to search engine optimization; they could be earning seriously big money in Internet consulting.

But the truth is that such a claim is simply preposterous. Some simple poking into the the domain name reveals that they are using Yahoo, and the professional hosting plan lists a maximum of 1.2 million visitors per month.

As per Ms. Cunanan's estimates, we have nine million Internet users in the Philippines? The CIA World Fact Book counts only 7.82 million users as of 2005. Ms. Cunanan erroneously equates a web site hit with a visitor.

It would have been more credible if the Sigaw ng Bayan web site had a legitimate measuring tool like Site Meter posted on their web site. Unfortunately, Mr. Lambino and company have conveniently ignored this and we are simply supposed to believe their claim of 326,119 total site visits -- not 9 million -- since April 8, 2006.

Even if Sigaw ng Bayan did have 9,000,000 hits, what of it? Does every visitor to the web site indicate assent to Charter Change? My goodness! Maybe I shouldn't have visited their web site at all! What of foreign visitors who may have stumbled onto their web site? Do we count their visit as a vote in favor of charter change?

A true test of the popularity of a web site is the number of other sites that link to it. You can do this on Google by typing in in the search bar. The result for Sigaw ng Bayan is a resounding "zero." In this regard, Mr. Lambino and company flunk as search engine optimization consultants.

But they do succeed as comedians. They made me laugh.

Dominique Gerald Cimafranca

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Good Friday Goodness: Processions

Having decided to join the community Via Crucis of our parish this year, I was feeling a little proud that I was already biking my way to our church at 5:30am. Yup, I was up pretty early!

And then I got to Hibbard Avenue.

Over in the distance, I could see what looked to be a throng of people. Yes, some people had already started their Way of the Cross. From the time, it looked like this was the contingent from the Cathedral. They covered a section of Hibbard like one big mass. I should have turned back then and there, but I was enthralled. I just had to go for a closer look.

Oh, yes, it was the Cathedral contingent alright. They had just done one station and were already heading my way. I parked my bike to politely give way to the devotees; after all, one does not argue with a crowd.

One minute. Two minutes. Five minutes. Eight minutes. The number of people marching through had not thinned out at all, so I wiggled my way through so I could head on over to my own Way of the Cross.

Still, I was a little bit in shock at the number of people that were passing through. There were thousands, and they had been up since 4:00am! And there I was already feeling pretty good that I was ready with my own early participation in the Good Friday devotions.

One thought did cross my mind: this is why the atheists are not going to win. Never mind all the rational reasons (or what one thinks to be rational reasons) one might put forward: there are just too many believers. In this case, I am going to have to go with the wisdom of the crowds.

And while my own parish's Via Crucis was a tiny fraction of the Cathedral contingent, it wasn't something to sneeze at, either. We just did a small tour of the city center, though. On one occasion, we caught a glimpse of the Redemptorist contingent, too.

Later in the evening, I went downtown again to watch the traditional Burial Procession. The statues of the saints are loaded up on carromata and paraded around the city with flocks of devotees following. It's been a tradition here in Dumaguete for as long as I can remember, probably dating back to the Spanish era. As with the Via Crucis earlier in the morning, the crowd was enormous!

I was just going to watch, like I do every year. However, I saw my friends in the crowd and I said, "Ah, what the heck! I'll join in the fun." And so I did. I was a little fearful being in such a gigantic mass of people, but on the whole, it was orderly and my fears were assuaged.

I had expected the procession to be dreary, but no, it seems not. People were talking and joking in hushed tones every now and then, but without detracting from the over solemnity of the procession. It

Yet another reason the atheists won't win.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Biking Siquijor

Oops, I did it again. After last weekend's escapade, I just felt that I had to do Siquijor Island this weekend.

I told myself that I wouldn't fall into the same trap that I fell into last week. I would just do a couple of hours in one direction and turn back. Did I listen to myself? No. The same demons were egging me on: just a little bit more....

So in the end, I did over 70 kilometers today. In some ways, it was better as I was travelling on asphalt road. In other ways, it was worse, because this trip included a 7-kilometer trek up a mountain (thankfully followed by a steep descent on good, smooth road).

The map below should give you some idea.

I took the 6:00am ferry from Dumaguete and landed in the town of Siquijor, Siquijor at 6:45am. I dropped by the church briefly, then tried to figure out where to go from there.

There's a circumferential road that rings Siquijor Island. From Siquijor, I could either head over to Larena in the east, or San Juan in the west. I opted for the latter, taking a counterclockwise route.

The westerly route is deceptively easy as it starts out with gentle climbs and descents, all the way up to San Juan. I came upon the church of San Juan, incongruous because of the old bell tower paired with a modern church.

Next to the church is a little plaza where they have a crystal spring that was turned into a public pool.

At the plaza, the lady operating the concessionaire called to me, inviting me for some breakfast. "It's our opening today," she said, "and we want to celebrate." I was grateful for the offer as I had only had one chicken sandwich for breakfast. Without much hesitation, I settled down for their fare of biko, all the while making conversation with the owner, Irene, and her schoolteacher friend, Othello.

I didn't linger too long as I wanted to cover more road. The ride from San Juan was getting a little difficult because there was a long upward slope. But that soon gave way to another easy descent, so things were fine for a while.

I came upon this sign, and it brought to mind a humorous essay written by a Brit on Filipino names.

San Juan gave way to Lazi, and now the ride became difficult. I had to get off the bike and push because the grade was getting steep.

I came upon this large balete tree. It impressed me enough to take a picture. I later found out there was a giant and ancient balete tree that was a tourist attraction on the island. I thought this might have been it, but I think I was wrong. (Balete trees are said to be the dwelling place of spirits. Woo-ooooo....)

I would stop for pictures often. Sometimes, I would have to use the self-timer, but that produces less than stellar results. Sometimes, though, I would get lucky and make friends with the locals (who are really very friendly) and I would ask them to take my photo. As it turns out, the picture of the kids I asked to take my shot turned out better, so....

I finally hit the Lazi town proper, dominated by the old Lazi church. The church was really old, and still maintained its old furnishings. The floors were made of wood instead of cement or marble. And it still had those old style pulpits which priests of that time would ascend to give their sermon.

It fronted huge convent, apparently the largest in Asia, which had been turned into a museum. The museum housed statues, furniture, and decor from the church. No pictures because the National Heritage Foundation disallows it. Sadly, it wasn't very impressive, a common lament among Philippine museums. Still, it's worth a visit if you're passing through the area. They have a web site.

After Lazi was the town of Maria. The church there was huge! It was hard to get a good shot because it was blocked by trees all around.

After Maria, I had the option of going through the town of Enrique Villanueva on the coast, or of taking the mountain path through Basak. The coastal road was 22 kilometers, so I opted for the shorter mountain path which was only 11 kilometers. Big mistake. It turned out that while it was shorter, the first 7 kilometers were a steep climb. I had to push all the way.

I hit Larena at around 2:30 pm, expecting to take a boat back to Dumaguete from there. It turned out I was wrong. The boat docking there only made one trip a day, in the morning! So I had to bike back to the town of Siquijor, another 11 kilometers away.

I missed the 3:00 pm trip, so I had to settle for the 5:30 pm ferry. Fortunately, there was a decent cafe near the port where I could get a good meal. Food prices were very reasonable, although the room rates were a little upscale.

After my very late lunch, I took some more photos, and still found time to give love advice to a stranger I met.

Now, that was another record for me.

Note: See also Ivan Henares' account of his visit to Siquijor.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Casaroro Falls and the Japanese Shrine

Today I went to Casaroro Falls in Apolong and the Japanese Shrine in Sagbang, both in the municipality of Valencia.

It was a a darn fool idea, and in hindsight, I probably shouldn't have done it. But since today is April Fool's Day, after all, there's no better time to do something foolish than today.

The jaunt started innocently enough. I asked my aunt to open the store for me today so I could get some serious biking done. I had three options in mind: Siquijor, the neighboring island; Santander, at the southern tip of Cebu Island; or the Forest Camp in Valencia. Up until I left this morning, I really wasn't sure where I would go.

Ultimately, I opted for Valencia as my friends Jong and Danah Fortunato had indicated they would be there this morning. True enough, they arrived, albeit a few minutes after I had had breakfast there and left, so I had to turn back.

After breakfast, I went on my way. First stop, Forest Camp, about a kilometer from the Valencia town proper. It was easy enough to get there, and I managed to do so before 8 a.m. I took a couple of snaps at the gate, just to show that I did make it there.

And then what? It was too early to go back. I decided, what the heck, I'll head on up to Casaroro Falls. I asked around, and they told me that I should just follow the road. Was it far? I asked. Yes, it was far, they said. Good, I said smugly, I could use the exercise.

You know how it is when you bite off more than you can chew? Well, this was one such occasion. I trudged up and onwards, pushing my bike because it was too steep for me to ride. The road was paved, thankfully. As I ascended, the houses started to thin out, until I finally reached a point where the electrical posts and the concrete came to a stop and gave way to a dirt road with plenty of loose stones.

I should turned back, but part of me was thinking: I've come this far. Just a little bit more....

About an hour and a half later, I came upon a sign that said Casaroro Falls. Hooray! Entrance was P10, and a jolly caretaker took my money and had me sign in.

Ah, but wait! This was only the entrance to Casaroro Falls. I would have to go in...and down. Around 200 ft. down, to be precise.

Fortunately, they had made a cement-and-metal stairway snaking down into valley so it wasn't as difficult as it would have been. Still, it's a 20 story descent. That would have been fine, but remember, one also has to go back up.

Nevertheless, the view of the valley was breathtaking and I could take a break along the path and enjoy the scenery. Eventually, I hit the bottom of the valley were a stream, fed from the waterfalls, ran through.

Just a little further on and I came upon the waterfall. You hear it before you see it, really, because it's around a bend over which you have to tread carefully on rocks. And there it was! Around 200 ft. high, not as wide as other falls I had seen, but breathtaking nonetheless.

A few pictures and a long climb later, I was ready to make my way down. I thought the ride back would be easy. It was downhill, after all. But I hadn't counted on the road being so steep and the stones being so loose. I was going down faster than I wanted, despite keeping a knuckle-white grip on the brakes, and I even managed to overtake a motorcycle.

Inevitably, I lost control of the bike and tumbled into the dust. I bruised my left palm when I absorbed the shock and I hurt my left shoulder, my left side, and my left leg in the process. It was the first time my bike actually flipped over on top of me. This was also the first time I literally tasted dust. Yuck!

The people on the motorcycle I had just passed just looked at me and went on their way. So much for good samaritans.

No broken bones, thankfully, and once more I made my way down. My left hand hurt a lot, though, and it was hard to keep squeezing on the brakes, which I really needed to do on account of the steep grade downwards.

Now, on any other day, I would have headed down to Valencia and back to the city. But, no, today is April Fool's Day, and the gods of stupidity exert undue influence. On the way up to Casaroro, I came upon a fork in the road: the left branch led up to Casaroro, and the right branch went down to the Japanese Shrine.

The Japanese Shrine has been an obsessin of mine since last year when I made an attempt on it and had to turn back because I ran out of time. Here, it was within reach! And on a downward path on paved road yet! How easy could it be?

Down I went. Then the concrete road ended yet again. I fell off my bike yet again. Once more, no broken bones, thank goodness, so I told myself to carry on.

Did I say it was a downward path? I eventually came upon a small bridge, one side being connected to the road I was on, and the other side of leading up and up another hilly path.

I ought to have let go of the idea of making it to the shrine and just gone back up to the fork. But...but...but! I'm already here, I said. Maybe it's just a little further on. Besides, the road back up was pretty steep, and maybe the road ahead will curve down in a while.

Two kilometers later, I was doing all I could to put one foot in front of the other, pushing my bike up the hill. I was baking in the hot summer sun, and without my sunscreen yet. Optimistically, I hoped that the next bend would find me at the shrine, and always it would turn out to be more road going uphill. And I was travelling alone, too, and I began to be fearful someone might rob me in that desolate path where houses were few, far between, and mostly unoccupied. I weighed my options: should I call my uncle for help? Or should I just trudge on.

One kilometer later, the upward climb leveled off into small plateau. I spied a decent but lonely looking house and begged for water from the two kids playing in the yard. Where's the Shrine, I asked after gulping down two glasses. He pointed up in the opposite direction.

I was all but ready to give up and head on down to Palinpinon. But now I was so close it would have been utter stupidity to turn back when I could reach it. I locked my bike at a Barangay Tanod outpost and climbed up another 500m of very steep road.

By noon, I had arrived. And there it was, a simple white tori leading to well-manicured lawn on top of the hill.

The Japanese Shrine, dedicated to all the soldiers who had lost their lives in Negros during World War II. Story has it that the Japanese soldiers stationed in the lowlands made their way up to the hills of Valencia when it became apparent that the American forces were going to take back the Philippines. Climbing back a similar, if not the same, path I could better appreciate what they went through.

There is another side story, of course. A treasure hunter I spoke with speculated that the Japanese soldiers brought some Yamashita treasure with them on the way up. Why else would the Japanese come back some forty years later and build a memorial to a war they wanted to forget? Did anyone bother to check what they brought out with them, my friend asked. But it's all fanciful thinking, I think.

Still, I was less than impressed with the Japanese Shrine. The actual memorial was a three-sided obelisk and gave no indication of what it was for. There was a wall off to one side, and I expected that to at least have some story. But nothing. Just a plain whitewashed wall.

I took a few shots of the place, wondering that I had obsessed about this shrine for a long while. Sure, the view was breathtaking, but that was it. Then I realized that, yes, I had actually made it. On foot. So that must have been something.

They did have some very strange-looking chickens up there. I just found them...creepy. This one, in particular, was the weirdest of the bunch. And, yeah, they had an eyeless effigy that looked like a chicken idol. Shudder!

And so finally, I made my way down, taking a couple of false turns in the process. The ride down was uneventful compared to what I had been through earlier that morning. Just as well, because my palm was already blue were it was bruised, and I had developed a real phobia of falling off the bike. I made it home at 2PM, some nine hours after I started.

Really, in hindsight, I probably shouldn't have done it the way I did it.

I should have gone up on a motorized vehicle and not on foot, as I did. The Forest Camp was renting out Quad ATVs that would have been perfect for the journey, but I did not take them. As I'm very cheap, I really don't know if I would have considered it.

I should have gone up with some companions. What if I had really broken something in my two falls? What if I was robbed?

I should have done Casaroro Falls and the Japanese Shrine on two separate trips.

I should have brought sunscreen. And now my arms are a dark shade of crisp red.

But today is April Fool's Day, after all, and the gods of stupidity rule. All the same, they may have been smiling their foolish grins down on me. I did make it, after all, and it's not a trip many people would make alone.

So yeah, hooray for April Fool's Day.

Man, I am so buff.