North Clevenger Trail

A solo hike in the outback seems like a good way to socially distance myself especially if distance is a key element in the formula. I wanted to get a hike in before they post a National Guardsman at my door to seal me in until the pandemic passes. It’s spring and it’s green and in San Diego County, the best time to get out for a hike. I settled on Clevenger Trail North, part of the Palms to Pines trail, about ten miles from my house. Mountains in the distance still have some snowpack on them. It’s a cool day under decent cloud cover, a good time to hike up the side of a mountain before it gets too hot and dry.

At the trailhead was a sign to be cautious of aggressive bees. The trail dipped down to the San Dieguito River. The crossing is a bit tricky, there is no bridge. You either wade or you rock hop across some slippery granite rocks. I chose to rock hop. I rousted a few frogs in the process, but they gratefully posed for the camera once they realized I wasn’t going to inadvertently crush them.

The rest of the hike was a two and a half-mile 1400 foot ascent rising up over highway 78 featuring views of San Pasqual Valley to the west and Cuyamaca and Julian in the distance to the east. With a dry February and a wet March, the mountains have greened and the flowers have started their bloom. The smell of spring is in the air. I passed a handful of people over the course of the 5 mile out and back hike. They all gave me a wide berth on the trail, I’m sure for fear of the virus.

Not too far into the ascent, I came around a corner in the trail where I saw bees busily buzzing about a hole in the rock about waist high on the left side, leaning into the hill into what is obviously their hive. On the right side of the trail directly opposite the hive entrance is an overgrown sumac bush which didn’t give much room to pass and bees were active on the flowers of the bush. I tried to daintily squeeze by both without disturbing any of the creatures. My strategy didn’t work. I felt and heard them swarming about my head and it sounded angry. One of the f**kers stung me. I ran my ass off swatting at the bees as they followed me down the trail. There was only a handful of them by my estimation. They followed me quite a distance, maybe a tenth of a mile, before I had either killed them, they stung me, or they got bored of chasing me. I pulled out a couple of painful little stingers. Can you imagine with all the shit going on today that I got got by killer bees? Killer f**kin’ bees. Killer bees aren’t even in the back pages of the newspaper anymore. They are so ten years ago. Haven’t they heard?

I was a bit traumatized thinking about all the shit that seems to be out to get us these days but I managed to put it behind me both literally and metaphorically. I made it to a viewpoint at the top snapping pics of the springtime show along the way. Picks of the hike are here. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1drrC-hW-H-JIDRWLB89u_Zjs7KAg9_zm?usp=sharingEnjoy.

I wasn’t excited about having to go past the beehive again on the way down. I asked another solo hiker, from a socially safe distance of course, if he had any problems with the bees. He said he hadn’t noticed the hive but he mentioned that some girl said she was stung a couple of times too. I wondered why they didn’t like me. I noticed the guy was khaki’d out in all white and grey. Maybe the killers don’t like blue. I had on a blue t-shirt and blue jeans. Maybe they hate blue flowers and I look like a much-hated giant blue flower.

By the time I neared the hive, I had a plan. I had an airline blanket in my backpack that I use to protect my camera. I didn’t take any pictures of the hive so I didn’t think they were mad at the camera and wouldn’t try to sting it. I put the blanket under my cap, sheik style, I wrapped myself in the blanket to protect my exposed parts, and put on my dark sunglasses, trying to do an imitation of the invisible man, when he wants to be visible, which of course is what I didn’t want to be. The downside of my plan was that the blanket is solid blue. So now I looked like an even bigger bluer flower.

When I got to the hive, I chose not to be dainty. I hurried past the opening without arousing any interest that I could detect. So the killer bees didn’t kill me and neither did the hike, though my body issued a few protests. And now I’m back into hiding from all the other things trying to kill us.

Images of Boracay

A Hidden Compound. It was really an eye-opener to walk back into the USA, the name Ruel gives to his hidden neighborhood behind the storefronts serving tourists in the Intramural. (He calls his trike a Lamborghini. Its all patter for us tourists). I had to duck under pipes and supports cutting across the head-high unlit passageway, past women squatting over tubs doing laundry, a woman squatting in the tub washing her twat, and a mother breastfeeding her child with her teat fully exposed. The tunnel opened up into a courtyard of drying laundry, women playing games or otherwise occupied, a sari-sari store, crumbling cement walls, under a canopy of tangled electrical wires. Down another tunnel, deep enough that I started worrying that I might be getting “rolled” until we stopped at grandma’s “house”, a cubby hole with a counter for a storefront, and a bedsheet door covering the closet-sized bedroom in the back. Grandma was on the corner hanging out in her folding chair selling her home-made food.

Native housing. A shanty with a rusted corrugated steel roof, supported by repurposed blue-painted long poles from long boats with a thatched roof patio for selling ice cream bars out of cooler to passer-byers. A prostrate dog laid out on a cement doorstep with the news flashing on a big screen TV in the background.

A coral flower bush. A coral bush of flowers with white and pink striped petals that grasp like hands at passing by detritus that floats on the current.

Dance Off. In the rough waters, a wave splashed onto the boat soaking the back of one of a full-red lipped, white collared shirt-wearing boy who jumped out onto aisle in a twitchy unintentional dance. The spasm was answered by the lumpy girl-boy at the front. A dance-off broke out egged on by a cheering crowd. I’ve never been on a boat where a dance-off broke out between two gender-challenged utes, with swaying hips, weak-wristed waving, and hip thrusts. I answered the soaking in a more traditional fashion with a WTF under my breath.

Bad entertainment. A group of four boys aged 7 to 17 dressed in dresses, diving from boat to boat, doing stripper moves and coordinated dance steps on the sides of longboats for tips.

Disassociation. A young lady working the entrance of a store staring to the side looking out into the nothingness.

Wreckage. A wreck dive at 30 meters, my first. The side of the ship looks like a lichen-ridden rock with splotches of pastel colors covering its rusted out surface. Fish hanging off the sides and the tower. A giant angelfish a couple of feet from fin tip to fin tip, like swimming inside an aquarium. A ship’s complement of hundreds of fish working the passageways.

Nature watching. Open-mouthed clams propped up vertically, sensing the presence of my hand, snapping their body mouths shut. Underwater flower closing up and retreating into its hole. The delicate purple outline of an otherwise invisible shrimp. Little sponges, green balls in the shape and size of dismembered eyes. Irridescent blue squiggles on the bodies of long-spined dark brown urchins. A formation of squid, lined-up like one arm of a V of flying geese.

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1FTLMztUkoMX4IMsIKroc-YfRsNV6WxlN?usp=sharing

The Four Faces of Boracay

I had the simple ambition to walk to Bulabog Beach on the other side of the island from White Sand beach by way of D’Mall. Boracay is only about a half-mile wide in the middle. D’Mall is, as its name suggests, a boutique shopping area of souvenir stores, outdoor restaurants, and bars. Simple walks never end up being so simple.

White Sand beach is the tourist side of the island. The beach features beautiful aquamarine water, fine white powder sand, a sand boardwalk lined with outward-facing palm trees on one side and business on the other. News articles suggested that the island only hosted about fifty percent of the normal tourist population due to Covid-19 issues but the boardwalk bustled with more than enough people as far as I was concerned. If I have one complaint about the boardwalk, it is the locals constantly hawking adventure tours, restaurant fare, and massages. Not in your face, but annoying to have to disappoint fifty solicitations over the course of a mile and a half walk.

To get to the other side of the island, I cut over through the D’mall to the one paved road that runs more or less down the length of the dog-biscuit shaped island, the main drag, to use a colloquialism that is even older than myself. The main drag is mostly business but not the kind of businesses with people hawking their wares on the streets, like McDonald’s and Jolibees and banks; trikes moving people; scooters; security guards watching over the entrances to businesses and hotels. I cut across the street at Balabag lake, which is a completely rectangular concrete-enclosed body of water, more like a block-wide swimming pool than a lake. I’m not sure what they are going after. The sign mentioned something about an estuary restoration but I think the reality is underachieving the vision. All I saw was a few dead fish floating on the surface but at least it didn’t smell bad.

At the far end of the lake, a road cuts over to Bulabog beach on the windward side of the island. This beach is entirely dedicated to windsurfing. Dozens of multi-colored kites danced in the sky as surfers raced up and down parallel to the shore. The more skilled have some technique where they can pull up and launch themselves into the air. The surfers race perilously close to one another in opposite directions. There must be some method to the madness but I’m not so sure. One windsurfer missed clipping a young Filipino kid wading in the light surf near the shore by inches. The surfer glared back over his shoulder at the kid for at least a solid minute. I don’t know if it is a windsurf-only beach but I got yelled at as I was taking pictures by a muscular German woman for being on the waterside of a laid-out kite waiting for someone to take it to the water. I never saw a tangle but I did see a few kites crash into the water. It looks like a skill that would take more than an hour or two to master. I’m totally content as a spectator and a photographer. I walk the length of this beach heading back in the south-easterly direction opposite of how I walked up White Sand beach from my hotel to D’mall.

My master plan is to cut back over to the other side of the island and White Sand beach. I find a walkway that cuts through a hotel and a windsurfing store towards a residential area. The ambiance changes quickly as I pass shanty homes of plywood and corrugated metal. An elderly silver-haired lady rests her head on a window sill at bicycle seat height. I know because there is a bicycle laid up against the wall just under the window. A hefty older man on a scooter rides by on the narrow walkway. He stops to offer me a ride and asks me if I know where I am at. I know where I am at. I’m not sure I know how to get where I am going but that is a different question. I can’t imagine getting on the back of a small scooter with the big man. I continue down the walkway until it ends at a dirt road. I quickly discover the flaw in my plan. There is a hill in the way and no path over. I have to walk back up parallel to the beaches on a dirt road opposite the way I just walked. A little kid watches me pass from a second story windowless window of a plywood-fronted home. Skewered chicken and pork sits in the window of a store-front home ready to be sold and eaten. I pass by homes fronted by cheap plastic chairs, broken cement, and other detritus.

I end up walking back to the ersatz estuary before I can cut over and rejoin the tourist population on White Sand Beach. It probably isn’t for me to judge (that is what we do) but I had the thought that paradise might be a nice place to visit, I’m not sure I would want to live there.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Stupid is as stupid does. I canceled my trip to South Korea when the CDC issued a level 3 warning. I did not cancel my side trip to the Philippines, which at the time had no warning level issued. By the time of my flight, a couple of cases had been reported in the Philippines. It wouldn’t be the first time I hiked in a forest in a 50 mph wind and besides, what’s one or two cases? Well, there is a reason things are said to go “viral”. The unchecked spread is exponential in a new population. Stupid is.

Before the trip, I searched through stores and tried to order masks and sanitizers online weeks ahead of time. The stores were wiped out and everything online was out of stock. I ordered masks reported as “in stock”. They have yet to arrive one week after my trip. I even looked for isopropyl alcohol and aloe gel without success in a vain attempt to roll my own. Just before the trip, I found one lone bottle of sanitizer in the travel section of a local supermarket where things are sold in travel size bottles. It turns out the bottle was an ounce over allowed size and I had to “surrender” it to TSA and the garbage. Stupid is. I should have checked instead of assumed so it is on me. But f**k that store, too for putting oversized containers in the travel section with all the correctly portioned out soaps, shampoos, and lotions. I ate seafood at the seafood market in Boracay: the two table restaurant with mismatched table cloths that cooked my fresh seafood meal had hand sanitizer for customer use. How come I can’t get any? For the most part, it was easy to find a hand sanitizing dispenser in every airport I set foot in. I thank the few people that squeezed a little sanitizer into my hands.

On the upside of travel in the time of the pandemic, I have an upgrade to first class. Not really, but when I get four seats to myself on a fourteen-hour flight, with the four blankets I get, I basically have a mattress and a bed. I slept a good (not quite solid) ten hours. First class ticket at steerage prices. On the downside of travel in the time of the pandemic, I have someone point a thermometer at my head getting on and off of every airplane. The mall and the hotel in Manila test temperature. Everyone has a temperature gun. Of one thing I am absolutely sure, I do not have a fever.

For the people I met and talked to, the coronavirus is the elephant in the room. I met two Brits that came from South Korea over a week ago, the trip that I canceled. They told me everything is deserted and shut down. They report the Hanok village was empty and the railway deserted. Half the fun of a Hanok village is watching people in costume walking around, so that seems like a bust. Effortless travel seems like an upside. The couple seemed rather animated and excited to talk to me, from which I infer that interaction, in general, is a rare commodity. Half the point of travel is to interact with people from different places. We want to connect with people, even if only briefly, not to distance ourselves from them, although, I might be old fashioned on this point. A group of people that look like they are together sit in a beach facing restaurant window on the same bench, each one looking down at their cell phones instead of at the beach or each other or at me. I see a number of women walking with their boyfriends on facetime. Is never-ending virtual contact what we want? I shudder at the thought. It’s tempting to wave over their shoulders to destroy their illusion of privacy. I wonder why they even travel. My scuba diving buddy is also from Korea from the same suburb Max is hiding out in, a young kid taking advantage of his closed university. If my choices are scuba diving in Borocay or listening to lectures at school, I know which one I would pick.

Everyone is wearing face masks except myself of course. (It’s really more like 75%). In LAX, a platoon of flight attendants and pilots walk by like a marching army in blue face masks. The facemask worn by a little girl riding on her dad’s shoulders looks cute. Another crying restrained toddler tries to vigorously shake the mask off without success. From my online reading, I have a hard time figuring out if the masks are actually any good. If they don’t have filters, particles get through. And you have to take the mask off for a selfie anyway or so I observe on numerous occasions. Personally, I miss seeing people’s faces. I miss seeing the pretty faces of women. I wonder if a prehistoric man had a similar thought after skirts and shorts were invented. What fun is people watching if they all have blue mask covered faces, or worse, those garish masks with gritting teeth painted over them? And how far off are hazmat travel suits? Are we turning the world into a giant condom?

In the course of a few days, the situation in the Philippines and the world is changing drastically. Images of street spraying come on the local news; I read an article from Forbes trying to explain the hoarding of toilet paper; more news in the NY Times of a tax holiday for working people. A pretense at being proactive; panic; using an event to facilitate an old agenda. Stupid does.

I watch on the local news as Duerte makes the command decision to shut down the Philippines. Containment. The island of Borocay will shut down on the 15th. Domestic flight travel is going to be suspended on the 15th. I’m lucky. My flight out is on the 14th but it also means I will be joined by thousands of people forced off the island trying to reschedule and rebook their flights. I have plenty of fear that I will be trapped. Any of a dozen things could go wrong: I won’t make it past a temperature sensor; someone on board will be reported with the virus; the flight will be canceled at the last second; I won’t make it off the island; god forbid I actually catch the virus. God help me if I sneeze. I have images in my head of getting gang tackled to the ground by a pack of zombie medical enforcers who cart me off to quarantine.

I’ve been warned by Risa from Leyte to get off the island early. At 4:30 in the morning in front of the hotel waiting for the ride to the ferry port, the hotel security guard escorts me to the trikes while a woman sweeping the sand path with a bundle of wooden sticks listens to the Eagles sing, “…we are all just prisoners here, of our own device…”. How appropriate. Stupid is.

I am at the ferry port in time for its 5 a.m. opening. I have to wait for a couple of ferries to come and go but the wait is not too bad with a boat leaving every 5 minutes. I’m glad I didn’t wait until later. I meet a couple from Stockton and a man from Germany dealing with the pain of rebooking a flight. They were scheduled to leave a couple of days later. I have images of the helicopter leaving the American Embassy in Vietnam in 1975 (yes I’m that old); of people jumping off the Titanic as its propellers are lofted into the air. In reality, the airport is crowded but I think everyone is in a quiet panic not quite an emergency panic.

So many steps. So much processing. Get to the port. Wait. Get off the island and catch a trike to the airport. Wait. Catch the flight to Manila. Get to the other terminal and re-enter getting past more temperature sensors. Wait. Get onboard the flight to Taipei. Wait. And again, get to the U.S. and into the U.S. In the U.S., one of the last trips for British Airways to the U.S. offloads. The Brits are all routed to further testing by the CDC. CDC employees donned in goggles and surgical masks and plastic faceplates await them. I use a hastily downloaded “Mobile Pass” to bypass an hour of lines. I thank the attendant there for the tip.

And finally, home, where I will self-quarantine for the next fourteen days waiting to live, waiting to die. (Sorry, couldn’t help borrow a melodramatic line from Titanic.) Hunkering down even though I’m not actually sure when I am hunkering and when I am not. Socially distancing myself as if that were anything new for me. Now I have an excuse. Plenty of time to contemplate the fragility and interconnectedness of the economy and supply chains and health of the world. Wondering if this is the way of things until a vaccine is distributed, maybe a year from now?