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?

Sights of Philippines

Odds and Ends watched from the long ride to and from Puerto Princesa to El Nido and back.

  • a grey dog sitting on a pile of roadside scree staring off into the distance
  • a family living under a blue tarp in a gulley beneath the road
  • white egrets working squared off flat-flooded plots of land with water buffalo, one egret standing on the back of a laying buffalo
  • cattle egrets. Did they get their name because they hang around cattle or because it looks like a cattle just crapped on their head?
  • a man sweeping the road of construction gravel in the rain with a witches broom
  • a token mango seed weevil inspection of the van that any even mildly crafty weevil could have breached
  • a boy riding his roadside grazing water buffalo
  • people standing in line waiting to vote at the local school
  • a painting of the landscape photo I wanted to take of the El Nido sunset descending over the ocean between two islands
  • an outdoor basketball court with wooden backboards and dirt grass court
  • jungle jungle jungle
  • banana trees and sugar cane fields, some of the sugar cane fields smoldering back to the black ground
  • jack fruit and stunted bananas at a thatched roadside stand
  • sales children offering packets of coconut vinegar
  • a karst tower rising out of the flat ground
  • a woman parasailing on the back of a scooter with a white spotted purple umbrella
  • a painting at the seafood grill of kids playing together with the caption that says “I’m glad I grew up before technology took over.”

And the pics that I actually did take.

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On a sad note, I lost my Nikon 3400 camera to a wet bag. It was supposed to be a dry bag and I wanted some pictures of a very beautiful hidden beach but it didn’t survive the swim over. While not entirely pleased with the loss, I take it as a message from the universe to always respect and enjoy the moment, it’s the only way to really hold it forever.

Dive Story

The deep dive of the day is in a channel between two islands. A low-pressure system has passed through overnight. The water is choppy and the current strong. The dive starts along the cliff edge, follows the channel to where it narrows, then we are to swim out of the channel behind the backside of the pinch point of the channel behind a cliff into calmer waters to return to the bangka dive boat.

The first part of the dive is more or less floating along with the current along the wall of the cliff that dives deep into the water. As the current pushes us out into the lane, I can hear the bangkas passing overhead, even at twenty meters. The current has churned up the sediments so the visibility is only twenty or thirty feet.

Next Day when water is calmer. You can see dive boats waiting for their divers in front of rocks in the distance. We started on the other side of that.

The second part of the dive is swimming back against the current to reach the relative calm of the backside. JJ, the dive master, points down, later explaining that there is less current closer to the bottom. I tried to swim down at the time but easier said than done. When I check my tank, I’m at the 10 psi mark, the half tank point, so I check in with JJ as instructed. We turn around to check on Tin, my recently certified, Chinese dive buddy for the day who fixes elevators in Hong Kong. He is nowhere in sight. JJ shoots back into the murky water like a spooked dolphin. I’ve grabbed ahold of the rim of a three or four-foot tall sponge-like thing to hold my position and wait. I’m down to five PSI, the redline on the tank. I’m wondering at what point do I go for the surface. Am I in the boat lane? I would sure hate to lose my head to a bangka boat.

A couple of minutes later, about fifty feet back and above the murk in the brightness near the surface, I see Tin, a few feet from the surface in the boat lane trying to let the air out of his BC. JJ is pulling him down back into the murk. Moments later, they re-emerge out of the murk. JJ is towing Tin at his side, crawling along the bottom pulling himself forward, one piece of coral at a time. I see Tin’s limp pale white hand and he doesn’t seem to be moving at all. I’m starting to wonder if he is dead. He finally shows some sign of life when we reach the spot where we are supposed to surface.

Running out of air, I don’t have the luxury of a safety stop. I hit the boat ladder at just a hair over zero PSI. Tin and JJ come up a few minutes later. After Tin peels the top of his wet suit back, he’s pumping his heart with his fist indicating how scared he was and bowing to the dive master repeatedly in thanks.

Tin asks me if I’ve ever had a bad experience before. My story of Phil’s seasick misadventure in the kelp helps calm some nerves and give a few laughs, but that definitely goes down as a bad dive and the only time I remember being underwater by myself in dangerous conditions. For diving, I’d much rather have experiences than stories. And I for one am glad that the elevators of Hong Kong will continue to run smoothly.

The Colors Purple…

A short two day weekend means a short trip. But a short trip doesn’t necessarily mean a disappointing one as the super bloom plays out.

I decided to take a hike in Torrey Pines extension, a hidden piece of Torrey Pines State Park not far from but not on the beach. If you look at the pictures, the very last one is from an overlook on the Extensions’ southwest corner overlooking the rest of the park. If you are familiar with the beach area, the picture might give you a clue as to where the extension is, hidden on all sides by houses and apartments and a school.

But the superbloom seems oblivious to its enclosed surroundings. The hillside is loaded with flowering annuals, bushes, and shrubs of every kind, hiding its normally prominent red rock formations. Black sage, encelia, monkey flowers, yerba santa, onion, San Diego sunflowers, blue dicks, phacelia, snapdragons, and more, carpet the underbrush of the massive Torrey pines that grow here. The black sage is so thick in some parts, that the spires look more like fencing than like foliage. If you like taking pictures of wildflowers as much as I do, the opportunities are endless. Do you want white sage with yellow encelia as a backdrop or purple phacelia with yellow sunflowers as a backdrop or white ivy with purple phacelia and red monkey flowers?

 It makes me think of the line from the movie “The Color Purple”. “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” I suspect it pisses God off if you walk by the violets and the yellows, and the whites, and the reds, and the oranges, and the blues, and medleys, and the textures, and the shapes, and the compositions, and the views, and everything else in that field God put there for us to experience. I could have taken a picture of everything without feeling like I wasted a shot. I managed to get it down to this. Hope you enjoy.

P.S. I snuck in one picture of Lake Hodges and Escondido Mountain stained yellow green from the invasive black mustard from my morning walk with the dogs.

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I usually make it out to the desert on a couple of weekends every year, but somehow, the desert’s spring has slipped by. It would seem like a waste to miss a year, especially with this year’s super bloom. So I talked myself into driving out, hoping to catch the tail end of the bloom, the window on blooms is pretty narrow and closing fast. I headed out to the Agua Caliente area in Anza-Borrego.

I found the cactus and the brittlebush already in full bloom, usually, they are the last to blossom before the heat chases everything back to seeds, grey stalks, and rusted rock. The cholla, the barrels, the beavertails have beautiful purple and creamy yellow flowers. The yellow bouquets of the brittlebrush dominate.

But everything else is still putting on a show, too, as far as I can tell. The marsh has water and tadpoles, the flowers have butterflies and bees to sex them, and caterpillars to eat them, and whatever those two bugs joined at the butt are doing, the birds are chirping and making whoopee, the annuals are still in bloom, and the mountains wear a coat of green. The perfumes of the flowers are so aromatic, I have to stop to sneeze. Carpets of goldfields stain the desert chapparal yellow. The desert has a fleeting softness to it.

Get A Room!

But the most amazing bloom I saw was on a hillside sloping away from the dropping sun. The backlit flowers of the brittlebush gave the hill a golden aura. I don’t think it possible to exaggerate the saturation of the golden hue in post-processing software, but the picture I took with the iPhone from the car doesn’t do it justice. I had to stop on one of those hairpin turns where I couldn’t see what was coming or going, so I took a few quick pictures and moved on.

Three hours of driving, three hours of hiking, and 300 pictures later, here is what I have to offer. I hope you enjoy the show.

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