From Paradise to Goodbyes

Once I finished out my project, I was free to vacay. The crew and I took Thursday and Friday off to go to Puerto Princesa for our last trip. That Wednesday night, we left for Manila for our 5 am flight Thursday morning. We slept over at the condo for FNRI boys because they were joining us on the trip. That night I cut my pinky trying to fix a fan, it was a great way to start my travel.

            We were all ready and excited for our flight. We got to Puerto Princesa at around 8am to start our city tour. We first started our tour at Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center. We had the chance to see their famous crocodile farm and some other animals.  Then we went to the famous bakery where we had a chance to get a nice view of the city as well as some nice art and sculpture. We also got a chance to see a big ranch, that was owned by a Filipino man and his wife. He used to live there and his house was kept the way it was and you have to pay to get in and see it. He had expensive and beautiful art in his house.  We had the chance to see Plaza Curtel, which is like a place to commemorate the American soldiers that were killed during that time. There was a big church right next to it. We spent some time there and went for lunch. Right after lunch, we went to the Airbnb called Uyang BnB. It was a cute little compound that had a dinning place and rooms. We shared the rooms for two and Zoe was my roommate.  All of us freshened up and left for dinner around the town. We took a tricycle to one of the places that was recommended to us by the owner of the Airbnb. It was an outdoors restaurant and thank God it didn’t rain because it would have totally ruined our mood. After dinner, we had a walk around town and decided to go to the nearest beach. We basically snuck into a resort and had the chance to hang out there and enjoy the night before we headed home.

            We woke up early again at around 6:30am for the Underground River Tour. We got to go through the underground river and have an explanation on how and when the rock formations were made. Everything was so delicate and sensitive to touch, so we were advised to not touch anything. Even the bacteria on our hand can have a long lasting effect on the rock formation. Some of the rock formations had different shapes that they ended up naming. Most of them were based on religious figures like Jesus, The Last Supper and some candles, while others were based on fruits and veggies. Also, there were bats flying around which made the whole experience spookier but still good. A bat flew into Michael’s head. After we left the underground river, we had lunch and moved onto zip lining. We had to hike up a small mountain to zip line down across the ocean. It was not as fast as I expected but still fun nonetheless. After wards, we went back to the same resort we went to the day before and hung out there. The night we went to dinner in a beautiful restaurant called Kalui. The food was so freaking good, I salivating now just thinking about it. We went walking around the city after dinner and had some drinks and eventually went back to the Airbnb.

            We had island hoping scheduled for Saturday, so we woke up early and started our day. We got to the first island that was known for snorkeling. We got our gears and got to snorkeling till like 10:30am.  On our way to the second island, it started raining heavily and had our boat rocking violently. It was scary at first but then the rain cooled down and we made it to lunch. It rained on us too so we were shivering while we ate. We had to wait to for the waves to calm down before we could leave so we decided to have our life vests on and go into the water while we wait. Since the waves were a bit intense, it was shaking us back and forth which made it even more fun. The water was also warm so we didn’t want to leave at all. The coast guards told us that we had to go back to shore because the waves would be getting worse so we had to cancel our last island and head back. We went back to our rooms and freshened up before dinner. We were supposed to meet up the FNRI girls, Emily and Elia that night. On our way there, Zoe, Jenny and I got in a tricycle accident. Apparently, the brakes were not very good and we flipped while we were in the trike. Jenny and I were fine but Zoe hurt herself so we had to go the hospital to get her checked. Unfortunately, she broke her clavicle and had a lot of bruises. She took her pain relieving shots and headed back home. We ordered her food and the rest of us went out to eat.

            That Sunday morning, we went to the airport and said good bye to our mini paradise. It’s sad that our trip had to end with such a travesty. We made it to Manila in the morning and Zoe and Jenny decided to go back to Los Baños while the rest of us went to Bicutan and had lunch before we went back to IRRI. We made it back at around 4pm and we were all beat. I had my presentation on Monday so I had to do some last minute touch up and go over what I wanted to say.

            Monday came and I was super nervous about my presentation. It was in the afternoon so I had a bit of time to calm myself down and get ready. I went to the room and there were more people than I expected because Ratna and Tapas were also supposed present that day. I got up there and did my presentation about everything I learned in IRRI. I answered their questions and I was done before I knew it. I was officially done and relieved. After me were Ratna and Tapas and I saw the most brutal presentation. My supervisor had something to say about each slide on their presentation which made me feel like I had it easy. It was scary to just be part of the audience. After that intense presentation, we had some merianda and that marked my last day at work.

            For the next couple days, I was just packing and doing some last minute souvenir shopping for my friends and family. I used my time left to hang out with my friends that I made there and make the best out of the time we had left. It was sad in the end as we had to leave knowing that we would probably never go back there to visit them. But Thursday morning came and we were saying our final good byes and handing in our keys and badges. We all left with tears in our eyes and really sad. I am very grateful for my time in the Philippines because it gave me a chance to meet groups of people that I would have never met. Never in a million years would I have thought I would be working with so many people from around the world and being able to hear so many perspectives. It was such an eye opening experience that taught me more about the work environment and how to interact and work with people. I am forever grateful for this internship for giving me such life changing experience. Thank you! Salamat! አመሰግናለሁ! Until next time……


Once I knew that the better quality Taq makes a difference, I redid the whole process for all the samples with the Taq and was able to get more data. But two of the primers were still not giving me any data so me and Ratna had to brain storm to figure out what might be wrong. Then she suggested that the problem might be with the DNA that I was using instead. So she told me to dilute some more DNA from the stock solution that I prepared. Using this new DNA, I did PCR and was hoping to get some data. I was happy to see that all the primers worked for all the samples that I did. And with that, I was done with my project. It was such a relief to get everything done in time, I felt accomplished. I know the pictures below don’t look like much but it took a lot.

That week we were going to eat dinner out in LB a lot. After work on Monday, we went to ‘Eat Sumo’ which is a Japanese restaurant to get some sushi and bubble tea.

Tuesday night we went to ‘My Crazy Baboy’, which is a restaurant that serves Korean barbeque. Korean barbeque meat is served raw and you cook it there on you table and eat it with a lettuce wrap. ‘Baboy’ means pig so they had a lot of pork based food. Problem is that I don’t eat pork so I stuck to my noodles, which was still good nonetheless.

Wednesday was saved for boxing. Ayana and I got out selves into one of the hardest work out yet. It was a tough one y’all, especially coming from the hike last weekend. But we stayed strong and got it done!

Thursday, we had the AFSTRI dinner which is a scholar’s monthly dinner. They usually have a specific country as a theme and have a presentation about it. This time, it was USA so Ayana, Zoe and Meghan had to present about the US to the rest of the AFSTRI members. After the dinner was over we went out for drinks with our colleagues.

Friday after work, Tito Mon came to talk to us about our last day in IRRI and what time we should be ready to go to Manila. He also ended up recommending a place for us to eat for that night and dropped us off there. It was a new Korean restaurant that was known for their noodles, so I had some spicy noodles and slept with a smile on my face.

Saturday was scheduled for shopping. We went around the campus to go for the Saturday market. They had some fresh fruits, vegies and food. They also had some clothes and some crafty things to be sold. After that, we went on an hour long Jeepney ride to Calamba city for the nearest mall. We made it right in time for the Lion King movie. After the movie, we did some serious shopping ad got most of the souvenirs for our friends and family. We had a hard time looking for a Jeepney that went back to LB so we had to stand there and wait for a while. We had to split out group into two because most of the jeepneys were almost full by the time it got to us. Eventually, we made it.

Sunday was for self-care. We went to the nearest spa and got a mani-pedi. And had tacos for dinner and then had bubble tea afterwards.

In the new week, I took the next couple days to prepare for my presentation that I would have to give in front of my supervisor and the department.

Later on Monday, we went to Big D’s which is a famous ramen place, so more spicy noodles for me!!!

Tuesday night, we went to this fancy restaurant called Faustina’s. After dinner, we went around the city and got some drinks and called it a night.

What a Scenic Week!

I got in to work on Monday, ready to be careful and make sure I was doing everything right. That day Ratna wasn’t coming into work because she wasn’t feeling well which means that it was up to me to make sure everything was on point. It took me the whole day to get the PCR done because the machine kept on malfunctioning and I had to reset it over and over again. I was there till 6 so by the time it was done, I just went back to the dorms.

         The next day, I went to test out my products from Monday. I was happy to see that some of the combination of primers and Taq worked, which meant that it wasn’t my fault that nothing was working so far. That was a huge relief for me. That made me a bit more confident in myself, so I was ready for the next trails. Later that day, we went out to eat at a little Italian restaurant in the grove called Da Fernando Spaghetteria Italiana. 

         For the next two days at the lab, I just had to keep repeating the PCR and gel electrophoresis until I was able to see results for all the plants that I extracted the DNA from. After Ratna saw that it was the combination that was the problem, she gave me some better quality Taq so I could see better results. The thing about better quality is that it’s also more expensive so now I had to be extra careful. I was able to get some more data for some of the plants but not all. So now there was a new problem to tackle but that was a problem for next week.

         After work on Thursday, Zoe, Meghan and I left for Manila so we could meet with Emily, Elia and David to make our trip to the mountain provinces in Banaue and Sagada. We met them at the Mall of Asia and started our overnight journey. We left at around 8pm and got to the Banaue at 5 am. We had a chance to take some pictures and then have some breakfast before we went to see the rice terraces. Although we had the sun right in our eyes, we were still able to see the beautiful sights that Banaue had to offer. Shortly after, we left for Sagada which is where we would be staying for the next couple of days. After 3 more hours, we were finally at the inn where we could check in and rest for a bit. It was only 11 am by the time we made it, so we decided to go for a walk around Sagada until lunch time.

         After lunch, we were scheduled for spelunking in the Sumaguing and Lumiang cave. On our way there, we were given a brief introduction about what we will be for the next 3-4 hours in the cave. Everything was fine until the tour guide mentioned that we were going to passing through really tiny spaces which had my heart racing. In my head, I imagined us having to crawl through a tunnel with only a couple inches to breath, which obviously didn’t help me calm down at all. Luckily for me, that wasn’t the case at all. It was only like a tight passageway that leads to a more spacious area. I crawled out a braver person! Other activities included having to rappel up the rocks and slowly come down using ropes. There were a lot of times where we have to crab crawl so we wouldn’t fall down. And did I mention that we had flip flops on which made it all even harder not to slip on the smooth rock formations. Also there were times where we had to swim through some cold water in order to get to the next point. If you asked me a couple years ago if I thought I would go caving in the Philippines, I would have told you that you were out of your mind. But here I am, after a four hour journey inside a cave and I can say I had a successful spelunking experience. We had dinner later that evening at a cozy restaurant in town.

   We woke up at 6am the next day so we can go to Echo valley and the hanging coffins. It’s called the echo valley because people usually come there to yell out the names of the deceased in order to let the spirits know that their loved one will be joining them. Shortly after, we went down a lot of steps in order to get to the site where the hanging coffins were open for tourists. The tour guide explained to us that it was part of the Igorot tradition to bury their loved ones in a mini coffin that was hung up on the walls of the mountains. She also explained to us that sometimes people would have to make coffins for themselves in order to get ready for their own deaths. I thought that was an interesting thing to go through as an individual. After going up the stairs that left us with burning thighs, we went for breakfast and on to our next destinations, Bomod-ok Big falls. We went to the start point and they gave us sticks so we can have some support while we were hiking. Our tour guide told us that we would have go through 10,000 steps to get there and back. We were ready for the challenge but didn’t know how hard it was going to be. Our legs were shaking 30 minutes in the hike down, but atleast it wasn’t sunny so we could dodge the heat. After an hour and a half, we made it to the falls and it was unbelievably beautiful. I thought Pangsanjan falls was a big fall but this was way bigger than that. The most craziest thing happened that day. Our friend Apple wanted to take pictures by one of the pools of water that was coming from the falls. She had really underestimated the push of the water and ended up losing her balance and the water took her away. She told me to take the picture so I saw her slip away and I instantly started freaking out. Everyone around there tried to get to her but was scared to actually get close enough because the water would take them too. I was on a rock far away so I for sure wouldn’t have done anything to help, I just had my hand out as if I could reach and grab her. I felt completely useless. But luckily, she was able to hold on to a rock and save herself. She ended up having a couple bruises on her stomach but she was more or less fine. It was so scary to just watch it happen let along experience it. I couldn’t believe it. After she made it out safe, we all decided to hike back up the stairs to our car. It was super hard to finish the whole way up but with some rest here and there we made it. I can say I am all caught up with the leg workouts that I haven’t been doing since I came here. After that brutal beat down by the stairs, we went to lunch and then went back to rest for a bit at the inn. We met up with the driver after a couple hours and went to a local pottery house where they showed us a demonstration of how to throw clay to make it into a vase and a water jug. It took me and Zoe back to the ceramics class we took spring 2018 and brought up some good memories. Later, we went around the city for dinner and called it a night.

 After a couple hours of sleep, we had to be up at 4 am so we could go watch the clouds on our way to Baguio city. It was an amazing view from the top of the mountains where we could see the clouds below us. I never thought I would be that high up in the mountains. It had a beautiful view. Baguio city was like 4 hours away so we had to leave shortly after. We were driving through different mountain provinces so I was left in awe while looking at the nature all around me. I didn’t want to sleep on the drive there so I wouldn’t miss out on the views. Shortly after, we made it to Baguio city and to the Strawberry fields. We got a chance to look around the farm for a while  and then went to the huge market that was surrounding it. We caught up to some souvenir shopping, had some strawberry ice cream and some street food. It was them time to leave for our 5 hour drive to Manila. We made it on time to catch the bus to LB and out way to IRRI. We got back at around 10pm to go straight to bed. I can say that it was an eventful and scenic week.

Mellow week

The past Monday, I was able to finally meet my supervisor, Dr. Swamy, and talk to him about what I’ve been doing at IRRI so far. Shortly after, he assigned me to another PhD student Ratna. She just came back from Indonesia from visiting her husband and her two little boys and might I add she is a great person to work with, LOVE HER! Later that day, we went to out for dinner because it was Joey’s last day in Los Baños. We had some lemonade that he talked so highly about and then a TEX-Mex restaurant called Spice Jar. He was right, that lemonade was FIREEE!

The next day was my first day working with Ratna and she made me start with DNA extraction. This was a different method than the one I was shown earlier and took a longer time to complete. But we had the whole day, so I took it one step at a time and had DNA for 8 different rice plants at the end of the day. After work, the Ayana, Zoe, Meghan, Priscilla and I went to Zark’s burger for dinner. This was no ordinary trip to a fast food restaurant, this was the day Meghan took part in the challenge of eating The Jawbreaker (a triple cheeseburger with two slices of spam, bacon strips, smothered with cheese sauce, served with 400g of seasoned fries and 16oz drink) in 5 minutes. Winner would get the meal for free and have their photo up on the wall. Unfortunately, due to lack of tactic, she lost that challenge. When asked what happened, she said “I could do it, just not under 5 minutes. I didn’t want to choke on the food”. She will still have our support for the next time she attempts the challenge.

Wednesday was a chill day. In lab, I tested whether the DNA I extracted was viable and it was. So I took the rest of my time at work to do PCR, which is the next step. My wrist was still hurting from the last time I went boxing, so I skipped that and just ended up watching Brooklyn 99 with Ayana and Meghan.

Thursday was slightly disappointing at work. I went in to do Gel electrophoresis with my PCR product to see that I had zero results 💀. But that’s part of the process I was told. It just takes more tries and the right Primer to Taq combination and actual amplification by the primer to get it working. I took that L and redid the PCR with new primers for the rest of the day. After work, we celebrated our friend Jaymar’s birthday. He was tired because he just came back from Thailand so we decided to stay in and watch a movie. We ended up watching A Star Is Born that night.

Friday was a new day, so I went to work to check on my PCR products. After the gel finished running, me and Ratna went to check if I got anything, and I got exactly zero results. But that was okay, next time, I’ll just have to use another combo. ወድቀን: አንወድቅም!!! Later that day, we all left for Manila.

The next day everyone went to Intramuros, which is an area within in the city of Manila that was previously controlled by the Spaniards. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling too good so I decided to stay in and take a day off. After recharging, we all met at a sushi place and had unlimited sushi. We all took advantage of the fact that it was unlimited and had our money’s worth. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that much food in my life. It had us all sleeping as soon as we got back home. It was a good day.

We were on the road again on Sunday on our way back to LB and just took it easy yet again. It was a mellow week for me and I enjoyed it.

One hell of a week

This past week I got to visit more departments in the IRRI. On Monday, we got to go to the Plant Growth Facility again to work with and observe some of the workers sorting the rice, one grain at a time. It was a tedious job but it has to be done in order to ship out the right type of functional rice seeds to other establishments that work with IRRI. Also we were listening to music and Filipinos love to sing, so it was not as bad as it could have been. Also that night my friends decided to make a meme out of a picture of me. As you can see, Meghan had her creative juices flowing and contributed 7 memes.

The next day, we were scheduled for a data analysis presentation with two PhD students but it was moved for the afternoon. Instead, we had to go to another presentation on the importance of bioinformatics and the need for a more modernistic centralized data base. Even though most of what he said went over my head, the small portion that I understood was pretty interesting. In the afternoon, we got to have a lesson on some of the softwares they use to analyze the data that they gather. That night, we went to celebrate Zoe’s birthday. She got to celebrate her 21st birthday and her boyfriend came to visit her which was pretty cool. We went to have dinner at Selina’s (the place that has a photo of me) and had cake at a karaoke place. I actually gathered up the courage to sing one song!!! I’m proud of myself.

The high school students that were working with me had their last day on Wednesday. So that morning, we had a tour in the genetic transformation laboratories, which is where Meghan works btw. She couldn’t stop laughing through the whole tour. Yes, she is SILLY!! Any way, we got to see the general rundown on how they test out the transgenic products and make sure that the only thing different about it would be the substance they added, for example zinc or iron. We also got to see the controlled growth facilities that they use. Since these products are transgenic, they do their best to contain all the pollen so it won’t leave that room and possibly contaminate the rice fields. That night I had my second boxing lesson that left me with an aching wrist. I should have known that boxing wasn’t for me.

I was flying solo on Thursday at the blast nursey cause my high school homies were gone. In this facility, they are responsible for growing the blast fungus and use it to infect the different varieties of rice to see which ones are susceptible or resistant. They also do this process with the bacteria called BLB. After the tour, I was able to take part in the preserving some of the leaves that have been tested. They preserve the leaves because they can use these infected leaves as a source of the specimen whenever they want to grow more of the bacteria or fungus. They then rank the preserved samples from resistant, moderately resistant, moderately susceptible and susceptible.

I had nothing to do at work on Friday so I took that time to relax and prepare for the trips we planned for that weekend. Anaol came to join us for our weekend plans. Saturday morning, we got up to take a jeepney ride to San Pablo which is where you can find the twin lakes, Lake Pandin and Lake Yambo. We had to hike a little bit in order to get to the lakes. We got to Lake Pandin where we got on a bamboo raft excursion into the lake. We got to swim and enjoy the beautiful view. It was early so we decided to go see the other lake but it started raining HARD!! By the time we got back to the main road we were all soaking wet and disgusting. That didn’t help the fact that the air conditioning at Jolibee was on high and had us all shivering and cold. We went straight back to IRRI to recover for our Sunday plan.

Sunday was scheduled for the Pangsanjan Falls in the city of Pangsanjan. It took us two jeepney rides, where at some point everyone fell asleep. We finally made it and hopped on canoes on a trail to the main fall, Magdapio fall. On our way, we got to see a mini fall and some sceneries. When we got there, we got to go on a bamboo raft to go right underneath the water fall into a cave. As I was getting closer to the water fall, I couldn’t breath and started freaking out. At that moment, I remembered that I was actually terrified of having that much water falling on my face. We were all told to sit down but I crawled over Meghan to the edge to get away from the fall. After we made it to the cave past the falls, I calmed myself down and was able to enjoy the view and take some pictures. But then it was time to go back through the falls again so I decided to face away from the fall and sit on the edge. I started taking deep breaths as we started to move and an old man saw me struggling and helped me out. He showed me a way to cover my nose to breath with my mouth. I think he is my guardian angel lol. On our way back to start point, we got to experience the shooting rapids which was really fun. Even though I was really scared and on edge, I’m still glad I was able to experience it.

From Farming to City Life

For the first two days of the week, I was scheduled for some field work. So remember last time when I said that after you added the seeds in the dry bed, they will be ready to be transplanted in 21 days. Yeah so even though the ones we planted weren’t ready, there were other 21 day old plants ready to be pulled. Monday was scheduled for pulling, a process of actually just pulling the plant from the soil and labeling it. These plants were going to be sorted, distributed and transplanted in the wet beds in another field. And that was the task for Tuesday. That was a whole day’s work. That morning, we were able to transplant for some part of the field that was ready. And that after noon, we were responsible for taking all the labeled plants that were pulled on Monday and sorting them out numerically. The labeling is very important because it is used to differentiate the variety of rice. If I didn’t appreciate farmers before, boy do I appreciate and respect them now because it was really hard and physically draining. Big ups to all the farmers! That Monday night we went out to get dinner at a little restaurant called Selina’s. They had frames of tiny pictures of customers and so I got to add my picture in the restaurant, and I was able to make a mark.

Wednesday was also scheduled for another field day but the wet beds weren’t ready so we got transferred to the head house where we worked at the seed processing room. Here they basically take the rice seeds and change it to the white, polished rice and the brown rice by removing all and parts of the husk respectively. Then after, they manually separate the rice that had any irregularities from the ones that could be used for further analysis. That day we were dealing mutant rice for the Zn and Fe Bio-fort projects. That night I took my first Boxing classes for 3 whole hours and it was really fun and enjoyable but it also left my whole body sore for like 3 days. I am definitely going back though.

Thursday morning, I was able to get a break from work for lab orientation. And that after noon, we got to see the gene bank. This is basically a storage facility for different varieties of rice from around the world. Although it is used for testing purposes when needed, they are also used to help countries that might have been affected by natural disaster, catastrophes and droughts replace their lost harvest and seeds to help them get back on their feet. I was happy and surprised to see that Ethiopia also had a contribution to this gene bank because I didn’t know that we had our own variety of rice out there. That night we went to LB square for some karaoke and I can say that we have a group of decent singers… minus me of course.

On Friday we were having a tour for the PB hybridization area.  We were at the RGA (Rapid Generation Advance) facility. This facility helps to speed up the process of harvesting rice by shortening the process of land preparation by growing the plants in trays rather than on the fields. We were able to have some hands on experience on pruning the some of the old leaves in order to reduce the effect of insects. In the afternoon we were able to observe and take part in emasculation and pollination. These processes are needed when you want to cross rice with different traits by removing the male organs (anther) AKA emasculation then adding the pollen AKA pollination to get the desired progeny.

That Friday night we went to Makati to the join the FNRI and MAD travel crew. That weekend we were able to go around the city to tour the city and try really good food. The traffic is unbelievable but we were still able to get to the places we wanted to even though we were later that expected. Some of us were also able to go La Mesa Eco Park in Quezon City where we saw some new types of plants and flowers. I got horrible bug bites but it was worth it-ish.  

New Experiences

What you see might look like a grave yard but they are bamboo sticks that are used to differentiate numerous variety of rice. I had a chance to take part in seeding on dry beds last Monday. This is basically the first step in the harvest of rice. After the different variety seeds have been placed in their assigned rows, they were covered with the soil. They also broadcasted complete fertilizers and herbicides on the plot of land. The other thing they need to successfully grow rice is obviously water. They set up the pipes for irrigation, and they wait 21 days until it is ready to be pulled and transplanted. In the afternoon, I was able to meet with Kuya Tapas, who is a PhD student from Bangladesh and works under my supervisor for some of his projects. He was able to give a brief explanation of his projects and what he does on the daily basis in the lab. He usually worked on the identification of strains of rice that are disease resistant. Some of the diseases that he is working on is Tungro, BLB and Blast. He is also working on the bio fortification of the rice, where basically you biologically add some features for the betterment of the rice. Some of the usual things he does is DNA extraction, PCR and gel electrophoresis in order to see which stains are susceptible and which are resistant.

For the next couple work days, I was assisting him on these tasks and learning how to use some of the equipment. I wasn’t able to do much because I haven’t had my lab orientation and taken the lab safety exam yet. I was learning by watching and taking some pointer.

Wednesday was a holiday in Los Baños. It was Saint Rizal’s Birthday so we had the day off. The crew and I went to get a massage which was freaking amazing and worth every penny. We were also able to go to a Korean restaurant for dinner, and I got to try some food that I’ve never had and never thought I would try. I totally forgot what it was called but the part that was new to me was that it had mussels. But I gathered up the strength to try it and it was a little too chewy for my liking. It was a great mid week break.

On Saturday morning, we had to get ready by 5am to get on a bus to Cagbalete island. After a 2.5 hour bumpy bus ride and a 1 hour boat ride, we were finally there. The place was so beautiful and mesmerizing. We got to swim in the Pacific Ocean, go snorkeling, and to a sand bar. The whole trip was organized by the IRRI scholar’s association so we had the chance to meet some of the people who work at IRRI and make some more friends. It was such a great time.

We slept early Saturday night so we could rest for the second trip we had planned. The IRRI crew met up with some other kids from IWU to hike Mount Taal. Mount Taal is an active volcano located in an island. We got ready by 7 am, drove, and took a boat to get there around 10 ish. We were all ready to hike that mountain but we didn’t expect it to be that steep. It was a difficult journey and some of us ( Anaol and Micheal) gave up and took a horse up the mountain. After a 4 km hike up the mountain we were there and got to see the view of the lake in the crater of the volcano. It was spectacular and quite the reward after such an exhausting hike. It tested our physical capabilities and I think it was a great experience to have.

Some more new things I noticed in the Philippines is that they are big on recycling. Everything we bought was handed to us in paper bags and straw. Most of the trash bins are labeled as biodegradable/ non-biodegradable, recyclable and others. It forced me to learn how to recycle and know how to sort out my trash. I was so impressed.

Week One

After almost a day worth of traveling, our large group of 20 students had finally arrived in Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Tuesday. We were greeted by the heat and humidity right outside the gates. Tito Mon was waiting for us with a sign, ready to take us to Los Baños for our orientation. We got to see some parts of Manila on our way and it was urbanized and busy, especially the traffic. We got to settle in our dorms that day and guess what, we have our own balcony and everything……yeah we’re living lavish out here. We went to bed early to get ready for the next day (blame it on the jetlag but I slept at 7pm…. I don’t remember the last time I slept that early)

Next day we had to wake up for our full day orientation with the freeman Asia group. We spent the morning learning more about the culture and history of the Philippines. That afternoon, we got to learn some important terms and phrases that we might need to know in Tagalog, which is one of the many Filipino languages. There was a big feast at the end of the day where we had the chance to try some of the Filipino cuisines. I got to try a Boku drink which is basically a young coconut and also Halo-Halo which is a desert.

            The next day the rest of the Freeman Asia group left and we went on to our onsite orientation where we got to meet with other scholars from the Philippines that are working in IRRI. They were super nice and friendly and we got to make some new friends right away. We spent the day touring IRRI and the UPLB campus with the rest of the group. We got to try Buko pie, which is also another Filipino desert made of coconut flesh.

            Friday was saved for our rice planting activity. We were sheen deep in muddy grounds ready to transplant some rice plants. We also got to use a carabao (AKA water buffalo) to plow the land. It was a new experience for most of us although some were more comfortable than others. We used that time to learn a lot about the process of planting rice and bond with the rest of the crew. It made us appreciate all the hard work that the farmers have to put in to successfully harvest rice. That afternoon, we got to tour around the departents that each of us were stationed in. Unfortunately for me, my supervisor isn’t in the country so I have to wait until he comes back to know more about what I will be working on. Later that night, we were able to go out for dinner, ride of tricycles and jeepneys and also got to stroll around the city. 

            On the weekends, a group of us went to the Makiling Botanical Gardens and hiked to get to Dampalit Falls. The views were beautiful and totally worth the journey. 

On Sunday, we got to have merienda with Tito Mon and his family. We had the chance to witness a Filipino tradition that takes place when they move into a new house. A priest prayed over the house and sprinkled some holy water around the house and soon after we got to have some food and have some lovely conversations with Tito Mon and his family.

What I have noticed so far is that the Philippines resembles Ethiopia. From the culture of hospitability, highly respecting your elders, religiosity to the look of the cities. The more I got to see the more I was able to see my childhood. I felt right at home (besides the fact that I feel completely lost when I hear them speak Tagalog.) I can’t wait to see more of what the Philippines has in store for me. 

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