I have had a bit of a hectic schedule ever since I left Los Banos last Saturday! I left for Dumaguete (a town located on the coast of Negros Oriental, and part of the Visayan island chain) on Sunday afternoon and, after a whirlwind tour of the Buglas Bamboo Institute (BBI) and some of the local hot-spots, I am back again in Manila at the gracious accommodations of the Chairman of BambooPhil, Mr. Conrad Perreras.

I should probably begin by describing what BBI is and that will explain why I wanted to visit them 🙂 They are an NGO that was founded 10 years ago by a Dutchman by the name of Mr. Frans Koerkamp. It’s purpose is to provide a sustainable and profitable livelihood to local people through the production of high quality bamboo furniture and houses. I should also admit that their products are far superior to many of the other bamboo products I have seen being sold in the markets here! They have won awards for their designs and also receive aid in the form of student volunteers from European countries (namely Dutch and German). I would like to include a website here, but since they are currently in the process of creating one, this is an article I found that gives more in-depth details: http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/dum/2006/04/13/feat/buglas.bamboo.institute.redefining.bamboo.html

When I arrived in Dumaguette I noticed right away that it was a beach town with clear water and dusty roads. At first I was a bit nervous because, true to Vanessa-fashion, I didn’t have any contact information for Frans! So you can imagine my elation when he finally showed up 45 minutes later 🙂 After settling into the old, beat-up SUV he picked me up in, he took one look at me and laughed, here I was- this younger person  with a sleeping mat attached to my large backpack (it was actually my yoga mat, but I didn’t correct him!) and here he was- thinking I was some middle-aged woman coming to look at his bamboo products. So we decided that instead of keeping the hotel accommodations he had arranged for me, I would instead go to the bamboo house and stay in the bamboo forest. I’m sorry, did you say “bamboo forest”?! Um, yeah, I said yes right away! Which meant that I would catch a ride with one of the volunteers, Philip, on his way up there.

We then rendezvoused with Philip, who turned out to be a 20 year-old German volunteer, at Shakey’s (where else?) and that was when I noticed the helmet he plopped down on the table. Hm, that’s odd…there’s only one. So twenty minutes later I was sans helmet, flying through the gravel roads, past the Sari-Sari stores (where you can stop and get a quick meal or soda), the waves and waves of corn (I was just as surprised), trying to keep my mouth closed and holding on to a tanned and t-shirted German boy, with my over-sized backpack and yoga mat reminding me that indeed, for once, I wish I looked as old as I am. And as we turned onto the un-paved road that led up the mountain, I wondered how I would make it, or rather, how would my rear-end survive, but Philip was quite adept at maneuvering around the larger rocks and finding the smoother path. Then we turned into the bamboo forest, and all of my doubts about having made the right decision subsided as we pulled into the bamboo house. It rose two-stories into the air and while the foundation was made out of concrete, the rest was pure bamboo: the floor, the doors, the walls, the ceiling, the windows, even the roof! We arrived just before dusk, so the sky was a deep smear of purples, reds and oranges glinting off the top of the bamboo trees, which surrounded most of the house, except for the garden that spanned most of the back of the house (I would say ‘back yard’ but I don’t think that would be accurate. It would be like calling a stream ‘hose run-off’). Frans had mentioned that they had received another German volunteer just the night before, she was brand new to the Philippines and contracted to stay for the next 3 months. Her name is Linda and we met over her cutting eggplant for dinner when I arrived with Philip. We were both pleased to discover our common plant-based diet (for her, since birth), and I commented on her good fortune in having such easy access to fresh vegetables and fruits! I also met Archie who is the son of the current office manager and who lives and works with them in the bamboo forest. The land is owned by Buglas and it is where a percentage of their bamboo poles come from, although, it’s not their main source because it is too small- only 2 and half hectares, which is roughly 5 and half acres. We spent the rest of the night getting acquainted with one another and headed to bed under mosquito nights and a slight thunderstorm.

The next day was spent touring Buglas’ processing facility and conducting more interviews for my thesis (always an interesting process, you learn so much about people!). While I am unable to disclose specific details due to a contract signed between Buglas and one of their export companies, it is with sadness in my heart that I grew to understand the financial strain this wonderful NGO is under due to shady business deals and exploitative business practices that they have recently had to endure. I only hope they will be able to keep their doors open, not only for the people who badly need the livelihood to support their families, but for the much needed spotlight that Buglas has shed onto bamboo and it’s diverse uses. Frans is a jovial gentleman, always quick to smile with a light in his eyes, and while he looks all of his 74 years of age, his step is quick and his mind is sharp (I was actually trailing behind him up 2 flights of stairs!). I have every confidence that Buglas will survive and prosper, even if only for his steadfastness and unwillingness to succumb to such mountainous adversities.

Towards the end of the day we decided to head back to Dumaguette and the three of us (me,Philip, and Linda) would play a few hours of badminton and then rent a hotel room for the night in town since I was leaving the next day, and we wanted to go around the town a bit at night. I should probably note that the entire time I have been in the PI I have not exercised, I have done yoga almost everyday, however, I have not jogged or worked-out in traditional standards for almost 2 months. Now this is not to say that before my trip I did any of those things, but I could at least go for a bike ride or had the option to jog around the block dragging Harvey behind me! Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that the air pollution here is unbearable. I can barely walk down the street without covering my mouth and nose, nonetheless rationalize putting on sneakers and running alongside exhaust-spewing jeepneys and sputtering tricycles. So, when we played badminton for 2 hours in a gym that had no fans or ventilation, I should have played for fun, you know, win a few lose a few, have some water, eat some french fries, but no. Here I was atleast 10 to 12 years older than anyone I was playing with, chasing the birdie around sliding on one knee to reach the one that almost got away by the net, only to bolt to the back of the court, slamming it up and over to the other side. By the end of 2 hours it looked as though I had jumped in the ocean and then tried to suffocate myself with a plastic baggy over my head, my face red and my eyes bulging. But, I was glad to have the exercise and thought nothing of it, only to wake up the next day, after spending the night in a room the size of a walk-in closet (not a Carrie-Sex-in-the-City size one either!), with 2 other people and no air-conditioning- only a fan that bore down on us from above, swirling around the musty, post-badminton playing funk all night– and I was sick. Not the usual throat-sore kind of sick, but more the heat-exhaustion type of sick, the one that comes with fever blisters, nausea, chills and a slight fever.  I made it through most of the day, conducting more interviews, and having lunch with Frans, his wife, and Linda, but the flight really did me in, and on the way back home to Conrad’s I kept a plastic bag in my hand just in case, the waves of nausea becoming uncontrollable. Luckily, one of the maid’s (Jesselyn) checked in on me later and when I communicated to her that I thought I might have a fever she called Conrad in and he took my temperature, gave me some medicine and turned off the light. I will be forever grateful to him, I know he came in and checked on me and realized the next day (today) that he had told Jesselyn to check on me every hour, which I vaguely remember although it seemed more like a feverish dream to me. And today I am feeling much better, I canceled some plans in order to stay home and get some rest, which is exactly what I plan on doing. I guess I should have known that my only bout of sickness would be my doing 🙂

Only a few days left, and then it is the long and much anticipated journey home…


The bamboo house!

lions and tigers and bamboo oh my!

Just in case you didn't believe me--cornfields!!From mountains...

...to oceans, they have it all!

These last 2 were taken from the same location!


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by julia on August 4, 2010 at 10:51 am

    I cannot believe how beautiful and varied the country is. Your photos really give a sense of its range.


  2. Posted by Lida on August 4, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    It’s been so amazing to be able to keep track of what you’ve been doing by reading your blogs, so thanks for that! Looking forward to seeing you and Nat (and Harvey!) soon…xoxo


  3. Posted by elizabeth on August 4, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    WOW – what an adventure. As silly as it sounds until you describe it I really did not consider how significant the pollution is. What a sadness. Imagine what the rise of bamboo activism combined with increasingly clean fuel could do to restore PI to a lush, tropical world. I don’t know how plausible that is, but surely it cannot be impossible to at least do better. You are part of that process, I do believe! Wishing you the best of health and enjoyment in your last few days.


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