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Islands of Diversity The Philippines
Jeff & Cynthia Gneiser, October 1999
Shaped by geological and historical influences, the Philippines of yesterday and today came to life for us in a beautiful tapestry of natural wonders, fascinating people and diverse activities. This island nation is divided into three main geographic regions: Luzon in the north, the central Visayan Islands, and Mindanao in the south. Each region has a distinct character. Luzon is the largest and most developed of the islands. It is home to Manila, the bustling capital of 11 million people, and Subic Bay, which until 1992 was the site of the largest American military base overseas. The six larger and numerous smaller islands sandwiched between Luzon and Mindanao are referred to as the Visayas. The Visayas move to a slower beat, with typical Pacific Island-style palm-fringed white sand beaches, clear blue waters and colorful coral reefs teeming with fish. Here, Magellan landed, MacArthur returned, and crumbling Spanish churches attest to the passage of time. Mindanao is considered the remote counterbalance to Luzon. The land is rich in natural minerals and agricultural production, while culturally it is the most diverse. Over 60% of the country's ethnic minorities inhabit Mindanao and the southern Sulu archipelago.
Natural Wonders Abound
The jewels of the Philippines are its natural wonders, generously distributed throughout all three regions. Mindanao's Borboanon Falls are a vision right out of The Jungle Book. While in the Visayas, a visit to the Chocolate Hills of Bohol Island is a must. Also in the Visayas, we visited the Sohoton Lagoon at Bucas Grande, a labyrinth of beautiful water passages lined by lush green hillsides, accessible only at low tide through a hidden cave. In Northern Luzon, the close proximity of the mushroom-shaped Hundred Islands make them ideal for Zodiac touring and a great place to find a small, secluded beach from which to snorkel or dive.
The Land of Fiestas
The Filipino people are as diverse and intriguing as the archipelago on which they live. Conversion to Christianity during Spanish colonial days brought about a belief in religious miracles and a strong tradition of holy celebrations. Colorful fiestas have developed into a communal expression of devotion to the divine, integrated with social and political causes. So frequent and important are these celebrations, filled with music, dance, decorations, and feasting, that the Philippines has been referred to as the "Land of Fiestas."
A resilient people
The Filipinos put as much energy and design into their daily lives as they do into their celebrations. Known for being resourceful and resilient, the Filipinos are excellent at taking a potentially bad or unworkable situation and making it livable if not an improvement to lifestyle. After volcanic ash washed down the sides of Mt. Pinatubo in Luzon in 1991, burying an entire town, its displaced citizens returned to rebuild their homes on stilts and reclaimed the remaining top quarter of their cathedral for Mass. At the end of World War II, many U.S. Army issue jeeps were left on Philippine soil. The Filipinos ingeniously redesigned them, creating the Jeepney, the most prevalent form of public transportation, hand-welded to carry up to 25 people. No two Jeepneys are alike, as each is individually fashioned and personally decorated with lights, mirrors and signs.
A wealth of activities
In addition to enjoying the visual delights and the fascinating people of the Philippines, the islands offer activities for all kinds of travelers. The volcanic origins of the islands have made them rich in natural springs and lush vegetation. Hiking into the forest is often rewarded by a swim in a refreshing waterfall, so numerous here that they are still being discovered. The Visayas are known for five-star snorkeling and diving opportunities, particularly in the Bohol Sea and Tanon Strait. Exciting and unusual birds live in the forests, such as the black-faced coucal, celestial monarch, and the Mindanao hornbill. The ethnic diversity of the over 80 different minority tribes living in the Philippines offers the opportunity to learn about a variety of well-preserved cultures. Whatever your desire, the Philippines have a wealth of treasures to offer.
Whether learning about the geology, history, culture, or exploring the natural wonders and activities of the Philippines, we found pleasant surprises and rewards around every bend. The Philippines offer a generous helping of diversity wrapped in a warm friendly smile.