First time visitors to the Philippines would be much bewildered by the many different forms and styles of transport on the roads! Besides the famed jeepneys with their colourful paint and many adornments and embellishments which most foreigners would have heard or read about before stepping on Pinoy soil, and the equally colourful motor tricycles or trykes, they would drop their jaws at the sight of motorbikes carrying 3, 4, 5 or even more passengers! And with their passengers, both male and female, young and old, clutching bags full of vegetables, rice and live chickens ... wow it's better than watching the circus, dude! To Singaporeans and Malaysians who in their own countries would be totally scandalised by helmetless riders, what a shock this is! Apa macam ini!

Most would think a much-laden motorcycle is a family on an outing, few would know that they are in fact the taxis of the Filipino countryside where the roads are so bad that only motorbikes can pass through. And that the passengers are indeed paying passengers and not likely related to the guy (who considers himself a driver not rider) driving (never say riding) the bike! And they have a name for these rough-riding machines that rarely travel at less than full speed... habal-habal.

Even the word habal-habal, I was told comes from the term for canine sex! Well with imagination, I believe the passengers do look like they are doing that ??!! And even such a word gets accepted and in fact becomes changed to mean a thrilling motor ride losing its original insinuation of intercourse between dogs well... this is the Phillipines!

My photo is a very mild example as it shows a brand-new machine driven (not ridden) by a teenager (unlicensed) with his three young pasajeros (passengers) in town.

Tokay Tokay

The Tokay Gecko (scientifically known as Gekko gecko) is a nocturnal tree-dwelling lizard ranging from northeast India and Bangladesh, throughout Southeast Asia to western New Guinea. Its native habitat is rainforest trees and cliffs, and it also frequently adapts to rural human habitations, roaming walls and ceilings at night in search of insect prey.

Although present in Malaysia it is rarely encountered there, in fact I've never seen one in Borneo. In the Philippines it is quite common, and many rural house have a resident Tokay. This photo of a single male is taken in a house in Pagadian.

Males are said to be very territorial, and will attack other males Tokays as well as other Gecko species. They are solitary and only meet during the mating season. Females lay clutches of one or two hard shelled eggs which are guarded until they hatch.

I took the second photo inside the historic Makahambus Cave in Cagayan de Oro in 2006. It seems the adults as well as a whole brood of youngsters are helping to guard the clutch of eggs!

Tokays are renowned for their their loud vocalizations. Their mating call, a loud croak, is variously described as sounding like tokeh or gek-ko where both the common and the scientific name as well as the family name Gekkonidae and the generic term gecko come from.

La Fuente

When I stumbled upon this fountain in the middle of Cebu City little did I realize that this familiar looking monument is a famous landmark of the Philippines. And familiar? Well, look at a 50-peso note and it's there! So this is THE Fuente Osmena Park, which as parks goes is tiny - just a traffic island in a big roundabout but it has a huge historic and cultural significance to people of this city...

Interesting Fruit - Tiessa or Egg Fruit

The Canistel or Egg Fruit  is quite a common fruit in the Philippines where many other fruits of South American origin can also be found, no doubt introduced by the Spanish in the old days. In other Asian countries it is a rather rare curiousity. In the Philippines it's called Tiessa or Tisa or Chessa, another English names is Yellow Sapote as it belongs to the Sapote family or Sapotaceae. The species name is Pouteria camphechiana. In Malaysia where it seems to be a rather new introduction it's variously called Buah Mentega or Buah Lemak (meaning "Butter Fruit" or "Creamy Fruit" respectively). The ripe fruits are yellow and waxy skinned with a pulp that has the consistency of a hard-boiled egg yolk, hence its other name. The green fruit contain a sticky latex which disappear or at least lessen when the fruit is soft and fully ripe . Fruits can be highly variable in size and shape--ranging from round to pointed and ovaloid. They are usually eaten fresh out of hand but can also be used in custards, pies, milkshakes and other desserts.

The Lontar Palm

On the road going south from Parepare to Makassar in South Sulawesi, I saw roadside stalls selling a kind of fruit that's new to me and I stopped to investigate. For sale, beside these apple-sized fruits are bottles of a clear whitish liquid.

It's the fruit of the palm known locally as Tala, or Lontar in Bahasa Indonesia. Botanically it's Borassus flabellifer, in English - the Asian Palmyra Palm, Toddy Palm or simply Sugar Palm. Like the coconut the fruits, florescence, leaves, wood and all parts of this palm are utilized by man.

The inside of the fruit contains an edible jelly-like flesh that taste like young coconut, and like the coconut the sugary sap (nira) obtained from the florescence can be drunk fresh - tastes like soda or Sprite to me - or can be fermented into a potent beverage called arak or toddy. It can also be cooked to make sugar called Gula Jawa widely used in Indonesian cuisine. In the Moslem regions of Indonesia nira is sold fresh in mineral water bottles when it is still sweet and before alcohol has formed.

Unusual Fruit - Sineguelas

Well, this fruit is unusual if you don't live in the Philippines, or for that matter Mexico, or other parts of Central America where they originated. It's unusual though that it's totally unknown in Malaysia and nearby Indonesia.
I was introduced to Sineguelas by Mee when she brought some to Malaysia from Northern Mindanao almost ten years ago. And it was only this year that I saw it again in the market in Pagadian City! It is a very popular fruit in the whole of the Philippines, I learn. Though it's quite sweet when fully ripe, the folks there love to eat it under-ripe and sour rubbed with salt. Just like they do green mangos, santol, and other fruits! Just thinking about it will make me salivate!

or sigwelas as they call it in Mindanao is known as Jocote in Spanish and Spanish Plum in English and has the botanical name Spondias purpurea belonging to the Anarcardiaceae family of plants. It originated from Central and South America and was introduced to the Philippines by the Spaniards centuries ago. I was told that it is usually propagated vegetatively by cuttings or marcotting as the seeds do not germinate. In the fruiting season the leaves drop off leaving bunches or panicles of ripening fruits on the bare branches. It must be a sight to behold, though, alas I have never seen it. All I saw this season were a few remaining fruits among the thick new leaves. (See my photo below)

Glimpses of Sulawesi

In this post I would like to share two snap shots from South Sulawesi, Indonesia. They were taken in a small village called Desa Lagori up in the hills somewhere near Watampone (more commonly known as Bone). After a good night's sleep in a village house surround by cocoa trees I woke up to a wet morning with fresh crispy clean air and while my travel companions continued their snooze two young boys guided me to the nearest air terjun (waterfall), there were many others in the area, I was told. Like the boys, on my feet I was only wearing rubber slippers, but luckily I had my compact Coolpix S8 with me.To capture the water motion in this shot I set the mode to "Fireworks" in the scene menu and placed the camera on my hat on a rock and use the self-timer so as not to shake the camera. :)

My two young guides at the top of the stream, urging me to climb higher, "ada lagi di atas, Pak!" (there are more (waterfalls) up there!).

Crossing The Line

I crossed the Equator for the first time during my recent voyage from Tawau, Sabah in Malaysian Borneo to Makassar, South Sulawesi in Indonesia by ship.In the old days of sailing ships people "crossing the line" for the first time observed some strange traditions!

"The ceremony of Crossing the Line is an initiation rite in the Royal navy, U S Navy and other navies which commemorates a sailor's first crossing of the Equator. Originally the tradition was created as a test for seasoned sailors to ensure their new shipmates were capable of handling long rough times at sea. Sailors who have already crossed the equator are nicknamed (Trusty) Shellbacks, often referred to as Sons of Neptune; those who have not are nicknamed (Slimy) Pollywogs." (Wikipedia)

However on the Indonesian ferry K M Tidar I invited myself to the bridge as it nears the Port of Pantoloan and the Chief Mate kindly showed me the GPS Navigator as the latitude reading turned 0 deg. 0' 000" as it cruised south on the Strait of Makassar. Wow, I've crossed the magical Equator into the Southern Hemisphere!

Moth Orchid of Mindanao

I have had this beautiful Phalaenopsis for more than ten years in my garden in Malaysia without knowing what species it was until today when I posted my query on a internet gardening forum - http://www.greenculturesg.com/. It turns out to be Phalaenopsis stuartiana that originated from the jungles of Mindanao!
I was given a big branch full of baby plants (or keikis) of this orchid around 1998 and I tied it to a tree and let the plants spread. Even though I fully neglected it being a rather lazy gardener, it rewarded me with spikes of beautiful white blooms every once in a while, sometimes up to a hundred flowers. As the tree on which I first grew it toppled, I transfered the plants and keikis to other trees and gave some away. The photos in this post are of a recently transfered plant growing on my star-apple tree that has just flowered for the first time.

Phal. stuartiana has medium sized flowers and beautifully marbled and barred leaves, the flowers look very much like the more well-known Moon or Moth Orchid - Phal. amabilis - which has bigger flowers and plain green leaves and which is more difficult to grow. It grows quite readily when attached to living tree trunks in the shade and soon forms many plantlets; in favourable conditions it produces many flower spikes on which the open flowers look like dancing white moths.

Maya Pula

I was delighted when I received my February copy of the National Geographic and found 2 favourite subjects featured - the Philippine Eagle and the haiku master Basho. The former prompted me to write this post, but not on the Bird King (Haring Ibon, Haribon) itself but his humbler predecessor, the former-reigning national bird of the Philippines no less, the Maya Pula! I have still not seen my first Philippine Eagle yet, and so don't have my own photo of it- and still remains high on my must-see list. The Black-headed Munia aka Chestnut Munia is called Maya Pula (Red Maya) to distinguish it from the Eurasian Tree Sparrow which is also called Maya in the Philippines, just as it is commonly called Pipit Merah in Malaysia where all sparrows are called Pipit. Scientifically it's Lonchura malacca, though lately many ornithologists classify it as a different species Lonchura atricapilla.

Up close it is a handsome bird though small, it's not so surprising that Filipinos in the past chose it as a national bird, maybe also because these birds also demand and extract a tax from the harvest of the rice farmers who are still rather powerless to keep them off their fields!

My second photo shows a "small" flock in a rice field in Sabah, but huge flocks are quite common and spectacular to watch in flight.

Dancing Girl

This was one of my first attempts at making an ani-gif file way back in 1999. I just took a series of shots of Say dancing and used an ani-gif program to put it all together. I've since lost that software and had not been able to find a better and as easy to use program.
Imagine how this young lady would look today!

Strange Parrot

Another parrot post!

On a quiet July evening last year I was attracted by strange parrot-like calls just outside my house in Pagadian. I quickly grabbed my camera and ran out followed by the rest of the surprised family! Outside on the power line we saw a parrot that I've never seen before and quickly took some shots! Being the newbie birder in these parts I thought I had bagged an endemic Mindanao species and quickly emailed off a photo to the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines WBCP president for confirmation!

However he replied that it was definitely an escaped pet African Lovebird....?!!!? Aw, maoba??

Blue-naped Parrot

This lovely green parrot would have qualified as one of the 60-odd species of ENDEMIC birds of the Philippines (i.e. species found nowhere else in the world) were it not for a small colony that live and breed among the casuarina trees on Tanjung Aru Beach in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah (Borneo)! So now it is relegated to a mere NEAR-ENDEMIC! Many believe that this group of birds in Kota Kinabalu are actually descended from pet birds brought over from the Philippines as they are very popular pets there.

The photo on top was in fact that of a pet caged bird taken in Zamboanga City by Ken using a Nikon Coolpix digital camera when he was only 5 years old (in May 2005)! He had stuck the lens in between the cage wires and snapped this perfectly sharp shot. When I received the photo by email I just digitally removed the background and signs of the cage and add a frame. I also thought it's a photo of one of the small hanging parrots, (called Colasisi in the Philippines) which are also popular cage birds, until a well-known Filipino bird photographer pointed out to me that it's a Blue-naped Parrot! (How embarrassing!)

I have since gone to Tanjung Aru Beach and successfully taken some shots of this once-endemic beauty of the P. I. They seem to be doing well there, with quite a large number of them to be seen busily and very noisily, squawking loudly, flying from tree to tree and building nests in crevices on the trees oblivious to the bathers and picnickers below.

Photo of one of the Tanjung Aru birds >

Lakbayan Map - Where the dragonfly has landed

My Lakbayan grade is C-!

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Created by Eugene Villar.