Aninuan 54 days in…

So here I am back in Aninuan, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, where I started 54 days ago. I have been back here for a week, sadly leaving the brilliant Green Fins  crew back in Moalboal. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with all the crew and will miss them very much, many fine times were had. Some Moalboal highlights for me include: Meeting the dive community and diving with them, daily sunset snorkels on the house reef, the Moalboal turtles, pygmy seahorse, sardine ball, night diving with the GF crew, laughing a lot and being generally silly with GF crew, Aida and the international sunshine family, Christmas eve pool party, free diving to 12m on New Years Day, not having a hang over on New years day, snorkelling with local teachers on their first time looking in the sea, singing the “Coral Song” really badly with all the members of the Moalboal community- the dive staff, restaurant staff, carol singers, local government officials, teachers and Head teachers.

We marked the farewell with authentic local cuisine-Italian. We were serenaded by 5 turtles in a synchronised swim routine in the shallows around the restaurant balcony. A first for me. Recommended extra.

Back here in Aninuan its another world again. I’m staying back at Stairway Foundation, an amazing Danish/ Filipino project set up to support street kids fromManila. A 10 month residential programme here in Aninuan to support them, give them some love, care and education with the intention and hope of giving them a new direction in their life thereafter. I love it. The whole feel of the place is really warm and welcoming, the kids are great, the staff are brilliant and the other volunteers are a really varied an interesting bunch. Among them are: Carpenters, architects, English teachers and cooks.

The kids are so polite, industrious and full of smiles, it’s a really heart warming environment to live in, with such inspiring human focus for positive change.

Another total bonus for all of the residents is the location. It is two minutes walk from the beach….this is also very heart warming, and body warming. I’ve scheduled lunch time tanning into my daily routine.

So that’s where I’m living, what I am doing? I am now on the next part of my work here; the SAS…. No I am not training to be a member of the military elite, that would be most amusing for all involved, but pretty useless, although  saying that I think I would look good in camo….

SAS is theSeaAdventureSchool, a fantastic combined vision by Lars, the director of Stairway and JJ, our very own Mr. Zoox boss. As the name would imply it is an initiative to bring the ocean closer to the hearts and minds of the local children, inclusive of the kids at Stairway. It is an insane reality that a country made up of 7000 islands, surrounded by, and totally dependant on the sea for: food, trade, transport has a population that, on the most part, have not been in it. We are going to try and change that. Myself, Fiona, (teachers from the U.K) JJ, (science boffin), Lars (director of Stairway and boat provider) and Jason (Stairway community and education leader ) are designing an experience programme. The aim is to inspire and educate the local kids in the marine eco-systems in their local area and how valuable they are to their livelihood and survival. A brilliant project of epic proportions, totally chuffed to be involved.

Thus far I have been in research and investigation mode.

I have had the pleasure of trekking up the mountain with Jason to Baclayan barangay, a mountain community high above Puerto Galera town. It is beautiful up there. We could look over the whole of Muelle bay, and the inlets and beaches within, it gives a completely different perspective to the area, it is stunning. This where the SAS project will take place. For those of you who have experienced the grim reality of the tourist area of Sabang, this could not be further removed. You cant even see Sabang from here, ……it as if it was never there J.

Myself and Jason chatted our time away and stayed the night in the Stairway camp house which is situated next to the local school and their very own organic farm! Yep that’s right, the idyllic “perfect world” model just keeps on coming. I met a very knowledgeable Filipino farmer, Nanoi, who filled my tummy with the best Chicken Adobo I have had thus far, and my head with his wisdom of thePhilippines. It was a very nourishing experience all round.

Part of Jason’s work is to support the implementation of a “feeding programme” with the mountain children. Many kids have to walk a long way through mountainous terrain to get to school. By which point they are tired and hungry, not great conditions for learning or consistent attendance. The idea is that the farm will produce food to feed the school kids to support this need.

These children will also be included in the SAS programme. The have an astounding view from their school down over Muelle Bay, from the outside in. So most fitting that they will now have the opportunity to see it from the inside out, equally astounding. The whole landscape here of mountains to the sea is awe inspiring.

My second mission of research and investigation was on the water.

Kayaking with Mr.JJ. We had the largest kayak’s I have ever seen. Two orange plastic behemoths. Not to sound ungrateful, very kindly lent to us, they were sea worthy and perfect for holding our kit for the day and exploration of the area. We launched from a wealthy land owner’ s beach area, who had a derelict “fun house” complete with mini bar and disco dance floor right next to an idyllic ocean beach cove, pretty much my dream residence, on my own secret mission I plan to move in.

We kayaked around the area, which turned out to be a little more challenging than first thought. JJ’s paddle broke in half, not ideal for windy conditions in a massive kayak. A problem elsewhere, not in thePhilippineshowever. Within minutes it was fixed by a local military general, complete with jumpsuit and his trusty crew, who were ready at hand on a near by beach, sooooo much cooler than the AA.

Throughout the day I developed my awareness and understanding of the local ecosystems, specifically the wonder of the mangroves, through JJ’s fine audio sensory tour. I also developed a new awareness of the muscles in my right arm, paddling against the wind in an attempted straight line was a one armed event in a massive orange kayak.

I learnt a vast amount about mangroves that day, I had read up some information but it really brings it to life and imprinted on my memory to see and feel it first hand, the essence of the SAS programme. This is what I have learnt about mangroves so far…..Mangroves play an immensely important role in the protection and production of coastal life. They are home to wide variety of life in the water and above; fish, crabs, molluscs, insects, reptiles, birds and mammals. The root system protects and preserves the land from tidal erosion, and traps sediment from land run off around the roots to build up its own environment of nutrients for the species that live in it. It prevents sediment from running into sea, this protects the coral reefs and life within by keeping the water clear (free from sediment) so the coral polyps can utilise photosynthesis and live. The roots provide a nursery for small fish to grow before venturing out into the open sea, the fish which are the livelihood of the local people population. The mangroves are also very effective at absorbing carbon emissions, they are 40 times faster than terrestrial tree’s, therefore mega important for the survival of the human and our carbon producing ways. The mangrove tree is amazing in its own right, it has developed many special adaptations in order to survive. They sweat out the salt from the water through their leaves and the root structure comes back through the ground upwards in the air like sticks to help the trees to breath. They have a special way of reproducing by germinating the seed whilst still attached to the mother plant. The seedling grows until it becomes strong, then falls into the water and floats along until it finds firm ground to root itself and become its own tree. Clever tree.

By the end of the big orange kayak day, and reflecting on my mountain experience, I have a firm sense of admiration and affection for this area and the life within it, which was not there 54 days ago.

I am really honoured and feel extremely fortunate to be working on a community project focusing on conserving this vitally important and beautiful part of the world.

Over and out, Right Gun Gardner.

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