The rhythmic rocking of the hammock lulls me to sleep as I contemplate these last two weeks. The gecko sings. It’s a song that is ever present at Marine Conservation Philippines, set atop a hill in Antulang, Negros Oriental far from the bustling city of Dumaguete. The quiet here is permeated only by the gecko’s lullaby and laughter of good company.
Only two weeks and this hilltop bamboo hut feels like home. I find myself desperately making plans to return – someday, somehow. MCP is a scattering of sleeping huts with bunk beds – the most comfortable you will ever sleep in, to be fair – and hammocks around the one central, hexagonal hut that serves as both classroom and common area. Nicknamed the Hex, this hut has fans! And is where food is served – so the best hut around. There is also a kitchen area where the very talented Melba (the local cook) works her magic.
The Hex has been the focal point of my life for the last two weeks, not only because the conservation modules take place here but also because I am always starving! Whether it’s the heat, or the time change, or the sitting for hours on end (hard work you know), ZEP training weeks are structured every bit around the meal schedule as anything else.
Wake up, eat breakfast – this to me is the least exciting meal, mostly cereals and toast (if you’re lucky enough to be able to eat that kind of thing, which I am not) and COFFEEEEE. It may be instant, but it’s still caffeine and god bless caffeine. After breakfast, shower because it is already too hot to even…finish sentences. Head back to the Hex to join up with fellow ZEPs and work through a marine conservation module with Sam and Alan. Break for hand cramps or beware of debilitating writer’s elbow. So much good stuff in these modules means way too many notes. It’s a marathon, not a sprint – so pace the note taking, because I didn’t.
Then LUNCH! As soon as the lunch gong sounds there’s an instant queue to the serving station. Today lunch was spicy rice noodles stir fried with tofu and veg, ate two heaping plates and suffered the pangs of expanding stomach lining-sensation for an hour.
Shower, because hot. Back to the Hex for another session of hand-crampingly interesting modules before DINNER! Chicken curry with rice and potatoes, nom nom nom. Fresh fruit? Yes, please. Food coma. That’s why they’ve got these hammocks around isn’t it? Rhetorical, because obviously yes.
Back to the Hex for a bit of reading and chumming around before starting the by now famous bedtime ritual. We may be in the middle of nowhere, but let’s not forget the importance of dental hygiene shall we? A good 45 mins brush and floss should do the trick. But even if your teeth are wearing their own sweaters, one and all collapse into bed at what would be a ridiculously early hour at home, but here feels like nearly 2am. Shower just before getting in bed in the futile hopes of staying cool, and pray the fan doesn’t conk out during the night.
How do we fit so much in each day? By building capacity and improving (self) governance. Not to mention some seriously creative problem solving to deal with the insane heat. No, not hot for a Canadian (which by the way, we do have real summers), but when even the locals are suffering you know it is just too hot, period. Is this what they mean by field experience in marine conservation? Building capacity… to deal with the heat!
Looking forward to the elusive rainy season, and fingers crossed for cooler days ahead.