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Sunday, June 29, 2014

The sports nuts

We took breaks from the neighbors' nonsense by going out. We went to dinner and shopping and figured out why we couldn't take the dogs, or ourselves, onto the actual beach, ever. When we arrived, the weather was almost cool, but by the following weekend, it was hot. I mean, hot. Okay, not Philippines hot, but burning sand hot. Too hot for the dogs unless we wanted to go out really early or really late, which is when the flies and gnats are all over the place. If I was going to just be outside long enough to walk the dogs, I had to cover myself with Off! and sunscreen.

However, meteorological conditions did not dissuade our next batch of neighbors, who arrived in several SUVs, with canoes on top and trailers full of gear behind, such as several dozen fishing poles. Their vehicles looked like this.

I can hear you asking "Why put a forest of fishing rods on the FRONT of your car?" As a matter of fact, you can put them on the rear. We saw that a lot, too. So I guess it's some sort of macho bullshit. Imagine the driver, realizing s/he is about to rear-end someone, thus destroying the whole lot of them. Karma.
And of course there were many people including children and a dog. Some of them used their cell phones outdoors constantly, as if they really wanted to be somewhere else. I certainly wanted them to be somewhere else. Some mornings they would load up and drive away, others they would hang around and/or use the walkover, dragging kids and crap.
Between them and the Bickersons on the other side, walking the dogs became really problematic. We would have to try to sneak out when we saw an opportunity, ready to reverse direction the minute they showed up. Stella and Ollie just got distracted, but Theo went nuts. It figures, the one time we try to take a new dog on vacation, he turns out to have mental health issues.
So we renewed our discussions about possibly leavimg earlier than at the end of our two weeks. You can probably see where this is going.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

New neighbors

We had arrived on a Saturday, and no one else showed up until Monday, although a few people parked in the cul-de-sac and walked over to the beach, or they might just show up, dragging a canoe, from one of the nearby houses further inland. Imagine how pleased Theo was to hear that going over the loose plank boardwalk. Pretty much as thrilled as he was when the waste management people showed up in the middle of the night.

Theo himself never got near the walkover, nor did Joyce, nor any other dog. I felt it was just too dangerous and not worth getting hurt for. We had found a public parking lot over less of a dune on the far end of town, and hoped eventually to take them onto the beach that way. Besides, seriously, Stella probably collected that piece of cactus when exploring the tall grass around the house, and we didn't want them collecting anything else. We had to deal with sand spurs daily as it was. So we just kept them on the mowed part of the yard, which was adequate. Not pretty, just enough clear space and some sad grass. 

Anyway, the first neighbors to show up came very late at night in a huge van. More and more and more children kept getting out of it, so that I wondered if it was a trip for an orphanage or something. They made a lot of shrieking noises and we figured we were screwed and ought to think about going home early.

Next morning, we saw that all the children were girls and all the adults were wearing long checked dresses and little cupcake hats. Yes, they were Mennonites, and very nice people besides. Except for the first night, and whenever they used the walkover, we hardly heard a peep out of them. They borrowed our picket fence for a group picture which was when the mothers told us they were all sisters and all the girls were cousins (six of them) which reminded me of my own childhood with my cousins down the shore in New Jersey.

So we really missed them when the next two families showed up. The Mennonites had been directly behind us, but the new families were catty-corner behind us, and also directly to our left, or north. And did they fight! And when they fought, our dogs barked and set off the other dogs in the neighborhood. So we talked even more about leaving early.

In this shot, taken from atop the dune I climbed, the Sandpooper is just right of center, and the Bickerson's house is to the right of that, about twelve feet away. This is not far enough in relation to sulky teenagers, screaming toddlers and big-mouthed, pushy husbands. They carried on like there was no audience for their antics, and believe me, I wish there hadn't been. And you can see the width of the path over the dunes, which makes it easy to understand why we would not walk the dogs out there. Finally, this shot illustrates really well how far the house really was from the beach. Don't forget to click on it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Over the dunes. Almost.

One day after we went sightseeing, which means we drove as far as the Ocracoke Ferry and back, I decided to climb the dunes to see just how much trouble it was to get to the beach, or if it was even possible. Just for the fun of it, here is Stella at the rental where we usually go. Note the proximity of the house to the beach. Note the proximity of the house to the water. Please observe the height and depth of the dunes. Yeah. This is why we won't be returning to the Outer Banks, although I'm glad I got to see what everyone was raving about. Not WHY, just what.

My plan was to hike as far as I could see from the house. I assumed that would put me on top of a dune just above the beach. I had no plans to go further because I wasn't up for hiking back UP from the other side, at least, not yet. And I also took my cell phone with me, because you never know. A spiny cactus could be lying in wait.

I went up the walkover path to the steps to the little platform in the middle and down the other steps till they ran out between the dunes, then up the far slope, which was very steep. I mean, you were standing on the path, and where you were going was almost straight up, over your head. And all of the walkover was all splinters: foot planks, rails, seats; everything. You didn't want to grab those rails either, because they were loose, and steps were missing, etc.

Yeah, it's a little out of focus, but you get the general idea. And here is what I saw from the top of "our" dune:

That's right: two more dunes just as wide as and only slightly lower than the one over which we couldn't see. I could see quite a way, and there were four people, total, on the beach. All had tents, because once you get out there, you don't run back and forth over the dunes. Go ahead and piss in the ocean. No one's there to see. 

Days at the "beach."

Given the difficulty of all that stair climbing and the trucking of crates up and down, we didn't go out every day. In fact, we probably only went every third day or so, to eat out or shop or sightsee. So those days we spent at the Sandpiper,  (which we started calling the Sandpooper in honor of the dogs) I examined our bizarre surroundings, and concluded the reason the Outer Banks are so popular is that so few people have discovered the Florida Panhandle.

First, it's a ghetto. You don't jam houses in on top of each other if it can be avoided, but in order for every property to have a sliver of beach view, they have to be shoe-horned in at impossible angles. This is a view from the top of of the house looking west.

It's easy to count seven or eight houses on every side of the house except the east front, which points at the dunes. Where we usually vacation, if you look in any direction, you see one other house and they are on substantial lots, and they certainly don't look into your bathroom windows from their various porch levels, or vice versa. And the further back from the beach, the higher they are built in order to give the occupants some sort of a view.

When we first arrived, there was only one other occupied house in our immediate vicinity, by which I mean houses whose property bordered ours. Unfortunately, this didn't mean it was quiet. A couple of houses away was a dog who barked constantly. And we were the proud overseers of a beach walkover, which is what everyone uses to get over the dunes to the beach if they don't happen to be in a "beachfront" house.

This is the front end of our walkover.

As you can see, it's about as safe as a minefield. People carrying and dragging various equipment accompanied by dogs and screaming childrfen traipsed back and forth all day every day, and they absolutely had every right to do so. But none of us liked it. It was insanely intrusive in my opinion, and compared to other beachfront locations.

And here's the view from our screened porch. It was a nice place to sit and read but you couldn't see much, just the dunes and other houses.

So if you wanted to see the ocean, you had to climb all the way up to the top, where there was no shade.  You also had to drag chairs up there because if you wanted more seating than a narrow bench. And if you wanted to eat or drink up there, you had to carry all of it up all those flights. And there was no taking dogs outside the screened porch because they either had to be leashed or they would escape. So a couple of times we carried up four beers in a small cooler, when it was overcast enough not to fry. Two beers is my bladder's limit anyway, so half an hour and we had to climb back down again. Not worth it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Next day, more discoveries

Luckily one of us remembered to put the trash out for pickup. They have those big plastic bins you roll to the curb, like here at home. The last occupants had obviously left on a non-pickup day, so we did it. Not complaining, just setting the scene. We had to go up and down the stairs with the dogs several times before bed anyway, so it was no big deal. I took Theo to sleep with me, and Stella and Ollie went in with Joyce.

In the middle of the night, ear-splitting crashes and grinding. The trash and recycle people showed up in the pitch dark, about 4 AM. The bedrooms face the street side of the house, of course. Remember, Theo doesn't like noise. Honestly, I don't, either. He became hysterical and we all jumped up in confusion while the dogs all barked frantically. Our house was in a cul-de-sac so they had about six pickups to make right there in that one small area.

Since we were all awake, we took the dogs out after the trucks left, so that once we got back to sleep, we could stay there. The underground parking had plenty of light for the yard so this, at least, was not a problem. We had brought, as we always do, loads of bread bags and newspaper sleeves and other small plastic bags to clean up after the dogs. However, this was how we discovered Theo likes to do his business in a nice, quiet private place. He chose the back hall after we got him back upstairs. Out with the cleaners, etc. again. Finally went back to bed.

Late morning before we got up, and decided we must go grocery shopping. Loaded up the dogs and drove up and down the coast road loooking for a place to shop. Nada. Went into a gas station. They told Joyce there was a Food Lion and we had driven past it several times. Found it, located behind mounds of contruction material and equipment. One tiny sign said. "We are OPEN! Entrance in rear." Good thing we asked. So Joyce shopped while I minded the dogs (which means I read a book, because they were in their crates).

Driving up and down a lot meant we got to see where the restaurants were, so after we put away the groceries, we hauled the crates up the steps and put them in the spare bedroom, corralled the kids and went to a place called Dirty Dick's for crab sandwiches. It's one of those places that sells a T-shirt that says, "I got my crabs at Dirty Dick's." Yeah, I will wear that if you GIVE it to me. I will not pay you to do your advertising.

The host called us "girls" and we pointed out that we are a total of 130 years old, so no girls present. Joyce got an extra beer for that. The sandwiches were great, just one of the reasons we went up there in the first place, for the food.  They had a very large menu and many designer beers, our kind of place.

Later that day, when we returned to the Sandpiper slightly loopy, we devised a better way to walk the dogs, rather than go up and down three times per outing, or try to get them all down all at once. The Shuttle is when one of us (usually but not always me) goes to the foot of the stairs and the other sends down one dog at a time while waiting on the screened porch. The dogs cooperated by going up and down in turns as requested, and by carrying down additional shit bags if we ran out. This was totally new to them so I give them all the credit in the world for learning so fast. And I also learned that if I took Theo out at night (I mean the dead of night, not just in the dark) and gave him enough time, he would produce and save toilet paper. And since he eats and shits like a horse, it was well worth the extra effort.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Surprises galore

Imagine our surprise when we discovered out house was NOT on ground level. But what could we do? And it was only one 12-step flight, so we decided to see if we could tough it out. Obviously we did or there'd be no trip to blog about. We parked under the house and left the car running so the air conditioning would stay on for the dogs while we unloaded, at least partway. We worked as a team to get the heavy stuff up there and decided we didn't need certain things at all, like the barracks bag of dog towels and sheets for covering furniture. We could come get them as needed. And we had not packed that much food this time because up until the last minute, we really weren't sure if we were going at all. Even our personal luggage was on the light side.

When we stumbled up the steps into the living room, we discovered a big blue plastic tub. What can this be? we wondered. Why, it was our bedding, of course. Our beds were not made. We had to do it ourselves. Have never come across this in all our years of rentals. We pushed it aside and continued unpacking so we could get the dogs in.

Once everything but the dogs was up in the house, we got them out for a trot around the yard before taking them upstairs, and guess what we found? Cactus! Sand spurs! So we picked spurs out of their pads and made a note to locate something for dislodging cactus plants from the sandy soil, which may well have been illegal, but we really didn't give a shit.

Once they were empty, we got them upstairs, poured a couple of big drinks and made the beds. Decided cheese and crackers would make an excellent supper, as we had yet to locate a supermarket. Actually we weren't sure if there even was such a place, and wondered if we'd be shopping in convenience stores for two weeks.

Sat on the couch to have a look at the weather channel and discovered there was no VCR, DVR, or any other such equipment. This explained why the cabinet contained no DVDs, either. That isn't such a big deal to us, but it's pretty standard in beach rentals where we usually go.

While figuring out the TV, Joyce saw something on Stella's coat and brushed it to dislodge it, whereupon she let out a blood-curdling scream and began running around the room with her hand in the air. Joyce, I mean. A thing was stuck to Joyce's fingers, and she wouldn't hold still or shut up so I couldn't even see what it was. I chased her and the dogs bayed and ran around the house in confusion. I finally cornered her in the kitchen while she was screaming about spiders and bugs and waving her hand. I finally got hold of her hand, found a spiny thing on it, dragged her to the sink and got her hand under water, and while she screeched and struggled, I managed to dislodge the thing and about five spines, using my own bare hands. There was no time to hunt for tweezers. 

She kept screaming it was alive, while I tried to reassure her it was from a plant, probably the cacti in the yard, all dried up and having blown to where it stuck on Stella, who was totally unharmed, by the way. I had to dig it back out of the trash and show her it wasn't a living thing.

Here it is when green:

See how the spines are long and black. When it breaks off, it dries to a light tan, which you can see starting to happen in the lower left corner, and blows around. It doesn't stick to fur but it does lodge in flesh. For the next twelve days, I dug that shit out of the yard with a slotted spoon and put it in a plastic bag to be hauled off by the ever-present Waste Management people.
This would probably be a good time to point out that Joyce is a highly-decorated combat veteran from the First Gulf War. I am not making this up. She has two rows of medals ALONE plus two more rows of ribbons. Probably a good thing they weren't lobbing cacti at her over there.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Packing list

Here are some things you will need for your vacation to the Outer Banks: a camel, a grappling hook, counter-weights, pitons, crampons, axe, rope, porta-potty and a telescope.

The camel is for traveling over the dunes from your house to the beach, which, even if you are "oceanfront," is a third of a mile away over dunes far too high and deep to see over. The telescope is for seeing the beach from your house. The top of your house, by which I mean, a platform over the roof. The rest is climbing equipment that will permit you to follow or lead your camel over the dunes. You cannot ride the camel because it will be carrying your porta potty.

Here is our oceanfront vacation rental, the Sandpiper:

Note proximity and number of nearby houses. It's cute, isn't it? It was very comfortable inside. It was very inconvenient outside.  See the roof platform? You have to climb up there, four levels up from the ground, if you wish to see the ocean.
The ocean:

It's that narrow grey band in the middle. See? Pays to have a telescope. We didn't have one, so we just squinted.

Note in the top picture how the house seems to be sitting on the ground. It's not, the bottom level is the garage. Try taking three dogs up and down the stairs six times a day. Want great legs? That's one way to do it. Another, probably, is climbing the dunes a couple times a day, which I might have done had I not been worn out from walking the dogs!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What? On the road again?

I know. What the hell is wrong with us, right? And we planned it this way. Well, not the disaster part. The other parts.

If you read the Philippines blog, you know we had this Outer Banks vacation planned for a long time. It was to compensate Joyce for having to be home with the dogs, without me, and for me to kick back and decompress. Of course I expected the Philippines trip to be hard, but not that hard, and I certainly hadn't planned on Nick's rather abrupt departure in my absence. I'm dealing with it. I'll be okay. Just glad I'm not any younger, is all.

For two days after I got home from that last trip, I was basically an emotional pile of goo. After two nights with no sleep and constant crying jags, Joyce said, "You want to cancel our vacation and stay home and get a dog instead?" And like an idiot (don't worry, it worked out eventually) I said, "No, I want to get a dog AND go on vacation, and the devil take the hindmost." If you are young, you will not recognize that saying. That's what Google is for.

So she said fine, dragged me out of bed and we went to the pound. This was the Saturday after the Thursday I got back, and we were scheduled to leave the following Friday for the beach, just to put things in perspective.

At the pound they had no small male dogs available. I love all dogs, but at our age and in our condition, and with a small dog door, we can't manage anybody over about 25 pounds, especially since there are three of them. Also, older dogs die sooner, and bigger dogs die younger. Not good. And we always adopt, we never buy a dog. There are so many dogs who need homes, I couldn't justify it. Besides, purebred dogs have genetic problems. Not like adopted dogs have NO problems, but there are certain problems that can be avoided with a nice little rescue mutt, so we always get one.

On to the Humane Society. They had exactly two males in the right size range. We took one home. Here he is.

His shelter name was Winter but we named him Theodore Cody, Theo for short. Theodore was Nick's middle name and Cody was the ancient dog we adopted earlier this year, and who died a couple of months later. He was a friend's dog, and we knew him all his life, and she got sick, and that's how all that happened. So we remember them both in Theo's names.

So Theo came home for about ten days, and then we dragged him off on a road trip. Not ideal, but we thought we'd had enough dog vacation experiences to handle it.

Well, guess who hates a car ride? He puked on the way home from the Humane Society, too, but we thought that was stress, nerves and excitement. It may very well have been, but long trips don't calm him down one iota, either. Three towels later, we made it to our first stop in Brunswick, Georgia.

And guess who hates motel noises? And guess who apparently can't do his business outside when stressed? Yes, you guessed them all. Luckily we travel with all kinds of cleaning agents and equipment. The rooms are probably cleaner when we leave than on arrival. He "slept" with me the first night, meaning neither of us slept, so Joyce had to drive the first shift the next day, and of course it poured. The only thing she hates worse than driving is driving in the rain.

But we got to Florence, South Carolina, in very good time, and went shopping in the Dollar Store for cheap towels. We always carry lots of dog towels, sheets and so on, but we were going through them like shit through a goose. And this dog, who spends the day throwing up, compensates by eating and shitting like a horse all night and the next day. And he only weighs 21 pounds! Yup, smaller than Nick was, and a few pounds larger than Stella and Ollie.

Anyway, that night I got Stella and Joyce got the boys, and the next day, I drove the early shift to the beach.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The end

The end of this trip was the end of a lot. The flight from Manila to San Francisdo was bad, but not AS bad as the flight over, because it was two hours shorter, and we were headed home, and we were arriving at night, just in time to go back to bed.

I noticed I stopped writing in my trip journal while on the plane to San Francisco. I don't know if I just ran out of gas, or what. Getting luggage took forever, waiting for the shuttle took forever, and we just went to bed, except I spoke to Joyce from the hotel lobby and she sounded extremely off and stressed. She kept begging me to come home. I couldn't go any faster.

Next morning we said goodbye in the airport and went to our separate comcourses. I was early enough to have breakfast and used the nook to let people know where I was. I called Joyce and she sounded like utter hell, but kept insisting nothing was wrong. Flew to Denver. Both flights home were on Frontier, which is such a cheap budget airline that you have to pay for overhead luggage space. Never again. I said forget it and checked everything. Screaming kids all over, every gate, every flight.

Flew from Denver to Tampa and Joyce wasn't there. I knew something had to be wrong but had no choice but to hunt for my luggage and get a cab home. But when I got to the luggage carousel, our friend Don was there with his wife and they had to break the sad news to me about Nick. Joyce was too distraught and sick to leave the house. I held up okay until they dropped me off at home but when I got there, I was just too messed up to even function. I had to say my goodbyes to my big guy downtown the next day. His cremains have since joined the others in our family columbarium here at home.

Then we began the discussion of what to do about our scheduled trip to the Outer Banks in two weeks, and we ultimately decided to go, so there will be another blog about that soon.

So in retrospect, six weeks later, I'm glad I went. It was the right thing to do. Nick was very old and it was his time, I just wish I had been there to see him out. Luckily he died at home, in bed, with most of his family around him. I wish the same sort of peaceful death for everyone I love.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Hong Kong Day 2

I gotta admit, to me, Hong Kong was all about the food, but I was glad to go out with Aunt Marion on her shopping forays, because it forced me to see things and also buy stuff for folks back home. The difference was, hers took up considerable room in her suitcase (she had a lot more people on her list) and I could hold all the things I bought in Hong Kong in the palm of one hand, provided I wore the dragon t-shirt.

On the way to the hotel the first night, our guide showed us a fancy jade exchange she said was very popular with tourists, but next day we tried to find it and no one knew what we meant. However, we were taken to a very non-touristy sort of place with many stalls and there, I think, we did pretty well. This is one of the booths. Sorry for the over-exposure, but it's a good thing I got this, because in the touristy part of town, you weren't allowed to take pictures of stores. Seriously. Not sure why. It was the same in Poland in the amber shops, unless you bought something. Then they would let you.

The second full day in Hong Kong we got our city tour. It wasn't so good, by which I mean I think the guide was a little off, but we did get to see the high points. Trouble was, the weather was still bad, so everything was shrouded in mist. Here's what I mean:
And check this thing out. It's a bit of modern art in one of the outdoor markets. Click and you will see it's a mobile of plastic water bottles.
We did the rest of our shopping on our own in the neighborhood around the hotel, as well as eating out there the whole time. We went to Thai, Chinese and an American-themed restaurant with Western food prepared for Chinese palates. That was interesting. They also had Americanized Chinese food, and at night the place turned into a disco. We didn't go then, but you could hear it for blocks. Also, Aunt Marion had spotted a place (actually a health food store) that sold dried mango so I got a bunch, and we also found a Thai bakery with wrapped items we could pack. I got two of mine all the way home and Joyce ate them.
Also while wandering we met the same man every day who tried to sell us a bespoke suit ready in 24 hours, and one day a young lady gave us a flyer for a  French cafe so we used the coupon for breakfast the last day. I have to confess that was a nice change of pace!
Finally it was time to pack up and leave. I had the most fun throwing stuff away that I had collected over the course of the journey. I also threw away a shirt three days in a row. The housekeeper didn't believe me and kept pulling it back out of the trash and folding it.
We had to wait in the lobby a couple of hours for our car and a 6 PM flight back through Manila. I wasn't exactly thrilled with having to return there but we had to go out the way we came in. At least I was able to find places to recharge my nook so I could stay in touch with family via Facebook, which was my only means of communicating back home since AOL would never load. I was glad to have that lifeline, and thanks to everyone who kept Joyce in the loop as AOL e-mail wasn't cooperating and she doesn't know how to do FB. I did get to speak with her, finally, in Hong Kong, for the first time in ten days. I admit that was rough, not having easy access. I wouldn't put myself in that situation again. It was very unpleasant.
I have a couple of entries to go. Stay tuned!

Friday, June 6, 2014

After the big weep

We recovered. We were let loose in a craft shop where I bought all sorts of souvenirs, all small and lightweight, and then we were dropped off at a huge mall with a food court. Four of us crones (Look it up before you object. It's a compliment) wound up in a Thai place where we told the manager this was the best meal we had eaten in ten days, and it was no lie. I had chicken curry and ordered chicken satay to share around. Everyone else ordered different stuff and we all shared. Nothing was left, seriously. Then there was a gelato stand. I had mango, of course.

Back to the hotel to pack and change. I took a nap, because I was already packed, and I had packed my backpack really light and my checked bag really heavy, because I didn't know what to expect in Hong Kong. Carts? Mules? Native bearers? Not to mention by then I had tennis elbow from slinging bags the whole time, but that was good news. I had thought it was broken! 

We said goodbye to all our fellow travelers in the airport. Our Australian friend stayed behind to catch his flight home next day, and everyone else went back to the US. Aunt Marion and I, of course, were headed to China.

I find it really hard to believe, now, that I have been to China. I don't mean to sound xenophobic but I have never had much interest in Asia, except, of course, for the food. But I have been to all six other continents, and by getting to the Kowloon part of Hong Kong, I would finally walk on the Asian continent. I honestly did not foresee getting any closer to Asia than I was in the Philippines, so I decided to go through with it. And Aunt Marion said she was up for anything, so we arranged it. Luckily, our hotel was right in Kowloon, across the harbor from Hong Kong island, so I didn't have to do anything extra.

Shortish flight to Hong Kong, but got in really late, so collapsed and slept clear till 9 AM the next day. I had wanted to take a ferry to Macau, just to see it, but the weather was bad so we decided to explore the neighborhood and/or shop, or whatever.

Just beyond the trees behind the fountain is Hong Kong Harbor, with a very long walkway, of which Aunt Marion took great advantage, walking further than the eye can see both days.
Here's a shot out our window. Even though it's not much, you get the general idea.
The contrast between the two nations we visited could not have been more pronounced. You could eat off the sidewalk in Hong Kong, but there were better options.
After wandering around the square by the hotel, we decided to eat in their "cafe." Probably the most expensive meal of the trip. But at least I got some shrimp dumplings in a noodle soup. The food was good, but we agreed we'd eat out on the square from then on.
After lunch Aunt Marion had a walk and I had a nap. After ten days of Philippine Ranger training, I admit I was pretty worn out. That night we attempted to see the Symphony of light in Hong Kong Harbor. It's supposed to start at 8 PM, but it was very late and we could only see a few flashes of light from where we were. I wondered if it was broken or something. Here's a link.
Okay, so I just now watched this, and guess what. Yup, we saw the whole thing. But I think some of the buildings were taking the night off when we were there. We were looking right at them and never saw some of the more animated stuff going on, but we saw all there was to see. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

End of the pilgrimage

Sunday morning I overdressed again to place the wreath on my uncle's grave. I don't like to dress up at all, and I certainly don't like to wear my medals. I had not had them on in 27 years, but I wore them for him. Which means I am unlikely to wear them again. Maybe if the government ever presents us his medals. Not holding my breath.

At Araw Ng Katiningan, and at the Hellships Memorial, I saw they had the name of the givers on the wreaths. I found that a bit strange. It was his wreath, so I had his name put on it. When we got on the bus in the morning, it was loaded up in the back, a huge thing. My cousin Susan had given me a cross of palms for it, so I attached that as well as some of my "U.S." collar brass from my old uniforms. You can see these in this close-up. Don't forget to click.

So we drove to the cemetary and there met the superintendent who until today had said they couldn't be sure where Uncle Karl's remains were, but today he did say they pretty much had to be in the Manila Cemetery, if not in this exact grave. I already thought that from the analysis I had received from the non-profit group that tries to locate unknowns. He gave a big long lecture about the cemetery to our group while standing in the hot sun, so I retreated to the nice cool, shaded map room with benches. I never did figure out why everyone else didn't join me.

Eventually we invited everyone to join us at the gravesite. Here is Uncle Karl's grave, marked as an Unknown, before we placed the wreath. The inscription says, "Here rests in honored glory, a comrade in arms, known but to God." When I saw it I cried. I knelt and hugged that cross. It was so cathartic. I ended up crying all over Carol, who was crying herself. We had waited SO LONG! 72 years as a family, which is obviously more than my whole life. Uncle Karl was always with us in our hearts, but now we had come to honor his personal sacrifice. Mission accomplished.

And here is the wreath by the grave.

Going over there, following the path he walked, finding his grave and honoring his service and sacrifice is quite possibly one of the most meaningful things I have ever done in my life, and as hard as this trip was on me, I will never regret it. My family have told me how much it meant to them just to see these pictures on the internet, even if they couldn't go personally. I am proud to be his niece and very, very grateful that Aunt Marion, Carol, Fred and I were able to represent our gigantic extended family there.

Here we are at the grave.

From left, Fred Carol, Aunt Marion, the cemetery superintendent, and me.

Finally, the grave among its neighbors. It's really a beautiful setting. I am happy whether his remains stay there or are moved back to New Jersey. Either location is fine with me.

Rest in peace, Uncle Karl, as you have all along. I love you as much as ever, but I don't miss you so badly anymore.

Monday, June 2, 2014

O'Donnell - Cabanatuan

Outside Camp O'Donnell, several of us got out and walked the last kilometer to honor the suffering of the soldiers. Some walked faster than others, but we all got there. All the prisoners passed through here before either dying, being sent on to other camps, or being placed in Hell Ships.

This obelisk is a joint project of the Japanese and Philippine governments, promising this will never happen again.

The area also serves as the memorial for the Filipino fallen, and lists the name of every soldier who was lost. Here Carol and I are reflected in it. Click to read the inscription.

Then we went to Cabanatuan, the concentration camp where my uncle and so many more died. That was moving because we could see the exact spot where the "Zero Ward" of the hospital stood, so we knew he died right there. Here is a little bit of that garden part of the memorial, where the hospital was.
Also, at Cabanatuan, right in the middle of the Araw Ng Kagitingan celebrations, they had decided to tear down the Walls of the Dead for refurbishment. Steve or someone called ahead and got them to leave my uncle's up for us. I mean, I'm glad they want to refurbish and properly maintain these memorials, but right in the middle of the national observance? Really?
Click to see better. It's misspelled, as usual, but we have been reassured it will be corrected when the new panels are installed, and they will send us pictures.
This is the slab they use as an altar for big events. Behind it is the area where the Walls of the Dead were taken down.
After Cabanatuan, we ate in a mall, did a little shopping there, and drove back to Manila. It was a very long ride and I spent as much of it as possible sleeping. The next day was Sunday and the trip to the cemetary, both emotionally and physically demanding, as we were all headed either home or to Hong Kong, so I wanted to rest as much as possible. Also, I had to repack for flights. Everyone did, and so it was an early night.
Before I forget, here's our trusty bus, an oasis of cold air in the hottest place I've ever been in my life. There's a little banner on the front explaining why we're there.


Following the Prisoners of War

After the former Clark Air Base, we went to the two train stations that marked the beginning and end of the cattle car journey that many prisoners took. Uncle Karl was captured before the trains began running so he missed this miserable experience, at least.

Where they got on.


Where the tracks ran for about thirty miles.

Between stations we went to another museum that had a surprising collection of Filipina impressionism!

The train station where the prisoners disembarked to walk to Camp O'Donnell had an interesting collection of artifacts, but hadn't been visited for many months. They don't do much to promote awareness of these places, and some of them aren't kept up very well. In fact, I only just learned that historical societies barely managed to preserve these places at all. As recently as 2006 both of them were falling into decay and were being threatened with demolition.


On to the camps tomorrow.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Memorials and museums

Following the funky museum, we went to see a great big gun!

That came off the deck of a Hellship, the Oryoko Maru, and then to the Hellships Memorial itself. This is now maintained by the Australians who were a major presence in the capture and liberation of the Philippines. We had an Australian fellow with us and he laid a wreath there.

In the water just beyond the memorial is the Oryoko Maru, from which the big deck gun came. Around 1700 people died when it was sunk by friendly fire, right there where it rests, so this is a tomb and a place honoring the sacrifice of the Australians and many others. Thanks, mates.

Here are a couple of links about the Hell Ships. Top one is general, second is about the ship sunk in Subic Bay at the memorial site. It's really a terrible story, sort of like a floating Death March. Uncle Karl was not on one of these ships because he became too sick to be moved and died shortly thereafter. Only healthy soldiers were shipped out to Japan and elsewhere.

Then we went back to our hotel to prepare to move on the next day to places like Clark Air Base and Camp O'Donnell. My uncle was stationed on the base at least part of the time, and may have been there at the time of the surrender. We don't know.

The day we went to the former Clark Air Base was one of those days we got a cheeseburger AND a sundae! Imagine! These delights were provided by the local VFW which is run by American ex-pats who live in the Philippines. And this is where we learned the Philippines has no public libraries, because the VFW has one and is looking for more books all the time. The only other libraries are in schools and certain businesses like law firms.

Here are some shots of the parade ground. I have some 
taken by Uncle Karl also and will post them as soon as I figure out how. I was able to scan them in, but can't upload them due to file size. Any ideas?

Then we went to a site totally unrelated to any war. We just happened to be in the area where Mt Pinatubo erupted in 1991, and covered the ground with a mudflow many feet thick. So they moved themselves into the ceiling of this sanctuary, most of which was buried.

Here's a link to a site with better pictures.

Just from looking at this guy's blog I can see there are better times to visit the Philippines, when it's not so God-awful hot. I know they arrange this tour to coincide with Araw Ng Kagitingan, but if you don't have an interest in the war, and just want to travel here, I was told January is best. The toilets will still not accept toilet paper, however, you can always get mangoes.