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Tagbilaran to Bohol – A dance with danger

Bohol is connected to Panglao by a bridge so I needed a lift over. This part of my trip did not go well.

The only issue with visiting The Philippines is that whilst it feels quite safe, as a tourist you might as well be a walking wallet. A minority of locals take great pleasure in trying to con you or fleece you. It’s a lucrative business and tired travellers are easy prey.

I was collected from Mithi Resort and Spa by their free transfer van. I had pre-booked a connecting taxi from the port of Tagbilaran, over on Bohol, once we got there. You do this on social media, it’s cheaper as you can haggle and ask a few companies to get the best price.

When we got to the port, none of the taxis were marked. I asked the van man to tell me where the Valleroso and Ralle taxi was (a reputable taxi company based on Panglao). He started having a chat with a driver that I presumed was from that company and told me that this was my guy.

Wrong.

As soon as I got in the taxi and he showed me a price list and tried to charge me three times what I had already agreed. We had arranged a price in advance I told him, you’re not from Valleroso and Ralle are you?

But I was tired and it was so hot, I couldn’t be bothered to look for the driver I’d booked. He should’ve been standing there waiting.

So I took a chance.

Bad decision.

The man was in his thirties with a greasy face and a leering grin. He started flirting with me and seemed to enjoy it, despite my obvious discomfort.

Come swimming with me, he said. I’ll have to wear just my boxers but I can show you all the best coral. And after I can give you a massage.

No thanks.

But it’ll be fun! Come on. It’s ok, it’s ok, don’t worry!

He kept saying that but it didn’t help.

After what seemed like forever, we were finally at my waterfront hotel, two hours later.

I wait for you and we go swimming yes?

Maybe, I said, I’ll think about it.

I was hot and tired. It would be so nice to go for a swim. But was it safe? Probably not. As much as I wanted to see the coral, I wasn’t an idiot.

The hotel staff scrunched their nose up at this rogue and did not seem impressed. Another sign.

I came out again. Sorry I’m not interested I said. He deserved stronger words than that. He then aggressively demanded twice the price I had agreed with Valleroso and Ralle and I reluctantly parted with more cash.

I was distressed and went back to my room fuming. Anything could have happened. I had been so stupid, I had to be careful, I had to remember that as a lone female I was an attractive target. Too attractive clearly. I wondered whether he had tried that before.

At least the hotel, Dive Star, was nice. It was right next to the sea and you could hear it singing you to sleep at night. In the evening you could see all the traditional fishing boats motoring by, a pleasant hum.

I had arrived just in time for the sunset through the palm trees. I sat on a bamboo chair on the balcony and drank iced water. It was perfect.

The room was made in the local style with bamboo and rattan. There was even a small lizard scurrying about, but he kept out of the way. He’d left me a poo present on the bed. Charming.

The next day, I wondered whether I could trust the local tour guides.

I would go with the hotel’s list. Hopefully they would be reliable.

A tall, smiling local turned up and said he would take me wherever I wanted to go. I said I would trust his suggestions.

He was friendly and good company and we eventually started to have a good chat. I told him my taxi experience and he frowned and said there were not many people like that on the island but it did happen around the port of Tagbilaran because it was a hub for tourists.

He reassured me that I could trust him and anyway, he was happily married with a wife and two year old son. His second marriage he laughed, the first one didn’t work out.

I breathed a sigh of relief. His name was Peter and he was new to the business, having spent several years shipping scrap metal around the world. He was gregarious and lively, chatting to everyone we met and making them as happy as he was.

We were going to have fun!

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Panglao Paradise

Panglao was the best island I visited in the Philippines.

Why?

Fewer tourists and the local lifestyle did not appear to have changed as a result of them. A lot of rainforest was intact, though it was rapidly being sold off and cut down and stone houses were springing up. There were still some traditional ones made of bamboo, flax and rattan.

The hotel I stayed in there was the best – Mithi Resort and Spa, a peaceful secluded spot right next to the sea, with a small private beach, incredible snorkelling and luxury accommodation. It was so popular that the standard room had sold out when I paid for it, but the upgrade was worth it. Although I had not paid for a sea view I could see it from my balcony. The staff were so attentive and friendly.

I got there from Cebu by taking an Ocean Jet ferry to Tagbilaran and then the hotel picked me up and drove me over the bridge. It took a few hours.

I made the most of my time there. I found a great private driver hire company, Valleroso and Ralle. You gave them your itinerary and the driver would take you wherever you wanted for a reasonable price, just £30 a day. I asked different companies on Facebook (their companies are all run from social media) until I got the best price, as I was on a budget and kept going over it.

At 10am (I am not a fan of early starts) I went first to the Hinagdanan cave. It was not worth the visit, being small and already busy with tourists.You literally just stand on a ledge once you descended, there is nowhere to go.

The water looked a bit dirty too, I could see grease on it. The tide was out, so we could not enjoy the water. I saw a much better cave in Bohol where you can swim. I will write a post on that soon.

We went to the Blood Compact monument near the port. This commemorated the moment when the local tribe signed a peace deal with the Spanish, drinking drops of each other’s blood in wine in the traditional Cebuano style.

Next up was the pentagonal Spanish watch tower, built so the new settlers could be alert to local attack on all sides, and a church with a pretty painted ceiling.

I was able to get cash out at an ATM without being charged. They had a guard for safety, although the driver told me that they rarely had crime. Everyone knew each other.

I had read about a restaurant with panoramic views on social media, appropriately called Le Panorama, over on Bohol. I went there for lunch and had the best fresh prawns I had ever tasted, in a very tasty tomato sauce, with rice. It was midday but being on holiday, I had to wash it down with a pina colada!

After lunch I had asked the company where a good beach was that locals used, I avoided Alona beach as I had heard that it was packed with tourists and had litter. I won’t name the beach as it is secret, so it doesn’t deteriorate too.

There were palm trees all the way along the shore, only two other tourists and lots of locals fishing in one corner, swimming and snorkelling. One of them came up to me and said I should stay at his brother’s apartments and like everyone around there, said I should live on the island.

On the way back I wanted to try some traditional food so I stopped at a street stall selling fried chicken. I hadn’t seen any cafes or restaurants. The islanders seemed to eat at home. I asked for two pieces. The man went to the back of the stall and started hacking up chicken. People around gawped, even looking back from their scooters. I asked my guide what was happening and he said “you wanted two chickens didn’t you?”.

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May 19, 2020 · 9:54 pm

My First (Possible) Coronavirus

Me as a (possible) Covid-19 patient, day 2.

Before I got it, I was curious about what it involved, what I could expect.

One Friday I got a sore throat. I took a Strepsil and forgot about it.

That evening I still had it, so I popped another Strepsil.

On Saturday after breakfast my boyfriend and I were sitting, looking at the rain and wondering what to do. My boyfriend went on the laptop and I was on my phone.

I started coughing and had a drink, maybe that would help.

It didn’t.

The coughs were continuous and dry…

After a while I started to feel tired and went to sit on the sofa, hoping that would help.

It didn’t.

I started to feel exhausted. My boyfriend insisted that I was “putting it on”.

“I’m going to bed” I announced suddenly, and he looked up anxiously. It was an effort even to sit up.

It had hit me out of nowhere, what was going on? I felt like I’d just got off a plane from the Philippines again, heavily jet-lagged.

I lay down and that was it, I was in bed for the next five days, apart from some sunbathes in the garden. I was able to do this because I had several hours each day where the coughs eerily disappeared, so I felt less tired. I hoped that my body hadn’t stopped fighting it, whatever it was.

I begged my boyfriend not to go to work but he did and I was alone.

I had to drag myself out of bed and rest regularly as I hauled myself downstairs, leaning heavily on the banisters as if I had rapidly aged overnight. By the time I got back up I was wheezing so much I felt like I was breathing through a straw. Sometimes I had to cough to breathe, I was so constricted, and that was quite alarming. But the advice I saw online was that you only needed to go to hospital if you felt tingling in your fingers or toes or had blue lips, and it wasn’t that bad. My extremities were still being adequately oxygenated and I reminded myself that I didn’t have a temperature, so it was only “mild”.

Pull yourself together, I told my inner child. No need to be a drama llama.

My chest hurt as I coughed roughly every ten minutes for three days. On the second day, my friends dropped off a care package and it gave me such a boost. I was able to talk to them from the upstairs window. I fortunately had a welcome break from the symptoms at that point, another weird window where it felt like I wasn’t ill.

On the fourth and fifth day the fatigue worsened and I was quite weak. Once I couldn’t even turn over in bed. I got tired having more than one chat on the phone each day. I am usually someone that is lively and energetic but this had really floored me. The last time I had been that ill was when I was seven and laid up for two weeks with pneumonia.

On the sixth day I was feeling better until I had a shower and had a dizzy spell. But I was no longer coughing all the time so I had more energy. I was able to stay up and out of bed until 3pm, when fatigue bowled me over, literally.

So I spent a total of three days coughing, five days in bed and 11 days later I am finally feeling more human, and have put my first clothes wash on in two weeks.

I don’t qualify for a test, so I do not know if that was the dreaded coronavirus.

What helps?

Vicks vapour rub is all you need if you have it mildly, the essential oil vapours are helpful. Lying on two pillows allows you to breathe easier too. Paracetamol helped my boyfriend lower his temperature, it brings it down by half a degree. Please note that I did not use any extra toilet roll.

Keep your immune system supported with exercise, sleep, fruit and vegetables and you might only get “mild” symptoms too, if you get it.

Even though I can go out again soon, I will take more time to rest first, as I do not want to get another infection while my immune system is recovering. It will take me another week to get better whilst I replenish energy levels.

How did I get it?

I had gone shopping 12 days before in a busy supermarket, but that seemed unlikely to be the transmission event as it was so long before.

I may have been infected over the Easter weekend when we went out every day on the bikes. Some cyclists had passed right by me, breathing heavily. But that was an unlikely source too. It was a mystery.

I had been so careful – wiping and spraying everything from the supermarket, washing hands on entry to the house, staying away from people, but it had been useless.

I am just relieved to be through the worst and to have got off lightly. I know someone that has sadly passed away from it, so I am well aware that not everyone is so lucky.

In memory of those who didn’t make it.

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The Philippines – Cebu City

En route – Singapore Airport’s Butterfly House

It was my first holiday alone and I was nervous. Would I be safe?

I’d survived the 20 hour flight, thanks to a Singapore Airlines voucher giving me a free shower, like the relief of a wash after a festival.

Cebu City is a bustling, chaotic, hot, noisy, dusty city of around 100,000 people packed into a small space.

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My Grab app would not give me an option to hail a taxi so I got a metered one. “Make sure the meter is running when you get in” Lonely Planet advised, so I checked.

The driver, Marlin, had a side business as a tour guide. He put the price up by 200 pesos (about £3). When I asked why he said “I haven’t changed the sign yet.” He had two children, a girl of 4 and a boy age 14. The girl had been a surprise and he was still paying off the emergency caesarian.

Rows of cars trailed as far as the eye could see until the early hours. My tour guide dropped me off at 5pm and didn’t get home at midnight, on Valentines Day.

He was back to pick me up at 9am “no problem with traffic this morning, I come straight here!”.

It was cheaper than official tours and more flexible. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. I could have lunch with him at McDonalds or nothing, as we didn’t have enough time, so I passed. After the 20 hour plane journey I still couldn’t stomach a burger.

Grey oblong concrete blocks rose into the sky, but they weren’t very high. It was an urban jungle.

There were only some skyscrapers in the Central Business District, and a mall which only took cash. Fortunately the restaurants outside it took card payments, as you got charged for withdrawals unless you used the HSBC ATM kiosk at the back round the corner.

There were no lanes on the roads and scooters, bikes and rickshaws were weaving around and jeepneys which are open air vans, their buses.

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We drove first to the Taoist temple, built in 1967 in one of the wealthiest areas, the gated hilltop community of Beverly Hills. Surrounded by the first bit of greenery I saw, skyscraper fingers framed the horizon. There were pagodas, dragons on the roofs and fountains. I admired the painted ceilings in the tranquillity.

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We then went to the city’s museum, a former American jail. It explained the history of Cebu and the islands, from the original bamboo and flax huts and reliance on fishing, to a failed invasion of Cebu by the Portuguese who were beaten by machetes, and then the Spanish in 1521, who decided to have an artillery attack from the boat before coming ashore and taking over with the famous Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese national, as their captain.

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They brought Catholicism and they are said to have found a figure of the baby Jesus, the “Santo Nino” and that this kept them safe. The five walled watch tower on Panglao and the fort of San Pedro did as well. Eventually the Philippines wanted independence from Spain and there were frequent uprisings. In this climate the Americans came and conquered the islands with the help of the rebels, in 1901 after a two year war. But hopes of independence were dashed as the Americans took over. 

The island nation then fell to the Japanese in December 1941, who established strict military rule in which anyone carrying local banned currency was killed. But the money continued to be used in the black market. Notices were put up everywhere warning of heavy physical punishment for any disobedience. Some locals were put in Prisoner Of War camps and there was a shirt there from someone that had worked in it for five months without being given another. They were beaten regularly by the fearsome Kempe-tei, the prison guards. The Americans helped the guerilla Filipinos once more, and this time The Philippines were granted independence, in 1946.

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There was a chronological trail of artefacts, from Japanese guns to a ceremonial Afghan sword bought from merchants.

I realised I’d been about two hours and felt guilty, it must be hot waiting in that car. The driver was cross, “you take too much time, we late now, you must go faster”.

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We stopped at the Basilica, a church with a piece of cross in it apparently from Magellan’s voyage, but I couldn’t find it! I saw the replica, which was enclosed in a stone dome with a nice painted ceiling. Then I queued up to see the holy relic, the Santo Nino, said to be found by the Spanish when they first landed and which brought good luck to the locals, as they all kissed and touched the glass, muttering and crossing themselves. There was a prayer area outside with stone carvings of what I had just seen and the arrival of the Spanish.

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I then visited a recent towering monument built in the 1990s, showing the settlement story, mostly with figures and with some boats and buildings. The Santo Nino was there as it is in every historical depiction.

Down the road on the right was the oldest house. We had been by the oldest street, a wide road with grey concrete blocks on either side. It was one of the ugliest cities I had seen, but the pleasant kind people I met made up for it. I got approached repeatedly by the same man to buy plastic pearls. Once in the house I was given a tour in English. It had been bought from the Filipinos by Chinese merchants in the 1600s. They had decorated the house with jade ornaments and intricately patterned blue and white vases. It had then stayed in the family for generations. The house was made of thick wooden beams and it was cooler than outside but still warm and airless.

Outside a father and son were playing a duet on a small harp and ukelele. The boy was about four and had obviously had a lot of practice.

I went to another old house, Casa Gorado. I am not sure how old as I was concentrating on the animation on the board in front, which showed how the Spanish had moved the Cebuanos up the hill away from the fishing by the coast, to land that they could not farm because the soil was unsuitable. They could grow corn though. The Spanish arrived in 1565, setting fire to a village and blasting another with cannons. Then Chinese merchants began to settle in the 1600s and they were allocated a part of town near the Cebuanos, but they were only allowed to trade if the changed their surname to a Spanish one and converted to Catholicism.

We finished the tour with the San Pedro fort. It looked grand from the outside but once in it was just the wall and nothing much was left. It isn’t worth visiting, but it is a good stop if you want to be near the port, as you go up the drive and right and it is down the road a short distance on foot.

My taxi driver decided to be honest and stick to his original price, so I paid him the inflated amount he first quoted in appreciation. I navigated the poorly signed full port and off I went over a smooth sea to Tagbilaran…

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My First Pandemic

coronavirus

scientificanimations.com

If you want a break from continuous Covid-19, I have an article coming soon about my Philippines adventures. The photos and memories are an escape from the chaos.

The threat emerged in China. It was awful but far away.

“Don’t go” my aunt begged. But there were few cases in the Philippines. I was going via Singapore. People had spread it at their airport and a London airport shortly before I arrived back, but it was not a common event.

Someone on the plane has a fever.

A poster at a bus stop, beside a nurse who was coughing profusely.

We were hovering over Heathrow when cabin crew marched quickly up the plane, one wheeling a suitcase. There was a flurry of activity up the aisles and a curtain was yanked shut.

“Just to let you know, someone on the plane has a fever” announced the captain. There was stifled anxiety and a father was explaining the situation to his child.

We landed and a health visitor distributed forms. Unlike the cabin crew, reassuringly, he was not wearing a mask, just gloves. Waiting outside the plane a medical professional stood wide-eyed, wearing a hazmat outfit with a clear visor covering her face.

Days passed and I heard nothing, so I forgot about the pesky plague.

Then it came to Italy and coronavirus contaminated my newsfeed.

I’ve got a temperature.

My boyfriend had gone skiing in the North Italian Alps in February and there was a good offer for the Austrian mountains, in Tirol.

“Do you need another ski holiday?”

“It’s not for long” he replied.

I said goodbye on the 1st of March.

“I’ve got a temperature so I’ve come back from work early” the text read, on Wednesday 11th.

He phoned NHS111.

“You haven’t been to an affected area so you don’t need a test” they responded. No mention of infection control.

The first UK nationals returning with the virus had been on holiday to Europe. A friend who had dared to enjoy the Sagrada Familia and Sangria in Barcelona was now cuddling her cat in bed.

sagrada familia

We never get ill. Not like this.

Worried, I text my boyfriend. “What are your symptoms?”

“Headache, aches, sore throat, cough and my chest feels tight”.

“You must isolate.”

“I’ll go back to work when I’m feeling better.”

Day 3:

“How are you?”

“Temp going up and down now. Woke up last night with the heat, had some really weird dreams. It’s strange how a fever affects you.”

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On Saturday 14th March the panic started.

It was day 4 of my boyfriend’s fever but it was finally dropping. I wanted to be sure.

I desperately visited every shop in a five mile radius.

Boots nearby? sold out.

Boots in town? sold out.

Superdrug? sold out.

Argos? sold out.

John Lewis? didn’t sell them.

Online? sold out all over England.

This could have put his life in danger. Why were they so selfish? Why didn’t they have thermometers? Why didn’t we have thermometers?

Because we never get ill. Not like this.

The media started announcing a daily coronavirus count. There would be bulk-buying. But to my surprise it was business as usual in the pharmacy that morning. There was still a sense of calm. Everything was in stock apart from most of the paracetamol. I bought two lots of products to ease flu. One for me, one for my boyfriend.

A man in the queue turned and looked at my basket, whispered to his wife and walked to the side to wait for his prescription, staring at me nervously as I purchased the items.

“Is this just for you?” the retailer asked.

“No, it’s for someone else as well” I said smiling, as the shop went silent and people gawped.

I was in Waitrose looking for snacks. The bread shelf was empty. The flour shelf (to make bread) was nearly empty. The pasta shelf? empty. The soap shelf? empty. The medicine shelf? empty. The Vitamin C shelf? empty. The toilet roll shelf? empty. Why? “Well at least there’s still beer” someone joked.

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A nurse was crying in her car after trying to get food. She has now come down with it too, possibly. My brother came back from an A and E shift in Wales to find his supermarket almost empty. My sister found the same in London.

I was going to see a friend that night when she messaged. “Sorry, I have discussed it and we don’t think it’s a good idea”, explaining that her boyfriend had asthma and sending a link to government advice on social distancing. I don’t know when I can visit her again.

Some people have had to make the heartbreaking decision not to see grandparents,parents, partners or even their own children.star wars corona 2

Only £94 sick pay.

The Prime Minister’s announcement came on Sunday 15th. All those with symptoms were to isolate for seven days. My boyfriend now needed to stay home for another four days.

“Great, that’s only £94 sick pay.”

“Think of the vulnerable and older people you’ll be protecting.”

I went swimming with a friend and we went in the steam room, with no steam. I had not wanted to go in but there was only one other person.

My friend is a cancer survivor and had been told she was “medium” risk. She has now received a letter telling her she was one of the 1.5 million English nationals that could end up in hospital from the virus. She had been out on the town until midnight, should she worry about it? she asked. No, I replied. Better to go out now than at the peak of the epidemic in mid-April or May. I sent her a flowers and wine delivery with some of the last Merlot left in the city. Yesterday I won the last sour cream in my neighbourhood and last week I bought the last two packets of chicken in the supermarket. Yet I was frustrated one day when I forgot to buy the vegetables for dinner and couldn’t make another trip for a single cabbage.

Her colleagues got coronavirus taking blood.

I later read that the virus was easily spread in Chinese gyms. But again the source was not revealed, so could not be verified. Fake news and “medical” advice began to infect social media, including gargling with salt water for “protection” and holding your breath for ten seconds meant you had “virus-free” lungs. You could “wash the virus away from your lungs” by drinking tea and “kill the virus” by sunbathing.

I informed my friend that the “e-mail circulated in a hospital” was  actually government guidelines with a smattering of lunacy.

The only way to avoid contagion is to keep your distance and wash your hands.

But the public think that does not apply if you are outdoors, so now, as of Monday 23rd we are all on lockdown and gatherings of more than two people are banned. Countryside car parks are shut and the roads are almost empty, perfect for cycling. Meanwhile, our heroic key workers are keeping the country going, including my siblings. My sister worked on the “front line” for two weeks without adequate Personal Protective Equipment and four staff at her hospital tragically died. Her colleague got coronavirus taking blood with only gloves on, and survived.

My brother got infected from his girlfriend who worked on a coronavirus ward. Luckily they got off with a cough and fatigue.

From day 4 onwards my boyfriend started to get better.  His sore throat eased and he no longer had a temperature.

A week later, his only irritation was an inflamed nose and a reduced sense of smell. His housemates did not get infected as he kept his distance, wiping kitchen and bathroom surfaces after touching them.

The Guardian has recently reported that around 70% of infectious people have few or no symptoms. With that figure it is easy to understand why numbers are increasing rapidly. This is from a reputable source, a microbiology professor.

Help others more and read the news less.

Now, every time I get home I wash my hands and wipe down anything I have touched before that. I have even started spraying my shopping in case it has been touched by someone who has coughed coronavirus onto their hands. It is so unlikely, but why take that chance.

People suffering from anxiety have told me that the worry around them has made theirs worse.

The most effective way I have found of dealing with the apocalypse is to help others and to read the news less.

One useful story referred to Mutual Aid groups mobilising volunteers on social media. I joined one and bought some items for a local family.

Do you think she’ll get worse?

A family of four was isolating due to their daughter having a cough. She would give me money. I gave her my details for an online transfer instead. The money could have the virus on it. “I will stand three steps away” I replied.

There was the patter of little feet running to the door. A toddler peered up at me with bright eyes.

“She doesn’t seem to have a temperature” I remarked.

“No, she just has a cough” her mother replied.

“She probably doesn’t have it then” I said, hoping to reassure her.

“But children aren’t as badly affected are they.”

“Well no, that’s true.”

“Do you think she’ll get worse?” she asked.

“No, if she’s only got a cough she should be ok, and like you say, children aren’t as badly affected.”

“Will I get it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What if I get it? Will I get it worse?”

“Well have you got a good immune system?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have any underlying health conditions?”

“No.”

“You should be fine then.”

She thanked me and I left, assuring her that I’d message her if I needed anything. I delivered more bread and milk a few days later.

A board read “GO HOME, COUNTRYSIDE OUT OF BOUNDS.”

Last weekend we went on a walk with my boyfriend’s mother. As we expect that he is immune, we were not worried about him spreading it. He will not be able to see them now until the non-essential travel ban is lifted. Roadblocks have begun to spring up on local motorways.

A fast-tracked emergency bill is ensuring that new infection control laws can be enforced.

Walk with Jonny's mum

The beautiful Pigeon Tower above Upper Rivington Reservoir in Lancashire. Copyright literarylydi

I tried to keep my distance from in case I was asymptomatic (infectious but with no symptoms). We also tried to create some distance with groups walking past. It was only a problem if they coughed or sneezed the virus, but better safe than sorry. Irritatingly we ended up sandwiched in between groups of people and sharing narrow paths with them.

No one was willing to keep their distance. We wiped our hands before eating and at the car before we went home, as we had been touching gates.

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That land is now shut.

On the way home in the Peak District, we saw a board that read

“GO HOME, COUNTRYSIDE OUT OF BOUNDS.”

The streets were nearly empty and older people were all inside, isolating for 3 months.

At least we don’t live in fear of nuclear attack.

But there were people sitting in parks, walking and cycling. I doubt we will see icecream vans for a long time, maybe not even in the warmer months.

I have been watching “Summer of Rockets” on the BBC recently and it has reminded me that things could be worse. At least we don’t live in fear of nuclear attack.

Audio poems are soothing, those who are creative can find comfort in the arts. Those who are practical are doing more D.I.Y, the drilling disturbing my work. But at least I could cook myself lunch and spend the rest of the break shooting hoops.

There are entertaining videos and memes doing the rounds. An unemployed sports commentator has done commentary for everyday events, such as the “South East halloumi-buying champions” frequenting Waitrose.

There was a video of the actor Antony Hopkins playing the piano with his cat on his lap.

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Classic FM/Instagram / @AnthonyHopkins

I have also found it helpful to try not talking about it, to absorb yourself in escapist programmes and do what you can, instead of fretting about what you can’t.

No, we can’t go to schools, universities, gyms, pubs, clubs, cafes, clothes shops or restaurants (as of Saturday). We might not be able to see our family, friends or colleagues in person, maybe even our children.

But we can see them online, as long as the Internet withstands the increased demand.

We can do so many things in our homes or individually to entertain ourselves and exercise, so we must enjoy that.

Stay three steps away from others, don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth and wash your hands when you get home.

The poem If by Rudyard Kipling is good to keep in mind: “if you can keep your head, when all about you. Are losing theirs[…]you’ll be a Man, my son”.

My favourite is Warning, by Jenny Joseph.

As they said in another war: “Keep calm and carry on.”

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On Finishing My First Novel

novel slam

Seven years ago, I started writing a novel.

It was part fact, part fiction, based on my experiences as a carer.

If you want to read a chapter, comment below. If I get enough interest, I’ll release one.

It has been an incredible journey. Writing a book takes you into another world. One chapter was so heart-wrenching that I actually started crying as I wrote.

I did it to process the memories and to remember the stories I was told, tales of a lost time which are hard to imagine in our fast-paced, technological world.

I am sad that it is over, I really enjoyed writing it, all thirty-five chapters. Now I have the tricky task of trying to get it ready for a publisher. I need to find workshops to go to. The hardest part is knowing how much dialogue to put in versus the amount of description, what to cut and what to leave. I have given it to my parents to read.

Are there any published writers out there? Tips please!

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Philippines Planning

 

Writing without inspiration is like chips without vinegar. Pointless.Loboc-River-Cruise

I haven’t been writing for some time due to a lack of inspiration, probably because of work sapping creative energy.

I only usually post on here when I am inspired as I think it improves the quality of my material.

The less I work, the more inspired I get. Hundreds of years ago artists had the time and luxury to express themselves thanks to their wealthy patrons. Now you have to squeeze out your craft whilst doing your day job, or live in penury unless you are really lucky. So when I retire, if I can ever afford to or if I must due to ill health, I will finally be able to finish writing that novel.

I am not inspired now but I do not want to neglect you readers, as I usually have an offering each month. I write not for the figures, but because I must.

Inspiration is a peculiar beast. When you want it you can’t find it. But when you are in that flow state you have to harness it and make the most of it.

After pitching my novel idea for a documentary, audience and in front of a panel of literary agents and publishers, I was so motivated that I rewrote my entire 16 chapters.

I will not tell you about the plot because hopefully one day you will read it and find out for yourselves. But that is a long way away because I do about a page a year, if that. Again I can only attend to that when I am inspired. I never know when I will get that creative spark, or how long it will last.

We nearly died

Writing without inspiration is like chips without vinegar. Pointless. And that isn’t even a good analogy because my brain is currently tired after a long trip back from my boyfriend’s parents’, in which we nearly died because someone moved into our lane instead of going off at the wrong junction. Luckily my boyfriend has speedy reactions.

Bohol

Bohol’s “chocolate” hills

Anyway, the Philippines. I am going solo in 2020.

I have never been on holiday by myself before.

Mum’s reaction was “you’ll get raped and murdered”, so if I live to tell the tale, I will let you know.

Why did I choose it? Because it’s one of the cheapest holiday destinations with beaches, it will be warm and it isn’t Europe, so if Brexit makes things expensive it does not matter.

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It ended up being more pricey than expected because I hadn’t factored in hotels (£60-70 a night) and the amount of taxis, car hire and ferries I will need to get about. I would love to be sustainable but unfortunately their buses takes twice as long as a car.

I arrive in Cebu city, across to Bohol and then down to Siquior. The Philippines has more than 7000 islands so there were plenty to choose from.

Did you hear about the British man and his wife that got abducted whilst sunbathing on a beach? and returned after a gun battle? That’s the island below where I’ll be staying. That is obviously a no-go zone according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The places I am visiting are not marked as risky. Not yet.

I managed to get vaccines of Hepatitis A, diptheria, tetatnus and polio this month and previously tuberculosis, measles, mumps and rubella ones. So at least I won’t die of those.

Possible hazards other than rape and murder include earthquakes, tsunami, kidnapping, mugging, typhoid, cholera, Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis, dengue fever, rabies, and an aquatic parasite that lives in snails and under human skin.

More minor hazards include missing the last ferry or what happened in Vietnam, where a taxi driver refused to let us out until we had paid more than the meter.

Wish me luck.

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Wheely Loving Life

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At the moment it feels like I am zooming downhill on the road of life, enjoying the wind in my hair with only a few bumps ahead.

Everything is going well and I have finally lost the weight I accumulated six months ago.

I realised I had to do something when I went up a dress size and was forced to bulk-buy so I had enough work clothes, sending me into my overdraft this month.

So how did I lose weight?

I love food but I tried to cut down on sugar, especially after my dentist said I had acid erosion.

I also increased my exercise intensity and frequency. Instead of going to the gym once a week, I went two or three times a week.

I started cycling to work more often. Then I bought a cheap fold-up bike from my local Halfords in the sales. I had not realised how heavy it was and lugging the 14kg box the half an hour to the bus stop was an ordeal.

This lovely little fake Brompton means I can commute to work when half the day is dry and then carry it on public transport when it rains. The bus driver was not impressed but I just smiled sweetly and thanked him profusely. I ensured I kept it secured and out of the way of passengers.

I try to do some exercise every day.

netball

Copyright literarlydi

I have increased the number of netball matches I help out with. I used to play in one every few weeks. Now I play up to three matches a week, actively volunteering rather than waiting for an invite. The practice means I can now run faster and defend better.

I love the game because of its fast pace, the intensity, the fine footwork, the challenge and the thinking involved. Helping to get the ball in the net is such a boost. I don’t even realise I’m doing exercise when all my attention is fixed on the blurry ball as it arcs from player to player.

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On the weekend I go for at least one long bike ride. I am lucky that I live near the Peak District, so I pedal out to local beauty spots or to villages and back.

I love the sense of freedom and admiring nature’s beauty, enjoying the breeze cool your face. When you whizz downhill and lean over the handlebars it feels like you’re flying.

I like to stop at little cafes at the furthest point of my journey as that helps me stay motivated on the hills. Then I take in the scenery whilst sipping lemonade and enjoying a slice of cake. I don’t have to feel guilty about it either because I burn around 880 calories and zero fossil fuels on a 25 mile round trip.

Remember, cars run on money and make you fat, but bikes run on fat and save you money!

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Think about your week. How could you increase the amount of exercise you do?

 

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Liverpool

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Friendly locals, a busy nightlife and intimidating seagulls sum up my two night stay in Liverpool.

One beady-eyed bird even stole a sandwich from a sleeping homeless person and stabbed it eagerly with its long yellow beak.

I did not have chance to visit one of the many museums, such as the International Slavery Museum, but I had chance to sample the nightlife and it was much better than my home town.

Even though it was a week-day, there were plenty of people of all ages in the bar, listening to a guitar player sing. The Cavern Club was small, built with bricks and underground. Opening in 1957, The Beatles played there 274 times. Queen and The Beach Boys also played here, amongst many other famous bands. However, the acoustics were bad and amplified too much.

The nicest part of the city centre was Albert Docks, a regenerated collection of former warehouses, with Holiday Inn Express being the best place we stayed there. I had a view out on to the dock in my room and at breakfast, which made up for the stale pastries.

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August 10, 2019 · 7:31 pm

Rapa Nui – An Isolated Island

Rano Raku mine2

I have been fortunate enough to travel around the world. Nowhere was as uniquely beautiful as Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui.

The tiny spec on the world map was finally discovered by the Dutch in 1722.

Named after the day of its discovery, the island may have been spotted as early as 1686, by Captain Davis, an English explorer.

Originally named “Davis” island, this was the land mass the Dutch were seeking. It was later visited briefly by James Cook in 1744. He soon continued on his way, declaring that the island had nothing substantial to offer. He noted that there weren’t any trees or animals and few birds. You can read the fascinating diary of the experience here.

indigenous statue

The indigenous people would have looked something like this.

Some twenty years before, the Dutch had killed 12 islanders for coming too close. Perhaps when Cook visited, the natives thought that appeasing these powerful people would enable survival, so they hoisted a bunch of bananas up to the boat as a peace offering.

Polynesian painting

Those courageous seafarers must have been glad to arrive – Easter Island is one of the most remote locations in the world. Accessible from just Tahiti or Chile, it is a five hour flight. The tiny airport usually operates one flight each day. If you want to go the old-fashioned way, a journey by boat takes a week and only two operate annually.

We flew business class because it was the same price as standard and it was a pleasant experience, with fully extendable seats. Our flight was as cheap as it gets at £400 return, as we went out of season in June when it is cooler and wetter. However, it was still warm, with temperatures between 18-20 degrees celcius. We were lucky enough not to get rain during the day. 

fish

Winter is the best season to visit, as there were only a few small groups of tourists at key sites and it did not seem to get hot enough for there to be any mosquitoes.

fisherman

The fish was lovely and fresh, with a choice of large tuna, reinata and merluza to name a few, along with squid, prawns and other crustaceans.

beach

On the last day we swam in the sea, which was luke warm and very pleasant. The island only has one sandy beach and you can admire a row of “moai” statues as you swim. This area of the Pacific must be one of the least polluted in the world, owing to its isolation.

The best way to see the statues is to cycle. This means you can go at your own pace and avoid any pesky tour buses. Most of the sites close at 4pm. We hired electric bikes from a great shop off the main street for about 17 000 pesos, £20 a day. Don’t bother with the bike shops on the main street, most of them are broken and you get ripped off.

Beach statues

All photos on this page copyright literarylydi

It was this isolation that caused at least three near extinctions of its indigenous population. The Polynesians are believed to have arrived in 700-800 A.D and settled there permanently 100-200 years later. They are believed to have travelled thousands of miles, from the Marquesa Islands.

Those ancient voyagers looked for islands after studying the migration patterns and habits of birds and then navigated using the position of stars. With their large double-hulled wooden canoes, they travelled with basic foodstuffs to help them farm the new land. From 1000-1100 A.D. they also brought sweet potato, perhaps from contact with South America.

painted moai

Copyright literarylydi

Its Polynesian name is Rapa Nui. From the 1400s, the island was so successfully cultivated and well-populated that the tribes started building the famous megaliths with smooth expressionless faces. To this day, no one knows what they symbolise. They have a dramatic and haunting beauty. They tower above you, silently watching over the farmed fields, undulating hills and red rocky cliffs. Built from around 1400 until 1650, they have watched generation after generation flourish and fail.

Rano Raku mine3

Archaeologists found that the islanders all worked together to build and enlarge them, until the tallest statue reached over 20 metres high. They called them moai, which means to exist, and each one is carved with slightly different features. Perhaps they were self portraits of their chiefs. This would explain why only one group of statues face outwards to the sea, the last group to be built. The Rapa Nui tribes had realised that they needed protection from outsiders. The joint effort to build them must have encouraged peace and harmony between the tribes, essential when resources and land were scarce. But the islanders paid a high price for this dedication – they had cut down all their tall trees for monument transportation.

moai facing sea

Popular myth tells a story of self-sabotage, where the people cut down all the trees and then starved, as they had nothing to build or cook with. However, a recent study refutes this. Scientific analysis such as carbon dating showed that the islanders ate a diet rich in fish and that they knew how to sustainably manage their environment, even though the soil was poor. The study’s authors suggest that it was the island’s visitors who were to blame for the lack of trees, as rats could have wiped out the remaining slow-growing palm trees. They had to import them from Tahiti in the 1960s.

beach3

As the islanders could no longer transport their impressive monoliths, they started a new “Bird Man” cult. There is a cave on the island that is faintly painted with bands of colour, honouring their new belief system. They would have competitions to get bird eggs, often laid in precarious places on the cliffs. This shows that they were using initiative to survive.

tribal face

Legend has it that deforestation led to starvation and even resorted to cannibalism in the late 1700s. This myth has also been debunked with evidence that the population used innovative techniques to ensure that they could continue growing crops in the dryer soil.

In 1862 outsiders once again brought death and despair. A ship from Peru took half the island there as slaves, some 1 500 men. Disease was rife, and eventually 100 were allowed to return, after pressure from the English and French. However, smallpox spread during the return voyage, and the 15 survivors spread this disease to the remaining islanders, most of whom died.

Those who survived were then forced to give up their indigenous beliefs and convert to Catholicism, which was completed in 1866. In 1870, a French explorer arrived, Dutroux Bornier. He was detested by the inhabitants and most left with a missionary for a nearby island, Mangareva. It was only after he was killed that some returned.

After these waves of foreign interference, just over 100 of the original islanders remained in 1877.

In 1888 the Rapa Nui King was given a deed to sign, giving the Chilean government control of the island. The document was translated for the indigenous people to mean “protection” and “friendship”. Sensing deceit, the King Atamu Tekena bent to the ground and took a handful of dirt in one hand and a handful of grass in the other. He gave the Chilean representative grass and kept the dirt. The land would always belong to his people.

Almost 80 years passed before the Chilean government recognised the indigenous population as Chilean citizens, following a rebellion. In 2014 they submitted a petition for independence which they continue to pursue. Tensions between Chileans and Polynesians was evident in an eco hotel development on the coast, which had graffiti on its fence and black flags obstructing the view.

Easter-Islands

Polynesian descendants look after the moai statue sites, ensuring that their spiritual past is respected. They now have a flag which was first flown in 2006, a red “Reimiro” ornament that was worn by chiefs and others of high status.

Now the population is back to its original size of around 7,000, almost all concentrated in the small settlement of Hanga Roa.

Sadly, locals appear to be making the myth of self-sabotage a reality. It takes three hours to walk to the other side of the island, yet everyone goes everywhere in battered Nissan pick ups and Jeeps. With these excessive and unnecessary emissions, they are contributing to climate change which could eventually submerge the whole island. It has already resulted in coastal erosion which threatens the existence of the mighty Moai statues.

To this day, outsiders continue to damage the island. Seas of selfie-sticks, star jumps and shouting ruin the quiet reflective impact of the moai and some even risk damaging them in their vain pursuit of the “perfect” picture. 

Hundreds of years ago, Easter Island needed protection from visitors bringing death and disease, leading to the creation of the only set of Moai to face the sea.

Now the island is under threat once more.

 

moai by the sea

sunset statues

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July 16, 2019 · 9:23 pm