Sunday, December 9, 2012

Away for home

It is Sunday morning and I was suppose to be up early and ready, but I slept through my alarms. Thank goodness for Leo!!

Got up and got ready quick to make it to airport in time for flight. I am ready to go home, but it is still bitter sweet.

It is time to go home, and I find I am sad. From the connection to the patients and Operation Smile team to hanging with Janet and the wonderful guides from Uncharted Philippines, it is hard to say goodbye to so many really great people!

I feel that all the people I have met has become part of my family. We had a such a great team of international volunteers for Op. Smile, and I would welcome any of them to my small home in Easley anytime!

Same goes for the great guides I met during my trip. Dax. Jody, and Leo are welcome with anyone they want to bring, especially their sweet wives I had the pleasure to meet!

I really have enjoyed the connections of friendships that I feel will be lifelong. I know on past missions I have kept in touch with a select few of the team, but I truly hope I can work with and keep in touch with so many from this team.

I pray for the best for everyone on this mission, especially all the patients and their families. I am just lucky to get the chance to travel after the mission, but my heart lies with the people we get a chance to help.

Yesterday in Taal I saw two people that could benefit from Operation Smile, and I hope that they take the chance to find a screening in the near future. It really is amazing how many people we have the chance to touch their lives!

Thank you for keeping up with this amazing experience with me. I hope to post one more time after getting home. I could not do this without the support of my job, family, and friends! Love you all, and appreciate all the opportunities you provide me.

Much love.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Last full day in Philippines!

I arrived in Manila on the 3:30 bus that got here at 5:30, and had enough time to change clothes and wash hair before leaving for yet another car ride! My feet are so swollen!

Yet, this is the last adventure before heading home and it involves a hike and volcano. So, off I went with Leo to Taal.

We had to drive about three hours to get to boat that took us across the lake to the volcano. We hiked up the ridge and had a breathtaking view at the top. The volcano is still active and you could see the water bubbling and steam coming from off the walls of the lake.

We spent a little time here taking pictures and hiking around edge before going back down and back on boat across lake. The actually structure is lake inside volcano that is inside lake inside bigger volcano. Crazy, I know!

After, we travelled to the top of the ridge to see view of lake and to eat lunch at pizza place. Leo then took me to the town of Taal to see the largest Catholic Church in Asia, two houses that were used during the Philippine Revolution, and another church that was built with an Asian influence.

We then went to the market to buy gifts and you will never guess what I found!!! Clemson shorts! Yes, even here in the Philippines they know who the best team is!!!!

While in the market I also got groped by several begging women, who Leo tried to get to leave me alone. Luckily I am good at ignoring people. However I hate it when they use their kids. I can't say no to the kids, so it was time to get out of there!

We made the long drive back, and picked up Leo's wife for dinner at the market, where I bought a few things! Yes, I have been here 2 and 1/2 weeks and I still need to buy people stuff!

Now, I am tired, smelly, and can't wait to get a bath. I have to pack and be up at 2:30 to leave at 3:30 for airport! Time to go home!!!!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Day in Sagada

Woke up early to have breakfast at hotel and pack up. Going with Jody to Sagada to seeing hanging coffins and to go caving.

The only draw back is another 2.5hour drive there and back! So tired of being in a vehicle. I am not looking forward to the long bus ride tonight back to Manila.

Sagada was nice! The hanging coffins are not really hanging anymore. They have moved them into a cave to preserve them.

The caving trek started out miserable because of the slippery rocks! I was just super stressed about falling and really wanted to get the heck out of there, but continued. The guide I had here was not very accommodating in the beginning, so I was ready to pack it in.

I was really glad I didn't! He became a little more helpful, I got a little more confident on my feet, and it turned out for the best. The cave inside was amazing. We went around to different formations, and had to climb through tiny spaces. We had to repel down and climb up using ropes, had to get into freezing cold water up to my chest ( cold showers all week was great training), and basically just climbed around on the rocks that were not slippery.

It was really nice inside and I could have stayed longer inside the cave just exploring, but we had to leave. Again slippery on way out, but so much better going up and out.

I had lunch at the Yogurt Cafe, but really didn't want anything heavy. The food here can be so heavy especially during lunch.

Did a tiny bit of shopping at a place where ladies weave fabric for goods, and at a small stop right outside of Banaue. Then headed back to Banaue for a shower and dinner before night bus to Manila.

Can't believe that I will be getting on a plane in 24 hours after reaching Manila in the morning. I am ready to go home though! I almost would just like to chill my last day before getting on plane, but might as well go out with a bang. I do still have a little shopping to do, but I don't think I will be able to do much cultural shopping in Manila.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Trip to Banaue

So we made it to Manila and Leo picked us up. The traffic in Manila is like nothing I have ever seen before. It took us a hour and fifteen minutes to go less than 9 miles. We went to his parents' house to shower with thirty minutes to spare before we had to leave for the bus. Talk about a quick shower.

Got on a packed bus with Jun, Janet's guide while in Banaue. I will be splitting up with her after our hike in the morning, so I will be hanging with Jody. I love all the J names. Even Dax's real name was Jeffery.

The bus ride was interesting! Not quiet as many stops, but freezing and loud techno music. I luckily can sleep almost anywhere! I put on my headphones and out I went!

Arrived in Banaue and had breakfast before taking luggage to hotel. Met up with Jody, my tour guide, and hopped on his tricycle with Janet and Jun.

Took a crazy road up to the trailhead to start hike to Batad. Along the way we stopped at a place called the "hanging house" and met Mary, a four year old little girl with Down syndrome. She was precious! While here I also used a very rustic "comfort room" where I think I mooned a truck going by because of the very short walls and open air feel it had.

Started the hike to rice terraces, and it started to pour! Nothing like a little rain to make the hike more interesting. Jody and I had to leave Janet and Jun because we had to do all the hiking in one day. Janet is staying in Batad, and I am hiking back out to Banaue to stay the night.

The views here are so amazing! Reminds me a lot of Peru! We had a pretty strenuous hike up and then down into Batad with 412 steps down, you can guess what has to happen on way out!

We arrived at the guest house and restaurant where I ordered my lunch. While the food was being prepared, we hiked to a waterfall. This hike is no joke! We went through the rice terraces, and then through the village to get out to the waterfall. It was pouring, so we only went to a lookout. If I could have gotten in the waterfall, I would have went all the way.

I have to admit I like going up on this hike better than down, which you do both each way! Down is scary with the slippery rocks, but up I felt more in control. Except when I almost fell in a rice terrace. Lucky for me Jody was quick and I had a hiking stick.

We stopped for lunch on the way back out
and then finished the hike back to the tricycle. All together it was around 6 hours of butt kicking hiking, complete with mud, rain, great views, and a lot of great information about the people and culture!

Jody let me choose the way out, and of course I picked the 412 steps up instead of the easy trail out. I tried to get him to circle back and do them again but he wouldn't.

After hiking out, we stopped to see Mary again and I bought my Grams a nativity scene. I would have bought about anything just to help her mom.

The ride back in the tricycle was scary. Jody is a great driver, but the road was muddy, there was construction and blasting, and a really large drop if we decided to get too close to the edge.

Back at the hotel I wanted to simply get warm and clean. Had a Luke warm shower, which is way better than freezing showers I have had this week. My room here is great, and the temperature here is way more conducive for my liking!

I will be leaving at 7:30 in am for caving, shopping, and hiking to hanging coffins. So, I am going to try to get a little sleep tonight! I am so exhausted, so that should not be a problem. However, after all the traveling yesterday and what I have coming up, today was great!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Travel Day and truly hump day!

Well, the morning started with a little excitement. Walked into bathroom and was washing my hair when I noticed something on the door. Looked closer and it was one of the biggest spiders I have ever seen. I did get my hair washed, but after that I was out of there. Janet looked at it and decided she didn't want to tackle it either, so I ran out and got the security guard to help us.

Poor sleeping security guard wakes up to an American woman with a towel wrapped around her head screaming about a big spider in her room. Plus, it was raining bc of the typhoon coming in. His morning started as exciting as ours.

He did kill the spider after using spray. Now I wish I would have taken a picture of it after he had killed it.

So we get all packed up and ready after the exciting morning to catch the bus back to Peurto Princesa to catch flight to Manila.

Our ride to the bus depot was an adventure. They use these "tricycles" to get around, which is a motorcycle with a side seat connected to it and covered on front and back. Lets just say this is not the best in a downpour with a ton of luggage .

I was the lucky one with the outside seat, which meant I got to experience the soft rain that was coming down! I had to keep one leg out to make sure luggage did not fall out as well.

We get to the bus depot and get settled and I decide to read my emails that I received right before leaving hotel and wifi. Our flight to Manila is cancelled due to the typhoon, but we made the 6:00 bus so off we go to Peurto Princesa.

Time to regroup and make a new plan. After a lot of running around and help from Dax and his wife, we bought a new flight out from a different airline to get us back to Manila so we don't lose another day.

Stopped off at a local market before getting to airport, where they did not want to let me on because the ticket agent put both tickets in Janet's name. However they finally allowed me to get a boarding pass.

Made it to Manila! Waiting on Leo, our next guide to pick us up and take us to his parents' bed and breakfast for a shower before we have to board a bus at 10:00pm to get to Banaue by 6:00am.

I will be off the grid for a couple of days but will update when I am back in Manila on Saturday. Coming home soon!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Last day in El Nido

Today was the most relaxing beautiful day we have had so far.

Breakfast at hotel leisurely at 7:30. No brewed coffee so had to go find real coffee. Went back Aplaya to get coffee!

Today was our island hopping tour with snorkeling and beach all day! We got all our gear and loaded our boat.

Our first stop was a lagoon that we had to snorkel to. Inside the lagoon we also went to a cave. The reef was pretty sharp and I got several cuts, but I lived so far.

Our next stop was the secret lagoon, that is not so secret anymore! The beach and water was absolutely beautiful!

Next stop was our lunch site! The lunch was freaking amazing! Our boat guys grilled fish, chicken, and pork. They also had fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, and bananas. We also had rice and a homemade soy sauce with onion and tomatoes.

After lunch we went to the big lagoon and walked in due to low tide! The water here was cooler, but perfectly clear and even
turquoise in many areas.

Our last stop was a beautiful beach with the softest sand I have ever felt! The water was so pleasant that after swimming we took a nap on the beach.

I loved exploring the stops and taking a lot of pictures! The snorkeling was great, the food was out of this world, and the views were breath taking.

It was a really great day!!!

Back to hotel for a cold shower and to pack for bus ride at 5:45 in the morning. Out for dinner at Squidos. Power just went off, who knows what is going on!

Next on agenda is live music and drinks, but nothing like last night! Got to get up early!!!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Heading to El Nido

Woke up for a quick run and workout on the beach with Dax! Beautiful morning and got a chance to see the sun start to rise. It felt good to do something early!

We got packed up and had our breakfast to start our trek to El Nido. Got on a packed shuttle to get to the depot for another shuttle. Roads were nice until the paved roads ended, and the driver decided to drive faster.

Riding in the van for 4-5 hours with other passengers on a very bumpy dusty road is not quiet what I thought it would be like.
It does feel like we are traveling like a family though. When people need something we stop, when someone needs to go to comfort room (restroom) we stop, and if there are those that need to get off or get on the van we stop. It is an interesting concept! I thought I would sleep due to getting up early, but that is not going to happen, even for me!

Made it to El Nido!!! Checked into hotel! Wifi!!! Still no hot water though! I was so looking forward to a hot shower! The sad thing is I am getting a little use to it!

Had lunch out, and then rented sea kayaks! It was a lovely ride out! I was in a double kayak with Dax and Janet wanted a single. The beach is so lovely and still such soft warm water!

Somehow Janet talked me into returning in on the single kayak and it was so light it was hard to get it to move in the water! After paddling all the way back, I was tired and ready to get out!

Showered up, taking part in two for one drinks and off to get dinner! Maybe a little music at a local bar!

Second Day in Sabang

The morning started leisurely with breakfast and coffee at DabDab!

Dax our tour guide requested that we do the zip line first and then the mangrove tree tour. I was terrified of the zip line, but paid for it so I would not back out!

We rode this crazy jeep to the mangrove tour start and took a bamboo boat to the entrance of the hike up to the zip line. Hiked up to the top and got suited up for the ride! OMG it was so high, so I backed out at the last minute!!!

Not really! Dax went first, and once I saw him go, I was good! It was a lovely 800 meter ride off the side of the mountain, over the ocean, to a small hut on the peninsula. It was so nice I really would have liked to have done it again, simply because I would be more relaxed!

We took the mangrove boat tour next, which was very relaxing! It is really nice what they are trying to do to support the islands here in the Philippines! From the mangroves to the reefs, they really are trying to conserve their lands and sea.

Our tour guide even sang us a song about the mangrove and was a sweet older man. However, I could not understand a word he said the whole time!

After the boat tour we took a wonderful dip in the ocean and laid out on the beach before going back to our rustic lodge for freshening up and lunch. I am hoping to not come back as pale as I left!

We took our time at lunch, and to be totally honest I could have taken a nap, but we got started and headed to a waterfall that spilled into the ocean. It was a nice but tricky walk on a very rocky coastline, but it was definitely worth it.

The waterfall had three pools that were nice and refreshing. Plus, the view was amazing on both sides. Waterfall on one side, ocean on the other!

Now time to sit on beach, have a drink, and think about dinner. We will then hang at the Sheridan resort to use their wifi and have drinks before going back to our rustic lodge.

We will need to be up early in the morning to start our trip to El Nido, which Dax says is way more beautiful than here! I can't wait to see it!

First Day in Palawan

We left our sweet team members in Cebu at 7:30 for the airport to head to Palawan.
We had an hour flight to Puerto Princesa, where we met our tour guide Dax and our driver Art.

We took a drive to Sabang stopping at several locations to see sights and visit local scene. The country side is absolutely beautiful and more like what I thought Philippines would look like! Lush, gorgeous landscape, and lots of beautiful sites. Not the city that we have been in!

We spent time visiting a few local places, checked into our very rustic lodge, and headed to lunch in town. After lunch we were scheduled for the subterranean river.

The boat ride out was absolutely beautiful
and it river area was so absolutely gorgeous! The boats were great out on the water! The river and cave was neat, but our tour guide made it a lot of fun! He had a great sense of humor, and made the tour enjoyable!

The only thing that I didn't like were the monkeys. One started running after me hissing and would not leave me alone!
I had this vision of getting attacked and bitten and spending a week in the hospital getting rabies shots! Not ok with me!

After the river and cave, we went on a short hike to check out a zip line and to go to a private beach to swim! The water was warm and soft! It felt amazing!

After the beach we took the coastline back to hotel to get ready for dinner! We ate at Green Verda, and had a great chicken curry dish! Lovely meal!!!

Afterwards, drinks at hotel to use wifi and hang out just in time to get back to hotel before electricity is shut off at 11:00. Very rustic hotel, but love it!!

Tomorrow is going to be a full day, so gonna rest up for it!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Last Surgical Day!

The Operating Rooms are being packed up, medical records are separating charts, and post-op. has a new batch of children all with beautiful new lips.

It is bitter sweet to be ending today! I am exhausted, but have gotten really close to a handful of patients. It makes me sad to know there are some we could not operate on for a variety of reasons, and that some had to be turned away for others!

This mission has been exceptional, from all angles. We screened 242 patients, and did 185 surgeries in 4 1/2 days. That is 185 lives changed with surgery, and hopefully more by receiving other medical services.

Our team of international and local volunteers have all been incredible to work with! They are all so very patient, compassionate, and put the children and families first. I am going to miss my international friends! I only hope we can all stay in touch and see them again on a mission.

There were bumps in the road on this mission, and I have to admit I shed a few tears and got really mad! However, in the end the children were our reason for being here, and that is evident in what we accomplished.

I wanted and needed to do something meaningful! Something that would recharge my battery, because we all get complacent in our jobs no matter what we do! I needed to be reminded that meaningful does not always have to be something like going to another country on a medical mission, which is truly amazing, but it can come from a simple smile or validation of feelings for those who really need it!

I hope I can use this reminder in my own life at home and don't allow myself to get so caught up that I feel like making a difference cannot be done on a daily basis!

Being here has reminded me of who I am, how I want to feel daily even at my own
job, and has given me something back that has felt absent in my life!

I am truly humbled by the people of the Philippines, their hospitality, trust, and gratitude. They are amazing people who enjoy life for the opportunities it provides them.

I am off to the second leg of the journey tomorrow, and hope that it will be as inspiring as the mission has been!

Highlights for today:

My buddy Frank went home! I hope he emails me! See picture of me and Frank below! He is 13 and is such a sweet kid!
Ciriaco went home as well today! His letter is still in my bag! Sweet young man!
Surgeries were over by 1:30 but stayed to help until 4:00, so little early day!
Grisha finally chatted with me- this was one if my goals this week! He is so shy you can hardly get anything out of him! Really nice, and has come to talk more now!
Beautiful lips out of O.R. today! Families so happy!
Hanging out tonight!!! No Function to go to!!