Summer Dreams 2014

coming soon

Granada Nicaragua

In Search or the Perfect Ceviche and other adventures out soon in my TravelOkcity column, Leisure+Adventure Magazine, and here.

Marshall Islands

Got Wasabi? (A deep sea fishing adventure in the Marshall Islands)

Prairie Dog Town

Adventures in the city of Oklahoma and beyond in my travel column, TravelOkcity.

Hefner Lake Park

Adventures in the city of Oklahoma and beyond in my travel column, TravelOkcity.

Huahin, Thailand

The warm hospitality of a boutique hotel in the beach resort town of royalty in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Museo De La Salle: Echoes from the Sound of the Past (Dasmariñas, Cavite, Philippines)

Travel the path back to the past, viajera.

Published by Rektikano Magazine, 2009

At the heart of Dasmariñas, Cavite there lies a rip in the space-time continuum where one can slip through and return to the 19th century to relive the golden days of opulence and romantic decorum. The portal to the past is a set of heavy double doors, the arched Puerto mayor, where carriages and carrozas used to pass through.

Cobbled streets lead to days of old.

These doors open to the Museo De La Salle inside the campus of De La Salle University- Dasmariñas. In itself a world within a world, an oasis of escape from the madness of the metro, De La Salle University-Dasmariñas is characterized by buildings of Spanish colonial architecture and quarried stone-paved roads shaded by tree canopies. In the midst of dark greenery, the past is encapsulated in a two-storey building of stone, brick, and mortar, inspired by the 19th century bahay na bato (house of stone). Envisioned by the late Br. Andrew Gonzalez, FSC, former DLSU president, Museo De La Salle serves as an educational museum reflecting the vanished illustrado lifestyle of the olden days.

Looking out to a bright future from a safe place in the past.

The Museo is patterned after some of the best examples of the bahay na bato in the country including the ancestral homes of the Constantinos in Bulacan, the Arnedo-Gonzalez family, and the Santos Joven-Panlilio clan in Pampanga. The lifestyle museum is made alive by heirlooms and antique pieces such as furniture, decorative objects, fine and applied arts, as well as baubles and bibelots loaned by the same families that own the houses which inspire the museum.

Mirror, mirror by the wash, where's the faucet and the trash?

Some parts of the replica house were salvaged from the spoils of Pinatubo. The Panlilio ancestral home in Bacolor, Pampanga was buried deep in lahar after the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption. After the dust had settled, the family treasures were dug up and entrusted to the institution of La Salle who guaranteed their stewardship. For instance, the magnificent hardwood staircase that leads to the second floor of the museum was dismantled piece by piece in the midst of the ashes and reassembled in its new home. Some of the tin ceiling panels, elaborately embossed and painted, were also acquired from the Panlilio home.  

Climbing up to the illustrado's high stature in the 19th century.

A young and eager guide leads visitors through the trip to the past, walking them through each room that offers an intimate peek into the extravagant lifestyle of the Spanish colonial era. Here, one may hear whispers of the past: of a giggling dalaga earnestly filling her diary on a beautiful carved dark wood desk. Here, a visitor may be offered a seat in one of the eighteen-seater dining table bedecked with 18k gold-lined plates - a gift from the Duke of Russia. Here, a tourist may sit on the one of the high chair windows to look at the burbling fountain below or watch the parada as the sound of the marching band travels all the way up to the second floor’s wood panel ventanillas.

Of course, these are all just imagined sounds and voices---ghosts of the past that still linger and give life to the empty mariposa chairs, a breeze that blows through the heavy draperies, bringing a tinkle to the draped crystals from the sconces. The harp on one side of the room and the piano on the other remain silent, yet the music lives on. It is the sound of romance and nostalgia to many, an echo of extravagance and pretension to some. In most houses,nobody knew how to play these instruments, yet they were acquired as status symbols. Like the piano and the harp, the stamp of pride is evident in every corner of each room. Wood carved wall brackets remind the family of where their wealth comes from, depicting a picture of a farmer or a musician.

The Museo is a living space illustrating the Philippine elite culture and lifestyle of days old.

History too lays a heavy hand on the design of these houses. Remnants of the war serve as accents or functional items all around the house from the ammunition shells used as door stops to the armorio (armour cabinet) used as pillow racks. Red and gold are predominant colors, a homage to the Spanish flag. Each room was carefully thought of, the design carried out through extensive research of the period between the early 1800s through the 1900s. The design details of the caida, sala mayor, despacho, cuartos, oratorio, comidor and cocina stay true to the aesthetics of the Spanish Colonial Periods, the Philippine art nouveau, and the early American Colonial Period. 

With DLSAA's Cesar De Larrazabal

Outside, the garden overlooks a man-made lake where one can listen to the trees retell secrets they witnessed as they stood providing shade for lovers in an embrace. They are lightheaded from taking in the fragrance of flowers and traditional turn-of-the-century botanical plants like champaca, cadena de amor, campanilla, dama de noche, and ilang-ilang. The scent is nostalgic and intoxicates the trespasser into believing that he has indeed walked back in time. When he heads home, he will still imagine the subtle fragrance of sampaguita exchanged between lovers and perhaps wonder if he did hear the teasing pluck of the silent harp.

The fountain and the surrounding sculptural works are executed by 19th century Philippine master carver-sculptor Isabelo Tampingco, an atelier from Quiapo

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Got Wasabi? (A Deep Sea Fishing Adventure in the Marshall Islands)

Published by Action and Fitness Magazine, 2008

It is a day I shall never forget. That fateful day, the sea was as dark as midnight under a mourning sky. The waves were angry and restless, ready to swallow anything that crossed it. It was the day when I conquered the strong creature of the sea. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. The strong creature was actually just a three feet long mahi-mahi. The weather wasn’t really that dark either, slightly overcast maybe, but writers should be excused for lyrical exaggeration.  This is the reason why we have classics like Moby Dick.

The fish that did not get away.

Although my deep sea fishing adventure is hardly a story of epic proportions, it is still an experience like no other. It’s right up there with scuba diving and dancing with the whirling dervishes (the latter, I have yet to do). Heading out to the Pacific Ocean in a dinghy is an adventure in itself, what with a pack of dolphins following our two-man fishing crew and hundreds of birds hovering low.

Paradise according to Kerry Young.
Surrounded by over 750,000 miles of tropical ocean, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) in Micronesia is the perfect place for sport fishing. The RMI sits under the pacific sun, north of Nauru and Kiribati. It can only be reached through an island hopper that goes from Manila, to Guam, Pohnpei, Kosrae, Kwajalein and finally to the RMI’s capital, Majuro.  

Made up of 29 low coral atolls, a total of 1,152 islands, the RMI is home to over 1,000 varieties of open-ocean, deep sea and reef fish.  The islands is also an excellent diving destination with clear visibility and an ocean bed that is home to several historically significant dive wrecks from WWII, including the USS Saratoga, the largest diveable wreck and the only diveable aircraft carrier in the world. 

Between May and October are the best times to go fishing when the winds and the sea conditions are most favorable. But that fateful day of April was the perfect day to get some sushi -  fresh ones. Apparently, locals clean their catch, slit them open, slice ‘em, dice ‘em, and gobble ‘em up, without soy sauce or wasabi, right at the marina.

Roi Rats show off their catch.

 I started the day with naive enthusiasm which quickly shifted to sheer fear as soon as the clear friendly waters turned to a menacing dark blue, lapping at our boat’s stern like greedy tongues.  The moment we crossed the pass that led from the lagoon to the open ocean, there was no turning back. A huge bird pile was waiting for us.

A bird pile is a frightening phenomenon to witness: it means sharks are around, and you're part of the food chain.

A bird pile is a phenomenon of hundreds of birds hovering low over the water, preying on a huge mass of fishes below.  Majestic fairy terns and frigate birds would patiently circle the pile, waiting for the right moment to dive in for the kill. These small fishes, thinking strength in numbers, would swim close to the surface and gather in a huge mass against a school of larger fishes preying on them. These big game - blue marlin, sailfish, ahi tuna, ono, mahi-mahi, barracuda, bonefish - abundant in the Marshall Islands – are our target.  The food chain does not end there. Preying on the larger fishes are the sharks.

Roi Namur is a private paradise that only the privileged can enter. (Kerry Young)

Deep sea fishing requires some speed, agility, physical strength, and patience. When I say patience, I don’t mean the ability to wait endlessly for a bite; I mean being patient enough to deal with a volatile fishing mate and a hundred and one things that can go wrong. Fishing the traditional Marshallese way (hand line fishing without the rods), we had a clumsy start as our line, wound in a big wheel, got tangled up. 

Cursing under his breath, my captain tried to loosen the knots. After an eternity of detangling, we attached our lures – custom rigged daisy chains that looked like dancing bulb squids with glittery neon costumes- fastened the lines on the cleats and cast our lines while our boat, a Boston Whaler, idled over choppy waters. It wasn’t the best idea as the carbon line snagged on the boat’s prop and got cut, leaving us to make do with one line left and a $70 lure floating out to the vast ocean. Losing it, my captain screamed out to the open sky, crying out obscenities to any sea creature that would bother to listen. That moment, I was more afraid of him than of the sharks lurking around. Apparently, the right thing to do was to get the boat moving while we cast our lines, so that they don’t get tangled on the prop. Fortunately, our second try was a success.

When the sun sets on Roi Namur (photo by Kerry Young).

Chasing one bird pile after the other, I held on dearly to the only line we had left, while my other hand grasped the boat tightly, afraid I would topple over and be forced off my seat on top of the food chain. 

Before long, I felt a strong tug. My shipmate caught on quick and squawked, “Fish on! Fish on!” Several meters behind the boat, I saw the dolphin fish breaking surface; its  electric green scales gleamed under the sun. 

“Hand over fist! Pull! Don’t let go!” barked the captain as the fish struggled to break free. There was no question that my 95lbs frame was no match against this feisty creature, but I was on my own with my over enthusiastic fishing buddy busy steering the boat away from the perimeter of the bird pile before the sharks caught on and swiped away our catch.

 After several intolerable minutes of pulling while trying to balance myself on the slippery floor, the line burning my skin through the holes of my gloves, I was able to haul the fish in. It didn’t stop fighting as it flopped around the floor, hoping to jump back into the water. It wasn’t named mahi-mahi (“strong-strong” in Hawaiian) for nothing. When we were finally able to hold it down with our hands and feet, it stared back at us with marble eyes, bulging with stubborn willfulness. It shook and struggled under our hands with the frown of a survivor, of one that would fight to the finish. 

Can't we just relax and have a mojito instead? (Kerry Young)

That day, we went home with two dolphin fish still fighting it out in our cooler of ice. We would have gone home with three big game but the second one, an ahi tuna, was swiped away by a shark. Serious anglers would often come home with huge pacific blue marlins, yellow fin tuna, onos, and barracudas.

Come take a ride with me.

 There was a record tournament of 719 lbs of one mean marlin. Someone once caught a 161 pound of tuna, and the biggest mahi-mahi caught on record in the islands is about 44 lbs. My prized catch was only around 20lbs. Not bad at all, I think,  for a cowardly beginner who only had one fishing line to work with and an angry captain as a mentor. It’s nice to know there’s a possible career waiting out there for me in the Pacific Ocean just in case this writing thing doesn’t pan out.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Cold Evening of Great Wines and Lyricism (Connecticut Wine Trail)

Published by AsianTraveler, World Tour Issue, 2009
Images by Gerard Azel Villanueva

Connecticut is not known for its wine, which is why this is such a sweet discovery!

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

The Robert Frost classic, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” was running through my head when we made our way across Brookfield. We drove north for three miles on frozen roads,   looking for that rich red potion that would give us some warmth on that cold day.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

I wouldn’t say it was the darkest evening of the year, but the gloom was palpable. The streets were absent of life; people stayed indoors to escape the cold, and even the trees, withered and leafless, had called it a night. The whiteness of the ice was a startling contrast to the brown earth and the gray mood that hung low in the air.  But even the snow wasn’t pristine. It was soiled and wet. The bitter drenched expanse before me called for some “frosty” lyricism.

I thought it apt as New Hampshire, where Frost wrote this poem, was just about a four-hour drive from the Connecticut Wine Trail. Its rolling hills and lush landscape, now brown and wet and dreary, must have been his inspiration when he composed the poem. I fancied the thought of him stopping around the corner of these hills wondering whose woods – or perhaps more appropriately, whose vineyards – these are.

The frozen vineyards of New England inspire nostalgic lyricism.

This was not the Connecticut that I had grown to love. Springtime, this New England town conjures fairytale images, where deers dart through bushes and burbling brooks wind around orange-leafed trees. In contrast to the unforgiving weather that day, the Connecticut climate is surprisingly mild, and its agricultural lands are perfect for grape-growing. Its twenty vineyards grow Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling, Seval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Cayuga, Saint Croix, Vignoles, and Foch. Connecticut's wineries produce a wide variety of wines including dry, barrel-fermented Chardonnays, Cabernet Francs, Dry Rieslings, and Seyval Blanc. The Connecticut Wine Trail also offers fruitier and sweeter varieties and late harvests like Vidals and Vignoles. Other vineyards produce sparkling wines, ciders, and wines made from fruits like pears, apples, peaches, raspberries, and blueberries.

Mr. Frost was the perfect company on that cold cold day.

In 1978, commercial wineries were permitted in the area with the passing of the Connecticut Winery Act. About ten years later in 1988, the Connecticut Wine Trail was established. Another decade after, on this chilly day of 2009, we found ourselves on the western part of the trail, making our way along Sandy Hook, a  historical town lined with New England Colonial homes shaded by ancient oaks and maples.

This vineyard is also a year-round farm dedicated to the production of quality wines and maple syrup.

We drove in silence, lost in our own thoughts, listening to the sound the tires made on iced gravel. Soon we came upon high sloping hills. In the middle of 45 acres of  vineyards sat a bungalow-style tasting room that looked more like a home than a winery. It had a quaint arbor patio, surrounded by what looked like a well-tended garden that was currently in hibernation. Withered shrubs and vines weaved through a trellis over the slick deck. A weathered red-painted board said “Digracia Vineyards, Winery.” 

Outside, Connecticut was unusually cold and uninviting.

Rain started to fall in icy pin-like splatters, and we quickly sought shelter inside the dimly lit tasting room. Inside, soft lights bounced on jewel-colored bottles, illuminating the cozy quarters. Behind the bar, an elderly man nodded as we surveyed the well-stocked shelves, displaying the 17 varieties ranging from dry to sweet made from estate-grown grapes, local fruit, and honey.

My companion placed a crumpled five-dollar bill on the bar, and a female attendant prepared for the tasting.  She poured a white desert wine in a glass. I raised it to watch the lights streaming in through a stained-glass window. The lights sparkled in the golden-tinged Vidal Blanc. Aptly, the Vidal Blanc is named Yankee Frost because the grapes are harvested during a frosty morning in October in the tradition of an ice wine. 

At Digrazia Vineyards, wines offered range from dry to sweet, using estate grown grapes,
local fruit and honey.

The sweet fortified wine exploded in a complex of flavors in my mouth: intensely fruity, a hint of citrus, notes of berries, and a long finish. The white- haired man smiled. He must have known what was going on in my head and in my mouth.

We had five more varieties to try, but I was already light-headed when I smiled back at the old man. As Anastasia’s Blush was poured into my glass, our elderly host excused himself. That was the Doctor Paul Digrazia himself, the female pourer revealed. A pinkish glow grew on my cheeks as I savored the full-flavored blush.

Mclaughlin’s Vista Reposa is a smooth blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet
Sauvignon and a little bit of Cabernet Franc, while the Chardonnay is soft
and not overly oaked.

After the 6th variety, the medium-dry Vidal Blanc, my cheeks turned hot.  I didn’t want to leave the warmth of the quaint tasting room for the sodden world outside, but the trail was long and we had another vineyard to visit.

We headed back to Sandy Hook towards Albert’s Hill.  Dusk was starting to settle, and the roads were still deserted, calling for more lyrical musings.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

There was no downy flake, only an occasional splatter of rain that turned the mounds of snow into mush. From Albert Hill’s Road, we took a right turn, and after a few minutes of driving through brown rows of soil bordered by white snow, the McLaughlin Vineyards came to view. It was a 19th century barn nested on a low hill, surrounded by bald maple trees. The winery overlooked the sprawling frozen vineyard – 160 acres right at the heart of the Housatonic River.

We stepped inside the bright winery and browsed through the country store. Aside from the wines, there were several baskets of maple syrup in white jugs. The syrup is harvested from the sugar maple trees around the vineyard and bottled in Mclaughlin’s sugar house. I dipped a small piece of bread into the amber-colored syrup and grew a little nervous. Perhaps it was the few glasses of wine I had at the first vineyard, but I was afraid I wouldn’t leave the maple syrup station until I polished off all the bread in the plate, and the owner would drive me out. Before that happened, I forced myself to move on to the next station where I found a handcrafted wooden basket filled with breakfast goodies. Resting on a bed of hay was a New England buttermilk pancake mix, a pint of maple syrup, jars of raspberry peach jam, whole-bean coffee, and one of Mclaughlin’s specially blended teas.

Homemade goodness are bottled to take home as presents.

Looking at the burlap ribbon tied around the basket, I longed to stay for breakfast, but it wasn’t what we were there for. Moving to the tasting bar, I saw a glimpse of the outside through a window. Raindrops gathered in a pool on the lid of a barrel, creating a mirror that reflected the gray world. It was too cold. I was ready for another glass.

McLaughlin’s most popular red was smooth and dry with subtle notes of cherry. The merlot finished with a slight bite. After a taste of the maple syrup, I pined for something sweet, so the attendant brought out the Snow Goose. She explained that the winter white wine is usually harvested during the first frost. I toasted the occasion to the poet that inspired this adventure, inhaled the fruity bouquet, and savored the dry and light sweetness in my mouth.

There are eight more vineyards on the west side of the trail, but it was getting dark, and my head was blissfully swimming with all the wine I took in. The darkness waited outside.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Making Waves with Dragon Boat Rowing (Manila Bay, Philippines)

Published by Speed Magazine, 2004
Images of the Philippine team by Ray Soberano

It took me three weeks to muster the will to get up by 4am. When I was told that practices start at 530am weekends, I knew I was in trouble. It would mean getting up by 3am which was a problem because around that time, I would just be saying my bedtime prayers. But miracle of miracles by 529am, I was at the Manila Bay area where the dragon boats were docked. 

Complaining to one of the rowers for waking me up at such an ungodly hour.

Before six, the members of the amateur team Rowers Club Philippines (RCP) lined up by the bay for the warm up exercises. Unfortunately, that included me. For half an hour, my complaining limbs were treated to stretches, crunches and jogging rounds to prevent possible sprain or muscle pulls. For the hardcores, push ups, sit ups and pull ups kept them fit.  Thirty minutes to an hour of stretching and warm ups strengthens and balances the muscle development. This is necessary because rowing demands much from the body’s upper part. This means the arms, shoulders, lower back and the abs usually get developed in the sport.

Mag exercise tayo tuwing umaga, tuwing umaga. Upang ang katawan natin ay sumigla!

Then and now

Rowing is a good work out, a recreational sport, a challenging and stimulating endeavor, a competitive pursuit, a chance to commune with nature, and an opportunity to conquer the elements all in one. It’s a past time that’s easy to get into, yet in spite of the many benefits it hasn’t quite caught up yet like pearl shakes and badminton (author’s note: this was published a few years back when the aforementioned were the big things back then).

Dating back to 4th century B.C., dragon boat rowing is still as alien as most water sports in this country. The sleek colorful boats originated in China where a patriot threw himself in a river out of frustration with his country’s political situation then. If Qu Yuan didn’t do it then, a Filipino would surely have done it here with our constantly worsening political condition, and the credit for the inventing the sport would have been ours. But I digress; China had it worse then and took the credit. Fishermen rowed to the rescue, making noise and waves with their paddles and drums to distract the fish and water dragons.

Gingerly, we stepped into the boat, afraid of falling into the polluted water.

Today, dragon boat rowing, also known as traditional boat rowing, is governed by the Philippine Dragon Boat Federation (PDBF) in the country. Three groups keep the Manila Bay traffic busy: the amateur group, the military group, and the national team. The national team is the head delegate who participates in international competitions.  Those who are in it for the recreation and the breath of not-too-fresh bay air, would best stick to the amateur teams. 

Gearing up

Slather up the sun block, and put on your wet gear, and you’re ready to go. But if you mean serious rowing, suiting in full gear wont be a bad idea either. Lycra suits are advisable because they dry easily, are lightweight and snug. Some suits are designed to reduce body temperatures when the sun is high up and burning and act as lightweight thermal protection in cold conditions. Rowers suggest garments 20% lighter than polyester and treated with hydrophilic finish like Sub Zero, Speedo and RS. A hydrophilic finish pulls the moisture away from the skin and disperses it for quick evaporation. Too technical for you? Pull on a sleeveless shirt and you’re ready to go. Snug fitting sleeves and leggings also help protect the extremities.

Proud to be part of the team even if it's just for the day.

Foot gears are aqua shoes or waterproof sandals. To prevent chafing your leg positioned against the side of the boat, it’s a good idea to don a knee pad. Knee pads are also useful during standing positions. Close fitting gloves with grip dots offer the palms extra gripping power and protection from chaffing.

The salty waters of Manila Bay can be cruel to the eyes (who knows what sort of breathing mysteries lurk in there). Rowers suggest aquatic sports goggles as protection from water stings and harsh sunlight.  Hydrophobic lenses are water repellant and resist fogging. Brands to look for are Rudy Project and Aqua Sphere. Sunglasses won’t prevent water from seeping in your eyes as well as goggles, but if you refuse to look like a goldfish out of water,  choose the wrap around, water proof  and lightweight designs from Oakley and Dragon. 

Once you’re suited up in style, it’s time to choose your paddle. Paddle designs differ and are usually custom made. Most come in lightweight strong wood like Yakal. The more advanced rowers prefer aluminum paddles. Some use a combination of aluminum shafting and wooden blades. Aluminum is half as light as wood and therefore lessens the effort and strain on the lifting arm but at the same time provides greater pull. Others attach fiber glass fins for added power. Fins also prevent the paddle from wobbling.

Almost a sacred ritual: Rowers from St. Paul's, Concord carefully put their boat to rest.

Then comes the dragon boat. If you’re rowing in this country, there won’t be much of a choice. There’s the long boat and the short boat. The long boat, usually designed in China, seats 20. The short boat seats ten. They’re commonly used in international races but since we only have two docked at the bay, they’re rarely used. Imported and expensive, boats can only be rented from the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).

Ready, row!

When you're dragging the team behind, wear a pink cap to cover up and save face.

The beauty about being a beginner in this sport is that you can join in on the fun without basic training. “You don’t need skills to join rowing because it’s developed in training. All you need is self discipline, will, and thrill,” shared Cris Reyes, RCP Team Captain.

On the first day, the beginners, which included yours truly, were positioned at the end side of the boat before the steersman. This is the perfect place for us where we could cause as little trouble as possible. A crew usually consists of 18 paddlers, 1 signal man and 1 steersman. That drizzling Saturday, there were less than 20 of us who braved the cold water sprays.

The signal man, also the team captain, ordered us “ready” which simply meant bending forward and positioning the paddle to an inclined position with the tip almost touching the water. I wrestled with the 4-foot paddle but before I got comfortable, the team captain hollered “row!” I sliced my paddle into the water and paddled like crazy while trying to synchronize with the rest of the team.

                                    A seamlessly synchronized team is like a well oiled machine working to perfection.                                            Image captured by Ray Soberano.

Synchronization is key, other wise, your paddle would be drumming with the paddles of the rowers in front of you and behind you. This could be annoying especially to your neighbors whose momentum could get thrown out of whack every time you made contact. All I could do was muster a weak apology and struggle to join the beat. I knew I was a beat behind because I could feel the tension on my arms and the pull was difficult. Where were the drums?

Will and thrill

I was busy trying to be in sync, that I didn’t notice we were moving smoothly away from the dock and in the middle of Manila Bay. Soon as I became aware of my surroundings, I took in the sights. In spite of the unfriendly weather, the water behaved and lay flat on the earth’s belly. This was an ideal condition for the rowers. Even the white washed yachts were sleeping. The water’s mercury like consistency were disturbed only by passing long boats and signal men bellowing commands. Occasionally, the elite group, as the rowing kindred would call the navy, the marines or the national team, would speed by.  Almost identical in their black jerseys, crew cuts, and huge brown biceps, they moved smoothly not as a team of twenty but as one entity like a sea serpent. I breathed in the sea air from our long boat and thought, waking up at 430 am was well worth the sacrifice if only for this quiet thrill.

Once a good stretch away from the dock, the trainer spent a few minutes on briefing and the mandatory pep talk to clue in the newbies. Whether for recreational or competitive levels, basic training set up is the same. The paddler should have a good starting point with a proper grip on the paddle. If you’re on the starboard side (right side) the left hand is used to grip the tee  and the right gripping the shaft a hand away from the neck. Simply switch if you’re on the port side. Giving distance from the blade allows you more power on your pull. 

Rowers Club Philippines Men's Team

Contrary to how it looks, rowing is not merely an arm sport. It requires cooperation from the whole body, particularly from the upper torso with strong support from the lower part of the body. The power of the pull does not come from the arms alone. The paddler should bend from the waist on every stroke and pull up bringing the arms along. Thus, the arms are not strained and every bend and lift becomes one fluid motion.

The next starting point is the proper sitting position. Legs should anchor the body either with both legs stretched or one leg folded. The idea is to find the side you’re most comfortable with.

Different Strokes

After everyone sat side by side in two rows, the signal man then ordered “ready.” So much for sight seeing as the team captain yelled “row” and we paddled further away from the dock. From light rowing, the pace is usually switched to long strokes then powerful long strokes then to hard strokes. Light paddling is at least one stroke per second without load. Long or normal stroke is one stroke per second with load on the paddles and arms stretched to maximum reach. Hard strokes are at least two strokes per second with quick entry and paddle drive. During competitions, races are usually started with hard strokes. The pace is then switched with power long to long strokes in the middle of the race. The finish line is reached through power and hard strokes.

Had the privilege to watch my nephew compete as a coxswain in New Hampshire.
The coxswain can also be the team captain of the team.

On my initiation, we slid across at 2 meters/sec on normal strokes. After a few minutes of leisurely paddling, the intensity of the game was increased a notch as the signal man ordered “long strokes.” The speed was then increased from an easy 3 meters/sec to 4 meters/sec as we rowed with hard strokes while our heartbeats increased and sweat washed away the crystallizing salt on our burning arms.

Once I got the hang of it, I began to lose my individuality. But it was a happy surrender. Suddenly the boat, my paddle, the team and I were one body working as different parts to achieve a common goal. For an instant too, I felt like the water and the wind were working with me. The offensive elements of Manila Bay didn’t seem so pungent anymore. I didn’t mind the rank smelling water washing my face. Occasionally salty water would sting my eyes, but I simply kept them closed and rowed and breathed as one with the rest of the team.