07 October 2009

The Wind Began To Switch! The House, To Pitch! - Surviving Typhoon Parma

SK - Hurricane Ninja all up in your bidness.

Growing up in severe-storm free Vancouver it was with a dull horror that I would watch news reports of hurricanes and tornadoes ripping across the American trailer-belt, uprooting trees and slackjawed locals alike. Sure, Vancouverites live with the abstract threat of the "Big One", a catastrophic earthquake that has threatened to plunge us right into the chasm of the Juan de Fuca faultline since before my birth but at least, I reasoned, that would be a quick one time thing rather than this endless yearly cycle of catastrophe.

"Why don't they move?" I would ask any adult nearby, but I no matter who I asked I never got a satisfactory answer.

"Well, it takes money to move, and a lot of people can't afford that."
"But doesn't the annual "Act of God" cost these people even more money, year after year?"
"Well, they have roots there – families, friends...."
"But wouldn't their families and friends all like to all remain alive with their posessions unscathed?"
It has never made much sense to me.

Which is why it is sheer irony that I now find myself in a Category 5 Typhoon (which, I discovered, is pretty much just a hurricane) trapped indoors with no power and no real hope of leaving for a few days.

It all started in the crazy days after the first major typhoon, Ketsana, finished wreaking its ugly havoc on Manila. We tried to continue our plan of trekking in the North – but the major bus stations were all under a few feet of water – our only choice was to fly. We thought briefly about heading South but the flights were booked solid for days – we chose to fly North to Laoag, 2 hours from Vigan.

This was originally a good plan – we would spend a few nights in Vigan and then continue on to Baguio, Sagada and Banaue – after about a week we would then fly back down to the South and enjoy the beaches, Chocolate Hills and tarsiers of Bohol. The first few days in Vigan were great – we wandered the cobblestone streets, took a kalesa (horse'n'buggy) ride and visited the UNESCO site of Santa Maria church one hour away. Our hotel, the famed Villa Angela (yes, Tom Cruise and Willem Dafoe stayed here filming Born on The Fourth of July, we know. Stop telling us) was a lovely splurge - and it was there that we heard about Typhoon Parma.

Another one. Another effing typhoon just days after the devastating Ketsana. It was tracking to head North on the other side of the Philippines – the opposite coast. We knew that no matter where we were we would still feel the rain – we thought about trying to head South immediately but were worried about getting caught on a night bus if the storm reared its head. We decided to stay put, unsure of how bad it would get.

But then boredom set in, and nothing kept happening. Sunny skies, a few light rain drops here and there – we decided to head 3 hours North to the beautiful "Boracay of the North" – Pagudpud. We reasoned that being near the coast could have its advantages, as there was no way we could get trapped in a flood this way. Besides, there were no warnings for this area in specific – we reckoned that we might just get a lot of rain but otherwise be able to relax and enjoy.

Anderson's just out of the frame...

Do you ever wish more than anything that you could go back to yourself of three days ago and shake your head sternly and just say "No" really firmly? I do.

We really should have done whatever it took to get to Manila, and then onto the South, because now we are trapped in this "resort" (some concrete buildings set in a yard scattered with trash and some yes – slackjawed locals – looking at us strangely when we ask for candles) with no power. Our windows are spackled with plant bits and debris keeps flying by. The restaurant and hallways are all open air so we cannot leave our room, and we have to shove towels under the door to prevent the stream of water outside from getting in.

Outside the rain is blowing sideways – I keep expecting to see Anderson Cooper in a yellow slicker row by the window in a boat. The sound is unlike any I have ever heard – catterwauling, holwing wind and stacatto snare drum rain mixed with moaning creaking metal. The palm trees outside have been stripped bare of their coconuts and threaten to topple. The wind is pushing the waves back – and I didn't even know that that was possible. Everything is just howling scary weather and though we are safe I do find myself on the edge of getting terrified at times. I keep thinking about the people who live in small huts who must be losing everything they own right now.

This is a very real reminder of the ugly reality of global warming – easy to ignore until you are trapped like a mouse by a big scary cat-storm. The moment that it is safe to do so – the very second – we are hiring a driver to take us to Laoag where we will stay in hotel with indoor hallways and plan on how to get South to the sun and beach as soon as we can. I wish with my whole heart that we had done so days ago.

And I guess it really has given me a whole new respect for all of those people in the States who live in the "hurricane zone" and ""tornado alley" because.......oh who am I kidding: MOVE! Get the hell out of there! This is awful! Why would you choose this? Skedaddle!

Once is enough for me, thanks.

(*2 days later we were able to leave Pagudpud and finally watch the news - the storm had veered and yes, hit us directly.

We left on a bus back to Laoag (2 hours South) and halfway through the trip had to alight and walk for an hour in knee deep water across a washed out bridge. The rush of the floodwater was fierce and I would have lost my footing and been swept away had it not been for the amazing group of guys that literally held my hands and escorted me across - even running to fetch my flip-flop when it was sucked off of my foot. The made sure that S and I - completely soaked to the bone, bags included - made it to the waiting jeepney on the other side. That night our flight back to Manila was cancelled - we barely made it out of there. Nature scares me. We were so lucky - many others weren't. Donate here.)

Filipino Typhoon Fashion Statement (Note - the poncho photos were actually taken in Vietnam - there was no time for that in the typhoon!)


Sproglet said...


Is the bad weather still following you around? I'm loving the purple poncho dahling!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Sproglet, the purple poncho is Classic! and this is a very good post! Your style of writing is so intimate without being overly self conscious or indulgent.

I feel connected and involved in the vignettes you share with us and your travels are truly AWE inspiring. You are actually doing what we all dream of doing...or having done. Truly AWESOME!
Thank you for sharing this with us.