Philippines


The Philippines is a land of contrasts. An archipelago of more than 7,100 islands with almost 100 million inhabitants, it is the most Hispanic nation in Asia but a place all its own. From shades of Spanish culture, Roman Catholicism and Islam, American-style malls and fast food, and its very name in honor of King Philip II of Spain, the country has long been shaped by foreign influences. Combined with its indigenous heritage, the Philippines has become a nation diverse and unique. From the millions of Filipinos who work hard around the world to provide for their families back home to the tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) that devastated the central part of the country in November 2013, the Philippines is a land filled with resilience and hope. Poverty and an increasing sense that life is getting better for most. Beauty and bad traffic. Gorgeous volcanoes that wipe out cities and villages. Delicious food cheap and fattening. Warm and friendly people who live life and make the best of what may come, for better or for worse. If you have the chance to visit the Philippines, take it. But don’t simply head to a beach resort for scuba diving and a tan. Hop in a Jeepney and go off the beaten path. You’ll never know what you’ll find in this incredible archipelago.

More About the Philippines

A View of Taal Lake and Volcano Island in Tagaytay

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Sunset over Manila Bay

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Entrance Gate of Fort Santiago in Intramuros, Manila

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Kilometer Marker 21 of the Bataan Death March and Mt. Samet on the Bataan Peninsula

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Bataan Death March, Philippines (Video)


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During my 2014 trip to the Philippines, I retraced the route of the infamous Bataan Death March on the Bataan Peninsula on Luzon Island north of Manila. It was fortuitous that I followed the route on the 72nd anniversary of the March.

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After the surrender of the U.S.-Filipino Bataan Defense Force during World War II to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, thousands of American and Filipino prisoners were force marched 102 kilometers from Mariveles and Bagac on the Bataan Peninsula to San Fernando in Pampanga. An estimated 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war endured the seven-day Bataan Death March. Those who made it to San Fernando on April 17, 1942, were loaded onto train cars by the hundreds and transferred by rail to the concentration camp at Camp O’Donell. Approximately 2,500-10,000 Filipino and 100-650 American prisoners of war died  from execution, exhaustion, injury, thirst, malaria, and other causes along the way. Survivors were held prisoner until Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II in September 1945.

This video footage shows what the route of the Bataan Death March looks like today.

Route of the Bataan Death March, Philippines

No longer a dirt trail, much of it is now the Bataan Provincial Expressway. It begins at Zero Kilometer Death March Marker (Km 00) Memorial in Mariveles. A second route from Bagac, a district in the interior of Bataan Peninsula where thousands more prisoners were forced marched, merges with the Mariveles branch at Kilometer 23. The highway continues north to San Fernando with dozens of markers and memorials along the way.

Bataan Death March Route

The video begins at Zero Kilometer and follows the Bataan Death March route from kilometer 4 to 13. The shaky cam from an air-conditioned vehicle doesn’t convey what prisoners of war endured during the March, but it will give you a sense of the challenges they faced en route.

2014_04_14 Philippines Bataan IMG_9467-1 

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Macau


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Macau is a place of contrasts. Macau, or Macao as it was better known when it was a Portuguese colony, is officially the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China. Like its many names, the SAR is filled with more people, culture, and history than its small size suggests. Sitting on just 29.5 square kilometers (11.39 sq. miles) of land, some of it reclaimed from the Pearl River Delta, Macau has a population of more than 600,000 with a density of more than 18,500 people per square kilometer (48,000 per square mile). Although crowded, its denseness does not seem so much from its small footprint as from its rich and colorful history. The former colony still retains much of its Portuguese and indigenous Cantonese character but has grown more Chinese since its return to China in 1999. As the country’s only destination for legalized gambling, a Portuguese legacy dating back to the 1850s, Macau has become a tourist draw with its growing array of gambling and Las Vegas-style entertainment and conference venues. Nestled amid the grand casinos are neighborhoods steeped in colonial and traditional Chinese heritage. Like its sister across the delta in Hong Kong, Macau is worth highlighting as a semi-autonomous region because of its unique character and heritage.

More About Macau

Ruin of St. Paul’s Cathedral

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Senado Square

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A Skyline View of Macau

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Taipu Village at Night

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Argentina


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From the Atlantic Ocean to the top of the Andes Mountains, Argentina is a bridge between the Old and New Worlds. Innately European but distinctly Latin American, the country is a melding of cultural influences brought by the Spaniards and western immigrants and a unique geographic backdrop that offers some of earth’s most stunning scenes. Renown Argentine writer Ernesto Sabato described his homeland thus: “Because of our European roots, we deeply link the nation with the enduring values of the Old World; because of our condition of Americans we link ourselves to the rest of the continent.” One cannot sit drinking a glass of Mendoza wine in the foothills of the Andes or enjoying parrilla (grill) in the shadow of the cruise ships bound for Antarctica departing from Tierra del Fuego without thinking of Europe and the Americas. Argentines are rightly proud of their country and culture that invite visitors to indulge in and savor.

More About Argentina

Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires

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Penguin and Seal Colony in the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego

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Llao Llao Resort and Nahuel Huapi Lake near San Carlos de Bariloche

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Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glacieres National Park

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Brazil


South America’s largest country defies easy description. From the Andes Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean and the Amazon River Basin to the steppes of the Mato Grasso and beyond, Brazil encompasses a staggering 43 percent of South America’s land mass. In addition to being the world’s fifth largest country by size, it is also one of the continent’s most diverse lands. Brazil is a cultural amalgamation of indigenous roots and western influences. The former Portuguese colony has developed a unique culture shaped by native tribes and thousands of immigrants from Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere.  One of the world’s most important emerging markets with a dynamic, growing economy, Brazil has taken center stage in the sporting world as host of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. A short visit will only give you a taste of what this amazing place has to offer and leave you thirsting for more of its unique vibe.

More About Brazil

2008_07_17 Brazil Amazon River

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2008_01_19 Brazil Iguazu

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Cross-posted from MGEdwards.com. Visit MGEdwards for more great travelogues, photos, and video from around the world.

The Amazon Indigenous


This is the final article in a series about the Amazon region of Brazil featured in my illustrated picture book, Alexander the Salamander. This post is about the indigenous peoples and culture of the Amazon. Previous ones highlighted the Amazon River, the Meeting of the Waters, the rainforest, the city of Manaus, Amazon Ecopark, piranhas, and a monkey reserve. Enjoy these travelogues with photos and stories from one of the world’s mightiest rivers.

During our trip to the Amazon in July 2008, we took a daytrip to a small indigenous village near the Rio Negro. Built to attract tourists, the village was quite idyllic, and its inhabitants performed dances and sold handicrafts to visitors who wanted to experience local indigenous culture.

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Our guide told me that the villagers belonged to the Baniwa indigenous group who had migrated from their original home upriver to this place in order to earn a better livelihood. Other members of the tribal group still living near the Brazil-Colombian border received financial support from them. According to Brazil’s Instituto Socioambiental, an estimated 15,200 Baniwa reside in the tri-border area of Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. Many reportedly live in poor conditions and are subjected to human rights abuses such as encroachment on their land by illegal loggers and poachers.

We disembarked from our tour boat and walked among wood and thatched-roof buildings to a large hall. We sat down on benches lining the hall and waited for the Baniwa performance to begin. Ten youths, five women and five men, performed songs and dance in ceremonial dress. The men played upbeat melodies on large wood flutes and pipes and chanted skyward as the women danced with them. Nothing represented the spirit of harmony between the indigenous and the rainforest to me more than their haunting songs that still echo in my mind.

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As the dance grew livelier and less somber, the men pulled spectators from the audience and invited them to perform. My wife joined in. She tried to play the flute but was too preoccupied trying to dance! I opted out but took a photo afterwards with some of the performers. The lead performer made my son an honorary Baniwa, adorning him with a headdress and ceremonial stick.

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After the performance, we were ushered to the souvenir shop, where my son tested a dart gun and we browsed the handmade art. We made sure that we were allowed to buy and export the souvenirs we bought.

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Our son really enjoyed the visit, especially when our guide painted his face with berry juice. I’m glad he had the chance to experience a unique culture he might never have if we hadn’t visited the Amazon.

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About Indigenous Peoples

Some international organizations and human rights groups have questioned the humanity of tourist attractions involving the indigenous and suggested that they are exploitative. As someone who has worked with the indigenous and documented indigenous issues, I support efforts to promote indigenous rights and applaud the efforts of governments, human rights organizations, and indigenous groups to improve their living conditions. I also favor allowing indigenous groups to support themselves legally as they wish. If they freely, without exploitation or prejudice by outside influence, determine that it is in their best interest to develop tourist attractions that showcase their cultures, they should be legally permitted to do so. It not only brings in much-needed revenue but promotes greater understanding of and preservation of indigenous cultures.

Click here to read about the Kayan-Lahwi (Karen or “Long-Neck” people) of Thailand and Burma

Click here to read about the Akha of Thailand and Burma

Click here to read about the Guaraní and Exnet of Paraguay

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More About the Amazon

Click here to read about Manaus, Brazil.

Click here to read about piranhas, a well-known fish native to the Amazon.

Click here to read about the Amazon River.

Click here to read about the Amazon EcoPark Jungle Lodge.

Click here to read about an Amazon monkey reserve.

Click here to read about the Meeting of the Waters in the Amazon.

Click here to read about the Amazon rainforest.

 

About Alexander the Salamander

clip_image0023A young salamander named Alexander living in the Amazon River Basin joins his friends Airey the Butterfly and Terry the Tarantula for an unforgettable jungle adventure. Come along with Alexander and friends as they meet birds, monkeys, and other creatures, enjoy the beauty of the rainforest, and face danger along the way.

The first book in the World Adventurers for Kids Series, Alexander the Salamander is an illustrated story inspired by the authors’ visit to the Amazon in 2008. Fun for kids and adults alike, the story teaches children the importance of listening to teachers and other authority figures.

M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories and Alexander the Salamander, a children’s story set in the Amazon. His books are available to purchase as an e-book and in print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Amazon Nature Walk


This is the seventh article in a series about the Amazon region of Brazil featured in my illustrated picture book, Alexander the Salamander. This post is about a nature walk in the Amazon. Previous ones highlighted the Amazon River, the Meeting of the Waters, the city of Manaus, Amazon Ecopark, piranhas, and a monkey reserve. The next and final article will focus on the Amazon’s indigenous groups. Enjoy these travelogues with photos and stories from one of the world’s mightiest rivers.

During our visit to the Amazon region in July 2008, we took a long walk in the rainforest to explore under its canopy. The trained guides who led us through the jungle showed us a bevvy of interesting flora and fauna with so many useful properties that the walk was like exploring a natural laboratory. The promise and danger of this intriguing rainforest gave me a health respect for it. Our walk was a major inspiration for my children’s picture book, Alexander the Salamander, where Alexander and his friends get more than they bargained for when they wander too far into the Amazon rainforest.

As we walked, the guides demonstrated how some trees and plants produced a variety of compounds and substances that were poisonous, medicinal, flammable, or could be used or consumed by humans. Our guides showed us edible and poisonous fruit that looked startlingly similar to the untrained eye. They sampled sap from trees that could be used as a salve to treat wounds or as fuel for torches. One tree had bark that smelled like fragrant incense when burned. Another produced berries used in cosmetics. Years of exploration had uncovered many potential uses for the rainforest, convincing me that what we were seeing was just a glimpse of what this green realm offered.

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My son was awestruck handling a fiery sap-fueled stick while my wife tried on bright orange nail polish made from small round berries.

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Our guides showed us how a tree commonly known as the “telegraph” tree produced a loud echo that could be used to send coded messages over long distances. The forest’s acoustics easily beat any home theater system.

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They also pointed out parasitic vines and foliage that grew from or wrapped themselves around trees in a delicate dance where both grew dependent on one another.

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The guide pointed out some potential pitfalls, including plants with thorns sharper than needles and plants with poisonous or hallucinogenic properties capable of killing humans. We skirted a dark swamp hiding all sorts of nasties waiting for an unlucky trespasser. I was glad that we went with guides who knew how to avoid the Amazon’s pitfalls.

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The guides made the walk more fun by showing us how plants and trees could be used for leisure. My son, who fancied himself the king of this jungle, loved the crown and glasses one of the guides fashioned from palm fronds.

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My son and I both enjoyed swinging on a makeshift swing made from vines and sticks. The living vines were so strong that they easily bore my weight as I swung through the jungle like Tarzan!

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2008_07_08 Brazil Amazon Nature Walk (16)

Our tour of the Amazon rainforest taught us a healthy respect for this place filled with wonders yet to be discovered and unseen dangers lurking in dark corners.

2008_07_08 Brazil Amazon Nature Walk

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More About the Amazon

Click here to read about Manaus, Brazil.

Click here to read about piranhas, a well-known fish native to the Amazon.

Click here to read about the Amazon River.

Click here to read about the Amazon EcoPark Jungle Lodge.

Click here to read about an Amazon monkey reserve.

Click here to read about the Meeting of the Waters.

About Alexander the Salamander

clip_image0023[2]A young salamander named Alexander living in the Amazon River Basin joins his friends Airey the Butterfly and Terry the Tarantula for an unforgettable jungle adventure. Come along with Alexander and friends as they meet birds, monkeys, and other creatures, enjoy the beauty of the rainforest, and face danger along the way.

The first book in the World Adventurers for Kids Series, Alexander the Salamander is an illustrated story inspired by the authors’ visit to the Amazon in 2008. Fun for kids and adults alike, the story teaches children the importance of listening to teachers and other authority figures.

M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories and Alexander the Salamander, a children’s story set in the Amazon. His books are available to purchase as an e-book and in print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.