Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Marinduque - Brown Out Capital of the Philippines!

Although compared to the day on / day off regime during the worst of Marinduque's powercut spell we're living in a brightly lighted heaven now, that isn't to say that there are no powercuts any more ... we had no powercuts yesterday, 2 powercuts (of a couple of hours each) the day before, and there's no power at the moment, for at least 90 minutes now ..

Still, compared to Brazil, Marinduquenos are amateurs!

Brazil Powercuts

in today's news .. a dam providing 17,000 MW, about 20% of the total power in Brazil went offline. The whole of Paraguay (the dam is on the border between Brazil and Paraguay) went off too, though not for as long as Brazil ..

Our lovely Marinduque runs on a puny 7 MW of power .. even my homeland, Malta, which has 1/3 the land area of Marinduque and twice the population, has over 700MW of power generation capability.

I keep on thinking that they can't get it right because they really don't want to!

The current rumours are that though Napocor is, for better or for worse, providing power, there is still no agreement signed between Marelco and Napocor - Marelco seem very intent on flogging their dead horse, the agreement made in 2004 with 3i Powergen .. and meanwhile, the people live in poverty.. so sad!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Smartbro is faster 9 times out of 10 .. not in Gasan!

I saw this advert on TV this week, and after patiently suffering horrendously slow Smart Bro connections for the past few months, it seemed really funny ..

I haven't had the temerity to run a speedtest, however in Gasan Smart Bro runs over a 2G network, achieving a blinding 50 kilobits / second .. that's worse than my dialup modem back in the 1990s. Coupled with modern websites, it just doesn't work .. GMail doesn't load except in the 'lite' version, and even that takes me 10 mins to log in & check my email. Facebook? forget it! Given 15 minutes of time I can just about load the Google Analytics page to check traffic on this blog.

Are any of you readers in the forgotten areas of the Philippines suffering from the internet divide? (between the haves and the have nots, that is) ..

PLDT told me a while ago that they should be launching ADSL service in Gasan come December, as with everything else in Marinduque i'm adopting a 'won't believe until I see it' and avoiding raising false hopes. It would be so nice to be back online at home!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

IHI for 2 pesos, DUMI for 5 pesos .. roll up guys!

some Santa Cruz funniness .. this sign is near a public latrine, for the non-tagalog speakers, it reads 'Piss' and 'Shit', at 2 pesos and 5 pesos respectively ..

here's a jeepney coming up to Santa Cruz public market ..

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Our house in Gasan - building update..

At the moment work on the house seems to be progressing at a snail's pace - there's a lot being done, but finishing work is probably the most time-consuming work, and some jobs have been held up by miscalculations in materials, which must be shipped over from Lucena - a process which always takes a long time!

That said, the attic room is beginning to take shape - as the photos here show - the ceiling frame and panels are really complicated! Interior painting has been started too, and the bathroom tiling is mostly ready (though currently at a halt because the supplier in Lucena sent the wrong quantities of tiles).

We've had our well dug - it was quite a funny process - and very 'manual' in the filipino style - a pipe was given a pointed end, by cutting out sections with a hacksaw, beating it to a rough point, and welding the edges together. The area behind the tip was then made into a sort of rough filter, by punching holes through the pipe - not with a drill as one might expect, but by hammering a nail through the metal repeatedly! The pipe was then driven into the ground by force of lots of hammering and the occasional twist with a wrench. Incredibly water does come through, and at quite a good rate!

Also, last weekend a surveyor came over (he was meant to come the weekend before, but in the filipino idiom, didn't show up and switched off his mobile phone) and marked out the actual boundaries of the property, so now I can have a fence put up without borrowing bits of my neighbour's property..

Monday, November 2, 2009

An 'orchestral' brass band concert at Santa Cruz, Marinduque

Lately I have been missing my previous life in Europe - and what I really miss most is the cultural life - concerts, gigs, exhibitions of all sorts are always happening. Here in the Philippines, culture isn't a high priority, and once you're in Marinduque, that feeling is even more pronounced - you can't expect art galleries if there isn't even a cinema or a decent rock club! So, I was really surprised when my significant other told me she was invited to an orchestral concert last Friday, and doubly surprised when the concert turned out to be quite a decent and enjoyable event!

After a long drive we arrived at Santa Cruz - the concert was being held in a 'gym' there - it's probably the largest well lighted hall in the whole of Marinduque, so actually quite a good place. The concert was given by the Mogpog Brass Band (with 30 or more members, i'd say) led by their able conductor, together with a rock-band outfit - guitarist, bassist, keyboardist and drummer. The bass drum guy from the brass band sang vocals on some song, and there was a woman with a really lovely voice .. the names escape me, as I didn't manage to get a copy of the programme .. if you are reading, send an email and i'll update my article!

The first part of the concert was a series of filipino band marches (which to me sounded quite similar to each other ..) followed by a number of american band marches (more of the same, but with the occasional extra flourish). The real performance was the second half of the concert - where a number of popular songs were rendered by the bands, most times with the vocalists - the first one was Evanescence's 'My Immortal', but the style went from samba to 80's (with songs like 'Gold'), all very well rendered!

The ongoing typhoon put a major damper on the proceedings round 9pm, when (in typical Marinduque style) power went out - however the conductor wrapped up the concert by bravely playing one last song in the dark, using only a torch!

So, a very enjoyable evening, and a big bravo to all those involved!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Power in Marinduque for 2 days in a row!

marelco cartoons

Yesterday the guys at Marelco amazed the residents of Gasan/Boac by not shutting off power at the customary 5pm shutoff time .. it's 9.51am the day after now, and we still have power! Seems Napocor have installed their new generator on schedule, and are again supplying enough power for the whole island. I've even heard that some residents have become allergic to electric light after 6pm and are actually keeping the lights off :)

I think Marelco is direly in need of a change in top management - they have failed Marinduque badly, and I think it's high time the people responsible resign. The sensible solution seems to be to close once and for all the failed 3i Powergen contract, and maybe sue them for damages, and hand the power generation duties back to Napocor, who seem to want the contract, and definitely have the means to supply power. I'd go as far as saying that the island urgently needs new administration in general - it's a small place, and still the top brass seems very distant from the daily life and needs of Marinduqenos. Maybe some fresh candidate, with some experience as a CEO could turn the island around.

My voice has no weight though, best I can do is wait and see what happens!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blaze Brute 150 motorcycle review - Marinduque biking

blaze brute 150
blaze brute 150
blaze brute 150

Here's a little review of a motorbike I bought to get myself mobile. Here in Marinduque, a bike is probably the best form of personal transport - it's economical and the roads are reasonably safe - nobody really goes fast and there isn't too much traffic. After shopping around a bit, I almost bought a Kawasaki Wind 125, a nice bike at 59,000php but finally settled on a Blaze Brute 150 for a few reasons - firstly the cheaper price (hard bargaining got it down to 45,000php), bigger engine (same BHP but at lower revs than the Kawasaki), electric start, and generally nicer (ie. more retro) styling. The only obvious minus compared to the Kawasaki was having a drum brake and not a disc brake in the front, but that's not really a problem.

The first bike was returned to the agent very quickly - it had a leaky fuel tank - fill it up with petrol, and it goes pouring onto the engine, not very safe. The agents here, Starbike, are really nice guys. They replaced my first bike with a totally new one, and have been very helpful in fixing all the gremlins in the 2nd one .. When it comes to gremlins, Blaze is king! On their website Blaze proclaim themselves to be a filipino company, and it shows. The bike is really chinese, but may be assembled in the philippines. The basic design is OK, the assembly is .. uhmm ... lacking! The total list of faults on my 2nd bike were : faulty starter switch, headlamp at the wrong angle (making it very dangerous at night), a wonky fuel gauge that would let you run out of petrol while merrily showing more than half a tank, a rev counter that jumps from 6000rpm to 10000rpm without any major change in engine speed or road speed, and just about everything was loose. In Starbike's defence, they have rectified all these problems (except the one with the rev counter, I didn't mention that one, and I think that having a bike without at least one gremlin will make it not filipino enough .. and also I have a feeling that if I fix that one, something else will come up ..).

With the problems fixed, the bike is actually quite nice to ride. Compared to the Kawasaki it's NOISY .. and it vibrates a lot. This is partially due to the bike's design - it seems it was designed for tricycles, so it has the following 'not so useful' features .. it's on 4 springs/shock absorbers at the rear, so it feels a bit like riding on a stone - i'm contemplating removing 2 of the shocks to afford a softer ride - and the rear sprocket wheel is enormous, with 52 teeth. On 5th gear (the bike has 5 gears, and quite a nice gearbox actually) it does 10km/hr for every 1000 rpm (that is until the rev-counter becomes wonky and you're doing 11,000rpm at 70km/hr). At normal cruising speed, 50-60km/hr here, the engine is trying to tear itself off its mounts. I'm trying to get myself a rear sprocket wheel with 42 teeth, to gear the whole thing a bit higher, but it's not a part you can buy off the shelf here in Marinduque, and the agent is quoting a 2 month delivery time. The noisiness is partly due to the engine being a bit rough, and also due to having a very small silencer. There are plus points though, the 150cc engine pulls like a beast, and because of the really low gearing, once you're in top gear there's hardly ever a reason to downshift (it can pick up again from 10km/hr in top gear with surprising power). Economy is not bad either - the tank is quite big - a full tank yesterday cost me 510 pesos, which at the current price is over 11 litres - and a full tank goes forever. I think it's doing about 50km/liter or maybe a bit less, but I haven't worked it out accurately yet. Compared to the underbones which seem to be the order of the day here it has a much more macho look .. it's a proper 'big' bike, quite heavy, and stable at speed (if you call 70km/hr speed, that is). I'm a big guy and I think on a little underbone i'd look a bit sissy. Also, it's built like a tank - strong and simple. Anything can be taken apart with a few spanners,and the construction of the bike seems like it's built to last.

There is precious little information about the Blaze Brute 150 on the internet - the company website seems to be partially complete (or partially incomplete, depending how you see it) and classifies the Brute as an underbone, which makes the rest of the technical information look suspicious.

Some additional info :
i've calculated the exact mileage the motorbike is giving me .. it's taken 10.11 litres of petrol for 347 Km, about 34.3 Km/litre. That's not very good, considering that most of my riding is done in very little traffic (this is Marinduque after all), and on paved roads which are mostly flat with very little hills here. My average riding speed is 50-60Km/hr, above 70Km/hr the engine of the bike is really stressed due to the mentioned very low gear ratios. I am hoping that once I get the rear sprocket changed mileage will improve, however finding a part is proving almost impossible - it's been ordered at the agent for close on 6 weeks now, and they have no idea when it will be delivered. 26-10-2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Powercuts, construction,and general thoughts ..

It's been a while since I posted photos of my 'work in progress' house in Quatiz, so here are a few ..

this one is the ceiling under the awning of the roof at the front edge, almost done (it's actually totally ready today - photos are a few days old)

and the interior ceiling in the bedroom

a slightly lower shot showing the granite tiles ..

higher shot with more ceiling ..

this is the 'glass block wall' that separates the main bedroom from the living room, from the bedroom it's west facing, and it gets the sunset beautifully! (there is the large front door opposite)

the wooden ceiling frames

Since these photos were taken, all the granite tiling has been done, the ceiling frames and ceilings are done too, and there is a lot of little plastering going on. Next jobs are the front and rear fences (made of concrete, with wood gates, to resist seawater corrosion!) and tiling the terrace area. Plumbing in the bathroom is done, what's left is the tiling and putting everything together .. i'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel!

The french windows are a bit behind schedule - the carpenter is complaining he can't work because of the continuous powercuts, and I do not blame him. I am trying to get hold of a generator large enough to power his tools - the one we have at the site currently (and running almost all the time) is only a 1.5 kVA model, and can power the angle grinder, or the planer, or a couple of power drills, but that's all .. still it's a godsend and without work would have ground to a halt!

Today there was a very successful mass rally to show Marelco that the people of Marinduque are very unhappy with the crisis with electrical power. It has been suggested that Napocor resume where they left off in 2004 and take over power generation for this island - I think that would be a great solution as a national company like Napocor surely has the resources necessary to succeed where 3i Powergen, the private company meant to be supplying power to Marinduque but actually doing nothing, failed miserably. There is still no end in sight to get the actual problems solved, but the word around is that by the end of October power should be back to 'normal' (what 'normal' is here is debateable .. one powercut a month would be a great achievement! - but I think that's more than what is expected here!)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fire in Gasan Public Market, Dili - Marinduque

gasan marinduque market fire

After a relatively early night enforced by yet another 'brown-out', I was woken up midnight-ish by what sounded like a very badly organised marching band .. it wasn't a dream - the sound didn't go away and after a while I decided to investigate.
Looking outside I could see a bright orange glow in the sky, and the tops of the tallest palmtrees were clearly illuminated. The Gasan Public Market had somehow caught fire.

I didn't have my camera handy (left it in Tabi) and the video camera only had enough power for a couple of shots, but here's one anyway.

The public market was totally destroyed - most of poblacion's populace was at the scene, together with fire engines from Gasan and even Buenavista. People could be seen desperately trying to salvage stock from the stores at the fringes of the fire. Incredibly even the central
fish/meat market area, which consists mostly of concrete tables seemed to be on fire.

It seems nobody was hurt, fire engines turned up promptly, and the fire did not spread beyond the central market area ie. the surrounding shops are unharmed. Let's hope the market can be rebuilt - it's my first destination every morning at 6am for a dalawang portion of lugaw.

I'll post more photos as soon as i'm properly online ..

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Marelco, Marelco .. where art thou!

Following the great powercut at the end of last week, it seems that power generation on Marinduque is reduced to 3MW or so, about half the required demand - for that reason the friendly folk at Marelco (Marinduque Electrical Cooperative) have decided to divide the island into East (Sta. Cruz, Torrijos) and West (Boac, Gasan, Buenavista) and give us power on alternating days - power gets restored at around 6pm, and cut again 6pm the next day - it's been like this for a few days now, and it makes life really difficult.

Yesterday I was driving past the Marelco main office, and I noticed their 'vision', painted in large letters near to the entrance gate - I took a photo for amusement purposes, i'm not sure if this 'vision' statement is meant to be humourous, sarcastic, sad .. These are the guys that have managed to screw up an agreement made in 2004 to the point that it's impossible to keep a few lights on, and anyone with a business has to keep a generator going!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Electrical Power Outages 'brownouts' in Marinduque

A few days ago, blogger Eli Obligacion, on his blog 'Marinduquegov', published a very informative article about the reasons behind the frequent power outages here in Marinduque read

From what i'm gathering there was a major failure at the power barge on the night of Sept 22nd, and there has been no power since yesterday. I'm running on generator at the moment, but can't keep it up forever - petrol is quite expensive, and the generator consumes quite a lot!

It is pretty obvious at this point that the reasons behind the problem are almost purely political - it seems that in 2004 the Marinduque Electrical Cooperative (Marelco) decided to ditch Napocor's services and engage a 3rd party power provider - this company (referred to as 'NPP' - new power provider) never did anything, and now, 5 years later, the problem has degenerated to the point where it is causing severe economic hardship to the inhabitants of Marinduque - tourism cannot take off, and the island seems stuck in the 1990's.

Napocor (national power corporation) at this point are washing their hands - seems that Marinduque brought the problem on itself - Napocor say, rightly, that the powerbarge was only meant to be a temporary solution - that it's ageing and beginning to fail (as we are experiencing) and that it cannot be expanded to cope with increased power demand.

And what about the bigwigs at the capitol? it seems they are enjoying their airconditioned offices.. the capitol is well known as the only area of Marinduque that doesn't suffer regular powercuts. Seems pen-pushing is considered more important that any other activity on this island, and all that pen-pushing isn't helping at all when it comes to solving Marinduque's greatest problem - unreliable electric supply!

this post didn't get posted yesterday because my generator decided to pack up before I managed to - turns out it was a problem with the carburettor float, and it was getting flooded - anyway - in Boac later, Marelco sent a van round with speakers on top repeating a message blaming Napocor for the lack of power. The consensus was that we were going to be with no electricity for at least a month, probably till November! Actually power in Gasan was restored late in the evening, so the total outage was about 36 hours or so. I really think that Marelco blaming Napocor, or even sending vans around blaming people, will not help the situation. Someone needs to stand up and get things going - it's been 5 years since the current failed agreements were signed, for pete's sake, something needs to be done!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Butterfly farming

On our way to a visit to the waterfalls, we passed numerous small butterfly farms, and stopped at one to take some photos. South boac is prime butterfly territory, and butterflies, both wild and reared in captivity, abound.

Beautiful examples of Pachliopta aristolochiae (Common Rose Butterfly) feeding.

This Hypolimnas bolina butterfly perched on my glasses .. it's also known as 'The Great Egg Fly' .. silly name, but it's not my fault ..

This one, in flight, is known as Idea Leuconoe or the Paper Kite butterfly .. it flies with leisurely wing flaps, and is a rather large butterfly.

This is a 'Parthenos sylvia', also known as a Clipper butterfly .. difficult to take a photo of since it's constantly in motion.

some more photos of the same species ..

I forget which one these caterpillars belong to ..

but this one definitely belongs to the kite wing

some pupae too .. the one with the gold flecks is the Kite Wing, the others ... mm .. forgot!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A trip to the waterfalls in South Boac

Monday, 31st August, was the last day of ramadan, and even here in very christian Marinduque, it's a day off .. together with my good friend Francis and his family, we organised a trip to the waterfalls that are inland at the very southern tip of the Boac region. Getting there takes a bit of doing - there's a car ride over some rather rough country paths, followed by around an hour of hiking to get to the falls proper. It's well worth the effort, though, the countryside is very much unspoilt, and dotted with butterfly farms - this area is prime butterfly territory, and butterflies are everywhere - and the falls themselves are very beautiful, with clean cold water to swim in!

we stopped at this sari sari store, and the owner even brought us pomelo (pink grapefruit) .. as usual the people of Marinduque excel in their friendliness and warmth

these are tokay gecko eggs, glued to the ceiling of a small cavern

this is the waterfall we went to see .. the pool right beneath the waterfall is quite deep, and the water is nice and cold, and very clean

the kids had a great day too!

after hiking back to the car, we took a couple of photos of the pristine Marinduque countryside

Laila, Mito and I ..

and our great friends Francis, Nurissa and their daughter, Maelee.

Mito and his crush :)

on arriving back in Gasan, we stopped at an eatery for a very nice supper of pork with crackling

so .. a very pleasant end to ramadan .. i'd recommend a trip to the waterfalls to anyone visiting Marinduque!