Martin Clunes: Islands of the Pacific

Martin Clunes Island of the Pacific

2 of 3
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Martin Clunes: Islands of the Pacific

Episode 2

The next stage of Martin’s journey around the Pacific Islands takes him to the Philippines.

Martin says: “The Philippines is unlike all my other island destinations.  For a start it's one of the world’s largest archipelagos. More than 7,000 islands with an astounding array of landscapes.

“It borders the Western Pacific, yet it's also considered part of Asia. And on the largest island, Luzon, the capital, Manila, is the ultimate Pacific Asian fusion. Twenty million people living cheek by jowl make Manila the planet’s most densely populated city.”

Martin finds the best form of  travel around busy Manila is in a colourful Jeepney, adapted from military jeeps, left by American forces at the end of World War II, and unique to the country.

He says: “It feels like a great introduction to Manila because I think if I was sat at the back of an air conditioned taxi or a minibus I wouldn’t feel so immersed in it here, but you get the smells coming in, people coming on, you can see all the food on the market stalls.  Yeah, I'm getting a great sense of the place.” 

More and more Filipinos are turning to healthier ways to get around with national bike sales  growing by an impressive 25% year on year.  In the heart of Manila’s old Spanish colonial quarter, one brilliant venture is the ultimate in eco travel.   

American born Filipino Bryan McClelland is the founder of Bambike which builds bikes out of bamboo which are shipped around the world.

Bryan explains how they make the bikes: “The bikes are made in a kind of housing project, so we trained up a small community, put in a workshop in their village, and now they're the ones that we're the most proud of because it's their craftsmanship that really is the heart of Bambike.”

Martin discovers the Filipinos’ devotion to catholicism as he joins them to watch a religious parade including 27 floats bearing Catholic saints. Many locals believe that Our Lady of La Naval helped the Spanish defeat a Dutch invasion in 1646 and that she still grants miracles to those who pray. 

After the procession Martin is invited to dinner with a devotee of Our Lady. Jaylord Orellano’s family have their own shrine to Our Lady of Le Naval. Jaylord believes Our Lady has just helped heal his mother, now resting in the room where the family all sleep. 

Making impressive use of a tiny kitchen, Jaylord’s family prepare a traditional meal, known as a  boodle fight feast, that’s all about sharing. 

Two hundred miles north of Manila, high in the mountains of Luzon Island, lies the sleepy town of Sagada.  While the modern world has clearly made its mark here, Martin finds that the ancient ways of preserving the dead are still practised here today, and is shown the hanging coffins of the Kankanaey Tribe.

Martin meets Sagada resident, Chris Angway, who’s agreed to show him where his own ancestors hang. He explains the reason their ancestors’coffins are hanged is so their spirits will be free.

Three hours’ drive away the traditions of the Ifugao Tribe focus less on death and more on life. 

The stunning terraced landscape, a world heritage site, is sometimes called the Eighth Wonder of the World.  For the residents of Banga-an, everything revolves around the rice grown in these centuries old paddy fields. 

With local guide, Tom Magguling, Martin heads for the clustered traditional homes of Banga-an village to learn more about rice from the Hangda-an family. 

Martin joins the family in the paddy fields to help to plant the rice. Armed with a fist full of seedlings, he tries to plant neat rows.  But it's not quite as easy as it looks, and he needs tuition from the family to get it right. 

This rice growing method, unchanged here for 2,000 years, is now threatened by cheap mechanically farmed rice from the outside world. By growing ancient heirloom varieties, the Ifugao hope to export a surplus and sustain their way of life. 

The most sacred figure here is the Rice God Bulul, and many of the rituals seek his blessing for a good crop.  Martin is invited to witness a sacred rice ceremony. 

Leaving behind the mountains of Luzon Island, Martin heads south over the Philippine Archipelago.  In the centre, like a jewel, lies the island of Bohol. 

Bohol boasts a truly unique landscape that’s a bit of a geological mystery. 

Martin says: “This has to be one of the most pleasing sights I've ever seen. 1,776 of these beautiful perfect conical mounds.  They're known as the Chocolate Hills because in the dry season when all this green grass dies down, they all go brown.  Scientists will tell you that the Chocolate Hills are made of limestone moulded by the weather over thousands of years.  But what nobody really knows is why they formed so many perfect pudding shapes on this island. 

The Philippines is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, blessed with 52,000 plant and animal species, more than half of them found nowhere else.  And one of its most remarkable creatures lurks in the forests of Bohol. 

With the help of Conservationist Carlito Pizarras and his assistant Jera Bonita, Martin is hoping to spot the elusive Philippine Tarsier. For decades Carlito has fought to preserve this threatened species.  Earning himself the nickname ‘the tarsier man’.  Before the rest of the world understood much about them, as a local boy he instinctively knew they needed protection. 

Martin also meets Bohol businesswoman Dalareich Polot, known as the Chocolate Princess is helping locals to turn their cacao trees in to profit.

Dalareich Polot explains: “if you have just three old cacao trees in your backyard you can send one of your children to college.”

Martin’s last port of call on this stage of his epic adventure is to Siquijor island, which has surprisingly few visitors. Just 20 miles from Bohol this island has long had a reputation for sorcery and black magic. It is known locally as The Island of Witches, and a lot of Filipino people won't go there. 

Siquijor’s witches and shamans actually have an appointed representative, Junel Tomaroy who shows Martin around.

Before leaving the Philippines Martin takes a kayak with guide Ray Donaire  along the Abatan River in Bohol for a magical encounter to see how the river creatures prepare for the night.

Martin says: “I’ve absolutely loved my time in the Philippines, and even though I've only got to visit three of the 7,000 or so islands, I've got a real sense of this unique part Pacific island, part Asian, strong Spanish influences. Everybody works so hard for their church, their village, their community and their tribe, and all smiley, happy, laughing, welcoming people.  It's a real gem.”




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