overseas still

On the 500 Philippine peso note it says "The Filipino is worth dying for". Do they mean any Filipino? Because there's 87 million of them in the Philippines alone. I simply can't live with that much responsibility*. Which may be the idea. Or maybe, since there's so many of them, you'd die long before you could even choose which one you'd die for, which one would be your special Filipino. At the airport in Manila there's a footwear disinfecting station (a germicidal mat of some sort) and a SARS testing station (they take your temperature). Maybe they should have a Choose Your Special Filipino station. It would be heaped with corpses.

*Do you ever lose your way in the midst of typing out words like 'responsibility'? Do you ever stop and physically have to count the i's and l's and check where in the daisy chain you've stuck your 'ty'?

This morning I took a helicopter ride. Maybe my readers regularly arrange helicopter rides in the developing world, so you will all know what a surreal experience it is. Thirty minutes beforehand a woman knocks on your hotel door and collects the brick of 65 000 pesos that you've painstakingly banded up with elastics. Fifteen minutes later the hotel duty manager and a guy in a snappy barong knock on the door to escort you to the helipad on the hotel roof. Once at the roof, surrounded by security men, the duty manager, assistants, and a nurse with a first-aid kit at the ready, all your camera equipment is immediately permeated with moisture. Then the helicopter arrives, a cream-pale insect with a jade eye settling down with a blast of wind. Inside are the pilot and another guy who doesn't speak when you say "Magandang umaga!" or smile back when you nod and grin. Instead he takes your bag and puts it under the seat. Suddenly you realize that everybody looks a bit grim, as if they're thinking Oh boy, another couple of North American journalists about to die in some power lines or get shot down by the MNLF, and you wonder what it is you're doing. The unsmiling man buckles you in and shuts the door, and after a moment of adjustment the helicopter is suddenly rocking unsteadily, just a few inches off the ground. A sudden tilt and you're over the city, heading south to circle an active volcano.

Anyway. We'd taken a boat to the volcano a few days before (where I'd thrown up in the middle of a Foreign-Legionesque guided tour) but it was entirely different from the air. The Taal Volcano crater is actually a lake of dilute sulphuric acid, surrounded by high cliffs on Volcano Island, which is on Lake Taal. So it's a lake on an island in a lake on a bigger island. In order to get some decent aerial footage we needed to remove the doors, so the pilot touched down right on the shore of the crater lake. We got off and shot some footage while the unsmiling man removed the doors. Then we were strapped back in and the pilot began to show off, banking and swooping over the cliffs, widening his circle to take in the dry volcano crater from a previous eruption. We saw a trail of people on horses riding up and down a ridge, which overlooks the crater lake by a couple hundred metres. Tin shacks and stables lined the ridge. During a smoke break (for the pilot) by the lake I found out that the pilot was emigrating to Calgary in a year or two.

Everybody here thinks we're from National Geographic and they call us Joe.