Vote for Puerto Princesa Underground River!

12 days 21 hours and 08 minutes

That is the amount of time left to vote for the Puerto Princesa Underground River, one of the many natural beauties in the Philippines. The competition for the New 7 Wonders of Nature has been steep and the final 28 finalists are vying for your vote. Who will represent these new hidden gems of the natural world? I can tell you where my vote is going. 

The New 7 Wonders of Nature competition is related to the New7Wonders movement to increase awareness, education, and tourism by recognizing seven unique places on earth. The founder, Bernard Weber, has written a charter and frequently updates his blog on the activity of the movement. Physical candidates from across the globe were studied by a team of experts and 28 finalists including the Bay of Fundy in Canada, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Dead Sea in Jordan are among the incredible locations chosen. Ultimately, only seven will be crowned New Wonders of Nature.

Vote here for the Puerto Princesa Underground River!

The city of Puerto Princesa was my last trip in the Philippines before returning back to the states. The mayor, Edward Hagedorn, has turned the city into a source of pride for the region of Palawan and the country at large. The city is considered carbon neutral and boasts almost 90% forest cover. Investments in ecotourism, elimination of mining projects, and annual tree-planting on Valentine’s Day makes Puerto Princesa lives up to the nickname City in the Forest. Clink Hagedorn, the son of the mayor, briefly greeted me at the airport before showing me to my tour guide for the duration of my three-day trip. Each day was packed with incredible snorkeling expeditions, zip lines, and of course, the Puerto Princesa Underground River.

In order to get to the river, tourists must take a small motorized boat to the park’s entrance. The owners of the boats are local fishermen who received economic profit from the visitor activity in this remote area. The mouth of the cave is surrounded by tropical forest cover and giant monitor lizards. Families from the Philippines and around the world flock to the neon orange life vests and line up for their turn through the underground river. When it was my turn, my guide gently pushed me to the front of the tour boat; I would be holding the lamp to direct the boat through the cave.

 

As the guide pushed us into the darkness, I flipped on the battery and illuminated thousands of bats flapping overhead. Water dripped down the sheer rock walls and off the ceilings into the river below. Our boat traveling along the 8 km vein of the earth, deep into the heart of biodiversity, giant caverns and stalagmites. I swung my lamp according to the guide’s directions, left toward a mushroom rock formation and up to the cavern edge 60m above our heads. The entire tour took about an hour and I reemerged from the cave blinking as much from from the sudden wash of sunlight as sheer disbelief.

 

The Puerto Princesa UR is a wonder of nature whether it wins the contest or not. The title as a New 7 Wonders of Nature, however, would generate more tourism and revenue to a country still labeled as economically developing. Increasing revenue and prosperity in the Palawan area will fund  sustainability efforts and showcase the incredible natural wonders of the Philippine archipelago.

The act of voting only takes a minute but the implications will last for decades. Vote for the Puerto Princesa Underground River!!

Happy Vegetarian Month!!

It’s October and you know what that means… Vegetarian month! So put down your pork chop and bite into a huge juicy black bean burger (made by Morning Star).

Vegetarians get a bad rap. They are often perceived as self-righteous animal lovers, pale undernourished hipsters, or hairy peace-loving hippies. Luke McGee, a blogger for the Huffington Post UK, wrote, “At our worst [vegetarians] are self righteous, self satisfied, judgemental and often extremely rude.” Meat eaters find themselves uncomfortable eating a juicy burger or thick steak after someone at the table has announced they don’t eat meat. Knowledge that a vegetarian has RSVP-ed to a dinner party puts added stress on the host. “Will there be enough vegetarian options?” and  “What is a vegetarian options?” or “Who invited her anyway?” are common questions.

I will admit that I didn’t want to be labeled as one of the aforementioned groups. I had no desire of forcing my friends and family to question the meat on their plate or feel nervous when asking me out to dinner. I had eaten meat my whole life and wasn’t sure I could give up my favorite dishes and flavors for tofu and lettuce. I would try, for days at a time, to eat meatless options before resorting back to a turkey club or roasted chicken. I simultaneously judged and envied my friends who had made the veggie switch. I was impressed with their determination but was skeptical of their reasoning behind the change.

Getting back from the Philippines was the turning point. I had eaten pork dish after pork dish and something inside of me just said, I’m over it. And so my vegetarian life began. Instead of climbing to the tallest mountain top and declaring my rejection of animal flesh, I started off my vegetarian switch without much conscious effort. I didn’t stress myself out about the possibility of failing or setting up a strict diet plan. I just stopped eating meat and days quickly turned into weeks. As an avid foodie, I believed the change would be much more difficult than it’s turned out to be. Sure I eat PB&J more often and learned the hard way how not to refrigerate tofu, but the transition has been surprisingly satisfying. 

Now for the million dollar question:

“Why?”

Sometimes this question is asked with genuine curiosity and other times it’s a judgement, thinly veiled by feigned interest. For me, it’s not about intrinsic animal rights. I think humans are built for eating animals. Animal rights on an individual level is a different story. I got sick of hearing about the diseases, living conditions, and necessary chemicals used in the food industry  (Remember Sinclair’s The Jungle?) without questioning modern-day food production. By buying chicken, beef or pork at the grocery store I was supporting a wasteful and environmentally unsustainable process the world cannot afford. And neither could I. (Below: vegetarian ravioli from vegalicious.org)

My mom has recently become a vegetarian and my dad eats substantially less meat than he used to. My house drinks only soy milk and eats cage free eggs. I’ve started to notice more of my friends who are vegetarians and we find a closer bond through our mutually exclusive diet. Will I be a vegetarian forever? I don’t know. Nor do I suggest everyone should put the breast meat down in exchange for some tempah or beans. I just think everyone should take a second to look at the food on their plate and think about its origin. Where it came from. What it came from. When it was produced. How sustainable the process was. For me, these questions led me to a meatless option so next time I cook a meal I can say beyond reasonable doubt that

no animals were harmed in the making of this dish. 

Green Lunch Bag Talk!

Today at noon in the Environmental Center, there will be a talk on Marine Protected Areas in the Philippines. Funny, you might think. That is exactly what Katelyn did during her summer internship.Well…the speaker is me.

I even have an attractive looking poster. Getting the chance to talk about my incredible experience while educating people on the value of protecting oceans around the world? I don’t know what could be better. Making the PowerPoint last night (Prezi is complicated), waves of memories washed over me. The palm trees. Scuba diving. Hot sun and humid nights. The pictures and e-mails with friends are the only concrete evidence I have that the Philippines wasn’t a dream.

So if you’re in Lewisburg, PA at 12 noon you know where you should be.

Remembering Steve Jobs

The cursor blinks on a blank Word document, in hungry anticipation of letters and punctuation to spill out of my fingertips. My midterm essay is not going to write itself. I check my phone for missed text messages and open my music player to my weekly song favorite from Adele. Time to get moving. I open an old essay on the Chesapeake Bay to remember the context of environmental policy debate.

But wait. How is it possible that I can sit here in 7th Street cafe typing on my computer, checking my phone, listening to music, and opening old documents? My technological devices are possible because of Steve Jobs and his innovations that have changed the world we know today. My Apple timeline:

2005-First Apple product: the iPod Mini. Light blue, 8G and super cool.

2006- First Apple computer: my MacBook, given as a gift for my 16th birthday. Love at first sight. The entire computer was located within the monitor and I spent hours exploring Garageband and iMovie.

2007- I bought an iPod Nano with Christmas money. Dark purple and slim.

2008- The college essentials: a MacBook Pro and free iTouch.

2010-Computer stolen in Denmark. New MacBook Pro. Prettier than before.

2011-First iPhone. Downloaded more than 25 apps in the first day.

-Got iPhone stolen out of my hand while walking in Washington, D.C. (see blog). Replacement iPhone sent to my house.

-My grandfather receives first Apple product as main form of Internet connection: the iPad.

So I’ve been surrounded by Apple products for the last six years. Apple is woven into our vernacular (when is the last time someone called a music device an mp3 player?) and remains at the top of companies creating cutting-edge, sleek and user-friendly products.

The Apple website has a small poignant statement:

His name in various forms of hashtags is flooding Twitter with #SteveJobs, #SteveJobslegacy, #Apple, #iSad etc. His numerous quotes about pursuing a job and life you love has been reposted again and again. In his commencement speech at Standard University in 2005, Jobs said:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Before, I was terrible with directions, never checked my e-mail, couldn’t listen to music on the go, and didn’t wake up in time for school. Now, with the help of a creative genius, I have an app for that. 

Thank you, Steve Jobs.  

Quick Update

My life as it currently stands (or lays down because it’s getting sleepy):

  • I turned in my thesis proposal on Friday. The current title: USAID Funding and Coastal Resource Management at The Local Level: A Case Comparison between EcoGov 2 and FISH projects in the Philippines. Long-winded with the inclusion of a colon? Check.
  • I sharpened my pencils, popped a Tic-Tac and took the LSAT on Saturday. Survived a 4.5 hour test without hallucinating little green men were bubbling in the answer sheet for me? Check.
  • I wore my large dark-blue flannel pajamas last night for the first time while grudgingly accepting the fall weather. Imagining cute fall sweater outfit combinations for the next five months? Check.

Checklist complete and homework (partially) finished, I think it’s time for bed.

“And Katelyn was nestled all snug in her bed, While visions of logic games disappeared from her head.”