By Henrylito D. Tacio
Do you know what I did last summer in the United States? I toured some tourist destinations by feet. You see, I like walking. Here’s the reason why: “Regular physical activity is probably as close to a magic bullet as we will come in modern medicine,” says Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the United States. “If everyone were to walk briskly 30 minutes a day, we could cut the incidence of many chronic diseases by 30 to 40 percent.”
Actually, I got a fellowship from the SeaWeb to attend the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. To get there, I had to fly first via Philippine Airlines from Davao to Manila, where I stayed for a night. The following day, I boarded Northwest Airlines on my way to the United States.
After more than four hours of flying, the plane had a two-hour stopover at Narita, Japan. Then, for the next thirteen hours and a half, we were on the air until we landed at Detroit, Michigan, where I had to present my US visa and Philippine passport. I didn’t have problem with the immigration since this was my fifth trip to the land of milk and honey.
After that, I searched for my luggage and after finding it, I had to check it again to board another plane on my way to Fort Lauderdale. I arrived late in the afternoon. I took my luggage and went outside the airport to wait for the taxi which SeaWeb’s Brian Cohen had arranged for me. Few minutes later, I was on my way to my hotel.
During the 15-minute travel, what I noticed most were the palm trees. “It’s just like I’m in the Philippines,” I told myself. But there was difference: these palm trees were growing right in the city. In the hotel where I was staying, there were even coconut trees near the pools. Think of Waterfront Insular Hotel and you get the idea.
During the symposium, I had to walk all the way from Fort Lauderdale Grande Hotel to the Broward County Convention Center. There was a shuttle bus that brings participants to the conference place, but I opted to walk. Just like most international gatherings, I had to attend lectures and press briefings, where I met some of the world’s coral reef experts.
I also had an opportunity of talking with several journalists from all over the globe, including one from Los Angeles who received a Pulitzer Prize. A television commentator from Japan and a reporter from Kenya became my friends during the symposium.
What made the symposium memorable was the panel discussion convened by SeaWeb. “Why journalists and scientists just don’t communicate?” was the title of the interactive debate that was co-moderated by Jeff Burnside of Miami’s NBC WTVJ and Nancy Baron. Another one was our one-day trip to Biscayne National Park, where we did some scuba diving. To get there, we had to pass Miami.
After spending one week in Fort Lauderdale, I flew to Savannah, Georgia (via Atlanta) to visit uncle Carl and aunt Aida. I used to visit them when they were still in Columbus, Ohio. But in 2006, they transferred to the “most beautiful city in North America,” to quote the words of one British journalist.
It was with them that I stayed longer – almost a month! Uncle Carl picked me at the airport since my aunt was working. Since I was tired, we immediately went to their home. The house was smaller than their previous abode, but it was more beautiful and cozy.
During my stay in their place, I came to know Savannah well – gothic, elegant, and weird. During off days from her work, my aunt brought me to some tourist spots. We came to visit some historical cemeteries. She also brought me to places where some Hollywood movies were filmed, including Forrest Gump and In the Garden of Good and Evil. My uncle taught me how to do fishing and canoeing.
I had also an opportunity of learning how to surf in the famous Tybee Beach, which has been a favorite spot for vacationers and tourists since the late 1800s. The beach is wide and clean, with warm, gentle waves. The sand is white and you see no garbage anywhere.
My last week were spent with my sister Marilou, whom I had not seen for more than a year since she left the Philippines. Although we talked over the phone and communicated via e-mail messages, it was different to see her in person. At that time, they lived in Newark, Delaware. So my sister and her husband, David Eplite, had to pick me up at the airport in Philadelphia.
On our way to their home, we stopped over in a Chinese restaurant to eat our dinner. “You must be hungry, Manoy,” my sister said. She was right; I was starving since I did not eat breakfast when I left Savannah. During a stopover in Atlanta, I only ate a hamburger and juice – nothing more!
I slept well that night. The following day, Dave drove us straight to Washington, D.C. I visited the state capitol before in 2001 but I didn’t have the privilege of roaming around the Mall since I was alone. So, with my sister and her husband in tow, we walked from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon. “I have never walked this much in my life when I came to the United States,” my sister said.
Imagine this. First, we walked from the parking area to the visitor’s area which took us about an hour. After getting some brochures and taking some pictures at the back of the palace (as they call it), we proceeded immediately to visit the museums. Before lunch, we were at the Washington Monument waiting for our turn to go up and see Washington, D.C. up there.
Frankly speaking, I was terrified of going up. Elevators don’t scare me but the monument was standing alone. What if there was an earthquake and it will collapse? But my sister cajoled me to join with them. After thinking for a few minutes and not wanting to become a killjoy, I decided to go with them. From there, I was able to see the US Capitol, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, and the White House, among others.
After the DC sojourn, we roamed around Newark the following day. There was nothing exciting or memorable about the trip; we went to the malls to buy some pasalubongs for my family and friends.
The day after, we woke up early as we were going to Atlantic City in New Jersey. The city is known for its boardwalk, which is about 6.63 kilometers long and 18 meters wide. But people come to this city to gamble (have you seen the movie, Atlantic City?). It is host to 11 casino resorts, eight of which are located on the Boardwalk: Caesars, Bally’s, Showboat, Atlantic City Hilton, Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza, and Tropicana.
On my fifth day with my sister, we had to leave Dave alone at home as we were going to New York City. Dave had to drive us to a nearby city, where we took a bus going to the Big Apple. Four hours later, we were in Manhattan. My contacts – Tune Inumerables and Ann Sabio – met us at Macy’s, the world’s biggest shopping store.
Although Tune and Ann were from my hometown, I never met them. From time to time, I communicated with them through e-mails since both were members of the Association of Bansalenos Worldwide. “We’ve finally see each other,” said the very beautiful Tune, who is the sister of another famous journalist, Jay Sonza.
Just like in Washington, D.C. and Atlantic City, we had to walk as we roamed around New York. “It’s good that we had already practiced how to walk distant places in Washington, D.C.,” my sister said. Of course, we also rode the subway train from here to there.
We stayed for a night in New York (courtesy of Jeffrey Nique, who allowed us to sleep in his apartment). The following day, we met Ann in a subway and brought us back in the bus station. At 6 pm, while the city that never slept was under strong rain, we left.
For the next two days, my sister and I were so tired that we slept all day except only to eat and to watch the Olympic Games (the television was so huge that you can almost feel you were watching it right there in Beijing).
“Thanks for the memories,” I told my sister before I left her on my way back to the Philippines. “I had fun walking with you. Hope we can do it again.”
(Postscript: Tune and Ann just celebrated their birthdays together in New York. My sister Marilou and her husband Dave are now living in Orange City in Florida. My uncle Carl and Aunt Aida are still in Savannah and waiting for my return there one of these days. I am still communicating with some of the SeaWeb staff and fellow journalists who attended the coral reef symposium.)