On October 2, 2014, the International Day of Non-Violence, Yeb Saño, joined a group ofenvironmental advocates, setting out from Kilometer Zero in Luneta Park, Manila, embarking on a 40-day 1,000 kilometer journey tol bring them to Super Typhoon Haiyan’s Ground Zero in Tacloban City by November 8, the first anniversary of typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm ever to make landfall, causing as many as 15,000 deaths.
Some media coverage at end of walk
Final Blog – November 16, 2014
I returned back to North Carolina Tuesday 11th, 3 days after the walkers crossed the San Jaunico Bridge and entered Tacloban – our arrival destination, but as Yeb has remarked, our real destination is the hearts and minds of people around the world. Three days prior to reaching Tacloban, I experienced what other walkers had endured, including Yeb. The muscle over my right shin conceded to extensive long walks and made walking painful. Days 35 and 36 I rode in the support vehicle to rest, as walking would have been almost impossible. This was a blow, as I’d hoped to make the whole trek – but being okay for the final walk on November 8 was an important goal, which I did with some discomfort, but then others also had walked through pain. (One plus to resting was seeing the walk from the support team’s point of view.)
Friday November 7 we rested in Basey, just 14 km short of the bridge. This allowed time for actually drying some clothes out in the sun at last. Spoke with several groups of school children who gathered around and joined a short 40-minute walk around Basey town. I finished reading William Shirer’s memoir on Gandhi, first read 30 plus years ago, and was reminded of the power of fasting and walking for a moral cause. As the day wore on more people joined us for the final day’s walk. Evening saw production of a huge banner (“Climate Justice Now”) which walkers would carry overhead across the bridge. Sleep finally around 9 pm.
Wake up 1 am in preparing to set off at 2 am to make the bridge by 6 am. Yeb’s mother and father joined in the final day’s walk as we set off in darkness. Crossing San Juanico bridge was very emotional for everyone – lead walkers, including myself, removed shoes for the 2 km walk. The bridge had been heavily damaged during Typhoon Yolanda, and was an important project for repair. A memorial service was the next stop as dignitaries from around the Philippines assembled at a cemetery honoring the victims of the typhoon.
A few more kilometers and we passed the infamous ship, Eva Jocelyn, which was still jutting onto the highway. Before our overnight resting place, we met at a coastal amphitheater where our final presentation took place. Noel Cabangon, a Philippine recording artist entertained with some of his well-known songs which are focused on justice issues, joined by Nityalila, our climate walker, also a singer-composer. The Tacloban Declaration was read (will post in a week or so here) and relief among the walkers was tangible as we had reached our goal. No more 4 am wake-ups or stretches etc.
The following day’s major news was a surprise visit to Communitere Philippines – a non-profit volunteer organization established a year before in Tacloban, and set to open a week later – and based on a successful operation established in Haiti after the earthquake there in 2010. Here AG Sano created on the spot another amazing environmental-focused painting which the walkers assisted in. The walkers eventually arrived late evening in Ormoc City as most waited to board the ferry to Cebu to connect with a boat to Manila on Monday. I returned with several others to Tacloban to await a plane the following morning to Manila – arriving before the boat as I had a 9.40 am flight via Japan back to the USA. Yes – farewells were of course emotional: we’d spent 40 days, 24 hours a day together. We’d become a family, and many of those people I may not meet again. Yeb and Stephanie would be in Lima, but everything else is unknown.
The work goes on – it didn’t end in Tacloban. Most of the walkers were unaware of the tie-in that Yeb and I had with #Fast for the Climate: their concern rightly was with their vulnerable country. There is still much work to be done, and it needs everyone to do their part.
We are now in Allen province, having crossed by ferry on Monday from Luzon Province. The living standards and the road conditions have noticeably deteriorated. Tonight, in Calbayog, we have Internet access – but it’s been a while – and lately the schools have hosted us with inadequate facilities. Yet I have seen amazing levels of support from ordinary people who go out of their way to offer what they can. Most of the time the school kids are neatly uniformed and ever anxious to line the road with hand-held messages supporting the walkers. Genuinely enthusiastic. (Pictured with Yeb Sano)
One major change is the heightened level of security in this region, where rebel communists are based. Uniformed police with rifles have arrived. Because of Climate Commissioner Yeb Sano‘s involvement in the group, and perhaps because I am a foreigner, the police are constantly watching for us, but we are assured there should be no problems.
We’re on the last leg of the journey. Today, Saturday, November 1, is just a week away from arriving in Tacloban. Yeb’s leg is causing him some pain and yesterday, not to slow down the walkers, he bicycled for much of the time, about 23 km. How we will cope today with fasting while walking is yet to be seen. Two other walkers last night indicated they would also fast today. Personally, if I feel it will be a handicap, I will break the fast. Gatorade is the order of the day for sweetened fluids.
The highlight in Allen, where we had a rest day, was participating in the creation of a mural by AG Sano, at a school. Along with other walkers and school kids, it was a real thrill to be part of this amazing activity. Later the group went to a nearby spot where we planted a few bili trees.
These days, the usual wake up time is around 4 am, breakfast at 5 and walk-off about 6 am after regular stretches. A team of 6 walkers have joined us from the Foundation for the Philippine Environment, and will stay with us to Tacloban.
With luck I may be able to send a final blog next Friday as we wait outside Tacloma, where we anticipate thousands joining us as we cross the San Jaunico Bridge.
October 23 – Naga City to Sorsogon
Nearly a thousand people joined yesterday’s #climatewalk in Naga City!
We arrived Saturday, October 18 in Naga City from Libmanan after walking most of the day in rain. Naga is a big town where we will rest for a day on Sunday after several very long walks. Our arrival to Naga City was filmed by a Japanese TV crew who continued filming and interviewing through the evening town center presentation. My second interview that day was with a Philippine TV crew. The overnight stay on Saturday at a sports complex was considered seriously deficient, so we moved Sunday morning to a Methodist church where we received an extremely warm welcome.
On Sunday morning Yeb and I spoke to the congregation, with Yeb wearing my Fast for the Climate Tshirt, which I’d donated to him. We both referred to the Fast for the Climate movement, and since then, I’ve also factored Climate Action Network into my introductions. In late afternoon we all set off up the nearby volcanic mountain to experience the hot springs (to soothe our aches and pains). Then a restaurant meal – our first meal not supplied by hosts or prepared by ourselves.
Recently Yeb said the possibility of a typhoon while we walked was about 50 percent. I learned that typhoon shelters for Yolanda weren’t able to protect given the unexpected strength – Yolanda (Haiyan) was totally unexpected to be so devastating. The semi-official figure is now 15,000 dead, but many are still unaccounted for even a year later. A big ship thrown onto land is still there. Many NGOs and United Nations people are still here coping with aftermath problems and because of all the increase in activity, I’m informed Internet access there is now very good.
Baao, where we arrived October 20, was the best stopover yet, with great reception and 14 high-school dancing teams performing for us. Also we had real bathroom facilities – well, no hot water – but a flush toilet and toilet paper – quite unexpected. Mattresses and best meals yet. The further south we walk, the better the facilities, more mattresses are ready for us and the food gets better. Also roads are more navigable and less crowded – still the one national highway with just one lane each direction. As we move up and down mountainsides, the views are breathtaking – the pollution decreases and is almost non–existent as we get to Albay. As we walked into Albay, Mount Mayon was with us for 24 hours as the road weaved around it. The lunchtime meeting at a school was met with an announcement that evacuation for an eruption was in progress. In towns around, UNICEF already had emergency tents set up. My TV interviewer in Albay was more interested in my views on the volcano, which caught me off guard a little. I simply confirmed we were walking for the climate change crisis, which volcanoes aren’t yet linked with and moved onto the readiness of Filipinos for all climate emergencies.
Conversation with most walkers is not straightforward: though all speak English. Many Asians speak syllable by syllable instead of flowing and it is not always easy to comprehend. I also need to slow down and simplify – note to self. There’s been two more instances of men from doorways coming down to shake my hand and thank me. Not clear what for. But the generosity of the people is amazing since they probably have so little.
Interesting stop near Osa where the regional governor hosted us. Governor Salceda, who joined the walkers for several kilometers, is very geared to climate preparedness, and there’s much attention to clean streets and rivers. This is so different from the early days near Manila.
Before the night stopover on Thursday (October 23), eight dancers performed at our lunchtime break and awarded us necklaces made from local Bili tree shells. As always, wonderful greetings all along the way, with welcome committees and opportunities for walkers to be announced. This day several groups joined at different intervals, always wearing Climate Walk T–shirts of their town.
Walking on the only major highway in the Philippines has its risks – two-lane roads were in bad shape until we reached about the 400km mark when there was a noticeable improvement.
Will try to blog again next week as we reach the ferry to cross to the next province.
A local Filipino official pledges to work in her community to enhance environmental awareness.
Vincent is one of the people I met along the Walk. He is a 32-year-old fireman who also volunteers teaching cpr and other types of first aid. His town was hit by Typhoon Glenda this summer and three people died.
Except for one particularly rainy day, and a couple of exceptionally hot days, we have been fortunate with weather. We have seen amazing kindness from local people along our planned stops. We have been offered nourishment; sometimes we receive unexpected donations – sometimes coffee and sometimes money for the cause. There’s also been great support from the team driving along with us – four permanent members and others adding days when possible.
The national media covered the walk widely during the first three days in Manila region, but have been back twice since to keep track of progress. (I’m out of the loop as to what’s reported being the non-Filipino member of the walking group.)
One of the main objectives during the walk has been to obtain agreement from local government officials and mayors that they will work to enhance environmental awareness in their communities. Yeb hands each official a Climate and Disaster Resilience Toolkit. The officials are then asked to write out their commitment and sign it. Of course, this is not officially binding, but in the spirit of ensuring their communities are as prepared as possible for future environmental disasters. From comments I receive, they all seem to acknowledge they expect things to get worse, and the problems are already accelerating.
Four days ago I talked with a fireman named Vincent, who serves an area not affected by typhoon Yolanda
(Haiyan) but which was hit badly during the recent typhoon Glenda where 3 people died in his town. Besides his duty as a fireman, Vincent, 32 years old, also volunteers to teach CPR and first aid.
On Sunday at Calauag, the walkers were received at an afternoon mass, where a short video (“Disruption” http://watchdisruption.com/) preceded a talk by Yeb and two of the walkers . . . all in Filipino. During a later mass, Yeb again addressed an audience of around 500 people, and I followed with an explanation (in English of course) as to why I’d joined the walk.
The walkers are all holding up as we’ve upped the pace the last two days covering 30 km and 23 km. And those have probably been the two hottest days so far. It’s not a holiday, and overnight stops, at churches primarily, have been hard, in that we have mostly slept on hard floors (occasionally thin mattresses). Sleep is , but sporadic for me anyhow. Bathroom facilities are as basic as you could imagine, except for an overnight stay in Lopez two nights ago when a friend of the local parish leader who’d heard we were coming, offered us rooms at his hotel – An oasis in the desert to us all.
Yeb Saño, Philippines Climate Change Commissioner, and organizer of the Climate Walk, reaches the 100 km mark of the Walk
With suspect or zero internet access since the Walk for the Climate began on October 2 at Zero Km in Manila, this is a catching up blog. We have now completed a full week’s walking, and tonight stay at a church in Pagbilao, some 160 km from Manila, and on schedule.
The going was tough the first 3 days negotiating the twists and turns of metro Manila, with over 100 following the walkers on the first day. The roads are filled with jeepneys, a peculiar Philippine bus based on WW2 American jeeps. Traffic is horrendous and traffic laws don’t apply when vehicles, pedicabs,and people fill the streets demanding priority. Only on the 5th day did the walk become saner. However bad roads
and nondescript hard shoulders deluged with rainwater, rubble, roadworks etc., made the going slow and hazardous. Each night we stayed at church places mostly, but also amilitary training center and schools.
The arrival on the first night was amazing, being met after dark by more than 200 patient public citizens waiting to cheer us in, then providing a welcoming meal on waited tables, (Okay – that was the best.) Other than that the receptions are warm and hosting is simple but gracious. Unable with space to detail each reception, but the walk is getting media attention nationally, and I’ve personally been interviewed three times in the first 4 days.
The Catholic diocese is primarily supporting walkers as we progress. Away from Manila itself, the pollution decreases as the extreme poverty fades, not that there isn’t a great deal of poverty everywhere, but signs of wealth become more noticeable the further we move south. For many days now we are keeping to the Pan-Philippine Highway, also known as the Maharlika Highway or Highway One which will take us to Tacloban (including a ferry journey in a few weeks time). All along the route so far we’ve received a police escort – at times a good number of motor bikes, but tailing off to one police car following the group.
We could be thirteen possibly in number – some, such as Yeb’s brother AG, need to depart for a few days at a time for commitments, and a recent addition, Rodney Galicha, who needed to attend a World Bank forum in Washington. Quite possibly ten of us will walk the entire 1,000 km. The weather has been very hot at times, restricting our walking during the noon to three hours. And today (Wednesday) there was rain for much of the time, though the countryside is opening up to lush tropical vegetation.
The enthusiasm is still with the group as we conclude our first week and look forward to the mountain part of the journey. With luck, internet access will improve and allow another blog in a few days.
Wednesday October 1
First 24 hours in Manila.
After spending almost 24 hours traveling – the air flight alone from Detroit to Manila was about 17 hours – arriving in an Asian capital for the first time around midnight is not good when the planned person meeting you fails to come to the right welcome area. 90 minutes later, with help from a young security firm employee (English is not fluently spoken I’m quickly learning) I’m able to charge up the lap top, but not until after she’d found a phone number for Yeb’s secretary and discovered mis-communications relating to the airport regulations on taxis. There are metered taxis, miscellaneous businesses, bicycles and a general mix of vehicles with solicitation rampant – in short, a nightmare for anyone unprepared to get around this noisy, busy city. Eventually a fast ride through Manila traffic – not recommended – to an almost good night’s sleep\
The nearby hotel is okay – about $75 a night, evidently clean but unavoidable small roaches. A well-stocked fridge with drinks low-priced, and a TV which I couldn’t determine how to switch on – not that there’d be anything to watch I’d understand. I’ve booked in for a second night while organizers I’d expected to stay with are first, totally overworked preparing for the walk and also engulfed with luggage and zero floor space for my sleeping bag. How expectations change when reality emerges. Yes, I’d overlooked that Manila would be as crazy as those other Asian cities depicted in the movies.
Now a possible problem is the walking. For some reason, on deplaning in Japan on the way, my calf muscle seized up – perhaps from 13 hours in coach. Whatever, it was a blow. For weeks I’d walked miles and hoped not to twist an ankle or anything. Suddenly this from out of the blue. Tuesday afternoon I attempted a walk (mainly to seek a bank to trade dollars to no avail) and as long as the path was flat, I felt I just might be able to walk through the pain. Time will tell. Late afternoon I went with a recent Facebook friend, Antonio Ingles, who had signed up earlier this year for my 10-day global fast for Earth Day, to his college to speak with a class of 30 students on a ‘Philosophy of Man’ course.
A short walk from the hotel to a small river, passing street vendors and decorated long wheelbase Jeeps. A quick look indicated trash everywhere, and then the stench hit me. Technically I’m in Pasay City, one of several cities making up this huge metropolis, but not many miles from the international airport. I received a lot of shouts from sidewalks – maybe vendors but anyone I think really trying to secure a sale of some sort. Easiest not to understand – I believe I was the target – tourist walking – ‘American with money”.
Wednesday will be the first day of the month, and a day to fast, which I know Yeb Sano will undertake diligently. In a few hours I will meet up with Yeb and the other fasters as we come together for 39 days on the road. My recurring wish is to start the walk and leave the city.
The ship – Eva Jocelyn – is still to be seen stranded on a sidewalk near the coast. While much of Tacloban has been repaired, there is still much to be done. NGO’s are in Tacloban still assisting with ongoing work. On our entry into Tacloban we passed the ship on November 8 after crossing the San Juanico Bridge.
Walking across San Jaunico Bridge towardsTacloban, November 8
Alan Burns is a long-time environmental activist living in Charlotte, NC. Burns founded Carolina Climate Action, a non-profit organization that encourages fasting to show the urgency of the climate crisis and pressure governments to act. Originally from England, Burns was part of the 1983 International Fast For Life, an open-ended fast for nuclear disarmament. Burns is a husband, as well as father of three grown children. You can read more about his work at ThinkGlobalGreen
Wall painting by AG Sano at Allen High School.