and driving is best left to the local people who are used to the
Taxis are readily available and are not expensive. A common mode
of transport is the jeepney, which resembles a cross between a jeep and
a small, single-decker bus. Some of these jeepneys are very colorfully
decorated, with the route displayed on the vehicle’s side. You enter
from the rear, and payment is usually passed along fellow passengers to
the driver. Mopeds with sidecars are also widely used, as are tricycles,
but I would be extremely concerned about having my legs sticking out
the side of these, only inches away from rushing traffic.
As someone who is interested in environmental issues, I was
keen to observe as much as I could see of the native environment.
Sometimes what I saw gave me grave concern for future safe-living
conditions for both wildlife and people. The cities are generally
fine in normally built-up areas, but many large areas of slums
adjoin parts of the cities. These slum areas are like small towns but
have no sewage systems and seldom have more than a “borrowed”
hosepipe for running water. As a result it is easy to see the stains of
the waste runoff from open untreated sewage running down walls
and into streams and rivers.
It is encouraging to note that the Philippine government has lately
attempted to clean up a lot of these areas and has built a considerable
amount of affordable housing for these people. Surprisingly, many
simply sold these houses and moved back into the slums, which is a
way of life to many. I was surprised to see that several of the people
living in these slums had jeepneys, or mopeds and tricycles, parked
nearby; many did have real jobs but preferred to live the way they
did. The people wandering around these areas were well dressed and
tidy, but the living conditions looked appalling.
The Fishes of Lake Taal
One of the first places I was keen on seeing was the Taal Volcano
and Taal Lake (formerly Lake Bombon) in Batangas. This is in a
district called Calabarzon. It is in the Batangas Province and is
1½ hours away from Makati. I had heard that this large lake was
home to four endemic freshwater fish. This included two gobies
and Sardinella tawilis. This fish is one of the most economically
important fish in the Philippines and is known locally as “tawilis”
(local sardine). It is the only fish of this family known to inhabit
fresh water; indeed this lake is 10 km ( 6 miles) from the sea. The
tawilis grows to a maximum size of 15 cm ( 6 inches) and is an
important food fish. I usually saw these being offered for sale at
around 10 cm ( 4 inches) TL.
The four endemic fish species that call Taal Lake home are now
endangered. In 1984 the harvest of tawilis was 29,000 tons, but
by 1995 it was only 60 tons. Overfishing is the main cause of the
dwindling numbers of all these fish species, but also of concern
are plans to use the lake water for irrigation and domestic water
supplies. Of interest to aquarists are two common ornamental fish,
the archerfish Toxotes jaculatrix and the scat Scatophagus argus. The
scat is fished as an important food fish. Surprisingly the lake water
did not taste at all salty as I suspected it might, as the scat is known
to like brackish water.
My first view of this magnificent lake was from Picnic Grove, a
very nice park set up by the government for public use. Although
high above the lake, it gave a superb panoramic view of the lake
and its large volcanic island, with its rather imposing crater. This
volcano is still active and is constantly monitored for activity.
Fish Farms Galore
As I walked to the lower end of this park I was shocked at the
sight before my eyes. A few miles away, but highly visible, were
A patchwork of fish farms on Lake Taal.
A narrow walkway is used to access the conditioning pens of a