The Florida Aquarium Photos

Here are some of the wildlife we saw in the Florida Aquarium in Tampa Bay. For a small fee, we were able to visit their impressive collection displayed in specific habitat type. Aside from the place being educational (e.g. ideal for kids), the aquarium is also involved in marine conservation and research around the Tampa Bay estuary and in the Caribbean.




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Focus of the Day: Trisikad or Potpot

This is a picture of a trisikad, also known as potpot, from Ginatilan, Cebu. Trisikad is a combination of two words, tri and sikad. Tri refers to the number of wheels that this vehicle has and sikad means to kick in Cebuano. In Baybay, Leyte, they are called potpot which comes from the sound of the horn attached near the handlebar grip. When the circular black rubber of the horn is squeezed, the air goes through a short and winding metal, creating a sound that is akin to a snappy honk of a goose.

The driver pinches the horn’s rubber for many reasons. When there is a “huge” traffic jam of trisikad, the sound of a hundred potpot can be heard for miles that, at times, one can mistake them for a flock of geese. Traffic comes too in these narrow rural roads, especially during the feast of the saints. The flock of trisikad slowly navigating through the mud and potholes appear like a bunch of lumbering birds. Some white as ibis with flecks of brownish mud at the bottom, others black as crows. Many are flamingo pink and kingfisher blue while quite a few are cardinal red or flycatcher yellow.

The honk also serves as a warning to other vehicles (and jaywalkers) that a speeding trisikad is on the way. If the target of the honking takes offense, s/he honks back and the honking goes back and forth: the noisy war only stops when the honking enemy is out of earshot. A long syrupy honk is reserved for prospective passengers. Anyone standing by the wayside is a potential passenger. When the person waves an arm high up in the air or flick the pointer finger down to the ground, a honk of acknowledgment is elicited and the rider is tucked inside until the destination is reached.

This small three-wheel contraption can transport up to six passengers all at the same time. If the load is too heavy, the first to give way is not the driver’s calves but the wheels, or more specifically the rim that holds the rubber tire. From a perfect circle, the tire turns into a nice figure eight, almost like a flattened waist of a corseted ballerina. But this seldom happens, the passenger at the back usually jumps out of the cab and pushes for the driver to gather momentum. For his effort, the pusher-passenger rides free of charge.

In many parts of the Philippines, this pedal-powered vehicle is the main mode of transportation, sort of like a taxi that zooms from one point to the next. Aesthetically pleasing, earth-friendly, and healthy, a trisikad plying the streets is a joy to watch. Yet their days are numbered. Sedan-riding ultramodern politicians will phase them out in the name of “development.” Soon, really soon, gas-guzzler vehicles will rule our roads. And the streets will not be ours anymore.

****an ode to Bittersweet, our potpot, which helped me and my siblings get an education.

El Morro: A Sentry’s Graffiti

After months in Puerto Rico, I finally decided to visit one of the island’s main tourist draw, Castillo San Felipe del Morro. This Spanish-era fortress sits right at a promontory facing the Atlantic Ocean. Viejo San Juan, the old city center of the island, is a few meters inland and is connected to the fort via a thin stretch of road that slices through a sea of green grasses.

Back when El Morro was an active military fort from 1539 onwards, it was a bastion of strength for the Spaniards, guarding the important trade routes that connected the outlying colonies to the Spanish Crown. Galleons loaded with silver, gold, spices, and other items of high value from the Pacific and Latin America passed through the Carribbean, making this island prone to attacks from pirates and other colonizing powers. Pirates like Sir Francis Drake and Roberto Cofresi made themselves legendary in these waters. Yet despite the repeated invasions, the fort was so strategically located that it was only overtaken in battle once in its centuries of history (by George Clifford, Duke of Cumberland).

Similar to the construction of the Spanish-era Philippine fortresses, Spanish military engineers filled the walls with sand and gravel and not of compacted blocks of rock. This allowed enemy cannonballs to easily penetrate the wall without destroying the structure completely. An alternative explanation could be that these sand and gravel fillers are good deterrents from collapse during earthquakes since this provides room for movement, as some Philippine local historians contend. Whatever the reasons might be, El Morro’s centuries of warfare is written on its walls.

And I am saying this in the literal sense. While casually walking about, I chanced on a conquistadors‘ graffitti. It was not on the tourist information kit so I believed that I stumbled into something nice and exciting. I was about to scream Eureka but then again, I googled “el morro graffitti” and found two sources about it. According to Rivera-Collazo, there are at least 400 ship drawings in El Morro, most likely from the 1700s to the first half of the 20th century. Personally seeing the graffittis however was very rewarding in itself, touching these etches was like doing Braille on what could have been on these conquistadores‘ mind.

I chanced on the graffittis when I walked in the tronera, a few meters from where the brass canyons were wedged. The tronera is virtually a vertical hole carved into the wall just enough for one sentry to wiggle through. The info posted near the tronera says the following:

Armed with a musket, a sentry stood guard at this post. In the event of an attack, the sentry could scurry down the narrow tunnel to a concealed firing position. Here he could fire his musket and reload under cover.

While sitting in this claustrophobic hole, I looked down and saw the first evidence of the sentry’s presence. Etched at the base where the gun might have been put were two line scratches and a hole. I thought that although these looked like Wolverine’s claw marks, there should be a  plausible explanation for this. I figured that the small hole could have been where the metal balls and gunpowder were placed while the two “claw marks” were used for striking a fire.

The hole and the “claw marks”

When I saw this, I started looking around and saw non-utilitarian graffiti written on the walls. I surveyed the walls and found three of the more than 400 ship drawings in El Morro. There were also religious symbols, badges, and outlines of a face.

Sketch of a Ship 1

Sketch of Ship 1 (same as above)

Sketch of Ship 2

Sketch of Ship 3

These three ship drawings were only visible from the digital camera’s screen. It is barely visible if one is looking at it with the naked eye because of the darkness and the burrito-like situation inside the tunnel. Aside from these ship drawings, there were other interesting sketches too:

Sketch of Face 1

Sketch of Face 2 (with only one tooth)

Catholic religious symbols and outlines of coat of arms were also found in the tronera. Which could be interpreted as visual evidence of a deeply religious sentry or a frightened conquistador. There are stories among Puerto Ricans too (or at least my partner believes it) about ghostly apparitions in the fort. These symbols might have been used as a talisman to ward off evil spirits. Or alternatively, the sentry might just have been bored and doodled anything that crossed his mind to while away time in a dreary wait for the next shift.

Sketch of a Marian Rose

Sketch of Cross 1

Sketch of Cross 2

Outline of What Appears to be a Coat of Arms

Drawing of a Heart?

These drawings are windows into the mind of the Spanish Crown’s foot soldiers. I am sure sketches can also be found in Intramuros, Fort Santiago, Fort San Pedro, and other Spanish-era fortifications in the Philippines and other former colonies. All we need is to wean ourselves from written documents and investigate the past in novel ways.

As it is, history books are often written from the point of view of the power elites of the era because historians use their official records and documents. There’s an inherent bias in choosing which sources historians rely on thus making historical interpretations perilous.  The squiggly scribbles of lowly sentries are thus critical in understanding the colonizing process, if only to provide a well-rounded interpretation of what has happened.

The time has come indeed to cast a light on the doodles of the past.

Raising Gabi: Bilingualism in Puerto Rico

Enseñame,” I said to Gabi, my almost 3-year old daughter, after she tried to say something in Spanish but, for the life of me, I failed to understand. She grabbed the edge of my shirt, pulled me next to the cabinet, and pointed at the row of baby dresses. “Traaaa-jeee… Traaaaa-jeeee,” she let the syllables slide slow and deliberate, obviously wondering why I cannot connect traje with clothes that princesses wear.

You see, Gabi has been around many places. In almost three years of her existence on earth, she has travelled the span of the Pacific and Atlantic, going wherever the fate of her parents went. For every mileage she took, she crossed boundaries. She was born in Cebu, a central island in the Philippines, and for the most part grew up with Cebuano speakers. At about a year old, she left for the continental US with Carla, her mother, and thus was exposed to English speakers. Several months after that, she moved to Puerto Rico, immersing herself in the Boricuan traditions of her mother’s side; eventually, she gained a modicum of proficiency in Spanish, some English gibberish, and no Cebuano. Later on, I joined them in Puerto Rico, bringing with me a spoonful of Castilian nouns, a legacy of a 12-unit academic credit and three centuries of Spanish colonization.

Unlike Puerto Rico where Spanish is the lingua franca, the Spanish conquistadores were uninterested in spreading their language in the Philippines. According to Gonzalez (1998:495),

In the Philippines during the evangelisation period under the Spanish religious orders beginning with the arrival of Legazpi in l565, the strategy of the Spanish religious orders was not for the locals to learn Spanish but for the Spanish-speaking missionaries to learn the local languages, which they did with impressive success…In spite of repeated instructions from the Crown on teaching the natives the Spanish language, there was only a little compliance. Instead the friars using common sense, kept employing the local languages, so much so that in the period of intense nationalism in the nineteenth century, the failure of the Spanish friars to teach Spanish was used by some of the ilustrados (Filipinos educated in Spain) as a reason to accuse the friars of deliberately keeping Spanish away from the natives so as to prevent them from advancing themselves.

As a result of our colonial encounters, what we have is a hodgepodge of Spanish words with a dash of Cebuano and English, all structured within a Cebuano grammatical base. For example, Como estas tu? (How are you?) is kumusta ka in Cebuano. In many cases, words from three different languages often coexist in a sentence, like in the case of Wa na koy amor sa akong boyfriend! (I don’t love my boyfriend anymore!); amor being Spanish and the rest is in Cebuano (except for boyfriend, which is, of course, English). Some words are Spanish in origin but the meaning is reconfigured into the local experience. Salida in Spanish means “exit” but for Cebuanos, salida translates as movie. When driving, Cebuanos say de silla (literal Spanish: “of the chair”) to denote left and de mano (literal Spanish: “of the hand”) for right.

What further complicates the language divide between me and my daughter is the kind of Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico. This Spanish is fast-paced, as rapid as the staccato of bullets and as frenetic as salsa. Phrases and words are shortened; letters are switched or unpronounced. Puerto Ricans substitute /r/ for /l/, so jugar (to play) is pronounced jugal. They also do not say /n/ much and use /ng/ instead. So, my partner’s relatives call me Bong instead of Bonn. Also, if the /s/ is at the end of the word, they omit it and replace /s/ with a guttural /h/. Like many countries of Latin America and parts of Spain, /ll/ and /y/ is pronounced here as /j/, so relleno (stuffed) is re/j/eno and yautia (a kind of yam) is /j/autia. They also have words that are English in origin, like zafacon, shortened version for safety container (trash bin). At home, one can hear words in Cebuano, English, and Spanish. Oftentimes, I speak to Gabi in English with a few Spanish phrases and gestures to drive home a point. When all else fails, I ask her mom to translate for me.

What I fear about Gabi growing up bilingual is the warning posed by some researchers that bilingual children need “at least five to six years of school attendance…to reach the level of his monolingual schoolmates” (Cummins 1984 cited in Tzivinikou 2004: 468). An early author on bilingualism, Adler (1977:4 quoted in Baker 2001:17) even went further by suggesting that the bilingual child has “his standards split, he becomes more inarticulate than one would expect of one who can express himself in two languages, his emotions are more instinctive, in short, bilingualism can lead to a split personality and, at worst, to schizophrenia.”

The Language Enhancing the Achievement of Pasifika (LEAP) of the New Zealand Ministry of Education (NZME) however dismisses these conclusions. LEAP maintains that early studies on bilingualism are hindered by methodological issues. According to the LEAP (see retrieved: 2010), the

“context was never properly taken into account. (M)any of the bilingual students sampled were in subtractive bilingual environments and this, not their bilingualism, may have placed them at a disadvantage. Furthermore, there was no proper matching. To compare the cognitive ability of a group of bilingual children with monolingual students requires that the two groups be equal in all other respects (for example, socioeconomic status, gender, age, type of school attended, and urban/rural contexts). This did not occur, and these other factors ‘confounded’ the results.”

Using Jim Cummins’ common underlying proficiency (CUP) model, LEAP posits that “bilingualism and multilingualism are possible because people have the capacity to easily store two or more languages. People can also function in two or more languages with relative ease.” And it is not only LEAP that extols the merits of bilingualism. No less than the Linguistic Society of America argues that “bilingualism isn’t a danger either to the English language or to the bilingual speakers themselves. On the contrary, there are many advantages to bilingualism, both for the individual and for the society as a whole” (Birner, retrieved: 2010).

Going back to Gabi, we know she has been absorbing a lot of words. In the near future, she will be adept in the nuances of English, Spanish, and Cebuano. Who knows she might even decide to learn a few more languages on her own as she gets older. But right now, in this cacophony of linguistic traditions at home, sometimes that tiny palm gripping my finger says it all.


Baker, Colin. Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 3rd ed. Multilingual Matters, Clevedon. 2001

Birner, Betty. Bilingualism. Retrieved: January 8, 2010

Gonzalez, Andrew “The Language Planning Situation in the Philippines” (PDF). Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 1998: 19 (5, 6).

Tzivinikou, Soteria. Development of Speech Problems and Bilingualism: The Difficulties of Identification in International Education Journal 2004: Vol 5, No 4.

Gonzalez, A. (1998). The Language Planning Situation in the Philippines Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 19 (5), 487-525 DOI: 10.1080/01434639808666365

Language Enhancing the Achievements of Pasifika. 8 January 2010.