I've spent the past 10 days in the Philippines, and I have to tell you that I am having the time of my life! There are so many memories and observations that I would like to share, but that would take forever to document in this blog. So I'm going to spare you all the details and disclose only the most salient trip highlights. Here are some of my favorite memories.
My first meal: Upon arriving at Manila airport, my Tita Annie and Tito Boy picked me up at the airport and took me to Razon's restaurant at Green Belt mall. I ordered sizzling boneless Bangus (milkfish) with rice and Halo Halo (a refreshing mixture of evaporated milk, tapioca balls, leche flan, etc.) This is one of my favorite meals, not only beause I loved the food, but also because I spent quality time with my dearest relatives. I haven't been back to the Phiippines since 1980 so I was definitely taking it all in.
Mini family reunion: On my 2nd night, we gathered at Chateau Verde located on the University of Philippines campus (my mom's alma mater) for a family reunion to connect with relatives I haven't seen since I was a toddler. Those who attended were mostly Trinidad and David descendants. There were approximately 50 of us (it would have been well over 100 if my other relatives were able to join us) so my uncle Flavi reserved the entire restaurant. My uncle Romy kicked off the night by playing the ukulele and serenading us as well. I secretly volunteered my cousin, Maan, to sing one song, which she beautifully did in acapella. My uncle Jimmy donated seven of his paintings to be raffled off throughout dinner. I am now a proud owner of one of his masterpieces (a bamboo and mango painting that will blend well with my decor). I can't wait to display it. There's definitely plenty of talent in the family.
Batangas: On our 3rd day, 10 of us made our way to the province of Batangas. On the drive there, we passed through Tagaytay. I have many fond memories of horseback riding there when I last visited in 1980. The road to Batangas was EXTREMELY windy. Think Lombard Street in San Francisco, but cliffside and several miles longer. At Batangas, we ended up spending several hours at my uncle's friend's resort: Balai Isabel. This resort doesn't originally open until March so we mostly had the place to ourselves. We lounged, feasted on fresh tilapia, lapu lapu, tawilis, beef steak and coconut juice, got attacked by flies, waded, and swam before heading back to Mandaluyong, where our hotel is located. Lazy days! I can definitely get used to this lifestyle. In fact, we half-jokingly discussed pooling all our money to open our own resort. Wishful thinking.
Buhol: On my 4th day, we left Robinson's Apartelle to catch our flight to Buhol (the 10th largest island in the Philippines). We arrived at Panglao Island Nature Resort and Spa. I fell in love with this place the moment I stepped out of the van. It definitely reminded me of Hawaii in many ways. There's one caveat in the welcome packet that I have to repeat in this blog since it made me laugh: "In the least likely event that some pythons may seek food outside their natural habitat, DON'T PANIC; instead, just casually walk away. The python as you know, is non-venemous;in fact, to some, it can be a cuddly pet." Thank goodness I never encountered a python, but I did see a gigantic hermit crab (thought it was a turtle at first), several frogs, a couple of geckos, a bat, and a preying mantis that made its way into my room the first night. I'm okay with all types of insects and animals, but when they invade my living space, I get a little territorial. My nephew and I attempted to kill the preying mantis by using every single aerosol spray we could find. For about 30 minutes, we sprayed what we thought was a deadly amalgam of insect repellent, cooling body mist, and hair spray. Instead of killing the mantis, we ended up getting slightly intoxicated ourselves. Since I wanted to go to sleep, I finally used one of the hotel slippers to crush it - green goo oozed out of it. Gross. What an experience.
While at Buhol, we took a tour to get a sense of the island's rich history. Our first stop was Baclayan Church (built in 1727 - arguably one of the oldest churches in the Philippines). We also visited the Tarsiers habitat. This is one of my FAVORITE experiences. Tarsiers are nocturnal primates. They have HUGE round eyes and fit into the palm of your hand. They can also tilt their heads 180 degrees to the left and to the right. "The Exorcist" definitely comes to mind. I wanted to take one home with me, but tarsiers commit suicide by banging their heads (they have soft fontanelles) if you take them out of their natural habitat. Bummer! We also visited the Chocolate Hills (formerly known as Carmen Hills, but renamed due to their resemblance to Hershey's kisses), Our Lady of Assumption, the Blood Compact Statue, and the Mahogany Manmade Forest. Since I am super anal, I would have cited more historical facts and descriptions, but don't have time to type all this information. It's all documented in my travel journal in case you ever want to know.
We also went on a LOBOC floating restaurant tour. After a lunch buffet, we floated down the river and came across a group of 12+ kids. They all had guitars and sang a couple of songs and danced for us! I was SO touched by this that I recorded 2 of their performances. Our tour guide, Fritzie, told me that the kids can't afford to go to school so they do these performances to raise money. They definitely made an impression on me since I can't stop thinking about them.
On our last day of Buhol, I went inside the Cambagat Cave (Bat Cave). I LOVED IT! I was able to get into a crawl space to get a better view, but sadly I only spotted one bat. Most of them were sleeping. I heard there were thousands at the other end of the cave. Since I was inappropriately outfitted in a long dress and flip flops, I didn't have the opportunity to see what was on the other side. Definitely next time.
Driving conditions: How do I begin to tell you about the driving conditions here without first telling you that road rules are practically non-existent or, at the very least, open to interpretation. Driving in the Philippines is akin to playing a video game. You have to constantly dodge other vehicles (such as jeepneys, tricycles, and cars), pedestrians who appear out of nowhere, and sometimes stray animals that are crossing the street at any given moment. I stopped freaking out about those near collisions on the 2nd day since I sadly got accustomed to them. I don't think I could have survived without our hired drivers. My uncles also drove us around, those brave souls. I also found it ironic that most Jeepneys (elongated windowless jeeps) had "How am I driving?" signs on the back of every vehicle. I wouldn't even know where to begin if I ever called to complain.
Security guards: Security is definitely a priority here. There are security guards at every mall making sure that you don't bring any explosives into the shopping areas (where most people spend their day to escape the heat). At one location, Green Belt, there were checkpoints every 100 feet or so. That was little disconcerting at first, but you get accustomed to security measures.
Overall, I can summarize my Philippine trip with two words: gluttony and hedonism. We ate, slept, shoped, ate, lounged, ate, lounged, and ate. We also squeezed in several spa treatments in between since it's super inexpensive here. I enjoyed the numerous buffets, family gatherings, churches, history, open market places, being addressed as maam-sir (generic greeting for everyone) everywhere we went and so much more. I couldn't have asked for a better experience. Also, I was able to practice a little Tagalog while I was here.
Tomorrow, I will be bidding farewell to my family and heading off to Singapore on my own. My adventure begins.