Showing off the Philippines
I started with a quick city tour – San Agustin Church and other historic churches in Manila, Fort Santiago and the University of Sto. Tomas. He had been taking Spanish lessons in Montreal and our 300 years under Spanish rule was of special interest for him.
His immediate reaction was: "Wow, you already had churches and schools, and Quebec did not even exist then!" I guess he ended up with higher respect for the Filipinos as a people and managed to see beyond the shortcomings he had seen or read about.
The following day, I brought him to Pampanga, where he saw the desolation and devastation caused by the lahar. An engineer by profession, he works at Rolls Royce where he analyzes the causes behind breakdowns of aircraft engines and spare parts. As he was closely examining the lahar, he talked about the high incidence of engine problems they encountered immediately after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption.
After his brief stay in Manila, he went to Davao, trekked to Mt. Apo, swam in the clear waters of Samal Island. And shortly before leaving the country, he and my sister went north to see Sagada.
Guy returned to Davao the following year. He watched my husband, Joy, slaughter one of the native chickens my Dad raised in our backyard. Joy took the effort to clean it thoroughly by plucking out the tiniest feathers. But Guy ended up eating Jolibee’s Chickenjoy which, incidentally, he loves up to now.
In January 1999, when my parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, we treated them to a 2-night stay in Boracay. We rented a house (owned by the Tirol family) by the beach that was big enough to accommodate our party of eight – me and Joy, Rebecca and Guy, our parents, and my aunt Linda and her husband who came all the way from Delaware to be with us for the occasion. Joy and I did the marketing and prepared our meals.
They walked on Boracay’s immaculate sand, swam in its clear waters, and danced with the Ati-atihan in Kalibo. They ate oysters, shrimps and crabs which abound in Balate (Joy’s hometown) and watched the flying shuttles of skilled weavers making pina cloth out of the fine fibers of the native pineapple leaves.
Guy, who was once amazed at the lizards that crawl on our window screens, was so startled when he heard the gecko (tu…ko!) that frequented the room where he and Rebecca were staying.
The next stop was Leyte and our route was quite circuitous. From Aklan, we went by car to Iloilo then took the ferry for Bacolod where we would catch our flight for Cebu. Along the way, Guy took note of Iloilo’s white Victorian houses and tasted La Paz bachoy. We stayed overnight in Cebu, where my three children, who skipped class for a few days, would join us.
Guy barely had enough time to see downtown Cebu (Magellan’s cross, Sto. Nino Church, etc.). We took the early ferry bound for Maasin, Southern Leyte the following day. San Francisco, my parents’ hometown, in the island of Panaon, is four hours away by car from Maasin.
In San Francisco, Guy ate kinilaw, uni (he learned to clean the spiny sea urchins by himself), various types of sea weeds and sea shells -- by the sea. He even tasted the eggs of an octopus that one of my cousins picked from the sea floor -- it looked like a bunch of filled condoms and the locals claimed it is an aphrodisiac! He got himself acquainted on the bounties from the sea that sustain many families in our village.
In the next two years, he learned scuba diving in Canada, in preparation for our scheduled Palawan trip in 2000. (I earlier posted a separate account on our Palawan trip).
From Palawan, we again trooped to Leyte for our clan reunion. This time, Guy watched and took pictures while my cousins slaughtered a pig and heartily ate the lechon and dinuguan they prepared. We explored the corals in the nearby village of Napantao. We trekked the 425 steps leading to Magellan’s Cross and snorkeled in the clear waters of Limasawa, the historic island right across Panaon.
As our parents grew older, Guy and my sister were visiting them more frequently. In 2001, after a two-week stay in Leyte, we went to Bohol. He missed Bohol’s typical sites – the tarsiers, the Chocolate Hills, and the country’s oldest Catholic church in Baclayon. We also skipped the Loboc river ride as we gave priority to the two-night stay in the island of Balicasag, one of the best diving sites in the country. Joy, the children and I spent hours snorkeling over Balicasag’s fascinating corals while Guy went scuba diving. The Philippine Tourism Authority, an attached agency of the Department of Tourism, maintains decent facilities in Balicasag.
No doubt we will go back to Bohol so he can spend more time in Panglao, where the white sand can rival that of Boracay’s. He should try out the charming Bohol Bee Farm, a compact resort overlooking the sea that serves honey-based cooking. The owners raise bees for their supply of honey just as they grow their own organic vegetables.
Guy requested to go back to Aklan. We skipped Boracay and instead we spent more time in Balete, Joy’s hometown. We had an unusual two-hour boat ride along the river that brought us to Tinagong Dagat (Hidden Sea), the bay where Aklan’s oysters come from. We dropped by Jawili Falls, a series of cascading natural pools, where my children really had fun during their previous visit.
In 2003, my sister and I decided to spend Christmas with our parents. After shaking off their jetlags, they immediately left for Leyte. My three children would follow them a week later, immediately after their classes ended for the Christmas break. Two days before my children were to leave Manila, my sister called asking if we should cancel the children’s trip because the heavy rains had made the 12-kilometer road between our town and Liloan impassable.
But I could not bear the thought of disappointing our parents who were looking forward to spending their Christmas with the grandchildren in Leyte for the first time. She agreed to pick them up in Liloan, a one hour-and-a-half ride by pump boat around the island. Just a few minutes after they arrived in San Francisco – all of them soaking wet because of the heavy rains – tragedy struck the family. A series of landslides buried Punta – the fishing village where many of our relatives live, the place where we hold our periodic reunions, and where we spent countless memorable hours snorkeling and fishing. (I had posted several accounts about the tragedy, too.)
It was quite a shock for my brother-in-law just as it was a traumatizing experience for my children. But families are together not only to share happy moments – but more importantly, to support each other during times of crisis. Upon his return to Canada, Guy sent some financial help for our relatives.
And last April 2005, he was back to Leyte again, roaming around the new village where our relatives have relocated. And he promised to be back later this year. Indeed, he is one of us now.