Travel Philippines

Travel Books: Philippines

Good books I read on Philippines this trip: 

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A novel within a novel following a Filipino author trying to understand the death of one of his Filipino literary heroes. Told from the point of view of someone whose left the Philippines and returned, offers insights into life in modern day Manila and cultural identity of being Filipino.

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Not directly related to the Philippines – in fact, the story is likely set in Pakistan, based on some descriptions (it’s kept ambiguous to accomodate a larger Asian theme) – but travelling through Manila and seeing tons of high rises and other developments going up plus whispers of a new middle class thanks to customer service centres popping up in the Philippines I was intrigued. It’s a quick read based on a young entrepreneur who chronicles the steps it takes to get up and out of poverty and join the industrial class, including how to bribe and sidestep laws. It was an interesting read.

Book I didn’t read but have on my list: 

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The American influence in Philippines is huge. Obama was on a visit while we were there, reinstating more of an American military presence after they had officially pulled out of all bases in the mid 90s. Interestingly, I learned from papers while I was there that many Filipinos are fine with American influence  (Not all. Some were protesting Obama’s move. But on the whole, pro.)- some even admitting they wished they were an American colony. Anyhow, heard this book was a good one.

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We gone to Vigan

 

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After a week of bobbing in the waves of Palawan, wondering if I had it in me to live a simpler life here, fishing, swimming and sleeping days away, I was broken from my daydream by our merry band of travelers – Rose’s Mum & husband and Rose’s sister -who said it was time for our next destination, Vigan City.

Vigan is a city, eight hours North of Manila, given a UNESCO world heritage designation for its Spanish colonial architecture that’s survived since the 1600s, including occupation of invading forces.

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But all of that would only play a backdrop to the real reason we were here: FAMILY. A lot of it.

This was not a journey into a quaint countryside home to connect with a handful of cousins and aunts and uncles.

This was a journey into a village, populated almost entirely by Rose’s family.

30 cousins, 11 aunts and uncles, a smattering of second cousins, and a sprinkle of third cousins for youthful diversity.

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While I would claim that the main activity in Palawan was solitary meditation on the environment and rolling waves, in Vigan, the primary activity was group mediation.

With so many people with varying interests and activities, Rose’s mum with the help of her immediate inner circle of sisters and brothers, undertook a colossal, military operation, to ensure food somehow showed up at the house, got cooked, tables got laid. Plus transportation showed up and we ended up exactly where we were planned to go.

Seeing the velocity at which these wheels of industry spun, I took as far a backseat as possible to avoid getting crushed. In fact, on one occasion, I sat so far back I was in the back of a truck with a group of other children on the way to the beach:

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Aside from the machinations of moving a horde of people, Vigan city also proved impressive. Our visit coincided with its annual fiesta, that brought out dancers:

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Entrants into a carriage design festival, which owners rode through town:

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But, of all the activities in the Philippines, there was one that I was steeling myself for, well before I arrived. Karaoke you might think? Yes, that happened:

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However, I’d ripped through enough Bon Jovi on the mic in Canada to not feel entirely taken by surprise. Although, the biggest challenge for karaoke in Philippines was learning to do it with a straight face. As I learned, everyone who sang karaoke, REALLY sang. Regardless whether someone could hit a high note, they were going for the karoake machine’s high score.

No, this activity was much nastier, and more nervewracking than stage fright. Here’s what my nightmare looked like in the flesh:

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What you’re looking at is a fertilized egg, containing a bird embryo that, judging by the darkness of its feathers, is probably 18 days old. It’s called Balot and it’s a Philippine delicacy.

So, I put it in my mouth, and chewed:

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Then chewed some more, wondering if I could get it into my stomach or if my stomach would change direction:

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Luckily, it stayed down with the help of some spicy vinegar, and a half bottle of beer.

But I wasn’t the only daredevil.

Rose and her sister each ate one, plus Rose’s mum’s husband, who admitted to me afterwards that he hadn’t eaten one in over 25 years, and was just as worried about it.

While Balot weighed heaviest in my mind, in the scheme of animal’s to be eaten at Rose’s mum’s house, it was of least importance.

Rose’s mum was having a party for the entire family, and the honoured guest was a cow she had purchased just for the event that would appear in various forms in various dishes.

However, this was no supermarket cow, already covered in cellophane wrap ready to pick off a shelf. It mooed, it licked, it sweat – it was alive and someone had to dispatch it.

Yes, even in writing this, I feel the inevitability of where this is heading:

“Marc. As a first time guest to the Philippines, please honour us by being the one to kill the cow”.

My heart’s beating faster as I read it.

Thankfully, that was only fantasy.

There were much more qualified guys in charge of the job – namely, Rose’s cousin Atong who is a certified butcher, and was one of the guys involved in doing the deed.

The weather in the Philippines is so hot, that they arranged the killing in the middle of the night in Rose’s mum backfield. By morning, this was all that was left of the killing floor, while beef dishes were already well underway:

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While I shied from this slaughter, on a separate occasion, I put on a strong face and practiced calm as I ripped out a handful of leaves from the ground, plus, barbarian-like, tore hot peppers from their branches, all sacrifices for that evening’s meal.

I have no regrets.

Later on we headed to the Vigan town square to watch a laser fountain show, which depending on where you stand could be seen as amazingly avant-garde or insanely disparate as it mixed music from Skrillex, the song “the eye of the tiger,” Katy Perry, some Korean pop bands, and a Journey song.

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That brought our time to a close in Philippines as we headed to the airport and our next destination, the hot, humid environs of the capital city of Laos, Vientiane.

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On and On in Palawan

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Palawan is a series of islands on the far West of the Philippines on the South China Sea.  They’re known for extensive coral reefs, atolls, WW2 wrecks and views that, I’m sure,  have been translated to wallpaper on more than a few tablets and phones around the world.

It’s a big island with a few destinations for travellers, each one offering something specific: the capital Puerto Princesa a UNESCO world heritage site, El Nido – a dive spot, Coron – a place to snorkel, go island hopping and for scuba, wreck diving.

We chose Coron as our spot, and every second day, embarked on one of these trusty bankas with a crew who took us around the various spots to snorkel and swim.

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We went to some incredible spots for coral with tons of colourful fish (including Finding Nemo – the clownfish), sea snakes, nudibranch, starfish, clams, big brain coral plus a couple of Japanese WW2 wrecks.

And yet, I have no shots of any of it to show you, because I haven’t got an underwater camera. However, in lieu of that, we do have a shot of the whale shark which we saw in Donsol previous to Palawan, as the family we were traveling with on the banka had an underwater camera and had my email address.

So, while not in Palawan, here is an underwater shot of the whale shark we spotted, alone, with 99 other people:

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Ok, back to Palawan. While we didn’t spot whale sharks there, we stopped in a ton of spots, that were also nice to look at, like:

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And, from a higher vantage point:

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On one of the island hopping jaunts we also snorkelled into a thermal lake, which alternated from hot to cold temperatures, and created this strange effect underwater, where your line of sight went from clear (cold water) one second to hazy and blurry (hot water) the next.

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So, I’d spot something cool I wanted to point out to Rose, who was a few feet behind me, but by the time I’d shown her, the water had gone hot, creating the haze, and distorting the view. Really bizarre effect, but awesome to see.

The town of Coron also had a market (straight ahead on the right)

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It was filled with plenty of fish, which Rose’s mum got really excited about and would do all the bargaining in Tagalog, to avoid any chance of getting inflated prices, if I, an obvious foreigner, were to insert myself into the negotiating.

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Fine with me – instead I followed a bunch of the roving cats around the fish market who were waiting for a fish to slip through the hands of a vendor, or in the case of this guy, hang around long enough for someone to offer you a charitable poisson:

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We also roamed around the town, hopping between shade and shadows, to avoid the sun’s laser beam heat, and jumped into a Filipino dessert specialty, Halo-Halo (shaved ice, coconut, condensed milk, and other colorful candy stuff) which pairs well with 35degreesCelsius:

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After a week, shlubbing around Coron, we headed back to Manila briefly before moving on to see more of Rose’s family forest (it’s more than a tree) in Vigan – a UNESCO heritage town, north of Manila.

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