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.
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.
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:
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:
Entrants into a carriage design festival, which owners rode through town:
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:
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:
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:
Then chewed some more, wondering if I could get it into my stomach or if my stomach would change direction:
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:
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.
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.