The Travelogue: Albay ATV Adventure

The Travelogue: Albay ATV Adventure

My cousin suggested that Jen and I should quad-bike around Mount Mayon, and I, for one, thought this was a bloody brilliant idea. I was appreciating how much effort she was putting in to take us on adventures. Normally, when traveling with my family, the days can be a little monotonous, with my mother, who is no longer used to the Filipino heat, preferring to retreat to the comfort of an air-conditioned room or shopping mall. I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in England, so I often find her lack of adventure frustrating when we return to the land we were born in. This time, though, she seemed intrigued by my cousin’s suggestion.

The road that leads to Cagsawa Ruins is lined on one side by local companies offering ATV experiences. We scanned the row, and came to one that seemed reasonably priced, not that it mattered much, as as soon as we sat down in the lobby, my relatives began negotiating a ‘tawad‘ (discount).  

Negotiations went on for a good five minutes, my mother and Tita putting on their most amiable, friendly voices, determined to lower the price of 600 pesos per person. “Please, Kuyaaaa”, they pleaded, flashing a smile.

The young man taking the brunt of their bargaining held out for as long as he could, but in the end let the Titas have they’re way: it was agreed that four of our group ride out for 400 pesos (£6) per person, rather than just Jen and I paying the asking price of 600. 

Our two guides, one with curly hair tied back in a ponytail (who reminded me a little of Jireh Lim), the other shorter and wearing a black rash vest, went over the safety procedures with us and showed us how to operate our machines. Tita L, who wouldn’t be venturing out, put on a helmet and borrowed my mother’s quad-bike to take some quick photos ‘sa Pacebook‘, as per usual. 

“They won’t know I didn’t go’, she joked. 

Both the weather and time of day were perfect, with the grass tinged gold by the descending sun and the only cloud in the sky emanating from the crater of Mayon. We descended onto a well-travelled dirt trail, passing a wooden shelter here and a carabao there, solitary signs of life in a wide-open plain of fields and palms. I hadn’t been on a quad-bike since I was a child, and the gentle breeze as we drove refreshed me on what had been a tiring and humid day, as did the sense of adventure that comes with being in control of a vehicle. All of us were enjoying ourselves, including and especially my mother.

The two guides borrowed our phones. As one lead, the other zoomed ahead, waiting in key spots to capture photos of us as we passed in front of Mayon or forded the river and small streams. 

They were experts on the trail, and knew which angles looked good, so I was impressed with the photos they snapped (all photos used in this post, besides the title image, were taken by them). At points, we would stop to take group shots, but while they took pictures of the other three posing in front of Mayon, I grabbed my camera from my bag to take a few shots of my own. We were well into golden hour, and I couldn’t miss the chance to photograph this landscape on the rare occasion I was able to be part of it.

As the sun began to set, the guides took us along a stream. The large, jagged rocks underneath the current bounced us around and required more concentration to manoeuvre than the relatively smooth path we’d been taking. At times, one of us would get stuck, wheels flailing, and require the guides’ help to get moving again. 

When we reached an area with two diggers, they signalled it was time to turn around and head back to base. I was surprised to find the construction machines all the way out there, given that we’d seen sparse evidence of any human activity for the last few kilometres, barring traditionally made kubo, thatched-roof shelters used by farmers when out in the fields, and a trike. All were unmanned. On a nearby mound of dirt, a pack of dogs lay lazily, eyeing us as our noisy procession passed by.

Overall,  the ATV adventure was a wonderful experience. I loved being able to venture out into the countryside with the ever impressive silhouette of Mayon dominating the horizon. Even my unadventurous mother was exhilarated by the ride. Having recently passed her driving test back in the U.K, she had seemed eager to get behind the wheel, and this experience seemed to scratch that itch.

The two guides were very helpful, friendly, and energetic the entire time. And after we had parked up and thanked them, I commented to Jen that I felt a little guilty my relatives had manage to get a tawad,  as “they were worth the full amount.” 

“If your friends or relatives visit Legaspi, remember to recommend us”, one of the guides told us. Both Jen and I agreed we would.

So, if you’re in Legaspi, I would wholeheartedly recommend checking these guys out.
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(Disclaimer: This post is being written a year and a half late (I reeeally need to catch up with this travelogue). 

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The Travelogue: Kawa-Kawa Hill

The Travelogue: Kawa-Kawa Hill

It had only been ten minutes since alighting from the Jeepney, and I was already soaked with sweat. Tita L joked that this was our ‘penitensya‘, as we trekked under the baking, unrelenting sun up the long uphill path through the forest to the peak of Kawa-Kawa Hill.

Penitensya, or feeling regret or sorrow for sins or offenses, often includes self-inflicted suffering to mimic Christ’s experience in his last days. It is a known practice in certain, mostly rural,  parts of the Philippines during Holy Week, and for those who participate, it is a sign of their deep devotion to God. These devotees will be voluntarily flogged in the street, their backs covered in welts and blood, bound and bagged, and some, who want the most authentic Jesus Christ experience, are crucified, nails and all (though this is far rarer). This ritual is even visited by tourists.

Tita L’s off-hand joke seemed to gain unexpected relevance as we ascended. Upon turning a corner I found a life-size statue of Christ, kneeling in prayer. Ten minutes later, a statue of Christ and his desciples. I had known nothing of Kawa-Kawa before we came here, but now I was starting to get the gist: situated along the hill and in the park proper stood life-size statues depicting scenes from story of Easter (the statue of the Last Supper at the base of the hill should have tipped me off). In all, there are fourteen Stations of the Cross, and the trail encourages visitors to see them all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter what felt like a mini-pilgrimage in near 40-degree heat, we finally reached the top and collapsed onto the wooden benches in the shade. We’d made it to a rest stop. To our left, a woman sat at a refreshment stand, fanning herself while checking her phone. The Titas bought us some cold drinks to help us recuperate, while a hen and its chicks pecked around near our feet. In front of us, a large, pink heart had been erected for couple photo-ops, or possibly for wedding photos for those who tie the knot in the church that was to open in the near future.

Kawa-kawa is a hill without a hilltop. As I looked down into the valley, I felt as if I were looking into a volcanic crater, its concave shape and the circularity of its rim reminding me a bowl. Indeed, Kawa means ‘cauldron’ in the local dialect. Down in the valley, a grove of sunflowers were in bloom. Moving specs in the distance hinted that other people were out there, but from where we sat, everything was perfectly serene, and our group sat in solitude, chatting away, while Tita L and one of my relatives took photos of themselves ‘sa Pacebook‘. This was my first time I had expereinced such rolling greenery while in the Philippines. I knew it was out there, of course, but it had just appeared as an image flashing past a bus window, and despite the stifling humidity, the air sure tasted fresher and sweeter here.

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There were eight more Stations of the Cross to find. While the Titas stayed put under the shade, Jen, my cousins, and I, ventured along the path that ran around the valley’s rim. The palms along the edge of the path provided us with a little shade, but I can’t blame the Titas for staying put in the cool. We came to what appeared to be an indoor viewing platform, which provided us with the sundrenched vistas beyond Kawa-Kawa Hill, looking further into the countryside towards Mt. Masaraga, which I mistook for Mayon, as it was the only natural local landmark I was aware of.

The final station, at the hill’s highest point, across the valley from where we entered, depicts Christ on the Cross, and can be approached from three directions, depending on which path you choose. For me, approaching from the steep steps leading to the peak, rather than circling around on the path, provides the most powerful image of the trail, with the viewer looking up at the emotional scene through the frame of the palms.

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Admittedly, I am not a religious person. Whenever I return to the Philippines, I feel slightly out of place in ‘the most Christian country in Asia’, where over eighty percent of the population considers themselves Catholic, and over ninety are Christian in some form. Still, I can appreciate the comfort it brings people, and as I noticed my cousin’s gaze linger on the statues at each station a while longer than mine, I could see how the trail at Kawa-Kawa could be a spiritual journey for those who made the trip here, especially at the time of our visit, just a few days removed from Holy Week.

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The Travelogue: Returning to Legaspi, Bigg’s Diner, & Cagsawa Ruins

The Travelogue: Returning to Legaspi, Bigg’s Diner, & Cagsawa Ruins

After twelve hours of bumpy roads and sporadic sleep, we were nearly, finally, in Legaspi. I awoke at around 8 a.m to see the eminence of Mayon volcano out of the left-side window, the tip of its perfect cone breaking through low clouds like an arrow to the sky, giving me the true scale of it’s grandeur. I had been years since I’d seen this sight.

We were met at the bus station by my cousin, before eating breakfast at Jollibee and retiring to my tita’s house for a siesta. After trying to catch up on sleep the bus journey had stolen from us, we head out.

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Jen and I were to check into a hotel, Third and Sean’s Place, as my mother did not think my tita’s house could accomodate so many guests. It was an ancestral home that the owners had refurbished into guest house, and the renovation seemed to still be ongoing as construction workers greeted us when we alighted from our trikes. There was no one at reception, but we found the owner in the dining room.

“You must be Jen,” she said, upon our entrance.

She seemed a well-organised lola, and invited Jen, myself, and my relatives to sit at a large dining table made of wood and glass, expansive enough to seat twelve people, which stood steadfast in the centre of the spacious room. Around the room were sets of hardwood tables and chairs, and large vases on plinths; I made sure to not to go too near them, incase I turned around and my backpack knocked one to the ground. Above us hung a chandelier of gold and glass, and behind the bannister on the first floor landing, the woman’s wedding dress hung on a faceless mannequin, observing the surroundings below. A portrait of Christ hung in the atrium to our room.

She served us drinks, while asking about our travel plans and telling us the story of her mansion: her husband’s family had owned it for over sixty years, which surprised me, as I expected it to be older, given what I assumed was a colonial appearance. It had only been a hotel for two years, but she seemed very happy with how things had been going.

“The ratings on the website [Booking.com] are always so high”, she confessed to us with a smile. “We’re rated higher than the luxury hotels. It makes me very happy, and I hope it will last.”

It was a ‘humble-brag’ if ever there was one, but what she said was true; I had chosen this place for it’s high rating and very reasonable price. Plus, it was lovely to be greeted so personally by a genuine human being, and not be bombarded with robotic voices calling out ‘Hi, sir, hi ma’am!’ by insincere hotel clerks, like when we stayed at a hotel in Iloilo.

When learning that one of my titas lived in Legaspi, she asked my relatives her surname, and upon hearing it determined that it sounded very familiar.

We briefly left the conversation to unpack in our room, and when we returned it had been decided by our host that she was indeed distantly related to us via a cousin’s marriage to someone on my tita’s husband’s side, or something or other…

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After we’d all joined my cousin, P, in Ayala Mall, who had been waiting patiently without a phone to contact him on, I took Jen in search of Bigg’s Diner. Bigg’s is a chain exclusive to Bicol, and one of my favourite things about the region (or it was, when I used to eat meat). Their locations take inspiration from 1950’s American diners – though, the styling of the Ayala Mall branch seemed distinctly modern – with a menu consisting of classic burger-and-fries offerings, as well as some typical Filipino fare and Bicol specialities, at a quality far exceeding the usual fast food joints, and for a resonable price. We’d end up eating here every day we were in Legaspi, and I would definitely recommend it to those who are visiting Legaspi and the Bicol region. As I look back now, even as a vegetarian, I can’t help but slightly miss those succulent, juciy cheese burgers and golden-coated slabs of fried chicken, just a little…

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As we alighted from a taxi at Cagsawa Ruins, I was struck by how busy it was. I had seen images of it before, from post cards and Youtube videos, and must admit I had been fooled by them, as I’d assumed the ruins would be quiet and void of people. How foolish I had been, to think that there would be no tourists at this tourist spot.

The church ruins are all that remain of the former town of Cagsawa, as on 1st February 1814, the violent eruption of Mayon Volcano, it’s strongest to this day, destroyed the town in deadly lahars and pyroclastic clouds, killing thousands of inhabitants. Today, Mayon is still very much active, and erupts regularly. Despite knowing this, I can’t help but gaze at Mayon with wide-eyed wonder. As a child in school, I enjoyed studying volcanos in geography class; learning about immense destructive power and decimated landscapes will always add some spice to lessons mainly focussing on tectonic formations and igneous rock, so whenever Mayon is visible, my eyes are drawn to it. On clear days, white smoke bellows out, and the slopes of it’s perfect cone are verdant, almost inviting. It is a symbol of the Philippines, appearing on the 100 peso bill, and I am proud my family has roots in region it stands.

“She’s hiding,” said my cousin, as we regarded the immense mountain in the distance sitting behind a silk-like evening haze. “Hopefully you will get to see her on a clear day.”

We wandered around the ruins. The belfry is all that stands of the former church where people, unsuccessfully, took shelter from the volcano in 1814. In the succeeding years, the church’s facade fell apart or succumbed to vegetation, leaving the belfry to stand alone. Like Mayon, it transcends  the landscape, and viewing them together, you get a sense of their kinship, of their tragic shared history.

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We left as evening drew in. I turned back to view the site one last time. At a statue of Jesus, a woman stood stock still, one arm outstretched, possibly in prayer. This vigil seemed to foreshadow the trail of thirteen statues I would witness the following day…
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The Travelogue: Madge Café, La Paz Batchoy, & Museo de Iloilo

The Travelogue: Madge Café, La Paz Batchoy, & Museo de Iloilo

A few days earlier, while we had been lying around in Jen’s family home, trying to keep cool on another evening sticky with humidity, an episode of Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho came on TV which happened to showcase food in Iloilo.  I watched with interest, with a desire to learn more about the city. Much of the narration went over my head, and I asked Jen to translate passages here and there, but I got the gist.

Ms. Soho highlighted Barangay La Paz and the origins of La Paz Batchoy, a meaty noodle  dish whose origins seemed hotly debated, and Madge Cafe within La Paz market, a coffee shop that had been open for seventy five years. An ancient lola came on screen and told of how she had been their kape every day for decades. When the reporter asked how she had lived so long, both Jen and I knew what she would answer, and giggling, blurted it out with her: kape!

Their processes also looked interesting; the baristas in the cafe put on a show for the cameras, pouring their boiling coffee from eye level, and filtering their dark, native arabica beans through a colador (a long, netted strainer,) as it swished and spilled in streams into the mugs. I had to see this place.

And so we did.

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Our eyes took a little while to adjust to the darkness of La Paz market after venturing in from the streets baking in the bright sun. It was mid-afternoon, on a mid-week day, in mid-summer. No wonder the market seemed a little dead, with a few stall owners standing lonely behind their tables, their distant silhouettes lazily fanning themselves.

When we got to the café, we found it half-full, and easy to get a table. Without writing anything down, the waitress took our orders for coffee and puto, a steamed rice cake, and brought it over five minutes later. The coffee was made simple and rich, using Filipino beans, and really hit the spot, despite the scorching heat we had endured while walking around. Here, feeling the timely swish of an overhead fan, I gladly took in caffeine and warmed my insides. Jen watched on as the barista performed the same fancy moves as we had seen on TV. Chyrel nibbled the puto and passed on to me. On the wall hung newspaper clippings about the coffee shop and all the VIPs that had visited, from politicians, to celebrities. I looked around for the ancient lola we had seen on TV, but she had probably been and gone.

I liked this place. I liked how it had been in business for generations. I liked they reused their waste bottles and empty metal cans for decoration, and used other cans as ‘takeaway cups’ for iced coffee. This history, and regard for recycling, is very rare in any coffee shop in the Philippines, where new chain shops are opening up every day, doling out substandard brews in un-recycleable ‘paper’ cups, and the hipster coffee shops in trendy neighbourhoods are out of the price range of the average Pinoy. I could see why this place is special to locals. I wouldn’t experience another café like this for the rest of the trip.
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We ate La Paz Batchoy at Deco’s, but being out in the heat again had suppressed my appetite, especially for a dish where the steaming, comforting broth was the main draw, so I split my bowl with Jen.

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After eating, we walked around the area, past family shops selling all manner of items, from groceries and discount clothes, to cheap electronics and fake Pokemon cards.

Walking around with these two, the stares on the street that would normally be directed at me, passed onto them. We walked by an inasal stand as a man was chowing down. Upon seeing Chyrel (and I kid you not), the man, mid-mouthful, turned an entire 360 degrees to watch her pass by him, and held his gaze and she walked down the street. His eyeballs may as well have bulged out of their sockets and dropped to the floor like a vintage cartoon character. Some Pinoys aren’t subtle with their staring, but I had never seen something so blatant before.

It reminded me of earlier that morning. As we had been having Breakfast in the Injap Tower restaurant, Jen had gone up to the buffet to get more food, and, with her blue hair and robe given to her by F when we had been in Manila, seemed to catch the attention of one of the waiting staff. As Jen sccoped food onto her plate, this girl took out her phone and seemed to be recording Jen, before pointing her out to her male colleague, who joined her in staring. After a minute, looked over her shoulder, and caught me eyeing them, at which point she whispered to her colleague who did the same, meeting my eye.

I had the urge to wave…

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Iloilo museum is essentially comprised of one room. At the lower end, a children’s art workshop was in progress, and many of the kids looked up from their work to observe us as we walked in. The rest of the room housed the exhibits.

We were met by an enthusiastic lola, who gave us a tour speaking in both energetic English, and Hiligaynon (to Jen, as neither Chyrel or I could understand their dialect). She had been a school teacher: “Thirty one years in service,” she told us, and she reeled off information clearly and confidently as she took us around. Being only one room, the tour didn’t last long, but I appreciated her input, and we were left to browse at our leisure.

As usual, there were many religious exhibits, such as an ivory carving of Christ on the cross, blackened by the flames of an altar, but I was more interested in Iloilo’s pre-colonial days. The Museum itself appeared to be hazy on the subject, telling the tale of Iloilo’s creation by Malay Datus who had travelled over from Borneo in the year 1250, but admitting that it is probably a folktale. As with much of the archipelago’s history, not much is known for certain from before the Spanish came, but evidence of inter-island and international trade had been unearthed, revealing the Ilonggos’ extensive trading with the Chinese and other Asians.

Of course, many of the artefacts were also dedicated to the Philippine Revolution,  Philippine-American War, and the Second World War. Weapons and clothes donned by Filipino generals hoping to liberate their country from over three hundred years of Spanish control lay in glass cases. Guns and Samurai swords left by Japanese soldiers, sat rusting, appearing harmless, tame. In the middle of the room, a large triangular glass case of Japanese-issued Philippine centavos sat, completely worthless. ‘Mickey Mouse Money’, our knowledgable lola described it. The museum was as much a museum of the country’s colonised past, as it was about Iloilo itself; a room filled with evidence of the Filipino’s fighting to be, finally, free, and acknowledged by the world. After 333 years of Spanish colonisation, and 47 years of American rule, the Philippines finally recognised as an independent nation in 1946.

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After finishing our tour we decided it was time to leave. As Jen was in the bathroom, Chyrel and I waited outside alongside some children who had been attending the art workshop, hands and clothes splashed in coloured paint.

“Which country are you from,” one of the children asked Chyrel, and pulled a blank expression when she told him she was from the Philippines, too, as if this hadn’t been the answer he’d hoped for.

It always surprised me that people thought these two, especially Jen, weren’t Filipino. I lost track of how many times Jen got asked if she were Chinese, Korean, or Japanese – she even had a group of kids screaming ‘Anyeonghaseyo! (‘Hello’, in Korean) down the street to her one morning when we were in Legaspi. Some Pinoys can jump to the conclusion that anything out of their perceived norm, whether it’s fashion or a particular feature, must be foreign.

The knowledgable lola asked us to sign the guestbook on the way out, and I was pleased to see quite a few international visitors, including others from Britain. It may be a modest museum, but it tells an interesting story with its small collection.

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* Header photography by J.Sevilla

The Travelogue: Exploring Iloilo

The Travelogue: Exploring Iloilo

We ate breakfast on the top floor restaurant and sat by the window, a prime spot for gazing at SM City Iloilo mall, the express way, and the steadily increasing traffic roaring down it. Not much of a view.

My phone buzzed. Chyrel was already waiting for us in the hotel lobby, so we quickly finished our breakfast and dashed down. Another of our long-term internet-acquaintances, this was our first personal meeting, and I very much appreciated her coming to meet us, especially as she had taken an overnight boat from Cebu, an island to the East in Central Visayas. We each hugged upon greeting, then left the comfort of the air-conditioned hotel for another maiiiiiiinit summers’ day in Iloilo.

Since Chyrel and I had never before explored Iloilo, Jen acted as our local tour guide. Our first destination: Molo Church.

“My parents got married there,” Jen explained to Chyrel, when we had flagged down a trike.

I had seen pictures of Molo Church, with its red spires and neo-Gothic angles. The design of this Spanish-colonial church is all squares and triangles, giving it a sturdy appearance. Indeed, it has survived earthquakes, fires, and the Second World War (it’s said that the bells still bear the scars of gunfire). It is also nicknamed a ‘feminist church’ by some websites, which is an ironic moniker, when you think about it, given many of the restrictions on women in the catholic church.

The barangay (district) of Molo also had an interesting history: it had once been the parian of Iloilo – the area that Chinese immigrants were confined to under Spanish colonial rule, as the Spaniards were outnumbered by Chinese immigrants and their descendants, and feared uprisings.
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We alighted from the trike on the other side of the river and walked the rest of the way – Jen had wanted to see the ‘I Am Iloilo’ sign, and take a photo with it.

At Molo plaza, we found a bench under a tree to shield us from the skin cancer-inducing sunshine. Molo church stood directly in front of us, toweiring over a line of jeepneys that had parked right outside its doors, their owners taking a break and trying to hide from the heat. Their presence, though, detracted from the old-world vista we had come to witness. In the plaza, pink bougainvillea bushes bloomed. A lady holding an umbrella strolled though, the only one to dare leaving the safety of shade.

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It was approaching midday and 37ºc, and there was barely anyone besides us in the plaza. We decided to seek shelter across the road in Cafe Panay, a cafe located behind Molo Mansion, an elegant, colonial-period building completed in the 1920’s and recently restored, somewhat (more on that later).

Inside, there was only one customer, and two members of staff, one of which turned out a classmate of Jen’s from school. Chyrel and I quietly chat and perused the menu while they caught up. The conversation inevitably turned to Jen’s life in England, and then to me. Upon looking at me, no one ever expects me to be half-Filipino, and there’s a particular look of curiosity, and varying degrees of warm acceptance, from Pinoy’s when they learn this fact, along with an awkward hello and questions about whether I can ‘speak Filipino’ – kaunti lang (a little). Jen’s schoolmate asked for a photo of the two of them, which I took, before taking our order.

Ten minutes later, it arrived. I’d ordered tsokolate, a rich, viscous hot chocolate, served in a cup no bigger than an espresso mug. Blowing on it, the surface barely stirred, and I tentatively took a small sip. Mistake. It was like the sugar-sweet lava, and it left the tip of my tongue singed. Jen passed me some of her ice-cool calamansi juice, and I sucked on an ice cube. Five minutes later, tried again, and despite my throbbing tongue, the tsokolate was beautifully full-bodied and inched down my gullet, warming me to my core, which after sitting for twenty minutes in a heavily air-conditioned room, was appreciated.
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We bid farewell to the staff and decided to explore Molo Mansion, since we were there. Also known as the Yusay-Consig mansion, owing to the families who once resided there, it had fallen into disrepair and had been expected to be demolished. In stepped SM, owner of retail outlets and supermalls, such as the one across from our hotel, who saved the building and even worked to restore its former grandeur.

Inside, we found one of SM’s Kultura branded outlets, selling, what it calls ‘Filipiniana’: t-shirts, hand-made trinkets, and other (slightly pricey) pasalubongs (souvenirs), as well as other, more locally-produced offerings. The interior seemmed impressive enough, though, with chandeliers hanging from its high ceilings, and dark wood lining the floors, furniture, and archways. It’s just a shame that, rather than turning the property into a museum instead of what is, in essence, a posh gift shop. I do wish the building had been spared this fate, though given that its alternate fate was one of being destroyed, can I really judge SM harshly?

I pondered this as we sat in the jeepney, on the way to La Paz.

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The Travelogue: Day 4 in Iloilo

Due to repairs that had to be made to the house, Jen’s mother hadn’t wanted us to stay in their family home for too long, so after four days we were to check into a hotel in the city. I was excited. Though I had greatly appreciated her family’s hospitality, my favourite parts of the trip so far had been the days where Jen and I could explore as we liked, away from our relatives, and I looked forward to more adventures with her as we gained some independence.

At home, Jen was occupied by her family. Understandably, she had little time for me. Unable to speak Hiligaynon, and with the language skills of a toddler in Tagalog, I communicated with her brother and sister-in-law with brief eye-contact and awkward smiles.
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It was another scorching summer’s day. Maiinit! We dumped our luggage in the minivan, and after briefly visiting Jen’s Tito by the sea (his son was happy to see me, apparently), we drove into the city to find her Lolo, whom we met up with at SM City. My stomach was still feeling the effects of Bearland’s chicken the previous day, and another greasy breakfast hadn’t helped, so as soon as we located Jen’s Lolo I darted into the bathroom.

After Jen had changed some pounds to pesos, we regrouped with Jen’s brother and sister-in-law and drove further into the city for lunch. I was hoping we’d find a place where have the option to not eat fatty food, but those places are often few and far between, it seemed. Most restaurants in the area were heaving with hungry customers, and after wandering around we ended up in a small joint called ‘American Legacy’. Perfect…  If any cuisine was going to be more unhealthy than Filipino, it was American. I glanced at the menu; meals with one, two, even three burgers. I didn’t think my stomach could handle it; Jen and I only ordered milkshakes.

When everyone’s food arrived, I was surprised. The burgers could fit in the palm of your hand; no wonder they came three to a meal. Jen and I slurped our shakes as Jen’s tubby nephew grabbed fries by the fistful and plunged them into his mouth, his cheeks smeared with ketchup.
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In the afternoon, we checked into our hotel room at Injap Tower. Jen’s brother, sister-in-law, and tubby nephew came up with us, the latter climbing all over the beds before taking a nap.

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Injap Tower is, according to their website, ‘the tallest and first high-rise building in Western Visayas’, and tries to convey a sense of luxury, with it’s top-floor restaurant, pool facilities, and spa, though you don’t get that sense looking at the gaudy lime and yellow wallpaper in the rooms. The rooms were well equipped, with a large TV and multiple beds, but I much preferred the small boutique hotel we had stayed at in Makati, which had a lower price, and friendlier staff. Of the three hotels we stayed in during our trip, Injap was the least satisfying (but, more on that in later posts…).

After an hour or so, we parted with Jen’s relatives and had the room to ourself. I was looking forward to a couple of days exploring on our own and meeting up with people, and that would start that very evening, when we met up with my long-time internet-acquaintance Angel.
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Angel had seen on instagram that we were in Iloilo, We hadn’t talked properly in a year or so, and I’d forgotten she was native to the city. I thought it’d be good for Jen and I to meet up with her in person. When would we get the chance again?

She found us in the centre of SM City, sneaking up on us as we leant over the railing, peering down at the throngs of shoppers milling around. She was accompanied by a friend, and after quick introductions we made our way out of the main mall to a restaurant serving La Paz Batchoy, which we ordered along with a Pancit Molo that never arrived.

Both Angel and her friend were slightly surprised to learn that Jen’s first language is Hiligaynon, and they all became comfortable quickly, speaking in their native tongue. We left the restaurant and walked a short way to a comic book shop in a small shopping district, the three of them happily chatting in Hiligaynon while I perused the shelves, and ended up making a small purchase, as we were the only customers.
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The Travelogue: Bearland

The Travelogue: Bearland

‘Don’t drink the water’ is a common  piece of advice given when traveling to developing countries, and I know from personal experience it applies to the Philippines. During my last visit six years ago, my Tita mixed up my water bottle of clean drinking water with one of tap water. The results weren’t pleasant. After emptying my guts in the Mall of Asia bathroom, we went straight home and I did my best not to do the same in the back seat of the taxi.

I would never have expected to be doing the same thing at a ‘luxury’ beach resort near Iloilo city six years later.

After a merry morning of swimming, courtesy of Jen who paid the entry fee for our party of twelve (most of Jen’s family, plus me), we sat in the shade to eat the food she had ordered. I hadn’t been swimming in years, and had forgotten just how much energy it requires, so I was famished. We dug into pizza, fried squid, fries, and chicken. It was the latter, a little red close to the bone, that we think caused some rumblings in our stomachs, and Jen and I back and forth from the pool to the bathroom.
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Other than that, it was a pleasant day. It was my first time visiting a resort and seeing a white-sand beach in the Philippines. During previous trips, mainly been in busy cities, the filthy water of Manila bay being sight of the sea. Bearland seemed appealing enough, though the name puzzled me. At the entrance, a young couple took pictures of themselves in front of a statue of a Polar Bear and two cubs.

The resort comprises a water sports center, tennis & volleyball court, cottages and rooms for overnight stays, a modern-looking conference centre, and two pools, which is what we were chiefly interested in.

After Jen had paid our entrances, we made camp at a table in the shade and rushed to the  water, sweet relief on a sweltering day. Jen had brought the GoPro, and her family enjoyed taking underwater videos and selfies. Even the babies got in, their parents placing them in rubber rings and long-sleeved swimwear to protect from the midday sun. Jen’s tubby nephew beamed as he floated along, splashing the water with his hands. With his pudgy legs, arms, and belly, he almost looked as if he too had been filled with air.

Jen and I went for a wander. The unrelenting sun had baked the stone paths around the pool; going walking barefoot was not an option. A few clouds hung white and weak in the sky, powerless to stop the sunshine. It was too hot to be out in the sun for long, so we darted from one shelter to another. I had been applying sunscreen regularly, but by 1pm, my neck and shoulders were starting to sizzle. Beyond the wall of the resort, a couple of stray dogs walked along the coast, nosing through litter than had washed to shore, calm waves washing their paws. Fishing boats moored on the sand sat roasting in the sun. In front of us, local children dived into the sea from small pier. Further down, outside their coastal homes, a larger group swam to sea and played on a boat, their excited shouts and laughter carried to our ears by a gentle sea breeze.

Behind us, the pool, had emptied somewhat. Jen’s family took cover in the shade, a few women sat at the bar.
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By 2pm, I was feeling fatigued. I hadn’t  been swimming in years, and had forgotten what a physical toll it takes on your body. The heat hadn’t helped, and I was tempted to join the babies and Jen’s Tito in taking a siesta.

By the time we left, at around 4pm, I was shattered. The seven of us – plus three babies – packed into the minivan and head back to the city, Jen’s sister and her boyfriend following along on his motorcycle. We stopped to grab a bite in a small pizza place in a market. Outside it, crates and crates of glass soft-drink bottles, straws poking out their tops, stood waiting for collection. I was still feeling a little queasy, but I hoped the pizza would help to settle my stomach until I got back to the house. It seemed to.

When we did get back, Jen and I trudged up to our humid room and flopped onto the bed. We had left our strength behind; in the chill swimming pool, in the humid air, and in the Bearland bathrooms.
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