Love,Laughter,Lechon & Karaoke in the Philippines

Trip Start Jul 11, 2010
Trip End Apr 22, 2011

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Flag of Philippines  , Mindanao,
Sunday, January 2, 2011

On the 22nd of December 2010 we set off on the 7 hour journey that took us from the skyscrapers of Singapore to the tropics of Davao in the Philippines via a one hour change at Manila airport where we had to collect our bag and then walk out of a door, into one next to it and take our bags back to a man standing by the original conveyor belt to carry on with our journey – hmmm.  Feeling tired and excited at 7am outside Davao airport  we were met by my cousin Jhon Roger (Nonoy) we had a driver ready to take us to the home that is owned by my Auntie Ging who now lives in the US.  It had been four years since I had visited the Philippines last and stayed in Davao and already I could see how time had flown by by how grown up my cousin now looks who is no longer a student  but  fully qualified nurse! For both me and Rob, this would be a  Christmas different from any other we have experienced, firstly because it would not be a white Christmas or anything near that, it would be a boiling hot Christmas,  secondly, in the UK we both have small families but in the Philippines my relatives total 20 plus and as it's already hard enough for me to remember everyone’s names, I can’t imagine how hard it has been for Rob and thirdly; no turkey, stuffing, gravy and all the rest but traditional Filipino food – we were looking for an authentic taste of Asia and this Christmas was certainly it

My previous visit to Davao, I had come with my Mum and Sister, having my mum there made it all seem a lot easier; the language barriers, understanding what’s going on, not getting lost and knowing what you were eating, figuring out the secret rules of the Jeepney (including where are they even going or how do you get off one), things like that, things that may seem simple but in a city that does not cater for tourists at all, those kind of things you can get in a mess over very easily! This time it was just me and Rob, we were used to being in Asia now after nearly two months but the first thing that hit Rob about the Philippines was how 'crazy’ everything seemed, the roads, the driving, the road side wooden shack houses, the wooden shops with plastic banners for shop names (usually named after a family member with 'store' added on the end), the wacky, colourful, old and uniquely Filipino Jeepneys that are everywhere, the people begging at your car window when the car stops in traffic or trying to sell you nuts or necklaces, the lack of anything that caters for a tourist and gives you that welcome sigh of relief  after a long day traveling and the juxtaposition of it all being  all set against a backdrop of green mountains, coconut trees; so lush, so tropical and so bloody humid! So humid in fact that after an hour or so after getting to the house, Rob was wandering around the house, inside and out saying ‘I’ve never been so hot in my life’....this really was going to be a few weeks of eye openers for both of us.

When we got to the house my cousin had brought some traditional Filipino breakfast foods for us, there were Puto which are sweet or savory steamed rice bread/cake which is cooked in banana leaf, Suman which is sticky rice which is cooked and wrapped in banana or coconut leaves and bitter guord which is a vegetable similar looking to a cucumber but with ridges and is cooked in the morning with scrambled egg and onion, like the name suggests it is bitter but not so much that it puts you off, in fact it is delicious and perfect for the morning.  We then followed that with ripe mango, not the type of mango we get in the UK but very soft, ripe and yellow all over on the outside and the taste is magnificent, I really wish we could get them back home!  After that and a good catch up with my cousin, we took a rest, we would be travelling 4 hours by road the next day to Marbel when my Auntie Pinky lives for a joint house blessing and Christmas party, my Uncles, Aunties and Cousins would also be travelling from Bagumbayan so it was going to be one hell of a party.

The next morning, me, Rob and my cousins Nonoy and Anjo were driven by a family friend Edwin across the mountains of Davao to Marbel, Edwin had suggested a beautiful spot to stop in the mountains for pictures and to give us a chance to see the beautiful green and  tropical landscape.  The journey was full of food for the eyes; the dusty roads where there are no rules, the roadside fruit stalls selling tropical fruits; mangoes, jack fruit, durian, the houses, the stalls selling wood carved objects to buy, animals everywhere, people living everyday life.  When we arrived in Marbel, we said hello to everyone, preparations for the party were already in full swing  which in the Philippines means cooking, cooking everywhere - we were treated to a lunch of traditional foods which of course as with every meal included steamed rice, some sort of meat dish (usually chicken or pork) and an odd sort of chocolate coloured meat casserole which turned out to be Dinuguan - which is a soup made of the blood and intestines of the pig which would be spit-roasted for the party later (Lechon baboy).  I'm afraid to say the Dinuguan made it to the tip of my tongue and that's about it - we're just not that brave but everyone else tucked in with might.  Me and Rob were to stay in a hotel down the road because in my Aunties house there is only one room with air-con and they guessed we would need some (which we did).  We went to the hotel to freshen up and wandered across to the mall after negotiating the road which was full of tricycle taxis - we were met with many stares and double takes as apart from each other, we hadn't seen one other westerner in Marbel so far - that's one of the things that struck us more and more on our visit - or maybe they just thought we were Brad and Angelina?  When we got back to the house, the preparation was all ready for a big party but before the festivities the new house was to be blessed by the priest, we all lit candles whilst the priest read out the blessing then we followed him through the house whilst he sprinkled holy water in every room and even then went on to bless the car - so different from anything I'd seen before. After that, the party was in full swing, plenty of food, lots of laughter and then the videoke coming out and none other then Rob finding his singing voice for the first time - I have never even heard him sing like that before, he wasn't quite Tony Hadley like he wanted to be but he sang True with lots of gusto and enthusiasm which is all that counts - how I ended up singing 'take my breath away' I'll never know!  We were then told we were to go for a ride in the dump truck - 'haha' was our response but it wasn't a joke, we all climbed into the back of the big yellow dump truck (bringing chairs with us) and took a ride through Marbel, we'd never imagined that would have been so much fun but it was!  It had been a great night and a great pre-celebration for Christmas!

The next morning was Christmas eve and we travelled back to Davao taking a detour to the beautiful lake Cebu resort on the way, unfortunately we were unable to take a boat ride around the lakes as the drivers were on holiday so we took in the beautiful views and had some fresh fruit shakes and chatted away to my cousins about the Philippines and their way of life.  In the Philippines it is tradition to celebrate Christmas around midnight Christmas eve and as I mentioned before celebrate means food!  My cousins organised a delicious feast of lechon manok (roast chicken), pansit malabon, fresh vegetables, pomelo, pineapple and ube jam - this was the beginning of Rob's love affair with all things ube - the purple root vegetable which is used in sweet food and just tastes so good!  We welcomed in Christmas in true Filipino style and had a great feast. After a sleep we woke on Christmas day and spent the day relaxing just like in the UK but without an Eastenders death or enough chocolate to make you ill!

On boxing day evening, we took a trip to peoples park in downtown Davao - this would be our first experience in a Jeepney which is a cheap and convenient public transport in the Philippines, I know that sounds weird to say we needed help to get on a 'bus' but we wouldn't have been able to do it without my cousins.  You only know where they are going by reading it on the side and then they have already gone passed you, it's impossible to know how much to pay and you only know when to get off if you know the road and tap the roof of the jeepney to let them know you want off - we were so glad we went on one and we were so glad we weren't alone.  Peoples park was full of people enjoying the holiday season, there was a free music concert with local bands, Kublai Millan sculptures everywhere - a local sculptor from Davao who has come under great acclaim for his works which show traditions of the Philippines, a dancing water fountain that dances to the music being played, a man made waterfall and to top it off a great atmosphere - times like that is when you're thankful for the humid nights, when you can actually go out and enjoy them.  After the park we went for a drink, I was determined to let Rob try durian but hadn't been able to find any yet so jumped at the chance for a durian shake when I saw one, I went first and was hit by the smell first as usual, I can only decribe it as a mix of onion and is know in the Philippines as the king of fruits and to 'smell like hell and taste like heaven'.  I took a sip and then remembered the taste, strong and like nothing I'd ever tsted before or could even describe...I renamed it as tasting of 'armpit' and passed it along to Rob expecting the same response so he took a sip, and another, another and said 'it's ok actually'....maybe he has a bit of Filipino in him after all, they love it here!

The next day, me and Rob were driven to Eden nature park up in Mount Apo Davao - we had booked to stay over here for one night in a wooden cottage in the mountains to enjoy the nature of Davao.  We spent the day fishing for our own lunch of tilapia which is then grilled for you and served up for your lunch - simply delicious. We then visited the deer park, the prayer garden where there was a wedding taking place in the peaceful and secluded setting of the plants and mountains, the flower garden and organic vegetable hydroponic tents all set within stony paths around the forest taking you up and down different parts of the mountain, it was a great day for pictures, especially as I have become really obsessed with taking pictures of plants since we started this whole trip, nature really is so expertly unbeatable for the beauty it creates. We had a wonderful stay at Eden and would recommend a visit there for anyone who visits the Philippines, it makes it all the better when you go to the supermarket in Davao and can buy the products that they have grown, it's always nice when you know that care has gone into what you're about to eat!  The next day we were picked up by my cousins Anjo and Nonoy and our first stop was Crocodile Park, this was a zoo which housed crocodiles (as if you would have guessed!), native birds, insects, monkeys, all native animals to the Philippines - the boys even paid to feed the crocs but I just watched that one - dangling a piece of meat down on a piece of string of a wooden pole to about 20 crocodiles - snap, snap, snap.  There was also a traditional village to visit which had recreations of traditional Filipino tribes houses and a beautiful butterfly garden with native butterflies and even lots of caterpillars to hold if you wanted to, Anjo held about 20, Rob held one, can you guess how many I held??  After that we took a trip to the luxurious Insular Hotel - an old hotel on the waterfront in Davao - a complete contrast from some of the poverty strucken dusty streets of the city, we were there to taste the delights of the traditional dessert of Halo - Halo (meaning mixture) which they had renamed Hello - Hallo to add their own twist.  I was a bit dubious about the whole thing before tasting it, crushed ice topped with ube ice cream, small blobs of colourful but hard jelly, fruits, beans, sweetcorn - yes beans and sweetcorn.....beans and sweetcorn in a dessert.  so I mixed it all up together like my cousins did and started to eat the now purple (from the ube) icy soup and it was delicious, so refreshing the beans adding texture the sweetcorn needed sweetness, the ube always good - we all really enjoyed it and it cooled us down in the hot afternoon humidity, I just wonder now what other things to throw into an ice cream sundae when back in the UK, celery and mushroom anyone?

We were fast approaching New Year now but before hand we wanted to fit in a bit of souvenir shopping to me and Rob took a taxi to the local mall SM, the taxi driver was also names Robert so we struck up a conversation with him, which started with him saying 'Robert DeNiro' and us all laughing and then us telling him we're from England and him asking 'do you speak English in England' - all of this was followed by a conversation with a girl at a courier company in the mall asking us where abouts in America England is - so much for that great empire we boast about having in the past, half the world doesn't even know we exist, either that or they rarely get two pale Brits wandering about the place!

New Years Eve we took a trip with my cousins, Steph, Anjo, Nonoy, Joanna and Mike, my Uncle Ben and Aunt Mildred and the helper Rachel to Paradise Beach on Samal island.  We were instructed to be up to go to the beach at 6am (I know!) so we were ready 6 on the dot an ventured out to the wharf to take the 5 minute boat ride to Samal.  I had been here before and remembered how nice it was so was looking forward to a relaxing day.  Unlike the beaches of the UK, the Filipino pastime of eating has to be catered for so our first task was to find our big wooden table and have the picnic breakfast that was brought with us, it really is a great idea providing these big picnic benches where you can bring your own food, shame we don't have that on the beach in the UK.  The water was warm and clear so we spent the day swimming, eating, playing beach ping-pong and relaxing, I loved watching my cousins enjoy the beach and taking some secret snaps. When I had been here last with my Mum and Sister we had bought from Paradise Beach an inflatable float shaped like a big crab - imaginatively we had called it 'Mr Crab' - well to my surprise Mr Crab was still alive and was brought back home to the beach, maybe that's why he chose that time to puncture - now he was back where he came from - poor Mr Crab!  It had been a perfect day in the sun and another example of the beauty that Davao has to offer, we made our way back home with sand on our feet and the healthy glow of a bit of sun....shame that my glow was to turn into full blown lobster burnt back later.....but at the time we all felt happy and healthy.

When we got home, after an hour of quiet, the house was once again a hive of activity preparing for the countdown to 2011, the karaoke came out early and we sang away (me and Rob are now an expert at dueting to Summer Nights), a wonderful feast was prepared of deep fried crablets, grilled tilapia, pansit malbon, lachon manock, rice, chicken curry and salads - we all tucked in and ate until we were full (I now have an excuse for eating so much - it's in the genes) and then got straight back on to the karaoke.  What we really loved about those kind of nights was there always seemed to be something going on in every part of the house, inside and out, not a dull corner anywhere.  When we were getting closer to midnight we switched the TV outside to the countdown to New Year, my cousins prepared any means to make a racket; coins in pockets, pans and wooden spoons, coins in boxes.  We waited huddled around the TV for the countdown and counted 10, 9, 8, 7, ......'erm we still have one minute to go' someone said.....after the laughter we decided that was just a 'practice'....then there is was 10, 9, 8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 HAPPY NEW YEAR and then we made lots of noise, jumped about and all hugged for the new year.  Rob even managed to get us all to start chanting 'ube', 'ube', 'ube'.....and we celebrated some more with ube cake, ube ice cream and mango float (you can see who had most influence on the dessert choices).  So it was now 2011 and for the first time in my life I had enjoyed the New Year celebration and hadn't felt that usual reflective 'did I waste this year' feeling....just the best start to what I hope will be a great year for everyone.

We left the Davao early on the 2nd on January, I always prefer saying goodbye early in the morning because you can use the fact it's early as an excuse not to have a lot to say but 'goodbye' and 'take care'....I'm never good at goodbye's.  Nonoy and Anjo came with us to the airport and it was hardest to say goodbye to them as they had been our guardian angels on our visit but lots and lots of hugs later we were back to sitting in a departure lounge waiting to go somewhere new...or in this case back to Singapore.

This Christmas and New Year will stay in our hearts forever, already it is just a memory but we are thankful that we even have that.....we are thankful for everything.

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Mom / Teresa on

Great pictures Can. I wish I was there with you all! I am so glad that you and Rob have had a lovely time in the Phils. Really enjoying reading your blog and looking at the photos. Well, we had a lovely Christmas and New Year but not as exotic as yours! Looking forward to more blog entries. Take care and safe journey to your next destination. Lots of love xxxxxxxx

Dad on

Glad you had a nice time in the Phils. Nell and I had a good time at Christmas in spite of leak and flood upstairs. Ube must appeal to the Western palate as it was my favourite when I was there. Looking forward to your next missive, have a great time in OZ.
Love from Dad XX

tony horspool on

Sounds like singing for a living not an option then, ha ha Happy New Year to you both. Have fun in oZ
Love Dad & Smokey xxx

Mom / Teresa on

Can and Rob, thank you for the video. Realy lovely to see and hear everybody's voices! It makes me want to go home now and enjoy the beautiful beach, sunny weather, lovely food and see everybody! love mom xxxx

canandrob on

Hi Mum! Have just added a few more videos! It's Midnight here in Sydney so it must be lunchtime there?! Sydney is good but we miss Asia and it's so expensive here! Hope you are ok?! Love Can and Rob xxxx

Mom / Teresa on

I have just watched your New Year celebration. Mad people :+)! Yes, we do greet New Year with a little more 'gusto' over there! No need of too much alcohol to get Filipinos going - UBE will do! :+) love it, love it! Keep those videos coming. xxxxxxxxx

Mom/Teresa on

HI Can and Rob hope you are enjoying Sydney though expensive than Asia. Hope the weather is not that awful in Sydney. Looking forward to your blog from there. Look after each other. xxxxxxxxxx

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