Everything has been arranged so well. A relative of Rommel’s, my son’s Filipino friend, is already waiting with a huge car to pick us up. We enter the seemingly endless swirling traffic of Manila. Our driver manoeuvres at high speed but strangely enough, I do feel safe. We finally arrive in Lipa at two in the morning. After being briefly received, we go to a private room.
We get up early and join Rommel’s family. I find the ease with which my son feels at home with them moving. He had told us a lot about them and of course we had also seen the pictures but to experience it myself is so different and wonderful.
Welcome to the tropics
The place is surrounded by palm and banana trees and other trees that I am not familiar with. We are in the tropics, I have to remind myself. It is oppressively warm so I breathe slowly. We are served with a delicious meal: chicken with rice. We eat with our hands and a spoon.
In the afternoon, we go to the city center. A chance for us to experience jumping into a moving bus full of smiling faces. My son and I are giants compared to the people here. We have to bend our legs because of the limited leg space. After shopping, we go back riding a tricycle again bending low to fit inside. On the way, I am amazed at how a whole family can fit inside a motorcycle with a sidecar. What a world.
The next day we get to enjoy yet another Filipino breakfast. My body has to get used to eating fatty foods and I eat everything I am offered. Here, everything is eaten from intestines to legs, nothing is wasted. In the evening, around 30 people come to celebrate the presence of the whole family complete with a catering service. We take hilarious photos of us standing together and laugh at our height differences. How nice that we are so included. My son feels completely at home and I am proud of it.
Today we are driving around the province. As soon as we have passed beyond the gates of the residential village, the houses look different from the one we are are staying. The houses we see are almost all made of corrugated cardboard, bamboo, stones, leaves. Small eateries and vegetable stalls, soft drinks are beautifully displayed. It seems impossible to turn onto the road with the huge flow of cars. No traffic lights, no rules? I wouldn’t dare to drive here. Rommel tells us a lot about the country. He is a real tour guide. Our destination is Taal lake.
After spending a splendid time in Taal, our next stop is Baler. It will be a night ride that will take us seven hours. Everybody seems to be active day and night. As early as 5.30 in the morning, many people are already walking or sweeping somewhere. It must be done early because the day quickly gets hot.
Rain is really rain here
The next day we drive through Aurora where the streets have become rivers. Rain is really rain here too. We are on our way to a market festival and there is a competition for the largest regional products. There is also cooking, a fashion show with native clothing, music and dancing.
I am always bombarded by the most frequently asked question: “How do you like the food?” I like watching children doing the traditional gesture as a sign of respect where they take the adult´s hand and place it against their forehead and say “Mano po”. The adult, in return says, “God Bless you”.
The following day, we visit the school where Rommel used to go to. He donates a camera to the school newspaper. My son and I get to tie friendship bonds with the kids. It is such a great day with the children.
Then off we go to Dinalungan, Aurora, a natural reserve with a beautiful waterfall, Bulawan, where we swim to our hearts delight. Butterflies and birds fly around us and again, a river of food. This time a fish soup where the head protrudes perkily looking straight at me. After another canoe ride with my son, our Baler adventure is over. What a very beautiful place on earth.
A paradise on earth
We next fly to one of the best places ever on a propeller plane. The luminous azure water and the snow white beaches of Coron excite me more than ever.
And just like that, the most dreaded part has finally come. We have to say goodbye to this beautiful island. After a few more days in Lipa with Rommel´s family, my Philippine adventure is really over and we have to fly back home. My husband and daughter are waiting for me at Schiphol airport. I have so much to tell them.
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Ella Assenberg Van Eijsden and her son visited the Philippines in 2018. She fell in love with the country that she wants to go back. She lives in Meppel, the Netherlands.
Pepe Chavez is from Baler, Aurora and is currently one of Barcelona’s most sought-after professional photographers. He goes fishing and plays billiards in his free time. He is totally obsessed with aquariums.