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A rat in the kitchen and other travel adventures in the Philippines

A rat in the kitchen and other travel adventures in the Philippines

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.

The author in front of a giant, old tree in Aurora province. Photo: Pepe Chavez

When I ask if I can do the dishes, everyone is startled. “No, that’s not possible. If the visitors are made to do the  chores, a rat will come into the kitchen!” My Chinese zodiac sign is rat. So that’s great, there is already one in the kitchen.

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.

In Baler,  more of Rommel’s relatives welcome us where we have cassava in banana leaves, fried eggs and rice. And always that sweet hospitality and  generous smiles which never fail to move me. 

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”.

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Ella and Felix interact with the students of a local primary school. Photo: Pepe Chavez

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. 

Ella enjoying nature’s serenity in Baler, Aurora. Photo: Pepe Chavez

Such a stunning place. What a color spectrum. I immediately consider it  a paradise on earth. We go island hopping and  snorkelling in the  crystal clear water with lots of fish. A fellow tourist from Australia happily comments,  “We are in the same dream.” That should say enough about the beauty of this splendid place. I meet more lovely people. I truly  admire their patience and  how they help us  around.

Mother and son try boat sailing in Coronados, Palawan. Photo: Pepe Chavez

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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