I’m catching up on my blog and my next entry is about my time in Cebu which is an island that is south of Luzon and is the heart of the Visayas. This is also where my maternal grandfather was born and raised. It’s where I began my journey in finding more about my family roots on my maternal side here in the Philippines.
First and foremost, yes that is a Dunkin’ Donuts in the Philippines. There are many and I thought I’d take a picture for my friends that are from the east coast living in Lala land. It seems as though SE Asia is ahead of us when it comes to Dunkin’ Donuts. 😉
Anyway, at the start of my trip I had not yet met this part of my family in Cebu. So I went in blind not knowing where they lived and what they even looked like – LOL so when I spoke to them on the phone I asked that they have a sign for me when I arrived so I knew who to approach. I was picked up by my cousin Nila’s nieces and nephews, Gladys, Raje and Buen. The pace of Cebu City is definitely more laid back and traffic actually moves unlike Manila. They live in a province named Punta Princessa about 30 minutes or so from the airport. Upon my arrival, I was greeted with open hearts and curiosity as to who this mysterious relative was. One of the most common questions they had for me was, “Are you traveling alone?” and “Why did you want to come to Cebu?” They wondered why would a relative that we’ve never met before want to stay and meet us, at least that’s the impression I got. Granted they don’t live in a very prosperous neighborhood but as I stayed with them and got to know them they were extremely generous and giving.
I met MM short for Euphemia who technically is my niece, who is the granddaughter of my mother’s 1/2 sister, Materna. She was the one that helped me piece together my grandfather’s past and life in Cebu, along with my cousin’s brother Delfin. He showed me letters from my grandfather and grandmother Matilde that was written to his daughter, Materna and it slowly connected this past that was once a bigger puzzle. The story is much more intricate and complex with questions still to be answered but for me it helped derive a clearer picture on my grandfather’s past. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet my Grandpa Rallos as he passed the year I was born, in fact my mom told me that soon after my grandfather died in April ’75, she found out she was pregnant with me. I felt a strong connection in Cebu while digging into his past and despite us never meeting, I felt that he was with us through my stay with the family.
There are many relatives there and the family I stayed with is only a snippet of my grandfather and great-grandfather. I stayed with a new found cousin, Ate Letty and they all live near each other on land that was owned by my great-grandfather. It was a different experience seeing and immersing myself in their everyday life. I rode a jeepney, an elaborately decorated open air jeep where I think I consumed the max capacity of carcinogens for my lifetime… LOL. My cousin’s nephew Raje and my cousin Delfin, toured me around Cebu City. Raje also showed and spoke to me about his volunteering in Tacloban where Typhoon Yolanda struck. He and his brothers volunteer weekly helping to send supplies there. All of the clothes and toiletries that TANG and FOT donated have gone here. Raje and his brothers are quite amazing and so selfless. They themselves might not have much but they give as though they did. No doubt they are and continue to be inspiring.
I saw many sights there and one of the highlights was Mactan Shrine where Ferdinand Magellan was killed by Chief Lapu-Lapu. The Spaniards came in hoping to take over Mactan Island and instill their reign and religion, but Lapu-Lapu wasn’t going to have any of that. They fought at this site and Magellan was killed. I’m not sure what they did with his body but the confrontation reminded me of Captain Cook against the Hawaiians.
On my last full day of Cebu, I took a day trip with my cousin Delfin to the island of Bohol. It’s a 2 1/2 ferry ride from Cebu. This was also the place where a huge earthquake took place last October and the people and area are still recovering. It’s a beautiful island, much of it untouched and the vibe is even more laid back than Cebu. My cousin’s daughter-in-laws parents (say that 10x fast) were kind enough to give us a quick tour of Bohol and the highlight was Chocolate Hills. Sorry these pics are from my iphone as my camera shots are pretty big. There are about 1200 of this conical hills and they’re referred to as chocolate when the vegetation turns brown, obviously in this photo they’re about mint chocolate. They were apparently formed by the uplift of coral deposits and the effects of rainwater and erosion (explained in Lonely Planet’s guide) but there are a few legends including that they are tears of a giant. My cousin also joked that they are big poops from giants too LOL. It’s quite bizarre to see them laid out and the landscape within and that it surrounds is stunning.
We then went to visit the nocturnal tarsier at Sagbayan Peak Resort and Recreation. I hear there is another sanctuary, the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary, which I’ll have to visit when I return, but for my audio friends, this is the animal that made famous the THX sound with it’s eyes opening up wide with the trademark sound. These creature are so small, they can fit in your hand and I want one for a pet, but they are an endangered species so I’ll just have to be content on seeing one in person. 🙂 I couldn’t use my flash so I apologize for it being dark.
After a whirlwind daytrip to Bohol it was time to head back to Cebu. Bohol is also known for their beaches which I’ll have to go back and stay for a weekend as I’m sure there are breathtaking views there.
Cebu is certainly a place I want to return to not only explore more outside of the city but now to find out more about my grandfather and to visit family. I flew back to Manila for just a day before I flew out to the jaw-dropping beauty of Batanes where I found new relatives from my maternal grandmother’s side, aka in our family as Paga. Stay tuned and Mahalo!
The picture above is just a glimmer into what Batanes had to offer. Batanes is the northern most province of the Philippines and it’s where my maternal grandmother was born and raised. It’s a land of untouched beauty that reminded me of what Hawaii must have been like before tourism got a stronghold on it and it also gave me an insight to where my beloved Paga came from. Paga was our family nickname for my grandmother Matilde Alamillo, whose roots began in 1909 in the small, quiet, rural town of Basco.
It all started with a few key names that my Auntie Rose provided me when I mentioned to her that I was planning a trip to Batanes. She asked that maybe I could look into some of the civil records and also the churches to see if they had further information on her mother’s family. All it took was for me to mention that my grandma was born in Basco and was from the Abengana and Librero family and within 4 days, I had discovered and had been embraced by both families as if I was born there myself. This place is so small everyone knows each other and my guide Danny was key in helping me put the pieces of the puzzle together on my maternal grandmother’s side. By the end of the first day, I had met multiple aunts on the Abengana side and met the current matriarch of the Librero family. The native group in Batanes are the Ivatan and it was funny because as I met new people and family, they would look at me and say, “You look Ivatan.” Turns out that my family has a strong foundation back in Batanes and with the beauty of it’s landscapes meeting my new found family on this island definitely makes me want to come back.
Batanes is starting to get more attention from tourists, primarily local Filipinos with 90% being from the Philippines and about 10% of foreigners. They’re promoting eco-tourism and I’m a huge supporter of it because now that I know I have family here that live and enjoy this beautiful part of the earth, I certainly do not want it to be exploited in any way.
Life here is slow and simple where the living is made from farming and fishing. The airport is literally walking distance to downtown with no traffic and transportation is either a van for tours, motorbikes, a few jeepneys and by boat. The people here are so laid back more so than Hawaii I think and there’s no rush even when there are blackouts and water can’t be pumped. My last night in Batanes was spent with my Tita Petra and the Amboy family and as we were arriving at our host’s house, there was a total blackout. Back home people would be in a bit of a panic because so much of our world thrives on electricity, the family here just simply kicked back, continued on preparing dinner with flashlights and candles and offered me some beer to pass the time. It’s a world where disconnecting isn’t a factor because they’re still trying to solidly connect with the rest of the world. Cellphone usage and texts are easily attainable but internet and wifi is very spotty. Though as my days were spent, I loved disconnecting and just taking it all in. I could come back here annually to just get away from it all for a few weeks.
In terms of the family I discovered, once they found out I was in town to trace my grandmother’s roots and we were able to square away the connection between us, they took me in with open hearts and many dinners. 🙂 The closest relation I found was my Tita Petra Abengana Lizardo. She is the daughter of my great-grandfather’s brother, Juan who was the youngest of the family. She is an absolute sweetheart and have been told that when I return to not bother renting a room but to stay with her. She has 4 daughters and 2 sons, one of which is a tour guide on the island.
She’s a great cook too who made sure I had a bunch of food when I left the island to take back to Manila. I also connected with the Librero family where my great-great grandmother was from. I met my Aunt Leo and her husband Jose and I also met the matriarch of their family, Lola Valentina Enciso Librero who was married to Graciano Librero. Aunt Leo has a brother Ike and Rocopio. They invited me dinner on Wednesday night for authentic Ivatan cuisine and I have to say my meals in Batanes were the best since I’ve been here in the PI. Everything is organic, nothing processed, all fresh fish, vegetables and organic meats. For a girl from CA, this was awesome. 🙂
Aside from meeting family, of course I took in the sites. I toured the northern part of Batan Island, the first and last days, which also included an excursion into an old Japanese tunnel from WWII. I have a gopro video that I’ll post when I return.
The second day I took a boat ride to the nearby island of Sabtang which is even more rural that Batan. My cousin Malia would have probably freaked out that I rode on this boat but hey that’s traveling right? 😉 It’s just as beautiful with amazing beaches, ridiculously clear water and lush rolling hills.
Many of the homes in Batanes are made of stone as they are prone to typhoons. Here on Sabtang, most if not all homes are made of a combination of stone, coral and cement. Winds here on an average day can gust up to 20-30mph and at times hinders trips for boats and the few flights that come into Basco. My own flight was delayed about 3 hours because of winds.
My third day touring was of the southern part of Batan Island. The landscapes seemed more dramatic with the rock formations and outcrops of Alapat to the rolling, pasture lands of Malboro county. Batanes has been compared to New Zealand in many ways but I feel that Batanes will give NZ a run for it’s money in terms of untouched lands.
I plan to return here for sure and hopefully bring some family members to join me to not only enjoy scenery but to especially meet our new family. It’s totally worth it and also worth disconnecting for a few weeks and get down to simply living. Just take it from this dog I saw napping on the beach. 😉 I’m back in Manila for the weekend but my next blog will be from Chiang Mai Thailand next week. Mahalo for following and have a great weekend everyone!
My sister-in-law’s (Irene) sister, Esper picked me up from the airport and we were lucky that we bypassed the gnarly traffic that Manila is known for. Despite my late arrival, I was greeted with food. Filipinos love to eat and Irene’s youngest sister, Hilda has already vowed to make me fat by the time I leave the Philippines and at this rate that will more than likely be true. My late night meal consisted of rice, upo (squash) and some yummy or in Tagalog, sarap Shanghai rolls, kind of like small lumpia and fresh mango. Quite delicious and then it was off to bed. I was grateful that I arrived at night because I was able to sleep pretty well on my first night as it’s 16 hours ahead of LA.
The next morning started pretty early with of course some breakfast, fresh coconut, rice, eggs and pork. Not my typical breakfast like LA which usually consists of almond milk, flax cereal and a green vitamin drink. LOL My stomach is holding up well despite it expanding each day. Here’s a helpful plug for travelers, definitely invest in Ortho Biotic probiotics, it totally helps in making sure your gastrointestinal system is healthy. Okay enough of that. 🙂
We were then off to Tagaytay. I was joined by Esper, Hilda and their cousin Ate Zin. Ate, pronounced as A-teh is used in a respectful way for an older female relative or peer. It’s about 2 hours south of Manila and it was then that I saw the true madness of Manila traffic. I will snap a photo of it when I have the chance later today. I’ve never seen this type of traffic madness in any other city and talk about skill for not having multiple dents in their cars or taking people out on their motorcycles, the jeepneys and trikes as well as pedestrians walking wherever they please. LA has nothing on Manila when it comes to traffic. Our drivers here certainly have a special talent.
After escaping the day traffic of Manila, we arrived in Tagaytay. This city is known for it’s amazing views and you’re able to see down into the Taal Volcano that is still steaming. In the main photo of this entry, you’re able to see it on the right hand side. It’s behind the crater that you may see at first in the front. That main body of water is Taal Lake and we had the pleasure of eating at a restaurant called Josephine’s for some authentic Filipino food along with being able to enjoy the view.
My hosts were apparently told that I wanted to get up close and personal with the volcano, when in reality I just wanted to see the view since it was marked as one of the 1000 places to see before you die. I had to reaffirm them that I wasn’t planning on riding a horse to the top of the steaming volcano but when they told me that was something I could do, it was an activity I started to entertain. Esper and Ate Zin said that I was going alone and that they would stay on the other side of shore. LOL
Before we made the trek down to the shore, we visited a honeybee farm called Ilog Maria, that made some great soaps, shampoos and various products which of course featured honey. After that we briefly visited their family home in Tagaytay which when my brother Kevin visited here came across a huge monitor lizard. No lizard this time.
We then were finally on our way to the shore and after some convincing to Esper, we all boarded a boat to get closer to Taal Volcano. Our boat was called Ocean Lucky and I of course had my handy recorder with me. 🙂 It was definitely worth trekking to the other side and hearing about how it’s still so hot below in the water that other spots in surrounding areas still steam aside from the crater itself. The water in the crater apparently still bubbles up because it’s so hot. Yeesh! Yet the water was pristine and so blue, they also had several fish traps that farmed milkfish and talapia (photo will be posted later). Our boat driver showed us the trail that the horses go up to and as tempting as it was I opted not to as we got there around 4pm and hadn’t docked on the other side. It takes about an hour round trip and by that time the sun would begin it’s descent. It did kind of freak me out that it might be getting darker as I headed back down the crater. But regardless, the sights were beautiful and I would certainly return to this area and next time plan for an earlier time to ride the horse up the Taal crater.
As we headed back, what took us about 2 hours to get to Tagaytay it was like double that to get back into Manila. Holy crap was traffic insane! I thought we were originally going back home but of course we made a stop to eat – ha! We grubbed at a place called Frankie’s that served some yummy chicken wings and of course I accompanied that with some cold beer. I ended the night with a full-body massage which was the perfect way to end the long day.
After a good night’s rest, I’m able to kind of just relax this morning and get my mind straight from jetlag, food, more food and food. LOL I’ll be joining my brother’s mother-in-law today for lunch and then will be taking a tour of Intramuros, which is a walled city that was the heart of Spanish Manila. It’ll be good to take a dose of history today. Till next time, “Paalam na.”