Philippines: Just Being Home

I don’t know where to begin. Spending almost two weeks in the Philippines has been more productive than eventful. I wouldn’t even consider this a travel post because it’s not. Most of my activities consisted of catching up with friends and family – nevertheless a holiday well spent.

It started off with the trip to Taal Volcano Crater. This also probably rounds up the whole touristic experience.

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Family

After a day of getting acclimatised to the time zone and catching up with friends, my cousin got married and the whole family was there to celebrate.

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And after the wedding, we celebrated our dear grandma’s 80th birthday in the afternoon. She has seven children and each of her children’s family was assigned to a colour of the rainbow, making a truly colourful party.

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This is me with all of my female cousins and our dearest Inay. I haven’t been able to score a photo of the boys yet, so this has to do for now.

The next day, while the rest of the family continued celebrating by all going out together for a swim at a private pool, I decided to pass and stay in my city and enjoy the best view:

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And, really, it was exactly what I needed after a whole day of family affairs and smiling at your own flesh and blood who just have no limits whatsoever. You know, after not seeing each other for 3-6 years, none of them ever minded to ask how you’re doing. Instead, all they greet you with is a comment on your physique, and asking about when I am finally getting married. It’s not like it’s a secret that I already am but my wife wasn’t with me so that’s barely proof.

Time with Friends

I found it quite hard to meet up with my favourite friends because they usually aren’t available all at the same time, so I actually had to spend days just catching up with each of them.

At the beginning of my second week, I went on my solo trip to Hong Kong, which had been an adventure in its own right. When I got back, I only had a few days left of my vacation. Those were spent with more catching up, and with a supposed trip to the beach that had gone terribly wrong. In other words, it never happened and we all went to a swimming pool instead where I ended up getting sick and not able to swim. Need I say more?

Nothing against my dearest friends or the relaxed nature of Filipinos in general that often clashes with the punctuality and sometimes even, uptightness, of the Germans, it just takes some getting used to. They even were apologetic and suggested that next time we should go on a big trip further away that requires some heavy planning and booking in advance because, then, everyone who agreed to come will have arranged their leave days already. Not to mention, none of us would want to let our hard-earned money go to waste by cancelling on a trip on short notice. Sounds like a bullet-proof plan to me!

The Folk Healer

Back to my getting sick on our swimming day, at that point it was noticeable that a few other members of our family have been getting sick (although all differently) all at around the same time. Just a week before, my nephew who is a toddler just happened to have gotten chicken pox the second time around (I know, in really rare cases it is possible). Everyone got suspicious after that visit to the doctor so they decided to consult a magtatawas, a kind of folk healer. By just simply writing down the patient’s name and birthday on a piece of paper and handing our errand girl a small amount for the doctor and her own bus money, we got our answers in a few hours’ time. The magtatawas will do his reading off candle wax dripped in a bowl of water. She came back with the results and some incense and instructions on what to do. Apparently, the child must have stepped on some corners in their garden where spirits of elders live and it somehow offended them. As a result, he was punished with the itchy spots all over his body. Poor kid, I know.

This has gone on with other members of our family. My uncle had a fever for a few days and the explanation was that he had been accompanied by the spirit of a girl in his lodge when he went on a trip to Palawan a week prior (and this has been said by two different magtatawas).

My experience was this: on our swimming day, I had a tummy ache in the morning, like a really bad case of gas and it was, as you can imagine, uncomfortable to say the least. It lasted for the most part of the day but, when we got to the resort at around 4 PM, the pain was gone and instead I felt really tired so I slept for a few hours and woke up feeling like I can’t hold my head up. That, too, lasted for the rest of the day and I lost my appetite and could barely eat. My friends drove me home at night time and I told mum what happened. First thing in the morning, and because I just didn’t want to miss out on all the fun, she sent our girl to the magtatawas to find out what happened to me.

 

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I’m not really a believer of these practises but it was fun to have experienced it.

And to finally end this post, here are some random images of the simple pleasures of being home.

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Ube flavoured dirty ice cream in a bun sold by a street vendor who passed by our borough
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Twin Latundan bananas brought over by my cousin who picked them personally from his farm
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Me picking mangoes off our own tree with an improvised sigpaw (landing-net used for fishing or, in this case, picking fruit)
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Kesong Puti (white cheese made with carabao milkand pan de sal for breakfast
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Taho (tofu pudding with tapioca pearls and brown sugar syrup)

 

Pitahaya cacti that will soon bear fruit also known as dragonfruit

I had fun with everyone nonetheless and I am surely going back in a few years even when it means having to go through it all over again.

Philippines: Taal Volcano Crater Lake

Short background on myself: I was born in Germany and currently based there, but I had spent 13 years in the Philippines. It’s where I went to school, met most of my friends, and where most of my family still lives – in the beautiful city of Tagaytay, in the province of Cavite. Tagaytay City is a favoured tourist spot because of its cool climate and because from there, nature shares with us a ridiculously beautiful view of the Taal Lake, and of the Taal Volcano, also known as the smallest volcano in the world. The Taal Lake is also the largest lake on an island in the world.

Fun Fact: That cone right in the center is not the volcano itself, although often mistaken by tourists. It’s just part of the whole thing, but in itself it’s a volcano called Binintiang Malaki.

Nevertheless, it’s a breathtaking vista and people just keep coming back, myself included. The city is also conveniently close to Manila, which makes it easily accessible to the crowds.

As a local, I had always been curious about what’s inside the volcano. In my 13 years in the country, I had countless chances to go on a hike but never actually went and neither has most of my family.

The Tour

We took the tour on my second day back in the country and, by we I meant myself, three cousins from the Philippines, four cousins from Germany including their respective partners, my mum and my aunt. We rented out a van including a skilled driver who knows his way around the hairpin curves of Tagaytay-Talisay Road, the one that, from the name itself, connects Tagaytay City to Talisay, Batangas – where our transfer to the volcano starts off.

Van + driver rental inclusive of gasoline costs: 2000 PHP or ca. 35 € (c/o Mum because she’s generous like that)

We were supposed to leave at 6 AM but because my cousins hadn’t been ready when we arrived at their doorstep to pick them up, we had a bit of a delay. We had breakfast at Sinangag Express (although not along the way but it was worth the inconvenience) and bought a litre of water each at one of the many 24h convenience stores in the area. This had proven to be helpful for what was waiting for us down the road. We arrived at around 8:30 AM at our resort of choice (they also offer accommodations), made the arrangements, and got on our respective boats. Each boat was able to accommodate up to 7 people so it was just right, us being 14 people in total. We were given two options regarding the trail we would take. We decided on the Secret Trail, which was a bit pricier and also a little more challenging.

Boat: 3000 PHP, total of 6000 PHP
Entrance fee on the island: 100 PHP each, total of 1400 PHP
Docking fee: 50 PHP per boat, total of 100 PHP

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The boat ride took about 45 minutes, and at about 10 AM we were at the shore of the volcano island. We were offered a guide by our boatman but we refused as advised by my sister, who took the same tour a few weeks prior. She said there is absolutely no need for it because the trail is easy to follow. We walked on and found ourselves at the bottom of the trail. Just imagine having to step on hot sand going up a steep path and that for about 45 minutes!

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It goes waaay up

I remind them from time to time to look back and breathe in the view.
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This man goes up and down this trail on his horse to sell water at the top.

On the way up, my aunt got dizzy after going up a few metres of extreme steep. I turned to my mum, who was standing a few metres behind us and asked her for a Dextro Energy (glucose cube, she’s diabetic so she always carries these around with her) but soon realised that she was feeling the same way after taking on the same path (or maybe it’s just one of those sister things, they’re pretty close). Now, they each took a cube and felt so much better almost instantly, but they asked us to go on and they’ll follow after, what we later found out, taking a power nap in the shade of a tree. I honestly didn’t expect them to come anymore after what happened but I guess they just didn’t want to miss out on what was waiting for us all up there.

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And I must say, it was all worth it.
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We rested for a while, perhaps about 45 minutes, to take pictures and enjoy the view. After a while my mum and aunt arrived on the viewing deck and we saw how happy they were to have made it. Cold bottled water was sold on the deck for 50 PHP each (500ml) which is nothing for us who really needed it and also a big help to the vendor who is a local of the island. I even think it’s smarter to buy more once up there instead of bringing so much with you which can get heavy and get you tired easier.

So the way down was pretty easy, except for some very steep parts where you have to really watch your steps. If the hike up took about 45 minutes, going down only takes 30 minutes. The view here is also really nice so I guess that helped a lot.

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It got a bit windy on the ride back but our captain, who looked not older than 10 years old, seemed to be enjoying himself.

Tips:

  • If you want to visit the Taal Volcano, there are many tour operators who offer this trip that can pick you up right from your hotel in Manila. Otherwise you may also choose to go with your own vehicle and pick one of the many boat ride offers on the streets of Talisay, Batangas.
  • The locals will try to sell you a tour guide for the reason that you might step on uneven, soft ground, which never happened to us but they might be able to give you some trivial information about the place.
  • Please refrain from taking a horse on the way up. They will try to give you one, but once you’re there you will notice that most of the horses are tired and in poor condition.
  • Bring water — I suggest bring 1 litre each unless you’re a heavy drinker, then bring some more. It will be scorching hot on the way up and you will need it. There are no stores along the way but there is a vendor right at the top with cold bottles of water (500ml, 50 PHP each) and Gatorade (500ml, 70 PHP each). Once you get there, your bottle might probably be empty so it’s time for a refill. Don’t bring too much on the way up so you don’t get more tired from carrying heavy bottles around and also to help the local vendor make some money as well.
  • Please throw your trash in the trash bags available right at the top and right at the bottom.
  • Our resort, 26 Santa Maria Resort, also offers accommodations, in case you would like to stay in the area a little longer. The owner is a german guy named Walter, and they give fair prices to all tourists.