March 24, 2014 by melcogger
Our time in the Philippines has drawn to an end. There is still so much more we would have wanted to see, but due to time constraints and the limitation of traveling by bicycles, we will have to do a return visit in the near future. Here is our synopsis of our time in the Philippines:
Being half Filipino, half British, born in the UK and raised in South Africa is enough to give anyone an identity crisis. However, I have always taken my mixed heritage in my stride and I have proudly acknowledged my Filipino / British / South African background. At heart, I am a South African, but I have no extended family in South Africa. Due to regular visits, I am privileged to have known my extended family in the UK from a young age. Strangely though, I have not until now had the opportunity of getting to know my family in the Philippines. Whenever I pressed my parents to take me to the Philippines to meet my family, I would often be told that I could not go because I would definitely be kidnapped for not speaking Tagalog, and would be held for ransom. Well mum, that turns out to be untrue, because low and behold I am still kicking! Meeting my family was surreal, and their hospitality and kindness revealed an instant recognition of family in me and it has given me more reason to return to the Philippines. So to uncle Emiterio, Ate Nemia, Ate Rosita, cousins Abbie, Farrah, Daday, Christene and Eric thank you for welcoming us to the Philippines and making it an unforgettable experience.
For a long time Jonty and I did not understand why strangers would constantly shout “hey Joe” in an American accent as we walked by. We passed it off as being an inability to pronounce “you” and that they were really trying to say “hey you!”. As it turns out, “Joe” is the name that Filipinos associate foreigners with because Joe is a common name in the USA according to Filipinos. Mystery solved.
We are not sure whether we will come across a friendlier nation in our travels. In addition to people shouting “hey Joe” we consistently heard people saying “take care” while cycling. The Filipino’s concern for our safety during our cycling trip revealed their caring and nurturing nature. We never felt unsafe in the Philippines and always felt welcome. Foreigners are not treated with caution and suspicion and we are also not treated as walking dollar bills or rands for that matter.
We have both been spoilt by my mum’s amazing Filipino cooking in South Africa (her best dish being Adobo), and were besides ourselves when we thought of the splendors of food in the Philippines. However, we have been disappointed with the food and have often turned to burgers and fries when the food became too much to stomach. Most of our meals were eaten at “self service” or “short order”, preferably the latter. “Self service” is food that is cooked in the morning and displayed in catering dishes to be served with rice the whole day. As the name suggests, you serve yourself by pointing at the meal you want and fetching your own spoon and fork. Because the food is cooked in the morning, the food is often served cold, and feels as depressing as eating someone else’s leftovers and not being entirely sure whether it was actually cooked in the morning or a few days ago. Even when we requested self service food to be made mainit (hot) it would be slightly warmed, so as not to take away from the depression and overall ambience of eating leftovers from the counter. Short order was our preference because it is served hot. It became clearer to us that not all Filipinas are as good of cooks as my mother is. There is of course, a few exceptions, my ate Nemia and my cousin Chritene’s cooking were masarap (delicious!).
Filipino culture is all about family, food, eating, karaoke, pop music, rice, farming, basketball, cock- fighting, and fishing. Their is a great love of pop music from the 90’s and walking down the street we would always overhear someone belting it out on the karaoke machine. In the north of the Philippines, american country music is blasted from tricycles, but they all seem to have the same mixed CD as there was not much variety in song choices. The family unit is a tight one, and cousin Christine’s family was a great example of this. Her and her family live on a plot in separate houses together with Jonathan’s brothers, sisters and parents. The Barangay shows a real community orientated living space and as we walked down the street Christene and Jonathan stopped to talk to their neighbors. Fashion is not a really a priority in the Philippines, as most women are satisfied with jeans or boxer shorts and a t-shirt, while men opt for the more basketball player look. There are a lot of lady boys here, but not the beautiful eye tricking type in Thailand that could pass for women, they are really and truly men just wearing lipstick and tight jeans. Another peculiar habit of Filipino men is rolling their t-shirts to expose their large bellies when hot. This is apparently quite effective in cooling the Filipino man down on a hot summers day.
In total we pedaled 1005km split into two legs. The southern island hopping was our first leg. Here we explored rural Filipino life and enjoyed the pleasures of the beautiful white sand beaches along the way. It was a perfect introduction to our cycling adventures. The second leg was far more mountainous but we thoroughly enjoyed being off the beaten track and seeing the spectacular view points along the way. I have a feeling that beach verses mountain will present tough choices while we venture on. The main reason for coming to the Philippines was to meet my family and we’ve treated our cycling here as more of a training exercise. The main quest is to cycle from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to New Dehli in India. Nevertheless, we have learned a great deal about traveling on two wheels. We’ve only really traveled other places through public transport and we’ve realized that tour cycling requires a completely different mind set. Although we get a far deeper taste of life while cycling than any backpacker would, we are limited in the attractions that we can see. We both HATE putting our bikes onto buses due to extra charges, stress of travel and the feeling that we copped out. This has already presented tough choices while mapping our itinerary in Vietnam. The roads in the Philippines were good and the overall cycling experience was pleasant. Most roads had shoulders to cycle in and the north and Southern roads were not busy. The only part we did not enjoy was probably the 100km radius of Manila due to congestion and air pollution as well as big trucks. All in all it was a brilliant start on getting cycle-street-smart and to learn how to cycle with an authorative presence on the road.