THE PHILIPPINES part IV

3 Weddings, and a volcano.

The next day we flew in the morning from Manila to Legazpi where we landed and we were happy. Happy to get some nice fresh country air as it is always a nice change from being in the city. No matter where you are. When I leave Breda (nice comparison with Manila hahaha) and drive south 30 mins into the (next) country, the air is already different and fresher. Let alone leaving a multimillion city.

The hotel had send a van to pick us up and before we knew we were overlooking Mayon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayon) from our room. Mayon is a volcano which is still active, located on the island of Luzon in the Bicol region. Worth a visit and if you are lucky Mayon will show it self to you. Can you miss seeing a volcano that large? No… but its top is often covered by clouds. There are several stories about Mayon, I will see if I can include the love story about Mayon later.

As we arrived on time there was still day light left to go out and see something. So we took the car and drove to Kaw Kawa hill in the town of Tubutan, Ligao City where you can see life size statues of the Traditional Stations of the Cross. For me it was the first time to see them in this size and while the sun was still out, we had a great view of the area at the top of the hill.

With the sun going down and not having brought my anti mosquito spray, I did not spend too much time going down. The mosquitos must have thought hmmm nice new blood.

Like I just wrote, we had a car. I can tell you.. after some days only relying on public transportation, taxis tricycles etc.. it is a joy to have your own wheels and airco. Finally we could go where we wanted not having to wait. Thank you até Olive.

If you have driven in the Philippines you know what I am talking about when I say that it is quite an experience.

Luckily for me they drive at the right side of the road, like they do here. What was a complete eye-opener for me, was sort of the “right of the strongest”. When you show you are moving, you push forward and move. Cars and buses go before the tricycles.

Especially when overtaking.

I have seen cars pass other vehicles, pushing almost the tricycles that were coming from the other direction into the side. On a lot of roads, they have therefore a wide concrete slap on the side. It is almost like another lane, but only to be used as an escape route. If not for those concrete lanes, a head to head collision would certainly happen more.

Next to your head lights to show that you are pushing first and forward, your horn is the most important item on the car. Tuut tuut.. when overtaking.. just to let them know you are coming, so that, if need, they will make way and you can pass safely.

I only drove on the country side, not in Manilla. Driving there is of a complete different level by itself. I have never ever seen so many cars pass and drive next so close next to each other. Literally centimetres from each other. I am not kidding. If I was to drive like that here I would get fined all the time.

You know, the amazing things is, that there are hardly any accidents. I only saw 1 I think, and that was with a young school girl who got hit by a small motorcycle.

Roads, traffic and children are always a dangerous combination and here the Philippines makes no exception. Its unbelievable how few accidents occur with all those people living and playing aside the roads. Hence the use of the horn when you come close to passing kids.

Driving was nice and I felt like it was lot more relaxed that here in the Netherlands. Relaxed as in the rules etc… not when it comes to concentration.

Because of everything that is happening on and next to the roads you constantly have to pay attention to what you are doing. Much more so than here in Europe. I guess the people there don’t know any better as being normal. For me it was another great experience and after a few days already you get used to it. And just when you think you are, you have to become careful.

Back to my story.

The next day we went for tour with a quad/atv tour near Mayon. Again, something new for me, and let me tell you, fun it was.

We drove up to a parking lot where after paying a small fee we could leave our car. As soon as we were outside, the salesmen of the area came and were trying to sell us a tour.

First we took a look around the Cagsawa Ruins (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cagsawa_Ruins) from which the history tell us that the Dutch burned down the church.

Form this area you can see mount Mayon and we were lucky with the weather. It wasn’t raining like crazy so still okay to go and take that tour after visiting a few local stand selling souvenirs. It was here where we bought my Sungka board (http://mancala.wikia.com/wiki/Sungka).

By the way.. you can not have visited the Philippines and not having played a game of Sungka. It is played everywhere and everybody knows how to play.

Having found a guy that had a nice tour (not that his would have been soo much different than the other, but still), we only had to walk a few hundred meters before we were signing up and mounting a quad. Luckily, not one of the small toy ones, but a proper decent quad.

After having driven 2 circles at the parking lot it was time to go on the trail. I have to tell you, it was good fun. Loving the speed, I here and there let myself drop back a bit only to give full throttle to catch up again, trying to see the power of the quad. You know, boys and toys.. just good fun

TIP: wear shorts and sandals when riding, as the trip most certainly will cross a stream, which is only fun when crossing at a nice speed, splashing the water all over.

Your feet will get wed.

When thinking back now about that day, and for that matter all other days, so many memories come up and I cold tell you so much more about this trip, but then it would become a book. Maybe next time.

Like I said having a car is great. Especially on the country side. Being close as it was, we also went to visit the Hoyop-Hoyopan Cave that day.

A small cave which originally was underwater and later served as a shelter during the 2nd world war. We had the funniest tour guide ever. I forgot his name, but he could tell the story about the cave like no one else could.

We saw things we never would have seen wasn’t it for the great imagination of this man.

Truly enjoyable and worth the small trip into the country.

By now you have heard some names passing by already. Kawa-Kawa, Mayon, Hoyop-Hoyopan, and there were quite some more when I was there. I have to say, my memory is quite ok. Not as good as my travel companion’s, but still. But names…and words. I kept on forgetting them. Maybe because I was still tired from the exhausting year before my vacation in which I graduated from a photography course, stress at work etc.traveling a lot.. You name it, but names I could not remember. I have never been great with names, but good with pictures.

I guess when you are also not used to the type of names of persons, towns and tourist attractions, you might forget them faster as well, than hearing the names you are more used to hear. Anyway, I have google and am grateful with a good memory and way to describe where I have been in order to find its name again. NOTE to myself: next time write it down the first time around. Also.. (I told you), I had a more than wonderful travel companion who had planned and arranged a lot so quite sometimes I only had to follow or drive where instructed. So no need to remember everything.

On our last day in Legazpi, we packed our bags, had our breakfast and went to church before leaving on a few hour drive to Labo. For us, it is quite common to light a candle in church, say a prayer and then travel. So this day we did the same.

When arriving at the century old Daraga church (here you go, another name), we were welcomed by a wedding party. After having parked our car under the guidance of a six year old, making sure we did it correctly and assuring us he would look after the car etc, we entered the church.

Now.. in Holland if you see a wedding at a church, it is not really common and appreciated to enter and have look around.

Here in Legazpi, in the Philippines, it was completely different. We could freely enter the church and take a look around.

Although the service hadn’t started yet, and paying respect to everybody within the wedding party, we kept it fast and only from the side, in order not to disturb anyone. Although I did not have the feeling that we were disturbing anyone at all and “kuya kalbo” was welcome.

It was so cute. There was this small girl who, at seeing me, turned around towards her parents and called out loud, “kuya kalbo” (something that means like bald brother, but respectively). It was funny and we all had to laugh.

Having taken some pictures and lid some candles, we finally left for our trip to Labo. A few hours drive up north.

It was nice to see the country side and everything that is happening on and aside the roads.

On our way north, we had one more stop planned. A visit to the Peñafrancia Basilica (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peñafrancia_Basilica) in Naga.

When we drove up towards the church I saw how busy it was at the parking lot. Luckily we were able to get a parking spot. The Peñafrancia is a well-known and visited pilgrim church, but that was not the reason today for the full parking. Wedding number 2 was.

When we entered, we were welcomed again by a wedding party. This time the service was already taking place, so we could not walk freely through the building, but here again, there was nobody telling us not to enter. We could pay our respected and leave without disturbing anybody or being noticed.

The pilgrim church being a popular place, it attracts all kinds of people and when we were driving of the property, we noticed wedding party number 3.

This newlywed couple was taking pictures outside the building. Three wedding in one day…how funny is that.

We continued our drive, and before we knew we were getting close to Daet, where we had our car washed by two guys who took their job serious.

In Holland it is all a do it yourself kind of job, but here no. You park your car and in 30-45 minutes you have a fully washed, waxed and vacuumed car. With all tired blackened again a small doormat was placed beside the car and we could enter. You would leave the place and enter your clean car with clean shoes.

Driving for just a few more minutes, and we were home. I can write “home” here as that is how it felt. We were welcomed by some family members, some of which had travel a whole day to meet us. From here we would make some day trips and exploring the area.

I told you already that I also drove a motorcycle. I was lucky to have the opportunity to drive and experience the roads, weather and traffic on the bike we were lent.

We spend some time in Daet (tricycle city as it is known to me) where over the next few days we passed a few times for shopping, lunch etc.

I have seen some tricycles in the Philippines, but not as many together as in Daet.

It was also in this area where I took the pictures of the rice fields. Of course, common good here, it was still nice for me to see.

Being on vacation and not on a photographic tour through the country I did not take as many pictures as I would, traveling with photography in mind. Next time, I do hope to return, I would make sure I am actually rested before I go on vacation, plan less and take more time stop and take pictures.

This vacation was great, no doubt at all, but also quite intens. We travelled a lot. That and having a very stress time right up to my vacation made it that I had to spend some time to relax. Actually, by the end of the vacation I was fully relaxed and feeling like I should have been at the beginning.

That driving in the Philippines is different from Europe I had already told you, but the roads themselves are quite something as well.

Where the main roads were perfect to ride, some of the others were not. As soon as we drove into the country site the roads varied. From ok, 1-lane cement roads to dirt roads, with holes. At one point we had to drive quite a few kilometres down a road that had more holes in it that some Dutch cheese. My goodness.. how bumpy it was. It was all 2nd gear on the motorcycle, trying to drive around or drive slowly through the holes where avoiding wasn’t possible.

But…at the end it was worth it. We arrived at San Lorenzo, where, after lighting another candle at the church, we stopped by a zipline. I parked the bike, we took of our helmets and backpack and we got strapped in our harnesses. Before we knew we were flying across the valley on a steel cable. Fantastic.

Being a little taller than perhaps most philippinos, I was happy to wear a plastic help. The straps were long enough, but it happened a few times that I could hear and feel the steel cable sliding against my helmet. It was fun to do, but next time, superman style.

Driving the same bumpy road back we gave our asses a rest at the pineapple resort where, although closed, we could have a drink and relax a little before continuing home, where yet another delicious meal would await us.

Like I said.. the food in the Philippines was excellent. But there is nothing better than experiencing home cooked meals. No restaurant, but the food as everybody else eats.

I was blessed by staying in house in which the lady of the house was an excellent cook and having a great assistant to help with the delicious meals. Surely if I was to stay there, the scales would notice the difference over time.

All good things come to an end.

All good things come to an end, so also this vacation. After having said our good byes to some other family members who left a day earlier than we did, it was now our time to go.

With the car and bike returned (thank you kuya Ariel), it was time to take a bus again.

We had bought some tickets in Daet, and had reserved seats in a great touring car. I have to say, this was the first time I saw a touring car with seats that could have come straight from the first class from an airplane. Hence the fact that only 3 would fit next to each other in the bus.

It was after 9-pm when we entered the bus and took our places. We waved good bye to the few family members left behind who came to see us farewell and off we went.

Where my travel companion, who had travelled with these busses before, but who could also sleep anytime anywhere, was sleeping in no time, I would stay awake almost the entire night.

I could not sleep. The bus was great, but with all the stops it made due to traffic, the turns it took riding through the mountains, the horn that went off sometimes when passing, I could not get that comfortable to get a proper rest.

So what to do when you can sleep… you just look outside the window and see what is happening.

Respect, respect and once more respect for the drivers of these busses. These men can drive like the best. I have seen them pass trucks, cars and other obstacles with such precision. Driving in the dark on these quite narrow mountain roads with all it’s traffic, I would not like to be in their seat. Of course they drive this route every day and perhaps don’t know any better, but I would not have liked to drive those hours in the dark like they did that night.

Being awake I was able to track our position through my phone, knowing exactly how far we were off from our hotel and for me a proper 1-2 hrs sleep.

After a nice shower and breakfast, there was still one day left to spend in Manila before the flight back home. It was nice relaxing day, walking around the shopping center, having something to eat and watching a relaxing movie.

One last check out, one last taxi ride and before we knew we were at the airport again, where I realised and was happy we left the hotel on time.

Entering the airport we could see an enormous line already waiting for the check-in and luggage drop off. Where for other nationalities it was just waiting for the check-in, the philippinos also needed to have some extra papers checked and stamped before they could leave the country. Knowing this you would assume they would have a lot more people sitting there stamping away, but not this day. The poor guy had to check hundreds and hundreds had to wait to get their papers stamped.

Having passed the usual airport checks, we were waiting to board and fly back home.

It is always when you leave, or when you don’t have people around when you realize where you have been and who you have been with.

Sometimes I still can’t believe where I have been and what I have seen. All I do know is that one day I hope to be back, spending a lot more time traveling the country at a pace suiting the country (which is a lot less hasty and stressed than here in the Netherlands).

For now.. it had been a great vacation which of course, I would not have been able to make just by myself. There are quite a few people I like to thank, but I will not start mentioning names as I don’t want to forget anybody.

I like to thank everybody who made me feel welcome in the Philippines, who welcomed me in their houses, who had lent me their car or motorcycle, who allowed me to have delicious meals with them, who treated me like family. You have no idea how much it meant to me and how grateful I am that I was able to experience this.

“Welcome to the Philippines”

was only possible because of you I will never forget it.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

PART I

PART II

PART III