No pandemic could put a damper on the development of our capital city. The good mayor of Manila, Yorme Isko, had kick-started his revitalization initiatives at the area around Manila City Hall before the world ground to a halt in the first quarter of 2020. While I spent months at home on self-imposed lockdown, public works in the city hardly paused.
Only when I threw plans and itineraries to the wind did I make our real-time discoveries. It paid that Ki, an honorary Cebuano by virtue of his affinity to the city, led the way around Cebu. We spent three days urban trekking in both old and new sides of town.
In my 50 years as a Filipino citizen, I never set foot in Malacañang Palace, the seat of power in the Philippines. As the office and official residence of presidents since a century ago, it never piqued my curiosity even as a historical site. A palace implied royalty; last time I checked, our form of government was never a monarchy. The opportunity came in the form of an invite from a colleague and docent-in-training. Her connections in the Presidential Museum secured our group a spot in their weekday guided tours.
San Juan / Rosario / Pedro Garcia, Batangas, the Philippines
January 23, 2012
“Every road that leads me leads me back to you.” A song of grief got me with that line. There were trips I took with my mother, one of which was through Batangas in 2012. While travelers left their heart where their feet had taken them, I left mine with people in this road of life. I posted this Facebook throwback for my sister and late mother:
This photo was taken in 2012 during one of our road trips through Southern Tagalog. We stopped by the town of San Juan, Batangas mainly to see the church where Juday and Ryan wed. In Mom’s pace, we also explored blocks of grand old houses (some seemingly abandoned), kicked off our shoes at a quiet beach of powdery sand, and took in local culture at heritage restaurants adorned with all things old world: Cafeno (in photo) and Naranja Grill. I’ve never been back to San Juan (except at Cafeno), but I hope it remains as how Mom saw it 8 years ago.
Cagbalete Island, Mauban, Quezon Province, the Philippines
April 26 – 28, 2019
Only a warp in the space-time continuum could explain this phenomenon. Hours and minutes dragged on reluctantly in paradise islands. The day stretched longer and more so the night. Such were the destinations that appealed to my laissez-faire approach to traveling. What was a vacation if not to escape the daily rush of modern life? That was exactly what I found in Cagbalete Island.
San Remigio / Santa Fe and Bantayan, Bantayan Island, Cebu, the Philippines
December 31, 2018 – January 3, 2019
We rang in 2019, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Dominoes of delays came crashing down at Hagnaya Port in San Remigio, Cebu. We missed the last ferry out to Bantayan Island on New Year’s Eve. Not one to sweat the small stuff, I settled in with similarly star-crossed passengers on the non-ergonomic wooden benches, unmindful of the simmering anger beside me. Ki expected us to wait out the next ferry at 2:30 AM in a hotel. I shrugged the idea off as unnecessary and impractical; he got his beastmode on. The only fireworks we had at midnight were of the verbal kind.
The urban squalor depicted in the acclaimed Brocka film Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag in the 70s persisted like a stain that wouldn’t come off. The glory days of Manila were long forgotten. In the 80s, I could not unsee children and grown men hanging from embankments and pooping directly onto Pasig River in full view of morning rush hour traffic. Thirty years later, little else had improved. Until Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso – popularly known as Yorme Isko – came along. Barely warming his mayoralty chair, he set out to scrub off the decades-old grime of our capital city.
Young people, I found, were not only the hope for the future but also of the past. Silay, home to some thirty ancestral houses accredited by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, could stand a chance against unbridled development because her sons had enough respect for the tangible legacies their forefathers had left behind. Their inheritance, in other words. The number of preserved heritage houses in Silay likely exceeded that of more famous “museum cities” in the country, such as Vigan and Taal.
This was a city tour like no other. There was none of the urban area suggested by the term. Touring Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Palawan, was more about roughing it, including but not limited to rock climbing, spelunking, beach bumming, heritage shopping, and exotic dining.
March 26 – 27 and 29 – 30, 2018 / January 4 – 5, 2019
For most non-residents, Dumaguete was its famous seafront boulevard and promenade. Running through the heart of the city, Rizal Boulevard had long been the place to be. Casa de Gobierno, the seat of the Spanish colonial government, once stood at this scenic coast. That piece of heritage burned down in the 1930s.
Balai encompasses both house and home in meaning. So does Balai Princesa. The homiest boutique B&B in Puerto Princesa offers more than a roof over our head and ambiance for our Gram. The warmth and comfort provided by its service make it a home.
“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” That was my motto on my nth trip to Baguio. Nostalgia had been the theme of all my visits to the country’s summer capital. I always tried to relive my childhood memories of a city under pine cover. That meant staying in and around relatively well-preserved Camp John Hay. Not this time. Ki, the veritable Baguio-phile, let me experience present-day downtown Baguio, the area around Burnham Park, with more of the city and less of the pines.
Sailing used to be the cheaper alternative to flying. But in the advent of LCCs, it mostly cost less – and for less travel time – to take a plane than a ship. One December day, though, we decided to welcome the new year in Cebu. The holiday rush shot flight fares through the roof; that was a given. What was not was going by boat, which basically meant going by 2Go, the country’s largest passenger ferry fleet.
Strawberry fields were not forever, contrary to Lennon’s lyrics. And no, it was something to get hung about. Ki and I took a jeepney from Baguio to the town of La Trinidad for its famous strawberry farms. I had woken up that morning with decadent dreams of sinking my teeth into the luscious fruit and slurping the tangy juice. Alas, we found the bowl-shaped valley striated with rows of plastic sheets used for mulching. Warm and wet July, it turned out, was off season for strawberries. Fresa fail.
Lakawon Island, Cadiz City, Negros Occidental, the Philippines
November 30 – December 1, 2017
Regret put a damper on our trip to Lakawon Island from the get-go. Guimaras Strait made a winnowing basket out of our small boat. As billowing waves thrashed and tossed our asses off our seats, Ki scowled at every splash drenching our backs and bags. Wetness was the least of my worries; I feared for our lives. A recent celebrity death – Franco Hernandez’s – from drowning in similar circumstances was still fresh in my mind.