Travel Blog: The Philippines!
Welcome to my first travel blog!
About six months after this trip I am finally sitting down to recount my experience. My ultimate goal is to write and document AS I travel, but hey, here is an earnest start!
So a few months into 2018, my boyfriend and anthropologist/passionate cultural explorer Paul and I decided to plan a trip to South East Asia. In July. I know, a little crazy. Soaring temperatures and monsoon season might not seem like fun to everyone, but we were ready to dive into any adventure. Plus, it was the only time we both were off of school and work. I had just graduated my Nutritional Therapy Program and him his dual-bachelor degree program. I also found out that I had a long lost sister in the Philippines! That’s right, a sibling that found my father, brothers and sisters, and myself through none other than Facebook! And so we took this as an additional sign to make the trek across the Pacific ocean, to the vast islands of my father’s homeland, the Philippines, connect with family and tack on another trip to Thailand after the reunion.
The journey begins
It took about 14 hours from Los Angeles to our first lay-over at South Korea’s Incheon Airport. I must say I really appreciated this airport’s nice showers and sweet nap zones - extra points. We hopped on our next flight and finally made it to the Philippines for a total of about 20 hours later. Upon arrival and after a long line through customs, we were scooped up by my father and newest older sister Michelle. We headed to the closest karaoke bar where we proceeded to drink the national favorite of Red Horse beer, while eating “Pollutan.” I know, sounds weird, but “Pollutan” is just a Filipino phrase for the snacks you share with friends, usually while drinking and singing in a circle!
Staying in the hotel and catching up on rest would have perhaps been the more wholesome idea, but damnit I wasn’t about to turn down an all nighter at my new sisters night club “Studio 69,” and miss the opportunity to sing in another language, awkwardly laugh at stand up comedy I couldn’t understand, and eat all kinds of delicious food while the cooks serenaded us. My boyfriend Paul also got to exercise his Filipino-appointed nickname of “Pogi,” or, handsome, while fending off wolf-pack like hunter strippers. His description not mine!
My health strategy and What I brought
My nutritional therapy and supplement training really came in handy on this trip and I had more tools in my belt for the stress that can come from international journeys. In my arsenal was: a travel capable probiotic to support my gut health, bitters/herbs from Urban Moonshine to stimulate and regulate proper digestion, Para-gard to ward off potential parasitic invaders so apropos for South East Asia, and the highly-adsorbable activated charcoal in case non of the above worked or if I needed extra support after over-indulging (like on my very first night there). Not pictured were my my chlorella tablets to mitigate the intense radiation of flying, Biocidin - an oregano oil based natural anti-biotic, a B and C vitamin complex for mental maintenance and immunity, Nuun electrolyte tablets for minerals and efficient hydration, and a few things for sleep such as the awesome adaptogen Ashwagandha and some melatonin to regulate sleep patterns. My boyfriend also brought his slew of homemade herbal tinctures, and together we formed a tightly-knit, slightly neurotic (ok, mostly on my end), power-house of holistic preventative strategies to support our best health while traveling! It might seem like a lot, but I will say, staying abundantly prepared while traveling can prevent an unwanted experience of sickness in unknown territory as well as the many infections that can pop up later in life - like a destroyed micro-biome, parasite invasion or nasty lung bugs. These things can potentially linger and cause extremely damaging long term illnesses. Plus - we like to experience the food, drinks, and culture wherever we are, and want to give ourselves the best chance to adapt and thrive while having fun, and being mindful! I’m looking at you, street food! Later on in the trip, while in Thailand, we also acquired a big ol’ and totally necessary bottle of colloidal silver from our favorite cafe. Another natural, effective, and safe anti-biotic/fungal/viral elixir that truly is a gift to travelers. Jumping ahead, I’m happy to report that we didn’t experience any digestive upset or immune system issues (other than Paul who got a slight cold, but he really should have listened to the Filipino shaman…more on that later)! As far as food goes, my general intent was to focus on whole foods as much as possible, drink a lot of (bottled) water, and eat like the locals eat - seasonal fruits and vegetables, rice, noodles, and whatever fish or meat was available for the day. There were also a few sweet treats we couldn’t resist and that damn delicious coconut wine.
exploring the land and people
Connecting and meeting more of my extended family while introducing my boyfriend was such a joy. One of the best aspects of smaller towns is the joy of simplicity and Being - Getting up early to start the days chores (not really a choice since the rooster really does start going at dawn), brewing some coffee, and walking to the market while running into friends and family, gathering the fresh plethora of that day’s vegetables, fresh meat and seafood catch. We visited Lucban’s cemetery that holds many of my ancestors, swam in the rain at the local watering holes, sang more karaoke, and drank more Red Horse while eating with our hands on giant banana leaves. We also hiked through the jungle to my favorite waterfall which had actually been barricaded off due to potential landslides, but we like to live on the edge and my dad knew someone who knew someone who let us trek solo. It seemed safe and was wonderfully worth it. The pristine clear flowing stream, the almost deafening and slightly eerie buzz of Asian cicadas, and jungle spirits of both a benevolent and malevolent nature. My father explained you must ask permission from the spirits in the form of the respectful phrase “Tabi-tabi Po” or “Please excuse our passing.” Trust me, you don’t want to piss of jungle spirits and deities, lest they confuse your sense of direction and lead you to your death or disappearance. We had a sweet dog companion who guided our whole walk so I took that as hearty welcome.
finding my roots
The combination of indigenous animism (the religious belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence) with catholic influence has really merged an interesting mythology and expression of unseen forces - something I’m always trying to tap into and understand. I’ve been on a personal journey to understand my family’s roots and history and my interest in the indigenous and spiritual practices of the Philippines has only grown over the years. I admit it, I’m a little jaded. That whole Spanish takeover with the dissemination of Catholicism to the point of persecution and dissolution of spiritual cultural traditions has left me a little salty. But, who hasn’t been ill affected by colonialism? I am working on accepting what has unfolded while still lifting the veil to see what I can find underneath the last few centuries. Anyways, my curiosity of discovering my roots mixed with Paul’s passion for religious studies and herbalism lead us to Tatay Kenyo - the towns resident herbalist and folk healer known as an “Abularyo.” Tracking him down was sort of a wild goose chase, asking one person who lead us to another who finally lead us to this medicine man. In auspicious timing, we got to his doorstep as soon as his consultation window opened. There was almost immediately a huge line behind us. There we sat in a quaint stoop as the rain fell. Paul asked if we could tape record the conversation, but Tatay Kenyo spoke very little english, and we think the request went unheard. My dad was translating and it was definitely his first time being the middle man between a folk healer and anthropologist. We have a sneaking suspicion that some details were missed, but he did a great job nonetheless. Paul proceeded to ask Tatay Kenyo questions and we explored many topics such as his strategy and approach with plant medicines, how western medicine has influenced traditional healing culture, what kind of afflictions impact the community, and what spiritual energy is behind the healing. Tatay Kenyo explained that one must train diligently under a Master of Plants for many years, but that unfortunately, many of the young people are not carrying on the traditions. He proceeded to give my dad an extremely spot on analysis of his health after reading his pulse and he also gave myself and Paul a Latin blessing and healing. Paul’s healing included the plastering of some plants on his head and back with the magical Filipino healing elixir - Vix. Filipino’s, you get me here! My dad, a sort of skeptic, also left with a sense of awe and wonder. On a side note, Paul didn’t exactly follow Tatay Kenyo’s direction of not removing the plants from his back or drinking cold liquids for 24 hours, and ended up getting a cold! Coincidence or influence? we may never know…
Martial arts in the philippines
My love for martial arts shines through in any country and it’s one of my missions to travel and experience cultures through their history of art and combat. Experiencing a land’s national martial art is a wonderful way to dive in and stay active! The Philippines have a renowned and albeit brutal style that utilizes hand to hand combat, knife, and stick defense known as Arnis, Kali, or Eskrima. This was one of the first martial arts I studied a few years back when I wanted to get a taste for my own cultures warrior past. I’m not sure if it’s my families particular town or if it’s a fading system, but it was difficult to find rataan (fighting) sticks and a Guru (Filipino Master) to teach Paul and I. We ultimately found one cultural arts stand that had some of the fighting sticks in an umbrella bucket and we picked up a handful for ourselves and for our martial arts friends. While we weren’t able to find a teacher in the time we were there, we did get to practice some of our moves in the middle of the street while all of the neighborhood children gathered around us in proper fighting pit style. It was a great moment that I wish we captured on camera, but some things are better left experienced.
tips and suggestions:
- If you are planning a visit to Manila or have a long layover, check out The Singing Cooks and Waiters Restaurant - So fun!
- The Laguna province is known for its buko, or young coconut, pie…delicious!
- Lucban, Quezon Province, has a famous festival in May called the Pahiyas festival. I wen’t in 2012 and can’t recommend it enough. It’s a harvest festival and the decorations on the houses are breathtaking!
- Also while you’re in my families province of Lucban, you must try Pancit hab-hab, a type of noodle you eat straight out of a banana leaf as well as the sweet coconut pastry Bibingka!
- And make sure to visit my Kuya Johns restaurant - Che x2
So there you have it! My second trip to my father’s homeland and first trip with a significant other! Traveling alone has it’s own pro’s and con’s but traveling with a partner touched a sweet spot in me. I had someone to lean on through the tough moments and share my bubbling views with. We were just starting to get into the feel of things when our next adventure beckoned. I love the Philippines and I wish I could have stayed longer… But Thailand was calling…