Visiting Home—The Philippines

Who would have thought that my family would be able to cram back-to-back events within the span of three weeks? Honestly, I had a feeling that it was coming, but I didn’t expect it to be the busiest three weeks of our lives.

Of course, I would get my period the following day. It’s not like we had planned to go to the beach that day and to a secluded beach the next. Of course, I didn’t pack any feminine products either since my period only comes irregularly twice a year. But hey, the good thing about the family being composed of 95% women is that someone will save me—and save me they did.

The afternoon and evening was spent at a beach resort in Iba. We rented this super cute hut and probably crammed 30 people in it? Maybe? The great thing about the beach in Iba is that the sea floor is level and you can walk out quite far before it begins to get substantially deeper (this I did not test because no one wanted to swim out that far with me).

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The following day we rode south for half an hour, then on a boat for another hour. I decided to go swimming that night because hey, December in the Philippines means that it’s mid to high 70s at night. What drew me into the water that night was (after googling it just now) the bio-luminescent algae. It looked like green sparks in the water when I swished my hands under. Twenty minutes later I was itchy and it turns out that there may have been something else in the water because the next day most of my cousins were having varying degrees of reactions to it from red skin to large welts. Another google search came up with sea strings as the likely cause—jellyfish tentacles that have been detached from their bodies.

It was here where my sister decided it was a good idea to list all of the family members on my mother’s side. With a lot of help, our final count was 103. Can you imagine? That is a lot of people.

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Christmas is such a big deal in the Philippines. After scouring my albums and my cousin’s albums, we did not take any pictures during Christmas… so I definitely recommend watching Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode when he goes to Manila. He experiences the holiday season to a T.

Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) is when we have a party, cook a bunch of food, drink lots of alcohol, and wait till midnight greet each other “Merry Christmas!” countdown included! And videoke is also a must. Now that I think about it, I don’t know why they call it that when it’s technically karaoke. The singing usually lasts all night and doesn’t end till three or four in the morning. Having experienced it so many times, I’m still surprised that I’m able to fall asleep.

Christmas day is a less exciting affair since we who came from the States were expected to give out presents, which we did; items that I take for granted like soap and lotions, chocolate, and clothes. I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted, because none of the male cousins had any actual presents. My sister and I gave them money instead. Money is good, right?

The next four days were spent traveling to and staying in Palawan. We stayed in El Nido, five hours north of Puerto Princesa. There, we did two different island tours in the span of two days. Our boat crew was super chill. The tourism there is huge; I’ve never seen so many foreigners in one place in the Philippines.

If you have a chance, definitely go to Palawan. Fly into Cebu and then fly to Puerto Princesa. But make sure you have a hotel booked in advance because we didn’t and thankfully only had to move rooms in the same hotel. But also maybe stay in Coron instead, because El Nido is notorious for the electricity going out. Not so great when it’s 80 and humid outside.

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By the time we arrived back home, we were super over it. Half of us got sick the night before leaving Palawan and it colored the rest of our trip. At what point does a vacation become a chore? Probably the same time when you realize that you need a vacation from your vacation. Thankfully no one lost any limbs during the New Year.

My mother, being the matriarch of the family, had complete control over all of us siblings. Even though we’re all adults and have jobs and pay bills, we could not say no to anything that she wanted us to do. “Oh we’re going to your aunt’s for lunch,” “Oh, we need to leave in two hours for your other aunt’s party,” “Oh you need to start getting ready for the ball, I got you a dance partner, so you’ll be dancing tonight.”

Don’t get me wrong; I love my mom, so I did everything that she wanted. She also said, “you’ll have time to do nothing when you get back to the States.”

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And there you have it. I’d love to go back and do fewer things and relax more, but while writing this, I am remembering it fondly, so it wasn’t all that bad.


Vera is an aspiring world traveler and sporadic baker of cake and cookies. She is in the process of acquiring her TEFL certification in order to teach abroad. In her free time, she solves jigsaw puzzles, (re)learns French, and watches movies.
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3 thoughts on “Visiting Home—The Philippines

  1. So beautiful! I love Anthony Bourdain and am definitely going to have to find and watch that episode ASAP now.

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