Taal Volcano in Tagaytay, Philippines erupted during my vacation. Grave concern is for communities lying on the volcano’s rim. Total evacuation of those areas has happened, and there is outpouring of help for affected families.
I was traveling with relatives from La Union back to Manila and Los Banos a few hours after the eruption. The roads were fogged up with ashfall, especially around Santa Rosa where drivers struggled with 0 visibility. Los Banos roads were clearer, much to our relief.
I’m on the tail end of my vacation in the Philippines. It felt like a tail spin. So fast.
The ocean and the sky at Rabon in Rosario, La Union, Philippines (photos by Rorie Pandes)
The agenda was filled with trips to far places in the provinces. I expected the provincial cities to be less crowded, with less traffic and more open spaces. I was wrong. The cities are dense. Roads are congested. Commercial areas have expanded to allow more buildings, more hotels, more roads – and definitely, more malls for restaurants and department stores.
Take Naga for example. It felt like I was in Manila. During my visit two years ago, the city showed remarkable progress. So much more now. Gone are the years of my youth when I could walk the whole downtown in less than an hour. This time, our car barely moved a block in nearly half an hour in the center of the busiest commercial district. Heavy congestion of privately-owned vehicles beside buses and jeepneys, and a sea of tricycles boldly zigzagging in between cars. If that wasn’t too much, wait for fiesta time, I’m told. Moving an inch in a vehicle is considered big progress. Best to get off and work those walking shoes. And people walking the multitude elbow to elbow. Hmmm … I should reconsider my plan to visit at Fiesta time.
People are always the heart of any place. While Naga holds tremendous progress and a bevy of nature’s attractions, among them, the Bicol river that snakes through the city (the river is setting for the sacred tradition of the colorful and sonorous fluvial procession, culmination of a region-wide celebration of the Penafrancia fiesta) — Naga feels home because of relatives and friends very dear to me. I especially miss my Auntie Rosie, a most gracious host unencumbered by a slight limp caused by chronic pain in her leg, yet very active in managing her household and a garden of vibrant orchids and flowering plants. Infectiously vivacious and cheerful, she is a source of precious memories, and a good listener of interesting stories. Our conversations avidly flowed, and our topics never ran dry. As delicious as my Auntie’s stories is her home-made ham, always the craze during a meal.
Then, there’s Rabon, a beach community on the shores of Rosario, La Union, home of my brother, his wife, my nephew and his family. The sprawling 2-storey house features a wide balcony fronting the ocean. It was full moon the second night we were there. Ocean tides were high. In the evenings, the waves lashed unabashedly against the cement base of the balcony walls. The repetitive sound was loud, but it lulled me to sleep. Someone closed the window and that muted the sound, my blissful lullaby. Immediately, I opened the bedroom window. Heavenly! Back to sleep. drowsed by the music of the rushing waves.
In the morning, the sea receded away from shore, exposing a chain of moss and seaweeds glittering in the glare of sunbeams. Big white rocks and shells randomly scattered on the sand accent the narrow strip of beach in front of the house. Foamy waves that drew dainty white laces on the shore produced a gentle rhythm. In the distance were a few fishing boats. At twilight, the boats and their riders formed mysterious silhouettes like puppets in slow motion. The shadows on the sea appeared most distinctly ghoulish right before and after sunset, when the sky turned a bright orange and gray, and especially when the orange quickly diminished with the sinking sun. The roaring waves grew louder as black enveloped the sky, and the bright twinkling of a few stars pierced through the dark. Indeed a dramatic night, just me on the balcony, with the sonorous waves and the stars, and shadows on the vast dark sea, and not to forget, a pale, wanton moon. Heavenly! That’s Rabon. Great material and inspiration for poetry!
I give special mention here of the exquisite seafood buffets that my nephew arranged every day of my visit with his family. An extraordinary abundance of blue crabs, jumbo shrimps, scallops, oysters and seaweeds that were crunchy and juicy (like little poppers in my mouth). Couldn’t resist the fresh scallops and oysters. Had more than my moderate fill. I ashamedly had too much! And it was heavenly!
Many of my vacation days were spent in Las Pinas, an old city outside Manila with rapidly growing business districts, big malls, increasing high rises, old and new subdivisions — the place where my brothers and their families reside. The truth is, I spent a great deal of time in the malls, massive, clean and ostentatiously decorated for the holidays. Shopping was never the target of the mall visits, though the tempting displays in the stores beckoned. The destination for every mall visit was a restaurant, chosen mainly for its authentic Filipino cuisine. Only once in our restaurant hopping did we choose a Chinese restaurant for its Shanghai cuisine.
Then of course, Los Banos, Laguna, where I spent relaxing days without thought of malling or restaurant hopping, or “touring” the sceneries. But here were always good, sumptuous home-cooked meals each day, except last night when my sister and brother-in-law took me to Kamayan, an established eatery that grew into a commercial center with a newly built hotel and expanded man-made ponds. The food in Kamayan is superb – we had fried hito (fish), crispy pata (pork), pancit (noodles with vegetables and meat), pinakbet (sautéed mixed vegetables: squash, beans, okra, ampalaya or bitter melon, eggplant). My regret, the restaurant ran out of fresh buko (young coconut) juice. It didn’t matter, though, because I got absurdly full. Heavenly!
One of the best highlights of my vacation was meeting the newest member of the family, an adorable baby boy named Zi, born early December 2019 to my niece, my youngest sister’s youngest daughter. Zi, a wonderful blessing for the new year. A little over a month old now, Zi has learned to smile. That smile is precious, like crème de la crème to my vacation.
Happy 2020 one and all!