Lessons Learned and Future Plans

Here are ten lesson learned from the past few days in the States. These lessons aren’t new really but things that I had taken for granted when living here before. Being in Manila for a year just makes these all stand out more:

1. I prefer driving where there is orderliness and less honking.

2. I do not like to do dishes or make my own bed.

3. I’m not used to seeing a mess so I clean up now willingly.

4. 70 degrees is not warm!

5. 400 items in your refrigerator is not necessary and borderline obscene.

6. No humidity is really, really great for your hair!

7. I do not like being cold!

8. Having family around is really great.

9. “It takes a village” is such a true statement. Having 5 other adults around to watch, entertain, talk to and engage Coco means I can read, nap, have a conversation. Love it!

10. Running to the grocery store to pick up something for a recipe and them having what you need makes life SO much easier!

I am loving being in LA!  Spending time with family has been great for me and Coco. She loves having a dog to play with (she asked me for a pet – said a horse was her first choice but she would also like a dog) and it’s good for her to be around adults other than me and her yaya who can entertain her, but also to discipline and direct her. It takes the pressure off of me which I really like!! It’s more balanced and healthy. It’s been so great I even spent a bit of time trying to figure out if I could/should move back next year! I know, I just posted about preferring the expat lifestyle but I guess I forgot how much easier it is to just get things done in the US. Running to the market is a breeze. Parking is right out front, everything you need is at your fingertips. And there are datable men everywhere!!

But the reality is it’s not a smart move. I have paid off a lot of debt but if I stay abroad 3 more years instead of one more I will be completely debt-free (except for my mortgage). That will give me the freedom to live anywhere in the world. If I am debt-free I can live in London or Paris or NYC or I can buy a little beach-front property somewhere if I want. If I am debt-free I can take some time off and do some slow travel around the world to see all the places left on my bucket-list before settling down somewhere. Being debt-free gives me all sorts of options so staying abroad it is.

Here’s the current list of possibilities for our next move:

ECUADOR
PERU
VENEZUELA
BRAZIL
ARGENTINA
BARCELONA
ANDALUCIA
FLORENCE
SOUTHERN ITALY
PORTUGAL
COSTA RICA
PANAMA
HONDURAS
NICARAGUA
GUATEMALA
EL SALVADOR
PUERTO RICO
UAE
OMAN
JORDAN
SINGAPORE
THAILAND
BANGALORE
ADDIS ABABA
JOHANNESBURG                                                                                                                             CAPE TOWN
NAIROBI

Crazy to think about! Fun, exciting, scary! And now to get back to friends and family and living in the present 🙂

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I Have Changed

I have no business writing a blog post with the number of things on my to do list and the limited amount of time to do them. We leave for the States on Friday for a month! Yay! I am looking forward to seeing family and friends and also the following:

* Target and Chipoltle

* thrift stores – gonna stock up on clothes for Coco

* order and cleanliness and efficiency

* going on dates, going to free museums and zoos and parks and hanging out on U Street

Funny thing that I noticed though is that I would be okay if we weren’t going home. Shocking I know! I mean, I really, really miss my friends a ton so it will be great to see them but I don’t feel the deep, intense desire to hightail my ass back to the States as I did at Christmas time. Back then I was miserable and still in the midst of traumatic culture shock (ok, a bit dramatic) but now I can actually say that I made it through to the other side! Although I still don’t like Manila, I am finding it is tolerable. Things are so much better with the new apartment, my great yaya and having year 1 under my belt but I am also changed.

How so?

Well, I suspected this about myself all along but I *think* I am actually enjoying being an expat! Gasp. I know, I have been bitching and complaining for almost the entire year but now I am considering never returning home. Now I put the word think in italics because I haven’t quite committed to living overseas permanently (and it certainly wouldn’t be in Manila) but I actually am starting to think this is possible. I love a lot about the States (see above for starters) but I have changed so much this year and I don’t really see how the new me can live back home full-time anymore.

It’s a long, boring story of how I got to this point and surely most of you aren’t interested in but here are a few reasons why:

* I want to be trilingual. This has intensified since meeting so many people here who are. I want to learn both French and Spanish (at least) and that will be easier and quicker if I live in a country where the languages are spoken. I also want Coco to be trilingual. Getting us both to C1 level fluency will be very difficult living in Washington, DC.

* I want to see the world!  A year ago, before I moved abroad, I considered myself fairly well-traveled. Outside of the US I had been to Mexico, USVI, Canada, Puerto Rico, Senegal, Egypt, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Spain, the Netherlands, France, England, Italy, Germany, Austria, Sweden and UAE. Did I forget anywhere? For an American I think this is considered well-traveled yet I knew there were so many places I still wanted to see. However, as an overextended, underpaid teacher and single parent I was more likely to experience them in the pages of National Geographic. Sure, I might be able to save up for one trip a year but even that was going to be pushing it. I figured I needed to pare down my list and plan on seeing just a few and I was accepting that. But then I moved here and I have met people who have traveled so much more than I have and some are teachers, others single parents. They weren’t doing one place a year, they were doing more like six! Then I learned about people who are nomadic or who have location independent careers which allow them to essentially travel full-time. This was totally eye-opening to me! I started to realize that doing a lot more traveling didn’t have to be just a dream; I was starting to see that it could be a reality. Instead of seeing maybe 5 more cool places in my lifetime I can now see doing 50! But in order to do this I need to live abroad. Most places are just too darn far and expensive from the States.

          sipping fresh coconut water – Puerto Galera           elephant trekking – Phuket, Thailand

* I like having a multicultural group of friends. Okay, technically I don’t have a group yet but I am developing one. What I do have though is people I interact with on a daily basis whose opinions and viewpoints and experiences and analyses aren’t steeped in the constraints of growing up in America (race relations, foreign policy, etc.) I was having a conversation the other day with a Pakistani friend about discrimination and it dawned on me that I hadn’t thought about racism in months. You can’t go a more than a day or two in the US without reading about/discussing/speculating/witnessing racism or discrimination in some form. It’s damn refreshing.

* I enjoy the lifestyle. In Asia that means regular spa treatments and hired help (nannies, drivers, gardeners, cooks, etc.). In Europe that means  gorgeous surroundings and access to many countries on the cheap. In the Middle East this means lots and lots of money and exposure to a culture so very different from your own. In Africa it means being part of the majority and living in the Motherland. In South or Central America it means interesting culture and immediate bilingualism. In all of them it means as a teacher I get free tuition for Coco at a top-notch institution. I ain’t getting none of that in the US of A.

So yeah, I miss thrift stores and Chipolte, but those things  truly don’t compare. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure I will enjoy every minute of our vacation but when I return I will begin planning our trips for the year. Destinations in mind? Cambodia, Vietnam, Boracay, Hong Kong and Bali. Living here certainly has its challenges but I have decided to stop complaining and start embracing all overseas living has to offer.

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Moving Day

Coco was so happy to unwrap Neigh and put a crown on him to ‘make him more bootiful.’ She cracked me up when she saw the movers wrapping him in plastic. She shook her head and muttered to herself, “Neigh doesn’t like that.”  🙂

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Happy 4th Birthday to Coco

Wow, she’s 4. I can NOT believe it! No one told me she would grow up so quickly! It’s crazy. Ahh, but here I am, the mother of a four-year old. (I know, in ten years I will be looking at these days wistfully so I need to enjoy that she is really still young but, dang, wasn’t she just like this???)

And now here we are, four years old!!

Wow..

Anyways, on to the birthday. It was so much fun!!! I wasn’t sure which traditions I was going to do until the last minute but I decided on gifts in her room to open as soon as she woke up, cupcakes of her choice (she asked for chocolate with strawberries), pictures of her holding up 4 fingers and basically giving in to her requests all day. 🙂  We also had a little swimming party –ok, it was really her last make-up lesson but we made it into a little party– and cake and more gifts at night. Here’s what it looked like in photos:

Tiana doll (from Princess and the Frog), Sponge Bob floor puzzle, telescope, playhouse

I love this playhouse! It’s large enough for several of her friends (or me :)) to fit into comfortably and it’s a snap to put together and take down. Seriously, 5 minutes tops!

Breakfast was chocolate pancakes. It was a chocolate kind of day in fact! They were gluten and sugar-free (almond flour and maple syrup) except for the chocolate sprinkles I added. Coco loves blowing out candles so I put a candle on her pancakes. She was thrilled!I think she liked ’em! 🙂 After playing with her new toys for a while it was off to swimming. Today was her last swimming lesson — we scheduled the make-up one for her birthday so we could a have a post-swim merienda with birthday cupcakes. It was a great idea since I was too overwhelmed with the end of the school year, moving and planning our vacations!    She loves her swimming teacher!

After swimming it was time for cupcakes! Coco loves Sponge Bob. Admittedly, she watches too much TV on the weekends (so I can blog, talk on the phone, catch up on emails, etc.) and she discovered Sponge Bob and loves him! Our new place doesn’t have a television per my request but for now I knew this would make her so happy so I requested Sponge Bob cupcakes. I had them made by a local woman who specializes in all-natural, all-organic baked goods with no preservatives, artificial colors, etc. They had wheat and sugar which was fine by me cause I sure didn’t have time to bake them! Coco loved them. She ate two!   She found a worm at the party and it was the biggest hit. She loved finding the worm waaay more than the cupcakes! She loved it so much she insisted on bringing it home. Ah, she was enamoured with it and it was her birthday! How could I say no?  I must have asked her twenty times today to show me how old she was. She indulged me each time! She also told everyone we ran into during the day that she was now four, too. 🙂   

Later that night I presented her with her last gift: a dog that walks and barks. She loved it!And then there was more cake/more Sponge Bob/more candles to blow out. So much fun!!She had a really great day. She was so happy. Happy birthday, Pumpkin! Love, Mommy xo

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Letter to the Birthday Girl

Dear Pumpkin,

Today is your 4th birthday. I can’t believe it! You are growing up so fast right before my eyes! It seems like just yesterday that I met you in Ethiopia and became your mother. You were so small and so adorable and here we are celebrating another year of your life. Now you are a tall and charismatic little girl, no longer a baby or a toddler– though like I tell you all the time, you will always be Mommy’s baby. 🙂

Four words to describe you are loving, funny, observant and strong.

1. Loving: You love to give hugs and kisses! You are so sweet and affectionate and you are constantly giving me hugs and kisses all day long.  You also tell me you love me each day. Not one single day goes by where you don’t say “I love you” several times. In fact, sometimes you say it over 20x in one day!

2. Funny: You crack me up!!  You make silly faces and say and do funny things all the time. Not a day has gone by since you became my daughter that I haven’t smiled. You make each day brighter with your bright, sunny smile.

3. Observant: You notice things that I never would. You see mistakes in books all the time, like missing parts in the illustrations or when the colors are off. You also see the tiniest of insects crawling by and gingerly pick them up to examine them more closely. You really take your time to look at and think about what you are seeing around you.

4. Strong: You have been through a lot of changes in your short four years, yet you are so resilient, flexible and strong. You are also physically extremely strong. I have to be sure to block my teeth and limbs when you are being rough because you have the ability to knock out a tooth if you hit too hard!



And here are four things I love about you:

1. I love how thoughtful you are. When we are apart you think of me and go pick a flower to give to me when you get home. It is so sweet when you run in the front door grasping the flower and yelling, “Mommy! I have something special for you!”

2. I love how curious you are and how you love to do all sorts of activities when you play. You like dressing up like a princess and dancing and playing with dinosaurs and swords. You love your toy cars and your stuffed animals, especially Doggie. You have a great imagination and like to turn me into frogs and snakes. You like to examine ants and color and paint. You love playing with your friends.

3. I love how you have no fear at trying new things. Gives me a heart attack sometimes like when you jump off jungle gyms with no advanced warning yelling, “Catch me, Mommy!” but I know this fearlessness will serve you well as you grow into a confident, young adult.

4. I love how you ask me to sleep with you after reading our stories at night. “I want my Mommy to sleep to me” you say and even though I know I am going to fall asleep right next to you I find it hard to say no. I know it won’t be forever that you want your Momma right there as you drift off to sleep and it is such a special time we share.

You are my cheese/yogurt/chocolate/insect/Sponge Bob/juice/swimming pool/huggy/ animal-loving girl and you bring me so much joy! I love you always and forever, Pumpkin.

Mommy xoxo

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The RealPhilippines Part 2

I swear after this weekend I would be completely satisfied if we had to pack our bags and go home. I really feel we saw and experienced so much of Filipino culture and hospitality in Cebu and we’ve seen gorgeous landscapes and beaches and we’ve lived in Manila. I’m satisfied. What I mean is I would be happy to move on somewhere new but it also means that since we are here I can spend the time traveling to other parts of Asia without feeling like I need to get to Bohol and Palawan and Borocay and Subic. If we get there, fine. If not, fine.

After our packed day on Sunday I figured Monday we could just sit and relax by the pool. Who knew it was the annual Family Fun Day, the day where they invite all the families of the resort employees to enjoy a day of games and fun in the pool?! I didn’t get a photo because I was too busy trying to keep track of Coco in the crowd but there were 40 to 50 children running around the grounds and splashing and playing in the pool along with their parents and cousins who were also there eating and drinking and playing music and having fun. It was pure chaos and anything but relaxing but Coco had a ball! After losing her in the crowd of children in the shallow end too many times I instructed her to put on her floaty ring and play in the deep end where there weren’t so many kids. It was there where she started playing with two sweet boys: Ethan- the chubbiest, most adorable two-year old boy ever – and his patient, responsible older cousin, Jeff. Coco was having a ball with them and the parents and I started making small talk when they offered her some food. As she splashed and ate chips and iced tea, they dug into their cooler and handed me an icy cold San Miguel beer. One beer led to another and some pork sisig, fried chicken and fish and more chips. Their English wasn’t perfect but we were able to communicate and enjoy the food together while watching each other’s children. A few hours later we had bonded so much that Juliet and Tony were inviting us to their restaurant for dinner. They told Jeff to stay behind a while and bring us to the restaurant later. Although I was stuffed and tired from a day in the sun, I was so moved by their invitation and kindness that I accepted. Here are a few pics of Coco and Jeff playing before we left for dinner.

   

After a quick shower and change of clothes, we got in the cab and headed to their barbecue restaurant. Juliet said it was open air and I am not sure what I was expecting but it was just like the kiosks and stores you see on any random street in the Philippines. It was on a very busy street open to all the dirt and exhaust of the passing cars. It was very basic with cement floors, plastic chairs and an open charcoal pit facing the entrance. And, of course, many flies everywhere. Attached to their restaurant was also their convenience store. She said the store has been there for 18 yrs and the restaurant for nine. I asked her if business was good and she said it was. She said it varies, some nights the restaurant might make P1800 ($41.50 ) others over P3000 (almost $70) which doesn’t include the money they also earn from the store. It doesn’t sound like much for a family of five but I still think it makes them fairly well-off compared to your average Filipino. For comparison, the going rate for a yaya is P3000 for a week so to make more than this in one day probably puts them solidly middle class at least. Certainly there are Filipinos who make far more than that but when you look around Cebu (at least in the part where I was) I am sure they are doing better than most. It’s enough to send their oldest daughter to university where she is studying architecture. In any event, they were clearly very proud of their restaurant. Juliet explained to me that she has to keep her restaurant looking as it does in order to attract Filipinos. She wants to decorate it and make it nicer but she explained that if she did that the local people would assume it was out of their price range and not frequent it. Dependent on them to make a living, she does what is necessary to keep the customers coming though she said she gets a fair amount of foreigners too, mainly Korean and Japanese. Her prices are the same for all though as she feels it’s wrong to have separate prices for locals and foreigners. “How much do you change for a skewer of meat?” I asked. “Eight pesos,” she said. Eight pesos is only 18 cents and the food was really good! Here is a sampling of what we were served:skewers of garlic and grilled pork (really, really good!)the rice was heated over the charcoals wrapped in woven palm leavesshe mixed up this dipping sauce with calamanci, soy, vinegar and chili peppers

Despite the flies and the fumes, I really enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. I loved how close the family was, who were not just Juliet, Tony and their kids but nearby Ethan and his parents, other cousins and the grandparents. All born and raised and still living in Cebu plus owning a business in the same place for close to twenty years means their neighbors are like family, too. I really got the sense that they were really happy and satisfied with their lives just being together as a family. Americans always seem to need more and more material things or adventures or degrees to feel accomplished and content, yet these folks without all those things were close-knit and grateful. To me they appeared to be much more present and focused on the joys and gifts right there in front of them: good food, healthy children, laughter, family, community. I found myself almost envying them in a way! Here I have an advanced degree, a passport that allows me access to almost any country in the world and more way more money, yet they were clearly happy with less. And Coco? She enjoyed herself so much just eating food and running around after the stray dogs and cats, looking at the cars and motorcycles, playing with Jeff.. it was all so simple and basic and she was really, really happy. I know she loves nature and bugs and food and people so much more than store-bought toys and television and shopping but it was a lesson I needed to see again. I already know that living simply and presently can bring joy but it’s so easy to be influenced by friends and society and constantly being surrounded by things you think you want. This is definitely factoring in as something to keep in mind for our future as I plan where to move and what to do next.Coco was so disappointed when it was time to leave. To keep my sanity I knew I had to get her bed at a decent hour. This is one of the sucky parts of single parenting. If I was there with my husband I would have felt more comfortable returning to our hotel late at night in the dark and I would have someone to share parenting the tired child with the next day. I know from experience that I manage much better when we are both well-rested so we said good-bye and headed back to get her in bed on time. Juliet and Tony refused take any money from me but I slipped 500 pesos under a mat and told Jeff to let them know after our taxi disappeared from site. They were so giving and so generous that I didn’t feel right after they fed us both lunch and dinner including alcohol for me! They were such delightful, hospitable people and it was truly an enjoyable evening.

The next day Coco had the pool to herself! She was disappointed she had no playmates but she made the best of it. She chatted with the lifeguard while I did some blogging and planning for our next couple of weeks: birthday party, moving and more traveling!

As I was typing and watching Coco out of the corner of my eye jumping and doing flips into the water I thought about how amazing it is to have her here with me. We don’t have the huge extended family around like Juliet and Tony. We wouldn’t even if we remained in the States. Our family, and certainly her family from birth, is spread out across the globe. We don’t have the good fortune of having a huge familiar support network to guide us and bolster us and celebrate with us. It’s just us, we only have each other. Traveling with my sweet baby is so special and helps to bond us when we are together 24/7 without teachers and friends and yayas. She is learning all the time and it’s so fun to experience with her. Just this trip she climbed her first tree, ate new foods, visited a new city and saw her first waterfall. I experienced some firsts as well and it’s so special to do that together. I felt myself thinking about her at age 8, 10, 12 and where we will be and what she will know. Will she be bilingual? On a swim team? A big sister? Will she have a dog? Be part of a large family? Still rock a cute ‘fro? I hope she appreciate what I am trying to do for her, for us, when she looks back on it. I hope that by making her a citizen of the world she will be more prepared for our global society and able to communicate and relate to all sorts of people. I also hope to find a place in the next few years where we can settle in and build a community. A place for her to call home and to make roots. I hope giving her the combination of experiences will help make her into a well-rounded, analytical, curious child. I know that by having her in my life I feel the push to make myself a better person, too. It’s really special, this parenting thing. Hard as all get out but really, really special.

After a few hours in the pool we checked out and had a late lunch. We grabbed a cab to make our way to the airport. “Where are you from, ma’am?” our cab driver asked. “What country?” “We are American but we live in Manila,” I replied. Whenever asked that I marvel to myself about what we really are. I am American and live in Manila, yes. My daughter is Ethiopia-born with an American passport and citizenship being raised in Manila. Is this really her life? Did I really move across the world alone with a child I adopted by myself? Is this really my life? “I hope one day I can go to America but I don’t have money.” “Yes,” I agreed. “It is very expensive to travel there.” As I spoke the words I thought back to the dinner with Juliet and Tony. They seem happy but do they want more? “I hope one day my daughter will marry an American so I can go, that is my plan. Many Filipino marry American.” Why by the luck of my birth and the country on my passport do I get access to the world? How is it that I am so fortunate to be able to do an international adoption and then pick up and move with my daughter and support us independently? Or am I not lucky? Is he the lucky one? “How old is your daughter?,” I inquired. “Oh my daughter? She is three. I think I will be old man before I can go to America.” I felt my eyes well up with tears. His dream is many years away and until then he will continue to drive a taxi in Cebu. Will he ever visit the New York he has only seen in movies? Will I become part of a large extended family through marriage? Will Coco and I get the large family of siblings for her that we both want?  Do people innately just want what they don’t have? We arrived at the airport and I paid our fare. I gave him a small tip and he thanked me saying it would help bring more food to his family. Stop!! Please! I almost whipped open my wallet and gave him all the remaining money but I am glad I still had some to donate to the blind musicians in their matching red jackets playing in the airport lobby.

It was all too emotional and I arrived at the airport counter 30 minutes before our 4:00 flight ready to check in and get on the flight only to be turned away at the counter. You must arrive at Cebu Pacific 45 minutes before the flight, no exceptions. We had no luggage to check (I packed super light with only a few changes of clothes, a laptop, camera and swimwear in our backpacks) and we had ample time to get to the gate. Irrelevant. No grace period with Cebu Pacific! I was told to go to the ticket office and rebook on a later flight. Seriously? Yup, they were serious as a heart attack. I entered the crowded booking office and waited for my number to be called. When I met with the agent no amount of whining and complaining got me anywhere. They let the plane leave with our seats empty and told me to rebook for the 6:00 fight. Agitated about the hour and a half I was going to have to kill I was really pissed when she told me there would be a rebooking fee of 800 pesos. I whipped out my calculator: $18.50. Each. Ouch. Then she took my eticket printout, looked up our flight and then delivered more bad news: “Oh, you got a sale ticket. If there are no more seats at that price (yeah, right) you will have to pay the difference in the fare.”  Of course there were no more sale seats so the amount owed? 5550 pesos or $127!!!  What could I do? Pay or remain in Cebu for the rest of my days. “Fine,” I grumbled. “But can you charge the same credit card? I don’t have enough cash and I didn’t bring my credit card. “No ma’am, we have to swipe it. You can pay in cash, there is an ATM on the other side of the lobby.” “Okay, fine,” I said as I stood up. “But ma’am just so you know, there are only four seats left at that price.” “AND THEN WHAT?” I responded especially aggravated now and trying my best to keep my voice down at an appropriate level. “If they sell out before you return,” she said calmly, “you will have to pay the next highest price or wait for the next flight at 10:30pm.”

I snatched Coco’s hand and raced across the airport like a contestant on The Amazing Race. I swiftly withdrew P5000 and dashed back to the ticketing office. While waiting my turn my thoughts returned again to Juliet and Tony, the employees of White Sands resort who got to enjoy the pool for one day, the taxi driver and the musicians. I was able to make 5000p materialize when needed in a pinch. We made our flight and while Coco entertained herself by pulling the paper off of her crayons and making them into a crayon family I reflected on the turn of events. Why was I given certain advantages and others not? If given them then isn’t it our responsibility to take advantage of them? For all of us who can travel and go to college and afford adoption and experience all the world has to offer, shouldn’t we? By not doing that are we wasting our opportunities in a sense? Yes, I want a strong family unit for me and Coco also but is fair to it to have both? So many deep thoughts as the plane took off and we headed home. Home to Manila where our yaya was waiting for us at the front door.

Cebu was so much more than just a short beach vacation at the end of the school year! Who knew it was going to cause so much thought and self-analysis? So many thoughts as I type this from my dining room table this morning. Coco is off on a playdate and I am about to tie up the loose ends on her birthday happenings tomorrow. I have to pick up the cake and some wrapping paper. I also need to confirm with the movers for Saturday and register for an online graduate class. We are back to our crazy busy lives over here and I find myself missing the simplicity of Cebu. And tomorrow when she blows out the candles on her cake it will be just me and her yaya clapping for her and celebrating her turning four.

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The Real Philippines Part 1

I’ve been wanting to check out another part of the Philippines for some time now and if you travel within the country you avoid the crazy high airport exit charges so it’s win-win.  You still have to pay P200 per person ($4.60 ) but it’s much, much less than the charge levied when you fly internationally. The cheapest flight I could find was to Cebu, so Cebu it was. It turned out so much better than I expected!

The day after school got out Coco and I took the one hour morning flight to Cebu. Our resort was a tiny oasis on a crowded, chaotic street about fifteen minutes from the airport. It was nice enough, not 5 stars or particularly luxurious but certainly adequate. The grounds were lovely with three fish ponds and a large pool but it wasn’t anything about the resort that made this trip so fantastic. No, it was the fact that we got out of the resort and saw Cebu, the Philippines that Filipinos know that made this trip so unique.

We spent three days in Cebu. I knew nothing about the area but I figured we’d need a beach holiday at the end of the year. I found a ticket on sale and decided to check it out. I now know there really isn’t much to see or do there, yet it will always be remembered. But let me start at the beginning. We arrived a few hours before check-in so I asked the cab driver what there was of note to see that was on the way to hotel. Jennifer (yes, that was his name) took us to see the statue of Lapu Lapu and a shrine erected for Megellan. I had heard of Magellan but had no idea what his relevance was for the Philippines and I had never heard of Lapu-Lapu but I agreed anyways and took some pictures of the sites. I knew I’d have the chance to read up on these folks on Wikipedia when I got home! LOL

   

After checking in we checked the place out. For Coco that meant the pool, the beach, the fish and the insects. “Awwww! Look, Mommy! A baby cockroach! Awwww.” 🙂

Coco loved watching and feeding the fish each day. We were both amazed at how large they were!

After checking in we just relaxed the rest of the day.  Being on vacation and throwing all my healthy habits to the wind, I fed into my cravings and took a cab to the grocery store in the late afternoon to pick up some cookies for the room. In chatting with the driver I learned he worked with the hotel doing tours and he convinced me to hire him to do a tour of the local waterfall, shoe factory and hot springs. At P5000 ($115) it was out of my budget but it sounded interesting so I agreed. Early the next morning after eating our buffet breakfast that was included we met up with him at the front desk. They made really good omelettes and the bananas were nice but the rest of the buffet was typical buffet food that you find in the Philippines, i.e. disappointing. People here tend to add bad oils and sugar to everything and rely on processed packaged goods. It is extremely hard to eat healthfully when traveling. This place was no different. They had loads of greasy meats, fake juices with added sugar, cold chocolate cereal, sweet oatmeal, pancakes with sugar added to the batter served with fake syrup can canned fruits, plain rice, bland salad bar (iceberg lettuce, olives, julienne peppers, carrots and cucumbers, pickles) and an assortment of breads made with refined, white flour. I insisted that Coco and I start off each meal with a banana and an egg but the rest of the day was downhill, not helped by the Oreos I purchased. After breakfast we found Ray, our driver, chatting with the front desk clerk. We learned that the waterfall he had planned on taking us to was temporarily closed due a government crack down on all the pushy vendors that were taking over the place. The two of them continued chatting about it in rapid Tagalog and came up with the idea to take us to Mantayupan falls instead.

Mantayupan waterfall is an undiscovered gem of a place, just recently opened to tourists. The locals use the falls to generate electricity and for irrigation but the incredible beauty, the government has decided, would make it a good spot for tourism. Luckily, few people know about it so we got to experience it in all its natural splendor. It was breath-taking!

Mantayupan Falls was about a 2-hour drive outside of Cebu so on the way we stopped in CarCar at a well-known shoe factory. I bought Coco some new flip-flops (they call them ‘slippers’ here) and myself some sexy shoes for summer. Hers were P80 ($1.85) and mine were P370 ($8.50). Not bad, huh?!

On a side note, they say Cebu is a well-developed section of the Philippines but it was obvious most of those people had never seen a black person before. We were stared at everywhere we went and I can’t tell you how many of them commented on, touched, or photographed Coco or her hair! She didn’t seem to mind for the most part but it started to bother me after the twentieth person or so. But I digress.

After scoring some cheap shoes, we headed to the falls. We parked and started the short walk to the top. The entrance was draped with some hanging vines which I thought were so pretty and a quaint little grill. There was also the requisite random chained up monkey.

We climbed to the top which included traversing this bridge. I gripped Coco’s hand so tightly but she didn’t complain once, later admitting to me that crossing the bridge was scary. Yeah, you can’t really tell from the photo but it’s quite a drop if you slip. I saw several people walking across swiftly and it looked sturdy and our guide made it seem like it was no big deal so I went for it. I’m afraid of heights but the foliage was so dense you really couldn’t see down very clearly. Less than a minute later we were on the other side.

But, man, it was so worth it!! When you do finally get to the falls, your jaw literally drops at the sight. It is so intensely beautiful you can’t help but to experience some sort of enlightenment or be moved in some way.

We brought swimming suits and towels and Coco was dying to go swimming in the water and I really, really wanted the experience but when I looked around I saw that there were only Filipinos there. They seemed to be enjoying themselves quite a bit, swimming and relaxing and floating their babies in little plastic blow up floaties but I got paranoid. For one, they were picnicking by the falls and some of their trash and cigarette butts were floating in the water. But it was also the lack of foreigners that made me nervous. I figured the Filipinos could all enjoy it because they are locals and don’t have to worry so much about parasites and waterborne illnesses. It could have been perfectly fine but I wasn’t willing to take the risk. We did wade in a bit, up to our knees or so, which in and of itself was an adventure. The rocks were covered with algae which made them very slippery and the current was quite strong in places! It was a bit scary.

I know our driver thought I was crazy when after taking over two hours to get there I was ready to leave in ten minutes. We snapped a few pics at the exit and got in the car to go see the hot springs.

I was looking forward to seeing hot springs cause I have never seen a hot spring before and I figured it would be something we could go into. We started the drive with our windows down as I was so enchanted by the scenery. There were lush green villages accessible to the residents only by foot. Ray said the red roof in the distance was the school for the local school children whose parents worked on the farms in the area.

There were lots of farms with boney cows, scraggly goats and chickens running around.

But most interesting to me was seeing all the rice fields and tropical fruit trees!

Coco thought that last one with the scarecrow was particularly cool after reading about one made from Peter’s clothes in Mr. McGregor’s garden from The Tale of Peter Rabbit. So neat when you can make connections 😉

I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of the mango trees. They were covered in slips of paper. Ray explained that the paper made their sweet smell less evident to the insects looking for a sweet treat. He thinks only farmers in the Philippines do this. I didn’t get a photo because shortly before we approached the side road that was to take us to the hot springs Ray advised we roll up our windows. He said the area was remote and the villagers may not take too kindly to foreigners. He said it was best not to let them know we were even in the car! As I was processing this I peered out and saw groups of people on the sides of the road as we had come upon a village. His windows were darkly tinted and he assured me they couldn’t see in but as we drove down the bumpy dirt road I expressed to him that I thought we should turn back. He said that I needn’t worry, that it was his responsibility as our tour guide and driver to keep us safe but I wasn’t so keen. “They won’t try to get into the car,” he said, “because they think the driver of a car like this will have a gun.” “Do you have one?” I inquired. “Not today,” he responded. His day job, he explained, was in security and intelligence and though he was licensed to carry a gun he didn’t have one with him that day. I wasn’t sure if that made me feel better or worse but he agreed it was best we turn around and forgo the hot spring. (Peter Rabbit and assault weapons in the same post?)

Back on the main road with the windows back down and my sense of safety back, I snapped a few more interesting shots.

 

As we headed home Ray was hungry and asked if we could stop to buy some bibingkas. For P20 we got four. Two for Ray and one for each of us to try. Bibingka is made from rice powder, coconut milk, sweetener smushed into a paste and grilled. Not bad.

It was a full day and worth every penny. Such a rich, cultural experience!

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