Island Hoppin’. Week 2.

day-to-day. wandering.

On our second week in the Philippines we headed to Bacolod, a city in the Negros Occidental province of the Visayas Islands. Basically an hour flight southeast of Manila. This is where my family owns and operates a sugar cane farm, and where my grandparents were able to get away from the hustle and bustle of the capital city. My grandma still splits her time between Manila and Bacolod, and she chose to spend her 85th birthday here. With help from my uncle and aunts, she planned an incredible week for the vacationing relatives to enjoy this somewhat slower-paced city.

The strange part about visiting the PI is that everything is familiar, yet different. You can recall a few hazy memories and listen to stories about the last time you were here, but you’re not quite sure of anything. As you can imagine, we don’t make it to this part of the world very often. Nor do my relatives here to the States. It can be a little weird to greet family you truly don’t know any more than a classmate you went to school with years ago. But family is family, and there’s always love. Maybe I just need to put my writing skills to better use with emails and letters!

Anyway – – back to the trip. As expected, most of the week’s agenda centered around the daily meals. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were planned almost every day. Meals are like the Filipino compass; they are a guiding force. No matter where you are, you always know where you’re eating next.

Puto (steamed rice cake)

Durian.  Eating this fruit is an acquired taste.

One of the many strange variations of familiar foods.

One of the planned meals was lunch at a place called The Ruins. This historic mansion was burned down in World War II and has since been turned into a tourist attraction, complete with a full restaurant menu and marketing banners lining the dirt road entrance. Entrepreneurship and commercialism at its best. There is a lengthy story about how this house is connected to my great-grandfather, but I honestly can’t remember it all and won’t even attempt to re-tell it.

The Ruins

A few photos from our visit to the family sugar cane farm~

Cutting into a sugar cane.
Fresh raw sugar cane!

For me, the most memorable part of the entire two weeks was a day trip to the Punta Bulata Resort and Danjugan Island. This day started off early. I’m talking on a bus at 6:00am early. You can’t pay me to do that at home. But my aunt was incredible and booked a bus to fit the entire gang of us, so it was as painless as possible. We were 20+ people, all family, and not everyone opted to go. Three hours later, we made it to Punta Bulata Resort. An unbelievable piece of the world. Upon arriving, as if the white sand beach and clear blue ocean weren’t enough to take in, we were rushed to the waiting catamaran to head to Dajugan Island. I need to mention that the catamaran was at least 100 feet out from shore… guess who pulled up her skirt, put her purse on her head, and walked into waist deep water to get into a boat. This girl.

I’m pretty sure life doesn’t get much better than that boat ride. Cruising by tropical islands, sun on your face, hanging your feet off the side while the warm ocean water hits your legs – – I’ve waited all my life to feel that cool. Forget that the pontoons were being held together with zip-ties. I can pretend I didn’t see them.

Once we arrived at Danjugan Island, there was swimming, snorkeling, and eating to be done. But not without a little more work. The catamaran dropped us off on the opposite end of the island where snorkeling was allowed. So we got in our bathing suits, applied another layer of sunscreen, and took a nature walk along the coast of the island and through the jungle to get to the other side. Not that I didn’t trust our very experienced tour guide, but I was straining to remember any survival techniques I might need from watching “Man Vs. Wild”.

We eventually made it to the lagoon, a.k.a. tourist area, and were free to play in the sun. It was my first time snorkeling and I got to see all sorts of sea creatures! Otherwise only known to me via National Geographic and the Discovery channel. Unfortunately, I am not the best swimmer and Michael knows this. So he got in a kayak and while I held onto the back of it, pulled me along as he rowed around the lagoon. Gotta love that guy. After a few hours it was time to head back to Punta Bulata, in exactly the same way we left – – with a waist-deep ocean walk back to shore. Only this time the boat dropped us even further out, in the middle of a sea urchin farm! As luck would have it, I’m the one that gets stung only a few feet from the beach. PI = 1, me = 0.

Punta Bulata

Getting on the catamaran.

Photo courtesy of Brian J.
Danjugan Island

My war wound – – sea urchin sting.

Some more random shots from Bacolod~

Street vendors prepping for MassKara, an annual festival held in Bacolod.

View inside of a Lechon, a traditional Filipino way to serve pork.

After two weeks filled with sight-seeing, family, food, and mosquito bites, it was time to go home. At this point, home felt very far away in both place and time. I was struggling to remember what I did before all of my days and meals were pre-planned. Guess that’s a good indication it’s time to head back to reality. The best part about traveling is the opportunity to experience the unfamiliar. You are constantly exposed to, and learning about, different ways of life. I am a very lucky girl to have family ties to a different country and culture, but in the end, there’s no place like home.