Friday, February 13, 2015

The Philippines - Chapter One - A Blood Compact, a Sea Urchin, and a Roasted Pig

After an uneventful hour-long flight, the plane lands on a narrow strip of tarmac. The plane comes to a stop, and within minutes, we disembark. I walk down the mobile stairway and turn around to find a warehouse-sized building. This, friends, is the airport.

It's amazing. I walk to the entrance, where both the luggage carousel and the exit are visible. Also visible: Abeleon Damalerio.

Let's revert to days gone by in order to learn about how I know Abeleon, who I'll be calling Abel from here on out. I met Abel in 2010 when I worked for ACYPL. Abel came to the US with the same group as Kirk, mentioned in a previous post. Abel is an amazing human being. One of my favorite memories from working at ACYPL was when he spent some time showing me pictures of his family. It was his first trip outside of the Philippines, and I could tell that he was eager to get back with them. For me, it was so meaningful that he shared this information. He invited me to visit him in Bohol, and I told myself that I would get there somehow.

Back to 2014. I'm in Bohol. Abel is standing in the same corridor as the entrance, luggage carousel, and the exit. It is a joyous reunion.

We leave the airport and head to the hostel. Driving through Tagbilaran, it's very clear that this is a small city, especially compared to the skyscrapers and sprawl of Manila. I check into my hostel and rejoin Abel. We head to his home where I meet his wife, Daryl, and his children, Cheska, Miguel, Joaquin, and Lyza. A few family members, Alan, Pinky, and Bluey, have come from Houston. I meet them, and I'm amazed that I've been allowed to be part of the family reunion.

After some chitchat, we're off. Abel, Daryl, and I embark on an epic sightseeing journey of Tagbilaran. This place is full of amazing history and vistas.

First stop: Sandugo Monument.

Sandugo means blood compact. In 1565, according to the Wikis, Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and Bohol chieftain Datu Sikatuna sat together, cut their left wrists, put some of the blood in each other's wine cups, and drank it. Maybe they were afraid of shaking hands, because, you know, germs. Each year, there's a festival to commemorate the event.

That gentleman on the left is Abel.
Next stop: Baclayon Church,

In 2013, Bohol was hit hard by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. Around 200 people were killed, and many buildings were seriously damaged. Baclayon Church was one of them.

These stones, used to build the church hundreds of years ago, were loosened from the quake.

Coming up: Panglao Beach

Before coming to the Philippines, one of my hopes was to visit at least one beach. This hope became a reality much sooner than I expected.

We venture onto a small peninsula, take a left, and...voila.

As we eat lunch by this beach, I am transfixed. Abel suggests that I go swimming. I would love to, but alas, my swimsuit is back at the hostel. "No problem," Abel says, "we can get one here." Within minutes, I have a new pair of board shorts and I'm off to the water. Minus the sea urchin spines that found their way into my hand, it's a blissful two hours of swimming and wandering.

Don't look now: Hinagdanan Cave

After relaxing at the beach, we head to the other side of the peninsula to a cave. Hinagdanan Cave was discovered by a farmer who kept seeing swallows fly into the ground...turns out, they were flying into this cave and roosting in the roof!

The cave includes a beautiful lagoon where freshwater meets saltwater. To my delight, people can swim in, and dive into, the lagoon. Since Abel insisted that I try both (really, I didn't need much pushing), I did.

For a few moments, I wondered about how much swallow poop was floating in the water. Then I realized that it was time to enjoy the moment, droppings notwithstanding.
The sightseeing continues.

Another church damaged by the 2013 earthquake.

Truly notable: This restroom, at a Shell gas station in Tagbilaran, looks like a lobby in an upscale doctor's office. Restrooms in the Philippines are called comfort rooms, but none are as comfortable as this one!
Later that evening, I join Abel and family at a combined birthday party for Abel's son Miguel and...Abel's niece (can't recall her name). We go to Ae's (Abel's brother) home, where I'm greeted by the family and a glorious spread of food.

See that pig at the end? It's called lechon. Guess who got the first chunk of it?


Clearly, I was prepared for this moment.

Alan and Ae encourage me from the left, while Abel offers moral support from the right.
Eating happens. Chatting happens. This picture happens.

Damalerio family...I fit right in, even if I don't look like it.
I come back to the hostel after a full, amazing day. I take a shower. There is no hot water, and I couldn't be happier.

Yep. This was one day. More to come.

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