Fun in the sun with Filipino hospitality

| September 27, 2015 | 0 Comments
Tranquil El Nido in Palawan is a good choice for those who like the idea of hopping to and from 200 neighbouring islands. (Photo: George Tapan)

Tranquil El Nido in Palawan is a good choice for those who like the idea of hopping to and from 200 neighbouring islands. (Photo: George Tapan)

The Philippines is like a friend you wish you had met sooner. First-time tourists grudgingly end their holidays, but vow to return. Repeat visitors stay longer the next time, and some stay for good. Travel magazines and bloggers rave about the place, the people and the experience.
My country lies at the crossroads of the vibrant Asia-Pacific region. Our Asian orientation and western outlook combine to make visitors feel at home, whether they are from the East or West. We are a vibrant democracy of 100 million people speaking English and Filipino interchangeably. Forbes ranks the Philippines as our region’s friendliest country.
The sheer natural beauty of our 7,107 tropical islands fascinates with a multiplicity of destinations accentuated by beaches, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, hot springs, mountains, volcanoes, plains, hills, valleys, caves and cliffs.

Incredible wonders of nature

The Makati central business district is the financial centre of the Philippines, located at the heart of Makati in Metro Manila. (Photo: George Tapan)

The Makati central business district is the financial centre of the Philippines, located at the heart of Makati in Metro Manila. (Photo: George Tapan)

Across this sprawling archipelago boasting the world’s fifth-longest coastline, the seaside is but a few hours’ drive from most points, with shores painted from a palette of milky white, coral pink, golden brown and volcanic black. Boracay, voted the world’s best island in 2012 by Travel +Leisure Magazine readers, is a top draw not only for its powder-like white sand, but also for the island parties that never end. Tranquil El Nido and Coron in Palawan are good picks to live in the moment, hopping to and from the 200 islands between them. Panglao, on the island of Bohol, Mactan Island in Cebu and Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte offer well-appointed resorts perfectly positioned on white sand beaches with crystal blue waters. The Caramoan islands in Camarines Sur, another Garden of Eden, have earned international attention as the recurring setting of the reality TV series, Survivor.
Visitors exploring roads less travelled will find hidden gems such as the surfers’ paradise in Surigao del Norte, the unspoiled Sarangani Island and Balut Island in Davao Occidental and the
Kalanggaman Island in Leyte, where dreams of time spent with Mother Nature come true.
Among our volcanoes, Taal and Mayon are the most famous. Taal, the world’s smallest active volcano, sits on an island within a lake on an island within a lake on an island. More interestingly, Taal is also a volcano within a lake within a volcano. An easy hike or horse ride takes visitors to see the Taal’s crater up close. Reigning majestically over the plains of Albay, Mayon, the world’s most perfectly formed volcano, is a simply breathtaking sight too astounding for words.

Many water adventures await in El Nido, Palawan. (Tata Puzon Mayo)

Many water adventures await in El Nido, Palawan. (Tata Puzon Mayo)

Palawan is home to two of the Philippines’ UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park in the Sulu Sea was the first to be inscribed on the world heritage list in recognition of its importance to marine diversity and as a site of “irreplaceable universal value.” Similarly, the unique geological features of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park impress with a spectacular limestone karst landscape concealing an underground river, one of the world’s longest, at 8.2 kilometres. Up north, UNESCO hails the 2,000-year-old Cordillera Rice Terraces as an “outstanding example of an evolved, living cultural landscape” expressing the delicate harmony between man and nature.
Then there are the Chocolate Hills of Bohol, which the Globe and Mail’s Greg Quinion likened to “Earth breaking out in goosebumps.” If local legend is to be believed, the hills are the aftermath of a furious battle between two giants hurling rocks and boulders at each other. These 1,268 nearly symmetrical limestone domes turn to green during the rainy months and to brown during summer.

Exceptional hospitality
Travellers will find hospitality a trait deeply embedded in Filipino culture. Filipinos will not hesitate to assign their best bedroom to complete strangers or feed them before their own family. This openness to sharing personal spaces or resources springs from a Filipino social value known as pakikipagkapwa, which roughly means an awareness of a shared inner self. At the core of the Filipino psyche, the inner self sees a shared humanity in another. It then follows that the “other” ought to be shown kindness and respect as an equal in humankind’s collective consciousness. Visitor interaction with the locals thus creates an exceptional experience, especially in the countryside where native customs and traditions continue to flourish despite centuries of western influence.

Boracay, voted the world’s best island in 2012 by Travel+Leisure Magazine, is a top draw not only for its powder-like white sand, but also for the island parties that never end. (Photo: George Tapan)

Boracay, voted the world’s best island in 2012 by Travel+Leisure Magazine, is a top draw not only for its powder-like white sand, but also for the island parties that never end. (Photo: George Tapan)

Town fiestas typify Filipino hospitality and there is a feast practically every day of the year. Among the bigger ones are the vibrant Dinagyang, Ati-atihan and Sinulog that take place successively in January in the streets of Iloilo, Aklan and Cebu and are tribal Mardi Gras-like extravaganzas infused with homage to the Child Jesus, known as Sto. Nino. There, dancing to the non-stop rhythm of drums will be irresistible, if not involuntary.
During Holy Week, the Moriones festival in Marinduque depicts the life of St. Longinus, a Roman soldier miraculously healed by the blood of Jesus Christ. A whole town becomes a stage where Longinus’s story plays out for a week alongside The Passion of the Christ. Visitors can interact with centurion-masked devotees in search of the deserter-turned-martyr in addition to observing Lenten rituals peculiar to Filipinos.
Every May 15, thousands of tourists descend on Lucban, Quezon, to see houses covered in colourful kiping (rice wafers) during the lavish Pahiyas festival, inspired by San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers. As the town gives thanks for nature’s bounty, spectators will appreciate the time and effort spent by each household in offering a visual feast outside and a culinary feast inside.

Sinulog’s festival takes place in January, on the streets of Cebu. It is a tribal Mardi Gras-like event. (Photo: JP Posadas)

Sinulog’s festival takes place in January, on the streets of Cebu. It is a tribal Mardi Gras-like event. (Photo: JP Posadas)

On June 24, one ought to prepare to get wet at the Wattah Wattah festival of San Juan, Metro-Manila, where passersby get a dousing from revellers marking the feast of St. John the Baptist. On the other hand, people do look forward to getting drenched during the Parada ng Lechon (Parade of Whole Roasted Pigs), which takes place in Balayan, Batangas. On the same day, the Taong Putik (Mud People) Festival takes place in Nueva Ecija, where St. John’s devotees, covered in mud and dried leaves, roam about seeking alms to buy candles they later light for prayers.
Bacolod City’s Masskara Festival every October celebrates the resiliency of the Negrenses, who persevered after an economic crisis that struck the sugar capital of the Philippines in the early ’80s. The annual festival in the “City of Smiles” promises sensory overload as thousands join the merriment garbed in flashy costumes.
On Nov. 23 each year, the town of Angono, Rizal, throws a party of gigantic proportions in a festival called Higantes. As its main event, devotees convey the image of San Clemente, patron saint of fishermen, to its sanctuary accompanied by papier-maché giants. How the higantes got into the mix is a story for the traveller to discover.
Food is central to the culture
Come December, virtually the whole country is seized with the spirit of Christmas, the Philippines’ most important holiday and biggest fiesta. This is the time to enjoy the sight of the parol, or Christmas lanterns, and the sound of Christmas carols that put most Filipinos in a gift-giving, food-binging party mood all the way ’til the New Year.
In keeping with the fiesta spirit, families prepare food in abundance to share with friends and complete strangers alike. Food is a medium that deepens relationships. That a greeting is naturally followed by the question “Have you eaten?” demonstrates our sense of connection. Instead of the weather, food is our ice breaker.
Not surprisingly, a Filipino food movement is growing in the United States and Canada, which together host a Filipino diaspora that is approximately four
million strong. Anyone looking for a quick introduction should try the adobo, the Philippines’ answer to Korea’s bulgogi or Thailand’s pad Thai. Flavourful and easy to cook, every Filipino family will have their own recipe to crow about. This ubiquitous dish can be prepared with meat, fish or vegetables. Whole cookbooks are devoted to variations of the soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and bay leaf stew base. The annual Adobo Festival in Negros Occidental would be a good place to understand why there’s much ado about adobo.
One can digest bits of Philippine history from Filipino food, which blends Malay flavours with Chinese, Hispanic and American cuisine. The affordable pancit (fried noodles) and lumpiang Shanghai (fried spring rolls) are staples in family celebrations and fiestas. Our version of the Spanish beef stew known as mechado, another beef stew called pochero, a chicken or pork stew called afritada, a meat roll known as morcon or stuffed chicken called relleno, form part of the ultimate Filipino Christmas banquet, along with the Spanish rice dish paella, a Spanish beef tripe stew called callos and a whole roasted pig known as lechon. Steaks, hamburgers, pizzas and barbecues are popular among the young. The juicy barbecued chicken called inasal na manok is among my personal favourites, along with the freshest seafood charbroiled to perfection.
Most Filipinos dread a solitary meal. Around food, Filipinos gather and commune. Whether we’re meeting to eat or eating to meet is almost irrelevant. Perhaps epitomizing the joy we derive from shared meals is the boodle fight, inspired by a combination of Philippine military tradition and the custom of eating kamayan-style (with hands). Food is set on banana leaves, spread over a long table and eaten with bare hands in a spirit of camaraderie and equality.

A travel experience too good to miss
Filipinos unequivocally believe in the proposition that it’s more fun in the Philippines and will gladly take the time to prove the point. But please do not take our word for it.
Adventure in You, a travel blog, advises, in tongue-in-cheek fashion, against going to the Philippines if you don’t like happy people, hate beaches and the sun, are confused by options and want to keep your expectations low.
After visiting nearly 30 countries, a young Canadian traveller named Kyle Jennermann insists that experiencing Filipino culture has changed his life. In his blog, Becoming Filipino, he explains thus: “If you are Filipino…thank you…Thank you for being part of a culture where family isn’t the only family, but friends and even strangers are family. Where smiling is genuine, giving is natural and sharing is a part of everyday life. A culture that goes through a lot of really tough times and suffering, but still shares a great big smile … I would be honoured to be able to call myself Filipino!”
In full Filipino spirit, I invite Diplomat’s readers to join me for Winter Escapade III, a special tour organized by the Philippine embassy for visitors from Canada. The forthcoming tour on Feb. 3 to 12, 2016, will take us to off-the-beaten-path (Camarines Sur and Albay) and popular destinations (Palawan and Manila). Send an email to the address below and we will be happy to provide details to interested parties.
Get to know the Philippines and Filipinos. More than as a friend, we will welcome you like family.

Petronila P. Garcia is ambassador of Philippines. Reach her calling (613) 233-1121 embassyofphilippines@rogers.com.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags:

Category: Delights

About the Author ()

Petronila P. Garcia is ambassador of Philippines. Reach her calling (613) 233-1121 embassyofphilippines@rogers.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *