Rural Road Trippin’: Tabuelan, Philippines

Nobody has ever heard of the little town of Tabuelan, except my family and friends, but that is a given. Locals know about Tabuelan and is popular in its own “little” way because of its white sandy beaches. There are a handful of resorts scattered about or you can just pick your spot outside private property boundaries and set up your picnic there, old school style.

No, this post isn’t about the resorts nor the beaches because we didn’t go there this time. Besides, I don’t have a current photo of them. This post is about my overnight stay at Tabuelan with my family and the trip to get there.

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St John the Baptist church located at the Old Poblacion

Tabuelan is located in the Northwestern part of Cebu Province. It is a tiny municipality (note: this is the correct classification. I just used town because it sounds more fitting. ha!) where my mom and her side of the family lives. My mom moved to the city when she was in college, met my dad and we have lived in the city ever since.

I grew up vacationing in Tabuelan almost every summer and occasionally on All Saints’ Day/All Souls’ Day.

I loved its rural simplicity, the fresh air, the sea breeze, its openness plus I could go out and play with my friends and cousins.

So, it is only expected that I should at least visit this place every time we come home to the Philippines. Because our travel schedule was super hectic, I could only manage one day.

We took a different route going there this time around. The usual one just takes forever to get there because of the heavy traffic nowadays.

As always, I love going on road trips! Maybe this was how my wanderlust was born. When we were young, our parents took us to see our grandparents at least once a year. So we were pretty much used to traveling, locally that is.

The scenery that unfolds always amazes me, from the bustling traffic of the city with the jeepney, tricycles and people intermingling and weaving this way and that to the sparse wide open spaces of the lush green countryside.

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Jet lagged and tired from my previous Singapore and Thailand trips, I thought I was going to fall asleep while on the road. But how can I? When you have THIS before you?

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(These photos were taken from a moving vehicle so it was quite a challenge to get it right!)

There was this pretty cool red bridge that we passed by just before we got to Tabuelan.

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And then before we knew it, it was my old hometown once again. Seeing familiar roads, houses, sceneries, faces….

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…. oh but, wait! There are a lot of new changes too!

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How many times can you take a picture of one sign?

This one is new. I found it cute. A lot of places are doing this now and I can see why. It makes for good souvenir shots.

Our old ancestral home that my grandfather built in the early 1900s is now abandoned and dilapidated. We still own it but nobody lives there now. All we get are whispers from neighbors that at night, something enchanting happens.

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Battered by past typhoons, its beautiful shell windows broken and the roof and walls in dire need of repair. Vegetables and fruit trees are in abundance around the yard so my auntie who is the caretaker still visit it from time to time.

Memories of us running around its shiny wood floors and looking out the window to the Plaza in front where people play tennis and basketball and the kids run around. This used to be the “town center” where the Municipal Hall, Health Center and Parish Church was and everybody converged. Now, the municipal officials moved its building to a pretty hill overlooking the ocean. What remains are the Health Center and the church. I do not see a lot of kids playing. I guess nobody plays basketball or tennis anymore?

At the end of this brief trip down memory lane, after doing all our usual sightseeing and catching up with relatives, I always look forward to seeing this at my auntie’s balcony….

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Good night, Tabuelan!

The Best $125 Ever Spent!!!

Whenever you see a child smile, it always brings a smile to your face.

Whenever you see a child cry, it just breaks your heart.

Whenever you see a child go hungry, words will simply fail you. DSCN0236

Hunger kills more people every year than AIDs, malaria or tuberculosis combined. Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five ~ World Food Programme hunger statistics

I am not crusading to end world hunger nor am I starting a debate here on the economics of the distribution of food and wealth, although that would be such a lofty dream. I am simply doing my part and sharing my blessings to those who need it the most in my own backyard. In the wise words of the late Mother Theresa, “if you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

It was a bright sunny day at Talisay City, Cebu when we met a hundred or so kids around lunchtime. These kids were Sunday school students of a classmate in nursing school. She helped facilitate this mini feeding project as she knows them pretty well and their church also has a lot of programs for the indigent and needy families in the area. She was looking for a sponsor for the kids, be it monetary donations or used clothing or a feeding project. When I heard about it, I jumped in at the opportunity. I believe in giving back to those in need, specially the children.

Now where does the $125 fit in? It came in the form of McDonald’s lunch packs, chicken with rice and a soft drink. Yes, McD’s in the Philippines sell chicken AND rice, among other local favorites. One hundred lunch packs were ordered for one hundred children. Now before someone criticizes me for giving away McDonald’s, considered to be the number one cause of obesity in America, let me first tell you that these kids (and their parents) can barely afford a meal at McDonald’s or any fast food joint for that matter. Obesity? Hardly! I don’t know if they can even eat three times a day. So, THIS is considered a luxurious treat for them. DSCN024710473777_10152795680938166_8481141635439613511_n They were told to wait for us at the city’s abandoned wet market. The space was big and clean and could accommodate the group safely. It was situated right above the river where most of these children lived with their families in shanties and shacks. They are called squatters, informal dwellers who do not own the land they built their houses on. Other than the fear of being evicted anytime by the real land owner or the government and face the risk of having their homes destroyed, they also live precariously beside this river that could swell and flood anytime the monsoon season begins. And it has in fact, swept away homes and lives in the past. PicMonkey Collage As bleak as their situations may be, they were waiting for us smiling and eager to interact. The older ones even helped manage this young crowd. Two lines were formed, boys and girls as they received their lunch packs. As the lines progressed, I could see more women and mothers with their children coming and running to make it to the lines, hoping they can still have a meal. But only the Sunday school kids were counted so the rest, unfortunately were turned down. I wished we had more! 10593135_10152795680368166_250905366790705775_nDSCN0259 It was a day my husband and I will never forget. He told me it was a very good idea to do this before we came back to America. Sometimes, you just tend to forget your blessings. You take them for granted. Only in situations like this are you reminded of how much you should be grateful for and only in situations like this tell you that nothing sounds so sweeter than a child’s “thank you”.

My heart ached every time I looked at them. The first few moments when we arrived, I had to fiercely hold back my tears. I thought I couldn’t go through with it. But, look at them, here. All smiles. Such innocence! DSCN0235 It may not be much, what we did. We certainly were unable to provide for everyone in the area, for that I feel sorry for the mothers and children who went home empty handed and hungry. I know that this is not the most sustainable and practical way to help out. Dole outs are never the answer but I am just one person in the sea of millions of people suffering out there. I will leave the educating and empowering to the more experienced organizations and groups.

I am advocating though for those who have the heart and the means to help to give back to society, to that struggling single working mother two doors down your apartment, to those who lost their homes in a fire/tornado/hurricane, to that elderly man who lives alone in his tiny home, to our brothers and sisters across the globe who are victims of political and religious oppression, to the children who are starving and are left as orphans. Before I start sounding like a United Nations commercial, yes, giving back does not mean giving thousands of dollars. It can be as simple as giving a warm meal to that struggling mother, used clothes for the fire victims, a helping hand to that elderly man, prayers for those across the globe. Start small, start within your own backyard. You will be amazed at how people respond to you and you will be richer in your hearts as well.

This was the best $125 ever spent!!!

Swimming with the Whale Sharks: Oslob, Philippines

Whale sharks are the largest fish on this planet. They can grow up to 50 or more feet and weigh up to 20 or more tons! They are sharks not whales. They belong to a group called Chondryichtyes (pronounce that!), which includes rays and skates. These kinds of fish have skeletons made entirely of cartilage instead of bone. The name “whale” was given to them because of their massive size.

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Whale sharks are filter feeders and feed mostly on plankton and krill (yay, not humans!).

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They dwell in tropical warm waters. Despite its size, whale sharks are known as the gentle giants of the deep. Hence, swimming with them has become a widely adopted eco-tourism activity in the Philippines.

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When we went to the Philippines in 2011 for my brother’s wedding, the whale shark swimming in Oslob, Cebu has just started gaining popularity. Donsol, another region in the northern part of the Philippines was originally the sole whale shark watching area in the country. They call them butandings there.

In Oslob, whale sharks are locally known as tuki. They have been around in these waters for years but in the past, they were slaughtered in numbers by the locals and have been valued for their meat.

There have been several controversies and issues involving this activity in Oslob because the fishermen are feeding them hence disrupting their normal feeding habits/patterns.

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Because I am no expert in this area, I will stay away from giving opinions and simply focus on the experience itself. I have found a link which talks about this topic, dealing with it more in depth.

http://www.bluespheremedia.com/2012/02/oslob-philippines-and-the-whale-sharks/

TIP: Leave the city early in the morning. From the bus terminal, the trip takes about 3 hrs. If by private vehicle, it may even be faster.

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We got there around 7 in the morning. The waters were calm and there were not that many tourists yet. Swimming is allowed from 6 am to 12 noon.

After a brief orientation, we proceeded to meet our boatmen, one to paddle and one to assist. Life vests are mandatory while on the banca (traditional outrigger boat). There are snorkels and underwater cameras for rent. Flippers are free.

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In addition to these guidelines posted, swimmers are not allowed to use sunblock/sunscreen and your time in the water is only limited to 30 minutes.

TIP: Bring your own snorkels, obviously, for hygienic purposes.

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We were all together in one banca, our little family of four, my dad and mom, and my husband and I. As our boatman paddled, the smell of shrimp instantly hit my nostrils and I noticed that the waters were crystal clear you can see the bottom of the ocean. And then I saw my first tuki. It’s head skimming the surface while a designated fisherman was feeding it. We were just a couple of meters away from the shore!

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My husband couldn’t wait to jump in. He was so excited!

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It was so amazing seeing these animals up close. Scary at the same time seeing their bodies and knowing that their tails could hit you anytime! I made it a point to watch those tails.

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Later towards the end, my mom was telling me that a whale shark was right behind me with its mouth open as it was feeding and that she was yelling for me to watch out. Good thing I didn’t hear otherwise I would have panicked.

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From that experience, I could see at least five whale sharks nearby. There are reportedly 109 identified. I hope that no one takes advantage of these gentle creatures and that their guardians, the fishermen of Oslob would continue to protect them. Because in doing so, they are protecting their livelihoods too.

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I didn’t have any regrets purchasing an underwater camera. The second boatman? He was an excellent cameraman too!

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This was the best 30 minutes of our Philippine vacation! We didn’t even get sunburned because it was early in the morning and we were out in the sun for only half an hour. Would I do this again? I certainly would!

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