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!!!

Phang Nga Bay on a Speedboat: Part 3

Finally, the last of the Phang Nga Bay trilogy series!

It took me a while to finish this because #1. our Mac computer decided to crash on me which led to it being sent to an Apple computer repair shop #2. it took forever for the Apple guys to do their job #3. I got distracted with this Blogging 101 class. Excuses, I know.

So anyway, after exploring James Bond Island, sea kayaking was next on the itinerary. We then proceeded to a floating platform where hundreds of tourists were either waiting in line to get on a kayak or already floating on a sea of orange and reds. To me, they all looked like shipwreck survivors from some boat. I panicked! This is not my style at all. My brother simply just laughed me off and told me to go with the flow. I wanted to back out. Some tourists were pushing one another to get to the line first.

Others were too eager grabbing life vests and hitting people in the process. Arghh!!!

I said to myself if they wouldn’t let all three of us go in one kayak, I would not join this madness with another unknown rude tourist. Well and good, the kayak accommodates four people (that includes our boatman/guide). So this Thai boy starts paddling while we do our obligatory shots. Phang Nga Bay is just so beautiful that my earlier foul mood dissipated. Or maybe I just decided to go with the flow…IMG_2594IMG_2604 There was this open limestone cave where ALL THE HUNDREDS of tourists went through. Of course, we were tourists too so off we went to follow the masses. PicMonkey Collage And then we were led to this mangrove area where our guide showed us some tourist tricks.

IMG_2623 IMG_2628 IMG_2625After this tourist trap, we proceeded to another tourist trap. Yes Belle, what did you expect?

You signed up for this. Go with the flow.

The Koh Panyee floating village is a fishing village built on stilts by Indonesian fishermen. This was our lunch stop. IMG_2664IMG_2670IMG_2675IMG_2677 But I had to admit, it sure looks pretty. Colorful roof tops and long tail boats dot the landscape with the imposing limestone cliffs as its backdrop. Reminds me of the Badjaos in the Philippines. I am just as amazed at how they managed to live here at the mercy of the ocean.

After lunch, we had enough time to roam around and check out the village. Close to the restaurants were souvenir shops and stores all catered to the tourists. As we went deeper into the maze of concrete pathways, we soon saw that behind these stores were their dwelling places. Families lived here. Children played with their pets. They even have a postal code! 2PicMonkey Collage 3PicMonkey Collage Some had shanties, some had big concrete houses. All co-existing with each other in this harsh environment that they call home. 4PicMonkey Collage As soon as the tourist season is over, they all close shop. And they go back to their main livelihood which is fishing. IMG_2718Before heading back to Phuket, we stopped at a cave hidden amongst all the limestone cliffs along the area. Stalactites and stalagmites (and bats too!) can be found. Someone switched off all the lights and it was pitch black! I wouldn’t want to be stranded here for sure.

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We went back to our apartment tired and hungry. It made up for a very interesting nature-filled day indeed.

Next visit hopefully will be Phi Phi Island. And I will make sure to do it my way and away from this “cow herding” tourism mentality. It just ruins the whole experience for me. Or maybe it is just the rude tourists that need to chill and learn some travel manners.

Do you have any stories of “cow herding” too?

A Haiku on “Express Yourself”

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Entrance to Wat Chalong Temple, Phuket, Thailand

Itchy feet I have
Wandering, traveling nurse
Go, express yourself!

(In response to The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge on Express Yourself)

Yesterday’s assignment on Blogging 101 gave me a light bulb moment. I would participate in the Weekly Photo Challenge and at the same time compose a haiku for my photo. I am no poet but haikus are short and easy enough to manage. They’re good for those times when I am out of fresh blogging ideas. Let’s see how far I can go with this challenge.

Phang Nga Bay on a Speedboat: Part 2

We left Naka Island at Ao Phang Nga National Park after swimming for what seemed to us only a couple of minutes. We didn’t even have time to explore the entire length of the beach. I just took a couple of hasty shots with my big camera (after playing with my new underwater cam) before everyone boarded back on the speedboat. I felt I needed more time to chill and just lay on the beach and stare at the open waters, but as with all guided tours, everyone is rushed because of a time schedule. Yeah, like “herding cows”. You heard me. Another reason why I try to avoid tour groups as much as possible.

Next stop, James Bond Island.

The scenery around Phang Nga Bay continues to amaze me. It looks so magical and mysterious! IMG_2504IMG_2514IMG_2522 (After doing my research, I am now officially confused as to which one is the real James Bond island. Some sources say it is Koh Phing Gan, others say it is Koh Tapu. Yet another mentioned it is both! Even the spelling of the islands differ. Our tour guide though pointed out at Koh Tapu as James Bond island. Whatever…)

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Approaching James Bond island

Koh Tapu is actually a tall rock made out of limestone, bigger on the top and slim at the bottom. Koh Tapu in English is translated as Nail island, obviously because it is shaped like a nail. After the James Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun” was filmed here in 1974, this part of Phang Bay then became famous with the tourist crowds. IMG_2566IMG_2569 Koh Phing Gan is a much bigger island close to Koh Tapu. This is where the tourist boats dock. You can either take a speedboat, a long tail boat or a slow boat to get here. If money isn’t a problem, you can also hire a private long tail boat or speedboat if tour groups aren’t your thing. IMG_2541 IMG_2546 As soon as you step foot on the beach, you can see rows of souvenir shops. James Bond island (or Koh Tapu, as per our tour guide) is just a short walk behind the stalls. IMG_2558IMG_2559 It can be quite a challenge taking a decent photo of the rock without people in it. But it can be done, with patience and the right positioning. IMG_2576 IMG_2589 There are caves you can explore and hiking trails up to the top of the island. It would have been fun and I’m sure the views would be gorgeous but then again, our tour guides were busy keeping track of all of us and doing time checks. We only managed to get up halfway and then turn back. There was even light foot traffic on the rocky trails due to the hordes of tourists going up or coming down. IMG_2585 I think Koh Phing Gan should be aptly named James Bond island as the actual shooting of the film was on this island. Koh Tapu was only a part of the movie’s background. But then again, who am I to challenge this famous landmark?

Will the real James Bond island please stand up?