Bongabong, Philippines

Day 6 – 11, Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro

We drove on down to the pier, paid the fees and drove onto the Ferry. We strolled around the boat and of course Meg took many photos (up soon I tells ya). I decided to go inside and have a rest in the aircon environment. You Got Served was showing, and as I’d never seen this film I watched it intently. Enjoyably bad, and interesting seeing I’d seen the South Park parody first.

Upon arrival at the port at Calipan, the main town in Oriental Mindoro, we drove off the ferry and made our way to Bongabong, my mother’s family’s home town. It took a couple of hours but upon arrival, this is the point where I felt like we were really on holiday and in a very different culture to what we were used to.

We arrived at my grandmother’s house in the afternoon, and the awkwardness of meeting relatives reared up its head again. Not many people were there, and so it was time to say hello to my “lola” (Filipino for grandmother). She is a frail old lady, and years of avoiding family involvement doesn’t help make one memorable. But we broke the ice, and then my uncles arrived and we received a warm welcome and were treated to the traditional hospitality (read tons of food) that would come to mark our stay in Bongabong. Turns out, as I’d mentioned previously, that we had been expected the previous afternoon, when a welcoming seafood feast had been prepared.

Bongabong has been a simple experience, but a very memorable one. Besides being treated to wonderful hospitality by my relatives, we seem to be looked upon like rock stars by the local townspeople. As far as I can see, we are the only foreigners here. Megan is certainly the only white person here, and they love her fair skin and caucasian looks. Being partially Filipino myself, I was surprised to be receiving just as many stares as Megan. I guess having facial hair and fair skin is considered almost as exotic. Initially awkward, I think we’re beginning to quite enjoy the feeling of being treated like celebrities.

We’ve been staying between the extended family home (my grandmother’s place) and my second cousin’s guest house in town (if you’re ever there, D&G Pension House). They have a Videoke machine there, and we’ve been making full use of it – Ice Ice Baby was probably my best. I think this holiday could turn into a karaoke odyssey… One uncle loves belting out the Tagalog hits (unafraid to let loose the same song 3 times in the one night), whilst my other uncle is more of an Englebert Humperdinck/Julio Iglesias man. One thing I notice is that Filipinos seem to be very good singers, even when their English has a strong accent. One time when it was just my uncles and I drinking beer and doing karaoke, I got hit on hard by a local girl. Well at least I thought it was a girl, until I was informed that she used to be a guy. Not that anything would have happened, but I can ashamedly say I failed that test (hypothetically, of course). I later sang “Lola” by The Kinks (another favourite of mine) to commemorate the event.

My uncle's beach hut
Tikboy’s beach hut at Aplaya.

One of my uncles is a crazy, lovable and well respected local who has the ability to build just about anything with his bare hands, including his house, his beach hut complete with downstairs piggery and an amazing 3 wheel ute made out of an old diesel engine and other parts salvaged from local junkshops (he calls it his motorbike). He bought some fish from local fisherman in front of his beach hut at a part of town called “Aplaya” (the beach), and barbecued it for us, and loaded us up on beer. It must have been 10am. So we then had the obligatory snooze (above the pigs). That place is awesome.

3 kids at Aplaya, Bongabong
Some local kids at Aplaya.

We went for a hike in the mountains the other day, our first good hike (read bushbash) in an area called “Balugbog ng Baboy” (don’t quote me on the spelling, I’m told it means the ridgeback of the pig, which is what the mountain ridge resembled). We visited a waterfall and bathed in the freshwater waterhole at the bottom, very cool and refreshing given the humidity. The local folks get the water buffalo (“caribaw”) to work hard dragging carts of charcoal and wood up and down the mountain. Megan rode one:

Meg vs Caribaw II
Meg shows the caribaw who’s boss.

Whilst staying at this slow cruisy town, I got to observe and learn a few local pastimes. Following the boxing is a big craze here, particularly around the Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao, known sometimes as Pacman, the Destroyer, who is the current WBC Super Featherweight Champion. Boxing isn’t really much my thing, and neither is the other local sport I’ve observed, Cockfighting. I’ve watched roosters in training that wear “boxing gloves” and I’ve watched the televised events, complete with Cockspurs, a long blade attached to the rooster’s leg, used for killing or maiming the opponent. This bloodsport is all business as usual here.

I’ve also been playing cards (“barraja”) a fair bit. Tong-its is the game of choice around here. It’s kind of a 12 card version of Rummy and also quite similar to Mah Jong. I’m starting to get pretty good at it. Even cleaned up my uncles a few times (playing for money of course).

Another big pastime here seems to be eating… One phrase Meg and I have learned to use a lot is “busog na ako” which means “I am full”. Very useful. :)

Took a while to post this due to Typhoon Reming (internationally known as Typhoon Durian) hitting Mindoro. The winds blew hard but there wasn’t much damage here other than power being cut for a couple of days, but brown-outs are fairly commonplace here anyway. Other places had it much worse. I guess we were pretty lucky.

I’m now at the tropical island of Boracay, considered by some to be the best tropical island in the world… more about that next post.

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  1. Great post! The old Petersham surrounds must feel like a million miles away now, eh?

  2. Another great read! I’m really glad to hear that you guys weren’t affected by the typhoon. I read about that in the city’s MX paper only 2 days ago and got worried because they have estimated that thousands of people have been be killed! Please keep safe.
    Back on your post…It was funny how you mentioned about the incident in the bar :) It must have been awkward after knowing.
    Sounds like you’re really getting into it over there and I can’t wait for the next instalment of Boracay!

  3. Anton: Petersham does feel a world away indeed, but we miss it. Megan came up with an excellent idea for a T-shirt design featuring the Petersham water tower.

    Elly: Boracay is one of those postcard kind of places. Really beautiful. We took a sailboat snorkeling trip today and then later went parasailing. Fantastic day, can’t wait to write about our 4 days here.

  4. wow! what amazing tales ah, it sounds so great, can i
    come along next time?
    the photos are BRILLIANT too.

  5. Haha I insist you come along next time! And yeah, the photos are awesome! (Meg has been taking the majority of them, we can’t wait to show you more)