As much as I was fascinated by Manila, it was a relief to get out of the city for a few days and breathe some fresh air, and my family made sure to organize some trips for us. My first glimpse of a non-urban setting was when we spent a day south of Manila in Tagaytay, a popular town for city dwellers wanting a little break. It’s on the edge of Lake Taal, and we had lunch at a restaurant that overlooked a volcano jutting out in the middle of that lake. From a distance it looked too hazy and gentle to be something as destructive as a volcano.
After eating too much (i.e. just enough), we strolled around the grounds of a church looking out onto the most incredible landscapes. The countryside is a muddy yellow-green; I’ve never seen anything precisely that shade.
We also visited a bee farm and, then before heading home, picked up buco tarts, coconut pies the town is known for, and stopped at one of the many fruit stands along the way to buy jackfruit, mangoes and boiled peanuts to eat at home and in the car.
The next day two carloads of us (Two! And that was only a small section of my family!) visited a coconut plantation where we toured a candy pink-coloured museum that housed a random assortment of collections: ornate religious floats, taxidermied animals and mounted insects, coins (I spotted a Canadian nickle), urns, traditional Filipino clothing.
We had lunch near a waterfall, the water gushing around our feet as we sat at picnic tables to eat.
I saw some traditional Filipino dances and went on a carabao ride (water buffalos are all over the countryside).
Baguio was a mid-trip getaway, a chance to really escape the bustle of the city and relax. Baguio is known as a prime summer destination spot since its elevation in the mountains means the air is cool and refreshing. The drive was long and fascinating, and I noticed things I had never seen before: rice fields, varying shades of green depending on how far along they were; white herons swooping into those fields, and if there weren’t herons, then pieces of white cloth tied to stakes to imitate the look of the herons – scarecrows, I guess; mango trees, the squat round clumps of their foliage; pineapple fields, their tops poking out of the ground, the opposite of how I thought pineapples grew (I imagined pineapple trees?).
And then there were the twisting mountain roads, the rising mist over valleys and towns in the distance. My cousin Rene organized the VIP treatment for us in Baguio, and we stayed in a gorgeous hotel with amazing views and had delicious meals throughout.
We visited the Ben Cab museum, which is one of the most stunningly landscaped museums I’ve ever been to.
On our way home from Baguio, we stopped at the Lady of Manaoag shrine. The shrine is known for its miraculous powers, like being responsible for saving the town from wildfires and bombs, and is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the Philippines, although on a Wednesday morning, it was thankfully not as busy as it can get towards Holy Week. We waited in line to get a closer look at the Lady (as I like to call her).
I went with my mom because I’m not well versed in church etiquette. The signs on the wall told us we only had a minute with the shrine, and I watched as other people walked up to it, knelt down, prayed and reached in and touched her robe. I noticed they were using napkins to do this, and I dutifully removed a few pieces of Kleenex from my bag. “Use this,” I told my mom. When it was our turn, I walked with her to the shrine, knelt down and rubbed the robe with my Kleenex, assuming that its purpose was to avoid strangers’ (and strangers with illnesses they were hoping to cure via miracles’) germs. Afterwards I tossed the Kleenex in a garbage bin, and only later when my mom asked me what I’d done with it did I realize that people kept their napkins, that rather than being germ-phobic, they were taking a little bit of that miracle back home with them. Oops.
I bought petition candles, though, each one a different colour depending on what you wanted to pray for. At least I knew what to do with those. Kind of.