Asia, Personal Essay, Philippines, Travel, Visayas

Siquijor: The Long Way Home

Lineage, they say, is traced back from the father. If that is the case, then mine traces back to Siquijor, the island of fire. Also, of faith; of magic; of saltwater; and of the nocturne.

Only, even my father, a third-generation migrant to Mindanao, hadn’t been to the island himself.

But postal address was the sole thing that was not Siquijodnon about my Dad; about us as a family. Growing up in a region where only a handful bore our surname, we always felt misplaced somehow.

Talks about entire barrios that shared our bloodline– sun-kissed, with wide noses and big teeth— were mouthed as a promise -to-see-someday; a dream, repeatedly told over coconut wine- drinking sessions amongst uncles.

Just after summer this year, when sunshine was still abundant but not as scorching, the whole family embarked on a road trip to Siquijor, to fulfil my father’s lifelong desire for a homecoming.

Lazi - Words and Wanderlust

Our journey started in a church in Lazi. Whilst the rest of the family lit candles of petition, my dad stood distracted, reading a list of names of church benefactors on a cement wall. He gasped at familiar surnames of people from our hometown. After all, many of our neighbours’ forefathers were also farmer-fishermen from Siquijor; just like one Rufino Amantiad, who once loaded his entire kin on to a boat bound for Mindanao, and never returned.

My brother and I joked: maybe an heirloom awaited our Dad— a beachfront property, a hillside mansion, or acres of Molave. Maybe he is heir to some powerful wizard and we have come to the island to claim our destiny— a stone to swallow, a cave to set fire to, or a talisman to be received.

My mom, avid unbeliever, could only roll her eyes.

Minalulan

The first lead we found was from a group of candle vendors outside the church. They spoke of Amantiads they know from some distant barangays in and around the town of Maria. But one that rang a bell was a seaside community called Minalulan, from which, I believe, my father’s birthplace of Minaulon in Mindanao, was derived from.

As we drove away from Lazi and closer to Maria, my dad’s anxiety was almost palpable.

“Look for small houses; for poor people,” he kept on saying. “My grandfather said we were from poor origins,” he emphasized.

“Still poor,” my mom chirped in, antagonistic as ever.

Their bickering was promptly interrupted by a distinct welcome sign on the side of the road. My dad jumped at once, beckoning me to take a photo of him at the welcome sign of Barangay Minalulan. Soon after, the whole family joined in.

Minalulan - Words and Wanderlust

From there, we euphorically asked locals for directions, as if all of them were distant relatives. Eventually, the search led us to a sari-sari store at a corner fronting the public plaza. This was where we found Hilarion and Benedicta Amantiad, who, upon learning about our plight, offered a pack of hopia and a bottle of Mirinda to take with us to Salagdoong.

Lolo Hilarion was too young to remember or know my great grandfather, Rufino; moreso my grandfather, Agustin, who was only 14 when he left the island. But his eyes pocketed passion and pride, just like my late Nanay Teofila’s; his whole face bore the same smiling/crying grimace that was distinctive of my Lolo Leoncio. I’m sure my dad saw it too.

“I may not be able to recall how we are related, but we are; that, I assure you,” Lolo Hilarion, in an unmistakably Siquijodnon lilt, confirmed what we already knew deep down inside.

Hilarion - Words and Wanderlust

Maria

My dad was still on a high from meeting Lolo Hilarion, so he kept striking up conversations with everyone as we made our way to Salagdoong. Upon hearing his narrative, the gatekeeper at the resort volunteered that he knew of a certain Ecoy Amantiad, whose kin runs a stall at the Maria Public Market.

It wasn’t hard to find Lolo Ecoy at all, who received our strange intrusion in shock and silence. He wasn’t in the pink of health having just recovered from a cardiac ailment, but was gracious enough to talk to us. His daughter, Auntie Lucy, very hospitably answered our questions on her father’s behalf.

Surprisingly, the world was small after all. It turned out that Lolo Ecoy was Angelico Amantiad, grandfather of Rainveill, a “cousin” I accidentally bumped into, online, one day many years ago. Long story short, we’ve kept tabs since, both convinced that although we didn’t know how and why, we were from the same bloodline.

Understanding of my father’s need to reconnect with his roots, Lolo Ecoy offered to accompany us to Cangtugbas, where his centenarian parents lived.

Cangtugbas

The road to Cangtugbas was hilly and narrow; a perennial ascent that one would not expect of Siquijor. Lolo Ecoy sat on the passenger seat, his words calculated. My dad sat at the back, elated and uber excited.

Marcial Amantiad, the family patriarch and quite possibly our oldest living relative, was sitting on a balcony when we arrived. His wife, Lola Librada, pleasantly confused due to Dementia, was singing an old folk song on loop.

Off the bat, I was convinced we were family. It was as if seeing my father see his father again after forever. You see, my Lolo Agustin died when Dad was only 17. Since then, he only lived off his stories. We did, too.

It was Lolo Marcial, suprisingly sharp for a century-old chap, who was finally able to trace our lineage. He said that he was first cousins of Lolo Rufino, and had vague recollection of his kids. That being said, it meant that Lolo Ecoy was second cousins with my Lolo Agustin.

I took lots of photos, excited to log online so I can share Rainveill my good news. But we were too far off-the-grid to get internet connection; too off-the-beaten path to even get Waze coverage. But all of it didn’t matter at the time.

All that mattered was, right at that moment, in a bungalow in the hills of Cangtugbas, my father finally found his way— through Hilarion, Angelico and Marcial; through the stories of Rufino; and through the memories of Agustin— back home.

Parents - Words and Wanderlust

Asia, Mindanao, Philippines, Travel, Visayas

Fambam Roadtrip | Philippines 2016

For the first instalment of this series, allow me to bring you home to my family; or, in the context of this road trip, let me introduce you to my travel buddies.
Fambam Roadtrip | Words and Wanderlust

My parents are Zaldy and Bing. Both born in 1958, they are also turning 58 this year. I do not know any other couple who are still as strong, active, updated with fashion and young-looking as my Mommy and Daddy.

Both working for the government, they’ve rarely gone to leisure trips while we were growing up. Whatever they’ve spared after making ends meet went to ensuring a decent education for me and my siblings.

This trip is the first of the many rewards I and my siblings are bent on making sure they’d experience for the rest of their lives.

Fambam Roadtrip | Words and Wanderlust My name is Rain. As the first born and only girl, I get to make the rules. Also, I pay for everything (laughs!).

Having had the privilege of traveling a sizeable chunk of South East Asia and Oceania, it is my aim to lure the fambam into a life of adventure and self-discovery, one destination at a time.

I still have the rest of world on my list. By training the army in my household this early, I might have the chance of walking the length of the Camino de Santiago with my parents or hiking to the remains of Magic Bus 142 with my siblings. I am positive, it all begins on this trip.

leoIf I were to enumerate all the people that I love, my brother Leo, has and will always be number one. If I think back of the first days I learned of fun and happiness and victory, all those were with my brother beside me. He was the first member of my team; president of my fan club. He was (still is) my shield; always strong, against a childhood full of bullies.

It is only imperative that in this rare chance that I am more able, my brother will be spoiled rotten.

jan

Our youngest, Jan, is a copypaste version of myself. He is driven, passionate, intellectual and takes no bullshit. He is reckless and impulsive at times, too, which often gets him into trouble. But like the secret trait that I thought was unique to me, it appears that my brother also has a knack of turning things around to get himself out of trouble, almost as fast as he got in. In vernacular, magaling lumusot.

I mentioned he’s reckless right? Well, it looks like he is quitting work in order to make time for this trip. (Peace, Mom and Dad!)

janine

Janine has never been to anywhere. At least, that is my brother’s appeal to pity so I will allow his wife to miss work and join the road trip. But in all fairness, out of all of us, this brave girl, has gone through the darkest times in the past year, having lost her mom around the time when she was just beginning to attain her dreams.

Despite all, Janine was able harness inspiration from the toughest times in her life to slay victory after victory, school and career-wise.  For this reason and more, sending this warrior to a month-long adventure is nothing short of fair return.

yumi and yzza

The babies in the family, Yumi and Yzza, are the stars of our family adventure. For years, I have been sending them postcards from all of my travels, aiming to plant the seeds of vagabonding. Their parents are unaware of this: but I will do everything in my power to brainwash these two to backpack as soon as they learn how to commute.

Who knows, I might be able to stuff one of them into my luggage to bring home to Australia. *evil grin*


About this Trip

The past months have been a time of conquests: of reaping what were sown in the years prior. After years of pressing on, we, as a family, finally had time to breathe. My siblings have completed university, we’ve renovated our family home and I was able to buy my dad his dream car.

But it wasn’t all roses. Amidst the victories of the past year stood my mom’s cancer diagnosis. But we did not waver. If anything, it only validated what we’ve always known all along: WE’VE GOT EACH OTHER’S BACK.

To celebrate the completion of my mom’s chemotherapy and radiation sessions, our family is going to embark on a month-long roadtrip to select destinations in Visayas and Mindanao in the Philippines.

Please click on the Fambam Roadtrip widget on the side bar to follow our (mis)adventures!

Experience, Itinerary, Philippines, Travel, Visayas

Siquijor Itinerary

Siquijor Itinerary | Words and Wanderlust

My father’s forefathers were fishermen from Maria, Siquijor. In 1930s, my great grandfather’s fishing exploits ushered him to the coastal villages outside Pagadian in Mindanao.

Although born and bred a Mindanaoan, Daddy grew up with stories of the fireflies of Siquijor. I did, too.

So to finish our month-long family road trip to VisMin in June 2016, I wish to bring Dad home– to where our lineage of big hearts and great minds began.

Asia, Luzon, Philippines, Travel, Visayas

Backpacking Philippines

The awakening for Backpacking Philippines happened while traveling Indochina last summer. Whilst I recognised how traveling to other countries afforded me perspectives that I wouldn’t have otherwise felt in my own backyard, I also realised that I was exploring to find experiences that resembled the familiarity of home.

So when Matthijs, a Dutch backpacker— whom I shared one too many bottles of beer with— asked if I was keen to show him around the Philippines, I cancelled all other travel plans and jumped at the chance. What he didn’t know was, I was just as much of a tourist as he was.

BAGUIO – SAGADA

Read: Baguio-Sagada Travel Guide

Our adventure began at a bus terminal in Sampaloc, Manila. From there,  we took a six-hour land trip to Baguio, a city where villages hung on the hips of mountain ranges.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Baguio

At twilight, we strolled around Session Road, cheeks with hints of scarlet from the cold. Amused at the lilt of the Ilocano tongue, we combed the markets for the crowd, chomping on street food in between. As the night deepened, we holed up in an acoustic bar called Bohemian and drowned sorrows, imagined and otherwise, in beer.

A decision borne out of the night prior’s drunken conversation led us to Sagada the next day. Charming and nostalgic, the town beckoned my poetry: I just had to be there.

Happy to be dragged to my exploits, Matthijs gamely trekked the jungles with me— to chase waterfalls, spot hanging coffins and watch sunrises before seas of clouds.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Sagada

But our most dauntless adventure of all was spelunking and abseiling between caves with nothing but ungloved hands and bare feet. Albeit a physical feat, surviving the 4-hour Cave Connection was a real test of courage and strength of character. I, particularly, feel braver since.

BATAD – BANAUE

Read: Batad-Banaue Travel Guide

Riding on top of a jeepney may not be news to daredevils. But riding on top of a jeepney traversing through the deadly Halsema Highway was what we did. Keeping to our YOLO branding, we kept at it all the way to Banaue, and even to Batad.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Banaue

When not avoiding live wires, we revelled in the landscapes: rice terraces, mountain ranges and cliff faces. We were also immersed in a culture so intact, and in a history that stood on the feet of diligence and bravery.

For a few days, we stayed at a 100 year-old hut in a village fronting 2000 year-old rice terraces. There, we tramped through deeper into the woods, and higher into the mountains. We saw more waterfalls and caught more sunsets.

There was no beer, shame. But regardless of the time of the day, there was always an oversupply of rice wine.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Batad

EL NIDO

Read: El Nido Travel Guide

In stark contrast to our week in the hinterlands, an overnight bus to Manila and a morning flight to Puerto Princesa took us to the beaches of Palawan.

Upon learning that a jaunt to the Underground River won’t be possible until the next day, we crossed Puerto Princesa off our list.  But that also meant we had to continue the journey for five more hours to the beachfront haven of El Nido.

Where I got the energy to survive the commute, I didn’t know. But if there was ever such a thing as a power bank for humans, I would have very gladly plugged my whole self in.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - El Nido

El Nido was the lover worth dumping everyone else for. Three days became six, and it still wasn’t enough.

We hopped between islands, snorkelled in lagoons, held picnic lunches in deserted mounds of white sand and drank nights away under the tutelage of French bartenders, who have found home in my country.

In one of the boat trips, a common love for boisterous laughter forged an instant friendship between us and a trio of very fun-loving Pinoys. Eventually, and very willingly so, they shared my honour of entertaining our foreign friends, staging one big showdown of local hospitality.

CORON

Read: Coron Travel Guide

Coron was an altogether different ballgame. Whilst El Nido’s charm dwelt on rock formations jutting out from cerulean seas, Coron tucked entire kingdoms underwater.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Coron

Having had the privilege to snorkel in Kayangan and Barracuda alone was already worth the 9-hour arduous boat ride from El Nido. But to add shipwreck diving and hammock-lounging in a private island to the equation? No price tag could ever be put on that.

The nights, meanwhile, were a class of its own. Traveling with a French couple, we brought the party atmosphere of wild El Nido to sleepy Coron. On one occasion, we got wasted over happy-hour rum coke and donned on a random shop’s mascot costume. We were too drunk to find out if we ever made it to local news, but I remember stopping traffic, running around town as a green gecko.

CEBU

Read: Cebu Sinulog Travel Guide

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Cebu

Just in time for the Sinulog Festival, we flew to Cebu from Coron to cap off our month-long vagabonding around the country. There, we met up with other wayfarers who were also in town for the weekend shindig.

Out of all stops, Cebu was the only place I’ve ever been to before, so I made sure to plate up a generous helping of Filipino hospitality. For four days, we barely slept in the name of fun and mayhem.

By the end of the trip, Matthijs and I felt we’ve out-YOLO-ed ourselves, and spent our last few days in Cebu looking back at our travels.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Sinulog

In one of our conversations, he told me that Philippines should no longer be lumped in general terms (ie., Asians) internationally; that Philippines is Filipino, awesome enough to stand on its own.

“You aren’t even third-world. You have first-world cities and first-world people, where even the most primitive of tribes can speak decent English and even the poorest of communities are happy.”

I sat there, bereft of speech, startled by the reckoning that it was actually me, who have been shown around in my own country.

From the eyes of a foreigner, I saw the Philippines again for the first time. It was beautiful. Perhaps, the most in the universe. As a Filipino, I realise right then and there, that it was my duty to open my country’s doors for all to see.