A Trip To The Motherland (The Philippines)

As the weather gets increasingly colder, damper and grayer here in Chicago my thoughts turned to warmer climates which reminded me that I never posted photos of my 2-week trip to the Philippines. I’m fortunate to be of mixed ethnic background– my brave mom immigrated to the U.S. by herself back in the early 1980s from the Philippines. She met and married my dad (who is of German American background) in Southern California and I’m the product of this union. I have made the grueling plane trip to the Philippines several times in my life but 10 years had passed since our last trip. It was our longest stay there and I was nervous about not having access to the Internet, coffee or my cellphone. Fortunately a generous cousin let me borrow her laptop for the duration of the day and there was a Starbucks a 20-minute bus ride from my grandmother’s home in Batangas City.
The majority of my mother’s family still live in Batangas City, where she was born. It’s a provincial city located about 2 hours away from the capital of Manila on the island of Luzon. Unfortunately I do not know the indigenous language, Tagalog, but a majority of the signs are in English and everyone learns English (and Spanish) in school.
Even in May the weather was blisteringly hot and humid. I packed every cotton vintage sundress I owned, several pairs of sandals and lots of sunscreen and mosquito spray. While there we hit the department stores and street markets for cute hair accessories; by midday my bangs were a mess.
There’s always a lot of pressure to take amazing “National Geographic” style photographs while traveling abroad; I decided to just take pictures of whatever caught my eye rather than try to be overly artistic or conceptual. Thus there are a lot of photos of kitties (!), crumbly Spanish churches and me posing in various locales. I’ll do another post in the future of just food pictures, I know you’re excited.
We visited the tourist destination of Lucban, a nearly 3-hour journey from where we were staying. Lucban is famous for its regional version of Filipino sausage, longganisia (pictured above). There are dozens of stalls in the town’s open air marketplace that sells native handicrafts but there’s also a Western influence as seen through the Coca-Cola flags and animated character balloons seen below.
One of my cousins has a green thumb and orchids were growing everywhere in his backyard.
A kitty sheltering from the midday heat under a stepstool at my cousin’s house.
Two tiny ice cream cones from a traveling ice cream man. My mom said the cones were bigger and the scoops more generous when she was a kid! The ice cream flavors in the Philippines were strange to my American tastes– a popular flavor is CHEESE, ie vanilla ice cream studded with cubes of Cheddar Cheese, yuck. Ube, or purple yam, is also super popular. I bypassed both these options and instead got the safer sounding jackfruit. It was definitely refreshing.
Part of a painted mural on a concrete bus stop in Batangas City.
A traditional horse and buggy near Rizal Park in the capital of Manila.
Since the Philippines was the colony of the Spanish for over 400 years there are spectacular examples of Spanish architecture across the country, the majority of which are churches and cathedrals. I’m not religious but it would be pretty awe inspiring to attend mass in a 500-year-old church every Sunday!
The churches are so colossal it was difficult to get a full shot of them– instead I settled for detail images like the base I’m sitting on above and a painted Virgin Mary statue below.

Despite the heat we weren’t there during beach season, the second week we were there it was rainy, a precursor to the upcoming monsoon season. We didn’t actually get to go swimming on the trip (sadness!) but we still went in search of coral and shells at this little beach.
My mom showing off some of the bounty we found, even the pebbles were pretty.
Of course the required sunset beach photo!
All of the museums are located in Manila– oddly enough the museums were eeriely empty of visitors on a Saturday afternoon, my mom and I pretty much had the place to ourselves. While we had to check our bags at the front desk, none of the paintings had rope barriers in front of them and there were NO guards in each room. I could have gone up to any sculpture or painting and TOUCHED it (I was good and refrained).
Okay, had to sneak in a food picture, my mom and aunts constantly ate their favorite dessert, Halo Halo throughout the trip. It consists of shaved ice, evaporated milk and a variety of boiled sweet beans and fruits with a scoop of ube ice cream on top. It’s a more textured version of a milkshake, personally I’m not a fan as I don’t like all the jellied bits that go into it! It does make for a good picture though.
My grandmother and a majority of my aunts and uncles all have homes on one piece of family land. They raise chickens, goats, pigs and cows but do not farm. I’m sitting on a tire swing in my grandma’s back yard. The roosters (like the one below) would all crow at sunrise, it was definitely my alarm each morning.
Of course the main reason for the trip for to visit family. My grandma is now in her late 80s but still going strong. She’s holding a photograph of herself as a young woman, I think she was 15 years old in the picture.
A portrait of my grandmother standing in the doorway of her home.

My mom is holding her college graduation portrait above, she pretty much looks the same over 30 years later.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to see where my mom grew up and to see a branch of the family that lives so far away. Do you have extended family that live in a foreign country? Have you had the chance to visit them?

Comments 0

  1. great photos! and those dresses! i love them all, especially the pretty pink one you are wearing on the beach. and the one where you are standing between the columns!
    that picture of your mom is gorgeous!
    and the thought of ice cream studded with cheddar cheese makes me feel sick!

  2. You took some beautiful pictures.

    My husband's family is far away in Kenya and Uganda. We've gone as a couple twice in 10 years. We got married in Uganda on the first trip. We have a 1 yr old and really want to go back soon so she can meet her relatives.

  3. thank you so much for sharing these. they are making me tear up! i feel like i've had a glimpse into my own mother's childhood. i'm going to have to show her this post. i'm sure it will bring back memories for her as she hasn't been back since my older brother was an infant. really gorgeous, personal photos, more beautiful than any "national geographic" type stuff. thanks again lovely lady!

  4. 1 your mom is a babe
    2 the pictures are amazing and make me want to go on a trip there right now
    3 the food stories are the best! I love reading about tastes differing between countries and cultures. Cheddar ice cream? AWESOME

  5. Wow what a gorgeous collection of vintage sun dresses!
    Nope all mine are in boring England, the furthest living about a 3 hour drive. Not ery exciting! My dad grandmother was Italian but married and English man and we have settled here ever since! No one left in Italy any more 🙁

  6. Who cares about National Geographic? Your pictures are amazing! I really love the one of your grandmaother. I took one of my grandfather like that at my wedding and to this day it is one of my favorites. Their eyes, every wrinkle in their hands – tells a story! Great job! I really loved this post. Go have one of those photo books made out of this trip for your mother for Christmas!

  7. how cool! my boyfriend and i are getting ready to go visit his family in manila in february. sooo excited! i'll keep my eyes peeled for halo halo. i can almost promise i won't look nearly as cute as you did!

  8. ahhh!! This post is amazing and couldn't come at a better time. I was wondering when you'd post these pictures! My family is from Pampanga (Lubao specifically) which I think is like an hour away from Manila? I am SO glad we are going in February because like you said, the heat is torture. AND I totally remember eating those tiny ice cream cones when I was little! So good. PS: Your Lola is so cute! 🙂

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