It’s hard to be on the other side of the world from your loved ones at holiday times. A traditional Thanksgiving for our family includes a long, stretched out extension table with somewhere between 26-30+ family and loved ones gathered around copious amounts of food.
Here in the provinces, we lack turkey, a large extension table and many loved ones… so we opted for a different kind of Thanksgiving this year!
About a week before the holiday we were alerted to an Organic Agriculture Festival being held on the island to the south of us. Had it not been a holiday, we might have just sent Dad, but since we wanted to be together for Thanksgiving and the trip might be a good diversion from the traditions we were missing at home… we decided to make it a family trip!
First we had a long van ride to the end of our island. Though only 245 km (152 miles), the journey across the mountains and over sometimes unfinished roads usually takes about 7-8 hrs by bus. We opted for a van, in the hopes of a quicker trip and the ability to stop if someone (Matthew….) got car sick (again). Our driver took a different route than we had ever been on, through his old hometown, and since he knew the roads, we still made amazing time… arriving in Iloilo in just a little more than 5 hrs.
This tractor and plow, a rare sight in our part of Panay island, was one of the many signs that we were traveling through a more agricultural part of the island. We also saw many corn fields and quite a few cows, for meat, not milk on our fast-paced journey to Iloilo.
We got to Iloilo so quickly that we didn’t even stop for lunch. So after checking into our hotel, we walked across the street to a little carinderia. The street facing our hotel was lined with these tiny restaurants that serve inexpensive lunches to the students of the two universities near there as well as workers at the shops nearby.
This lunch will go down in history as the cheapest meal the Russell crew has ever eaten.
Prepared foods are displayed at the front of the carinderia. There were about 20 choices in all.
Matthew pointing to his pick of the fare… a hot dog… with rice, of course!
Lunch for 9, with soda… Only 381 pesos
which at the current exchange rate is $8 and change USD!
We took advantage of the early arrival time to check out the hotel’s swimming pool for a few hours. Then, like true foreigners, we hit the SM Mall, which is a little like stepping into a different world. We walked the four blocks from our hotel to the mall, past street vendors selling rosaries and “healing” rocks, bark and compounds. We walked by small shops selling wooden furniture and bicycles, where the assembly team was spread out across the sidewalk assembling China-made bicycles for the coming Christmas rush. But when you turn off the hot, city street into the mall, it’s literally like walking into the first world part of the Philippines. The huge mall is full of shops that I deem too expensive to shop at… designer clothes, imported shoes, high end, authentic electronics. And there are restaurants, some American like Pizza Hut and KFC and others local but very top quality. And everyone’s favorite mall feature… the cinema!
But first… dinner…. at Ole! A Mexican themed restaurant on the third floor.
Luke, Mark and Mama shared this Mexican Platter, it was yummy!!!
Everyone with their meals– Cuban sandwiches, street tacos, burritos, enchiladas and Matthew’s homemade (not frozen or processed) chicken nuggets and fries!
After our very non-traditional fourth Thursday of November dinner, the older kids headed to see the new Hunger Games movie, while Rusty and I took the littles to see The Good Dinosaur. Movies here are very inexpensive, about $3 per ticket.
I’ll save my US friends a bunch of cash– the The Good Dinosaur isn’t very good. :(
After the movies it was back to enjoy some night swimming…
The next morning we headed to our final destination of Bacolod City, across the water from our home of Panay Island to the island of Negros Occidental. The trip can be made one of three ways. The longest way is a boat to Guimaras Island, then land transportation across that small island and then another boat to Negros. The next shortest is what is called a Ro-ro (roll on, roll off) ferry, which is the way you must travel if you are taking a motorcycle or van to Negros. The ro-ro option is about 3 1/2 hrs.
The fastest way are the Fast Cat boats, short for fast catamaran.
We had a whole row near the front, but the waves were strong and even with a window seat, Mark got seasick. It seemed like a long hour and fifteen minutes, but we all arrived, some greener than others to our destination of Bacolod City!
Coming off the boat, we didn’t know what to expect… but like every terminal in the Philippines, we were greeted by many, many “conductors”
trying to sell us transportation options. There were jeepneys lined up for those familiar with the area, a few small tricycles and lots of cabs. A friendly gentleman found Rusty and offered 150 peso ride in his cab which conveniently seats 10 to our destination. As we left the port, our driver, Randy introduced himself and handed Rusty his calling card. We were pleased and amused to see that Randy is a driver for God’s Taxi. :)
Photo credit to Randy Patron, who takes amazing pictures and was a super helpful kuya (big brother) on this trip!
Our main agenda for Friday was to spend the day exploring the Organic Agriculture Festival. We had planned to stay at a very inexpensive overnight accommodation option– a pension house– located upstairs in a local shopping district. The sparsely appointed rooms cost just $37 for the nine of us in two rooms. These rooms were made for sleeping only, so we enjoyed our time at the Festival and then had dinner at the Bacolod SM Mall!
There were many vendors at the Festival. Many were selling food– we had our lunch there and Mama enjoyed her first green salad in a long, long time! There was a lot of good information about solar and organic technology available in the Philippines. We had a delicious ice cold carabao milk and learned more about carabao farming–including artificial insemination. We spoke with people doing aquaponics on a small scale, as well as mushroom growers and bee-keepers. Lots of great information and fun learning for everyone from Matthew to Dad.
This was as close to turkey as we got this Thanksgiving! And at 900 pesos each (almost $20 USD) we figured that was close enough!
The Festival was set in the Provincial Capital park. A beautiful historic building and lagoon, in the heart of Bacolod City. The kids enjoyed exploring the area while Dad learned more at the vendor sites.
Dinner at KFC at the Bacolod SM mall… this mall was HUGE!!!
The Christmas displays were impressive and fun!
We stopped by Krispie Kreme for one of the best tasting treats of all! Most Western treats here are less expensive than their US store prices, but Krispie Kreme is not one of them! A little taste of luxury… and brewed coffee with real whole milk for cream…. HEAVEN! ;)
The next morning we decided to take a historical side trip about 20 km north of Bacolod City to see “The Ruins.” This impressive structure was built by a sugar baron who settled in Negros from Panay Island as a tribute to his much loved wife who died while pregnant with their 11th child. Known as one of the 12 most impressive ruins in the world, it is a must see!
The mansion was started in 1911, it took 3 years to complete and was finished with gorgeous 2 in think flooring that was a meter wide and 20 meters long. The house was said to be filled with the finest furniture and goods from around the world.
During WWII the Japanese threatened control of the Philippines. The American and Filipino forces charged with liberating the Philippines were ordered to burn the house, to prevent the Japanese from making it their headquarters. The house burned for three days. What’s standing is an impressive testimony to a by-gone day and the heartache of war.
Any Moms of more than 2 kids knows that family pictures are always a bit of a challenge. Throughout the last two decades of parenting I can hardly think of a time when one of the kids didn’t make his mark on the photo remembrance. Today, it was Luke’s turn. :)
Back to Bacolod City and off to the special surprise we had in store for the kids. There’s a place called Caribbean Water Park and Resotel. It’s literally the coolest waterpark we’ve seen, with hotel rooms within “spitting distance” (to quote Levi) from our rooms.
We had so much fun… nobody took many pictures. So I borrowed these from the internet so you could see how cool it really was. Matthew said, “This is the best day of my life!”
For dinner, we got all cleaned up and tried out a little place with an ionic name… Kristin’s Steak House.
Beef is kind of a rare treasure here in Malay. Very, very rarely can you find reasonable quality beef, and it’s often sky-high prices. But in Bacolod where there’s much more diversity to agriculture, we thought it was worth a try.
It wasn’t Hoss’s or even home grilled steaks from our own freezer, but it wasn’t half bad. And the price was right…
The next morning, we decided to let the kids play in the waterpark until the noon checkout deadline. The first few hours of the first day Matthew was a little shy of the waterslides, but by bedtime he was a champion waterslider! Rusty stayed back to play lifeguard, while Jared, Levi and I made a food run to SM mall. We took the opportunity to buy a few items that we can’t find any closer to home– chocolate chips, cream cheese, blue cheese, and local Bacolod beef to try at home. We did find one thing we won’t be having for Christmas dinner this year! WOW!
From our check out, to our God’s Taxi drive back to the port… we just made it on next boat back across to Panay. This time it was a 2GO Fast Cat, a nice ride with no seasickness!
Our Caticlan based van driver met us at the port and after a quick stop to pick up a special potting soil Dad located in Iloilo, we were headed north toward home. This time we traveled the regular route, through the heart of Panay’s sugar cane country
We passed many huge loads of sugar cane, which is cut by hand and carefully loaded to be hauled to a processing center. This work is some of the hardest in the Philippines, and one of the lowest paid. Many young Ati men from our tribe move to this area of the island to find work. Often they come back broken physically, and with very little financial gain.
One our way through Kalibo we stopped at the provincial hospital to check on an Ati patient. Sadly, he still was awaiting his surgery and no one had changed his dressing in almost 6 days. We ate one last “American” meal at McDonald’s before we headed home to “reality.”
It’s always refreshing to get away and usually hard step back into the responsibilities of “regular” life. The discouraging news in Kalibo was a first “reality check,” followed by a series of tough news the next day. A widowed mom with active TB, a 24 yr old man facing an amputation, children with cough and fever…
Even the food is back to normal…
The GOOD NEWS is that we have plenty to be thankful for— whether at home around the bountiful table with friends and family, away on a fun educational trip or in our host home country, enjoying the simple pleasures of rice and fried fish– Jesus has given us so much more than we deserve.
I was reminded this weekend by a favorite teaching pastor who’s faced some real hardship in his own life over the last year, that we are daily saturated with unmerited grace. We deserve hell, but Jesus offers us a victorious life in Him and EVERYTHING we have that is greater than hell, is more than we deserve. May you rest in that Word of truth as you go about your days this holiday season.
May we all rest in Jesus’ love, grace and mercy to us… for it’s so much more than we deserve!