Andy: We flew through the night to Manila and then took a connecting flight onto the island of Cebu. By the time we arrived at Cebu airport at midday we were really tired.
Astonishingly, Mactan Cebu Airport greeted us with Jingle Bells playing over the PA system! We thought that was rather strange considering it was only mid September!
For our first couple of days we were staying with a local girl and her family via Couchsurfing called Mariand. We are quite new to Couchsurfing having hosted one person at our home in the UK and stayed with Danny in Mumbai previously. We both think it’s a wonderful concept though as you get to stay with locals and learn about their culture and city from them. We of course learn way more this way than if we stayed in a hotel or hostel and explored a new place by ourselves.
Mariand’s family have a very busy home. There are constant comings and goings from friends and neighbours and this all adds to the great sense of community we felt there.
They are converting the upper floor of their large home into a boarding house so they can have lots of paying students staying there. A brilliant idea and one that we both hope pays off long term. There was ongoing construction work all overseen by this fella…
Along with the wealth of people around the house, there were also a lot of pets. They had dogs, cats (and 4 kittens), chickens, fish and a rather large Burmese Python which I’m proud to say I got to grips with one day! That certainly woke me up!
After we got settled in to our room and dumped our bags we went out. First we took a quick ride down to the end of the road on a manual tricycle. Mariand told us this was the way Filipinos get around short distances as they are “lazy”. Her words not mine! Also, it’s the way these riders make their living so locals use them a lot.
Seda: At the end of the road we then took another mode of local transport. This time on an open back truck called a jeepney. They are very cool as some of them have funky colours and accessories. These follow certain routes about town and you just stop them and jump on if it’s going the way you want to go.
They are very popular and get busy quickly. But being full of course doesn’t mean they can’t keep letting more customers climb on board, literally!
Andy: We headed to a famous church in Cebu called Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu. It was a beautiful old building and courtyard and you could see its popularity with the amount of people there. The church has some beautiful old paintings and a lovely fountain in the smaller inner courtyard which would be a great place to reflect and appreciate the feel of the place.
Outside there was a beautiful area where you light candles and prey. A separate octagonal building was housing Magellan’s Cross, a quite proud possession for the town. This Christian Cross was planted by Portuguese and Spanish explorers as ordered by Magellan upon arriving in Cebu in the Philippines in March 1521.
We left the church and walked down a popular shopping street near to Mariand’s old school. Here we stopped for some Tempura. It was her favourite place which turned out to be a tiny mobile stall on the side of the road. You simply select your items, she chops it all and puts it in a cup with some sauce and chopped onion and cucumber. It was rather lovely too.
Seda: We kept saying that we wouldn’t know how to try any of these lovely street food choices if Mariand wasn’t with us. Then she just stopped in front of another place where there was simply a table and a big jar of orange drink. As she placed the third glass of it on the table, mine was already half way down. Yummy!
We then found a lovely market and bought some fruit. We bought some of our favourite rambutans and mini pineapples and what we thought was another fruit we’d tried before (longan). It turned out to be something else completely new to us (lanzones) and they were rather nice!
Andy: As we were walking through the market I spotted a group of people drinking glasses of something very dark. I asked Mariand what it was to which she replied Tuba, a coconut wine. Seda and I tried a glass between us much to Mariand’s amazement! It looked and smelled terrible, but it actually tasted pretty good although one glass was more than enough for me!
Seda : As we asked for a glass of this wine, the local guys who were sitting around all started to pay attention to our little trial. They were probably wondering what our face would look like after we tried it. Well I had a big gulp, turned and gave them a big thumbs up… they were all grinning!
We took a jeepney back to Mariand’s house after the market and got some much needed sleep after our long day and night of travelling.
We had a knock on the door in the morning. It was little Dalja, Mariand’s sister, calling us down for breakfast but we simply couldn’t wake up. So the family sent us up a breakfast tray with two coffees which was an incredibly kind gesture!
Andy: The next day we went to a local shopping mall for a wander around as it was rather hot and humid outside. Whilst there we tried a Filipino version of bubble tea. It was similar to that found in Taiwan but with a bonus ingredient. Their signature drink is cheesecake milk tea! It was odd and lovely at the same time! The three of us sat there for hours chatting which was great. Mariand is visiting Singapore soon and so we asked her to give us some tips as we’ll go soon too.
We also came across this beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the mall and couldn’t believe it. Mariand explained that Filipinos are absolutely mad for Christmas, so that would explain the countdown and songs being played at the airport when we arrived!
Back home after the mall we had a beautiful dinner of roast chicken and rice prepared by the lovely Rose, an amazing lady of 68 who has 11 children!
In the evening Mariand planned for us to do karaoke! Something we wanted to do in Japan 3 years ago, and more recently in Seoul where it’s really popular. The problem we had in the past though was that we’d never had anyone else to do it with and it wouldn’t be as much fun on our own. Well, not this time that’s for sure.
Pretty much the whole neighbourhood turned up and we had an amazing night. I say night, but it actually went on past 2am with music blasting! We asked Mariand a few times if the neighbours minded the noise, to which she replied that all the neighbours were there with us, so no-one would be kept awake!
Seda: Of course we were shy at the beginning but it took a Carpenters song to get me singing whilst Andy studied the song book for a long time and came up with Daytripper and Use Somebody. He was so good with the mic, at some point we heard him say “I don’t even know this song, why am I singing it?!” (It was Beyoncé’s Honesty). He would end the songs with a famous “thank you very much” in an elvis-like voice. Turns out I’m married to a karaoke king!!!
We did a little duet, but maybe Hotel California wasn’t the best choice clocking in at nearly 7 minutes including a 1 minute intro, and a 2 minute guitar solo at the end!
Andy quickly formed a boy band with Genesis who suddenly was much more confident about his English. The two lead singers mainly focused on Coldplay songs but did accept requests.
Mariand has a beautifully well trained voice that can hit high notes with no problem. Marife, her mum, also sang a few English songs wonderfully which were a joy to listen to. The biggest surprise of the night came from Armand, Mariand’s dad later though. He spent the majority of the night sat at the back observing, but when he started singing, we couldn’t believe what a good voice he had. Not losing anytime, Andy quickly signed him up for the boy band!
We weren’t able to leave as early as we planned the next morning because the karaoke king needed to recover a little. When we finally did get ready to go, the poor thing still looked a little rough, but kept it cool and focused on our goodbyes. Mariand, Armand and a couple of the guys gave us a lift to the terminal and we said our goodbyes and tried to express our gratitude wholeheartedly before leaving on the bus to Moalboal.
Isn’t it strange to miss people you didn’t even know two days ago? Armand and Marife have a lovely daughter and a wonderful family. Their household and joyful neighbourhood gave us a precious little glimpse of the Filipino culture. These people have very generous hearts and limitless hospitality. We are humbled by their kindness and will never forget those two wonderful days!
Andy: The reason the last 6 paragraphs are all written by Seda is that it turns out Filipino beer is quite strong and I don’t remember much of the night! I know it was great though!