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It’s More Fun in the Philippines

My #asianadventure continued to the Philippines to meet my handsome half-filipino beau. His grandparents, aunt, uncle & cousins all live outside of Manila and he’s been venturing to the Philippines his whole life. After three years of being together, I was finally going to meet the rest of the family that I had heard so much about. Upon arrival we landed at a buffet and I quickly learned that ten days in the Philippines would be filled with food, family love, and the combination of the two familial food pushing, that followed by naps. 

His Lolo & Lola (grandparents) were the most welcoming hosts and I instantly felt apart of the family. Anytime I walked past his Lola in the house she asked, “Are you hungry? You should eat,” regardless of whether or not we had just eaten 20 minutes prior. There is nothing as sacred as a grandmother’s love, that’s for sure. Their home was in a quiet gated community with lush green surrounding it and a backyard that felt like a secret garden. They had many different tables for eating meals and I giggled when I started to realize we ate each meal in a different outside eating location. His Lola’s homemade food was never-ending…pork, fish, rice, rice and more rice. Lechon (pig), chicken adobo,  prawns with their face on… I’m not a super adventurous eater by nature but I was trying it all. I even tried one “no thank you bite”, as my mom called it growing up, of balut, a duck embryo. The many filipinos that I met on the cruise ship had stressed the importance of trying this “delicacy” and with the pressure of Basti’s family…I figured I couldn’t miss a cultural opportunity. But one bite of that salty but strange hard boiled duck baby and I was DONE, thank goodness for San Miguel’s beer to chase away the taste. On a yummier note, I got to try Basti’s favorite breakfast…tocino which is a one of the most popular cured meats in the Philippines, reddish brown candied glazed pork paired with garlic fried rice and a runny Sunny-Side-Up egg. GAME OVER. The most delicious mango you’ve ever imagined after for dessert. You can start to see why the food commas inspired so many naps. 

We made our way out of the house and into the crazy Filipino streets aka the Wild Wild East. Pedicabs, Jeepneys, & motorbikes with four people to a seat crowded the streets lined with stalls, general stores, & automobile repair shops. Jeepneys, the most common mode of transportation in the Philippines, are very iconic to the country. Originally made from U.S. Military Jeeps leftover from WWII, they are known for their crowded seating and kitsch decorations. No two look the same varying from usually a bright red, yellow or turquoise paint job and some phrase like “Gift of God” with a picture of Mary painted somewhere on it. I started to realize the rules of the road is that there are NO rules. Cross whenever you “feel” it, whip a U-Turn here sure, pull over to pick something up. No signaling, no problem! Just glad I wasn’t driving! I think the most vivid memory I have of driving is when we passed a truck full of pigs in the back of a truck being transported to be our food…you can’t see that on the 405!

We had a cultural day in Manila starting at the National Art Gallery filled with historical works of art. We then went on the most entertaining walking tour with a one man show performed by Carlos Celdran. His tour called Walk This Way was filled with humor, drama, singing, hat changing, candy throwing and so much more. We explored Manila’s ancient walled city of Intramuros and learned so much about the fascinating history of the 7,107 islands that make up the Philippines. Conquered by the Spanish priests to spread Catholicism for 300 years, and then the US for 50 years, it is a hodge-podge culture. Back when the Spaniards came over, people still believed the Earth was flat so the Philippine Islands were the last chuck of land before phewwwww kerplunk….the drop off they imagined. The King only sent priests that he hated to the islands with the hope that they wouldn’t come back. One of the most interesting facts for me was about the language. Every word in their language that has to do with describing abstract things like nature, spirit, love are in Tagalog the native language, anything describing objects like paper (papel), ceiling (cielo) are in Spanish, and anything describing a brand like Coke, Kleenex, Kodak (it’s even a verb to kodak, take a photo) are from American products. Manila was bought along with Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands to the US for 1 million dollars at the turn of the century. It even fought to be the 50th state at one point. In the 1920s, during the American Occupation, Manila was “the Pearl of the East” with the first movie theater, the first Asian country to import Coca-Cola and the first Pan Asian Airline. Then everything changed when the Japanese invaded during WWII and were brutally massacring anyone and everyone until Douglas MacArthur the US General ruling the roost, made the decision to drop a bomb on his precious city of Manila to get Japan out. Since  then the US only repaired buildings that they had built, which were minimal in comparison to what was destroyed and the city has never recovered. Knowing what a glittering hub of cultural collision it once was and seeing the poverty stricken city it is now was very hard to believe. Our history lesson eventually led to a ride in a local’s pedicab with a genuine smile and calves of steel who managed to cross four lanes of traffic and safely get us to our final destination of the tour: St. Agustin church. Four hundred and forty four years old, it is the last remaining church built in Manila. There was a wedding going when we got there, the most romantic way to end a perfect day saturated with history and new sights. 

Driving through the city, it was impossible not to be overwhelmed by the poverty. Bamboo based huts with tin roofs, stuck together with some spit and hope were built on top of each other. We sat in traffic and I couldn’t take my eyes off of the street life out the window. Chickens and street dogs ran around the stores selling everything from roasted chicken and nuts to deodorant and SIM cards inside. Kids walked home from school, average people from work. Everyone in nice clean clothing, although they lived in a city that needed a power wash and a lot of love. I was surprised by how together people looked, dressed up nicely, while the appearance of houses and shops were so below the poverty line. Another example of how the third world can make enough to survive and feel good in their day to day clothing but not have enough to fix their leaky roofs or pay for their kids to go to college. I was so humbled by the smiling and laughing. I saw joy, not struggling, love, not fear or sadness. My favorite moment of the trip is captured below. I had my window rolled down taking the life in that I saw and this happy father, probably not much older than me, was over the moon excited to engage and show off his bundle of joy. 

Candi & Fish, Basti’s sister and her boyfriend flew from Australia to join in on the final few days of fun. They were the last puzzle piece of Basti’s family I had yet to meet and it was long overdue. They were welcomed with a home-cooked buffet as well and wined and dined until they passed out from a long day of traveling. The next day we hopped into the car for a little road trip to a couples retreat through the provincial Philippines to Laiya beach in the city of Batangas. We arrived to this fabulous bungalow haven with no other guests around. White sand beaches, lush mountains behind us, a beer in hand, it couldn’t get any better…until we realized we could get $8 massages (tip included) in the said bungalows listening to the waves crash. If I ever go missing, this is the ONLY clue I’m giving you to where you can potentially find me. The other guests were mainly filipinos and since they mainly try to avoid the sun at all costs, we were truly the only ones on the beach both days. We ate and drank and drank some more. Sharing sunsets and memories to last a lifetime. The next morning we woke up to the most gorgeous orange and pink sunrise and went for a perfect morning swim. What a way to start the day! One more massage couldn’t hurt before hopping back in the car to return home. (twist my arm….)

Back at la casa de Aguto’s, yet another filing buffet awaited us…but this time it was different. Banana leaves were laid down on the table and to truly enjoy this family style feast we got to do it the traditional Kamayan way, eating with our hands! Lola giggled when we said OF COURSE to that style of eating and we slid our food off our plates and chowed down. A night I will never forget!  

My whirlwind trip to Asia was winding down and I started to reflect on the incredible cultures I had been submerged in. Seeing this country as well as South Korea with locals (and transplants) was the most amazing way to experience a foreign country. After a year of traveling, the biggest difference I noticed in this continent was how cool I felt to be American. As a millennial, growing up with Bush in one nation under fear, I don’t feel the patriotism my parents and their parents have felt as an American. I am grateful for the first world education and endless opportunities that it has given me but through traveling I’ve noticed we don’t have the same international rapport we once had. After roaming through Europe and South Africa this year, I got so tired of the “what a joke your country is, Donald Trump for president?” comments that I was receiving, I started to be happy when people assumed I was Canadian rather than a stereotypical loud mouth, ignorant American. I only say that because I saw such an overwhelming amount, especially on the cruise ship. It was cool again to be from America and I was really taken back by that reception. Definitely inspired me to be a singing sensation in Asia…just saying. 

With a permanent food baby of rice in my belly, it was the first New Years that I didn’t focus on health & wellness but rather on gratitude. I saw too many ribcages from hunger to worry about the extra pounds of love I had gained on vacation. I am hyper sensitive to the fact that the culture I am accustomed to is worried about our waistlines while others are worried about starvation, fixated on the hottest diet while entire countries face malnutrition. If we took more time to focus on the unequal distribution of wealth and less time worrying about our abs, we could make a difference. Even if we just start by appreciating our own perfect bodies of any shape & size, appreciating the ability to be well fed to the point of wanting to make a change and exercise, that alone would make a tidal wave of difference. 

My time in the Philippines was priceless, filled with family love, eye opening experiences, and first, second, third (we aren’t judging you ever!) rounds of food. Someone described the filipino culture to be similar to a famous dessert of theirs called halo-halo. It translates to “mixed together” because it’s a little bit of everything: shaved ice & evaporated milk which are added to boiled sweet beans, jello and fruits. I will forever cherish the glimpses I saw of true filipino culture, mixed together with the ingredients of generosity and love. 

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Photo shoot in Russia

There is currently a contest for our ship for a new campaign they are launching “the Grass Is Greener” with Celebrity Silhouette! Honestly it makes no sense to me because the grass is greener means the other option is always better….BUT as a crew member if you send in a photo in the grass and win, you get a mac book air! So Mads and I went out and took some photos in St. Petersburg with the hope of winning! The bottom one is the photo i submitted. Here’s to winning! Will let you know if I do!

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Enchanted with Edinburgh

We are somehow on our 7th cruise (time flies when you’re traveling the world!) and this UK/British Isles cruise focuses on the British Open. For anyone that knows me my interests do not lie in sports, let alone GOLF, but 600+ specifically came on board this week to attend the British Open in St. Andrews. Unfortunate weather kept us trapped on the ship the first day we got here so we ended up extending our two day visit to three days! Woo hoo! A crew members dream!

The ship is too large to dock in a port so we have to tender or drop an anchor further away from the shore and take life boats “tender” boats to land. We started our Scottish adventure on the top, outdoor level of the tender boat on a beautiful and sunny Sunday. My California self cannot believe the words out of my mouth when 65 and sunny means “what a gorgeous day”, but that’s what summer in the Baltic and UK will get you! So we made it ashore, a local bus ride later, we were in now rainy Edinburgh. Supposedly Edinburgh experiences four seasons in one day, so you always have to prepare for anything with an umbrella and sunglasses in your bag at all time. I just kept saying it would’t be an authentic Edinburgh experience if we didn’t get a little wet, and nothing was raining on my parade! Perfect segue because as we got off the bus we found ourselves in a parade! It seemed to be some sort of African celebration, with bright costumes, colorful Lion King-esque head pieces and banners. We caught the tail end on Princes St. and then celebrated the cars being blocked on the closed streets as we rebelliously walked through them. Everything was so green and crisp, the architecture was very grey but beautiful and well maintained for how old I imagined it was. We wandered into West Princes Street Gardens after being lured in by drumming and all kinds of music. From the street, theres a ramp and staircase that leads you down into this park that is below the Edinburgh Castle up on this hill. It seemed the parade had ended and led everyone to the main open air auditorium within the gardens. The African celebration continued and we got there just in time to see the rain start and a dance of umbrellas start to pop open, almost as if it was a choreographed thing, as people scattered for shelter. We giggled and I had one of those magical, “I love traveling because this is only going to happen once” moments that the combination of the rain and a new city can often bring and we walked through the gardens. I was overwhelmed by the beautiful green in every direction and the looming castle just above us, it seemed like the whole world was in Edinburgh that day and I couldn’t have been happier. We definitely had landed there on a festive weekend day. We followed our nose out of the gardens and back on the street to a beautiful gothic statue, the Scott Monument.

We started moving in a direction towards the castle, walking down the famous “Royal Mile” street which was crowded with tourists and interesting street performers-mimes, musicians, bagpipes, costumes, statue-like people, there was everything. One fellow in all white (face paint included) patiently froze without even blinking on a bicycle while little kids poked him. One little Scottish boy looked to me and said “there’s no way he’s real, right?”. The only thing I love more than new accents in a foreign city are little adorable kids with those accents. We hustled through the rain and found ourselves in “The Elephant House”, aka the Birthplace of Harry Potter, as the sign on the window explained. Once we managed to wait in line to get an overpriced (but delicious) coffee, we found ourselves in the café that J.K. Rowling wrote the first and second Harry Potter books. (SQUEAL) Supposedly, she had spent her winters writing in there because it was cheaper to get a coffee then pay her electric bill for heat in her apartment. There weren’t any obnoxious signs saying “she sat here” with an arrow, like I had expected, and I thought that was nice. The windows in the main room looked out to the castle so it was easy to imagine her dreaming up Hogwarts and all the HP friends. I will say it had to have been WAY quieter and not so busy for her to get anything done in there.

It just so happened that the Edinburgh Jazz &Blues Festival was going on this month of July! Basti recognized one of the artists as someone he had seen at Berklee before so we made our way to the Festival Theatre to purchase tickets for that evening’s performance. YAY Edinburgh, fueling our musical souls! If we were gonna miss the Fringe festival (a world famous theatre festival all August long) then at least we were managing to soak up some awesome live music! And awesome it was, we saw a Scottish trio, Trio HSK, with Cory Henry a Brooklyn native who shredded on the keys. It reminded me a lot of Berklee jam sesh, about 2 ½ hours of guitar, piano and drums solos but overall very moving. Cory Henry was a solo pianist that had was gospel jazz, and Trio HSK was “academic” as Basti said, “non-intuitive &studied”, in a rock, jazz genre. There was more reading of sheet music and less soulfully felt, but I respect what great musicians they all were. Overall, it was money well spent, to be off the ship and experiencing the local scene. Once it was over it was about 10:30pm and we had four hours before our curfew so as we were planning on heading back to the ship, we bumped into the solo guitarist on the ship, our friend Gordon. So into a bar we went, and we found a goldmine: kilt wearing-rock and roll/ Scottish pub song-playing old men in a band that got the crowd moving and grooving, as we threw back some beers and celebrated feeling like free humans with the evening off! I thoroughly enjoyed Edinburgh with all it had to offer! It’s definitely on the top of my list of places I would like to go back to!

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Paris, Je t'aime!

We took a two hour bus into the city from La Harve, the port our ship was docked at and marveled at this wonderful city. Four hours was a painful amount of city since Basti and I wanted to stay four weeks but we made the most of it! We met up with his friends, Archie and Vita from Berklee that live in the city, had coffee and croissants at Archie’s beautiful apartment and were so happy to be in a home. Then we wandered in Montemarte, my favorite artsy area of the city and bought some paintings from local artists in the area that Van Gogh and Picasso lived many years ago. We then had a crazy experience getting back. Basti thankfully speaks French and asked a woman where we could get a cab in the area because our time was running out. She explained we couldn’t get one close but that she would give us a ride, my stranger danger mentality went off but she was a 40+ year old mom so we hopped in and thankfully she helped us get back to our bus station! Thank god for the kindness of strangers! It was very hard to leave but the race back helped distract us!

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?Channel Islands?

Honesty, the pictures tell more about this lovely island than I can. We were tendered in this port (not to be confused with TINDER the popular dating/sexytime app…I always say the wrong thing) meaning the ship is too large to dock on land therefore creating too much of a current at this harbor. So we have to take the lifeboats to and from the ship to the main land…and it’s a pain in the ass when you’re crew and on time restrictions. The entire UK itinerary consists of tender ports and that’s sort of inconvenient but it is what it is!

Not knowing what to expect, we hopped off and had a gorgeous day. I didn’t learn much about St. Peter’s Port (a second glance at the map, I realized that’s what it was called!) The ship’s information source said it was the Channel Islands, which I learned is multiple islands and this specific one was called Guernsey. It’s been apart of the British Isles from the 18th century, other than that all I know is that wealthy people used to be able to hide money here like Switzerland and Grand Caymen Islands. That’s just a fun fact from the 50+ year old Dave, that plays saxophone in the orchestra. Overall, we enjoyed the warm weather and wandering through the foreign cobblestone town.