Merry Christmas “Maayong Pasko”
Welcome to Cebu the sign says as we enter the ferry port after our trip from Bohol. A quick look at my facebook messages and a quick hello to say “Aunty we are here” we head out to the front with all our luggage and finally reunite with some family.
A quick side note– I (Nick) am half Filipino on my mum’s side and I have a large family in the Philippines.
So this year we decided to spend Christmas in the Philippines and my parents also decided to fly out to join us and the rest of the family. We arrived at the port first, my parents were stuck in Singapore due to the typhoon currently passing through the country. My aunt and cousin picked us up and we all went for a BBQ lunch together which was nice. My aunt was going to wait until my parents arrived so we took the bus with my cousin Jonel back to the house in Sangat, Cebu. There was hardly any traffic which was surprising for Cebu, and it only took less than 2 hours to get there. Once we stepped off the bus two more cousins greeted us Grace-Mae and Joy. We hopped on to a bike taxi (habu habu) and made a quick journey up the hill to the house.
Each time we go back something has changed slightly, we were greeted by more cousins, and a slightly older Sam Sam (cousins daughter) who was suddenly not afraid of us this time. She was very interested in everything we had which meant we had a good time laughing while she tried to play Sassi’s recorder and going through all our stuff.
My parents finally arrived at the house at around 11 pm tired after a long delay and a long flight from the UK straight to bed after our hellos and being reunited.
While travelling we have had very limited space for buying things it usually means one new thing, donate something else due to lack space or weight limits while flying. So we have not had the chance to do any Christmas shopping so the first morning here we left for the big shop Gaisano to do our Christmas gift shopping. Prices are so much cheaper than in the UK and it meant we were able to buy many gifts for the large family that will be staying at the house, lots of toys and chocolates.
Leading up to Christmas meant more family arriving, and by the time we got to 22nd we had a full house of 20 people, 5 of them were children and 1 baby. This was the most people I have ever celebrated Christmas with before. The day before Christmas eve we went on a journey in our own private multi-cab (converted truck into a bus), our plan was to see family near the city of Cebu. This turned out to be a crazy day for driving around and the journey home ended up being three times as long as it should have been due to the busy Christmas rush, this was not fun in the multi-cab and we only just made it to a place to eat at 9pm. Naga city had some lovely lights and we were planning on walking around but by this time it was 10pm and everyone was tired.
Today the plan was to have turkey which my aunt has been looking after in the garden for a few months, no ovens here as they are not very common to have, like in most Asian countries, so it had to be boiled. In the Philippines, the main event is Christmas Eve rather than Christmas day like in the UK so it was more similar to Hungary. We made paper chain decorations out of Christmas wrapping paper to place around the house and dining table.
The first part was the food, we had lots of food together after I said a prayer and did a little talk about what the true meaning of Christmas is talking about how to keep Jesus as part of the season. My dad brought some Christmas crackers along they don’t have these here so the kids had no idea what to do with them and seemed unsure about them, but after a while, they got into it and got the prize and a paper hat.
After this Sassi was in charge of the nativity play that she put together with the kids and a few adults. So many people meant she had lots of choices for people to act. This was fun and everyone had a good time. Next part was games that my aunt was in charge and got everyone together to play paper dance and musical chairs. It was fun and everyone was laughing and enjoying the moment.
Then the Christmas gifts part of the night came, all the presents were passed out and no one seemed to be opening the gifts they all seemed happy to collect them up. Later on, they went into their rooms to open them up like it was a secret. It was a change for me to celebrate Christmas with so many kids and it was very fun to see the happiness and joy on their faces.
We all stayed up until midnight and raised our glasses to say, Maayong Pasko, Merry Christmas.
Today we had more family coming over, second cousins, and they ordered a lechon which is the roasted pig, this was delivered to save the hassle of doing it ourselves as my uncle who usually does this was not here. We ate together at lunch this time and had lots of pork and rice. We played games together and had punishments for the losers, which was go sing carols down the street. Singing carols here is a big thing but everyone seems to wait until they get a little tip, so each time someone sings my little cousins go out to give them a few pesos.
Not called boxing day here but it is how I remember it, lots of left over meat from the pig was the main meal of the day. Carry on playing games and entertain the little kids or well maybe they were entertaining us.
Holiday together- Dalaguette
My parents booked a large house in Dalaguete, Cebu which was only about 1hour 30 minutes away, but it was a little holiday for the whole family staying. We arrived slightly early and the house was amazing, it was large, but once we entered the house it was like WOW look at that sweeping staircase and chandelier with high ceilings. It even had a private swimming pool and a pool table. The rooms were huge and the whole interior had a very fancy, posh look to it. It was right next to the sea with a lovely view from the balcony.
Although after we settled in some of the downsides appeared: the wifi did not work, which we needed for work, the owners did nothing to fix the issue. Broken showers and thing appliances not working, light bulbs that have not been changed, areas of the house have not been well maintained. We have stayed in all kinds of places but the annoying part was my parents paid a fair sum of money to stay here and the owners had no intention of fixing the issues or even offering some money back.
We all jumped into the pool right after, this was fun except the pool was super deep and only a few could swim so everyone stayed on the kid’s side which was very small. At the end of the day, it was fun having our very own pool to just swim and splash about in.
The next day it just rained all morning and early afternoon so it seemed like a house day which was not an issue because it looked great inside and it was comfortable. It finally stopped and we rushed out to make our way to Osmena peak which is the highest peak on Cebu island. Only a few of us went but as we got closer to the peak the weather took over and suddenly it was very misty and cloudy so going up to the top was pointless as we could not see anything. We made our way back down making a stop at the vegetable area which is what this area is famous for, as it has a cooler climate. Luckily the weather got better and we were able to take in the amazing views from the road as we drove back.
Next morning we got up early and got picked up to make our way to Oslob for the whale sharks tour. This is one of the main reasons some people come to the island as you have a chance to swim with the big whale sharks. Once we arrived the place was full, we had to sign in our names and country citizenship and listen to a safety briefing about swimming with the sharks, if you touch a shark or wear sun cream you could be fined or imprisoned. We then paid.
Foreigner snorkel 1000 pesos and 500 for staying in the boat, Locals can snorkel for 600 and stay in the boat for 300. We had a group of 11 of us but only Sassi and I went snorkelling.
The wait was long as you had to wait for your number to be called out and there were only a set amount of boats, and lots of people waiting. After what felt like an hour of waiting (did not have a watch) we finally got our life jacket and snorkel and made our way to the beach but then had to wait for another 15 minutes for the boat. We finally got on and we all just about fit on the small paddle boat, not the best place for taking non-waterproof gadgets or bags. The area for viewing the whale sharks was not very far away but the water was a little rough.
We finally got to jump in and from the top, we could only really see the whale sharks mouth but once we were under water you could see the full size of them which was a bit daunting at first especially when they swam so close to us. It was amazing to see and one of the best snorkel experiences we have ever had. We had around 30 minutes in the water and got lots of chances to see the whale sharks along with some other colourful fish.
We then made our way to the waterfalls, once we arrived we were told that you will get very wet and the route is quite a hard to climb so it was advisable to hire the shoes which we did, it was made up of 5 levels. Due to the climbing, my dad only stayed at level one and Sassi at level 2. The waterfalls were pretty amazing, and you really had to walk and climb the rocks to get to the top, this is why it was mandatory to have a guide with you at all times. Even some sections required a rope to climb up. It was a great place to walk up and swim around and the Falls made a nice massage.
New Years Eve
We were back in the family house together and the plan for the evening was food, games and watching the fireworks. It was a Sunday so we did a church service in our bedroom with the kids and a couple of the older cousins, it was fun and a good way of getting the kids involved in worship. The rest of the day was set aside for cooking and resting as with all new years eve’s it means staying up late so the little ones needed a nap, and maybe some of the bigger ones… especially as here everyone wakes up at 5-6am except us.
The evening started with food, a large spread of chicken and side dishes to fill us up followed by ice cream and chocolate. After this we just played many, many games together and by 11 pm our faces were aching from the laughing and all energy zapped from our bodies but luckily it was approaching midnight which meant Filipino snack time. We ate mostly sweet snacks and we all sat around just eating until midnight came and we raised our glasses. It is pretty normal for fireworks on New years eve but here in the Philippines, it goes crazy. Fireworks everywhere, people throw firecrackers down the road, cars honking their horns, people revving their engines. This goes on for more or less 2 hours and the music carries on all night which we found out when we were woken up again at 4 am to someone singing karaoke. It was lovely spending the night playing games, the my little cousins are very funny and cute which makes it so enjoyable.
We left the day after New years day to stay closer to the airport as traffic can be pretty bad in Cebu so seemed to be the safest thing to do, it turned out that there was no traffic to get to the hotel, so we got there early. The hotel was called Cebu White Sands and was a lovely place, it has a private beach and two swimming pools but we were only going to be there for one night so couldn’t make the most of it. We said our final goodbyes to my cousin, aunt and uncle, it is always a bit emotional leaving everyone and we could see one of the little girls was upset about us leaving. Luckily the next day when we were at the airport most of my family were flying back from the domestic terminal so we managed to sneak in, the international and domestic areas are right next to each other so it was easy to do. We managed to say another set of goodbyes although Sam Sam refused to look at us.
Our time spent in the Philippines with family has been awesome, spending Christmas here has been a great way to celebrate especially during our travels. It has been really nice seeing familiar faces and my parents flying out to see us. We have now experienced what it is like to have Christmas in a hot and humid country which is quite tough when we have both spent every Christmas in the freezing cold but what made it great was being with family so who cares if it is hot or cold for Christmas we had an awesome time. Also very thankful to my parents for treating us during the trip which helped us save a little on accommodation costs. From the photos you can see we spent a lot of time surrounded by kids which was fun.