Back in June 2008, during my first trip to the Philippines, I visited the One Hundred Islands National Park in Pangasinan.
That trip was a dream come true.
I had been dreaming to visit the tropics since I was a child. I remember going every year with my parents to our summer-house in Southern Italy, a place where water is crystal clear and that, under certain aspects, resembles the tropics, even though corals are almost non-existent there and the sea fauna is not anywhere near what I used to see in documentaries about the tropics. So, whenever my parents took me there, I pretended that I was in some exotic island and, therefore, I grew up with a burning desire to see the tropics.
But it was not until I married my wife that my dream came true.
The paradox is that my visit to the One Hundred Island was the only day I saw the sea during my first trip to the Philippines (the second time, having learned the lesson, I planned things a lot differently and I spent 10 days by the sea).
During my first visit of the Philippines, in order to get my wife to go to the sea I really had to struggle and wrestle.
One reason is that she had not gone home to see the sea, rather, like most expatriate Filipinos, the purpose of her travel was to be with her family.
Another reason is that, like most Filipinos, my wife’s idea of relaxation is going to the shopping mall, eating out at some fast-food chain, watching TV, partying and so on. I realized just how little most Filipinos care about their coral reefs and white sandy beaches.
The landscape of the country is more about giant karatulas or billboards, shopping malls and fast-food chains than about beaches and the exotic scenarios are somewhere in the background, light years away from the minds and hearts of most Filipinos.
The country is so obsessed with the American culture that for many locals the ocean hardly exists.
The island where the bankero or boatman dropped us and where I had my first opportunity ever to snorkel in tropical waters and admire multi-colored corals and giant clams, was Lopez Island, one of the small coral islets of the One Hundred Islands archipelago
But while getting out of the boat and onto the beach, an unlikely sight took me aback: a huge karatula or billboard advertising a popular Filipino brand of hot dogs was dominating the landscape of that amazing island with an unbelievable white-sandy beach and an incredible underwater world!
To this day I keep staring at the picture I took on that day of June 2008, a picture that is a metaphor of a culture where the pristine beauty of the country arouses so little interest among most Filipinos who, evidently, prefer hot dogs, burgers, fried chicken and window shopping at the shopping mall to the sheer beauty of their country.
If you marry a Filipina you will highly likely bump into one who is not that enthusiastic about corals, dolphins, giant clams and who probably can’t even swim.
The karatula I saw in Lopez Island has become a symbol of what my relationship with my Filipino wife is like and of what the culture shock with a Filipina is like.
For decades I had been dreaming of marrying an exotic woman whom I could bliss out on an exotic island with. Both dreams have come true.
I have married an exotic woman and I have been with her on an exotic island, but while my spirit was more in sync with the underwater world, my wife’s spirit was more attuned with the karatula and what it symbolizes: one of the most beautiful (if not the most beautiful) tropical countries in the world in which the exotic beauty is largely overwhelmed by karatulas, mega malls and fast-food chains.