Sunsets in the Philippines

I live in the outskirts of Rome, a place where apartment buildings close to one another make it almost impossibile to appreciate a nice sunset in full view and unobstructed by factories and buildings.

There are actually amazing sunsets by the sea here in Italy, but few people who go on vacation in a popular Italian sea resort spend hours contemplating an amazing sunset.

Sunset time by the sea here in Italy is usually as hectic as city life. People get in their cars and get stuck in traffic to get to a disco, a pizzeria or a restaurant or, if you are at the beach there is usually so much distraction in the form of people playing beach volley or listening to loud music, that the last thing people do is stare at the sunset for as long as it lasts.

I had my first opportunity to really do nothing but stare, for several consecutive evenings, at the sunset and really soak it in, while in La Union, Northern Philippines.

I spent 10 days in the small barrio of Damortis and, because there was not really anything else to do in that village, I got to really allow myself to fully enjoy several sunsets in a row and get utterly mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the tropical sunsets of the Philippines.

What is amazing is that you don’t really need to go to a white-sandy beach to be stunned by the beauty of tropical sunsets in the Philippines, actually even staring at the sunset on Roxas Boulevard in Manila will do (and all the more so because it seems like they did some serious cleaning there recently).

So, my advice, if you plan to visit the Philippines with your Filipino spouse is: don’t miss the chance to set aside quality (and quantity) time to admire a Filipino sunset and really soak it in. I guarantee you that it will prove to be by far one of the most rewarding experiences you can have in the Perlas ng Silangan.

Bulacan (Central Luzon): a Place you can’t Afford to Bypass

My wife comes from the province of Bulacan, a place that is close to the congested city of Manila and much of the province is pretty polluted and chaotic, particularly the towns and villages that are situated along the National Highway that leads to Isabela.

Yet, from my wife’s barangay I could spot mountains in the distance and, by looking at the map, I found out that those mountains (known as Sierra Madre Ranges) are rather uncharted and largely unexplored. In fact, by closely looking at the map I could not see any roads that connect the province of Bulacan to the Pacific coast.

So, since I had come to terms with the fact that my wife would hardly move from Bulacan (as I said in some of my previous posts when Filipinos go home they completely focus on spending time with their family and it isn’t easy for their Western marriage mate to get them to travel) I decided to go for the uncharted and unexplored mountains that are situated only 30 km or so from my wife’s barangay.

Although I didn’t really get to hike in the middle of the thick jungle, I managed to get my wife’s uncle to take me to the edge of it, as far as we could get by driving in a jeep on very rough roads.

I got to explore hidden rivers, waterfalls and even an underground river (in a place called Bulusukan, near barangay Akle).

The bottom line is that, although I had visited the Philippines with the idea that Bulacan was just my wife’s birthplace, and therefore, a place where I would stay as little as possible, I ended up falling in love with it because of the endless possibilities that the remotest parts of the province offer to experience amazing adventure.

Obviously I was able to get to those areas only because I’ve got connections there and I know people who can take me there safely.

I guess that those areas, which are known as the hiding place of the NPA, are not the safest possible for a tourist who wants to go off on his own.

Yet, if your wife is Bulaquenya or from a nearby province, and your local relatives are willing to take you to the remotest parts of the Sierra Madre I recommend that you go for it. Don’t just bypass Bulacan.

I am not saying these things because I am trying to advertise my wife’s province. What I am saying is that the Philippines have much more to offer than just Boracay, Palawan and other world class tourist spots.

As for me, the next time I visit the Philippines, I will definitely stay in Bulacan and explore as much as I can in the mountain area known as Sierra Madre.

The Karatula on a White-sandy Beach

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.

Visiting your Filipino Wife’s Place can be an Opportunity to Travel Off the Beaten Track

I mentioned in one of my posts that when Filipinos go home to the Philippines, they generally want to stay home with their family and relatives, so, if you wish to visit some exotic beaches when you visit the Philippines with your Filipino wife, you have to figure out a win-win solution.

What I suggested in a previous post is to book in advance a flight to some island where you can have a proper vacation , maybe Palawan, Coron or wherever it is that you would like to travel, before you actually go to your wife’s hometown because, once you are in your wife’s birthplace she will probably not want to go anywhere else.

Nevertheless, even staying in your wife’s birthplace could be an enjoyable experience even if her place is not a tourist spot. Actually, the fact itself that your wife’s hometown is likely not a tourist spot could make your stay there even more interesting than visiting the coral reefs or the white-sandy beaches.

As far as I am concerned, spending most of the time in the Philippines in my wife’s hometown turned out to be a blessing in disguise…

My wife’s hometown (San Ildefonso, Bulacan) is far from any white-sandy beaches and there seems to be nothing exciting to do in the barangay or in the barrio.

However I discovered that within 30 or 40 square miles there are interesting places such as a virgin jungle, waterfalls, rivers and even an underground river that no one ever bothered to advertise and those places are definitely off the beaten track and the only way to get there is by means of a jeep and strictly accompanied by locals, and those are places where no Western tourist has ever been to except myself (apart I guess from the Spaniards a few centuries ago).

So, even if there is no famous tourist spot to visit in your wife’s area, the idea itself of being the only foreigner who ever set foot there could, in and of itself, make your vacation.

As for me, the time I spent in the Sierra Madre Ranges in Bulacan visiting such unknown spots as the Bulusukan river, the Sierra Madre jungle, the Madlum river etc. proved to be a lot more interesting than snorkeling in Bolinao or the One Hundred Islands National Park for example.

So, the next time you visit your Filipino wife’s hometown, if her place is situated somewhere in the province, before concluding that the only way you can enjoy your vacation in the Philippines is by going elsewhere, try to ask your wife’s relatives, especially those who have jeeps, if they can take you to some off the beaten track place nearby that can only be reached by driving on rough roads.

I did it and that was the real highlight of my experience in the Philippines.