At the end of October for 8 days, I had spent time traveling to the land where a series of islands create a country called the Philippine Islands. From the busy streets of Manilla to the humble town of Roxas and then finally the ever so gorgeous Boracay Beach, I learned a lot about the land from which my wife’s parents come from. A land filled with many promises but a lot of work is still needed in getting the country to where she needs to be. Here is my journey…
Distant family is usually reunited by one of two ways, a wedding or a funeral. Luckily this happy story is about the union of two lovebirds, my wife’s first cousin Alexys and now his charming wife Danica. Our trip consisted of my wife, son, father in-law, mother in-law, brother in-law, sister in-law and my niece. Our flight out of LAX was on a Tuesday red eye and consisted of a 16 hour trip to Manilla. It was an hour longer than anticipated because the plane was carrying cargo over the ideal limit and we had to stop in Honolulu for fuel. What made it feel even longer was the fact they put us on a smaller airline because it didn’t meet the Boeing 777 passenger minimum and we had no wifi, power outlets and the nearest entertainment TV was a 7” screen that was 6 rows ahead of me. It felt like 1992 all over again. Luckily I downloaded one song to my iPhone and listened to it for 12 hours straight…. “Goodnight, Travel Well” by the Killers…. it’s a deep dark song and makes my mind drift…
Before I continue, I want to talk a bit about photography gear. It has been a long time struggle with me balancing professional gear and gear that is small enough for me to travel with. When I was shooting in 2003, I just wanted bigger and bigger cameras but as time progressed, my body was more inclined to using gear that was smaller in size. I ended up lugging around a Sony A7s mirrorless camera with a Metabones adapter connected to a Canon 24-70mm 2.8 Mark II. The thing is, the A7s is small but once you add the adapter and the lens, the camera setup is just bulky as a traditional DSLR. I didn't even walk to walk around with the camera so many times I didn't. In actuality, most of the stuff you see on this trip was shot with my Apple iPhone 6. The camera right in my pocket did the job. I should of taken a smaller setup like the Olympus OMD EM5 with the 12-35mm 2.8. Lesson learned for the next trip. Now back to the story...
Upon landing in Manilla, I was not ready for the madness that awaited in the streets. By the time we got our bags and hit the city streets, it was about 7:30am and we were right in the middle of rush hour traffic. You see, traffic in Manilla is not like traffic in Southern California. I thought LA traffic was bad but at least it moves. Sitting in Manilla traffic is miserable because not only does it not move but the pollution from the vehicles are not regulated. At least that was my conclusion as you can smell the toxins in the air as if you were sucking it right out of the exhaust pipe.
Most of the locals ride on jeepney's (low profile buses that is easier to get in and out of) or they overload themselves on tiny scooters. There are no basic rules for driving on the mean streets. If you get in a lane first, enter the intersection before the flow of traffic arrives, late breaking, etc... it is all fair game.
The conversion rate from US Dollars to Philippine Peso was $1 US Dollar for 46 Pesos. So I started with $100 USD and ended up with 4600 Pesos. So what do we first when we get there? We head straight over to Chow King and load up on deep fried fast food. As we sat there eating breakfast, we had two local boys about the age of 4 and 8 come knocking on the window begging for money. They just sat there watching us eat. It is heart breaking watching such young kids on their own looking for money to survive but it was an all too common story we saw throughout our trip.
Our first hotel at Bayview Park was a simple one. Right along the side of a very busy highway, our room had a bed, shower and a connection to a very slow internet but it was enough to handle some emails and get in some Instagram time. We had to wake up at 2am and head back to the airport and take a domestic flight to the island of Roxas where we were going to meet my wife's cousin and fiance and get ready for the big wedding day. When I was looking at the traffic on the highway, not once did it let up until 1am where it was starting to free up.
One of my favorite things I love about traveling is trying new foods and learning what the locals do in their own town. Technically Filipino food is not new to me, I have eaten it for a long time but it was my first time eating it in the Philippines...
This day, we met with the rest of the family and had a beautiful lunch on a hilltop. It was a hot day but in the shade, the breeze kept us cool and the slights were so tropical, it finally made me feel like I was on vacation. We were met with warm smiles and warm foods to fill out bellies. Here are some snaps of lunch that day. It was lunch in paradise.
Later that evening, we had dinner at the pre-wedding dinner hosted by my wife's cousin's fiance Danica's father. Wow that was a long sentence with a lot of 's lol. It was a muggy evening but filled with lots of love and laughter. We were also surrounded by lightning storms and as I ran out to the beach to capture some lightning strikes, I kept missing them cause the Sony A7s long exposure takes forever to process photos. Every time the shutter would come down, lightning would strike. Below is the only shot I got.
Methuse's cousin Alexys and Danica got married in an old cathedral. It had the longest processional walkway I have ever seen. I wish I had taken more photos at the wedding but I didn't have my camera on me and my iPhone wasn't setup to do a decent shot inside the dark church but I captured a photo at the rehearsal the day before.
It was a beautiful ceremony surrounded by lots of family. Danica looked gorgeous on her special day and Alexys got married a very happy man. One thing that made the wedding tough to bear were all of the "Uncle Bob's" and "Aunt Suzy's" with their massive iPads and iPhones out and blocking the walkway directed people for photos... You are not a director and you are not a photographer... please move over so the groom may see his bride. Ugh some people.
The following day, we headed to Boracay Beach, a touristy beach with gorgeous white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. It was about a 2.5 hour journey since there was a lot of traffic along the way. It was another national holiday where people go visit the grave of past loved ones.
As we headed to the ferry transfer station, we were give sneak peeps of what Boracay Beach was going to be like.
Once we got to the beach, it was all rest and relaxation from there. We got to play in the warm shallow waters, go snorkling, eat and eat again, ride the banana boat and collect shells from island hopping. We got to see the famous Manny Pacquiao's former house turned into a hotel and a lot of the locals and how they hustled to make their bread.
It was a compact 7 days. We laughed, filled our hearts and souls, met distant relatives, showed Calvin how people live in another country, witnessed a union of two soulmates and got to travel as a unit to a new land.
Sorry that I didn't include photos of more faces but due to privacy, I wanted to keep this blog about the experience rather than make it a family album publicly displayed for all to see. Got to keep some things private ;)
Looking back, I struggled a lot with how much I wanted to be in "work" mode capturing photos to their highest quality vs being a "tourist" and just trying to enjoy the week that I was there. In the end, I am satisfied with the photos but wished I had more time to have captured it more from a professional stand point. Life is a fine balance between work and play and I think I captured a sense of that.
Thank you to my father and mother in law for making all of this happen, Alexys and Danica for inviting us to your special day and to the people of the Philippines for welcoming us to your land. It was a real treat for us to have experienced your splendor.