On my past trips to Manila, I've barely been able to get out of the crowded, 10-million populated metropolis. Yesterday, however, my mom and I were invited by one of her cousins to Tagaytay in Batangas, one of the provinces south of the city. Sitting in the back of the 9-person, air-conditioned van, I watched as we sped down the flyover (freeway) out of the city, past the smog-filled skies and shacks along the road that transformed into cloudy skies, open fields and rice terraces. In the distance, it was possible to see the mountains near Laguna de Bay, whose peaks were covered by clouds, hiding their height. Despite being in the provinces, away from traffic, there was no lack of construction along the way. Many developers, especially foreign investors from China and Korea, have been building gated communities, hotels and resorts on the untouched land. During the two-hour trip, my mom and her cousin and friends held lively conversations in English, Spanish and Tagalog. Thankfully, they speak Spanish slowly enough here that I can actually understand it and try to participate in the conversation. They were all very sweet, but it's amazing how point-blank their questions were, including whom I voted for in the recent election. I don't even know how many times people here have asked me if I'm married yet or not. One of the ladies in the car even offered to introduce me to her grandson, but I just smiled politely and didn't say anything.
When we finally arrived in Tagaytay, I looked out on one of the most breathtaking and beautiful sights I've ever traveled to: the Lake Taal. When we got out of the car I experienced a feeling I never had before in the Philippines: I was cold. One of the first stops was at my mom's cousin's vacation home: a three-story, modern Filipino-style dream home over looking the lake. Although there is a steep price of $600 USD per night, the dark, wooden house could easily fit 10 people (maybe even 20) among all of the beds already in the place (at least 4 per story) and massive living rooms with attached balconies on each floor. The Hamptons will never even come close in comparison. Unfortunately, it's just too far to fly to from the United States for a weekend getaway. What makes the lake special is that it surrounds an active volcano, which spews every few years and erupted as recently as 20 years ago. We drove around the province for a bit, past burgeoning pineapple fields and palm trees along the cascading mountains down a narrow road, barely big enough for only one car going by at a time.
After lunch, we stopped at a fruit stand on the way back, where some of the ladies in the car bought a lot of tropical fruits, including pineapples, coconuts and durian. I decided to hop out and play photojournalist, chronicling the women bargaining ruthlessly with the local sellers, and one woman insisting on selling my mom and her cousin some espasol, a long, chewy candy wrapped in white paper made out of rice flour, milk and sugar, resembling a large pastilla but no caribao milk. But my mom refused, since she doesn't ever like buying cooked goods off the side of the road. " You don't know how or what kind of conditions these things were cooked in."
While I was stuffed after lunch (chicken adobo, kare-kare with peanut sauce and mango ice cream), after such a long drive back in traffic and rain, my tummy was rumbling. And for some unknown reason, I craved something I almost never want to eat in the United States. So on the way home, we stopped at a McDonald's drive-thru window and I got chicken nuggets. I don't know why, but it was good.