Location: Boracay, Western Visayas Region, The Philippines
This morning, I woke up to the sound of pans clinking and a familiar smell: pan-fried corn beef hash, onions, eggs, and honey-drizzled pan de sal (slightly sweet bread rolls). It’s a dish I grew up on and hadn’t had since I’d moved out from my parents’. When I came out of my room, I met the chef, Butch, a friend of Mama Annie. He was staying in the spa’s other extra room and was excited to have company for breakfast. He grabbed another plate and piled it high with meat and eggs.
I sat down with him at a little bamboo table beside the spa’s garden, which was carved into three sections: a vegetable garden, a bright flower-filled area, and a zen-esque rock path that led back to the spa area. The table overlooked the vegetables. A cockfighting rooster stood on a post a few feet from me, staring as I ate. Two kittens crawled around in the tall grass. A man with a ponytail stood on a ladder, nailing a fallen shingle back onto a shed roof.
Butch is a real estate agent and a professional cockfighter breeder. As we chatted, I learned that he’s originally from Baguio, which is only an hour’s bus ride away from my mom’s hometown. Even though he’s 60, he still has a full head of thick, black hair. I told him I was going to hang out with Annifer and the kids and asked if he’d like to join us, but he only shook his head. He told me that he visits Boracay often, but never leaves the tranquility of the spa garden.
“Too many people. I’ll be here reading when you come back.” Butch said.
After breakfast, I back to the village via trike to meet my adopted Filipino family, carrying with me a whole raw chicken in a leaking plastic bag. When I arrived, the kids were already soaked and chasing each other around on the street in wet clothes. I dropped the chicken off with Mama Annie, who laughed when she saw it; I don’t think she believed that I’d actually pick one up. Annifer told me Rafi was upstairs, but she’d come down to the beach with us for a swim. As we waited, the troupe of dark-haired, shouting youngsters took turns using my camera to photograph each other. They’d put on funny faces and squeal with joy when the images came up on the LCD screen. I laughed with them.
As I watched the kids play, I was taken back to my childhood summers in Indiana, where my cousins and I would run around barefoot in our aunt’s backyard, chasing fireflies and rough-housing. We’d spend full evenings holding Mortal Combat tournaments or telling ghost stories and daring each other to stand inside my aunt’s spooky shed. There was no end to the amusement, from five-hour long, intense hide and seek tournaments to popsicle-eating-brainfreeze contests. At dinner, our parents would call us inside and we’d take a break to eat fried rice and adobo.
I felt right at home here, hanging out in the kitchen with Annifer, watching the kids run around. When Rafi finally came down and greeted me with a big hug, we went to the beach, which was actually just a cement dock behind a Korean restaurant. We climbed through a hole in the fence and down a skinny dirt alley to the waterfront. As non-traditional as the setting was, the water itself was clear and gorgeous. Rafi, two of the older boys, and I saw up to one of the docked outriggers and climbed all over the balance beams, doing flips off the sides. The waiters knew the family and snuck us paper cups of Korean stir-fry, which we picked at with our fingers between swimming excursions.
As I watched Rafi splashing around, doggy paddling through the water and laughing at her own jokes, I couldn’t help but smile at her joy for life. I could tell why she was trouble; she kept asking the staff at the restaurant to sneak her some liquor. But her family had been so determined that I not stay with her, calling her “crazy” and “dangerous.” I felt for her. I didn’t know what she’d done in the past, why everyone was so disappointed in her, but she just seemed like she needed a friend.
When we came back to the house, Mama Annie had cooked chicken adobo, squid stuffed with chopped mangoes and onions, and rice. It was awesome. Everyone insisted I eat and take second helpings before they dug in, though, which was a little awkward. I was still full from breakfast and wasn’t sure if it was rude for me to not finish my plate.
After lunch, I spent some time me-time on the beach, reading The Godfather, digesting another stuffing meal, and enjoying the sun. And when I arrived back at the spa late in the evening, Butch had cooked yet another feast and was determined that I share it with him. This time, the table was set with all kinds of seafood: grilled eel in a creamy garlic sauce, smoked stonefish, snails simmered in a muddy brown sauce, and rice. I ate until my stomach hurt, spooning soft chunks of eel and flaky stonefish bits into my mouth with rice. I loved that everyone only used a spoon and a fork to eat (the same as how I was raised). As we feasted, we drank beers that I’d picked up at the market. Then, Annifer and her sister arrived and the three of us hit the beachfront bars, drinking their favorite apple-flavored beers. Filipinos eat while they drink, and so yet again I found myself snacking, this time on sisig (chopped, stir-fried pig face).
At the end of the night, Annifer gave me a little booklet about Boracay to remember the island by and made me promise I’d come back within the year, next time with a boyfriend.