Remember the old saying? “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” They watch out for pickpockets.
I momentarily forgot this valuable piece of advice and, as a result, lost my wallet to a beggar in the center of the Catholic faith. Fortunately, my credit cards and driver’s license were in another pocket. But the loss of a few euros and US dollars did not dim one of the most fascinating travels my wife and I had ever undertaken.
It was an 18-day tour bus trip from Lisbon to Fatima in Portugal to Madrid, Zaragoza and Barcelona in Spain, to Lourdes and Marseille in France, to Monaco, and then to Turin, Milan, Venice, Florence and Assisi in Italy, with a stopover in Pisa, and then on to Rome and the Vatican.
Along with 47 mostly FilAm parishioners, we had joined, our Pastor at St. Joseph Church in Pinole, Fr. Geofrey Baraan, on a pilgrimage to holy sites where the Blessed Virgin Mary had apparitions or has been accorded special honors, such as Fatima, where she appeared before the children, Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia; the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragosa built for her by St. James; the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat in the spectacular Benedictine Abbey in the mountain of Montserrat; Lourdes, where St. Bernadette spoke to Mother Mary several times; the town of Assisi of St. Francis, founder of the Franciscan Order, and site of the Shrine of Our Lady of the Angels after which Los Angeles was named(El Pueblo de Nuestro Señora de Los Angeles de Porciuncula).
The pilgrimage culminated in the Vatican in time for the regular Wednesday morning audience that His Holiness Pope Francis held with thousands of his congregation at St. Peter’s Square.
It was a grueling journey, with overnight hotel stops and 4:30 a.m. wake up calls, but made infinitely more pleasant by the prayers and the jokes of Fr. Geofrey, and the nicest pilgrims one can ever have the good fortune of joining.
At a few months short of 80, I’m not exactly in the best physical condition for such a trip, but caring couples (Rod and Flor Diaz, Fred and Araceli Diaz, Jun and Alice Manalo, Joel and Larcy Katindoy and trip coordinator Mellie Von Giese ) made it a point to wait for me in the course of the endless walking tours. Another couple, Dennis and Linda, lent me a walking stick.
If anyone has ever doubted that women are sturdier than men, my wife, Gigi, is living proof. She is just 3 weeks younger than I am but she can sure compete in an Olympic walkathon.
But that’s not the main point of this narrative. The main point is that, having seen much of Europe and America over the years, we have come to realize that there is so much of the Philippines that we need to see before we sail off into the sunset at Manila Bay.
For sure, the cathedrals, basilicas, museums and malls in the great cities of the world are sites that one must endeavor to see if funds allow, but right at home, and not costing a fortune, are beautiful places to visit and beautiful people to meet. The Philippines and my fellow Pinoys.
Last December, my wife and I spent Christmas in the Philippines for the first time in 32 years, and we greeted the New Year in Iloilo, a city that I had not visited for over half a century. To say that we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves would be a gross understatement. A reunion with friends and relatives, the feeling of immortality at the sight of great grand nephews and nieces, the never-ending eating, drinking and karaoke sessions, are much, much more enjoyable than a trip to Paris or Disneyland.
And in Iloilo, I swear I never gorged myself on delectable, succulent talaba in my long existence, Of course our hosts, the Achura and Alvarez siblings of our daughter-in-law, Kathy, imbued the feast with that special ingredient that no Parisian haute cuisine can match. But, even without that, I would pit Ilonggotalaba against anyone’s oyster treasure trove anywhere in the world.
This brings to mind my advertising client from Frankfurt, Wolfgang Schoen, whom we treated to a bushel of talaba at Josephine’s in Cavite, decades ago. He couldn’t believe we Pinoys were consuming oysters by the bushel.
“In Frankfurt,” said Wolfgang, “if I were to dine on oysters, I would hope some acquaintances would see me and be impressed. And here, you serve them by the bushel!”
Well, I have news for Wolfgang. He should dine on Iloilotalaba. To die for!
I am constantly embarrassed whenever I discuss the Philippines with my friends from Northern California, Dan and Nancy Harrington, the angels who conceived Books for the Barrios. They have visited and enjoyed more of the land of my birth than I can hope to see in my remaining years.
No, I’ve never been to Boracay, but white sand beaches are not my idea of fun. What I would love to visit are Palawan and Bohol. And there is so much of Mindanao and Northern Luzon that I need to see. And my home province of Leyte. And my wife’s home province of Albay. And much of Central and Southern Luzon are waiting to be visited.
My son Ringo, who resides in Manila, says he will arrange for us to shoot the rapids in Pagsanjan on our next visit to the Philippines. And then Palawan which, I heard, is like a Garden of Eden. The last time Ringo took us on a trip, it was to Baguio City.
Of course, my wife and I would still like to travel to far away places with strange sounding names. In fact, we’re scheduled to visit Central America in the fall. But after that recent European tour, I want to make sure that our next overseas trip is to the Philippines.
Indeed, it takes traveling the world to appreciate your homeland more.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.