Batangas City – Day 1
It wouldn’t be a complete vacation in the Philippines for my family without us visiting my hometown of Batangas City. It’s where we used to live and where I spent my childhood growing up. I still had plenty of family from both my parents’ side living there and we planned to visit as many relatives as we could in the three days we were there.
We stayed at my parents’ “vacation” home, occupied by my dad’s niece Precy and her family, the caretakers whenever my parents were back in Australia. She prepared a sumptuous dinner for us on our arrival, fried tilapia and sinigang na baboy (pork sour soup). I had missed the taste of the fried tilapia fish, one bite and it tasted like home. It was good to be back in Batangas.
The next day was all about visiting my Aunt Nancing and my cousins in Ambulong, away from the bustling city and immersed ourselves into the greenery and the mountains surrounding their town. Apart from the delicious lunch they served, we indulged in tropical fruits freshly picked from the trees that grew in their garden. The guava tree was swollen with long hanging fruit. One, the size of my fist was picked and cut, exposing the tiny edible seeds that riddled the flesh. Maddy enjoyed munching on the crunchy, natural sweet treat. Wifey was after something more sour and while it was just the beginning of mango season, the trees bore fruits that was good enough to pick. My cousin and her husband used a pole with a net at the end of it, yanking the fruits off the tree. It brought back memories of my childhood doing the same thing with my cousins whenever I stayed with them during the school holidays. Not contented with lunch and our fruit dessert, my cousins then surprised us with a serving of lomi, a noodle dish that originated in Batangas that I told them I was craving for! The slippery noodles swam in the thick savoury sauce as I swirled in the soy sauce and calamansi to elevate the taste. It was divine.
In the afternoon, we all headed to my cousin’s house where another feast awaited us. There was fish, pork, salads and Batangas pizza! Another craving of mine was satisfied as I shoved a slice in my mouth. The pizza was a simple bread crust covered in a layer of ketchup (yes!), topped by thinly sliced processed ham and minced beef finished off by melted cheese. It was sweeter than your average pizza but this was the taste that set it apart from other more traditional pizza recipes.
Batangas City Day 2
25 January 2019
SM Mall & Sisig Society
My uncle served as our chauffeur for the day, taking the day off so he could take us around the city and accompany us with visiting my other relatives. Our first stop was the biggest shopping mall in Batangas City, SM Mall. I purchased a few summer shirts that was very affordable compared to the prices back in Melbourne. At the grocery store, we stocked up on food that we planned to bring to our overnight trip the next day.
For lunch, we chose to eat at Sisig Society located in the mall. I ordered a serving of their signature dish, the pork sisig (crispy pig face), nilagang baka (beef soup with vegetables) and pancit palabok (noodles in orange sauce). As soon as the sizzling plate of the sisig was placed on the table, my uncle immediately mixed together the pork pieces lathered in mayonnaise and the raw egg topping making an appetising emulsion that was the perfect accompaniment to the freshly steamed rice.
Another nostalgic moment happened to me when we visited my Aunt Letty’s house. They had recently built their new home on the same land where our old house once stood. As I entered the new dwelling, I imagined where the steps used to be that led to a small balcony where I used to take naps on the floor as a kid. It was the coolest place in the house where the breeze could pass through freely. It was now a concreted entrance.
My aunt was home with my niece Tala who proudly showed her two pet chicks she bought at the fair, one’s feather artificially coloured orange. Maddy was clearly amused by the creatures.
Our last stop was at my Aunt Evelyn’s place where even more animals resided. She had two cats, one dog and a number of chickens that roamed freely in her backyard. They also kept a few prized roosters that crowed proudly in the background.
Batangas / Tagaytay Day 3
26 January 2019
On our way to our planned overnight trip to Tagaytay City, my aunt recommended we stopped at Fantasy World. “What’s Fantasy World?”, I asked. I was told it was an abandoned theme park, remained unfinished all these years due to the global financial crisis. As we stopped by the cliff roadside, we spotted the castle’s colourful towers and facade sprouting out of the vegetation and trees below it. “One thousand pesos for the whole van”, we were told by the guard as we entered the gate within the “kingdom”. I paid the fee at the entrance but was warned not to bring in the water bottle I was holding. It was their policy. I argued that it was for my daughter but they were not going to let it slide.
The grounds were surprisingly buzzing with people. You could tell from the peeling and faded paint work that little had been done to upkeep the place, however it didn’t deter people from taking photos and selfies. Wifey, the kids and I strolled on our own, exploring every nook and cranny we could go into. Maddy and I braved the hanging bridge between two treehouses. The wind swaying us slightly as we crossed to the other side. A rusting mini Ferris wheel stood eerily still, weeds growing around it. Kids gathered around a fountain feeding goldfish (P10 for a bag of fish feed). It didn’t take long for us to circle the whole park. We entered one of the castles and I saw a throne, took a picture of it and a staff member instantly reminded me that no pictures were to be taken unless we pay. The “kingdom” was becoming less fantastic by the minute.
Tagaytay / Sky Ranch
Upon reaching Tagaytay City, we headed straight to Sky Ranch, an amusement park situated on the mountainside. The weather was a cool 21 degrees. It felt even colder due to the wind and a slight drizzle. As we lined up to get inside, the sky cleared and the sun gave a warm welcoming return. Rides were mostly empty, except the huge Ferris wheel where a line of people waited to get a birds-eye view of the volcano. Even on the ground, due to the elevated position of the park, we could still get a decent view of Taal Volcano, one of the smallest active volcanoes in the world. It rose in the middle of Taal Lake.
Since Maddy and Oli were too small for all the rides, we stayed in the children’s section. Together with her cousins, Maddy enjoyed the jumping castles and ball pits. Souvenir stalls lined the perimetre selling keychains, t-shirts and snacks. Plenty of people tried their luck on carnival games available. The basketball ring game proved to be the most popular and easiest game to win a prize where I saw 4 consecutive winners in a row, each taking home a massive donut plush toy.
It was not our first choice for lunch but Gerry’s Grill (conveniently next door to Josephine Restaurant that had an hour waiting time!) certainly delivered with delicious Filipino dishes. Since there were 12 of us in total and very much hungry from the busy morning we had, I ordered plenty of food to share. One of the stand out dishes was the grilled squid, its charred, slightly sweet and tender flesh just melted in my mouth. The oxtail in the kare-kare was gelatinous, falling off the bone, coated in rich peanut sauce. Topped with bagoong (Filipino shrimp paste) on rice, kare-kare was a flavour bomb. The shrimp sinigang’s (hot sour soup) sourness was just right. It was a sumptuous meal!
Half and hour away from Tagaytay, in the province of Amadeo was the location of Casa Manalo, a vacation house I booked via Airbnb. I was sold not just by the amenities listed but also the pictures of the house and surroundings. As I opened the gate, I was amazed to see it was even better in person! The blue watered pool stood out from the green tropical garden that surrounded it. An opened veranda framed the sleeping bungalow, inside a huge single room with a number of beds could be seen. By the pool was the outdoor dining and kitchen, fully equipped with appliances, and utensils for cooking and entertaining.
As soon as we settled in, it was pool time. I knew the pool wasn’t heated and the sun was about to set but Maddy was adamant about swimming. The initial dip came as a shock to my system, it was cold! Maddy didn’t seem to mind the water at first as I held swinging her from left to right, to warm our bodies up. Her cousins Tala and Ysa happily splashed about without a care in the world. Eventually, Maddy put her head on my shoulders and at that point I knew it was time to get out of the water.
We weren’t exactly prepared for dinner as the plan was to drive to the nearest town, however we were all too tired to get dressed and so we settled with preparing the food that we had brought instead. It was a simple yet delicious meal of rice, boiled eggs, dried fish, tomato salad and green mangoes.
Our whole Batangas trip may have been short but it was very important for me to be able to see my close relatives and spend time with them. It was also important for my Wife and my kids to see where I came from and where I grew up. There are more places and things to do that I would like my family to experience and so we will always return to Batangas whenever we are in the Philippines.