That’s me sitting on the couch between my mom and dad. My brother, Michael, is the boy sitting next to dad. We look like the happy family, don’t we? The truth of the matter is that my mother and father separated when I was just a baby, and I never saw my dad again until this photo was taken nearly 6 or 7 years later. When my mom and dad split my brother went to live with my dad in the Philippines, and I stayed here with my mother in the states. Over the next 40 years, my dad and I saw each other a handful more times when he finally moved back to California. I never got the opportunity to visit the Philippines like my brother, and it’s been on my bucket list for as long as I’ve had one.
My father and I talk regularly now and over the past few years I’ve learned a lot more about my family in the Philippines. I learned that my great grandmother’s last name was Locsin and from a very prominent family. My family name is Navas and we are from the province of Bacolod in Negros Occidental. We are also related somehow to the Montelibano families and the Ledesma families as well. I’m not exactly sure what our family tree looks like, but I do know our family owned a sugar plantation at one time and my father still has land somewhere in the area. I never got to know any of my family members that well, but in 1985 a bunch of us got to meet while I was in California visiting my dad. I only wish I had enjoyed it more and asked more about our culture and my heritage.
Now that you know a little about me you will get an idea of how excited I was to find out the TBEX was having a conference in the Philippines in October 2016. I was even more excited that they were looking for bloggers to visit and experience the islands. There was an application process, and you had to pitch which area (culture/heritage, luxury, adventure) you felt you would be the best fit for and why. Of course, I picked Culture and Heritage and shared a bit about my families story. I honestly never thought I would hear anything back. You can only imagine the shock and awe I experienced when I got the email congratulating me that I would be visiting Ilocos to experience their culture and heritage and although that was nowhere near Negros I was still so honored to have been chosen!
The Culture & Heritage of the Philippines: Day One
I’ve never flown any further than NY to LA, so I wasn’t sure what to expect flying from Orlando to NYC to Japan and finally into Manila. It was a very long trip, but I was so excited I didn’t sleep at all the entire time which really worked out well for me since I arrived in Manila at 8:30 pm. For the entire time in the Philippines, I didn’t experience any jet lag. The flights were uneventful, and once I arrived at Hotel Jen, a very nice upscale, artsy hotel geared toward millennials. immediately texted one of my cousins, Oscar to let him know I had arrived. We had made plans the day before to get together and to finally meet for the first time. He had been waiting on my arrival and we (along with his friend Dr. Jeff) embarked on a foodie tour of Manila.
I was immediately surprised by the number of people out on the streets at night. My cousin was helping me weave in and out of the traffic and around the kid’s looking to sell their handmade toys in search of money. It was very apparent that my skin tone was a signal for the children and in a matter of minutes, I felt like the pied piper walking the street with a trail of children calling out to me to purchase something from them. We were in walking distance of the landmark eaterie, The Aristocrat, famous for their bone-in BBQ chicken.
We sampled a few items from the menu including:
- Bangus (Milk fish)
- Lumpiang Sariwa
- Chicken Barbecue w/ Java Rice and Java Sauce
- Puto Bumbong
Although the meal was amazing, catching up with my cousin was far more satisfying. We sat and talked for hours and got to know each other better and I really got a chance to learn a lot about our family. It was a night I will never forget. Needless to say that evening I slept very well even though the excitement of heading to Laoag in the morning was on my mind.
Oscar, we shall meet again cousin.
MABUHAY! It’s more fun in the Philippines!
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