© 2016 Lindsay Cope

The Cope’s come to the Philippines!


Family Portrait at the Chocolate Hills

When I accepted my invitation to the Peace Corps they promised that they would visit me in the Philippines. After 21 months of service, my parents finally made it! And they brought good family friends Chuck and Brenda Bidinger in tow!

We started our trip in Manila, where we stayed in the historic Intramuros area of Old Manila. I chose the Bayleaf Hotel for its location and the wonderful views of the city. On our one full day in the city, we took a bike tour with Bambikes a social enterprise venture which collaborates with a community in the Cordilleras region to make bike frames out of bamboo.  The bikes are light weight, high quality, and have a unique aesthetic. Our tour enabled us to see the highlights of Intramuros with ease and our guide was very informative, providing a comprehensive historic narrative accompaniment to the tour.


One of the endless pearl stalls in Greenhills.

In the afternoon, I piled everyone into a cab to experience Manila’s world famous traffic! Joke lang, we made our way to Greenhills, a shopping complex in San Juan, Manila. Getting to Greenhills is a trek, especially with the perpetual traffic of Manila, but the only thing my mother requested of her visit was to go shopping for pearls. Greenhills is an expansive mall, with dizzying food options, a cinema, a church, traditional mall, and a palengke style marketplace. Within the marketplace, there is a series of stalls that sells endless pearls in all colors, long strands, short strands, rings and earrings. If you want, they will even string a new set of pearls for you.

In preparation for the pearl market, my mother and I read up on pearl shopping to avoid being fooled by fake pearls. It’s amazing just how many pearls were available. Shopping was overwhelming at first, but once we adjusted to the spectacle of pearls everywhere we had a lot of fun and scored some lovely pearls. After working up a significant appetite, we made our way away from the Greenhills area (more traffic) to enjoy a dinner of Philippino food at Sarsa followed by cocktails at my favorite bar, The Curator.

I thoroughly exhausted my parents on their first day in the Philippines, but we were on our way the following day to Bohol to relax at the serene Amorita Resort in Alona Beach, Panglao.


Sunrise at the Amorita

The Amorita was the perfect place to stay. It was removed from the bustle of Alona Beach, far away from the crowds, atop a cliff at the end of the beach. Although there were many guests at the Amorita, it never felt crowded, in fact most of the time we felt as though we had the entire place to ourselves. We enjoyed excursions every day we were in Bohol, we visited the Chocolate Hills and Tarsier Sanctuary, and went diving, snorkeling, and island hopping.


Teenie tiny tarsiers!


Tarsiers in Bohol

Visiting the tarsiers and Chocolate Hills is an excursion that cannot be missed. It was the first chance my family had to see the country side of the Philippines. We drove through the most dense forest area I have experienced here, a winding road cut through a tall canopy (I later learned this was a man-made forest area). It was an impressive drive.
The tarsiers are a highlight when visiting Bohol. The tiny primates are so ugly they are cute. Their massive eyes don’t move, so they can turn their head with full 360 degree mobility. They have long fingers that wrap around the narrow tree trunks they cling to. Tarsiers are sensitive little creatures, fragile, and adverse to disturbances – we sadly learned that the little fur balls commit suicide if they are in distress. After a short tour of the tarsier sanctuary we moved on to the Chocolate Hills. The uniform mounds that populate central Bohol are remnants from the sea floor many thousands of years ago. They get the name, Chocolate Hills because in the summer, when it gets very dry, the hills turn brown like chocolate.DSC_0055DSC_0052


Dad on his first open water dive!


Posing with Chuck at our decompression stop.


Sea turtles spotted in Balicasag!

My dad tried SCUBA here in the Philippines. He tried the PADI Discover SCUBA class and got in the water for a dive in Bohol, one of the greatest places to dive in the Philippines ergo the world. He loved it and why wouldn’t he?!Chuck who is also PADI certified dove with me while my father dove with the instructor. Our second dive was one of the best dives either of us have had, the diversity of creatures and seascape was incredible.We swam among schools of fish crowding the wall, we descended to the deep
marine floor to search for camouflaged seahorses, and we saw tons of eels, nudibranch, hard and soft corals, and fish. I would have loved to continue diving, but I didn’t want mom and Brenda to become bored by my lust of the ocean deep, so we spent our last day in Bohol island hopping.We went out to Balicasag Island, about 45 minutes by banka, and snorkeled in the fish sanctuary there. The reef has been damaged by typhoons and tourists, but the drop off was impressive. We snorkeled out to the edge of the reef and there large and small fish schooled on the fringe of the reef. At one point, Chuck alerted everyone to approaching sea turtles! We all raced out to the drop off zone and observed three turtles ascend to the surface for air before diving down into the perfect bottomless blue to search for food.

DCIM100GOPROBohol went by too fast.I wish we had one more day, just to lounge around the lovely Amorita, and just slow everything down for a day. But, we had to make our way to Calatagan because Mom and Dad could not visit the Philippines and see where I live!


View of Taal Volcano from Tagaytay

On our way to Calatagan, we took a pit stop in Tagaytay, a high elevation city known for its cool climate and impressive views of Taal Volcano, which is famed for its location in the Taal caldera, which is filled by Taal Lake. The crater of Taal is also filled with a lake. Taal Volcano is the second most active volcano in the Philippines with some of the most deadly eruptions in the Philippines. The last eruption was in 1977. We enjoyed a lovely lunch, bought a surplus of dried mango (which I shamelessly addicted them to), and purchased fresh Buko Pie, before continuing our journey to Calatagan.

We arrived in Calatagan shortly after sunset and made a quick stop at my house, where my parents met my host family Ate Mien and Kuya Joey. In Calatagan, we stayed at Stilts Resort far down the peninsula in Barangay Santa Ana. The resort occupies a large estate, with organic farm, ATV trail, and many cottages to choose from. Our cottage was a house over the water on stilts. It was a lovely whitewashed cottage sitting over the seagrass bed. In Calatagan we relaxed, I gave Mom and Dad a tour of my town, visited the stalls where I buy my food, purchased fruits, drank fresh coconut juice and enjoyed some delicious local ice cream. It was the perfect end to our visit, though I wish they could have stayed a few more days to relax.

I regret that our trip was so packed, I would have enjoyed some more down time. I am glad, however, that I got to show them so much of the Philippines. They tasted mangoes, bananas, cinco mas, papaya, guyabano, urchin, fresh grilled fish, squid, sisig, bicol express, adobo… They got to see and taste the country that has been my home, and they loved it all.


Mom and Dad at Lunch in Tagaytay


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