What you end up remembering most about a trip are not the things the guidebooks tell you to see, but the unique experiences you could never have seen coming. I am about to tell you my favorite example.
It was early evening and I was heading out on a little food expedition together with three other travelers. We were looking to find a restaurant in the nearby town, but things took a different turn. We were greeted by some kids on the road outside of our hostel, so we interacted with them for a bit, which then led to a Filipino family inviting us to join them for food and drinks. Thinking “why not?”, we accepted.
The scene was chaotic. I was sat on a wooden bench under a bamboo roof surrounded by at least 20 filipinos. Kids and dogs were running around. The whole extended family was present, and it was impossible to keep track of all the neices, nephews, uncles and aunts. Head of the family Romeo poured us some coconut wine, a vile but not entirely undrinkable homebrew concoction that I’m sure was the main contributor to my throbbing headache the next morning.
Soon we were motioned inside and seated at the dinner table in their tiny cozy house. First there was prayer. I hadn’t prayed since way back in catholic primary school, and I’m actually an atheist, but respecting the house rules seemed like the right thing to do.
Then, dinner. I felt a bit like Anthony Bourdain on a local food adventure. We were served rice, noodles, fish recently caught from the adjoining river and pig skin. When I hear “pig skin” I don’t really imagine something delicious, but it was perfectly cooked and the best thing I had eaten in two weeks. The family insisted the food was free, so we got them a bunch of beer from the store next door.
What followed was a long night of stories and laughter. I sat there drinking more coconut wine and smiling like a happy idiot. A guitar appeared and we sang along with some tunes. Daughter Anne and her brother performed some Filipino songs by the band “Itchy Worms”.
The little kids were eager to play games and show me stuff around the house. One of them grabbed a flashlight and shone it into a barrel, revealing a pile of live frogs and crabs they had recently caught. The “village fool” showed up, a boisterous funny old man who they call The Skeleton due to his narrow jawed face (like zombified Michael Jackson in the Thriller video). He bragged a lot about being a ladies man and sang with the voice of a crow. He was a good man. Some drinking games were had, until we were all a bit pissed and ready to call it a night.
Over the following days I kept seeing my new friends around the village. They even invited me to go fishing with them (though sadly I had a ferry to catch). I still can’t believe how welcoming and friendly these people were, with no other motive than to hang out. From what I have heard, this kind of hospitality is not uncommon in the Philippines.
These authentic experiences are the ones you secretly hope for all the time, but you have to be a bit lucky. I feel grateful to have had a few such experiences on this trip (a wedding in Laos also comes to mind!), and I’m thankful to those wonderful people who have invited me into their world during my journeys.