I’ve been to the Philippines 3 times in my life – once as an infant in 1986, again as a child in 1995 and I finally made it there as an adult in 2008. The reason for my multiple visits? My mother was born and a grew up in Anao-Aon, a small fishing village in the Surigao Del Norte region and her entire family still resides there.
The Philippines holds a very special place in my heart because of these strong family ties and our most recent visit ranks high among our favorite travel experiences as we were able to live with the local people (my family) for a week and experience the Filipino culture first hand which was certainly unique for us.
In early April 2011, 30 months after our last visit, Amy and I will arrive in the Philippines again and spend a few nights in my mother’s home town in what will be my fourth visit to the country. Unfortunately this visit isn’t entirely for pleasure though, the reasons this time are a little more sombre.
After moving out of our apartment recently in a move to save money for long-term travel, Amy and I excitedly began discussing our upcoming travels and trying to organize a start date for our round-the-world adventure.
‘Should we leave in June, July or August?’
‘Can we bring it forward? We want to leave now!’
‘Are we still going to start in LA? Or should we change our plans and head somewhere else first?’
As all of these thoughts engulfed our minds and we excitedly considered the various options that were available to us, we were dealt a heartbreaking blow. One sentence that would immediately change our travel plans in 2011.
‘Your grandmother has pancreatic cancer and only has 6 months to live.’
I wouldn’t say that my grandmother (better known to me as Nanay) and I are extremely close – the physical distance of about 3,500 miles and the language barriers makes it difficult. However, we do share a special bond that was established when I was much younger.
During our 2008 visit, Nanay made the 8 hour overnight ferry trip from Surigao to Cebu just to spend a few days with us. Often during this time, I would catch her just staring at me and smiling with love in her eyes. And while she doesn’t like to speak English out of fear of saying something incorrectly and embarrassing herself, I’ll always remember when we said goodbye at the airport – she gripped me so tightly with tears in her eyes and wished me a safe flight.
Because of my grandmother’s illness, my mother is going to the Philippines on January 4 to spend at least 5 months with her family and Amy and I will be a couple of months behind her. This may set back our RTW adventure and take a big chunk of cash out of our travel savings, but this whole experience has taught us that family always comes first and we need to cherish our time with our loved ones!
While our stay in the Philippines in April will be limited to 2-3 nights due to work commitments and our RTW plans, it’s enough time for me to recite the words ‘gihigugma kita’ and say them to my grandmother one last time.
This means ‘I Love You’ in her native Visayan language.
I love you Nanay.