I’d just met a friend of a friend, here in California, who heard that I was planning a trip to the 22,000-mile coastline nation of the Philippines. I wasn’t passing up an opportunity like this.
The Philippines are categorized into three main geographical divisions: Luzon (Manila area), Visayas and Mindanao.
Manukan, the home of my new friend, is located on Mindanao – the only area of the Philippines with a significant Muslim presence. And the only area (in Zamboanga Del Sur) that numerous countries advise their citizens against visiting due to frequent terrorist threats and kidnappings. But I was going to the norte, and staying with a family. No worries.
Lightly bouncing onto the airstrip hugging the coastline (literally less than 100 yards away from water), I’m immediately reminded of flying into Cartagena, Colombia, with her crystal blue waters lapping up against the airport’s pavement. Finding my awaiting friend in the two-room airport isn’t too difficult – he’s the only white figure surrounded by brownness. Why do I feel like I have been here before? Maybe the Cartagena reflection, or the small, local feel of the airport?
Main highway in Mindanao, Philippines - ocean to one side, rice fields to the other.
The municipality of Manukan (which literally translates to “poultry”) is roughly 23 miles west of Dipolog City’s airport. At first, it’s as if we’re driving along the coast in Hawaii, passing lush fauna, palm trees and roadside vendors selling coconuts in the humid yet comfortable island climate.
But then again, this is Asia, and rice fields flourish along with accompanying water buffalo working the fields.
I’m reminded of Sri Lanka in the consistently smiling locals as well as a dog lying in the middle of a village’s muddy concrete road. But in Sri Lanka the driver literally ran over the canine without pause or concern – here the furry guys lazily get up to move as cars wait (that Sri Lankan experience still haunts me). We pass a “top security prison” with two inmates amiably nodding at us from behind a three-pronged barbed wire fence as if they were enjoying a cup of tea in their backyard.
Arriving in the small town of Manukan, it’s impossible not to notice the 60-foot-high chicken building/museum. Yes, you read that correctly. Climb the staircase leading inside the chicken to pay homage to the domineering fowl. But as tempting as this oversized poultry experience is, I’ve come to get a taste of daily life with a Filipino family.
And what better way to do that than around a crowded dinner table at home? The Catipay family graciously prepares numerous meals including pancit, chicken and beef adobo, kinilaw (Filipino cerviche), copious amounts of rice, no chopsticks in sight, inun unan and even more that I couldn’t understand, but ate. My mind savors.
When I chomp into their sili peppers whole and don’t wince (although my scalp starts to sweat, and my right cheek along with the backside of my left eyelid are on fire…unbeknownst to the table), I feel that the family takes me a bit more seriously.
But then arrives the true moment, as a now-smirking nephew, Jimbert, returns from the local store with the expected mango ice cream…along with a blue bag. Enter the balut – two of them actually. Staring at a developed bird fetus, hard-boiled inside an egg doesn’t elicit the Andrew Zimmern in me. I want no part of this fowl with its legitimate beak and many other developed parts. And I don’t care if it’s a chicken or duck. The eggs are kept warm 16 to 22 days old before being boiled to reach the desired level of fetus-ness.
Jimbert gleefully shows me how to eat one of these little guys, or girls, with the advice, “Eat quick.” Beware of the video.
After dinner, Mexican Train is played – a variation of a Chinese domino game and (oddly) first copyrighted here in Newport Coast, California. And in Manukan it oddly doesn’t feel unknown at all.
I’m relaxing with friends (and their fowl fetuses), surrounded by a mix of Hawaii’s visions at one turn in the road, Sri Lankan dogs at another, finding myself in northern Colombia. (Not just at the airport; trekking through the nearby mountains reminded me of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta of Colombia.) I'm already loving the Philippines – chickens and all. Now, onto Cebu…