My brother, Nick, and his girlfriend, Carla, had booked a 3 week holiday to the Philippines to visit Carla's family at the end of January and I'd actually planned a much later arrival to coincide with them. When Carla found out Radka had gone home she realised I'd be alone for Christmas and suggested I should go one month earlier to spend it with her family. I'd set my mind on cycling to Vietnam but decided it would be really nice to meet her family and spend such a long time with them. It turned out to be a great decision :) I spent two months there in total.
I arrived on 20th December with just enough time to get to know everyone before Christmas and began living with Carla's very welcoming family in their house on the outskirts of Manila. There were eight of us altogether in the house and I feel like part of the family from the minute I arrived.
Carla's 15 yr old cousin, Miguel, was kind enough to give me his bed whilst he slept on the floor for the whole two months! We spent loads of evenings together in our room just laughing and joking, It was like having a little brother. It wasn't long before we were really comfortable together. We were once sitting in the dentist and he turned to me, out of the blue, and said, “Do you hate gays?”! This was nearly as funny as when he, quite normally, asked me ‘’are you circumcised?’’, I replied 'no' to both :p
I also had a big brother; Jason, the husband of Carla's auntie, Madel. He was staying there for only two weeks but made me laugh over 100 times! He's an ex US Marine so we soon began exercising together down at the running track, my abs were flipping killing, he's ruthless. He left for work after just two weeks but we still had enough time to become great friends.
My little sister was Pia, Carla's little 7yr old cousin. Her energy really rubs off on you and we had hours of fun dancing and playing badminton. I really miss you Pia... even if you did say I have red skin and yellow teeth!
Carla's cousin, Bea was also staying at the house. We're pretty much the same age so it was really easy to get along. I wish we could have spent more time together but someone's gotta work.
There was not a single worry over food because Carla's grandmother, Nanay, and auntie Edna took care of everything. They kept me fed and watered the whole time and wouldn't let me lift a finger. You cared for me without the bat of an eyelid, I owe you a lot!
Christmas was spent with a large family gathering in Isabela, a northern province of Luzon. An 11 hour drive beginning at 3am took us over some amazing landscapes, across mountains and passing many flooded rice fields. Isabela has a moderate climate which was a nice change from the sweltering humidity of Manila.
I missed my family and Radka a lot but Christmas was still great. Lots of karaoke, drinking, sheesha and late nights. Xmas dinner consisted of turkey, potatoes, sweetcorn and bread. Probably the highlight was Skype-ing my family and Radka, but closely followed by when Miguel came into the bedroom without realising I was there, thought he’d seen a ghost, and jumped out of his skin before nearly dying of a heart attack.
Children traditionally don't get presents but instead money from the adults. Some of them end up with a fair stash, some of which is spent on lots of firecrackers, which is apparently not so safe judging by the amount of news casts on children with blown off hands.
New year celebrations began early with fireworks from around 6pm lasting until 2am!! At midnight the sky was blazing with the most fireworks i've ever seen! Nanay had spent the whole day preparing the midnight buffet which was blessed with 12 kinds of fruit, a Filipino tradition to bring luck for the coming year. School children learn that jumping 12 times on the strike of midnight will make them grow bigger and eating 12 grapes will give them 12 wishes whilst it's tradition to open all cupboards to bless for healthy dining.
Many crazy people celebrate New Years by inconsiderately firing bullets into the air at the strike of midnight. Obviously the bullet has picked up some speed when it finally comes back down to earth straight onto the head of an innocent bystander. There were many news reports about this during the festive season... needless to say the scaredy-cat in me was inside at 12:01!
Christmas and New Year over and I realised I'd spent a month of serious indulgence. I decided it was time to get fit again. The tipping point was when I cleared out my bag to find 5 receipts for ice cream over the last week! I headed to the local gym where I signed up for Muay Thai training.
I thought cycling was hard… this was wrecking! It's very intense training with stretches, running, ring work, bag work and the worst of all, ab work! The trainer, Ruel, was Filipino and great at his job. I was sweating from head to toe after each session and I had put in over 30 hrs of training by the time I left. The other students were so nice and everyone was there for the conditioning factor. I loved the training, even after being kneed in the privates and nearly having my head ripped off by my brother, apart from that it was great fun :p
The Philippines has hosted some pretty big films in the past so you can imagine my excitement to find out they were filming The Bourne Legacy just a few kms down the road from our house!! Bea had her ear to the ground for further information and even found out that the cast had booked a table in her bosses restaurant. Unfortunately it didn't materialise but we did find out where they were filming and went to take a look. It was so amazing watching the shooting. At one point a girl started talking to me and eventually asked for my facebook. Whilst writing it down a crowd grew around us all whispering things like ''who is it?'', ''what's his name?'' ''It's Jonny Primmer... Jonny Primmer!!''. A white guy around a film set got everyone talking!
Nick and Carla arrived with three weeks to spend visiting sights and meeting friends. Nick's birthday fell within a week giving us even more reason to celebrate and more delicious cakes, he had three the greedy boy! We even had time to see a basketball game in the Araneta Stadium where Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier in the ''Thriller in Manila'' way back in 1975. Seeing Nick and Carla made me realise how nice it will be when we return home.
I think I looked much more more plumper and healthier when the time came to leave particularly after celebrating three birthdays, Christmas, New Year, a school reunion, a 40th wedding anniversary and Nick arriving... all involving cakes and beers!
Time to leave and now Radka was just a few hours flight away and would be waiting at the gate when I arrived back at Bangkok. We decided to continue with our original intentions of crossing Thailand into Cambodia and through the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.
Two months apart and I'd missed Radka much more than I had imagined. Our reunion was made special as it finally came on Valentines day. I'd been imagining how lovely it would be to see her again.