The writer tries to build a house: Part 1 - Prologue and Cultural Immersion

This trip to the Philippines has been in the making for a long time. I have been wanting to go to for the longest time to do volunteer work. Initially, I had planned to go around July to do some volunteer work but the trip got pushed up due to an interesting opportunity. Silkair, the regional wing of Singapore Airlines, was running a competition. They were offering a pair of tickets to anyone who was going to do Charity work in the region. The tickets would allow me to travel to any of the destinations in the Silkair network. Three of their destinations are in the Philippines. I had wanted to do some house building and thankfully my father had an old friend who works in Habitat for Humanity in the Philippines. He was able to give me the chance to come to the Philippines to do some house building. All he needed were some dates I had written into Silkair explaining why I had wanted to do this trip. To be honest, I didn’t think I would actually win the contest as typically whenever you enter such contests you never win. To my surprise, I found that I was one of three winners who would be travelling on Silkair to do charity.

After I had received this email, I emailed my father’s old friend, Mr. Francis Macatulad. He began to organise a volunteer stint for me on an island near the major city of Cebu in the Philippines. He understood that I had to do to a destination that was a part of the Silkair network. He decided to send me to this particular site to do construction as this region was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Even though it has been a couple years since the Typhoon the damage is still quite visible and is still affecting lives to this day. After sorting out the formalities with Silkair and the organisation, my trip was set. I didn’t know at this time but I was to experience a beautiful side of this interesting country. I have to commend Mr Macatulad as he was able to organise one amazing trip. He planned out almost every detail and ensured I was safe and that I did a good job. I was happy to be heading to a foreign country by myself with his watchful guidance.

The trip started with a nice early morning arrival at Singapore Changi Airport to catch the 9 am flight to Cebu. I got there early to check in and to clear immigration. The process was quick as expected so I decided to visit the Ambassador lounge. Even though I was on a free ticket, I got access because my brother had a priority pass membership.

A glimpse of the lounge

I was able to get myself a bit of breakfast and a piping hot cup of Milo to start the morning.

The lounge also has a viewing gallery which turned out to be right next to the sunflower garden. While the viewing deck was filled with smokers I was able to get some great photos of some of the aircraft that take off from Singapore.

After spending some time in the lounge I headed towards the gate which was packed like a sardine can. Soon I boarded the brand new 737-800 aircraft for a three-hour hop to Cebu City.

The brand new 737

The flight was comfortable despite the fact that the plane was at full capacity. Soon I landed and cleared immigration and customs remarkably quickly. I managed to get myself a local sim card and proceeded to call Mr Macatulad to inform him that I have arrived safely in the country. After calling him, I headed towards the hotel I had been booked in for the night. On the way to the hotel, I was caught in some truly horrendous traffic. The distance from the airport to my hotel is around nine kilometres. The drive would usually take about fifteen minutes but our drive took almost an hour and a half. It reminded me a lot of the traffic I experienced in India.

Some traffic on my drive to the city

Soon after the absurdly long drive I reached the hotel and proceeded to check-in. I relaxed for a couple hours before heading out to explore some of the sights the city has to offer.

My comfortable bed for the night

I first headed to Ayala mall to get myself something to eat. After having a light bite I headed towards some of the main historical sites in the city.

I first headed towards Fort San Pedro which is actually the smallest Spanish Colonial Fort in the entire country. The ticket cost was less than one Singapore dollar which was quite shocking. On my previous travels, the tickets fo such attractions cost more for admission. I paid for a ticket and was offered a tour by the lovely Rosanna who appeared to have taken a liking for me. She eventually took down my contact details as she wanted to remain in contact.

Some of the sights at Fort San Pedro

After, unintentionally, getting the attention of a cute tour guide, I headed towards Magellan’s Cross. This is supposedly the fight where famous explorer Magellan arrived in the Philippines on his epic voyage.

Magellan's Cross

The island of Mactan which is where the airport is currently located is the site of his death. It was the site of a battle he and his crew had with the island's leader, Lapu Lapu. It was this battle that brought an end to his round the world journey.

Some candles lit up for prayer just outside the church

Right next to the landmark is the biggest and oldest church in Cebu, the Santo Nino church.

The entrance to the Santo Nino Church

I arrived at the church when it was coming towards the end of the evening mass. It was quite calming and pseudo-spiritual. It gave a greater idea on how religiously driven the people are and how it is a guiding and influencing force in their life. The church itself was beautifully maintained. There were stunning arches and gorgeous rooftop paintings. I spent the time admiring the different artwork and depictions of Christ and the different saints.

After visiting the church and taking many photos I headed for dinner.

I headed towards a Mexican restaurant which was recommended by one of the many Singaporean food bloggers. This was my first time eating in a fancy restaurant without any companion. It was quite an experience and it allowed me to fully immerse myself in the food which was given to me. I started off with a bottle of San Miguel beer, the local beer that is made here and is widely sold here. Then I proceeded to have an incredibly filling veggie burrito which was filling and tasty.

The restaurant Decor

Beer and Burritos

The service of the restaurant was incredibly prompt and rather friendly. I had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

During my dinner, I received a call from one of my father’s old friends who went to business school with him. He wanted to meet me so he agreed to meet me for breakfast the following morning prior to my bus that would take me to the island of Bantayan. We agreed to meet at my hotel at about 7:45 in the morning. I looked forward to meeting him as I wanted to get to know more about what my father did when he lived in the Philippines. I also wanted to get to know more of his friends. Soon I reached my hotel and took an early night. I was anxious to find out what was in store for me on Bantayan.