How To: Vegan in the Philippines

The thing I was most worried about before traveling here was how the heck I was going to eat vegan while in the Philippines. In case you didn’t know, meat is basically a second religion here (behind Catholicism). Every meal, including breakfast, has some sort of meat aspect, mostly chicken and pork. If it appears to be meat free, it was cooked in bone broth or contains shrimp paste. Now, I know this may sound silly because I was going 8,000 miles away to a country and culture I had never visited before and the thing I was most worried about was.. the food? But, I’m sure anyone with a dietary restriction of some sort has felt this little anxiety before, so if you can relate, this post is for you.

I have been vegan for just over one and a half years, so I had a very good idea going into my trip of what I do and do not eat. Luckily for me, I knew that my apartment had a microwave, hot plate, and rice cooker (of course), so I could always cook my own food to ensure it was vegan. But, with a country that loves food at all times of the day, I didn’t want to miss out on that part of the culture. Luckily, I didn’t have to. The city I work in is called Makati City which is part of Metro Manila and actually provides so many vegan options, I was shocked. Even at restaurants that don’t appear to have any on the menu, you can always just order vegetables without meat and a side of rice (this has become a staple), that way you don’t sacrifice good conversations and memories with friends. Around the corner from where I work is this all vegan restaurant called Cosmic, a little hidden gem above a Mini Stop in Poblacion, Makati. The restaurant has no sign indicating what it is from the outside and in order to get inside you have to go up (what appears to be) a sketchy staircase. If I hadn’t gone with friends the first time, I would have been so lost! But trust me, this place is so good. They offer authentic Filipino dishes made completely vegan. From Kare Kare, to Sisig, to Adobo, they have it all, and it is all so delicious. The best part is it is very affordable. My average meal there is around 200 pesos ($4 USD). My meat-eater friends choose to eat here on their own as well, so not only is it good vegan food, it’s good food in general. One thing that is surprisingly prevalent around me is falalfel. Falafel is originally a Middle-Eastern dish made of deep-fried chickpeas and spices and for whatever reason, there are a ton of restaurants that serve it near me. I have Hummus Elijiah, Yalla Yalla, and Beni’s Falafel all within a 5 minute walk, so I probably have a falafel sandwich 3 times a week (at least), but I’m not complaining. If falafel isn’t your thing, these places all also serve hummus and baba ganoush (also known as moutabal, it’s basically an eggplant puree with similar consistency to hummus), and other eggplant dishes. All of these wraps are also less than 200 pesos. Other good restaurants are Corner Tree Cafe, Kismet Cafe and Green Bar. Corner Tree Cafe is a little bit more expensive, and Kismet Cafe is more breakfast-type food and coffee, but they also have sandwiches. Their vegan chocolate chip pancakes are so yummy! Green Bar’s menu is entirely plant-based so I was basically in heaven when I ate there.

The provinces are what make the Philippines so beautiful, but they’re also where being vegan is harder. For starters, many coffee shops don’t offer an alternative milk to dairy milk, so be prepared for that. Luckily, I like tea so I don’t have to worry about that problem too much. Like I mentioned earlier, when you are out of the city, you may end up eating a lot of vegetables and rice. Some popular vegetable dishes are pinakbut and chop suey. Just be sure to clarify with your waiter that there is no meat in the vegetable dish, including fish! When I was in Batangas, I ordered a chop suey dish and the waiter confirmed there was no meat, but when I got it, it had pieces of crab within. This is because seafood is often not seen as meat here. One dish I have seen while in the provinces is lugaw with tokwat, or porridge with tofu. It is very often also accompanied with baboy, or pork, so if you want to try this make sure to clarify no baboy. I have not personally tried it myself, but it looks good! You can also prepare ahead by packing snacks from the supermarket, like canned goods. When I was in a village in Buscalan, I brought canned vegan chili, refried beans, and corn to ensure I would have something to eat. The provinces also often have the best fruit, so you can always fill up on that! I will forever recommend mangoes and anything mango flavored, but their bananas are also really sweet and tasty.

Speaking of sweets, this is where being vegan is actually so easy! A ton of Filipino desserts are made of some sort of sticky rice, coconut, and sugar, so they’re naturally vegan. A few of my favorites are palitaw, biko, and babingka. A few desserts not made with rice are turon (fried bananas wrapped in a lumpia wrapper) and bananacue (barbecued banana coated in sugar). Another one that I’ve talked about in a previous post is Taho. This is made up of silken tofu, pearl beads, and a caramel sauce of sorts. If you have a sweet tooth like me, you will not be disappointed while here!

There has been a few times when someone has welcomed me into their home and graciously cooked for me. Despite me telling them that I was vegan, their meal included egg in it. In these cases, I did eat it because I was just grateful they were trying to accommodate me. I know everyone has different reasons for being vegan, but I encourage you to just try to be as open as possible and know you might have to go against your beliefs every once in a while. In my case, I saw the chickens whose eggs I ate happily roaming around, so from a compassion and environmental standpoint, I didn’t feel guilty. However, if you are going to be cooking for yourself or ordering from a restaurant, you should have no problem staying vegan the whole trip! I highly encourage you to try and eat local, or buy local if you are cooking for yourself, to make sure you are helping the local farmers and small businesses in addition to reducing the environmental impact. There are a ton of various wet and dry markets, but every Sunday in Makati there is one that has a ton of vendors that serve vegan food as well as fresh produce, so look around for those (the market I am referring to here is the Legazpi Sunday Market, by the way).

My biggest piece of advice to anyone who is going to be vegan in the Philippines is that everything will be okay! There will be times where you are frustrated, but trust me, you will find something to eat. I hope this post helped at least one person, but if not, thanks for reading and enjoy the food photos anyways. 🙂

Top left is Kare Kare, bottom left is vegan lasagna, bottom right is tofu skin tempura, top is chili garlic rice. The white sauce is a vegan garlic mayo for the tempura and the other dish is red beans. All from Cosmic!
Sisig with chili garlic rice from Cosmic.
Coco Curry from Cosmic.
Caldereta with chili garlic rice from Cosmic.
Falafel sandwich from Hummus Elijah.
Falafel sandwich from Beni’s Falafel.
Pesto Sandwich from Corner Tree Cafe.
Cinnamon roll, chocolate chip pancakes, and mango shakes from Kismet Cafe.
Quinoa bowl from Green Bar.
Peanut Butter and Chocolate cupcake from Green Bar.
Vegan breakfast meats, rice, and tofu scramble with mango shake from the Legazpi Sunday Market.
Vegan grilled cheese and tumeric iced tea from the Legazpi Sunday Market.
Vegan acai frozen yogurt from Mahalo Acai in Makati.

The Long, But Worthwhile, Journey To Apo Whang Od

This past weekend both my physical and mental strength were tested. I went on the long journey to meet the famous Apo Whang Od, the last mambabatok (tribal tattoo artist) in her village, Kalinga. At 102-years old, she is seen as a celebrity to many travelers, and people come from all ends of the Earth to get tattooed by her. The 2-day journey was one of the hardest experiences I’ve done, but one I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Our journey began Friday evening, when we took a bus from Manila heading towards Bontoc. If you are travelling from Metro Manila, we took Coda Lines from Cubao towards Bontoc. We booked the tickets online ensuring us a seat, which I highly recommend because on the bus home they actually pulled out plastic chairs and placed them in the aisle so they could fit everyone who wanted a ride. The tickets were 1450 roundtrip. It took us a little while to find the bus terminal at Cubao, but it is inside the HM Transport terminal, at a little window near the bathrooms. The bus picked us up at 8pm and it ended up taking 11 and a half hours before we got to Bontoc. We had a few stops along the way for food, bathroom, and gas. We took the 45-person bus and it did not have power outlets or wifi, which wasn’t a big deal to us, but I think some of the bigger buses do have that if you are wanting that. My favorite part of the drive was watching the sunrise through the mountains and then seeing the Banaue rice terraces. Both were so beautiful, so I didn’t even mind the windy roads we were taking. We got to Bontoc around 7:30am and got a coffee and ate snacks we packed before finding a Jeepney to take us to Buscalan, the village of Whang Od.

After asking a few friendly people, we finally found where the Jeepney’s pick people up, which was just around the corner from where we got dropped off. It was only 100 pesos for the trip. All of the blogs we read before coming up said to ride on top of the Jeepney to get the best view, and they were right! Every single corner we turned, something more beautiful awaited. It was an hour and a half ride, but I never wanted it to end. I felt so genuinely happy just taking in all of the beauty and nature I was surrounded by. At around 10:30am, we were instructed to get off at the next stop because we had arrived. Well, almost. At the stop, we were greeted by many motorcyclists who were to take us to the walking point of the hike. I had never rode on a motorcycle before because my dad says they’re dangerous (sorry dad!), but it was so much fun! And it was so much easier than walking, so it was worth the 100 pesos. When we got to the walking part, we found a tour guide (we did not prebook one in advance, but it is possible) and filled out a form. Our tour guide was super sweet, her name was Lanie and she was the same age as us. She had lived in the village her whole life. It cost us 1500 pesos total for the two days. The mountain we were hiking was a very steep downhill followed by a very steep uphill. At the bottom was a beautiful flowing river with many waterfalls which we were able to swim in to cool off a little. We made the long journey up the mountain and it was so much harder than I expected! I am a pretty active person so when I got to the top and looked at my apple watch to see that we had only walked .71 miles, I was shocked! It had only taken us 20 minutes but I was breathing so heavily, you would’ve believed I had just competed in a race. We paid a 75 pesos environmental fee that everyone who comes into the village is required to pay then our guide took us to our home stay. Our room was pretty nice actually, it was just a bed but that’s all we needed. The house had a bathroom and shower, however these were not what I am used to seeing. The toilet was a hole in the ground and the shower was a spout and bucket, but I adjusted quickly. We set our stuff down and our guide told us it was time to go see Apo Whang Od to get her signature tattoo.

We walked over to the tattoo hut and I was so ready to get those famous three dots on my arm. I decided to get them on the inside of my left arm and I had mentally prepared for the pain (so I thought). The tattoo technique is with a thorn, bamboo stick, and ink. We had to wait a while, probably about 40 minutes, and with every person to go before me, I got more nervous. Norah was more nervous than I was, so I told her I would go first to tell her how bad the pain was. It was finally my turn and I showed Whang Od where I wanted it and she marked the three dots with a piece of grass and ink. I gave her my thorn (you buy your own for 100 pesos for sanitary purposes) and was nervous, but ready. The initial tap sent a shock through my entire body and all the successive taps did the same. I tried my hardest to keep a pokerface because I didn’t want to scare Norah. I have two other tattoos, but this pain was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Thankfully, it only took about 3 minutes, then it was Norah’s turn. She got hers in a similar spot, but her middle dot was heavily bleeding, we think it must’ve been directly on a vein. We paid her 150 pesos each then headed back to the house for lunch. Both of our arms were extremely sore and would stay this way for the next 24 hours. Norah and I are both vegan, so we brought canned food because we didn’t want them to have to cater to us too much. They heated up the chili, refried beans, and corn and gave us some rice and coffee to have with it. We saved what we didn’t finish to have for dinner and we decided to take a nap because we were both exhausted from the long morning.

I woke up and went out to the living room to see the people who were to do our design tattoos were there waiting for us. Because Whang Od acknowledges she is aging, she has taught her nieces the art of giving the tribal tattoos. There was a wooden board filled with a bunch of designs and I was instructed to pick one. After a few minutes, I decided on getting the one labeled “traveler” because I liked the design and meaning. I showed her where I wanted it and she began stenciling on my upper back. Once finished, I approved of the design and she began tapping the thorn into my skin. Initially, it didn’t hurt very bad, especially compared to my arm, but after a while, it started to really hurt. The whole thing took over an hour and by the time we were almost done, I was holding back tears, praying for her to be done. She finally finished and I paid her 500 pesos. I was so mentally and physically tired. I took a shower (with the bucket) to wash both of them, then smothered them with antibacterial cream. This was the part of the journey that was hardest for me. Getting a tattoo sounded like a great idea, but now that I had actually done it, I was so scared. Like I mentioned, I had two others before, but this was different. After my first two, I immediately knew I loved them, but these didn’t feel the same. I wasn’t sure if I loved what I got and was questioning my decision- tattoos are permanent. I wanted to call my mom so she could comfort me, but there was no use in looking for signal because the power was out due to the rain. I fought through the urge to get upset and told myself I was just tired and would feel better in the morning. We had our leftover beans and chili with some rice and coffee, which is delicious by the way. I didn’t even put any cream or sugar in it and it tasted so good! We ate next to a candle so we could see, then said goodnight to everyone. It turns out Norah was feeling the same way as me, so we talked about it and laughed it out, hoping our new tattoos would grow on us.

We woke up the next day, had some coffee, then left so we could catch the Jeepney back in time. The hike wasn’t as hard today, but we still worked up a sweat. As we were waiting for the Jeepney to fill up (they won’t leave until they’re full), I was able to better reflect on my new ink. I realized that I would’ve regretted not getting the tattoos because they will always remind me of such an amazing weekend of growth for me. I’m glad I finally got to this point, I knew I would but it still was comforting knowing I made the right decision. The Jeepney filled up around 9:30am and we headed off towards Bontoc! We sat inside this time instead of on top because we didn’t want the uncomfortable seating again. However, the way Jeepneys are set up is there are two rows of seats facing each other, neither of the rows looking out the front windows. The windy roads caused both Norah and I to feel super carsick, so we were so happy to get to Bontoc. We found a bakery and ate some pandesal and Sprite to hopefully settle our stomachs. It was only 11am at this point and our bus wasn’t picking us up until 3pm. We charged our phones a little and let our families know we were safe, there was finally some signal! After this, we walked around and found a place to hang out and eat some lunch. At around 2:30, we went to where the bus dropped us off and just waited. The bus didn’t end up coming until about 3:30pm, and we were both so tired at this point, we just wanted to be home. The trip took 11 and a half hours again and my phone was on 10% so I ended up turning it off about 4 hours into the trip, knowing I would need that last little bit to call a ride home from the bus station. We arrived to Cubao around 2:30am, and I got back to my apartment around 3am. I took a shower (with warm water and an actual shower head!) and got into bed.

Looking back, I am incredibly happy I decided to go on this journey and to challenge myself in new ways. I love my tattoos, they are healing pretty well. I would have always been curious as to what it would be like if I never went, so I am so glad I did. Not to mention, it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. If you are considering going on this trip, go! Be prepared for long travels and for the pain, but go! I have been so lucky to be able to explore the Philippines and learn about all the aspects of their culture, I am so grateful to have two things to forever remind me of this weekend and this loving country.

  • Price Breakdown:
  • Bus from Cubao to Bontoc: 1450 pesos roundtrip
  • Jeepney from Bontoc to Tinglayan: 100 pesos
  • Motorcycle from Tinglayan to Buscalan: 100 pesos
  • Environmental fee: 75 pesos
  • Homestay: 300 pesos
  • Tour guide fee: 750 pesos (1500 total)
  • Tattoo thorn: 100 pesos
  • Tattoos: 650 pesos
  • Jeepney from Buscalan to Bontoc: 100 pesos
  • Food we brought/bought along the way: 400 pesos
One of the stops we made on the bus
One of the many beautiful views
On top of the Jeepney!
Our dot tattoos
My ‘traveler’ tattoo! The village we came from was the little buildings above my head.
Getting Whang Od’s signature- three dots!
The tattoo board

Swimming and Sunburns and Snorkeling.. Oh My!

This past weekend I ditched the city for an amazing 36 hours! I went to Bauan, Batangas, with my fellow intern, Norah from New Zealand. Our morning started early on Saturday, with my alarm going off at 5:15am so I could meet Norah at the bus station by 6:30. Neither of us had taken a bus here before, so we wanted to ensure we had plenty of time to find the bus that would take us to the right place. We asked around and got in line for what we thought was Batangas, but after about ten minutes we had a feeling this wasn’t right. Turns out, we were in the wrong line! You know what they say, always trust your gut. No big deal though, we got in the right line and on the right bus in just a few minutes and once the bus was full, off we went!

All of the blog posts we had read online said the bus from Makati to Batangas was about three hours long, so when the bus pulled up to Batangas Grand Terminal at around 8:45am, we were pleasantly surprised. We rode a bit further and got off at Batangas Port because that appeared to be a little closer to our hotel (they ended up being the same distance) and we didn’t know any better. After haggling with multiple tricycles and jeepney drivers, we settled on taking a trike for 300 pesos from the port to the city of Bauan, where our hotel was located. We got food and were planning on just walking to the next place, but turns out our hotel was another 3 miles down the road, so we had to get another tricycle. We got to the hotel at around 10:15am but we couldn’t check into our room until 2pm, so we hit the pool and stayed there because the hotel was pretty far away from all other restaurants and activities. I’m not sure why I have never learned from my previous sun experiences, but I didn’t put sunscreen on my whole body, leading to a gnarly sunburn. Of course, while I was in and out of the water I couldn’t tell how bad it was, and it wasn’t until we checked into our room and I took a shower to rinse off I saw the damage. Luckily, I was smart enough to pack aloe which was a lifesaver. We ate lunch after dropping our stuff off and then both ended up falling asleep because the sun really drains you! The rest of our Saturday was pretty uneventful, we watched a rerun of the last episodes of the most recent Amazing Race, got dinner, and went to bed.

We had no real plans for the weekend, just one goal of snorkeling. Sunday morning we woke up, ate breakfast, and swam for a little before needing to checkout. We cleaned up the room and took (you guessed it) another tricycle to Anilao, a place Google told us would provide good snorkeling. It took us about an hour to find a place that would let us just rent a snorkel and mask for a decent price. Just as everywhere in the world, people try to capitalize their profits on tourists, but we weren’t falling for it. Finally, we found a woman who had 2 snorkel/mask sets that let us use them for 200 pesos each. Just before jumping into the ocean, we befriended a family on the beach who invited us to eat with them. It would be disrespectful to say no and we didn’t have an agenda to stick to, so we gladly accepted. They gave us a Filipino delicacy called Biko, which is a sticky rice cake with coconut milk and brown sugar. It was very delicious and interacting with them reminded us how much of a value hospitality is for Filipinos. We thanked them and went to snorkel. I saw so many fish that I had originally only seen in the fish tank at my dentist’s office, so it was so cool to see them swimming freely. There were angel fish, clown fish (nemo), surgeonfish (dory) and sea anemone, among others I couldn’t identify. I felt so at peace just observing them in their natural habitat, not harming or disrupting them in any way. Something that was very disappointing to see, however, was all of the plastic and waste in their home. The sea shore was lined with trash, an obvious indication that there would be some in the ocean, but it was worse than I thought. It was not only floating on the surface, but also at the sea floor, intertwined with the corals and the fish’s homes. I wanted to go under and pick up everything I could, but I wasn’t properly equipped to do so and it wouldn’t be safe. I already try to live a relatively waste-free lifestyle, I have a reusable water bottle, metal straw, and use solid soap and shower products, but seeing it up close made me want to do even more. You never realize how much of an impact single-use plastic has until you’re 8,000 miles away snorkeling with it in the Philippines.

After we were finished exploring and observing the fish, we went back to the Bauan plaza (by tricycle) to get some food before taking the bus back to Makati. From Bauan, we took a Jeepney back to Batangas City and wow!!! it is so much cheaper than tricycles. We discovered the thing we spent the most money this weekend on was the tricycles. Now we know and we are now Jeepney experts (more or less) so we will be better next trip. From Batangas City we took another Jeepney to Batangas Grand Terminal, got on the bus headed towards Makati, and had a relaxing 3 hour ride back (live love traffic). I arrived back at my apartment and was hit with the reality that I was no longer among the nature and went back to being among the buildings and the pollution. Today, Thursday, July 11th marks the one-month mark that I have been here while also being the four-week mark for me going back to the states! I have a few more exciting weekends planned that I’m sure will come and go very quickly, like this past one, so be sure to stay tuned for more updates from me. Thanks for reading, this week I challenge you to be more conscious about the plastic you are using and try to reduce your usage as much as possible!

Our hotel: Seascape Resort Batangas!
The kind family that let us eat with them 🙂
Snorkeling in Anilao!

Rainy season is here.. to stay!

Just as everyone warned, rainy season is here and it does not appear to be going anywhere. I don’t mind it too much, actually, because it really cools things down and gives a nice break from the heat (it’s still warm though). This past weekend I decided to just stay local, which ended up being fun! Sunday, a group of us went to La Mesa Ecopark in Quezon City and it was so beautiful. Being back in nature felt so nice, I didn’t even care about the rain. It took us about an hour to get there and once we arrived, we only had an hour and a half until the park closed, but we definitely made the most of our time there! I bought some Taho, a Filipino dessert made of silken tofu, a caramel sauce of sorts, and pearl beads. It sounds like an interesting concept, but I promise it tastes good and is super sweet! We saw so many types of trees, flowers and other plants that were all so green due to the fresh rain. My favorite part was the stone amphitheater that was covered in different grasses.

Work has been going well, too. Our hours are very flexible, so I usually don’t come in until around 10am and I stay until 5 or 6pm, depending on how much I have to get done. The difficult thing about the afternoon is that starting around 5pm is when the traffic gets so bad that it takes nearly an hour by car to drive 1 mile back to the apartment. I know what you’re thinking, just walk! And I have been, however, it is rainy season, which means every afternoon, it rains. And when it rains, it pours. Which means covering my backpack with my raincoat and praying my little umbrella keeps me semi-dry (gotta protect the electronics). The other night, I was carrying a box of pizza to my friends apartment and by the time I got there, myself and the pizza box were drenched. Traffic doesn’t clear up really until around 11pm or midnight, so I just usually end up gritting my teeth and walking home. In terms of actual work, though, I have been enjoying it a lot! I have been researching various companies and ideas to make our company more marketable and I really think I have a knack for it. I guess years of online shopping and trying to figure out what online store offers the best deal has finally paid off (not quite literally, yet). Because of my flexible work hours, I have been trying to use my mornings to workout because as I have mentioned, we have rice with just about every meal! But really, working out helps me relax and I always feel better after I do it, so it ensures I start everyday feeling good.

Tomorrow is the 4th of July which makes me feel a little homesick, as it will be my first one not celebrated in the states. But it’s okay because I will be back in just over a month. That’s so crazy! I have already been gone for 3 and a half weeks. It feels like I just got here while also feeling like I have been here for ages. Regardless, I know I will be sad to leave when the time comes. Oh well, no need to dwell on that thought, I’m trying to be more present and in-the-moment! Thanks so much for reading this little life update, stay tuned for my next post.

Matching with the flowers at La Mesa Ecopark!
Taho: the traditional Filipino dessert made of silken tofu, caramel, and pearl beads
Small section of the stone amphitheater I mentioned earlier
A little blurry because of the rain, but we had such a good time!

Going MAD in the Philippines

I just returned from an amazing 10-day tour put on by Make-a-Difference (MAD) Travel. The tour is called the Bayani Tour, bayani meaning hero. This was one of the most eye-opening and touching experiences I’ve had, so let me go over what we did each day. Be prepared for a long post!

Day 1- Saturday was the first day of our tour. As this tour is aimed for international travelers, there is nothing planned until the evening to allow the guests to have enough time to get to the accommodation from the airport. We went to the Hineleban Cafe for coffee and dinner, where we learned all about the Hineleban Foundation. The Hineleban Foundation works with a tribe in the Philippines to help with reforestation, environmental conservation, and sustainable farming practices. We got to try coffee made from the coffee beans that are grown by this tribe, as well as a grain dish containing adlai. Both the coffee and the dinner were very delicious, and it was a simple way for me to get to know the other guests I would be spending the next week with. I knew that at the end of this tour we were going to plant trees for a different tribe in the Philippines, so I thought this was a good, brief introduction to the topic.

Day 2- Sunday was one of my favorite days on the tour. The morning started with a bike tour of Intramuros, or the walled city. This history-rich city is the only walled city in Manila, created by the Spanish during their colonization of the Philippines. Besides the great information I learned, I really enjoyed that the bikes we rode on the tour were bambikes. These are bikes made from bamboo by local Filipinos, offering them employment. On top of one of the hotels in the city, the Bay Leaf Hotel, we could see a 360 degree view of Manila, which reminded me just how big the city really is. After having lunch, we drove about an hour to a Gawad Kalinga community called Silver Heights. Gawad Kalinga is a foundation created to alleviate poverty and help build-up the nation. The smiles on the childrens’ faces when they saw us get off the van were priceless, and that was just the beginning. While we were getting a tour of the area, the kids did not let go of our hands. After the tour, we were able to see what the kids do during the day to have fun. Even though I used to work with kids daily, it still amazes me how creative children are. We all danced and played various hand-clapping games (I am very good at “Faster!” for the record) and later they showed us their choreography to their favorite songs. Some of these kids really got moves, we were all impressed. Unfortunately, we had to say our goodbyes after dinner. We all left with smiling hearts and drove to our next destination.

Day 3- We woke up in another Gawak Kalinga (GK) community in Angat, Bulucan. This community is known as GK Enchanted Farms, and is the world’s first farm village university. Since being built, it is now a productive farm and offers university schooling in social entrepreneurship to scholars from other GK villages. We got a tour of the farm after having breakfast in the home of one of the community members. Being welcomed into someone’s house is so heartwarming, especially when they have so little but willingly give us everything they have. I loved hearing the advice and stories from all the titos and titas (titos and titas translate to uncles and aunts, but it’s a term used to refer to people older than you with respect) I met here. Later on, we got to design our own t-shirts from Tinta Ni Juan, one of the products developed by some of the university’s graduates. It was really cool to see the thought process before designing their items and learning how to press designs on as well. The shirt I made says “walang iwanan” meaning “no one left behind”, a common saying in GK communities. We had dinner in the community again, and after that we all went to bed because we were to have an early start the next morning.

Day 4- Bright and early at 6am, we went to the university’s farm to help the students with some tasks in the garden. We helped pull weeds around the basil plants while also getting to know the students better. They do this every morning from 6-7:30, so I could tell they appreciated our help. After washing up, we went to the kitchen to help the titas prepare lunch. We peeled garlic, cut string beans, and helped make palitaw, a Filipino dessert made from sticky rice and, in our case, coated in coconut shavings. I enjoyed doing this because when it came time to eat lunch, I felt like I really deserved my food. I also gained a lot of respect for how much work goes into cooking for so many people! I have obviously cooked for myself or my family before, but doing it for so many people is a lot more work. After lunch, we went to a local school and taught students about deforestation. They learned that simple things such as saving the seeds from fruits and vegetables can help combat this problem. As a demonstration, we all ate mangoes (my favorite!) and saved the seeds to be planted at a later time. We had dinner in the community, like every night, and went to bed early again because another early morning was to come.

Day 5- We helped the students on the farm again this morning, this time by harvesting mung bean. I liked this better than the pulling of the weeds because finding the ripe mung beans was like solving a puzzle to me, making sure to only pick the ones that were ready. Again, we helped out in the kitchen after rinsing off the dirt, but today we made crepes! Getting the crepe perfectly paper thin is so hard, and I don’t think any of us ended up mastering it, but there was significant improvement in the end. Once again, we felt we earned our lunch and took pride in seeing everyone enjoy our creations. We packed up our bags and headed off on a 5-hour ride to our next destination. We arrived in San Felipe, Zambales in time to watch the sunset on the beach. Watching the sunset is one of my favorite things and being at the beach makes it that much more beautiful. Once it went down completely, we had dinner at Mommy Phoebe’s, the restaurant where we would have lunch and dinner everyday. The hostel we stayed at was made out of ecobricks, which is a very innovative solution for reusing plastic waste (picture below!). We knew Thursday was going to be a busy day, so we all went to bed pretty early to ensure we were refreshed for the it.

Day 6- Thursday had another early start, but by now we were all used to it. Also, all of the animals around the hostel do a very good job of informing you when they are awake (thank you Mr. Rooster). Around 7am, we headed off to a local farm to help out for the morning. There we chopped banana trunk to be made into an organic fertilizer for the crops and helped spray fertilizer on the rice field. They do everything by hand, making me respect all their hard work even more. With a 3-liter canteen of fertilizer on my back, I headed to the rice field and sprayed for a whopping total of 5 minutes. Pumping the lever while guiding the nozzle and watching where you are walking is lot to think about at once, not to mention it is a workout! After we all had our turns, we handed the reigns back to the owner of the farm. We then headed to another part of the farm where we harvested string beans. I enjoyed this again for the same reasons as the mung bean, I see it as a game. I liked looking through all of the plants and trying to decipher what is a vine and what is a string bean while also trying to find the longest ones. After we picked more than we could carry, we headed over to the local market to pick out some fruit so we could make smoothie bowls on Friday. We had lunch at Mommy Phoebe’s again after making our way home from the market. The last thing we had to do today was a beach clean-up, but since the sun was so hot, we waited until just before sunset to begin. We quickly noticed that the biggest source of waste on LiwLiwa beach was cigarette butts. It was one of those things where we didn’t quite see them at first because they blended in with the sand, but once you saw one, you saw all of them. After picking up what felt like hundreds of cigarette butts and other trash, we called it a day and watched the sunset before heading to dinner.

Day 7- We altered the original itinerary a little to have a busier Thursday, so our Friday could be free. With the whole day to ourselves, we decided to go island hopping. We rode this little boat that, to me, was like a canoe with a motor and off we went exploring in the ocean. We first went to Camera Island, where it was as if we rented the whole thing to ourselves. There was no one else there, so we got to enjoy the white sands and blue waters without any interference. We then sailed over to Capones Island, which was bigger than the first one. We found a little section of shade and observed the beauty of the nature before us. This was one of my favorite moments because I felt so connected with everything around me while floating in the water, with no worries from the outside world bothering me. It was just me and what I was presently surrounded by. After some time, we headed back to the hostel to have lunch at Mommy Phoebe’s. As a late afternoon snack, or merienda, we made smoothie bowls using the fruit we got from the market the day before and continued to enjoy our free time. We got to bed pretty early again, in preparation for the big Tribes and Trek tour we were doing on Saturday.

Day 8- We were joined by other local travelers to go on the all-day Tribes and Treks tour. This journey consisted of visiting a local community that was almost wiped out due to the eruption of Mount Pinatubo 28 years ago. It is imperative for them to rebuild the 3,000 hectares (about 7,400 acres) of forest that was lost to provide food, shelter, and clean air. We started the journey via jeepney at about 7am and drove towards the mountains. After an about an hour of walking and wading through water, we reached the Aeta tribe’s nursery. Here, we planted seeds that will help with the reforestation. We were also able to plant the mango seeds that we saved from the teaching on Tuesday, which I loved because seeing things come full-circle is very satisfying and rewarding. Since this project was started in 2016, there has been over 40,000 trees planted, so we were luckily covered by shade while planting. The trees do such a good job of cooling the area down that there was actually a 15 degree celcius (27 degree fahrenheit) difference between direct sunlight and the shade! After planting over 450 seeds, we headed over to the community for lunch. They generously made us all food and even incorporated the string beans we harvested earlier in the week! We were able to engage with the kids after lunch, and also learn how to shoot a bow and arrow. The community members shared cultural traditions with us, showing that they trusted us with these stories. After the hour trek back to the jeepney and the drive back to where we were staying, we made it to the beach in time for sunset. Everyone felt happiness this night knowing we helped empower a local community and were able to share precious memories with them.

Day 9- This was our last day in Zambales! We went to the beach in the morning and I took a nice walk along the water. We headed back for one last meal at Mommy Phoebe’s and I got my last mango shake (miss them already) before we loaded up the van to go back to Manila.

Day 10- This tour is intended for international travelers so this day is when a person would normally fly to their next destination, but since I didn’t have to go further than a 10-minute drive, I’m back in Makati!

Reflecting on this tour reminded how impactful it was for both the communities we worked with and for myself. Disconnecting from the outside world and focusing on who and what are around you at a particular moment was very necessary for me and I encourage everyone to try doing this every once in a while (or more, you do you!). This trip was so much more than I expected it to be and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to go. I feel like I really have evaluated what I prioritize in life and I feel so blessed to have who and what I have. Below are just a few of the memories caught on camera that I thought I’d add in. Hopefully I have more exciting stories to share later in my internship, but topping this tour may be hard!

Day 1- Making coffee with an aeropress
Day 2- Riding Bambikes in Intramuros
Day 2- Having fun with the kids in Silver Heights
Day 3- The tshirt I made! Walang Iwanan is a common phrase meaning “no one left behind”
Day 4- Weeding on the farm
Day 4- Teaching about deforestation
Day 5- Harvesting mung beans
Day 6- Fertilizing rice fields
Day 6- Harvesting string beans
Day 7- Island hopping!
Day 8- Tribes and Treks tour
Ecobricks! They used recycled plastic bottles and tightly stuff them with loose plastic wrappers or bags to make them strong enough to be used in place of cinder blocks and to reduce the plastic in the ocean!

Becoming a city girl

I officially finished my second day in the office! I am interning with a company called MAD (Make-a-Difference) Travel, which focuses on sustainable tourism while also empowering local indigenous communities. The company’s vision is very inspiring to me and I am excited to continue learning more about it while working in the marketing department. I am working and living here with two other interns from my school. Our apartment is in Mandalyoung, which is about 1.3 miles from our office. Our office is in Makati, the Business District of Manila. Getting a ride through Grab (equivalent to uber) ends up taking about the same amount of time as walking due to the crazy and constant traffic, so we have been opting to walk to save money as well as time, at least until rainy season starts! As I mentioned in a previous post, driving here is crazy. We walk alongside all of the cars and crosswalks are not followed, so we have to be assertive in order to cross the street (Mom and Dad, if you are reading this, I promise I am being safe!). We have gotten used to it, and the people here are so helpful, too. Last night when we were walking to Makati for dinner, a group of little boys guided us in the right direction, which ended up being such a fun experience because they were so excited to be helping us cross the river! As with any new city, there are a few things I am learning to adjust to. For example, most of the public bathrooms do not supply any toilet paper, they just have hoses next to the toilets, which I have yet to experiment with (maybe if I’m feeling adventurous I will, stay tuned!). I have learned to always travel with a tissue pack for that reason! The humidity is no joke here, either. I thought being from California would have prepared me for the heat, but wow, was I wrong. Breathable fabric is key! We are going back to Makati tonight for dinner and drinks. Tomorrow I am leaving to go on a 10-day tour that MAD puts on. Because I am doing the marketing for future tours like the one I am going on, they thought it’d be best I go on it so I know exactly what I will be promoting. I will go into more detail about what the tour entails in my next blog post once I return from the trip. So until then, let’s hope I never forget tissues and adjust more to the humidity!

View from the bridge on our walk to the office.

The first few days

A monument on the UPLB campus.
Our view from dinner!

I am officially in the Philippines and I am loving it so far! After landing in Manila, all of the Philippine interns drove to Los Baños to have orientation. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I could never drive here- it’s madness! It appears that turn signals are optional and horns are used to let the other drivers know you are passing them. If that doesn’t seem complicated enough, pedestrians walk across the street fearlessly. The Filipinos say that when buying a car, look for two things-good brakes and a good horn! We got to our hotel which is on the University Philippines Los Baños campus and the views are absolutely amazing! Our orientation took all day and we learned a lot about Filipino culture and a few phrases in Tagalog, the official language of the Philippines. Ako si Emma (I am Emma)! I will be using a few of them often I’m sure, but I am also glad most people speak English as well. We had our last meal together as the whole Philippine group today at dinner and tomorrow we are all breaking off and going to our internship sites. The dinner was eaten in kamayan style, meaning we used our hands as our utensils! They provided forks and spoons (knives are not commonly used when utensils are present) for those who weren’t quite ready for that, but I dove straight in and found it very fun. In America, we grow up being told not to play with our food, and here, they embrace it! We got to ride in a Jeepney on the way to and from dinner, which was definitely a uniquely Filipino experience. I am super excited to move to Manila and see the MAD office and further understand what a typical day will consist of. I, of course, will keep you updated. Babay po!


I can’t believe there is less than one week until I leave for my 8-week-long trip in the Philippines! I have been home with my family preparing for and anticipating this journey. From getting various vaccines to buying sweat-proof clothes, I finally feel ready to go. I have done a lot of research on the country and culture, but I still do not fully know what to expect. I am just so thankful and excited for this opportunity and am anxiously waiting for my flights! Follow along with me if you want to see what I am up to on a daily and weekly basis.