June 1, 2013: My Ate (big sister) Merlyn took me to meet some of her family yesterday. Actually, Merlyn and I were both born in the same year, but since she’s a couple months older than me, I can call her big sister.
We travelled Filipino style to the province. First by jeepney and then by Victory Liner bus from Olongapo to Zambales province. Although we set off at three in the afternoon so it wouldn’t be quite so hot, it still was.
We were nearly in Castellejos when we hopped off and began what Merlyn promised would be a seven minute walk through rice paddies to her sister’s house. But first we had to stop at a sari sari store to buy some cold refreshments to take with us. And then wind our way through the streets to the farm land outside Barangay Pamatawan. That’s when we ran into Merlyn’s Ate Nelia. Before we could continue on our way, we had to make a little detour for a visit with some of her friends in town, listen to some karaoke and try some sticky rice cake.
Once we were back on our way, we passed the last of the homes in the subdivision and all their barking dogs and suddenly we were in fields with carabao, birds and, in all likelihood, snakes. After dodging puddles, crossing a rickety bamboo footbridge and walking along a concrete retaining wall, we arrived at the base of the mountain and Nelia’s home that she shares with her Tatay (father). He said, “You can call me Joe.” Actually his name is José, but the Americans used to call him Joe when he worked on the former U.S. naval base as a golf caddy.
What a great spot! Beautiful views across the valley to town and the mountains beyond. Bananas, cashews, mangoes and an assortment of native fruit trees all around. A real vegetable garden!!! Birds singing. It was so incredibly green and lush and peaceful compared to the bustle of Olongapo.
Nelia said it’s a really safe place too, except that after she paid to run electricity out to the house from town, thieves stole the lines eight separate times.
Merlyn wanted to make Tinola for me because she knows how much I like it. Tinola is a traditional Filipino soup normally made with small native chickens, but as they are hard to come by, we brought along a store-bought chook. I had tried to make it once from a recipe I found online, but it just didn’t have any flavour. So Nelia gave me a cooking lesson.
Nelia’s home has two buildings. The kitchen building is separate from the main house which has two sitting rooms, two bedrooms and a bathroom. There is both an indoor kitchen with a gas stove and an outdoor kitchen for cooking over a wood fire. There’s running water in town, but not out here. Water comes from a pump right outside the kitchen.
The Tinola was made in a wok over the wood fire. Once it was ready, the rice was cooked in a pot on the wood fire too. Nelia says it tastes better that way. And then we all sat down inside at the table that Tatay José had made and enjoyed a huge feast that also included three different varieties of fish. There was fried tipalia and another ocean fish cooked two different ways. I couldn’t stop eating!!! The Tinola was amazing. And then, suddenly, I was so full.
What a great day with my wonderful new Filipino family! So much laughter and good food. What could be better? I felt so privileged for this experience. Apparently, I’m an honorary Mirador sister now and José invited me to come back for another visit real soon.
On the way back, it was pitch black. The iPhone flashlight app came in handy once again. We used it to avoid stepping on and squishing an endless parade of toads that were hanging out on the path through the fields. Then we simply waited by the side of the highway until the first jeepney came along and flagged it down for the ride back to Olongapo.
Palm Oil for Frying
Roughly Chopped Onion
Ginger cut into strips
Whole chicken cut into pieces (skin on, fry until brown)
Salt and Pepper
Water (to cover)
2-3 Halapeño Peppers (whole)
Chinese Cabbage (baby Pak Choi or similar)