Chicka-Chicka Bang Bang.

Jill: Filipinos are expert texters, so within fifteen minutes of our arrival to Caba, everyone within a twenty mile region knew that the Americans had arrived. And they wanted to meet us. We spent the next several hours of our day being ushered from home to home, meeting the who’s who of the area. And even though it meant venturing out into the blazing Filipino sun, we didn’t mind. There would be snacks!

Maya: Managing to find room for said snacks in our bulging bellies after Ellen and Verna’s welcome feast was another issue altogether, but at the risk of seeming rude, we accepted our new friends’ hospitable gestures as best we could. (Walking from house to house certainly helped.) Our first destination: the home of the woman who ran the local government, kapitana (captain) Nordy.

Jill: The walk provided our initial introduction to carabao. A fixture on alongside many Filipino roads, the carabao is a domesticated version of the water buffalo used to haul product. (The Chevy pickup of the Philippines.) It’s customary for a farmer to dig a hole and fill it with water so the carabao do not get too hot in the middle of the day. This little guy didn’t have his own wading pool, but made do by finding a rare patch of shade.

Maya: Though we’d eventually become accustomed to the sight of these heavily horned beasts, our first up-close-and-personal meeting was just slightly intimidating. I gave him a bit more breathing room than Verna did in the shot above.

Jill: As we walked further into the countryside, we were able to see our surroundings. Overlooking the barangay was a cemetery that had fallen victim to mudslides in recent years.

Maya: Somehow, the thought of a cemetery being wiped out was a shocking one (I visualized a flood of coffins sweeping down the hill), but thanks to heavy precipitation during the rainy season, this type of destruction is not uncommon. We quickly learned to spot the after-effects.

: The kapitana greeted us at the door as we approached, gesturing toward the chairs in her courtyard and reappearing a minute or two later with a tray of treats and a bottle of ice-cold Sprite.

Jill: We soon found ourselves involved in two important parts of Filipino culture: chicka-chicka and snacks. Tagalog for chit chat or gossip, chicka-chicka is a regular part of the day in these parts. In a short time, we learned stories about every American that had visited the barangay (and their intestinal problems). I am absolutely certain we gave our hostesses enough fodder for chicka-chicka for years to come.

Jill: I remember being somewhat full when offered this array of packaged cookies and cakes. I also remember wanting to suck down that entire bottle of Sprite.

Maya: In lieu of pound cake or brownies, I opted for one of these wax-paper-wrapped cookies. Sprinkled with sugar and flaky to the touch, they were just right after our heavy lunch.

Jill: Like toddlers at a petting zoo, Maya and I were enthralled at the arrival of a mother and baby goat. All conversation turned from how tampons work (yes, this was a topic of great interest) to the goats. I tried to explain the concept of goat cheese to our hostess. (I do love the Philippines, but I don’t know that I could live in a culture where the majority of cheese comes from a can.)

Maya: Oh my god, the goats! I’ve been haunted by the sudden desire to move to a remote location and become a cheese-maker ever since meeting these two. Especially the baby.

Jill: So cuuuuuuuuuuuuuute.

Maya: We only managed to tear ourselves away from those irresistible animals when we heard mention of another neighbor’s fish farm; after a quick consultation, we were invited over for a tour. First, though, we stopped at their house for homemade melon milkshakes and still more local gossip.

Speaking of intestinal problems, there are two solid no-nos in my diet. The first one is milk. (I’ll endure a little pain for some cheese, but drinking plain old milk is not something I’d do in a country with questionable plumbing.) The other no-no? Cantaloupe. There’s something about the fruit that makes my face blow up like a balloon. (I usually can get around fresh fruit and vegetable allergies by cooking them, but cantaloupe will always be on the never-again list.) So this invitation from Dom and Volie put me in a bit of a quandary. Rule number one: do not refuse food. Sigh. Luckily, as we learned from our chicka-chicka session, our Filipino friends were quick to delve into personal topics. I avoided offending them by announcing my lactose-intolerance and sitting through the story of an other American’s gastronomical issues once more.

Maya: I had no such problems and went so far as to consider it my duty, as a conscientious traveler, to taste such a non-American shake flavor on behalf of both of us. Rich and creamy, yet still refreshing thanks to the freshly scooped melon, I sipped as much as my still-too-full stomach would allow.

Early on in the planning stages for this trip, I’d debated whether or not a journey to the other side of the world was a good idea, given my lack of funds and all. One of the factors that convinced me to go for it, even with my fluctuating levels of employment, was the chance to do some research on a new category of pepper sauce for my hypothetical food business. When Volie learned of my interest in all things spicy, she pulled out every specimen she could find. Below, pickled sili mahaba chiles, a mild cousin of the tiny red peppers (the source of this scorching-hot, smoky powder) I’d come to know and love in later days.

Jill: Maya spent three quarters of her trip talking to people about pepper sauce and I’m thrilled I managed to get a picture of her in action. The photo from this day that did not happen was of Maya and our hosts’ niece, nicknamed “Aa-aa,” playing a massive game of peek-a-boo. The two were instant friends. I seriously began to wonder if Maya would arrive at U.S. Customs with a bucket full of peppers, a baby goat and a little girl.

Maya: Given our new friends’ ability to communicate, I’m guessing that Customs would already know we were coming. That would really give them something to talk about.

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