Diretso Tayo Sa Davao!

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The warmth I felt upon arriving in the Philippines when taking my first breath of air exiting the airplane wasn’t just the temperature or humidity. It was love from the Filipino people. I have never felt more welcome in a new environment than when I first stepped foot in the Philippines this past July. My trip lasted one week and with so much to absorb and enjoy, I consistently felt I was going to miss something amazing.

After landing in Davao City, my first stop was at a store selling furniture, rolls of fabrics and a multitude of products hand-woven and crafted by local artisans. The craftsmanship, quality and pride were evident in everything displayed, as the saleswoman briefly explained history and local traditions regarding the different types of fabrics being sold. However, before speaking to me about the merchandise, she genuinely asked me how I was and how my time in the Philippines was treating me. Her face began to glow proudly once I relayed my happiness, even though I had only been in the country for a few hours. That glow and genuine concern regarding my well-being and happiness were consistent everywhere I went and unwavering from person to person.

The love I had just felt was most evident during meal time. As in most cultures, food is a crucial element in the expression of people and the Philippines is no exception. “Are you hungry? Here, eat some of this, it’s good,” was said to me multiple times, regardless where we were, followed by an explanation of what I was about to eat and where it came from. Everyone wanted to make sure I was well fed with a variety of local cuisine and traditions ranging from seafood to desserts derived from rice; I couldn’t have been happier than in those moments eating. Personally, the best way for me to experience a new place and its people is through their food and where they congregate. I want to know where the people buy their food, where they spend their time and what they love to eat. I was fortunate to experience this with so many proud Filipinos who wanted nothing more than to extend their hospitality and share their love of food with me.

As my trip continued, and I was fed regularly, I found my way to a coconut and banana plantation at Hijo Resorts. The natural beauty I saw there commanded my full attention making it difficult to focus on conversations. However, what truly made my day was a children’s guitar band. Filling the air all afternoon with the joy and skill they put into their music, it elevated the ambiance from a place of relaxation to bliss — bliss that I enjoyed with plenty of banana chips and coconut to boot!

With the island’s beauty, coconuts and bananas, combined with a guided tour of the unmanicured forest nearby, I began to feel far away from home and more like I was in an Indiana Jones movie on an adventure. The guide was so happy and excited to share his knowledge and love of the forest and the Philippines and made me feel as though it was mine too. Although this was my first trip to the Philippines, it wasn’t my first exposure to the Filipinos’ vibrant culture and heritage. Living in Los Angeles has blessed me with many Filipino friends who’ve all shared with me their culture in various ways, but seeing the origin of what I’d been previously exposed to really brought a sense of wonder and greater appreciation. I could now see, feel and taste what had been so passionately extended to me. I loved it.

Venturing on through the Davao area I bounced from the beautiful Malagos Garden Resort, which houses the Chocolate Museum (yum), to the Philippine Eagle Center and eventually met the king…of fruits: the durian.

After hearing so much about durian, I was finally able to experience the infamous fruit just outside of Chinatown in Davao. We grabbed a small table on the street outside of a fruit store and I sat down eagerly not knowing what exactly to expect. The king is definitely in a league of his own and I’ve never seen anything like him. Durian is large with a commanding odor and delicious. This fruit is woven into Filipino culture giving a thread of commonality between the different islands and people of the Philippines. As I sat at the end of the table and took my first bite, everyone’s heads were turned towards me waiting for my reaction. Cheers and happiness filled the table when I nodded with enjoyment. While everyone else began to eat, I could see the comfort and joy on everyone’s faces enjoying the fruit. You have to try durian if you visit the Philippines or you won’t experience the country.

With my stomach full of durian, my trip pushed forward taking me to a slice of paradise on Samal Island. More kindness and excitement greeted me when I got off the boat at Pearl Farm Beach Resort, where I spent the night in heaven. I’ve been left speechless to describe this place and can only express my experience with a feeling I held during my stay, love. Love from the people, love for the people and love for my current surroundings.

Eventually, I had to leave and flew to Manila where I rounded out my Philippine experience. Manila’s energy, enormous size and overwhelming presence definitely leaves an impression. Although large cities tend to have a cold shoulder, I felt nothing but the opposite from Manila. The same warmth and embrace I’d been feeling the whole trip was there.

The world can be harsh, cold and we tend to forget about our neighbors and it’s largely agreed that the world needs more love. I say the world needs more Filipino love.

Cameron Gonzalez
Cameron Gonzalez

Cameron Gonzalez began his professional career studying marketing and advertising at Michigan State University with creative passions ranging from music to art history. Eventually, after working in brand development and brand education for companies, Cameron ventured out on his own and now passionately works for clients seeking his professional counsel and network. While steering clients through the intricacies of government affairs, brand expansion and real estate needs, Cameron makes sure to enjoy the most important part of life, the relationships built along the way. Outside of work, Cameron passionately reads and practices music.

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Spotlighting the growth, development, and progression of the Philippines since 2009. Balikbayan Magazine is a publication of the Asian Journal Media Group.