Quality time with family in my hometown – Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines

After 17 days in the Philippines visiting family and  then enjoying some island time on Palawan, we are back in Texas.  We picked Betsy up from storage and drove just 85 miles south to rest and get over our jet lag at Lake Texana Park and Campground in Edna, Texas (Steve’s review here).

It had been a whirlwind trip packed with family bonding and fun with friends, and as they say, time flies when you’re having too much fun.  In our case there was some suffering of sore butts because of our 17-hour flight back home with a stop in Seoul, South Korea.

Monica Sandalo
Mama Monica with her handsome son-in-law

Our priority in flying across the Pacific Ocean was to visit mom, who was delighted to see us.  She is now 96 years old and in fairly good health, still mentally sharp but weakening physically.  Since she loves to tell stories about her past, Steve was fascinated to hear her WWII tales – particularly about the Japanese invasion in our hometown.  She recounted how the family evacuated to the hills, living in caves and burying their treasures as Japanese soldiers burned all of their homes to the ground.  And during this 2-year period she even added two more children to the clan while they were in hiding!

As my mother is the only surviving witness to these events, she recently told her story in a documentary that detailed the Japanese aggression in our town.  Steve was blown away by her detailed recollection of what happened all those years ago.

Mom also showed Steve the U.S. map and pictures of Betsy that she had plastered on the hallway wall to keep tabs of our travels.  I had provided her with a map of the U.S., and each time we talk on the phone I tell her which state we are in and my sister updates the map. Well, it was a bit out-of-date when we arrived, so Steve made it current and shared memories with mom about the places she has visited in the states over the years.

Lowes RV Adventure USA mapWhen not listening to mom’s stories, Steve made himself handy during our stay.  He helped my brother Edgar change a flat tire, and worked on my sister’s kitchen drawers.  Everyone was happy to have someone in the house who could handle some of the maintenance issues.

Steve and my brother Edgar replacing a flat tire

We both instantly became “tech support”, as Steve worked on sister Thelma’s mini laptop, and I figured out her WiFi hotspot.  Just keep the cold beer coming and we’ll do anything!


Night life was mostly restricted to the battle of words, as Steve played Scrabble with Thelma and my brother-in-law, Boni.  It turns out they were pretty well matched, as each of them won games during the marathon.

Scrabble with family

Like any other Filipino home, food is served/offered several times during the day.   Steve had never eaten so much rice in his life before coming here!  Rice is serve for breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with fresh fish, seashells and vegetables.  We ate so much that we both got sick on our second day – just too much of a good thing that our bodies weren’t ready for.  But it was hard to say “no” to Thelma’s awesome cooking from scratch with all fresh ingredients and organic vegetables.

Sea Shells
How about some fresh seashells?

One day Steve was offered cooked sea shells and he had to learn how to remove the meat from inside the shell using a safety pin 🙂  He’d never had it before and was willing to give it a try.  He was also introduced to a local fish called Rabbit Fish (known locally as Kitong) and he said it was one of the best white fishes he had ever eaten.  Served grilled or fried, we devoured it with gusto as we won’t see it served anywhere back in the states.  There’s a huge benefit to living close to an abundant supply of so much seafood that we could buy fresh off the boat every morning or delivered to us.

How to eat sea shells
Nothing can compare to this seafood!

In every Filipino celebration or gathering, lechon is always at center stage.  As usual, when Steve and I were invited to my sister Eyen’s party, the whole roasted pig was in the middle of the table.  Lechon has been hailed as “best pork ever “by Anthony Bourdin in one of his “No Reservations” episodes.  Steve is no stranger to this offering, but he looked so sad in this picture as we were both still feeling sick from the previous evening’s meal, and lechon is very rich and fatty.  It was the saddest day of our trip 😦

You haven’t lived if you haven’t tried pork lechon, especially the skin. This picture makes our mouths water!

We were able to see about half of the family during this visit, since my brother Juhn was also in town.

Left to right next to us – sisters Thelma and Eyen, and Eyen’s husband Boni
We met up with brothers Alex (left) and Juhn

When the typhoon rains let up I was ready to be Steve’s tour guide, and happily showed him around the area.  Like most other towns, Moalboal has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years.  With the growth comes traffic congestion and bigger businesses, but the roads have not kept up with traveler’s needs.  Many years ago I would stroll down the streets and be flagged down by neighbors and friends so we could have a chat.  Now I feel like a stranger when I walk around to do my errands, and it seems like nobody pays attention to me.  And they call this progress?  I don’t think so!

Here’s a peek at what Steve saw in my not-so-little hometown of Moalboal:

Main Street, Moalboal
The main drag through town with fruit stands lined up along the street
Town Plaza
The town plaza
Provincial Road
The highway leading to the south
Tulay – our rock pier that holds lots of childhood memories
Moalboal Bay
At low tide folks go tide pooling to gather seashells for dinner

Fresh fruits are in abundance all year round, and fruit stands line the main drag.  Mango was Steve’s daily treat, and he only missed it once when he got sick.

Scenes of everyday life that made Steve smile and shake his head in wonder and awe:

Our visit was just too short, and we made sure Mama’s time was filled with our presence and spent quality time with her. She was even happier when she learned I will be back for her 97th birthday next year and she gave me a big smile 🙂






  1. A worth while trip for sure. Your mother was and is beautiful. That blue dress on her is stunning. I know she’s already looking forward to your spring return 🙂

  2. How wonderful that you are able to visit your mom and family each year. I am sure your mom was very pleased that you will be back for her 97th birthday. She is certainly a beautiful woman:)

    This is exactly what happens when we visit my mother. She usually has a list for John and the computer is always on it!! There are so many repairs on older homes. She looks froward to having our company and John’s handiness:)

    I can understand why you weren’t feeling well after the rich, different food. What a daily feast! Love the all the fresh fruit:)

    Steve, I must compliment you on your very complete reviews. You always do such a great job. Thanks!

  3. Wonderful story! You are so lucky your mom still has her memory. I wish my mom did. I love the fruit stands. I’m a vegan so the seeing the dead pig makes me sad. I hope I can go there some day. I love the tropics! Happy Holiday! Welcome back!

  4. What a very special time…it’s easy to see where your beauty and warm smile come from MonaLiza. Thanks for sharing your family and hometown…and what a treat to enjoy all the seafood and fresh fruits & veggies!

  5. What a wonderful place your home town seems to be. Such an abundance of my favorite things – seafood and fruit!! Wonderful pictures of your family. I would love to see the documentary done from your mother’s recollections. My father is 94 and he was in the Philippines during WWII. I will ask him if he remembers where he was. His memory unfortunately is not as good as your mother’s. This was a wonderful post! What a great visit! So glad you are going back for her next birthday.

  6. Thank you for sharing your family and traditional foods with us. This was a joy to read. How wonderful that your mother is doing well at her age. She is lovely!

  7. Favorites, favorites, favorites! Seafood, fruit, but most of all the love of Family! I am glad to be back and catching up with you again!

  8. I love this post. I especially love the photo of Steve showing your mom where you’ve been on the map – beautiful. And helping your family with handiwork – Hector always used to help my stepmother when we visited also. And you know I love the fresh seafood! What a life your mom has had, wonderful that her memory is so sharp. A special lady for sure.
    Best to you and Steve,

  9. Mom looks awesome. I would never have guessed her age. If only we can all live so long and be in the great health she is in.

    I would have loved to hear her story. What an terrifying event she lived through. So very happy for you both that she was able to share the true story of the invasion.

    What a marvelous experience for Steve. Glad he was a good sport and joined in on the new culinary experiences…hehe

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your homeland, traditions, and beautiful family with us, ML. I enjoyed this post so much I read it twice. Your mom is amazing! I’ll bet she looks forward to your visit each year — and how cool that she keeps track of your travels! The food looks delicious — I’d like to try shells, and I could happily eat mangoes every day. Glad to have you back. 🙂

    • Laurel, those shells are one of those seafood that I mentioned to you in your post about tide pooling. The food was too good that we ate a lot and got sick of overeating. ha ha . Thank you for your nice words about mom, she is indeed beautiful.

  11. That looks like such a fantastic time. Steve is lucky to have a tour guide at his side too! I agree about the progress…. Saw the same stuff going on in Costa Rica 8 years ago, we saw it and were told it was growing very fast. Word always gets out on ‘PARADISE’. Keep those great boondocking locations close to the vest!!!

  12. Getting a peek into your childhood, hometown, and your traditions was a delight MonaLiza. Your mother was and continues to be a beautiful woman. Thank you for this treat. 🙂

  13. Mangoes, San Mig, wooden chairs, placemats… Pinoy na pinoy! Have to mention that I also have childhood “tulay” memories. 🙂

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