Philippines, Part II: Beach hut in Santander, Cebu Island

For the second part of our Philippines journey, we escaped city life to find solace at Nick’s aunt’s nipa hut on the beach. We traveled three hours in a little van along a continuous stretch of coastline to Santander, the southernmost tip of Cebu island. My knuckles were nearly white from gripping my seat through the tumultuous drive, during which we shared the road with animals, pedestrians, and various open “vehicles” with no regard for traffic rules. The scenery beyond my window definitely helped, though.

Carefree children playing outside their homes:
After getting dropped off at our destination, we hiked briefly through a jungle of sorts before reaching signs of inhabitants, as indicated by tethered cows, goats, pigs, and other livestock. Here I am in my travel OOTD – Nick’s tee (had to conserve my one and only outfit on the trip) and my sexy JanSport knapsack from middle school (conveniently left behind in China back then, now suddenly useful):
Upon arriving at the nipa hut, the simple beauty of it all took my breath away. This picture captures the essence of our stay…the basic structure of the home, the wooden boats lounging on the shore, the forlorn stray dog, and the proximity to the serene ocean. The only things missing are the pesky chickens.

The original base of the hut got washed away a decade ago, and was replaced with cement:
One of my first naive questions was how stuff doesn’t get stolen from the home with roll-up walls. Nick’s aunt gave a little chuckle and responded “There’s nothing to steal…”
Activities during day-to-day hut life included snorkeling (but there sure were a lot of sea urchins) and rowing in a “banca” boat. It was my first time snorkeling and I was easily fascinated by all the starfish down under. Unfortunately, I panicked each time a little water got inhaled/leaked in and thrashed uncontrollably at the urchins.
We did quite a bit of laundry due to our light packing. Below left: Washing clothes by the water tap, keenly keeping a side eye out for the aggressive chickens who walked around like they owned the place. Although they roamed freely, they each had a little leg tag marking the family whom they belonged to. Below right: The “dining” gazebo doubled as a clothes line.
As much as I’d like to say I transitioned to this way of life seamlessly, one of the biggest surprises to me were cold showers. The first night, I stood in the bathroom for a good ten minutes twisting the water knobs in every combo possible before asking for help – and being met with amused smiles. 

I loved tagging along with Nick’s aunt to buy meals. The muddy coolers by the side of the road served as storefronts for fishing families. Salted and then grilled, these were satisfying with rice.


The neighboring homes:

The volume of stray dogs in the Philippines broke my heart. It’s not something we see often where we live, but it was prevalent at every turn during this trip.

Are you my mommy? …no…


Are you my mommy?

As one would expect, this water-surrounded area was largely a fishing village. We observed numerous small boats going out at dawn, manned by bronzed fishermen with nets swung over their shoulders. Nick and I stood out like ghosts in comparison ; )

Fishermen pulled up outside our hut with the morning’s catch. One came and handed a friendly offering through our open walls:


The incredibly vibrant colors, a theme throughout this trip:


Living in the States, I love my share of processed and fast food. It felt different being so close to our meals. Seeing Juanita (the household helper) harvest plants and grab a squawker from the yard, then being served chicken and veggie stew a few hours later, was strangely startling to me.

Juanita preparing dinner (gift from the fishermen, also present):


The main road was more lively and lined with storefronts and vendors. I was so pleased to find one of my biggest guilty pleasures, fried chicken, to be plentiful throughout the Philippines. Locals would scoot up to this stand in mopeds and exchange coins for a tasty snack. I couldn’t help but indulge as well! The chopped up crispy-skinned pork was also delicious.
Cooling off by the main road with Coke in refillable bottles.
Nick has told me of so many fond memories from his aunt’s hut, such as napping lazily on the open porch, dodging sea urchins in the ocean, and eagerly waiting for the beach side vendors selling mangoes and sweet sticky rice. It felt wonderful for me to experience some of these things from his childhood. I have to thank his family for an incredible, authentic experience which I could not have had as a mere tourist.


Thank you for reading and for letting me share my travels with you!

Leave a Comment


  1. Michelle wrote:

    That is awesome that you got to experience the Philippines as you did! I would love living so close to the ocean and fresh food! Those stray animals would drive me nuts, too! Poor things!

    And I second Aubrey…loved your writing…I felt as if I was reading an intimate story.

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  2. Great post! Thank you for sharing your experience with us. : ) Even though I eat meat, I'd have a hard time eating something that I only saw alive a few hours ago. You did a good job being able to experience that!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  3. Awesome post! I'm originally from the Philippines but moved to US at a young age…sad to say that you've been to more remote parts of Phil than I have. Thanks for sharing…makes me want to go for a visit.

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  4. Santander is beautiful <3 We used to go there all the time when we were kids because my mom's from there, and we may have to go back!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  5. Suzie Q wrote:

    Looked like a wonderful trip and experience. The photos are beautiful, and I adore the captions for the dogs!! So cute!

    Suzie Q

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  6. strapple wrote:

    Philippines looks like an amazing place. Definitely on my travel list! Would like to know which parts of the Philippines you would recommend.


    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  7. Thanks for sharing your travels and your pictures of beautiful Philippines.

    As much as I love to travel, I've only been able to experience a handful of experiences where it was more authentic and less touristy. So happy for you to experience these experiences and great memories with Nick :).

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  8. lin wrote:

    looks like you had a wonderful time. thanks for sharing. you write so well along with the pictures, very detailed and expressive that we could imagine almost being there too!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  9. Jade wrote:

    I visited the Philippines 2 years ago and it was an amazing trip. Yeah, I agree when visiting other countries, I like to experience the authentic culture; especially the food. I too was amazed at the large amounts of stray dogs. It was sad. It was interesting that the dogs didn't bother the "humans" though. They pretty much stayed to themselves. Lovely pictures!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  10. Wow! those are some beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. It totally shows us life from a local's perspective.


    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  11. wow, what an amazing and unique experience. When traveling I often try to see out the authentic, non-touristy experiences… and you got that above and beyond. So fascinating seeing the culture in other corners of the world! Thank you so much for sharing

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  12. Anonymous wrote:

    Wow this looks like a trip of a lifetime. Love that fish photo


    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  13. Arts wrote:

    lovely post and Nick look so beautiful together…

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  14. Pettit Mom wrote:

    Great Post 🙂

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  15. Next time, make a trip to Sri Lanka, you'll be able to take 100s of pictures… I am a big enough fan to give you my soon to be vacant home to stay:)

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  16. newpetite wrote:

    Beautiful pictures! The hut looks beautiful and its awesome when you get to experience the local stuff which we as tourists rarely get to do. Sadly, the dogs are prevalent in India as well. I have many Phillipino friends and they fondly describe about their country and other stuff. I have to show your post to them now 🙂

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  17. girly girl wrote:

    Thank you so much for this post Jean! I was born and raised in the Philippines too so this post gives me fond memories growing up in the province.

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  18. Danielle H. wrote:

    You finally posted the second leg of your Philippines Trip! Thank you so much, Jean! It was a very pleasant distraction from studying for my upcoming GMAT test in less than 48 hours. Congratulations btw on your CFA success! Now all you need is that brand new business card with those three letters after your name! :]

    Again, I love this post!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  19. Joanna Le wrote:

    What an amazing post! The photos are simply breathtaking.

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  20. Katherine wrote:

    I love your travel posts. The Philippines looks so amazing and I'd love to go there one day – the dogs are prevalent in Thailand as well and it is very sad 🙁

    What did you think of the Manila airport? I had to pass through one time for work….not a fan! Apparently it's one of the worst in the world!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  21. Beautiful pictures. Looks like an amazing trip filled with wonderful memories! That poor puppy, though! Another wonderful post.

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  22. Miss Xu wrote:

    Sounds like you had an amazing time!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  23. Janki wrote:

    Amazing! I've never been to the Phillipines, but your travel journal reminds me so much of visiting India as a kid. It made me excited about going back, this time with my own family. Wonderful post. Your writing is just so descriptive and expresses your personality so well. I had to giggle at the "white knuckle" comment and the cold water showers. As a kid, I didn't have enough knowledge to be aware of the unsafe vehicle conditions, but even now I vividly remember the bathing situation. Our family always had a maid and she kindly would boil a small vessel of water for us to mix with the room temperature water to make a "warm" shower.
    One of the biggest regrets I have is not taking these types of vacations enough when I was in the early stages of my career (pre-kids). I was always fooled into being that "hard worker" and never really exhausted my vacation. Now, I barely remember those jobs but would have remembered those great vacation memories.

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  24. i loved this post Jean – the pictures and descriptions are so wonderful. i could almost smell the fish grilling. the poor puppy pictures broke my heart. thank you for sharing these travels – it looks like it was such a wonderful life experience. xox P

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  25. Samantha wrote:

    Glad you shared all of this!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  26. What an amazing trip and experience! You realize how much we take for granted here in the states! Thank you for sharing your pictures and experience!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  27. minnie wrote:

    amazing blog post, jean

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  28. Wow, such an enjoyable read with such lovely photos. This place seems so idyllic, the perfect place to get away and rejuvanate! Thanks for sharing!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  29. Wow! This reminds me of my stay in the Philippines and eating Pinoy food. I stayed on the island of Palawan, in Sabang. I think there are amazing spots to be discovered in the Philippines.

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  30. Jean, thanks for marketing my beloved country. Being Nick's girl, and experiencing Cebu, you're one of us! 🙂

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  31. Demmy wrote:

    I'm sure you had an amazing time. These pictures are absolutely beautiful. Love the hut and everything. It breaks my heart to see the dogs too an I wish I could have one of them for myself. x

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  32. CaseyCakes wrote:

    Wow, hope you enjoyed your stay! 🙂

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  33. Love your photos! It looks like so much fun!!


    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  34. you write so well, i feel like i'm reading a novel! gosh what an experience! i must go one day to the PI!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  35. This is such a beautiful post through and through. Thank you for sharing your trip with us – I feel like I actually got to experience it through your words and photos. For the past 4 years, my mommy duties (being either pregnant or baby rearing) have kept me mostly homebound so I enjoy reading about the travels of others. 🙂

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  36. Paris B wrote:

    Oh I thoroughly enjoyed this post! I haven't been to the Philippines despite it being one of our closest neighbours (I'm in Malaysia) and this tells me perhaps I should visit, if just once 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  37. tarepanda wrote:

    Hi Jean! I've been reading your blog for the past 2 years and I've never commented *sigh…but, I loved this post so much. I got the visit the Philippines many times for work but have never been to Cebu. Your photos remind me how much I miss everything about the country and have to get back there for a visit to Cebu. Thanks for the great post!!! 🙂 ~ Kelly

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  38. mayaari wrote:

    amazing photos, and I'm so happy to hear you had a good time in the Philippines 🙂 It's been 7 years since I was last there (if you ever get a chance to go there for Christmas, it's truly another experience!) and I miss everything about it. Did you end up using a tabo for your shower (filling a bucket with water and using a smaller bucket to pour water over you)? It was something I have to get used to whenever I go back, but it's oddly refreshing when the weather is hot & humid!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  39. Mere M. wrote:

    Thank you so much for sharing! This post was wonderful and the pictures were gorgeous and so lively!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  40. grace wrote:

    Amazing experience Jean – I loved reading this and seeing raw photos – the simple joys of life 🙂

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  41. Sabrina wrote:

    What an awesome post! I really love reading travel blogs and I loved your well-written commentary as well. I'm going to Beijing in October and I'm a little apprehensive because I've never traveled out of the United States before, but your Philippines/China travel posts were so much fun to read and informative as well!

    I especially love the vibrant photos of the unique simplicity of the village. I'm pretty much one of the biggest city women ever, but sometimes it's just good to get away from everything for a more rural, basal escape. 🙂


    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  42. Sabrina wrote:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  43. AlethM wrote:

    Great post Jean! Appreciating the simple things in life 🙂

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  44. Abby wrote:

    Thanks for sharing. I need to be reminded how other people live from time to time.

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  45. Micho38 wrote:

    I like food and travel posts!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  46. Guia wrote:

    I haven't been back to the Philippines in a couple of years, I'm missing it thanks to your pictures! Looks like a blast! Great to be included with the homeland family haha

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  47. Mary Ann wrote:

    Wow, Jean – this is amazing! As much as I've traveled, it's always been to touristy destinations (except my aunt's in London). I find it so cool that you were able to enjoy such an authentic experience. I would love to do something like this one day, but I can't imagine going without a local. Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, my David is a from a small town in Mexico (I've only been to Cancun and the like). Hopefully I'll get to experience something as remote as this! 😉

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  48. toni wrote:

    im glad you got to enjoy the beauty of the philippines. we aren't a very rich country, but we make do with what we got 🙂 i bet the vendors were all staring at you and nick because of your pale complexion in comparison to the filipinos, haha! thanks for sharing

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  49. Danielle wrote:

    Fantastic post! This was so interesting to read. It really looks beautiful. What a great way to get to know your bf's family 🙂

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply
  50. Thanks for sharing – all that fresh food looks so good! Too funny about the aggressive chickens LOL!

    Posted 8.22.12 Reply

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