By Imelda Argel
In mid-January 2017, Manny (Zarb) and I went to Hamilton Island. We were joined by his children, Rebecca Hogan, Allison Bywaters and Karen Burke and 9 grandchildren. The bonding experience of the entire party was well worth the return airfare, weeklong accommodations at the Reef View Hotel and buggy rent for each family, all provided by Manny.
Renewing Home Ties
My father’s favourite phrase was “Life is short”. With this in mind, I was motivated to renew my ties with relatives, neighbours I grew up with, friends, former employers and former officemates. This was particularly possible now that I have retired and can be more flexible with time.
My unplanned 10-day visit to Manila in mid-February was a rewarding experience.
This was my first chance to see my first cousin Fidelis “Manang Elle” Verzosa since she left for New Jersey, the USA in the 60’s. Our schedules to visit Manila, although frequent, never coincided.
She hosted the “Lahoz-Argel-Verzosa” reunion lunch at the Quezon City Sports Club. There, another first cousin, Noling Lahoz attended among many others. We are looking forward to the launching of his autobiography detailing circumstances when he was jailed during the Marcos regime and why he had to go out of priesthood in February 2018.
I also met with my childhood neighbour and close friend, Linda Alcantara Rabbito. Our family houses were just a block away from the other, along Alberto Reyes St in Vigan City within viewing distance of Vigan Plaza Salcedo and the Vigan Cathedral. I visited her in Canada In 1982 where she resides. She likewise visited me in Sydney in the early 2000’s.
Ex Gov. Ma. Zita “Ching” Claustro Valera treated Raffy Faustino Fajardo and me for dinner and overnight stay at her residence then, to an overnight “barkada package” at the Nurture Wellness Center in Tagaytay City. Another UP Law classmate, Josie Paredes Miranda missed the occasion because of “apos”-tolic work but had lunch with her and Nesty, her husband upon our return to Manila.
The Ayala Investment and Development Corporation ”AIDC” reunion dinner held at the Makati Sports Club, hosted yearly by Mr Jovencio “Jovy” Cinco was one not to be missed. He was AIDC’s President and it was his 75th birthday.
I visited my first employer, Atty Estelito “Titong” Mendoza. He was the Solicitor General of the Philippine government for 20 years. Returning to private legal practice later, he has successfully defended high profile cases. At age 87, he still wins his court appearances.
My last employment was at Eisenberg. The reunion came as a surprise. Many of the original staff of 25, now reside in the different countries worldwide and reconnected through Facebook. Before returning to Sydney, I visited Eli Levin, age 82. Fondly referred to as the “Father of the LRT.” (Light Railway Transit), he was the Managing Director of the Eisenberg Group. His Jewish generosity provided 6-month salary bonuses when our bid for the“The LRT I” won. Five months later he left peacefully forever in his sleep.
Fiji and Vanuatu
In June, Manny and I visited Fiji and Vanuatu. We could not go wrong with the package deal on a waterfront resort in Fiji. Included were 10 hours of massage with facial over a week, Indian cuisine cooking classes, flower arrangement, napkin folding, tie-dyeing, nightly entertainment and many others. I participated in most activities while Manny loafed around, reading the “Road to Ruin”, watching Rugby, swimming and eating.
Moving on to Vanuatu for another week, we stayed at “Waves on Bukura” which served home cooked French cuisine. The highlight was the sumptuous lunch hosted by Honorary Consul and Mrs Florentino “Bong” Serrano and the Vanuatu Filipino community.
Christmas in July
As my immediate relatives will not likely be in Sydney for Christmas in December, we celebrated Christmas in July with them, which coincided with Manny’s 73rd birthday.
The Ghan from Adelaide to Alice Springs, Uluru and the Red Centre of Australia
In August, we took the ferry to Kangaroo Island from Adelaide. Hamilton Island and Norfolk Island were comparatively much more developed and had prettier sceneries.
Barossa Valley is only an hour’s drive from the centre of Adelaide compared to 2 hours’ drive to Hunter Valley in New South Wales, however, the Hunter Valley is more scenic and tourist friendly.
Then it was time to board the “Ghan”. The 25-hour train ride from Adelaide to Alice Springs, each cabin in the gold service has a double deck bed with an ensuite toilet and shower. It has a common viewing lounge and dining.
After a stopover at “Marla” to have breakfast under the stars and watch the sunrise, we finally reached Alice Springs, the gate to the Red Centre of Australia. Walking to the town centre from our hotel and around by coach, the rivers were dry and there was no spring. The Supreme Court of the Northern Territory was the tallest building. A United States military base, known as the “Pine Gap” is located about 200 kilometres away. We were told that not even an Australia’s Prime Minister has been allowed to set foot in that military zone where about 3,000 American servicemen are posted.
We stayed overnight at “Sails in the Desert”, a beautiful boutique hotel in the middle of nowhere, then off to the viewing deck to watch the sunrise at Kata Tjuta and Uluru. Kata Tjuta is said to be the Big Brother of the famous “Uluru”.
Walking on the base of Uluru to the Mutitjulu Waterhole, then watching Uluru’s changing colours at sunset was followed by a buffet dinner with sirloin steak and kangaroo meat under the stars. A guide discussed some astronomy after dinner.
We went by coach to Kings Canyon Resort Hotel where we stayed overnight. The one-storey rooms looked like tin sheds from the outside. But what a pleasant surprise! Inside our huge room included a picture perfect luxury spa with a glass window overlooking the huge rock formation and the native trees.
Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Myanmar
From late August to mid-September, Manny and I had our own separate adventure. He flew to Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Myanmar after I left for Manila with no definite plan.
As it turned out, it was one of the most enjoyable Philippine visits for me. Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo and her staff spent a day at my hosts’ residence (Beda and Raffy Fajardo’s). Raffy’s daughter in law, Nancy, works as her Executive Assistant for Ceremonials. She decided to have a relaxing day by the pool with her staff.
On the weekend, Beda and Raffy took me to Sorsogon to mark the first death anniversary of Beda’s mother. On our way there, we dropped by the newly built modern museum of the late husband of Vice President Leni Robredo in Naga City. In Albay, we visited the “Balay Sa Bikol” restaurant and function centre owned by my friend, Vilma Bolongota, in Sydney. Along the way, we had a good view of Mayon Volcano, one of the world’s wonders. It remains in perfect cone shape despite many eruptions.
On the last weekend, my hosts took me and Josie Paredes Miranda for the day excursion, at “Las Casas Filipinas de Acusar”. This heritage centre in Bagac, Bataan consists of old houses, uprooted from all over the Philippines, and rebuilt as a new village by the sea. It showcases Philippine culture, serves as a convention centre and provides accommodations. We also viewed the historic shrine of the “Fall of Bataan”, before our detour to see the newly built ultra modern house of Wahlen Pangilinan and Marga Fajardo, daughter of my hosts, located in a posh subdivision in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. Both are medical doctors by education.
Back in Sydney, we had the pleasure of bonding with some friends
Cynthia Makasiar Sicat visited us and took her on a tour of the Northern Beaches. Later we were joined former NEDA Director General Gerry Sicat, (Cynthia’s husband) for a French cuisine dinner overlooking Darling Harbour.
Linda Gaa, widow of my UP Law classmate, the late Philippine Ambassador Willy Gaa and her sister, toured Sydney with me and stayed with us.
Bob (Solicitor) and Margaret Bloomfield, friends of Manny stayed overnight and had dinner at an Austrian restaurant with us.
For us, Christmas celebrations start from my birthday. My sister, Rochie and Ed treated Manny and me to dinner at a French Restaurant to celebrate their wedding anniversary, my birthday and early Christmas. Rochie and Ed are spending their Christmas holidays in Manila.
On the weekend after, Manny and Victor took me to the seafood buffet at the Hotel Intercontinental to celebrate my 71st birthday and an early Christmas dinner. Victor is spending his Christmas holiday in Norway.
We attended the Christmas dinner for Cartenians and their ladies at the Long Reef Club, on the 13th December. We also joined the annual Christmas lunch of Filipino nurses with their families on the 16th December. Most of them were my clients who came on a 457 visa from the year 2000. Now Australian citizens happily married with children, most own their homes.
Manny and I will treat his children Allison and Karen with their family for pre-Christmas dinner at the Indian Joint on the 22nd December.
We intend to have a quiet Christmas Day picnic lunch overlooking Collaroy beach. For New Year’s Eve, we booked a six-course French cuisine dinner close to the Neutral Bay Wharf to watch the 9 pm fireworks on the Harbour Bridge.
To good health and more wealth! Let’s all enjoy the coming days and years to come!