Travel Diaries: California Misadventures with the Family

Written by: Carla De Guzman/Saturday, Jan 30, 2016 08:58 AM

There is only one time in the year when all thirteen members of my family are free and clear to travel. With more and more of us joining the work force and other obligations, we always take the chance to travel together for the New Year (any other time and we travel in small batches). So far, we'd seen the Taipei 101 explode with fireworks to ring in 2014, and rang in 2015 by munching on Pablo cheesecake and convenience store treats in quiet Osaka. We decided to be a little more ambitious this year: why not go to the United States?

There was a team of us working in tandem. I worked on logistics, booking flights, coordinating with friends and family members (because you don't go to the States without relatives there!); the eldest worked on the itineraries; my mother was on finances and packing; and, my Dad worked on reminding us of things we may have missed. The kids were tasked to clear up their schedules, and make sure they can keep up with their studies, since they were sure to miss their first day back.

One of our major challenges was the schedule. We usually spend Christmas with our relatives then fly off on Boxing Day (or December 26 for us Pinoys) for the New Year, but with the amount of money we would be spending, we knew we had to block off the entire Christmas break. This meant no Christmas gifts from the older siblings, no traditional opening of presents on Christmas morning, no trip to Batangas for bibingka and tsokolate with the relatives. Leaves from work were taken, itineraries made, tickets and hotels were booked. We even managed to ask our cousins in Vancouver to fly in and join us for our first ever Christmas away from Manila.

We should have known that it was easier said than done.

Disaster struck when the youngest came down with a really bad stomachache two days before the trip. We thought it would pass, but when the doctors declared it appendicitis, we knew we were in trouble. We considered different scenarios, like letting just the kids travel (we still had some under eighteen - they can't travel without a parent!) or rebooking everyone (but the hotel!). In the end, we decided to just rebook Mom and poor Rowell for December 23, at the doctor's approval. I remember rushing off to NAIA in a panic, searching frantically for the airline offices to rebook his and Mom's ticket just because their regular offices were closed, and their lines unreachable. We ended up doing our family secret Santas in the hospital room, much to the doctor's amusement.

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We arrived in California to unusually hard rains and the coldest winter they've had so far (little did we know, it was only the beginning!). Because we were only using public transport, we ended up trudging through Golden Gate Park in thick wool coats and scarves - all useless against the torrential downpour that greeted us. My Dad could only laugh as we walked, commenting that we looked like "basang sisiw.

I will always remember the day we walked through the rain from Haight Street to The Conservatory of Flowers, only to find that it was closed for the day (we took a picture for posterity). We ended up sitting in a random cafe nearby, drinking coffee and tea with muffins and talking about anything and everything as we waited for the rain to pass. It's one of my favorite and least favorite memories of the trip. We bought Vitamin C gummies from Costco that night. Dad even went room to room just to make sure we took them!

The cousins from Vancouver arrived the next day also soaking wet after they dragged their bags four blocks up and down the San Francisco streets. Their room's door was broken, and they had to wait several hours before they were able to get in. Mom and Rowell were only happy they didn't get too wet when they finally arrived. By December 23, the clan was complete! Eighteen people versus one city. How did we even survive?

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We spent Christmas day in the cinemas to watch Star Wars - we had made a family pact not to watch until then. It was the least Christmas-y way we've ever spent the holiday, but everything was closed and there was nothing else to do. It was odd seeing everyone out and about around the Union Square Christmas tree while every establishment from there to the Embarcadero was closed. Noche Buena was yummy, but slightly sad Chinese food from Chinatown. We were able to have our Misa de Gallo in a church with parols and a lovely message from Cardinal Tagle, but it wasn't pleasant with full-on jetlag and a two hour-long service. As far as Christmases go, it was quiet and peaceful. The kind of quiet and peaceful we weren't used to.

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California is a wonderful place. I will never forget seeing the last sunset of 2015 over the Griffith Observatory, conquering the Matterhorn in Disneyland or waking up on Boxing Day to shop Union Square with my cousins. We made memories in America that would last us lifetimes. We spent it with cousins and and aunt and uncle that we missed a lot. 

Half of the wonder of a Pinoy Pasko is having the ones you love by your side, kissing their cheeks when the TV announces 'Happy 2016!' and munching on Oreos with cheap champagne in a distant relatives' house. Pinoy Pasko is about enduring through the (major) setbacks along the way to be with your loved ones. Sometimes its a bad case of appendicitis, sometimes its torrential downpours. We're never going to have another Christmas quite like this. But as long as you're all together, it makes the experience worth it.

About Carla De Guzman
Carla de Guzman is the author of self-published books Cities, Marry Me Charlotte B! and We Go Together. She loves to travel, coming home to her dog Kimchi and spending her weekends having dinner with her crazy family by day. By night, she’s writer and an artist, spending her midnights at her desk. Follow her on Instagram (@somemidnights) for more!
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