Thanksgiving in the Philippines: 2020

Rianbow in clouds.

Happy Thanksgiving to our American readers! I am writing this as my Thanksgiving in the Philippines starts, in this crazy year – 2020.

The day is off to a good start. We have running water, so I pre-soaked some laundry for hand washing, and flushed the toilet without a bucket.

There is electricity, so I made coffee in a small machine, checked Facebook, opened up my ultra-portable, old, finnicky-but-still-works laptop to bring you a slice of life from this side of the world.

The first thing on my Facebook feed was the most adorable video posted by a former colleague and friend. She and her husband and young twin boys recorded a video message wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving, and she posted the outtakes, which melted my heart and lifted my soul. I plan to play that video a few times today … as needed.

OK. Now to a slice of life here.

Thanksgiving in the Philippines: 2020


I’ve already shared the beginning of my day. We have been without constant, reliable running water for more than a week. Although now it seems to be back to working as normal. This is not something that fazes most Filipinos. But for this privileged American, it’s a pain in the ass. Especially when you cannot even fill a bucket because the tap is dry.

But I think of the Ati people in upper Malay village, who have to walk down a mountainside, fetch water from a stream, and then hike back up the mountain with jugs of water.

It is not only the Ati people who need to travel to get water. Some Filipinos who live on the beach also need to fetch water inland. They also carry jugs back to their homes, but at least it’s a walk in the park on a flat surface without elevation gain, and most of the time, they have shoes to wear.

I’m extra grateful the tap in our apartment is working today. (And that I have shoes for beach roads and dirt paths up mountainsides.)


I am never hungry because I have the money to eat. It’s that simple.

People all around me are losing weight. So I share food when I can.

I have been baking bread. I can hardly believe my own … domestication. I cut one batch of dough in two: an artisan loaf for us, and one for others.

Ellen gives away loaves of bread like this one around Thanksgiving in the Philippines in 2020.

(The above picture was my first attempt. I’ve since gotten better.)

Sure, I miss some foods not easily available here – or not available at all. But part of a travel lifestyle is that you eat what the locals eat.

I’ve become fond of some Filipino items: pickled papaya made by our friend, camote cue (fried sweet potato with caramelized sugar), bihon (thin noodles finer than angel hair pasta), just to name a few. Even native chicken!

I’m grateful I’m never hungry, and that we have an oven in our rental apartment. Ovens are luxuries for many Filipino families in these parts.


Speaking of our rental apartment: of course I’m grateful for that. I believe God put us here for a reason. To help the people here.

It was a crazy time during the lockdown back in March. We literally had nowhere to go, until the owner of the Hangout Beach Resort worked out a plan with the local government to let us stay as long as we quarantined.

We quarantined for 14 days. And then, we never left.

I’m grateful for this apartment at the Hangout Beach Resort, and also the owner and her friends.


A common complaint among every expat I’ve met in this area is that there are frequent brown outs. And when an unscheduled outage happens, that it can take a long time (sometimes months) to restore service.

I don’t have much gripe about the electricity, personally. I appreciate Akelco (the power company) giving notice to planned upgrades via Facebook. We haven’t experienced any outage longer than one day. Considering the terrain of this island nation, and this specific island and rural area, I accept that.

Also, there were Akelco members who volunteered on their off day to help us get electricity hooked up to the upper Ati village. Some came by bus from far away. Their kindness is heartfelt.


Living car-free around the world means we slow travelers get around however the locals get around. Here, people without motorbikes or cars use tricycles as taxis. These are motorbikes with attached side cars.

On our monthly expense breakdown reports, tricycle fares (and occasional ‘special trips’ without other passengers) make up a largest portion of our “local travel” spending category.

Basically, every time I ride to Caticlan and back to Motag, it costs a dollar. That is about 40 cents more than the pre-pandemic fare. Now, only two passengers are allowed per trike, and before, passengers packed onto the trike. Special trips and tips for amazing service up that amount.

Some trikes have cushioned seats; others have are wooden benches. Some have good brakes and new chains; some don’t. Many trikes rattle and have holes on the floorboard; a few purr like kittens. All are driven by men (in these parts) trying to earn a living.

Usually, trike drivers do not try to rip me off. Most of them in Malay know me by now – after eight months of living at the Hangout. I have never been taken advantage of here on the mainland – and not even in Boracay.

But in Kalibo – the big city – the provincial capital – twice drivers took advantage of me. They each ripped me off by 50 cents. I called them out on the overcharge, but paid it rather than fight.

Here is a slice of life: a trike ride through the heart of Kalibo:

Gratitude for Thanksgiving in the Philippines — despite 2020

I’m grateful people in Malay have accepted us, and many have befriended us.

I’m grateful for the expats I see every week to talk about my spiritual growth. I’m grateful for my sobriety, for my health, happiness and husband. I will see one expat friend later today on Boracay Island — and I’m grateful it’s easy for me to visit that beautiful beach.

I’ll take a beach walk, and a bike ride, and spend some time alone, and also with others, including my spouse. We will have chicken tonight for dinner – as we do every Thursday.

I will miss my sister and her spouse, and her house I still haven’t seen, and all of her children pets. I’ll watch that cute video from my former colleague if I become a tad too sad over missing my sis.

Although I do wish Thanksgiving 2020 was different, above all else: I cannot forget gratitude to God for it all. God’s will, not mine, be done. And apparently, for now, the Universal Spirit wants me here.

To my fellow American expats, friends and family all over Earth: Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks for reading “Thanksgiving in the Philippines: 2020.”

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6 thoughts on “Thanksgiving in the Philippines: 2020”

  1. Absolutely! When we “slow travel” for shorter periods of time, say a month or two or three, we seek out units owned by individuals, not hotels owned by foreign corporations. We eat at family restaurants instead of chains. We do not usually take ‘organized tours’ (though sometimes this cannot be avoided) and we prefer to hire a local guide from a small company, if needed. We also shop in used clothing stores, local markets and roadside stands. All of these ways support the local people instead of giant companies.

    On the language issue: we love Google translate when needed for electronic communication of any type – including WhatsApp or Messenger.

    I think after the COVID nightmare, if things ever get going again on the travel front, the small businesses will need all the help they can get.

    Happy trails and best wishes,

  2. Do you think there is a way to have a positive impact when traveling to areas for a shorter period of time? Especially with a language barrier.

  3. You’re doing amazing things Ellen! Keep it up! Gratifying to read and you must feel wonderful teaching, helping, and learning from global people! Happy thanksgiving!

  4. HI I lived in Hangout for about 6 weeks last year at this time. Miss it I really enjoyed my time there. We wanted to stay permanently but were unable to find any rental properties at that time Some of the nicest people in the Philippines.

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