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Tropical Explorations

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

by Annie Bowler, Travels with Heart, Vol 8, November 1. 2023

Some of John’s cousins live in the Philippines; we’ve had few opportunities to spend time with them because of the distance between our homes so John and I were delighted to be able to get to know them finally. Their Filipino warmth and hospitality was heartwarming. It’s been wonderful to get to know each of them and learn more about the fascinating Bowler/Alcantara family history. It was especially lovely to have Jocean, his wife, Ayu, and their kids, Howi and Alma, join us during this special visit to the Philippines.

John with his cousin Therese

Photos with family still living in the Philippines

Exploring Cebu

A short history of the Bowler family:

John’s dad, known as Johnny, was born, and raised in the Philippines; he was eighth of the nine children born to William Leslie Bowler and Dolores Alcantara. In 1902, William Leslie graduated from the University Minnesota and immigrated to the Philippines as a “Thomasite,” a group of 600 American teachers who traveled from the United States to the newly occupied territory of the Philippines on the U.S. Army Transport “Thomas.” His future wife, Dolores Alcantara, was a teacher in a school that William Leslie supervised.

Two photos of John's grandparents holding his entire family; these photos

were taken two years apart; if you study carefully you will see there is one

more kiddo in the second photo. William Leslie was quite the guy!

William Leslie was a hardworking man. After he finished his government contract, he started a transportation company which grew rapidly. All was going well with the growing Bowler family and by all accounts, they were a happily married couple but sadly, when their youngest child was just four years old, William Leslie died suddenly of a heart attack.

Despite William Leslie’s death, the Bowler family continued to do quite well until WWII, when the Japanese invaded and the family lost their home. Much of the family fled to safety in Los Angeles but 5 of the Bowler brothers joined the war effort. Dolores, brother Bill, and his wife, Mary, chose to stay in the Philippines during the war.

Johnny and his brother Frankie fought in the Philippines. Unfortunately, they were captured by the Japanese, along with tens of thousands of U.S. and Filipino soldiers who were forced to become prisoners of war to the Japanese. The soldiers, including Johnny and Frankie, faced horrifying conditions and treatment as POWs. The soldiers were deprived of food, water, and medical attention, and were forced to take part in the Bataan Death March and were made to walk 65 miles through hot, humid jungles to confinement camps.

Johnny was a war hero. During the Bataan Death March, he risked his life to take a Red Cross arm band and medicines from a dead Red Cross worker and then distributed medicines to sick POW’s, of which there were many. No one knows how many times he risked his life to save others in this way.

Johnny and Frankie probably survived because they had each other and they spoke Spanish, English, and Tagalong. Luckily, due to their mother’s pleas, they were both released early from the confinement camps. Johnny chose to join the guerillas fighting in the Filipino jungles, which he did until the war ended. By the time the war ended, Johnny was made a captain in the US Army.

Johnny was a soft-spoken man, but he was particularly closed mouth about his war days. He never talked about his war experiences or his time as a POW. He and Frankie both contracted malaria during their time in the camp, but that was never mentioned either.

Sadly, when the war was over, Johnny was stripped of his rank and was not honored for his leadership or bravery. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that his rank was reinstated, and he was

awarded a Purple Heart and many other awards for his valor. Most of the Bowler family stayed state side after the war. Dolores, better known as Granny, immigrated to be with most of her children and grandchildren. Only Bill and his wife Mary stayed in the Philippines. During out recent visit, we spent time with Bill and Mary’s children, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren.

We had a grand time exploring Bantayan and the Virgin Island, both located in the Cebu Province of the Philippines

Our last days in the Philippines were full of family fun, explorations on land and sea, and go kart races. Let's just say, I won't be recruited for the Indie 500 any time soon

After a good time exploring the Philippines, we headed to Jakarta, Indonesia with Jocean and his family. It has been wonderful spending time in Jakarta with Jocean, Dwi Ayu Dian Mariana, Howi and Alma, despite the fact that Jakarta is a huge, crowded and polluted city. To shop with Ayu in the amazing local fresh food markets and then enjoy her delicious food, to make jewelry with Alma, celebrate her birthday, and talk with her about her

13-year-old life, to watch Howi play soccer and meet his sweet friends, and to explore the city with Jocean and all of them has been a delight.

There are many exciting innovations going on in the city including an expansive metro system that is being connected to a fast rail system across the island of Java, many new toll roads that take cars off the overcrowded city streets making travel times less thus creating less pollution, free electric car charging stations, art shows that focus on environmental sustainability, playing a cooperative game at the local art center on food and climate challenges that Indonesians face.

Sometimes Jakarta seems overwhelming, defeated, but then I round a

corner and discover something so beautiful, so exciting, it brings tears to

my eyes- like we did yesterday when we heard the music of Sonic/Panic.

Most Indonesian people have little money, but they are rich with creativity

and innovation. They give me hope.

It has been a few years since we’ve visited Jocean and Ayu’s popular farm

stay, Lodges Ekologika at Portibi Farm. We were delighted to get to see

how much their Farm and facilities have matured since our last visit. It is cooler up at their mountain resort and the air is cleaner. I enjoyed hiking up the steep hills in the morning and then watching the pouring rain in the afternoon, which is a typical experience in the ever-changing tropics. It was nice to see their place humming with guests who come back again and again to enjoy the beautiful scenery, clean air, delicious fresh meals, and the fun company most of whom are escaping the Jakarta crowds. I feel so grateful to be here finally; their farm is a refreshing and peaceful place that feels like home to me.

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