THE Philippines is a popular tourist destination, and with more than 7,000 islands to see and explore, this diverse, oceanic nation has something to offer for an equally diverse variety of travellers. Philippine culture is known for its friendly and welcoming nature. Nowhere did I feel this more than about 40 kilometres off the coast of famed and historic Cebu, in a tiny cluster of islands known as the Camotes. From the moment my girlfriend, Teresa, and I arrived following a two-hour journey by slow ferry on the Visayan Sea, we were welcomed like family to this lush, tropical hideaway. Arriving at Consuelo Wharf on Pacijan Island, we were greeted by a gentleman named Wayne, who immediately ushered us into his cherry-coloured jeepney for a coastal ride to our stillunknown final destination. Immediately, he and I struck up a conversation about the islands, the people and our journey options for the next several days. The drive along the single circumferential road was painted with emerald rice paddies, towering coconut trees, acres of cornfields and curious locals. After passing several farms and a busy elementary school, we came to a vast stretch of white sand beach rimmed with a few accommodation options on one side and pristine turquoise water on the other. When backpacking, it’s generally uncommon for me to know where I’ll be resting my head at night until I’ve actually walked into the room (or hut) itself. On Pacijan, we were looking for beach, beach and more beach. We were also looking for seclusion, peace and quiet. But despite all of this, Teresa and I are explorers at heart. We knew we wouldn’t be able to sit still for too long. The Camotes Islands had something to satisfy all of these needs. We closed our eyes and picked Santiago Bay Resort and Spa. Glamourous by backpacker standards, to us, it was just a clean room with a clean bed, a place to eat and a beach. No room service, no special treatment, no Internet. Pure bliss. Wayne was able to hook us up with a motorbike for our stay in the Camotes, a staple for our style of travel. Teresa and I need to get out, we need to explore, we need to experience — and we need to do it on our timetable, not anyone else’s. The beach was excellent in the mornings; the sun is blazing by 6 a.m. this close to the equator. A perfect place to sunbathe, take a dip in the sea, then retreat back to read, relax and reflect. To let the negative energy dissipate and the positive energy flow. Those few hours were great, and necessary, but certainly not all-encompassing. Mid-morning meant time to drive. Where to? As I mentioned, there seemed to be only one main road. There were a few alternative routes as we reached the southeastern area of Pacijan, close to the main town of Poblacion. One of these routes took us to the calming and placid Lake Danao, a mesmerizing lapis lazuli-shaded body of fresh water surrounded by verdant forestry and resting in Pacijan’s northcentral region. Teresa and I rented a kayak for an hour, costing us less than $10 to gracefully tread upon the gentle surface. As far as we could tell, we were the only people on the lake at the time. After a good hour of paddling, we returned to the small dock from which we initially set out and walked to an outdoor bar that served up massive bowls of the famed Philippine dessert, halo-halo. With a variety of jellies and bean pastes, mashed purple yam and sweetened coconut milk over ice, this dessert is often a meal unto itself, and a highly satisfying one. There’s a whole lot going on in a bowl of halohalo. It was now time for a figure-eight drive around the two connecting islands, Pacijan and Poro. The extensive bridge linking the two, lined with tropical mangroves whose contents my imagination would often run wild with, is the departing point of Poblacion. Poro is hillier and the perimeter road is dotted with numerous villages of varying proportions and populations. In search of the inland Panganuron Falls, we found it was actually a little freshwater lagoon with a small trickle of water that constituted these “falls.” It was an excellent rest area. A vivacious family of 10 were lounging about in the water, wearing either swimsuits or just ordinary clothing, feasting on a delicious-looking lunch of grainy local rice, saucy noodles and grilled meat, with large bottles of beer to wash it all down with. Almost immediately, they engaged us in friendly conversation, offering us everything they were already enjoying and refusing to take no for an answer in the drink offerings. Having recently enjoyed a rather filling lunch ourselves, not to mention the halo-halo, I conceded to a nice lukewarm glass of local Red Horse lager. The generosity and kindness of the locals we met are a perfect example of dozens more we would encounter on our journey and would continue to meet along the way. Later in the afternoon, we continued circling Poro, observing and appreciating the natural environment, waving hello and smiling at the locals who treated us in kind. After completing the lengthy circumvention of Poro, we wound up back on Pacijan, back on the white sand beach from where we’d begun. By now, the sun was beginning to set and off in the distant seas, storm clouds were massing. It was an odd clash of beauty and ominousness, a reminder not to take the positive things in life for granted, and to always be ready for the unexpected, despite the apparent serenity. No matter where we were in the Camotes, rain or shine, the community was consistently welcoming and always kind. These islands are a perfect representation of how I view the Philippine culture: caring, courteous, hardworking and open-hearted. It is this essence that has left the greatest mark on me throughout my travels in this oceanic nation — and one I’ll truly never forget. Travel writer Darcy Shillingford grew up in Winnipeg, leaving the city at 18 to pursue his education in Toronto. Since graduating from York University, where he studied English literature and political science, he has travelled extensively through Southeast Asia and New Zealand. In April, Darcy is headed to the Netherlands and Denmark. This summer, he will be making a month-long road trip through Western Canada, with
a planned stop in his hometown.
Panganuron Falls is a freshwater lagoon with a small trickle of water. Here a vivacious family of 10 were enjoying the day.
Winnipeg-born writer Darcy Shillingford took a memorable journey through the Philippines. Although the scenery was breathtaking, he was most impressed
with the hospitality.