Open-hearted hos­pi­tal­ity

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - DESTINATIONS - By Darcy Shilling­ford

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.

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