10 May 2015
I love to travel! It's one of my favorite things to do and spend money on. To get to travel and visit every country in the world has always been one of my greatest and wildest dreams. I remember, when I was in Grade School, I'd sleep with my father's Collier's Encyclopedia volume that had the world map in it. It was the first thing I looked at upon waking up each morning and the last thing I checked before saying my final prayer before sleeping every single night. I also had this fascination with globes. I just loved staring at them. I'd daydream about travels I'd have in the future. And, until this very moment, I still believe that I'll get to do that and see all these countries. My earliest dream will, one day, come to reality.
I've come to realize through time, though, that what I want to do is to explore and travel around the Philippines before traveling to other places. I thank God that I've been given the chance to visit a few countries so far and I would readily grab any opportunity to get to visit more but, in the meantime, while that's not happening yet, I'd love to see and get to know different parts of my beautiful country. After all, it's more fun in the Philippines! Right? :-)
Last time I checked, the Philippines has 82 provinces, 135 cities, and 1493 municipalities/towns. Of course, who would forget that, all in all, we have 7100+ islands? The + there depends on whether it's high tide or low tide! Haha! Now, kidding aside, I've only been to 31 provinces, 42 cities, and about 80 municipalities/towns. I don't count the places I've only passed by as places I've been to. So, wow, I've only been to, what, about 30% of the country? Ha! And, I thought I was well-traveled! I wish to add more to this number before this year ends. In shaa Allah! :-)
The Dayaw Kalinaw Experience
There's nothing like traveling for a cause. Traveling with the objective of serving and doing volunteer work. It's the most fulfilling kind of traveling. Thanks to the Dayaw Kalinaw, the Philippine delegates to the 41st Ship for Southeast Asian and Japanese Youth Program (SSEAYP 2014), I was able to do just that. I tagged along with them as they had their Post-Program Activity, which was to provide support and assistance to the Manobos of Sitio Panlabuhan, one of the floating communities on the Agusan Marsh.
They (DK) partnered with a number of local, national and international organizations to provide such support and assistance. A great many things were given to the community by and through them. Among these were: (1) a water filtration system for clean, potable water; (2) a solar panel that will provide proper lighting for the community school; (3) rechargeable (through electric power or solar power) fluorescent bulbs; (4) various vegetable seeds (some of which were given to another town); (5) first aid kits and various medicines; (6) personal hygiene kits for the children; (7) deodorants from Rexona; (8) educational/school supply kits from Unicef; and (9) a motor boat from the Yellow Boat Foundation and the DLSU EngliCom. Actually, the main beneficiaries were the children in the community. Seeing these children so happy and excited was just priceless. We all had fun as we played various games with them and gave them basic lectures on hygiene and the importance of cleanliness. I truly believe that making sure that children are all right is making sure that the future will be all right.
Going to the floating community wasn't easy. From Butuan, we had to take a 2-hour ride to Bunawan, where the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary Protected Area Office is located. From there, we had to take another 2-hour motor boat ride along the Agusan River to reach the community. And, because the tide was low at that time, we had to walk a few meters on soft, wet mud. Barefoot!
Although going there was truly a struggle, it was fun not just because we were all very excited because it was the first time for most of us to experience something like that but also because we were with really good company. SSEAYP people are the best, take my word for it! You could just put them anywhere and they'd be fine and happy! Hehe:-)
Finally, we reached the area. It was beautiful. It was a little tough, though, because using the comfort room was very difficult. Going to the toilet was definitely out of the question, so was taking a bath! Well, unless, we were willing to swim in the river or the marsh itself. We stayed in the community hall. It looked like a terrace, except that it's basically the whole structure. It's not attached to a bigger building or anything. It's just floating there like that. If we wanted to use the comfort room or go to the little school building or the kitchen, where the cooking was done, or go to the only other hut there, there were small bridges made of wood tied together that connected these structures.
It was in the terrace-like structure that we slept. In the open. They warned us about mosquitoes and we did get bitten. At least, I did. But, that was the least of my worries. I mean, the people there lived like that all their lives and they looked contented and happy. True, they were poor but the laughter and smiles they shared with us were so utterly genuine and contagious. And, they were so generous with anything they could actually provide. The experience was heartwarming as well as eye-opening. It was a wonderful experience.
After the PPA, we went back to Butuan and then went to Nasipit (a 45-minute ride away from Butuan) to spend the night there, or actually to wait for dawn so we could travel to Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur and go to the aptly named Enchanted River. We had to take a 5-hour bus ride from Butuan to reach Hinatuan and from where the bus dropped us off, we had to take a 30-minute habal-habal ride to reach the Enchanted River. Once we got there, whatever exhaustion and thirst we felt were immediately replaced by awe and amazement at the enchanting beauty and clear waters of the river. Even the air changed as soon as we reached the place. The air was cooler; this made the place seem more enchanting. I took a quick dip in the water and enjoyed it immensely. I noticed that the water was a little salty. The only thing that made me cut my stay in the water short was the huge number of people there. Because it's summer, it's also a peak season for the place. It can't be helped, I guess. There was barely enough space to move about by the sides and the giant rocks. I felt a little dizzy, too, because there were just too many people. So, I decided to just take a shower and clean up. And, which was just as well because my staying at our table afforded my companions to enjoy swimming and taking pictures and videos of one another. It was a perfect time for them to unwind and just have fun after all the hard work they'd done in the last two days that passed. It was fun watching them having a good time. Plus, it was because I stayed put that I found out early on that Manny Pacquiao lost in his match against Floyd Mayweather. :-P
Early in the afternoon, we had to start for Butuan again as we had to be there to meet Randy, my SSEAYP batchmate, who promised to treat us for dinner, which turned out to be a feast for the stomach and the eyes. Weegol's Grill Haus in Butuan is a must-visit, I would say. Their food is just perfect!
Thank you, Longlong Gibati, for the sumptuous dinner! :-)
The next morning, we started very early again because we were going to Camiguin Island. Camiguin is one of the most popular destinations in Mindanao and it had always been a dream of mine to visit the place. The travel from Butuan to Camiguin was again very long. We took a 3-hour ride from Butuan to Balingoan and then a 1.5-hour ferry ride from Balingoan to Camiguin Island. And, I found out, to my delight, that the place was much, much more than I ever expected and imagined it. Mambajao, the commercial center of the island, is a little town rich with history and culture. We noticed a few old Spanish-style buildings and houses in the place. The people are very friendly and nice. If you know how to ride a motorcycle, you could rent one for a day or the duration of your stay in the island. It's much cheaper that way than commuting from one place to another, especially that two to three persons can ride the motorcycle at a time.
We went to see the Walkway to the Old Volcano, where the Stations of the Cross were strategically placed a number of steps away from one another. Pity, though, that we weren't able to reach the topmost due to exhaustion (I was about to run out of air by the time we reached the fourth station) and time constraint. Because we reached the island after lunch and we still had to look for a place to stay, it was already getting dark when we started for the tourist attractions. And, since there were still other places we planned to visit, we decided to just go back down after the fourth station. We proceeded to the Sunken Cemetery. A giant cross standing in the middle of the sea was all that you could see of the old cemetery. It was majestic, especially with the sunset as background. It looked to me like something taken out of a painting. After that, we hurried to the Old Church Ruins. It was already quite dark, but the ruins were a sight to behold. I don't know, but even if the place was a little eerie, I felt quite peaceful there. All in all, these places we went to were all nice and absolutely the places tourists and visitors would go for.
In the evening, after dinner, we decided to go to the Ardent Hibok-Hibok Spring Resort. I really enjoyed the hot spring. Of course, we talked about the onsen (grand bath) in the Nippon Maru and in Japan as we were relaxing in the hot, no, warm waters of the spring. And, once the SSEAYP stories started, we all got lost in memory lane. Time passed without us noticing how late it already was. I reluctantly left the hot spring to clean up and take a good, cold shower. We went back to the place we were staying, happy and satisfied. That was the first night we all got a good sleep because we didn't have to get up at dawn to prepare to travel. This time, we took our sweet time.
In the morning, after breakfast, we headed to the immaculate White Island (Islet). It's an island separate from the main island. It has white sand and it's not inhabited by people because it disappears from the surface when the tide is high. It forms a letter 'C' on the surface. It was just so beautiful. I am not exactly a beach person, although I really like the ocean, but I just loved it there. We spent a good three hours there. I swam and snorkeled to my heart's content! The water was clear and had the perfect shade of aquamarine. We got ourselves henna tattoos. We all loved it there. Thesa, one of my DK companions, said she considered Camiguin as the top of her list of favorite places in the Philippines. As for me, I still consider Dumaguete as my favorite, but Camiguin comes as a close second. We left the islet before lunch and decided that, instead of going to the other bigger island called Mantigue, we just use our time left to rest and relax because we were to leave Camiguin at about 4:00 in the afternoon that day. That's exactly what we did. To go and see Mantigue, the falls, and the cold springs would be a great reason to come back to Camiguin.
When we got back to Balingoan late in the afternoon, it was time for me to part with them as I was already headed back home and they were going to travel back to Butuan. We said our goodbyes and, with a heavy heart, I took the bus bound for Cagayan de Oro. Parting with people who have started to mean a lot to you is never easy. But, I was thankful enough that I got to be with them. They were a breath of fresh air. Our exchanges took me back to one of the best times of my life, to an experience that changed me forever. They reminded me so much of my own SSEAYP batchmates and of my youthful days. Somehow, they made me realize how much time had passed since my SSEAYP days. They made me appreciate once again, and all the more, the beautiful and irreplaceable experience that is SSEAYP! They made me feel the tie that binds all ex-PYs together, the bond forged in and by our similar experience, the very special relationship that only we can understand. And, I can't be thankful enough! My DK experience also reminded me that despite everything bad that's been going on all over the world, there is still a lot of good and it's always better to focus on the good; that amidst all the negativity in the world, we should never stop being positive, we should keep doing something good or at least try to help make the world a better place no matter how difficult it may seem. Kore wa omigoto! :-)
Again, thank you so much, Dayaw Kalinaw, for the wonderful experience! You've all been great! You will always have a special place in my heart! Lovelove! :-)
Thank you also to Dexter a.k.a. Tibor of Kaisa (SSEAYP 2006) for meeting up with us at Bunawan and giving us a ride all the way back to Butuan. I know you'd have stayed with us longer if you didn't have another appointment that night. Sorry, I didn't inform you of our coming much earlier. My bad! But, really, thank you for taking some time out to see us. :-)