Note: This is a personal account of the trip. I will be discussing issues in my next blog.
Note 2: This is a long read….
I took time to write this. I went through and came back from my Malapascua trip this year with mixed feelings. It was a good trip, of course. I liked getting away. I love Malapascua, despite the distance and the effort it takes to get there. However this time around, I didn’t come to just consume travel.
I mean, minus the conceit in being a traveler against being a tourist, we are all consumers of the tourism industry, right?
And as consumers, Bounty Beach — the tourist beach of Malapascua — is enough. It is there to cater to our whims, our ideals of the perfect beach. During my last trip a couple of years ago, I only went into the barangay to buy cheap booze and fried chicken pulutan. I did dives at Monad Shoal and Gato Island; and cavorted with the other guests. The only Filipinos I got to know were the owner and the manager of the resort I stayed at, one of the very few Filipino-operated resorts at Bounty Beach.
Circumstances this time around put me at the heart of Malapascua — where I needed to be and, truth be told, what’s within my budget . The goal of the trip was to get updated on thresher shark conservation and the island’s recovery after Haiyan/Yolanda. What I came back with bears heavy on my romantic notion of beaches and paradise islands like Malapascua, and my ideals for this project.
Difference Glares Like April’s Sun
When I wasn’t diving, I spent half my time at the barangay and half at Craic House, Evolution Diving’s home resort. Evolution was my dive center this time around; and I was also stalking David, co-owner and operator of Evolution and Craic, for our agreed chat. (Busy guy, hard to pin down for a beer… but very open and nice once we got talking. Plus, he arranged my stay with his friend within the barangay.)
And yes, Craic House has Wi-Fi and good food so…. I logged in some work hours and justified eating Makati-priced food and gulping Starbucks-priced coffee by making sure I did more than three hours of work per sitting. (I have a calculator in my head that converts everything to oDesk dollars 😉 )
When not there, I walked around the barangay. I took pictures; and chatted with whomever about their experiences during Haiyan/Yolanda. To save money, I ate at eateries at least once a day. For night caps, I bought alcohol from the sari-sari stores, whichever had my poison of choice. I got frowned upon by a carinderia owner one early morning. (I ended up not buying from her for fear that the food was as sour as her mood.) I made friends with another one, even exchanging numbers when we said goodbye. So it was good mostly. I appreciate the warmth and hospitality I experienced at the non-touristy side of Malapascua.
Admittedly, walking about the barrio is not as pretty as walking Bounty Beach. Here, I saw how there is still a lot of work to do after the storm. There are still houses under construction. Fallen trees, those not chopped up to line the roads, were strewn all over some areas. The barangay side of the beach had piles of yero roofing sheets littering the shore. It felt crowded and chaotic.
But it felt real. It was like I was finally getting to know Malapascua.
It was different when I was at the resort. Don’t me wrong. David is a good host. And I really like him and what he’s doing for his staff and Malapascua, and what he wants to do for Monad Shoal and the other dive sites.
Some of the staff were genuinely nice too. They told me their Haiyan/Yolanda stories. One even told me how she felt like she dodged a bullet by being assigned to the morning shift, even with the heat, because the guests liked staying up late to drink. I appreciate the candor. After all, I was still a guest who was waiting to talk to their boss, and can potentially get them in trouble if they talked to me too much.
Other times though, it felt manufactured. I mean, I can do without the perfunctory “How’s your food?” if it just sounds robotic. And uber-attentiveness can come off as annoying, especially when I want to be left alone.
It got nasty on the last day, my last breakfast at Malapascua. Since it was the last time to eat at Craic, I wanted a good meal, and not the typical breakfast food that I can get at home. Plus, I was already thinking of a write-up I wanted to do for When In Manila, where I’ll talk up Craic House food. I needed a photo.
So I made a request and, after negotiating which meal, I apologized that I was maarte about my food. I then walked to the back to take photos of the dive center, and overheard a snarky comment about my non-breakfast meal request. That felt bad.
To make matters worse, newbies/OJTs manned the tables. I got my empty mango shake glass snatched from under me within seconds of putting it down. And one of them wanted to take away my food even when I wasn’t done — no one gets between me and my food! Blame it on inexperience and carelessness, it wasn’t a nice Bounty Beach goodbye for me.
…. But here I am acting like such a consumer again. I had an ideal goodbye in mind, an ideal of how I’d be regarded by people I was genuine to. And at Makati rates, the brat expected it.
Contrast that to Mariz of JMS Eatery, who ran out to talk to me on my walk back to my barangay home. I felt off about my experience and wasn’t really paying attention when she called out… so she ran out to talk to me and say goodbye. I felt my mood shift from miffed to “awwwww.” I was so touched that I went back after I’d packed my stuff. I took the long way toward the boat and passed her store for a proper goodbye and to exchange Facebook addresses and numbers.
When I was younger — ummm even now, sometimes — I ‘d approach each island/beach destination with this theme song in my head. I had this idea of a perfect getaway. The perfect beach with temperate waters, fine sand, amazing reef life, good people, cheap food and drinks, the perfect vibe.
Back then, I didn’t see the stage, rigging and prop lighting behind this picturesque paradise that I was consuming. I ignored the stagehands milling around, bit players in my paradise.
I’d gotten older and my blinders are gone. I’d partake of paradise every now and then, like I did hours at a time in Malapascua. I will play my theme song and imagine perfection.
But I know that behind it, there’s a community dependent on me making that long trip from Manila to Malapascua. I need to check-in, eat, drink and pay so they get paid their wages. I need to walk out back, buy from the sari-sari stores and carinderia, and support smaller businesses. I need to not get annoyed at women selling beach-side massages and men selling fake pearls — they are only trying to make a living.
I need to do TDC too, and go beyond consumption. This is just Leg 2 but I am already imagining the body of work that I want to produce from my travels. I want to mark in writing the realities of the paradise islands of our imagination.
I have no agenda but to keep my redefined paradise alive. To keep the waters and sea creatures that I visit thriving. To have the things that I love and have grown to love there the next time I take that long trip to visit.