Backpacking dumaguete series
Interesting People I Met in DumagueteMonday, January 23, 2012Ryan Mach
Solo travel inevitably makes you sociable. Unless you're a hardcore snob, you'll be compelled, one way or another, to talk to someone : the local who will give you directions, the fellow passenger on your trip to a nearby town, your roommates at the guest house. It can start with small talk and may favorably end in a mutual exchange of email address.
This is the beauty of solo travel - in the absence of a companion, you'll eventually make a few connections, and in most cases, gain friends.
Meeting people in Dumaguete was probably at the bottom of my to-do list. In my past travels, I didn't succeed much in that area. This may be due to the fact that all of my trips before have seldom allowed me to talk to other people. I let my friends do the talking. And I didn't hang out in the hotel lobby and start making conversations with some random tourist/traveler while my travel companions were asleep or having fun inside the room.
The fact that I traveled alone in Dumaguete pretty much guaranteed the possibility that yes, I'd be alone in my adventure but somehow, especially once the sad realities of solo backpacking began to surface, I started to yearn for some company. There's fleeting sadness in seeing a group of travelers enjoying themselves at the same activity you're engaging. The trick to battling self-pity is by constantly reminding myself that I chose to travel solo, and that being alone is not tantamount to solitude.
Sentimentality aside, I met a few interesting and lovely people who have made my trip enjoyable and memorable. Here they are in no particular order:
JOSH [Vancouver, Canada] Political Science student
Josh (left) with Ryan on their last day in Dumaguete
Josh is possibly the most friendly guy among my roommates. He's got an amicable persona that simply radiates off his face deflating any negative impressions that may be wrongly hurled against him. He greets strangers and acknowledges their presence with a courteous and genuine smile. His resemblance to Josh Duhamel adds to his already charismatic appeal.
Josh occupied the top bunk across mine. He checked in with his best buddy, Ryan, on the second night of my stay in Harold's Mansion. He reads a book (paperback, he's a traditional guy) and fiddles with his tablet before going to sleep. He and Ryan are most likely sole brothers because they walk barefoot!
It's hard to tell at first but once you get to know Ryan, you'll realize that he's a wacky soul and equally friendly just like his best buddy, Josh. Although his height and facial expression are a bit intimidating (he can be pretty stoic too), he's actually very likable. When I told him that I was celebrating my birthday, he enthusiastically invited me to celebrate it with them. "We're planning to celebrate Chinese New Year tonight. Why don't you join us?" he offered. Josh, who was sitting at the back of the van with Tanja, nodded in agreement. Ryan also introduced me to a bunch of foreigners he met and who are staying at Harold's Mansion and he told them that I was going with them to dinner. Sweet! (Sorry, man, if you're reading this, I bailed out at the last minute, I was just intimidated, that's all but I really appreciate the effort).
Ryan is a natural conversationalist. He definitely knows when to talk, what to talk about, and how to listen. I learned from him that the three of them are doing a month-long travel in the Philippines. Ryan and Josh arrived first week of January and will be flying back first week of February. "The Philippines is the best among the countries we've been to," he told me after asking him about his experience so far. They've been to Palawan, Boracay, Puerto Galera, Iloilo, Bacolod and Siquijor. Their next destination is Malapascua in Cebu.
TANJA [Finland] Social Worker
Tanja emerging from the water
Tanja is traveling with Josh and Ryan. She's been here in the country for four months now, doing some social work in Calapan, Mindoro. Although I first met Josh and Ryan, it's actually Tanja who first talked to me during our Apo Dive/Snorkel Adventure. "Hey Ryan, how was your snorkeling?" She asked me. I thought she was talking to Canadian Ryan. Ryan was just getting out of the water from their first dive. I told her I saw two turtles. Her eyes grew big. She's incredibly amazed that she also tried snorkeling herself, along with Josh and Ryan. I have no idea how old they are but I believe they're much younger than I am.
Corey was only wearing a maroon towel wrapped around his waist when I first saw him inside Room 302 where he's also staying with a much older guy, Mike. They were talking about their travel experiences in Dumaguete when I came in. Our interaction was limited to exchanging friendly nods when we saw each other in the room. It wasn't until our last day at Harold's Mansion that we talked to each other, after asking him if I could take a picture of him for posterity.
He told me that he's traveling solo and that he's planning to visit as many places in the Visayas area as he can. "I'm planning to go to Romblon," he said. "Really? I'm from Romblon!" I told him excitedly. He got his travel guide book and showed me his route. He's going to Cebu, Bohol, and back to Cebu then explore the northern part of Visayas - Bacolod, Iloilo, Boracay and then Romblon.
"When are you planning to go to Romblon?" I asked.
"Probably next month," he said.
"Oh, what a coincidence. I'm actually planning to go there next month." I told him. Yeah, see you in Romblon, Corey.
MIK and GIRLFRIEND [Germany] Mike is a graphic artist while GF (I can't remember her name, sorry) is a metereologist
Just like Josh, Ryan and Tanja, Mik and his girlfriend are on a month-long vacation in the Philippines. They've been to Palawan, Bohol, Cebu, CDO, La Union and Siquijor. They're having the time of their lives in the country. I met both of them at the common veranda right outside their room on the last day of my stay at the guest house. I was waiting for my lunch, they were having breakfast.
"What are your plans for today?" GF asked me while Mik went down to the cafeteria.
"I'm going back to Manila," I said. "Where are you guys headed today?" I asked.
She said they might go to Casaroro Falls. "We'll just hire a motorcycle and go there by ourselves." In CDO, they also rented a motorcycle and toured the countryside.
She wouldn't look at the camera because she's too shy.
I met Jocelyn inside the jeepney bound for Valencia, a small town near Dumaguete. I was going to Forest Camp, my first adventure of the day. Jocelyn was on her way to Valencia too. She lives there with her husband and in-laws. She's originally from Tarlac but she moved to Negros with her husband. "Because this is where my husband lives," she told me when I asked why they transferred there.
"You're traveling alone?" she noticed. I smiled and nodded. She was kind of surprised when she learned that it was my first time in Dumaguete and that I didn't have any friends or relatives around. "I'm sure it's safe here," I intoned. She answered with a reassuring yes.
I wasn't sure if it was Manong Enie's turn to collect passengers but he was the first one to get to his trike.
"Where to?" he asked, while his fellow drivers eyed us with indifference.
"Forest Camp," I said in a friendly tone. "How much?" I asked in Bisaya.
"40 pesos one way." I was thinking more but I guess my knowledge of the local language was possibly the reason he didn't charge me as a tourist.
"I'll give you 100 pesos, round trip," I offered. He didn't object, of course.
Manong Enie proved to be professional when he came back at the exact time we both agreed on. As a thank-you gesture, I gave him my take-out chicken tinola which I didn't get to finish.
"Is it possible for you to take me to Casaroro Falls?"
He thought for a moment and said yes, it was.
"How much though?" I asked.
He told me the road is an endless slope so it would consume his gasoline much faster. "300 all-in," he said after doing some mental note.
"My budget is only 250," I haggled.
He thought again for a moment and yes. The hike to Casaroro Falls took its toll on Manong Enie's mood. He became surly. When we got back in the town plaza of Valencia, he reverted to his original asking price - 300. Still, the fact remains that Mang Enie's a good guide - he makes distances appear to be shorter than it actually is. 'It's just over there' really means 2 kilometers away.
LOLA MILA [Iloilo]
[Lola Mila escorting me to the highway]
I was eyeing a local outside the airport in Dumaguete when I spotted Lola Mila, a woman in her 60s. She didn't just answer my question (where's the highway?), she also accompanied me there. Trusting her came naturally because she spoke in Ilonggo, which I also happen to know. She said she's originally from Iloilo and she's taking a vacation in Dumaguete. What she's doing in the airport, I don't really know. She didn't leave until I was able to ride on an easy ride (Dumaguete's version of jeepney) that would take me to the city proper. She even wanted me to get her number in case I'd need help getting around. Unfortnately however the idea came late and before she could give me her digits, the easy ride stopped by and I hopped in.
HAROLD [Dumaguete]Owner of Harold's Mansion and Harold's Dive Camp
Harold, leftmost, owner of Harold's Mansion in Dumaguete
I pictured Harold as an old foreigner doing business in Dumaguete. I saw an account on Couchsurf that has his name and address but it didn't have a profile photo. I was at the front desk inquiring about the next day snorkeling activity when this young medium build guy butted in that snorkeling for January 22 was already fully booked.
"Is there anyway you can let me join, please? It's going to be my birthday tomorrow," I pleaded in a jovial manner. "We'll see, we'll see..." Harold muttered. I didn't really know he was Harold but I gathered he must be because the receptionist addressed him as sir. The next day, he surprised me when he boomed "Birthday boy" at the cafeteria. "You're coming with us, ok? Don't go too far. We're leaving in a few."
That Harold remembered my special day was an act that is beyond customer service. It felt very heartfelt and personal to me so much so that I didn't expect him to remember what I said the other day. He also made sure that I didn't feel left out considering I was alone, and the people we were with came in groups.