My first week in the Philippines was a mixed bag of excitement; generous friends and a beautiful [free] hotel room in Cebu, an interesting start to my volunteer experience at Seaside, and an impending Typhoon. I guess they're right when they say "It's more fun in the Philippines", or if not fun at least it's always interesting. When I made my return to Seaside things had changed a bit, a third volunteer, Caroline, had joined the crowd and we quickly befriended each other. The first few nights of work at the bar were slow with a mix of new and old customers but then the workers (construction boys) started hanging out, friendships were made fast and loads of fun was had.
I've been thinking a lot recently about travel friendships (and relationships), to someone who's never experienced it I feel it's almost impossible to explain. Over the last few years I've acquired an amazing ability of being able to read people really fast, everyone knows first impressions matter but I feel that in the world of traveling this is exemplified. Not only are you judging someone's character but your mind immediately goes through potential scenarios you could share with this new person. Is this someone you could trust to drive you through busy streets on the back of a scooter? Do you want to share a 10+ hour bus or train ride with them? How about sharing a room or maybe even a bed? It's not so much a matter of do you maybe want to be friends, but more can you stand each others company for the next xxx hours, while at the same time knowing you'll soon have to say goodbye.
I really didn't know what to expect with my time at Seaside, to be honest, my first impressions weren't amazing but I had high hopes things would turn around. I was hoping to make friends with the locals but if the most interaction I got was a few drunk guys every night I wasn't going to find that. My hopes peaked when Caroline and I successfully planned and spent a day with Junjun and Luigi (two workers at Seaside) at the Chocolate hills, I think it was from that day I knew I probably wasn't leaving on my flight Tuesday, and I was right.
The next day [Saturday] was supposed to be the disco party at Seaside but thanks to a sick DJ and malfunctioning sound system things didn't go according to plan. The night (and drinking) started early for a few workers, with whom we shared a few beers, but they were soon leaving to return to their families. Before they left, however, we met Editha, the wife of one of two foremen at Seaside, who invited us to her home the following day. We took her up on the offer and were looking forward to the plans for Sunday but it was looking to be a quiet Saturday night at Seaside, wrong, wrong wrong. After eating dinner we returned to the bar where we found the second group of workers drinking and singing and were immediately invited to join their table. One beer led to the next and laughter, smiles, drinks, songs, stories, food, dancing, and fun was shared by all.
Although Sunday morning started slow we were eventually on our way to Editha's house to enjoy lunch with her family before hiking through the surrounding village to see where and how she lived. I knew some of the workers from Seaside would be at her house but didn't realize they were joining us for the whole day. The day was perfect, we got a deeper look into the lives of some of those we were befriending, learning more about them and their families outside the time they spent working at Seaside. I've shared meals and been taken in as one of the family in numerous countries and it's amazing to me how similar each of these experiences has been, despite the difference in countries, languages, foods, ages, and company. Every time I'm more than touched by the hospitality, generosity, and pride that these families show me, I can only hope that they feel my gratitude and appreciation for being their guest.
It wasn't only the adults that I started building friendships with, but also their children. In the beginning, kids would simply laugh, smile or run away as the foreigners approached, but as the days passed the shyness faded away and bonds were made. I was practicing yoga one morning when all of the kids decided to come up and watch, I felt awkward at first and almost stopped but decided to continue, trying to pretend as if they weren't there. Eventually a few began mimicking what I was doing so I tried to engage them more but laughter didn't allow us a very serious practice, instead, I opted for pictures, smiles, and laughs.
I sometimes scoff at 'minimum stay' requirements that organizations list but I get it, the time commitment is necessary. Sure you can drop into a school or organization for a day or two and lend a helping hand, but if you want to create any type of impact (for them or yourself) you need to stick around for a bit. By Monday night I was on my phone trying to find an alternative flight (at a later date) while at the same time trying to cancel the one I had booked for the next day. Although I wouldn't be getting a refund on the fare I knew that the trade off of spending a few more days at Seaside with my new friends would be worth it.
For the first two days after my missed flight I couldn't help but question if I had made the right decision, but now, sitting here in Taiwan reminiscing on my time I know I had. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were filled with fun I would have otherwise missed had I taken my original flight to Manila. I woke up to greetings of "Good Morning Stephanie", saw familiar faces on my Jeepney rides, shared many laughs with Caroline, beers with the workers and a visit to Ronald's home.
When I responded to everyone's "I'll miss you" with "me too" I didn't realize just how true these words would be. I've said countless goodbye's during my travels but that doesn't mean it gets any easier. Once in Taiwan I received messages from Caroline about what was going on back in Dimiao and couldn't help but long to be there. I missed the small patch of normalcy I had created there; I could've stayed, waking up to sun and sand every morning, yoga from my lookout tower, runs through the town filled with smiling faces, and days filled with little to no responsibility, but yet I left. That's the give and take you get with travel; in a constant rotation of hello's and goodbye's, you go from one friendship and life to the next. For as much as I'm missing the people and places of last week, I can't help but be excited for what awaits me tomorrow, next week and the week after. The life of travel is definitely not for everyone, some people don't want to say goodbye (or hello for that matter) and I know I'll reach a day where I'll want to just stop but for now I'm thankful for all the smiles, friendships, laughter and memories I'm acquiring along the way.
Over 7,500 islands of pure bliss. I've been twice, both times arriving with a "what am I doing here" hesitation, but weeks later resisting my departure. Forget about being on time, or eating lots of vegetables, but welcome beautiful sunsets, gorgeous beaches, and welcoming, friendly locals.