Nine times out of ten, when I tell someone how long I’ve been traveling their first response is, “Are you rich?” I can assure you that’s not the case, I’m not rich, my parents aren’t supporting me and I have no sugar daddy funding my trips. The secret is how I travel, there are no fancy hotels (well, only when I’m lucky), I opt for the long bus or train over flight, eat local, and avoid souvenirs but there are a few other tricks up my sleeve. The first of which is Couchsurfing, which has provided me with nothing but amazing opportunities and unique situations, as well as new friends. The second secret is in volunteering or working for your room and board. I joined HelpX last spring and utilized it only a few times during my travels through SE Asia, either the opportunities weren’t there or I just wasn’t in the mood for work. This time around however I’m trying to make that dollar stretch just a little bit further so my travels are being planned more around these volunteer opportunities than pretty beaches or big temples, or maybe an even balance of the two.
I already had plans to visit Bohol in the Philippines so when I found the opportunity at Seaside Beach Resort I figured why not give them a try. First off let me just say that the term ‘resort’ gets thrown around pretty loosely in Asia, don’t think all inclusive with waiters bringing you pina coladas, no not here. Seaside’s owner Bruce wanted to create a place for the locals to relax, vacation, swim and enjoy life. Far away from the tourist beaches of Panglao and city of Taglibaron, this resort is one of the only places for locals to go, making it somewhat of a diamond in the rough.
Bruce invites volunteers to come and help out in whatever way suits them, but most often they fall into the bar area as the KTV (Pilipino Karaoke) starts up at night. On my first day I was granted a night of rest as I was ‘probably tired from traveling’ but the second day I got a full dose of what the work was all about. Work started at 6 pm when I was introduced to the friendly (soon to be my favorite staff member), Ronald. He gave me the run down of the bar, “serve beers, wipe tables, put the token in the Karaoke machine and request a song”, yep that about sums it up. He told me how the regular waitresses are currently on vacation, getting ready for the grand open on December 31st (they’re still building a pool and additional rooms) so I would be taking their place. I guess they usually socialize with the customers but I wasn’t sure how much of that I’d be doing – haha little did I know.
The first two hours was fairly slow, some of Ronald’s friends and a group of children (they were 16), but that only lasted for a short period of time until their mom came and pulled them out the door. Before leaving they did offer me a few glasses of beer and inquired about where I’m from and if the other volunteer Oliver was my husband, brother, father or cousin, no none of the above. I soon found myself with Ronald’s friends not only chatting but also singing, voluntarily! They were all 18 and reminded me slightly of my students in Korea, fun boys and extremely polite. The night continued to pick up as more customers trickled into the bar. The next table was a group of the construction crew from Seaside, build pools by day and drink beers by night, not a bad deal. I think my talking with the boys let everyone else know that the white girl was indeed not a scary monster and I soon found myself floating between tables.
Having the days to ourselves the options were endless, but the other volunteers and I weren't in much of a hurry to do anything. Obviously part of the point in volunteering is to save money so we weren't looking to take expensive tours or dine at the pricey restaurants. My mornings were spent taking advantage of the myriad of spots available for me to do yoga as well as squeezing in a few morning runs. Bruce is good about making sure his volunteers are enjoying themselves and finding things to do but also not pushing you to do anything. I spent one-day hiking to a waterfall, another at a local resort/spring, viewing the famous chocolate hills, and just relaxing at the resort.
Because Seaside is still under construction, with improvements being made daily, it's hard to rate the accommodation and food aspect of this stay. The first room I was in was fine (if you don't mind ants) but the water situation was hit and miss. When a second volunteer arrived we were moved to a house on the roadside which was a complete upgrade, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a kitchenette. The meals at Seaside were definitely not the highlight of my stay but that's kind of a theme for me in this country, seriously where are all the vegetables? Breakfast lunch and dinner usually consisted of rice, fried noodles and mystery meat (liver, canned sausages, or maybe some roast pork). It's hard to seriously complain though seeing as it was all free.
Somehow I seem to find myself in the company of generous hosts throughout my travels, from Couchsurfing hosts to HelpX positions and even random travelers I meet along the way. Thankfully my travels are going according to plan in the sense that I'm not spending much money; working to stretch my dollar as far as Europe. Hopefully my last few days at Seaside continue to be relaxing with a few adventures thrown into the mix.
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.