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Island Life in the Philippines

by becca on February 12, 2010

We spent a week in a little guesthouse on Panagsama beach in Moalboal. The door to our room opened onto a porch that faced the beach: a small sandy and rocky patch, with calm waves lapping, barely covering a wonderland of coral, and in the distance the mountainous outline of the island of Negros. The dive shop next door used our little beach front to load and unload tanks each morning and afternoon. I did a bit of diving and saw some magnificent walls of coral, a sea turtle, blue-banded sea snake, eels and a few other fishes. More exciting really, was the snorkeling Nate and I did right in front of our place.

The guesthouse was run by a Filipino woman called Cora who invited me to join her at the weekend market one morning. The photo in the set above showing a few women sitting on a cement pier and some men and kayaks in the water — that was the “fish market.” Unfortunately, they hadn’t been very successful that particular morning. This was no problem however as there was plenty of fruit at the market, happily fueling us for breakfast, lunch, and every snack time in between.

When the sun turned that warm yellow signaling late afternoon, groups of young happy children would come to swim just in front of us, providing hours of entertainment. I thought it was really interesting to watch the kids’ relationship to the ocean. Even though they live there, they don’t seem to take it for granted. They seem to understand what an infinite playground the ocean and the beach can be, and the thrill of the water hasn’t lost it’s edge. Everyone went home as the sun set and we sat on our porch, entranced each evening as it dipped behind the bumpy horizon.

We visited the “Message in a Bottle Museum” run by a charming couple who moved from the city to Moalboal, the wife’s home village, after their daughter finished law school. To keep busy, they maintain this little museum in the front of their home. They spoke about how unlucky people with no “home” outside the city are and say the fresh air and slow pace of the beach town have helped them stay young and healthy. The husband even brags about how a special kind of tea grown in their garden has completely cured his diabetes and he no longer depends on insulin.

The night before we left, a new family came to stay at Cora’s: an older woman, her four grown children, one grandchild and one German son-in-law. They enthusiastically invited us to eat dinner with them. We had “beach food”: fresh tuna grilled whole then dipped with hands in a soy sauce or spicy vinegar and garlic mixture; fresh sea cucumbers with green tomatoes, onions, garlic and vinegar (they have a consistency similar to squid but with a crunchy exterior); seaweed that had the texture of thin rice noodles; and mangoes for dessert. For hours we learned about their family and listened as they spoke with pride about their country and the places we should visit while we’re here. They also told us how to tell if fish are fresh or not, good to know!

Many of the interactions we had in Moalboal and many we have yet to have are enabled by two simple characteristics of Filipinos: 1) They are extremely friendly and curious and 2) most speak at least a bit of English, if not fluent English in an American accent. These two factors combined with the newness and uncallused world of tourism in the Philippines allow casual but genuine and unique interactions.

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