In a country of endless of islands, Lise and I thought it wouldn't be too hard to find one that was uninhabited and easy to get to. After all, this is where The Beach was filmed, right? Well, in our feeble search, we found something unexpected and, arguably, better.
Looking at our map, we saw a speck of an island off the coast of another tiny island in a small archipelago in The Visayas, the Philippines central archipelago. We had the romantic idea of hiring a boat to reach what was sure to be an idyllic paradise all to ourselves.
As our motos rounded the bend and our island came into view, we could immediately see that it was most definitely inhabited. We could also see that despite this, it definitely looked like paradise. After a short negotiation with a local boatman, and an equally short jaunt across the water, we were walking up the island's powdery white welcome mat of a beach. Nobody was in sight, but we could see bamboo homes with thatch roofs on hugging the opposite edge of the sand. It was clear that most people were taking a break from the sweltering afternoon heat.
We walked into the little village and found an unattended shop with a big jug of tuba, a local coconut wine, resting in the window. A drowsy woman rested in a shaded chair nearby. We asked her if we could sample the local grog. It seemed like a good way to ingratiate ourselves with the community. Without saying a word or showing any surprise at the sudden appearance of two enthusiastic foreigners, she languidly rose and disappeared into the village. Moments later, she reappeared with a young, timid boy, who spoke to us in quiet English. He was not the shopkeeper, but the nearest person that could speak our language. This was not the tuba that we wanted to drink, he explained. He led us through the sandy paths that snaked between huts to a shop with the good stuff.
After knocking back our glasses of thick, brown lukewarm brew, our new friend asked if we would like to see around the island. Yes! Yes, sir, we would love you to show us your little patch of heaven.
Our self-appointed guide, Martin, was sweet, genuinely hospitable and demure, but friendly. He spent the day with us, hiking around and showing us miniature farms, patches of nature and noteworthy nooks and crannies. For such a small island, I was impressed with how self-reliant they were. The only necessities they could not produce sufficient amounts of on the island were petrol and water. Important items, of course, but many small islands with small populations rely heavily on food imported from beyond.
After a long walk, Martin asked if we wanted to go to "the relax spot". Umm, yes, Martin, of COURSE we want to go to the relax spot, whatever that is. Passing over a trail of jagged, volcanic rocks, we arrived at a little bamboo and thatch cabana. It sat on a craggy precipice overlooking the water. The elevated cabana allowed for a comforting breeze. We climbed onto the rickety bamboo floor and just...relaxed. It was quiet as the three of us sat calmly, leisurely taking in our surroundings. Speaking was not required.
Because we had originally been hoping for a deserted beach to camp on, and this island certainly didn't have any accommodation, we asked Martin if it was acceptable for us to camp on the beach that night. He assured us that not only was it acceptable, but it was encouraged. People from the small community regularly leave their stuffy homes to sleep in the cool air of the beach on muggy nights.
That evening we lounged on the beach with all the children from the village. A volleyball game went on behind us while kids did acrobatics into the water in front of us. As night fell, the children retreated into the village and a handful of adults crept onto the sand, spreading out blankets and falling asleep. I pulled a tarp from my backpack and Lise and I arranged our sleeping bags for a peaceful night under the stars.
Lise woke me up in the middle of the night. She said she had felt a drop of rain. We leapt into action. It was emergency tent time. We knew what to do, and we were inside the tent while the rain was still a tiny drizzle. Not long after, the rain was pounding our tent, and I could hear all the other beach sleepers around us gather up their bedding and run back to the village.
In the morning, the weather changed from pouring rain to blazing sun in about eight seconds. Martin came and asked if we wanted to go exploring on his boat. Martin is always full of good ideas.
After meeting Martin's mother and informing her of our plans, we spent the day circumnavigating the island in his little fishing canoe. Halfway around the island, I suggested going for a swim. Martin tied up the boat, and we took turns with my snorkel. The aquatic life wasn't impressive, but I did see something I could only describe as a bionic starfish. It was massive and orange, with large black spikes. Martin warned us about what looked like a bionic sea urchin. I had never seen anything like this. It seemed to have extra appendages with more large spikes on it. I was sure to give this monster a wide berth.
Back on the island, we enjoyed a soothing meal of adobo and decided to head out. It was unfortunate to leave so soon, but it was time. We had not found what we were in search of, but as it often goes in open-minded traveling, we were rewarded with hospitality and the coziness of a welcoming community. Martin was a saint, and made our visit to his home a distinctive moment in our time in the Philippines. If tour guides are God, I'm a staunch atheist. But Martin wasn't a guide. He was a young man who was proud of his home and simply wanted to share it with anyone who was interested.
Author: Joey Anchondo