It seemed an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially molded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others...Being closely observed by a companion can also inhibit our observation of others; then, too, we may become caught up in adjusting ourselves to the companion's questions and remarks, or feel the need to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity ― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in your life? Where have you felt the most free? A couple years ago, I traveled to the Philippines and visited one of the most beautiful places I’d seen in my life, One Hundred Islands National Park in Alaminos, Pangasinan, Philippines. October, 2014, I ventured to this paradise alone. That month, I discovered how it feels to be a true backpacker, as I only had a backpack and the clothes on my back...
Riding through the countryside of the Philippines was such a beautiful experience. I felt at peace as I was able to channel my thoughts, think, write, and listen to music while I enjoyed the beautiful scenery— rice fields, mountains, lakes. I noticed that in Manila (the capital), the poverty is suffering in the city, but the countryside offered a different type of poverty. Instead of seeing so many begging and sleeping individuals on the streets, I saw kids bathing in rivers and communities living very simple lives. It was evident that they possessed very little money, but they did not appear to be suffering. The countryside, full of lush vegetation, cows, and roosters provides for the communities who appear to be working together to sustain their lives – living with very little, but surviving without suffering. My bus rides were about four or five hours long, but it was certainly a treat to see such beautiful scenery from air conditioned Wi-Fi buses.
On my way to Alaminos, I sat next to a curious Filipino women around my age. She asked me the typical questions and expressed how brave I was to be traveling alone. I noticed her watching the music video for “Pills and Potions” by Nicki Minaj. She asked me if I liked Nicki Minaj and also asked me why Nicki’s skin looked so much lighter and whiter in that video. Needless to say I had one of many conversations about black skin and colorism and so forth… Following that, she asked me if I liked my hair. I replied yes and she asked me if I ever wish my hair was straight like hers…and this became one of many teaching moments I’d have while traveling Asia.
Sometimes, when I arrive to a bus terminal or other destination, locals will spot me on the bus and come running to the door in order to offer me a tricycle ride or such. When I arrived to the Alaminos bus terminal, the bus “conductor” found one guy who not only offered me a tricycle ride to the One Hundred Islands Park, but also claimed he had a friend who could provide me with a two hour tour of the islands on his boat for a discounted price. I just had to hop in his tricycle and ride with him into the village...sounds shady right? I decided to go with it and so I hopped in the side car of his tricycle, not knowing entirely what I was getting myself into. We stopped at a little village near a river. When we got out, the tricycle driver told me that he believed me to be beautiful.
He said, “Even though your skin is like Filipino, not so white, you are still so beautiful.”
This statement, though kind in nature, reveals the deep complexities of colorism rooted in yet another cultural framework (but I digress).
...and so the tricycle driver and his friend took me to a small house by a river where my boat would take off. It took a couple people to place my boat in the water, including a very observant, fit, and quiet elderly man. Before we left on the boat, the boatman asked if I wanted to return to his family’s home at the end of the tour or the tourist’s area. We agreed that I would return to his family’s home at the end, but I was slightly confused. What and where was this “tourists area” and why hadn’t I left from there in the first place?
*photo of boat being placed in the water*
The boat ride to One Hundred Islands was amazing. I learned that in this park, there were at least one hundred islands (some as small as a car) and each one had a name and my tour guide/boatman/photographer/my everything knew each one of them. Further, for such a popular tourist spot, it was quite quiet and I felt as though I had each one of those one hundred islands to myself. I had somehow managed to avoid all of the tourists as well as the common tour start point, where I believe most have to pay a small fee to enter the One Hundred Islands region. We went to several islands, took pictures, and enjoyed the scenery all in two hours’ time. He took me to a few islands and a couple caves, one of which was filled with bats and a watery abyss. He asked me if I wanted to dive into this watery abyss. Looking up at the hundreds of bats above, I declined. I have adventure in me…but not that much.
Really though...words cannot describe how beautiful these islands were. Several times my tour guide said that I must come back again so that I can spend the night on one of the islands with my “partner.” I promised him that in fifteen years, I will have found my partner and we would return together. One Hundred Islands was truly the most beautiful place I have ever seen in the 22 years I’d live (now 24). When we returned to his family's home, they all came outside and we enjoyed each other's company. I washed my feet off in one of their wash rooms and exchanged Facebook information with a couple of the younger members of his family. I've been in contact with one woman in particular because I left a very beautiful shell on the boat. I was slightly heartbroken when I returned to Manila unable to find it. I'm hoping to make arrangements soon so that they are able to send me the shell.