Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Drawbacks of Traveling Solo

A fellow solo traveler once expressed her sentiments on how constantly she is beset with prejudicial curiosity when traveling alone. The society, as it is, has this common notion that a woman needs a companion to somehow ensure her safety. So she asked whether there ever were drawbacks to being a solo traveler among guys. At that time I couldn't think of any until I had my most recent travel.

If there was one thing I could say I have fully developed in the ten years that I've been travelling, that would have to be my ability to get along with the locals very quickly. And this has been easily achieved because I travel alone most of the time. Being alone makes it less intimidating for the locals to deal with me. The connection you establish with the locals is essential in ensuring a fun and safe stay in a new place. I thought that was enough. I was wrong.

Your charisma and geniality lose efficacy when politics comes into play!
The mother is fishing amid the thundering Pacific waves of San Pablo Island
San Pablo Island, one of the twin islands off the shore of Hinunangan, Southern, Leyte was the last leg of my Leyte 360 itinerary. This destination is the least lustrous among the stops I made in this week-long journey. But I chose it to be the location for my birthday as it is unpopular and expectedly as immaculate as could be (the place turned out to be familiar with tourists). I just wanted to be with people who didn't know who I am and who didn't care about the significance of my travels.

The lovely beaches of Canigao and Limasawa had made the pebbly shores of San Pedro and San Pablo islands look like swamps. But trust me I had fun with the locals. I honestly want to tell you more of the fun I had during my two nights in San Pablo Island but the terrible experience I had in that place dims my mood to write a positive note of the place. So I will just be sharing that horror story that gave me my most ‘peaceless’ bus ride back home. My ears fell deaf to the playlist I was forcing myself to enjoy while in transit. Here is the story.
My humble birthday celebration: this was the fun part, before politics blemished the journey
When I arrived in Hinunangan from San Juan, I followed my travel protocol: log in at the municipal hall and barangay hall. I was actually accompanied by the boatman (who happens to be a barangay councilor in San Pablo) when I logged in at the barangay hall. One woman there posed with a certain air of distinction. We exchanged cordial smiles and greetings. I believed she was the barangay chairman so I thought that was already enough courtesy call. 

On my second night, however, the real barangay chairman came to the boatman’s house (where I stayed). He had heard of my presence in the island. In a polite tone, he was asking about my identity saying that he was just concerned about the security of his constituents. Unfortunately, I had lost all my ID’s along with my wallet that I left in a cab while processing my employment documents in Cebu. I do have a passport but I don’t carry it with me when I expect to climb mountains. And I had already surrendered my recent employment ID when I quit. My host reassured him that I had logged in at the barangay hall. He was appeased a little bit but after a few seconds I heard the most ridiculous investigation a traveler could have. “Naa ka’y dala nga cedula?” (Do you have a residence certificate?). When I said no, he preached that all travelers should carry a cedula with them when travelling. That’s when I reckoned that with that kind of leadership the backward community may take decades to progress. I was tempted to be sarcastically rude by asking the question ‘Katong puti nga laki ganiha gipangayuan sad nimo og cedula?’ (Did you also ask for a cedula from the Caucasian visitor?). But I chose to just apologize and say ‘Sige po. Next time timan-an na nako!’ (I’ll surely take note of that next time.) The conversation was not really as intense as we both were honestly feeling. We maintained an air of courtesy and we kept apologizing to each other for the inconvenience. When we said goodbye to each other, I suddenly remembered, I had my credit card and my two ATM cards that bear my name. I showed them to him and I was assured that would seal the drama off.

In the morning of my departure, however, he came to the house sooner than I woke up. He said that the chief of police had told him to escort me to the PNP station. And I was like, What?! I calmly said ‘All right.’ It was becoming an intolerable annoyance but I just kept my cool. When I asked how the PNP knew about my stay, he said that some locals may have texted the PNP! Wow the locals have the cell phone number of the chief of police and they texted him within that span of time! Nice try! But it doesn’t take a genius to know what really was happening!

His eagerness to cross the sea to personally escort me to the PNP station and miss the important barangay meeting they were to have later that day helped me formulate this theory:

He wanted to update his political resume. He wanted to add ‘He is the great barangay chairman who caught an insurgent at large!’ And this is the scenario that he was insisting on establishing using the lame premise that I couldn’t present a cedula.

As nobody actually had informed the chief of police of my stay in the island, he gave a 10-minute briefing to the chief behind closed doors before I was summoned. After seven days of travelling, I was already sunbaked and I definitely looked more of a bum than a traveler. The chief, with his prying eyes, started with the question ‘Waray ka mga ID dida?’ (Can we present any form of identification?). The barangay captain had told him I was a Waray. I said ‘Waray kay nawara ha Cebu’ (I’ve lost all of them in Cebu). When the chief asked me to tell him what I was doing there I asked permission to express myself in a language I was most comfortable with—Tagalog with a bit of English. During my litany, I showed him my bank cards and a playback in my camera of the places I had traveled in the last seven days. I told him that I was just trying to help the tourism department of Southern Leyte and he was grateful about this. I also dropped the names of the police officers that I made friends with in Limasawa and Cabalian. The consistency of my story which was delivered with a seamless voice reassured him that I was telling the truth. Shortly after my statement, he said that he trusted I was from Carigara because back in the day, he knew a Captain Lloren who hailed from my town. Then I was dismissed and he started giving me friendly remarks on my way out. When I asked about an ATM in the town, he told the barangay chairman to escort me to the ‘co-op’ where I could withdraw cash. In his humiliation and defeat the Brgy captain was walking ahead of me noticeably faster than on our way to the police headquarters. He had lost his face. But we were still superficially courteous and friendly. Like I said, I have mastered the art of ‘public relations’ in my more than one decade of traveling…and in his case, as a politician for I don’t know how long.

The drama ended quickly but the trauma was so overwhelming as to make me write this whole story in my mind on my way back home. In hindsight, I wondered whether things would have unfolded differently if I had been a woman…or a Korean. I think the premise that the chairman used to qualify me as an insurgent was that I was a guy and that I was a Filipino. I also wondered whether it was originally pride that spurred him to harass me. He was probably offended why he wasn't given proper respects or the honors to receive me. It must have been hard for him to accept that these were all accorded to a mere kagawad instead. I wondered whether proper identification would have sufficed if I had had one or would he still have found other loopholes just to get back at me.


And so I have resolved to keep traveling alone and keep encouraging others to do so. I am hopeful that through this campaign, more and more people will be made aware that some people do travel solo...and that we are not necessarily insurgents! So that eventually, people will stop asking the annoying question ‘Why are you alone?’ And ultimately, no crook and no ignoramus may use the myths of travelling rebels as a pretext to harass a traveler just to adorn his political resume.

6 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I know! Good thing you and Shiela Mei travel as a team. You won't encounter this BS.

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  2. Backwardness and ignorance are always a drawback in the least travelled places. Project always an aura of confidence but keep tone down. Smile but be tough as well.

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  3. I'm from So. Leyte and I had my fair share of problems like what you experienced here. They will either think you are part of an insurgent group, a treasure hunter or a surveyor. Locals there usually mistaken me for a japanese, a big problem because now they think I'm probably there looking to "reclaim" a hidden treasure. But your worst case scenario would be ending up in a barangay with inactive members of the npa and they think you're part of the army. And you don't have a local guide to back you up. A similar incident happened to me and 2 fellow landscape photographers when exploring 2 waterfalls in Bontoc Southern Leyte. Good thing we had a local guide and we were too "touristy" looking hehe. It was only when we got back to the bontoc town proper did our guide told us about it. Stupid guide... :-)

    Anyway, it's nice to see southern leyte locations in your articles. I'm looking forward to exploring lake danao myself. I heard from local mountaineers that you can actually camp near the lake but they prefer to camp at one of the peaks surrounding the lake.

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  4. Hi I hope, you could read this reply. I am very interested in the waterfalls you mentioned. I'm not sure if you were referring to the one near Thomas Oppus which I only saw on a photo but never really visited.
    I would really like to get in touch with you through e-mail. If you could, please message me at lagataw@gmail.com
    And don't get me wrong. the only thing that can surpass Southern Leyte's beauty is the kindness of the people there. They are generally kind except for a few who are politically-influenced.

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  5. Hi,

    I posted the previous comment. I tried commenting as google account and I don't know why I turned up as unknown. No wonder I never got any notification :-)

    Anyway, the waterfalls I went to is located in Bontoc. Tomas Oppus is further south. It wasn't really that great and the area probably changed since then considering the number of typhoons.

    My email address is dbgg1979@gmail.com.

    Btw, I love your posts about Mt Cabalian and Lake Danao. I always wanted to visit that place. Soon :-)

    ReplyDelete

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