Towards the end of last year, I had the chance to take off from everything for two weeks. The game plan was to get my feet wet at Coron, take a lux-camping island cruise through the Calamianes, and chill out at the end of the trip in El Nido. It almost didn’t happen but three days before I took off, everything fell into place. Now that I’m in the thickest of things, I know that that was the best trip I possibly could have ever taken. Not because the outdoors were splendid – this is the Philippines, after all, where splendid is the outdoors – nor because I had found the answers to a few big snowballing things that are now coming to fore, but because I had found why I had to respond to them and, as is wont with people my age, to find a way to my own little place in the world.
Looking for a place to stay overnight at Coron, I came upon a bare-bones, no-frills webpage, the kind I assiduously coded in college Computer Basics 101, only to find the letters horrifyingly turn upside-down, Exorcist-style, during the proving presentation. Mila was a self-described tourism professional with years of training abroad in best practices in hospitality, but when I tried to reach her both her posted phone numbers were down. So much for international experience.
Not that Filipinos have much need for training in the way of hospitality. The mother who dropped out of high school to raise her growing brood has it, and you know this because no ocean breaks out wider than her smile in spite of the fact that she’s weighed down with the stuff she’ll be selling at the market the next morning. It was my fortune to have sat alongside her on the jeep, and she cheerfully walked me two blocks out of her way from the stop to point out to me with her puckers (her loading arms finding it impossible to raise) and a heartbreakingly beautiful, gap-toothed smile, the right direction.
It’s the jeepney driver who decided to take me, a passenger of fate and wheeling across the old part of Manila with but thirty minutes left before disembarkation, the extra mile out of his way, after all his passengers had already gone down. Until that moment before I alighted from the jeepney, I had been unsure if I were going to make the trip happen.
But after my feet had touched the ground, and as I started walking across the golden pavement on the way to the port on a fair Friday afternoon, and as I noticed how everyone I passed seemed to be giving me smiles all around, I realized the day was reflecting how my mood was turning quickly, the biggest worries of the past few months and even the year, melting slowly into the buttery daylight. What travel and the unknown can do for you. I made it onboard with a snappy salute to the crew and the happiest disposition ever known to campers, just in time.
The MV St. Augustine of Hippo sounded its horn, a picturesque white against a famous yellow sunset, and I was on my way that bright Friday afternoon.