I’m sitting with two Germans and an Italian backpacker having dinner at an eco lodge in Legazpi. It’s a beautiful winter’s evening and the tempreture has cooled a little after the rains, but we are still sweating.
Behind us is the imposing shadow of Mayan, the active volcano that built the ground we’re standing on. In front, the sea with it black sand. The Italian has been here a week and she and I have become good friends, despite the age difference of nearly thirty years.
The Germans are new arrivals, having just flown in from Palawan. I have been in the Philippines for eight months now and can speak the local dialect pretty fluently. It’s been my exposure to the locals and living amongst them, a concious choice I made on arrival. I didn’t come here to mingle with tourists but to experience the real Philippines.
I can’t remember the last time I used a proper toilet. I can’t recall the last time I walked through a shopping mall or ate at a fast food franchise. What I do remember are the many friendships I have made over the last few months.
As we sit and eat the meal I’ve prepared, we’re joined by three labourers that are building the bamboo huts on the site. The gin is brought out and the jug of cold water and they sit and share the food. It’s called pulutan, Tagalog for dish. It’s placed on the table in a communal bowl and everyone tucks in whilst we drink.
There’s a lot of laughter and ‘nosebleeds’ as the workers try and communicate with the tourists and I interpret where I can. I am aware of the stares from the two German girl and finally figure out why.
I have my rice in a bowl with chicken and I am happily eating away with my fingers, the cutlery lying untouched on the table. It’s the way the locals eat and I have grown accustomed to it. It was this thought that prompted this post.
I will be returning to civilization as we are fond of calling it, in a few months and the longer I stay amongst these simple, happy people, the less the prospect appeals to me. I’ve come to realize that life is about far more than we can appreciate in our humdrum rush of madness we refer to as lives.
Kuya (brother) Danny is the foreman on the site and he leans over to me and nods towards the three girls seated on one of the bamboo benches. Maganda (beautiful), he asks me.
Yes, I answer, but I will tell your asawa (wife). The 57 year old labourer giggles like a school girl and passes me the shot glass. We have been working the entire day in the sweltering heat helping landscape the eco lodge’s gardens. We are physically exhausted but our souls are at peace. This place and the people do that to you.
I almost feel sorry for the German tourists. They have been travelling from place to place by plane, seeing the sites and enjoying the geographical beauty of the Philippines. They will return home with fond memories and photos, but like so many others, they miss out on the Philippine’s real treasure. It’s people.
I am immensely grateful for the luxury of time. It has afforded me the opportunity to discover a more peaceful harmonious way of life. One that is not dictated by money or ambition and is firnly rooted in the now. Now and the friends we break bread with. I may just be tempted to find my own little corner in this paradise and call it home.