There is a special kind of beauty about traveling to quieter areas around the Philippines. Yes, the beaches are beautiful, but ultimately, the people are what make the Philippines so incredible. I may be a little biased because part of my roots originates from this country, but after being away for 11 years, I got to experience it with a fresh pair of eyes.
Like other popular destinations, straying from the path most traveled always brings a welcomed surprise. During our two weeks in the Philippines, we went to the touristy areas like Cebu and Panglao, but nothing compared to the quiet time in the little barrios around the island of Bohol. In these areas, we were typically the only Americans around and though we stood out, we were rarely treated like foreigners. My husband drank beer with the locals, sang karaoke at every opportunity, and tried his best to learn little bits of Bisaya. It was from this mutual respect that my husband became an honorary Filipino and because they loved him so much, they wanted to show him the best time!
Because of this amazing community, a day of island hopping was organized for us without any planning on our part. It reminded me of the community we experienced while we were in Cuba. If you have an idea about something you want to do, just ask someone and they’ll set everything up for you. On one evening we said we wanted to check out the other islands and by the morning, we had 2 boats waiting for us. I still have no idea who these boats belonged to, but all I know is we paid about $40 to rent both for the entire day.
When we walked up to the dock, I found one bigger boat and one tiny 2-3 seater. Several members of my family boarded the bigger boat along with my mom and my son. Everyone yelled, “Em, you ride that one with Clayton.” As a very cautious person, I stopped and examined the boat for a moment. It was VERY tiny and along with my irrational fear of the sea and my horrible swimming skills, I probably should have passed on this opportunity. But the warm breeze and the giant bottle of beer in my hand made me brave, so I yelled, “hell yeah!” and hopped into the tiny boat.
I mean, how could I pass this up?! This was an experience of a lifetime.
Clayton and I got settled in and headed out first before the others. We rode for about 45 minutes towards the island of Cabilao. It was such a hot day, but the continuous splashing from the water made the day bearable. I could not stop giggling the entire way there. It was so much fun and so beautiful!
When we all arrived in Cabilao, we played in the water, rolled around in the sand, and stuffed ourselves with amazing food (if you didn’t know, Filipinos love bringing an entire buffet on an outing!) We were having so much fun that no one noticed how late it was getting. It wasn’t until I realized that the heat of the sun was no longer beating down on me and I suddenly remembered my tiny ride, my lack of swimming skills, and the big vast sea that we had to cross.
I kept asking everyone to start packing up while yelling, “the sun is going down! We still have to drive back!” By the time we all got on the boat, the sun was barely peeking over the horizon. Not even the beauty of the sunset could help me overcome my fears.
Our boat was significantly faster than the bigger one, and as the sun had completely set, I looked behind us and couldn’t see anything. It was pitch black. Our boat and the other boat didn’t have any lights.
The worry began to set in.
I worried about my son in the other boat, I worried about our tiny boat tipping over, I worried about the potential of sea monsters swimming underneath us. As we bobbed up and down those waves, I held on tight to my backpack and my husband’s leg behind me. I knew he was having a great time because unlike me, he is brave.
As I sat there immersed in my cloud of worry, a sudden big wave splashed onto my face. This may have been divine intervention, like a metaphorical reality check, but it snapped me out of my fear. The water was so… warm. With my face, my shirt and my backpack completely soaked, I burst into laughter.
What the hell was I so worried about?! I knew our driver had this tiny boat handled, I was confident he knew where to go, and the water… even if we tip over, I’ll be fine! It’s like my fear led me to believe I was on the damn Titanic. This isn’t iceberg water, this is bath water! I can float and sea monsters probably don’t exist. I’ll be fine.
Our driver slowed the boat and asked Clayton, “are you okay?” I then turned around, still laughing hysterically, “Babe, this is like my worst nightmare! But I’m fine, I’m totally fine.” I yelled back to our driver, “asa sila? (where are they?)” Clayton opened my backpack and brought out one of our small flashlights and shined it in the direction of the other boat. All of a sudden, I see about 8 cell phones lit up, waving from inside the boat. A sense of calmness comes over me. I’m okay, Riley is okay, we’re all okay! Let’s just enjoy the ride.
The rest of the way, I sat there smiling and giggling as the warm water kept brushing against my face. I looked up at the sky and the number of stars we could see reminded me of home. From my house at almost 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, the bright stars often fill up the sky. While I sat on this boat, I suddenly felt so comforted, like I was in the safety of my front porch. I silently said a quick prayer. Not because I was worried, but because I was thankful for this adventure with my family.
I couldn’t believe what was happening. Here I was, the girl afraid of water, the girl afraid of the dark, the girl who gets uncomfortable when she’s away from her son… sitting in the middle of the sea, in the darkness, and just enjoying the ride.
When people say travel takes you out of your comfort zone, I can confirm that it does in so many ways. Not to be dramatic, but that day changed me forever. I won’t be scuba diving anytime soon, but I no longer look at the water with irrational fears. I actually think I’d like to try snorkeling someday.
Great things happen when you confront your worst fears and it usually makes for a pretty good story.