“I could take you to Port Barton.”

Apo’s characteristic accent made it sound like Fort Parton, like a lisp that instead affects Ps, Fs, and Bs. For native Tagalog speakers these letters seem to be randomly interchangeable, in a way that makes it clear they can’t hear any difference.

By now the sun had long since set and the bonfire in front of us was hissing as itinerant raindrops occasionally found an ember. We had finished our first day of island hopping and had been chatting about where Steph and I would go after our time in El Nido.

“I could do it for, maybe 7000 pesos. We would go to a village that no tourists visit, see a volcano, a waterfall. Very beautiful.”

The price was definitely too high. I told him we’d been thinking of taking the ferry, or maybe a mini-van. I told him the price of the ferry—less than half of his own—and he thought for a bit, clearly doing the math in his head.

“Maybe 4000 pesos? I will bring food for the meals too.”

I considered his offer for a moment, and said I thought it sounded reasonable, but that I’d have to talk it over with Steph before I could let him know.

We shook hands and I strolled through the night to find Steph. In truth, his offer wasn’t so much more than the ferry would cost, and the prospect of stopping in a remote village on the way that few others had ever seen was intriguing. After some quick mental calculations we decided to take a chance and go with Apo. He had been a good guide through our day of island hopping, taking us to spots he thought we would enjoy, and there was something about him that we just instinctively liked.

When I let him know we were interested and that we wanted to leave the day after we got back to El Nido, his face lit up with joy. Clearly excited that we were taking him up on his offer, he immediately set about planning the journey. We had already learned he was quick to smile, and he was all grins at the prospect of our trip. When we disembarked in El Nido, he laid out the itinerary and clapped his hands together before taking off to gather supplies. We’d meet the next morning at The Alternative and head towards a little village called Banbanan at the halfway point between Port Barton and El Nido. We reasoned that the extra cost of our trip to Port Barton would pay off in experiences, and hoped the stop at the village we’d never heard of would prove to be a worthwhile diversion. We had just learned paying a little more for an experience could be immensely worthwhile and wanted to keep our momentum.

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The next morning, we stepped onto Apo’s bangka boat at 6:35 and settled onto our little bench seat that had been covered with lifejackets to make for a cushier ride. Apo used a long bamboo pole to push the boat away from the shore and started the engine with a chug and a roar. He’d clearly been awake for a while and was filled with energy and eagerness to get started. The little boat glided out across the mirror-flat waters of the Bacuit Archipelago, followed only by the echo of our engine off the limestone cliffs. Fishermen waved and stared curiously as we slipped by, cutting through the mist of the early morning.

Once we were firmly in open water and El Nido was well behind us, Apo came forward and handed me a creased and worn map of Palawan that was practically falling apart at the seams. He pointed to El Nido, then to Port Barton, and then finally to a tiny dot under the word “Banbanan.” The words were so small they were almost unreadable, but they were there nonetheless, at the end of a long inlet into the interior of Palawan. He left me with the map and went back to the rear of the boat while I tried to figure out how far we had come. We didn’t bother to speak, as nothing short of shouting could be heard over the constant chug of the pump-boat’s engine. All around us the limestone karsts dotted the flat water, and for a little while we felt like the only people on the whole planet.

The sun soared far overhead in an impossibly large sky. We kept under the shade of the bangka’s tarpaulin roof and shielded our eyes against the glare off the water. To our left a giant peak rose out of the interior of the main island, clad in a thick tapestry of vibrant green jungle, its summit buried in a cascade of clouds flowing like a river inland from the sea. Our boat made a wide, easy loop around the mountain and entered the inlet that lead to Banbanan. We passed a gigantic fuel ship moored in the middle of the passage, seemingly abandoned and slowly rusting in the harsh sun, blooms of oxide blotting out letters in its Japanese name.

After an hour we came to an island ringed by fishing boats and stilt houses. Built from bamboo and sheets of scrap tin and burlap bags, most of the village looked as though it would be scoured from the Earth in even the lightest storm. All around the island stalks of bamboo stuck out of the water, calling out shoals and sandbars and as we glided though the forest of markers we passed a silent island and empty fishing boats. For a moment I thought perhaps we had arrived at Banbanan, but Apo steadily piloted us onward. The waterway beyond the village split into a complicated maze of small islands and dead ends, with only the occasional stilt house or small village breaking the wall of jungle on either shore.

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As we rounded the edge of yet another deserted island a small village came into view. Approximately 20 huts crowded a small crescent of rocky shoreline. A tangle a fishing boats, net and bamboo piers jutted out into the water and a few more buildings crept inland, disappearing into the dense, ubiquitous jungle. As we approached, Apo killed the engine and the bangka glided the last few yards towards a pier on the near side of the beach. A man on the dock waited to catch our mooring rope.

“This is the house of my brother. He will watch your things while we are off the boat.” For a moment Apo gazed at nothing and then turned back to us. “I have lied to you, I am sorry.”

“The owner of the Alternative, Becky, is my sister.”

It was clear he was upset about not telling us this, and wanted it off his chest.

We took a moment to think about Apo’s revelation. For the past three days Apo had been referring to Becky as his boss, and the Alternative’s owner, but never mentioned she was a relative, let alone his sister. However, we couldn’t think of any negative consequences, and the scale of his duplicity was fairly minor, so we decided to shrug it off and not worry about something that wouldn’t affect our trip in any real way. Apo was visibly relieved when we told him it didn’t matter to us, and that we just wanted to have the best trip possible.

“This is my village, my family lives here. I used to live here too. That is why I brought you here. I hope you like it!”

Apo shows us his brother's fish pens
Apo shows us his brother’s fish pens
Exodus's dog, very sweet
Exodus’s dog, very sweet

Exodus and his family
Exodus and his family

Apo helped us off the boat and introduced us to his brother, Exodus, while another man came up and greeted Apo. He was introduced as Apo’s brother-in-law, Alan. Apo quickly explained that, despite Alan’s crippled right arm, he was strong and very healthy, stronger even than Apo himself. Apparently Alan had been born with the defect, and while he was obviously embarrassed by it, he was no martyr. Apo clearly didn’t think Alan had anything to be ashamed of, nor did he believe there was any reason to pity Alan, and I found myself touched by the simple human decency Apo so easily dispensed. The four of us walked down the dock into the village.

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To say Banbanan was ramshackle is putting it mildly. The huts were mostly built over the water, many with small docks that housed pigsties and fish pens. Bangka boats were everywhere, moored to docks, pulled up on the beach and upside-down behind houses. The houses themselves were usually no more than one or two rooms, made mostly of bamboo, driftwood and found materials: burlap, tin, old signs and some concrete blocks. A narrow concrete walking path ran down the middle of the village, branching into smaller offshoots to go up the hill to the school, or continue down the shore towards more houses and the general store. Leaky hosepipes formed small, oozing puddles near the walkway and every third or fourth house had a thin electric cable running through a window to power a fan or the occasional TV. Every home seemed to have a stray dog or perhaps some chickens, and drowsy locals paused to look up as we walked by, usually in the middle of cleaning something in large, shallow plastic tubs.

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Despite the obvious poverty and humble conditions, people seemed to be generally in good spirits. Every so often we’d pick up a few stray children with nothing better to do; they would follow our procession for a short distance before getting bored and returning the way they came. For us, Banbanan had an odd charm: it possessed a friendly, open feeling and we got none of the accusatory “not from around here” stares that could be expected from such an isolated place.

That’s not to say we didn’t get stared at. It’s simply that the stares were of disbelief. Apo told us that in his 30 years as a tour guide, he had only brought 7 people to Banbanan before us. Looking around, this was easy to believe. Apo may as well have guided two unicorns into the harbor, if the reactions of the villagers were any indication of how many tourists this town had seen. We walked through the village towards the interior of the island and after a few missed turns and a shortcut through a patch of bushes and palm trees, we stopped at a small farm.

Fresh-picked vegetables
Fresh-picked vegetables
Apo, Alan and Exodus
Apo, Alan and Exodus

“This is the farm of my brother, Exodus. He grows the vegetables for The Alternative.”

We looked around the little farm, while Exodus and Apo gathered fresh eggplant, chilies and beans for our lunch. We chatted for a bit in the shade of some palm trees, as Apo, Alan and Exodus made up for lost time.

Apo looked at the sun and thought for a moment. “It’s getting late, if you want we can stay the night here. I will give you dinner and breakfast, for free. We will get to Port Barton very late if we leave today. You can stay at the house of my mother-in-law.”

We quickly agreed, having no fixed plans for Port Barton, and Apo said we would have our lunch and then a hike through the jungle.

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From Exodus’s farm we set off across rice fields and through shallow streams occupied by content carabao (water buffalo) towards Apo’s home. As we stepped out of the jungle and into the paddy-lands, we stopped short. The paddies were full of freshly planted rice, vibrant yellow-green hemmed by the checkerboard of gray mud walkways. The fields stretched out into the distance, flecked with the white backs of graceful wading birds and the occasional stray carabao. To the south a mountain burst out of the jungle and climbed high into the midday sky. The rice fields of Banbanan were idyllic and stunningly peaceful.

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Apo’s house was a ten-minute walk from the village. Set back from the paddies in a grove of coconut palms, it was little more than a raised platform under a nipa roof. The floor of the kitchen was dirt and the house itself had no windows or doors, only woven bamboo screens that could be set in place if needed. The bathroom was anywhere behind the house that looked promising and slightly private. A hose behind the kitchen continuously spat ice-cold water into a small pool full of contentedly quacking ducks and dirty cookware. Grunting pigs sprawled out beneath a nearby tree, occasionally chewing on old coconut husks, hoping to find some meat. Two mangy stray dogs huddled under the house to escape the heat, and looked on us hopefully as we approached.

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When we arrived we were greeted by his mother-in-law, her grandson, and yet another brother-in-law. We sat down in the shade of an ancient tree at a well-polished wooden table and waited as Apo prepared our lunch. He promised his special chicken adobo, which, based on the lunch he prepared for us on our camping trip, we were eagerly looking forward to.

Apo plied us with fresh-from-the-tree bananas before lunch, as many as we could eat
Appetizers
Our lunch. Not to scale.
Our lunch. Not to scale.

Dishes slowly started to make their way out to the table. One by one, their number slowly increased, all of them overflowing with food. We looked around, expecting that there would be more people joining us, because there was no way all this food was for just the few of us. As we waited, no one else appeared, and it became clear that this feast had been set in our honor. That people who were so clearly living a life of meager subsistence would so gladly present such a feast for us was humbling and made us feel more than a little guilty. They needed that food so much more than we did, and yet they freely gave as much as they could with no thought of quid pro quo. We were honored guests and it was that simple. We ate as much as we could, saving the rest for later.

Apo had promised us a trip to a waterfall. Or perhaps a pool. It was unclear because his accent made the words “falls” and “pools” sound much the same, and after asking him to clarify several times we gave up, and hoped our luck with waterfalls had changed. Our hike would take us deep into the hills, where neither Apo nor Alan had been before, and Apo speculated that even fewer tourists had been to the falls/pools than to Banabanan. As we walked across rice paddies and around grazing carabao, Apo chatted idly with us about his life.

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“My father was very religious. He named me Apocalypse, my brothers Exodus and Jerusalem. He came to it late, which is why my sister is named Becky—she is the oldest.”

I said the name Jerusalem sounded familiar, and asked if we had met him. I had tried to learn a few names on the night we were camping and that was a hard one to miss.

“Yes,” he said, clearly surprised that I had picked up a name from that night. “Becky employs almost 40 people; many are from here.”

He told us of his daughter, going to school in Manila, and his wife who lives in the city with her: “I don’t want to live in Manila. I love El Nido, and I love giving tours on the boat. I have a friend who could get me a job in the city where I would make more money, but I am happy here. I love what I do, it’s paradise here, and how many people can say they work in Paradise? Why would I leave?”

Upstream
Upstream
Downstream
Downstream
Literally the middle of the jungle. Nothing for miles. What?
Literally the middle of the jungle. Nothing for miles. What?

The waterfall did in fact turn out to be little more than an extremely cold swimming hole amidst some small rapids in a fast moving river, but after our sweaty jungle trek, the swim was a perfect ending to 90-minute hike. As we were swimming, Apo told us that his dream is to one day own his own boat, as the boat we came here on was rented. His goal is to save around $2000US to buy the boat and then eventually rent it to someone else so he can retire. On days when Apo takes people out to tour the bay, he makes about 250 pesos, or six dollars, the majority of which he sends to his family in Manila. This is about triple the wage someone in Banbanan makes in a day weaving bamboo mats; earlier Apo had pointed out a man doing just that, explaining that the man would make 80 pesos if sold them, but they would go for much more when they were re-sold in El Nido.

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We explored the cascading river a bit more and then headed back to Apo’s house for dinner. On our way back we stopped at a farm and had some fresh coconuts to quench our thirst. Apo and Alan chatted with the owner and his family while we savored the fresh buko juice and ate the tender white meat with a spoon. Feeling full after two coconuts each, we watched a puppy alternately chase and be chased by a rooster and marveled at the easy generosity of those around us as everyone steadfastly refused any sort of payment for the delicious coconuts. It was clear that we were guests here, not tourists, which was not a role we were used to as travelers.

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Back at Apo’s house, we waited for dinner, passing the time chatting with Apo and his brother Exodus over cups of three-in-one (instant coffee, with extra cream and sugar of course). We had been overwhelmed by the warmth and generosity of Apo and his family, and how easily they welcomed us into their homes and lives. The lunch they gave us was enough food to feed them for a week, and we were sitting waiting for a dinner that would surely be much the same. It was hard to believe that not only did they seem glad to give us everything they could, but that it never crossed their minds that we could pay them for it. In fact, Exodus expressed regret that Apo hadn’t told him we were coming, because then they could have done something really special for us. Short of a parade through the village on the back of a carabao and the key to the city, we were at a loss as to what more we could possibly ask of these people (though we were promised carabao rides on our next visit).

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After dinner the conversation turned to the United States and its unique relationship with the Philippines. All through our time in the Philippines it had been odd and refreshing to find that most people were excited to learn I am from the US. Here it was no different and we learned that, not only is the Philippines’ national hero an American (Gen. Douglas MacArthur) but that the US flag appears prominently on the old 100 peso note, which is simply astonishing. Exodus mourned the old days, lamenting that the communists ran the US out of the Philippines. He said that when the US was in the Philippines everything was better—wages, education, roads, and the grade of goods available for purchase. Now they sit in the shadow of China and wonder if the US will back them if China becomes aggressive, expressing genuine dismay at the thought of being left behind by the US.

“We are a small country, we don’t have much. Who will stand and fight for us if the US does not? We cannot do it on our own.” His pained glance was enough to make me feel both patriotic and ashamed. Exodus looked out into the night with a thoughtful swish of his coffee cup. “But we are glad you are here. We love America and want you to come here.”

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Our bed for the night

Our bellies almost as full as our hearts, we climbed up onto the bamboo picnic table that would be our bed and listened to the absolute stillness of the night. Apo had hung a mosquito net from the tree above our table-bed and went to get a blanket so as to sleep on top of the dinner table next to us.

“Goodnight, my friends.”

The next morning we set off for Port Barton with an extra passenger. Apo told us that Alan had never been to Port Barton and wanted to come along to see the town; in truth, Alan had never left Banbanan before, though we did not know that at the time. As we headed out of the harbor Alan gave Banbanan a lingering glance and then tossed a dragline behind the boat in hopes of catching his dinner.

The view from our bed
The view from our bed
It's times like this that I am reminded that I am gigantic
It’s times like this that I am reminded that I am gigantic

The bulk of the six-hour ride passed uneventfully, the four of us enjoying the still waters and the breeze of the morning. As we approached Port Barton we spotted a tremendous rainstorm moving through the bay. Apo tentatively tried to sail through the trailing edge of the storm, but the curtain of rain split the air like a razor and as soon as we passed its threshold the force of the gale was too great and we were forced to turn around to wait for it to move further out to sea, joining the school of other bangka boats skimming the edge of the storm, awaiting its passage.

We landed on the beach in the afternoon, in the cool after the rain, and searched for a place to stay. Apo insisted on carrying our bags and helped us find a room. As he prepared to retire to his boat we invited him and Alan to meet us for dinner (on us), since they had caught no fish, and to allow us to say a proper farewell.

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We went to the restaurant after sunset, once we had roused Apo from a nap in his boat. The four of us ate our meal slowly, savoring what we knew would be some of our last moments together for a very long time. We had already vowed to return, with Apo promising to take us up to Coron in similar style, but no one knew when that would be and we were all loathe to extinguish the camaraderie we’d so quickly built. We had all long since forgotten that we had paid to take this journey, and when Apo finally brought up the matter of money it was with a palpable reluctance.

After dinner we stepped out into the night and dragged our feet some more. Alan headed back to the boat, clearly feeling shy. He hadn’t finished his meal because of nerves, as Apo told us that this had been Alan’s first meal in an actual restaurant and it was all a bit overwhelming for him. Astonished, we said we had wished we’d known, we would have encouraged him to go whole hog, though in our hearts we all knew Alan was far too modest to do anything other than order the least expensive item on the menu and save half for later, as he did.

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“Don’t be offended if we don’t say thank you—here saying thank you means you think you won’t see the person again, and you won’t have a chance to repay their kindness. But we will see each other again, so I will not say goodbye. See you soon.”

Apo gave us each a hug, lit a cigarette, and walked down the beach towards his boat.

Every now and then someone asks me why we’re taking this trip, what we hope to get out of a year, or two (or however long we manage to stay lost). The easiest answers are always trite: to see the world, to see its wonders and learn about new places and cultures, to eat good food everywhere and understand a new way of life. People don’t usually have the attention span for a story like this one; they have their own trip or life to think about, and there is no short answer that satisfies me.

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I travel because of people like Apocalypse Casi. I travel because, just when I start to think something is one way, someone I meet can show me another. I travel because it reminds me to be humble and open, and I think that makes me a better, and perhaps even a more interesting person. Every place has something to teach us and anyone can surprise you with what they know that you do not.

Why do I travel? I used to think it was so I could see the world and all the places it contains. But now I think that when you get right down to it, places can draw you in, but they’ll never really capture you the way another human being can. So now I know, and I guess you do too, that I travel to meet people because they are what ultimately make my world both bigger and smaller all at once.

Written by: Tony


As a designer by trade and a former professional photographer, there isn’t much in the world of visual communication that I haven’t worked on. From web projects, to museum interiors, to weddings and portraits, my career to this point has run the gamut of visual media. Born and raised in a sleepy town in southeast Minnesota, I moved to Nashville to pursue my education. I ended up meeting the love of my life and adopting the two best dogs this side of the Mason-Dixon line. I love two-wheeled transport, trying new food and am a bit of a gadget freak. I love a good book, and have music playing almost constantly. After over a decade in the same city, I’m quickly getting used to the idea of having no fixed address, and hope all of you enjoy my ramblings about our ramblings.

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Read comments (48)

  1. May 13, 2013 at 7:40 am
    May. 13, '13

    Wow. What an amazing story. It goes to show that the trust you have is what takes you to these amazing places. Beautiful.
    Gillian @GlobalBookshelf recently posted..Birth Of The Global Bookshelf

    • May 15, 2013 at 8:42 am
      May. 15, '13

      Thanks so much! It definitely falls in the “life changing” category. It’s why we always try to start with an open mind. Maybe sometimes we can (and do) get conned, but we’d miss times like this if we didn’t!

  2. May 13, 2013 at 9:10 am
    May. 13, '13

    Incredible. What amazing people and an amazing story.
    jenn aka the picky girl recently posted..Winner!

    • May 15, 2013 at 8:42 am
      May. 15, '13

      Yes indeed, we’ll never forget them!

  3. May 13, 2013 at 10:02 am
    May. 13, '13

    Hi Tony, what a beautiful story; left me teary eyed. As my Chinese-American husband repeatedly say, the most beautiful part of the Philippines by far are the people.” He has only visited the Philippines twice and can’t wait to go back not to see the sights but for more people experience. The longer I am away from the Philippines and the more I see of the world, the more I appreciate my people. They may have very little but they have so much to offer. One way Filipino’s show their love is through food, so don’t be surprised if they offer you a feast for what’s supposed to be a regular lunch.
    I’m with you – we may be in awe of the beautiful sights and scenes our travels but in the end its the enncouter with people you makes a journey rewarding. Thank you for a touching post.
    Marisol recently posted..Koh Ker: The Forgotten Capital of Khmer Empire

    • May 15, 2013 at 8:44 am
      May. 15, '13

      I agree with your husband, though the scenery is a close second! Interesting, the longer we’re away from the Philippines, the more we appreciate it too… One of our favorite places ever, and this whole experience cemented that for us.

  4. May 13, 2013 at 10:17 am
    May. 13, '13

    Wow Tony, what an unforgettable experience. The people of the Philippines are its greatest attraction and it’s great to see you writing about that. Oh and that last photo of the sunset, just wow!
    Maddie recently posted..Krabi weekend night market

    • May 15, 2013 at 8:45 am
      May. 15, '13

      We’ll never forget it! Also, thanks to their rooster, that is actually a photo of the sunrise, which I was waiting for because I beat the sun up that morning by an hour…

  5. May 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm
    May. 13, '13

    Tony, your writing and photography skills are “Five Star”! I couldn’t agree more with everything you said about “Why I Travel”. In my many years of backpack traveling, there have been several of these unbelievable experiences that are totally out of the blue and could never have been anticipated or planned and paid for ahead of time. It’s why I travel too. The trick to these gifts of humanity, is to always place yourself into situations where they can happen. Be a nice person and what goes around, comes around.

    This post should be read by all travelers! There’s a lot to be learned from this adventure and you are an excellent teacher; verbally and visually. I hope it appears as one of many chapters in the book you will be writing.

    • May 15, 2013 at 8:50 am
      May. 15, '13

      Thank you so much! I think I’ll leave the book to my wife, she’s the writer in the family, but I hope we end up with enough experiences to fill one by the time we’re done. I do think we have a good shot. I definitely believe you get what you give, and if you put kindness out there you’ll get it back.

  6. May 13, 2013 at 2:19 pm
    May. 13, '13

    Fascinating and powerful story! Sounds like you had a really special experience.
    Bonnie recently posted..An American Expat in New Zealand: The Good, the Bad, and the Confusing

    • May 15, 2013 at 8:51 am
      May. 15, '13

      Thanks! We definitely did!

  7. May 13, 2013 at 2:31 pm
    May. 13, '13

    Best post yet. What a gorgeous story. I can really see why you loved your time in the Philippines so much.
    Carmel recently posted..FINDING MY VOICE

    • May 15, 2013 at 8:53 am
      May. 15, '13

      We really did. It seems so obvious to us, but then again, we were there. It’s why I wanted to make sure I got this story just right, so others could see a little of what we saw that was so great in the Philippines.

  8. May 14, 2013 at 7:09 am
    May. 14, '13

    “…places can draw you in, but they’ll never really capture you the way another human being can.”

    What a beautiful experience and beautiful story. It’s a challenge and a risk to travel like this, with your heart wide open, making connections with people, but it yields the most memorable and enriching experiences.
    Colleen recently posted..Hong Kong: Eat Breakfast Like a Local at the Cha Chaan Teng

    • May 15, 2013 at 8:55 am
      May. 15, '13

      Thank you so much! It can be challenging to travel as we do and, sometimes we pay the price for it, but when it works out it more than makes up for any mishaps!

  9. May 14, 2013 at 11:37 am
    May. 14, '13

    Awesome pictures and story. Thanks for sharing your experience in such a way I felt like I was along for the ride. Cheers!
    jill recently posted..Carving the Cliffside: The Quest For Nicaragua’s Elusive Sculptor

    • May 15, 2013 at 8:57 am
      May. 15, '13

      Thanks very much! Glad to share, always!

  10. May 14, 2013 at 5:30 pm
    May. 14, '13

    Great story Tony. Thanks for sharing all of it with us.

    • May 15, 2013 at 8:58 am
      May. 15, '13

      I’m just glad you enjoyed it and got to see a little bit of the Philippines through my eyes.

  11. May 15, 2013 at 9:36 am
    May. 15, '13

    That is an amazing story that will surely stay in your memories. It’s experiences like this that make traveling a bit more special and unique than it is already. Great shots as usual! 🙂
    Franca recently posted..Learning English Before Lunch in Laos

    • May 18, 2013 at 3:29 am
      May. 18, '13

      Thanks so much! It certainly feels like a once in a lifetime thing, though I hope it isn’t!

  12. May 15, 2013 at 12:09 pm
    May. 15, '13

    Hi Tony! I’ve been following your web site since I read Steph’s comment from one of the bloggers teaching English in Korea where she mentioned about the Philippines. Since then, I checked everyday for any new post about your experiences in my country. I got teary-eyed reading your post for both reasons that you have had heartwarming experiences with some of my fellowmen (same with Mac-mac in Negros) and how I had the same experience during my first ever solitary travel in South Korea when a Korean family fed me inside the bus amidst the language barrier. Indeed, connecting with people makes our travel worthy of its experience and reasons. You’re such an amazing writer, so with Steph, and your way of sharing travel stories creates that certain connection that not only travelers can relate with but other readers can also reflect on. And, I’m looking forward for that book!:-)

    • May 18, 2013 at 3:33 am
      May. 18, '13

      Thanks! We’ll see about a book… maybe a book of photos? So glad you’re able to relate to our experiences in the Philippines, it’s still one of our favorite places ever and we are always plotting a way back to the country. You hit the nail on the head, the people are really what make experiences for us, and the Philippines was a treasure-trove of wonderful people! Thanks for following our adventure!

  13. May 15, 2013 at 3:33 pm
    May. 15, '13

    I think that’s the most local of any local tours I’ve seen. It’s amazing that you got to actually see normal life in that area, in a way most of the people who pass through will never manage.
    Jess recently posted..Listening to the Chicago Cultural Center

    • May 18, 2013 at 3:34 am
      May. 18, '13

      It was very amazing! Pretty sure our tour doesn’t make the boards in front of the travel agencies in El Nido… We felt honored that Apo wanted to share that part of his life and life in the Philippines with us.

  14. May 15, 2013 at 6:22 pm
    May. 15, '13

    This is such a beautiful story, Tony! I love travel stories like this. You’re right – traveling to connect with people is what travel really is all about. The more I travel, the more I realize that this type of hospitality is common in other parts of the world. I wish that it was more common here in the U.S. as well. Thanks for sharing!
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted..Wanderlust Wednesdays: A Facebook Blog Carnival

    • May 18, 2013 at 3:36 am
      May. 18, '13

      I do too. I used to think the US was a really friendly place until we started traveling in SE Asia. People here have taught me the real definition of kindness and giving, and it would be wonderful to see more Americans go abroad and see that for themselves, and hopefully come home with a new attitude towards their fellow man.

  15. May 18, 2013 at 3:59 am
    May. 18, '13

    of course I have tears falling down my cheeks right now.
    it has always been the people right?…
    when I look back to my travels with my husband, especially before i sleep, it’s the memories of people that we have met that make me smile..of course the places were beautiful but its the people who really warm my heart.

    i love your article…i hope i can write this way too.

    I remember something that I realized after our recent trip… that kindness is so universal and only travel can make us really experience it to its depth.
    Apol of Wanderful Together recently posted..Stilts & Stairs: Traditional Houses in Cambodia

    • May 18, 2013 at 4:06 am
      May. 18, '13

      Thank you! It is always the people, and the Philippines in the place that really taught us to believe that. Thanks for the kind words about my writing, I do the best I can. As long as it makes people feel something, then I consider it a success!

  16. May 18, 2013 at 7:55 am
    May. 18, '13

    Touching story; Apo and his family all sound so gracious and you’re right, the people you meet when travelling really do teach us the most and cause us to reflect on our own lives. I was particularly moved by the fact that Alan hadn’t left his home before or eaten in a restaurant – how amazing that you both were there to share in this momentous experience with him. I have to say, that last photo is truly incredible too!
    Amy recently posted..Australian Animal Pictures

    • May 22, 2013 at 1:29 am
      May. 22, '13

      Thanks so much! It seemed hard to believe that Alan had never done these things before, and I hope that we were a catalyst for something good in his life. It’s so easy for us to take things like that for granted, it was kind of a mind blower to think of someone older than ourselves who had never done such seemingly universal things. Puts a lot of our life in a different perspective.

  17. June 7, 2013 at 10:13 am
    Jun. 7, '13

    Hi Tony,

    That is the most unique blog post I’ve come across – a bit teary eyed here. The measure of poverty is solely based on how much money one has or does not have. Apo’s words, why leave for the city when you have paradise puts everything in perspective. I’ll put this one in my bucket list to do as I’m aiming for El Nido next visit. Thank you for writing about this experience.

    “Travelling and sojourning among various people make men wise.”- Miguel de Cervantes.

    Alex
    Alex recently posted..Colour of Winter

    • June 8, 2013 at 8:18 pm
      Jun. 8, '13

      Thanks so much! I’m glad my post was such a touchstone for you, and it i true, just because someone is impoverished, doesn’t mean that they aren’t also rich.

  18. S Villar
    June 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm
    Jun. 8, '13

    This blog entry is so good that I am posting this again; to give it prominence in my Facebook page for today at least. This, to me, is the essence of traveling; its not really the sights we see, the foods we eat, the alcohol we drink, the souvenirs we buy or almost any other activity where money has to change hands. Its the people we meet and interact with; the way they affect us, and we, them. Life is good, and people are good. so, DON’T be just a tourist and BE a real traveler instead.

    Thank you both so much for the time and effort in writing this blog; especially the entries about the my homeland, The Philippines. Transport, communications, accommodation, shopping, even food and drink might be ‘better’ in other Asian countries but ultimately its your interactions with the locals that judge the attractiveness or otherwise of the whole country. You are both right; the Filipinos are our biggest tourist attraction as a country.

    • June 8, 2013 at 8:22 pm
      Jun. 8, '13

      Thank you so much! I can’t believe the response this post has gotten, and I’m grateful that everyone who read it can feel at least a little of what I felt those two days. You’re right, this is the essence of traveling, and even though experiences like this are the exception not the rule, when you have one it makes everything worthwhile. Thanks so much for reading and I’m so glad you enjoyed my writing!

  19. August 29, 2013 at 10:25 pm
    Aug. 29, '13

    I love the way you wrote this. I’ve visited El Nido and Port Barton as well as some remote villages in Taytay and San Vicente Palawan and can totally relate to the experience. It’s interesting to hear about Apo. I knew his sister Becky because I stayed in their lodge for almost a month way back in 1999. Back then, they own a traveller’s lodge at Liminangcong, Taytay. I’ve heard though that she now runs a resort in El Nido, The Alternative. I look forward to visit her soon. I’m sure she’ll be surprised because it’s been more than 10 years since we last met. I was friends with her kids, Erica and Alex, and I’m excited to see them again.

    Please note though that Philippines don’t consider MacArthur as a national hero. He’s just a World War II hero and while he’s admired in the country (you’ll find highways named after him and monuments), Filipinos don’t usually consider a foreigner a “national” hero. Not even MacArthur.

  20. Edison
    July 26, 2014 at 11:29 pm
    Jul. 26, '14

    Hi! I’m a Filipino. I’ve read several articles on your site about our country and it felt so good how travelers like you enjoyed your stay here. Americans do have a special place in our country, and so do other nationalities. One day, I’d like to meet Apo and hopefully do some charity works there. I think people there deserves some treats. They’re awesome.

    • July 29, 2014 at 2:12 pm
      Jul. 29, '14

      Hi Edison! We loved the Philippines and are only too happy to share with others what a wonderful place it is. We hope we can get back to explore some more one day, and we’d love to reach out and do some charity work there too. It’s a beautiful country filled with beautiful people. 😀

  21. August 11, 2014 at 7:36 pm
    Aug. 11, '14

    Thank you for sharing this story. It is very heartwarming and I got teary-eyed. I like reading about people’s kindness. It
    makes me very hopeful about humanity.

    • December 6, 2015 at 4:59 pm
      Dec. 6, '15

      Me too. In fact, our whole trip really reinforced that overall, people are good and trust placed in strangers is usually rewarded. Thanks for reading!

  22. riya
    October 22, 2014 at 5:33 am
    Oct. 22, '14

    “..now I think that when you get right down to it, places can draw you in, but they’ll never really capture you the way another human being can.”

    Hi Tony,

    You’re blog made me cry. Maybe part of it is the writing, the choice of words, or the heart put into the writing, that brought me to tears. But I am quite sure that it is also the story, of Apo himself and his family, and the unspeakable beauty of being human that touched me so much. Thank you for sharing this experience. A lot of travelers write about the place, the landscapes, and beaches and breathtaking views they’ve visited, but this is the first time when I have encountered reading about a person’s story, or an experience with a person, in a travel blog. Yours is such a beautiful experience, it tugs at the hearts of those who only have read about it.

    I am a Filipina and what you shared here really resonates within me. In going around the rural areas of my country, I have encountered several people who live their lives similar to Apo’s, and I know that in the simplicity and seeming inadequacies of majority of the Filipino’s lives, lies stories of love, friendship and goodness, that has made foreigners, like you, fall in love in our country, and our people.

    Again, thank you! Keep safe. Ingat kayo palagi.

    • December 6, 2015 at 5:03 pm
      Dec. 6, '15

      Wow Riya, I’m so touched that my post affected you so deeply. I’m glad you liked it and it was my pleasure to share my love of the Philippines and its people with our readers. Thanks so much for reading, and I hope to come back to your country soon.

  23. Michelle
    September 4, 2015 at 10:52 pm
    Sep. 4, '15

    It was such a good read, the heartwarming experience you had with this man really touched me. I also would love to travel, and i want to experience it in this kind of way. Thank you for sharing this.

    • December 6, 2015 at 5:05 pm
      Dec. 6, '15

      You’re welcome! I hope you get out there one day and have a chance to see things your way!

  24. Carla
    October 25, 2015 at 4:51 pm
    Oct. 25, '15

    I came across your blog through Our Big Fat Travel Adventure as my fiancee and I have been deciding if we should take 4months off to travel before starting a family. Can I just say – this post brought tears to my eyes. Good ones. Especially as I am a Filipino. What a heart-warming read. Thank you.

    • December 6, 2015 at 5:07 pm
      Dec. 6, '15

      Thanks for reading! I hope you do take time to travel, there’s nothing better than travel for your soul, even if it’s only for a little while.

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