September is my birthday month. As always, I had a gazillion other travel ideas to celebrate my birthday (just like the others that would have wanted to tick things off their bucketlist , except that I really don't have a list). I have spent my birthday in El Nido in Palawan and enjoyed the laidback life in Siquijor.
|Caption this :)|
Back in college, we were required to do community work, interact with the locals and provide free medical assistance to the communities so when I heard about Project Jomalig, I was ecstatic. I have been dreaming of Jomalig Island since I stumbled upon Lakwatsero's blog. This off beaten path was said to be a haven for backpackers, with secluded beaches yet to be discovered.I knew I just had to go. This was just on top of the culminating event and the chance to be of help to others in my own little ways.
I know some would say " Where in the world is Jomalig Island?!", "Why not visit Boracay, Bohol or Camiguin or Coron?" and my all time favorite reaction is " Why not Singapore, or Bangkok or HongKong?". I'm used to getting these questions all the time.
For the unfamiliar, Jomalig Island is part of Real,Quezon Province. It is comprised of 5 barangays.This island, blessed with so much beauty, houses the number 1 Barangay that had the most malourished kids in the Philippines for the last three years. And because of this, Project Jomalig was conceptualized and launched.
James of JourneyingJames.com , Ms. Emm Balabat of Emm The Pinay Trekker , Chef Arvin , Mitch Sy among others that spearheaded the project, brought the first batch of volunteers in April 2013. The 6 month program focused on addressing the nutrition needs of Barangay Apad. I knew I wanted to be part of the last group of volunteers that will sail through the waters of Lamon Bay.
|Our chef inside the boat|
I never thought that it will be this extraordinary. From the boodle fights we had during meal time to the dump truck rides to reach the Landing Port, everything was an adventure. Setting up camp under the stars in Salibungot Beach, I was lucky to share the tent with fellow travelers. And I was not the friendly type but I guess, with wanderlust as our common denominator, we all got along just fine and even looked after each other's back (alam ninyo yan).
|Fun with my tentmates (L-R): Jas, Anne, Mara and Me|
The long talks about travels, about random stuff, about couchsurfing, about getting married (or not getting married at all), about travel adventures and about enjoying life.
After an hour boat ride from Landing Port, we were welcomed by the locals of Barangay Apad. Jomalig is lined with a golden coastline that glitters when the sun is at its peak. The kids shyly clinged on to their mothers as they carefully watched us in silence as we walked towards the events area. Most of the houses were made of bamboo and wood.The concrete streets, worn out and withered, was filled laughter and chatter. The housewives were either cooking or doing their laundry. Everybody was busy. It was a Saturday after all.
|Approaching Brgy Apad|
|Mayor Tena and the Medical Staff|
As we carefully lined the slippers on the bermuda covered grounds outside their humble Barangay Chapel, it was a delight watching the little ones anticipating the gift giving activity. For lunch, Chef Arvin prepared fried chicken for the kids and ginataang adobong pusit and fish paksiw for the volunteers.It was a boodle feast together with the town's medical doctor, the Brgy Captain, Honorable Mayor Tena and the barangay health workers.
Even if they were not the kind of kids that would wear a brimming smile and be jumping up and down when recieving a gift, the look of happiness and excitement in their faces was more than enough.They scanned through the rows and rows of slippers laid on the grass, and patiently waited for their turn. I assisted them as they carefully tried each slipper, making sure that it fits them well.
I believe that the best teacher is experience and the boat ride back to mainland Real was unique among all the other boat rides i have experienced. Before, I had to sail to Malapascua for a good 2 hours, keep my calm through the gloomy skies enroute Palaui Island in Cagayan and had to hold on to my dear life and endure the trip from Siquijor to Dumaguete. But this one was beyond what I imagined. It was a make or break experience. According to Anne, it was a test of endurance. For me, it was a test of faith. It was literally mind over matter. The regular 5 - 6hour boat ride back to Real Port was extended to 9 solid boat hours.
|These smiles kept me hanging on|
We left Landingan port at noon and arrived Real at 9 PM. The turbulent waves of Lamon Bay was immense. As soon as we left the port, our small fishing boat was rocked by the waves of the Pacific, not knowing that there was already a brewing LPA on the east. As we braved the raging waters, our shivering bodies dripping wet with salt water and rain (thanks to Duane for letting us into his waterproof hammock halfway through the trip), I prayed. I knew this was a possibility, but I prayed for safety and for my fellow volunteers to be calm. The look on the children's faces, the long morning walks on the beach, logrolling on the sand followed by deafening laughter, people watching. I pondered on the happy things. Happy places. I have never been this afraid. But I'm grateful that we survived. We were blessed that no matter how miniscule we are compared to the magnanimity of the Earth, the Creator listened to our prayers. We were spared. We were given another chance.