​Off the beaten track in the Philippines …

Posted on 16th Jan 2017 in The Leap, my gap-year, Philippines, Volunteering Abroad

Naomi writes about her trip to the Philippines with The Leap.


After an emotional goodbye to half the group, the four of us jetted off to the Philippines excited and ready for our next adventure. The first night we spent in Manilla and from onto Bulusan.

Bulusan

The homestay here was lovely. Mam Angel was extremely welcoming, asking us where we were from, what England is like and showing us around her home. Here, everyone is addressed very formally; Mam Angel, Sir Phillip and the younger kids address us as ‘Ati’ which means older sister.

The first day was filled with rice harvesting and getting to know the area. I’ll tell you what, after seeing how many rice plants are needed for just one bag of rice, you will appreciate your meals in this country a lot more. Considering every meals contains rice I’m surprised there is anywhere at all that isn’t a rice paddy!

Our first real project started the next day. We were helping to establish a new nursery as the old one was ruined by the typhoon. We filled 1,500 little potting bags with a mixture of soil, rice husks and coconut hair over the next three days and planted 30 saplings in some of the filled bags. The following day we were taken to a reforestation area for a secondary rainforest. All of the work was to help maintain the existing patches of rainforest as over the past 100 years, over 50% of the Philippines rainforest has been cut down.

As the next two days were rest days, we took the opportunity to take an overnight trip to Dosul to see fireflies and a whale shark. Our evening firefly tour was beautiful; the trees which were the homes to families of fireflies lit up like Christmas trees. They all pulsed in sync with each other. The males shining with more urgency than the females. It was an amazing sight that you don’t get to see everyday.

In contrast to the tranquility of our night time activity, the following morning we were up early to swim with the famous whale shark. It was an intense activity. We sat on the edge of the boat, masks and flippers on, waiting for the guide to give us the signal to go in. It almost felt like a military training exercise! The first time I put my face in the water, the whale shark was RIGHT BELOW ME. Super scary!

For the next week we did a hodge podge of activities. Wednesday we helped to clean up an area which would be planted as a veggie garden so the kids could grow vegetables to include in school meals. Thursday we painted tables for a computer room at a high school. We also made Mam Angel, her boys and our two guides dinner to enlighten them on the delicacies of English cuisine. On the menu for the evening was fish n’ chips, mushy peas and apple crumble for desert. While the mushy peas were sub par, everything else was eaten with gusto.

The following day, we planted mangrove trees on the beach and found millions of little crabs whose habitat are supported by the mangroves. That evening we had a night of karaoke- a favourite of the Philippine pastimes we learned.

That was the end of our time in Bulusan and we will definitely miss Mam Angel who we liked to call Mama Angel because she made us feel like we were at home even though we are thousands of miles from it!

Next up Ticao island. Paradise here we come…

We arrived by boat to the island resort where we were greeted by Mam Viki, the supervisor. She was so welcoming and friendly, informing us that the resort was open to us even during the first three nights while we were in our home stay.

Our first couple of days were allocated as rest days so we did exactly that. Rest.

Our first project started Monday. We became part of the Brigada Eskwela which is a collection of parents and teachers who help to refresh the school before the new academic year begins. For most of the week we were painting the interior and exterior of the buildings. The sense of community was really strong and it just wasn’t something we do in the UK so it was a great way to see another way of life.

At the end of the week, the school looked so much cleaner and so much more inviting – an all-round nicer environment for the kids to learn in. I couldn’t be happier with the work we did. Between this project and playing basketball in the evenings, we truly felt a part of this little fishing community!

Island Hopping

The following week we kicked off with a bit of island hopping. Hands down this is in my top 10 activities I’ve done on my travels. At the first of the three snorkelling destinations, we saw a waterfall cascading off the island into the sea. It was something unlike I’ve ever seen before! It was an amazing sight that I can’t give justice with a description. It’s something you have to see to appreciate.

Our next destination was a tiny island where there was an interesting rock stack but even more interesting and beautiful was the amazing sea life. The water was crystal clear and there was an abundance of coral, starfish, sea urchins, fish, you name it! I’d never before appreciated that there really is another world hiding beneath the waves.

The following day it was finally time to say ‘good-bye’ to our friends at the resort as we headed back to Legazpi for two more nights before the flight home. I think I can speak for both of the other girls when I say it felt like leaving behind paradise. I really hope that sometime in the future I get to revisit the golden beaches and turquoise water of Ticao Island.

I’m so happy I chose to go on this program so thanks to the leap and all of its organisers!

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