How travel still surprises me

Che Gurrobat
Travel writer Che Gurrobat shares stories of unexpected kindness while traveling 80 of 81 provinces in the Philippines

While I was traveling the 80 of 81 provinces in the Philippines, one thing I realized over and over again was that Filipinos are not short on kindness and compassion.

In fact, the supply was everywhere – from the man seated next to me on the boat, the man ferrying us from one location to another, the resort owner, the tour guide, the van driver, another tourist, the children playing on the street. Wherever I went, kindness traveled with me.  

When I started exploring our country, safety, of course, was my priority.  But to carry on with my challenge of traveling the Philippines, I had to have an open heart. I had to break the conventions and make peace with the idea of approaching and engaging with strangers.

(READ: 6 Safety tips for women traveling solo)

After completing my 80before30 challenge, I can only think of many great people who have extended their help without asking for anything in return. 

IN ACTION. A boatman is shown here safely sailing us to a beautiful lagoon in Coron, Palawan. All photos courtesy of Che Gurrobat

Here are some of encounters, big and small, that have surprised me and convinced me time and again that there is so much to love about the Philippines:

1. My first homestay experience at the Dinagat Islands

I was lucky to have met a kind homestay host while I was traveling solo in Dinagat Island in the Caraga Region in Mindanao. While in the ticket line to catch the boat’s last trip, I made small talk with the lady next to me. We got into the boat together and eventually it became evident that she was someone famous in the province and was actually a well-respected, retired judge.

NO STRANGERS. When I had no place to stay, these two amazing women welcomed me like a long-lost niece and offered me space in their home

She invited me to stay overnight in her home, and given that there are not so many hotels in the area, the invitation came at a good time. That night, I slept safely in a modest room with clean and crisp linens. 

It may sound terrifying to be sharing the same roof with someone you barely know – be careful. Solo travelers – especially ladies – may get invitations for homestays, but be sure to be very cautious and look before you leap. 

2. Bonding over breakfast with a local couple in Palaui Island

One of my best travel experiences was the breakfast I had in the home of a couple during my short stay in Palaui Island, Sta Ana, Cagayan Province.   

 ADVENTURE. Palaui Island in Sta. Ana, Cagayan is the ultimate adventure destination that boasts both the natural wonders of the sea and the mountains It was here that I bonded with a local couple who chatted with me over breakfast

They were local guides to tourists hiking to Cape Engaño Lighthouse, a popular spot in the island. Upon knowing that I hadn’t had breakfast yet, they invited me over and I caved in since I thought the trek would take more than 2 hours. I didn’t want to deal with the long and difficult trail on an empty stomach.

Over a home-cooked meal of rice, steamed fish, and hot coffee, we exchanged stories about my trips around the country, and they talked to me about their children and their livelihood. They allowed me, a person they barely knew, to enter their house and observe the personal details of their everyday life.

3. Discovering chivalry in Siargao

I was on a crowded boat and I remember the man next to me who offered me his seat so I could sit comfortably and get the best view as we traveled to Siargao.

He might have noticed that I kept looking out and was having difficulty snapping photos so he shyly gave up his window seat. Because of this simple act of kindness, I got to enjoy an unobstructed beautiful sunrise while on the trip. It was priceless. 

UNOBSTRUCTED VIEW. I snapped this photo as our boat was going through the calm sea near Siargao. A kind gentleman gave up his seat and I was treated to this view of the sunrise

My travels around the country made me believe that there are still gentlemen who would gallantly offer their seats to ladies while on a bus, or a boat, or in a trike. 

4. My unforgettable Zamboanga bus ride

Long bus rides give us ample time to bond with someone seated next to us. I remember the lady I was seated with while on a 4-hour trip from Zamboanga Sibugay to Dipolog City.

4-HOUR JOURNEY. We safely made it to Dipolog City after a 4-hour long bus ride from Zamboanga Sibugay

The bus was speeding off the slippery roads on that rainy afternoon and it would have been just another kind of a bus ride experience. But my seatmate made it more interesting by giving me useful tips and contacts for my stay in Dipolog, and sharing her food (and some random stories about herself) with me. 

5. Meeting other friends and travelers

I’ve noticed that people tend to be friendlier, and are more likely to smile, when on a trip – the relaxed environment is probably a factor.

FRIENDS. You'll bump into many strangers on the road, friends who will sit with you by the beach and watch the sunset many times over

Over the years, I’ve met kindred spirits who share the same passion for travel. I’ve stayed friends with many of them long after the trip is over. They are the people I usually go to for information about places I haven’t been to, and they alert me of the latest seat sales, too!

After every fleeting encounter with these amazing people, I realized that material things wouldn’t be enough to repay these amazing people I’ve met. Times like these, I think all you can do is pay forward that same kindness that was extended to you.

I have a few suggestions: 

1. The next time you travel, take with you biscuits or candies, or other small treats. Share. This is a sure way to win the hearts of others, you’ll meet along the way.

2. Offer to take a photo of tourists who are having a hard time snapping a group selfie.

3. Get the address of your tour guide and mail him/her a thank you note after your trip. 

4. Instead of haggling for a cheaper ride, why not give a habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) driver a generous tip?

5. After a day trip to a remote beach, take time to smile and thank the boat driver for safely taking you there.

Pass it forward. – Rappler.com

Che Gurrobat is the blogger behind backpackingpilipinas.com. She founded the literacy project, BookSail, and spent the last 5 years traveling 80 (of the 81) provinces of the Philippines.