One afternoon, my first in a place I’m familiar one of the longest time with but never really set foot on, I am walking at the beach, taking pictures of a dilapidated structure by the shore. I am in Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro, which recently suffered the wrath of a typhoon. The structure contains the frames of what was once a building, and it looks as if it’s one of the victims of that typhoon that pummeled the place. Except this structure has been in ruins for years now.
A few moments later, two boys approach me. “Bakit n’yo po kinukuhaan ng picture ‘yan?,” one of them asks, wondering why I’m taking pictures of the building, which is an eyesore in the otherwise pristine view of Alinguan Beach.
“Because this structure is part of the place’s story,” I reply. “This place is not just about the beach, but the collection of people, things, ideas and events that make Puerto Galera, Puerto Galera.”
Okay, so I do not actually say that exactly. But it goes something to that effect. Something like, because this is part of documenting how Puerto Galera looks like outside tourism brochures.
And that’s how I meet Jethro and Buboy, two local boys who happen to be wandering along the beach the same time I am trying to save on expenses by walking along the shoreline from Talipanan to White Beach, where I’m based. The two volunteer to be my guide, since the walk involves crossing a knee-deep river with strong current.
From thereon, I decide to spend time with the two boys. We walk the rest of the way, with them sharing stories about their homeland and the recent typhoon.
“Ang lakas ng bagyo dito, kuya,” Buboy says. “Inanod pati mga kotse at motor sa dagat. (The storm was really strong. Even the cars and motorbikes were swept into the sea.)”
“Buti na lang maaraw na, ‘no? (It’s good that it’s sunny now)” is all that I can say.
“Oo, pero babalik daw ang bagyo,” Jethro says. “Kuya, bakit ba bumabagyo? (Yes, but they say the storm will return. What causes the storm?)”
Before I can answer, Buboy blurts out, “Demonyo ang gumagawa ng bagyo. Hindi naman magpapabagyo ang Diyos. (The devil does it. God doesn’t cause storms.)”
At this point, I just keep silent. I let them tell me how they view the world in relation to divine matters. At some point, I interrupt (“Well, sometimes people also have to do with storms. We’ve become so irresponsible with how we treat the environment, so nature is fighting back.”). But mostly I just let them talk.
And so they talk about how the devil can transform itself into animals and trick people into joining it in hell. Or how Buboy attributes his sleepwalking to an aswang who wants to abduct him. Letting them share their beliefs cause me to examine mine as well.
When we reach White Beach, I decide to repay the two boys’ troubles by asking them to join me for late lunch at one of the restaurants. They were apprehensive, since they’ve made some sort of barrier between themselves and these establishments, which they say are reserved only for guests. But I remind them that I am a guest, and I’m inviting them, so that makes them a guest as well. We eat a plateful of fries, plus some local sweets from an ambulant vendor.
Then we play with some Koreans in the waves, which were very large and pummeled as constantly. But the boys were having fun, which inspired me to do a photoshoot with the waves as their background.
In the evening, Buboy and Jethro invite me to the last performance of One Wish for the year. The play is organized by the Stairway Foundation, a Mindoro-based NGO that helps marginalized and endangered children in the Philippines. The story is about one of Santa’s elves who discover the true meaning of Christmas when he decides to leave the North Pole for a life of riches and good times. The actors are composed mainly of local orphans.
After the performance, as I walk back to the guesthouse where I’m staying, I think of what the day that passed. Not a bad way to end this year. In fact, if I’m going to have a resolution, this would be it – to travel better and more responsibly. To be able to give back to communities.