Of Surfing And Getting Out Of One’s Comfort Zone

michelle's diary entries for Jan 2017

I was just about to write “Happy New Year” to start this blogpost… and then realised that it’s already February 5th. I’m late, as usual…! :p

Last year, I very briefly met Tony Meloto, who is the founder of Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm in the Philippines. You really should take the time to read about what they do and why they do it–it’s pretty inspiring stuff. They were going to run their 4th Social Business Summit from January 20th till 22nd. It sounded interesting (because I had no idea what social entrepreneurships were all about, or how they are run), so I decided to go.

Here’s the rub: I’ve never been to the Philippines. I don’t know anyone there. I’ve never travelled solo.

I also have a weird fear of getting into airplanes.

I could either a) be afraid of all the unknowns present in this situation, and stay ‘safe’ or b) do all the necessary planning, and trust that everything will eventually turn out fine.

No prizes for guessing which route I took. :p

I did my budgeting, browsed through Airbnb, wrote some emails and booked my flights. Thinking of making the most of the trip to a new country, I was going to spend 8 days learning how to surf on a tiny island off Mindanao called Siargao, then fly over to Luzon to attend the Social Business Summit at GK Enchanted Farm. All on my own.

It was the most life-changing 13 days I’ve had to date.

disembarking our twin turbo prop airplane at Siargao

There were many situations where it was a lot better that I did not know what to expect. For instance, the fact that I would be arriving in typhoon season for the Philippines (a deadly one had just passed through Manila over Christmas), or that the only way for our plane to land in Siargao was by sight–if it was too foggy (as it often was, over that island), the plane would have to turn back for Cebu.

I was also presented with several occasions where I literally had to suspend what I thought to be my better judgement. One of them was when I got stuck in Cebu’s horrible lunch hour traffic snarl, with just 45 minutes left to my gate closing for the one and only flight to Siargao–and all the taxis passing by my pickup point were occupied. Just as I was about to give up on public transport and entertain the scenario of waiting for the next flight the following day, a toothy old man walked up to me with an oustretched arm holding a spare helmet, gestured to his beat up motorcycle and said that he could get me to the airport in time for 120 pesos, “No problem!”.

I had a suitcase, a backpack and my handbag on me. I looked at the motorbike, and the ratty helmet.

needed to catch that plane.

So I popped on the funky smelling helmet and off we went, my luggage squeezed between us, one hand balancing my handbag on top of said luggage, the other clutching the seat tightly. We were getting damp from the rain. Zigzagging for 20 minutes in between lorries, cars and vans, which were just inches away from us at times.

As I tumbled off the motorbike at the airport with the silliest grin on my face (I imagined), I thanked the man profusely, and vowed never again to give only 2 hours’s traveling time to any airport from then on.

This was also the first time I became that crazy passenger you may have spotted at the airport, running full pelt past the check-in counters and desperately searching for her boarding gate.

view of the sea from Pesangan beach

It rained almost every day I was there. It wasn’t torrential, but enough to get you soaking wet if you stayed out for more than 5 minutes. But it did make the one or two days (and the hours in between showers) where the sun burst through the clouds – absolutely glorious.

cockfighting entrant, Magpupungko rock pool, Pesangan, an outrigger

For 8 days I was surfing, exploring some parts of the island on foot, others by motorbike or habal habal, catching up with some reading, and just relaxing, taking in the sights and observing people.

I got caught underwater, at times almost breathless, when the whitewash kept crashing into me and my surfboard, making me bump and scrape my legs on the reef; ate an entire breakfast from fresh coconuts that my instructor and his brothers tossed out from the trees they had climbed, just after we paddled exhausted to the shore; sped down roads on the back of motorbikes while being stung by the rain; and saw vibrant rainbows against the backdrop of a heavy, blue-gray sky.

Every one of these experiences made simple things like having a warm plate of rice in front of me (and the realisation that I was still breathing!) feel like something to be so grateful for.

When I finally had to say goodbye to the island and the lovely new friends I made there, I thought I would miss my new routine too much to fully appreciate the conference I was going to in Bulacan, two hours out from Manila. Thankfully however, I was wrong.

At Gawad Kalinga, I met yet more wonderful people, heard inspiring stories from young Filipinos who were determined to lead their families and communities out of poverty by learning how to be effective entrepreneurs, and had the chance to roam around a fully working farm.

By the time I got on my 5th and final flight that would take me home, I felt like some old parts of me had been slowly, lovingly taken away–to be replaced with new perspectives, ideas and beliefs. All thanks to the myriad of mini adventures, as well as some very interesting people I had the good fortune of connecting with in my brief jaunt in the Philippines.

I was charmed by how happy most of the locals were, despite clearly being financially poor. Both in Siargao and Gawad Kalinga, the community was tight, and practically everyone knew each other by name. They made genuine connections amongst each other. They were contented, and had everything they needed. The land and sea provided for them, as long as they continued to nurture and protect it.

It was clear, however, that modern consumerism was catching on, as evidenced by what the little sundry shops were stocking up on (junk food, mass made clothing and toiletries, english TV dramas etc). There were many new concrete buildings being erected along the single main road that ran along the eastern coastline, and I fear that if ever I came back to Siargao, the island would have lost some of its backwater charm to loud, touristy establishments. I hope I will be wrong about this too.

It also gave me some fresh ideas for Kinder Soaps, in terms of what we should be focusing on, new products and the like. As much as I relished the quiet downtime while abroad, I was quite glad to touch down in KL so I could get back into the swing of things at work again. And I was beginning to really miss my family too!

All in all, January has been surprisingly enriching. It makes me feel like it’s just the beginning of a very eventful year to come, and I will need to somehow muster the discipline daily to keep my shoulder to the wheel… especially when times get tough (which they will).

May you be blessed with the mental and emotional fortitude to make 2017 your year. Hugs from me. :)

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