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Location: Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, Mindanao, Philippines

I'm Walter Balane. I am a journalist based in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, Philippines. I initiated the group called Atong Press ( for press freedom and responsibility and media education in Bukidnon.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Features: A declaration of independence

After summer: Island relaxation in Samal
MindaNews / 17 June 2005

(1st of two parts)

SAMAL ISLAND --- It’s nice to feel good all the time and there are just too many reasons to feel that way here.The idea is to defy time. Now that summer vacation is over doesn’t mean fun is over too.

In Samal Island, which is just a 15-minute ferry boat ride from Davao City (Barangay Onse, Sasa to Babak pier), you could relax on a 24/7 pace and get a much deservedreward.That means you can slip back and forth for work if in Davao City or nearby.

If you want to relax well after a day’s work or a week’s hurdle then this is for you.Every trip to and from Samal is an experience of amazement: becoming like a child again and again.

At least, that’s my story.I had been here for more than five times by ferry boat directly to a resort. My experiences went from escapades to a resort with friends, to swim and dive to release tension and even to “sharpen the saw” after conferences and training.I like going to the “expensive” destinations in Samal. It makes me think “I can afford.”

Almost always, I have fancied about those trips. Here, you can be king or queen for a day. After all, I got those trips as freebies anyway.I felt that going that way in experiencing Samal Island is the only way for visitors. In a luxurious way, Samal to me is taking water rides, diving in choice spots, swimming in well maintained beaches, dining in classy restaurants and relaxing extraordinarily.

Don’t get me wrong though; my trips were all paid for by friends and relatives or conference organizers. Every time I go home from a Samal trip, I always get a look that could mean: that was an expensive treat, when could you do that again?

Makes me think if I could ever afford to find my way back and have fun.How I look forward to go back to places that amaze me. I wanted to be amazed repeatedly. And Samal does that to me fairly.On a recent escapade there, though, I discovered Samal is as good, if not better, if taken in a simpler way.

I didn’t have to wait to be invited to conferences or by a bonus treat from a friend or a relative.I can just hop in, take my own road on my own time and with my own budget. This is a discovery for me last summer that I can’t exchange for any tour package, if there are offers.

One Sunday, with a backpack, I took the discovery on the road, something I do to unwind.Early in the morning, I took a ferry boat from Onse, Sasa, Davao City to the pier in Babak, Samal Island.

The relaxing ride on a simply clad passenger ferry cost me only P7.50 but of course its worth far more than that.The boat trip itself provides you a different experience, one with a soothing effect.

For me, that was a better trip than the one I took from Cebu to Tagbilaran on a catamaran twin engine Super Cat vessel years ago for a tour with officemates.At a moment: as it took off, I saw the distance expanding between us in the boat and the pier in Davao City.

The ferry glided smoothly with the blue waters of Davao Gulf, the sun above shining in a bright mood.It was a shift of being. From being a reporter and office staff in the city to a young man, gasping freely at nature’s sight. I was in full anticipation of a relaxing day.

I liked the simplicity of this trip. I didn’t have to wait for others, rush for a deadline or be stressed in budgeting my “meager resources for an excursion”. In this trip, I am just basic: on my rubber slippers, with a back pack of extra clothes, packed lunch andsome snacks I bought from a convenience store. I as only rich in gusto to explore.

Earlier, I went with some friends to cover the new Caracoles Festival. There was great partying on that day, hyped up by drumbeats, special guests and the long preparation made by the organizers. Samal is home to a very rich marine life and that’s why, startingthis year, the Caracoles would be a fixture in the country’s tourism industry.

But I have always wanted to go to Samal the simplest way on an ordinary day when I’m free. I think this is also the way any man on the street would want it. Samal is God’s gift: man should be free to enjoy its bounty.Believe me, as soon as I stepped into Babak, my own simple escapade has exceeded my expectations. I went in and out a lot better. And I did not even spend much.

Part 2

SAMAL ISLAND - Aside from swimming in the cool waters of a beach near Babak, the best part of my recent trip here was when I decided to move around the island using public transportation.

Indeed, a trip to Samal is a showcase of mobility. From the ferry boat, I took a multi-cab ride to Peñaplata and from there rode on a single motorcycle to Catagman where I have a better view of the rest of the island.

From Catagman to Peñaplata again, I took a motorela or tricycle. Straight from a terminal in Peñaplata, I went home with a roll on roll off (RORO) bus through a barge.Moving around was easy, despite poor road conditions in some parts of the island.

My P30 trip to Catagman on a motorcycle backride by pakyaw I think got me.Yes, the road was dusty but I didn’t really mind because I was looking for that kind of fun anyway. For me, Samal’s partly unpaved roads lined with fruit trees along beaches added a natural appeal.

In a windy afternoon, that ride could mean adventure.Indeed it was fun: Seeing the blue waters of Davao Gulf shine with the after noon sunlight. It’s not my first time to see that sight of course, but every time I see one, it refreshes me.

The mobility of a motorcycle also, compared to a jeepney, added to mydelight. I felt so free moving around the island and my eyes feasted on new sights and colors.I stopped in a curve where I have a good view of the scenery. The surrounding is fresh and clean.

Recently, the city government here already denied they are dumping garbage to Davao City as alleged by reports. Other islands in the country have a problem withgarbage disposal.

I took a very deep breath of fresh air for a second. I just stayed there defying time.I also took liberty to feel myself standing in that vantage point. I could hear my breath, I could hear the waves, I could hear the wind and I felt the rock where I was standing on.

Also, memories of adventures I‘ve been through elsewhere flashed back.After a whole week of burying myself in stress and pressure, this trip has become my declaration of independence.

I was in a great time reclaiming my connections.But my gratification was disrupted when four bikers approached our direction for a stopover. They were cheering each other for their long distance feat that afternoon.

They stopped for a drink of water. We had a brief chat about, as usual, the weather, and somematter of life and death topics on fitness.Roger, a moneyed biker from Toril, Davao City bragged about biking as the best exercise and the best way to do it is in Samal.

Looking at my historically flat tummy, we laughed and agreed that each person has his own way of staying fit.I was humbled about my motorcycle ride. These young men were doing it better and I think they are freer: they don’t have to deal with a rising fuel price and a haggle with the transportation expenses with the driver.

Above all, as they had fun they also stayedfit, to my envy.I managed to shift back from that state of mind to having fun, my own way. From that point, I went to a beach house owned by a friend’s relative and ate fruits while watching the rest of Samal Island settle in peace.

There are so many things I discovered aboutthe island and myself that afternoon.Along the way home, waiting for our bus’ turn in the barge, I brushed aside those “they are freer” and “I need to exercise like them” thoughts. They’ll have their own space in me.But next time, I will meet those bikers in the same spot with me hiking, which I think is a better exercise and ideal also in Samal’s roads.

To me, a trip to Samal Island is an expression of life choices: you can choose to go high end and frolic at luxurious ways of relaxing or you can hop in like a common man with a back pack and end your day with the same joy as the rich man’s.

Whatever it is that you experience, Samal just gives you options to express yourself.One can expect too high and be disappointed or look low and be overwhelmed.

The need to decide to have fun and be happy is a must.At the end of the day, visitors, rich or poor, men or women, slim or not become equal: that they have their own story to tell about their own different lives.


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