Many of us probably have our bucket list of places we want to visit before we pass away. I’m pretty sure most of you have habits of booking your tickets as early as 6 months before your trip when seat sales are usually offered online by airline companies. But how do we really choose the destinations we intend to visit? By word of mouth? or through the thousands of sites and travel blogs that we read everyday? And when we’ve already made our list, how many of us put in mind the kind of footprint that we want to leave in these destinations? This consciousness is what we call Responsible Travel.
Responsible Travel is about more authentic experiences that enable you to get a little bit more out of your travels, and give a little bit more back to destinations and local people. It maximizes the benefits for the communities and travelers, and minimizes the negative economic, environmental, and social impacts.
In the Philippines, there are a lot of destinations that will allow you, not just to enjoy traveling because of its amazing sights and wonders but also experience a different kind of travel lifestyle simply by making a difference in the communities.
1. Culion Island, Northern Palawan
Culion Island, home of the country’s indigenous people called Tagbanwa, is located in the Northern part of Palawan as part of the Calamianes group of Islands. The island served as the world’s largest leper colony for almost a century. But since 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Culion to be leprosy-free and is now being considered as a tourist destination because of its pristine waters and rich flora and fauna.
The Loyola College of Culion and the Ateneo-Loyola Hostel Project have established Isla Culion Hotel Maya in 2009, an eco-tourism social enterprise that supports the education of a lot of children in the island. Here in Culion, you can enjoy the same sun and sea of the more popular tourist destination Coron, and know in your heart that your stay will support LCC bring children to school.
To contact Isla Culion Hotel Maya, http://www.islaculionhotelmaya.com
2. Ifugao Province
The Ifugao Province is world renowned as the 8th wonder of the world because of its rice terraces built through hard labor by our ancestors centuries ago. It is the same province which now faces a risk of losing not just the prestige of its title but more importantly the livelihood of its locals and source of rice for the country.
The best rice terraces are found in the towns of Batad, Hungduan, Mayaoyao, and Hapao. All of which are popular among tourists but very few stop from their usual hike and sightseeing to find out the value of nature and culture in these places.
The Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMO) is a non-government organization which organizes eco-tours as part of their advocacy to reinforce Ifugao traditions among locals. These tours welcome anyone who is willing to be part of planting and harvesting activities in the villages, which also includes being part of Ifugao rites and rituals.
As Arch. Augusto Villalon wrote in one of his articles on the Ifugao Terraces conservation, “Without new awareness, local culture will erode. And when the culture goes, so do the terraces”.
To join SITMO’s eco-tours, you may contact: Jonathan Albert M. Martin at 0906-1065933.
3. Sta. Rita, Pampanga
Sta. Rita is one of the few towns in Pampanga which boasts of old vernacular houses. This style of Philippine architecture was the transition from the bahay kubo to the bahay na bato. As old as these houses are also traditionally cooked recipes of its Kapampangan dwellers. Old families from Sta. Rita have passed on to the next generations the rich taste palette of the old Kapampangan cooks. It is easy to find old San Nicolas cookie molds and traditional kitchen utensils in homes with their well kept but still functional “banggerahan”.
It is best to visit Sta. Rita during the Duman Festival every December. Visitors can choose a variety of Kapampangan dishes such as the well-known pork asado, bringhe, sisig, humba, and all sorts of delicacies or kakanin like tamales, halayang ube, suman, and bibingka. The tables at the church patio provide a good place to eat while their home-grown theater and musical artists from Arti Sta. Rita, entertain the whole community all the way to the wee hours.
Joining food tours that promote local cuisines are the best ways to provide awareness in preserving these traditions so that it can still be kept by the next generations of Filipinos.
For tours of the Viajeng Cusinang Matua or Old Kitchen Tours, you may contact: TravelTales, Inc. at http://www.traveltalesinc.com or +632 2390950.
4. Kalibo, Aklan
Kalibo has always been known to many as the place of origin of the famous “Ati-atihan Festival”. Flocks of tourists come and celebrate the ati-atihan with the locals every 3rd week of January. On ordinary days and months, the town becomes a pass-thru destination of tourists going to and coming from Boracay island.
Unfamiliar to some tourists, Kalibo also produces the fine piňa fabric used for the Barong Tagalog. This finely woven fabric has been passed on by generations and has become the main source of livelihood of most local weavers. However, due to the influx of cheap fabric from China and other countries, the Piňa industry suffered economically and it has been a struggle for some of the weavers to continue because of high daily living expenses and low market demand.
Travelers can support by simply patronizing local products and recognizing excellence of local craftsmanship. This way, we are empowering local producers to create better living conditions for their families and the community.
As an alternative route, you can take the Kalibo flight on your way back to Manila from Boracay and take an afternoon trip shopping for Piňa fabric and other local food products. Always remember to BUY LOCAL.
For a Piňa tour of Aklan, it is best to visit during the month of April when the Piňa Festival is happening. You will be able to buy a lot of local products that support the weaving industry of Aklan.
You may call Aklan’s association of weavers and food producers: Hugod Aklanon Producers Association, D’Mall, Station 2, Boracay, Aklan +6336 288 5629, email@example.com
5. Baclayon, Bohol
I have been fortunate to experience Bohol during the mid-90s when the influx of tourists weren’t as heavy as two months ago when I last visited. I was part of the team of heritage conservators, documenting the artifacts in the Baclayon church museum. We stayed at the old Villamor ancestral house and walked everyday, passing through the many ancestral houses that lined up the main road leading to the church. We stayed in Baclayon for a week, worked with the locals, ate what they cooked in their homes, tried to learn a few Visayan words and expressions. In other words, we lived like a local. I knew Bohol not through its beautiful white sand beaches but through its culture.
Today, there is a homestay program in Baclayon initiated by “Bahandi” or Baclayon Ancestral Homes Association, a neighborhood organization composed of homeowners of the ancestral houses in Baclayon who joined together to spare their homes from demolition in a road widening project in 2002.
In Visayan, the word “Bahandi” means “treasure”. There are over 67 ancestral houses in Baclayon and some have offered their homes to the public as “homestays” where guests can avail of bed and breakfast for a day or longer.
Ancestral houses, some constructed as early as 1853, are within walking distance of each other and the Baclayon Church. The “homestay” program adopted by the owners help them to earn their keep which is generally geared towards the preservation of these heritage homes.
The homestay program seeks to provide visitors with accommodations and food; a place where one can work and live with a Boholano family and get to know firsthand the Boholano lifestyle and culture.
To book accommodations with BAHANDI, please call Ms. Telly Ocampo at (038)5409030.
6. Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon
A year and a half ago, I traveled to Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon to write about Fair Trade in Northern Mindanao. I went around and visited some of the fair trade producers in the region and found globally competitive Philippine products that are supporting sustainable livelihoods for families in their communities.
Salay is a small town east of Cagayan de Oro City. One of its major industries is handmade paper making, which was started by Loreta Rafisura in 1987. It started as a small civic activity but it has grown bigger to be an enterprise employing housewives and other members of the community. SHAPII or Salay Handmade Paper Industries, Inc. has successfully achieved to be one of the major suppliers for various international companies such as Hallmark, Marks and Spencer, and Barnes and Noble.
In Maramag town in Bukidnon, I tasted the sweetest organically grown pineapple in the country. NOFPI or Nature’s Organic Fresh Pineapples, Inc. had a vision of planting 60 hectares of organically grown pineapples in 2006. Now, they have planted more than 12 hectares towards making their dream into reality. Most of their produce are being exported to Korea and soon Japan.
These enterprises have become successful in proving that the Philippines can produce world class products using Fair Trade principles. This means that whenever you buy Fair Trade products, you are not just supporting the local economy but you are also helping producers observe socially and environmentally just practices, such as promoting gender equity, payment of fair wages, non-employment of children, and protecting the environment.
For more information about Fair Trade in the Philippines, you may contact APFTI or Advocates for Philippine Fair Trade, Inc. at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them at (02)4544744.
7. Maitum, Sarangani
The last frontier of Sarangani province, Maitum is the place to see rainforests, sea turtles and several cultural communities. If you want adventure, you can try your hand at river tubing. There are no levels here, you either face your fear and conquer the rapids, or you can just stand and take pictures on one of the many hanging bridges. Visit the sea turtle sanctuary for a chance to play with the Olive Ridley’s and Hawksbills. If the water isn’t your adventure, try the hike to Zion Cave where Tboli guides will show you the medicinal plants along the way.
CulturEightTravel is one of the country’s tour operators whose aim is to promote sustainable local tourism and responsible travel. They organize 5-10 day expeditions in Mindanao and bring in a small group of Filipino locals and foreigners to experience the local communities and learn about their heritage, their handicrafts, their homes and their community projects, guests gain a better understanding of the world around them while locals are able to earn a living while preserving their culture and environment. By bringing small groups to these areas and only utilizing local transportation and family-run venues, our impact and carbon emissions are kept at a very low level. With a small group of travelers, communities aren’t bombarded and there is even an exchange of cultural ideas. In the end, everyone is empowered.
To contact CulturEightTravel, you may reach them at (02)2163319/(02) 8078329 / 09178613011 or visit their website at http://www.cultureight.com.
8. Tagum City, Davao del Norte
I have always enjoyed going to local festivals around the country. The experience allows me to taste delectable cuisines, marvel at the beauty of their crafts, and experience the different cultures of people and places. A lot of these festivals in the country revolve around rituals in honor of the child Jesus or other patron sainst. But in some regions, where agriculture is its main industry, planting and harvesting festivals are the most highlighted events every year.
Tagum City is located 55 kilometers north of Davao City and is home to Mindanao’s most abundant growers of the Durian fruit. This city celebrates the Durian Festival every August and is celebrated month long to support farmers in selling their harvests directly to the consumers. While some towns or cities celebrate their festivals only through music, street dancing signifying rituals of thanksgiving to the gods who have blessed them with a good harvest, the Durian Festival’s celebration honors the farmers by providing them of farm to market business opportunities and giving fruit lovers the best harvests at a good price!
Watch out too for the Kadagayaan Festival of Davao del Norte being held every June and celebrated in Tagum City. Aside from durian, there are also pomelo, lanzones, marang, mangosteen, and other farm products which are priced reasonably by the farmers from all over the province.
To know more about Tagum City’s festivals, you may contact their City Tourism Officer, Jun Jamero at (084)2181957.
*This article was first posted in the Travel Blog section of Balikbayan Magazine’s website.