We’re all looking for that perfect dream vacation; that perfect picturesque, unspoiled, undiscovered piece of paradise; that pure unadulterated piece of nature that we can then take magnificent pictures of with our expensive DSLRs and GoPros, and curate and edit in our Macs and PCs, to post in our picture-perfect Instagram or Facebook accounts, using our high-end smartphones and laptops – only to lose the whole point of it.

Why did we go there anyway?

There’s a beautiful line in the movie The Beach that goes —

“by coming to paradise, we had inevitably destroyed it.”

My friend, Randall Dagooc, once posted this biting message on his Facebook page:

“Dear Siargao, please don’t become the luxury-surfer themed tourist-Disneyland that is Bali. Love, Me.”

All of us want to be that tourist who wants this perfect place to remain unspoiled, unmarred, untarnished – but somehow, all we can do is become those tourists who do the exact opposite. Randall told me that tourism by droves is inevitable. It’s what happened to Boracay, and it’s what’s happening now to Palawan and countless other beach front properties in the Philippines. There are no unspoiled places anymore, no secret getaway islands, no secret nature trails or caves. We’ve explored every face of the earth, marked every secret caves, travelled every nook and cranny there is to find.

Yet, once in a while, we do find a gem here and there. Again, my friend Randall, comes to me with an invitation. “It’s a place far off the beaten path,” he says. “No tourists,” he promises.31841986_10156389060793410_4736589598744903680_o

We set off just before lunch. We packed our gear and loaded it on his red-orange FJ cruiser. We didn’t pack much. Just our tent, cooking gear, swimwear, snorkeling gear — and beer. Lots and lots of beer. Food, Randall promised, would be caught fresh for us.

We arrived just past one. The villagers greeted us warmly (Randall had met and befriended them on his first visit) and Randall set about talking to them and giving out the gifts (various things the villagers had requested) he had brought for them. Simple stuff – a volleyball, a portable wood planer, aluminum foil (apparently, this stuff is a hit among them), and some swimming gear.31717975_10156383618358410_1645690842007994368_n

Later, we hiked down to the beach. We were greeted with a shoreline that was as unpeopled as you can ever find. We swam. Later, the villagers brought us coconuts to eat and drink. And that was just the beginning.31543505_10156381477153410_7295698699030626304_o

That night, we dined on freshly caught squid and lobster, while drinking and talking to the villagers over beer and cheap gin.31166381_10156364994203410_2481178022506397696_n31577842_10156383618753410_5408979480691605504_n31676557_10156383618703410_3890799259854831616_n31508765_10156381477968410_6644406611269910528_o

Their dreams and hopes were fairly simple. Protect the area from illegal fishing and environmental destruction, live a simple life, and enjoy a few modern necessities now and then. Their biggest problem was access to a doctor. Ka Isidro told us that if someone was sick, they have two choices: endure the pain or brave the trek to go to the city, which was 70 kilometers away – if the road was all smooth. Most of the time, their only medicine was to endure the pain, he said.

31073129_10156364993333410_8964161006670446592_n

I could not begin to imagine how to help these people. I mean, I could. But the cure seemed worse than the illness. We could help make this place like Boracay, and bring modernity and livelihood to these people, or we can leave this place as is – and preserve the place in its idyllicness.31693262_10156381477473410_2721908474135969792_o

We left the next day, leaving nothing on our camping site. We brought trash bags with us and collected all our trash before we left (I told you, we brought lots of beer). We left no trace of our passing except for the memories we shared with the fishermen whom we shared and drank the night with. Like that quote everyone likes to post on their vacation getaway photos, “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories.” Except everyone else doesn’t really do it. They just like to quote it. Hashtag savemotherearth.31518651_10156381842708410_8978544860734685184_o

I can’t really promise you that this place will remain unspoiled. That you’ll find it in the same state we found it in. When we got back and asked around the various local government agencies to inquire about help for the fishermen, we were told there were already various plans to turn the area into a mass tourism area.31732590_10156383618278410_4735131285549219840_n

Randall has this idealistic dream that we can protect every unspoiled place we find, preserve nature if only we could educate people better. In the past, I would have shared his idealism. But I know better now. I’ve accepted that until people see these places as home instead of a vacation site, things will remain as they are. They’ll come and take their pictures, leave their mark, and change the place from a once idyllic place into the next Boracay.

I’ve accepted that people aren’t like me and Randall. They don’t go to a secluded place and think “We’re home.” They go to a place and think “What a perfect place away from home.” Don’t get me wrong.

“I still believe in paradise. But now, at least I know it’s not some place you can look for. Because it’s not where you go, it’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something. And if you find that moment, it lasts forever.”

And in my mind, where it’s the only place where it can ever be truly perfect, I keep my memories pristine clear. No hashtags, no Instagram photos. Just memories — of that time, and that place, far off the beaten path, just as promised.31562840_10156383618518410_2091080479611551744_n

*all photos credit of Randall Dagooc of Mango Red. You can view more of his and his brother’s work, here.

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