It was nothing like Cast Away or Survivor. I did not have to eat raw, unfamiliar fish or drink pee. But it was my first time traveling solo, and as if my excitement overpowered by anxiety wasn't enough then, Typhoon Ruby hit the country. So yes, it was considerably not the best situation to be in.
When I made the trip to Malapascua, a small yet beautiful island north of Cebu, Philippines, I only had clothes, enough money, and my itinerary. But when I left the island, I took home with me things that you wouldn't mind as excess baggage: fresh perspectives, memories with new friends, and five life realizations.
1. Have open arms for whatever comes
Things seldom go as planned and it's okay. Sometimes the most remarkable things happen when you're not planning them point by point. I've been told before that any self-respecting smart traveler would have an itinerary and so I had one. I was hopeful I would be able to follow through it but surprise, surprise. My plans to scuba dive, stay in Malapascua overnight, explore a nearby island, and experience Kawasan falls remained just that—plans. I however ended up doing snorkeling and staying four nights on one island all when the coast guard halted boat operations because of the typhoon.
2. Not all strangers mean danger
In fact, they mean well. I was sitting alone by the beach when the dive instructors who work at the resort I was staying at together with two of the other guests, approached me and asked if I wanted to join them for some afternoon drinks. Having accepted the invitation, we all hung out that afternoon and bought supplies (food, water, etc.) to prepare for the impending typhoon. We also checked out possible evacuation spots and talked arrangements should there be a storm surge.
3. Kindness is a language spoken by many
Believe that there are still genuinely nice people who'd take you in and treat you like family, who'd make the effort to walk you back to your villa or ask if you've already eaten before the power goes out. I think it's safe to say that chivalry is not dead as far as that experience goes. So if in any way you've been on the receiving end of a thoughtful gesture, make sure to pay it forward. It can be a pack of noodles for someone who was too drunk to buy his supplies or an extra battery for someone's flashlight. It can be anything really so long as it keeps a cycle of positive karma.
4. Coexist equally
I've spent nearly a week with people who would very much rather be identified as citizens of the world not giving a huge deal who's French, Spanish, Swedish, Canadian, Turkish or American. Despite one's gender, age, religion or race, at the end of the day with or without a typhoon, we were all just trying to make the most out of the experience, buildiing bonfires, sharing the laughter (and the beer), exchanging stories, and exploring one place, one soul at a time.
5. It's not always about the place
Sure, no one can resist a picturesque spot. However, it's the people you meet along the way that greatly affect your overall travel experience. It's the people that make you want to keep coming back. Some would argue being stranded on an island might not be the most pleasant memory logged on someone's first solo travel. But fortunately, with warmth and depth of the right company, I would say it was and still is my best one yet.
In memory of Rafa Angulo (1971-2015), a Spanish music journalist who has seen both Typhoon Yolanda and Ruby, and dared to love Malapascua even more.