climb

comfort in your strangeness: the bagasbas summer surf festival 2011, international edition


there were three strangers walking on the boulevard along bagasbas beach just after sunrise, while the wind blew dust and sand onto empty pavements, and sleepy kids were still wiping dreams from their brown faces. i tipped my hat to these strangers as we passed them, and at least one of them nodded back. i told my companions that those three seemed lost, maybe we should offer the other room to them. the gesture sounds either mighty generous or absolutely creepy, but i'm also very brave, so while we waited for breakfast, i stepped out onto the street and looked for the three strangers who were at the time making inquiries at every single resort. unfortunately, the bagasbas summer surf festival draws crowds from far-away places, and there were not many vacancies.


with a smile on my face, i approached the three and asked: excuse me, are you looking for a place to stay? they said yes. well, it just so happens, i explained, that i booked two rooms at this hotel but several of my friends backed out at the last minute so there is one room available, maybe you'd like to take it? it was as casual and random an offer as anyone can get, and i would normally doubt someone i do not know offering me room in a place i've never been to before, but the strangers said sure. i asked where they were from. germany, they chorused. and then i asked for their names. marcel, michael, anna. we walked to the hotel and they followed me while i made casual talk about what was going to happen in bagasbas over that weekend.


and then when we reached the hotel, it turned out that the other room had just been taken. so i asked them instead: would you want to share our room? it's big. you can have mattresses on the floor. and they said yes. so we instantly had three new roommates. how they ended up sharing one room with us speaks legion of the serendipitous beauty of travel. you strike up conversation with a completely random stranger, and that someone helps make your experience unique and special. i was actually surprised that they didn't show a single morsel of apprehension. didn't they doubt that offer that fell from nowhere? i asked much much later what they thought about that encounter on the street -- if i struck them as either suspicious or enterprising. marcel said he initially thought that i might be some guy interested in getting a commission by getting tourists to stay in a resort, but that my english was too good so i just might have been a really kind tourist.


i introduced the three germans to my filipino friends, and for the rest of the festival, the 7 of us did everything together. we registered for the event, having paid weeks before its start, and collected our t-shirts and slippers. this is the fourth bagasbas summer surf festival, an even organized by joey cuerdo. i've attended three of them, the first, third, and this year's edition, although joey announced during the awarding ceremony that i had been actively supporting the event since the beginning and was present every year (in 2009, i was in viet nam). he asked if i had wanted to say something, and i'm not shy but i declined the offer to speak and just gave everyone -- bagasbas, its beach, its surf, its lifeguards -- a roaring thumb's up.

i attempted to surf again this time, and although i've already done it a few times, it always feels like the first time. i only get to surf once a year, and in bagasbas exclusively, so i'm still not any good at it. i get to stand on the board for a brief moment, and feel the waves push me to shore. i notice that i always get my footing wrong. either my legs are not far apart enough, or my feet are not on the stringer. it can get frustrating at times, and probably just as stressful to the instructors, because they soak on the sea with you for half an hour, patiently teach you the rudiments of surf, and celebrate with you when you're finally able to ride a wave.


everyone seemed to have enjoyed the surf immensely that nearly all of us went back to the water for seconds, even though the beach on sunday morning was covered by flotsam and jetsam. oddly enough, most of the sea debris that washed ashore were dry coconut husks. i joked that maybe a barge filled with copra had capsized somewhere. but bagasbas is not only known for its surf. the festival, in particular, has also been the venue of a really wild street party attended by the tourists and the locals. unfortunately, the provincial government intervened this year and they held it instead at the covered pavilion and rented out stalls to retailers of alcoholic beverages. the local bands were also a let-down, we eventually decided, at one point, to just go home and play silly german drinking games that had me crawling to bed, not even remembering if the game had finished.


but the germans have themselves fallen victim to the game, that marcel could not even remember the part where we left the resort past midnight, walked 300 meters to the only open store, and bought two liters of red horse beer that no one drank anyway. nevertheless, when it was coffee break island's turn to rock and reggae, it didn't matter that we were not out in the street, or that we were surrounded by tables. it was a party. and i think too many people had too much fun. it was just an extremely relaxed concert, and people went up the stage, danced with wild abandon, stole the microphone, took off their shirts, took off their pants, rolled on the floor, hugged people they didn't know, made a caterpillar, drank foul-tasting fluids from nalgene bottles, and had an overall great time. when coffee break island finished its set, we were still so raring to party that when the show band took over, we didn't leave, and danced wildly to these standard tunes from lady gaga, rihanna, and jay sean. i even sang the chorus of michael jackson's "you are not alone" with so much emotion, at least 2 people reminded me of it the following day.


of course you could either surf all day, or play beach ultimate all day, or climb the wall all day, or skimboard all day, or kick a football all day, so we also opted to have a half-day trip to manukan island, where i resolved to do my first film featuring an international cast: jason as the pinoy, princeton as the fookien-speaking chinese, marissa as the chavacano-speaking zamboangueña, marcel as the puerto rican who couldn't go past hola chica and una cerveza por favor, michael as the german, and anna as the russian spy (she is, in fact, originally from russia). we had a fun time rolling down the sand like we did last year, and i've just been too busy that i haven't had the time to edit the clip. (EDIT: the video is now on youtube. watch it here.)


at the end of that weekend, the germans had become less of strangers. we had each facebooked each other, and have kept in touch for the remainder of their short time in the country. just last night, i had dinner with marcel and michael and introduced them both to my AMCI friends. afterwards, i took them to burgos street "to look at girls" -- girls who all fawned over michael. they told me about this interesting story about encountering another complete stranger on the beach at puerto galera who offered them something so nice, it seemed suspicious: free food and accommodations on at a nice, beachfront property. it is these serendipitous things that take place when you take chances that make travel all the more memorable. you don't go to a place merely to say that you have been there. rather, you put yourselves in the care of strangers, walk unfamiliar paths, eat odd and sometimes disgusting things, because you want to keep a memory of another place, of random people that made you laugh or smile or cry, so that when the boredom of routine and repetition bites, you survive through that vivid memory and the promise that it could happen again.