Conquering Them Fears

Marilyn Monroe once said, “We should start to live before we get too old. Fear is stupid. So are Regrets.” It’s not that hard a quote to fathom. Who does not go through life without fear? Early on, we are ingrained with various experiences that we will never ever do again. There are other times when we hear people say that snakes or spiders or even the fear of Friday the 13th has taken a road bump inside their psyche and are scared by it. What scares me most? Deep water and climbing or scaling a wall. Those two, at times, go hand in hand. I’d have panic attacks and shut down mentally either by fainting or run away from those unnecessary sensory stimuli. Well, I didn’t realize I will encounter these fears, yet again, from an unexpected journey.

I’ve never been to Cebu. Well, strike that, I did pass through the ‘Queen’ city of south when I’d go to various other locales like Boracay and Coron. It was more of a stopover – a conduit to a final destination. That does not count as staying in Cebu. I found out that most of the tourist spots were around its periphery, just like Davao.

When my Brazilian-Japanese friend, Celso aka Xuxu (spelt ShoeShoe), told me he was going to visit me in Davao, I thought he was joking. But when he finally showed up, I had to ready my hostess-with-the-mostess brain and try and give him a nice durian and banig welcome. He was only going to be in Davao for two days. So I took him to this nice resort in Samal called Holiday Oceanview resort facing Panabo for an overnight stay sans Wifi (que horror!). When he invited me to go to Cebu to watch the whale sharks, then go to Coron and El Nido, I balked at the idea considering I’d be in Dumaguete in June but I thought, why not? I’ve been to Coron and El Nido before, so this was a perfect opportunity to do some ‘environmental scouting’ on the upcoming 2-year grad school stint in Silliman. It was a last-minute decision, but it was all worth it.

The place we stayed at in Moalboal is called Garden village. It was three hours’ drive from Cebu Mactan Airport. There was a little hiccup with the pick-up but that didn’t deter us from enjoying our vacation. I am more passionate when it came to details as opposed to my experienced travel companion, who’s been in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia before his Philippines sojourn who’d dismiss any issue with a grain of salt. I tend to be nitpicky about everything. It is a fault but that’s just me. Moving onward, Garden Village, its owner, Mam Ging Louarn and her staff, were gracious and uber-friendly accommodating hosts. Room 12 was only three walks from the restaurant which served French food. They served the best Eggs Benedict with the crispy sourdough crust with chewy middle along with eggs sprinkled evenly with salt and pepper. There’s a good-sized pool that glowed in various colors in the evening centering villas in white and red roofing. The two bedroom fully furnished Villas are reasonably rented long term and I actually took a photo of it to serve as an inspiration on what my future rest house would look like in Samal. Though the rooms were adjacent to each other on the regular rooms, I didn’t hear any noise from the other room though I heard such ruckus of drinking repartee outside their patio before 10 pm. The full-sized beds were a dream to spread out our bodies weary from day long trips or eating binges. The shower had steaming hot water option that I thought I’d try and boy, did it work for alleviate the ache and pain of various day long trips. I had a wonderful time talking to guests left and right. Most of them were white men with Pinay wives/girlfriends and some were actually locals who’ve loved to come to eat the restaurant. Some of them actually became friends in facebook. Once I am situated in Dumaguete in a few months, and if given the chance to go back to Moalboal, I won’t hesitate to go back to Garden Village. Heck, I’ll even recommend everyone to go and stay there.

Xu, Mam Ging (Garden Village Owner) and Moi above and with Garden Village staff below

After a few days of traveling to various beaches, we finally went to Oslob and fulfilled both our bucket, or in my case, my BAKET list. Most of you know that I don’t swim and am afraid of deep water so I stayed in the boat while my friend, complete with snorkeling gear, went ahead and swam with them Whale Sharks. They were a sight to behold – majestic beasts feeding on tiny shrimp being thrown at them by the fishermen. Here’s a sobering thought as I realize why things happen the way they are; I question why these rare animals are being made into cash cows for tourism purposes? Do these beautiful creatures have a choice to seek free food instead of looking for them while others gawk at their physicality? During the orientation, we were warned not to touch nor get close to them and even not to use sun-block lotion because it rubs off on us while in the water and thus affect these magnificent creatures. Of course, you will argue that the Tarsiers in Bohol are no different from the whale sharks. We even have the Philippine Eagle in our backyard here in Davao where people pay to see them. I believe it has something to do with money. Nonetheless, it was an awe-inspiring opportunity to have witnessed these beautiful creatures in person. To our surprise and an added treat, there was a huge one, at least forty plus feet long, that grazed the side of our bangka and our guide exclaimed in glee, “The father is here.”

It was only 9 am when we finished our whale shark adventure. The day was just starting. We actually had to wake up early at 4 in the morning to get to Oslob since the whale sharks feed between 6-10 am. We thought of other places to go to while taking advantage of being around Oslob. Our driver suggested Aguinid Falls which isn’t that far. Ok. Kewl. We’re on. I thought it would one of those resorts where one would just walk around and swim on the stream but when we got to the reception area, we were told to wear helmets and non-slip shoes. I asked why these were needed. The guide said that we would be climbing up eight levels that comprise the Aguinid Falls complex. What? I told Xu that I don’t really like climbing up walls where I had to face a rush of water. He retorted, “Okay, stay here for at least two hours while I trek up the falls.” A state of anxiety came all over me. The guide said, “Don’t worry po, Sir. We will take good care of you.” I thought of the Marilyn Monroe quote at that moment. I know I will regret this if I didn’t at least give it a try. I agreed along with a grudging groan, much to the smirk the locals gave me as I thought, “this is an adventure and I will face it head on. Level 5 was the hardest climb of them all. Scaling up at least 50 meters high, using a rope to get up steep and slippery rocks, it was a physical feat to boot. I looked up at it from the base and decided not to climb. The alternative was to go back down on my knees, which proved to be more challenging. At the end, I survived climbing up Aguinid Falls. Watching Whale sharks swimming thisclose in deep water and scaling up waterfalls in one day. Whew! My leg muscles hurt like crazy after. Fear conquered!

The next day, Kawasan Falls was the last itinerary of this trip. I researched it through IG and was impressed about the blue waters which added mystery and beauty of this place. I am stoked. After a day of climbing up waterfalls and watching whale-sharks, my thought of a lesser challenging outing is in the offing. Boy, was I completely wrong!

They call it Canyoneering here in these parts. It’s a long trek through a canyon where you get to jump (as if you have another choice) into deep pools of cold water, swim underwater to go from one end to the other, and walk up and down steep canyon walls under the midday sun. Xu made sure I slather my whole body with sunblock. I rubbed a heaping full of it on my bald head, considering it is the first to get burnt more than anything in this fat body. First, we walked to the canyon via a trek on the side of the hill for forty-five minutes. I was already huffing and puffing. I didn’t realize you had to be fit to go into these kinds of adventures. Who knew? My first jump was memorable. Looking down, I saw my whole life pass right in front of me. I could hear my heart beating so fast, as if it were a runaway train. I didn’t pray. Imagine that. I didn’t ask for divine help.

The start of something wonderful and scary at the same time

Someone kept screaming at me, “DON’T JUMP!” while another louder voice kept echoing, “JUMP BITCH!”

Xu and the guide were down below waiting. Their eyes tell me of impatience. I tiptoed to the edge of the large rock, closed my eyes, and jumped into the water with such force I lost my hearing for two minutes while I drank cold, unfiltered stream water. “SPLOISSSHHH!” Then I went up to the surface and opened my eyes. Xu and the guide smiled and did a thumbs up at them. I realized I could float. Oh, that’s what those vests are for? So I waded towards the shallow part and walked behind them. I looked back at the diving point and told myself, “Ha! You did it!” From that point on, with another jump looming further into this canyon, I told myself I will be okey. It was another physical feat to be able to trek through Kawasan Falls. My body ached but it felt good. Another fear conquered.

As a side note, there was a patch of flat gravel right in front of me. It looked like a small fashion runway. I turned around to see if anyone was breathing. Without any hesitation, I went to do my Kawasan Falls Walk, akin to Catriona’s Lava Walk though it had a little more exaggerated swish on the hips. As I sauntered through thick foliage, I knew no one was looking because Xu and the guide was meters ahead of me while the other groups were too far so I thought, why not. When the grass cleared, I dreamt of walking in swimwear on the flat terrain. I walked heartily till I heard some giggling up the hills. There were some children above in their shorts pointing at me. One boy heckled, “Pia Horseback!” Boy, my bald head wasn’t the only one that turned beet red at that moment though I bristled the comment off. Whatever! I ran after the guys and pretended as if nothing happened.

With our guide, Ebong.

How I wish I could be like my friend Xu? Here’s someone who’s traveled the world over. A wanderer who maintains his child like innocence while immersing himself in various international landscapes. To be able to roam free and unfettered in deep water. We met under unusual circumstances – through a close friend who was brutally murdered in Sao Paulo. I knew Garrett back then in Chicago and we’ve become really close when I moved to San Francisco in 1999. He even bought a house at the edge of Dolores and Mission. We’d hang out every now. He loved Brazil and would often talk about moving there. One day, he got the courage to sell his house in SF and settled in Sao Paulo every three months of the year. I found out of Garrett’s unfortunate demise through Xu. He was the one who relayed what happened to Garrett to his family in Hawaii. I finally met Xu in person when he visited the Bay area 17 years ago. From then on, we got in touch through messenger and the usual birthday greetings via social media.

It was nice knowing him while we were in Samal and in Cebu. Aside from being kindred spirits, we had another thing in common – beauty pageants. He talked endlessly about the current Miss Universe Brazil National Director and how he thought she made the delegate wear the dress meant for Martina, not the contestant who eventually made it to Israel while I mused about the new Miss Universe Philippines who happens to be half-Italian. Xu commented that it seems that the last two Miss Universe winners from the Philippines were half Pinays when there were tons of beautiful full-blooded Filipinas everywhere. I replied, “the Universe didn’t conspire for them to win.” He is a great travel companion. I wouldn’t mind going somewhere with him again in the future.

NO. I am not going through life conquering all my fears per se. It was just serendipitous to have another person by the name of Celso show up and open my eyes and able to confront those unpleasant emotions unscathed. It could’ve gone the other way. I’d be emotionally crippled from confronting those fears head on but as I was going through the motions, I found myself empowered that all the steps I took climbing up or jumping down were meant to be. I was careful. I looked around me and was completely aware that it is happening, and that it had to be done. Not that I am patting myself but it felt good to finally break through those fears. Now, go hug a snake, pet a spider, name the first cockroach you encounter Darna or jump into a pool full of piranhas to confront your fear. Perhaps you can finally talk it out with your ex how you wronged him or her or like everything you see from friends’ posts in social media. This life is just too short.

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