THE WORLD NOMADS WRITING SCHOLARSHIP is an annual competition for aspiring travel writers. How it works: You write a 2500-character story about one topic. You can choose 1 out of these 3: “Make a local connection”, “A decision that pushed me to the edge”, and “The last thing that I expected”. Finally, 3 winners get a 14-day travel writing workshop with Tim Neville in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I didn’t win but the experience gave me a nice #throwback to my past trips and taught me how to write a travel story in this specific format. I read books (’The Best American Travel Writing’, ‘Journey of A Lifetime) and essays (‘Rites of The Caquelon’ by Tim Neville, ‘Floating the Mighty and Easy’ by Tim Cahill). All beautiful works, which I can only aspire to do someday.
How did I decide which travel experience to write about? Out of all my trips, my solo adventure to Surigao Del Norte remains the most memorable. It’s because I went there alone and in pure good luck, met a capable guide, Alan. I’ve recycled this storyline 3 times: on my blog, local newspaper Sunstar, and now again for the scholarship. Here’s my story about Alan and how he gave me an excellent tour of Surigao Del Norte.
Alan, My Angel
Alan’s eyes are on me, not to harm, but to guide.
“Maam, what would you like to see? We have caves, a boulder beach, and a floating village…”In the Philippines, a young, married woman traveling alone is almost unheard of. Even rarer is for her to go caving deep in Mindanao with strange men.
“Kuya (Big Brother), I’m alone. Is that the final price?” I negotiate with Alan seconds before making up my mind that I could trust his kind eyes. We are in Surigao City, a town at the Northeastern tip of Mindanao. Virtually no one comes here as a tourist. The first time I met Alan, he was standing in front of the hotel lobby, wearing casual shorts and t-shirt. For $28, he’ll drive me all day to see Surigao City’s landmarks.
We head to Silop Cave, a 12-system cave so big that it will take three days to see everything. Alan spoke in Surigaonon dialect, negotiating with two guides for their services. Before entering the first cave, the four of us bowed our heads to pray for safety.
“We are only visitors here, and our wish is to come out OK,” Alan translated to me. Inside, we came five feet away from two grey snakes, coiled, and ready to attack. Virgin-white stalactites glistened like diamonds as if serenading us to touch it.
Surigao was once so rich with nickel deposits, they believed it was one of the world’s biggest sources. In the Day-asan Floating Village, I confirmed the news I see on TV – miners are taking away large chunks of land, so painfully obvious at the next bald island. Where are the giant ships off to – China or Japan? No one really knows.
An hour later, Alan asks Julito, our fisherman guide, where we could find lunch. “In my house,” he replies. Julito’s wooden home was on stilts, perched in a shallow part of the ocean. Around us, almost every house looks the same: one bedroom, one living room and tiny kitchen at the back. “Our bathroom is the ocean water because it just washes it away,” Julito says to me because I kept looking around for the restroom. Hundreds of locals live in this floating village, dependent on the ocean’s moods to keep them fed, safe and alive.
They served us saang, a local shellfish, together with salt and hot white rice. I look outside at the late afternoon shadows reflecting on the water. Alan chats away with Julito, calling the wife in the kitchen to join us. Alan’s eyes caught mine, and I take an appreciative smile at how our day turned out. Soon it’s time to say goodbye.
About the Author
Crystal Neri is a freelance writer who has worked across media platforms in places as diverse as US, Singapore, and Australia. She lives in Cebu City where she covers travel and entrepreneurship at crystalneri.com. Say Hi to her (@nericrystal) on Twitter and Instagram. Subscribe to her newsletter: