Eat, tour, do activities and have fun with locals

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Just before the sun descended behind the mountains and pine trees and not too long after we have traveled the dirt road that forks to the right from the asphalted Halsema Highway we finally reached Sitio Labey in the town of Tublay, in Benguet province. We settled in one of the modest homes that served as our accommodation for the night. Half an hour later, a gong sounded from afar. It seemed it was a signal that they have been waiting for that everyone in the household, except us, hurriedly dressed up for the seemingly important event.

Our host family summoned us to get ready as well because we were going to a dinner at the house located at the foot of the mountain across the rice paddies. Without saying a word, the man of the house started preparing a torch out of the chopped saleng  (a local pine species known for its combustible properties, that is also a threat during hot summers as they tend to burn easily and create a forest fire). We would use that torch to light our way to the dinner venue. I was puzzled why we were going to another house for dinner.

As soon as we arrived, people in the community started to arrive in trickles, then in groups. We were told that it was the eve of a wedding day, and a canao was being held in honor of the soon to be a wedded couple and was also a thanksgiving and fellowship of sorts.

The next best thing was to partake of the food they have prepared. The bride's family butchered a large pig for the occasion. The pork was sliced into bite-size pieces and sauteed with garlic, onion, pepper, and salt and simmered in its own lard until the meat was cooked and oily enough to be served to the guests. Heaps of steaming rice and scoops of the oily meal were put on the plates. We took our share and ate with our bare hands. The cooked pork tasted okay even sans the fancy ingredients and sauces. I learned that the Igorots cooked their pork that way. At the start, the taste was good, but as you finish your plate, you begin to feel you have had too much of it.  Be that as it may, we were filled up.

The mood was festive and the bride's family was able to feed all the guests that night. Guests were also allowed to bring home bigger chopped half-cooked meat.

I learned that in any family occasion or important community events like this, the whole community is invited. You will know this once you hear the gong that signals the time to come and gather as a community. Tradition has it that even if you live at next mountain or hill, as long as you can hear the sound of the gangza or the gong, you are invited. At the time, no written or verbal invitation was needed for one to partake and have fellowship with relatives and other members of the community.

This happened in 1991 when I had my first fieldwork outside Baguio City to conduct a training of a community association in the village of Labey. This never happened again, but this experience is still vivid in my mind. I was barely out of college then, and that very first adventure sparked my desire to work with the nonprofit organizations and at the same time travel more and commune with people and learn about their culture.

Traveling with Locals
Our host in Taal Volcano community cooking Tawilis for lunch.

I am blessed to have a job that allows me to travel to different places--communing with the local people I work with, have a taste of their local cuisine, and do some activities together. Years later, I have been into far-flung communities and met innumerable people.

The jolly old and young men and women in Sitio Ilaya in Inabanga, Bohol will always be remembered for their sense of humor, delicious food and of course, their irresistible and unforgettable bahalina. The ever-hospitable people of Taal lake and their deep-fried and crunchy tawilis and many more encounters along the road will always be a delightful experience,

One does not have to have a job like mine that brings me to different places and doing activities. Anyone can have the experience eating, going places and doing activities with locals.

One can say that I can do these stuff during my travel because it is part of my work. However, anyone can actually do this if you can choose to go beyond the touristy side of traveling. Foreigners and Filipinos alike would always be delighted to try and experience communing and eating with locals.

However, one of the challenges of traveling is the unfamiliarity of places we go to. We barely know the local people and trying to experience and live like a local would sometimes be more than challenging than doing the touristy stuff.

This problem may no longer be especially in the Philippines. A travel website, Withlocals, will be launching in the Philippines soon! Withlocals aims to connect travelers around the world through unique travel opportunities and home dining opportunities. This gives the chance for Filipinos to be ambassadors of tourism to both foreign and local travelers. More importantly, this becomes an opportunity for many travel junkies to earn as well. This new way of traveling and earning money at the same time sounds exciting, right?

Withlocals is encouraging Filipino travelers to be part of this growing community--either as a traveler or a host who can offer dining opportunities both at home or seek out unique dining opportunities in your respective location. One can also be a local guide that will show the guests around or allow the guest traveler to live like a local. How does it work? If you think this is for you, then, what are you waiting for? Sign up now for a free account. Who knows, you might also be traveling soon and you might want to be hosted as well. Withlocals offers partnerships with travel websites as well.

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Aside from my day job, I love photography and storytelling. Going places--be it a cliche destination or the far side of the road--stoke and free my soul. I dig deeper into the people’s psyche, culture and ethnicity, and heritage. I love to observe how they thrive and build social institutions, preserve their culture and traditions.

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