Interviews by VIANCA GAMBOA, ANGELA CASCO, and PAOLA NAVARETTE
The travel restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic caused postponed summer plans, curtailed getaways, and tourists stranded in vacation spots (which is only fun if planned of one’s own accord, to be honest), but the quarantine might have come as a blessing in disguise for six groups of travel vloggers who decided to extend their stay in the Philippines in spite of the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) chartered flight proposals.
Having great fascination with the unexpected, these “castaways” have chosen no better time than the quarantine period to document their prolonged vacation through Youtube, kicking back and breathing the rustic life in the pastoral, tropical quiet, eating diverse local cuisine, experiencing untouched culture, and meeting locals (all while social distancing, of course!).
Here are their stories of finding temporary home in the Philippines.
Making it HappenAfter traveling around the country several times, Austrian travel vloggers Mike Holaschke and Nelly Hrni fell in love with the country’s stunning diversity and the Filipino people.
“We came here as tourists and loved it so much that we wanted to stay here for good,” they said.
Three months ago when the quarantine was implemented, Mike and Nelly got stuck outside of the metro, so they decided to travel to Siargao, where they knew some people.
“We heard about the lockdown plans when we were on Biri island in Samar. We couldn’t go back to Manila as the route was closed, so we continued with an overnight drive of 28 hours to get to our final destination, Siargao, to seek shelter,” they said.
While they admit that their situation was a bit difficult, the generosity of Filipinos made it easier for them to bear as they waited to be able to get back to Makati, where they live.
“The best experiences we had can be summed up in the moments we spent with our Filipino hosts Paulo and Jen,” they said. “They turned from being our Airbnb hosts to being our friends and showed us what the island life has to offer.”
One of their best days on the island was when they got invited to their friends’ house for a Mothers’ Day lunch. “It gave us a lot of comfort not being alone on a day we missed our family a lot,” they said. “The day got even better when we saw all the homecooked Filipino food that we enjoyed together. Indeed, sharing a smile, kindness, and positivity helped us through that difficult time.”
And, if there’s one area in which they would like to see improvement, it would be the environmental and sustainability factor. “We want to show the beauty of the Philippines to our future kids the way we experienced it,” they said. “We are also hoping that the culture and kindness stay the same as it is a signature character of the Filipino people.”
Bisayang HilawAmerican vlogger Carson Moody and his Filipina-Australian girlfriend Zowie Palliaer have been going in and out of Australia and Siargao for four years as full-time vloggers, but the relentless pursuits took a smooth break in Dumaguete during the lockdown.
They currently stay in a simple Airbnb with a pool for Zowie’s “sanity,” and try keep up with their routine for a relaxing yet productive quarantine. “It has been nice to finally slow things down and get to know each other even better because of the different circumstances and situations we are in.”
Because the Philippines has been part of Zowie’s life since she was born, and Carson served as a fulltime missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 2012, they have picked up majority of Filipino customs and traditions, like “kinamot,” the art of eating with bare hands, and leaving at least one piece of food on the plate or a little bit of drink in the bottle. “Never be the one to take the last piece unless you go around offering it to everyone. If everyone rejects the last piece, it is then okay to take it,” said Carson.
Aside from traffic, the couple would love to see an improvement in the country’s problem with pollution and trash, and while they agree responsible tourism is important, the locals should do as much to keep their barangays clean. “We’ve seen great things happening in El Nido with the single-use plastic ban and the bamboo straw industry,” said Carson. “So, it would be great to see this adopted everywhere.”
Goofy British vloggers Lucy D’Agostino and George Warrington were always on the go to discover “new sights, new food, and new people constantly” for the Filipino audiences, so when they found themselves stuck in a condo in BGC, they traded their backpacks for commonplace stuff to make it look like the four walls aren’t too shabby after all, so they believed they weren’t “really stranded.”
“We were so happy that our audience found this relatable and we saw an increase in subscribers during this time,” said George. “We became a daily source of entertainment for people who were also stuck in their homes.”
The couple started traveling around the Philippines since late 2018. They have since attended renowned festivals such as Sinulog, Dinagyang, Lanzones, and the yearly Mango Festival in Guimaras. “We feel like we have really embraced the culture here and we love the way that family, friends, food, and happiness are at the core of Filipino culture,” said George. “We’ve tried learning some Tagalog but we both find it very difficult to pick up languages. We’ll keep trying!”
If there’s one thing they admire most about the Philippines, it is the Filipinos’ hospitality. “The people here make us feel so welcome and we have said before that we think Filipinos could be the friendliest people in the world,” Lucy said. “We love the laidback nature of the people we have met in the last few years of being in the country.”
RodVivKidsContrary to road trip movies that spell d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r for every contradicting family member, the family that stays together, have fun together no matter where they are. This was how Dutch vlogger Rod could summarize his vivid quarantine experience in the Philippines with his mixed family of eight, after getting stuck in a family vacation in Marabut, Samar—a leg of their Philippine trip that began last November. They literally had to forage for wood and veggies, learn how to bake bread, and fetch 30 gallons of water from a well for showering and cooking due to shortage of resources.
Despite going on full survival mode, the family had their fair share of the best nature experiences in Samar, including “swimming in the open sea and feeling the urge to pick out your camera every once in a while to capture its beauty,” petting stray kittens, climbing palm trees, helping clear out the ocean’s trash, and eating lechon, sisig, and kilawin with bare hands. Viv, Rod’s Filipina wife, also took it as a perfect opportunity to let the kids immerse themselves in a much simpler lifestyle, learn how to cope with unwanted circumstances along the ride, and meet people who have less, but give more.
The family now hopes to stay for good and buy a house in the country if they manage to sell their traditional home in Indonesia.
Brazil-based couple Chris and Carol did not expect to be on lockdown anywhere other than their home country, but they have found themselves taking refuge in El Nido.
The couple originally flew to the Philippines last February to visit the island a second time, as well as to explore other places they had never been to before. The choice to stay in El Nido seemed, at the time, the best option for safety, but it has been positive primarily because of food, nature, and the Filipino hospitality.
In the almost three months they have spent on the island, the couple has learned how to cook and enjoy Filipino dishes. “We’ve been cooking a lot of local meals,” Chris and Carol said. “We’re kind of vegetarians so we’ve just been cooking vegetarian versions of Filipino dishes that we love and that we searched online to know how to cook.” Pinakbet, ginataang kalabasa, and pansit bihon are some of the vegetarian dishes the couple have enjoyed.
As being in quarantine can be mentally challenging, Chris and Carol say taking in El Nido’s greenery and beaches have helped them keep a positive mindset. “The thing we love the most about the Philippines is nature,” the couple adds. “They have amazing beaches, too, which are what always made us want to come to the Philippines.”
The couple admits, though, that what they will miss the most upon going back to Brazil is the kindness Filipinos on the island have shown them.
“Filipinos treat foreigners so well here. The owner of the place where we’re staying sometimes cooks meals for us,” the couple says. “They’re always very helpful, too.”
Anne and Trevor, the duo behind Delightful Travellers, are also quarantined in El Nido.
Both were in Coron when the extended lockdown orders were implemented. The Canadian couple decided to stay on the island unlike many foreign tourists at the time who tried to head out of the country.
While they admit not having been able to do much outside “as tours are off and there are no beaches,” Anne and Trevor says the people they have met in El Nido—both Filipinos and tourists—have made their stay pleasant.
“There’s a good mentality here,” the couple said. “Everyone’s just been welcoming and supportive of one another. Even the expats here have been very kind. We’ve definitely made some friends for life.”
Anne and Trevor said they have heard a lot about the island prior to their visit, particularly on how it could get busy on a normal day, but that the quarantine orders have made their experience one-of-a-kind. “Our time in El Nido has been unique,” the couple added. “There’s nothing we can really compare it to.”
Their food experience, in particular, has become an adventure for them.
“When we travel, we really love our food and Philippine cuisine has surprised us,” the couple said. “We didn’t know a lot coming in. We knew there would be some dishes we’d probably try but I would say sisig, particularly chicken sisig, is one of our favorites.” That’s on top of their other favorites lechon and chicken adobo. Also on their must-try list is a drink that “we have been a fan of”—calamansi juice.
“What we’ll miss the most is the view we have right now. Visually, it’s just unbelievable!” exclaims the couple. “I think we’re going to have a special connection to this country forever.”