The best part about being a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines?
This is a question I receive from readers fairly often, so I’m going to try to do my best to answer it. The only problem is that there wasn’t any single adventure or experience that topped all of the amazing, crazy, and incredible things that happened during more than twenty-seven months of Peace Corps service and three months of training in the Philippine Islands.
So instead of having to make one choice, I’m going to be easy on myself and choose five! From getting up on provincial capital stage to play in front of more than 5,000 people with Frying Nemo to seeing a tiger shark swimming across the pristine Tubbataha reef in Palawan, these five experiences and adventures are the ones that helped make Peace Corps Philippines one of the most life-changing experiences of my life.*
Playing in a Band in Dumaguete: The Story of Frying Nemo
We played our first gig at Hayahay in July 2005. Just five months later we were playing in front of more than 5,000 people at the Buglasan Festival on the Provincial Capital Stage in Dumagueute. Playing on stage with Raul, Kerwin, Kekerd, Ramon, Nowell, Jude, Harold, Paul, Steve, and many other friends who jammed with us over the years is one of the best experiences of my entire time in the Philippines.
Tubbataha Reef: Scuba Diving a UNESCO Site with WWF
In April 2006 I was invited by Angelique Songco to join a documentary expedition to Palawan’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage site: Tubbataha reef. In the week that we spent diving and photographing the spectacular coral reef at Tubbataha I saw more big fish (including a tiger shark) in a few days than I had seen in the previous several months.
Sea Kayaking Palawan: Island Hopping the Bacuit Archipelago
Palawan’s Bacuit archipelago (near El Nido) is easily one of the best places to sea kayak on earth. Spectacular karst limestone islands, deserted beaches, and the open blue horizon of the South China Sea, it’s a lot like Southern Thailand without the crowds. My friends Kris and Kristen were assigned to work in El Nido (lucky them!), and from the day they returned from their site visit we were planning a multi-day traverse of the islands in sea kayaks. The trip came together in February 2006 and aside from having to rescued from an unplanned drift to Malaysia, the trip took off without a hitch.
Building Dave Matthews 12-String Guitar Guitar with Jun Reputana
How can I bring my guitar to the Philippines? This was one of the main worries I had as I was packing for two years of Peace Corps service in January 2004. I couldn’t spare the extra baggage allowance to bring a guitar from home (instead of clothes or other more practical items), so I just hoped I would be able to find a good one that wasn’t too expensive when I arrived in the country. Less than two weeks after I arrived, I was introduced to one of the great guitar makers of the Visayas: Jun Reputana. With little more than a paper drawing of the guitar’s shape and a photo of the design, Jun was able to make an amazing copy of Dave Matthews’ custom 12-string Taylor Jumbo W65. Becoming friends with Jun would be the first of many times that music would make the connection with the incredible people of the Philippines.
Visayan Reggae Road Trip with Enchi: Dumaguete’s Finest Band
Yes, the roots of reggae are in the Caribbean. But if you’re looking for real reggae in Southeast Asia, look no further than the Philippines (in the Visayas). Enchi got its start in Dumaguete in the early days of ‘Reggae Night’ at Sande Fuentes’ Hayahay Treehouse Bar. In less than five years the band had recorded an original album and was touring the Philippines and playing to capacity crowds. I was lucky to join the band on the road (and boats) several times, these are the highlights.
What was your most memorable experience in the Peace Corps? If you haven’t left the country yet, what are you hoping your experience in the Peace Corps will be like?
Please share your experiences or questions in the comments, thanks!
*Note: You’ll probably notice that I didn’t include any work experiences here, but that doesn’t mean that those weren’t highlights as well. I decided that this article would be a lot more interesting if I wrote about the fun stuff that happened outside of the Marine Lab. I’m planning to write an article about working with Dr. Calumpong and her amazing team at the Silliman University sometime soon, but for now here’s the highlights from outside the office!