A Page from the Habal Habal Diaries

Currently writing this as we are several thousands of feet above the Bay of Bengal. When we were lining up at the check in counter earlier, I was asked by my boss if I ever tried to backpack around the Philippines. Well, sort of but it’s more for work than for leisure. We were being paid to do it, which makes it more fun – from training board members of a cooperative in Compostela Valley to doing research in the wet markets of Tacloban, visiting the houses of farmers in Guiuan for interviews and habal-habaling around the countryside.


The most memorable local fieldwork that I had was when Mel and I were assigned in Romblon for a several days to train this group on social entrepreneurship. From Batangas port, we had to take the ferry to Romblon. The trip was comfortable because we had our own beds and I got to go around the ship.


Didn’t get the brief so I packed my long sleeves polo for the training. From our hotel, Mel and I rode at the back of a red pick up truck for about 45 minutes to reach this small barrio near the coast. Turns out that we have to do the training inside the house of the brgy captain with some farmers and vendors. I was too overdressed and I think had difficulty getting the message across. The people were really nice and I even taught them a secret handshake.

What made the trip memorable was when our partner organization, the Department of Agrarian Reform, asked us to wake up at 4am the next day – Saturday – for something special. I remember going out of our hotel room, it was still dark and was quite cold. There were two motorbikes waiting for us downstairs. We weren’t sure where they were taking us but we played along.


As we sped through unlit streets, we could make out the first signs of the morning as rice fields near the foot of the mountain were illuminated by pink and purple light. It looked more spectacular because the fields were bathed in fog. The rays of the sun were crawling their way through the trees in the mountain that gave us an ethereal view of Romblon. It was so worth it to wake up at such an ungodly hour.


After an hour and a half, we finally arrived in a deserted, crescent-shaped cove. We were told that you can have a clear view of the moon setting from there. Didn’t know that there was such a thing. So we watched for the moon to set (and it did gracefully) while we were standing over crystal clear life-filled shores of Romblon. We can even see schools of fish from where we stood.


There weren’t any people except for us so it feels like you’re transported to another place. We walked around the shores for some more time until it was time to get some breakfast. There was a nearby joint where we could eat so we settled there. After that, we had to go back to the hotel because we were set to go back to Manila that afternoon.


The only thing I remember after that was the ship speeding away from Romblon, then the purple orange sky when we were about to dock in Batangas. It really was a fieldwork to remember because of the uniqueness of the experience and the pure beauty of mother nature.


I guess I’m writing about it again now to preserve the memory. It’s always good to look back the on the things that really made you feel alive, the moments that took your breath away.


We were supposed to create a group that chronicles the life of development workers, starting with the contributions from our officemates. We wanted to call it Habal Habal Diaries because it was the common mode of transportation used to reach far flung areas – butt numbing 2 hour rides. We weren’t able to continue it, but if I were to contribute, this would be it.


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