in between islands Travel

IN BETWEEN ISLANDS: Pausing in Guimaras Island

"You are entering a stress free zone" the sign proclaims. I enter.
Sunrise at Czech Beach House.

It became a game of sardines. As in, how many passengers can you fit into a 12-seater van?

Seamless it was to get from the hotel at Iloilo Business Park to Ortiz Wharf by taxi (PHP 170 or about U$3.20). Easy was buying the PHP 15 (U$ 0.30) fare on the pumpboat to Jordan Wharf, on Guimaras Island. The crossing of Guimaras Strait took 20 minutes.

Walking to the van depot, it was effortless to find the UV Express vans (PHP 80 or U$1.60) and I got on the first one in the queue. There were three passengers who had got there before me, including one who had left his or her bag to ‘save’ a seat, common in the Philippines. So that was five of us, I thought, another 7 more and then off we go.

Another boatload of people arrived, and there were 9 more added. Still we did not leave. Then 4 more people came, one of them a lady with a teenaged daughter. Could we fit? Let’s see, the game continued. The teenaged girl finally was placed in the only available space left, the door side of the driver’s seat. The driver squeezed in and our sardine can drove off to the south coast of the island.

The van persists, weighed down by 21 bodies crammed into its every available space, its shocks creating a creaky rhythm in rusty C major.

I am “playing castaway,” the phrase that the Lonely Planet guide uses to describe those who choose to visit Guimaras Island.

The paved pre-fabricated roads give way to dirt ones as we move toward Igdarapdap, where I am expected at the Czech Beach House. Clouds of dust swirl as the van squeaks its way.

As the van passes a small town square and stops to let a passenger off, I spy a man buying an entire swordfish and then carrying it off by its nose on his motorbike, the fish hanging from the man’s grip. He throttles the engine with his non-fish occupied hand, and in the dust speeds off.

Anything is possible, I think. Absolutely anything.

I don’t know where I am, which is perfect for a castaway island, but I ask a passenger when to get off at the Igdarapdap Elementary School, the landmark that the Czech Beach House’s proprietor, Yvon, had mentioned in her instructions to me on how to find their guest house. The passenger replies, “You can get off when we do.” It turns out they were getting off at the same place.

When I arrive at the drop off point, a woman in red pajamas is standing at some nipa houses (bamboo or wooden houses thatched with dried palm fronds). She sees me dragging my cabin bag and waves me to follow her. She takes me through the maze of the nipa house’s yard where I meet some kids on hammocks who smile at me and call out, “Hello, a visitor.” I say Hello back with a smile and follow the woman in red pajamas. She delivers me to a gate where inside a Czech flag flies. Yay. There’s a sign over the top of the gate.

Sign at Czech Beach House Beware of our Doberman We are tired of hiding dead bodies.

BEWARE OF OUR DOBERMAN. WE ARE TIRED OF HIDING DEAD BODIES.

Oh, yay.

There’s a sign on the wall fronting the gate that loudly proclaims

YOU ARE ENTERING A STRESS-FREE ZONE.

Oh. Yay!

Whose time are you wasting?

Admittedly, I had a moment of impatience while the UV Express van was waiting to fill up before it set off. I actually got off when I saw another van arrive, asking if he would consider a charter. Halfway to the empty vehicle, I remember that no one is really waiting for me to arrive at a specific time.

Schedules of arrivals and departures are a consequence of the industrial model of life that has driven people for centuries. We devise time in chunks, setting comings and goings for efficiency.

Now, on Guimaras, I struggle with this old thinking about time. There is no deadline here except the ones I have set for myself, the discipline of producing at least 4000 words a day. I can write them in the early morning before the sun rises, or I can create them at night. In fact, I can wake up in the middle of the night if I wanted to, to write.

It seems I have been given permission to pause.

When I was bound to a time structure, I would set the alarm two hours before the time I had to wake up in order to get ready for the workday. And that felt like a sacrifice, not a choice.

Sometimes, I found myself resenting it. So very little time was left for creative pauses, for thinking that held personal meaning and purpose. I was a brain for hire, and I had to think for someone else. Losing sleep to make time and being able to find space in my mind to think for my own purposes was something I had to engineer out of a finite number of hours.

When I took time for myself to pursue the call of creating stories out of thoughts, I felt a twinge of guilt that I was procrastinating on the most essential command of the mortal gods of time to use time as the world had taught me to: hired brain, meet your to-do list. It made me mad, sometimes.

Here at Czech Beach House, the framed poster on the poolside toilet wall sagely advises on the better use of time for your soul.

And, resentment and its accompanying notes of anger become unnecessary. I turn to David Whyte’s meditation on time in his book Consolations; The solace, nourishment and underlying meaning. Whyte suggests that Procrastination “looks from the outside like our delay; our lack of commitment; even our laziness may have more to do with a slow, necessary ripening through time and the central struggle with the realities of any endeavor to which we have set our minds.”

Is waste the right word?

You have a choice in the way you use time, no matter how counter-intuitive it might seem. Perhaps the old fidelity to some external time structure has schooled us in ways we find hard to disregard, once time becomes ours.

There are only four people in my life who understand why I have chosen to change the way I use time. Four. My closest friends do not seem to. As I share insights from travel, their replies become increasingly indifferent, and so I stop updating them.

The four people who understand this journey send me short celebratory messages, and their delighted cheering of life in between islands crosses intercontinental barriers to warm my heart.

The extra half hour waiting for the UV Express van to fill up, that time it takes to go the slow way to another island, the delays, the waiting, the waiting. These become inconsequential when we consider how short a time we actually spend finding delight in the world. Earth and stars, sky and moving planets will follow time in cycles. Human life is linear; there is a beginning and an end. What will you do with that understanding?

“When I left my job,” Yvon tells me, “we tried farming. First year, it didn’t work. Second year, there was a drought. Third year, insects.” She pauses, then adds, “We had this house, four rooms and we only used one. So we asked ourselves, What do we do?” And Yvon and Libor decided to register for Airbnb, then got listed on Booking.com. Later, Agoda.

And now, she says, “I don’t regret it one bit. I used to train people. Now I cook and wait tables.” She chuckles. She’s having the time of her life.

Yvon lives in front of the sea. At night, the only sound here on their property is the rhythmic cadence of the waves. There are comings and goings of guests, diverse individuals who bring to the house stories of their lives from all over the world. And once the guests are here, the passing of hours slow down. Siesta in the afternoon, time to read, a family-style dinner where everyone congregates in the dining area and eat their choice of meal, exchanging stories.

While I’m here I meet a couple from Hungary Romania who live in the wine region of Germany. A diplomat and her extended family. A career US Navy officer.

And the guesthouse has hosted a son of a movie star, the Czech ambassador, a diplomat from Brazil. Their guest list is like a parade of global stories, people spending time by choice, enjoying Yvon’s home cooking and the tranquility of Czech Beach House facing the sea.

Might there be another way of seeing?

Castaway life on Guimaras is a pause, a sort of procrastination, if you want to name it that. Whyte qualifies this pause as “our relationship to time itself” and the “struggles of our hearts and imagination.”

Time is re-imagined, it seems, when you begin to surrender to your personal plea to unlearn the efficiency of an industrial model. No longer a cog in the efficiency wheel, you are unbound. An untethered soul, you begin to explore the freedom of decision. When to do what, what to do next. What experience creates a sense of place for you?

What might those experiences create in you, of your sense of place?

David Whyte describes the pause “a beautiful thing, a parallel with patience, a companionable friend, a revealer of the true pattern, already caught within us; acknowledging, for instance, as a writer, that before a book can be written, most of the ways it cannot be written must be tried first, in our minds….”

You travel and your quest is an amorphous thing, like the time that you now own. At some point, you might begin to listen to yourself again as you find a new story of life, as life composes its story in the motion of days. At the very least, you might learn to hear the ever-louder whispers of your self, unleashed.

Light Chaser Life recommends:

Czech Beach House
Behind Igdarapdap Elementary School
Guimaras Island
PHP 1400+ per night
4 rooms with space for 2 / room (and once, 12 Filipinos stayed in one room)

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