Unbeknownst to me, there were actually two river cruises servicing the Loboc river – upstream and downstream. The upstream river cruise is run by the government, featuring local life in Bohol plus a folk dance performance. The downstream river cruise, on the other hand, is privately-owned, with high emphasis on nature tripping.
Kuya Tata arranged our lunch on the downstream river cruise while we visited the Tarsier Sanctuary. We knew we were quite late for the cruise, but luckily they held the seats for us.
When we arrived, the other guests were already eating. We were seated in front of the boat, which was really good, since we had an unobstructed view. We checked the buffet table soon after being seated, and there was a great assortment of dishes. However, the food wasn’t plenty and the crew didn’t replenish the dishes.
Soon, the cruise began. The singer started to serenade the crowd with his guitar, bringing Filipino music to life, which was followed by English and (presumably) Chinese songs. A cool breeze pressed on my skin as our vessel moved forward. It was a perfect moment to relax as we saw the famous Loboc river bordered by nipa plants and the clear blue sky acting as a back drop to this wonderful scenery.
Several minutes into the cruise, we reached a stop. Passengers were offered to get down from the boat to see people from the Ati tribe, the native people of Aklan. My family chose not to go, but I was interested. Somehow, I regretted going down.
I could count the moments when travel has broken my heart – the most recent of which was in Puerto Princesa. Here were children clad in traditional attire of the Ati, holding reptiles to amuse the tourists. Their faces would pierce your heart as you see sadness in their eyes. It was obvious that they didn’t want what they were doing. There was a young man who was blowing fire, some others were jumping to the river from a tall coconut tree.
I almost cried. These were the things that they did for foreign tourists, just for a few pesos. Heritage is one thing, but this wasn’t being proud of your heritage. This was using kids to lure foreigners to give some tips. It was sad, but it was real.
I remember a paper in my Fine Arts class back in college, when we had to submit our reactions regarding the dream weavers in Lake Sebu in Mindanao as they open up their village to tourism. On one hand, it’s great to find more about their culture. Yet, sadly, the more that they give access to outsiders, the more foreign they become to their own heritage. Such was the case in the Ati tribe present in Loboc. The more heartbreaking thing is that children were used here, knowing how our hearts couldn’t turn these kids away.
I hated that feeling.
I went back to the boat as fast as I could. I couldn’t bear looking at those kids. Sure, those kids jumping off the coconut tree might have been enjoying themselves, but the younger ones surely weren’t.
I wanted to get out of there immediately. Luckily, a few minutes after, we were heading back to the dock.
I know that seeing real lives is part of travel. I am also not oblivious to the fact that my country is plagued with poverty. Yet, these kids deserve the chance to be kids. They deserve a better childhood. Just my perspective.