Roxas & Langogan, Palawan / by Bernice Beltran

We headed to the tribe settlement in Langogan with all our backpacks, Southeast Asian style: overloading Rudra’s motorbike. Rudra drove and wore his backpack on his front to make space for Lara and I. Lara sat in the middle carrying the groceries, while I occupied the remaining space. To keep us from falling, we squeezed our butts as if to grip the seat. It wasn’t all that bad. We sped past acres of farmland, long stretches of rivers and tall mountains.

On our fist visit, Lara suffered from a fever so she slept the entire day. I was exhausted, too. Though we didn’t do much besides introducing ourselves, we regained our energy after a long rest to interview Baselisa and her husband – the two characters of the story that we worked on. Before we left, Baselisa asked if I could photograph her for IDs. 

LANGOGAN, PALAWAN - Lara rested inside the Batak chieftain's hut.

LANGOGAN, PALAWAN - Lara rested inside the Batak chieftain's hut.

We promised that we would return. The chieftain promised to install a toilet seat for us and, as promised, we came back a week later to find a squat toilet installed. I thought he was joking.

A boy from the Batak tribe getting his ID picture taken.

There’s no pipeline or septic tank within the settlement. The chieftain just dug a hole and fitted a squat toilet through it. He built walls made of sacks of rice tied to four bamboo stalks around it, about four feet apart and three feet tall. It’s not enough to give you privacy but it served its purpose.

As if that wasn’t enough to make us feel at home, he offered us to sleep in his hut while he and his family crammed in his daughter’s hut. Truly, Filipino hospitality can be experienced even deep in the jungle. I felt bad that the three of us were made to sleep in the chieftain’s hut that could accommodate four more people. I slept on comfortable beds all my life – something that Bataks could probably never afford to buy. But I was also amazed at how generous they were even when they had nothing to offer… besides their own hut, the toilet bowl and some coffee.

I left for El Nido the week after, while Lara stayed in Roxas to visit the tribe again. She updated me about the progress she made throughout her visits while I looked for more people to help through Facebook. We're hoping that we would be able to save enough money to come back on January and stay longer with them.