From the The Circle Hostel Baler Intern, Alexa Dabao
It was a little more than 3 months ago when I said my goodbyes to what has become my home away from home. My internship at the Circle Hostel Baler was a short one, only lasting 20 days, but who knew how much those 20 days could bring? It was 20 days full of so many firsts for me: First time traveling alone in a place I’ve only seen in pictures, first time taking an internship/any sort of employment opportunity, first time surfing, first time cooking so many local dishes from scratch (even slaughtering a chicken), visiting different government centers, meeting so many different types of people, and the list goes on. But apart from the many firsts, I couldn’t help but see the trip as my last chance to be free, to learn as much lessons about myself and life in general before starting my four years in law school.
As an intern in the Circle, my work basically revolved around 2 things: front desk work and guest relations. My internship lasted for 20 days. I arrived in Baler on the 24th of June and left on the 13th of July.
- Front Desk Work
- Shifts at the Front Desk
My daily shifts at the front desk ran from 1-6pm (in between the shifts of the Circle’s two other staff members, Ate Viah and Onyo, which later on became three when Cesar joined the Circle family). During my shift, I would check-in/check-out guests, conduct sale transactions when the guests wanted to buy drinks/merchandise over the counter and log-in/record information on daily report logbooks (e.g. sales and expenses, inventory, attendance).
- Clean up and Other Assignments
I would usually clean up the common areas before/after my shift. And there would occasionally be days when the staff and I would have a team objective for the day like putting up all the mosquito nets on the bed posts after they’ve been laundered, returning all the mattresses in the rooms after the insecticides have been sprayed all around and changing bed sheets, planting basil in coconut husks and then painting the coconut “pots” together or painting “Trash” and “No Smoking Signs” and hanging them around the hostel. Since I was also tasked to teach the staff members English, we would dedicate certain days to just memorizing useful English phrases and during our clean up days we would practice them in our conversations just to entertain ourselves. Those days of working together with the staff as a team, I would say, were our happiest and most productive days!
- Assisting the Operations Manager
Another part of my job would be to assist the Circle’s Operations Manager (Rafa) with whatever he needs help with while he’s on sight at the hostel. And when he’s away, I would be there to accomplish certain tasks which he wouldn’t be able to attend to.
During his first visit, I was able to help him find a new staff member for the hostel by making my own recommendations/suggestions as to who I think would best fit the job and scheduling the job interviews by individually contacting the applicants and providing them with the necessary details for their interviews. Also, I accompanied him to the nearest GK village (at San Isidro) when we found out that one of the applicants actually lived there. I took pictures and explored the local community while he talked to the wife of the Village President outside her house and we were able to buy colorful hand-made mats from her neighbor for the rooms for the Circle.
While the manager was away, I was tasked by him to source out construction materials to build a few directional signs with the Circle’s logo on it for the guests to have an easier time finding their way to the hostel. Since I had no idea about anything construction-related, Kuya Junior (the Circle’s regular tricycle driver who used to work in construction) was able to recommend suppliers and even brought me around to canvass prices. It also gave me a chance to see parts of the town and meet new people that I would normally never be able to encounter on a regular trip.
Going with Rafa to the city’s different government offices to fix certain papers for the hostel was also a completely new experience. Until then, I didn’t know how much maintenance work it took to be able to support a sustainable business like the Circle. And later on, I was able to visit places like the AURELCO office, the local Fire Department and the Tourism office on my own to provide the Rafa with updates and to schedule inspections for the hostel while he was away.
- Touring with the Guests
The guest relations part of my job allowed me to go beyond my usual front desk routine and made every single day unpredictable and just a completely new experience! By touring around the town with the guests, meeting their friends (while sharing ideas and learning about their stories), I started to see what the Circle’s tagline of “There are No Strangers” was all about. Since my shift at the front desk would start in the afternoon, I would spend my mornings out exploring Aurora with the Circle guests, sometimes with a planned out tour (a trip to the Mother Falls of San Luis, stopping over at the 600-year old Balete Tree, and then heading straight to Diguisit Beach/Aniao Islets) or an early morning sunrise/surf session at Sabang Beach/Lipit, Dipaculao with the guests and the local surfers/instructors.
- Food & Guest Entertainment
Since my shift at the front desk ends at 6pm, I would usually head out with the guests to go on a food hunt for dinner. Sometimes we would end up with Yolly’s bulalo, Yellow Fin’s beef tapa or Gerry Shan’s buffet for dinner and other times we’d team up with the staff/local surfers to cook a boodle fight feast after a quick trip to the market. Playing board/card games and showing magic tricks with everyone in the common area is a regular post-dinner occurrence and sometimes the crazy late night conversations turn into painting/sketching sessions all before falling asleep to Cautibar’s live acoustic band from across the street.
- Bridging the Gap between Staff/Locals and Guests
After spending a good amount of time with both the on-sight staff members, Baler locals and the guests, I’ve seen how much more meaningful the Circle experience becomes for the hostel guests when they not just meet the locals and the staff members but start to become friends and learn more personal things about them. When I tell them that Ate Viah (one of the staff members) makes the peanut butter they have for breakfast every morning or when we hold a spontaneous Circle family feast for lunch, having the staff members bring their family to the hostel, guests become more attached to the locals and more curious about Baler’s culture.
The staff members have told me that before I joined their team, they haven’t been able to get to know the international guests as much as they would like because they would always get so intimidated by the language barrier between them (even if I could clearly see that they were far better English speakers than they give themselves credit for). But after seeing that all they needed was a little more confidence and shared experiences with the guests (e.g. lumpia-wrapping lessons, early morning surf trips, endless rounds of sungka and chess matches), communicating became something that both the guests and the staff looked forward to every day in the hostel. It was only a matter of time before it started to feel like one big Circle family.
- Finding a New Family
On my first day, one of the first things I told Ate Viah and Onyo (the on-site staff who turned out to be local master chefs in the kitchen) over lunch was that I wanted to learn how to cook (since being a college dormer for 4 years only made me dependent on canned goods and eggs.) Ever since that day, they’ve brought me to numerous trips to the market and I’ve learned so much local recipes (e.g. Ginisang Monggo, Chicken Tinola, Lumpiang Shanghai, Mussels in Oyster Sauce, Ginataang Kalabasa with Sitaw, Sweet & Sour Maya-maya, Ginataang Pagi), with my favorite dish involving a live chicken. Being a novice at almost everything, it was very natural for me to develop a strong sense of trust with my co-staff members and it really encouraged me to be more adventurous, especially when it came to dealing with that live chicken!
It was also because of the staff that I had my first surfing experience! Besides riding bikes and skateboards with Onyo, he introduced me to the surf instructors at El Dawn who later became my early morning surfing buddies. Their man-in-charge, Kuya Jason, got me to stand on the surf board for the first time and the rest was history.
I was even able to spend a whole day with Ate Viah’s family during her day off. Apart from home-cooked lunch and a tour of their farm (with a countless variety of farm animals/pets), I got to ride their bike through an endless expanse of rice fields (which reminded me of the sugarcane fields in my Bacolod hometown.) We even had a day trip to their nearest hanging bridge, swam in the river and had a sinigang picnic with their family friends.
And just when I thought that my Circle Hostel family couldn’t get any better, we added a new member, Cesar, on my last week of internship! With him being a new father, I’ve learned so much from his hardworking nature and our heart-to-heart conversations over our cooking, gardening and painting sessions.
After 3 weeks of waking up to these happy, genuine and lovable faces and learning so much lessons about family, culture, love and life in general, I knew that I’ve found a one-of-a-kind family who will always welcome me with open arms when I come back for more life-long memories. I’ve definitely found a second home in the Circle.
- The Stories (Locals and Guests)
One of the main things that made my trip a little bit more introspective was the variety of people I was able to meet from different walks of life both inside and outside the hostel. Since the guests were mostly backpacking, artistic and adventure-seeking individuals/groups of people, they all had so much interesting stories to tell. From the crazy French lovesick video jockey who has been living in a surf van for most of his life to a Visayan master diving mermaid instructor who has dedicated her life to advocating environmentalism around the world, you meet them all in the hostel! The Circle guests became more than just my surfing gurus and my partners in crime, they’ve allowed me to see the countless possibilities that living a life full of purpose, curiosity and authenticity could bring to not only my self but also to the people around me.
Getting to know each one of the guests was definitely a cultural experience. After my exposure to their more liberal and modern way of perceiving and doing things and finding myself not only sharing things about my own personal life but also about Filipino culture in general, our history and our socio-political problems, I was reminded of how our country has a long way to go in terms of overall economic, social, environmental and political growth. And in another sense, how much our country’s natural resources could be cultivated and made use of. Talking about our country’s increasing potential with the guests, it solidified my direction, gave me a deeper sense of purpose, and opened my eyes to how much difference each person could make when the bigger picture is visualized.
These conversations with the guests became more concrete after immersing myself with the locals. After making new friends among the vendors in the local market, visiting the nearby GK Village at San Isidro and going on a house visit to one of our staff member’s homes at San Luis, I was really able to see the irresistible charm and fun-loving nature that Aurora’s locals have been known for. The local surf instructors and their families were the warmest, happiest and humblest people I’ve ever met. From spontaneous surf trips to Lipit to celebrating family birthdays with me and the guests. They just made each day such a fun and adventurous day for all of us. Being the best tour guides, cooks and story-tellers who treat every new face like family, the Circle guests really appreciated their hospitality and good nature. They had the most contagious excitement when it came to finding out the next day’s wave forecast and it made me rediscover the overwhelming happiness that life’s little things could give.
- New Experience = New Self
I grew up sharing a love for art and literature with my mom. As a kid, we used to bond over bedtime stories every night and random art sessions every weekend. But ever since I’ve found sports and moved to Manila for college 4 years ago, I haven’t really made time to explore my artistic side. Maybe it’s because the transition from the laid-back Bacolod life to the fast-paced city of Manila made me feel like I just didn’t have enough time. Much to my surprise, it was during my 3 weeks on the beach, when I found myself sketching with the the hostel guests or painting all over the common areas, even reading books that I’ve put off reading for the longest time! The guests who happened to be avid readers even left me with a list of highly recommended books about compassion and meditation.
Apart from a more inspired disposition, I felt healthier and happier physically. Surfing really showed me how much a new experience could develop your whole person in more ways than one — physical condition, state of mind, way of life. It taught me to be patient. Learning the sport was and still is a difficult and continuous process (the first few times being my most physically and mentally draining time in the water). It taught me to recognize that the ocean is a playground that we share with everyone and so it is important to give consideration to everyone surfing/swimming/paddle-boarding around you. It taught me to trust in the water, to remain calm and go with the flow.
It was the most intimidating waves when the storms came that wiped me out the most. But the surfers showed me that when the wave hits, just ride along with it until the set passes by. And most importantly, surfing showed me that in life, you’re hardly ever in control of what’s going to happen and so it’s okay to be afraid. Like the ocean, every wave of experience is unpredictable and never the same and instead of resisting change, the best way to cope with it is to welcome it, embrace it, and trust that everything will be okay because at the end of the day, we come out as a better and stronger person.
Life After My Internship
Coming home from the Circle, I felt like a completely new person. Instead of being scared of my next four years as a law student, I started to feel excitement, seeing them as opportunities for me to gain a fuller sense of social purpose and discover new ways for self-improvement. I hear people say that real life begins at the end of your comfort zone. And I could say that my Baler experience really made me see how true this statement was. Those moments that make us feel both fear and excitement, those are the moments which bring out parts of ourselves that we never thought existed, those are the moments we live for, the moments which define us, the people around us and and the world we live in. The Circle showed me what living life to my fullest potential is all about and for that, I’m forever grateful.
Since I consider a place like Baler a pretty hidden/secluded paradise, I don’t think finding land or a place to live would be a problem for the most part. Meeting a number of people there who have been staying at hostels/hotels while their new houses in town were under construction, I recall them saying that they were able to find a lot of options on location by just going around town and asking the locals.
But I guess the first thing I’d ask someone who’s thinking about living permanently in the beach is “How do you manage your occupation and recreation lifestyles?” Is he the type of person who needs a sort of work-life balance (e.g. cycles of 1-week vacation time and 1-week working time in the city) or is he the type of person who doesn’t need to constantly shift from city to beach and is happy with finding a comfortable and laid-back routine in a small town? If he’s the work-life balance kind of guy, then I suggest that staying in simple hostels like the Circle in regular periods would be your best bet. It’s definitely not as expensive as building a house and it’ll give you just enough down-time before going back to face work responsibilities. But if ever he does want his own private space to visit regularly and budget is not so much of a problem, I’d say building a beach house is definitely worth the long-term investment, whether it’s a place to go on constant weekly trips to or really converting it into a permanent home. As a freshman law student, I’ve found that regular trips from the city to the beach increase my work productivity since it clears my mind and gives me time to self-reflect and internally process different aspects of my life. After those restorative trips, I feel happier, more refreshed and eager to accomplish work-related tasks and it allows me to appreciate vacation/relaxing time when I’m finally away from the city.
One more suggestion to those who would like to build their own homes and live life on the beach permanently. Making a social impact in the big city will be quite more difficult since your home is now away from all the developed economic centers but by settling down in such a small town, you’ll find opportunity to make an even greater social impact by creating establishments (like businesses and social organizations) to make the humble town and the people in it more sustainable. Beach towns like Baler are so pure and beautiful and by taking advantage of tourism opportunities, their history, culture, people and location could finally be given the sustainability they deserve. Contributing to the local industries, increasing the competition, and developing the local community in general (by hiring local employees, training them, increasing their exposure and recognizing and harnessing their skill sets), these actions will not only give the locals a better sense of purpose and worth individually but will broaden their horizons to how much their locality could potentially contribute to the bigger picture of the Philippines as a developing economy rich in resources, culture, and biodiversity.