By Cecile Baltasar
While in Catanduanes working on a travel piece, I learned just how unpredictable a freelance writer’s projects can go.
Years before the digital age took hold, Virac’s tourism office invited four writers, including myself, to feature the town’s emerging surfing culture. Since we arrived the afternoon before we were scheduled to visit the surf resorts, our host said we had time to go around the town.
“Pwedeng favor (May I ask for a favor)?” our Manila-bred host asked us, a crew of different nationalities all in our early 20s. “I’m helping the tourism board make a travel brochure and we need pictures of tourists going around town. Would you mind if we took a few photos of you?” We were billeted at the hotel our host’s family owned. What else could we do but say yes?
For the next hour or so, I, along with my Australian, American, and Indian comrades posed for photos. The photographer took pictures of us laughing at air, enjoying street food, playing chess with the old regulars at the plaza, and buying bags made of frog skin (with eyes, legs, and bulging throat intact). The locals probably thought we were shooting an ad for the United Colors of Benetton.
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For the impromptu shoot, the tourism office paid us with beer and pulutan (snacks) that night.
We spent most of the next day at Virac’s magnificent surfing havens, talking to locals, surfers, and local surfers. Around noon, while making our way to a surfing resort, we passed a village where a wedding reception was taking place by the road. None of us knew the bride or groom.
Our host parked our jeep by a ravine and asked us, “Are you hungry?” As we got off the jeep, plates and utensils were procured and shoved into our hands. We were made to sit at the “presidential table” and a couple of us were asked to give a toast to the happy couple “kasi writers kayo” (because you’re writers).
Seeing us off to our rooms that night, our host reminded us about the street dance competition happening the next day. “By the way, I signed you all up to be part of our judging panel,” he said almost as an afterthought. All I knew about dancing was that I don’t do it, but I said, “Yes, okay!” as enthusiastically as the others.
In the morning, equipped with pencils and scoring sheets, our overwhelmed group sat at a table across the plaza on a stage festooned with banderitas (buntings) made from recycled Sprite bottles. The highlight of the competition was when one of the dancers, an energetic gay man, took off his sky-blue bra as he danced past our table and flung it at my handsome, bemused, and straight Australian seatmate.
If you think a writing assignment involves just writing, think again. Versatility is key. In the midst of posing for a brochure, toasting a newly wedded couple, and judging a street dance competition, I managed to interview people and write a rough draft of my travel article. Such is the life of a freelance writer in the Philippines. (There are many less-fun aspects, too, but those are for another day’s sharing session.)
If you ever find yourself at the Virac tourism office, let me know if they still carry their tourist brochures from 20 years ago, okay? I never got my copy.
Cecile Baltasar began her freelance writing career when print still reigned and Friendster was just about to launch. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.