Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Melinda by the Sea

Remember that old Jose Mari Chan song, “Stop and talk awhile”? It has somehow become our official theme song for this trip. We’d sing it to entertain ourselves during long ferry rides, while walking in some busy street, or even during quiet nights by the beach.

What Ron and I love best about traveling, besides discovering new places, is meeting all sorts of people from different places and cultural backgrounds. Most of the time, these encounters could suddenly make even a somewhat lackluster place exude remarkable charm. In our case, these encounters gave our otherwise uneventful trip to Camiguin some form of great fascination.

We stayed in a modest resort called Jasmine by the Sea, which we think should be most apltly renamed as “Melinda by the Sea,” after the name of its new owner, Melinda—the resort’s best asset as far as we’re concerned.

Melinda, a former pre-school teacher in Camiguin, took over the ownership and management of the resort in reverence to her Swiss husband’s last request before he succumbed to cancer about six or eight years ago. She lives there now with their daughter and a few relatives who also help her mind the business. She has intended to keep her resort as small as possible to make sure she could personally attend to all her guests and make them feel more like vacationing friends than paying tourists.

By the time I’d go out in the morning, I’d see Melinda already chatting with some early birds who were having their breakfast in the resort’s small restaurant. Some of them are neighbors who frequent the place for the sumptuous meals served by the resort’s humble kitchen. Their pork fillet with mashed potato is really good, comes in big serving, and very affordable.

Melinda usually just sits by the bar the whole day, gladly welcoming anyone who’d love to have a chat. One minute, we’d hear her bantering in Visayan with her staff. The next minute, she’d be explaining tours in English to a guest, and suddenly converse in straight German to another. When she can’t find her words, you’d see her gesturing as she makes up funny sounds and end almost every sentence with a laugh.

In what I perceive to be a sleepy little province, Melinda brings on a high-spirited charm. Ron and I could sit for hours just listening to her stories about her late husband, her new love, how she struggled to keep the resort, what she thinks about the local tourism in the area, and how she loves talking to her guests. She’s so full of life and her life is full of interesting adventures. We could even sit for hours listening to her retell her tales to other guests.

Paul, a Canadian guy who’s also a guest in the resort, was just as fascinated with Melinda as we were. He was also obviously as enchanted by laid-back Camiguin and its people. He has easily befriended some locals and foreigners who have come to live in the province, and would tell us stories he’d hear from them after a day of traveling around the island in his rented motor bike.

There was one morning he came back with a flat tire. He was scared that the rental shop would charge him big bucks for it, until again, Melinda came to the rescue. She asked one of her staff to take the motorcycle to a vulcanizing shop, and asked Paul to give the guy P50 to pay for the labor. Paul couldn’t believe his luck as he sits and enjoy his breakfast while some guy takes charge of his problem, and found it also unbelievable when the guy came back with a fixed tire and P20 change for his money. Honesty is very valuable especially for tourists who are mostly traumatized by various forms of scams. I’m so glad that Paul was able to leave Camiguin without such traumatic tales.

During our last day, Melinda personally drove us to the terminal in her jeep that holds as much character as she does. It’s a well-polished stretched owner jeepney that has velvet upholstery with animal prints. It carried as much spunk as its owner and we wouldn’t have expected it to be less so. We were so proud to be driving along with Melinda in her jeepney, and felt even prouder as we see Melinda driving like some kind of a famous celebrity in the streets of Mambajao waving at her many acquaintances along the way.

At the terminal, we hugged and said our farewells. Melinda asked me to come back and bring my husband along. Paul couldn’t believe he was finally leaving and was very reluctant to do so. We have not seen as much of Camiguin as he had nor have we met as many people as he did, but I could somehow relate to his sentiments. Lacking in the usual beach attractions Ron and I usually look for in the places we visit, Camiguin doesn’t have much to get a hold of our hearts. But Melinda, her humble resort, and her island’s laidback charm are enough to make us pay another visit.

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