Back in April, I was given the opportunity to experience Kultura Kamp in Manabayukan, Tarlac, Philippines with the indigenous Aeta community. Kultura Kamp is the only travel tour in the Philippines that takes you to the villages of the indigenous communities to experience their culture firsthand. They help in maintaining the sustainability of these communities within the country. The participants will immerse themselves into the lives of the indigenous tribes by living with foster families in their villages. Their aim is to bridge the cultural gap between the indigenous and the urban Filipinos, and to open them up to mind-altering insights that will affect their lives.
Here is my story.
After two hours on a carabao wagon under the blazing heat of the sun, I saw the village from a distance.
We were greeted by the kids playing in the river and they stopped when they saw us. The kids crowded around us enthusiastically and climbed the small hill to the village with us. There is no electricity and all the homes are made out of bamboo. I was introduced to my foster family and welcomed to their bamboo hut with my foster parents, their five children, two cats, and three kittens.
We went down the the river with the children as they led the way. They immediately jumped in the river and sent water flying through the air. I laughed, went in the water with everyone and sat by the stream. I laid my head on a rock as the water rushed all around me. My ears were right beneath the surface, listening to the sounds of the river and the rocks rolling under me. I can hear the faint laughter and joy of the children underwater. I laughed as they grabbed the strings of green algae on the rocks and used it as crowns and wigs.
Then some of them got a handful of dirt and put it on their faces, pretending to be monsters. I watched them splash around and the water flew through the air reflecting the sunlight like crystals all around them. It was a beautiful moment that sent shivers down my spine, inducing bliss chills. There’s something about these children that made me want to shed tears of happiness whenever I’m around them.
They are the happiest children I know.
They live simply with so little and almost nothing, yet they are happy and find beauty in the simplest things. All they have is their family, friends, their homes and they know within themselves that it’s all they really need.
After we bathed we all went back to our bamboo huts to our families. All my sisters surrounded me in our hut as I took out my journal and asked them to draw in it and one by one, they did. I told them they could create anything they wanted so they drew flowers, trees, huts, and pretty patterns. They smiled and giggled as they showed me their beautiful artwork.
I held my tears back as this was happening because this moment truly filled my heart.
Then we went outside where the rest of the kids from the village were waiting. They wanted to dance so I grabbed a walking stick and started hitting a big metal plate to create music. We all danced to my beat as they circled around the fire screaming and laughing at each other. After that we ate dinner and walked to the middle of the village where the elders did storytelling and taught me about their culture and traditions.
I looked up at the night sky and all my senses filled with awe. I haven’t seen that many stars for quite a while. No electricity. No light pollution. Nothing. The only light that guided us were the stars. I asked my sister Christina which her favorite star was and she pointed at Venus. She named it “Ilaw” which means light in Tagalog.
I told her it was a planet but it could be her star and it’ll be hers to keep. When you look at the stars at night somehow everything just dissolves. Your ego, your sense of self, time, everything. We come from different places, different backgrounds, different families, different lives, but with all of us gazing up at the cosmos that night I felt the strong intrinsic connection that we had within one another, with that moment in time, with the planet, the universe, our existence. We are all connected. These moments are breathing proofs that we are the universe experiencing itself.
I woke up the next morning with their tiny kittens biting and scratching my feet. My sisters were giggling and staring at me and I smiled back at them. We all met up and went for a morning hike up to their banana tree farm. The barefoot kids led the way of course and a 12-year-old Aeta girl paved the way with her machete.
We hiked, climbed, and crawled our way to the very top of the hill where the view was astounding. Then we found a camp made out of banana leaves and branches of trees. Aeta elders live there, and they were happy to greet us with welcome arms in their humble abode. I sat with the kids as they played hand games and the wild air was filled with their songs and laughter. Then we made our way down, and the children climbed a mango tree and I spent my last few hours with my family and playing by the river with the children.
In the afternoon it was time to say goodbye. I hugged my sisters and tears filled my eyes. These people, these kids, glimpsing into their lives, and that weekend changed me in a way.
Through my months of traveling I have been put in plenty of circumstances where I am just happy living solely on basic necessities, but not quite like this. I learned more of what it’s like to be stripped of all comforts and still maintain a big heart. And I was more than happy being there with all of them and easily found it as one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had.
I thought maybe if more people were to experience this and be completely open to the magic that they have to offer… well, they would rethink the way they live and take a second look at their definition of happiness. Maybe they will finally realize that genuine happiness isn’t a goal and you can’t find it through anything that is tangible. It’s a state of mind that keeps you in the present moment wherein you are happy and grateful for everything in your life no matter what you have, where you are, and who you are with.
Real happiness is the intoxicating positive energy and high spirits that the people in these indigenous communities radiate. Even with having very little things they were happy with whatever they have, and that was enough to go about their lives with smiles on their faces. Their happiness fueled my spirit even more and I will keep that with me wherever I wander.
I went back to the city smiling, with my face and with my heart.
Are you looking for a life-changing adventure? Join Kultura Kamp on their next trip!