Tourism is Overrated: How “Volunteering” in Bucari is Better

By xtian lozañes

The weekend of June 20th and 21st was, by far, the most interesting weekend I had for this year, and mainly because of the fact that I signed up as a volunteer to teach watercolor and card-making to young kids. The catch? We held it on the famed mountains of Bucari, Leon.

With its iconic pine trees and cool temperature, Bucari is not known as the “Little Baguio” of Iloilo for nothing (Editor: Heck, I’d dare say it’s even better than the REAL Baguio today). I was not going up there for vacation, though; I volunteered to be a part of BeSaya, an event initiated by the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, Saving Innocent Lives Amidst War (SILAW) and the Focolare Movement for Women. And really, who could say no to spending a night in Bucari?

For anyone who has a passing familiarity with Bucari, it has also become quite infamous for testing the mettle of any traveler “unprepared” to take on its challenges. For instance, we still had to go through Leon town to board a separate jeepney (and man, did the town become cleaner and more beautiful than the last time I was here seven years ago). We were able to board one that was almost full, and that meant some of us had to “enjoy” the open view on top of the vehicle while hanging on for our dear lives for almost an hour, and it was torture for me since I seriously wanted to take my camera out to shoot the gorgeous scenery in front of us. But hey, safety first!

Volunteering in Bucari - Project Iloilo
The Parish church of the Municipality of Leon, Iloilo

Volunteering in Bucari - Project Iloilo
Hanging for dear life riding on top of the rooftop of the jeepney

Tabionan Campsite

When we arrived there, I noticed the Tabionan campsite had also changed remarkably—whether it’s for the better or for the worse is up to you, dear reader—from being a small area with less facilities to one that has now expanded to accommodate the sheer amount of people frequently visiting the place. The one good thing about all of these, though, is that the caretakers of the area are now providing tents for visitors to rent, and even the nearby houses can be accommodated by tourists willing to pay the fee. Of course, food can now be bought from the stores that also have opened up there.

Volunteering in Bucari - Project Iloilo
The pine trees of Tabionan campsite

Volunteering in Bucari - Project Iloilo
Tents pitched and a laid back mood afternoon before another heavy rain

Everything would have been fine and dandy—hey, we’re at Bucari!—but since we’re smack-dab in the middle of the rainy season as of this writing, we spent most of the time seeking shelter inside our tents rather than outright enjoying ourselves there. Many of the participants who were supposed to arrive earlier got up late because of the heavy rains, and we had to scrap the bonfire gathering during that evening. Thankfully, that freed us up to help some of the campers patch up their leaking tents, and a good number of us decided to stay at the picnic area after dinner where we talked about… well, life and just about anything until early morning’s dawn.

Regardless, I was still able to wake up early the next day because some guys asked me to join them to the viewing deck (if you’re expecting a hugot moment, I’m sorry to disappoint you that none of the sort ever happened there). Since we had to endure the rains yesterday, the trail—steep as it already is—was dangerously slippery, though we thankfully had the bamboo barriers to grab onto on so we won’t ever have to risk falling to our doom.

Reaching the top, though, was a very satisfying reward in itself, as the entire view of Iloilo unfolded like a map under the faint sunrise. Always the willing guide, I pointed to our fellow non-Iloilo campers where we were in relation to the entire city. We were only able to stay for a few more minutes before our stomachs demanded we already fill them with breakfast. I think that’s the reason we were able to manage our slippery hike down the muddy trail very quickly.

Volunteering in Bucari - Project Iloilo
The view from the top of the viewing deck

Volunteering in Bucari - Project Iloilo
The volunteers and breakfast

The rest of the day passed by in a blur, though that’s not to say it was any less enjoyable. The activity for BeSaya was held in the picnic area of the campsite, and we also encouraged the parents of the kids living in Bucari to let their children join the activity. With the help of a few campers, I was able to proceed teaching the children watercolouring and card-making.

For watercoloring, I essentially gave them free rein to come up with any drawing they liked, and some of the kids were even painting willy-nilly at the huge canvas we brought along for this purpose. Teaching them simple origami, however, proved to be more of a challenge since some of them struggled to follow along with the instructions. It proved to be the most fruitful activity at the end, though, since the children were delighted at seeing their paper handiwork come to life; they may not have realised it, but they were already making good progress on the “task” given to them. Seeing their overjoyed reactions certainly proved to be one of my personal highlights from this year’s BeSaya.

Volunteering in Bucari - Project Iloilo
The kids working on their watercolour masterpieces to made as cards

We ended the day’s activities with lunch under the pine trees as a volunteer from SILAW performed an impromptu magic show for the children. Thankfully, the skies cooperated with us this time as we packed our stuff and readied ourselves for our long trip back to the city. It may sound clichéd at this point, but we were certainly tired, but happy.

Activities like the one I just wrote above reminds me why I always loved doing community development work as a volunteer. I believe the work we do not only change the lives of the people we are helping, but the experiences we are gaining along the way mold us into better persons. We become more mindful of everyone’s culture, more socially aware of the environment we are in, and it makes us even willing to take burdens on our back—literally, as was the case for me. I will always be happy to share what I know to other people, as long as I know these acts of sharing mean I can make a difference in my own little way.

Volunteering in Bucari - Project Iloilo
The volunteers with the kids and their works right after the activity

Photos by Xtian Lozañes and John Ray Parreño

Xtian Lozañes is a multimedia artist and a photographer. His photos can be viewed on his Instagram page.