It was an early morning walk along the small and somehow confusing pathways of the local community in Bauko, Mountain Province when I marveled upon the silhouette of three men carrying their gimata1 atop a hill. The sun was slowly rising that moment, casting a dark shadow outlining the masculine form of these men against the indigo sky.

I stood there, out on the lush green grass covered with dew, burying my arms on my sweater to fight the cold wind’s breath, contemplating on the new things my eyes have witnessed at daylight. I was in another seemingly different place. An unfamiliar place unlike the ones I have come to know – chilly and up in the high heavens of the country.

Five long minutes of adoring the quaint atmosphere around me, my head rotating and turning on every direction, identifying man-made rice terraces from the distance as the large streak of sunlight beamed on its vista. It took me that long to realize that I left my camera in our host’s home. The landscape, the critters scattered all around, the hills and the rocks, I was blown away by the splendor of such creation.

Search for Realness

Local men wearing Bahag along the sidewalk of Bontoc, Mountain Province.

Local men wearing Bahag along the sidewalk of Bontoc, Mountain Province.

There are a number of significant events during my frequent frolics around the country that made me appreciate the feeling of connecting to a certain group of people – most especially to the locals. I find it rewarding to be able to experience their local culture – from the food they eat, to the places they go every single day, to the activities that they do for a living.

Honestly, it is beyond fascinating to see people go about their daily lives right before your eyes. It evokes this urge in you to question them “Why this? Why that?” It is because of cultural differences that make me curious. Intrigued, even. Thus, the quest to travel more, to learn more, and to do more.

The unique experiences that I had with very hospitable hosts reminded me of the reasons why I wanted to visit a particular province in the first place, to get that sense of who they are, what they do, where they go, what they see, or how they live.

Filling the Void

Negros Occidental: A man spinning his coir (coconut husk fiber) to make a rope.

Negros Occidental: A man spinning his coir (coconut husk fiber) to make a rope.

Due to my hunger for one-of-a-kind exposures, I have bookmarked a website several months ago that connects travelers and locals through home dining opportunities and even travel experiences. Generally, they offer you an opportunity to taste authentic cooking with a local family, uncover off beaten tracks with local individuals or groups, and be able to learn new skills taught by the people themselves.

Withlocals has now been launched, offering new experiences in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. It is managed by a passionate group who aims to bridge people and cultures through food and new experiences.

New Perspective

Local preparation of Philippines' coconut rice cake, Bibingka.

Local preparation of Philippines’ coconut rice cake, Bibingka.

Now, because of the overwhelming response of travelers and locals participating in the exchange of experiences, Withlocals will be launching in the Philippines. They will be providing the same opportunities to the people which locals could earn and have a sustainable income by doing the things that they are already doing.

There are huge benefits of becoming one of their hosts including guaranteed payments, hassle-free promotions, direct connection with visitors, and best of all, no registration fees. It is as simple as going to the Withlocals website, signing up, adding your experiences, and you are ready to receive guests.

Local Cultural Immersion

The concept of Withlocals is very straightforward. Hosts register and give details about their proposed tour, activity, or home dining experience they are willing to offer, they set the price, and provide available dates. Travelers on the other hand, register to the site and use their powerful platform to search for available activities in a particular country (example: tasting the original LaPaz Batchoy at Iloilo City, Philippines), communicate with the host for concerns, book the experience, and meet up with the host when the time comes.

Nearly a century-old native of Batad who just finished spitting out her "moma" (betel nut) on the old can beside her.

Nearly a century-old native of Batad who just finished spitting out her “moma” (betel nut) on the old can in front of her.

A system that I personally see a great deal of potential in terms of promoting and preserving local culture, as well as teaching and educating people or travelers about the unique local experiences every province has to offer. This is where people of all walks of like will discover the diversity of Filipino culture and Filipinos themselves. On a consumer standpoint, I believe it is a win-win situation once the opportunity has been realized because the host gets his share and the traveler gets that once in a lifetime experience too.

So, if you’re tired of commercialized tour packages and expensive deals, I suggest you go for Withlocals. It’s high time that traveling will no longer be connoted with luxury beach resorts and overpriced restaurants, but rather to the deeper aspects of cultural immersion and authentic cuisine prepared by locals, done by locals, and offered by locals.

What an easier way to experience something “local.”

withlocals


1 Gimata is consisted of two baskets, each found at the end of a pole about five feet long. The pole rests on the shoulder when carried.