Before the ascent to Mount Pulag's Park Superintendent Emerita Albas, aka Pasu, always gives trekkers an audio-visual presentation on proper mountain and wildlife decorum, the dos and don'ts of trekking in a national park and an introduction of the features and demographics of Mount Pulag. She gives stern warning not to give anything (money, food, things) to the ethnic residents lest they are reduced to being treated as beggars and would eventually become beggars. She emphasizes the need to respect the environment and culture and preserve its beauty. Except for souvenir t-shirts, they do not attempt to sell us anything or give instructions on what to buy and from whom.
I learned a lot about Mount Pulag, the provinces around it and the inhabitants of the place, their way of life, beliefs, taboos and many others. That briefing gave us the confidence to move on and enjoy the mountains and sunrise. All 200 climbers at that time came home knowledgeable about Mount Pulag and proud of our heritage.
On the other hand…
When we toured the Ilocos last month under Engrande Tours, our tour guide had scant knowledge about the places we visited and the places along the way from Manila to Pagudpod and back. She said that she was asked to accompany us the day before and that she only operates in Fort Santiago, Manila. Well, she regaled us with her life as a gay while in the bus. In Laoag, Ilocos Norte, we were simply told to wake up early for the trip to Pagudpod the next day. We were not advised on what to see, where to eat (outside the hotel). Why is it that where they bought us to shop, the prices are always much higher than other places?
In our wandering about the Ifugao Province last weekend, again with Engrande, our seemingly uninformed tour guide lazily told us, by way of briefing: that we are visiting Banaue rice terraces, the 8th wonder of the world; that we must buy a lot (and, giggling, added so that they will earn more commissions); that we must tip the locals when we pose with them for pictures; that we must not haggle because the locals think badly of Filipino tourists who haggle to death, they love foreigners who readily pay their stated price; and that we must go only to designated places for dining and shopping (why kaya?) and wear our IDs all the time. I noticed from the pictures that the tour guides did not wear their IDs.
They brought us to Bangaan Village in Mayoyao. Some in our group of about 33 gave junk food to the children; one gave money. At first we were excited about visiting a local village with authentic ethnic residents. We walked down and along layered rice fields with cameras clicking every step of the way. Then my first disappointment came when I asked an old man to pose with me for a souvenir picture and he said, "May bayad." Of course, you have to also pay Php100-150 for about 5 minutes of use of their native dress for picture-taking purposes.
I truly appreciate Pasu and her group for their farsighted view of tourism in Mount Pulag and their deep concern and respect for the ethnic residents and the whole place. The Engrande tour guides are looking only at the here and now. They think they are being "charitable" because "nakakaawa naman sila" when, in fact, she is actually destroying their self-esteem and cultivating a culture of entitlement and begging.
I learned nothing about the places and the people we visited with Engrande. I only remember things that I saw and were captured by my camera. Our Department of Tourism has a lot of job to do reorienting the values of these tour guides and educating them about our rich history, the features and demographics of different parts of our beautiful country and the significance of our storied landmarks. Imagine, instead of telling us why the Banaue rice terraces is considered an international historic civil engineering landmark by both the Philippine Institute and American Society of Civil Engineers, it was introduced to us as "this is where Dayanara Torres stood to look at the rice terraces." Ngek!
On the way home, Espie Diega announced, "to your right is Mount Pulag." I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing the mountain from a different perspective so I scrambled to transfer to a seat to the right of the running bus, only to see so many mountains. Now which is Mount Pulag? I did not bother to ask.
If you ask me, organize your own tours via the internet or DOT—much cheaper and no need to wait for 32 others to use the bathroom at the gasoline station.