(SPOT.ph) Picture this: The sunlight feels warm on your skin, the fine white sand tickles your toes, and the sea breeze invites you to spend the day sleeping in a hammock. You wake up to freshly caught seafood cooked by a local fisherman and served in coconut bowls. Laughter and good music fill the air. It's the fulfillment of a childhood fantasy from back when you'd tie a blanket around the your bedposts while pretending to camp on the beach. But for the members of travel group Camp Isla, there's more to camping than just enjoying the rush of the waves and the company of others.
Founded in 2017, this social enterprise is composed of individuals whose aim is to promote off-the-grid islands in the Philippines and create a positive social and economic impact on their partner communities through collaboration. "We have the local coastal communities partner with us to engage them in such a way that they are our guides, cooks, assistants, and coordinators," founder and camp master Mia Navarro tells SPOT.ph.
It All Started With Spontaneity
Organizing a trip and dealing with travel groups were never part of Navarro’s vocabulary. Back in the day, she would just hop on the first bus that arrived at the terminal, ask the driver which stop had a beautiful beach for setting up camp, and wing it from there. She almost always found herself setting up a tent on a secluded island."What’s great about [camping] is that you realize [that you only need the basics]. I just need water, sunlight, food, and some company. I don't need any more luxury. Your only luxury is nature," says Raymund Sison, one of Navarro’s closest friends and Chief Culture Officer for Camp Isla. They both share this penchant for spontaneity with their friends Marlyn Importante and Miguel Co, who are now part of Camp Isla.
At a friend’s suggestion, they started setting up trips that were open to other travelers. From eight individuals, their group grew to as many as 30 people. To date, the group has camped in 15 sites and traveled to more than 30 islands in the country with participants coming from different localities and nationalities: Thai, Taiwanese, Singaporean, and French, to name a few.
The Filipino Way of Camping
Camp Isla organizes monthly weekend trips to unspoiled islands such as Tingloy and Isla Verde in Batangas and Silanguin Cove in Zambales.
With no electricity and Internet, one of the activities that campers look forward to is the boodle fight. Preparing their own food and eating with bare hands let the campers bond and discover something new about each other. Camp Isla sources their guides and cooks from the local community, such as the fishermen and their wives. "We’re providing them additional economic opportunities. At the same time, we are able to promote their delicacies. Doon kami namamalengke mismo," narrates Navarro. For her, it is through food that one gets to experience a place. "We get local cooks because they know how to cook authentic dishes," she adds.
This activity becomes a meaningful interaction and exchange of skills and knowledge among the locals and the campers, which, according to Navarro, is another purpose of Camp Isla. She's also the Island Head of Luzon for Gawad Kalinga—a community-oriented organization focusing on the alleviation of poverty in the country—so this enterprise is her way of combining this advocacy with her passion for travel.
Going Beyond Camping
Though the group does not follow a strict itinerary, it follows an unwritten rule: to be kind to everyone and to the environment. For Sison, having fun entails being a responsible traveler as the group tries to eliminate the use of plastic while camping.
"I want them to experience how beautiful our islands are. I want them to see and experience local living and I want them to understand the community better. I want them to be conscious about the environment," he adds.
Navarro ensures that Camp Isla leaves a positive impact on the community and partner social enterprises aside from helping reduce environmental impact on the islands they camp in. In fact, Camp Isla has also partnered with Gawad Kalinga scholars in producing their coffee, brown rice, chili, coconut bowls, and other supplies used at the campsites. Proceeds are given to the beneficiaries of Gawad Kalinga.
"Working with the locals humbles you. It lets you appreciate the Philippines better. There's a beautiful exchange in culture [and] flavors and we get to build relationships with them. The beauty of the island really is much more than the sand, much more than the waters, or the lush greens; it is really the people," she concludes.
For Navarro, setting up camp on a remote island is more than just feeling the sun on your skin or the sea breeze on your face. It’s also about connecting with your surroundings, your country, and your people.