For the past 24 years, I have celebrated my birthday with the people dear to me. Whether big or small, cakes, balloons, and ice creams were always part of the celebration. But for my 25th birthday, I wanted to deviate from the tradition and do something different, something I’ve never done before. I decided to do a solo camping at Bacalla Woods Campsite to welcome my 25th year of existence in this world.
I have done plenty of outdoor campings in the past but it was always with a group. Never was I alone because I couldn’t rely on my cooking abilities for survival. My knowledge with it is as tiny as a speck of a speck of a speck of a dust. It cannot be seen by the naked eye. I can do whatever household chore but cooking. But I want to overcome my weakness so I took this challenge: to survive for two nights on my own in the woods.
Bacalla Woods Campsite is located in San Fernando, Cebu. It’s an hour drive from the city. I hopped on a bus in South Bus Terminal. It was a smooth and speedy ride, which was surprising for a usual traffic Friday afternoon. Then, I took a habal-habal ride going to place itself. When I arrived, I registered and paid for the basic camping fee of Php 200/night. It already includes a free breakfast the next morning. I only paid the camping fee because I brought my own tent. If you don’t have one, you can rent a tent, hammock, or room, but you need to reserve in advance.
The staffs at Bacalla were expecting that I had company. When they realized I was alone, they gave me a puzzled look for a split second. I was already expecting to get this kind of reaction. Luckily, there was one staff named Jeff who gave me a high five for braving this pursuit. Trust me, it was a breath of fresh air to receive a welcoming gesture from a total stranger who doesn’t think it’s taboo for a petite woman like me to travel solo.
I wanted to stay as far as I can from the rest of the campers, so I asked Kuya Jeff to give me a secluded camping area. And boy was he obedient! He walked me through a camp spot located under a mango tree. I was hesitant to take it at first because it was very hidden that I could imagine snakes looming nearby. But no, there were no snakes, just fireflies. And a whole lot of them at night!
First Challenge: Pitching The Tent On My Own
When I was settled, I started pitching my tent. It was the first challenge I had to face. I have never pitched a tent on my own. I prefer doing it with a partner because it is much easier and faster. It took me nearly 30 minutes to finish it. The consequence for being too slow was getting a lot of mosquito bites on my arms. But it was a proud moment when I finally saw the tent turned into a comfortable sleeping space. I went inside it not to take a rest but to escape the mosquitoes who were feasting on me for their dinner.
I’ll get better in time.
While waiting for the evening to come, I started reading the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The book explains why we should never undervalue the quiet ones who prefer listening to talking, and why introverts should be confident in being themselves. It was a perfect combination to my isolation. This book hit me to my core and how I wish I read it when I was younger. For the better part of my life, I thought being an introvert was a disease in society. You needed to be gregarious to be accepted. I thought there was something wrong with the way I interact with people and the world in general, and that it needed fixing. But I have learned to deal with it over the years. The book is an important read for introverts and extroverts alike.
Capturing My First Milky Way Shot
It had always been my dream to shoot the Milky Way ever since I saw photographs of it two years ago. When I bought my first camera just recently, my first goal was to get a Milky Way shot. I have had a couple of failed attempts due to bad weather conditions. For my 25th birthday, I needed not a fancy celebration. All I ever asked was a clear night sky to shoot the Milky Way.
When nighttime came, I ate my packed dinner (I was trying to avoid cooking 😁), then resumed my reading session. I waited for hours and around 9 PM, I looked up at the sky and there it was hovering above me like a mighty cloud. My camp spot was pitch-black and using an app to track the Milky Way was pointless. I set up my camera to capture this significant moment. It is beautiful and breathtaking. I was in awe at the sight of it. I felt an overwhelming happiness and words won’t come out of my mouth, so I just let my tears fall. It was all I asked for, and the Universe granted my birthday wish.
I know this is not one of the best Milky Way shots out there, but it is my first and, yes, it is special.
The Never-Ending Questions of Traveling Alone
On my second day, I woke up early so I won’t run out of food for breakfast. Since it was prepared by the staffs of Bacalla, all campers had to visit the reception area to grab their portion. I took my share and looked for an empty hammock where I could enjoy my breakfast, unbothered. But, no, I was totally wrong. There was this group of teenagers who approached me. Not wanting to be rude, so I had a quick conversation with them. Questions such as, “Are you here alone?”, “Why are you alone?”, “Aren’t you scared?”, “Are you heartbroken?”, “Are you working on a project and need a time on your own?” were raised. In my head, I was saying, “Why not?”, but what came out of my mouth was, “It’s just for fun.” I couldn’t give them any elaborate answer because the only reason was simple: I was celebrating my 25th birthday by camping on my own. Nothing else. But I didn’t want to tell them because that would surely launch a thousand more questions. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but I’m just trying to make a point.
Second Challenge: Cooking In The Outdoors For The First Time
Though I know how to cook the basics like rice, eggs, hotdogs, or noodles, anything other than that belongs to what I consider as “complicated meals group”. Lunch came and my stomach was already knocking on me so I started cooking. But don’t go raising your cooking expectations! I just prepared a corned tuna and rice. It was the first time I cooked for myself in the outdoors. Surprisingly, the rice was neither undercooked nor burned. My Mama was so proud of me when I told her about it.
The most challenging part of this ordeal was actually hooking the camp stove to the butane canister. I have practiced attaching it prior to the trip but failed miserably. Bacalla Woods has their own cooking equipment that you may use for free, but I brought my own because it would not be much of a challenge if I used their help. I was also hoping that some supernatural being would take over me and I would magically learn the technique while camping.
It took me a grueling ten minutes to finally figure out how to properly connect the stove and the butane canister. After some involuntary jerks every time I hear the hissing sound from the canister, I managed to successfully attach the two. Now, it’s time to turn the stove on. Please don’t laugh at me when I tell you that I lit fourteen matchsticks before I got the stove turned on. I almost gave up. I told myself, “If you can’t turn this shit on, you’re gonna be screwed!” So I pleaded to all the spirits who were possibly watching me (and possibly laughing at me as well) to help me. And boy was I extremely happy when I saw the blue flame came out of the stove. It was a huge achievement for me. I felt like I topped a school-wide exam without studying!
The fourteen matchsticks I wasted!
The Famous Infinity Swing
Most of the campers from the night before already went home, but it did not excuse me from getting the same questions from the remaining campers about why I was on my own. I think, everyone I interacted with in Bacalla during my visit never failed to ask me the ‘why’ question. And I tried not to roll my eyes as they proceeded to ask probing questions.
When you say Bacalla, people in Cebu often associate it with their infinity swing that looks similar to the ones in Bali, Indonesia. Of course, I have to try it myself. Luckily, no one was in line to take the swing. One of the staffs assisted me, and I asked him to push as strong as he could to take the swing higher. While I was swinging, I looked like a kid in a candy store with a big smile and sparkly eyes. I embraced that moment of feeling like a child again, though fleeting.
On my second night, I had to cook again for dinner. When I was about to start, there was a group of new campers who passed by my camping spot. There was no way I could escape their questions like, “Aren’t you scared to camp in this dark place alone?”, “Aren’t there any snakes?”, and “Is your area safe?” I wanted to keep myself busy while they were raising their questions at me, but at the same time, I didn’t want to hook the stove to the butane canister in their presence. I used fourteen matchsticks during lunch, god knows how many more I would waste this time. It would be embarrassing. As soon as they left, I resumed cooking. It was just a sausage though. The whole process of connecting the stove and canister, and lighting up the stove was unexpectedly fast and easy. I even used only one matchstick! Oh, thank heavens!
Clouds started to roll in and in just a few minutes rain came pouring down. I waited for it to stop in the hopes that I would get another Milky Way shot but it never did, so I just settled inside my tent. Before treating myself a good night sleep, I contemplated how I chose to celebrate my birthday in a peculiar way. I traded a fancy birthday celebration for a canned corned tuna and sausage. But my heart is full and I am beyond grateful that I am given another year to experience this thing we call ‘life’.
The next morning, I woke up early to pack my stuff back in and headed straight to the reception area for breakfast. I was told that there was another solo camper – a guy. People didn’t bother him, maybe because it’s not uncommon for a guy to travel solo. Yet if it’s a woman, there’s a stigma that’s entwined with it. Society has created a double standard when it comes to this matter. When a guy travels alone, it’s fine. But when a woman travels alone, there’s something off about it as if it’s a really strange phenomenon. Is it a matter of safety? Because, honestly, nowhere is safe not even the comforts of our own home.
If I’d be living my life by conforming to the rules of society, I would have a limited life. Society tells us to act in a certain way, and if we attempt to bash too hard into the walls it’s considered inappropriate by social standards. But this I tell you: it is empowering and liberating when we defy social norms that often dictate our behavior. Traveling alone may not be for everybody, but there’s nothing wrong in trying it at least once. You would be surprised when you find out things about yourself and what you are capable of when you put yourself in a novel situation.
Things to remember when visiting Bacalla Woods Campsite
You have to reserve in advance because they don’t accept walk-ins. If you would like to make a reservation, you may contact them through their Facebook page. They are highly responsive.
There’s no cellular and internet connection, so it’s a good place to ‘disconnect to connect.’