Camille Banzon is a 29-year-old up and coming writer. In 2015, she left her promising career in Metro Manila to put up The Hangout, a hostel in Siargao. Here, she tells us how she did it.
Can you tell me how this Siargao thing came about?
When I visited the island in June 2015, Siargao immediately cast a spell on me. It was unlike any other island I’ve visited. The people are warm and friendly, the lifestyle is active, and the beaches are gorgeous. When I got here, I knew this was it.
Has living the island life always been your life goal? Was it something you consciously tried to achieve?
I guess you could say that. I knew I’ve always wanted to live in an island, since I’ve already been on a work-from-home setup for years. I didn’t want to climb the corporate ladder because I knew I wouldn’t function well. While I was still in Manila, I would go to beach trips every week and would write travel pieces, so living in a place like Siargao was meant to happen somehow.
Each time I’d be away on a trip I’d always say to myself, “I can do this everyday,” and actually mean it—meaning I’d be daydreaming constantly about the beach life while I was living in the city. I came to a point where I couldn’t stand the traffic, the corporate set-up, and the fast paced lifestyle, and when an opportunity came to open up a business, I considered it good timing.
Can you tell me about the moment when you decided to go for it?
Coming home from a month-long trip in Siargao was tough; It was the first time that I cried on the plane as we were about to depart. I’ve never felt that kind of pain leaving a place behind.It’s normal for travelers to say, “Oh I want to move here,” when they find a place they really like. For me, it was like “I have to move here or I’ll just end up thinking about this place all my life.” I knew I had to do something about it. When the opportunity to open The Hangout knocked on my door, I had to really go for it.
How did you make that happen?
A friend was already living here and was putting up something. I expressed interest. We found a piece of land that had a five-year contract that we could afford to rent, so we went for it. But the furnishing part of the hostel was quite expensive, so we decided to crowdfund the project by then. We signed up on Indiegogo for that and the money we got from there, we used to buy appliances, etc.
Another and perhaps the more important reason we decided to crowdfund The Hangout was to spread awareness of Nature Kids, a local NGO that we work with. About 5 percent of each accommodation, we give to them. They work with the A Thousand Smiles, the only local orphanage in Siargao,
I feared that everything wouldn’t work out. But I had to overcome that fear, because if I think like that, it will manifest in my actions. Thankfully, one year later, I’m still surviving.
Aside from that, I also feared that I would lead a hedonistic life, knowing that living in the island seemed like an endless holiday. But it’s not how it is. I spend hours cleaning [the hostel], taking guests out and when I get time for myself or for my writing, I consider it gold. That’s how I found the balance.
Anything that almost broke you and backtrack on your decision?
Like in any other place, there will be situations and even people who will try their very hard to make you question yourself. I think you just have to power through these situations and people. But on a more practical note, one major difficulty living here is the lack of proper medical assistance during emergency situations. In a place like this where there are many avenues to hurt yourself (surfing, riding a motorbike), fast and proper medical assistance is very important.
What is life like in Siargao?
It depends on the person, but work-life balance here is good. People in the island usually wake up early to surf or prepare food, and then they go to work, and they sleep…early. There’s a party scene, a music scene, and the culture is slowly building up. Life in Siargao varies, but it’s is very simple and absolutely beautiful.
Some say it’s not real life and that it’s like daydreaming and escaping reality, but it’s as real as life can be. Surely, living in this island would be a good memory, or a life chapter to anyone who does it, so I’m glad I did it. Even if it doesn’t work out for me (which I don’t hope to happen), I’d be fully content and happy that I made this change. I can look back on the days where I plucked myself from the concrete jungle and gambled for a life in the tropics. Not bad.
What makes it worth it?
It might sound corny, but living in Siargao made me appreciate the simplest things in life: good weather, good food, sunrises, sunsets, pretty insects, puppies. The fact that I live a few steps away from the ocean and surf makes everything worth it. I run and maintain our small hostel, so there are truly countless sweaty or tiring moments. I work under the sun and rain. Seeing my guests happy, being able to walk on the beach, surf, and being with the most amazing and interesting people I’ve ever met constantly remind me of why I did this in the first place, and why I feel that this is the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
Advice for people who dream of the island life?
The best advice I can give to anybody aiming to pursue an island life is to know that comfort is relative. Don’t be maselan or maarte. Being sensitive won’t cut it: there are always bugs, and all sorts of insects everywhere; streets are muddy when it rains, sharp reef lay underneath the waters, and when it’s hot, it’s scorching.
Also, in order to push for a life on a secluded island, one must have an open mind and the willingness to learn from the locals. As in respect them, learn the language, their way of life, and the way of the ocean. You must also be aware of your environment and learn how to take care of it in the best ways you can. Reducing trash, recycling, and getting involved in community projects are some of the things that islanders do. Most importantly, you must have it in your heart to learn how to live simply and to consume less.
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