By Anna Valmero
SAN ANTONIO, ZAMBALES—For boatman Jonathan Abarra, the growing popularity of the province as a beach and island-hopping destination among local and foreign tourists is a big boost to his income.
As a fisherman before, he will be lucky to earn P500 in three days. Today, as a boatman and tour guide, he can earn the same amount or more in just a day—enough to bring food to the table and save money to send his three young children to school.
The presence of large fishing vessels—with permits—in the area also made it difficult for small fishermen like him to haul enough fish that can sustain the daily needs of his family. Sometimes, even two days at sea does not guarantee a good catch for fishermen like him.
He is thankful that tourism is slowly transforming and bringing economic gains to the quiet town of San Antonio, particularly his village in Pundaquit.
As early as January, tourists troop to their area to hit the silvery grey sands of Pundaquit beach or to plan their island hopping tour to the coves of Anawangin and Nagsasa. Some even pass by the iconic lighthouse at Capones Island and enjoy the strong waves at nearby Camara Island.
The humble coastal town turns into fiesta mode as local and international tourists flock to the area to hop on to bancas to tour and swim here.
Starting small made Jonathan realize the basics of being a tour guide and how to better serve guests. He said that he learned to plan ahead and still be flexible on the day tour schedule, depending on the request of the guests. Jonathan, together with his nephew Tips, also offers a hearty lunch to their customers as part of the tour package.
“Kelangan maayos ang pakikitungo namin sa mga guest. Para sa amin, sa recommend nila kami makakaasa ng panibagong kliyente (We have to treat and take care of them during their stay here. For small timers like us, their recommendation by word-of-mouth is very important for us to have clients in the future),” Jonathan said.
I saw this hospitality first-hand. Upon seeing my friend who was carrying a heavy knapsack en route to the light house at Capones Island, Jonathan offered his help to carry the bag and was quizzical why our boatman only left us at the shore instead of accompanying us atop the light house.
He said that commonly, the boatmen who are part of a bigger operation often would make for a kill in a day by ferrying as many people in a day, disregarding the proper guidance and assistance to their assigned guests.
He said that training on proper tour guide procedures would help boatmen like him on how to do their job well.
Jonathan hopes that boatmen will also be able to tell the history of Pundaquit and its nearby islands, even offer a small introduction about the province of Zambales.
He said that travelers should be able to learn something about a place, and boatman-tour guides like him are in the best position to offer these bits of information. He added he will be more than proud to share the information he knows about his province but very few of the guests would ask about it.
A growing concern among boatmen and even locals in the town is the irresponsible dumping of plastic and other waste at the different islands, Jonathan added.
In Anawangin, for example, beach campers just leave their waste—from plastic wrappers, tin cans, and even leftover food—on the campsite, not minding the next camper who will use the spot. This prompted the locals to collect a fee of P100 from the campers so that locals can transport the thrash off the cove every week.
This would not have been the case if the tourists follow camp rules and dispose their thrash properly by placing them inside the sacks that are located in strategic parts of the cove, said Jonathan.
The same is true for day campers at Camara Island. A part of the island has been used for bonfire and beside it are the plastic wrappers of chips, chocolate and different food items brought by campers.
Jonathan appeals that visitors should be responsible and be held accountable for non-compliance in keeping their tourist destinations clean.
To enforce this initiative, Jonathan deems it fit that boatmen and other members of the tourism service industry in the area can apprehend individuals who violate these basic tourism rules.
He alluded to the Department of Tourism’s slogan “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” and said that it will be more fun if locals and tourists work together to keep the beauty of upcoming tourist destinations such as his hometown in Zambales.
“Binigyan tayo ng magandang mga lugar na ito kaya sa alagaan natin. Wag naman nating gawing basurahan yung lugar kung gusto pa nating bumalik dito (Nature gave us these beauty to enjoy and care for. Let us not make these spots a big garbage dump so we can have something pristine to return to in the future),” Jonathan concluded.
How to arrange boat tours: Jonathan Abarra is one of the boatmen in Bgy. Pundaquit. To arrange boat rental and island tours, contact him at (+63 930) 3192656).
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