His name is Ayeh, born and raised in Panglao Island. He used to be a captain of a boat at Alona Beach that ferried tourists to and from the various attraction sites. With great pride, he confided that being a boatman funded his college education. He received his B.A. in Business Management from Holy Name University here at Tagbilaran City about a year ago.
Ayeh's story begins with his great love for the sea. He started to pursue it at the tender age of ten by joining his grandfather, a fisherman, during the entire summer and on weekends during the school year. By the time he turned thirteen, he was confident enough to go solo on a small boat provided by his grandfather; going on fishing trips with his friends with boats of their own. It was tough for the first couple of months, but he soon got the hang of it – regularly getting a bountiful catch of galonggong, hasa-hasa, tulingan, and etc.
By the time he was fourteen, he was making anywhere from 200 to 300 pesos a day, which was quite a substantial income for a boy of that age. Half of it immediately went to his mother, while the rest he saved, but he did manage to indulge in his favorite soda pops and sweets, of course.
During his high school years, he joined a fishing crew of a large fishing vessel where he dramatically increased his earnings to about 2000 pesos a week during the summers. As usual, half of it went to his mother, while his share was now slated for his college fund, as well as for the accoutrements of a moneyed teenager – the latest model cell phones, a motorcycle and some nice clothes, of course.
By his college years, on weekends and summers, he switched to tourist boats. At first he was a mere member of the crew, but as soon as he learned the nuances and the necessary skills to deal with the tourists, he set off as a captain of his own boat with one man as assistant.
As for celebrity passengers, he claimed only Kris Aquino and her husband James Yap, along with the kids and the usual entourage of help in tow. They wanted to go dolphin watching. But what made this trip take a rather comical turn was that when the other passengers of the nearby boats noticed Kris and James aboard his boat, practically everyone followed to watch them instead of the dolphins.
When I asked him the biggest tip he ever received as a tourist boatman, he answered with a short narrative that took place one auspicious morning. Walking towards his boat, he noticed a fat wallet on the sand near the water, which he immediately picked up and checked its contents – a large wad of 1000 peso and hundred dollar bills. He knew instantly that it must’ve have been accidentally dropped by the passenger of that boat that departed only a couple of minutes ago, which was earlier docked on the beach alongside his. And within a few seconds, that boat was in sight on its way back. When it reached the beach, Ayeh went to approach the boat and asked the distraught-looking Filipina with her Caucasian husband if she had lost a wallet. The woman must have been so discombobulated over possibly losing her wallet for good that she just grabbed it from Ayeh, without thanking him, and ordered her boatman to go back to sea.
Ayeh didn’t feel so bad for not having received even a tiny sum as reward. He was just glad to have returned the wallet to its rightful owner. However, about ten minutes later, a small group of people from Manila hired him to go on some inter-island sightseeing. When they returned, the guy handed him a huge tip. He turned out to be the president of a large bank in Makati.
As a captain of a boat during his college years, Ayeh earned an average of 20,000 pesos a month. The hours weren’t bad, either – starting at the break of dawn and back at home by the early afternoon. And to top it all, his boat was usually booked solid for up to six months in advance. That was because the man whom he rented the boat from also runs an agency that handles many of the local tour trips. Hence, he received priority booking.
Unfortunately, that all changed for the worse right after the Luneta Hostage Crisis when a group of Chinese tourists were senselessly gunned down by a disturbed ex-policeman. Business doved fifty percent. Ayeh also mentioned that the Chinese happened to be the nicest and most generous foreign passengers he ever had. However, in talking with some of his previous colleagues, the tourism trade at Panglao Island is now supposedly regaining an upward trend.
Right after earning his college degree, Ayeh quit the boating business altogether and joined the hospitality industry. His usual high income status changed to that of a minimum wage earner. It wasn’t so bad, he admitted, for it was simply a part of his game plan; sort of a preparation for the next phase of his young life. You see, at present, Ayeh has his sight set on cruising the Atlantic aboard one of those giant floating resorts/hotels. He expects to be called for duty early next year by the Norwegian Cruise Line.
* * *
I very much appreciate my articles and photos appearing on fellow bloggers' sites, popular broadsheets, and local broadcast news segments, but I would appreciate even more a request for permission first.