Guest post and photos by Kara Santos/Travel Up

Sunrise over rice fields greets participants of the Fun Run in Caramoan.

You know that running has really taken off in the country when organized fun runs are held in remote towns like Caramoan. Though connected to the mainland Camarines Sur on a peninsula, the town of Caramoan remains relatively isolated on the eastern-most edge of the province due to rugged terrain surrounding it, which makes traveling there by land difficult. Sea travel is still the most preferred mode of transport.

In recent years, Caramoan has gained popularity as the site for several international franchises of reality show Survivor, including Serbia, Israel, Bulgaria and France. The U.S. version of Survivor (currently airing) was also filmed there earlier this year. In the teaser for the U.S. Version, the Philippines is described as one of their “most treacherous locations yet” where “the waters are teeming with ravenous sharks” and “deadly snakes rule the jungles” complete with dramatic shots of said sharks and snakes.

So it may surprise a lot of people that there’s actually a pretty developed town center in Caramoan, with several guesthouses, a market, a church and a good network of roads within the town. Good enough, in fact to hold a fun run.

The red-bricked parish church of St. Michael, the Archangel.

During a visit to my folks in Naga City, I heard that some friends were heading to Caramoan to help raise funds for the parish church of St. Michael, the Archangel. My main agenda for joining was to find a way to go island-hopping by hook or by crook. But one thing led to another, and having traveled with the relatives and clan of the parish priest in the Ro-Ro and van from the port and housed in the guesthouse next to the church, I found myself signing up for the fun run as ill-prepared as I was. Envisioning the beach, I had only hurriedly packed casual beachware and had on a pair of Mojo slippers.

After a filling lunch of adobo and laing at the church, we made the payment for the run and claimed our shirts. There was the option of getting regular t-shirts or a singlet, a sleeveless white shirt lined with green which was sewn by women from the church. Unlike the typical race singlet you see in the numerous events held in Manila, no logos of sponsors could be seen on the back of the shirt, just the simple words “Fun on the Run in Caramoan” with the slogan “Fitness, Wholeness, Holiness” and a picture of the church in front.

Runners of “Fun on the Run Caramoan”

The weather was sunny but not to hot the morning of the run. Not expecting the event to start on time, our group made our way to the church after enjoying a leisurely breakfast only to find out that the first runners had left 30 minutes earlier and we were one of the last to leave. Embarrassed, we picked up the pace and started to move along. At one point, a man on the road brought it upon himself to usher our group on, berating us for being late and yelling stuff we didn’t understand and even running with us for a section of the road until he eventually lost interest.

You could tell that it was the first time an event like that was held in the place. The runners were mostly locals from the community and church volunteers, with older women and teenage girls dressed conservatively in jeans and their souvenir shirts, carrying pamaypays walking along most of the 3k route. Our scenery was pretty different from the fun runs I’ve attended, mostly in the city. Instead of paved concrete and buildings, with a swarm of other runners all attached to their headphones, the rural road passed through a public market, an elementary school, a videoke house, and opened up to long stretches of green fields where carabaos were grazing. Since there was only one major road in the town, we shared the road with tricycles and motorcycles with people going about their business. Kids peeking out from the windows of their houses smiled and waved as we passed by.

There were water stations scattered along the route, where people could fill cups from blue water jugs on tables. Unlike runners in the city, who toss their cups aside hurriedly after gulping down water, I was glad to see no one throwing their cups on the road, but neatly returning it to the table or placing it in the trash bins right by the table.

We were given ribbons upon reaching the 5KM marker and rested a bit before heading back the same route we came from. The weather was starting to get hot, so we agreed to walk/run a bit faster so we could reach the shade faster. The run ended in the church, with a finish arch made of bamboo and elaborately decorated like those made during fiestas. As I crossed the finish line, someone hung a medal around my neck, a simple medal made of a rusty button pin tied with a loop of ribbon.

My first finisher medal.

A group of women ushered us to a table where kakanin like puto, pancit and pineapple juice were being served beside the church, which we enjoyed while the parish priest gave a speech thanking everyone for supporting the event.

I couldn’t help but think of how different this run was from any run I’ve participated in in the city. Everything about it may have been simple, but there was something heartfelt about the event. I left feeling glad that I got to experience a different side of this place.

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