Me & my Philippines: Adventure show host Juls Rodriguez

The host of adventure webshow Gameplan tells Archipelago about his traditional Kalinga tattoo, his favorite beach in Boracay . . . and getting kidnapped

Photos by Julian Rodriguez

My first camera was a Canon AE1, a film camera given to me by my dad. 

I grew up always taking photos, but it was only recently —when I started travelling intensely —that I got into serious photography. 

I was kidnapped for five days about six years ago. The kidnappers planned on taking my sister, but I asked them to take me instead. They took me to Urdaneta, Pangasinan. To stay alive, I made them think I was one of them, someone they didn't want to kill. I became like their bro. I started opening up to them, but I didn't tell them everything. I made up stuff about myself. Thankfully I was rescued. 

Soon after that, I trained, learned how to shoot, underwent military training. I finished my basic military training, escape and evasion, jungle combat, water rescue, and lifeguarding. I wanted to feel that I had no excuse not to do stuff. I wanted to be the guy who can do things. 

I studied Multimedia Arts, so I learned a lot of techniques in filmmaking. I got to travel all over the Philippines while working on projects.

The Caramoan coastline, site of the US reality show Survivor

After college, I went to work on the reality TV show Survivor USA as production crew. I tested the challenges on the show and also worked behind the camera. The show was set in Caramoan Island in the Bicol region and we filmed there for four months. There was only one store on the island where we got our supplies. It was totally isolated. After the show, I went back to Manila. I missed the city a lot.

Bear the scars: Juls gets tattooed by the legendary Apo Fang-od in Buscalan

I would say my number one favorite spot in the Philippines would be Buscalan, in Kalinga. I got my tattoo there. I found myself having really good conversations with people like Fang-Od (the last living mambabatok, traditional Kalinga tattoo artist). She's a great lady. They’re so relaxed, very community-centered. They're isolated over there, untouched by western influences. 

The Caramoan coastline in Camarines Sur, Bicol region

My number two favorite would be Caramoan. It's a fun place. You can find yourself sleeping on the island and not be bothered at all. It's beautiful. It's island isolation.

Boracay's famous Willy's Rock, through Juls' lens

My number three is Boracay. I like meeting the people there. And if you really want to be away from people, just go to nearby Puka beach, or another beach. 

Four, Batangas, for diving. Anilao in Batangas is easy to get to by car and is still one of the best places for diving. 

The view from Mt. Batulao in Nasugbu, Batangas

My number five would have to be my hammock in Tagaytay. I kind of grew up in Taal because my parents have a small house there surrounded by a big forest area. That's where I fell in love with the outdoors. And of course there's nearby Taal Volcano and Taal lake, where you can go freshwater diving.

My backpack is a Conquer 85L that comes with a small daypack. So I have my big bag, which I can stand on sit on, lie down on. My scuba fins fit inside it. I roll my shirts. There’s more space if you roll it. I make sure that a lot of the weight is in the lower part of the backpack. I try to organize the things that I need according to importance. I make sure I have a basic survival kit—a knife, military firestarter, fishing hooks, betadine, band aid, emergency rope bracelet, a mirror, tweezers, and a swiss army knife. If I feel the conditions are going to be really shitty, I take a big machete.

I also always pack a military-grade poncho. Just because it's waterproof. It will keep you dry at any time, and you can use it as shelter from the elements, or as a hammock. I also pack a knife, water, and of course, my camera, a Canon 600D.

My favorite Philippine travel experience? My most recent one is sailing for nine days during the Philippine Hobie Challenge. I shot a sailing competition from Laiya in Batangas, to Puerto Galera, and then to Corregidor and Nasugbu. My job was to film and take photos of the whole thing. We camped out. There were areas that didn't have any electricity. We had to find power for our cameras and really conserve energy.

My worst experience? Almost drowning while testing a challenge for Survivor in Caramoan. I miscalculated the depth and passed out right before hitting the surface. I was blacking out already, but I woke up when I reached the surface. It was the first time that I thought I was going to die. I think having these near-death experiences makes me more aware of life. 

Meet Juls

About Juls Rodriguez
Juls Rodriguez is a photographer, filmmaker and host of the online adventure show Gameplan. He worked as Assistant Camera and challenge tester for US reality show, Survivor.

Follow Rodriguez on Instagram @therealjulsrodriguez.

Interview by Amanda Lago

Published September 2015