The first time I paid for my own travel, with my friends, outside of the country, was in 2013. It was Bangkok, Thailand and I thought then that the main reason we go away is to learn about others.
Thailand looked exactly like the Philippines, except when it came to religion. Where we have our stone churches, they have their temples and pagodas. In Ayutthaya, their elephants roamed free, whereas our elephant is growing thin inside a poorly-maintained zoo.
My friend Toni told me of political backstories while in Thailand. That being a monarchy has instilled a strong sense of obedience in the people; they were disciplined, they followed orders, and respected authority, for which we can only say so much of our democracy.
Before this I was never much of a traveler. I was fine going back and forth to Baguio every month. All I ever needed were within a 6-hour bus ride.
Then I started to go places, and slowly I was realizing that maybe the reason we go away is so we could learn about ourselves.
I was convinced of this because I only needed to go away every time something bothered me. Exposure to other norms and cultures, immersing to the strange and foreign, are what helped clear the mind.
I remember it was while traveling along the winding roads of Ilocos Norte with a gorgeous ocean view beside it that I decided I would quit GMA’s Social Media Team.
Distance does that to you often. I’ve realized that it’s whenever you’re detached that you’re able to discern.
Lately I have been restless.
Sometime months ago, while buying vegetarian sandwich in one of my fleeting phases of trying to be healthy, I asked my friend Ephraim what he thought of his life so far. Was he satisfied, was it turning out to be what he’s always wanted?
When he asked me the same questions, I said yes, but I said that given the instability of our jobs, we should be choosing our paths and committing to it. Did we want to be the type of person who traveled when she was young but grew old without investments and savings? We were unsure.
So weeks later, we took a bus to Albay. Did we find our answers there? Not quite, but we found stories, at least.
My quest was not finished. I needed to travel like a pro, so I enlisted the help of my friend Cha, to show me how it’s done.
Cha has been to most of Luzon, Visayas and a little bit of Mindanao. Outside of the Philippines, she is three countries away from completing the Southeast Asian leg. We booked a flight to Cebu with four days to explore it with. She warned me it will be intense, we will be taking buses on polar ends, and sleeping in huts. It sounded perfect.
For Cha, traveling is when life hits a “subliminal pause.” She always quotes from the documentary “A Map for Saturday.” Much like the documentarist — a Sports Journalist in New York who quit his job to backpack around the world, Cha was a spontaneous traveler. We didn’t book inns, we just asked drivers and knocked on whatever looked cheap and decent.
Cha marvels at having traveled to Mindanao. Last year, she traveled alone to Zamboanga, and embarked on an unexpected sidetrip to Basilan. It’s embarrassing having to exchange stories of Mindanao — hers of adventure and mine of following an anchor and a camera crew and rushing to live points, barely even having the time to stop and look where I was.
She’s serious about going away, too. She has a scheme of keeping her finances in check, making sure there was always something left for traveling.
On our endless bus rides around Cebu, we got to talk about our life plans. She has wild dreams of becoming a flight attendant or working whatever job abroad. I got jealous because I will never be that adventurous.
I never wanted to leave the Philippines. There was one day in a little town in Hertfordshire, England where I lived for a year, that I spent writing a poem of why I wanted to come home desperately. It started with describing a dream of waking up in our sala in Moncada, Tarlac and watching Eat Bulaga again.
Nothing had ever compared to the Philippines.
When my mom was applying for my Indefinite Stay Visa, I told her that it was useless for I would never want to leave. She said, “give it time.”
Last year, I wrote an essay that became quite popular on the internet. I made rousing arguments why it’s better to stay. I did put a disclaimer that I was not closing my doors.
Lately I can feel those doors opening little by little.
It’s not because I don’t love where I am now. It’s because I just want to go away. Maybe that’s human nature.
To see places, to learn about others, to learn about myself.
To detach and discern.
While at the beach in Bantayan Island, when it was pitch dark, and we both have had half a bottle of liquor each, Cha said she was at a phase where she would want to share her life with somebody. I said I was at a phase where I didn’t need anybody; it was refreshing, I said, to feel that way again after a while. Granted it was about our love lives, but I felt that my outlook reflected something bigger, that I was no longer defining happiness with a particular person, or a particular thing.
It meant I could explore. I could go away.
Maybe at 24, this is the real quarter-life crisis, maybe I just need to go away for a few days to satisfy that part of myself that is wanting and seeking something else.
Maybe I will try that. There’s a trip coming up to a remote island in Southern Leyte, where I’m tagging along a few travelers to give 205 schoolchildren books and supplies from kind-hearted donors. I have been talking with my friends about a weekend trip to the Mountain Province; see the wonder of the world in Banaue, or meet the legendary Whang-Od of Kalinga.
While trying to figure out what it is I want in life, maybe I could travel around my country and discover the many stories I can tell, or the many stories I can just keep.
While in Tiwi, Albay, I asked our tricycle driver to stop at this picture-perfect rice field beside the road. It has a backdrop of a mountain and the endless skies, the stalks were young and short, and in their greenest color. I wanted to take a photo with me in the middle of it.
It reminded me of a photo I took in the middle of a lavender field in Hitchin, England. Two different stories, but equally beautiful. Between the two, though, I know in my heart I would always choose the rice field. Always.
But it doesn’t mean I don’t get to choose Lavenders once in a while.
When I was younger, I always hated going to England. As I grew older, I realized that it was because England posed a threat to my love for the Philippines. A first world country, cunning in its beauty, always trying to lure me. It’s when I became more secure with my love for the Philippines that I started to enjoy England.
And I guess that’s the same for every place you go to, when you are less threatened, you are more appreciative.
The truth is, the reason why we go away is very simple — we go away so we can come home.
Sometimes we leave for just a few days, sometimes we leave for years. But the beauty of it is not in whether how short or how long we go away for, it’s the process of coming back — and each time more convinced that we are truly where we should be.
Cha blogs at Green Pastours
Toni writes on Subselfie.com
Ephraim’s works are curated on E.A