2012 was the year I fulfilled my childhood dream of long-term solo adventure. It was such a defining year for me that I saw it as the point that thereafter divided my life into a “before” and “after.”
And now that I’m in the “after” stage, the surprises, the realizations, and the moments when I feel most lucky to be alive, just keep coming. While 2013 is more low-key and quieter compared with the show-stopping production – to me – of 2012, its impact on me is nevertheless the same as a big production’s.
Coming home with new eyes
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
I am certainly not done exploring the world yet, but coming home to Las Piñas after backpacking for almost two months made me appreciate the beauty of my home city. I attended the Bamboo Organ Festival for the first time, was mesmerized by the unique music flowing from the world’s only organ made almost entirely of bamboo, and felt so much pride that I later brought traveler and blogger friends to hear the music for themselves.
I also took time to explore places closer to home, like Binondo. Ironically, it was in exploring the seemingly mundane that I met friends who I would meet and travel with more than once this year. Later, I also experienced with some of them Manila Chinatown’s colorful and vibrant Chinese New Year celebration for the first time.
Exploring new places, daring firsts
While I have started to appreciate the beauty closer to home, I continued traveling far and ticking off bucket list items. On my blog’s anniversary, I attended the ASEAN Blogger Conference in Solo, Indonesia and traveled with new friends, and was awed by the temples of Borobodur and Prambanan in neighboring Jogjakarta. On the later part of the year I fell in love with almost everything to do with Penang – its buildings rich in history, its eye-catching street art, its cheap, you-have-to-taste-it-to-know delicious street food, and its friendly people who go out of their way to help. I saw what the buzz was about in Myanmar and also promptly fell in love with its temples, food, and people, especially with Bagan’s thousands of fiery earth-colored temples.
Clockwise from left: With ASEAN bloggers at Sukhu temple, Solo, Indonesia; Borobodur’s unique stupas at Jogjakarta; A monk walking by one of Bagan’s few thousand temples; Posing with Penang’s charming street art
I also went back to places I love – this time, to experience their festivals. I was mute with awe at the richness of indigenous culture shown at the Kaamulan Festival in Bukidnon and the bright colors popping out at the Pintados-Kasadyaan Festival in Tacloban, Leyte and at Masskara Festival in Bacolod.
The Kaamulan Festival was particularly special for me, as it reinforced my long-held dream to know more and commune with tribes, or indigenous groups, who have continued practicing their rich culture and tradition. This year, I was able to make that dream come true through four days of living with the Talaandigs in Bukidnon, people who I observed have admirably struck a balance between living out their traditions and accepting and integrating themselves in the world outside their tribe. Living with them has struck me in a way that I have yet to find the words for the experience, though I hope to do so this coming year.
I’ve also scaled mountains with friends this year which prepared me in a way for rock climbing. But I have also balanced this scaling and conquering with relaxing on beaches like the unspoiled Apo Island in Apo Reef, the powdery white sand reminiscent of Boracay in Calaguas, and the white double sandbars in Kalanggaman Island, Palompon, Leyte. I also took time to relax with friends, and closer to home, at Antipolo’s hanging gardens and spa.
Helping and not helping
In my first blog entry for 2013, I wrote that I wanted to help or contribute in a way to people during my travels. I tried to do that this year by teaching Baybayin, the ancient, pre-colonial Filipino writing system, to elementary students in Ormoc, Leyte, with the kind help of a blogger who also hosted me on that travel.
I have also tried to solicit donations for the Dumagats in Aurora, who needed all they could get for livelihood and school for their children. I am grateful to all those who extended their help in whatever form they could give. To those who are curious, you can still help, by the way.
There was a time, though, when I wanted so badly to help, but did not. It was when Yolanda (Haiyan) ravaged several parts of Visayas, most of the places I explored during my long-term backpacking adventure. My heart broken, my first instinct was to go to ground zero and do what I can, but not having the right training and enough skills to do so, I realized that I could actually become a liability. Instead, I reflected on what I could do to help given my capacity and resources. I especially admired the people who used their gifts to help Yolanda survivors in recovery and rebuilding. I have decided to help in debriefing efforts for long-term rebuilding and hopefully apply what I am learning at well-being facilitation workshops I have been attending – the same workshops I mentioned in my first 2013 blog entry, which I chose to attend regularly instead of traveling long-term this year. I open myself also to opportunities that may arise.
I also wrote on my first blog entry of the year that I wanted to reach more people. Though I did not see my blog stats rise to astronomical proportions, I am happy to read occasional messages from readers who were helped or inspired by my blog posts.
I also continued writing in other platforms, but the unexpected blessing of the year is getting the chance to talk about my passion for traveling and give tips from what I have learned along the way, thanks to a speaking invitation from TravelYoung, a group of young travelers who organize trips for people who want the usual or the off the beaten path.
(Top) Sharing tips on planning an epic adventure. (Bottom) With TravelYoung founders and fellow blogger/speaker Photo credit: TravelYoung
A different way of traveling
On 2012 I discovered the joy of long-term solo travel, especially meeting new people and spontaneously traveling with them, and being blessed by the kindness of strangers, with some becoming families I can return to. This year I was again amazed of how there seemed to be no limits to the kindness and hospitality of strangers, whether here in the Philippines or in other countries.
However, I also rediscovered the beauty of traveling with others, and traveling together more than once. While I still plan to do solo travel, there is a different kind of happiness and feeling of security that traveling with others – especially those who you find to be kindred spirits – give. In solo travel, I am alert and look out for myself all the time. When traveling with these kindred spirits, I know that they have my back and I have theirs. And, whatever our destination, I have found myself enjoying just being with them – and sometimes, just being silly for the fun of it. =)
With travel companions I would trust with my life – or at least, my backpack =) Photo credit: Pondering Paodaolei
2013 was also the year when my life partner started embracing travel and the friends I’ve made in my journeys. While I am always grateful for the space he gives me for my solo adventures, there is a different kind of joy I feel when he happily walks with me on the path I chose. Now, he understands me more than ever. And yes, he also has my back when we travel. =)
While 2012 was a year of daring to fulfill my childhood dream and stepping out of my comfort zones in other ways, 2013 was a year of realizing and valuing what’s also important – home, and the people close to my heart, especially those I hope to be my lifelong travel companions.
In the movie “Into The Wild,” as solo wilderness explorer Christopher McCandless was dying alone, he wrote: “Happiness [is] only real when shared.” I am glad I didn’t have to reach the end of my life to know the truth of those words.