Travel and Beyond: On Losing Magic and Struggling to Find It Again

To see new sights, to commune with nature, to marvel at a place’s rich culture and heritage, to be wrapped up in the stories, warmth, and kindness of strangers or new friends (if I am fortunate), and to have more unforgettable experiences – this had always been travel’s magic for me.

And the magic was perhaps at its strongest when I decided some years ago, with as much as hope and courage I could summon, to fulfill a childhood dream of traveling solo long-term, and everything unfolded beautifully, almost effortlessly. Every day of that travel was a gift, and I felt like the richest woman in the world, so much so that when I went to a shrine known for answered prayers and miracles, I found I had nothing to ask for and had only my gratitude to utter.

My world shifted when I came back from that adventure. I had become a traveler. I traveled more, forged intense friendships that remain strong to this day, and became part of a supportive travel blogging community. I found myself led into the world of travel writing. I had been jaded with news writing before, and had given up journalism, but I embraced travel writing back then the way I would a new adventure.  Like that solo trip, these shifts happened so naturally, almost effortlessly, like magic.

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During that memorable long-term solo adventure

Later, though, I found that magic slipping away from me. Planning travels felt more like burdens than sources of excitement. Travel writing felt like a chore; there were days when the task seemed insurmountable. And, I just felt tired most of the time.

For some reason I could not identify, I felt the pure, unadulterated joy of travel I had before slowly escaping me.

Rest. I just needed to rest, I told myself.

That was my resolve – to rest after a group volunteer trip I found planning for particularly tiring. Except I got more than the “rest” I wanted.

On that trip, brought about mainly by my tiredness and carelessness, I broke my leg, quite badly that I needed surgery and around a ten-inch steel plate inside to help the split and crushed bones heal properly. I could not walk for months, effectively ending all my upcoming travel plans and perhaps changing my body forever.

They say accidents like that can dramatically change your perspective, and it did for me. I realized that traveling – no, mobility – is a privilege. To be able to walk and move “normally” easily opens you up to freedoms and opportunities that would otherwise be difficult for those who cannot. I am lucky to be able to travel at all, and to only have a temporary injury.

I would like to believe that this new way of seeing helps me begin to understand people with limitations and disabilities, and informs me well in the little facilitation work I have done after I began to walk again.

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Traveling – even walking – is a privilege. This photo was taken on my first trip early 2016 after I started learning to walk again.

I wish I could say that everything turned out well for me after that realization (as it would in the usual inspirational stories we know where the person who has an accident will have a neat and happy ending), but I continued to physically and emotionally struggle in my recovery both during the months I could not walk and even after I could. It was not only my leg that was broken; I felt that part of my spirit was too, for reasons both related and unrelated to the accident. The person who had so courageously pursued her dream of traveling was gone.

I tried hard to bring her back, though. I put my all in my physical therapy and recovery to be able to walk normally – and travel again, only to be discouraged by my slow progress and feeling betrayed by my body, but later going back to giving my all again.

Milestones are both a joy and a pain, as I celebrate both what I have accomplished, but also realize with frustration just how far I still have to go. First time to walk – hobble, rather. First time to commute again, but with a companion. First time alone. First trip. Many firsts I am going through again.

And yet, there are moments of grace, and I daresay, magic. My first trip after starting to walk again and in early 2016 was to my mother’s and grandmother’s beautiful hometown. Had it not been for my accident, I would not have realized the urgency of hearing my grandmother’s stories and spending more time with her.

I was able to climb my first peak, with the support of my friends, who patiently waited while I took long in securing my footing on each step. Since then, I have had travels with friends who have been patient with me as I plowed through my recovery.

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My first climb after starting to walk again, made possible with the support of friends

Two travel dreams of mine came true in 2016, too – one, through synchronicity and blessed opportunity, another one mainly through sheer determination (a different kind of magic) to finally make it happen.

The first one is Penang, one of my favorite cities.  When I first visited, I dreamed of going again in the future, this time with my partner. And now it has come true.

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Enjoying Penang’s street art

The second one is Batanes, which I had been dreaming of a long time to visit with my family, as this was where my parents fell in love when they worked here long ago. It was worth the wait, as I saw the beauty of Batanes also through my parents’eyes and their love story.

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Dream fulfilled! Batanes with my family.

There were still reminders of my recovery that was not quite there yet, though. On my first trip without my family or my usual travel companions, I found myself having a hard time keeping pace with other travelers, despite a leisurely itinerary of a Boracay staycation and food trip. Because of this, I had to forgo a trip I was so looking forward to the month after that would require trekking with new companions.

On the other hand, I was later able to participate in events that I didn’t think I would have the resources for. In those instances, resources or help from generous people suddenly showed up – magic, yes.

I met and heard fellow travel bloggers from different parts of the world at TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange), held for the first time in the Philippines. I was able to travel with some of them in Siargao, a memorable post-conference trip partly because my doctor already gave me the go-ahead to attempt running or jumping again – and even surfing! Another milestone!

I have tried surfing before and I was able to ride a wave for some glorious seconds. This time, though, with my leg still recovering, I was only able to stand for a second, maybe even less! That alone made me happy, though. Not to mention my instructor who was so enthusiastic he was even more fired up than I was on getting me to ride a wave!

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Happy surf attempts

As a relatively new facilitator who wants to learn more, I was also happy to participate in the World Open Space conference in Manila, and also the Art of Hosting workshop in Hanoi. The latter was a workshop my partner and I had been dreaming of attending, though the ones we usually hear of are held in Europe or North America, which would require more resources. So we jumped at the chance when we heard of one just being held in relatively nearby Vietnam!

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We gathered around sacred centerpieces like this during the Art of Hosting training.

It was also a chance for me to have new travel memories in Hanoi to replace the relatively traumatic ones that nearly compromised my safety during my solo Southeast Asian backpacking trip a few years ago.

In both the World Open Space and Art of Hosting, we had meaningful meetings and conversations with fellow participants, which are in themselves magical.

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A green tea plantation in Ba Vi, Hanoi. I saw this during a walk around the venue of our Art of Hosting workshop.

Now, I am strengthening my leg and preparing my body for a trip a travel buddy and I had also been looking forward to for years.

There are bad days, yes. But there are good ones, too. And those good days are what I hold on to to let me ride through the bad ones. Or maybe they are not bad ones – just difficult ones. The days when my body seems to betray me and I am overly worried if I will have the same movement and normal flexibility again. The sudden, random moments of pain in my leg. The days when I feel so tired and I feel that my energy has not yet gotten back to how it was before the accident. The days when the things I usually love like writing is so hard to do. The days when I purposefully have to create the magic and it does not come easily.

Instead of a linear story with a straightforward happy ending, my story comes in dips and highs. With each dip and high, though, is my hope that the next cycle would be at a greater height than the last one.

Slowly, I am stepping back into flow, into magic. That brave, bright-eyed woman who set off on that solo adventure years ago is still not back in me, but maybe she doesn’t have to be. I am instead creating a new me, part of it that brave woman, part of it this broken one, who will, I hope, ultimately become stronger, better.

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One of the good days! With friends who have patiently traveled with me as I recovered

This entry is part of the Pinoy Travel Bloggers carnival “Prosperous and Exciting Year of Travel in 2016” hosted by Mervz Marasigan of Pinoy Adventurista

5 thoughts on “Travel and Beyond: On Losing Magic and Struggling to Find It Again

  1. Despite the harrowing accident, you actually had an awesome 2016! Here’s to more trips and adventures in 2017. Hope Sheila and I will meet again you somewhere along the road, trail, mountain, city, etc. 🙂

  2. Pingback: 2016: A Remarkable Year for The Wandering Feet’s Shutterbug | Stories of The Wandering Feet & Mind

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