We do not remember days. We remember moments.
Several years ago, I was in Tacloban City as part of a secretariat team that conducted a workshop on agribusiness. On our first night, we went to dinner at a restaurant and rode in a van back to our hotel. From the vehicle window, I saw the radiant full moon shining along the stretch of the famous Tacloban coastline. I think it was the biggest and brightest full moon I had ever seen. It seemed so near that I could almost touch it. And the sea, blackened by the tranquil, cold night, was partly coruscating under the moon beams. I never forgot that moment. During times when I’m stressed out, I close my eyes to recall the serenity of that cool lovely evening. When I was production manager of a weekly agribusiness telemagazine, we practically toured the whole country to document interesting stories in agribusiness.
I remember when we were doing a feature story on agro-tourism, we went to the Floirendo-owned “Pearl Farm” in Samal island, Davao. By the time I landed in that white sand beach, where a giant pawikan (native giant Philippine turtle) was lazily crawling on the shore, I knew I had landed in paradise. “Pearl Farm” is a perfect haven for tourists and offers the best facilities in tropical leisure. I left the island mesmerized.
We also did a story on Philippine cutlfowers in Davao City. There I’ve been in and out of the biggest orchid farms owned by the Puentespinas, Alvarez’s, and the Alcantaras. I’ve walked in hectares of blooming cattleyas and other popular orchid species and felt like I was in magical Shangri-la.
The first time I laid my eyes on Vigan, I thought I was still watching a period film on a large screen. There, century-old Spanish houses were sprawled on a long street while vintage kalesas and karitelas adorned the rustic town. Had the people worn camiso de chino and baro’t saya, I could have said I have really stepped out of a time machine.
In far off Guimaras island in Iloilo, we visited an ultra serene monastery where I interviewed brother Sibayan, spokesman to the silent trappist monks. My first question was: what exactly is a monk? When he replied: “A monk is a person who searches for God,” I was moved. It was my most fulfilling interview.
There are moments that you simply want to capture and freeze. And I’m not talking here about Kodak memories where poses are oftentimes contrived and smiles are forced. I’m talking about real moments of joy, triumph, awe, jubilation, and revelry. They may be elusive to the camera’s eyes but could tug the heart of any sensitive soul.
Such moments come alive when I’m traveling. I was born with a mole on the heel of my right foot, and as superstitious old relatives interpreted it, I was destined to wander. “Magiging layas ang batang ito paglaki nya “(This kid is going to be a vagabond when he grows up), I heard them say. I was too young to ponder that prediction seriously, but as a child of five, I clearly remember how overjoyed I was whenever I rode in my father’s car. The whole idea of my body inside a moving vehicle and being transported to a different place gave me an exhilarating feeling. Soon, staying inside our house rendered me restless. I felt an almost physical itch to go outdoors.
But I didn’t really get to travel around the Philippines until I was a teen-ager. The very first long journey I experienced happened when I was 15. My mother went to Catanauan, Quezon to discuss a prospective business with a distant relative who wanted a new set of curtains for her new house. Together with my second brother, Raul, we traveled by bus for nearly eight hours and when we arrived, I heard my mother complain to our distant relatives. She said we seemed to have reached the end of the world. For me, it wasn’t so. Deep inside, I knew that my traveling adventures had just begun.
My first job as a radio station supervisor took me to almost every nook and cranny of Laguna, a historic province laced with a distinct old charm. It was there where my fascination for religious art took shape. There I toured the old churches of Majayjay, Nagcarlan, Paete, Siniloan, Pagsanjan and other towns whose names I couldn’t recall anymore. True, cold facts might have fogged my memory but not the feelings attached to the moments of awesome discoveries. I remember them all — the serenity of the rustling sound of leaves in a dusty road in San Pablo; the inebriating effect of lambanog (native coconut wine) in Nagcarlan; the dizzying zigzag road going to Santa Cruz; the soft, musical swaying of rice fields in Pila; and the gaiety of a moving colorful circus caravan in Majayjay; It has almost been 20 years ago but those images and sensations would often play in my mind before I go to bed after a busy day
I have been lucky to travel around my country first before I embarked on an overseas career. This gave me the chance to confirm what everyone has been saying about the Philippines. That it is a beautiful country rich in natural resources and home to citizens whose hospitality is oftentimes considered to be a fault. I’ve practically toured the whole island of Luzon, from Aparri in the North, down to Mindoro, Bicol and Palawan in the South. In the Visayas, I’ve visited Cebu, Leyte, Iloilo and Bacolod. In Mindanao, I’ve scoured the cities of Davao, Cotabato, Cagayan de Oro, and General Santos, and have been to Marawi and Butuan. I believe those are good samples of the best of my country’s 7,100 islands.
Not everything was fun and happy, though. In some of my travels, I’ve encountered dangers, felt rage, loneliness, and embarrassments. But looking back, they have all been part of the whole adventure, and have added strong hues to this colorful multi-dimensional prism of experiences. On my first trip to South Cotabato, I remember praying for my dear life when our 50-seater foker airplane experienced an engine trouble right in the middle of a typhoon. Imagine how horrified I was when during the strong air turbulence, the flight attendants started to distribute life vests to everyone in anticipation of a water landing. When I saw their nervous faces, I immediately felt that surprising tedium of a nightmare. It was a moment of helplessness and resignation and I sat there in terror and totally surrendered my fate to God.
In Marawi City, where I gave lectures on video production at the Mindanao State University, my legs literally wobbled in frozen fright when we drove through a Muslim rebel infested area, where minutes earlier, a military encounter transpired.
I’ve wined and dined in some of the best hotels, but have also eaten uncooked root crops and salt with farmers inside a shanty made of cardboard boxes. I have taken luxurious baths in Jacuzzis full of herbs, aromatic oils, and flowers but had also survived being in a remote island for three days with practically no toilets and beds. In Cebu, I was once given a red carpet treatment on a writing assignment which got me face to face with the world famous seaweed Taipan, Benson U. Dakay. Weeks after that, I found myself riding a carabao in the rocky mountains of Bukidnon to interview peasants for a story I was doing on barriers to rural entrepreneurship. I relished all the perks of my travels, but have also learned to endure and live with its intrinsic inconveniences and discomforts.
Since childhood, I always had this funny feeling that I would go out of my country one day. My first overseas trip to Taiwan became extra significant because I got tired of my carefree, wacky, wild life and wanted to clean up my act. An overseas employment gave me that opportunity. For three and a half years, Taiwan became my mental oasis, emotional awning, and spiritual sanctuary. Exploring the country was also like discovering bits and pieces of my unknown self. Which is really what I like about traveling – the fusion of surprise, awe, fun, fear, intrigue, sadness and joy interlaced with the idea of motion. It is relishing the pleasure of food using chopsticks, expensive cutlery, or bare hands, losing oneself in a crowd speaking panoply of languages and dialects, viewing breathtaking sceneries with childish glee, feeling the country’s various rhythms using the heart as barometer, making quick mental notes, and absorbing culture like a fast-track scholar.
From Taiwan, I did more solitary traveling and viewed the world in less myopic fashion. My ever-increasing collection of enriching moments made me grow as a person. Soon, I started to discover that I was getting less clumsy and more alert and my self-confidence increased. I began to step out of the confines of textbooks and graduated from vicarious experiences to real ones.
In Hong Kong, a Latin businessman engaged me on a chat regarding the growing market for Cuban cigars in Asia and I found myself bluffing my way on a topic I didn’t know anything about. After training myself not to be scandalized by the sight of naked bodies walking on the beach of Australia’s Gold Coast, I still got shocked when I saw a man snorting cocaine inside an elevator in a hotel in Melbourne. He even offered me his stuff, and smirked at my face when I politely declined his offer. In Kota Kinabalu, I had an intimate conversation on spirituality with a pretty, kind Swiss woman, who happened to be an atheist. When I entered a bar one sweltering afternoon in Kangaroo Island, everyone stared at me that I felt like a Martian who has stepped on Earth. Later, I learned from the waitress that it was the first time that an Asian entered the bar. “I hope you don’t mind, but can I touch your skin?” she awkwardly asked, “I’ve never seen anyone so brown. And your hair is so black!” Whoa, I told myself. I have really traveled far!
The thrill is in the packing, but the pain is when one pays the bills. The excitement starts the moment the mode of transportation moves, but the real joy comes when one returns home. For all its hassles and fun, traveling rejuvenates, illuminates, enlightens, transforms and enriches the self. It is delicious and invigorating. As one writer aptly puts it, “traveling is a birthing of sorts.”