I travel to many places in the Philippines due to the nature of my work. Last time I counted, and if my memory serves me right, I visited 33 different provinces – from as far north as Ilocos Norte and as far south as Davao del Sur – since I came back from Guam in 2009. I lost count on the towns and cities I visited. My travel to these places has contributed greatly to both my personal and professional growth.
Just last May, I visited two provinces each in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Such travels made me realize a few things about life, love, and relationships. I chose 6 places in the country that has taught me so much about life in general. These places, my memories in my visit, and the people I traveled with and met all helped me learn these lessons.
1. Mt. Apo taught me that no matter what the struggle is, you’ve got to hold on.
Mt. Apo is the first mountain I ever hiked. Yes, my first time going up a mountain involves going up the highest in the Philippines. It was a tough climb considering the many steep slopes, the constant rain which made the path slippery, and the rigour of doing it wearing an army uniform. Much to the shock of everyone, I even slipped and fell off a cliff halfway into the climb. I only survived because I managed to hold on to the grass that prevented me from falling about 200ft down to a bed of rough boulders. The experience was traumatic but we decided to continue the hike and eventually reached the summit.
Mt. Apo taught me that no matter what the struggle is, even if involves you falling, you need to hold on and keep the fight. Life is like a hike: it is filled with difficult struggles, of ups and downs, of clean paths and rough ones, of many rains and sunshines. And you get through, you reach the top. Then you will realize that all of it was worth it. Failing-slipping or falling- in the hike of life should not stop you from reaching the top: your goals. You just keep going.
2. Sagada taught me that everything comes to an end – even the good things.
Sagada gained a lot of visitors after the film That Thing Called Tadhana hit the cinemas. Even before that, I already placed Sagada on the list of places I wanted to visit. In a random, unexpected, unplanned moment, I went to Sagada.
It was a long trip and despite the rough travel through seemingly unending zigzags around mountains, it was a pleasant one. I enjoyed the scenery through one of the country’s most dangerous highways. The destination was more stunning because of the true beauty of Sagada.
With one great friend, we did the things one would in Sagada: go spelunking in Sumaguing Cave, see the hanging coffins, watch the sunrise in Kiltepan, eat lemon pie and all the amazing food the town had to offer, go around a place rich in culure and history, and look at the milky way galaxy because of a such clear sky.
The Sagada trip gave me the much needed break from the busy city life in the Metro and from a two-year continuous work schedule that I’ve had. It was a breather, a time off, an escape, a vacation. It is one of the greatest trips I had and the one of the greatest moments in my life. Saying I was happy is an understatement.
But then, I had to go back to Manila. Back to the reality that I tried escaping from. Back to work. Back to the busy schedules and rigid routines.
Sagada taught me that all good things come to an end. That is why it is very important to enjoy the moment as it lasts. Sagada taught me that everything we experience in this life – even happiness and, definitely, even pain – is fleeting and temporary. That you may escape your reality to experience a bit of the fantasy world you’ve wanted, but you always have to come back. That feelings change, and so do people, and so do relationships. That life goes on, you move on, and you prepare for the next great adventure. That you may get to experience a great moment in your life and you need to remember that it is temporary, so you have live it to the fullest. That there is no point in being sad as it ends because sooner or later, another great moment, perhaps even much more, is about to happen.
3. Don Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental taught me that you don’t always have to rush.
Don Salvador Benedicto is a simple municipality that is found up in the mountains of Negros Occidental. I visited this town for three times now: first in December 2013 when I was asked to go there and do the final planning for our project for Yolanda Survivors; second in April 2014 when our team visited Doc J and conducted a training program at his place; and third last May when my colleagues/friends and I visited Doc J again and had our vacation.
The first time I visited, the place had a nice weather. It was cold and really relaxing. I was sent there to work but it seems I actually worked for just about a total of 4 hours out of the 4 days I was there.
Life there was laid back. No rush. Everyone seemed to enjoy each moment of their lives without any rush or concern of time. They took time as they eat, which is also a great time to socialize. Everywhere you can see how simply they lived and it was perfect.
A cottage in Doc J’s Stop-Over is known as the Renz Cottage because it is where I first stayed. It is a lone cottage higher than the rest. Staying there gives you a good view of the surrounding mountains, cool breeze, and a lot of time and space to think and reflect. Having no phone signal made it better because you get to disconnect from the world for a while.
Don Salvador Benedicto taught me that there is no need to always rush. I have lived in the Metro where everyone is in a rush. I live in an almost minute-to-minute schedule where I have to make the most of time because of many things I have to accomplish. I rush because I don’t want to waste time. DSB taught me that taking things slowly makes you appreciate it better, it makes you live it. That taking things slowly makes sure you get to do it right, you get to see all of it, you can avoid mistakes and save yourself from the pain of it. That rushing things mean you also don’t get to have much time in it. That rushing through the moments of your life makes you lose its value. That time is indeed valuable and it is the best thing you can give to someone you love. That time becomes more valuable when you make much of it, not by rushing and doing many things in a short amount of time, but by putting time in what you do and making time for the people you love.
4. Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte taught me that the life is a long journey where the journey is more important than the destination.
Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte is one of those tourist destinations I always wanted to see since I was a child. It takes hours, more than half a day even, to get to the town from Manila. I only got the privilege of visiting Pagudpud because of a work assignment in Vigan.
I heard so many stories about the long trip it requires to get to the town. I also heard of many stories about how beautiful the place is. Its beaches and many natural sites, the windmills, the rock formations, and many others. Seeing them myself made me more amazed about its beauty.
Along the way, we did stopovers like visiting the dragon fruit farm where we had some really great food. It was also amazing to marvel at the engineering and human feat it took to construct the windmills. I even hugged one because they are just amazing! The beach was the highlight of course, so pristine and the view of the sunset made it all perfect.
Pagudpud taught me that life is a long journey where the journey itself is more important that the destination. We all know where our lives end-in death. And although travelling to Pagudpud doesn’t end in something as bad as death because it is the exact opposite, I learned this because I realized that if you don’t make the most of that long travel, you will arrive in Pagudpud all exhausted that you won’t be able to enjoy the place. As they say “sa haba ng biyahe papuntang Pagudpud, pagdating mo pagod ka na, pudpud ka pa“. So enjoy the ride, enjoy the journey. That when you get to the destination, it will all be worth it. It gives you more stories to tell. It gives you more photos to share. It gives you more memories to treasure.
5. Pikit, North Cotabato taught me that we have to face our fears no matter how uncertain they may seem.
Pikit, North Cotabato is one of the famous places in the Philippines but because of a reason unlike any of the other places included in this post-it is at the center of the armed conflict that has been going on for decades in Mindanao.
I went to Pikit for more than three times because of my field work with the military and for the survivors of the armed conflict in the region. The first time I went there, I was so afraid because I knew the danger (or so I thought) of being in the area. The news we receive in Luzon states how bad the armed conflict is in this region.
Much more, I was afraid because I had to do a lot of firsts when I was assigned there. First time to conduct a training of a skill, first time to fire guns, first time to go around a “war” area, first time to be so exposed in conflict. I also got to live the life of a soldier as part of my immersion. Through it all, I faced my fears.
Pikit taught me that we should face our fears no matter how uncertain they seem. That we are only afraid of what is unknown or that which is uncertain. That when we face our fears, we conquer them. That when we take the risk, we gain. That only when we face the unknown that we get to know. Our fears are there for a reason-for survival, but if you live in fear, you don’t get to live at all.
6. Batan, Aklan taught me that we only realize what we have when we lose it.
Batan, Aklan is a small coastal town in the Province of Aklan. It is one of the towns affected by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) but did not get much media attention as Tacloban. We went to Batan, in Songcolan, specifically, to conduct our Psychosocial Rehabilitation Program for the barangay. It was a three-month long project that required us to fly to Aklan every two weeks.
The first time we went to Batan, much of the town did not have electricity due to Yolanda. The Rehabilitation Project Office set by our partner, Friends of Peace, is in a resort fronting the beach. The resort did not have electricity then and we only got to have generator power for about 30 mins. in the morning and about 45mins. at night, enough to allow us to shower and do whatever we can.
We worked for the project in the day. At night, due to the lack of electricity, we spent time to just talk to each other. We found that really nice because we had more time to bond than to simply stare at our phones or work on our laptops. We shared stories, we shared time, we shared lives. We enjoyed it so much that when we visited for the third time and the electricity was back, we missed the moments when we didn’t have it.
Batan taught me that we only truly realize what we have when we lose it. Life had been easy for us in the Metro and many parts of the country that we tend to take things for granted. The simplest things we knew that we’ll always have like power, water, shelter. Not having those in Batan made me really thankful and feel blessed that I have more than enough, more than what I need to survive. Batan taught me to value those simple things. That I should always be thankful and also careful not take them for granted. That our family, our friends, and the people we love should be given time and priority. That indeed “what is essential is invisible to the eye”. That we should treasure even the simplest things. That we should not be afraid to share what we have.
All of these places, and the many others I visited, have given me so much. Of course, I look forward to the day of going back to visit them. My journey and my travels will always be with me. They are a part of me, just like the people I have met along the way. People who joined me in my adventures, strangers I met who would become my friends, locals who shared what they have, fellow travellers who make the journey much bearable. I will never stop travelling the same way that I will not stop learning and sharing what I learn.
Go travel! Take as much memories you can but make sure you do not leave behind trouble for those who will stay. Until our next adventure!