If you have to give up something in exchange for an opportunity to travel for six months under php100,000 budget, would you be crazy enough to do it?
I quit my job, and did exactly that.
From February to July of this year, after years of procrastination, I finally gave in to my itchy feet and Alex (my camera) and finally did what I love the most – to travel and shoot photographs. In a span of six months, I hiked the sleepy town of Batad, paddled the whitewater rapids of CDO, shot the Milky Way Galaxy in Zambales, roamed the streets of Boac during Moriones Festival, explored the heritage town of Taal, swam with whale sharks in Oslob, island hopped Palawan and Western Visayas and basked in the pristine white beaches of El Nido, Honda Bay, Camiguin, Marinduque, Calaguas, Dumaguete, Guimaras and Siquijor.
During those crazy months I had slept in tents, in bunker beds, in a hammock, in makeshift huts with no electricity, in a haunted hotel, in a bus with some marijuana junkies and under a parked truck in a moving Ro-Ro. I had sampled the sweetest fruit (arguably in the world), ate mango flavored carbonara, pizza and adobo. I had also tried crocodile meat, wood burrowing mollusks and sea urchins. All in exchange of crossing out a considerable amount of items on my travel bucket list.
I wanted to see if it is really more fun here. Last year when I was busy counting the smiling faces at the façade of the Bayon temple in Siem Reap, a Swiss lady asked me to take a picture of her. Turns out that she just came from a month long vacation in the Philippines together with her family and she’s very happy to learn that I am a Filipino. She told me few places that she had been and she kept on telling me how nice the people they had met, the food and the places they had been. That is when I realized that almost all of the places she mentioned were the places I have not yet been to. There I was visiting some of or our Southeast Asian neighbors and I did not have any idea what it is like in my own backyard. So I decided this year to forgo all my trips abroad and travel locally. Turns out that it is indeed more fun in the Philippines. And more.
From Luzon to Mindanao, up in the mountains to some of the best beaches and popular festivals, here’s where I landed:
- Banaue – Batad Phototrek – my trip to the mountains of the Cordilleras kickstarted my adventure. Few days after I resigned from work, I took an 8-hr bus ride to Banaue with 17 complete strangers sharing one passion: travel and photography. It was two days of trekking, camwhoring, eating, riding on top load of jeepneys and socializing with the Ifugaos and their majestic rice terraces. I could not believe I had survived trekking Batad and lived to tell the tale. Cold weather, great food, warm Ifugao hospitality and the imposing terraces covered in mist will definitely make you say to yourself you will come back even before you take the bus back to home.
- Clack Field Pampanga / Baywalk MOA – Some regular attractions are drawing in locals and tourists alike. One lazy February day, I woke up at 2am and hit the road for the 19th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in OMNI Aviation Field at Clark to get good spot to watch and shoot hot air balloon enthusiasts, paragliders, skydivers and jet pilots from all over the globe flew their toys and everything that flies over the vast field to the enjoyment of the crowd. Later that evening, I headed to Mall of Asia to watch the 4th Philippine International Pyromusical Competition where Taiwan and Spain gave out an amazing fireworks exhibition.
- Camiguin / CDO – I must confess that I have a weakness for virgin white beaches so by March, I asked a good friend to tag along with me to Mindanao having two things in mind- to island hop and whitewater raft. Indeed, Camiguin and Cagayan De Oro proved to be a great stop for adventurers looking for once in a lifetime experiences. There seems to be no shortage of what you can do and visit in these places from pristine white sandbars to sunken cemeteries, hot and cold springs, fantastic waterfalls and amazing whitewater rapids. The only thing we ever got short of is time!
- Nagsasa Cove / Capones Island Zambales – Before March ended and welcome the start of summer in the Philippines, some of my photography buddies and I headed to Zambales for some island camping experience. Clear cloudless and moonless night at the cove is perfect for one thing – astrophotography. Personally, I got excited as I managed to shoot my very first photograph of the Milky Way Galaxy, after almost a year of scouting for perfect location. Aside from that, the place is perfect for adventure seekers wishing to commune with nature. No electricity and proper accommodation only add to the appeal of this perfect getaway!
- Marinduque / Moriones Festival – For the Lenten season, I headed to Marinduque- one of the most popular destinations to celebrate the Holy Week in the Philippines. I shot, ate, and roamed the streets of Boac and Mogpog together with the masked centurion guards under the sweltering summer day. In between parade and festivities, I hit the fine white beaches of Poctoy, sample local delicacies, and observed the solemn religious penance of the locals since the 1800s. One of my memorable experiences? Sleeping under a truck that’s inside the boat while crossing the Tayabas Bay bound to the heart shaped island.
- Calaguas Island – Summer was in full swing when I decided to tag along with some friends and headed to Bicol region to check one of the top up-and-coming local destination of the Philippines. Calaguas Island boasts fine powdery white sand beach that’s perfect for nature lovers. It is Boracay minus the crowd and the absence of electricity and modern accommodations that added its pristine and unspoiled appeal) (tip: hike on the nearby hill to get the best view of this virgin paradise)
- Taal / El Pasubat Festival – My next adventure is a trip down memory lane with the oldest and biggest church in the Orient as the backdrop. Co-inciding the annual El Pasubat (Empanada, Longganisa, Panutsa, Suman, Balisong, Barong Tagalog, Tapa, Tamales, Tawilis, Tulingan — the delicacies and crafts Taal is known for) Festival is the Visita de las Casas where we were treated with visual and gustatory feast and a crash course on the rich history of Taal and its people. Heritage houses after heritage houses, we saw not just antique furniture well kept, memorabilia’s perfectly restored and structures impressively maintained but a piece of history being preserved for posterity and in perpetuity.
- Puerto Princesa and El Nido – It was already the tail end of summer by June but there’s no stopping by as I headed to Palawan and experienced another island hopping adventure! From the subterranean underwater river to Honda Bay, Puerto Princesa boasts of unspoiled beauty and irresistible charm that can leave anyone begging for more. From the capital, I went up north to experience the perfect island paradise getaway only the islands of El Nido can give. Voted as the top island destination this year by Travel and Leisure, its secret lagoons, imposing karst formations and hidden beaches, the place boasts of irresistible beauty and inviting aura that will surely make you want to go back again and again.
- Western Visayas – To cap off six crazy, travel-spree months, I decided sometime in July to just go on a week long journey to the heart of Visayan region to sample the sweetest mangoes of Guimaras, photograph the old but impressive churches of Iloilo, pig out in the bustling, old university town of Dumaguete, swim with the majestic whale sharks of Oslob in Cebu, toured the mystical but enchanting island of Siquijor.
It has been one heck of a ride for me. I’ve read somewhere that “traveling outgrows its motives. It soon proves sufficient in itself. You think you are making a trip, but soon you will realize it is making you – or unmaking you”
During those 6 months on the road, I learned how traveling can frustrate you; how it could bring you down and how, sometimes it could bring out the worst in you. But I also learned to become a better person because of it. There is something about travelling that enrich you, invigorates you and give you this profound sense accomplishment. So travel whenever you could. There will come a point when you stop being a tourist and become a traveler, in a truest sense of the word. So go out. Explore more. If anyone would ask if I would do this again, given another chance, I would say yes in a heartbeat. Maybe it’s the wanderlust in me. I just couldn’t stay still.