Sibuyan Island, Romblon.
It has been exactly two months and five days since I came back from a five-day adventure in Romblon – a trip that has somehow etched an indelible mark in my otherwise mediocre life. I purposely delayed writing my whole experience just so I could put a distance between what happened and how I saw things unfold as I feel this could dilute whatever objectivity the stories and learning that I’m going to tell you. If you are looking for a typical travel post, I may have to disappoint you and for that I apologize in advance.
Bear with me as this post may sound too personal, but then again, aren’t all genuine and heartfelt stories personal ones? These are my thoughts on travelling and finding meaning in it (and in life) during my trip with folks from Experience Philippines in Romblon.
My life, to a certain extent, is a constant struggle between “thinking” and “doing”, with the former almost always getting the upper hand in the argument. Don’t take me wrong, I love adventures and the thought of them, but if you ask me how many I actually have been in, I could count it with the ten fingers in my hand and still have spare fingers to pick my nose with. I was comforted by the idea that I was “kind of” already living life just by talking about those things in the comfort of my home and the reassuring words that I know. But after a while, I decided that I had to stop talking about travel and just do it.
So when I saw the Experience Philippines’ post about a five-day getaway in an unnamed place, I grabbed the opportunity to be back on the road and walk the talk. When people asked me what the heck was I thinking going with a bunch of people I don’t even know to a place they don’t even want to name until you’re there in the bus/car/boat with little chance of turning back, I just shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t even know the reasons myself. It was scary, yes. Was it worth the risk? Prior to the trip, I’m not sure. It felt insane, really. Afterwards, though, all of those were the things that made the whole trip what it is: epic.
Despite being a writer by profession, I usually find myself out of words on things that concern my own thoughts, so let me borrow words from one of the best essays about travelling that I know –Pico Iyer’s Why We Travel – to somehow illustrate the whole experience:
“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again – to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.”
In Romblon, we saw caves and dead people’s remains. We jumped off a cliff, swam the clearest waters and ate sea urchin fresh from the sea in nearby Cobrador Island. We learned the islands’ history from a local expert who loves his province so much. We witnessed thousands of fireflies lighting up mangroves in the dead of night, bringing Christmas a little early than usual. We swam in the cold, fresh water of Lambingan Falls and explored the charming and enchanted rivers and nature of Sibuyan Island. We ate local food, bonded with the local people and made lasting friendships and impressions. We basked in the sun, felt the sand in our feet, breathed the fresh breeze and enjoyed the company of fellow free souls.
Yes, it wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies. We had to wait for almost five hours to board the rundown ship to Romblon. We had to sleep in moth-eaten and uncomfortable bunk beds. We had to eat instant noodles again and again because food ran out before people could even ask if there are any to begin with. We had to put up with not brushing our teeth because there weren’t any trusted clean water and hold our poop because keeping it in seemed like a better idea at the time. We even had a small accident in the ship with one of our fellow travelers.
But all those bumps made the whole landscape more mountainous, more majestic. I’ve always been fascinated with stars in clear night skies. But in Romblon, I realized that camping outside and just lying on the grass under the light of a billion stars is so much more gratifying (and, arguably, comfortable) than any five star hotel. After all, those accommodations just have five stars compared to the countless sparkly dots in the night sky.
I learned that comfort when travelling is relative. I had the notion before that travelling on a tight budget means foregoing several comforts including a good bed to sleep in and a comfortable environment where you can feel safe. In the company of my fellow travelers from Experience Philippines, I felt most secure although the good bed may be a little hard to argue against (and oh, the snoring!).
I also realized that having itchy feet is something to be proud of. While it’s okay to be focused on our careers to secure a comfortable future, I learned that living, breathing and embracing the “now” is as important as the not so distant future we fervently prepare for. Iyer said that traveling not only teaches us about the world, it also teaches us things about ourselves because by being always on the move, we open ourselves to possibilities (and vulnerabilities) that can push us out of our comfort zones and our limits. Yes, it is risky and, to some, the risk may not be worth taking. But life is too short for any of those. As author Neale Donald Walsch said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
Travelling with free souls and like-minded people also thought me the difference between “looking” and “seeing.” It’s common knowledge that we’re always on the look for answers and meaning. But looking for answers and searching for meaning becomes two different things when travelling is concerned. Yes, travelling lets us see breathtaking sights, eat delicious exotic foods and meet extraordinary people but the act of being always on the move can also both rip us apart and make us a better person. I believe I left a part of myself in Romblon and, yes, it was such a great feeling. I believe that having that encounter made me a better person because now I find greater meaning in things than just taking for granted the mere pleasure of getting to experience all these wonderful feelings. But the whole thing also sometimes rips me apart because of all the “could” and “what ifs” that I can only just relive by looking back at things in nostalgia.
Sibuyan Island, Romblon.
“People leave traces of themselves where they feel most comfortable, most worthwhile.” – Haruki Murakami
Travelling in Romblon with people who live life on the road as much as talking about it, I learned a lot of things. I understood some. But, most importantly, it made me look at things with a little more passion, a little more drive.
So do things. Discuss them. Do them with people who see the world in the same eyes that you have, whether it be travelling, writing or doing art. It’ll be worth all the hassle, I promise 🙂