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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Big Trip : Five Months of Travel, Adventure, and Surprises


First Day 

I remember the first day of the Big Trip. We had drinks the night before, but I woke up early and full of energy. I was so excited. I’ve been waiting for that day for almost a year. There were days when I wanted to quit my job early and travel early. But I pushed on, I waited for the right day to start the Big Trip. 



Kota Kinabalu

I remember my answer when my two girlfriends asked me on our last night in Kota Kinabalu what I wanted to do on our last day there. I answered “I’m okay with anything.” Because I still had more than two months to travel. I was not in a rush. I didn’t have a Monday work day to go back to. It was a ‘A Map for Saturday’ moment. It was my first taste of freedom. And I still remember that feeling now. It was priceless. 

I remember the people inside the old rusty train on our way back from whitewater rafting. Their genuine smiles, their simplicity rubbing off on me. It was a very bumpy and rough train ride, but it was a very heartwarming experience. 

I remember the first time I went inside a mosque, wearing an abayyah. It was so solemn and welcoming inside. My faith got stronger during that moment. And to be able to go inside a very special place for my two Muslim bestfriends made the experience more fulfilling for me. 

I remember the fear and excitement I felt when I was falling in line to board the plane to Kuala Lumpur, and my two girlfriends sending me off. It was really happening, I was going to travel alone for a week before I meet my friend Paul in Singapore. 




Melaka

This old quaint town I fell in love with. Dinner by the river and warming up to a cat. The musician in the church ruins who sang “What a Wonderful World’ so heartfully. The L’Armada Guesthouse where I met some of the best people while traveling (Thomas, Jessica, Stefano, Silvia, and the nicest dormkeeper Juan). The colorful cyclos full of flowers. Waking up just before 6 am to the morning call for prayer of the mosque just right across the dorm. The smell of fragrant incense upon entering the Chinese temples. The church bells ringing just before sunset. And just the laidback relaxed vibe of this old town. 

9pm. With just a print out of the directions going to the dorm in KL, not even a map, I rode a bus from the airport to the metro station. Made friends with an Indian guy who helped me find the correct metro line to take. And feeling guilty after for hesitating and not trusting him. With my two backpacks on, I eventually found my way to the dorm. Eating out on my own the first night. Meeting Jen and going to Batu Caves with her. Meeting more backpackers and getting lost around the big city, but having fun nonetheless. Realizing that you don’t need to speak perfect English to communicate with other travelers, because most of them also don’t have English as their first language. And the funny night inside a dorm with 7 other backpackers and having to deal and laugh over a loud snorer. 


The organized and efficient city that is Singapore. Where people work to make ends meet or to fulfill their dreams. Where my two bestfriends are starting their new lives. The city where I imagined myself studying or working in almost six years ago. The city where I looked for India despite it being my next destination. But most importantly, it’s the city where I realized how different I really am from the young fresh graduate, ‘right’ career-seeking person I was before. Where I realized how much my priorities have changed. It caught me off guard how apparent the changes are, but it was the good kind. It was a good change. 



The country where I surprisingly felt at home in. The country that shocked, surprised, and made me fall in love with every single day of my stay.


Where I truly felt that I was on an adventure – riding a tuktuk and even walking through its chaotic streets, riding the train and trying to sleep peacefully, running through the streets of Delhi and making our way through a cramped train station while trying to catch a train that we just missed for less than five minutes, watching a dead body getting burned, visiting the Taj Mahal in a hazy, dream-like mood, capturing photos of the magnificent Golden Temple, doing a short trek to see the Himalayas where I first saw a snow-capped mountain ever in my life. And of course, seeing and hearing the Dalai Lama talk. Meeting and getting humbled by the Tibetans in exile.

And crying in the airport as we were about to leave for Nepal. Yes, that’s how I knew I fell in love with India and that I had to go back! 




Where I turned 26. The most memorable travel experience I’ve ever had. It wasn’t just the beautiful and majestic Himalayas, but it was more of how things turned out during our stay there.

From recuperating for a week in Thamel, relaxing, excitedly preparing and shopping for our gears for the Everest Base Camp Trek. Waiting from 3am to 4pm in the airport for a Lukla flight that we knew, somehow, from the very start was going to get cancelled. Finally deciding to do the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek instead after another day of canceled flight. 



Starting the trek with rain and foggy skies, until the day before my 26th birthday when the sky started to clear up. Waking up to a clear, cloudless sky on my birthday. It was a big lesson on patience. And of course the beauty and unique experiences from trekking in Nepal. Pushing yourself physically, mentally, and sometimes emotionally, every single day. To be rewarded by spectacular views of the mountains, the rivers, and by genuine friendships. Getting humbled by the Himalayas via symptoms of altitude sickness. But still convincing you to push it, slowly, to your limits - to be in a place surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the world. Being up there in the mountains was just peaceful and serene. 


The country I initially planned to go to during the planning stage. Until I realized that a two weeks stay is an injustice to the country. But nevertheless booked a return flight from there, more of forced to book it on the day that I was applying for an Indian Visa (because they require a return ticket). Booking a flight to Hanoi from Bangkok (2-day stop from Nepal) a few nights before leaving Nepal, just because there was a sale!


Traveling solo again. The country where I decided to just stay relaxed and enjoy my last days of freedom, my last stop before going back home, before going back to reality. And that I did, I decided to just have coffee and read a book by the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi than walk around to see the city sights. Walked aimlessly and got lost around the Old Quarter. Eating alone and by the street, just like what the Vietnamese are used to. Making friends with a Vietnamese family who were so nice to me. Singing karaoke old Vietnamese style and being the only foreigner along with my roommate in the hostel.

Enjoying Vietnam but still with a Nepal hangover and anxiety over going back home. Until I met a very special person during a taxi ride via a confusing transfer process to go to the sleeper bus for Hue. We were the only backpackers - me, him and his friend in the taxi, while the other backpackers were asked to go to a travel agency by the street. Confused I asked him if they’re also going to Hue. And that’s where our story started.



We traveled from North to South. Walked around Hue’s Citadel. Motorcycle rides to visit temples and monasteries in Hue. Visiting the temples of My Son on a rainy day. Walking around the lovely streets of Hoi An. Drinking and eating by the river. Watching the sunset and sunrise in Mui Ne’s beautiful sand dunes.

The country where I decided to take a chance again, and I’m glad I did. 





An extended Big Trip with Anthony the start of 2012. Enjoyed laid-back Chiang Mai just walking around the small streets and going to night markets. Trekking into its forests and watching the sunset up in the mountains, and riding an elephant.

But the highlight of Northern Thailand is definitely Pai. This small town up in the mountains is just wonderful. 



The cute artsy little shops, the beautiful and unique postcards, and the Thais who just love to smile. The beautiful scenery of the mountains, waterfalls, and the river. Coffee In Love. I find myself smiling now while I’m writing is. That’s how much I enjoyed and loved Pai.





The closest to the Philippines I have ever felt out of all the other Southeast Asian countries I’ve been to. The small huts, the rough roads, the feisty and happy kids who just play on the ground – it’s like being in one of the remote towns in the Philippines. But of course the landscape is different. Beautiful rivers and limestone mountains make up most of Northern Thailand.



Having early dinner by the Mekong River in Luang Prabang to wait for the sunset. The quaint little bungalows by the Nam Ou River in Nong Khiaw and with hammocks! Also in remote Muang Ngoi where I saw such wonderful children! Learned and played petanque with Anthony and our Lao friend. Just enjoying simple life at its best

Dusty, but really fun motorcycle ride in Vang Vieng in search of the Blue Lagoon. Having way too much fun (non)-tubing in the river. And yes, it was fun! But the key to a less-regretful ‘tubing’ or ‘non-tubing’ experience in Vang Vieng is to not bring so much money. But have fun and dance! Don’t forget to dance and let loose! ;) 


Palawan 

I’ve always told myself before the Big Trip that I will go backpacking in Palawan. And that I did. Anthony loves the beach and the sun. I mean seriously love it. He has this really genuine big smile whenever he sees the ocean and feel the sun’s warmth. So where else should I bring him here in the Philippines? 


Took a rough, long, and scenic ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. Found a cheap nipa hut a few meters from the beach. Realized how touristy El Nido is especially during the time we were there. And then realized why, when we took a tour of the islands. Because El Nido really is paradise. The clear waters and its different shades of blue. All the lagoons. And having lunch in the island where the Secret Lagoon is. That island is really beautiful. :) Camping in Pinagbuyutan Island and witnessing another beautiful Palawan sunset. Sundays, my NikonD40 who had to be fixed in Nepal, was really happy during that day. 



Spending a few days in Port Barton before going back to Puerto Princesa. The quiet, less touristy, filled with nice and happy people, and beautiful town of Port Barton. That’s when I truly felt how happy I was to be back home. Where we spent one whole day at the resort restaurant, by the beach, just playing cards and enjoying the view. Port Barton is my new Anawangin. It’s not as cheap and as near as Anawangin. But the peacefulness and simple life of Port Barton is the reason why I am going back there. And soon I hope. 


Last Day 

The day Anthony went back to France. The day I got a job offer. The day when I finally felt that it is time to take a break from traveling. When I knew that taking a break now will not be a regret. The day to start saving up again to do another Big Trip in a few years… or soon, who knows. 

It’s been more than a month since the last day of the Big Trip. And the memories are still fresh and alive within me. I carry it with me everytime. The reason why I’m working again. One of the major purpose of all of these. The reason why I find myself smiling from time to time. The best five months of my life so far.