Friday, March 16, 2012

5 Year Old Girl Goes to Saudi, Then More

I was 5 years old, and my sister was 7.

It was our second trip to Saudi Arabia, but that summer, we were to go there by ourselves. Mom and our younger brother already went ahead to visit dad. All throughout the flight, our knees wobbled, until the time we were to deplane. From the plane to the immigration, a flight attendant was by our side. It was only when I saw a familiar face, that of my parents', did I breathe a sigh of relief.

That plane ride, was the most vivid experience I ever had of traveling.

I knew that on the other side of the Philippines was a different world ready to be explored.

But I was still young then. And for some reason, that "revelation" was kept from me and somehow put on hold, until I was ready.

Fast forward several years, travel for me meant being on a package tour--to Singapore, Hong Kong, or Thailand--staying in hotels, buying souvenir items from expensive shops where we blindly follow wherever the tour operator takes us (and where they get, ahem, a hefty commission), and taking the same photos of the same landmarks which the other half billion of the world tourists take. Wanting more of the world, and wishing it was more affordable for a Filipino like me to see it, I daydreamed of a concept where it would be possible to knock into someone's door and ask to be taken care of. In return, I can offer my place for them to crash in.

early years of "touring"

That's when a traveling friend of mine posted a link of hospitalityclub in her multiply site (yes, Multiply was the Social network that time), which was exactly what I was looking for! A few months after creating my profile, I received my first guest, and months after, CouchSurfing was born.

Receiving more guests, it opened my mind to a whole new world of traveling. I have learned that I don't need to always stay in posh hotels to enjoy a country. That there are budget airlines which will allow me to travel reasonably.

Being exposed to travelers gave me the courage to jump into the unknown. To take that leap of faith.

Guadalajara, Mexico.

March of 2006, I took on my first ever solo backpacking trip. The rest they say is history. So what did I learn from it? I learned that…

.There's always a local price and a tourist price.
When I went to Jogjakarta to visit Borobodur, my host specifically told me not to speak. Looking similar to Indonesians, I passed as a local so he got tickets for both of us at a local price. I know it's not the right thing to do, and I don't wish for you readers to follow suit. But ssshh, don't tell the authorities.

.For female travelers, it is always safer and better to stay with moms or families.
There's something about moms that is just nourishing. Mothers make me feel safe, and taken care of. They make sure I'm warm, and well fed. In honor of mothers I met in my trips, I wrote an entire post about them.

Left: Tita's mom (bless her soul)
kept the drinks and food coming

.The best souvenirs are those that do not collect dust or take up space in my baggage.
I treasure photos more and experiences I can tell my grandchildren. Like when the taxi we booked at 5am to go to the Batam Ferry Terminal did not show up, we were left with no choice but to motorcycle, braving the rain!

.The weather in the Philippines is not the same as the world's.
It is a very basic skill, I know. But I learned it the hard way. I thought I was a seasoned traveler thinking "Hanoi is part of Vietnam, so the weather's gonna be like the Philippines. Light clothing. Check." Haha, turns out that it gets nippy in February. I had no choice but to buy a bubble jacket to keep me warm and sane to enjoy the trip.

Also that trip to Australia when I knew it was winter, but assumed it would only get as cold as Baguio. Hah! Good thing my hosts had thick jackets to lend this poor Filipina.

Darling Harbour. Sydney, Australia.

Brrr. Freezing at Halong Bay.

.Regardless of race, human beings are, by nature, hospitable.
This brings me back to that day in Mongolia where I was wandering aimlessly in the vastness of a camp outside UlanBataar. I happened to chance upon a mother tending her cattle. Somehow sensing I was curious, she bid me to follow her to observe her ritual. I did not speak her language, but I immediately felt her hospitality by letting me into her world. She came back from their ger clutching a bucket. By now, I was walking close by. After milking her horse, then the cow, a nod of her head gave me permission to follow her inside the ger (tent). She poured the bucket of milk into a drum, then brought out a bowl, scooped a ladle from another container and handed me some of her home-made yogurt!

yummy yogurt from horse-milk!

.Give and it will come back to you.
I will be honest, at the start of my "backpacking" career, all I ever thought of was how to do everything cheaply and how to stick within my budget. But I realized that as long as I think that way, somehow the universe conspires to get something back from me.

Like that time when I trekked the jungles of Malaysia in Kampong Semuti. Although I hiked with locals, the family we spent the night in were locals of the kampong. I woke up the following morning MYR 100 short. Someone took money from my wallet. And that time in Yogyakarta where I attended the Garebeg Mulud. Two cellphones snatched.

still happy.
When I renewed my way of thinking, like in Jeju, having a generous amount I was willing to spend, that's when I was in the "receive" mode. And the universe was conspiring again to just give back to me!

Being treated like royalty.
Jeju, South Korea.

.I can never stress enough the value of home and culture exchange. 
Knowing that for Filipinos, we can only go to 50 countries visa-free, that meant it may take a while for me (to save up and) to see more of the world. I decided to bring the world to my home. We have received Asians, Westerners, and Europeans. French guests would cook for us. The Maori mother and son tandem taught us how to do the hakka and how to dance the poi. And in my travels, the experience I have with the locals are far more precious than if I were to brave their country on my own.

Harley teaches my male cousins "hakka"

I would have to say that NO single trip changed me. Only when I took that leap of faith, and decided to  explore the world, was I transformed to see it differently.

This is Cheap Travel for Women's entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers' March 2012 Blog Carnival themed "Leap of Faith: When Travelling Changed My Life".

To be hosted by Reiza of Wander If You Must.

Enjoy more PTB Blog Carnival themes and entries by clicking on the carnival logo.


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