“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? –it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
–Jack Kerouac, On the Road
I can’t help but laugh as I turn the page to this line. I’m on the overnight bus from Sagada Mountain Region back to Manila, my too-long-legs awkwardly jutting out into the aisle. I have just said good-bye to yet more incredible people, and it is as if Jack Kerouac has taken the words right off my heart. Just trade the American plains for the Cordillera Mountains.
For the past five days, I have been adventuring in the mountains, caves, waterfalls and rice terraces of Northern Luzon. I rejoiced in the cleansing fresh air, the adrenaline-pumping spelunking, and the breathtaking beauty; my reason now rejoices in injury-free survival. [Note: adventure activities do not have safety standards in the developing world]. Though any trip involving a four-hour caving adventure that necessitates free climbing and swimming through underground channels would automatically win my affection, this week was especially magnificent due to the company. Brought together by our hostel in Manila, we were six in all – two Russians, one Argentinian, one Norwegian, one Portuguese-German, and one American (me); or, one couple and four solo travelers.
The backpacker enclave is such that there is always someone interesting to meet. At some level, you already have a common interest: love of travel. This connecting thread, mixed with a mutual desire to get to know fellow travelers, allows for easy friendships. Though short – maybe only a few days or simply an afternoon – these relationships are rich and not easily forgotten. They allow you to learn and experience not only the culture of your destination country but also that of your travel buddy. Every nationality adds an additional dimension to a conversation, increasing its depth (and your own understanding) exponentially. And more importantly, they understand you in a way that only another backpacker can – how this experience of long-term travel (popularly defined as more than two months) changes you to the core.
Our group in the Philippines was just this: beautifully diverse yet strung together by our united spirits and conjoint wanderlust. But as quickly as we came together, so we must break apart. Our itineraries now diverge, and my time in the Philippines comes to a close.
I spent my first week (plus some) here exploring the capital. Another city scorned by the average backpacker, Manila is not one to amaze at first glance. Yet taken in its history – ravished by every manmade and natural disaster possible – the city and its people will astound you. The ‘Pearl of the Orient’ may be snarled with traffic, clogged with pollution and riddled by poverty, but look for the key to its resilience, its ability to thrive as an Asian metropolis, and you find its jewel: the Filipino people. Through every hardship, every overstepping imperial power, every corrupt politician, they persevere with an unmatched zest for life. Wander the streets for merely seconds and you will be greeted by a smile sure to win your heart.
I admit: I may be biased. For half my life, I have considered a Filipino American family to be my second family. I started to babysit their children when I was only 12 years old. At the time, Annalise was six, John Harry three, and Lizzie unborn. Now they are 17, 14, and 9, respectively, and their family has become my extended family. I see their reflection, the reflection of my pseudo siblings, all over the streets of Manila. The kids here don’t even have to smile – they already have my heart. Pair this predisposition with my transportation interests, and you will begin to understand my infatuation with the city.
As the home of the Asian Development Bank and its various spinoff organizations (e.g. Clean Air Asia), Manila benefits from a concentration of development, including transportation, policy experts (as well as accessible capital). A perfect place to learn more about projects and goals in the Philippines and across Asia, a perfect place for me. I floated, in the most professional of ecstasies, through meetings with people in the crux of projects and research I hope to someday emulate. It was a week of days where I felt like I was in exactly the right place; that nothing could be more perfect, more full of possibility, than the present. And it made life wonderful.
Tomorrow, I fly to Tokyo. Aside from six days in Singapore, I have spent the last six and a half months in developing countries. Japan will be a whole new world, one that – to my own disbelief – I will first explore with my mother. This has been the longest period in my life in which I have not seen her. The prospect of spending time with her erases my melancholic thoughts as I close another chapter, Southeast Asia, and leave more friends on the horizon. So it goes. A new horizon waits.
Onto ‘the next crazy venture beneath the skies’!