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Can travel heal a broken heart?

February 6, 2014
China

He flashed that smile; his green eyes twinkled under the fairy lights on Orchard Road that Christmas evening. I traced the dent on his cheek and muttered, “Dimples. That’s what it’s called in English.” “Grübchen,” he replied in German, and we walked hand-in-hand under glittering lanterns and trees covered in artificial snow.

Fast forward to a few weeks later and I found myself on that stretch of road again. The fairy lights are gone. So is the guy with the grübchen. What’s left is a dent in my heart, and a strong desire to kick myself for what just happened. Had I followed the first item in my rulebook—thou shall not fall in love with a long-term backpacker—I would’ve saved myself from this heartbreak.

But it happened, and ended as quickly as it came. It didn’t start in ways that you would imagine. No, not after hours of conversations during bus rides in Cambodia or some cinematic love-at-first-sight encounters in southern Thailand. He was not the first backpacker who had shown interest in me either. There were a couple of guys before him but I was too quick to dismiss them, sticking to my belief that developing feelings for someone doing a round-the-world trip is as good as effortlessly digging my heart’s grave. People always leave anyway.

We met in my city, which made it all the more heart-wrenching when it ended. He was travelling around Asia then, I happily surviving in my world with occasional encounters with backpackers. He flew to my city twice after our first meeting—which is considered two trips too many to a small island-state. We had initially thought we could make it work despite being in two different continents but the map is not something we can bend and adjust in our favour.

Though it happened in a span of months, it still felt long enough to have me crushed by the end of it; heartbreaking enough to leave me contemplating packing my bags and fleeing this city tainted with memories of—and with—him. I can’t sit long enough in Starbucks without being reminded of our conversations on geography and the NBA; I can’t play a quiz app on my phone because I know I wouldn’t score perfectly without him by my side. Every corner of my city feels like it’s stamped with that grübchen-filled smile. I cannot simply look away; I wanted to run away.

I have to admit, I’m the type who turn to airports for sanctuary. My knee-jerk reaction to any looming source of stress is to book a flight some place new and unheard-of, hoping that the ‘foreignness’ of it would leave me in awe, and push the stress away. Travel keeps my sanity when everything feels overbearing, the very reason my overseas writing assignments and personal trips are scattered all over the calendar to give me enough breathing spaces. It’s relatively easy to do so: Stressed? Book a flight. Come back. Work. Stressed again? Repeat. My magazine job is a 9-to-5 with specific deadlines, and as long as I don’t check my emails during trips, I will be fine. I wanted to apply the same approach to mend my heart, to go some place where there will be no reminders of him. My job and career, however, is not something I can just pack in my bag and bring with me, and of course, a broken heart has no offline button, no airplane mode, no deadlines to beat. Emotions have no sense of place and time; the soul-crushing pain is within me, and I’m afraid movement of any kind may not necessarily equate to moving on. The grown-up thing to do is to face the memories, no matter how sad, and not to crumble with the pain. And that’s exactly what I plan to do.

Can travel heal a broken heart? I hope it does. And I’m going beyond hoping; I’m off to find out.

On Valentine’s Day—yeah, that commercial excuse of a special holiday that makes single people feel miserable for being alone!— I’m going to the place where the guy with the grübchen and I had planned (didn’t go beyond planning though) to meet up months ago when he was still on the road. I’m visiting some temples in Java, the place that signifies the time when both our hearts are still whole and full of eagerness, the place (other than my city) where my being alone would probably be at it’s hardest. I hope that the gods would somehow present their divine intervention to heal my heart. I’ll still be back in my city to work but I made sure that a trip (for a few days, at least) is a monthly endeavour: an overseas writing assignment in March, a company trip in April, a writing trip in May, a holiday in June. I’m not sure if it would be travel or time that would eventually help, but I could only hope that somewhere between getting lost and finding my stories, I also get my heart back to its painless state. And find my way back to love, in time.

Asia

Filipino Friday: Swimming with whale sharks in Donsol

February 10, 2012
donsol

One of my first real travel experience involved jumping into open sea and chasing sharks.

If you don’t believe then check the photo of the big shark scar that I have on my knee. 😉 Still don’t believe me?!

Great White Shark Cage Diving

Well, I maybe joking on the scar on my knee, but the swimming with sharks part was actually the real deal. 🙂 Though, the catch is that it’s not sharks a la Jaws – but are calmer and less prone to eating humans.

Ladies and gents, I present you the whale sharks or butanding as we call them in the Philippines!

Whale shark

Unline the sharks that we commonly know about – they only eat plankton and krills.

They are the largest fish species in the world measuring up to 12 meters in length (almost the size of a big bus). Their mouth alone, at 1.5 meters in width, is big enough to swallow a human being whole.

; )

They are commonly found on the world’s warm and tropical waters and luckily the Philippines have lots of them.:)

The coastal town of Donsol  is the hotspot in the Philippines if you want to experience swimming with them. The whale shark season is between January and May of each year.

Donsol’s is a prime example of sustainable tourism – mixing tourism development, bringing livelihood to its people and at the same time increasing awareness about these awesome creatures.

I did the whale shark interaction back in 2008 and it remains as one of my most unforgettable experience to date. We came late in the season but luckily still had a chance to see a couple of whale sharks.

Donsol

All the sightings can only be arranged from the main tourist office. You have towatch a video first about whale sharks and the rules you have to follow. Then you are brought to a boat together with a shark spotter. The shark spotters (or BIOS) used to be fishermen who used to capture these sharks for food – but now they’ve changed jobs to become the shark’s prime protectors!

Once they’ve spotted a whale shark, you’ll to jump in the open sea and swim so hard to follow these huge creatures.

You are not allowed to touch, ride, feed or swim right next to them (especially near their tails) for your safety and for the preservation of their habitat as well.

But definitely, it’s an experience that everyone should do!

To go to Donsol, fly to Legaspi (1 hour from Manila or Cebu) and it’s another 1 hour jeepney ride away to get to the Donsol town proper. Alternatively, there is a daily overnight bus that goes to Legaspi and Donsol. You can arrange the day you want to do the swim in their tourist office and will cost you less than 1500 PHP (30 USD) for the entire thing.

Have you tried swimming with whale sharks? Share you experience below!

About Filipino Friday: Every Friday, I’m going to showcase something unique about my home country , the Philippines. It can be a place, food, experience, custom or tradition that highlights what we our 7,107 islands can offer. I hope that through these posts – I can help bring awareness about the Philippines,  it’s beauty, hidden sites, quirkiness and diversity.

Are you a travel blogger? I’m inviting you to take part of Filipino Friday with me. All you need to do is post something about the Philippines every Friday. Contact me if you’re interested.

Asia

So I Went Alone: The Beauty of Solo Travelling

December 1, 2011
chiang Mai

“You’re someone who loves being with people, travelling with friends” was how one colleague describes me. And my latest trip – a three-day solo trip in Chiang Mai  – defies this belief and pretty much every fear I have of travelling alone.

Writers and bloggers the world over have romanticised the idea of solo travelling since time immemorial. It connects you to your deep self, it’s a good check of your map-reading skills, they would say. You know the motherhood statements that those narratives give birth to. I used to read those testaments with complete detachment – loathing the overly dramatic tones even – until I found myself in the middle of Wualai Road in Chiang Mai, walking along a sea of people scouring the Saturday market for tribal goods and found myself all alone. Ah, the freedom is overwhelming.

Chiang Mai, 31/01/10

I had not imagined myself writing this, really, waxing poetic about the joys of travelling alone, until I’m trapped in the middle of daily deadlines and found myself wishing that I were still relaxing and sipping hearty banana shakes in Thailand. For someone whose day job involves double-checking that all things are in place (grammatical and otherwise), it was a bit difficult for me to be as spontaneous as I hope I would be. Some of you out there may echo my sentiments: with only several days of granted leave a year, a depleting savings account and responsibilities that range from the emotional to the financial, we get tangled in our daily checklists. Every single day is a quagmire of must-dos and most likely, travel plans are the first to become collateral damage when ‘needs’ battle ‘wants’ (or as I used to say, when our wallet is at war with our wanderlust).

My weekend trip last month was my first attempt at going solo, and in a way, a small inch closer to spontaneity. I’ve stepped into the plane with only two things confirmed: I have booked a guest house (so my mum and dad would not worry where I would spend my nights) and I’m going white water rafting on my second day. Where would I eat, where would I go after dinner, who would I be with most importantly, deserve some big question marks in my head, which I had totally ignored.

Armed with semi-free tickets from a lucky draw (which got finalised less than 24 hours before my trip!), I told my parents and friends I’m going to Thailand alone. My parents and sisters are the most supportive surprisingly, with one of my sisters even telling me to also go to Koh Samui or Pattaya after Chiang Mai, and my mum is not as worried as I’d predicted. But my friends’ reactions range from surprised and worried (Why are you going alone? Is it safe?) to condescending (What is there to see in Chiang Mai?! Why there?) to that of awe (Can you do that? Are you gonna be okay alone?) At times, my petty concerns surfaced: What if something happens to me? What if I get sick during this brief period? What if I get lost? And the most superficial of worries: Who’s going to take my pictures?! (That’s why camera timers and tripods are invented, go use ‘em!) The trick is to get past the overthinking: pack your bags, hop on the plane and just wait for things to happen. Trust me, it’s all going to be okay.


Chiang MaiSo I went, I survived – albeit with a few bruises and whole body aching after falling from the raft  – and I’m here to tell the tales. There’s only one harsh truth about going solo: the first day is the most difficult, it’s like the backpacking rite of passage. The transition from your socially fine life at home and the lone backpacker mode before you is always hard. The moment I landed, I realised I’m really alone. The first meal is the most lonesome, since I am not used to eating lunch all by myself. But being free from the familiar is one the best things that happened to me this year. There is always something liberating about standing in the middle of a crowded street, looking for your next meal while grappling for the right words to say, as the people around you are speaking something alien to your ears. There’s no hassle of eating quickly, since I had no travel mate to worry about. The absence of an itinerary is also overwhelming; I can scoop the glass noodles of my pad thai with no ticking clock and printed schedule to always look at.

Back in the guest house, Wi-Fi has been my salvation, and not in terms of connecting with friends and telling them I’m okay, but because I realised I had not packed any maps or guidebook with me. I found a note on my phone saying that I should go to places called Love at First Bite and Mike’s Burgers (I forgot to list down the addresses!), both of which I haven’t had the chance to visit because I ended up ordering roti egg outside the Saturday market (It is love at first bite, too!) and having beef noodles and banana shakes with a fellow backpacker (concidentally named Mike) in a small corner of the walled city.

For some of you who have done an RTW backpacking trip alone for months or year, my concerns may sound petty, amateurish perhaps. But it’s a big step for someone like me who’s so used to being organised. And I loved every single minute of it. I was able to stop and stare at the nice views, and look at the souvenirs without someone nudging me to walk on. No one’s asking me to check my watch because we’ll be late for the next thing on our itinerary. I’m on my own time, reaching for my own targets (or lack thereof).

The truth is when you go out there, you are not alone, especially if you go anywhere near or along the Banana Pancake trail. Backpackers are everywhere and you just have to overcome the initial shyness and go talk to them! After all, the beauty of travelling is not on how we followed our itinerary by heart, but it’s the people we met, the stories that get swapped, the tips we take from those brief encounters with backpackers, who, after long days on the road, are reluctantly heading home. It’s those surreal moments when we are not defined by our jobs, by the gadgets we flaunt, by the clothes we wear, by the way we carry ourselves. It’s just you and the world, and the backpackers doing the same as you: exploring, leaving  the routine and the monotony of safe lives for a taste of the unknown across the border, or in my case, within a three-hour flight radius. Solo backpacking teaches you how to rely on yourself more, but more importantly, it connects you to strangers, to the places you only see in magazines and travel blogs, and you know, nothing can replace experience.

So before you roll your eyes (like I did, and I apologise) at those who continue to wax poetic about how they trudge along life’s offbeat paths alone, I suggest you go grab your backpack and step into the wide wide highways leading to your next great adventure. And if you can – actually you must, at least once – do it all alone.

Some of you have done an RTW for months or even years, but there’s always the ‘first time’. Where’s the first country you’ve been to alone? How was it? I’m so excited to hear your stories of “When I was in_____ alone, I_________… Hit the comment boxes and share your ‘travel firsts’! 

Cheers,

Nelly

from my sunshine spot north of the equator, wondering where and when my next solo trip would be

This is a contribution from Nelly Hernandez. Photos used from jrbubaker and Woody Shakti under creative commons license.


Asia, Challenges, Destinations, Experiences, Travel Blog

Bumps on the Road: Why It’s Important for a traveller to Be Flexible

November 3, 2011
Travel-flexible

Here I am – three days before my flight schedule to Bangkok, a trip that supposedly will tick off country #22 of my 25-country travel list.  However, the trip remains to be a big question mark.

I’ve booked my ticket to Thailand five months ago and next week will be my first holiday after six months. And now, most likely this trip will be cancelled unless the flooding situation dramatically improves.

As you may have seen,  most parts of Bangkok are still underwater and are showing no signs of returning to normal in the next couple of days. The flood water was from accumulated monsoon water coming from the north in the past 2 months and has so far claimed more than 400 lives and billions worth of damages.  I’m watching the news 24/7 and the situation more or less looks like it’s going to remain in the next coming weeks.

Splashing on the StreetMy original plan was to spend a few days in Bangkok and then work my way to Chiang Mai just in time for Loy Krathong before heading back again to Bangkok.  Another option is to fly to the south to Krabi or Phuket.

To be honest, I am very disappointed about not pushing forward. I’ve been looking forward to going to Thailand for a while now – fuelled by excitement from reading various travel blogs and sorting out advice from fellow travel bloggers. And to add that this is the third time that my trip to Thailand will be cancelled. (once in 2007, second in 2009)

But who am I to complain? My rant and worry are nothing compared to the problems the floods have caused to the Thais.

It’s tough to accept but I have no other choice but to suck it up and face these changes.

As a traveller, we are bound to have our plans change.  Plans are mere guidelines.

Things will not always go our way.  It can come as an unexpected detour, a delayed flight, or a personal tragedy and we have to be prepared to face it.

For example, how many times have  have we hesitated on visiting a place but end up staying there longer than we expected.

Or planning an itinerary then ending up changing plans last minute because some of the people in the hostel wants you to join their road trip.

But what is an adventure without being ready for the unexpected. Changes and spontaneity make travelling exciting. Often it’s the spontaneity that brings the excitement and thrill of travel – the offbeat path, the hidden thrills and the spontanous night where you get drunk and hooked up with this hot Swedish chick 😛 . those are the experiences that, as travellers, we often best remember.

Changing plans test out our capability to adapt to a situation and seek alternatives if needed.

As for me,  I’m looking into a Plan B for my trip – the current list is between Hong Kong or travelling locally in the Philippines to the beaches of Siquijor, Boracay or Coron. I have yet to make the decision and may leave it to chance come this weekend.

And still, there’s a possibility of going to Bangkok on Sunday and braving the floods. Ground reports are saying that the situation in the center remains to be normal and other cities such as Chiang Mai, Phuket and Krabi are unaffected. So why not push forward with it?

Lille

Who knows what will happen? Even I can’t even make my mind and I’m going to decide maybe in a couple of days.

Life is not constant. Events will pop out that will and can change our lives. And travel has taught me to be flexible and accept these changes whole-heartedly. Change will come, sometimes when we least expect it but it’s up to us to face it and make the best out of it.

* Thailand flooding photo from Flickr norsez and is used under Creative Commons license.

Asia

Filipino Friday: Taal Volcano

October 14, 2011
Taal

Every Friday, I’m going to showcase something unique about my home country , the Philippines. It can be a place, food, experience, custom or tradition that highlights what we our 7,107 islands can offer. I remember that on my travels, there are some people who are still unaware of where the Philippines  is or what the country has to offer. So I hope that through these posts – I can help bring awareness about the Philippines,  it’s beauty, hidden sites, quirkiness and diversity.

For my first post, I’m writing about Taal Volcano.

The Mouth of Taal Volcano

Philippines is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and home to a number of active volcanoes (official count was 50).  Taal Volcano is one of the more famous  volcanoes and also one of the most active in the country. Don’t worry though as its last major eruption was in the 1970s.

So what is so special about this volcano?

Taal Volcano is most known for having the world’s largest island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island (phew!).

To better explain:  the center most island is called Vulcan Point which sits on the Crater lake, Crater lake is inside Taal Island, which then is inside Taal Lake on the Luzon Island.  Don’t believe me? See the photo below (hard to see Vulcan point from here).

Taal Volcano from a satellite – Wikimedia Photo

I recently spent a weekend with my family in Talisay, Batangas – on a resort along the lake with a great view of the volcano. And I must say that it’s nice to wake up and have this view on your window.  😉

taal volcano

Considering that it’s only a two hour bus ride from Manila, it’s a great day trip to include on itinerary if ever you’re coming from Manila.  You can go to the city of Tagaytay for a view from atop overlooking the lake. You can also go to the town of Talisay and arrange a hike to the top of the volcano island. It’s a 45 minute hike to the top and can be done on foot or on horse. View of the crater island is worth the climb!

*Photos from deckchua & therealbrute under creative commons license

Have you been to Taal? What were your experiences? SHARE them below!

Are you a travel blogger? I’m inviting you to take part of Filipino Friday with me. All you need to do is post something about the Philippines every Friday. Contact me if you’re interested.

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