Filipinos are very proud of the exquisite travel destinations their country has to offer, and rightly so. The country is surely one of the richest in the world when it comes to places to see. Except experiencing the beach life on white, black, or pink sand, you can go camping at isolated paradise islands, see 2,000-year-old rice terraces, witness wildlife found nowhere else on the planet, visit the volcano inside a volcano, and so on, and so on.
It’s no wonder the people in here – be it locals, expats or tourists – love to talk about and compare the beauty of the “must-sees” of the country, and as a newbie here I am expected to be extremely interested in this topic – however, I’m usually not. When the others sense this, they get worried. Worried that I’m still unaware of how amazing the Philippines can be, and worried that I would leave the country without having seen its true beauty. Yet, I’m not worried. I’m not worried because in my life I’ve already been lucky enough to see a few of these “must-sees” in this world, and what I’ve learned is that it’s not usually in those places where the true beauty of a country – or a travel – lies in.
What I felt was amazing about Cambodia was not seeing the Angkor Wat, amazing was when I sat on a wooden floor in a circle of men – celebrating the Cambodian New Year as a guest of a local family in their humble home. What was awesome in China was not seeing the Great Wall or the Tibetan landscape, awesome was to come home from a roundtable business dinner to drink beers on the street with fruit vendors and barbers – my friends from the neighborhood. In India, after getting lost with my motorcycle, I found myself in a tiny village where the village elder showed me how life is been lived and how people relate to each other in a true Indian way – I didn’t go to see Taj Mahal, but judging from the pictures, I think it wouldn’t compare to that.
Travels of a human rights worker
After already having those experiences, what I came to Philippines for was not to see the country the way it’s covered in the travel magazines. I already knew that the beauty of a scenery from a mountain peak or having a whale shark swimming next to you can blow you away for a moment – but I also knew what are the kind of experiences that can blow you away for a lifetime.
What amazing is there to discover then in the Philippines if not the places listed in the Lonely Planet? Well, in the mountains of Rizal, I stayed with indigenous people and learned about their thousand-year-old way of seeing the world as a place where sharing, not owning, is what breeds happiness. In the Bondoc Peninsula, I shared a fresh coconut with its farmer while he gave me a lesson of the rules that apply where the rule of law is a pure fiction, just before witnessing a smile expressing relief and gratitude towards me from someone who suffered from this the most grave way. And so on, and so on.
The places where these happenings took place are not on the list of the top travel destinations in the Philippines, yet it was in those places where I had all that – moments of realizations of something that connects us all, no matter from what kind of a reality we come from. And these are the kind of experiences that can blow you away for a lifetime – and make you who you are today.
As somebody working for human rights in the Philippines, I’m lucky to have an easy exit to burst out from my own bubble of reality all the time. But that exit exists for us all no matter where we are, if we only want to find it. For me, the easiest way there has been through connecting with the people around me, better yet, with someone who seems to live in a different world than me – that is “humanitourism” at its best, and it’s a way of traveling, and living, free for all.
TFDP at Bondoc Peninsula