To travel is to make sense of our place in this world. It is by brief moments of displacement that we encounter the marvelous and the extraordinary.
This sparked my consciousness a few years ago when contentment confined me within the corners of my rented unit in Pasig City. Back then, with books by my bedside, to trek the expanse of the world was no problem.
But one day something moved me. There was a switch in me that clicked. I realized one has to go to places, and I shouldn’t be left behind.
Plans were made. Since I had just started my stint in the world of employment, thus wielding disposable income that could only go that much, there was an understanding among my travel buddies that we had to explore our country first before travelling abroad.
So we parasailed and partied in Boracay, hopped from one islet to another in Caramoan, relished the mangoes in Guimaras, snorkeled in the marine reserves in Apo and Balicasag Islands, reveled in the festivities of Cebu, returned to the artistic culture of Dumaguete, surveyed the sugarcane fields in Bacolod, frolicked in the waterfalls in Iligan, braved the whitewater rafting in Davao, bicycled on a tightrope in Bukidnon, explored the caves in Sagada, surfed in Baler and San Fernando (La Union), sated our appetites with delicacies of another San Fernando (Pampanga), and many more. When we almost reached our quota for local flavor, we finally immersed in the cultures of our neighboring Asian cities Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.
There are far more impressive excursions out there, but in the company of family and friends, the stories we learned and shared were the most rewarding part of the trip. Together our senses were overwhelmed: eye to colors, nose to aromas, skin to textures, tongue to flavors. We had the time of our lives!
And suddenly, something came like a dark shroud and cloaked the bliss I was in. Wanderlust was cut short with bewilderment. What was then a continuing series of wow is now a persistent reflection on why.
On October 15, 2013, Bohol was struck by an earthquake with a 7.2 magnitude. It took the province by surprise. In seconds hundreds of lives were claimed, homes rendered into rubble.
“Muoli ko” (“I’ll go back home”), I said, but my family in Tagbilaran suggested otherwise. Aftershocks just kept on coming, and it seemed unwise to return to a place with grounds tirelessly quivering. So I waited for things to tide over and prayed.
Then on November 3, typhoon Yolanda loomed. It was headed to Visayas. I prayed even harder. People had hardly gotten up from the earthquake.
The storm only brushed past Bohol, easing the hearts of many from fear. “Kaluoy sa Ginoo” (“God is merciful”), my mother said. But unfortunately not everyone was spared. Yolanda entered the country with a trail of destruction that was historic in its scale and aftermath.
I already knew to travel is to make sense of our place in this world. We know when we get there. But this instance is far from sensible.
A couple of days before Christmas, I got onto Flight 5J617 bound for Bohol. I was not sure how I felt then. Months had already passed since the first blow of the earthquake yet stories of people living in crowded basketball courts or shanties were as fresh as the breaking news on Yolanda.
The minute I stepped off the plane and out of the terminal, my father and mother welcomed me and suggested that we go visit our relatives in Loon, one of the hardest hit towns in the province. I agreed.
There we saw long stretch of streets cracked like backsides of crabs, bridges that led to nowhere, houses that had either tumbled down a slope, bowed to the ground, crumbled to scraps, or in some instances did what we could only describe as a Pilita Corales—whole structure bent backwards, front door and windows looking up to the skies. It looked like a face in search of answers in the heavens, seeking divine intervention. We laughed a little, but that was only to mask the gloom in the air.
We met a couple of our relatives now living in tents and huts. ‘Nang Edith, my father’s cousin, recounted the tragedy in detail, but neither regret nor confusion was present in her eyes. Instead there was fortitude. Or maybe I interpreted wrongly. Guilt was about to creep on me when my mother asked her how she and her family are coming by.
“Naa ra man gihapon ta diri. Padayon ra.” (“We’re still here. Just carry on.”) She cracked a joke.
Coping mechanism or not, help clearly is still needed. But I admired ‘Nang Edith. Hers was a response I did not expect from someone who had lost so much. She appreciated all the assistance she received, especially those from friends and relatives she both know and never heard for a long time.
We’ve heard a lot about the Filipino spirit and resilience, but nothing speaks volumes like this. And following the wake of Yolanda, the world has witnessed the most notable trait of a Filipino: He can overcome any obstacle and provide aide that equals the force of any earthquake or storm.
We left Loon and returned to the city, bringing a treasure of wisdom. It’s funny how a trip back home turned out to be the most life-changing. Though it is ironic how travel and tragedy seems to be so alike—both changes lives—I am thankful for the present. After the travels we made and despite the tragedies we encountered, my family and friends remain intact and now even stronger.
The calamities of the past made us cross the Rubicon. There is no turning back. There is only one way and that is to go forward, for we must continue venturing to another life-changing trip of our lives. All journeys never end.
Padayon (Carry on).