“Take only memories, leave only footprints.”
– Chief Seattle
Growing up, I’d always tell people to travel—mainly because I’m a nosy control-freak, but also because I was raised going places time and again, and I knew how good it felt to set foot on strange, new grounds. I’ve been an enthusiast of international travel all my life, wanting to get a feel of different cultures and immerse myself in the lives of those I see and meet. It got old after a while (I hate how stuck-up this sounds), waiting in empty airports in the middle of the night, anxiety-induced (long as hell) flights that will grant you little to no sleep, and seeing the same faces—over and over and over again, no matter where I was. Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling, and I really didn’t know what was happening either. It got to the point where I became homesick, even though I didn’t stay elsewhere for too long (or at least, long enough to feel it so severely), so I quit looking for hotels and flights and landmarks and cities and experiences altogether.
When a relative asked me a few weeks into the future if I wanted to go someplace, I felt like throwing up. Not knowing why this was happening to me only made matters worse. But then she suggested a location that really piqued my interest since 1) it was domestic, and 2) said relative hardly ever went for places within the country. So I said yes for the heck of it, throwing caution to the wind and hoping for the best, but not expecting anything mind-blowing either. What I got was beyond what my wildest dreams could have ever predicted for me.
The Philippines, my wonderful country, is an exquisite piece of gem. While I’d always been a proud Filipino, I never truly appreciated what the country offered. I took it for granted and didn’t think I’d be presented with places as beautiful as Sontorini, or cities as alive as the Big Apple, but I was wrong. And I don’t regret a single thing, because this is the sweetest way I could ever accept defeat of such spurious beliefs. I was home enough, and I knew that; but my heart had always been somewhere else, searching for adventures I didn’t think I’d find here. When I finally got to experience the country beyond Manila, I got the all too familiar feeling back, the one I always used to have whenever I visited places that were a bit too big and maybe a little too loud, rough around the edges but just the perfect amount of right. I felt like I was truly home again. This is why I wrote this book. It’s to share my sanctuary, with you.
Here’s the lowdown on your new favorite country. Sit back, relax, and let me do all the talking.
No more worrying if you’re gonna have a hard time communicating with the locals for when you want to reach a specific destination, or you want that Iced Coffee with whip. The Philippines is the third largest English-speaking nation in the world! Almost 95% of its population is comprised of well-versed people who may just be as chatty as you are, so come on over!
Oh, yes we are. The country is dubbed as the pearl of the orient seas for obvious reasons (an archipelago all ripe for exploration, right at your fingertips, anyone?) locals and tourists alike will have to agree—but if you’re still not convinced, let’s just say that by the end of this book, you probably will be.
Not only are we home to millions of endemic plant and animal species, the Philippines also has the highest level of marine biodiversity in the world; with over 200 mammal classes, 600 different kinds of birds, 300 reptile families, and almost at least 400 coral species. We like taking care of our animals and we value them dearly, please refrain from doing anything that may induce harm to them. Don’t be rude.
We take pride in our uniqueness. That’s why while the rest of the world is sporting a 110 volts a/c, we’re rocking 220. It’s wise to bring your own transformer when paying the Philippines a visit, even though most hotels—especially major ones—have 110 power outlets. Stay safe, kids, and please remember this! You don’t want to have problems during your peaceful vacation, especially not one involving electrocution.
Jeepyneys, which have since become a national—sometimes even cultural—symbol, are remnants of the American Military from the Second World War during their presence in the Philippines. This is also the most common form of public transport throughout the country—cheap and windy with friendly locals chattering about? Count me in! I’ll count you in, too. When visiting, make sure you hop on one for optimum satisfaction. Explore the islands like a local, Captain!
I’ll elaborate more on this later on in the book (this is, after all, the purpose of why this was written), but you can never go wrong with a country that offers a lot from sandy beaches that leave you in awe to bone-chilling rides that leave you with much of the same, but of a different kind—the good different, of course. Kayaking to spelunking, you name it. We got it.
Filipinos are known for preserving their culture and being proud of what they’re made of (trust me, I know). While we are heavily influenced by Hispanics and Americans as a result of colonization, we’ve blossomed into one of the most exceptional entities in the world with a cultural history like no other, from exuberant town festivals to some of the most stunning colonial architectures; this definitely isn’t a place like any other.
While this may or may not be your thing, Filipinos will appreciate your attempt at cultural immersion when you grab the mic and give us your best performance of My Way. Enjoy yourself and live a little while you’re at it. We consider this serious fun.
One foot out the door, you ready? Here are a few tips and to-remembers before you book that ticket, though. This’ll be quick, no worries!
Now, I know this isn’t for everybody, but with a thousand locations to choose from, it’s important to at least have an outline of the places you want to visit and the things you might want to try. This, of course, has to include travel time. Some islands will require longer travel time may it be through land, air, or sea (and while most of them will be more than worth it, definitely check the date of your scheduled departure first). You don’t want to miss your flight (or another important thing on the checklist) just because of poor time management.
I personally haven’t been living by this tip, and I regret that decision every time. Traveling light doesn’t mean traveling unprepared. Pack smart. Instead of thinking of things you might need (like generic toiletries you can purchase at almost any 7-11 in the Philippines), think of the things you can pretty much do without (or can easily buy for cheap in the country you’re visiting). This’ll save you space on your luggage which can be used for more important things. Also, looking up the season of specific months is vital; you have to know if you’re packing right. Don’t sacrifice comfort for style, if that’s how you play, but remember not to sacrifice precious energy you could spend roaming complaining about how you’re hurting your back because you brought two chargers for your iPad and iPhone either.