I start to walk the path that would take me to the last phase of my trip around Asia and the Philippines, the so wanted traditional tribal tattoo.
It was time to leave Palawan, a wonderful island to the South of the country where I spent a nice week with some old friends and people I met along the way.
Unfortunately, there were far too many tourists that killed the authenticity of the place but I always found the way to get out of those groups to observe the genuine areas. I respect tourists that want to go like sheep from one place to the other, rushing and having all kinds of services but that’s not how I like to travel.
I was ready for the next and sadly, the last adventure in the Philippines and Asia until that moment, I was ready to explore another authentic spot by myself.
My six-month trip was coming to an end. It was the last sprint and the fact that I had already left so many places and nice people behind made me feel a bit tired and nostalgic. I had been on the road for more than three months without having a place to call home. At some point going from one place to the other, having to wait and take all different kinds of transportation and walking around (that’s how I like traveling) made me exhausted but I had to make the last effort.
It may sound strange but travelling can be tiring at times. It’s not like you are on holidays and relaxing, at least not in my type of travels. I like visiting hidden places and walking a lot. I love walking and getting in the culture as close as possible. Getting close to locals by being immersed in their daily lives is the best way to understand the complexity of a new place and culture.
On My Way to the Traditional Tattoo
In the plane from Puerto Princesa to Manila I was lucky to sit close to a very nice old lady whom I shared some of my experiences and who told me about her life. It was interesting since she belonged to one of the generations that had to learn Spanish at school and she knew a lot about my culture.
In a very precise moment, she said, ‘let me tell you something, Alba. Do not take life so serious’. It was captivating to feel all the wisdom coming from her. She had been a literature teacher for all her life and was a pleasure to listen to her. And these views made that moment even more unique.
After an hour and a fruitful talk with Gloria I arrived in Manila. I took a taxi to Mabuhay Fo Guang Shan temple (read more about the experience of living in a Buddhist temple for 3 months: the Filipino smile), a place I could call my home already. I was lucky to have my own bed. I appreciated that even more after being for so long on the road by myself and thus having to look for a place to sleep almost every night.
I hesitated for a bit. Should I go or should I not? It was the 24th of February and my plane back home was on the 28th. I had three days to discover a new place but the strength I had inside for so long seemed to faint.
I lied down on the bed thinking what to do, looking at some pictures on my camera when suddenly the words of my mom came to my mind. ‘Go after your dreams, Alba. Do what makes you happy.’
Wasn’t it travelling what made me the happiest person on earth? You are just tired but you still love it! Oh, I miss my family…
I didn’t even have time to wash my clothes so I took whatever I had left and packed a small backpack. I took my sleeping bag just in case because I didn’t know where I would be sleeping, a cap, a jacket and of course my camera and notebook. I was ready to go.
In between tired, travel drugged and emotional I called the bus company (Victory Liner) to book the tickets for my next venture.
To my surprise tickets for that day could only be purchased at the desk. It was 5 pm approximately and according to the information I found online there were only two buses going to Tabuk that evening. So, I rushed to take the MRT (metro) only for a few stations. In EDSA I changed to LRT and that’s where all the chaos was! (I already knew) even if it was Monday it was full, it was rush time. The funny thing when you enter LRT coming from MRT is that you have to buy another ticket and there is always a tremendous queue. Not very efficient.
I bought the ticket and proceeded to take the LRT when I saw all that crowd and I said to myself: Oh, oh, I won’t make it, this will take long. There were hundreds of people everywhere and we were not even in the platform. Some were pushing, some smiling but everyone was sweating due to the amount of people. There were some guards controlling the ‘traffic’ and finally after 15 minutes we moved a bit and we could go down to take the LRT.
When I finally got inside the coach the woman in front of me addressed me:
“Welcome to the Philippines, this is how Manila is all the time. So many people!”
“Thank you, I already know, I’ve been here for a while. Well, it’s as it’s. At least people smile in the metro not like in my city.”
“Oh really? Is your husband working here in Manila?” (this is a normal question to be asked in the Philippines, I got used to it. Actually this one is rather light)
“No. My boyfriend is far away. I’m traveling around.”
Then her stop arrived. As she went down we said bye and I laughed to myself thinking how many times I had had that kind of conversation in Asia. At that point I was so used to having locals ‘getting into my business’ that I didn’t feel uncomfortable or intimidated, I found it normal and come on, it was the end of my trip!
I’d rather have that than people going around the metro with their big faces on the floor and stressed out like back in my city. In Manila it can be crowded as hell but at least they smile, some of them, that’s a lot.
After an hour or more I went down in Cubao full of energy and enthusiasm. My last adventure was about to start! I walked barely for 5 minutes and I reached the station. Long queue again, what a surprise!
Queues are a very important step in any trip. Some minutes can make you take that bus to that place you had in mind or mean you have no place to sleep and you have to stay there, until there’s one coming. Or change plans.
Queues are a place to think, reflect, sum up your previous conversations, remember people you met and why not, to let inspirations come to you.
Queues make you wait like good things in life. Queues teach you patience.
I did not worry, it was my own adventure, no rush. Whatever it was meant to be, it will. Those were my last days in that country, in that continent of smiles. I waited and luckily there was a free seat for the next trip to Tabuk for 400 Pesos (6,70 €), regular fare.
While we were waiting for the bus to depart is common for vendors to come inside and offer you all kind of food; sweets, bread, fruit… You don’t even have to move to buy. We departed at 19.30, a long trip awaited me.
Once we left they started to play a very loud movie which is pretty common in the Philippines (and some years after I would realise it was the same in some places of South America). It was in Filipino which I always find interesting listening to because it’s an exotic language that incorporates words in Spanish and English. It sounds like ‘blah blah blah pasiensya, blah blah school, blah blah alkalde’. I often would understand the context but even if I was listening to them I fell asleep. Night went along decently, I woke up several times but that’s normal when you find out there are several cockroaches close to you. Yes, it’s ok.
That made me remember that one time in Jaipur (India) when I was in a bus and the lady close to me was eating and throwing the trash on the floor. I was shocked. Or when a guy sitting beside me took my empty glass and threw it out the window. “Don’t do that!” I said, “I’ll throw it later”. He answered saying: “don’t worry, someone will clean it.”
Those are the kinds of things I got used to, nothing amazed me in that sense anymore. A couple woke me up around five, we were getting close. “Where are you going, girl?” Well, that was a question I didn’t even know how to answer.
I said with my eyes half-open and still yawning “I’m going to explore! I’m going to Tinglayan, to the mountains.”
“Yes but, where’s that? Is there anyone waiting for you? Are you alone?”
“Yes, it’s ok, I’ll take the first bus.”
“Bus going where? Come down with us in the next station, it’s better.”
Sometimes I think there’s someone looking after me, there’s a magic hand helping me reach my destination. It’s the road talking to me, the trip taking me where my destiny is.
I went down with the couple, we said bye, I thanked them and they told me to be careful. It was still dark and I was a bit scared but I convinced myself to be strong by saying “don’t worry, Alba. Just a few more minutes and the sun will rise.”
So, I took a cup of coffee from a very convenient machine that’s almost everywhere in the Philippines for 5 pesos (0,08 €) and sat down with a man that was waiting for another bus who asked me (of course), “you are the only one, no companion?”
Around six a jeepney came. It was the one! I got inside to discover they were playing country music. Country music in the north of Philippines?
I had some breakfast that I took with me and waited. After some time I asked the driver, “when will we go?” He said in an hour. Ok, great! Then 5 minutes after (at 7) the bus started to run and I was the only one inside. I was confused but trustful. We were leaving!
As the country was waking up I started to take pictures everywhere. Landscape was beautiful. I took several videos in order not to forget the landscape and especially the clattering of the bus.
We had our first stop where a bunch of people came in. An old brother and sister sat close to me and started to talk.
“We are pure Ilocanos, you know?”
“Ilo what? –I asked.”
“Ilocanos, the native people from here.”
I didn’t have time to follow the conversation when he started to show me pictures on his phone from a cultural photo exhibition he went to. Look, this is Manila when it was not so crowded! and these are the local tribes, he said while showing me a picture of a naked indigenous woman. There are no more nowadays. It’s such a pity.
Then I showed him how to record videos with his phone and he took one of me saying hello. For him I must be extremely exotic. He was very happy and that made me smile.
The trip was much nicer because we had the chance to meet each other. Even if I was tired I didn’t mind because I was learning with this wise men that I wouldn’t see again in my life.
Next chapter: Are We There Yet? – a Slow Trip in the Cordilleras