It’s true. Some people see more in a walk around the block than others do in a trip around the world. I’ve just come back from the Philippine Cordillera region, and I am still in awe of the breathtaking beauty in this country I call home. Yes, there will always be the romantic allure of foreign cultures and faraway exotic cities. But in a nation of 7,100 islands, there is more than enough opportunity to immerse myself in diverse environments and experiences.
Having lived overseas for seven years, I would sometimes feel a tinge of jealousy when I hear of friends travelling around the Philippines. Somehow, it seems that I was the one left behind, even though I have gone away. The desire to see more of my country grows with every Cebu Pacific or Air Phil seat sale, and I feel frustrated that each destination is an extra three and a half hours away. My Philippine travel bucket list is as long as my international bucket list – and I dare say, it’s more fun.
With each passing year, the longing to explore my homeland grows. Perhaps it’s sentimentality that comes with age. Perhaps it’s the sense of place and national pride. Or perhaps, truly, my heart knows that there is no place like home.
Ironically, other people would feel jealous of my international escapades; my passport isprobably more decorated than the average Juan’s. Compared to the global travelling population, however, it’s still rather modest. My airline mileage is still much less than what others have covered in a 33-year existence. Wandering is my lifeblood, and I’m not nearly done exploring the world. For now, though, my heart beats for places closer to home.
Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about travelling in the Philippines that I love. Perhaps it’s my preference for visiting developing countries – my favourite destinations in recent years were India, Nepal, and Cambodia. Quaint local cultures draw me in like a moth gets drawn to fire – but with less tragic results. I love that men and women enjoy working with their hand, children aren’t afraid to get dirty, and everybody knows their neighbour. People are down-to-earth, real, and unencumbered by modern inventions. And somehow, it’s infectious – believe it or not, I have no need for Facebook when travelling to remote locations.
Compound that feel-good factor with a love for one’s own, and perhaps you can understand why I enjoy island hopping in this country. Travel has become my way of helping the local community, and supporting their way of life. Whenever I see unbridled progress (i.e. a giant strip mall or six-lane highway that bulldozes through nature), it saddens and angers me. Whilst there is no one formula for development, in my book, it definitely isn’t widespread consumerism and irresponsible capitalism.
The charm of visiting far-flung places is the abilty to leave everything behind, and to go back to basics. As travellers, we bring the outside world into the local communities, but sometimes we unconsciously leave our baggage with them. And once that baggage gets into the local way of life – well, the quaint, rustic appeal disappears.
One of the most heartening things I’ve heard on my recent trip to Batad comes from our young local guide. In a world where commercialization threatens to erase local culture, the Ifugaos have decided to push back and say no to mass-market tourism. They cling to their age-old traditions and current way of life, finding a happy medium between technological progress and a respect for the past.
The world is quickly changing, and there are places from my childhood days that I can hardly recognise anymore. But as long there are people who understand the value of heritage, as long as culture trumps consumerist behaviour – I will continue to enjoy walks in my backyard.