Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Backpacker: Crawling Out Of The Bag


When I was a kid, the favorite aunt would take me to places everytime she gets invited to attend a fellowship. I remember scooping my hands under the sea to catch blooms of jellyfishes in Zambales. Its because the annual gathering of surgeons was held at a beach resort there.

At Subic a few years later, I went home with a bag full of PX Goods. At a time when a dollar is equivalent to 25 pesos, I made sure everyone at home got a pasalubong. That's where all my pocket money went. More than the duty free shopping, I learned that Subic then had very strict traffic rules. One must stop at all times when crossing an intersection. Throwing trash on the street exacts a heavy price.

It was also the first time I had a face to face encounter with wild monkeys trooping at our cottage to scavenge for food. The big bats flew overhead at night making strange noises that made me scamper inside the house. Before we left, a guide taught us how to survive in the jungle. Up to now, the image of cooked rice inside a bamboo trunk remains as vivid as when I saw it during the actual presentation.

These events were always sponsored by drug companies. It's part of their promotion, I guess. And since these pharmaceuticals go to great lengths to wine, dine, and accommodate the doctors and their families, expect high-end lodging and entertainment once you arrive at the venue.

And so as I grew up, I was able to enjoy going around the country in style only kids with rich parents could afford. When I went to Davao after getting my high school diploma, I wasted no time keeping my belly full at the buffet table. We stayed at the Grand Meng Seng Hotel and toured the city to our heart's content. It was also the first time I rode an airplane. It would also be the last. For in the years to come, my mind grew weary of flying. 

Blame it on the Cebu Pacific crash of 1998.

Same goes with my third visit to Baguio City. The first one was with my family (aunts, cousins and uncles, without my parents). The same group was there on our return. The third was an invitation from the favorite aunt a year before my graduation. We stayed at the Baguio Country Club for a weekend. My cousin was supposed to join but changed his mind at the last minute.

Since the favorite aunt would be busy attending the conference, I was left exploring the city with another kid. His mom too would be attending the conference so he was stuck in his room watching television. Eager to leave the confines of our hotel, it was easy to convince the boy to tag along even when the skies heaved with icy rain.

The afternoon stroll would become my first walking trip, a pursuit which would remain an essential part of my getaways every time I leave the city.


It was the turn of the new millennium. I'm done with college and with the family business in full swing, it was difficult to leave my post for a little rest and relaxation. However, there was this one occasion when my mom had to meet her community organizers in Isabela. Realizing the thrill of seeing the countryside, I volunteered to join even when she already got company.

Hopping into the back of a pick-up truck, we left Manila at past midnight. Partida, nagka-minor stroke pa yung dad ko hours before our departure. I didn't tell my mom about this and instead, let the mistress do the nursing. After all, I had instructions from my dad not to breathe a word. It was not life-threatening in the first place.

And I don't want him to spoil the fun.

It was an all-night, 10-hour drive to Santiago City. We hardly had any stopover along the highway, and my mom barely slept to keep the driver awake. Sitting behind the driver seat, I plugged my earphones and let Goo Goo Dolls and my assorted alternative tracks on my discman accompany me on the road. My butt ached from the bumpy ride. I couldn't even stretch my limbs, but my music and its soothing melodies carried me to our destination.

The cool crisp wind blowing from the Sierra Madre offered little to ease my discomfort. Yet for someone who breathes smog and fumes everyday, the fresh air was a welcome respite. What made the trip truly unforgettable was the sleeping landscape bathed in a silvery glow. I recall, it was full moon and the silhouette of Mt. Arayat loomed over the horizon. A handful of farmers were in their fields. Lit by gas lamps, they hunt for rats eating their crops.

Somewhere near the Caraballo, I rolled down the car windows to let more cool wind in. It was very dark outside with not a single house or lamp post in sight. I let my head out and after turning my sights into the sky, I saw the heavens lit with a billion suns. So moved was I with the spectacle, I still feel a pinch on my chest every time I look at the evening sky now and find only a handful of stars pinned in the heavens.


The cosmic parade would never happen again, and we, the travellers, would just stay in Isabela the next day long enough for the driver to get some sleep. Just before sundown we were on the road again - back to Manila. Same bumpy ride going home, with the same winding mountain passages and the same rice fields exuding an eerie white glow under the watchful eye of a full moon.

We would repeat the pattern when we went to Pangasinan that same summer. Stayed in Lingayen just to get a dip in its murky beach while my mom attended a meeting. We're back again on the road three hours after we arrived. Since then, I learned not to stay in one place for more than a night. I don't even find it strange or exhausting to have longer travel time than stay-over once I embark on a trip.

To immerse myself in two ways of travelling have shaped my ideal vacation when it was time to go solo. Knowing that I cannot uproot myself from home for too long, I learned to pack lightly. The very Spartan and sometimes unforgiving time on the road had suited me for long distance travel. And my earlier classy accommodations had nurtured my discriminate boarding choices. To keep my spending in check, I prefer to make an escape when nobody wants to leave the city.

These experiences I have to go through from all these past travels would eventually prepare me for my land journey all the way to the very tip of Luzon.



Nate said...

i like this part kuya joms.. quite a vivid description of a starry night sky.. :) --- "I let my head out and after turning my sights into the sky, I saw the heavens lit with a billion suns. So moved was I with the spectacle I still feel a pinch on my chest every time I look at the sky at night and find only a handful of stars pinned in the heavens."

Mugen said...


For city dwellers like me, the bittersweet reminder tells you what we have traded for progress. I always joke around whenever people find it strange that I enjoy being surrounded with big trees. Sabi ko, walang ganyan kung san ako lumaki. Hehe.

Pepe said...

:) for some who were raised in the province, like me, being surrounded with trees, mountains, rivers is like a reunion to the birthplace. :)

long roads versus short stays, oh, ain't it great fun squeezing thoughts into these seemingly fleeting moments? i'm into character. LOL

may karugtong 'to, yes? (nabitin daw)

Mugen said...


To put it subtly, when you know everything's about to end soon, you would find something breathtaking even at the sight of cows (or kuligligs)

Of course, wouldn't I let this journey wrap up without sharing my pictures. :) You will find out too, why the blog is the only place I could tell my story. Hehe.

Leo said...

I've bumped to a lot of travel blogs, accentuating their pictures with words and stuff... But yours is a complete travel entry, without the pictures.

I can feel whatever you've experienced just by you narrating it.

Awesome indeed.

Mugen said...


A travel blog wouldn't be complete without the pictures diba? I won't show that much (kasi naman konti lang talaga ang pictures and the best ones I already posted on twitter) I just hope I could squeeze the purest of my creative juices to come up with a very convincing travel entry. :)

daniel the jagged little egg said...

Not much of a traveler but I really love subic, been there several times..especially yung mga goods na 1 dollar each!

Lady Datu said...

"I remember scooping my hands under the sea to catch blooms of jellyfishes in Zambales."

Hindi nagkamaga-maga ang mga kamay mo nun?! @_@'

Mugen said...

Lady Datu:

Dunno what subspecies ng Jellyfish yun. But no, mistress. Hehe.


In fairness, 2003 pa yata nung last akong naligaw ng Subic. Hehe.

Nate said...

@kuya joms: true that!! --- "For city dwellers like me, the bittersweet reminder tells you what we have traded for progress."

i remember when my friends and I went to Anawangin.. at night, i don't sleep inside the tent.. i went out to the shore, dun ako naglatag..

lying down and staring at a sky full of stars leaves me awestruck..

i watched the constellation of stars dance and allowed myself to be lulled by the sound of the waves on the shore.. :)

Anonymous said...

i think thats not a cebu pacific..its an air philippines bound to davao...

Jpy Dee said...

boss, while reading this entry, ang clear lang ng mga images sa utak ko ng pagiimagine ng mga lugar na sinabi mo sa entry mo na ito. i love it. parang travel blog entry na hindi uso ang camera, kelangan lang naming mga readers eh malikot na imahinasyon.

i never tried travelling alone. promise next year, itatry ko iyan. kung papayagan ni boyfie. :)

nice one boss. :)

jetlander said...

Hi Mugen! I'm in awe with the way you describe your journey. You aroused long forgotten memories from my childhood in Subic and Isabela.

The description of your nocturnal travel -that's the main reason why I prefer traveling to Isabela at night, the silvery glow of sierra madre is breathtaking.

Mugen said...


I envy you. Gusto kong maranasan yun. Kaso the last time I was near the shore at night, the dark expanse made me terrified.

But I'm sure the stars gave you comfort. :)


Mugen said...


Imagine travelling by car, sa bus kasi medyo at mercy ka sa fluorescent lamp sa center isle eh.

The screengrab of my PEx Wireless Journal encapsulates my road trip that time. :)


Nako maraming salamat! Didn't expect I was able to capture the scenes that vividly. Haha feeling ko bitin pa. :)

Nate said...

@kuya joms: ay, yun lang.. :| but i thought you would want to be kidnapped by mermaids?? lol. :P --- "Kaso the last time I was near the shore at night, the dark expanse made me terrified."

try sleeping by the shore, under the stars kuya joms.. it's a really comforting experience.. magpahid pala ng insect repellant lotion, just in case.. :P

Sean said...

thanks for taking us with you on these trips.

pagbalik ni baabaa mag-honeymoon nga kayo somewhere! :)

bien said...

oo nga, asan ang fectyurs? eh ang gaganda naman ng kuha mo dun sa larawan entries mo. (demanding)

grabe talaga ang pharmaceutical companies pag nag-sponsor, nagpapaulan ng pera, naalala ko bigla ang the constant gardener.

Kiks said...

philippines, especially the trees, rivers and peoples around and all over it, is home.

i wish i can say that all over again.

for the mean time... PICTURES!

Mugen said...


Intay ka lang friend. Haha, took only few but I promise to post them. :)


Di ko alam kung ganun pa rin sila magpaulan ng pera ngayon. At dahil diyan, I will repost some pictures I uploaded on my Twitter account.


Saka na namin iisipin yun. Hehe. :)

Désolé Boy said...

The thrill of travelling alone is what gets me. Try what I did once: don't bring phones or any communication device and just go for it. Ride the horses, swing in gondolas, fly the ziplines. It's magical!
But then I remember you have the le boyfriend who would worry much. So I guess it's not for everyone.
Try our beautiful town in Ilocos Norte and I'll tell where the most mouth watering 'bagnet' could be found.

Blessie said...


Mugen said...


I will tell you should I decide to go there. I'd like to see Bangui, Laoag and Pagudpud. Plus i'd like to taste an authentic bagnet. Heheh.


Nanay! Di pa ako nakakapagkuwento sa iyo!!