The early days of June found me combing the sands of an island that many consider the best in the world. It was, like many of my recent trips, a strictly-for-work affair, wherein days simply drift in a series of client meetings, hotel rooms, and endless shutter flicks. Routine becomes reflex as we board one vehicle to the next: a plane from Manila to Puerto Princesa, a night bus to El Nido, one tricycle after another. There is constant movement and little time to spare on reflections.
But all that blur of travel and work is a privilege I will always be thankful for.
I say privilege.
There will always be those who argue that viewing travel as such is smug and oppressive. But you see, I have held both ends of the rope.
Ten years ago, traveling was only a dream. My mind sailed to beaches while angry customers called me names over the phone. As monitors beeped, doctors in the OR ordered, “Scalpel, please“, and my spirit cried, “This is not what I want, but my family needs it”, I self-appeased with the thought of having enough money to claim freedom and purchase bus rides across the country.
During those times that my guts hungered and there’s only two cans of cheap corned beef to last for a week, I wandered to mountains and seas in my sleep.
My stories are often birthed from bipolar perspectives: one from that of a person who sleeps in warm beds that I photograph and write about, and the other from that of a person who steps out into the cold, unwelcoming streets to find the homeless scrounging for scraps and children from school carrying the weight of books and life as they tread kilometers of mud and searing heat just to get home.
Home. We have called so many such, that it almost feels callous, a disservice to those who don’t have my reality to claim that traveling is always a choice and anyone can do it.
Being able to do what I love and tell stories about it often feel too surreal; to be able to call it my privilege, because others are not as lucky. It becomes most surreal when I am up in the clouds, seated among strangers on a vehicle that transports not just bodies but also dreams and hopes.
During the flight from El Nido to chaotic NAIA, I found myself tearing up as my client watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. The clouds reminded me of home and how just minutes ago, I was in El Nido; three days prior, in Puerto Princesa. It wasn’t like this 10 years ago. It wasn’t even near it. And here I am now, leaving another home hundreds of miles away from another.
I am coming home yet again, to where my rebel heart says I belong the most.
Flying humbles me. In such moments amid whir and clouds, the reality that I have been welcomed in so many homes below, however temporal, hits hard. Homes on water, homes on land. In conversations with strangers, in the deep belly of unknown names and harsh realities.
Plane rides remind me that hands bigger than mine are always at work. They remind me a dream-come-true always begins from a place of love, sacrifice, and modest beginnings; that this is a place that, wherever promising I may go, I must not forget and abandon. Because this place is one that welcomed me in its arms on cold, lonely, and hungry nights. It is a place that was once my home.
Written aboard a flight from El Nido, Palawan to Manila
June 18, 2016