This is the third of a series of blog posts I plan to write about all the hiking, trekking, and tramping I’ve been doing these past few months, in between work and graduate school.
Succeeding posts will be about climbing: Mt. Kinabalu; Tarak Ridge; Mt. Batulao; Mt. Ugo; Mt. Daguldol; Mt. Maculot; Mt. Pulag; and Pico de Loro.
LESSON #3: THE JOYS OF SOLO TRAVEL
When I travel, I always get asked who I’m with, and when I say, “nobody,” somebody always gets surprised. I get more questions like, aren’t you scared? Don’t you have friends? Don’t you get lonely? Are you heartbroken?
A person vacationing alone is seen as sort of sad. A woman travelling on her own is an anomaly. We’re supposed to have men or other women to escort or accompany us, lugging our bags and opening doors, or safeguarding us from sleazeballs and checking our propriety. Like when I wanted to spend my 18th birthday in a theme park three hours away from home, my parents wouldn’t let me go without at least one male friend and my sister.
Before going to KK, I’d never tried travelling solo. I always went with family or friends or classmates. Actually, before KK, I’d never really traveled much, except to visit relatives in some far-flung province once or twice a year, or attend a sem-ender with my orgmates from school. My grandmother once told me that the mole on the heel of my left foot meant I was a wanderer, which I thought was a far cry from my sheltered, homebody existence. I loved nothing more than to get lazy at home on weekends, and I hated all the hustle and bustle that went with travelling—the packing and unpacking, the noisy ports and crowds, the boredom of waiting for boarding, the long, bumpy rides. Nope, not for me. My idea of travel was curling up on the couch with a good book.
Then again, perhaps my penchant for solo travel started with that—books. It’s true that every book is a journey, and it’s a journey you undertake alone. There’s just you and the words on paper and your imagination taking you to places, bringing sights and scents and sounds to a kind of reality, kindling a sense of curiosity and adventure.
When the chance to travel alone to KK presented itself, I felt no fear—which was strange for someone who’d never done it before. I didn’t worry about getting lost, getting mugged, getting raped, getting my kidneys ripped out or getting abducted by criminal organizations to be sold into white slavery. Maybe it was foolish and naïve, but though I was aware of the risks of flying to another country, staying there for a week, and climbing its highest mountain all by my lonesome, I felt only excitement for the “turn of the page.”
The rewards for taking that risk have been immense. Not only did I meet wonderful people I probably wouldn’t have spent time with if I’d already had friends and family by my side, I also learned that I was capable of things I hadn’t thought I could do. Simple things, like booking a room at a hostel, shopping in a street market and trying not to get ripped off, or walking around a strange city with just a water bottle, an umbrella, and a map, and commuting to places I’d only ever seen in a guidebook. And bigger things, like trusting and caring for people I’d just met, and believing the best in them. When I decided to accept the invitation of three elderly Chinese Malaysian gentlemen to stay in the cottage they rented at Mesilau Park and join them for dinner, the one who invited me, Mr. Kit, gave me a very long, fatherly lecture about taking unnecessary risks and trusting strangers like them. But I took that leap of faith because I felt that they were worried for me, being a girl and alone, and only wanted to make sure I was okay. In the end, those strangers and others like them became my friends. We came back to our own countries with fond memories of each other, and still keep in touch.
Because I learned to trust people, I came to present my best side to them. The people I’ve travelled with have called me cheerful, bubbly, cute, warm, and childlike—adjectives that are seldom used to describe me in my everyday life. In the city, I am wary, always in a hurry, curt, reserved, and aloof. I tend to be impatient, snarky, critical, even a bit of a bitch. But when you travel alone you are free to leave behind the pressures that plague you, the positions that limit you, the stresses that shape your countenance, and the people and situations that remind you of them. Without an ostensive past, you are free to reinvent yourself, or just be who you are.
In KK, I also found courage I never thought I had, never needed to tap into. When before they only meant disaster and panic, now, getting lost means adventure; a botched itinerary, liberty; a strange and uncertain situation, excitement and a new story.
Just a couple of weeks after KK, for instance, I snuck off to a province I’d never been to before to meet a man I barely knew at dawn.
But that tale’s for another post.
Lesson #1: HOW TO PLAN A TRIP
Lesson #4: THE TRAVEL FLING
Lesson #5: I LOVE THE PHILIPPINES!