This is the fourth of a series of blog posts I plan to write about all the hiking, trekking, and tramping I’ve been doing these past 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; beachineering in Laiya and Baler; Badchang in Batad, Ifugao and coffee-planting in Atok, Benguet; and training with the UP Mountaineers.
LESSON #4: THE TRAVEL FLING
This is a story I like to tell and want to stop telling, the story of an almost perfect travel fling. I think I’ve written too much about it already, though never quite squarely, preferring to couch memory in the lacy trappings of narrative, milking the story for all it’s worth in the name of sublimation. Because if I strip the whole affair bare, these are the only things I’ll have to tell: I went to KK alone to climb its highest mountain on my own—or as much on my own as the rules allowed. At the gate to the Mesilau Trail, I met my guide. He was cute. He was caring. He was witty. We got along, maybe too well. After two days’ worth of hiking, conversation, and not a few shared moments worthy of the fluffiest Kdrama, we exchanged numbers, tokens, and goodbyes with promises to keep in touch and meet again. About a week after I came back to the Philippines, he rang me up, said he was in the country, and could we meet. I asked him where. He said Pampanga; he’d flown into Clark. I’d never really been to Pampanga before—it was just a place we drove through to get to Pangasinan or Benguet—and I’d never gone there on my own. But come morning, while it was still dark, I snuck out of home and rode a bus and found myself at the lobby of his hotel an hour or so after dawn.
We spent the rest of the morning chatting, in his room, at Chow King over brunch, while walking about. When I think about that day I remember his soft brown eyes and their gaze that never seemed to leave me; the way early morning light shone through the glass wall of the restaurant and fell on his face, lighting it up as he took out his camera and asked me to smile for him. How happy he seemed to be with me. How heady I felt at the newness of everything—his rapt attention and obvious but innocuous attraction, the compliments, the doting, the just being with someone, the realization that for all my fierce independence, solitariness, and rationality, I didn’t always want to be alone or be sensible, was straining against restraint. We acted out every clichéd, theatrical gesture in the datebook, and it still seemed novel to me.
When he flew back to KK, I didn’t feel sadness or loss, only pleasure at the experience of something so quaint. His visit and departure for me constituted an excellent denouement for an account of my first solo trip abroad (I took copious notes on his stay, the pages of which I have since ripped out of my journal), and an echo of the sense of travel itself—brief in time, rich in encounters, vivid in memory. In the aftermath of our meeting, I was riant for many days—until I found out that he was already engaged to some girl back home and had no business flirting with women from strange shores.
If I could go back and change one link in the chain of events that led to my realization that he had played false, this is what I would do differently: I wouldn’t have replied to his messages, sent the morning after he left, asking how I was and if I missed him. I wouldn’t have looked up his Facebook page. Then it wouldn’t have gone any further and I would’ve kept the perfection of my happy memory, untainted by anger and melancholy.
Just as the charm of travel is its transience and distance from the familiar and everyday, the lure of the travel fling is the brevity of its giddy indulgence. You travel with your heart thrown open to the world, eager to take all in—ready to fall in love with the sights, sounds, and scents, with the new and unknown, with culture, places, people. You fling all caution to the wind to slide down a rabbit hole, give free rein to impulses, and try something different, something so not you. But one cannot be casting off the self and falling headlong all the time—that only leads to two things: a broken neck, or a lost way.
So this is my idea of the perfect travel fling: a serendipitous meeting in a place strange enough and far away that it strips you of the habits of home. Deliciation in the details of a fresh circumstance, with no thought of beginnings or endings, only of the here and now, of what happens in the after-hours and not in the afterwards. And then—trains or planes going in separate directions, carrying people forever changed by a moment, and forever departing to the unnamed.
Lesson #1: HOW TO PLAN A TRIP
Lesson #3: THE JOYS OF SOLO TRAVEL
Lesson #5: I LOVE THE PHILIPPINES!