Travel is not for the weak

Published May 14, 2022, 12:00 PM

by AA Patawaran

Have you ever slept in the car on a RORO bound for some private paradise in Romblon? Have you spent the night in the “first class” cabin of a ferry with its own private CR that you can’t ever use because there in it is a rat the size of a small cat?

Have you ever climbed Makiling or Banahaw or Maculot and found yourself muffling a scream upon sight of your socks all bloody from the spills of leeches feasting on your feet? Ok, one tough mountaineer saw the terror in your eyes. Spell out the secret message in his and it might say W-U-S-S.

Have you ever tried sleeping with five strangers in a $25-a-night dormitory for six near the Sacre Coeur in Paris and spent the day scouring the stores for rubber slippers because you can’t bear walking barefoot around the public bath?

Travel is just like life, bittersweet and likely to get that way no matter how intent you are on making it go this way. We’re not even talking crying over your suitcase because, concluding a New York trip through a harsh winter, you realize that the only way you can zip it up is to give up some of your fleece, leather, velour, or shearling. It’s that bad, to think you’ve ditched all your dirty thermals and one trench coat a size too small.

IN A LAND FAR AWAY With villagers Martha and Teshagar at the Blue Nile Falls in Bahar Dar, Ethiopia

It’s great if money is no issue. When a Jet Blue counter girl warns you of excess baggage as you check in on a flight to Seattle from New York, how satisfying to be able to say “I don’t care!” instead of having to charm your way out of the $200 overweight charge or, worse, having to leave behind a coffee table book that cost you $120.

Money does help. You can mix yourself a Bloody Mary in the airport lounge while waiting to board, instead of waiting around forever for that couple to leave their table at the crowded Starbucks. Or on business class, if a baby crying incessantly happens to sit on its mother’s lap in the seat next to yours, it’s the mother’s problem or the flight crew’s, not yours, unless it is a full flight and nothing can be done to move you or the problem elsewhere. Or, unable to contain your disappointment, such as when an FA takes an interminable minute to come to you when you press the button for help, you may simply, quietly, elegantly tell her when she does come, “Is this business class because it doesn’t feel like it?” Under the right circumstances, trust that out of that comment you get at least a $100 cash voucher or the best seat on the plane on your next flight, especially if it is connecting—on Northwest (before it merged with Delta), for sure, it has happened.

READY FOR A FAIRYTALE Copenhagen, Denmark

But money can’t save you from having to run with your luggage in tow, if you are the type who likes to cut it close, leaving just early enough to catch the last call, at the risk of missing it completely. Have you ever seen a cruise ship leave the dock just as you get there? Have you ever heard an aircraft taking off and felt in your gut, while stuck in a gridlock just across NAIA Terminal 3, that on that plane is an empty seat that’s got your name on it? Have you ever lost a hotel booking in Paris because you were in Amsterdam and woke up too hung over from trying more than you should have at a “coffeehouse,” to make it to your train at Amsterdam Centraal?

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. ―G. K. Chesterton

No money can spare you from digging deep into your hand carry in a frantic search for your passport or your boarding pass or your soul. No money can save you, either, from losing your way once in a while, with or without a map, and asking a stranger who may or may not offer a helping hand—and, sorry for a bit of skepticism, who may in fact point you in the wrong direction while surreptitiously fishing for your wallet.

Horror of horrors, have you ever arrived with the swagger of a first class passenger at the airport in Milan, only to be stopped at mid-step and made to stand aside like the Jews might have been at the train station to Auschwitz in 1942?

The airport officers rattle off commands in Italian, not a word of English, and you do as you are told based on what the others are doing—you raise your passport, so the officers can see at a glance what country you are from. The Singaporeans are let go. So are the Japanese. So is the Filipino-American with a US passport. You’re left with a few Indonesians, many Filipinos, and more Chinese, who are herded like cattle into a windowless room.

WHERE WESTERN AND ASIAN MEET A busy street in Hong Kong

You break into a sweat. The others start groping around for documents, but you have nothing on you, just your passport and your bill folder in the chest pocket of your Armani blazer. By sheer luck, the Italians call you first. “I do not speak Italian,” you say, trying to look as smug as you can. But they throw more Italian words at you. The word carta is familiar, so you reach out for your wallet and they grab it from your hand, examining not your IDs but your credit cards. Just like that, you are let go.

Just a few hours later, you are at a dinner with the ambassador from the Philippines (Amb. Philippe Jones Lhuillier at the time this happened). You tell him about the incident. He is not surprised. “Happens a lot,” he sighs. The curse of the Philippine passport.

UNBOTHERED BY THE COLD The author in Zugspitze mountains, Germany

Travel is a hassle, not that you plan it that way. It’s all adventure, misadventures included. Careful planning does help, but you never know. The immigration officer at your destination might be having a bad day. The FAs on your flight might be a bunch of middle-aged lazybones in uniform. There might be some bacteria in your sashimi breakfast bowl at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. Or a sniper aiming at you at Union Station in Washington D.C. Or a serial killer copycat sitting next to you on the Greyhound bus L.A.-bound from San Francisco. Who knows?

You travel anyway. Breakfast at Pastis at the New York Meatpacking District makes it worth it. The flock of birds taking off in a flutter of wings as your canoe approaches a patch of mangroves at sunrise in El Nido makes it worth it. The view of Pacific Ocean from your top floor suite at a beachfront hotel in Gold Coast makes it worth it. That one moment you let a pawikan swim back into the wild on a mosquito-infested, undeveloped, private island off Puerto Princesa makes it worth the long ride on a dusty jeepney with hogs on the roof pissing at you throughout the trip.

ANCIENT GREECE The Roman Forum of Athens

The less complicated you are, the more chances you get at discovering the world at its rawest, at its most surprising. The best of every trip becomes a part of who you are. “Nothing is worth having,” as Theodore Roosevelt has told you, “comes that easily,” so the best always comes with its attendant worst.

Life is like that, too. And travel is life magnified or multiplied up to a million folds, depending on how much you can take and how far you are willing to go.