In search for something they couldn’t find within themselves, people do crazy, sometimes unimaginable things in the hopes of finally finding what they we’re looking for. Maybe it’s how humans are wired, but most people almost always seem to think that they will find what they lost or what’s missing in their life by doing one thing: traveling.

In Eat, Pray, Love, following her failed marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert traveled for a year and ate, prayed, and loved her way in three countries; ate girl was even lucky enough to find love again. Cheryl Strayed, in the hopes of patching herself back to her old self, walked more than a thousand miles from the Tehachapi Mountains to the Bridge of Gods and found her old self in Wild. Sick of the conventional life, Chris McCandless gave up all his worldly belongings, walked into the wild, christened himself Alexander Supertramp and found a “magic bus” before dying from food poisoning a hundred days later (this maybe having the best ending of all, or whatever, maybe it’s just me).

Carmina Mones, on the other hand, found herself catching a bus bound to Cebu City from Lambug, a small town south of Cebu, to find not herself or the proverbial answer to the “existence of her being”, but to follow her bag that traveled all the way from Badian to Cebu City.

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4c9fba55e57204d7-photobirthday sunrise

My first solo local trip started fine, too good to be true even. I had front row seat to the majestic sunrise, 39,000 feet above sea level, seating in awe as the dark abyss slowly gets eaten by the light, watching as blacks turn to greys with tinges of oranges and splashes of silver rays and yellows looming in the horizon, quietly taking in one of the many breathtaking things nature has in store for us. Sunrises, unlike sunsets offer some kind of hope, a new beginning, and a new year. It was actually, a new year for me. “Happy birthday, Carmina,” I told myself. What a day to be alive. I was dozing off by time the sun completely envelops the sky and woke up with the mountain view a few minutes later after the plane landed in Dumaguete.

I breathed in the air as soon as I stepped out of the plane. The smell of freshly cut grasses mixed with the smell of the earth after the rain filled my lungs and excite me, amoy probinsya na! I smiled to myself as excitement took over. Adventure begins!

I immediately hailed a tricycle and asked to be dropped off at Harold’s Mansion where I planned to stay the night and join their snorkel tour over at Apo Island. In less than thirty minutes, I booked a bed, dropped off my backpack and joined several other tourists in the tour.

Swimming with century old sea turtles were part of my birthday bucket list, so as swimming with whale sharks, experiencing sardine run in Moalboal and jumping off the 30-feet cliff in Badian on the way to Kawasan Falls. I was determined to do everything in this holiday.

We reached Apo Island by midmorning; armed with life vests, fins, and snorkel gears, one by one, we all happily jumped off the boat, eyes quick to survey the area searching for sea turtles.

Apo Island is one of the few marine sanctuaries teeming with healthy corals, different varieties of fishes I cannot identify and the home of sea turtles in the Visayas. As soon as I dive in, I was awed at the colorful underwater masterpiece I was presented with. Coral reefs with fishes I only ever saw in National Geographic and Finding Nemo are now a few feet below my swim fins, my mermaid dreams coming back stronger than ever. A few minutes into snorkeling, I finally came up close and personal with sea turtles I literally said “Oh, my God” from my snorkel tube, shrieked and ended up drinking sea water. I resurfaced, took off my mask and started laughing, coughing up the salty water in the process.

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pawikan-2swimming with sea turtles

14469477_10210630110328346_4041930827720772161_nwhale shark watching

sardine-runsardine wall

That was the start of a series of me unintentionally uttering “Oh, my God!”, “WOOOOOW!”, and some shrieking through my snorkel tube and later on coughing up salty water again as I swam at arm’s length from a sea turtle; or as I was a few feet away from a gigantic whale shark that’s twice the size of a van, the other one bigger than a public bus; or on the first time I squinted my eyes and realized that the moving black spot in the water were millions of sardines creating a sardine wall happily swimming in Moalboal oblivious of the fact at how astounding and incredible they are as they swim in sync with each other, like dancers who knew every step with every beat of the ocean’s music waves glistening as the sun hits their scales. I love South Cebu. Correction: LOVED South Cebu.

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The bus conductor came to collect my fare. I was back in the bus, trying to rack my brains out at how my seemingly perfect vacation turned into me ending up on a bus to the city following my backpack with all my belongings wearing a tacky shirt that says “It’s something only love can do” my gracious host at Lambug homestay gave me so I’d have something dry to wear. If it was any other day, I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that shirt. But today wasn’t any other day, I’m stripped off of my worldly possessions – wearing a damp swimsuit top as bra, two day old shorts, flip flops, and the canyoneering operator’s new pang-romansa panties she’s saving for her and her husband’s anniversary. My face felt tight, squeaky clean from the soap I used like all the dirt and moisture was vacuumed off it, my skin in desperate need of moisturizer that was in the bag I lost the night before.

I remember last night’s events as it happened. I was part of the last group to finish the canyoneering activity. We started late. I came from Oslob and had a side trip to Aguinid Falls out on a whim and my guide’s insistence to do the activity. I was still on a high from having been able to jump from a 30-foot cliff, exhausted from the day’s activities, and a bit frustrated that I wasn’t able to finish the canyoneering activity because night fell on us. I swore to come back and do the damned thing all over again.

Upon arriving at base, I asked Christine, the tour operator, where she put my other stuff. She looked at me, a light bulb clicking in her brain and said, “Sa ‘yo pala yun, ma’am! May tumawag dito, nasa kanila raw yung bag mo, nasa Cebu City na sila! Kanina pa sila tumatawag.” I was dumbfounded, my head started throbbing. What the fvck. I kept telling myself that this was not happening. This could not happen to me. The universe will not spoil my birthday week to the point I’d lose my bag when I made sure that it was safe before leaving for the day. I thought it was some sick joke and Christine would show my bag and shout, “joke, joke, joke!” but she didn’t. She didn’t laughed. No one laughed. I found out that I was the universe’s butt of joke that day. You really couldn’t count the good things coming to you, bad luck will caught up with you eventually. I even remember having a chat with a friend earlier that day telling him how splendid the vacation has been so far. I jinxed it.

If it was any consolation, the universe was still kind enough to cut me some slack. First, the bag only contained clothes and toiletries and makeup. I was lucky I transferred my cash, ATM, passport and phone to my dry bag earlier when I did the mini canyoneering in Aguinid Falls. Second, I was glad I wrote my name and number on my backpack’s bag tag. Third, the guys who got my bag were kind enough to tell me about it and we’re meeting up the next day in Robinson’s Fuente so I can claim my bag.

After giving me toiletries and spare clothes, Kuya Rey, our canyoneering tour guide was kind enough to escort me to Lambug homestay so I’d have a place to stay in for the night. I was the lone backpacker or you could say totebag-packer (haha) that I had the room all by myself. I settled in, washed up and assessed my situation.

I made a plan to get my stuff and return as soon as I can to south to save my precious time and squeeze in as much activity as I can to cover for the lost times. I was pretty much proud of myself for not crying even after getting myself into a stupid, frustrating situation and had no one. I thought to myself, “2011 Carmina may have bawled out of frustration if this happened to her. But you are not 2011 Carmina anymore, you are 2016 Carmina, wiser, stronger, tougher.” Or maybe I was still 2011 Carmina, I was just too spent to even cry about a lost bag that amounted to several thousand combined. Kaya mo naman palitan yun, I told myself.

5d9b45c81e307651-photoalone time on a less touristy beach in Moalboal

This was also the point where I felt all alone for the first time. I’ve traveled alone before, and I didn’t feel alone then. But tonight was different. Maybe it was the exhaustion, or maybe it was because I was literally alone, but I have never felt more alone in my life. I’m a big fan of me time, I eat alone, I enjoy shopping alone, strolling alone, watching a movie alone, but this, this was different. I suddenly felt the need to sleep on my own bed, talk to someone or just shout until my lungs can’t take it anymore and drown the deafening sound of the crickets nearby. Or maybe it was the gloomy weather, or the melancholic state of the room I was staying in. Tired from my own thoughts, I decided to watch Narcos until I dozed off.

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And that’s how I ended up on a four-hour ride to Cebu City instead of climbing Osmena Peak or getting baked under the sun in Sumilon Island. I felt sad yet again I decided to listen to some music on my phone to pass the time. Jose Gonzalez’ dreamy voice flooded my ears and I instantly felt familiarity when he started singing “step outside, time to step outside,” my official travel anthem. All my uneasiness started fading away and I immediately calmed down and slept through three more hours of travel.

A few hours later, I found myself in Robinson’s Fuente profusely thanking the guys who got my bag for having the heart to return my bag intact. They also told me the story on how they accidentally got my bag. It was fine, I said. It was an unbelievable travel experience, the worst I’ve come across yet.

8b08e34d0b131c03-photosecond time in Magellan’s Cross!

After parting our ways, I changed clothes, slathered generous amount of lotion on my skin, put on some moisturizer, did my makeup, and celebrated with a Jollibee chicken joy. Later on, I found myself on a jeepney bound to Magellan’s Cross asking for a sinulog for my birthday, thanking the Higher Power for giving me that wonderful sunrise two days ago. That afternoon, I returned to south, continued my backpacking misadventures and collected more memories of that birthday.

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In search for something they couldn’t find within themselves, people do crazy, sometimes unimaginable things in the hopes of finally finding what they we’re looking for. Maybe it’s how humans are wired, but most people almost always seem to think that they will find what they lost or what’s missing in their life by doing one thing: traveling.

Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, and Alexander Supertramp all set out in a once in a lifetime journey that changed their lives. One found love (and recently lost it), the other tried making herself whole again, and the other lost his life in the process. I embarked on my second solo travel, albeit it wasn’t a once in a lifetime journey, all under the guise of a birthday vacation. Honestly? I was in the process of taking back the “muchness” I felt I lost in the hustle. Now I don’t know if Gilbert, Strayed or Supertramp were able to find what they were looking for or reclaim what they lost, but me? Boy, I’m just glad that even though I lost my bag, I still found it.

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And yeah, I love South Cebu.

 

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