Like me, Smarla is a twentysomething Filipina with an appetite for travel. You could say that she’s made a living out of it as the food connoisseur of Culture Shock PH, a local travel group that shines the spotlight on the culture and heritage of the Philippines.
Despite all the eating she does—which she documents on her blog, Everyday Sweet Notes—she never seems to gain weight. I like to think it’s because she’s so energetic. I’ve known her since our elementary days, and she’s always been such a bubbly, enthusiastic person. And though I’ve never traveled with her, it’s easy to imagine her bursting with excitement whenever she takes off on a new adventure.
“[Traveling] exposes you to new ways of looking at things, new cultures, new languages, and a perspective of your life from a distant location, allowing room to see the bigger picture.”
If there’s one thing I admire most about Smarla, it’s how passionate she is about exploring our country. This woman doesn’t just travel to see sights. No, she immerses herself in each place she visits and gets to know the locals enough to call them family.
Smarla’s definitely a wanderer who inspires me to embrace the wonders that the Philippines has to offer. I’m so happy she agreed to share some of her thoughts and experiences on Wander Write Now.
1. What sparked your interest in traveling?
I’ve always wanted to travel but we were more of a staycation type of family growing up, but as soon as I graduated from college and had my own money, I traveled as much as I could. My first foray into solo traveling was during my brief NGO stint where they would throw me to Tacloban or Cagayan de Oro on my own, and I just fell in love with it.
2. What’s your traveling style?
I either travel solo or with a small group (4-5 ppl) of handpicked people, since I backpack a lot and I like going to places that are not too touristy like Bukidnon or Kalinga, so I really need people who are not maselan (fussy) and are always ready to wing it if needed! We try to plan but sometimes, when you’re traveling in non-touristy destination, you encounter unforeseen roadblocks like the public transport system, etc. So far I’ve been traveling for short durations, but I am planning on a one month backpack trip to Mindanao via bus all the way!
3. What’s your most memorable travel experience/encounter so far?
My most memorable travel experience was our dry run of our Talaandig Cultural Immersion Tour for Culture Shock PH. That artistic indigenous group just made me fall in love with them and their culture. They’re family to me, and I love how they have preserved their culture so well and how welcoming they are. After experiencing our homestay program for ourselves, I told myself, more people should meet these incredible people and learn about their stories. And people should really travel this way rather than just taking pictures and not even talking to the locals. When you open yourself up and allow your curiosity to run while traveling, the experience just changes you. That’s really the lifeblood of our travel group, Culture Shock PH.
4. What’s the scariest thing you’ve experienced while traveling?
I think the scariest would be the jeep ride from Kalinga to Bontoc. The roads are too steep and too much of a crazy zigzag for my comfort. Shortly after we did our ocular in Kalinga, the bus accident of Tado happened. I panicked and thought, that could have been us.
5. What place felt most like home to you?
Bukidnon with the Talaandig tribe. (See question #3)
6. What are your three most important traveling companions/tools? (Aside from your passport, of course!)
Flashlight, camera, dry bag
7. What are the top three local destinations that you’ve been to?
Bukidnon – Fresh air, so many tribes to get to know (there are seven tribes there), fresh vegetables, and really good single origin Arabica coffee.
Batanes – My dream destination, and it was the last place I was able to go to on my initial travel wish list. You can never go home from Batanes without at least one good photo, no matter how crappy your camera is, because the place is just too breathtaking. And the people there are just so warm and helpful. Unlike in Metro Manila, you can put your guard down there, since people are very honest there. The population is very small so if you do something crazy, everyone knows about it! So be good, guys!
Siquijor – I just love the quaint mystical vibe and the virgin beaches. Everything is so laid-back, and the people there are actually very friendly!
8. What are the top three international destinations that you’ve been to?
Sadly, I haven’t been outside the Philippines yet! But [this] year, I’m planning to go to New Zealand to visit my sister.
9. What are the top three important tips/learnings you picked up while traveling?
Travel curious. Don’t just passively take pictures then leave. Go out of your comfort zone! Go out of your hotel room and mingle! Don’t just stay in your air-conditioned tour bus. Walk around and explore! Talk to the locals, ask them for tips, and ask them about local folklore or local news.
Gear up and make sure you’re ready when you travel! Bring extra cash, extra clothes, a dry bag, crackers, extra batteries, etc., just in case something does not happen according to the plan. I’ve heard horror stories of people getting stuck in a particular island for ten days just because the weather did not cooperate. Research goes a long way too to save you time from going around in circles. There are a lot of travel blogs out there that are rich resources of unpublished travel information, so spend time reading before heading out.
Travel can be a form of escapism or it can be life-giving or both. It really depends on what you do when you get back from travel that matters. It’s kind of like going into a retreat. Sure, you might have a lot of realizations while you’re outside your daily routine, but what you do when you’re back in your natural habitat is key! Do you just go back to your regular way of doing things, or do you actively do something about your realizations? It’s up to you.
10. Why travel?
Because it brings you out of your comfort zone, and it has the potential to break down your limiting perspectives and open you up to a wide array of possibilities. It exposes you to new ways of looking at things, new cultures, new languages, and a perspective of your life from a distant location, allowing room to see the bigger picture. Travel holds so much promise and so much possibility for it to be transformative and life-giving, so go take a chance, and lundagin mo beybe!
Stay tuned for another installment of my featured wanderers! Want to share your own thoughts about travel? Get in touch with me here.
Profile photo c/o James Singlador
In-article photos c/o Robx Bautista of www.thecreativedork.com