From the Airspace Over Manila

Location: The airspace over Manila, The Philippines

The city of Manila is the most vibrant place I’ve ever seen from the sky; it’s also chaos, like a stained glass window shattered and scattered across the Earth. The brightly painted buildings go off in all directions. If there is an organization to these zig-zagged streets, it can’t be seen from 30,000 feet. I observe it all from my window seat. I’ll be landing in Caticlan, a city in the region of Visayas, in about an hour. Once there, I’ll take a ferry to Boracay Island, my starting destination.

Excitement bubbles through me; this will be the first time I’ve visited the Philippines, a land that I’ve imagined since I was a kid. My mother is Filipina. She immigrated to the United States when she was 12-years-old and has never been back. However, most of my large, extended family has made trips over to the homeland.

Like most American mutts, my home life is a mush of traditions. I ate cheeseburgers and macaroni and cheese but my mom cooked lots of Filipino dishes as well; fried rice and tocino (sweet-salty bacon) for breakfast, lechon (baked, crispy-skinned pork) and arroz caldo (chicken rice stew) on special occasions, and at the local Asian market, I always begged her to buy me Yan-Yan, Panda crackers, or mango and lychee jellies. Birthdays were big family gatherings and I usually had two cakes: one vanilla or chocolate and the other ube flavored, the purple frosting sprinkled with coconut flakes. I spent entire afternoons at church with my Catholic aunts, praying the rosary on my knees. Afterwards, they would always catch each other up on gossip back in Baguio, where they grew up.

My childhood was filled with stories of muggy hot days, lizard pets, mango trees in backyards, swimming in rushing rivers, pig roasts, and cockroaches larger than mice.

I’ve dreamt of this place for so long, imagined it in so many ways. But I’m not really sure what I’ll find. I don’t speak much Tagalog and beyond hanging out with all my relatives, I haven’t had much experience with the Filipino culture.

It’s also my first time backpacking alone through a foreign country. And as I peer down at the new world in front of me, I realize that I’m scared shitless. I have no idea where I’m staying tonight, what the currency here is, or what to do if something goes wrong. I’m totally alone. But that fear, the one that’s causing my heart to pound in my chest as the plane hurdles through the clouds and over the shimmering blue oceans and sharp, green mountains below, leaves me smiling. Because this same journey into the unknown, the nosedive into a completely different culture,  and the possibility of learning something new about myself and the world around me, is why I travel in the first place. It’s what I love.