Friday, July 6, 2018

SEA to Africa 2018: 33 Days Later


It's been five weeks and I have yet to recover from the exhaustion of our recent backpacking trip—effed up time zone, endless transfers, and unending packing-unpacking routine. Surprisingly, all of my stuff now are neatly packed and organized back to their original place, a far cry from years ago when I just want to see them lying around my bedroom floor for weeks, the beauty of having a neat freak partner.

Year Six. 55 days. 4 countries. 1 failed route. 15 key destinations. Southeast Asia to Africa. Husband and wife. And as always, we conquered our annual summer backpacking trip.

Me and my buddy flew out of Manila three days after the last day of classes then came back the day before the new school year started. Once again, my two-month summer forced leave (one of the perks of being a public school teacher) allowed us to get out from our cocoons and explore the world. Everything went well and for the very first time, we went home together, in the same house (no sepanx this time). 


The trip was sort of a post-honeymoon honeymoon jaunt after we got hitched a few months back. Our two-week adventure in Australia was our “official” celebratory trip but, well, we haven’t really had a “honeymoon” like the way I wanted it to be (read:lazy daisy). But yeah, we're opening a new chapter in our lives and we’re both thrilled.


Our love story may have been intertwined in our numerous backpacking trips. It was during summer of 2013 when we embarked on an adventure for the first time on the northern and southern parts of the Philippines—Babuyan Islands and Sulu Province. Me and my buddy somehow clicked and our first ever trip was followed by five consecutive summer trips; 


Six summer backpacking trips and we're stronger than ever, but lazier than before (because old age). Now, as we start to bounce back into our normal lives, we've been juggling adulting stuff and short-term trips in between our day jobs. So as we get consumed on getting back to track, lemme share with you a summary of our SEA to Africa 2018 trip.


Bali, Indonesia
12 days
Visa-free for Philippine passport holders up to 30 days

It all started last year, when me and my buddy let our respective moms experience our backpacking life by letting them join the first leg of our summer trip in Malaysia. This year, we surprised them again with a ten-day trip to Bali and they loved it. 

On the other hand, our crazy friends impulsively booked a weekend flight to join us which meant a weekend of nothing but having fun with some of our best travel buddies, plus our moms. 


We started off in Ubud and made it our home base for six days before we transferred to Kuta for another four days. We hired a private car with driver with Bali Golden Tour (our trusted tour company in Bali) and showed our moms some of our favorite spots in the most famous Indonesian island. With no fixed itinerary, we did what we do best— to follow our gut feel and go where we feel going to each day. 


We feasted with babi guling and Bintang beer almost every day. We also did a series of temple runs and checked out some of the stunning beaches of Bali. But the one thing that our moms enjoyed was our one full day of shopping in Ubud. 

Our moms went back home teary-eyed as if we're teeners traveling solo for the very first time. They left us in Bali and the usual airport scene of them leaving us went on. It’s cute to see them travel together as if they’re long-term chummies. 


We're truly blessed to have the time and means to spend long vacations with our moms even for just once a year. We may be frugal and could only fly them on low-budget airlines but spending quality time with them, away from the adversities they’re facing with, is definitely priceless. And, yes, I challenge you to travel with your oldies while they still can and while you still have them. Forget about saving for that overpriced purse or cellphone, invest in traveling with them 'coz it will be all worth it.


Timor Leste (East Timor)
7 days
Visa-on-arrival for Philippine passport holders / US$35 per person up to 90 days

It should've been a trio trip with Julius, one of our favorite travel buddies which is also one of our wedding godfathers (even though we're almost the same age with him). But he was denied of boarding at the airline check-in counter as he didn't have any blank pages left in his passport (read:frequent traveler). Upon realizing this predicament, I wanted to just stay in Bali and spend our supposed trip on a drinking spree with Julius, but no, he insisted that we should go on. He’s a sweet friend like that and we love him to bits. So we left him and it became, yet again, a tandem trip for me and my buddy. 

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We had five days in Timor Leste and the uber expensive accommodation prevented us to rent a car and explore around (which was the original plan with Julius). After recovering from the shock of what happened, we researched on what we could do on this youngest nation in Southeast Asia and plotted our itinerary.

The microlet, their local version of tuk-tuk, was our transportation of choice as we went around Dili. With a standard fare of US$0.25 per person per ride (they use US Dollars here), we discovered a number of beaches, war museum, and more. We could've explored the far-flung villages but no, our limited backpacking funds only afforded us to go around Dili. 


Traces of the recent war can be seen around town but it's perfectly safe. There's this stillness that you could feel when you walk around town. Timor Leste might be behind its neighboring Southeast Asian nations but we are truly blessed to have the opportunity of taking a glimpse on the freedom that they enjoy today. I felt so sorry for the old people who experienced the war that every time I see one, I would look at my buddy's eyes and mention that I would like to hug them at that exact moment.


Singapore
3 days
Visa-free for Philippine passport holders up to 30 days

For the past three years, Singapore has become our comfort zone during our trips. So upon knowing that our jump-off point from Asia to Africa is Singapore, we dedicated three full days of chill time, a sort of regroup for me and my buddy.

In those days, we indulged on our favorite Singaporean dishes and met up with some of our Singapore-based friends. Plus, we finally got to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Botanic Gardens, a long-time request from my buddy.




I dunno how and why it happened but ten hours before our scheduled flight out of Singapore, our Manila-based travel buddies (the usual suspects) suddenly showed up, crashing yet again this leg of our trip. So what happened was we spent those waiting hours on an early morning beer sesh that lasted until three in the afternoon, our flight was at seven in the evening. 


Morocco
33 days
Visa-free for Philippine passport holders up to 90 days

It was just five months ago when I mentioned during my wedding vow that me and my buddy would somehow fulfill our dream destinations—Morocco for me and Egypt for him. And to my surprise, my buddy included those two in our summer backpacking trip. 

But as they say, if it didn't happen then it wasn't meant to be. And because of transit/tourist visa issues, we were left with no choice but to cancel the Egypt leg of our trip and went straight to Morocco from Singapore (with a layover in Saudi Arabia). 

I could narrate everything that transpired during our 33 days in Morocco but I’ll save that for my blog posts. Nonetheless, if I could sum it up, I could say that the country has the most number of scammers that we’ve encountered compared to all of our previous travels combined. It’s hard to trust anybody as you’d always question their intentions of “helping” which saddens me as there are some who'd really wanna help without asking anything in return. If you're thin-skinned then you'd probably forget how beautiful the country is and get focused on dealing with touts and scammers every day.

For 33 days, we mostly utilized the country's efficient train and bus system and had no problems with it. We visited 12 key cities in Morocco and each one was totally different from the other that it felt like we're entering a new territory every time. 

Casablanca was our first stop and we got our first taste of Morrocan way-of-life in this city that was made famous by an old movie of the same name. It is chaotic with its dubious people and we hardly went out at night. 



Rabat, on the other hand, is the capital city and people were kinda chill here. Locals ae kind of used to tourists which made this highly urbanized city a relatively safe spot. We took a tram to the nearby city of Sale and explored its unassuming medina. Asilah is a laid-back small coastal town with pleasant people, there was never an attempt on scamming and there was this one guy who’d want us to hitchhike but it was too bad that we’re going on the other way. 



Tetouan was as crazy as Casablanca and its medina is definitely one of the most confusing we’ve been too with its maze-like alleys. Chefchaouen was my second favorite city with its pearly blue mountainside houses and relaxed people (just don't bother the endless weed offer from the locals). 



Fes has the most confusing medina in the whole of Morocco, we got lost every day and just decided to just go where our feet would lead us. Merzouga was our jump-off to Sahara Desert where we got to meet good souls; backpackers and desert men alike. 


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Tinghir was an off the beaten path and the amazing gorges will leave you breathless. Ouarzazate was an impulse stop as we're both fans of the Game of Thrones which led us to one of the series’ actual film location. 



I have fond memories of Marrakech as our friends, once again, crashed this leg of the trip and we got to rent a whole riad (a traditional Moroccan house). Me and my buddy got a much needed rest as they shopped all day, every day for three days. Yes, watching them haggle and shop was rest for us.



Essaouira is my favorite town with its stunning sunset at the beach and chill vibe. Sellers weren't as pushy and the locals were helpful. We stayed four nights here (two nights of which were with our friends) and got to visit another Game of Thrones film location.


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Agadir is my least favorite but we got to score a great gift for our moms, two huge cacti that we brought home. 

Spending 33 days in Morocco might seem crazy for some but a fulfilled dream for us. Our trip coincided with the observance of Ramadan which allowed us to experience this holy month with them. We got to see how they went on with their daily lives while fasting. Overall, Morocco will always be a reminder that dreams do really come true.

We safely arrived in Manila after three flights with never-ending layovers. After backpacking for two months, we're finally back home (say hello to Jollibee). 😍 As always, this trip has been nothing but great 'coz I was able to spend it with some of my favorite people in the world (especially the Bali leg with our moms). We may be broke as ever when we came back, but it's super worth it. We're now back to our comfort zone, our crib and to our mum's cooking. No more hostels, take-away food and the endless packing-unpacking routine. Someone asked me once, "Why do you still teach when you could travel all day, every day?", I replied, "To keep me anchored and grounded." And yes, it's back to school for me as well (I'm too excited to meet my new students). But first, I need to hit the beach really soon! Maybe this weekend? Tara? 😍 Photo by @lakadpilipinas #SEA2africa2018
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Jollibee was our refuge as we touched down in Manila. The familiar sounds and sights made me heave a sigh of relief. Coming back with a homecoming party in Zambales with my family and friends was the perfect way to cap off this year’s trip. Epic may have been overused countless of times but I think the thrill of embarking on an unknown adventure with nothing but guts and willpower makes our every trip a memorable one. Plus, I got my best buddy with me so I know that nothing and no one would ever ruin it. 


I’m back to work now and I could say that the fatigue from our recent trip had taken its toll on me. I was recharged and energized for the past opening of new school year but this time, I’m inching my way every day to go to work. It’s not my students or the job itself. Maybe it’s mid-life crisis or I dunno. I still want (need) to teach and love my life while on the road. 


And we’re back home but my travel calendar is still empty. I’m just enjoying our quiet mornings while sipping Timorese coffee and having meals on our Morrocan plate. Yeah, we're taking it slowly 'coz adulting always comes in the way. Like spending so much time on the furniture section of malls and buying shelves and huge beds.






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