2016, despite the leaf storm it brought on the world, has been quite generous to me in terms of travel. This year brought me to 18 cities in 9 countries, plus countless more in the Philippines for work. This is the year I finally went outside Asia and reached Europe and the United States of America.
I saw the winter wonderland of Lillehammer, the canals of Amsterdam, the crowded streets of Kathmandu, the vast cornfields of Nebraska, and the amazing monuments of Washington DC this year. More valuable than the places I visited are the hundreds of new friendships and connections I made through the International Olympic Committee’s Young Reporters’ Programme (IOC YR) and the US State Department’s Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).
Of the 4 years I’ve been traveling, 2016 has been the best one for me. Here’s why:
I started my year with local travel. My family and I went to Baguio City on the third weekend of January for vacation.
Here, we went back to the tourist areas we last visited when we were children. We munched on strawberries and rode the horse trails like we used to before. This was also my way of acclimatizing for my next trip – though the “cold” temperature in the Philippine north is far from the weather in Norway.
Sadly, this was the only family vacation we had this year.
In February, my work brought me to the snowy slopes of Lillehammer to cover the world’s best young winter athletes as part of my fellowship with the IOC YR Programme. For two weeks, I covered winter sports – most of which I’ve seen for the first time – and learned how to adapt to a Norwegian winter.
After the coverage, my YR friends and I embarked on a 4-country tour across northern Europe. We walked the street where Nobel Peace Prize laureates parade in in Oslo, cruised along the Gothia River as the sun set in Gothenburg, Sweden, and explored the royal palaces of Copenhagen, Denmark. We were captivated by the paintings of the Dutch masters and munched on burgers and steaks in Amsterdam.
A lot of alcohol was involved throughout the trip. One of my most memorable moments was decorating the streets of Amsterdam because of my drunkenness and passing out after. Something you can only do while you’re still young.
After our group went our separate ways, I stayed a couple of days with my Filipino friend in The Hague and took a day tour to Antwerp, Belgium, the world’s leading diamond city, where I had the best hot chocolate and white beer I’ve ever had in my life.
I went home on the first week of March, broke but with no regrets over my European adventure.
March – April
It was the heat of the election season when I came back to the Philippines so I got to travel a lot for work. In these two months, I went to Dumaguete, Cavite, Cebu, Nueva Ecija, Baguio, Naga City, and Legazpi to cover local debates, hold workshops, and organize events for #PHVote. The trips were tiring but at least I wasn’t stuck in the office.
In late May, I got an invite to cover an NGO event on financial literacy for overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong. I asked permission from my boss and he gave me a go signal. I did not tell the organizers that the date of the event was actually my birthday.
So, I spent my 24th birthday writing stories about OFWs. I have no regrets though because it was a privilege hearing and amplifying their stories of hope. This was the first time I spent my birthday out of the country.
I asked the organizer to give me a one-day extension so I can go around and do some shopping in the city. He obliged and I ended up going around Hong Kong with a college friend.
The elections and everything that’s happening in the Philippines took a toll on my mental, spiritualm and physical health. I knew I was on the brink of burn out so I had to take a break.
It’s been a yearly tradition for me to go solo backpacking in a new country every year. In 2013, I went to Vietnam and Cambodia. In 2014, I went to Laos. In 2015, I went to Myanmar. For 2016, I decided to go to Nepal.
It was a self-imposed 7-day retreat that I needed to cope with everything that’s happening and the failures I faced in June. During my time in Nepal, I went temple hopping in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, and trekked with a stranger to get a glimpse of the Himalayas in Nagarkot. I shopped for jewelry in Thamel, and got lost in the streets of Patan.
I transited in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and stayed overnight during the way back. I used this time to meet with my old friends and go around the sights I didn’t get to see in 2013.
August – September
For these two months, I went back and forth to Iloilo and Cagayan de Oro to manage our communities and prepare for our projects there in November.
I also went on a weekend trip to Baler with my high school friends in August. We wanted to learn how to surf but the waves weren’t generous during the time we visited. This was my first time in Aurora province.
September – October
This is the most pleasant surprise 2016 gave me.
In July, I found out that I was accepted in the YSEALI Fall 2016 Academic fellowship for Civic Engagement. It was a 5-week fellowship that I will spend with the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Washington DC. This was a blessing I did not expect to have this year.
During the fellowship, I learned civic engagement from the amazing non-profits of Omaha, and, teary-eyed, saw the faces of 4 presidents etched in Mt Rushmore. I also became a part of a Filipino family in a town called Scottsbluff. During our last days in the state, we were named honorary citizens of the great state of Nebraska and the City of Omaha.
We ended our fellowship with a few days in Portland, Oregon and Washington DC – going full west to east coast in 1 week. Portland, as a mentor described it, is a “Mecca of non-profits and startups,” and a very ideal place to live in. I also got to hoard books in one of the world’s biggest book stores located in the city.
Washington DC was just a dream come true. With a hangover, I went inside the White House, the seat of power of the world’s most powerful country. I toured the US Congress and the most iconic museums and memorials in the city with my friends. On the last day, I got to present about my project in the US State Department.
In November, I went back to Iloilo and Cagayan de Oro for our anti-corruption caravan. While I’ve been to these cities a couple of times already, I’ve never actually been to any tourist spots. That’s a journalist’s life for you!
Looking for the sunshines
2016 was not all sunshine for me. The first half of 2016 was a series of setbacks – missed career goals, 2 failed scholarship attempts, election-related stress, and heartbreaks. I’ve been disappointed with myself despite what people say about my career.
July 2016 was the final blow to 6 months of physical and emotional stress. I found it hard to answer my why and I lost the drive to get up from bed and do the work I love doing. It was one step away from depression.
But thankfully, my travel to Nepal helped me cope with this anxiety. I chose to look at where the “sun shines and not where the shadows dwell.” I may not have been able to get the scholarship in London or Denmark that I wanted but I became part of something better – a network of young leaders in my region who I know will be life-long friends.
I started Project 25, my personal goal of visiting 25 countries by the age of 25, in January 2013. Now, four years later, I am only 1 country away from my goal. Because of 2016, I am now on country 24 in Project 25.
To more surprises and travels in 2017 and beyond! Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!