There comes a point in every traveller’s life when the experience of going to a foreign place no longer feels the same, nor as exciting as it used to be when she first began. Cities blur into similar skylines, restaurants and bars. Non-cities remain precisely that—good in small doses but rarely more. The magic of travel fades into a succession of airports, suited executives and boring business hotels, or a kaleidoscope of lobster-red package tourists and concrete bungalows on dirty beaches.
Even I could not avoid that fate.
Having travelled around many parts of the world on a student’s budget not too long ago, I used to skip perfectly affordable, mid-range hotels in favour of Rs100 rooms. I was used to travelling for three months or more at a time, and had a strict travel philosophy: “It’s got to be all or nothing. Either luxury on a private island scale, or whatever I can get for next to nothing.”
The Philippines, with its 7,107 islands, was especially appealing. Under-visited and often overlooked in favour of Thailand and Indonesia, the Philippines has a certain charm that sets on slowly, but lingers on long after you’ve left. It’s so large, with each region and group of islands distinct from each other, that it feels disjointed; and so disorganized and chaotic that it can be hard to pinpoint what exactly the Filipino experience is about. Is it about the colonial heritage of Intramuros in Old Manila, or the pine trees and mountain ranges around Baguio, where strawberries, ube (yam) jams and hot springs rule?
Why the Philippines is not overrun with tourists is the reason why it should be: It can be experienced in so many spectacularly different ways.