Unchartered territories

I was about to start Dostoevsky’s Demons when I decided to write this nagging entry. Last week, on the way to Plaza Espanya, I found my old passport stuck in the tiny pocket of my hand luggage. I don’t use this bag often  so this passport has been here for years until last Friday. Seeing it again flooded me with so many travel memories so I kept it in my hand bag for several days, all the while thinking for the title of this article.

This was my very first passport, issued in 2008 which I consider the turning point of my life. I was 24.

In May that year, I went abroad for the very first time, together with my husband who is returning to the Netherlands after more than two years of living in the Philippines. We can hardly be considered a serious couple then, having just hooked up five months before. That first trip sort of decided whether what we were having was true love or just a passing dalliance. After two months, we’ve decided that we can’t live far from each other so I began processing a more permanent visa to the Netherlands which luckily got approved. However, when I went back to the Philippines, I was faced with several immigration hurdles that kept me in the country for several more months, hanging my future and my sanity on a ridiculous accusation of a jealous ex girlfriend.

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In China, if I remember correctly, in Suzhou, considered as the Venice of East.

In the middle of those harrowing months, my editor saved me from my suicidal tendencies by sending me to a familiarization trip to China, allowing me to experience Guangzhou and Shanghai in a very pampered manner – that includes a night at the posh Ritz Carlton hotel. For a few days, I was relieved of my depression, enjoyed a completely different world and became a little more positive.

Looking at these first two visas in my passport, I am reminded of how the world opened up for me for the first time in such extreme circumstances. When 2009 started, I came back to the Netherlands and began travelling to parts of the world previously unknown to me. And I have not stopped since.

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I went to Morocco twice in a year. I don’t think I am coming back soon.

My old Philippine passport took me to a lot of countries in four years- to most parts of Europe, to Turkey even to Africa (Morocco) – all unchartered territories to me. It’s ironic how five years ago, they were all new before and now Europe has become so familiar. The novelty of first setting foot in the Old World and being amazed by its difference are all lost to me now, preserved only in the tattered pages of my first passport.

I was telling a friend a couple of months ago how I am finding it difficult to get satisfaction from my recent travels. Not only has my travelling been reduced to business trips, it has not made me feel that sense of adventure and anxiety that my first few travels has gifted me. That mad anticipation of experiencing something completely different from your normal routine.

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Russia is still my favorite place. This one is in Pavlovsk Palace just outside St. Petersburg. I am lucky to have left this place safe and without frost bite.

The last time I felt that way was during my trip to Russia in 2012 – the fear of being in a place where you don’t know the language and you have no idea if your trip will pan out or if you’ll ever get out of there alive.

I am a slow traveller. I usually get on a plane or train without a definite plan. I don’t even buy guide books and I make do with free maps in hotels and train stations. I don’t normally list things I want to visit until I am already in that place. You can say I don’t travel with a purpose. The purpose itself is to travel. That’s why I also don’t bother with bucket lists.

That’s probably why I am not easily impressed by merely visiting a new city. I used to say that you should never visit a city twice because the world is too big and one should visit a different place every time one travels. But my view on travelling has changed a lot since the first trip to the Netherlands. I no longer have to see the world.

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Inside the Blue Mosque in Turkey.

Lately I have been going back to Barcelona often because that’s one place I’ve made real friends and where I feel that my soul is nurtured (as well as my stomach). It’s probably because Spain has been in my consciousness since childhood through history classes.

I look forward to Africa and Siberia. The Americas seem like a great place to visit particularly the Southern part. Maybe one day I will sleep in an igloo or go throwing boomerang with the aborigines in Australia. I still like to take that long journey from Europe to Asia through the Trans-Siberian line. Unfortunately not on the year that I had hoped for. I will be turning 30 this year and would have wanted it for my birthday trip. But my Russian is not good enough and I have to strengthen my roots in this new home before I can go on exploring new horizons.

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