backpack by robert alejandro

Posted on October 25, 2010


Can you take three months off from work? Want to travel to Southeast Asia and parts of China? On a budget?

Happy is going to backpack all over Asia with me. See, he’s ready.

I had this book two years, and in that two years it has served me well. I wasn’t an expert traveler, just an eager one. Nor was I very street-smart, despite the air of confidence I try to exhibit on the streets and with friends. If traveling locally is stressful, how much more fraught with unexpected turns travel in other countries would be?

Right on cue, I got this invitation to a book launching at ROX, a travel and sports store. Robert Alejando, artist and TV reporter, took three months off work to backpack with four friends across Southeast Asia and parts of China. In the book’s introduction he said the backpacking trip was an eye-opener: traveling on a budget is very possible. His budget was only PhP50K, which was enough to cover airfare, food, accommodations, land travel and museum fees.

From Manila, his group followed an itinerary  through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Macau, and Hong Kong. While his friends went from one sight to another, he chose a spot and sketched. The book, a journal really, has page after page of sketches of people and places.

As he watched the world pass by, people’s faces and intriguing details normally overlooked in the crush of humanity were given new form on paper. Most of the sketches were collected and annotated with very useful insights and travel notes, including detailed itineraries, what to bring, expenses per day, where to stay cheaply, how to get one from one place to another, and so on. All are printed on bleach-free, recycled paper (environment-friendly book!).

I’d like to give special mention to a good friend, Sana Sta. Ana, one of the editors of the book. Her name was in very small print on the acknowledgment page near the end that I missed it until a few months ago.

A belated congratulations, Sana! You helped create a useful travel journal and nice work of art.

Fear of the unknown applies to travel as much as to anything else. Lonely Planet or Frommer guides are excellent but they were written by people far removed from our realm of experience. How can they know our particular fears and reassure us?

There was a time I had to psyche myself for months before I can even go out of town. So attached I was to my comfort zone. The hardest was to make the first step, over the threshold to the unfamiliar.

I made the first step, or rather I stumbled and fell flat on my face. Let me see, it was Singapore and my companion and I were kicked out of a hostel and left to wander the streets in the wee hours of the morning because the innkeeper couldn’t find our reservation. In Malaysia, we were picked up by a very helpful old Chinese gentleman. We looked so lost. My friend realized right away he wouldn’t be that nice if he didn’t have a crush on me. Innocent me, I didn’t know until he wanted to hold hands, intimating marriage. Yikes, I was horrified. I may laugh now but that time I must have lost 10 pounds from stress.

Well, at that time I wasn’t in the mood for an adventure. But after a while, somehow, I developed a taste for it–the trip was more memorable if not planned to the letter. Some people may not like such an abrupt introduction, though, and may wish to hear first the experiences of another traveler personally, or by someone they can relate to.

Written and drawn by a first-time backpacker, this book is a nice guide to the wonders waiting for neophyte travelers in Southeast Asia. By looking at the drawings, I got a feel for my next destinations. So by the time I got there, I seem to be familiar with the place already–familiar enough that I am not so tensed. If Robert said it would be ok, then it wouldn’t be so bad.

Robert doesn’t forget the Philippines!

So far, I have made my way to most of the places featured in the book. I hope to go back to Thailand to visit Kanchaburi where the River Kwai is and Chiang Mai near the border of Thailand and Myanmar. In Vietnam twice, I have not yet gone up towards Hanoi. I really also want to see Beijing, but I have to save up for the trip. Unlike Robert I can only manage a week or two per trip as I can’t afford to take three months off from work. There will no work waiting for me if I do that, haha. Anyway, let me end this blog with the best advice from the book:

“It isn’t about the places you go–it’s about the people you meet. And I met the most wonderful people on this trip!” –robert alejandro

Posted in: filipino, maybe true