Unlike our ancestors who viewed the world as a god that needs to be respected, the humans of today are a haughty bunch. The advancement of technology, preservation of status quo, our so-called sophistication, and contemporary lifestyle have made us arrogant, as if we are the alpha species of this planet. The gloated decision makers of Earth’s fate. Those arrogant humans include us.
But as Sheila and I traveled all over the Philippines, our perspective on ourselves as dwellers in this world drastically changed. Each lofty mountain, each vibrant reef, each rushing river, or each culture-rich city that we visited became a place where we got genuinely humbled.
1. We erased our notion of self-importance.
It is human nature to think that the universe revolves around us. But when we explored the deep ravines of the Sampao River in Biliran, ascended the mighty Mt. Kanlaon in Negros, or marveled at the glittering crystal kingdom in Central Cave in Samar, the majesty of Nature instantly overwhelmed us. We then realized we are not special. We are just a speck in the entirety of creation. There are immense powers out there that we could never fathom.
2. We embraced our fragility.
Mother Nature is extremely beautiful. But she is also cruel and indifferent. A storm could blow us off the face of Mt. Napulak. Loose rock can fall on our heads while climbing the limestone walls of Cantabaco and Poog. Our headlamps can unexpectedly fail while exploring the dark enormity of Langun-Gobingob Cave. We can get hurt or even die any time under these circumstances, but Mother Nature won’t care. We faced the truth that we are as vulnerable as the creatures that are on her bosom. Humans, with all our greed, can exploit and abuse our planet. But in the end, it’s Nature that decides and acts on our fate.
3. We don’t know everything.
Every time we travel, we learn a whole lot—how the white sandbars of Concepcion are made, how rich Filipinos lived during the Spanish times, what is the role of baluartes in the country’s yesteryears, and more. Yet, even with our extensive sojourns, our acquired knowledge barely scratches the surface. The world is one infinite classroom, one whose wonders and mysteries are evolving and never-ending.
4. We accepted that there are people who are way better than us.
We used to consider ourselves as experienced mountaineers. However, our strength and stamina pale in comparison with our local May-as guides when we climbed Mt. Guiting-guiting in Sibuyan Island. We are certified scuba divers, but our humble Panglao boatmen can “read” the seas far better than us. We are hikers, but the farmers of Antique’s rice terraces can traverse muddy trails faster than us. Traveling erases the notion that we are some sort of royalty. We give our utmost respect to resilient, skillful yet humble people who are at the fringes of our modern society’s notice.
5. We learned to be invisible.
Too often, we see travelers seeing themselves as special people who deserve nothing but the best. As visitors to a place, they should be treated as VIPs, right? Wrong! By doing so, they drastically alter the natural dynamics of the place. By demanding items, favors, and services, they become an intolerable burden and inconvenience to the locals. We wised up and veered away from that path. In every trip, we keep ourselves low profile, keep our silence, take photos unobtrusively, avoid demanding anything, and be satisfied on what is available. Blending in with the locals allowed us to learn more about their history and their natural culture.
6. We began to appreciate the world.
“Back to the reality,” we often hear people grumble when they return to work after a vacation. Sadly, that’s how many people perceive their world—limited in concrete buildings, back-breaking jobs, and monotonous familial duties at home. But the real world is out there. In Balicasag Island where massive schools of jackfish swim gracefully in an endless tornado. On top of Mt. Igcuron where you can see checkered farmlands. In rustic Guimaras where one can taste the sweetest mangoes. When we travel, we see real, natural beauty that soothes the spirit and fills the mind.
7. Traveling taught us how to care.
In our sojourns, we have seen how majestic, awesome, and powerful our world is. Yet, we also realized that it is extremely delicate. If humans want to survive as a species, if humans want future generations to enjoy the bounty and beauty of our world, then they must protect it. We did our part in our own small ways. One less plastic bottle in the sea meant healthier sea turtles in Apo Island. By not creating our own trails, we preserved the landscape of the picturesque Akiki Trail of Mt. Pulag. By supporting local industries, we help preserve the ancient Cebuano craft of wood carving.
No one can conquer a mountain, vanquish a country, or own the seas. We, humans, can only learn from the world and conquer ourselves.
Book a trip, pack your bags, and travel. Seeing reality with an open heart and a welcoming spirit is a life-changing experience, one that will make you realize your place in this world.