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Some Thoughts on Backpacking

Geez, its been almost 20 years when I officially became a true-blue backpacker.

I was a wide-eyed (actually, I have chinky eyes) 20-year old, lanky, nerd-looking, jologs, single, and hoping-for-a-blind-girl-to-notice-me- kind of dude then.

It was late in the 80's when I started to venture into it. Back then, backpacking was, in a true sense, actual backpacking. You see the few brave foreigners in the streets with their 80-liter backpacks? Mine was only 60 liters. Saving precious money on a daily or per transaction basis was the primary concern of everybody opting this kind of experience. Now, its not a requisite anymore to carry bags that could accommodate rocket-propelled grenades or cannons (as the mall guards used to joke to us backpackers). You also hear the terms dude backpacking or flashpacking (those who carry ipods, laptops, sennheiser earphones, and whatever their deep pockets could afford).

Oh, I'm blabbering here.....

Anyways, I've done a lot of backpacking in my life that I'm having a hard time trying to shake off my slowly-creeping-in-jaded-mentality. You see, I like travelling. In fact, it has been my life for almost 20 years. If I don't travel in a month's time, I get sick! But some realities are smothering my backpacking lifestyle. Its becoming more and more difficult to travel on an impulse, climb mountains, go deep inside caves, and sleep in the wilderness. Nowadays, I just have to content myself on reminiscing the more reckless (but definitely great) years of my nomad life. So younglings, be warned. Learn from my life lessons.

Cheap? Yep, one can really travel cheap anywhere! Just be prepared to embrace what's in front of you. Or rather, sleep on whatever bed that's available for you. That could include hard mattresses, cartons, mats, newspaper, hard benches, crooked hard benches, hammocks, soft earth, hermit crab-filled sandy beaches, and bed bug infested beds. Not to mention rooms filled with ceiling and wall mirrors and mattresses covered with plastic, the ones used for more, uuhhmm.... romantic moments. Of course, tents and sleeping bags should also be included. There would also be hard, bamboo beds where you could see geckos crawling on the ceiling directly above your face. You also have to learn to sleep in any kind of position – straight, sitting, and yes, even standing (it will really fascinate you when you discover that you can actually fall asleep on your feet!)

Do I spend or do I scrimp? Its not the same as cheap. Do you spend for that tour which would afford you to have access to the best of what the place can offer? Or forget about it and go someplace else cheaper? For some backpackers, the choice is very clear, scrimp. Unfortunately, I've met some guys who totally missed out the best things because they refused to spend the equivalent of five US dollars (to think they spent hundreds of moolahs on airfare alone). The lesson here - read before you travel.

Where to spend the night? - hotel, inn, airport, bus or ship terminal, inside the bus, inside the ship. Remember, spending the night inside the bus can save you 5 to 20 dollars on accommodation.

I'm blabbering again.... I'm supposed to talk about my backpacking days, not tips. Oh well, might as well continue with the tips and about myself later.

Do I drink or not? - rule of thumb: In case of doubt, don't. A bottle of water is much, much cheaper than a hospital bill (throw in your lost time and supposed great kodak moments).

Do I look straight in the eyes of the host, bow my head, my shoulders, my knees, and whatever part of my body can be bent? Well, the best way is to smile first, extend your hand for a handshake (to the same gender only!), or see first how everybody does it the local way. If there's somebody within whisper-shot, ask first if you also have to do what the locals do.

The smell? Yes, be prepared for a full range of aroma. Some are very friendly to your senses and some can cause olfactory paralysis.

The sound? There can be several pages to be expected - from full orchestras of cicadas to the mind-shattering chicken calls. Be ready to be wide-awake at three in the morning. For the lucky ones, it will be deep slumbers serenaded by forest sounds, ocean waves, water rivulets flowing nearby, chants of priests in the nearby temple, or rain drops pounding on the roofs. But for others, the chickens are just part of the whole auditory menu. There will be dogs, unmuffled engines, and that ever-present karaoke machine shared by the whole village. Oh, there might also be babies crying the whole night.

The food? To make it easier on yourself. Just remember that every living thing is made up of the same organic materials. A bug would be as nutritious as a piece of peanut. It will also help if you would know the different terms for the same thing. An anchovy in English would be some sort of bagoong isda in Tagalog. The same thing with caviar (suso in many parts of the Philippines). And yes, the number of your tastebuds would increase when you are introduced to different food cultures, MSG included.

Do I act praning? (I can't remember the English term!) - If you understand this, by all means YES. You always have to be very, very careful about your things, especially that small bag that contains 80% of your cash, your passport, and whatever insignificant, but valuable, item for you). You don't only guard your things from possible local bad people, but from other travelers as well. A friend shared this - in one place in the Himalayas, seasoned backpackers would chain their belongings to their bodies. Misdeeds between tourists usually happen in dormitory-type facilities. Some backpackers would also become very localized and they connive with locals to con other travelers. Just keep your wits every time you go out of your comfort zone. No need to cancel you backpacking plans because of this reality.

The Bugs! the bugs! Yes, my dear, they are everywhere! From six-legged to eight legged (or should I say, thousand-legged?). From the ones that suck tiny amounts of your blood to the ones that leave stinking smells when they land on your delicate skin. Better keep that mosquito net neatly tucked under your mattress. Also, keep away any food material inside your clothing, if you care about that jeans or cargo pants. Don't worry, you will learn to live with them. As we say in the environment circle - ey, its biodiversity! The more species, the more healthy environment! Ha ha! Somebody throw me bread with a rock inside!

Happy Backpacking!


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