The other night, I overheard someone’s response to an interview on TV regarding cultural tourism and the importance of heritage in promoting it. There I was, lying down on my bed, desperately trying to sleep earlier than usual when I hear this guy talking about identity and heritage. His impassioned answers quickly kicked my sluggish brain into high gear. There was just too much sincerity there for me to imagine that he’s faking it as, sadly, many politicians are wont to do.
I believe the guy. Honestly, I do. But a cynical part of me wondered if what he’s suggesting is even remotely possible for a nation that some historians believe to have lost its identity. Cultural tourism has its potential. But that’s subject to that one caveat he mentioned. He said that for it to be truly effective, individuals of our nation must first make an effort to know more of our heritage.
Among many things, I think the saddest for a nation to endure is a loss of its identity. If there’s one thing that resonates in all the Asian countries I admire, it’s the strength and enduring quality of their cultural heritage.
Maybe advancement doesn’t have to come at a hefty price of losing one’s cultural heritage, the identity that unites people despite existing differences. There should be a line where old fashioned beliefs meet the continuously changing views of modern times with neither fighting for supremacy.
Mr. I-want-us-as-a-country-to-embrace-our-heritage has a point. Perhaps the best way to start is for individuals to see and discover more of his or her country. Taking those little steps to travel even to neighboring cities and towns may just provide opportunities to discover whatever identity can be found. Whatever beautiful, ugly, quirky, funny, embarrassing, and downright stupid things await us might just bring us closer to that elusive identity that we seemed to have lost a long, long time ago.
That’s why I compiled this list of places I plan to visit in the near future. After all, it’s never too late to try finding what’s lost. And perhaps in finding it, I’ll be able to understand more of what it means to be truly Filipino:
- Batanes – Home to the Ivatans who have woven their lives around the beautiful, whimsical, and sometimes harsh climate of Batanes. Friends who have visited it have nothing bad to say about the place. The view, the people, and the general way of life are far removed from the restlessness of the country’s more highly developed cities. For me, the mystical beauty of Batanes is largely due to how it managed to stay isolated and protected from the outside world.
2. Bohol – I was lucky to have visited Bohol though, initially, not by my own choice. I’m proud to say that it’s where I trace half of my roots being my father’s hometown. But I haven’t visited Bohol in recent years. My memories of it include sleeping on an antique bed infested with bedbugs inside the old Baclayon Church grounds. I was a young Protestant visiting my Catholic parish priest uncle serving in the old church. Religion aside, I couldn’t help but remember how majestic and steeped with history that church was. From the ancient facade to the old relics lovingly preserved inside it, there were just so many stories that a young mind soaked and remembered as time passed by. Then there was the famous chocolate hills where at first glimpse, girlish fantasies of eating large servings of them were immediately dashed. And the little tarsiers seen in a sanctuary that made me both happy and sad. I wished then, and I wish now, that there were less of them in captivity. They deserve a place where true freedom for their kind exist.
3. Bukidnon – Originally home to seven indigenous people or Lumads, Bukidnon is known for its natural wonders. Mountains, caves, forests, lakes, springs, and more abound. Apart from the promise of amazing surprises that nature offers, the place’s foremost attraction to me is its people. Most of the places I’ve seen that somehow managed to preserve their history are those where indigenous people live. I think there’s more to learn from them than from history books alone.
4. Davao del Sur/North Cotabato – To climb Mt. Apo, that’s always been a lifelong dream. The highest peak in the country, the mountain’s presence looms over the provinces of Davao del Sur, North Cotabato, Davao City, and even the Southern Mindanao area. Growing up in a city where the iconic mountain is part of its identity, it has always been that one mountain I wish to climb for as long as I can remember.
5. Davao Oriental – The province’s main attraction for me is its Bonsai Forest in Mount Hamiguitan. A Japanese friend told me that it’s worth a visit. And I believe her though I have to admit it was a bit embarrassing to realize I haven’t even heard of the place. It’s only a few hours away from my home province and yet, I haven’t been there. I bet that it’s a shorter trip than those I’ve endured caught in traffic in the heavily congested streets of Manila.
6. Dapitan City – The place that once became home to our country’s hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. To this day, Dapitan City in Zamboanga del Norte honors his legacy by preserving the home where he spent part of his exile. I’d like to see the place where a brilliant mind spent time separated from so many people and things he held dear.
7. Sagada – A part of the Cordilleras known for indigenous tribes who managed to escape 300 years worth of Spanish influence thus retaining most, if not all, of their cultural heritage. I had the chance to visit the place three years ago and it turned out to be a very rewarding experience. Nestled in the mountainous areas of the Cordillera region, it’s not an easy trip for less adventurous souls. Filled with wonders only nature gives, Sagada is home to proud and nice people who enjoy a rustic life that left a city-dwelling girl like me yearning for more. Simple, beautiful, daunting, aloof yet friendly, and proud – it’s one of those places where time seem to freeze and bestow a gift of agelessness. Unforgettable memories of the place include: the road trip, Yoghurt house, the Episcopal church, Bomod-Ok Falls, Cave Connection experience, Echo Valley, and the hanging coffins.
8. Surigao – Last but not the least is the city known not only for its bounty of seafoods but also for its two enchanting natural wonders. Enchanted River and Tinuy-an Falls are two stops everyone who travel in the area shouldn’t dare miss. Stories told by friends who’ve been there convinced me that it’s a trip worth taking.
As a nation of 7107 islands, it can be a daunting task to create a list of destinations to visit. Famous or not, I believe that each of those islands has a unique beauty and story waiting to be discovered.
To travel is to start somewhere. With so many places to see, making a list where we can start is a good beginning. Whatever it is that draws us, that potentially touches our hearts, deserve our attention. It’s why it’s a good idea to start taking little steps that bring us farther away from our doorsteps.