From City Slicker To Backpacker


This blog entry about the events of Monday, December 27, 2004 was originally posted on January 01, 2005.

DAY 436:  I have been backpacking for quite a while now and each day on the road I’ve gotten a little more wiser in the game, more so than the average person in the daily routine of sitting in a car and then at a desk and then on a couch in front of the boob tube.  My relatives on my father’s side of which I was with, were sort of clueless on backpacker travel; the day before, I had to remind my uncle to not only lock his guest room door, but close his window to keep thieves from entering. 

“Ah, you’re already used to [this,]” he told me.

That morning we started bright and early at day break for the trek back up the valley from the village of Batad in the middle of the famous rice terraces.  I had lugged by big backpack with me along with my day pack as I didn’t know what to expect.  My uncle thought the pack would be too heavy to go uphill with, and wanted to hire a porter.

“No, it’s okay,” I told him.  “I’ve gone five days with heavier.”


JayPee took my day pack and the four of us trekked back up the way we came, which was understandably a lot harder to do going uphill.  We must have stopped six times over the course of an hour.  (And why not?  It wasn’t a race or anything.)  Up at the top, my Tito Pepito noticed our jeepney driver waiting.  “Look, he’s laughing at us.”

We trekked on through the morning mist and the coming of the rising sun, until we made it to the jeepney, tired, sweaty, but feeling good.

“Good exercise!” Tito Pepito raved.  “Masarap!” (“Refreshing!”)

Our jeepney driver drove us, along with the usual stowaways on the roof, down the rocky and dusty mountain road back to Banaue.  There was only one thought on my uncle’s mind:  Saan ng coche?  ([Dude,] where’s my car?)  It was there, just as we left it, only with a lot more dust on it — so much we could write words.  JayPee taught me a new Tagalog one, “Astig!”, the latest slang for “cool.” 

“OKAY, NEXT ADVENTURE,” I said.  It was only about nine in the morning.  Tito Pepito made a reservation for us at the Sanafe Lodge in Banaue that night; in the meantime, it was time to go off on our next excursion, to the town of Sagada, about 2-3 hours away along another dusty mountain road.  We couldn’t leave right away though, because some sort of a homecoming parade was going on in the main street of Banaue.  Beauty queens waved to the crowd from the back of makeshift floats, followed by high school marching bands, one of which played “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music.  This is not surprising to me at all; The Sound of Music is “industry standard” in many Filipino households (at least in the States it is) as it is a musical beloved by most Filipinos.  For me, the most memorable part is when Friedrich sings “Goodbyyyye!” in his high-pitched voice in “So Long, Farewell.”  Does that kid sing like he had just been kicked in the nuts or what?

The road to Sagada was a dusty one, dustier than before — so much that my uncle and aunt wore handkerchiefs as dust masks to prevent from inhaling too much.  The road was also a hair-raising one for the acrophobic, which JayPee was.  Ironically, he was wearing an air-brushed Spider-Man costume t-shirt his brother Joey had made.  “I’m Spider-Man, but I’m afraid of heights,” he said as the jeepney approached the edge of some really steep cliffs.

SAGADA LIES IN THE CENTER of the Bontoc region, a much higher region where pine trees flourish, where the Bontoc tribe still lives today in co-existence with Episcopalian missionaries and their followers.  It was a much smaller town than the already small town of Banaue, and for me, it was like any other little rural town on the backpacker trail.  It was weird to see European backpackers in the streets, this time being on “the other side,” traveling with local tourists.  Funny, I always thought it was weird to see local tourists tour their own developing country, and there I was, a part of it. 

We wandered the dusty town center looking for a place to eat and settled down for a bit.  “This is my life for the past year,” I told my uncle when we finally sat down to a meal in a little restaurant.  “I end up in a place like this and try and find a place to stay.”

We hired a guide at the town’s tour office across the street (the only one in town) and then hopped back in the jeepney to see some sights.  Our driver and guide took us to Sumigang Cave, known locally as “the big cave,” for its massive interior.  Along the way, I anticipated having to leave my bags in the easily-accessible interior of the jeepney, and went through my regular routine of transferring my laptop to my portable safe and chaining all my valuables to a pole in the cab — all without bringing much attention to myself. 

Meanwhile, my aunt pointed out that my uncle’s sneaker soles were coming loose.  My uncle tried to stick the two pieces together with no luck.  “Here, I have duct tape,” I said.  I wrapped his shoes together, proving once again that duct tape usually saves the day in so many versatile ways.  In Zambia, I managed to fix the inner workings of Shelle’s digital camera, simply with a paper clip and a piece of duct tape.

“You’re like MacGyver,” my uncle said.

THE SUMIGANG CAVE WAS NOT ONLY BIG, but dark too, which is why hiring a guide was a good idea.  Although I had my headlamp with me, it was nowhere as bright as the hefty oil lamp our guide had with him.  It wasn’t just the five of us in the cave; as Sagada’s main tourist attraction, there were many groups and guides along the interior trails.  It was funny to encounter French and Danish backpackers along the way.

What we didn’t expect Sumigang Cave to be was an adventure out of Goonies or something.  Within the cave was an underground stream, forming pools of water to wade through, and at some deep areas, swim in.  The water made every part of the trail more treacherous.  “Slippery when wet,” JayPee said.

“I thought this was just going to be sightseeing,” my uncle said.  “But it’s an adventure.”

Our guide led us around the cavern as it descended deeper and deeper into the earth’s crust, deeper and deeper in water levels (picture above).  At a halfway point we were instructed to take our shoes off and simply go barefooted — another surprise for the city slickers.  There were many limestone stalactites and stalagmites, and other weird rock formations — one of which was in the shape of a pregnant woman, so they told us.  “They even painted it red,” JayPee noticed, motioning to the crotchal region.  My uncle leaned over to pose as if he was copping a feel

As much of a MacGyver I was, I hadn’t really anticipated the cave exploration would entail getting chest-deep in cold water.  Luckily my uncle and aunt hung back before we got to that section, to hold my valuables and my camera.  JayPee and I went ahead into the lower stream areas, where we had to duck and squeeze through narrow passage ways, lit up by the oil lamp.  Water flowed around us and it ultimately led us to a big underground swimming hole at the end, where a group was already jumping in doing cannonballs.

“Astig!” raved JayPee. 

“Astig!” I seconded.

We swam until enough was enough, then climbed back out via a climbing rope along an inner waterfall.  We met the others and hiked up to where our shoes were.  It was there I taught them another habit I’d learned on the road:  always check your shoes for scorpions before you put them on.

THE OTHER BIG SIGNIFICANCE OF SAGADA is the scattering of tombs around the outskirts of town, established centuries ago by the Bontoc ancestors.  Tombs were found under the overhangs of cliffs, and in the middle of jagged rock formations; we saw a couple along the way back into town.  From there we changed clothes and then hopped back in the jeepney bound back to Banaue.  It was a dustier ride than before; dust penetrated every inch of the jeepney interior and all we could do was grin and bear it.

Two hours later we were back in Banaue, in front of the Sanafe Lodge.  We were all completely covered in dust — our hair even went all gray it seemed.  I was wearing my big backpack, also full of dust, and we looked like soldiers coming back home from battle. 

“Do you want the dorm?” the manager asked us.

“No, I’ve been here two times already!  We have a reservation,” Tito Pepito argued.  Suddenly she remembered. 

“They don’t even recognize us,” he told me.

It might not have been the dust that disguised us; perhaps over the course of the day, after hiking and caving and slumming it up in a dusty beat-up jeepney, my city slicker relatives had been transformed so much that they just emitted the backpacker vibe to others.  It runs in the family, after all.


THE ASIAN TSUNAMI.  (Mine went to

Next entry: Baguio Bakla

Previous entry: Nice As Rice

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Comments for “From City Slicker To Backpacker”

  • classic pose!!!  too funny!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/31  at  11:42 PM

  • cool cave pics

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/01  at  04:29 AM

  • I just wanted to add in a fact about rice for the last entry.  I’ve been told that no one in the world is allergic to rice, that is why it is usually the first food (other than water) that is sent to disaster stricken areas….and why babies are given rice cereal as their first food! 

    Sorry about the rice fact, but I just found this out and when the blog talks about rice, I may as well too!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/01  at  02:32 PM

  • Interesting fact, Lisa!  I didn’t know that.  Learn something new every day….....

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  02:07 AM

  • dude, when are you landing singapore? found you a cool and cheap place to stay, I happen to be doing their webby with one of my friend. they have not launch the site yet. but it is called walker’s inn, it is dorm, per bed is only S$18 per night.

    Posted by Carol  on  01/02  at  05:35 AM

  • heya Erik!
    Happy New Year to you too!


    Posted by e;lisa  on  01/02  at  07:32 AM

  • so cool! or astig! glad you are well. can’t wait for NYC. Happy New Year!
    And hi to your moms!


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  07:33 AM

  • Erik, my friend!
    I have happily discovered that you, too, are in the Philippines right now.  I’m hanging out in Manila for a couple days before heading to Banaue…  Any idea what your itinerary is for the next few days?  T’be cool to meet up somewhere.

    Erik vK from Vancouver

    Posted by EvK  on  01/02  at  08:36 AM

  • EVK:  I’m on a whirlwind tour of seeing relatives, seeing the Philippines and working on the road…  I can’t seem to pencil in any time for sleep these days…  Where are you right now?  I’m in Greenhills for the next 2-3 days…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  12:58 PM

  • I APOLOGIZE FOR THE DELAY… I’m backlogged to last year!  Hope to get at least up to New Years in the next 48 hours…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  01:00 PM

  • I plan to stay all caught up, till I get there… YEAY!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  02:08 PM

  • Just wanted to wish you a Happy New Year! May the remainder of your journey be safe.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  02:44 PM

  • 2005 - Year of the Tuna(dad)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  05:38 PM

  • happy new year! Hope all are doing well smile any resolutions blog readers? perhaps a trip around the world! OR just back to NYC to visit the guy who’s been around the world wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  07:57 PM

  • Hey Erik - I was telling my sister the other day that when you have your party, it would be funny if your guests had “Hi, My name is __” tags with their BLOG names on them (markyt, WHEAT, etc).  Howard, her husband, would be “a Silent BLOG reader”.  Almost like TGT BLOG reader convention.

    But seriously, Happy New Year!! I’m definitely saving the date.  Stay safe until then.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  09:01 PM

  • Great pics of the terraces. I had no idea. I have to credit you with my new knowledge of Asia. It is completely due to reading this BLOG that I’ve an understanding of Asian art, culture and people that I didn’t have at all before. Thanks buddy.

    For those of you working in cube farms, see if your company is doing a “matching gift program” for donations to the tsunami victims. My company is, so my donation will double if I do it through them.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  10:55 PM

  • In Manila on business until Saturday or Sunday, then perhaps south to Boracay or Palawan…
    Keep in touch; it’s be cool to meet up.

    Erik from Vancouver

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  10:42 AM

  • Erik - just wanted to give you kudos for keeping up with the blog (I know, you’re behind, but you keep it pretty much up to date).  I had a plan to keep mine up to date while travelling through China… and well, it hasn’t happened.  LOL. 
    China has been interesting - everything is a challenge and is frustrating as all get out.  I ended up in tears the other day after trying unsuccessfully to buy a train ticket for 3 hours.  I did have a nice visit with Jan though.  We hung out in a nice hotel and pampered ourselves smile  Hopefully things will get a bit easier in Macau and HK - warmer weather means higher spirits!

    Posted by Liz  on  01/03  at  12:50 PM

  • Happy New Year Every1 ...
    RZA : great idea on the name tag .. I’ll come up from D.C. to hang out ...
    Resolution for the new year? ... take a mini-long weekend-trip every month! that way it’ll seem like I’ve been traveling for a year ! hahaha

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  02:00 PM

  • Good Idea Sim.

    I’m finally caught up…

    Question: Which cave was more “Astig,” this one or the one in South America?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  04:30 PM

  • EVK:  I’ll be in Boracay from the 7th to 11th…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  04:38 PM

  • RZA:  My name tag will read:

    “Hello, my name is
    You killed my father.
    Prepare to die.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  04:40 PM

  • LIZ:  Yeah, hard work, huh, keeping a Blog?  The trick is to think of it as a duty, an obligation, and not a hobby.  Playing up my “role” as a “journalist” has kept my motivation going…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  04:42 PM

  • LIZ - doesn’t hurt to have a blog bitch like myself to help out…hahaha…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  09:40 PM

  • Everyone please give a big round of a applause to MARKYT.  He’s the guy behind the guy behind The Blog.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/04  at  12:01 AM

  • a big yay for markyt the blog bitch wink

    Posted by Liz  on  01/04  at  03:15 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today,, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
Baguio Bakla

Previous entry:
Nice As Rice


Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.

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