It was the deadliest earthquake in the Philippines in 23 years and it happened the day we boarded a plane in Seoul, unaware of the news that would greet us when we landed 4 hours later in the Philippines. It’s funny how inspiration can often be found in the darkest moments…
It’s not the first time I’ve stepped into a “disaster zone”. My home town of Toowoomba, Australia was hit by a flash flood in 2011 that left a trail of destruction that many still have not recovered from today. Arriving in Manila we discovered that our next destination, the island of Bohol, had been hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake.
Our plans changed slightly but we decided that we must still make the trip to Bohol. After a series of busses and ferries, with my heart in my throat, I stepped off the ferry in Bohol, not certain what to expect or what I would see.
Large cracks running along the pier were the first surprise. I’d never experienced an earthquake, or its effects first hand. The power of the earth below us had left a permanent scar as it had tried to rip a city apart.
During our time on the island we witnessed many more of the after effects of the natural disaster. Entire families living under tarps erected as a flimsy annex off the sides of their collapsed homes. People still travelling to church to stand outside the barricaded safety area to silently pray. In fact, 10 heritage listed churches were all reduced to rubble but this didn’t seem to deter the faith of the locals.
The main thing we witnessed was the unfaltering friendliness and kindness of the Filipino people. The Philippines is a country of astounding friendliness, beautiful beaches and breathtaking countryside.
Being an observer to the aftermath of a natural disaster makes you look inside yourself and ask the question “how would I have handled this?” You think about the materialistic things we take for granted everyday and wonder how life would be if you had very little money and possessions to start with and then, the little you had, was taken away from you, leaving you living under a tarp for shelter?
The resilience of people who have less than nothing is inspiring. It’s sad that it’s only really noticed or appreciated at times of disaster. The people of Bohol didn’t hesitate, they were straight into rebuilding! Roads, bridges and homes were being repaired left, right and centre. There’s no waiting to get insurance payouts here, as if most residents could afford insurance anyway, it’s a matter of finding materials and starting again.
Travel gives you a window on how others live their lives, often with so much less than I grew up with. Through travelling I’ve witnessed happiness, kindness and an amazing nature of giving from some of the poorest people in the world. People will invite you to dinner or buy you drinks even though they only earn $80 a month, a pay cheque most westerners wouldn’t even get out of bed for.
Travel is a beautiful, humbling experience and visiting Bohol after the earthquake was certainly a new perspective on just how tragic natural disasters can be. It opens your eyes to really appreciate what you have in life and to appreciate every moment and every opportunity, as the Dali Lama says: “There are only 2 days where nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe and mostly live.”
Witnessing the destruction in person, it’s terrifying to think that if we’d booked our flight a few days earlier we may have been there when it struck. No matter what experiences befall you when travelling, it’s the journey and the unexpected events along the way that compel you to continue. You can’t regret the negative and saddening things that happen, we don’t live in a bubble, if we did, life would be boring.
Spend your time where you are, in the moment. There is no single perfect place to aim towards, only a path with twists and turns. The only regret would be if you stopped following the path and Bohol in the Philippines was an inspiration to keep following no matter where it leads.
About the Author: Meagen Collins is chief editor of the Five Dollar Traveller and author of Budget Burma: A comprehensive budget travel guide for Myanmar. While digesting her frequent food babies, Megsy blogs about tasty bites, travel and whatever random topics pop into her head along the way! Follow Megsy on Facebook, Pinterest or Google+
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