I made some friends in a Facebook group for Manila-based writers, photographers and musicians way back in 2011, and in 2013, they were the ones who whisked me away to my first climb. Nothing major, just the typical overnight camp where we made our assault in the afternoon and descent the next morning, but damn, was I hooked. It wasn’t just with hiking, but travelling in general – with as little baggage, literal and otherwise, and with the least amount of money possible, which surprisingly sounded acceptable to my worrying mother.
Over the last two years, I learned to seek their advice, and usually their company as well, whenever I found Manila too confining, too suffocating. These episodes took over me more often than I would like to admit, and though I am so much better now clutching a new definition of the people and places I consider home, looking back I think the culprit was the confusion I’m sure most people my age experience when they’re about to leave the comforting walls of the academe. See, my problem was not how I did not know what to do with my life, but wanting so much out of it that letting one, much more several, promising options go sounded so limiting, instead of liberating. The time to make a choice is coming soon, if it hasn’t already, and I think I used to afraid of the thought of committing to just one, straightforward track, so I didn’t at all, dabbling on everything.
And so, whenever everything got too cloudy and I’d like to momentarily shed all weight, I found myself in the strangest places, or at least the strangest my student allowance could go. Whether it’s while joking about KathNiel with porters during a night trek , staring at bleak Aurora hostel walls while sharing a comfortable silence with two other people, or watching the rest of the world transform into small, manageable dots en route an island in Zambales seven hours after a call in the middle of the night sent me stuffing all I now deem essential in a 40-liter pack, these excursions have coincided with issues that at my age, I am licensed to deem as too large, too confounding not to drown in and hyperbolize. I’m much more honest and accepting of the brewing questions now, but that’s another story for another day.
The subsequent departures gifted me with homecomings, of course, and I actually have more vivid memories of my trips back. I think the clarity of what counts as home is what everyone who has dared travel is after. That, or as Alain de Botton says, we are programmed to forget about the dull momentsin between, automatically blocking out the necessary consequences of bringing the self – one’s pains, one’s physical limitations, one’s boredom – in a trip, so that when we speak of our travels, we excitedly share the highs and lows, a flight upgrade or a flight delay, but never what leads to the highlights: the distracted gaze of an immigration officer, the lack of paper towels in an airport bathroom, a Spanish cover of Hoobastank blaring out of cab speakers, la rason es tu.
Either way, this trip is different. Not only am I alone with no one to bother with my existential drama – technically, at least, everyone else’s company is just a necessary consequence of shared business – I am also on a grant. I am free to eat, hike a mountain or two, shop to my heart’s desire, and not worry about not surviving financially. Even more so, this is considered an honor, and I am on leave from everything else in my life officially. I will remember Lima, Peru as where I realized so many people have chosen to believe in me, and I will remember how after that realization, I’ve quickly spiraled into questioning if I deserve the trust, the pride. I was sent by a UN unit in the Philippines as a youth advocate to learn, and got here with a pass that technically made me a member of the Philippine delegation, in awe of senior members of the team are hell bent on making a difference the best way they know how.
I will probably always say that I see climate change as more than just a scientific concern but a social, political and economic one as well, revealing power dynamics and the best and worst human tendencies, but what has been fueling me these past couple of days is how I am drowning in so much information and though really challenging, I have to specialize and decide where I will be most effective. That’s shedding hubris right there, isn’t it, admitting you are so limited and there is only so much you can do? This is the same line of thinking I used when I was debating whether or not I should proceed to law school next year, and how I concluded that I will probably be more effective as a teacher, but I digress.
The responsibilities and challenges aside, however, even if I am living in a cozy room in a wonderful part of the city, being driven to and from a posh venue showcasing Lima’s neighboring mountains, and free to shop, pile in and bring home as much baggage as I want because of my allowance and my obscenely huge pink suitcase, the same rules apply when I am roughing it out in an island without electricity or a mountain summit. The obvious actually just hit me last night: I’ve been reaching out only to those that continue to matter despite the distance and the time difference. I’ve been worrying only a few things that retain their value to me, such as writing, grad school applications and this cause. Lastly, I’ve been functioning without (or, fine, the least amount of) posturing or pretension. I think everyone is allowed to ask for help and admit that they don’t know as much as they usually claim at whatever age and this is what most people are forgetting, but of course it’s a different experience when you’re a youth delegate – you actively seek out advice, you look up to everyone and learn what type of people you would like as mentors, and finally, admit and realize how much you need to know and work in order to fulfill your model of what person you would like to grow into.
I would be lying if I say I have spent my last four years piling one crazy achievement on top of another. Whatever your God’s name is, He knows I have let a lot slip by my fingers, unable and more importantly, unwilling to spring into action. He knows as well that I hate it, and am now much more appreciative of opportunities to redeem myself, such as this one.
Finally, He knows that I have realized it isn’t just about me anymore. More and more people are deprived of the right to sit down, evaluate their options and grant their days purpose because of climate change and its ethical and political implications, the greed and corruption of the powerful, the apathy of the privileged, the choice to remain ignorant made by most because of ivory towers everywhere.
I will still be here when super typhoon Hagupit hits the Philippines in a few hours, unfortunately certain that concepts like mitigation and adaptation draw their limits when at the ground level, survival becomes not only the utmost but the only choice of millions. Accepting that thousands will perish with this as a goal in the middle of yet another disaster pains me greatly. Mulling over purpose and ideals and ten-year plans that include master’s degrees, travel and being mentored by the best in what they do is a luxury granted to me, a social class accident. The rest are sent scrambling to evacuation centers, used to this routine, and will most probably build from what remains again yes in a few months’ time, but will continue to think that such way of life is a given, with equal opportunities granted to each citizen inconceivable. Those enabled by the same opportunities granted to me, on the other hand, are in charge of transforming their plight into diagrams and reports. These will constitute DRM plans in the future, of course, but thinking about the time needed to translate this knowledge for the masses, empowering them to take matters into their own hands the way I have always been taught to, is sickening.
What we lack is the commitment to help those who were not granted the same leverage as us. I think I’ve spent too much time drowning myself in internal debates about what to do with my life and forgot all about the bigger, all-encompassing picture.
105 Ignacio Marriategui
Barranco District, Lima, Peru