“We won’t take a suitcase???!!” shuddered my mother. Actually it was more like a series of utter shock tilting towards plain disbelief and finally ending in curiosity. “So how will we carry our clothes?”
I wanted to roll my eyes but I couldn’t. One, in all her 60 + years, she has never travelled without a suitcase. A suitcase and an air bag perhaps. Second, she is my mother. She doesn’t care if I am 13 or 30. If I roll my eyes, then my head rolls along too.
“We will take one rucksack only. And one day pack maybe. That is it!” I said with an air of finality [authoritatively?].
She took in a deep long breath and continued looking at me for a second. I knew something not-so-good was coming.
“So where will I put my clothes?”
“We put our stuff together in one bag.”
“And who is going to carry the big bag?”
“I will carry the big bag, you can carry the smaller backpack.”
“What if the bag gets wet?”
“I have a cover.”
“What if someone slashes the bag and steals our things?”
“Old stinky clothes? Nobody does that Ma!!”
Suitcase VS Rucksack- That was our first squabble, even before the trip started. Actually first of the many squabbles we had over the next 2 weeks.
This woman, a doctor by profession, a grandmother of two brats, has all the quirks of an Indian mom, just that beneath all that annoying “What ifs”, I knew she has an eager young heart.
In all honesty, she wasn’t my first choice when I decided to travel to Philippines on a two week backpacking trip which included a week long sea expedition and some wreck diving. In fact she wasn’t a choice at all. All my friends were broke or busy and as usual I was left on my own. Hearing the fact that I am travelling to a country, she thought, was “infested” with crimes like, drugs, human trafficking and street crimes, left her aghast.
Why Philippines? She kept asking me. “Go to Bali or Thailand na!”
*sigh* I had to really stop myself from rolling my eyes every time.
After gibbering until we ran out of reasons, my mom put her foot down.
“I am coming along with you.” She announced adamantly.
I had planned the two weeks on my own. No one I knew had ever been there and we didn’t know anyone there. No travel agent or company. It was just us two exploring a new land.
After landing in Manila, we immediately tried to get out and moved to Puerta Princesa, Palawan.
It was weird initially because all my life I had never travelled with ONLY her. It was always Mom Dad and Me, or Mom Dad My brother and me, or some permutation like that, but never just her and me. My dad hates the beach and the sea and I think Mom was secretly pleased that he didn’t want to join us.
“Acha hai it’s just us. The old man doesn’t know how to have fun.” I think she was referring to the time when he refused to go on the roller coaster ride and the sea bed walk on their previous vacation.
That evening we were strolling on Puerto Princesa’s BayWalk when she saw some kids cycling. Next thing I knew we were riding a tricycle. Her cycling with me sitting alongside. We goofed around and spent the evening doing nothing. The next day we decided to swap clothes and coordinate it as well. Stripes and Khaki. We looked like sisters!
I don’t know why but we were just so excited about this. Also we were visiting one of Philippines’s UNESCO site, the Underground River which is 8.2km long and flows underground through natural rock formations such as caves, stalactites, and stalagmites.
As we quietly paddled through the seriously eerie yet beautiful underground river, she squealed like a little girl every time a bat swished passed. Our boat man and guide found her squeals so amusing and made sure, they did their bit in provoking her even more.
When we are India, nobody believes we are Indians. One look and they say, “Are you Chinese or Nepali?” And here we were in Philippines, and not one Filipino believed that we were Indians. But unlike Indians, they would say to us with the widest smile, “You are one of Us!”
The Filipinos loved her and she loved them right back. The warmth of these people had melted the perceptions and fears she held before coming to this country.
From Puerta Princesa we moved to El Nido which is undoubtedly the most beautiful part of the Palawan islands.
For our travel from El Nido to Coron, we decided to take a longer journey. Five days of moving from one island to another around EL Nido, swimming and exploring during the day and sleeping on different uninhabited islands at night all the way to Coron.
We were travelling with a bunch of really nice people from all around the world. Mostly in their 20s and 30s and with a huge age gap, I wasn’t sure how she would get along with them and vice versa.
I think she gave a little judgmental look the first time she saw the women in their bikinis. I don’t blame her. Back home, we are accustomed to watching women wear their clothes and get into the water. Some wear their swimsuits too but it is rare to see that on public beaches.
I had told her to get her swimwear for this trip, and she got one. A bright florescent one attached with shorts AND a frilled skirt!!
She wasn’t sure when was the last time she wore a swimming costume.
The next five days, we moved from one gorgeous island to another, explored little fishing hamlets, ate fresh fish, kayaked around crystal clear coves, chit chatted with the amazing crew, swam in the most beautiful beaches, ate more fish, learnt more about our fellow explorers, ate without manners and watched dolphins swim along our boat. As evening set in, we slept in tiny bamboo huts. The native Filipino Nipa huts. I wasn’t sure how she would take to sleeping in a place with no doors or bathrooms, bed or even electricity. But she loved it. She loved waking up every morning to the sound of the crooning or the dogs barking.
In 5 days, I saw her inhibitions shedding. The people who she was so apprehensive about, well, she was loving them. This beautiful country and it’s warm people had won her whole heart.
I could see perceptions about strange land and strangers change. I also saw that from her atrocious frilly swimsuit, she was now roaming around…….PANTLESS!!!!
No I am not kidding. According to her, if the “Goras” can do it, so could she.
Lucky for her, none of my conservative relatives were around or she would have got a dose on being a “Sanskari Naari”.
I had never seen this version of her and I loved it. She was slowly becoming more shameless than me.
On some warm evenings, we would stroll on the beach. Being alone with my Mom can be kind-of *ahem* dangerous. Mostly because, it always ends up in exasperating questions like ‘When are you planning to get married?’, ‘When are you planning to lose weight?’, ‘What are your future plans?’ Blah Blah Blah. Basically, typical Mum questions.
But this time, instead of nagging conversations which mothers love to have, she looked at me and said, “Living like this reminds me of my childhood. When we were young and carefree.” She went on tell me about how she, her elder brother and their cousin would go to pick raw green mangoes in the summer and eat it with chilly and salt. How her Dad was the strictest man she had known and how they learnt to swim with frogs and tadpoles in the little pond in the backyard.
I couldn’t imagine my mother as a little girl running around and climbing trees. Yet here she was, a little girl, her eyes gleaming as she spoke.
On our last day in Coron, I was a little upset because I wanted to really dive. Coron is after all, the “Wreck Diving” capital of the world. But on the other hand, I didn’t want to leave mom alone for the day. Plus we had to pick up our laundry from the market and I wasn’t sure if she could do it alone since we just got there a day before. But she insisted I go.
All through my dive I kept wondering about what she must be doing alone. Soon after the dives I rushed back to the room. I was feeling terrible about leaving her by herself.
I had half expected her bored, maybe sleeping in the room. And half expected her to tell me that she didn’t pick the laundry because she was too scared to go alone. Actually I really didn’t know what to expect. I rushed back anyways.
What I saw, I hadn’t expected.
There was my mom, stretched on the hammock with a comic in hand and cupcakes balanced on her stomach.
She looked at me and said, “You back so soon? How was the dive?”
Didn’t seem like she missed me at all. In fact she looked rather smug and happy. So I asked her.
“What happened to you? You are all smiles!”
“Oh nothing.” She giggled a bit and continued, “I went to the town to pick up the laundry. While waiting for the tricycle, one man called out to me and said, HEY BEAUTY, smiled and walked away.”
She blushed and blushed more while laughing out loud.
“Imagine some guy randomly calling me a Beauty!”
We laughed together and ate some cupcakes.
I thought it was so sweet and amusing how a small random gesture made her day. It was sweet sixteen all over again!
This was my mother.
A Doctor by profession, a Grandmother of two brats, Free-Spirited, part time Backpacker, full- time Hero.
60 going on 16!