Independent Travel and Flexibility are Inseparable

I'd love to stay, but...

We had already ridden an overnight ferry that had gotten less pleasant as the trip wore on. By the time we arrived on the island of Palawan, in the Philippines, we were exhausted and dirty. Plus we were ready to see some beauty after waiting days for the departure in hellhole Cebu City.

“The jeepny for El Nido leaves in a half hour,” said the guy selling tickets. “Next one is tomorrow.” So off we went on an amazingly uncomfortable vehicle for such a long journey along a rutted road. Flat benches, open to the swirling dust, with suspension that passed along a jolt from even the smallest of bumps. Passengers donned hats to avoid scraping their head on the ceiling when hitting big potholes and everyone with some kind of bandanna or kerchief put it over their face in a vain attempt to filter out the dust.

We had a plan though: our guidebook said we were going to stop in a town halfway along the journey, several hours in. So we’d get off there to shower and sleep before taking on the rest of the journey. We dismounted the jeepny in this town, both of us brown from dust, and grabbed our packs to go look for a room.

Only one problem: there was a huge local festival going on and there were no rooms anywhere, at any price. After ascertaining this for a fact, my companion started to cry and I was feeling tapped out for any solutions besides acting like a homeless person and sleeping on the ground like the drunks.

What could we do? We got back on the jeepny for the worst ride of our lives. I got a bruise on my forehead when it bumped against a handrail after I nodded off. We were so covered in dirt by the end that our eyelashes and hair were the same brown as our bodies and clothing. At the end, we checked into a guesthouse without bargaining, took very long showers, and slept until the afternoon.

When it was time to leave El Nido, we scrapped the plans to return on the ferry. Budget be damned, we were flying out this time.

Bless me Father for I have sinned

I was reminded of our experience this past week when making plans to return to Guanajuato, Mexico. I’d see old friends, take care of some real estate business, and spend my days leisurely visiting old haunts. But then came the e-mails from those friends.

“You can’t come then—you must change your flight!”

“You might want to rethink your plans as it’s going to be a madhouse then.”

“There are rumors the city will shut down for two days and nobody will be able to come or go.”

“All the bars are closing.”

OK, that last one really was the last straw. What was the cause of all this mayhem? The Pope was coming to town. El Papa Grande.

Estimates ranged from “a doubling of the population” to “two million visitors.” I wasn’t taking any chances. I went online and bought bus tickets in and out in advance to make sure I’d have them. The four night stay turned into 28 hours. Now I’m on my way out of town, off to Manzanillo to get some work done instead.

Unless you’re going on a guided tour (and sometimes even then), it’s impossible to plan out your whole trip in advance. Shit happens. Things come up. Unforeseen obstacles arise.

Be flexible and be ready to pivot. Even if it means being covered with dirt or racing to beat the Pope out of town.

  1. Amy

    I can totally relate to your Philippines trip. I’ve had an experience like that more than once. I remember one particularly painful trip when I was 7 months pregnant and stranded at 1 a.m. without a hotel room. Ugh! Spontaneity has it’s rewards, but it can also be the cause of a long night, trying to find a place to sleep.

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