MeetManila & Thoughtful Tourism

Confession: I flinch when I get tagged a "travel blogger" because, one, I feel that "blogger" is a weird tag (I'm an ESL teacher, corporate trainer, even a raketera writer who happens to blog. Why I blog.) Two, my qualms about this blog being a "travel blog," really has to do with the fact that I don't think my posts about traveling are comprehensive enough. 

At best, I think Secretly Wayward provides snippets about cities (Calle Crisologo, Vigan), an anecdote or two about certain places (Mt. Data, Bontoc), snapshots and scrapbook-like posts about particular topics (like eating in Chiang Mai, Hanoi, & Luang Prabang), among other non-travel thingies (like literature, kadramahan, music, etc.). There's no grand aim this blog is trying to achieve, travel-blogging wise, except perhaps to add a line or two about particular locales, provide some sort of catharsis through stories and to create conversations with people. 

If you were to ask for recommendations, of course, I wouldn't be one to scrimp. Talking about places and dalliances elsewhere are worthwhile indulgences. Like books and art, places and travels are impossible to paint in totality. Depending on where you look (or don't look), there's always something different to say.

Meet Meet Manila

That being said, I love it when I meet other people through this blog. Recently, the Last Row Traveler, introduced me to Meet Manila and their "Meet a Hero" project

"Meet a Hero" is an initiative to find and feature Filipino citizens who lead for a good cause. On the site, Meet Manila describes the heroes they are looking for as "game-changers driven by knowledge, motivated by passion, and are not afraid to fight for what they believe in." They chose the Last Row Traveler, Froilan Grate in real life, as one of their first batch of heroes.

A little about Froi: since he's my bestfriend, of course I'm required to say that he's one of the coolest people around. But really, outside our friendship, Froi exists as one of the most awesome beings on the planet. He has trained countless communities all over the Philippines on proper waste management and has reached out to students (from the elementary to the university level) to tell them about the harmfulness of plastic, the little things one can do for the environment, the importance of waste segregation, among other things, spliced with anecdotes about his travels and his love for traveling, for the last 8 or 9 years. 

Having known him from Day Zero of his advocacy, I saw how hard he has worked, sacrificing sleep, always being on the move, not choosing what could possibly be a thriving corporate career, all for the love of Mother Earth (his NGO and its literal counterpart). I think central to his success as an environmentalist is his practice of walking the talk and his belief that Filipinos would make more ecologically sustainable lifestyle choices if they just knew how. Honing kiddie Earth advocates and giving alternatives to communities who used to engage in harmful fishing practices are only some of his little successes. 

This guy is one of the biggest believers I know and so compelling is his power of belief that he can sway other people, even whole communities, to start believing in themselves and to change. We (by "we" I mean our small circle) often kid him about having a fanbase and being some sort of a rockstar, so when he got selected as a Meet Manila hero, we were just really, really proud. 

Since traveling counts as a mutual devotion, Meet Manila's advocacy, “thoughtful tourism” got our interest. 

Froi, our other wanderlustful friends, and I have dreamt together as college orgmates about those places we would one day see. After somewhat saving up in our early 20s, thankfully, in the last few years we have slowly started setting foot in those almost-mythical countries of our imaginations and Philippine provinces our college selves thought were too far away. With every travel we took, sometimes with each other & at times on our own, it became clearer to us what kind of travelers we are: in a nutshell, not the luxury types; the ones who go for the love of the journey. Biyahe became that one bisyo we can't say no to. We don't have cars or condos to show, but we do have kilig travel stories to tell. 

Always, as these stories unfold, the Philippines becomes a reference point- be it the good, bad, or somewhere-in-between sort of referent and the outcome (so far) was that the Philippines has always managed to present solid reasons why we should come home.

Because we want our country to be available to backpackers, honeymooners, traveling families in its best possible form 10 years down the road and so on, we advocate traveling responsibly. Thoughtful tourism as a tourist happens when you don't leave any damaging marks to the natural or cultural heritage. As an individual, it means minding your trash and keeping it to a minimum, supporting local trade, following instructions at local museums(i.e. not touching valuable objects when indicated), being sensitive and respectful of cultural norms in other places. Curiosity has been known to enrich journeys but showing respect for others and our tangible cultural and material capital? These would preserve what you and I now enjoy for our future children/ nieces/ nephews and their progeny. 

Pepper curiosity with respect, and pack along a sense of adventure and openness to unforeseen circumstances. My mantra has always been "if I could survive Quiapo, I could survive anywhere." Hopefully, one day, Quiapo will cease being the benchmark of survival.  

Which brings us to the second point: the call for thoughtful tourism extends beyond individuals traveling. Institutions, even more than individuals, are directly answerable to our country's conservation. That's why incidents like the cutting down of pine trees in Baguio City are tragic because the DENR and the DOT could have prevented it from happening. Pine trees are part of Baguio's heritage. I'd like to think the smell of pine trees is a more compelling reason people make the six hour trip to Baguio than SM. I hope this emerging story about the DMCI Torre de Manila threatening to dwarf the Rizal Monument in Luneta will have a much better outcome.

"Fun" in perspective

Photo by Benito Vergara 
*This could be a great way to call attention to the need for funding to preserve the Ifugao/ Igorot heritage

Indeed it's more fun in the Philippines, but since it's also our home, let's not stop at "fun." And this is where Thoughtful Tourism comes in: the goal of making things better through tourism. Don't you want your taxes spent this way? Real Thoughtful Tourism is one that works on improving infrastructure (roads, highways), empowering communities with ways to preserve their natural resources amidst the influx of tourists, training a group of guides (or updating the knowledge of existing ones), and standardizing tourism rates (Palawan is one good example of this) so visitors would be encouraged to come back. 

Thoughtful Tourism minds both foreigners and Filipinos, visitors and locals. As tourists get their money's worth, the community, more importantly, should benefit through something as necessary as improving the basic necessities or something as valuable as raising funds for the preservation of the intangible heritage. 

We go to Banaue to experience "authentic" Ifugao culture, but if the present generation of Ifugaos are leaving town to work in Manila or even flying out of the country to work as OFWs, who will carry on with the culture we travel to see? But you can't blame the younger ones for leaving, if their families will go hungry if they have to rely solely on farming. You can't blame them for choosing their family's survival over keeping the tradition of weaving or wood-carving. It's impossible to expect traditional heritage to survive without government support. I've had my share being an OFW and believe me, if people can find work in their hometowns that would allow a decent life, few would leave. Believe me, too, when I say that Ifugaos take pride in their culture and would want to preserve it for their descendants. 

Yes, we Filipinos are a warm and easygoing bunch and this should inspire a similar treatment. More so, fairness and respect. Real, effective Thoughtful Tourism is as fun as those hilarious memes but it goes beyond that -- because Tourism necessarily deals with issues related to the environment, culture, and other sociological factors. Yes, DOT, we're looking at you and we're counting that you guys have plans beyond the slogan.

So, these are some of the things my friends and I think about when the topic of “Thoughtful Tourism” comes up. Hopefully, that's what Meet Manila has in mind, too.  

As a portal of stories about travel in the Philippines and an advocate of Thoughtful Tourism, what Meet Manila sets out to do may seem Herculean (or Rizalian, para Pinoy, hoho), but thank god, they're not doing it alone.

How do you define thoughtful tourism? Anyone can join the discussions and bloggers can pitch in their share of stories through Meet Manila's Twitter and Facebook pages. Meet Manila's main site itself features concise information about places in the Philippines, like this page dedicated to Laguna

Empowering travelers
Alongside their Meet-a-Hero initiative, Meet Manila launched another project: Empowered Travelers. They asked for (a) "breathtaking story and (that will) tell us why you should be amongst the Empowered Traveler." I submitted an entry.... and got chosen. Wee! "Empowered Traveler" almost sounds intimidating – but tunay na nakakakilig, nonetheless.

#kilig -  I've never won anything 

My prize? A Q350 Lenovo phone (which I'll be writing a review of in another post) and meeting some of the people behind Meet Manila, like Ysobel Hamidjojo, the driving force behind Meet Manila, and Aix Montes, travel enthusiast who tirelessly coordinates with the empowered travelers for Meet Manila/ Loudwhistle. 

I'm honored to be in the company of the thirteen other folks who were chosen, like Budget Biyahera, who can give you nifty tips on packing and getting deals on the cheap, and Islander Girl, a marine biologist who travels, writes, and shares stories about her diving expeditions in El Nido (warning: cute sea creatures alert). Read about other Empowered Travelers here.

For the curious, here's my entry:

One other positive takeaway to being an "Empowered Traveler" is that it called for a sort of re-assessment. What am I blogging about anyway? In the call for Thoughtful Tourism, how am I doing my share? Perhaps it's time to revisit those reasons. And in much the same way that teaching language or training has a direct impact, one can dream about empowering others even through blogging.

Your thoughts on thoughtful tourism and empowered traveling? 

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