Long before there were helpful travel blogs, I used guide books to plan upcoming trips. Even today, they're still useful. From my local library, I borrowed the Lonely Planet Philippines - the 10th reincarnation of this popular backpacker's bible published in May 2009. I brought this to work and read during lunch breaks at the staff lounge where those reading fiction paperbacks stared at me and say: "you're travelling again?!" Nothing can certainly illicit envy in the cramped, cubicle world of workaholic America than reading a travel book.
While working in Saudi Arabia years ago, I bought the 6th Edition of the Lonely Planet Philippines written by Jens Peters. I was getting ready for my annual sabbatical at the time. A British colleague had this surprised look as she eyed my book: "You're a Filipino and you're reading this?" Why not? There are so many islands out there that I know nothing about. Ironically, it took a German wanderer to write an extensive guide book about the country.
Jens Peters liked the Philippines so much it's his favorite in Southeast Asia. He wandered up and down the many islands, visiting more than 50 times, spending more than eight years and later wrote: "Although travelling in the Philippine archipelago can tax your flexibility at times, you would have to go a long way to find people as friendly and helpful as the Filipinos. This place, as the locals like to remind you, is 'where Asia wears a smile'."
His book travelled with me in 1998 on a bus to Sagada where his map helped me find my way around the hanging coffins. It also went with me on a trip to Caramoan even if there was no mention yet of that idyllic hideaway. In Cebu, I found the right bus that led me to Maya where bancas for Malapascua island awaited. At a time when the Internet wasn't much of a help yet, Jens Peters' work on the Lonely Planet Philippines pointed me in the right direction.
12 years later, with plenty of travel websites about the Philippines and hundreds of blogs already out there, I find reading the current edition actually supplements what is available online. Reading the book also puts me at the viewpoint of a foreign adventurer - I like to know what they see and think about the country.
A collaborative work of four foreign authors: Greg Bloom, Virginia Jealous, Piers Kelly and Michael Grosberg, this 484-page book may look like a skinny sister of the 820-page edition on Thailand but it does give the most current updates on many of the local adventure destinations.
As the authors point out: "There's no question that the Philippines is a little more challenging to visit than some other Southeast Asian countries. . . It's separated from the Southeast Asian mainland by several hundred kilometers of ocean. . . There's the relative lack of tourist infrastructure compared to its neighbours. The so-called 'backpacker trail' has yet to find its way to the Philippines. But that's all part of the appeal for many travellers, and those who make the effort to get to the Philippines tend to be pleasantly surprised."
And just like Jens Peters, the authors unanimously highlight the "ever-relaxed, happy-go-lucky people" who make the visit for a foreigner more surprising and memorable. "Many arrive expecting the country to be 'dangerous', to discover instead a land of shiny happy people. When everybody's smiling like it's going out of style, how can you not enjoy the place?"
Indeed, despite all the trials and tribulations, calamities and catastrophes, it's really amazing the Filipino can still smile for all the world to see. Bahala na. One would think living in "a land where Asia wears a smile" is much better than being stuck in a land where Prozac is the one smiling. But knowing there are more Pinoys turning global in their pursuits, that smile is certainly going more places.