Why do I travel? Over three decades ago, you wouldn’t imagine me traveling the way I do now. Even during my Holy Week school break, when just about everybody was out in the provinces having a great 4-day vacation, I was spending mine at home. So why do I do it? For many, it’s to fulfill a dream of seeing the world, for others it’s for education, earning a living, to prove to oneself you can do it or simply just for the hell of it.
I did so when I was already married, and a father to boot, and I did it for the most fatherly of reasons – to show my autistic son Jandy the beauty of this country and world, through travel and immersion, and not imprison him to the confines of a home, school or, worse, a mental institution.
October 27 to 29, 1999 would be one of the few times father and son would be traveling alone, this time on a 3-day odyssey to circumnavigate Taal Lake, visit the Southern Luzon heritage town of Taal and culminate it with a climb up the 1,145 meter high Mt. Makulot, Batangas’ highest mountain.
Being an architect, first and foremost, our visit to Taal town brought me, up close and personal, with some of the country’s Spanish and American-era vernacular architecture (churches, ancestral houses, historical buildings, etc.) and the need to preserve them as part of the country’s patrimony so that future generations would live to see and feel them the way we see and feel them today. I also got to experience, firsthand, the deep religiosity of the Filipinos.
A somewhat scary experience was our overnight stay in the town’s Casa Punzalan, an ancestral house converted into an inn. We were the only boarders that night and the caretaker left early because he was feeling sick and locked us within for security, with our permission, of course. That wasn’t the scary part. The ghosts of Taal’s past being where we were was. Thus, it was a great relief when the sun came out that morning and the caretaker unlocked the inn’s main entrance.
The climb up the campsite on the Mt. Makulot’s shoulder, on the other hand, introduced us to the joys of mountaineering and camping. It also showed me how unfit I was, huffing and puffing, as we went up the mountain, more so when I saw a woman carrying a heavy load of long bamboo stems and a man laden with two backpacks and an icebox full of soft drinks, all slung on a pick. We never made it, past the campsite, to the peak that day, it already being very late in the day to do so. However, we did so, four months later, on another climb with Jandy plus four other companions.
Barely three months after this memorable trip, I decided to write about this unique father and son bonding experience and sent the drafts of two articles to Ms. Rosario “Chato” Garcellano, travel editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI). On January 20, 2000, a memorable day for me, my first article “Makulot Beckons” came out on newsprint. I have become a travel writer!!! This was followed three months later, on April 2, by “Taal: The Grande Dame of Batangas.”
After two more PDI articles, I had a much longer stint as a travel writer for TODAY (now Manila Standard TODAY). It was during this time that I decided to raise the bar a little higher and add additional feathers on my hat by becoming an author – compiling my four published PDI and 28 TODAY travel articles into a book entitled “A Philippine Odyssey: A Collection of Featured Travel Articles,” published by New Day Publishers in 2005.
From all these firsts, came four more travel books on Boracay and Philippine churches (a favorite topic of mine), national shrines and museums; copy editing stints with two publishing houses; development of a travel website (Biyahero: A Philippine Travel Portal, www.biyahero.net) with 3 other friends, my own travel blog (B.L.A.S.T. – Benjie Layug: Adventures of a Savvy Traveler, www.benjielayug.com), more travel writing stints with different newspapers (I’m now with the Business Mirror) and magazines (COLORS, Business Day and 7107 Islands Magazine); lots of media invitations to cover and promote Philippine travel destinations; and now, an urge to travel, here and abroad, when the opportunity presents itself.
All these because a concerned father wanted to see his son break out of the prison we call autism. At such a young age at that time, my son has packed in more adventure than what most people would experience in their lifetime. Today, though still classified as autistic, my wife and I have seen him graduate, one small step at a time, from grade school, high school and, finally, college where he finished two degrees – Multi-media Arts and Tourism Management. He sometimes joins me in media familiarization tours as my photographer.
Talking about a life-changing experience, that 3-day moment in time when a father bonded with his son changed my life forever. Today, Holy Weeks are no longer stay-at-home experiences.