His catchy blog headline is enough to send travel-crazy wanderers either wondering in disbelief or drooling in envy: "I traveled around the whole Philippines for 100 days, non-stop, the cheapest way possible."
Having gone where no other backpacker has gone before, travel writer and blogger James Betia has now become the expert on budget travel anywhere in the country - from Batanes to Tawi-tawi.
Indeed, his journey of a thousand miles began with smaller steps. His passion for budget traveling took off three years ago, embarking on a tour of the Visayan region that lasted for 14 days at P250 a day. At that time, he had just quit his job as an English teacher, with only P4,000 at his disposal. In 2011, James took on a bigger challenge--a cross-country Mindanao adventure around Gen.Santos, Davao, Agusan, and Butuan that spanned 16 days at P400 a day. All the while, he had been training himself for what could be the journey of a lifetime.
His blog (journeyingjames.com) was instrumental in making this travel mission possible. Through travel blogging, which he has been doing for two years now, he was able to raise enough money to cover the 100-day trip around the country.
A seasoned backpacker, he traveled as light as possible, carrying a 7.5 kg backpack containing his camera, a life-size Philippine map in tarpaulin, five t-shirts, two pairs of shorts, a pair of pants, a pair of slippers and shoes, and his laptop which he used for updating his blog so his followers and supporters could keep track of his journey.
So how much exactly did his whole trip around the country cost? According to James, he spent P49,641, all-inclusive. On the average, it cost him about P500 a day. Half of the journey he would sleep in local homes and the rest in his hammock in true backpacking style.
One Road, A Hundred Discoveries
Through this epic journey, James wanted to prove that travelling is not only for those who can afford it, but for anyone who has the passion to explore and discover the immense beauty of the Philippines. Hence, the idea of ISANGDAAN journey was born.
With all the logistics and finances taken care of, James set out on the journey of his life on February 1 this year, beginning with Metro Manila, then moving on across the whole Luzon island. He traveled mainly by bus, especially in the Luzon and Mindanao routes, and by boat around the Visayas. The only times he boarded the plane were when he went to Zamboanga from Tawi-tawi, and going back to Manila from El Nido towards the end of the journey. Throughout his trip, James shunned all touristy spots and uncovered hidden terrains and territories. In fact, he discovered that the more remote the area, the more preserved not only its natural beauty is but also its cultural heritage.
How does a backpacker who has traveled to 80 provinces even begin to describe the richness and vastness of his travel experiences?
Thanks to modern technology. With his blog, or the modern traveler's diary, he could record all the details of every place, its people and their culture.
In Kalinga province, for instance, James discovered the living heritage of the Kalingas. In the tattooing village of Buscalan, he met a tribe of women, the Butbut, whose bodies were covered with tattoos.
Of course, his travels also led him to gastronomical pleasures. In Cuyo, Palawan, he indulged himself in cheap yet fresh seafood, such as lapu-lapu which cost only P30 per kilo. It was also here where he tried to rescue a pawikan (sea turtle) from the hands of local fishermen.
In Ilocos Norte, he stumbled upon a mystical town called Adams, about a two -hour bus ride from Pagudpud. With its majestic waterfalls and mountains, and preserved cultural legacy, the traveler feels as if he were lost in the garden of Eden.
His journey was made more exciting by engaging in water sports, such as whitewater rafting in Chico River, Kalinga, surfing and paddle boarding in Ilocos Norte, and snorkeling in Boljoon in Southern Cebu that boasts of a marine reserve. He also swam with the butandings (whale sharks) in Donsol, Sorsogon, something he believes every Filipino traveler must experience.
Finally, Mindanao, according to James, is every traveler's paradise. In Panampangan, Tawi-Tawi, he set foot on the most beautiful beach he has ever seen. Its fine, white sand, he said, was so soft it felt like it was caressing your feet. Jolo, Sulu is another must-see destination off the beaten track, with its literally untouched natural beauty.
These are just a few of his extraordinary adventures which he plans to compile in a book of travel narratives chronicling his day-to-day pilgrimage, from its daunting beginning to its fulfilling end.
Top Five Destinations
An interview with James would not be complete without asking about his top personal choices for the best of Philippines' less-traveled destinations.
Topping his list is El Nido, Palawan for the biodiversity of its marine and wildlife, the sparkling lagoons with turquoise-green water, and the pre-historic limestone cliffs and caves leading to hidden beaches. This is followed by Batanes for its old-world charm and picture-perfect rolling hills. Third is Tawi-tawi for its virgin white beaches. Coming on fourth is Mati City in Davao Oriental, where pawikans thrive on Dahican beach. Finally, James chose Iloilo/Bacolod where he said he saw the most beautiful women, an added attraction (and inspiration) to the many breathtaking sights that captured his heart.
Along the way, some of his travel plans may change, but what remains constant in his travel itinerary is meeting and living with the locals. James made sure his journey connected him not only to different places, but also to their rich history and culture. In fact, many of his journey's unforgettable moments involved every man, woman, and child, every family, community, and tribe he met and lived with in all the places he visited. Indeed, he was more than just a traveler passing through. He lived, worked, ate, and slept with them.
In Kalinga, he planted rice in the rice terraces with the Kalinga farmers. In Marinduque, where he said he met the most hospitable people, he learned to make copra and fetch water riding a carabao. In Iligan, he slept in the tents in resettlement camps for the victims of typhoon Sendong.
Yet in the end, this 100-day journey was not about the backpacking traveller, nor about a hundred and one ways to cut travel cost. Ultimately, it was about the more than a hundred smiling faces whose genuine hospitality and kindness opened his eyes to the timeless and priceless beauty of our country.