This is one of ten fun stories from ten years of travelling - the rest are here.
As a traveller it’s often customary to try and assert the difference between being a traveller and a tourist. I’m not entirely sure why people do this other than ego boosting, but I’ve heard people say ‘no, I’m a traveller’ many times.
I tell people I’m a traveller and not tourist sometimes just to explain why I’m dressed like a tramp and smell a little. As much as we try and convince ourselves otherwise, three changes of clothes are not enough for a one-year trip – travellers often smell a little (just saying).
Travellers then often try and differentiate themselves from other travellers by trying to visit places that are ‘off the beaten track’.
We were once told by a traveller, in the same conversation, that ‘Machu Picchu didn’t even come into the top 1000 ruins he’d visited it…’ Then later ‘oh I went to that temple, but I went around the back, all the other travellers just stick to the front but I wanted to see what the real temple was like’.
I know this man is clearly a Muppet, but the sentiment in his words are not uncommon and I’ve seen similar fall out of the mouths of countless travellers over the years.
This brings me to my travel tale. It was on such an occasion of trying to get off the beaten path that Alex and I ended up in the Caramoan Peninsula in the Philippines.
As you can see from the picture at the top it’s kinda in the arse-end of nowhere. We were visiting the Philippines for 7 weeks and the guidebook made the peninsula sound like the wild west (since then we’ve found that guidebooks make a whole host of places, that aren’t, sound like the wild west).
There are no roads that take you into this remote region so you have to take a boat around the coast.
Well bumpy enough, the boat goes along a calm estuary and then out into the open ocean. The two actually appeared to collide at one point and our boat had to bounce its way over the large waves. There were countless Filipinos manning the boat, clambering around, strapping things down. At one point it looked like ants trying to protect a giant stash of sugar.
Well it did to me, and in that image, I’m the sugar, though I can yell of course and I was mostly yelling for people to strap me down too, so I didn’t get washed away.
We made it to the port and had the fun of walking a gang plank to get to shore. Yes, a literal plank. It was placed over concrete stairs that if we hadn’t have made it across would have left us dead, or worse, for sure.
We didn’t die though, I bounded across like a skilled pirate (yes I did cry and ask for help), so there was no real worry in the end.
On arrival the town bell rang. We thought it was just coincidence but the town actually rang the bell at the arrival of western faces.
Then the hand shaking started, everyone we met, or for that matter didn’t meet but just walked past us, wanted to shake our hands. We walked by a school and the entire school rushed to the windows to wave at us and scream hello.
If you’ve read any of my blogs or tweets, I’m really not great with people. I find it safer for both parties if I don’t have to spend too much time with anyone (bar my husband) for extended periods.
This means that having an entire town happy to see you, wanting to shake your hands, ask you about your day and generally be close to you is a tad upsetting.
I did what I always do, I pretended that I’m not a sociopath and shook every hand presented to me.
We finally made it to the only guest house in town and it turns out that we were not the only westerners who had been beating their own path.
You never are though, that’s kinda of the point I was making earlier – you might think that you’re doing something new, that no one has done it before, and perhaps 50 years ago you’d have been right, but not so much today. You can go to less visited places, but there’s a reason why somewhere becomes full of tourists and it’s usually because it’s great.
So top travel tip – go and see the busy places too. And certainly don’t be a dick and say things like ‘oh I didn’t go there, it’s just too touristy’ – I once heard someone say this about The Pyramids in Egypt. Fools.
The couple seemed nice, they’d arrived the day before and mostly just hidden in the hotel room as the overwhelming attention had gotten to them.
He was really nice, friendly, she was kooky. That standing out in the rain getting soaked kooky, when she could just stand under the shelter like the rest of us – ‘no it’s fine, I’m fine’.
‘You’re not fine though are you love, you’re stood in the pouring rain while all the locals stare at you for being completely insane and then laughing cos they know you’ll have a cold tomorrow.’ – Is how you want to reply, but you don’t of course, that would be rude.
One of the interesting things about off the beaten track places is that there is very little to do. There are no hiking maps, no bikes you can hire to go and explore and no one who speaks English to even point you in the right direction.
For many this is the main reason for going, the adventure. It is partly ours too I guess, well it’s certainly my husbands, for me, I go to these places in the hope of finding some quiet.
Another top travel tip – don’t go to South East Asia for quiet as most countries there, sound like you’re stood listening to an explosion in a bell factory.
After agreeing with the other couple that we couldn’t come all this way and hide in our rooms watching box sets on our laptops, we got a tuk-tuck down to the sea and spent an hour negotiating with a bunch of fishermen until we found one who would take us to see some of the surrounding islands and beaches.
This was pretty special. The Philippines has some of the best and most underrated beaches in the world. In fact, it’s rumoured that the actual beach used in the classic film The Beach was actually one in the Philippines and not Thailand and it’s not hard to see why.
We had a great day, saw beaches (oddly enough), and did some snorkelling. At the time Alex and I weren’t very fit and we had to be pulled back onto the boat like a pair of beached whales. Not a pretty sight, and made worse by the fact that the guy from the other couple was one of those bouncy boy types who just bobbed out of the water and back into the boat – he’s dead now (not really).
I shouldn’t have to write not really, but when I don’t, I get comments asking if I’ve killed someone again.
The world is changing very fast and there are still parts of it that count as off the beaten path. Be brave when you’re travelling and go and see a place less visited. The one only a boat can take you to, or seven buses.
Visit these places because you want an adventure though, not because you want to ‘out do’ fellow travellers. And certainly don’t do these things instead of seeing the worlds amazing, and much visited, wonders.
Have you been to any places that you’d say were off the beaten track? How did that go? Worth the effort?