Text: Johanna Michelle Lim
Illustration: Veronika V. Hipolito
WHERE is the insatiable question in travel.
It lingers in the back of the head, looming over the traveler’s waking hours. The where can be self-induced or prodded, as in “Where are you off to?”, “Where are you going to next?”, or “Where are your feet taking you?”
The Conde Nast Traveler portal, of which I am far too often a visitor, even kitschily asks not “What are you thinking of,” but “Where in the world are you thinking of?”
But when, when is the ambiguous, elusive discouse that hovers as an unrecognized decision point. The when in travel is deceptively controllable. You would think that it is a one-way decision exclusive to the traveler alone.
Any when is achievable through careful preparation, so the traveler apparently thinks. Passports. Visas. Promo fares. Arriving in time for spring. All of these are taken into consideration in the physical journey. If you ask a traveler, any traveler, when should you travel? Anytime is the airy answer.
When is a question in timing, and timeliness, as in “When are you actually going?”, “When is the most suitable time?”, or “When will it ever be okay to go?” This makes it a far scarier question to tackle because it alludes to the readiness of not only the place to accept, but also the readiness of the person to be in the time and space that he needs to be in. This isn’t always easy. Displacement can be disorienting. The body and your soul will not always move at the same pace. One will move too slowly than the other will accommodate. You may have arrived at the destination in form, but when the rest of you will actually arrive is erratic.
Timing is what makes travel a fatalistic journey. The physical place is mere settling. It refers to the synchronity of all elements — the sequence of events from past, present, and future — to get the traveler in the space he needs to be in, at the time he needs to be in it, to cross paths with others whose journey will push his own story forward. So, the concept of “anytime” travel while said in a sugary tone, is an empty one. You cannot travel unless the when, unless time in all its passages, will allow you to.
Very recently, I went to a dystopic waterworld in Southern Mindanao, the very route to which seemed simple and without fanfare. The first time I attempted to go I was met with an advisory to reschedule after a recent bout with insurgency. There have been many bouts with insurgency, I argued, what is one more? I urged the airline to reconsider, and I was met with a laugh at the other end of the line.
The second time, a couple of months after the election, the political climate dictated the cancellation. I stepped outside of the hours, and let out a heavy sigh, finally realizing how futile it was to remove oneself from the universe. Its hand held me suspended, and I was quite sure this was how eternity will be.
The was a watered-down expectation to go the third time around. The packing was routinous and I was altogether prepared for a last-minute revocation. In my mind, I thought that if the place didn’t want to be found just yet, I wouldn’t force it anymore. But the third time pulled through. I sat on a small boat, drifting in the middle of a still ocean at 4 p.m., small, equally flat islands to the left and right, sunlight slanting over a gray nothingness. It seemed, at its peak, like we were going nowhere. And yet, like all trips deemed sacred, I realize that I have been here before. Sometime ago. Yet another trick of time, this earthly deja vu.
When we stand defiant to it, we lose. In many ways, that is a comforting image, that the powerful hand of the universe is validated in a cancelled trip.