For this head-turning backpacker, getting lost is a beautiful thing
By Fiona Patricia S. Escandor
THE first time Jai Genilza climbed Mt. Apo, she brought a stove that’s about the size of a laptop. Her guide laughed at her. It was the first time he saw someone bring, in mountaineering standards, bulky gear. Awkward then, but funny now, now that she looks back at it.
And the daring traveler has just added that experience to her growing list of first times — like the first time she braved massive waves in a tiny pump boat, the first time she crawled through narrow caves in Negros, or the time she got lost in a rice field somewhere in Siem Reap.
To her, it’s all part of a big adventure. “I enjoy learning what the world has to teach me,” she said, “observing, confronting my fears, discovering something about myself, and being fascinated by places and people — these are the best rewards of traveling.”
So she did, stared an exciting, lifelong trail. Most days, the 27-year-old is off somewhere new, making friends with locals and trying their cuisine. “Wandering in the local market, getting lost on purpose, “she shared, “connecting with nature, and chasing sunsets and sunrises.”
Blissful — yet this didn’t come easy, and Jai said she had a lot to give up to pursue her passion. A certified public accountant, she opted to leave a lucrative eight-to-five lifestyle behind and focus on freelance work, where she gets to own her time and inevitably do trips here and there, whether a bike ride to a nearby town or a five-week backpacking trip across Southeast Asia.
“I had a personal revolution within myself,” she said. “I gave up my worldly material dreams; all that was unnecessary were erased from my list. It’s not bad to dream all those, but I just altered my perspective.”
Born and raised in Iloilo City, Jai moved to Cebu four years ago and has since called it her second home. She was previously with a reputable accounting firm, and now focuses on freelance services with her partner and at the same time travel buddy, Rain del Socorro. “Traveling is also the best way to know more about your partner,” she mused.
She said they’re busiest during month-ends, and from February to April preparing annual reports. “But the Internet makes great things possible,” she said, “So even when we are on travel, we can still cater to our client’s needs, except to some when we have to be around once a month.”
When not traveling — or working — Jai juggles her time doing yoga, experimenting with vegetarian dishes, or dropping by the public library to read. A fitness buff, she also enjoy running, swimming and biking.
Jai also uses her travels for causes she cares about. As if her 40 liter backpack isn’t enough, she makes it a point to bring school supplies to children of native tribes in the places she visits. “As a personal project, we help a monk based in Northern Luzon, who’s helping in the education of some Aeta children,” she said.
With her dive group, Seaknights, Jai campaigns for marine conservation, and with her spiritual organization Ananda Marga, advocates for health, yoga and meditation.
Although overseas backpacking trips are on the horizon, Jai said, “I want to continue traveling around my own country. I’ve been to 39 provinces so far and my goal is to visit all 81.” She’s planning to visit Batanes, Palaui, Zamboanga and Tawi-Tawi next, plus other scenic spots that have yet to be discovered.
Jai and Rain themselves have “discovered” and chanced upon spots not commonly found on a travel guide, one of which is their most memorable adventure to date. “In a secluded cove in Palanan, Isabela is the Dumagat tribe who happily dwell virgin shores. The place is just so lovely,” she gushed. “There are no permanent houses, only small huts where the Aetas live. You can choose to sleep in your tent or under the stars.”
Getting there was a thrill of its own as well. The place is an eight-hour boat ride away, a small pump boat at that, traversing on open sea.
It’s certainly not for the fainthearted, but then again, Jai, quite the risk-taker and the free-spirit, is anything but that. Summing it all up, she said, “I travel to seek adventure in normal life, and to have normal life in adventure.”
Jai’s travel tips
Keep an open mind. Remember, traveling is a higher level of learning. Observe and listen fully. Ask questions.
Do not be afraid. Erase all doubts, what ifs and fears. The world is not as dangerous as what the news is saying.
Visit public markets. You will be surprised by the things you’ll find there. You will get to know more about the local life, like what insects they eat, how they make their local sugar.
No to over-planning! There are too many itineraries on the Internet… But it’s your experience so you design it. Choose where you’ll start and the universe will determine the rest.
Make use of your smart phone. Install maps, language translators, restaurant locators, among others. It’s also cheaper to buy local sim cards rather than international roaming.
Smile a lot! This is the best communication tool when traveling.
Photos: Alfred Gregory E. Bartolome | Make-up Artist: Carlo Damolo
Hair Stylist: Jerwin Bastatas | Assistant: Zeke Sullano