Seeing the World on a Bike
“Auto bike Kuya Fraaaaannn” 5 year old me would plaintively cry out to my eldest brother as I precariously dangle my legs on the edge of the banister to get his attention. I did this every time he went out to go for a bike ride around the village. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed out a lot and had a few, select playmates. My brother would exclaim, “Why do you need to put yourself there?! Kakawalang gana…” Yet he would grudgingly but gently get me off the stairs, sit me on the top tube / crossbar of his bike and together, we would go around the subdivision.
Mind you, there wasn’t much to see in Marikina Heights in the eighties. Just miles of tall grass, spaced out houses and a smattering of stray dogs and cats. Our house was in between the range of two Catholic schools and several convents. Not exactly a hotbed for excitement in a somewhat provincial suburb. We didn’t talk much, but I loved the feel of the wind on my face, my back secure against my kuya’s warm chest, and a sense of momentary reckless freedom. From time to time, he would mutter something that seemed out of the ordinary like someone who burnt leaves in the open grass fields could cause fire, the cat we used to spy on just had a litter of kittens, a new sari-sari store came up or that a neighbor had painted their gate a different color. It wasn’t so much of what there was to see, it was the mere act of going out, seeing something different that appealed to me. And with a change of scenery, I oftentimes came back with a slightly changed view of my little world then. I would report back to the rest of the family what we saw. My brother would quietly put back his bike, and listen bemused to what I had to say. We both came back reinvigorated with what we’ve been through.
Over the years, my brother had been to several places. Interesting places. He was the first among us siblings to travel abroad, on his own. When he was in New Zealand, I would beleaguer him to write and tell what his life was like amongst the kiwis and the maoris, of moving out, of living independently, what the grocery stores were like. Back then, grocery trips were the only ones we were able to take. When he was assigned to the mountains of Chile, I begged him to take pictures, videos. He would send a couple, most of them photos and videos that his colleagues took. He sent a picture of him sitting on a mule. Another picture, of the stray cats there. They looked like expensive, professionally bred, long-haired Persians. He said, he hated the attention of acting ‘touristy’ and the frequent stops to take pictures every 10 minutes or so, kept him from completing the task at hand, or relishing the moment altogether.
Most of his trips were business in nature. He doesn’t talk much about them unless prodded, or would share an anecdote or two in the course of organic conversation. But in those limited photos, you could see the twinkle in his eyes, and that small, amused and unassuming smile of his. And when he did get to talking about his trips, he would often share more about his observations on people, places, practices, culture, and how they were, juxtaposed against his realities. And for a little bit, it seemed you were there with him, seeing the world change through his eyes. These days, every time he goes on a business trip, he would get so caught up on what needs to be accomplished on that trip and on the work that comes after, that I’d remind him to take photos. Not only to capture the moment for posterity, but to stop and take in the new world around him.
Austin Kleon said “Travel makes the world look new, and when the world looks new, our brain works harder (better).”
And while travel is a luxury I can’t always have, I tend to do so vicariously through others’ photos, blogs, and entries mostly on social media. A lot of them are largely poses in front of popular landmarks. It reminds me of a remark Jessica Zafra once made, how she also hated having travel photos especially with landmarks. It’s more of a proof to show to the world “I was here!” What I did appreciate though, were those photos that came with anecdotes of their take on the journey, just as much as the destination — — that travel, is largely a sensual experience that needs to be soaked in. They share how being in that place, changed their lives. Big or small, better or worse. And travel, need not necessarily be to some foreign, exotic place. It could even be the usual, everyday haunts revisited with a fresh eye. Anyplace that stirs one out of the familiar.
This isn’t a pronouncement on how one must document their travels, and if it even does need documentation. But more of an appeal to refine one’s travelogue. What did you see, how did it make you feel, what was it like, how did the air taste, why are certain customs done, how is it different or similar to what you know? After all, if one’s aim is to share the experience with others, perhaps a little more detail on what transpired would be enriching for everyone. Otherwise, it simply becomes a ticking off of places that one has been to.
As the sun sets, we usually head back home. My brother would sometimes remark how sticky I’ve become or how I smelled like the sun. But both of us shared that revived feeling from being enmeshed in the trance of monotony, that returning back to the mundane mantle of routine would be more bearable this time. Although these days I don’t get to travel with my brother, I am grateful for what he had taught me early on. To consciously remove myself from the usual. To look for hope, for beauty, to appreciate what is there, and what is not, to look for similarities as much as differences.