Once upon a time I backpacked through Costa Rica. I spent almost two weeks taking buses and “collectivos” and staying in hostels all over this country. It was the most rugged experience of my life. It was the first time I didn’t feel clean, even after a shower. Perhaps that was because I literally spent 3 days in the rainforest at the rangers station. Camping. In a tent. Looking back I can’t believe I did that. Was it a cool experience? Sure! If giant flying insects, spiders the size of a grown mans hand are your thing. This by no means, was anything close to “glamping”. I carried my possessions in my backpack, which included a tent, water bladder, clothing, food, and I went into the scary mother fucking rainforest, which honestly was more jungle. I did this without a guide (dumbass me), which I think is now illegal due to some asshole getting himself killed by god know what. I’m guessing the spiders. It took me roughly 6 hours to find the ranger’s station, I crossed crocodile infested rivers, having to time the tide going out to be sure I wouldn’t cross one, and get eaten.
I followed unblazed trials while howler monkeys screamed in the trees. A funny story about those three days which felt like a year. My first night at the rangers station there was nothing posted about when they would turn off the lights. So it’s just after sunset, I’m trying to pee in the outdoor toilets and suddenly all the lights go off. Luckily, I had my headlamp with me and I quickly turned it on. Bad idea. As soon I did, a bunch of insects flew into my face. I started screaming, nay crying. I immediately turned off my headlamp but it was too late...there were bugs all over me.
Costa Rica is an awesome beautiful wild country where your dollar goes a long way. Much of the country looks like you're in Jurassic Park, but unless I’m staying at a resort I’m never ever going back. Have a great summer, y'all. It’s a jungle out there!
Manila, the Philippines
I really wanted to come up with something interesting and insightful here. The problem is that there is a difference between enjoying a vacation and loving a vacation. I enjoy most places I’ve visited. Of course I enjoy Hawaii. Everyone enjoys Hawaii except for albinos and the chronically depressed. I enjoy Disney, I enjoy Paris, I enjoy cruises, I enjoy Barcelona. But do I love any of them? To quote Stephen Sondheim: “No.”
If you know me this is not a big surprise. Deal with it.
I fucking love Manila. I’m not Filipino, but I AM from the Bay Area. So, growing up weird and under-disciplined, I was generally drawn more to the Filipinos out of my array of Asian friends. Not to generalize (but totally generalizing), I saw a bit of myself in them. I saw people who identified as Asian, but who defied certain stereotypes and embraced such commodities as fun, humor, and performance.
I was a theatre kid, and I knew what I knew. Go see any Broadway show about Asians. The cast is 90 percent Filipino. Filipinos can sing. Fact. And, just as importantly, the culture values and even supports storytelling and performance.
The Chinese and Korean kids I grew up with were, for the most part, not allowed to spend time on theatre or choir. I knew people who lied to their parents so that they could sneak out of the house and take improv classes or learn how to harmonize.
My high school was true Asian Stereotype Central: all violins and math drills. But on any community theatre stage or belting in any local chorale, you’d see scores of young Filipinos living their true lives, with their entire family proudly holding fort in the front row.
And so, late in my theatre career, I found myself drawn to make a solo visit to Manila, where I covered productions of The Bridges of Madison County and The Secret Garden. In the process, I made incredible friends, ate the best meals of my life, rode a donkey up a volcano, jumped the line at a hot nightclub, had a true baller night at a casino full of chain smoking Chinese people, saw the original Asian cast of Rent reunite in concert, and essentially found myself comfortable and happy. It didn’t hurt that our money goes really far, so most of my delicious meals cost about $5 and a cold San Mig ran roughly 80 cents.
It was 10 days of natural beauty, laughter, spine-tinglingly delicious food and drink, unthinkable compassion and hospitality, and necessary reality.
The Philippines, much of it anyway, is a true third world country. Manila basically feels like any other crowded, dirty, awesome, semi-poor city. But once you get out of the metropolis and head for points in any direction, you see the true poverty on the side of the road. You see a beautiful, culturally rich, and optimistic population that has been habitually and systematically exploited, abused, and let down. The cycle repeats itself as, roughly every 30 years, everything in this wondrous nation goes to shit and change has no choice but to take shape.
It happened last in the 1980s with Marcos. And, with the current administration, such change is truly on its way.
I visited again a few months later, during the election, and heard talk of this candidate Duterte and what he might do to the country. I saw my once-carefree friends now very nervous, uneasy, and lacking faith that their countrymen would make the right choice.
I haven’t been back since Duterte took office. Mostly because time and budget haven’t permitted. But what we saw unfold with him served as the perfect bit of foreshadowing to our own election and current situation.
The day I saw a beautiful nation of good people elect a monster to top office, I declared loudly that Trump would be our next president, even though he wasn’t being taken seriously at the time.
Yes, I said MONSTER. Talk all you want about his war on drugs. Tell me about his success in Davao. Then tell me how many people have been executed without evidence or trial. If that allows you to sleep at night… well, I want to say we have something to talk about. But actually we don’t. You’re evil, and Christ would have slapped the shit out of your ignorant self.
The Philippines boasts an unfair amount of natural resources, scenery, and talent of all stripes. The people are tough and resilient. I chose Manila as my favorite travel destination, because I don’t travel just as an escape. If I need an escape, I’ll self-medicate or go to the theatre. Travel is important to me, because it is a window into divergent and often parallel realities. It lets you take one step away from your own situation and find not only how different things are on the other side of the globe, but how they can be very much the same.
Visiting Manila allowed me to take an honest look at my own life, appreciate what I have, and refuse to be content without the things I lack. It shifted my priorities and hardened my bowels. My wife is hesitant due to the headlines, but I can’t wait to bring her there sometime very soon. The ad campaign has it right. “It’s More Fun In the Philippines.”
This is a true statement in every regard. Art, humanity, pain, progress, rebuilding, heart, devotion, pride. You can find it anywhere, but it’s somehow just a little more fun in the Philippines.
Athens is possibly my most favorite travel spot thus far. I had the chance to go for only a few days while studying abroad. But never have I had so much fun. First of all, the weather was gorgeous (it was in October). Second, seeing the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus, and the ancient ruins makes you realize how small you are in the grand scheme of things (which to me is somehow a very comforting thought.) Watch out for pickpockets, but if you can make it to the spots that are less touristy, you’ll have some fun.
The food is also incredible. I ate a bowl of Greek Yogurt and honey every day, and we went to the same restaurant almost every night for four nights. The moussaka, the goat, the sea bream. It’s all to die for! Drink a freddo in Greece, you’ll be awake for a week.
Rebecca Lee Lerman
When I was a working Hapa on a Boat, one of my favorite ports was Marseille, France. Every sight was within walking distance. The Cathedral, Notre Dame de la Garde and the Water Fountain, Palais Longchamp were my favorites. Both really felt like a slice of heaven, and where the Gods live. If you are going through some difficulty and want to ask your angels for help, sit in the beautiful cathedral or walk beside the Towering Water Fountain. Send out your prayers. Your angels will hear you.
Back in college, I knew that I wanted to study abroad. Since my Spanish was decent at the time, I found my 21 year-old-self furthering my Spanish language skills at La Universidad de Salamanca. To this day, Spain is still my favorite country I’ve traveled to because I fell in love with the culture. There is something so charming about the Spanish lifestyle: work, siesta, tapas with wine, walking through whichever city you're in, and going out dancing at night. You can pack all day sightseeing excursions into a short trip, but living there for an extended period of time, I found an emphasis on taking time to relax and reminders to enjoy yourself. The beauty in the country's historic architecture is astounding and varies city to city. Each plaza mayor is unique and representative of each city. Spain encompasses the breathtaking Moorish designs of the Alhambra in Granada to the expressive Park Guëlll in Barcelona. You can experience Spanish culture by visiting Madrid's Prado Museum or find a small, family owned restaurant to taste the essentials like patatas bravas, tortilla española, and paella. Whatever you do, just take me with you.
Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa
My husband and I waited over 2 years after getting married to take our honeymoon. We hoarded airline miles, we had a savings plan and we were focused. Our dream trip had 3 main legs one of which was a much anticipated safari in Sabi Sand Game Reserve.
We were introduced to a private family owned and run safari lodge called Notten’s Bush Camp through an acquaintance (who was part of their family) so we didn’t shop around the infinite amount of other lodge options - we had all the first hand endorsement needed to convince us. The place was just our flavor in that it was rustic yet immaculate and luxuriously wild - we had an outdoor private bath with panoramic views of the African bush and no electricity at night, just gas lanterns.
No amount of descriptives can truly depict the experience my husband and I had. The entire stay (3 nights, 4 days = 6 game drives) was magical and humbling, lavish and romantic, earthy and delicious. Every day we saw the “Big 5” game animals (leopard, elephant, water buffalo, rhino and lion) had extraordinary meals and learned so much from our game trackers and rangers who were from a long lineage of their field. We even saw a rare “kill” from pursuit to feast - not for the faint, especially at 6am.
I cannot wait to be a guest again in that untamed heaven and to observe in awe the majestic creatures we encountered. With lots of planning and organization I believe everyone can afford to go on safari. So don’t hesitate! It’s beyond words.
Guest Contributor: Lauren Lola (@AKOLAURENLOLA)
I don't go on vacations that much, so I can't really say I have a favorite place. What I will say is that I did make my first trip to Seattle last fall to visit a friend. It's really beautiful in Washington, with so many trees and lakes all around. I also like how the presence of the Native Americans who live there is prominent in the art and history found in and around the city.
Despite it being really cold when I went, that didn't damper my time spent there. I definitely want to go back one day.
Guest contributor: Max Nupen (@MAX_NUPEN)
Rome-- studied there last summer. I'm a history buff, so the entire week I was there, it felt like being in a city-sized theme park!