I travel not just to explore the unfamiliar. I travel to rediscover or dig deeper into myself. Not that I'm a seasoned traveler. I rarely go on trips now. But each time I do, I come back where I started from a changed person.
Over the years, and a few trips after, I realized that there's no better way to test one's mettle than to travel alone. And by alone I mean single-handedly managing arrangements and troubleshooting glitches that happen long before I stepped out of the house with my luggage.
My recent trip to the Asian Junior Rowing Championships venue taught me more invaluable lessons when it comes to traveling. I rediscovered so much and learned more about myself. What I gained from the entire experience more than compensated for the unforgettable challenges that I've had while preparing for and even during the trip. And below are just some of those:
1. Getting the assignment - I signed up for the Asian Games jury duties in November. I chose that schedule because it was the only time I'm confident that I'd be available to take a leave from work. So it came as a huge surprise when I received the notification for 2010 Asian Rowing Federation event assignments and see my name listed for the Asian Junior Rowing Championships in July.
2. Making the commitment - Since I didn't get the November assignment, I decided to go to the 2010 AJRC just so I could keep my license current. My last international umpiring stint was in 2008 at the Asian Olympic Qualifying in Shanghai. I felt that it's about time I end the two-year hiatus. It's time I do what I do while gaining fascinating experiences in the process.
3. Experiencing rebooking woes - I immediately booked a direct flight to G leaving on July 19th and returning on July 26th. I emailed the schedule to the contact person from the organizing committee only to receive a reply that all international technical officials (ITOs) are expected on the 18th. I was beginning to feel disappointed at this time but managed to block the thought. I thought that surely I'd be able to find my way through haze that the lack of clear instructions created. Little did I know that I'd be rebooking once more less than three days before I leave.
4.Failing to expect the unexpected - If there's one key lesson I learned from this trip it was to never, ever, assume. I was too confident that I'd have no problems getting the visa since I've been to that country more than a few times already. In all my previous trips there, I never once had any visa-related problems. Clearly, I was in the wrong to assume. Two weeks before the trip, I sent my visa application forms to my aunt in Manila asking her to please find someone to process it for me. She did find a messenger that can submit the form for me and I thought that I'd get my visa after four days. But therein lurked the perils of making assumptions. And thus began the stressful days of worrying over my visa.
5. Pouring is an understatement - It's true that when it rains it pours, both literally and figuratively. After the messenger's repeated attempts to submit my visa application proved futile, I finally decided to leave for Manila earlier than scheduled. I had to so I can personally process my visa. It was also only around this time that I received the official invitation (aka visa notification form) from the organizers. I asked permission from my boss to leave earlier than scheduled, rebooked my Manila-bound flight, and got ready to leave. I was at the airport 5:00am of July 14 to catch the first flight to Manila. The plan was to head straight to the consular office to process my visa application. With two days rush service, I was sure I'd get my visa by Friday. But the weather had other plans for me. My flight was cancelled due to Typhoon Basyang that battered Manila. I scrambled to get a seat to the next possible flight, which was at 2:05pm. I waited. And waited some more after more delays and finally got to leave Davao at past 6:00pm. One day less to rush my visa application.
6. Walking on sunshine - Though the sun has long set, I felt like I was walking on sunshine the minute I deplaned. Maybe it's because I felt relieved I'm on solid ground once more after a rough flight or that I have three treasured friends at the airport waiting for me. My sis Daisy's flight from Cebu arrived a few minutes after mine, my friend Chalyn is already waiting for me at the arrival's area, and my brod Richard is on his way to pick me up. I couldn't think of a better way to start my Manila sojourn except to see the faces of closest friends I truly miss. The fact that most of Metro Manila was still in system-wide blackout then didn't diminish my happiness. I was also eagerly looking forward to my scheduled meet-ups with dearest friends Anna Liese and Mark E.
7. Clearing through one hurdle - I was supposed to leave on July 18 but it was already July 15 and I still don't have a visa. My friend Chalyn was kind enough to go with me to the Consular Office to provide moral support while I submit my visa application. I didn't know what to expect but I certainly felt relieved when they accepted my application form without the fuss that the messenger had to deal with. Still, I was a day too late. They can't release the visa until July 19 (Monday), which meant I had to rebook again.
8. Walking around with luggage in tow - Monday came and I was off to Makati early. I had my luggage with me when I claimed my visa and when I processed my tax exemption at the Department of Tourism. It was the first time that I was off to a trip with a super tight schedule stressing me out. Although at that time, stress was a word I wouldn't even dare entertain. I needed all my wits and energy with me as I set off for my trip.
9. Finding what I needed within - The trip to HK went smoothly. But I couldn't say the same for the following stage of my journey. I originally planned to take the train to G. But I found out after I rebooked that my new flight schedule doesn't give me enough time to catch the last trip. So I emailed the organizers that I'd be going by bus. I managed to find book a ticket on the bus scheduled to leave at the time I specified to the organizers. The bus trip turned out to be quite an experience. Border controls, changing of buses, etc. stretched the three-hour trip to four. I arrived in G past midnight only to realize that there's no bus station to speak of. The bus just goes around a certain route until everyone gets off. And since I'm the last and I couldn't even begin to make myself understood by the driver, I was dropped off at a well-lit place with lots of taxis around. I was finally in G but with no idea how to get to the hotel since I only have the address of the venue. My phone battery died on me, I had no phone card, no sign of the liaison officer who should be picking me up, and no hotel address to give to the taxi drivers who can't understand a word I'm saying. A lady taxi driver finally took pity on me and after a few sign language we agreed that she should take me to the airport. I just thought that it was the safest place for me to go since I can't seem to find anyone who can understand or speak English. And so I spent the few remaining hours left before sunrise at the airport lounge.
10. Hitting the ground running - As soon as the shops opened at the airport, I went straight to foreign exchange booth to have my money changed then bought a phone card. I called the organizers, who thankfully answered the phone this time. I was too drained to feel anything other than relief to realize that I'd soon be where I'm supposed to be. Being lost in an unfamiliar place and not being able to communicate with anyone was a novel experience. One that kept me on my toes and my senses on full alert. But there was no relief for the weary. Since the event officially started that morning, I had to go straight to the venue, change to my uniform, and start with jury duties. I was so grateful that I wasn't assigned on the umpire boat for I feared I'd fall off since I felt dizzy for lack of sleep. I don't know how I managed it but I did survive the first day of races running on near empty. Fortunately the first day of competition finished early so I had the whole afternoon to catch some much needed sleep.
Things finally settled down when I was finally with the other jury members/umpires. After all the excitement of the previous days, I felt that things were falling into place. And I'm happy to say that indeed, despite the upheavals this trip caused me, I was exactly where I had to be.
I rediscovered the strength and will that reaffirmed my belief in myself. I also discovered that I have it in me to sift through the tumult swirling around me and to let the bad things slide. And I realized once more that some things are really worth all the pain.
I had the most fun assignments in this umpiring stint. Control commission during the first day of event, umpire boat 1 on day 2, and starter during the two days of final races. Embracing the challenge of it all was truly enriching.