Heartbroken, Hungover, and Halfway Around the World

by Simon Joseph (United States of America)

I didn't expect to find Philippines


Heartbroken, hungover, and halfway around the world, I plodded along the dusty streets of El Nido in search of something that might take me home again, if only for a few minutes. The past few weeks had held the highs and lows of backpacking: from new friends and new wonders to sickness and fatigue. After a night of hope and happiness, today held the opposite; all I wanted was to find something more Philadelphia then Filipino. Depending on your view, this particular adventure either started in Philadelphia or, more reasonably, on Penang Island in Malaysia. It was there that I was finally feeling well enough to go and watch people stroll up and down the bar-lined “love lane” after hostel-wide disease had taken me out of commission for the better part of a week. Inspired by the twisted iron street art and dozens of murals, I unpacked my much-neglected notebook. As I pushed my pen around reflecting on how Georgetown was a wonderful place to meet travelers of all types, given its history, its affordability, and its ability to accommodate both people who like to walk around cities (like myself) and people who prefer proximity to nature, I met two women — one of whom transfixed me with her eyes. The pair had come up to me, asked what I was writing, and engaged in all the usual polite banter. As the conversation turned to travel, we discovered we were all going to the Philippines relatively soon, although we would be parting ways in hours — them to Kuala Lumpur and me to Langkawi. We promised each other we’d reunite. My island-hopping hope to see the flirty girl with aquamarine eyes began in earnest after that. I had other promises to keep along the way, however, so I hopped from a malicious Langkawi to the nightlife of Kuala Lumpur. I hopped from the sleepy, self-promoting Brunei (to visit a pleasant penpal) to the relaxed embrace of Labuan. I hopped from the beauty of Hong Kong (a literal high as I climbed up the Peak and a metaphorical one as I stayed with some wonderful friends I’d met in Germany) to the diesely, dusty, human-machine that is Manila. Finally, I hopped to El Nido, Palawan Island, to try to forge a stronger connection with the girl who’d been texting me for weeks now. You already know how this story ends — heartbroken and hungover. As with the trip in general, it was highs and lows in El Nido. Beaches and bars and spending time with a beautiful woman. Clinics and housing insecurity (how quickly we get used to booking online instead of walking from hostel to hostel looking for a decent price), and dealing with the loud, dusty life dodging “trikes” (motorcycles with sidecars that enclosed driver and passengers). I thought we were bonding as we treated her amoebiasis. On her last night there, she let me know we were not. Feeling like an amoeba myself, I turned to the local therapist, Red Horse (7%, $2/liter). It was in this state — head pounding, having traveled through four countries for a girl and literally to the other side of the Earth from the hometown friends who might help ease my heartache — that I made a discovery. A small piece of home that offered me a cure. I didn’t expect to find a Philly cheesesteak in El Nido, but, tucked between a dive shop and a liquor store mere yards from the beach, I found one. It was a reminder of how far I’d come and fuel for the journey ahead.