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MANILA, Philippines - A random system arranged that Gregg Yan and Mo Francisco would be blockmates in college.
Mo: Between go-getter and go-with-the-flow, I’ve always been the latter. That’s why I gravitated to Gregg like a reserved, sheltered moth to a bright, mountain-climbing, race-running, wild-animal-loving flame.
He would suggest doing the most outrageous things (lunch outside school? Unthinkable!).
When we became a couple, he’d always pop up with the craziest propositions: let’s safari around Calauit Island, wake up early to go birdwatching, SCUBA dive to seek sharks, scale this or that summit, backpack through Indochina, look for wild elephants in Malaysia.
Half the time he has to drag me out of bed, groaning and complaining (I’m a writer, so naturally I have a propensity to remain in a sedentary state, curled up with a book).
But I always end up saying yes.
And because of him, I’ve said "Yes" to life. It’s a mindset that has made me say yes to other things — mountain biking, trail-running, surfing, running marathons, and climbing mountains.
And that’s the power of love. It changes you to the core — making you not just a better partner, but a better person.
From safari to squid factory
Mo: I was a pretty sheltered kid. Growing up, I never commuted or stepped out of our gated townhouse community. Up until second year college, I didn’t even know the difference between EDSA and C5.
So when we graduated and Gregg asked me to go backpacking with him, I said pretty flippantly, "Why not?"
Together with our friend, Celine, we withdrew our meager savings, boarded a Superferry (we didn’t have Piso Fares back then) and headed to Busuanga to run with wild zebras, giraffes, and antelope in Calauit Island. For 11 days we begged, hitched, and worked odd-jobs to traverse Busuanga.
We pitched our flimsy, borrowed tent in remote beaches, waterfalls, and hot springs. We found ourselves stranded on secluded islands, climbing coconut trees to replenish our drinking water, dining day in and day out on stacks of budget pancit canton.
We deprived ourselves so much that we had to work in a squid factory to earn our meals and found that muddy ice became each bit as valuable as 24-karat gold — and tastier, too!
We usually recount that the best part was that we spent less than P2,500 in those 11 days. But there’s another key takeaway from that first trip: I learned that Gregg and I can have next to nothing and still have the time of our lives.
Of elephants and temples
Gregg: Mo is a true dreamer — she lives between this realm and another most people never see.
Two years after joining the planetary pool of yuppies, we turned in letters of resignation, re-primed our trusty mountaineering backpacks, and voyaged through 3 countries for about US$500. We started in Singapore, snaked through Malaysia, and explored the towering temples of Thailand.
Mo always loved ancient cultures. On her bucket-list were the Giza Pyramids in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh, and the Parthenon in the Athenian Acropolis. Well, we couldn’t find Piso fares for these places, but Thailand lay at the end of our first international backpacking adventure — and in the Land of Siam, Ayutthaya was temple-central.
Dominated by glorious palaces, shrines and ruled by 33 generations of kings, Ayutthaya was the famed center of Siam from 1350 until the Burmese sacked it in 1767, allowing a bustling riverside town called Bangkok to become the new capital.
Today, Ayutthaya is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a pretty nifty place to have a date.
Mo hatched this brilliant plan of exploring the city on bikes. For less than US$1, our rusty but trusty speed-racers took us through quiet ruins and mysterious lakes. Pelted by raindrops and summer rays, we biked on trails trod by the ancients.
Emerging from one of the temple complexes, we chanced upon a trumpeting column of elephants, resplendent in rouge regalia. The power of the moment overrode all else, turning things into a haze.
Was it the heat? Fear of getting turned into roadkill? Whatever it was, it was pure magic. If the great Buddha reached Nirvana under his Bodhi tree, then in the land of elephants and temples, Mo and I temporarily transcended mortality.
The Great Backpacker Alexander Supertramp of “Into the Wild” fame said it best: “Happiness is only real when shared.”
My ultimate adventure mate and best buddy has always seen way beyond tourist trails, beyond smelly buses, beyond flimsy outhouses, beyond quirks that might strain lesser relationships. Thus, journeying through life with her is absolute magic.
To hell and back in Laos
Mo: To get to Hanoi from Vientiane, you have to endure 24 hours on a sleeper bus which considers a 1.5-foot x 5-feet mat in the aisle, a paid seat. The bus is so packed your feet constantly rest on the head of the passenger before you.
Those lucky to snag upper bunk beds are constantly stepping over you en route to the tiny bathroom cubicle. For this trip, I was right smack in the middle of a Vietnamese group chatting nonstop while passing out fruit slices over me — with razor-edged paring knives.
After 12 hours of that, we reached the northern border of Vietnam, only to have my passport rejected (I’m a dual citizen) and Gregg’s accepted. Unlike in Cambodia and Laos where I could pay for my visa on the bus, Vietnam was not so lenient.
So Gregg was standing in Vietnam and I was in Laos.
With a return flight, a thousandth-year anniversary and the possibility for Gregg to meet his boyhood military hero General Vo Nguyen Giap waiting for us in Hanoi, he sighed and then stepped back into Laos to be by my side.
I was bawling on the bridge against the most beautiful backdrop of northern Laos’ mountain range and a pristine river rushing below.
On the 12-hour bus ride back, he didn’t rant. He didn’t say anything to make me feel worse. It could have been because the bus smelled like unflushed excrement that made him so silent, but I like to believe he knew that a single word would make me burst into fresh tears.
So there. True love is staying silent in a bus full of sh*t.
It’s the journey
Cliché as it sounds, for Gregg and Mo, love is a journey.
They have always preferred roads less travelled and have been all the better for it.
Because the harder roads lead to the summits of Kota Kinabalu, Apo, Mayon, and Pulag. The harder roads lead to zebras, giraffe, and sleek-gaited antelope in Calauit. The harder roads test their limits, their mettle, the core of who they both are.
Gregg says, "If you find a travel partner to take that hard road with you — of days spent not showering, of riding bomb-laden commuter buses, of laughing at wild elephant attacks on your flimsy riverboat — then never let that person find another path." - Rappler.com
Read more about Mo and Gregg's adventures in Baht, Boots and Gandhi, available at all Fully Booked outlets. You can also add them both up on Facebook. They’re quite friendly.
Who will inherit the throne?
Rappler takes you through the Miss Philippines Earth 2013 competition with these specials: