We were strangers, friends, a couple traveling the world – and now we're engaged
"I told you I was going to marry you!" And then he held out the ring and said, "Will you marry me?"
I didn’t even say yes right away, I was too busy crying with happiness. Here, on a tiny desert island in the middle of the Caribbean, the man I met two years ago while I was backpacking in Laos and had fallen in love with, was asking me to marry him.
Back in March 2013, I quit my job in the Middle East to travel the world, looking for something more, a way to travel and still find success at the same time. At around the same time, a young British man was doing the same, quitting his job in the UK in search of sustainable travel and a new way of life.
We met in Luang Prabang, Laos, in May 2013. We liked each other immediately and it wasn’t long before we were traveling the world together 24/7!
We explored Southeast Asia, India, the UK and now Central and South America, teaching English to fund our travels, volunteering in hostels for free accommodation and learning new skills like Ayurveda massage and teaching yoga. (READ: How traveling as a couple changes your relationship forever)
In the time that we’ve been traveling together, we’ve been through many challenges, one of the biggest was arriving in Peru when we were almost completely broke – we had a couple of hundred dollars and the clothes in our backpacks. We found a job in an eco-hostel, where we cooked, cleaned and worked in the garden in exchange for free bed and breakfast.
We allowed ourselves a daily budget of just $1-2 to buy vegetables from the market to make soup every day. Purely through chance, or something more, we met someone willing to lend us their massage table, so Jonathan found a wheelbarrow and we pushed it around town to all of the hotels offering massage services to all of the guests.
We managed to make enough money to see Machu Picchu, buy our bus tickets to Arequipa and pay the first two weeks rent on a small apartment. This was probably our most challenging time together as a couple, but we succeeded and proved to ourselves that together we could do anything. We had been together for about a year at this point.
While we were living in Peru, we continued to travel, using our apartment as a base for short-term trips within Peru and to neighboring countries.
Obviously this wasn’t free, rent and travel both cost money, so we started teaching English again in local language centers for about $4 per hour, just to pay the rent.
Then we saved up for a massage table and converted the small spare room in our apartment into a massage therapy room. Between these two incomes, we had a good life in Arequipa and still earned enough money to travel around Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Patagonia.
The way we saw it, everything that both of us had planned, when we quit our respective jobs to travel, was coming to fruition!
During this time, we also started taking our travel blog, Two Monkeys Travel a lot more seriously and I had my first big break, my first article published in Rappler! "Career or Travel – Why not both?" was all about my search for a way to live a life of long-term travel, without sacrificing my life goals and success.
The public reaction to my first article with Rappler was astounding and it even began to reach readers in Europe and the United States. Most of the response was hugely positive, from "congratulations on finding happiness" to "thank you for inspiring me’ and many others."
I was amazed, I never even thought that many people would actually want to read my story, let alone be inspired by it! But among all of the positivity, there were some who couldn’t see past the fact that I had a western boyfriend and assumed that he must be secretly funding my travels.
"It’s easy for her to travel, her British boyfriend just pays for it all!"
I tried to ignore these comments, but it’s not easy, especially when you’ve worked hard your whole life to be independent and successful. I guess I just never considered that falling in love with a foreign man would somehow wipe away all of my hard work.
For the first time I was starting to realize the kind of perceptions and stereotypes that Filipinas with foreigners have to endure. Always looking on the positive side though, for every negative comment, there were dozens of readers ready to shoot them down.
It was while we were still living in Peru that I finally managed to convince Jonathan – who is a much more private person than I – to write an article all about his experience dating a Filipina, called "What I’ve Learned Dating a Filipino Woman." It was a cute, funny and praising article, describing some of the common traits of Filipino customs, attitudes and behaviour, from the point of view of a foreign man dating a Filipina.
Happily, when Rappler published the article, we had loads of positive feedback, especially from foreign men who are happily married or in relationships with Filipinas. There were also a fair share of foreigners with bad things to say of their own.
"She just wants you for your passport!"
"She’ll take all of your money and then move onto the next unsuspecting victim!"
We’re not naïve and we know that these situations do exist, but do people really apply stereotypes so easily, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary? We wondered where all of these bad feelings were coming from, but once again, we decided to ignore them the best we could and carry on, confident that none of these negative assumptions actually apply to us!
We had a great life in Peru – a good business, plenty of English students and amazing friends, but when an offer came through to attend Envision Festival (an alternative, sustainable living and spirituality-based music festival) in Costa Rica as journalists for Two Monkeys Travel, we took it as a sign that it was our time to move on to somewhere new. We packed our bags, sold anything we couldn’t carry, including our massage table, and flew to Costa Rica!
After 4 days of mud, music sand and surf at the festival, we decided that we should keep on traveling. We even bought a car, a 26-year-old Nissan, with more rust than paint and headed north, ready to explore the beautiful country of tropical rainforests, volcanic mountains and paradise beaches.
We only made it 60 kilometers north to Manuel Antonio, when we became distracted by the amazing nature and the offer a place to live and work for 3 months. We lived in Manuel Antonio for those 3 months, with a couple of road trips over to the Caribbean side of the country and into the mountains.
When we left Costa Rica, almost two years to that that we met, we had to separate ways for two weeks for the first time since we had been together. Jonathan went to Istria, Croatia for a project with the tourism board, while I travelled north to Nicaragua to explore on my own. It was hard to suddenly be apart for so long after seeing each other every day.
I had no idea that while I was traveling around Nicaragua, he was searching Croatian jewelry stores on the other side of the world!
When we met again in Panama City, we decided that we didn’t want to travel separately anymore, from now on when we travel together!
From Panama, we decided to move south to Colombia. There are really only two options for doing this – fly, or sail across the Caribbean, via the San Blas Islands. Jonathan was very insistent on sailing, but I wasn’t sure why. Obviously it looked like an amazing journey, but why was he so against flying there?
I found out the answer when, on our final day in the San Blas Islands – he rowed me over to a small island in a little dinghy ‘to go for a walk.’ We sat down on a big driftwood tree that was washed up on the beach, watching the slightly cloudy sunset cast a million colors across the sky and thinking how lucky we are to be in that place, together.
He opened his sunglasses case, which he had been hiding from me for over a week and said, “I told you I was going to marry you! Will you marry me?”
From that moment on, I knew it didn’t matter what a few people said about us and why they think that we’re together. We know why, and that’s all that matters. – Rappler.com
Kach is a proud Filipina who quit her corporate job to become a long-term backpacker. She's also a certified Tantra Yoga teacher, TEFL qualified, Ayurveda Massage Therapist and the Little Brown Monkey behind Two Monkeys Travel Group. Follow her at facebook.com/twomonkeystravel