Traveling 80 PH provinces: Ups, downs, discoveries

Che Gurrobat

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Over 5 years, traveler Che Gurrobat has visited 80 of 81 provinces in the Philippines. Here, her thoughts on the ups, downs, and discoveries from her unique experience

MANILA, Philippines – I remember my 2009 trip to Mt. Pinatubo with two friends, the feeling of being free as I felt the heat of the morning sun while we were inside the 4×4, trudging along the rugged terrain.

After the hike, where we passed the boulder trail, we made it to a clearing, and I was unprepared for the magnificent view of the crater lake in front of me.

THE TRIP THAT STARTED IT ALL. Mt. Pinatubo Crater Lake in 2009. The day trip that sparked my interest in traveling the Philippines. All photos by Che Gurrobat

It also didn’t escape me that this beauty was located in the same area that was the site of so much destruction decades ago.

From that quick trip to Mt. Pinatubo, I found myself traveling mostly to places that I used to dream of visiting while leafing through the pages of my Civics and Culture books back in grade school.

(READ: Embrace the challenge! The basic guide to your first ever climb)

It was a childhood dream come true to see the famous Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao, to cross the stretch of the San Juanico Bridge between Samar and Leyte, to learn how Jose Rizal spent the remaining days of his life in Fort Santiago, to visit the historic Magellan’s Cross in Cebu, and to get an up-close view of the tarsiers in Bohol.  

But eventually, I got tired of seeing the places everyone knew about. It was during this period when I challenged myself to visit the 80 (now 81, with the addition of Davao Occidental in 2013) provinces of the Philippines before I turned 30, a personal goal I called my “80Before30” challenge.

Today at 30 years old, I can proudly say that I’ve visited my 80th province, Tawi-Tawi. I have yet to visit Sulu.

Here are a few thoughts on my travels over the past 5 years.

1. Revel in raw beauty

My travels allowed me to see the raw and rugged beauty of our country, beyond the ones shown in the popular travel magazines and blogs. There’s no shortage of white sand beaches here, some are even hailed as the best in the word.

UNSPOILED. Mahabang Buhangin Beach (Calaguas Island) in Camarines Norte is all about clear water, unforgettable sunsets, and fine, fine sand

I’ve been to some of the most pristine unspoiled beaches in the country in which the amenities are mostly limited to nipa huts, a public rest room, potable water from a deep well, and a few local sari-sari stores.

And despite the absence of many creature comforts, they promise a getaway that allows you to purely commune with nature, and that is part of its appeal. 

(READ: Discovering the beauty of the Camotes Islands by accident)

2. Stop the labels and stereotypes 

I have to admit, I had reservations traveling in Mindanao because of the stories about violence and unrest in the area. I remember seeing military checkpoints almost every 5 kilometers in Cotabato City – but just a few towns from there, I also visited one of the most serene places in the country, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

PEACE. Lake Sebu, in South Cotabato, was one of the most serene and still places I've visited in the Philippines

Yes, there are some volatile areas, but many parts of Mindanao are peaceful, and waiting to be explored.

(READ: Dive, eat, and explore Mindanao

3. Everyone can travel

Some people have that impression that traveling is a hobby that’s only for those who have lots of money. Not true. Traveling, even on a shoestring budget, is very feasible.

Personally, I chose to finance my own travels. I’m a regular office employee who makes both ends meet through careful budgeting. I do my own research to get the best value for my hard-earned money. I wait for airline seat sales, I book cheaper accommodations, and I opt to plan my own itinerary instead of hiring a tour guide. Most of my travel budget goes to trying out the local dishes, museum fees, tours, and some souvenir shopping. 

So even in these challenging times, you can still give in to your wanderlust. The key is planning and knowing exactly what you want to achieve in the trip. 

(READ: 6 Safety tips for women traveling solo)

4. Kindness on the road

One of the rewards of traveling is meeting random people whose kindness and openness strike you to the core.

Somehow, your faith in humanity is restored. I remember traveling solo in Mindanao and meeting a kind lady who invited me to stay overnight when she found out that I didn’t know anyone in the area. That night, I got a hearty dinner, a warm cup of coffee, and I slept peacefully in a modest room with clean and crisp bed linen – for free!

KINDNESS. Meeting Lang Dulay, a national living treasure, and her students at her humble T'boli hut in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. They very patiently taught me about the arduous production and weaving of ’T’nalak’ or the traditional T'boli cloth

5. Challenging, yet fulfilling

I use my blog to share my travel stories to a wider audience. It may appear like I’m having a grand vacation each time I’m out on the road, but actually, my road trips are not always entirely picture-perfect.

Most of the time, traveling via public transport entails some sacrifices, like being in a van with a so little leg room and busted air-conditioning with pesky insects crawling on my shirt, or having to stay in a cramped motorboat alongside the poultry or a drunk passenger, or sitting through a 3-hour, butt-numbing habal-habal ride. That’s not to mention having to brave heavy downpour just to get a good photograph, and nasty weather just to get to the next island!

LOCAL TRANSPORT. Taking the ‘habal-habal’ or motorcycle taxi is a cheaper and popular mode of transportation in many parts of the country

(READ: On foot: the joys of wandering)

But at the end of day, during most of these challenging travels, I’m often rewarded with a relaxing sunset while lazing away, miles from busy Manila. It’s priceless.

BEAUTIFUL BUD BONGAO. Bud Bongao in Tawi-Tawi  is considered a sacred Muslim burial site. This is just one of many beautiful views I’ve experience throughout my travels

I think it’s safe to say that though I’ve visited 80 provinces in the country, I’m not, and will never be, done with traveling. –

Che Gurrobat is the blogger behind She founded the literacy project, BookSail, and spent the last 5 years traveling 80 (of the 81) provinces of the Philippines. 





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