July 25, 2015

Kota Kinabaliw: Eat Pray Run

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In Photos (Tanjung Aru beach, Sutera Harbour, Gaya Sunday Market, Jalan Gaya -- neighborhood where I stayed, Masjid Bandaraya, Waterfront Esplanade, Laksa)

Being alone and being a girl in a foreign country are two scary ideas put together to form a mentally tough and alarming situation. Friends that had recently been to KK warned me about their  negative experiences with the aggressive men there. They advised me not to wear revealing clothes and ready myself for the ultimate pang-dedeadma (shake it off, shake it off-off), hence the title. I prepared myself for the unknown and the worst. Apart from the fact that we had no specific itinerary for the trip, my sole companion unfortunately had to book an earlier flight, which meant I had a day all to myself. I considered it my first solo travel experience.  I was shit scared. I had no clue on how I'd manage without her but thankfully, it all went well and, surprisingly turned out to be one enlightening and humbling experience. 

use your spatial skills
Sometimes, we become so dependent on Internet and GPS that we are not aware of our surroundings. We sometimes blindly follow Waze and Google maps without even realizing where we are relative to the direction that we're going. I found myself panicking dozens of times when Wi-Fi would be unavailable. Yep, that's embarrassing. Take a step back. Before going to a place, download several maps and try to familiarize yourself with the roads and locations of places. Once you're out there and there's no reception, only your gut can tell you if you're going towards the right direction. Let your instincts guide you. After all, studies prove way finding is inate. 

be techie
Everyone has smart phones these days. Use it to your advantage. Download pocket dictionaries and converters. My language apps helped me order food and ask for directions. Knowing a few words can help you go a long way. It's also a pretty good conversation starter. #imsopunny

practice reading people
In the Philippines, I know who to stay away from. I know which places are unsafe. The Internet will only tell you so much, and most of it is sugarcoated or fake. In foreign grounds, it's an automatic disadvantage if you can't speak the native tongue. I was discouraged to approach people at times but I learned how to decipher messages through reading peoples faces and listening to their voices.  They say conversation is 10% words, 90% emotions. Look at facial expressions and tonal messages. If you feel safe, proceed. If you're threatened even the slightest bit, turn away. 

Side note: While waiting for your flight before boarding, try people watching and be amazed by how you are able to play scenes based on peoples actions alone. 

make it leg day
You spend more when you're alone. Wait, what? When you're solo, you'd have to shoulder the full tab of a cab ride that could've been split to two or three passengers. Tours are more expensive the less you are in your group. Take advantage of the fact that pollution elsewhere is often not as bad as Manila. Walking is therapeutic plus it lets you appreciate the scenery more. It's a great way to explore. Most maps aren't really drawn to scale and you'll find that some places look farther on paper than in actual. Heck, it's more economical too!

spoil your tastebuds
There is a strong link between culture and food. Food across the globe differs magnanimously. It plays a major role in festivities and religious practices. It varies depending on the environment  Flora and fauna.  I didn't really get to see plenty of tourist spots so I made sure to eat in places where they serve local dishes. It's also amusing to see a different take on certain restaurants that we also have at home. Don't be afraid to try exotic dishes. Be open-minded! Eating is one activity that you can surely enjoy alone.

no expensive hotels
Don't spend too much on lodging and stay in 5-star hotels that are built to keep you within the property. Stay in places that are more modest and strategically located in dynamic settings. I stayed in Hotel Victoria, which was located on the street where they held the night market. It was convenient and fun! I felt very involved in the community. It was also a walking distance to the bus station, which gave us a reason to commute and ultimately get a taste of the life of the average person in KK. Luxurious hotels make you want to stay in and spend all your money on their facilities. Instead of tweeting you're in Malaysia, might as well say that you're room hopping in Magellan Sutera

immerse yourself in cultural traditions and festivities
Try to go to a place when there's an event or a festival being held. Instead of plainly going to tours, try to look for interactive activities that you can participate in. The time I had gone there, I was lucky enough to be invited to what the locals called an open house, where they had a free-for-all banquet. Festivals like these that are flocked by locals and tourists alike are the perfect place to meet fellow travelers and possible soul sisters. 

Travel isn't always about seeing things. It's being away from your comfort zone and experiencing life outside of yours. It's mind opening and humbling to be part of a society that does things different than what you're used to. Being alone in a different country has its perks. Don't just go to a place and observe. Get involved and ask questions. Interact. Engage with people, fellow traveler and locals alike, as much as you can. Don't make assumptions. Be open and embrace the strangeness and peculiarity of the new place but don't be too trusting as well.


Photos © Kai Ochosa