The road less traveled. That ever popular poem penned by Robert Frost kept running through my head as we realized we had definitely taken the road less traveled. The impassable, deep, muddy road was barely visible in the headlights. Even so, we knew we were stuck and we had to make a choice.
The road to Banaue, Philippines is long and not easy to get to. We had a goal and we were going to stick to it no matter what we had to do. This was going to be one of the most amazing moments in our lives, and, as seems to be the theme in our world travel, it was not going to come without mistakes and obstacles.
First obstacle: arrive in Manila, Philippines at 4am with three exhausted children.
Second obstacle: rent a car. Car rentals state you are not to go to a few places in the Philippines. Banaue is one of those. Oops.
Third obstacle: drive through Manila. If you never drive through Manila, count yourself lucky. It takes extreme concentration and awareness. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Fourth obstacle: find food at our stop over hotel. We ended up at a mall that had me all queasy and uneasy inside. Kudos to me for keeping it together.
Fifth obstacle: make it to Banaue. Simple enough, right? Nope, remember when I said things just haven’t got incredibly smooth for us? This just added to that long list of mishaps.
THE DRIVE BEGINS
After getting a good nights rest (mostly) we woke in the morning to attend church. It is important to us to attend church no matter where we are traveling in the world. We look up the nearest meeting house and head there. In many cases we drive all over the place while our driver asks people on the road if they know where the church is. This day, Jake was driving. We went straight to the spot where the church should have been but it was a field. We asked some people for help and they pointed us in a direction. Filipinos don’t like to tell you they don’t know, so they will happily point you in some obscure direction. It’s really endearing. Later those same people tracked us down and pointed us in the right direction.
We found the meeting house and made all sorts of a disturbance because American visitors do not come visit this far out of Manila and the Filipino people are the kindest souls they want to say hi to us. We had a lovely meeting with the primary children singing my favorite primary song, “A Child’s Prayer”. It was so touching, I teared up. Too think that across the globe children all over the world are learning and singing these same true words is beautiful.
After Sacrament meeting ended we took pictures with ward members. If this seems odd, we did not find it odd. After four months in Asia, we knew this was coming. It also happened that Jake KNEW a family in the ward. He knows people all over this planet! This family loves Jake. He met them when he served on the island of Cebu, but they had moved to Luzon and were living there. It was a really neat reunion.
We had a long drive ahead of us so we did not stay for the rest of the meetings. Happily, took to the road, and, searching in vain for a proper Philippine bakery we ended up settling for a bread shop and the donut shop across the street. On we traveled seeing the sights from the car window, each town looking very much like the next.
THE DRIVE CONTINUES
At one point we had a decision to make: there were two possible routes. One route was from Google that took us to Banaue. The other route took us to the location of our Airbnb. Google route said it would take two hours. I was in the back seat thinking, yep, that’s the one I want because the other option, Airbnb directions, said it would take six hours. It is true that I am like a two-year old on a car trip; I like to get there and be done with it. Jake and his sister, Bryndee, were in the front. They debated and decided to go with the Airbnb directions. I silently thought, oh great. Keep in mind that at this point we had driven three hours the previous day and had already driven two hours on this particular day. We were all done being in the car.
On we trekked and through the car windows we saw beautiful scenery and passed through gorgeous mountain ranges. We saw volcanoes in the distance and incredible green foliage. We saw rice paddies for miles and caribou plowing the fields while the farmer stood on the back of the wooden plow. It was primitive and ancient and it was fascinating.
At dusk we stopped at a McDonald’s. Jake and the kids had eaten there three days in a row. That is about three times more than they eat at McDonald’s in America in a year. Averi and I opted out of the eating and chose to snack on whatever food we had in the car from previous stops. We lived off of bread that day and by the next morning we were starving.
While Jake took the kids into McDonald’s, Bryndee and I stayed at the car just to make sure nothing would happen to it. We were standing outside to stretch our legs and get some fresh(er) air. News travels fast when the Americans are in town and before we knew it we had so many little children singing songs to us begging for money. It was sad, but I knew what they were doing. I told them we don’t have any pesos and began asking if they go to school, if they spoke English, what their names were, how old they were. The Filipino children are absolutely adorable; I love them so much. Thankfully Jake came out and we piled into the car. As I was shutting the door one of the kids called out, “no money, no honey!” It made me laugh because that is a common saying among all Filipinos.
The sun was setting and we still had about three hours to go before our intended destination. We figured we were going around the backside of the rice terraces in Banaue. We could see the fog settling in the valleys, the rain had come off and on throughout the day making the roads wet. Soon it was so dark it became hard to see. Jake had to slam on the brakes when we came to the muddy road.
That’s when our drive got even more interesting and frustrating. Two of the three children were sleeping at this point. Jake got out to check out the road to see what it was like and if we would be able to drive it. He came back with mud sloshed between his toes and covering his flip flops. Jake said he only had bad news: one, we couldn’t make it driving on the road. There was a cliff ahead that made him nervous. Two, we had to turn around and go back the whole way we had just gone and go the two hour way. In case you were wondering, that’s six hours in the wrong direction. Bryndee got out and checked the road as well. The cliffs made her nervous and Jake made the executive decision to turn around.
Now we had more choices to make: find a hotel and sleep there and see what if we can find Banaue in the morning was the first option. The second option was to drive until we get to the Airbnb house and maybe they will be able to let us in. We would make that decision as we drew closer to the turn around spot. Jake couldn’t get sleepy on these roads because they are windy and have lots of cliffs and the road was still wet. We turned around and made our way back down the backside of the rice terraces.
COULD IT GET WORSE?
At this point I began to get dozy and nodded off a few times. Then Tage said he didn’t feel well. We pulled over because I thought he was going to lose his cookies. I opened the door at the moment Jake and Bryndee noticed a man on the opposite side of the road pick up a rock and walk towards the car. (These are the stories you don’t tell your relatives at home.) I’m dealing with Tage who is half asleep and only slightly communicating to me that he doesn’t feel well. Jake has his window down just a slit so he can hear the guy walking towards us. He’s speaking in a language Jake didn’t understand, but spoke back to him in Cebuano. The man was drunk, said our car lights were shining in his house. Jake turned of the headlights and I’m trying to close the door because I don’t trust this guy while trying to get Tage to drink some water. The scary man eventually dropped the rock and we sped away deciding that we were not going to pull over until we got to a safe location. I think we could hear our hearts pounding loudly throughout the car as we dro
Tage fell peacefully back to sleep on my lap. Averi was in the third row sleeping peacefully as well. Claire was sprawled across the back seat with Tage and me. I had to play leg referee to keep feet and legs from connecting faces between Claire and Tage. It was hard work and there was no more sleep for me.
Around one in the morning we rolled into Banaue worn down, exhausted, and without a home or hotel to sleep in. We parked the car on the side of the road, take two, with some trepidation because of our last experience. We turned off the headlights, locked the doors, got some blankets, neck pillows, and tried to get as comfortable as possible for at least a little shut eye. The kids all slept relatively well. The adults, at most, got several minute stretches of rest. Bryndee and I woke at any sound or movement outside. It was really kind of creepy and not a comforting feeling to be in your car in the middle of nowhere in a place you don’t know and don’t speak the language.
Thankfully, the sun rises really early in the morning because as soon as that sun rose, about 5:30am, we could all get out of the car and gather our thoughts. Jake, Bryndee, and Averi walked to a lookout to see the rice terraces while I stayed with the still sleeping children. When I did go and look out a bit later, it was absolutely incredible! A sight to see, a wonder of the world, an incredible piece of work. Towering all around us were rice paddies and the greenest hills you can imagine. We had made it to our destination. It felt wonderful.
Seventeen hours is what it took us to reach our destination, it should have taken around eight or nine hours. That is a lot of time to sit and reflect and think about all the ways this series of mishaps can be related to life. I will share just one way that came to mind.
In life, we often head down paths that we feel sure are good for us. Everything is pointing us in that direction and we feel good about it. Along the way, however, things get in the way; plenty of obstacles are put in front of us to stop us from getting to where we need to go, the place we feel sure we are supposed to be headed. This could be a career path, educational goals, marriage, children, where to live, and the list goes on. What do we do? Do we just give up and stand staring at the impassable muddy road and abort the mission or do we about face and find a different way?
Just because that one path didn’t lead to our destination does not mean we are going after something impossible. Quite the opposite, it means we are going after something so important that we needed to take that wrong path to find the right path. It is while we are on that impassable path that we learn, grow, make corrections, and find the right path. When we persevere and find that right path that’s when the rewards come. You see the sun shining over the rice terraces and you know you have succeeded in meeting your goal. The education goal, the career goal, the marriage and children goal are all that much sweeter because of the work and effort put into it.
Don’t give up, the wrong path isn’t the wrong goal, it’s only a way to the right path to reach that right goal.