“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” —Mark Twain
This travel quote reminds me of a personal story. While traveling on a boat from Romblon to Boracay in the mid-’80s, I’ve met a French traveler named Christophe. He showed me minimalism before I’ve even heard the word. He had nothing more than a small backpack, and a pair of hiking boots. When we first met, he was only in his late 20s or early 30s, yet he had already traveled to over 20 countries.
He works for 6 months, saves as much as he could, and travels during the rest of the year. I got to know him better when he invited me to go hiking with him to Mt. Kanlaon in Negros to experience its 7 waterfalls.
I had a great time with this gentle foreigner who was fast becoming a friend. From him, I’ve learned judo after always finding myself awkwardly thrown on the ground after each wrestle.
I noticed he was very economical. I can only imagine all the experiences he had had in the various countries he visited and all the lessons he has learned from them. The one I am about to share will probably be remembered by him for a long time.
One day, he visited me when I was having my pastoral immersion in one of the barrios of Jamindan. A family had invited us to spend the night with them and they offered us dinner. The wife was apologetic from the start. She explained that they can’t serve us canned sardines because they’re far away from the city.
What they had on the table caught Christophe’s curiosity. It was a sautéed shrimp paste but he must not have tasted one before so he asked me what it was. I told him it’s corned beef. He must have been missing beef for quite some time, so he spooned up a handful of this to his plate. As soon as a spoonful hit his palate, his excited anticipation turned into surprised disappointment. Everyone was silent. We were waiting for him to say a word or do something.
“What is it really, Peter!”, he demanded. I said sheepishly, “It’s a shrimp paste, a Filipino delicacy.” Although he didn’t finish what he has shoveled into his plate, he did have a taste of it. I felt guilty when everyone laughed at him afterward.
After a few years, Christophe visited me for the last time. That time, I was already out of the seminary and was then engaged to Alicia, who is now my wife. When he learned that I was considering going to America, he discouraged me from going. Well-traveled that he was, he wasn’t able to overcome his prejudices against the United States.
I don’t believe Christophe ever visited the US or will ever be. And this makes me wonder. If he, a well-traveled man can’t fully overcome his own prejudices, how much more someone who hasn’t traveled out of his own country ever will? But then again, I may be prejudiced, too.