One Backpack, One Lifetime

Minimalism is the new normal: a paradigm shift to owning less, moving slow, and relishing this rare, waking life. I had to get out of the big city and flee to the mountains to digest this statement. On a personal level, it means owning only multipurpose, essential things, and freeing oneself of material, mental, and emotional clutter. On the grand scheme of things, going minimalist soothes this hyperdrive consumerist culture that is unconsciously abusing the planet on a daily basis. At one point somebody has got to say this out loud:

Everybody needs to calm the hell down.

While minimalism has been catching fire on social media for the past decade, mystics and yogis have already been on this unconventional road for thousands of years. In 500 BCE, Gautama Buddha walked away from his swanky palace where he was prince, and survived on no more than three robes and one bowl. About 2000 years ago, Jesus too gave everything up besides the robe and sandals he's wearing. In the early 1900s, Gandhi owned no more than a few key items such as a pair of eyeglasses and a pocket watch. Most recently, Peace Pilgrim traveled for 28 years with nothing but a pair of clothes and shoes on.

Essentials: A purse with cash, cards, passport, notebook, and pencil + lead.

Cook anywhere with a tiny kitchen.

What did they all have in common? They preached the gospel of radical simplicity as a fast-track route to liberation and everlasting peace of mind. After all, who wouldn't want to live a zero stress and chilled out lifestyle? In this tech age where most are obsessed with distractions, online shopping, and endless streams of sickening selfies, we are trapped in a samsaric cycle of self-gratification and ego-masturbation. But just around the corner, a new generation is taking over in full throttle. We kids are shaving things off one at a time, and replacing them with experiential wisdom, selective relationships, and enduring moments and memories. Needless to say, we're done with "stuff".

We kids are shaving things off one at a time, and replacing them with experiential wisdom, selective relationships, and enduring moments and memories.

Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, and a number of vocal minimalists today may have had a spiritual bent to adapt and thrive through this lifestyle, but what appealed to me was how wild the idea was. Balling it in my mind, minimalism can be an ennobling necessity, a conscious decision to lather a balm on the world's seemingly unsolvable problems: the depletion of earth's resources, the massive production of goods, our unstoppable need to buy, and the staggering garbage turnout choking our landfills and oceans. Of course, no messiah or world government is ever going to step up to undo these things. We just have to shut our whining and do what we can in little ways.

Toiletries include an ear spoon and a moon cup for living waste-free.

My gadgets are reduced to just a laptop and an ebook reader. No phone!

While I have been a minimalist since I started climbing mountains in 2008, it wasn't until the end of 2016 that I took a step further and redesigned an "ultralight" approach for myself. That is, living on just the bare bones, all fitting neatly in one backpack. I gave away my furniture, my beloved library of about a thousand books (Not so minimalist there, was I?), and a few drawers of clothes and shoes. I reduced everything I owned to 10kg when I started, and about 10 months down the road, it's now under 7kg. Succinctly, if something doesn't fit in the bag, it has got to go. I thought, if this experiment won't work for me, I can revert to my old clunky lifestyle whenever I want.

Succinctly, if something doesn't fit in the bag, it has got to go. I thought, if this experiment won't work for me, I can revert to my old clunky lifestyle whenever I want.

The point I'm getting at is not to be some reverential vagabond like Buddha or Jesus, but to live simply, and to simply live. Of course, this "One Backpack, One Lifetime" approach won't apply to everyone, as different folks have different strokes. But then again, others can simply use a larger bag or luggage, or at least downsize to one room of needs. Nonetheless, I took this as a challenge, finding the fine balance between living simply and yet scoring high in other ways. To take care of my basic needs, here are the only things I've kept and have let go of the rest.

Summary of the Backpack

For the past 10 months that I've been living like this, I had to get a little creative on how I prepared my meals. I also started practicing zero waste (that is, producing zero trash) while I'm at it. Once these were integrated into my daily routine, things flowed pretty smoothly. I did not miss my old apartment, my old furniture, my old things. Sure, it was a comforting thought to have them, but I didn't even regret losing any of them. Putting the basics aside, having few possessions can get really boring. Adopting an ultralight lifestyle entails a mental shift not just on how to spend one's money, but how to spend one's time.

Clothes for Warm & Cool Climate

Clothes, malong (blanket), tiny towel, and headgear.

The sack unpacked with everyday clothes.

Minimalist yoga with just the naked floor or a blanket. No mat required!

Because I have stopped buying things and spend only on food and transportation, I've been saving a lot. Otherwise, I could work less and have more time to do whatever that pleases me. With a laptop-based work and just a backpack, I could go wherever I want. In less than a year, I have lived in El Nido, Coron, Culion, Sagada, Kalinga, Siargao Island, and Camiguin Island. While that seems a lot, I've been traveling at the slowest pace possible, getting stoked on the soul of each locale and feeling the undercurrents of its cultural norms and daily life. To break the monotony, I'd go off to nature trails, short hikes, waterscapes, or simply hang out in a cozy restaurant, or on a cliff overlooking the ocean, and read.

I've been traveling at the slowest pace possible, getting stoked on the soul of each locale and feeling the undercurrents of its cultural norms and daily life.

I've been watching the sunrise every single day, rain or shine, to sync my waking time with that of the earth's, and make the most out of every single day. Weekdays and weekends don't exist anymore. Everyday is a holiday, a chance to surrender into the arms of uncertainty, surprises, and adventure. Otherwise, a typical quiet day is spent exploring the wilderness of inner space through meditation, tantra, or yoga. This kind of solitude, alongside being close to nature, has spurred me to finish my first creative book of prose and poetry--while on the road. And when I'm hungry for connection, I just go out and talk to newfound friends instead of logging on to social media.

I do not know how long this experiment will last, but I've been savoring every moment of it. Sometimes it just feels a little too perfect to be here now, without the need to analyze the past or plan for the future. I just need to take care of today, and everything else seems to unfold effortlessly. Above all, I am living out my ideals as an earth lover and will probably preach this ultralight lifestyle for as long as I am alive. In hindsight, one doesn't need to be an environmentalist to slow down some of the beastly forces of this world. To a few, having just one backpack is enough.

// Oct 2017

Lazy Afternoons in Siargao

There's this 5km-long beach just a short walk away from where I live.

I bring some essentials and then read or talk to strangers. (Or nap. XD)

The breeze is amazing in the shade of coconuts.

Then a little guy would drop by and say hi.

By sunset the whole place transforms and the water becomes pastel-blue.

That's when I head for a swim... when the sky is lovely.

I float on my back and wait for the darkening night.

...until I visit the following day again.

// Oct 2017

Graffiti in the City: A Bike Tour of BGC

"Wonderland" by Faile // Website // Twitter

A city without art is a city without a soul. While Metro Manila is often identified with slums, floods, smog, and gridlock traffic jams, there's a little breathing space there called Bonifacio Global City (BGC).

"Bear" by Nate Frizzell // Website // Instagram

What had once been a vast military army base with nothing but weeds and a choir of crickets was transformed into an upscale city filled with tall green buildings, recreational parks, outdoor shopping centers, and plenty of sculptures and street art.

"David's Hand" by Bunnie Reiss // Website // Instagram

For the two years that I worked here, I'd bike or walk around different routes just to revisit some the artworks that I admire. (The images are pretty much cleaved in my head by now.) I borrowed a bamboo bike, took it for a spin in the city, and snapped some shots using a borrowed Nikon camera.

"Pangako" by Anjo Bolarda // Behance // Twitter

Since I quit owning stuff, I'm used to borrowing random things from people these days. At least I don't have to earn for the thing, take care of it, and dedicate a special space somewhere to keep it. Clears a lot of mental (and environmental) space, mind, especially when you add them all up. I need to be free; anything else ties a rope around my neck.

"Between the Lines" by Cyrcle // Website // Instagram

Then again, would be nice to have a lightweight Olympus Pen camera which I've been longing (nay, aching) for the past couple of months.XD In the meantime, carrying a borrowed monolithic DSLR is fine. I'm working on growing my forearms while I'm at it.

"Mother Nature" by Dee Jae Pa'este // Instagram

These are by no means the only street art in BGC. I covered only half or even less and have not even seen the new graffiti since the time I left--which gives me a reason to bike again and hunt all visual treasures in the area.

"Manpower" by Kris Abrigo // Instagram

Sure, not everyone appreciates these things. After all, graffiti is in the eye of the beholder. If it's a crime to have painted these, then the artwork becomes even more alluring, if not anarchistic.

"Charlotte" by Nate Frizzell // Website // Instagram

But then again, these pieces have zero political agenda other than to force random passersby to stop and appreciate walls: walls that used to be blank and full of potential. Isn't that how everything begins, empty?

This one is new. I don't know the artist.

While in some parts of Metro Manila, graffiti borders on violence, of walls spraypainted with crude sketches of groins and middle fingers, there still are others that evoke beauty and harmony. For the most part, BGC is free from defacement of buildings, public or otherwise.

"Pop Art" by AKA Corleone // Website // Instagram

Almost all these artworks are sponsored and curated, with artists coming from all over the globe. While the more specific term for these are "murals", their outdoor setting and spontaneous street styles give them more of a graffiti feel than the traditional fine art of wall paintings, such as those seen in the protected interiors of churches, temples, and other religious spaces.

"May You Find Comfort Here" by KFK Collective // Instagram

These art pieces won't last forever, due to weathering, or in some cases, replacement, but their lives will survive in the hearts of us city dwellers, and in the pages of online blogs.

Downing on the Moon. Another new graffiti.

// Sep 2017

Minimalism #2: Ride a Bike!

Alon (translated as "wave") has been with me since 2013.

He's sleek and minimal, with an old school Mongoose frame.

He's made for boys, but the seat works fine for girls like me.

I'd go to work with him back when I had a day job.

If I'm not taking a stroll, I just get lost with Alon in the city.

He's nothing fancy, just functional and beautiful.

With basic brakes and no bike stand, he doesn't ask for much.

An easy ride would do, and some clean up once in a while.

My big brother takes care of him whenever I'm away from home. I miss Alon badly.

// Jul 2017

Mountain Heaven in Mountain Province

I'm in mountain heaven at Mountain Province. The artist who I met in Coron didn't make a mistake to tell me to live here. A tribal drum craftsman and tattoo artist, he's lived in many places, high land and low land, in the Philippines. The only place I know where NOT to live in is Metro Manila, with the exceptions of UP Diliman campus and Bonifacio Global City. Outside the city capital, Sagada, said the artist, is a perfect combination of relaxed atmosphere, chilly weather, indigenous culture, and plenty of mountains, naturescapes, and outdoor activities. Sagada is an ideal playground for nature junkies and introverts like myself.

Sagada is an ideal playground for nature junkies and introverts like myself.

Just like how I came and explored other locales in the country, I've arrived in Sagada alone, without any booking or hotel reservation, without knowing anybody. I just come and dive in like a boss, trusting that the universe will take care of everything else. (Which it usually does!) While I have been here for short trips several times in the past, knowing the soul of a place doesn't take two or three days. I took the advice of other long-term travelers, accustoming myself to living in one location for AT LEAST three months. (And I promise to write more now, since I have electricity!)

On the side note, I have to update my criteria on living in a new destination:

I've been here for only two days, the first day spent just sleeping and recovering from the 12-hour bus and jeep commute from Manila. As soon as I recovered, I haven't stopped wandering. The first two or three days are usually spent familiarizing myself with the town, its streets, vegetable markets, restaurants, transportation routes, and secret nooks for reading, yoga, or just breathing delicious air. And then I'd talk to a dozen people to get a glimpse of their lifestyles and views on which area is best to live in. I checked out two potential places to settle in yesterday, and the first one was just perfect.

What do I mean perfect? Thirty minutes before I set out to look for a room, studio, or apartment, I listed a couple of things in my phone. That this new home is within 15 minutes to the market (so I can prepare my herbivore food XD), has a view of the sunrise, near the forest, mountain, or stream/river, has available drinking water and electricity, has a clothesline, kitchen, and bed. And guess what? The first place I checked out had all of these.XD I don't know if my visions are creating the future or that I can foresee the future. I may have superpowers like that.

The chimney house is made of heavy hardwood on the inside and insulated with steel metal sheet from the outside. I share the six-room house with about 8 other people, mostly Igorots. Uncannily, they don't look anywhere near the Igorots found in mainstream media, but they are generally heavyset and squat (but not always!), often with bloody-looking mouths from chewing betel nut. My room is on the second floor, with two wide windows, one of which faces the sunrise, a portion of Echo Valley (where the hanging coffins are found), and steep mountains clad in pine trees. The air here is seductively clean and cool, with the faint but all-pervasive smell of pine. If I get to find a carpenter within this week I'll have a wooden table made for me to write on and finish my books, all that facing this gorgeous view. Ah, heaven!XD

Since I've already been to the hanging coffins, burial caves, and rock climbing activities in my previous visits, I went out my way to explore sites rarely visited by tourists. I woke up at 4:30 in the morning yesterday, washed up, and started trekking to Kiltepan where I would see the prettiest sunrise in Sagada. Guessing I'd get there in 30 minutes, I walked leisurely starting at 5 am, and marveled at the mist slowly rising around me. With the brightening sky, the noisy birds shooting off their headquarter trees, tall pine trees everywhere, cozy chimney houses in sight, all these united by thick fog and freezing chill, I thought I was in some page ripped off from the novel The Hobbit. All the way to Kiltepan, fog came out my breath as if I was smoking a cigarette. Turned out, I underestimated the trek as it took me at least an hour to get there (way to go, Little Miss Leisurely), the last 15 to 20 minutes entailing a gradual ascent on a dirt road towards Kiltepan Peak.

Had I known it would take me that long I could've hitchhiked instead. But the trek itself was rewarding anyway so I thought I'd just hitchhike on the way back. Kiltepan Peak had a wide clearing for car parking, surrounded by more pine trees, and an abandoned hotel and restaurant on its highest ground. From the edge of the peak was a panoramic view of mountain ranges one behind another, where the sun had risen (and I missed it, goddamnit) and was now slowly inching over two distant but still inspiring rice terraces collectively known as Kiltepan Rice Terraces. Note to self: visit this again before sunrise and hitchhike next time! On the way back down I chanced upon a middle-aged man who just emerged from a pine forest and had a motorcycle parked along the dirt road. He said he's been scouting area for mushrooms and they haven't sprouted yet. Kuya Ronny, his name, let me ride on his motorcycle on the way down and to the town.

Oh drat, I sold my iPad and no longer have anything to take pictures with, save for my analog talk and text phone that shoots photos in kilobits.XD I bought a Kindle Paperwhite after selling the iPad -- I should've done this a long time ago! I'm in love with Kindle. Reads like a regular book with soft paper. (Then again I'd still prefer a real book I can turn a page and sniff over anything else.) An iPad makes for a shitty long-term ebook reader. My eyes would hurt and water after just an hour of reading, and then there's the stripes imprint at the back of my eyeballs when I close my eyes. HIDEOUS. Good riddance.

Goddamnit, this place is too perfect. Time to make some trouble.

// Jul 2017

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