Monday, February 27, 2012

a Filipina gypsy named Jeneen

I've been called a gypsy and a nomad by friends, and there must be some truth to it, because I have not lived in one place for longer than five months in the last five years shares Filipina backpacker Jeneen Garcia. In fact, she revealed that in the last two years, she has not lived longer than five months in the same country.

There are no accidents--we are where we are meant to be at every particular place and time. Every experience is an opportunity for learning.--Jeneen 

Jeneen's travel adventures and misadventures inspired me to kick-start my own. We hang-out together several times when both of us were still based in Cebu. I'm actually a big fan of her beautiful poetry (Church Rite being my all-time favorite poem) and a rabid reader of her newspaper column (Lost and Found) and blog (earthbound). As fate would have it, our paths crossed again. We hang-out several times in Dumaguete and Valencia in Negros Island.

I am fascinated both by vibrant big cities and the wildest of natural places--Jeneen 

Jeneen, who earned her degree in Environmental Science from the Ateneo de Manila University, used to work for an environmental non-profit as well as do freelance travel writing and photography for newspapers and magazines before she decided to take a break and get an MSc degree in Marine Biology/Water and Coastal Management. She finished her graduate studies in Europe as an Erasmus Mundus scholar. The scholarship involves a great deal of mobility, hopping from Uni. Plymouth in the UK, to Universidad de Cadiz in Spain and finally in Universidade do Algarve in Germany.

21. I've found out that Jeneen has traveled to 21 countries and is a B+ traveler in Lakbayan. Wow! 

Dear readers, brace yourselves as brings you the Filipina who went scuba diving in subzero temperature in Iceland, swam with jellyfish in Micronesia and who once unwittingly crossed the border from Germany into the Czech Republic because she badly needed to go to the bathroom.

10 questions. 
It’s an honor to have Jeneen Garcia on board. 

1. Do you like Cebu or Davao?
Argh! Are you really making me choose? Cebu was my home for about five years, and I love how every time I come back, whether after one year or one month, there’s always something new and it’s always abuzz. I love how it’s smack in the middle of the country with so many options for getting to the other 7,000+ islands. I love how it’s become a melting pot of stories and ideas and products brought by people from all over the country and even the world. And I love how everything is so near! 

On the other hand, I’ve spent half of my life in Davao (the other half everywhere else) and I love how I’m only 30 minutes away or less from both mountain and beach. I love its greenness, its earthiness, and its easy pace. I love how we have so many fruits and flowers all in one place that you can’t readily find anywhere else. 

So really, I think they’re both great places, depending on what you’re in the mood for.

2. Sea or mountain?
If you’re really making me choose…sea, of course. But promise me waterfalls, lakes, caves and a great view, and I’ll try your mountain, too. Or how about a sea mount?

3. Fishball or kwek kwek?
Umm…fishball please. Because of the sauce hehehe.

4. Tell me about the top five places that you’ve visited.
This is really hard. But among those that come to mind right now, in no particular order...Ronda, Granada and Bolonia in Spain (all in the Andalucia region--trying to cheat here haha), New York, Marakkesh, Venice, Lisbon. 

Locally, El Nido and Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, Camiguin, Bohol (the less touristy parts), Boracay (when it's off-season), Sagada. These are places that made me say WOW when I first got there, or that still give me a warm, fuzzy feeling when I think about them because I felt so at home and so alive when I was there. Notice that I've deliberately left out places that I've lived in hahaha.

5. What are the top three countries in your bucket list?
Greece, Japan, Brazil. At the moment, at least.

6. What was the silliest thing you did while on the road?
I don't know if you would consider this silly or not, but I once unwittingly crossed the border from Germany into the Czech Republic because I badly needed to go to the bathroom. I had to cross a river to do this.

7. Do you find yourself taking greater risks traveling and living in a foreign country?
I can't say I take greater risks, but I'd say I'm less naive, and more aware of cultural differences. I've also learned to use the internet more powerfully as a tool to find out important information ahead of time so I can spend more time enjoying a place once I'm there. It's especially useful when you're traveling in "developed countries" where things tend to be more predictable and exactly as they claim to be.

8. After living in the UK, Germany and Spain and traveling to Iceland and Mexico, are there certain themes that you find yourself looking to translate through painting or poetry?
Balance. We need a little bit of everything, and every country has a different bit to offer if we open ourselves to it.

9. What qualities do you feel should a global Filipina backpacker/ budget traveler have?
Determination—Know what you want and find creative ways to get it. Just because someone tells you it can’t be done doesn’t mean it can't be done. You’ll be amazed at how far your faith can take you with your limited resources.

Curiosity—Don't be afraid to ask questions and to take the road less traveled. My philosophy has always been: if I already know which way a road leads, why should I take it again? I’d rather explore new ways to get to my destination, because that’s how I stumble upon wonderful discoveries without having to take expensive, rushed tours. But of course, always trust your intuition when it comes to safety!

Fun—Don’t worry too much about your budget! Remember that the cheapest deals don’t always mean the best value for your money or, more importantly, your time. In the end, what matters is that you get to fully enjoy what the place has to offer—sights, food, crafts, culture, people, experiences—because you never know when (if ever) you’ll pass that way again. So spend that little extra to get the best experience ever.

10. If the world would listen to you for fifteen seconds, what would you say?
Choose your path, have faith that everything will work out, and just flow. Learn as much as you can from your journey. Be grateful for every encounter that you have, whether with person, place, or stone. We are all part of the same universe, and nothing is ever accidental.

I’d have to say that Jeneen is a woman ahead of her time. Seldom do I meet a Filipina who perfectly marries the arts and sciences and throw caution to the wind like she does.  

Follow Jeneen’s adventures in The Earth-bound Adventures of the Lost and Found at

*You've just read 10 questions: Happy Mondays playpool, second of a series of features on discerning and inspiring (and of course uniquely silly) Filipino travelers. If you know of somebody who fits the profile to a T, please shoot a message at

*all photos courtesy: Jeneen Garcia


  1. This is really inspiring. Stories and people like Jeneen makes me proud to be Pinay---no kidding. I once met a French guy while on a safari trip in Uganda, and upon learning I'm Filipina, he exclaimed, "Wow, every Filipina I've met are adventurous, daring, but sweet and caring at the same time. I hope our women are like you." So ayon, nag-blush tuloy akech!

    1. very lovely to hear how you new breed of Pinays are totally changing how the world perceives the Filipina. keep them inspired, Reiza!

  2. wow.... hay.... someday... I like that.... =)

    1. someday begins today, ian :)
      may all your dreams come true. cheers!

  3. ^_^ Ive met another Erasmus Mundus scholar gypsetting in Bohol lately.. coincidence? :D

    1. awesome word you coined in there: gypsetting! hihihi
      happy travels, grasya.

  4. erasmus mundus!!!- praying and hoping :) inspiring talaga

    1. glad you are inspired :)
      sa susunod, baka ikaw na ang tatahak sa europe for a grant...

  5. i met jeneen at a writers' workshop in romblon. her adventurous spirit, gift for words, and open mindedness are inspiring. we've remained friends online since as we both have moved far from cebu. 'til we meet again jeneen, keep rockin!

    1. here's to more adventures and inspiring stories, henryl. sa susunod, ikaw na. cheers!

  6. Wow 21 countries. I hope I'll get the chance to travel like that too. Andalucia = The Alchemist = One of the places in my bucket list!

    1. wow! andami na nating may andalucia sa bucket list! i will have to work harder now for the anda! hihihi

  7. i knew her she definitely an interesting person!!


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