As you know, last month I spent 10 days at a Buddhist retreat in southern Thailand. When you have nothing to do but sit quietly for 240 hours you tend to take a good look at your life. You have time to think about what you have done in the past and what you want to do going forward. The idea of the retreat was to focus on the present and not the past or future but it's really hard to do that so I ended up doing a lot of both.
Most people avoid introspection for fear of facing the truth. We tend to just move forward with what we are doing because most can't really change things so why bother thinking about it. The problem is that if you don't take a little time to reflect life races by and you just continue doing what you are doing because you either don't have a choice, you don't like change or you are in a comfort zone where things are neither too good nor too bad. The alternatives could be better but also could be worse so the status quo is just fine.
When the retreat ended I kept on doing what I was doing, biking south because that is the route I had planned but I had some nagging doubts that have been with me for some time. Last May I spent a month in Bangkok and then left to volunteer at the orphanage in the Philippines. I had thought a lot about moving back to Thailand but circumstances made that the wrong choice and with many regrets had to think of alternatives. I then thought of staying in Manila but really wasn't sure about what to do there. The orphanage was in a really dangerous part of town and I would not feel comfortable going there every day when people can anticipate my arrival and departure. A foreigner in that part of the city is a big and easy target.
The final option was to continue my bike trip. That was the easy choice because I have become expert at avoiding going back to work and because of my love for travel and adventure. I flew back to Bangkok and once again my heart was tugging at me to stay but I moved on and headed off to Cambodia and then down south to Malaysia. The few weeks I biked after the retreat were spent in a beautiful and isolated part of the country but the nagging doubts I first encountered at the retreat surfaced again.
The doubts were not about biking but trying to establish a reason for my trip. When I first started my goal was simple, to bike to the Philippines and volunteer at an orphanage. It didn't matter how many hard days I had or how many wonderful experiences because that constant was always there, something to look forward to and aim towards. I didn't have a time limit or a specific route in mind but knew that my purpose was to get to the orphanage and then spend time with less fortunate kids. It kept me motivated and excited everyday.
Since I started again in February I have lost that purpose. When you bike on your own, every part of every day is about you. You think about where to sleep, where to eat, what roads to take, which countries to go to, how to cross borders or get visas and the entire day is consumed by meeting your needs. It is very simple and enjoyable but it is also very self-centered. It is wonderful to experience that freedom to see the world but for me it is not something I want to do forever. There has to be a time limit or objective in mind. Maybe it is the goal oriented mindset of the western world I grew up in but the idea of just wandering around without any plan in mind is quite unsettling. If I had a set route and set end point I think I would be more settled and just move forward but until I establish that it is best for me to stop.
I decided to go back to the Philippines and continue working at an orphanage for now. I will be moving to Davao on the southern island of Mindanao on May 20th. The orphanage I worked at before in Tacloban City was the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Theresa's organization) and they have a branch there. It is a city larger than Tacloban so has more to offer but its also far smaller than Manila so not as chaotic. The orphanage has about 40 children and so is similar to the one I worked at before and with the same age group and they are in need of volunteers, particularly males.
I am not sure how long I will be there and if I will continue my bike trip later. If I do bike again I will have a specific destination or purpose in mind and not just go for the sake of travel.
I will not make further updates to the website but can be reached via e-mail or on Facebook for those interested in the orphanage. I will give periodic updates via e-mail. Once again, thank you to everyone who supported me with words of encouragement over the last 1.5 years and I will advise everyone if my bike trip continues at a later date.