“Is that because of us?” was Nix’s question after telling her how I ended up not scratching anything off my bucket list when I visited Chiang Mai, Thailand. Nix Nicolas is a co-founder of Save Philippine Seas (SPS).
“Yes,” I replied with an unblinking stare.
The month before, I found myself reluctant to try some of the most popular tours and attractions in Chiang Mai because I just could not bear to ignore the guilt, knowing the background of the animals involved. Like many kids, the young me dreamed of riding an elephant and having a close encounter with a tiger. Chiang Mai presented those opportunities, a fulfillment of childhood dreams. Yet I had to let it pass.
I wasn’t always like this. Just three years ago, I had a fantastic time at Hong Kong Ocean Park. I saw turtles and dolphins and sea lions up close. When I visited some islands and snorkeling sites in Palawan and our tour guide suggested that we feed the fish with bread, I gladly did without question. I was happy that there were so many fish heading my way, swimming closer. I enjoyed zoos and oceanariums. But as it turned out, it was the kind of bliss that only ignorance can deliver.
Looking back, those fun memories have transformed to guilty ones.
Last year, my teammates at PhilippineBeaches.org and I met with Save Philippine Seas (SPS) and Earth Island Institute Philippines (EIIP). There wasn’t any project then. We just wanted to learn.
I remember that meeting with Anna Oposa of SPS. “We’re not a non-profit organization. We’re just a group of bloggers,” I told her. “But we want to be educated.” I went on telling her how I used to love picking up starfish and collecting them at the beach and playing with them and the many awful things I had done in the past because I was not aware, and how we wish to end it by being more informed. Something that their group could help us with.
Nix and Anna of SPS and Ella of EIIP introduced us and connected us to many experts in the fields of marine wildlife conservation and environment protection as a whole. As the days pass, I learn more and more about what they’re fighting for. I was slowly getting more familiar with what’s legal and illegal, what’s right and wrong, what’s legal but wrong, and what’s downright cruel. The more information they share with me, the more I become sensitive to the fact that the world is not just all about humans, not all about fun.
Nix said on this blog post, “Since becoming a conservationist, I’ve turned into a slightly more stressed out traveler. Instead of enjoying and discovering new experiences while traveling, I’ve become quick to see what is wrong. Instead of recounting the wonderful things I see, I recount the violations I noticed. I’ve really ruined the ‘tourist experience’ for myself.”
I feel the same although I don’t think I ruined it for myself. I believe my kind of fun has shifted. It changes how you travel and how you see the world, and it pushes you to find fun in the more eco-friendly options. You still want to see sharks but you want to see them in their natural habitats. You still want to interact with elephants but you don’t want to ride them anymore, just help contribute to their rescue and rehabilitation. You still want to snorkel but you learn to be satisfied with simply watching them from a good distance.
I’m still a work in progress for I still have so much to learn. But one thing that I have come to embrace is that when you ask, you learn, and when you learn, the better you understand the world. With proper understanding, the things you used to enjoy stop being fun and start becoming painful — difficult to watch and almost impossible to repeat. When you feel for the earth and its joys and pains, you become open to new, far greater adventures — more fun adventures — that this world has to offer.