The beginning of another journey in Latin America
7 years ago, I went on a Journey to Latin America. I was actually going through a hard time (well, who wasn’t) as the 23-year old in me was so confused about life. I was in the middle of a study abroad program in Italy when something hit me – where am I headed?
At the time, it was a question for most people my age. Nobody knew what they were doing in their life but not everyone is doing something to change that. I did not want to be one of those always hanging with ‘what if’ thoughts so I did something about it. For three and a half years, I traveled to all countries in South America without going back home. Along the way, I found my homes in Peru, Brasil, Colombia, Bolivia – it was so easy for me to adjust to the Latin lifestyle because I love it. I really really love it.
After that, I traveled to the Middle East and went back to my home country, the Philippines. I found myself not liking my current circumstance so, after a year, I decided to leave again. The Philippines, although beautiful by all means, is not somewhere I see myself living in.
I woke up one day realizing that horrific truth, and that I should do something about it. I swear to you, this is exactly how it happened: I went out of bed with a heavy heart, opened my laptop and book a flight to Mexico. Most of the flights I saw were quite expensive so I asked my friend who’s a travel agent to look for something cheaper. As soon as both of us agreed with the price, he booked it. It was confirmed.
Preparations for Mexico
I don’t have a lot of things as I packed my house in the Philippines a month prior. I was just there because of some unfinished businesses and side gigs. For me, booking a ticket is final, most especially if it’s as expensive as that of Mexico. I knew I will not leave if I don’t have the ticket. It’s always going to be, “I’m going next month” and that cycle never ends.
You may find it odd why I had a hard time leaving the Philippines but I was scared. I have been so comfortable living there even if I didn’t like it. My family lives 60 steps away from me and that includes my extended family (aunties, cousins, etc). It was a life of convenience and I don’t know if I’d ever learn to be on my own again. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be like when I traveled to South America — very difficult but ended up pretty well. There were many uncertainties but what can I do if the ticket has already been booked? It’s quite a good motivation and I tell you that you should do it. If you don’t know when to leave but you’re sure that you’re leaving, set a date. That will push you to move and face it.
The only thing I needed to prepare for is a Chinese visa. My flight goes from Manila – Beijing – Tijuana – Mexico City and I am required to transfer terminals in Beijing. Some said I can get a 24-hour visa on arrival in Beijing. Others said I have to apply for it in advance. Just to be sure, I applied for it in Manila. Since it was only a transit visa, the requirements are pretty simple. I just needed to submit my valid passport and the flight itinerary. After 3 days, I got a 10-day single entry visa to China even if I was only staying 5 hours at Beijing International Airport.
I bought a nicer backpack because the one I used in South America already rested in peace. To be honest, I am not sure if I will “backpack” or “luggage” because I’ve changed so much in terms of taking care of myself through the years. For example, in my young backpacking days, I didn’t have any product to take care of my skin and body. Shampoo and conditioners were even shared among my friends whom I met while traveling. There is always a strong feeling of invincibility when you’re young. I always felt my skin will take care of itself.
Then I reached 30. And all the obvious fruits of not taking care of my body emerged. There is a huge difference between backpacking in your 20’s and backpacking in your 30’s and I never understood that until it happened to me. I started using all these “organic” products that promised to make my skin younger. Hmmm, about that — we’ll see.
Anyway, I was in the middle of packing for Mexico when I realized a 60L backpack will not do the trick. It doesn’t fit anything! I looked at it for a good 30 seconds and I said, “that’s it. I’m luggaging.”
Luggaging. What a term. The next posts shouldn’t be “backpacking in (insert country here) but “luggaging in Mexico” instead. I thought about it by shutting my eyes and revisiting the Latin American terrain in my mind: it’s not so bad. I will be moving once a month only as I plan to stay in each place I visit for 30 days. It wouldn’t be so bad. At least I convinced myself it’s not that bad.
The road to Beijing
Nobody was sure if I needed a visa to stop in China for 5 hours. Not even the Chinese Embassy or the not so helpful call center agent of the airline I was flying with. When I approached the check-in counter, they weren’t sure if my bag was going straight to Mexico City or I have to re-check it in Beijing. The ground steward put the tag on my bag and it said “Mexico City.” I was once in a 3-stop flight from Dubai to Israel. Imagine, I had to stop in Europe just because these two countries, no matter how close, do not share the airways. I had to wait for my luggage for a week. When I flew from Brazil to Panama on a direct flight, they still lost my luggage. It always happens to me when it’s a super long flight.
But of course, I do know my rights as an airline passenger, as stated on Airhelp. I do have my travel insurance but in my experience, these airlines don’t really pay for the days that the luggage is not with you. In those cases that I lost my pieces of luggage, I have to buy clothes until they reach me. It never takes a week but still, these were unexpected expenses for me.
I had a feeling it will happen to this flight so I clarified over and over again: “my luggage is going straight to Mexico City, right? I don’t need to re-check it in Beijing?” As if repeating it to the steward will make a difference but based on experience, I really need to ask this question multiple times.
“Yes, madam. Don’t worry.”
“And what if my luggage gets lost? Will you pay for the days that I won’t have my belongings?”
The steward looked at me with a smile. That means no.
I was pretty confident when I arrived in Beijing. I have a visa so there’s no way that I’m not going to be allowed to board to my next flight. At the line, a Filipina looked confused. She asked me if we need a visa to change terminals in Beijing. I said yes even if I wasn’t exactly sure if we really do. I just did what I was told. She left the line and looked for a ground steward who will attend to her. I never knew what happened to her. Her flight was departing before mine so I really hope she was able to figure it out.
It wasn’t so clear where will I go. I was just sure I needed to change terminals. I had to pass by immigration and take a train to the luggage collection. I knew it was okay for me not to take my luggage but after that door, I didn’t know where else to go! There was a big sign that said “free shuttle service to terminals” but it did not point me to any direction. I tried to ask around and nobody spoke English. Even if I pointed it to the big sign, they didn’t get what I was asking. They are airport employees and I don’t think they can read English. So as usual, I needed to find my way on my own. I googled and found out that the free shuttle service to other terminals at Beijing International Airport is located at door 5. I made it. It wasn’t that difficult.
I thought the 17-hour flight would be torture but I kindly asked the ground stewardess to put me in the exit row. To my surprise, she did it without hesitation! I had a very comfortable direct flight from Beijing to Tijuana. And it doesn’t end there. From TJ, I will have another 3-hour flight to my last destination, Mexico City.
Welcome to Tijuana
Manu Chao’s Welcome to Tijuana song was playing in my head as soon as I arrived Tijuana, my first port of entry in Mexico. The song has a pueblo-ish tone but funny enough, I did not feel that in the airport. It looked like a normal city to me. Like Manila but a little peaceful. Oh no, it wasn’t that organized. In TJ, I realized the perks of being on an all-Chinese flight. They will always be herded by a shepherd. This flight of mine was like a tour group where everyone is assisted where to go, what to sign, what to fill up, where to fall in line, etc. Any assistance you could possibly think of was given to the Chinese. Being part of that flight, I also benefited from those “perks.”
In reality, Philippine passport holders like me require to apply for a visa at the Mexican Embassy prior to arrival. However, I read somewhere that I if I have a valid, multiple entry visa from Japan, USA, Canada or Schengen, I can enter Mexico freely. I have a 5-year Japanese visa but I haven’t tried entering Mexico with it as I was given a real Mexican visa when I first visited. It was a little intense: what if they don’t let me in?
I didn’t enter with the Chinese group but the immigration stamped my passport with ease. She was so angry before I arrived at the line because the Chinese people were using their mobile phones in line. I am not sure if they didn’t understand the numerous shouts and warnings to keep their phones but they continued using it no matter what. I don’t think they cared? Finally, another officer approached our line and proclaimed his anger to the Chinese: “this is my last warning. If you don’t keep your phones, I will send you back to China. And I’m serious!” He sounded pretty pissed. It’s only in Mexico where I saw someone stand up to the Chinese like that. They normally have something to say. This time, they kept their phones.
Mexico City: the arrival
I would write “I can’t believe I am finally here” but my mind says I do believe I am already in Mexico. You see, when I want something, I do anything to make that happen. I just need to be next to that “want.”
During the long flight, I was so stressed about adjusting to the 12-hour time difference from Asia but when I arrived, I did not feel any jetlag at all. I remembered when I came from Peru to Indonesia and was jetlagged for life. I kinda blame that for my bad sleeping habits in Asia as it never changed. I was always jetlagged.
This time, I was okay. I arrived at my hotel at 22:00, took a long shower and immediately went to sleep. The next day, I woke up at 7:00, ready to get back to work and see Mexico City at my own pace. My goal in Mexico is to have a different lifestyle (a healthier for that matter).
I am starting to be close to myself and part of the goal of traveling to Mexico is to listen to what my body needs – physically, emotionally, mentally.
I’m going to be here for quite a while so if you want to follow along, Instagram stories are always updated!