Sunday, March 01, 2009

Art of Backpacking Across Asia

(Published Feb. 28, PDI-Super)
Robert Alejandro documents his travels in his inimitable way
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

TV host and graphic artist Robert Alejandro conducted sketching workshops last October as part of the Pinoy Backpack Festival at the Trinoma. His illustrated book, documenting his journeys as a backpacker across Asia, was also launched during the event.

“The Sketching Backpacker,” a tome collecting vivid journal entries while trekking with friends, is also a handy companion to backpackers who wish to discover the region’s scenic destinations, historic landmarks, and unique bargains.

Alejandro learned how to make his tight P50,000 budget fit in a span of ten weeks. Nine countries and priceless memories later, he’s glad that the experience was one he shared with fellow enthusiastic travelers, Pinoy and foreign.

“The best thing about it is making friends,” he says. “So you get to learn about the different cultures through the people. It’s so different, when you make friends through the backpack trip, kasi ang tagal ninyo magkasama. Ang Filipino parating nagtuturo ng kung anu-ano sa mga foreigners. And I remember trekking across Chiang Mai. Kapag naghihirap kayo, sabay-sabay kayo.

“The Sketching Backpacker,” which features Alejandro’s more intricate art style, is filled with black and white candid portraits of people he met in trains, buses, boats, hostels and beaches. There are detailed freehand drawings of old architecture and street scenes in Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, and Singapore, among other places.

Whenever his fellow backpackers looked around, he’d stay behind to do sketches of his surroundings. He only brought with him a few art materials, which he used up quickly.

“Ang galing naman ng gel pens,” he raves. “Before, I used tech pens to draw. Now, gel pens are perfect! I can buy them anywhere. And I would always buy paper. Wherever I go, I’d always say ‘I need to buy paper!’ I would buy along the way.”

The book also lists key local words and their English translations, as well some of the more affordable backpackers’ inns, meals and transportation fares.

Alejandro found himself soaking up different cultures and thoroughly enjoying a non-stop adventure, but he always kept in touch with loved ones back home.

“I would always call my parents and ask if they’re okay. But other than that, I remember telling myself, ‘Wow, I completely forgot how it was like in Manila,’ and that was the best thing, honestly. It was sad that we were going home, but almost three months? Busog na busog ka na rin noon!”

And the sketching traveler can’t wait to do it again. The life-changing trips taught him and his fellow backpackers some valuable lessons.

“There’s so much to look at. We were just looking at ourselves and we thought, ‘This is it!’ The world is so much bigger. I feel passionate about sharing this. Two of my travel mates, it was their first time to do this and it completely changed their outlook. I think it would be good for fellow Pinoys. It would make them more open-minded if they could do this.”

“The Sketching Backpacker” is available at Travel Club stores.

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