“Welcome to Brazil!” I screamed at my mother upon seeing her at the Rio de Janeiro airport after her 16-hour flight from the Middle East.
I was filled with a weird combination of overwhelming feelings at seeing my mom for the first time in almost three years. I remembered how I felt back in December 2012 when she sent me off at the airport on my one way flight to Kurdistan, Iraq, to start my journey which led me to traveling around the world, meeting my life partner and getting engaged just weeks ago.
My mother has made me the world traveler I am today after raising me to explore, to be independent and to question everything around me. Last year, I told her that it was about time for me to repay her, by showing her what the world has taught me in two years of travel.
It’s taken a year of preparation and persuasion for my mother to finally decide to join me and Jonathan on a backpacking trip around South America. My mom rarely traveled when she was younger as she dedicated most of her life to raising me and my two younger siblings. She’s currently working as an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) in the Middle East.
Now that my sister and I both have our degrees and my younger brother is studying full-time being supported by my father, it’s finally time for my mother to begin her traveling journey.
Turning 50 years old next year, I told her that it’s never too late to explore the world, conquer her fears and pursue the passions that she neglected in order to prioritize her children. This is her time!
South America backpacking route
When I was younger, due to various events in life, we experienced unsettling moves between different apartments and schools from time to time, never having long-term friends because we kept relocating. I was confused about my life and couldn’t understand why we couldn’t have the same stable lifestyle as my classmates. We lived in small rooms, a small apartment, sometimes in our relatives’ houses.
This was not always an ideal situation to grow up in, but my mother always made sure that we had everything we needed and worked hard for us to have the best opportunities in life.
One great gift that came from our childhood is adaptability, easily moving from one place to the next, meeting people and making new friends wherever we go. As we start our backpacking journey together around Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, I know that my mother can easily cope with staying in shared dorm beds, apartments and hotels from time to time while moving around.
Both having Filipino passports, all of these 5 countries are visa-free for us, so we’ll be taking buses and public transportation to cross different borders and maybe try out some hitchhiking in between!
Conquering her fears
My mom has a lot of fears that I never even knew about until I started university. She always tried to make sure that we only saw how brave she is, because she didn’t want to pass her own fears on to us. In fact, I only recently noticed that my “Wonderwoman Mom” is afraid of heights, the ocean or even being alone in a crowded place!
She flew on her own from the Middle East to Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian immigration official even stopped and questioned her about why she’s traveling alone – she explained that she was going backpacking and her daughter (me) was waiting for her in the arrivals area. Prepared as always, she had all of her OFW documents ready to prove that her sole purpose is to travel around Brazil and South America!
MOTHER AND DAUGHTER. Together again after three years. (Photo: Kach Medina)
Before she left the Middle East, I asked her about her bucket list, and she found it funny and weird for a person her age to start writing a bucket list that she still thinks is impossible to achieve.
On her list, she wrote, Christ the Redeemer, Iguassu Falls and Machu Picchu among others. So you can only imagine how happy she was as we stepped down from the little train and climbed the final few steps to the peak of the Corcovado Mountain, standing 700 meters high in the Tijuca Forest National Park overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro.
As a devoted Catholic, it has long been her dream to stand in front of the 38-meter high statue of Jesus Christ, his arms open wide as a symbol of enduring peace. She spent over an hour exploring the magnificent statue from different angles and taking in the glorious panoramic views in all directions; mountains, and dense forests, which seem to wrap the city in a thick blanket to the North, while the cool Atlantic Ocean bathed its shore gently from the South.
As we sat down later that night, we asked her how she felt about her first couple of days in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s been amazing in so many ways. I’ve seen my oldest daughter after two and a half years, I’ve met my soon-to-be son-in-law and I’ve done two things that I never thought I would do in my life, in a place I never thought I would have the chance to see. What’s even more incredible is that this is just the beginning – we still have almost two months and four more countries to go!” she said.
I finally feel like I’m giving something back to the woman who has given so much to me, and still does every day. It makes me so happy, not just to see my mother again after so long, but to see her living life the way she deserves; enjoying every moment, stepping out of her comfort zone, yet so completely in her element.
What’s next for my mom’s journey of a lifetime? We’re going to help her face one of her greatest fears – Heights!
Then we’re going to take a DIY road trip along the coast of Brazil and a hop on, hop off bus all on the way to Iguazu Falls – a giant series of waterfalls which sits across the Brazilian / Argentine border – with some more adrenaline-fueled adventure thrown in as well. We will then cross the border from Brazil to Bolivia, on foot, for her to experience traditional Quechua culture of Bolivia, before heading to Peru to trek to Machu Picchu.
If you’re a daughter or a son, then maybe it’s about time to give back to your parents? Instead of buying her a brand new TV, why not travel together to a faraway land and make memories that will last forever? It’s #NeverTooLate.
This story was first published in Rappler.com, a Manila-based social news network where stories inspire community engagement and digitally fuelled actions for social change.