I crave experiences that give me goose bumps.

When I think of my favorite plane ride, I think of peering down at land that looks like molded clay; mountains rising in the center of islands, trees like little stalks of broccoli, and dry brown grass contrasted against moist tropical leaves.

While the plane dipped lower, what seemed like little blurry boxes come more and more into view. I saw that the little boxes were a sprawling, chaotic network of houses and buildings, as if the gods sprinkled houses on the ground like shaking sugar onto a cake.

This city, even from a plane, was wide and smoggy – stretching farther than I’ve ever seen a city stretch before.

I come from a very populated land: the east coast of the U.S. is a place where city blends into suburbs, and you can’t drive long without hitting another city. My mom’s family is from Panama City, Panama, which is growing so fast that there are new roads and buildings every time we visit our family there. But this big metropolis was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I crammed my face against the window and watched as the blue, red, green topped buildings appeared closer and closer.

As I felt and heard the plane’s wheels unfurl in preparation for landing, I got that feeling of smallness – of being tiny on this planet filled with people, plants, animals, mountains, rivers, and oceans I’ve never seen before. Feeling this sense of smallness gave me a tingle, and I smiled as I stepped off the plane into Manila, Philippines.

I traveled in the Philippines by myself for about eight days towards end of my university study abroad program in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I was learning about sustainable agriculture and environmental issues.

My first stop being Manila, I found my two days there wonderfully overwhelming. While some have described the city as too intense, I reveled in the different and new smells and sounds around me.

On my first day, I spent a few hours turning at random street corners just to see what I could see, with no destination in mind.

This is how I stumbled upon an alleyway teeming with life. Children ran around chasing each other with their parents comfortably watching from small, dusty homes. In front of each house there was a stand filled with vegetables, fish, small plastic toys, or women’s accessories. As I passed through, I felt invasive – these people all knew each other, were yelling familiar greetings, picking up children and ducking in and out of houses in which I could see piles of blankets and small TVs.

While this scene struck me with an intense recognition of our common humanity, I also noted some strange looks. I imagined their thoughts – how did this tourist find her way into our neighborhood? No one’s eyes were hostile, but I felt that I was disturbing a certain intimacy, and I ducked out of the alleyway as soon as I saw a larger road.

I love traveling. It reminds me of so many wonderful things – my inherent connection to other humans, the big, bursting beauty and diversity of our earth, and the truth that no one persons’ way of life, culture, or background is better than another’s. But traveling with my eyes open also shows me the realities of the glaring wealth inequality that plagues the whole world; the accident of birth that people like me were born into a country that has advantage over others.

To see and understand this imbalance makes us responsible for doing something to combat such inequality.

Because my passions are for conservation and combating climate change, I know that it is important to understand the ways that the changing climate will disproportionately affect those who live in island nations and cities like Manila. Where will these people go if they experience extreme, catastrophic weather? What will become of these bright, vibrant, haphazard homes if the sea level rises?

The rest of my trip to the Philippines was spend on the island of Coron. The heart and soul of the place is palpable, with the small, bustling port area quickly opening up into bumpy, pot-hole-filled roads leading up sloping mountains.

I spent my days scuba diving and exploring on the more remote sides of the island, getting to do what I love: watching the coral reefs abounding with life.

Small fish darted in and out the reef, while shadows of larger fish passed over anemones and sea fans as if they were watching over the kingdom. I couldn’t help being reminded of my morning of the alleyway back in Manila, with children and adults darting in and out of homes and trading the daily news. Thinking of this busy reef with the busy city, I felt the familiar tingle of goose bumps on my arm.

Smiling down at the fish through my mask, I silently thanked them for teaching me a new way to think of how life on this planet is connected, and reminding me of the ways that humans and the natural world can, and should, live in harmony.

  • Bianca Bowman
  • : Bianca is a student, graduating from university in May 2020 with a Bachelor's in Environmental Science & Policy and a Bachelor's in English Language and Literature. She is passionate about conservation, climate justice, and advocating for equality. Much of her work experience has involved environmental education with students ranging from kindergarten to high school, and her research experience includes Biosphere Reserve advocacy and citizen science outreach. She hopes to work in the field of science communications, environmental advocacy, or environmental education. After graduation, she will be doing what she loves most: traveling, writing, and looking for jobs.
  • : https://biancasalwaysmoving.blogspot.com/
  • : https://www.instagram.com/biancaluvs.theearth/
  • : Bianca's blog and instagram are focused on all kinds of sustainability and earth-focused information. Check out the instagram if you're interested in learning more about non-toxic, environmentally and body friendly products that Bianca tries out and posts about, as well as ways to support more sustainable living. Check out her blog for science-based and opinion-based posts about the climate, environment, travel, and her research!
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  • : This is the first time this story has been published.