“THE use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine
Felicitas de Vera is almost 80 years old, yet her zest for life would make her pass for much younger. She lives in Oxnard, California.
Would you believe that she just joined a bandurria group at 78 years old, and with her visible joy, encouraged others to pick up an instrument?
Punctuated by a heart-shaped pigment on her right cheek, she greets you with warmth and simple elegance. Not the flamboyant type, but an innate elegance of the yesteryears wearing her royal blue kimona, a Filipina casual terno, and eating one of her favorites, halo-halo.
“I eat whatever I want to,“ she said, “at my age, I am free to do what I want,” and finished it.
Halo-halo is shaved ice adorned with purple yam halaya, leche flan, ube and black walnut ice cream with sweetened fruits and rice crispies.
7 continents and Asian Journal’s travel ad
Halo-halo travel is the metaphor we will use, as she has connected with diverse cultures, multiple ages, different personalities, and multiple languages, exposed to different foods, fruits, produce, in her travels to seven continents around the world.
Would you believe that even her grandsons spent a day with her in Disneyland, exploring rides? That she has actually gone to the Disneylands in Paris and Hong Kong?
Her latest trip took her for a month cruise to Antarctica with Crystal Serenity. She recalls seeing glaciers, mountains of ice, spanning for miles, and passing through Elephant Island, described as “an ice-covered mountainous island off the coast of Antarctica in the outer reaches of the South Shetland Islands, in the Southern Ocean. We were told that Vera and I were the only Filipino guests on the cruise (the majority of the crew is Filipino).”
In Egypt, she saw the Sphinx and rode a camel. At first, she was afraid, but then, overcame her fear, sat on the saddle and held onto the wood posts. While the camel moved, she kept thinking she might fall, but instead, she shouldered on.
In Australia, she saw the Sydney Opera House and loved their “malalaking hipon” (large shrimps).
In one of her travels, she was with a group, the youngest was 37 years old, who came up to her and said, “You inspire us as you do not complain even as we walked on cobblestones.”
Her secret: “I do not want to be a hindrance to the group.”
How did the travel bug bit you, I asked? “It all started when Vera, her third child, joined an essay contest and won a trip to Japan. “I like to go. I told her. My first daughter, Susan, had just given birth, wanted to go . But I told her she’s still young and has plenty of time to travel in the future so I should be the one to go because I’m already old and should take advantage of going with Vera to Japan.”
In Japan, she was thrilled to see that their homes were more than the shoji paper walls depicted in the movies.
“Their houses were made of tiles, wood, clay and more. Every time the young people [would] go out, I went with them. I just like to meet people,” she said.
One day, she read ads in the Asian Journal about travel to Europe. She took the trip with Prima (her youngest) to eight countries: Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, and Netherlands. She was quite impressed by their architecture, but “food not as much,” and she noted pizza and spaghetti taste
much better in Los Angeles. She loved the frescoes and the Sistine Chapel in Rome, but mostly, folks were kind.
Now a widow, she appreciates traveling with her children, “as they are seeing what I am seeing.” She singled out Vera (known to this writer from volunteer years with non-profits), as the one who checks on her daily, wherever her travels may take her.
For the last two decades, Felicitas visited all seven continents (Asia, Australia, Africa, Antartica, North America, South America and Europe), 4 territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, Wake Island and Falkland Islands for the U.K.).
In North America, she has been to 30 states out of 50, and 30 countries around the world and multiple times to the Philippines.
Recently, she went to Cuba. “Cuba is nice, it is different from what I heard, communist and poor. It was so impressive with palaces, mansions, cultural buildings. Instead of the tour bus, one evening, the tour guide rented four classic American cars and our group took turns riding in each car.”
She made new friends, listened to music in the nightclubs, accompanied by her three children, “who were happy to be with me, they saw what I saw, and we celebrated Prima’s birthday.”
When the waiter asked her how many cigars she would like to have as souvenirs, she said “three, one for each of my boyfriends,” eliciting a laugh from the group she was with.
She affirmed herself, “It is true I still have it,” to which she explains, “I believe I still have “it” ‘coz at my age, I noticed men still get attracted to me.”
Her reflections about life and worldwide travel:
1. “Enjoy as a pilgrim to Holy Land, not as a tourist. In every country, behave and be considerate of others, as part of a group. In Russia, I realized how lucky I am to live in the US where there is “freedom of everything,” e.g., freedom of speech, and quality of life is better than any country I went to.”
2. “Follow the regulations at the airport, do not bring overweight luggage.”
3. “Enjoy all the amenities [on] the cruise ship, in the last cruise Crystal Serenity, I went to a show every night. I saved to do this cruise. I was with Vera and we were the only two Filipinos in this cruise and they treated us like a queen.”
4. “There’s so much to be learned: Spanish classes, U.S. Presidents, Antarctica history.”
5. Don’t worry — whether you worry or not, it will still be the same.”
6. Don’t smoke.”
7. “Walk at the nearby park every morning. Three men showed interest and tried to befriend me but I told them, I only walk for health and medical reasons and not to find a boyfriend.”
8. “Once or twice a week, I sing karaoke with some friends. I love life. Last year, I took bandurria lessons and soon became a member of the bandurria group in Oxnard. I also like to dance the cha-cha and tango.”
9. “I like to be happy. I have a hat that says, “Don’t marry, be happy.”
10. “As a grandma and a mom, I respect the privacy of my children. I don’t tell them what to do.”
Her name means happiness and her children attest as to how her identity is informed by her state of mind, i.e., embracing life’s goodness, and with that, choosing to be happy.
She counts her blessings as her children: Susan, a physical therapist; Don, a casino dealer; Vera, a retired foundation staffer with a law degree; and Prima, a massage therapist with a nursing degree, and her grandsons, Erik who is graduating from UC Irvine this June while Ryan is taking environmental engineering at UC San Diego.
She was married for 48 years to Vicente de Vera, who took good care of the family and especially her grandchildren, while she was still working as the department head’s Office Manager at Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station. She later retired after 17 years of service. Prior to that civil service, she worked for 12 years at Becton and Dickinson (Falcon Plastics).
If Felicitas were a book, it would have numerous pages a bout seven continents, four territories, 30 states in the U.S.A, and 30 countries around the world.
Instead of relying on her imagination, she designed her retired life on experiencing the actual lives of folks, immersing in their realities.
Would you invest in knowing the real world, like Felicitas has done at her ripe age of 79 years old? Or would you be content to simply watch the news on CNN, ABS-CBN, MSNBC, and telenovelas?
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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.