After being laid off from work in 2013, Marco Puzon had no idea what to do next with all the free time he has on his hands. He began to wonder if there was already a Filipino who had attempted to visit all of the country’s towns and cities.

Across 17 regions and 82 provinces in the Philippines, there are 148 cities and 1,486 towns, for a total of 1,634 according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

This became Puzon’s goal, and in March of the same year, he set out for the town of San Idelfonso in the province of Bulacan to begin his journey.

“I was laid off from work back in 2013 and had no idea what to do next. Sabi ko, why don’t I go around? Actually, yong 81 province don ay nagawa ko na pero kulang pa lang,” he said.

“Sabi ko may nakagawa na kaya ng provincial, municipal or city-level? Sabi ko sige nga, subukan kong gawin. Since wala pa nakakagawa non, tinuloy-tuloy ko na,” he added.

His itinerary ended up encompassing not just Luzon but also the rest of the Philippines, from the Visayas to Mindanao. He visited 22 of the 23 cities, including the highly-urbanized Puerto Princesa City, the capital of Palawan.

With so many distinct cities and provinces to choose from, it’s difficult for Puzon to decide which is his favorite. He treated each town and city differently after spending a decade traversing the country.

The Great Kalayaan Expedition
As the pandemic spread, his journeys to the final six towns of his goal became more difficult. He recognized that if completing his aim was no longer attainable, he would be happy with it.

The most difficult aspect was figuring out how to get to Kalayaan, which is an island municipality located in the contested waters of the West Philippine Sea as a result of tensions between claimant countries Philippines and China.

He thought it’s a trip that’s going to be unlikely, considering its distance.

“At yong Kalayaan nga parang ang hirap puntahan. There’s no way to go there. So parang at [some] point, tinanggap ko na okay na—1,633 out of 1,634 that’s okay na kung hindi na mapupuntahan,” he said.

When he learnt about the Kalayaan Islands Tourism Agents Cooperative’s The Great Kalayaan Expedition, he jumped at the chance and joined the journey from March 16 to 21.

He is one of 32 individuals to receive the opportunity to visit the islands of Lawak, Patag, Likas, and Pag-asa as part of Kalayaan’s promotion of adventure tourism.

Due to the distance, Puzon believes Kalayaan to be one of the most difficult yet unforgettable travels he has had in the last 10 years. The island settlement is 277 kilometers from the province’s capital, Puerto Princesa.

“Siguro ang pinakamagandang experience ko doon ay I joined the flag-raising ceremony at nakanta ko ang ating pambansang awit sa Pag-asa. Para sa akin ay highlight ‘yon,” he said.

He believed that every place has a perfect timing to visit like what he had in Kalayaan town.

10 years of traveling
It was the nature of his employment in the business world that required him to travel on occasion over the course of a decade. He took use of every chance he had while in the area to go around and become acquainted with the peculiarities of the cities and towns he visited.

He always made sure to plan ahead on every trip he had to budget the expenses. His commitment to his goal brought him close to the right people and resources to make it possible.

“Always travel with a smile and a kind heart. And you will always be brought to the right people and you’ll get to travel at the right time,” he said.

There have been a total of 116 trips, 29 of which were for work and 87 for leisure. They took place on 480+ different days over almost 10 years, with the 10th anniversary falling on March 27.

“Hindi na naging object yong money and a lot of people will get to help you na dito ka na mag-stay sa amin para hindi ka na gumastos. You will always be led to the right people, you’ll go the right places if your intentions are good,” he said.

Advice to travelers
Traveling 1,634 cities and municipalities in the Philippines can be both exciting and overwhelming for travelers. Puzon advises travelers to set their goal and start with what they really want to find in a place.

The goal should also be supported by some research about the places to visit. A connection with other travelers, watching travel vlogs, and coordination with the local government would be helpful and prepare the traveler ahead of the trips, he added.

“I guess you start with what you really want to find sa isang lugar, what’s your goal. Ako ang naging goal ko talaga ay every city and municipality. Ang advice ko is make your own goal,” he said.

After finishing all 1,634 towns and municipalities in Kalayaan town, he left a challenge for Filipinos to also visit their own province.