MANILA, MAY 7, 2009
(STAR)  By Walter Villa -  Next to a pen, a tickler, an MP3 player with voice recording feature, a DSLR camera, people skills (not necessarily in this order), and the curiosity of a lab mouse, a cup of coffee is an integral part of a travel journalistís gear or to-do-list.

Call it a tool of the trade, travel paraphernalia, or super secret potion, coffee helps me get my job done as it helps awaken my senses to the landscape around me as well as keep me mentally alert to stay focused on the barrage of experiences I encounter.

Keeps me on the right track

A travel journalistís itinerary is romantically crazy. Sure, the job takes me to new places, plush resorts, colorful festivities, all at minimal cost, but at the end of the day ó thatís just it ó itís still a job. And you canít relax on a job. You need to stay alert and coffee keeps me on the right track.

Coffee keeps me on my toes for the slew of interviews I have to do to get local insights about the place, stringent pre-planned shoot list or layouts to photograph at the right time of day, and probably ó the best part ó a firsthand experiential account of what-have-yous: like eating tamilok (woodworm) in an exotic eatery in Palawan, riding the bull in a rodeo event in Bohol, and savoring the signature massage of a spanking new spa in Boracay.

Sure, itís not a boring 9 to 5 job because itís more like a 5 to 9 job or more.

And to help me through it all is coffee. I remember the time when I had to wake up at 3 a.m. in Napsan, a remote seaside barangay south of Puerto Princesa in Palawan, to do night photography. The lure of the bamboo bed and cool sea breeze was strong, but I was able to fend it off after drinking a warm cup of coffee. It kept me focused on my imminent photographic subject: the night skyís slowly changing hues.

Bridges time

Jetlag is a given travel bane. Our spherical world with a slew of time zones can surely take out the romance in travel. Oftentimes, I find myself torn between perplexing choices of staying under the sheets (what my body wants) and taking the mandatory city tour (what my editor-in-chief needs).

Coffee evens out the field. It keeps me awake when my body clock says it is time for sleep. Sure, the kick of energy drinks is so much stronger, but coffee, with its infinite hot and cold preparations, tastes so much better than any of the former.

Taking a warm cup of coffee also saves me time. Part of my previous job as a travel magazine editor was to fly monthly to Hong Kong where our magazine was being printed to approve the final proofs. During crunch time ó two weeks before the issue date ó I often find myself hand-carrying the files for proofing aboard the first flight of the day after a night of last-minute layout and copy editing.

Consequently, with hardly any sleep, fatigue takes over. I go on a seemingly Mobius strip ride aboard Hong Kongís MTR subway, waking up in a strange station near Shenzhen. This is why a quick stop at the Nescafť cafť at NAIA II in every outbound travel has turned into a habit.

Keeps me safe on the road

I read from somewhere that the leading cause of vehicular accidents abroad is drowsiness and I think this can be avoided by getting off the road for a few minutes, taking a 15-minute nap, and drinking a warm cup of coffee before driving again.

I once drove three models, two assistants, a stylist, and a makeup artist from Manila to the foot of Mt. Pinatubo for a cover shoot for an in-flight magazine two years ago. (Yes, my dear Watson, travel journalists donít have chauffeurs.)

On the way back to Manila, after a grueling 12-hour shoot, I had one very stringent instruction to my assistant: to pepper me with stories just to keep me awake. After half an hour of driving, all of my passengers including my trusted co-pilot had already dozed off. Itís a cruel, cruel world. So I stopped at the nearest gas station, took a nap, washed my face and bought coffee. After drinking that warm cup, I was ready to hit the road again.

So on top of keeping me warm in cold nights, firing up my thoughts, saving me time, coffee keeps me safe on the road.

Those are the things that coffee does to me. Whatís your coffee travel story?

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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