Riza Rasco is a Filipino traveller who has visited over 160 UN countries. She founded Explore Africa For Impact (EAFI), a US registered public benefit company, a tour operator and social venture that educates, employs and empowers African women. She also co-founded the Philippine Global Explorers (PGE), a non-profit organization registered in the Philippines that brings together Filipino travellers from around the world and cultivates a supportive community where members inspire and help each other to reach their travel goals. She currently serves as the Director of EAFI and President and Chairman of the Board of PGE.
What are three of your favourite countries, and why?
The entire African continent and many of its countries such as Ethiopia, Zambia and Namibia are some of my favourite places on earth.
Whenever I journey through the African continent, I feel that all of my senses are on fire. Seeing the glorious, saffron-hued dunes of the Sahara and Namib deserts, the vibrant and colourful garments of the West African people and Muslim women, and the colourful markets across the continent; hearing the chilling roar of hungry lions in Zambia; tasting the sharpness and spiciness of Ethiopian cuisine; feeling the ever-present dust and dirt on my skin and the sweltering heat of the sun, and smelling the pervasive scent of the earth throughout the journey. And when licked on the face by a giraffe, the most peculiar of sensations are felt, that I cannot even begin to describe.
My heart swells from the goodness and kindness of the African people. Seeing the smiles on children’s faces, hearing them say ‘Welcome’, and experiencing the friendly waves from the locals, I feel an indescribable warmth and deep joy. Time and time again, I’ve found myself overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality of the African people: from the taxi driver in Cairo who accompanied me on foot through the busy streets of old Cairo, looking after me as if I was his own personal guest; the Ethiopian tour guide who offered me his hoodie jacket, when he sensed I was cold; the driver and passengers of a public van who patiently waited for me to get my visitor’s visa at the border between Swaziland and Mozambique; the campsite security guard who made me traditional Mauritanian tea, when I had trouble sleeping; the Togolese student who gave me his own precious repellent spray, when he saw I was being bitten by mosquitoes, and then who later cooked dinner for me, when I told him I wanted to try some Togolese dishes. I’ve experienced so much kindness from the people that I’ve met during my journey. I’ve been made to feel welcome and special, and my trust in the goodness of humanity has been restored, by experiencing the kindness of so many people.
My soul is constantly stirred and roused. Upon reaching the top of Dune 45 in Sossuvlei in the Namib Desert, I was spellbound by the light that had set the desert on fire as the sun rose. When I trekked the forsaken deserts of Sudan, in search of the disintegrating Nubian pyramids, my soul was roused. When I slept under the star-studded skies in Mauritania and saw the desert night sky ablaze with shooting stars, my soul stirred, and it brought me to tears.
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
Encounter with Native Communities
My favourite travel moments almost always involve local experiences, especially with native and tribal communities. I’ve been fortunate to spend time and make memories with the Batwas of Burundi, the Mundaris of South Sudan, the Hadzabes of Tanzania, the Ayoreos of Paraguay, and the Kogis of Colombia.
Seeing Natural Wonders
There have been so many beautiful landscapes and vistas that have taken my breath away. Some examples are the Namib desert in Namibia, the mountains and fjords in Norway, the rock-hewn churches in northern Ethiopia, New Zealand’s South Island, the highlands of Kyrgyzstan, the natural beautify of Iceland, and the untouched landscapes of Siberia and Svalbard.
Learning Traditional Dances
I love to dance, and I treasure the opportunities that I’ve had to dance with ethnic tribes. Some examples are dancing with the Tamberma women in Northern Togo, the Batwa people in Burundi, the Mundari people in South Sudan, and the Cholistanis in Pakistan.
What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?
Encounter with Blood Leeches
One of my worst travel moments happened in my hometown in the Philippines. Choosing to climb Mount Makiling during the rainy season was not one of my better ideas, as limatiks (blood leeches) in search of their next meal, were literally dropping from the trees onto us. I was climbing with another traveller, Jon Opol. We were totally unprepared for the ruthless attacks of the limatiks, and I ended up screaming my way through our climb to the summit and back down. I was particularly horror-struck when a limatik got into my eye, attached itself to my eyeball, and started sucking blood. Thankfully, Jon was quick and resourceful to get the limatik out, saving my eye.
Land Border Crossings in Africa
I have had plenty of frustrating experiences at border crossings in Africa. In the Republic of Congo, I had to navigate through immigration and its corrupt officers who unashamedly sought a ‘donation’, in addition to the visa fee. I endured many standoffs with immigration officers in Africa. In Nigeria, I had to deal with sexual harassment from a Nigerian immigration officer who wanted a kiss before agreeing to return my passport. In Senegal and Guinea, I stood my ground with the road checkpoint policemen, who sought payments for non-existent violations.
Travel During the Covid-19 Pandemic
As the global pandemic spread around the world, the panic, disruption, and the resultant waves of lockdowns caused a lot of stress. I was on the road travelling when the pandemic happened. When borders started shutting down, and Manila declared a lockdown, I was in Bahrain, where I found myself with nowhere to go. Luckily, my ex-husband offered me shelter, and I was able to ride it out for a couple of months at his home in Delaware, USA.
What are three of your best travel tips?
Travel by land as much as possible
There is so much more to experience and learn when one travels by land rather than by air. You’re able to take in more scenery, get the chance to interact with people, eat local food, and spot exciting wildlife along the way.
Try to spend time with the local people
Try to spend time with the locals, learning about their culture, their traditions, their food and their way of life. It is the essence of travel.
Support female tour guides in Africa
Tourism is primarily seen as a man’s domain in Africa and in other parts of the world. If we look at what it takes to be a good tour guide (to be aware of the history, culture and traditions of the locations that you’re introducing to your clients, and to be a natural storyteller, bringing those elements to life in an informative, accessible and enjoyable way), I feel strongly that local women need to be given an opportunity to participate in the growing tourism industry.