Armi Mil­lare and Jake Ver­zosa on what drives them to travel

Armi Mil­lare and Jake Ver­zosa re­turn to the pri­mary pur­pose of travel


“It was a long way up,” singer-song­writer Armi Mil­lare re­counts her trip with pho­tog­ra­pher Jake Ver­zosa, her boyfriend, to Sa­gada last year. Sa­gada gained pop­u­lar­ity af­ter its key role in An­toinette Jadaone’s That Thing Called Tad­hana, a film fea­tur­ing Mil­lare’s hit Tad­hana.

“We’d been [to Sa­gada] be­fore, and it’s al­ways been this beau­ti­ful place that stays the same each time you’re back,” Mil­lare re­veals. How­ever, this par­tic­u­lar trip was dif­fer­ent. The two rode on Ver­zosa’s Ural side­car to Sa­gada. Since they can’t bring the ve­hi­cle on the ex­press­way, the sup­pos­edly 12-hour trip ex­tended to 17 hours. On top of the al­ready ex­cru­ci­at­ingly long road trip, they also en­coun­tered un­ex­pected (per­haps even un­for­tu­nate) de­tours. “A piece of the bike fell out, and we had to look for a re­pair shop in Pam­panga,” Mil­lare re­calls. “Then, on the way down [back to Manila], I put on my rain­coat at the first sign of rain. But af­ter a while, I thought, ‘ You know what? I won’t wear it any­more. I’m al­ready drenched down to my socks, any­way.’ But I didn’t have a ter­ri­ble time at all, es­pe­cially since I was with some­one as pa­tient as Jake.”

A cou­ple rid­ing a bike to­gether—it’s like a scene out of a whim­si­cal French film, like Amélie. But in re­al­ity, the two like to take it slow when they travel. They try to do noth­ing for the first two days af­ter ar­riv­ing at their des­ti­na­tion, pass­ing time sit­ting in a café to ob­serve the place and the peo­ple. “[Then] you slowly re­al­ize you’re hav­ing cof­fee, do­ing some­thing you do ev­ery day, but in a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion,” Mil­lare says.

It was al­most night when they ar­rived at the pic­turesque province. “We had din­ner and en­joyed the si­lence of the town,” Mil­lare re­counts. The fol­low­ing days, they sim­ply went around town: vis­ited Lake Danum and Mt. Kil­tepan and checked the lo­cal pot­tery and bakery. They even stayed by the court where kids were play­ing. “Ev­ery day was like a dream. A life so sim­ple but so, so beau­ti­ful,” she says.

Born for the road

“It’s easy to nav­i­gate in the city [with a mo­tor­bike]. I can park any­where, any­time,” Ver­zosa says of the mo­tor­bike, which he con­sid­ers his pri­mary trans­porta­tion mode. More than 10 years ago, he ob­tained his first mo­tor­bike, a Vespa. He at­tributes his love for mo­tor­cy­cles as an in­flu­ence of his mom who also rode the mo­tor­bike.

More than the con­ve­nience, Ver­zosa re­calls the more tech­ni­cal side of pho­tog­ra­phy when he deals with his col­lec­tion of old bikes. “Lately, I got into col­lect­ing vin­tage bikes that I re­stored. I guess it’s the tech­ni­cal side of pho­tog­ra­phy that I missed. Tinker­ing with the bike is like work­ing in the dark room,” he says.

Ver­zosa takes his mo­tor­bike even to his out-of-town projects. He dealt with var­i­ous in­dige­nous groups for his photo se­ries in­clud­ing “Com­mu­nal Iden­tity,” “Karen,” “Manobo,” and the more re­cent and pop­u­lar “The Last Tat­tooed Women of Kalinga.” The lat­ter is an homage to his home­town Tugue­garao. “I’ve been see­ing Kalinga men and women with tat­toos when I was a kid and I also wanted to doc­u­ment my re­gion,” he says.

How­ever, Ver­zosa ad­mits that he trav­els dif­fer­ently since hav­ing a daugh­ter. “Be­ing away is good but I can’t be away for too long any­more,” he says. “I lived on my own and I didn’t have a daugh­ter yet. Any time I chose to leave, I could do it for long pe­ri­ods of time.”

Bit­ten by the travel bug

“I feel home­sick all the time,” Mil­lare con­fesses. For 10 years, Mil­lare fo­cused on mu­sic and never thought of go­ing on a leisure trip. In fact, when she goes on a trip with Ver­zosa, she lets him over­see the lo­gis­tics of the trip. “I’m ter­ri­ble at that. I just give mi­nor sug­ges­tions but it boils down to how he feels about it—he’s the ex­pert,” she says.

Back then, she only trav­eled for her shows or for the pro­duc­tion of her band’s mu­sic. “I used to take quick trips or rent a house for a cou­ple of months when writ­ing an al­bum,” she says. Re­cently, how­ever, she has been able to write at home. When she goes on a trip, she al­ways car­ries her 32-key Midi con­troller. “One time we rode on a long trip, I got to com­plete a song in my head,” she says.

Meet­ing Ver­zosa wasn’t just a case of find­ing love; for Mil­lare, she also found some­one who ig­nited in her a yearn­ing to travel. “I guess I had to meet

some­one re­ally en­cour­ag­ing, [some­one who has seen a lot] in life,” she says.

Meet­ing point

“Our sched­ules are to­tal op­po­sites. Ev­ery chance we get where we have a few days to­gether, we travel,” Ver­zosa says. Their trip to Sa­gada is one of the rare mo­ments where they trav­eled purely for leisure. The other one they could re­mem­ber is when they went to Anawan­gin, Zam­bales, their first trip to­gether. That trip, they say, is the most spon­ta­neous they had yet. “It was sum­mer and there were a lot of peo­ple, so we went to a de­serted beach then stayed overnight,” Ver­zosa says. “We left our [gear], so we had to cut Spam with the can’s lid, and use the tent pegs to mix the cof­fee with. We sep­a­rated from ev­ery­one else. There was no one there, not even trees,” Mil­lare re­calls.

How­ever, the cou­ple still finds it dif­fi­cult to travel aim­lessly to­gether. “I feel guilty if I have to go away for a pe­riod of time where I don’t have any­thing im­por­tant to do. Of­ten, it’s the des­ti­na­tion that chooses us [through our] work,” Mil­lare says. Hence, their jour­neys to­gether are mostly sched­uled around work.

In 2014, for in­stance, when Ver­zosa’s pho­to­graphs were ex­hib­ited at Paris Photo in France, Mil­lare tagged along, with both of them mak­ing a stop at Che­fchaouen in Morocco be­fore go­ing on to France.

“There wasn’t much to do there,” Ver­zosa says, “but the place was beau­ti­ful.” Che­fchaouen, they say, re­mains their fa­vorite place.

Probed if trav­el­ing to­gether for work dis­tracts them, Ver­zosa says, “We’re to­gether most of the time that it feels we’re prac­ti­cally alone to­gether. It’s be­come so fluid; we don’t get in the way of each other.”

The con­cept of get­ting lost is of­ten ro­man­ti­cized, but it seems like Mil­lare and Ver­zosa have aban­doned the yearn­ing to be lost. Per­haps, it’s be­cause they have found each other al­ready. She ad­mits, how­ever, that she feels they haven’t trav­eled to­gether enough. “Maybe soon enough we’ll both learn to de­tach from our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and get lost? But that feels a bit un­re­al­is­tic. When you reach a cer­tain age, those dreams of a no­madic life don’t re­ally go away, but then again you have re­al­ity at arm’s reach ev­ery time you come home. If it’s just about be­ing to­gether, then we would rather stay home.”

They both know the path they want to take to­gether. “To come home,” says Mil­lare sim­ply. “That’s the re­al­ity I look for­ward to see­ing, and it beats any des­ti­na­tion out there.” The so­lace they get from trav­el­ing is not mea­sured in miles but in how they spend time to­gether. “Dur­ing a busy week for us both, Jake would take me to gigs on his bike, and those short rides be­come ‘dates,’” she says. “It’s about whom you’re with, not where you go.”

“When you reach a cer­tain age, those dreams of a no­madic life don’t re­ally go away, but then again you have re­al­ity at arms’ reach ev­ery time you come home.”

Jake Ver­zosa’s trav­el­ing es­sen­tials in­clude pro­tec­tive gear, a tool kit (“Since [most of my bikes] are old, no mat­ter what hap­pens, I get to fix it.”), and, of course, his cam­eras.

Top, Fred Perry, TriNoma Mall.

Cover photo by Czar Kristoff

Armi Mil­lare brings her 32-key Midi con­troller. When she trav­els, she al­ways looks for well-made plates and um­brel­las. The um­brella in this photo is a sou­venir from Ja­pan.

Top, Fred Perry, TriNoma Mall.

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