Jose Rizal: Travels and Adventures

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Before reaching Madrid to pursue his medical career in 1882, Jose Rizal had many stopovers. He visited the progressive English colony of Singapore, traversed the historic waterway of Suez Canal via the steamship Djemnah, reached the sprawling Italian city of Naples, disembarked at the French port city of Marseille, then took a train to the historic city of Barcelona. His Filipino schoolmates from the Ateneo Municipal threw a party as they welcomed his arrival. In Barcelona, Rizal wrote his first essay on a foreign soil—the “El Amor Patrio” (Love of Country)—which he sent to his friend, Basilio Teodora, an editorial staff member of the Diariong Tagalog. By the end of 1882, Rizal decided to leave Barcelona for Madrid.

Rizal lived a frugal life in Madrid, strictly and carefully earmarking his money for food, clothing and school-related expenses, and social life. He joined the Circulo Hispano Filipino and wrote the poem, "Me Piden Versos" (They Asked Me for Verses). In 1884, Rizal made a splendid speech that saluted two Filipino masters of painting, Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, in a banquet held at the National Exposition of Fine Arts. He met and almost fell in love with Consuelo Ortiga y Rey if not for his engagement with Leonor Rivera and his friendship with Eduardo de Lete, who had romantic feelings for Consuelo.

First Travel

In 1885, the 24-year old Rizal went to Paris, France to pursue his career as an ophthalmologist. He tried his skills in music and studied solfeggio, piano, and voice culture for a month and a half. He worked as an assistant to the renowned ophthalmologist, Dr. Louis de Weckert, and left for Heidelberg after a year. He settled in the house of a Lutheran, Karl Ullmer, and worked in the clinics of famous Polish and German ophthalmologists, Dr. Javier Galezowsky and Dr. Otto Becker, respectively. In Heidelberg, he was astounded by the flowers along the Neckar River, especially the forget-me-nots, which made him compose the poem, "A Las Flores de Heidelberg" (To the Flowers of Heidelberg), on April 22, 1886. It was also in this German city where the long-distance friendship between Jose Rizal and Ferdinand Blumentritt began.

Rizal traveled to Leipzig and attended some lectures at its local university. After which he went to Berlin to further study ophthalmology and other languages, get familiar with the scenic Germany, be part of the scientific community, and finish his novel, Noli Me Tangere. However, he was struck by financial problems in Berlin as his allowance from Calamba was not enough.

Back to the Philippines

The stunning beauty of the European lands did not stop Rizal from continuously adoring his native land. After Noli Me Tangere was published, he decided to return to Calamba despite the many warnings he received from his friends and relatives. He had four reasons for returning to the Philippines:

  1. to perform an operation on Doña Teodora's eyes;
  2. to defend his oppressed countrymen more effectively than doing so in a foreign land;
  3. to find out how his Noli was received by the Filipinos and Spaniards; and
  4. to know the reason for Leonor Rivera's long silence.

Aboard the steamer Djemnah, Rizal sailed to the East via the Suez Canal on June 3, 1887 and reached Saigon on the July 30. From Saigon, he boarded the steamer Hayfong, which was bound for Manila. On August 6, he arrived in Manila and visited some friends. He reached Calamba two days later. In his native land, he opened a medical clinic and restored his mother's vision. Such “miraculous” news spread throughout the community like wild fire, thus, his clinic was flocked by people aspiring for better eyesight. As he just arrived from Germany, he began to be known as “Doctor Uliman” (from the word Aleman).

His Noli Me Tangere, however, incensed the colonial authorities and the Catholic Church, who regarded his novel as disrespectful and sacrilegious. Rizal met Governor General Emilio Terrero who informed him of the charges against him. As a defense, Rizal told Terrero that Noli only exposed the reality. Not having read the book yet and out of curiosity, the governor general asked for a copy of the controversial novel. He later confessed that he enjoyed reading it. He saw no problem on the book, yet to protect Rizal's life which was then in danger, he assigned Jose Taviel de Andrade, a young Spanish lieutenant, as Rizal's personal bodyguard. Soon enough, the attackers and defenders of the novel resurfaced.

Second Travel

Rizal realized that his family and friends' safety were at risk and that he had better chances of winning against the Spaniards abroad. After six months, he decided to sail back to Europe. Before his departure, he wrote a poem "Himno Al Trabajo" (Hymn to Labor) which he dedicated to the industrious workers in their town.

A glance of East Asia

On February 3, 1888, Rizal sailed to Hongkong. Terrero’s former secretary, Jose Sainz de Varranda, followed Rizal in the said British colony, and was believed to be commissioned by the Spanish authorities to spy on the hero. After almost three weeks, on board the American steamer, Oceanic, Rizal left Hongkong and sailed to Japan where he was invited by Secretary Juan Perez Caballero to live at the Spanish Legation. His instinct told him that it was a bait—a way for the Spanish officials to keep track of his activities. And since it was economical to stay at the legation and he believed that he had nothing to hide, he accepted it. Rizal was impressed by the scenic Japan and had keenly observed the life, customs, and culture of its people. He had fallen in love not only with the view but more to its women, particularly with the 23-year old O-Sei-San (a.k.a. Usui Seiko).

Sail to the West

Rizal was almost tempted to settle in Japan with O-Sei-San, but on April 13, 1888, Rizal boarded the English steamer, Belgic bound for the United States. He reached the US on April 28. He visited San Francisco and left it on the second day for Oklahoma, then to Sacramento, then to Reno, and finally to New York. On May 16, 1888 the ship, City of Rome, sailed for Liverpool. He decided to stay in London until March 1899. Rizal chose to stay in London so that he could improve his English skills, study, and do an annotation of Antonio Morga's Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas and because he believed that the said English city was a safe place for him to carry on the reforms he wanted for the Philippines. He stayed at Dr. Antonio Ma. Regidor's home and boarded at the Beckett family where he fell in love with Gertrude.

In Great Britain

In London, Rizal received both good news and bad news from home. The good news was that Rev. Vicente Garcia was defending his Noli from the attacks of the friars. On the other hand, the bad news was that the Filipino signatories of the “Petition of 1888” and the tenants of the Calamba agrarian trouble were facing persecution; that his brothers-in-law, Manuel T. Hidalgo and Mariano Herbosa, were exiled to Bohol and were denied Christian burial, respectively; and his friend, Laureano Viado, a UST medical student, was imprisoned for possessing a copy of his Noli. During his stay in this country, Rizal also made used of his time in writing essays and articles for the La Solidaridad. On June 12, 1889, with Filipino and Spanish friends, they founded the Asociacion Hispano-Filipino which aimed for union and reforms. After ten months, Rizal left London and departed for Paris.

In France

In Paris, Rizal continued his study on various languages and practiced his artistic skills, and finished two statues—The Beggar and The Maid With A Basket. He organized a social club called Kidlat Club which brought together young Filipinos residing in France. Soon, the members of the said club founded a new Filipino society—the Indios Bravos, an organization which envisioned Filipinos being recognized by Spain for being excellent in various fields of knowledge.

By January 1890, Rizal's annotation of the Sucesos was finally printed and published by the Garnier Freres.

In Belgium

With his roommate, Jose Albert, Rizal celebrated Christmas in Paris. Shortly after New Year, he visited London for the last time and on January 28, 1890, left Paris for Brussels. With Albert, they left the extravagant and gay social life in Paris and stayed in a boarding house owned by the Jacoby sisters in Brussels. Rizal continued contributing for La Solidaridad under the pseudonyms Dimas Alang and Laong Laan. From Calamba, Rizal received letters telling that the agrarian trouble in the province was getting worse, and as such, he decided to go home. But instead of going home, a letter from Paciano told him that they already lost the case against the Dominicans and they were in need of a lawyer who would defend their family and the families in Calamba from Madrid. Rizal traveled to Madrid to seek justice but in vain – he could not find the right person and he heard that his family was already evicted from their land in Calamba and other family members were banished to Mindoro and Manila.

In Spain

Rizal had many misadventures in Madrid. For one, he challenged Antonio Luna and Wenceslao Retana in a duel. With Luna, it was about the latter's frustration with his unsuccessful “love affair” with Nellie Boustead. He gave negative remarks on the lady which Rizal did not tolerated. The other encounter was with Retana who had insulted Rizal and his family by writing in La Epoca, an anti-Filipino newspaper, that the Rizal family in Calamba was ejected from their lands because they did not pay their rents. It was also from this city where Rizal heard the news of Leonor Rivera's marriage with Henry Kipping, an Englishman, which terrible broke his heart.

Another marked event in Madrid was the Marcelo H. del Pilar—Jose Rizal rivalry for leadership in the Asociacion Hispano Filipino. A faction emerged from the Filipinos in Madrid, the Rizalistas and Pilaristas, Rizal and del Pilar's compatriots, respectively, during the organization's election. After losing the election, Rizal decided to go back home, fearing that his presence may result to bigger and stronger faction among the Filipinos in Madrid. But instead of going straight to Hongkong, he went back to Brussels to finish his second novel, the El Filibusterismo.

After Fili was published, Rizal left Europe. Aboard the S.S. Melbourne, he sailed to Hongkong where he lived for seven months. His reasons for venturing to Hongkong were the following :

  1. to leave behind his rivalry with del Pilar;
  2. to facilitate a Propaganda Movement in Hongkong; and
  3. to be near his family in the Philippines.

On November 20, 1891, Rizal arrived in Hongkong and was cordially welcomed by the Filipino residents in the city, particularly, his friend Jose Ma. Basa. He resided at No. 5 D' Aguilar Street, No. 2 Rednaxela Terrace and opened a medical clinic there. Rizal had a continued correspondence with his family in Calamba and had been aware of the unsettled agrarian problem. Through a letter from his brother-in-law, Manuel T. Hidalgo, he had been informed of the deportation of twenty-five persons in Calamba, including the Rizal family. This news made Rizal even more desperate to return to Manila, but his sorrow was replaced by surprise when his family visited him in Hongkong and celebrated the 1891 Christmas with him.

While in Hongkong, Rizal practiced his medical career. With the help of his friend, Dr. Lorenzo P. Marquez, they built a large clientèle and opened a medical clinic where he was recognized as an excellent eye surgeon. He was equally supported and aided both morally and financially by his family and friends with his chosen career.

Another marked event during Rizal's stay in Hongkong was his plan to move the landless Filipinos to Borneo and transform the said wilderness into a “New Calamba” through the so called Borneo Colonization Project. In April 1892, he visited Borneo and negotiated with the British authorities who are willing to provide 100,000 acres of land for the Filipinos. Many Filipino patriots found this project amusing, thus, promoted the said project. However, there were a number who objected it, one of which was Rizal's brother-in-law, Hidalgo. Twice did Rizal wrote a letter addressed to Governor General Eulogio Despujol informing his Borneo colonization project, with whom he received no response. Instead, Despujol commanded the Spanish consul-general in Hongkong to notify Rizal that such project was very unpatriotic, and by immigrating Filipinos to Borneo, the Philippines will surely be lacking of laborers.

Despite the many oppositions from friends and relatives, he decided to return to Manila on the following reasons:

  1. to discuss with Governor General Despujol his Borneo colonization project;
  2. to form the La Liga Filipina in the Philippines; and
  3. to prove that Eduardo de Lete's allegations on him and his family in Calamba were wrong.

Before his departure, he wrote three more letters – the first addressed to his parents and friends; the second one, to the Filipinos; and the last to Governor General Eulogio Despujol. Instead of having the protection he desired, Rizal and his sister, Lucia, fell into the Spanish trap—a case was secretly filed against Rizal, and Despujol ordered his secretary, Luis de la Torre, to verify whether the patriot had naturalized himself as German citizen or not. And so the siblings sailed across the China Sea without prior knowledge of what awaited them in the Philippines.


  • Ancheta, Celedonio A. Jose Rizal's Life and His Complete Works. Diliman, Quezon City: National Bookstore, Inc., 1977.
  • Bantug, Asuncion Lopez-Rizal. Indio Bravo: The Story of Jose Rizal. Manila: Tahanan Books, 1997.
  • Guerrero, Leon Ma. Rizal:The First Filipino. Manila: National Historical Institute, 1987.
  • Reminiscences and Travels of Jose Rizal. Manila: National Historical Institute, 1977.
  • Hernandez, Jose Ma. Rizal's Poetry and Drama. Rizal as an Internationalist. Papers read at a symposium sponsored by the UNESCO Commission on the Philippines. Manila: National Historical Institute, 1980.
  • Sta. Maria, Felice Prudente. In Excelsis: The Mission of Jose P. Rizal – Humanist and Philippine National Hero. Makati City: Studio Five Designs, Inc., 1996.
  • Zaide, Gregorio F. Jose Rizal: Life, Works and Writings. Reprint, Mandaluyong City: National Bookstore, Inc., 2005.
  • National Historical Institute. A Rizal Anthology – Trilingual Edition. Manila: National Historical Institute, 1994.
  • National Historical Institute. Writings of Jose Rizal: Rizal's Poem. Vol.III, Book 1. Manila: National Historical Institute, 2002.

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