Sipalay and Kabankalan, Negros Occidental, the Philippines
November 2 – 4, 2016
We started on the wrong foot. We were just a party of three, but one woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Actually, he did not even sleep a wink. At our 7AM call time, he was just about ready to turn in. Never mind that we had a bus to catch for a 6-hour ride to a remote beach, and that we could miss the last boat ride to our resort. Alas, the majority had to acquiesce to the lone game changer.
Rodriguez (formerly Montalban), Rizal, the Philippines
November 20, 2016
From ewww to ahhhh. And vice versa. A road trip on a whim one Sunday afternoon ran the gamut of vowel-sound exclamations. After church, what was left of the weekend was enough time for an adventure. Or at least a joy ride. Ki drove aimlessly, eastward, until we stopped by the main church of Montalban (now called Rodriguez).
Sometimes the wilderness was your own backyard. Born and raised in Bacolod, I was perhaps the last person of my generation to visit the town next-door. It took almost half a century and a change of city to get me to step foot on Murcia.
You know the drill. Pretend to lean on it, rest your elbow on it, lick it like a lolly, strangle it like your ex’s neck. The funnier the pose (but who’s laughing?), the better (arguably). These done-to-death touristy photo ops seem to be the be-all and end-all of Cagsawa Ruins. The sobering history of how it came to be is reduced to photo effects. It has gone down the pathetic road of the Tower of Pisa.
Pardon the pun, but the (Bicol express) way to the heart was through the stomach. We never imagined our trip to southern Luzon would take a delectable turn. My sojourning squad found that it was viand, not only volcano, that put Bicol in the map.
Camalig / Daraga / Legazpi City, Albay and Gubat / Barcelona, Sorsogon, the Philippines
November 21 – 25, 2015
What was it about Bicol that unleashed my inner balladeer, so much so that I would break into song mid-tour? The voice kept under my breath quite suddenly broke out so exuberantly, and without shame. I captured some of those off-the-cuff (and off-my-rocker) musical moments on video for Instagram posterity.
A woman’s place was at home. Their role in society was limited to performing wifely and motherly duties, and they most likely opened their mouths in public only to say prayers. Such was the life of the spice islands’ girls during the Spanish colonial era. But a group of 20 young women, many of whom still in their teens, in Malolos, Bulacan was ahead of their time. They insisted on education in place of domestication. Exactly the kind of progressive idea that the Spanish friars denied Filipinos, more so women, to maintain their abuse of power.
Redolence could evoke memories as vividly as imagery. In an overnight visit to Camp John Hay in Baguio, a midnight walk shrouded in fog and darkness jogged pine-scented memories. Ki and I could sniff the scent of our childhood trips when the city was largely under pine cover. There had been less trees in the city of late, yet patches of forests remained in and around the Camp. Hours later, sunlight pierced through the pine grove by our hotel window and drew us out to take in the crisp morning freshness.
Namaste, literally “I bow to the divine in you,” was a word I often heard in Nepal. A greeting between gods, if you will. I had the chance to manifest the god within when I tried Nepali traditional food for lunch: the Newari khaja set, a solo-size smorgasbord of root veggies, meat, and spices. The dish included samay baji, a blessed food offered to the gods during festivals and family gatherings. The occasion was neither, but our guide decided on the dish as a worthy introduction to Nepali cuisine.
I just let the place surprise me. I didn’t know squat about Chuncheon. I only knew of the city when I googled the jump-off point for both Nami Island and Seorak Mountain, and that was as far as my research took me. I was traveling with friends, one of whom knew a local who graciously offered her flat. We hoped she would make touristy recommendations; otherwise, it would be no biggie to spend a couple of days in the city without any agenda.
The things that made me go om. One was any form of hiking. For months before my Nepal trip, I trained by climbing up the stairs to my workplace on the 15th floor every day. It turned out I beefed up my quads and lung power only to get on and off the tourist van. My travel girlfies and I did not have the luxury of time to do any Himalayan trekking.
Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.
– Albert Camus
I fell for my first fall. Nature had made a canvas out of the countryside and masterfully painted it with vivid reds and yellows, a dramatic departure from my country where forests were all of 50 shades of green all year. As the bus pulled into Chuncheon in the northernmost province of South Korea, a ginkgo tree came into view, its crown of golden leaves glistening in the sun. I squinted at the glorious scene. Fall had me at first sight.
The first impression of foreign visitors is usually their experience at the airport and the ride out. If that proves to be more stressful than the flight itself, then that certainly levels expectations. Tragically, that’s the way the cookie crumbles in my city. While I relish such convenience in most cities I visit, it depresses me that we don’t have the same luxury back home. Case in point: Shanghai. I flew in past midnight with my girlfies, Perfy and Vang. No other choice but to take a taxi. Metered, no haggling and overcharging. For our return flight, we could not pass up taking the Maglev train, the first in the world.
The gigantic, gilded scepter was said to have packed the force of a thunderbolt. This indestructible weapon of destruction symbolized the power that had forged present-day Kathmandu Valley, the mountain-ringed dust bowl that cradled the city. Bhuwan, our guide, called it vajra, a legendary object laid out on a pedestal atop the 365-step stone stairway that led to Swayambhunath, a 1,500-year-old Buddhist temple at the center of Kathmandu.
Murphy’s Law had caught up with us even before we left Manila. Anything that could go wrong DID go wrong. Cindy, in charge of online airline booking, inexplicably unticked baggage options for Melds and me. With our suitcases (“fridge” to Cindy) in tow, we had to queue anew at the cashier and cough up twice the fee. At Busan, our port of entry, an airport bus conductor who had just carried my girlfies’ luggage stopped short at mine and blurted out condescendingly that men should carry their own. Melds knew enough Korean to translate for me. Not that I was expecting a hand from an adjussi like him, but he did push a button.