Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

Catching Dragonflies

I don’t know if most kids still know how to catch dragonflies nowadays. I doubt if any of them still do, especially those who live in cities where trees and plants are almost non-existent. It seems they have settled their childhood on iPads and YouTube, leaving me with the impression my childhood days were better than theirs.

Childhood for me was simple and bliss, peppered with memories of Gummy Worms, colored gum, matchbox cars and Japanese anime series. I never owned a game console even though I had drooled for my cousin’s Nintendo, which was filled with Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog. Instead, I had loads of playtimes at school. Huge old, mango trees gave us shade when we played touch ball and sipa. The green, growing grass that had brushed our socks and newly, shined leather shoes became home to curious little creatures like the dragonfly.

I don’t know the origin of dragonfly catching. It appears to be buried in the subconsciousness of every active kid born with sunshine and fresh air. My mom told me they also used to catch dragonflies when they were children. Now, it was my turn to catch a few of them. 

These little creatures were quick. While one dragonfly would brush its face with its front feet, I’d slowly and quietly sneak behind it. I’d usually spot them sitting on blades of grass. Snatching it by its wings, I’d then feed it with pieces pf grass. Once it stops eating, I’d let it go. Then, I’d catch another one out of thrill.

Green dragonflies were the most common ones. It would be an honor for anyone who could catch a blue one because it was rarer and quicker. Anyone who catches a red one would be the master of drangonfly hunting. It’s like winning a jackpot and the awe of your classmates when you catch the reddest of them all.

But I’d usually beat the others by catching more dragonflies quickly. One schoolmate once asked for my handful of dragonflies in exchange of chocolate candies I was asking from her (which I obliged for the sake of chocolate). But it was a horror for me to find some kids picking off this insect’s wings one-by-one. I’d never do that to a harmless creature. So, it seemed to be a waste for some kids at school that I would always let go of the dragonflies I have collected at the end of the day. 

These days, I’d only see dragonflies when I go on a hike. Unlike before, I would never dare to touch one because there might only be a few of them living in this sanctuary. But seeing one would always make me excited because it would always be a part of my simple and blissful childhood that might never be experienced by the next generation.

This blog was supposedly written a few weeks ago but it was delayed due to a number of circumstances and loads of procrastination (sorry about that, guys!). But I still find this food hub worth sharing…and returning to again.

Food hubs are becoming popular in the Philippines and the city of Marikina would not miss out on this trend. There are loads of food hubs around the city, but The Carnival is one of the flashiest places to drop by and enjoy.

Brightly lit up, it can be easily spotted beside the road when taking a jeep going to Montalban, Rizal. Flocks of people kept on filling the site because everybody seems excited with what it has to offer. Its festive air and colorful atmosphere have brought thrill to every hungry foodie like me.

Each food stall has its own unique offer, whether it would be shawarma, burgers, sizzling dishes or fried ice-cream. At my first night, I already had my personal favorites. One of them is the Brewskie Pasta Hub.

Each pasta cost around P150 to P200. This creamy, chicken pesto was so good, I nearly cried at its first bite. But because it’s so heavy, I had to bring half of it home for breakfast.

My second favorite would be the Milkshake Lab.

Milkshakes go around P80 to P150, and one is also very heavy because of its abundance in sweet pleasures that overflow from the brim of the cup. This red velvet milkshake nearly knocked me down because it is really,  really tasty.

These two were paired with nachos which would be best shared with friends.

Because I did not have the chance to try the others, looks like I need to comeback. Visiting The Carnival is the perfect wrap up to our Marikina trip. But it seems to be also the perfect prelude to more visits to Marikina.

Our trip to Marikina would not be perfect without eating. Marikina is filled with restaurants and food hubs that are worth visiting. Here’s one that I would recommend for everyone, especially families and friends who would like to make food (and ambience) a special part of their gatherings.

The mellow beat of the bossa nova was softly playing in the background as we crossed the small timber bridge that hovered over a small pond surrounded with colorful pinwheels. The whole place seemed to have transported us back in time. A hammock, landscape portraits and a calesa sitting in a small garden gave us a glimpse of childhood memories and bliss. Black and white portraits of 1950s actors and actress have reminded the elderly of their younger days. Visiting Pan De Amerikana was like visiting your grandma’s house in the province. It brings more than food, it brings back wonderful memories.

One will not be bored while waiting for food because the place was adorned with fancy, vintage decors and furniture. Visitors can take time by playing the giant chessboard or crossing the hanging bridge on the top deck. Everyone is enjoying this place because of its historic vibe that is very instagrammable. 

Because of the place’s name, one might think that Pan De Amerikana serves American food. Instead, it has brought in the ambience of the American Commonwealth period during the 1930s, with a tinge of post-war feel of the early 1950s. 

The menu is very Filipino. We’ve chosen a group meal of Bicol express, tilapia (a kind of freshwater fish), vegetables and seafood enough for five people which costs only Php895. Fruit shakes (made with real fruits) cost around Php60 to Php80. 

The music faded away as an elderly lady was allowed to play the old piano on the small stage. It reminded me of an old piano we had in the house before. Had I mastered it, I would not be shy in playing a tune right there and then.

We left the place feeling full because of the food and the experience. This is a good place where I could take my mom for a date next time, and a good spot where friends could gather, eat and have fun.
The quiet lunch is without a colorful night life! Watch out for my next blog on our Marikina tour!

I tried to focus my attention on the bright blue sky and the long line of trees ahead of us as my feet were beginning to strain on my superficially, smooth flats. The searing heat was beating on the wide, concrete bikeway as bikers joyously passed us by. The river glimmered beneath the golden rays of the afternoon sun. Giant, fancy shoes loomed over the waters, upholding the pride of Marikina’s heritage as the Shoe Capital of the Philippines. Beside it was the statue of Marikit, the woman from whom this city has been named from, whose scars have reminded us how this city has been resilient during Ondoy’s dangerous floods in 2009. I thought the road was short enough to keep my feet from being strained even more. I guess my shoes were not the right pair for the long walk around the Riverbanks.

If Metro Manila was almost deprived of parks, Marikina has excellently preserved its Riverbanks. It’s the perfect place for joggers, bikers, and would-be bikers who ended up walking on the long road.

These leaf markings could be found on the concrete pathway. Some of them come in patterns like this.

Bike rentals are only at Php30 per hour. However, I was not in the mood to learn how to bike (especially when I was not ready to receive scratches). Walking was not actually boring because there were animal sculptures and exhibits that recreated popular tourist sites around the country. 

Crops planted by the riverside.

However, my feet ended up being too sore at the end of the site. Next time, I’d wear walking shoes and try to learn how to bike. Maybe still, I should have bought Marikina-made shoes! Still, this site is worth visiting because it is clean and beautiful. I hope my feet would be happier when I come back here.

Wonder where’s the food trip? The visit would not be complete without visiting at least a few of the best ones! Watch out for my next blog. 

For the most part, I’ve been doing my Breathing Adventure series for out-of-Manila trips, particularly those that include hiking and outdoors. This is the first time I’ll be including the cityscape in my Breathing Adventure blog because Marikina is a place worth visiting within the metro.

I had the impression there’s nothing special to see in Manila because it is jam-packed with skyscrapers, state-of-the-art malls, posh family entertainment centers, and monster traffic. I find Manila too exploited and polluted to be enjoyed. Eco-friendly spots like wildlife sanctuaries and parks are slowly deteriorating because the government seems to focus more on infrastructure and housing projects. 
Here’s one part of Manila which does not follow the footsteps of industrialization. Marikina, which sits near the border of the Rizal province, has maintained its pristine quaintness and cleanliness. It keeps on flourishing in its quiet and productive way, as it maintains ordinances that keep toxicity out of the city.

Touring Marikina is like visiting old Manila as old buildings and infrastructure line up the street. The bright blue sky could be seen in the central district because the council does not allow high rise buildings to be built. There’s strict enforcement against littering, so the only trash you would see in the city are fallen leaves.

Shoe lovers should to visit Marikina because it is the Shoe Capital of the Philippines. A little tour at their Shoe Museum would be recommended before you shop for your own pair.

For only Php50, you would find a vast collection of footwear made by Marikina’s finest shoemakers. Most of them are owned by popular personalities in the Philippines.

The shoe walk of fame outside the museum, most are named for big names in the entertainment industry.

A giant shoe that would welcome visitors sits near the entrance

About 80 percent of the collection of shoes belong to Imelda Marcos, wife of former President Ferdinand Marcos and now a congresswoman for Ilocos Norte (ok, if she’s not familiar to you, think where the word ‘imeldific’ came from). 

Being one shoe-obsessed first lady, she had 3,000 pairs of shoes during her 20-year stint in Malacañang. Marikina shoemakers have provided her with 10 pairs a week, aside from the Gucci, Chanel, Charles Jourdan and Beltrami shoes she had in her collection. About 800 pairs were in the museum. And they show that the size of her feet was at 8 ½. 

I couldn’t remember how tall Imelda was because she would be flocked and mobbed by the media when I covered the president’s SONA as an unknown reporter at a small TV station. So, maybe this portrait would give me a clue.

Small as it is, the Shoe Museum features more interesting pairs. From fancy contest clogs to remodeled ancient footwear, these showcase the craftsmanship and the world-class quality of the Filipino sapatero (shoemaker).

A glimpse of Marikina shoemaking history

Shoes made for shoe design competitions.

Another set of shoes made for various shoe design competitions

A set of recreated ancient footwear, proudly made in Marikina. One is a pair of cavalier or pirate boots and the other is a pair of Roman strap sandals.

The museum also keeps shoe-like ornaments from around the world which were kept by Marikina mayors. 

All in all, this museum highlights the skill and artistry of the Marikina shoemaker. It’s something that the city is proud of and I hope they can keep it for generations to come.

A visit to the city would not be complete without walking around and around the Riverbanks. More on my next blog! 

​Vacation Forever

My seatmate kept me awake on the bus by loudly talking on her phone. Smartly dressed in a light brown office coat, she assured authority as she kept on instructing her colleague to close an order because she was getting late to the office. She was almost slumped sadly on her seat while her young, tired face starred at the window longingly. She made a number of calls to her boss, clients and other VIPs. Her tone, which shifted from being demanding to apologetic to friendly and then strained, revealed that she was vexed out in her job. Her stressful aura made me think about my hierarchy in the office world. The first thing that popped up in my head was never go up the ladder. I did not want to become like her.
I never desired to be on top of the career niche all throughout the ten years I’ve been working. All I wanted was a decent job and a good pay. I had this fear that when I get to the executive position, I’d loose my freedom, my social life, and my sanity. 

I only had this ambition to get into heights when I took a job in a media company. I did get a high-end job as a segment producer in a huge media outlet. This was my chance to become a popular reporter! In the end, I was not able to handle the toxicity of this job. 

Every time I feel bored or jaded in a job, my initial thinking was to resign and leave this toxicity behind. I’d change gear in my life plans, believing I’d be able to survive by becoming a missionary, a YouTube star, a philanthropist, an artist, or a hobo. I envisioned myself living daily under a grove of coconut trees while drinking cocktails before a clear, blue sea in the Bahamas. I breathe the air of freedom every time I resign, waving my arms like a freed slave from a maximum institution. However, this season of paradise is being slapped down by the reality of being financially empty. 

I was struggling during the first time I’ve resigned. I tried venturing into agriculture but was not successful in culturing earthworms. I tried doing freelance jobs but I was too scared to face foreign clients. I thought of becoming a missionary but there was no confirmed calling. Being a bum made me a bit depressed for a while. My savings were almost gone. I had realized reality at its finest. I need to look for a real job.

This is a dilemma for most millennials like me. Unlike the former working class, our minds are not wired to survive in one industry alone. We have multiple choices to choose from and we want to try all of them. When we are forced into hard labor, we give up. There is a gap between the older workaholic bosses whose excessive hardwork was able to build empires and the young freedom-loving yuppies whose existence is fueled by an unrelentless sense of exploration, passion, and entitlement.

My mother always remind me, “A rolling stone cannot gather moss.” Perhaps we need consider well before taking an offer. We need to switch off our dreamy selves before we embark into a decision. We need to learn how to be patient, to persevere, to find joy in every circumstances. One day, we have to pass down every valuable legacy to the next generation. If we keep on escaping every defiance in life, the next generation would learn nothing but escape and the underestimation of reality. Life is not made of holidays and sandy beaches. I had learned this the hard way. I have learned that I would be able to pursue my dreams when I have the right resources and I am focused with an orderly life goal. But I hope every industry, every executive and every boss would learn how to value their own workers by not pushing them into toxicity. Besides, we don’t need pushy bosses and loads of work to prove our worth. We, human beings, are more valuable than the services or the products we could produce and deliver for this rueful world. 

My chocolate bar has already melted. I set it before the air conditioning vent so I can bite that sweet piece that would replenish me from that 11-hour hike (which included 2 hours of picture taking). Still, its sweetness is nothing compared to the joy of being in the outdoors again.

We were back in Tanay, Rizal to explore Mt. Paliparan. Standing at more than 500 meters above sea level, it was one of the newly-opened hiking sites that’s fit for beginners and weekend warriors like me. But this weekend warrior had to strip off her title for a while because her little adventure army has chosen Monday as a date to conquer new land. Weekends would attract endless crowds that are likely to clutter the mountain, the view, and our photos with photobombers. 

The grassy trail

Brgy. Cuyambay would be accessible through public transportation (jeep from Cubao to Cogeo, another jeep to Bary. Cuyambay, and tricycle to the baranggay hall where registration takes place). Since we have to reach the place before sunrise, private transportation would be more convenient and safer to take. 

We originally planned the Maysawa Circuit because we wanted to see the sea of clouds. But the tour guides gave us Mt. Paliparan as another option. They suggested Maysawa Circuit would be best visited in August because the rains would make the sea of clouds more visible. Besides, they warned us of the abundance of limatik (leeches) in that trail. Since Mt. Paliparan looked more adventurous, we decided to take their advice.

The trail to the summit is reminiscent of almost all of the mountains we had visited. The vast farmland leading to the trail reminded us of Mt. Talamitam and Mt. Maranat, the grassy slopes was like the trail at Mt. Maculot, while the assault leading to the summit brought Mt. Pamitinan to mind. The rest of the trail was easy except for the last trail leading to the summit.

The first peak

Mt. Paliparan has four peaks. All of these are marked with huge, towering boulders that were challenging to climb. The tour guides have told us the mountain was called as such because it was a site where small Japanese planes used to land during World War II.

The second peak

A small cave can be visited along the way. It is a perfect place for hiding from the nasty heat of the sun. 

The trail was littered with flowers and colorful berries that seemed luscious but not edible. Small amorseco (hitchhiker plants) have annoyingly clung onto our clothing. The tall grasses were not helpful in giving us shade as they managed to annoy and tickle our sunburnt faces. We relieved ourselves with the sight of Laguna Lake, the old cement factory and the wind turbines at a distance.

While the rest of the trail proved to be easy, the assault going to the summit was challenging and quite dangerous. This is the time when gloves are highly needed. The sharp and jagged rocks, though may be helpful in providing footing, can be relentlessly unforgiving on bare hands. 

It requires rock scrambling and rappelling to get to the very top of the boulder that sits on the mountain’s highest peak. It was tempting to give up because I was struggling to carry my body’s weight on the rope. But I was challenged when the tour guides told me, “Since you’re here, you’ll regret it if you don’t do it.”

I felt like a champion when I have scrambled on that rock. Once I got hold of the pink flag that mightily fluttered in the wind, I felt like I have conquered the cowardly giant in me. Everybody was a winner that day. We had to reward ourselves by resting in the Dumagat village which would take about an hour to reach.

The Dumagat people are one of the nation’s indigenous tribes living in Luzon. If you were lucky, they would cook tinola or pinikpikan for you (these are local chicken dishes, one is made with soup). However, there were no chickens available that day. We ended up with buko juice and pansit canton. 

The adventure would not be complete without visiting Tungtong Falls. The trail, which would take another hour from the Dumagat community, lingered around giant, dark, round rocks and cool streams. The waterfall was small but refreshing. Instead of diving, I took a short nap because I was so tired from the trip. 

The tour guides were wise enough not to bring us to the highest falls which required rappelling again. We were so exhausted from the very, long trail. One of us had sprained her knee and ankle. We enjoyed the final stretch of the trail by taking our own slow paces back to the starting point. 

Despite the strenuous journey, I was revitalized with the beauty of nature. Experiencing this is a privilege because it is a gift from the Greatest Artist in the universe. Seeing, touching, and feeling such immense creation is like seeing the very heart of God who made these things because He loves us greatly. It’s something you won’t find everyday in the mechanical jungle called Manila.

The river trail

As I closed my eyes to sleep in the van, I kept a clear picture of the pristine waters, the warm summer heat, and the vast sights from the summit. The memory I had treasured that day was the ability to conquer my secret fear of heights. That instance made me dare for more. I hope that little courage gained would not abandon me on my next adventure. 

The adventure team

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