Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

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

The sound of gongs is strongly infusing the festive atmosphere. The bride and the groom were greeting well-wishers who had attended their wedding ceremony earlier. Looking closer at the floor near the stage, a group of men playing gongs were formed in a circle. Old men in baseball caps, traditionally dressed elderly women wearing colored beads, young men in tuxedos, and ladies in satin gowns took turns in dancing traditional dances to the beat. In such a wedding feast in Baguio, no modernity can hinder the rhythmic culture their generations have embraced. 

In the definitive Filipino culture, weddings are held as a community event. Almost – if not everyone – in the community are invited to celebrate. The bayanihan system (a classic Filipino attitude where the whole bayan or community helps one another) becomes alive in such occasions. Neighbors would voluntarily help to cook, arrange, and even organize the wedding. While this tradition is slowly dying because more couples are relying on professional wedding coordinators, this concept is still being kept in many rural provinces and cities, including Baguio.

An example of the bayanihan system – locals form a line to pass food to one another in this large gathering at my friend’s wedding.

Every Filipino loves Baguio for its cool climate, strawberries, and many popular tourist sites. I love Baguio for its meek and courteous people. Some of them have become my friends and I have the privilege to taste their culture and their way of living.

I had two friends who have recently married at Baguio. Just like how the quaint townspeople of Bulacan would hold their weddings, they similarly hold their matrimony with a community celebration. My province, Bulacan, would have videoke as a form of entertainment while Baguio people would celebrate this occasion with dances and gongs. 

Gongs are considered an ancient instrument by city people like me. I am impressed that these people would not use them for production numbers alone. Both elders and youths would join together and strike musical rhythms on it. They are accompanied with traditional dances that love and courtship to mark the occasion. 

Food being served to the community at my friend’s wedding.

Usually, they would hold their celebrations the whole day, even up to the wee hours of the morning the next day. There is an abundant flow of food, mostly made of pork and chicken, rice, and pansit (a type of Filipino noodles) which the whole community would partake. Locals are not shy to share their talents while everybody would show their appreciation to them. Celebrations would continue at the house of the bride and the groom. Old men at night would chant to call the spirit of the anito (traditional deity) to bless the gathering. As the music and dancing continues, the bride and the groom danced along with everyone. And of course, the visitors are not exempted from joining in the fun.
For the first time, I played the gong. It was heavy for me, but the hypnotic rhythm of the instrument made me enjoy every moment I danced to its tune. I just think I look awkward while dancing. My Instagram post just proves that (sorry I can’t upload the video on this blog. So please click the link to find out. I am the lady in the white dress and black blazer in the video).

Baguio people are proud of their artful heritage, as they wear woven Kalinga skirts or intermarry these designs with modern fashion. They love their culture so much the rhythm of the gongs pulse through their veins, willingly dancing along every clanging beat without hesitation. Through the sound of their instrument they become one, bringing into awareness the legacy they carry as Igorots.

Celebrations would continue at my friend’s house the whole night

Manila, a fascinating city of sights, color, sounds, is nothing as unique as this. The mixture of various cultures has turned this central city of Luzon into a melting pot of obscurity. We have become more in tuned with modernity and Western civilization, losing into consciousness the beautiful, old songs that have been passed down to us through school. Looks like Madonna’s Crazy For You has become the local fixture in videoke sessions. 
I keep on learning so much from other cultures in my own country. With all regions having their own differences, it just proves that we are a diverse society. I’m glad we have Filipinos who still carry the pride of their heritage. The Igorots are teaching us that traditional hertages are not a myth but they are living, breathing, and are worth to be celebrated for their uniqueness.

You can check out the videos on my Instagram account @rhemapenaflor. Thanks for visiting! 🙂

I felt quite forlorn as our vacation in Cebu was wrapping up. It was the final day of our tour and we tried to see a few more places before moving back into reality.
After a heavy breakfast of eggs, hotdogs, and pandesal, we said goodbye to our very kind, elderly neighbors who had welcomed us more than our host. We proceeded to the city to get a taxi that would take us to a few more tourist sites and to the airport.

Orion overlooking Cebu City

We went to Tops, one of the highest points of the city, to see the Temple of Leah. We could have chosen to take a tour at Tops next but it was inaccessible during that time. A landslide caused by continuous rains had blocked the main road going to the peak. Fortunately, the Temple was still open to the public.

The Temple of Leah is not a place of worship. It serves as a dedication of entrepreneur and engineer Teodorico Adarna to his wife, Leah. This structure was also made for future generations of the Adarna clan to trace their roots and their heritage, as well as to stand as a landmark for Cebu.

Curious tourists came in groups to gaze at the glory of this temple that stands atop Baranggay Busay. Paying Php50 at the entrance, I’ve noticed that the temple was not yet completely done. Mounds of gravel was still hauled on a corner while parts of the tower’s basement was still undone. Construction was still ongoing although it had already begun on 2012. 

On the other hand, I was impressed by the Roman-inspired structures and statues that adorned the place. Walking along the fountain made me think I was in Italy. Doric columns and fierce, golden lions have guarded the steps into the temple. Neoclassical figures of Roman deities have beheld the vast and aesthetic topography of Cebu City. 

I’ve read articles that Leah was a traveler and she loved to collect items which were laid here. Giant Chinese and European vases she used to collect stood along the staircases. A dusty cellar full of foreign wine was kept locked in one of the rooms. This room, as well as other curious ones that were heavily locked, should have been developed and opened to the public for a grander visiting experience. 

Giving homage to the statue of Leah

In the middle of the large room stood the statue of Leah. Shrouded in gold, she beamed before intrigued tourists who dropped by to see who she was. It was the main attraction actually, but I guess the tourists who visited have realized they wanted nothing more but selfies and groupies in the place.

Turning wacky with friends

There was limited time left before my friends’ 4pm flight. Our lively and courteous taxi driver suggested we should take lunch at a popular seafood restaurant in the city. Now this is were diversity of Filipinos comes in, because Cebuanos have a totally different dialect and accent compared to those who live in Tagalog regions. We heard our driver say the name’s place was Isticki. But when we arrived at the place, we saw that its name was STK.

STK stands of sinugba (grilled), tola (boiled), and kilaw (marinated). They offer sumptuous seafood dishes like mixed seafood and the halaan soup. The place is very classy and homey as its antique decors would remind you of those summer days at grandma’s old house in a province far from Manila. 

Mixed seafood

Halaan soup with rice

Some of the antique that remind you of grandpa’s time capsule

Seafood that you can buy and take home (although they are a bit too expensive)

I returned to Manila alone because I was booked on a much later flight. My friends have taken an earlier flight. Despite the flight being late because of bad weather, I was still brimming with excitement. I wanted to tell everybody how wonderful Cebu was and I can’t wait to return again to see more of the island.

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