Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

Posts tagged ‘vacation’

Breathing Adventure: The Roadless Trip to Calatagan, Batangas.

We were going nowhere as we had no plan to live by. The sun was beating hard on the small, dusty Batangas road, but we kept our chill as we searched for the nearest beach. Borat Beach was already closed, and Google did not give an update about that. Stilts Beach was a romantic one, enough for a couple in love to own the place for themselves to fulfill their dream wedding on a scorching Friday morning. We were on our own and we were depending on Google Maps, who pointed us to a small beach called Manuel Uy Beach.

Manuel Uy is for the budget warriors, costing only Php200 per head for the entrance and Php150 for an overnight stay. We had two tents in store, making me live off with my remaining Php650 for the food. I did not mind the leaves falling or the sand flying above our heads, because I felt like a little kid having a picnic by the beach for the first time.

Road trips are never adventurous without Tina and Lans. 🙂

Now, I don’t know why is the beach named as such (we can only assume that it was owned by some rich, Chinese scion called Manuel Uy). It looks a bit boring at first. The heat was enough to melt us beneath the tree, unable to imagine why the people were scrambling to the middle of the sea in the midst of a hot, cloudless, summer midday.

We spent the whole day dozing off and trying to shield ourselves from the sun, which seemed to follow us because it disapproved of our remaining fair skin. Somehow, this is the camper’s life I’d like to live on a sleazy, Friday day-off. For once I’d like to forget my desk, my computer and the thought that I was a robot.

Our duo tents that were never slept in. 🙂

Exploring the beach became a part of our game when the sun was beginning to set down. It was still hot, but the waters were a bit warm and comfortable enough to forget the scorching heat that persecuted us the whole day.

The beach is safe for kids because the deepest part of the waters were five feet (just don’t go beyond the line and don’t be a stupid parent). The fun part was trying to show off some swimming skills, but it looked like a bad idea because I forgot my cap and my googles. So, I just settled with some fancy sunset photos.

One thing I had anticipated in this trip was stargazing. Sleeping under the moon and the stars was a lovely idea, except when you’ve forgotten to carry a mosquito-repellant lotion. The breeze made me cozy as I slept with my face up to Orion and the rest of the constellation, who showed up when I was in the middle of my dream.

I almost could not sleep as I tried to wait for some obscure shooting star in the wee hours of the morning. The dawn broke very early at 5 am and we rushed to the refreshing waters again. We wanted to have one final soak before we leave at around 8 am, the time when beachgoers were beginning to flock the beach on a sizzling, summer weekend.

Ah, the summer roadtrip…the trip home was made better with bulalo (cow bone soup) and buko pie (pie filled with coconut meat). These are just some of the things I miss about Batangas. The next time we come there, we’ll try the other beaches. I just hope nobody’s getting married that day.

*Would like to thank Valcres, too, for accompanying us on this trip! We would not have survived without you. 😃

​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. 

​Breathing Adventure: Basking in Hot Springs (Lost in Cebu Part 4)

The entrance to Mainit Springs

I let the cold drizzle kiss my face as I engulfed the fresh and salty air from the sea. I stared at the boats gathered at the whale watching site in a distance, trying to replay every detail of my close encounter with the whale sharks. The adventure could have ended on these shores but we wanted to see more of Cebu.
We had planned to visit a nearby waterfalls but locals have told us this might not be a good time. The weather had been very moody, bringing occassional rains that could spoil a trek. We opted to try the hot springs at Malabuyoc which would take more than an hour’s travel from Oslob. 

A waterfall near Mainit Springs

Upon reaching Bato bus terminal, we negotiated with motorcycle riders who had ferried us to the site. I advice you to better rent a car when visiting every tourist spot in Cebu because public transportation can be more costly. Travel time from Bato to Brgy. Montaneza in Malabuyoc would take almost an hour. 

The Mainit Springs (which is derived from the Tagalog word “hot”) is located in a dense forest filled with coconut trees. These sulfur springs are placed near a dormant or extinct volcano (whichever version you might hear). Entrance fee is only at Php20 and the site open from 6 am to 5 pm. 

The four springs come in varying degrees of heat. The coolest was at 36 degrees while the hottest was at 42 degrees. The coolest spring became even cooler because of the rains. But the ones at 40 and 42 degrees were not as easily bearable as you think. 

The secret to tolerate really hot pools is to start dipping the toes into the steaming water and try to slowly put the whole body little by little. Now, I dream of having my own sulfuric hot springs at home because it’s good for the body. It could prevent me from having a stuffed nose due to allergic rhinitis every morning and that has been proven at my first visit to Mainit in Bontoc (that’s at the northern tip of the Philippines). And because it’s relaxing, I could have dosed off in the pool if were not for my friends who were chatting with me.

Hot springs can increase metabolism. Saying so, I noticed my heart beat became faster after I dipped in the hottest pool. It’s advisable to immerse in immensely hot pools for a maximum of ten minutes. Then splash cold water unto the body briefly to close the pores. 

There’s also a message and therapy room which only costs Pho250. Too bad, the masseur was not there. We wrapped up our visit with a refreshing sip of buko juice (coconut juice) and hot pancakes. 

I can’t help but stare at the sea as our tour guides, who were also the motorbike riders who chaperoned us to the site, took us back to the bus station. Everything around me was a dream that could only come once in a while. I savored every moment and every sensation that surrounded the great, blue sea that lined the highway because within its waves were good memories of a paradise I knew I’d return to one day. 

Breathing Adventure: Exploring Art in BenCab’s World (Benguet Tour Part 1)

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The roads fresh from the New Year’s revelry the night before, this bored little lady headed away from the still smoky lowlands to the mist-covered highlands of Baguio. I was excited to get out of reality for a while in order to experience a real holiday vacation, even if it’s just so sudden.

There were only two days and one night left for me in Baguio. All I just wanted was to go trekking with my closest friend from the far end of this country. But with the rains and fog covering the summit, my friend gave a few choice places to tour around. I chose all of them. For now, I can only share one popular tourist destination you can check out when you get to Baguio.

I have been going to Baguio a number of times just like almost every local tourist in the country. But, I had to experience the BenCab museum yet. So, I’d rather not miss this itinerary that day.

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This art museum is flocked by tourists and art enthusiasts because of the man who set it up. Ben Cab, or short for Benedicto Cabrera, has been hailed as a national artist of the Philippines. He’s been considered as a world-class Filipino artist as his works have also became known in different countries. In support of other Filipino artists, he built this museum for everyone to enjoy Pinoy art.

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It takes a 15-minute taxi ride from Baguio City to get to this artist haven. Though located in an almost remote part of a word-carving village, it was crowded with tourists that day. Entrance was supposedly at P120, but it was not yet in effect. Instead, we paid the original price of twenty pesos less.

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Inside was a kaleidoscope of ideas, emotions, and history clashed together through various artworks from different artists. Modern art had dominated each rooms. Here are just some of my favorites:

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“Feral Garden” by Roger “Rishab” Tibon. Not only are cat lovers captivated by this painting but every eye that pass by it

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“Tamis” by Emmanuel Garibay. If you’d look closer beneath the arms, you can guess where this painting is pointing at. It speaks of women and children used as private armies in places of conflict.

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But nothing beats this Lynyrd Paras artwork. I guess the title (which is already written on this painting) should go for the broken hearted and the disappointed in life 🙂

Art can never stand alone without history. And history carries the spirit of art from the beginning of time. Bulol, or rice granary idols stood guard in some of the exhibition areas. These carved images depicts the pagan culture of the Northern tribes of Luzon, especially in these areas of Benguet. This has been a common sight in this part of the country, but I guess tourists like me could only look and wonder at them.

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Sitting quietly around the bulol guarding this place

Just as I was amazed in seeing Picasso and Rembrandt in real life at Ireland, I was amazed to see BenCab’s works personally for the first time. Some of his works made me wonder…

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Talking to BenCab’s Tribal Art. “Who or what are you?”

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“Kutohan” by BenCab. Removing lice has been a tradition since long ago

There is also the Erotica Gallery. I guess I don’t have to elaborate what kind of artworks you’d expect there. If you’re bringing along kids, I’d suggest you’d read the signs in every room you visit — unlike some the parents who wondered why they were offended at the artworks in this room.

If you’re hungry (and had enough money for quite expensive food), you can visit the Cafe Sabel. But for thrifty tourists like me, I’d pass it for the moment. My friend and I roamed around a bit of BenCab’s little garden, which was made to look like a little prototype of Benguet’s rice fields and idyllic villages. We had limited access of the whole garden as the ecotrail tour needs to be arranged at the reception.

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A part of BenCab’s garden

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A little rice paddy at BenCab’s garden

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Strawberry fields forever at BenCab’s garden

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The mist covering the museum building

 

Though the mist soon spoiled the garden’s view, our tour was a worthwhile experience. There are more places to go, but I guess I had to keep you waiting until my next blog. 🙂

Breathing Adventure: The Doggie Trail to the Top of Mt. Balagbag

Meet Heidi, our reliable tourist guide...er, tourist dog

Meet Heidi, our reliable tourist guide…er, tourist dog

In every mountain adventure we’ve had, there were always dogs trailing along with us. I always wonder if these dogs are the mountain’s watchdog, the forest’s secret agent, or a fairy disguised by walking on fours (be nice to them or they’ll turn you into a dog, too!). For whatever their doggie reason is, I find it cute having them with us. Sometimes, their presence is worth the furry adventure we would be looking for.

Leaving the noisy, crowded, urban atmosphere in Manila, we crossed two rustic provinces to take the trek on Mt. Balagbag. Standing at more than 700 meters above sea level (some say at 777 masl), this mountain stands in the boundary between the provinces of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan and Rodriguez, Rizal. In that two hour ride from Cubao, Quezon City, the roads became more isolated as they winded along the mountainous pathway painted with green hills and lonely huts and houses.

Alighting from the bus at Tungko, San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, we took a jeep going to Licao-Licao, Rodriguez, Rizal. Almost alone in the road, it skirted along a long, winding path patched with that seemingly endless, foresty scenario. It gave me a feeling we were going to a point of no return. It was a packed ride. Passengers only began

Part of Sierra Madre can be seen along the trail to the peak of Mt. Balagbag

Part of Sierra Madre can be seen along the trail to the peak of Mt. Balagbag

alighting at the end of the journey where small communities were thriving and sari-sari stores were mushrooming quietly.

The tricycle ride from Licao-Licao to the Veterans was really an intensely rocky one. In no more than twenty minutes, we arrived at the baranggay hall to register our names and give a “donation” for the mountain. At that point, I was expecting that they had tourist guides ready to assist us.

But there was not one tourist guide.

We decided to trek on our own. The trek was easy as there was a trail already made. The only hostile thing against us was the fierce heat of the sun. In order not to make the same mistake again, I had brought myself two liters of water and spread

Heidi grinning at me at one of our breaks

Heidi grinning at me at one of our breaks

sunblock abundantly that my skin turned white.

As we were breathing heavily on the slowly steepening trail, a dog suddenly jumped out of a hut and followed us. We first thought that it was only walking with us up to its destination. Soon enough, it became our friend. And we named her Heidi.

Why Heidi? My friends were reminded of somebody who was not of an appreciable character to them.

But we liked Heidi very much. She instantly became our tourist guide…or tourist dog. She was the one leading us, marching the rising pathway easily on her four legs. She’d even arrive first at a shade as we were pondering on taking a break. And then, she looked at us with those beady eyes when we pulled out our canisters and biscuits…

She was a lovely dog, even though she seemed to be an aspin (short for “asong Pinoy” or Philippine street dog in English). This kind of dog is a mixed breed of sort. But whatever she was, she was dependable and adorable. And I could say, she knows the area better than us.

A few meters toward the peak, we passed by another sari-sari store, an open gate, a tractor seemed to be used for

The gate going to the peak of Mt. Balagbag

The gate going to the peak of Mt. Balagbag

clearing the path (and new pathways on the mountain), and a lonely house on bare fields. That was the second point where we had to register and pay the “registration fee” at twenty pesos. There, we met another mountain biker going up the peak. Mt. Balagbag is recommendable for mountain biking as the path is wide and clear for this kind of activity.

We did not discover the shortcut to the peak though the lady at the second registration area said that it comes at the point where three rocks stand. Rocks? They’re everywhere! We might as well take the long cut.

IMG_20150626_103814What we did not realize was that Heidi was already showing us the shortcut, as she ran between big, odd rocks before us. But seeing us take the long cut, she followed us. That’s the desperate thing between humans and dogs. She did not have the human language to cry, “SHORTCUT!”

At last, we came at the helipad, the peak of Mt. Balagbag. Again, we met the mountain biker who no sooner became our friend. There were no extreme activities at our trek, but what was worth was the view, the cool air, the fun chatter, laughter, and new friends to keep.

An enchanting stunt for our "magic image"

An enchanting stunt for our “magic image”

Add that with the fun of making magic image with our phones.

Heidi again looked at me with those beady eyes. I was horrified when I realized that my bread was made of chocolate. While talking at the dog, I pointed at my friend. Heidi then turned her beady eyes to my friend who gave her some of her lunch.

Beyond the peak, we could see the mountains of Sierra Madre. Mt. Balagbag is just one of the peaks towering along this mountain range. But the disappointing sight was that a few mountains were being quarried. On the hindsight, to develop land for housing and every commercial industry might help for the town’s economy. But I believe that we can develop the land more by tourism and preserving nature. Adding urbanity on such environment can made one forget what nature and real beauty looks like.

At the top of Mt. Balagbag

At the top of Mt. Balagbag

We stayed on the top for hours, enjoying the crisp, clean air. Unfortunately, the phone signal was bad (we had to add each other on Facebook when we got home). We left the peak by taking the shortcut, trailing the wide and dusty road, and back into the foot of the mountain.

Surprisingly, Heidi automatically returned to that same house where she jumped off to meet us. As we were calling her name and saying goodbye, the owner of the house called in a loud voice, “HEIDEEEEE!!”

We were stunned. Now, we know why the dog kept on turning at us whenever we called her Heidi!

Towards the end of the our journey, we eased our tired feet by dipping ourselves IMG_20150626_115538in a pool at an almost empty resort at the foot of the mountain. We soon trudged the pouring rain in order to catch up the last ride to Tungko, which was supposedly at 6 pm. Fortunately, we took a jeep by 5 pm. Upon reaching Tungko, the sense of urbanity returned upon us. The roads were packed again with countless buses and jeeps; the city was flocked with those popular and affordable fast food restos.

At the end of the day, I realized that my prayer of having a tour guide had been answered. In a humorous turn, it turned out to be a dog. More faithful than I expected, Heidi kept a close watch at us, making sure that we human visitors enjoyed her mountain. But I guess the trip became more enjoyable because of her charming canine company in it. And oh, whether you might have a chance to trek Mt. Balagbag, don’t be surprised if Heidi jumps along the hike. 🙂

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Breathing Adventure: Highly Challenged at Mt. Pamitinan

IMG_20150615_144344A lump in my throat rose when I saw the seemingly endless trail of massive, jagged rocks. My water canister now empty, all that mattered to me was surviving this whole ordeal. I struggled along this trail that challenged both my balance and my ego. One misstep could cost my life. Looking at my legs, they now bore wounds and bruises. But until the trek had ended, I never thought that these would become my marks of accomplishment for this day.

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Mt. Binacayan inviting us to come touch its grounds next time 🙂

That’s how Mt. Pamitinan made me remember its steep and challenging trail. Rising with the height of 426 masl (meters above sea level), it sits along with other giants in Sierra Madre. Relatively small compared to other popular mountain peaks in the Philippines, it is not too easy for beginners. But, I’m not here to scare you. Instead, I’d like to share to you the challenge I gave myself on my first visit.

Standing before Mt. Pamitinan in this simple, rural village in Montalban, Rizal, I did not expect that it would be already steep right at its foot. Huge rocks were already bouldering before us along the pathway. I had to catch my breath as I exerted extra effort to take every step towards the top.

IMG_20150615_103519But that’s just halfway to the peak.

These rocks were more merciful compared to the ones toward the peak. Once we got to the middle of the trek, the rocks became edgier and more jagged in form. They can give you a lot of scratches and wounds if you are not careful. Thick gloves are necessary to wear at this point of the hike. A strong grip and a good balance is what you need to cross the rocky pathway.

Photo courtesy: Lans Macwes Scrambling up the trail

Photo courtesy: Lans Macwes
Scrambling up the trail

For the first time, I had to do rock climbing. I had the trouble of carrying my own weight so I was the slowest in our group. Another dilemma I had was my short stature. I had to force myself to reach some of the safest steps. Also, I had to battle my own mindset of falling over. As the narrow pathway revealed steep ravines, I knew I had to come out here alive.

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Mt. Binacayan inviting us to come touch its grounds next time 🙂

If we had come earlier, we could have climbed Mt. Pamitinan’s twin peak, Mt. Binacayan. I am reminded of those stories in my elementary student years of a legendary hero who held them so they would not bump each other. Named as Bernardo Carpio, he was said to be enchanted by his enemies or punished because of misbehavior – whatever legend tells you. Whenever Bernardo moves a shoulder, an earthquake occurs and the mountains move. Glad he did not feel an itch, then. Just look at the size of these rocks that might fall on me.

When we reached peak 1, we knew we had to bask in the glory of staying on top. Right before us was the whole of Montalban, Rizal, where its greenery was mixed with urbanity. Ironically, singing from various videoke stations echo can be heard from the foot of the mountain. Oh, well, that is also part of urbanity.

At our side was Mt. Paminitan’s twin peak, Mt. Binacayan, also a steep and jagged peak. Perhaps another time? Maybe soon.

Peeking at you from Mt. Pamitinan's first peak :)

Peeking at you from Mt. Pamitinan’s first peak 🙂

We could have reached peak 2, which was, I believe, higher than peak 1. But one of our friends did not wish to go further the steeper trail. Well, I could have challenged myself as well. But I guess I’d like to bask in the Wawa dam by then.

It was 2 o’ clock in the afternoon when we were almost at the foot of the mountain. Water and other replenishments were being sold at that part of the trail (talk about urbanity on its sides). For once in our lives, that cold, cold bottle of water became gold for us. Even that cold, kiddie orange juice was something I could have died for at that moment.

Our exhaustion was washed out by the warm, soothing waters of the Wawa Dam.

Photo courtesy of my friend, Tina. Refreshed in the relaxing current of Wawa Dam. :)

Photo courtesy of my friend, Tina. Refreshed in the relaxing current of Wawa Dam. 🙂

Although it is not used as a water utility supply system for the public, people can still enjoy its waters by bathing in it. For about an hour, we waded in its shallow currents and let its relaxing waters pour over us. It’s like our reward after that strenuous trek.

The sun now about to retire in the orange, Western sky, we knew we had to return to Manila. I realized that not all mountains are easy to trek. Even in this challenging journey, I knew that the Lord had a powerful revelation for me. With that difficult and heart-pumping trek, I am reminded that I never have to give up whatever I’m treading on. Once I am already in such a difficult path, the only way to get out of it is to move on. I had the realization that for a long time, I had been a couch potato. Now, it’s time to get out of the comfort zone.

Even those rocks were used to teach me a lesson. Although rough and dull, they mirrored much of my own personality and the changes I need to make for myself to become a better person. So, I guess, it’s time to move on to another mountain. Let’s go! 🙂

Breathing Adventure: That Brief But Wacky Trip to Mt. Manalmon

IMG_20150611_113249The sound of water splashing beneath the bridge welcomed us after that long, rocky, brain-jarring tricycle ride. The air that blew on our faces was getting even more sultry and humid. The sun was already glaring high above the cool shady trees. It was already late in the morning for we had left late from Manila. There were already other hikers who came before us. But I guess we were quite on time. I was glad to feel the countryside again, far away from my home yet close within my territory.

Welcome to Mt. Manalmon, one of the mountains belonging to the rocky terrain of Biak-na-Bato in San Miguel, Bulacan. An

The river at the foot of Mt. Manalmon

The river at the foot of Mt. Manalmon

easy trek to go through, it would only take about thirty minutes to get to the top (almost an hour if you have countless rest periods. So, better eat a banana first). It stands at 196 masl (meters above sea level ). It may not compete with the other giants we have conquered, but as always there’s having the price of having a good view, a memorable experience, and an achievement after getting to the top.

I felt like a stranger in my own province. Living in another town in Bulacan, I did not know this little piece of adventure myself until a friend recommended it to me. From my hometown in Sta. Maria, it would take about an hour and a half to three hours to San Miguel. However, a bus ride from Cubao is faster, taking only about two hours. Since there is no direct transport system from my town to San Miguel, going to Cubao would be my best option. Just drop by Baliwag Transit or Five Star Liner and take the bus going to Cabanatuan. Bus fare is only P117.

My friend and I took the trip on a weekday since most tourists flock in at weekends. As I watched out for the road signs, I felt like being transported in time. The roads took us to quaint little, farming villages, knowing that the air outside was scented with newly planted palay (rice) and fresh soil. But our destination is more than rice paddies and farms. We got the first knack of adventure when we had taken that bumpy tricycle ride from Camias, San Miguel which was supposedly at P240. But, we were given a deal of P180 on this ride.

Given the name, Biak-na-Bato, or “split rock” in English, is a valley-like terrain divided by a long winding river. Looking at the crystal clear waters, one might think that these are too shallow. However, this tourist spot is notorious for the sudden rise of its currents during rainy days. It would be better to arrive here on a dry, summer season to enjoy more of its place.

Once we treaded the path to the peak, I suddenly had to battle again the feeling of falling over. Although most parts of the trail are easy, there are some really steep places. Most of these areas are covered in limestones, which spike out on the edges of the mountains. I always had the difficulty of getting a good footing on such trails, but I took them slowly but surely.

The peak of Mt. Arayat in Pampanga saying "Hello!" :)

The peak of Mt. Arayat in Pampanga saying “Hello!” 🙂

The sun was already getting a bit harsher on us. We had to stop occasionally for water breaks and banana snack time (still a lot of them in my bag). Upon reaching a smooth rock on top, we reached the first part of the peak. At that point, we could see the peak of Mt. Arayat in Pampanga inviting us to give her a visit sometime soon.

Mt. Gola on the other side

Mt. Gola on the other side

A few minutes more, we moved on and reached its top. The sight below was a treat. On the other side, there’s the peak of Mt. Gola, another mountain in Biak-na-Bato. Way down below is the Madlum River, winding all the way through this terrain. But from beyond, the rain clouds came and loomed over us.

The rain approaching the peak. See how the other side is not showered upon :O

The rain approaching the peak. See how the other side is not showered upon :O

It’s funny how we had to open our umbrellas as we descended down the mountain. I advise you to bring raincoats all the time when trekking. It’s better to keep your hands free so you can hold unto rocks on steep portions. The weather is even more moody than our emotions; it can suddenly change in a minute.

It was not a dangerous downpour, but the mud heavily stuck on our shoes and sandals so we had to walk barefooted. Our tour guide knew where the rain would fall, so he led us to a safer route. Fortunately, it did not rain upon the Madlum River, so we spent the time washing our shoes and feet upon the clean, crystal clear waters.

The clean waters of the Madlum River

The clean waters of the Madlum River

We initially planned to go into the Bayukbok Caves since we’ve heard that there are more activities in it. But because the

Into the Madlum Cave

Into the Madlum Cave

rains had fallen on that portion, our tour guide said that it might not be wise to go there at that moment. The path in that cave, riddled with more jagged limestones, can become dangerously slippery, especially for my round, little feet.

A stalagmite at Madlum Cave

A stalagmite at Madlum Cave

Instead, we explored the Madlum Cave. From the Kapampangan word, the Madlum Cave, which means madilim or dark, is eerily dark and silent inside, save for the tiny screeches of the fruit bats living there. Even if I tell you that this cave became a production set for the television fantaserye, Mulawin, you will not find any superstars in there. This small cave has nursed glittering stalagmites, stalactites, and history. From its hushed walls, I learned that San Miguel was once a part of the province of Pampanga. And from this cave, the image of their patron saint was found. Thus, this was how San Miguel was given its name.

So much for the history and the little magical chant that we had inside (I won’t tell you because you have to discover that). We had to try one more escapade before going home: the monkey bridge.

To cross the other side through merely two thick wires suspended over water might seem to be a horror story to you. Don’t.

Want to join me to the other side? :)

Want to join me to the other side? 🙂

Think of it like you’re playing monkey bars in a playground. One wire balances beneath our feet and the other is held by our bare hands while crossing it sideways. I’m sure this looks familiar to you if you’ve seen that milk commercial of two small children crossing such a bridge while going to school.

And our tour guide was right. That crossing over was the longest ten minutes of our lives. Scary? Not anymore when you get to the middle. The wires can become wobbly in that journey, but I’ve been fascinated by the river and the view before me. I love the idea of being suspended on air, while being cautious of myself and being conscious of the water and the rocks below me *gulp*. It was very

See you there! :)

See you there! 🙂

exhausting though, because I exerted my weight on both my hands and feet while balancing myself. Besides that, my friend and I did it with bare hands. (Whew!) It’s an achievement once you get to the other side. Go, monkey, monkey, monkey bars! (Now, where’s that banana? Gimme more, gimme more!)

The afternoon sun was cooling down a bit. It was a short, fun-filled,

My friend, Lans, and I had a fun time with this equally wacky and trustworthy tour guide, Michael. I assure that you can rely on these guys. :)

My friend, Lans, and I had a fun time with this equally wacky and trustworthy tour guide, Michael. I assure that you can rely on these guys. Never go alone in your trip to the top. 🙂

and wacky trip (add it up with those silly anecdotes from our tour guide). If we have stayed a bit longer, much more could have been explored. Still, it was very meaningful, knowing that this tour is just right for our budget. I’d suggest don’t go alone on these trips and

have a trusted tour guide with you. That would make P300 for the tour guide and P200 for every cave visited. The bigger you are in a group, the better you can budget and share in these expenses.

If you’d ask me, I’d like to return to Biak-na-Bato. It’s ironic how rare I’d get to visit this part of my province. After this third visit I’d like to add more, and drop by other portions of Biak-na-Bato that I’ve not explored yet.

See you again, Biak-na-Bato? Of course. 🙂

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Little Respite, Big Blessings

It’s been a month since I’ve resigned from my job. There has been lesser thrills and even lesser frills. I would admit that I am already impatient to get into a new job. For the moment, I am looking at the blessings of having my “vacation mode”.

One my say that my decision to leave my job was foolishness. Perhaps. But the peace I gained when I decided to leave that company was a sign that it was time. This temporary respite from the competitive world is a season to rest and to prepare for the next season. It became my time of reflection; thinking of the new possibilities of facing another world.

Here are the simple, good things I’m experiencing in this respite:

1. Healthy living – In this brief season, I have found out how intoxicated I’ve become when I was working. I am a typical

Bananas, mangoes, and black rice...my everyday diet (",)

Bananas, mangoes, and black rice…my everyday diet (“,)

workaholic in an eight hour shift, not eating lunch until my work is done. I eat too much when I take a break – too much preservatives and fast food junk. But when I stayed at home, my mom would feed me with the more organic food such as *gasp* black rice. Yes, folks, better than the usual white rice than Filipinos consume everyday. It is richer in fibre and antioxidants. I even get to enjoy my morning banana and mango shake. Then I’d have apple mangoes and Indian mangoes straight from our trees. This is life, as one may call it.

Compared to when I was working, I could now get my eight hour sleep (add it with a five hour siesta if I don’t have much to do in this scorching heat at home). Before, I have been stressed even while I sleep. I had even dreamed my job every night – that is a nightmare for me! But it’s a good thing I don’t experience that now. My mom would tell me my eye bags slowly vanish. I don’t even have to compete for a bus ride home. I don’t experience the stress of waiting at the MRT queue for two hours anymore.

People noticed how I became thinner even though I’ve been staying quite so long at home. Perhaps, my metabolism became faster due to my healthier choice of meals.

2. Oh, the love of writing – Indeed, I could write again! I’ve been writing daily news articles and public announcements for four years, but not novels. I’ve had a gazillion stacked in my head. I’ve begun a few of them ten years ago without ever finishing them. When I got down to work and my fingers railed across the keyboards, I was stunned. I never thought it was difficult to write novels…much more the ones left a decade ago. They nearly wracked my brain as I polished them with details and events, twists and plots. It’s hard to put in words what have been circulating in your imagination. Now, I’m done and there are more waiting to lie down on the blank white pages of the Microsoft Word. The next step would be publishing. That’s what I have to worry soon.

One of my successful baking attempts: oatmeal cookies with Nutella filling

One of my successful baking attempts: oatmeal cookies with Nutella filling

3. Baking – Even though they end up as fudge bars, I will do my best to bake. It takes time, passion, and a hungry stomach. It’s fun, especially when your mom appreciates your baking.

4. Plans for studying – So as to make sure that cookies will end up as cookies and fudge bars as fudge bars, I need to learn and retrain. One day, it could become my business; I’m not planning to be an office girl forever. Another course I needed (I think) is to study English again…add that up with critical thinking using this language. I need retraining; this would be necessary for my next job.

5. More time to pray – The most important but the one I’ve missed most when I was in that company. Whenever I’d come home after work, I’d flop down on my bed without praying. I’d struggle to pray at times, leaving me with a five-minute, quick-dash, heartless prayer. But these times are different. I’d stay in my room for an hour or so just to have quiet times with God. With this, I am more strengthened and encouraged. We can’t go on the whole day without His presence. I realized how it is important to spend quiet times with God day and night, so that we can learn from His Word and listen to His voice. It also brings us closer to His heart. I’ve missed the day and night practice when I resigned from my first job, causing me to worry all the time. I’ve even missed this when I was working, causing me to be always stressed. I just pray that this prayer lifestyle would not change but flourish when I go back to work. I am still learning though. But now, I began to have deep peace. And this would only come through our daily fellowship with God.

Do I need to worry? I guess not. In all these things, I believe the Lord is in control. So, while waiting, I need to spend a lot of quality time with myself, my family, and the Lord. 🙂

The Magic Of Dinner Over Movies (Sixth Bite): A Reunion in Pampanga

It’s strange how our relatives could only get together after years. If it were not for a cousin’s special occasion, my mom and I wouldn’t get a chance to visit Pampanga.

Pampanga is a province located in Central Luzon. Should you begin your travel point from Manila, go in a two-hour northward travel to get to Pampanga, or longer depending on the city to visit. Since my province Bulacan is adjacent to Pampanga, travel going there is quicker. From the district of Bocaue, Bulacan to the city of San Fernando, Pampanga, it takes about an hour’s ride. So what’s so special about this place? For foodies like me, of course, it would be food.

I had the privilege to taste of the authenticity of Kapampangan dishes as my cousin invited us for the christening of her first baby. Now, add up the mini-reunion of relatives on my mother’s side, our visit is worth to remember.

Kapampangan dishes are known for their richness. Besides that, their food can range from simply being savory to exotic. I’ll give you a peek to one of the restaurants there.

Bale Capampangan:
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My craving to taste the best of Pampanga has been answered by having the privilege to visit and have lunch in this cozy restaurant, located in Dolores, San Fernando, Pampanga. The buffet it offers has a variety of dishes, igniting the curiosity and the hunger pangs in me.

IMG_20150516_112354There are the classic dishes of bulalo (cow soup), pinakbet (vegetables cooked in sauce made of seafood like shrimp or fish), bistig damulag (the Kapampangan version of beefsteak). I’d take only a little of each, since they are very rich in ingredients. The each sauce of these dishes is filled with much flavour. It embodies the homestyle cooking. Besides, the place is a good place for family reunions as it gives a homey feel.

Adobong Balut

Adobong Balut

There are also exotic food like the pasta aligue (pasta made with crab paste), susong supsop (yes, it’s

made of cooked, small snails) and adobong balut (the matured chicken egg now cooked adobo-style). These are but a few in the whole bunch of buffet offered by this restaurant. I bet you’ll keep on coming back once you take a bite of them.

As most Filipinos, we had the habit of ignoring the people around us while we eat. Perhaps, it’s an inborn ability to take note of the food first before we get to talk much. Or perhaps, we heed what the elders say: “Don’t eat when your mouth is full.”

Susong supsop

Susong supsop

Of course, Filipino meals are not complete without sweets. After a plateful of the main course, we’d line up for halo-halo (or mixed up, literally in English). Just fill your glass with sweet banana, red sago (round starch pearls), mongo, pinipig (uncooked glutunous rice), sugar, crushed ice and milk. A cold treat to chase the summer heat away.

Aside from that, there are also other sweets and rice cakes like the palitaw.

I guess this place gave us much to talk about, like language differences. Yes, that’s right. The signs are mostly in Kapampangan. In the Philippines, each provinces have unique dialects. Pampanga has its own dialect, aside from the Tagalog widely spoken in the whole country. Even my uncle admits that he was still confused with some of the words, being a Bicolano himself.

The calming atmosphere of the restaurant made us stay, relax, dive into nostalgia and crack jokes at one another. Because it shunned us from the terrifying heat of the day, I did not notice that we were staying there for more than five hours! It was past three in the afternoon, and we would have wished to stay longer with our relatives.

After scouting for pasalubong, my cousins invited us to try the popular cheese bread and Spanish bread of a bakery just beside Bale Capampangan.

L.A. Bakeshop:

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When the door was opened, the smell of freshly baked bread gave us the tingling sensation of home in the city. Started in 1985, this bakeshop had its humble beginnings at one of this city’s market. But the populace would flock this store because of its tasty cheese bread, thus it grew into a cafe and resto-bakery.

Some of L.A. Bakery's special breads and cookies lined up at the counter beside the cafe

Some of L.A. Bakery’s special breads and cookies lined up at the counter beside the cafe

L.A. Bakery's tasty cheese bread and Spanish bread. Thirty pieces of these can be sold for P195. Freshly baked, it's inviting scent invigorates nostalgia and the hunger pangs of the other passengers in the van as we went home :)

L.A. Bakery’s cheese bread and Spanish bread. Thirty pieces sold at P195. Freshly baked, its inviting scent ignited nostalgia and the hunger pangs of the other van passengers as we went home 🙂

Unlike some usual cheese bread bought in other bakeries, this one is oozing with much cheese and it’snot airy; even though it looks smaller compared to other breads. The Spanish bread is sweetly superb, as well. A box of it would make a good pasalubong. Aside from being tasty, a box of it is worth its price. Even if you reheat it in the oven, it still smell as if freshly baked, provided that you keep it in a safe place. My mother said that instead of using lard, real butter and egg yolks were used for the dough. If we had much more time, we’d stay with our cousins and have coffee in this homey little bakeshop. Perhaps, I would not stop myself from its offer of unlimited coffee and bread. Yes, coffeeeeee… 🙂

My cousins introduced us other shops just near these places where we’ve been. I promised them and myself that we would return and try them all. But I would enjoy these places and food better with my relatives. That would make every bite and taste more sumptuous and even memorable.

Meet my family. My mom (in red) and I (in the dark green dress) together with my cousins, uncle, and aunt :)

Meet my family. My mom (in red) and I (in the dark green dress) together with my cousins, uncle, and aunt 🙂


Breathing Adventure (Mt. Pulag hike): Playing Upon the Clouds

20150404-183715.jpg Photo Courtesy of Highland Travel Crew

Ever dreamed of touching the sky as a kid? I thought of it as impossible. For me, to see them swirling as cotton-candy like castles above me was a satisfaction. The closest thing I could get near them was on an airplane. Still, they were impersonal, dreamy beings, as glass panes always get in the way of their existence and my own world.

When a friend invited me to hike Mt. Pulag, I obliged, longing to unleash the adventurer in me. But I never thought I could catch a great prize from that exhausting, five-hour trek.

Mt. Pulag is Philippines’ 3rd highest peak. It is located in Benguet, Mt. Province, which is six to eight hours away from Manila. If taking the Ambangeg trail (the one we had taken), it would take you about five hours before reaching the top.

As Luzon’s highest peak, Mt. Pulag has the reputation of having an extremely low temperature. Upon hiking, one needs to wear a windbreaker jacket. With that, I had to wear two layers of clothes and warmers to make sure I won’t get in trouble. I even covered them with a raincoat.

20150404-182741.jpg When we arrived there on March 26, we decided to stay in the ranger house as it was drizzling cold. We abandoned the initial plan of taking the first part of the hike that afternoon to stay at Camp 2 for the night. Should we have insisted on that plan, all of us might catch hypothermia without reaching the top.

Excited, some of us tried to explore part of the trail. Notice how the mountains consist of lush vegetation and plants not found in Manila. People here live a quiet living through agriculture and tourism (most of them work as tourist guides or porters for Mt. Pulag). It was a flourishing community, without the stress of infrastructure.

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After a night of getting-to-know new friends in the mountain group and a few hours of battling the cold while sleeping in that warm cabin, we started the hike at 2 o’ clock in the morning. The advantage of this Plan B is that we don’t need to carry our heavy bags to Camp 2, which would take about three hours from the mountain ranger site. All we need are our phones, cameras, and flashlights and our cold gear (not to mention hiking shoes to get sure footing on the muddy trail).

The hike to the top was dark and risky. Some parts of the trail were quite narrow. Steep cliffs were lingering at the sides. But somehow, the trail was easy to follow. I would have loved to gaze at the stars but I had to keep my eyes on the muddy and sometimes slippery track. The rain had passed but the ground was still wet.

Mt. Pulag is known for giving its visitors a view of the Milky Way. Upon reaching Camp 2, the skies uncovered the blanket of stars and wonders. But it did not end here. After resting for a few minutes, we continued our trek to the peak.

My legs were almost giving way. I’m not used to long trekking adventures such as these. On occasions my friends and I would trek mountains, two hours would be at most for me. But the head of the mountain group challenged me to reach the top, even though I was pointing at the mountain’s third highest peak nearby.

Mt. Pulag reaches the sky at 2,922 meters above sea level. It contains three peaks, Peak 1 as the highest.

The sun was peeking above the clouds. I wanted to stay where I was as my pace was getting slower due to exhaustion. And I was already screaming angrily and stomping my feet because I could see the rest of the group reaching the top and only two of us were left behind.

But I don’t want to be left out. The way near the peak was so steep, my friend and I were crawling on ground. If it weren’t for that nightly jogging sessions, I wouldn’t have survived the thin air at the top and rolled away down the mountain.

The sun was quite a bit high when the reached the top. Still a bit dazzled, the couldn’t grasp the reality that I was already at 2,922 meters high. Not until the sea of clouds danced before me eyes.

I was above the clouds. I never, never, never I could reach this top. And watch a wonderful phenomenon before my eyes!

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Photo Courtesy of Highland Travel Crew

Imagine the sea of clouds falling upon the mountains like waterfalls. I never thought I had passed right through them and be above them. Below us are the mountains beautiful and green, as if they’re miniatures that I could fascinate with. But those clouds were a treat. Such was the prize of taking a risk to touch the heavens and behold the creation secretly intertwined with our being.

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Photo Courtesy of Tina Sison

Picture taking and selfie sessions were not missed during this moment. While everyone was taking coffee, I gulped on my friend’s tomato juice. But, I couldn’t help but endlessly gaze at the sight around me.

When the time to descend had come, I secretly did not want to go yet. But I promised myself to go back one day and gaze once more at the sea of clouds with my own eyes.

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(Pictures on the peak courtesy of Highland Travel Crew. Thanks, guys, for challenging me to reach the top!)

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