Sunday, November 30, 2014

To live with the darkness inside

Sunday, November 30, 2014

…Don't be afraid, the darkness you're in is no greater than the darkness inside your own body, they are two darknesses separated by a skin, I bet you've never thought of that, you carry a darkness about with you all the time and that doesn't frighten you...my dear chap, you have to learn to live with the darkness outside just as you learned to live with the darkness inside….

~Jose Saramago, All the Names, 1999

Friday, November 14, 2014

Last Goodbye

Friday, November 14, 2014

Early this morning I received word from my mother that my father has passed away. It’s over. He is no longer in pain. 

As I’m writing this, I’m trying not to feel anything—not the sorrow, not the anger, not the bitterness over losing someone who could’ve been and should’ve been, but wasn’t, a part of my life. It’s been months since I last saw my father. I felt even then that I will never see him again. That day we said our last goodbye.

Friday, October 31, 2014

They traveled for thirteen hours

Friday, October 31, 2014

They travelled for thirteen hours down-hill, whilst the streams broadened and the mountains shrank, and the vegetation changed, and the people ceased being ugly and drinking beer, and began instead to drink wine and to be beautiful. And the train which had picked them at sunrise out of a waste of glaciers and hotels was waltzing at sunset round the walls of Verona.


~ E.M. Forster, Where Angels Fear to Tread, 1905

Thursday, October 30, 2014

We are here to suffer

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I'd like to think of myself as a "seasoned" hiker, yet in the middle of a hike I, gasping for breath and willing my legs to move, always ask myself why I'm there: a foot away from falling into a cliff and surrounded by the world's endless expanse of beauty.

While hiking in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco
Why are we doing this instead of sipping pina coladas on a beach in Thailand? My partner, in life and in travel, gave the most perfect answer: 

"We are not here for a vacation; we are here to suffer."


Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Favorite Experiences in Morocco

Thursday, October 16, 2014

I just came back from Morocco.  It was far from what I expected to be. I imagined a raucous country not unlike Delhi or Kathmandu, but what I experienced were serene tree-lined boulevards devoid of traffic, subdued tourist attractions with only a few visitors mingling about, touts and shopkeepers that were infinitely less aggressive than the ones I encountered in other countries, and local people who are welcoming to tourists.

Let me start a series on my travel experiences in Morocco by listing down the best ones:








Tuesday, September 9, 2014

But you would do well not to believe it

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Marquis dusted off the Italian theorbo. He restrung it, tuned it with a perseverance that could be understood only as love, and once again accompanied the songs of the past, sung with the good voice and bad ear that neither years nor troubled memories had changed. This was when she asked him whether it was true that love conquered all, as the songs said.

"It is true," he replied, "but you would do well not to believe it."


~Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Of Love and Other Demons, 1994

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Our quest for a waterfall lead us to the beach

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My siblings and I awoke at first light and hurried out into the crisp morning air, athirst for a day of adventure, an interruption in the routines of everyday life. We set out on the road in pursuit of that obscure waterfall, but on arrival we were greeted by a complete tangle of undergrowth fronted by an imposing NO TRESPASSING sign, and not the curtain of cascading waters that we anticipated . Undaunted, we then made our way to look for a resort close by, but we ended up on a lovely beach in another province.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Subtle, Imaginary Sounds of the Written Word

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else. The reader’s ear must adjust down from loud life to the subtle, imaginary sounds of the written word. An ordinary reader picking up a book can’t yet hear a thing; it will take half an hour to pick up the writing’s modulations, its ups and downs and louds and softs.

~ Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, 1989

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

6.7 Kilometers in 2 Hours

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What used to be a 30-minute commute from the office to my house--roughly 6.7 km--has now become two hours. With light to moderate traffic, that distance is merely a 13-minute drive. The road repairs that have started in April of this year continue to exacerbate traffic congestion in the city. Commuters like me are left with two choices: sight tight and wait for the jeep to move along inch by painful inch, or go down and walk.  Every day I’m tempted to go for the latter.

6.7 km in two hours is equivalent to around 2 miles per hour (mph). And 2 mph is like walking at a slow pace. It means that if I start walking leisurely from work, I would arrive home at the same time as when I ride a jeep. By walking at that speed for two hours, I would also burn 200 calories. That sounds so much better than observing my zombielike fellow passengers whose faces mirror the lifeless resignation that must be on my face.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Moroccan Chickpea Salad

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ever since I started reducing my intake of meat products, I’m always looking for recipes that feature alternative sources of protein. I was lucky to have come across a Moroccan salad recipe, which I modified a bit.  The original recipe included mint and dried pluots, plums or dates. But those ingredients were not available in the grocery store so I used cilantro instead of mint and raisins instead of dried pluots or dates. I also substituted calamansi for lemons, which at that time were sold at an exorbitant price.

The recipe may have been altered, but the salad tastes delicious nonetheless.

Here’s my recipe:

Moroccan Chickpea Salad


Dressing
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh calamansi juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 big carrot, sliced whisper thin
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 cup raisins
½ cup fresh cilantro, torn


Whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing. Combine the chickpeas, carrots, cilantro, and raisins in another bowl. Add the dressing then toss gently to blend all ingredients thoroughly.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lonely and resistant rearrangers of things

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle…. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss. 


~Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 1968 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Three Months To Go

Monday, June 30, 2014

I have less than three months to prepare for our next trip. There are still so many things left to do:
  1. File for leave of absence
  2. Purchase plane tickets
  3. Finalize the itinerary
  4. Choose and book hotels in Casablanca, Marrakech, Imlil, and Fez
  5. Book trek in the Atlas Mountains
  6. Book Sahara Desert Trek
  7. Study Moroccan culture
  8. Study the places in the itinerary
  9. Study train and bus routes and timetables
  10. Choose my travel wardrobe
  11. Make my packing list
  12. Learn some basic phrases in Arabic and Berber
  13. Train for the hike
The more I think of all the things I need to do, the more excited I become.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Losing your corememberer

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My nineteen-year-old sister gave me a copy of The Fault in Our Stars, the novel by John Green where the film of the same title was based from. I’ve never seen the movie, and I was intrigued why it became such a top grosser. So, like what my sister told me to do, I read the book. 

Here’s a passage from the book that I liked: 
“The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing your corememberer meant losing the memory itself, as if the things we’d done were less real and important than they had been hours before.” (John Green, The Fault in Our Stars, 2012)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Detached

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It is sad to realize that I don’t have any close friends except the ones I made in high school. 

Was I a different person then? How have I become the recluse I am today? Have I always been this detached from people, or have I just found it easier to avoid the company of others?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Nostalgia

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Nostalgia, as always, had wiped away bad memories and magnified the good ones. No one was safe from its onslaught. Through the train window you could see men sitting in the doorways of their houses, and you only had to look at their faces to know what they were waiting for. Women washing clothes on the gravel beaches watched the train go by with the same hope. They thought every stranger who arrived carrying a briefcase was the man from the United Fruit Company coming back to reestablish the past. 

 ~Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Living to Tell the Tale, 2002

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kecak and Fire Dance in Uluwatu, Bali

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tired of too much temple trotting during our last trip to Nepal, we vowed not to visit any temple in Indonesia—well, except for Pura Luhur Uluwatu, one of Bali’s holiest temples. It is perched high on a cliff at Bukit Peninsula and offers spectacular views of the ocean. 


It was at Uluwatu temple where we chanced upon the Kecak and Fire Dance, a Balinese cultural show. I read about the Kecak, but I did not know how popular it was until I saw the tourists arriving in droves. 

According to the libretto that came with our tickets: 

“Kecak is the most unique Balinese dance because, unlike all other Balinese performances, it is not accompanied by any musical instruments. Instead, a chorus of about seventy men imitates the sounds of musical instruments, tell the story, and provide sound effects. The name Kecak comes from the chattering cak-cak sounds of the chorus.” 



“Kecak is an adaptation of an ancient ritual ceremony called Sanghyang that was held to purify a village during an epidemic. In this ceremony two young girls would go into trance and communicate with the spirits in order to find the cause and cure of the problem. Sanghyang was always accompanied by a chorus of men chanting the same was in Kecak. Kecak also incorporates some of the episodes of the traditional Wayang Wong ceremony which deals with parts of the ancient Hindu epic, Ramayana.”



While the sky was slowly bathed in hues of orange and red, the performers told the story of Rama and Sita with so much passion that I can't help but be impressed.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Rule of Proximity

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Here is the rule of proximity: You get to one place, and it becomes impossible, basically, not to start looking at whatever else is nearby. Climb to the top of one mountain, and you see the whole range. If you make it as far as Cambodia, what’s keeping you from Malaysia? From Malaysia, it’s just a little hop to Indonesia, and onward from there. For a while, the world for me was like a set of monkey bars. I swung from one place to the next, sometimes backward, sometimes forward, capitalizing on my own momentum, knowing that at some point my arms—or, more accurately, my quivering bank balance, accessed through foreign ATMs—would give out, and I’d fall to the ground.

~ Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett, A House in the Sky, 2013

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Climbing Mt. Buntis in Maragondon, Cavite

Thursday, May 29, 2014

All I wanted for my birthday was to climb a mountain, any mountain. It’s that feeling of total fulfillment from physical exertion that I’m after, not really the view from the peak or the scenery along the trail.  Indulging in uninterrupted stillness and unsullied air, pushing my body to do more than I could do, disconnecting from the rest of the world were the gifts that I wanted to give myself.

And so I did.


Monday, May 19, 2014

In the trail of yellow leaves of his autumn

Monday, May 19, 2014

 …but he learned to live with those and all the miseries of glory as he discovered in the course of his uncountable years that a lie is more comfortable than doubt, more useful than love, more lasting than truth, he had arrived without surprise at the ignominious fiction of commanding without power, of being exalted without glory and of being obeyed without authority when he became convinced in the trail of yellow leaves of his autumn that he had never been master of all his power, that he was condemned not to know life except in reverse, condemned to decipher the seams and straighten the threads of the woof and the warp of the tapestry of illusions of reality without suspecting even too late that the only livable life was one of show, the one we saw from this side which wasn’t his general sir, this poor people’s side with the trail of yellow leaves of our uncountable years of misfortune and our ungraspable instants of happiness…

~Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Autumn of the Patriarch, 1975

Thursday, May 15, 2014

On the Road to Batad Rice Terraces, Banaue, Ifugao

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Our adventure started with a ten-hour bus ride from Manila to Banaue. Except for the extreme cold, the ride was pretty uneventful. My siblings and I fell asleep the moment the engine started and woke up to the voice of the conductor crying, “wake up! Wake up!” and the patter of the rain against the window panes. We were five minutes to the town proper of Banaue then.

The bus dropped us off at the tourist center where the officer was peddling day tours to Batad. All we wanted was a ride to the Batad Junction, the trailhead to the village, so we banded with a Filipino couple and several French travelers and rented a jeep that took us to the Junction. The narrow, gravel mountain road to Batad reminded me of Prithvi Highway, the one that we took from Pokhara to Kathmandu, with its landslides, blind curves, sheer drops, hairpin turns, and lack of guard rails.


From the Junction, we descended on foot for another hour and a half until we reached the village. The overcast skies gradually gave way to a blazing sun and we were greeted with this majestic sight:



Right then I realized why people go through so much trouble just to experience the Batad Rice Terraces up close in all its majestic detail.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Faint Whiff of Grandeur

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It must have looked magnificent then, I thought as I gazed at what once have been Diplomat Hotel, that imposing white building up Cabinet Hill. The deserted sanctuary--with its rooms empty of everything aside from some sporadic graffiti, the mold that has crept on its crumbling walls and ceiling, its leaking roof forming a puddle on the main lobby's floor--still has that faint whiff of grandeur that often lingers in the ruins of previously grand but are now deserted places.




Intrigued by the mystery that surrounds it, my sister and I visited Diplomat Hotel on our last trip to Baguio City. I did not sense anything odd while we were there, contrary to reports of sightings of ghosts and other paranormal activity. Like other desolate places, it looked sad to me, and not creepy as some people attest. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Back to My Routine

Monday, May 5, 2014

After a couple of weeks on the road, it feels good to go back to my old routine. Now I can catch up on sleep, exercise, and the TV shows that I missed; I can sort the photos I took and write about my travels; I can unpack and tackle the laundry; I can reorganize my life and build momentum for another trip ahead.

Friday, April 25, 2014

“…the final brilliance of life that would never, through all eternity, be repeated again”

Friday, April 25, 2014

It’s like he’s talking about himself here:

Then he crossed his arms over his chest and began to listen to the radiant voices of the slaves singing the six o'clock Salve in the mills, and through the window he saw the diamond of Venus in the sky that was dying forever, the eternal snows, the new vine whose yellow bellflowers he would not see bloom on the following Saturday in the house closed in mourning, the final brilliance of life that would never, through all eternity, be repeated again

~Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The General In His Labyrinth, 1990

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Discovering Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It was 19 years ago, but I can still remember that very moment: the afternoon sun bathing those old musty volumes in the PQ section of the UP Baguio Library, running my hands through their broken spines, scanning the titles, and hoping to find refuge in their pages.   And then Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude caught my attention. Tingling with excitement tempered with reverence reserved only for great works of literature, I picked it up, turned to the first page, and read these words:

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs."

I then looked for a chair, sat down, and read page after page after page.

My pleasure that moment reached orgasmic heights.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lucky Morel’s Inn in Sagada: Worst Accommodation Ever

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I’ve been to small inns and hostels in Malaysia, Peru, India, Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, and here in the Philippines, but Lucky Morel’s Inn in Sagada is the worst.

One would think, “Oh, it can’t be that bad.” But it is. It’s much worse than you can ever imagine.

Here are the facts:
  • The rates. The inn charges PHP250 per person per night and breakfast of PHP100 per person. My sister made a reservation for four adults for two nights, 18-19 April 2014 at the inn. She paid the 50% deposit of PHP1,400.
  • Our arrival. My two sisters, my brother-in-law and I arrived in Sagada in the afternoon of April 18, Friday. The owner, Mary Lily Bagtang (also the owner of Lucky Shanghai Haus in Sagada), informed us that the inn is just a “simple” place.
  • The house. One of the inn’s helpers immediately lead us to a two-storey house near some rice fields in Dagdag. The house is constructed out of GI sheets and devoid of any signboard that would identify it as an inn.
  • The room. We were given a corner room on the second floor of the house. It was very different from that advertised in the inn’s website and Facebook page. It contained one single bed and a thin foam laid on the floor and no space left for our bags or even for walking. The room’s walls are the GI sheets themselves.
  • The bathroom. The shared bathroom is simply unsanitary, horrible and disgusting: it stinks; it has a toilet with no flush, uneven floors, no tiles, a container full of used dried soap, a plastic bag hanging on the wall overflowing with trash; there is no faucet inside the toilet. The source of water for flushing the toilet is a pail catching the water from a drainpipe that is connected to the drain of the kitchen sink just outside the bathroom. Thus, if somebody washes his or her hand or brushes his or her teeth, the dirty water including all the germs and spit would flow to the pail inside the bathroom. This dirty water is supposed to be used to flush the toilet. If one removes the pail, the dirty water will just flow to the floor of the bathroom.
  • The breakfast. The PHP100 worth breakfast consisted of a tiny piece of hotdog, an egg cooked sunny-side-up, fried rice, and coffee from a vending machine.
That night we decided not to stay for another night. The following morning, we transferred to a nearby inn and my sister informed the owner that we are leaving. Mrs. Bagtang, with her voice raised, insisted that we pay for the second night. What fool would pay for another night in that hellhole? Of course we refused.

The owner then yelled at my sister calling her names, shaming her in front of the people at the restaurant, threatening that we could never set foot in Sagada again (as if she owns the entire municipality). Throughout the day, she continued to send foul text messages to my sister.  The four of us went to the Sagada Tourism Office to file an official complaint. The officer informed us that they would immediately act on the matter.

“Simple” doesn’t mean “unsanitary” or “disgusting,” does it? Before Sagada, we came from Batad where lodgings were basic, yet still very clean. And it’s also not our first time to stay in Sagada so we know what to expect. We’ve stayed in inns there that charge the same rate but are a hundred times better than Lucky Morel’s Inn.

It is disheartening to witness how greed can be the ruling force in managing a business and how a beautiful place like Sagada can be befouled by people who think of nothing else but their own gain.

Here are some pictures of the inn as well as my sister’s account of what happened.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

People's memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

You know what I think?" she says. "That people's memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn't matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They're all just fuel. 

You know, I think if I didn't have that fuel, if I didn't have these memory drawers inside me, I would've snapped a long time ago. I would've curled up in a ditch somewhere and died. It's because I can pull the memories out of the drawers when I have to—the important ones and the useless ones—that I can go on living this nightmare of a life. I might think I can't take it any more, that I can't go on any more, but one way or another I get past that. 

~Haruki Murakami, After Dark, 2004

Monday, March 17, 2014

It’s not the books but the words and the stories

Monday, March 17, 2014

It’s been almost a year since I last purchased a book.   Ever since I bought a tablet, which I mostly use as an ebook reader, I have ceased buying print books. With the proliferation of free digital books, I was able to read the digital versions of the books that I’ve been dying to get hold of for years.  It would be better if I could own hardbound copies of all the books that I’d like to read, but I live in a country where books are prohibitively expensive; it makes more sense to read a free digital book than to buy it in its printed form.

It’s not really the books that I love but the words and the stories they contain.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

We travel most when we stumble

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

We travel most, I mean to say, when we stumble, and we stumble most when we come to a place of poverty and need (like Haiti, perhaps, or Cambodia); and what we find in such confounding places, often, is that it is the sadness that makes the sunshine more involving or, as often, that it is the spirit and optimism of the place that make the difficulties more haunting.

~ Pico Iyer, Sun After Dark: Flights Into the Foreign, 2004

Monday, February 10, 2014

Reducing Myself to Calm

Monday, February 10, 2014

It has been a while since I poured out my thoughts and stirred them into coherent sentences. The urge to write tugs at me incessantly, but there is simply nothing to write about.  

In this world where countless voices and ideas compete for relevance, my words oftentimes ring of irrelevance.   The sweetness of the mundane blends with the bland, leaving nothing distinct enough to be put into words; my efforts to describe the fullness of the extraordinary inevitably fail, leaving me staring at a blank page riddled with frustrations.

My attempts to reduce myself to calm have succeeded in diminishing my capacity to rage, to weep, to fear, to feel. The pursuit of calm has stilled me into silence.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Because I'm 36 and I Can

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Today I turn 36. At this age, I can stop squandering my time making desperate lunges at happiness.  I can simply saunter through life, reveling in the mundanity of unfettered existence.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An imp that delighted in self-contradiction

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I had often thought that the mind was, quite literally, a devil’s advocate, an agent of diabolical sophistry that could argue any point and its opposite with equal conviction; an imp that delighted in self-contradiction and yet, though full of sound and fury, ultimately signified nothing. None of the truest things in life — like love or faith — was arrived at by thinking; indeed, one could almost define the things that mattered as the ones that came as suddenly as thunder. Too often, I thought, the rational faculty tended only to rationalize, and the intellect served only to put one in two minds, torn apart by second thoughts.

~Pico Iyer, The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto, 1991

Thursday, January 16, 2014

58 Countries

Thursday, January 16, 2014

58! That’s the number of countries a Philippine citizen can travel to without a visa according to the Henley and Partners Visa Restriction Index 2013.  Having been to only a few of those countries, I can still visit 49 nations without applying for a visa. And among these 49 countries are Morocco, Israel, Colombia, Brazil, Kenya, Tanzania, Laos, and Myanmar—all the places I’ve always wanted to explore. There are just too many places I dream of visiting but not enough time and financial resources to turn the dream into reality.

It is now the middle of January, and I’m frantically making travel plans for our next trip.  North Africa is too foreign a place that I can’t simply go there and wing it.   
 
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