Category Archives: Stories

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This is late for a year end post. But, what the heck. I am always late here.

It was the year i live the dream, my dream. well, i don’t have the grandest dreams.

this year, i lived in my small bubble. shyed away from any negativities. no drama. i did work hard. and, damn it, did play real hard.

i shot more than 100 jobs in asia, europe and south america. yes, i do keep a job.

i accomplished my dream adventures. i took that Trans Siberian Rail. Mountain biked my way down that 40 mile Bolivia’s Death Road( El Camino de la Muerte). Revisited India. And, Patagonia! Ooooh Patagonia!

and all those adventures in between which are equally awesome- hiked rainbow mountain, great wall( jiankou), paraglided in medellin, got my proper scare in rio, and loads more. i have a crappy memory.

and to all the people i met from work and on the road, grateful, they made the year even more awesome.

life was euphoric in 2016.

everything that will happen from here on out, will be a bonus. =)

Varanasi

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From the windows of the Amritsar Express train, I had my first glimpse of Varanasi. It was a cold February morning- tail end of winter. It appealed cold and distant. I intended to stay for 3 days.

The city is utterly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet. From the narrow maze-like alleys dotted with cows, garbage and motorcycles to the enigmatic holy river of Ganges- where pilgrims pray and bathe, and dead people get burned to ashes- all at the same time. Varanasi is a shock to the senses. But, the type that is, at times, can be peculiarly calm.

Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world. Mark Twain said it is older than History. It is known for religion, silk, a playground for artists- musicians, painters and a refuge for bohemian travelers.

I cannot pinpoint what particular thing about Varanasi that charmed me. It could be those glorious sunrises by the river over chai with friends. Or those boat trips where our friend Tai would play his violin like the wind. After my 15th sunset, I bade goodbye to the city with a heavy heart but with a promise to return sooner than later.

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This is how my photography career started.

Kalinga: Running to Home

sun was out. scorching. its rays were piercing.
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on top of the jeepney, our only aid in surviving the sweltering heat was a bottle of emperador. fight fire with fire. we tanked up on alcohol with hopes that it will be enough to numb our senses from the punishing sun. somehow it did to a certain extent.

our jeepney hit the road around 8am. after 30 minutes, we started the ascent. the plains on the background drifted and gave way to hills and mountains. the ascend was gradual and so was the width of the road. from 2 lanes to, barely, 1. and, its up there in the mountains.
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definitely, its not a cruise for the faint of heart. the dizzying heights can surely send chills. it is after all literally and figuratively a highway.

of course, the journey was not all that bad. though the sun and road conditions were not our side, the splendour of nature was.

it was ranges of mountains in all four horizons. the silhouettes of tree-cladded mountains, in all shades of green, was sheer sexy.

it was a 12-hour ride from Manila to Tabuk; roughly a 3-hour ride from Tabuk to Buscalan. the home of the Last Mambabatok and the place where our group TREK( TRails to Empower Kids) was set to give aid and smiles. barangay Buscalan/Loccong was the destination.

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TREK is a non-profit organization, established by a group of mountaineering friends, that aims to give support to far-flung communities.
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this is my feeble and long-overdue attempt as a Kalinga to learn more about Kalinga. i was born and raised in Tabuk which is the capital of the province but i failed to explore further than the capital’s borders. as a child who grew up around tribal wars and conflicts, it was unconsciously instilled in me about the vulnerability of the place.

the truth is traveling around my hometown had always been at the back of my head. but, somehow, something would always come and messed things up.
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it was mid afternoon when we reached the end of the road for our truck. we started the 1-hour trek. the trail was fairly easy. some parts were almost too shallow even for one person passing. one side you hug the mountain; other side a ravine. and the awesome scenery was a dangerous distraction.

we stopped by Buscalan. distributed supplies. peeked at the legendary Whang-Od working and got scheduled.

we continued our hike to Loccong. it started to drizzle. it was an assault ascend to the top. we treaded through terraces which were then sleepery. the drizzle turned to a full-on rain.
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with soak wet clothes, we crawled the final stretch- and so did darkness. it was nightfall when we arrived at the elementary school, our home for the night.

the temperature dropped. it was lightly cold. the water though was freezing. the supposedly relaxing shower turned to what felt like an ALS ice bucket challenge. the first pour of water almost sent me running out butt naked.

the night was spent on classic-Kalinga pinikpikan, warm beer and tribal dancing. the night was dark, sans electricity.

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morning broke and the sleepy village came alive. the sky was lovely with orange streaks piercing through the clouds. the morning sun casted rays to golden rice terraces and the endless verdant greens. the air was chilly and fresh. it was a glorious august morning. Loccong is sweetly tucked in the middle of virgin cordilleran mountains.

the day went on with TREK activites and the tattoo session with Whang-od.
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blood on my lower left tattoo-beaten arm gushed as the rain poured.

it was late afternoon when we bade goodbye to Buscalan. rain continued to rush, and so did we. i wore cotton shirt and running shoes, both then were soaked. it was a stupid idea really. sneakers almost whacked out. apparently i need to get new shoes at Zalora once i get home.

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the alcohol did numb my senses when we toploaded our way to Buscalan that morning. to a certain extent. a few days after the trip, now in Manila, my skin was still sore. two weeks after and it was still peeling.

my first attempt in seeing more of Kalinga left me 5 shades darker, sense of heritage 5 degrees richer. it was a good trip. long overdue but great, nonetheless.

i die. Udaipur

the Monsoon Palace or Sajjan Garh is perched on top of Bansdara peak  along the Aravalli hill range . it towers above the city- which lays on flat land- at more than 3000ft. it has sweeping panoramas- Udaipur city on the east and the Aravallis on the west.our first day in Udaipur almost became our last day there too. we did not like it. im not saying the city is not nice. actually, i think the city is very nice, too nice for our liking. its too clean, too fancy, too touristy. But since we only have 3 days to kill before Holi Festival. it will be too short to travel to another town.we thought of heading outside the city the next day. explore the outskirts on bicycles. it might shake off our first impressions of Udaipur.we rented rundown bikes in Heera Cycle shop( 50rps). it has clunky wheels and brakes. its the best ones they have though. conquering the hills on these tacky two-wheels seemed quite a challenge. yang got the fitness of ironman. and i got the will and arrogance of Tony Stark. so, we should be good.we kick-started the 7.5km road around 4pm. anytime earlier than that and we should have gotten our skin toasted. the sun rays were piercing even at 4pm. it was a hot day. the first 2.5kms is concrete highway. we breezed through it easily. we reached  the electric substation and continued to the small rough and dusty road leading to the main gate. the palace is inside the national park.  from afar the palace started to appear high and imposing.

its a few hundred meters away from the gate and we hit the slopes. the park looked dry with nothing but shrubs and bushes. we took our first stop for a water break. the sun was still scorching and the heat was oppressive. 4:30pm. as per Yang’s gps, we finished a little over half of the total distance and a few meters of the 3.5kms assault/climb to the top where the palace is.

 

we pedalled on but we’re forced to take another stop. the heat was unbearable. the unpaved dry road started to feel harder to trudged onto. the gradual slope turned to full-on ascent. it felt almost impossible to kick on the pedals as the bike chains might break. we gave up on riding the bikes and started pushing it forward.

 

after reaching what-could-be the first 500meters of the whole 3,500m, i wanted to stop. i was panting. heat and exhaustion got the better of me. we drank almost 3/4 of our water. cotton shirt was sweat soaked. i should have bought some dri-fits. im checking out Zalora once i get home. it was around 5pm.

 

i stared at the palace and it was so damn distant and high. it was a long shot  to get there before sundown. i asked Yang if we should continue, he said yes in a heartbeat. and my heart just fell. i was tired. it was not biking anymore, not trekking- it was suicide. but, yeah, im too cocky to back down.

 

time constraints, heat, exhaustion, water, distance and that fukcin bike (which felt as heavy as a motorcycle)- good thing im stupid at times. i never bothered analyzing if it was indeed possible to reach the palace under these conditions. i followed the chinese and trekked on.

 

sun dwindled down and casted a shadow to the side of the hill where we were at.

 

2kms is a short distance. but it was uphill so it felt like 2bazzilion kms. tourists with puzzled looks on their faces in air-conditioned cars occasionally passed by. my motivation was to get to the palace and order some fancy, expensive food they serve because i fukcin deserve it.

 

they had to make the road zigzag because it was just too steep.

 

i have no idea how we did it, but, yeah, we reached the palace minutes before sunset. the palace was no fairytale- castle-like inside. as it is dilapidated; rundown like our bicycles; beat-up like our bodies. the real gem of this palace is not the palace itself but the spectacular views from the windows.

 

i had my fair share of trekking and mountain biking in the past. but never trekking with mountain fukcing bikes.

but all-in-all, i am glad it happened. i am glad Yang said we should continue. i am glad that im cocky at times. i am glad i was able to take some good photos. it is one of the more memorable experiences from my trips.

and there is no tired, aching body a cold bottle of beer can not soothe.

*bottles =)

Silhouette of Sapa: en route

stunning SaPa – makalaglag panty ang SaPa( tagalog translation)

Julie & I initially planned to travel to SaPa independently. But after checking the fare at the train station, we decided to drop the do-it-yourself plan and just go with a package tour since it was significantly cheaper. Package tour apparently cost a lot less. One of the few things I don’t get with Vietnam.

Train from Hanoi to LaoCai is around $58; a few dollars for the  bus/taxi from LaoCai to SaPa on top of that. Package tour was $70 and that included transportation (all the way to Sapa and back), accommodation, meals, and treks (tours).

It turned out be a good move. Not only did we save a couple of dongs but we also met travel buddies who, later on, became good friends.

Randy tagged along last minute. I met him and Julie at the backpacker dorm in Hanoi, May De Ville Backpackers, some 8 days ago. We shared the same room.

It took me a couple of days and a bloody nose to adjust to these two native English speakers, especially Julie who happens to be a scot. Damn thick Scottish accent. I find it cute though.

The bus picked us up at the hostel at around 8 pm. Bus was 30 minutes late. So, to make up for the tardiness, the driver drove like a maniac. He could pass for a lead act in the next Fast & Furious franchise. He swerved and honked our way out of Hanoi’s busy rush hour traffic. I was smiling at first since I found his driving familiar and “cute” but after a couple of life-and-death swerves, I got scared. I noticed myself mumbling “oohs” and “ahhs” and my grip on my sit tightened. For someone to scare a Filipino- who grew up riding jeepneys(patok) in Manila- with his driving expertise, he must be some badass. Just saying.

The ride to Sapa was a smooth one but that’s for Cordilleran standards. I’m used to long bus rides, bumpy roads and zigzag highways in the sky. I guess when you tried riding on top of a bus traversing a single-lane rough road on the edge of 50 feet high cliff; it will have to take something special to scare you. Right?

The bus was comfortable. It was a sleeper bus. There’s a plenty of legroom for a comfortable stretch. Cozy for Asian standards (height-wise). (Yao Ming is not Asian, he is Chinese. lol) so German dogs Max and Steffen has to lie down with their feet on the head of the passengers in front of them.

It was a scenic ride especially the final stretch to Sapa. From LaoCai, where the final station of train is at, the drive shifted from easy ascends to a steep uphill jaunts.

As the bus’s engine struggled and roared, we sat back, relaxed, enjoyed and waited as the night gave way to the day. Stunning sceneries started to unravel from the thick fog that blanketed the place. The mountains began to reveal its shape and greens. Sunrays pierced through the clouds.

I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. The listless provincial town was slowly waking up and so did the eager travellers. All eyes were glued outside. Cameras were drawn out and everyone snapped away to their hearts content.

We arrived in SaPa and alighted to a nippy midmorning. Air was crisp and fresh. Sun peeped out but not fully. It’s a perfect day for a walk or bike around this little charming town tucked in the mountains of northern Vietnam.

We checked in at Sapa Summit Hotel (part of the package). It was our home for the next 3 days. It was a lovely hotel perched on a cliff that overlooked SaPa’s stunning stairway-to-heaven’s rice terraces. On the backdrop was the mighty Fansipan. It is the highest peak in mainland Southeast Asia. The silhouette of the towering mountain ranges that lead to Mt. Fansipan was equally arresting as the rice paddies. We stood dumbfounded in the balcony.

The hotel was not too shabby either. It is fairly new, neat, and homey. The hotel’s restaurant has a patio perfect for al fresco dining. It leads to a garden nicely landscaped and coupled with tables and chairs and swings. Its perfect for lazy afternoon reads while sipping a hot tea or coffee. Factor in the sweeping scenery in front and the cool temperature and I bet any bookworm who chooses to stay here will find their selves holing up for days on end.

Julie and I settled into our room. We then met up with randy in the patio for a sumptuous lunch. I forgot what I ordered though I remember enjoying it. I guess, with this setting, they can serve me egg and rice and I will dine delightfully every time.

After lunch, we rented motorbikes. It was time to discover this hilly paradise that is SaPa.

*Next post: The Sonnet of SaPa