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.
Bo said whenever he wears that cow costume, people he bump into, or anyone who sees him, never fail to smile. So on that day when we hit the streets to take photos in Santiniketan, he said he had to wear it.
And we did get a lot of happy portraits. Clever move.
sun was out. scorching. its rays were piercing.
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.
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.
TREK is a non-profit organization, established by a group of mountaineering friends, that aims to give support to far-flung communities.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He sells yellow flowers with candle on a small paper saucer to pilgrims and tourists in Pandey Ghat. The flowers are then offered and floated in Ganges.
I always shy away from sellers whenever im traveling. Aside from i avoid lugging around additional baggage, i avoid unneccesary expenses too. I always brush them away with a smile.
One time, as i was walking around the ghats, he ran to me with my lost bonnet on hand. I left it at the Chai place the day before. He handed the bonnet to me. He said he remember seeing me wearing that bonnet and he was kind enough to get it from the Chai shop so he could give it back to me.
More than the bonnet, its his smile that made me smile that morning. It was sincere. Most of the time sellers only want to get money from you. Travelers are their prey. Its a bit difficult at times to distinguish a tout from an innocent who is just doing his job to make both ends meet.
I bought one of his flowers. We offered it in the river. He smiled. This was his smile on the photo. I tried to have a conversation with him but the english he knows is only “only 10 rupees.”
yes, i am a big fan of Ethan Hawke’s “Before” series. and, i guess, i experienced my own version of it. the night i bumped into the sexiest Thai girl i ever met in this City of Angels.
the day before…
the mid-day buzz of this urban jungle that is Bangkok woke me up. and with the sweltering heat of the summer sun, i woke up with sweat-soaked shirt.
clock ticked a few minutes after 12. high noon. my head was still buzzed from the alcohol binge at PostBar the night before, my go-to place in Bangkok for hang out. it was quite a fun night. food was flowing and it was free. it sure is true that best things in life are free. lol. it was the birthday of one of the bar’s patrons and he brought in some serious thai dishes. it was free for all. nothing beats spicy food and cold beer. to sum it all up, it was an awesOOOme night.
afternoon was spent contemplating on whether i should go out and see as much of Bangkok as i can since it was my last day in the city or should i just keep it down-low. i opted for the latter and did some writing, just chilled-out and relaxed in the apartment.
all the afternoon heat was gone by night time. i knew i can not pass on the chance of dropping-by PostBar on my last night so i pulled my ass off and headed out. i intended to just dropby and finish 1 beer as i have an early trip, and its a long 13-hour ride. i took the 505 bus to Samsen rd.
the night before…
i approached the bar and ordered a big bottle of Chang. a girl across the bar caught my eyes. she wore casual clothes and a megawatt smile… and with that thai-sun-kissed skin… she glowed.
she had her hair down and was clearly enjoying the lazy sunday evening with her friends which occasionally broke to burst of laughters every so often.
the bar was scarcely filled. i chatted with two of the owners and other regulars. i frequented this watering hole in the last one and a half months so i knew and became friends with a couple of hippies here. *separate post for PostBar.
the sun-kissed girl would occasionally go and sit outside for a smoke.
i was sitted outside with Pul when she went out again. i striked a conversation with her- a quick one- then we headed back inside to our respective tables.
i knew there was something in that first dialogue. so i waited, spotted and joined her next time she went out for a smoke. we talked, and talked. she did not bother going back inside immediately to her peers this time around, to my delight. that was a feat for someone who is torpe.
the night went on spontaneously. i drank with my guards on since i have an early trip to take. i was leaving the city and Thailand in general early the next day.
conversation spun around travelling, and islands, and other things. other beautiful things.
it was past midnight when the sexiest thai girl and i decided to leave the people and her friends in Post Bar-coolest bar in Bangkok( i should get Changs for this next time i go there.)
we walked to Khao San rd. strolled in this street of battered backpacks, hippie wanderers, perpetual youth and padthais.
she is a nature lover. she spent two weekends in an island in Andaman coast a couple of months back. a remote retreat that is Similan island. the beach is divine, delicate and bewitching. just like her.
it was getting late. 1:30am. morning was nearing and so was my departure.
we walked to Burger King in Khao San rd intersection. she said i can crash her place for my remaining hours in Bangkok if i want to. she hailed a cab and off we went to her place, her apartment in Silom.
i was drawned to her. the way she spoke with her thai accent was endearing. the way she moved, way she flipped her hair, way she smiled, her gaze, her supple sunkissed skin. charming.
moments would go slo-mo but not time. it raced. like my heartbeat.
it was already 4am when i took notice of time. i was still at the sexiest thai girl’s place and we have not slept yet.
i can not bring myself to say my goodbyes for we only have started. it was bittersweet. i was glad to have met her. but sad that i met her on my last night in this city. this city of angels which was my home for 40 days.
it was 5am.
finally, i got up, bade goodbye, and sped off.
took a taxi to bigboy’s apartment in Pratunam, my home in Bangkok. i only have 1 hour to rest, gathered my stuff and got ready to hit the road again, onwards to Malaysia.
that night, i stayed out longer than i intended to. no, i am not complaining. it was beautiful.
aaahh the romance of being on the road. the hellos and goodbyes and those fleeting blissful moments in between. life’s surprises. i live for those =)
i was coming from Kalinga and my friend Angelika( haha, Lek) from Manila, we decided to meet up in the coastal town of Claveria(our jump-off to Calayan Island, Babuyan) around 5am the next day. btw, online data about the island are scarce and inaccurate( parang yon kampo lang ni Claudine Baretto sa latest NAIA mishap).
plan was to catch the last trip of vans from Tabuk(Kalinga) to Tuguegarao, Cagayan 5:30pm. but, then, i missed it by a few minutes( very typical of me,lol). i had no choice but to rush to the next terminal and hope that one passenger is tumataepa just so i could catch the trip. called my dad, hopped in his motorcycle, then we speeded up to the van terminal in the next (mini)town.
the adrenaline of backpacking, the excitement of being on the road, ooohlala, was ignited again. felt my backpacking mojo was back alive and kicking. sweeet.
reached Tuguegarao after 45mins. then i took the last bus trip that passes by Claveria, 7:30pm J&Wbus, and and just hoped that there are 24/7 burger joints or eateries in Claveria where i could wait til morning for Lek and the boat.
*** Of Dogs and Baboys
the bus dropped me off on the national hi-way in Claveria. the street was poorly lit and dark. and at 11pm, its empty. no people in plain sight. its a 10-minute walk to the town center. but those 10fukcin minutes were long and scary and doggy.lol. the minute i started walking, which i did as discreet as possible as not to attract any unwanted attention, the dogs on the first house started barking… or should i say howling. it was loud enough to awake all the ten thousand barking animals of the town. they swarmed the street. i walked with caution as those furry creatures were following and trailing behind close enough to bite my ass, if not only for my karate stance.
i arrived in the sleepy town center safely( karate stance was believable at least for the dogs).
things continued to go against my luck. all the town’s establishments were closed, not a single convenient store or burger joint.
i chanced upon the solely awake soul, the security guard of a pawnshop. last resort was to strike a conversation with manong guard and stretch it til dawn, so strike and stretch i did. i half listened to guards litanies about his boss whom he suspects has a thing on him( pero 9yrs na siya dun at la pa din nangyayari, labo lang).
after 11 times of him repeating the same story,( i had to be nice, and being nice takes a lot of effort on my case, i wasnt born nice i guess. lol) he let go of the 12th time and offered his bench for a sit and nap. since its a small bench, even too small for him to lay down, i declined and used my old malong instead and laid down on the concrete tiled floor. malong was too thin for the cool ocean breeze and the cold cement floor. i curled up, cold and hungry, and hoped for time to tick fast. ahhh backpacking.
*** of Majinbo and Baboys
i, 10 pandesals & 2 ensaymadas went to the fish landing at 5am and by 6am leck arrived. we bonded with other 2 waiting passengers by sheer absence of other options. lol. there was the curvy mom with two kids and majinbo. majinbo was on the phone 7 of the 6hours we waited. she just cant take away the phone from her, then, red and swelled ear =) . she phoned gaudily her family( every single one of them: nico, alex, mama, papa, kuya boy, tita baby, ton ton, tan tan, tin tin, ten ten etc) and asked them every 30 mins if they had eaten. just by listening( she was loud and we had no choice) to her calls, we already mapped out her entire family tree up to their 11th generation. lol.
and as if sleeping outside of a bank on a cold night and listening to majinbo wasnt bad enough, things worsened. no boat was leaving for the island that day. wow.
*** Of Boats and Baboys
we returned to the fish landing the following morning. at 5:00am, the curvy mom and majinbo were already there, plus some new peeps including the two anorexic pretty nurses on the waiting line. every one was ready and eager for the cruise except for the boat’s motor whose paddle was missing.
after some 30mins and majinbo dashing to the convenient store on the last minute for pic-nic foods, we were ready to sail. Its a small boat that has 3 noticeable passenger seats. i asked the boatman if me and lek could still tag along since majinbo, curvy mom and one of curvy mom’s daughter already occupied the 3 apparent seats. he said yes.
then after some more minutes… on the humble boat, there we were all 14 adults, 2 children, 1 bicycle, 19 bags and 3 roosters; jam-packed. thats a lot for a small boat eh? obviously, theres no room for say… another 16 life-jackets( i heard Babuyan with his evil life at this time, ride at your own risk he chuckled)
backing out was never an option. there were many things i sacrificed and heading back home was just not acceptable.
16 unsecured souls, 1 humble boat and 1 vast Babuyan channel. wow. i know i am not the best tourist, as im a cheap backpacker, and no stash of money can Babuyan squeezed out of me( but, Babuyan, really? youre not being friendly, your acting like a pig. hmmmp)
in fairness to Babuyan, it was a warm welcome. i mean, on a boat, no vest, Babuyan channel, of course, i sweated profusely.
since i was life-jacketless, i made sure i had a firm grip on the stern the whole 7hours while our boat shuffled through the Babuyan Channel( supposedly 4hour ride, if not for one of the boats motor breaking down)
plus, the Cagayan sun was scorching that day( just like any other day really). the sun was ruthless, and to make matters worst, our boat was roofless. we were like fishes getting all dried up. dang. danggit.
*** Of Baboys and Ooohs and Aaahs
we conquered Babuyan channel and reached Calayan island past 3pm.
then, tables turned, the island paid back all the horrors(kababuyan). and left us gaping in awe for the rest of our days in the island. just look at this
*will post all the pictures and stories of our Babuyan trip next fin~
Babuyan 101 its only Batanes thats being mentioned when people would speak of northern Luzon islands. i, myself, admit know next to nothing about it prior to my visit. well, actually that is aside from the assumption of the abundance of baboys(pig) in the island( i mean… uhm. right?)
Babuyan Islands is consist of five outlying islands namely Fuga, Dalupiri, Camiguin, Babuyan Claro and Calayan. Excluding Fuga, the four islands comprise the municipality of Calayan(Fuga is part of Aparri; a town in mainland Cagayan) and Calayan island serves as the capital.
van Tabuk(Kalinga)-Tuguegarao: 80pesos bus Tuguegarao-Claveria: 210pesos other jump-off points to Calayan, Babuyan Island: Sta. Ana, Aparri Claveria takes the shortest boat-ride time at 4-5hrs, fare at 500 *there are no definite boat schedules. all depends on weather, the sea, passengers and gin blue spend the night in Agri-Base in Claveria; 75/person/night. 150/person/night if room with tv.