But first, let me take a panorama (part 2)

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Statue of Guan Yin, Av. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, Macau
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Baler, Aurora Province, Philippines
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Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong
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Henderson Waves Bridge, Singapore
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Where do broken hearts go

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca

Apparently, these days, in Sagada. Thanks to the movie That Thing Called Tadhana, tourism is picking up in that place. I was supposed to forgo this trip. I got a bit lazy researching for good reviews and arranging my itinerary. Besides, I am not even in love, let alone broken-hearted. All I want is to eat yoghurt at the Yoghurt House. It has been in my bucket list  since I saw a segment about it on the tv show Game Plan more than a decade ago. But I don’t usually pass up an opportunity to check off an item in my bucket list, so to Sagada I went.

Like all my other travels lately, this was (again) a last minute decision. With no reserved bus tickets, I had already anticipated that time will be wasted on the road or waiting for a chance to get on the road. What I did not expect though was the people I met along the way. And as usual, they enriched an otherwise ordinary experience.

The great enabler Jenith took this trip with me like as if she's not busy with her PhD. LOL
The great enabler Jenith took this trip with me as if she’s not busy with her PhD. LOL

On our way to Baguio, Jenith and I lined up as chance passengers at the Victory Liner bus terminal. While waiting for vacant seats, we were blabbing in the Visayan dialect, when all of sudden, the guy next to me asked, “Are you from Ateneo de Davao Law?” Like a bolt of lightning, I tried to recall if I said anything offensive or incriminating in the last 30 minutes. But the guy graciously introduced himself as a panyero (a fellow lawyer), so I figured that he might have heard us talking about the results of the recent bar exams. It turned out he is also a graduate of AdDU Law. I mean, what are the chances I will meet one in the overpopulated Metro Manila? More surprising is the fact that he is a pioneer member of the organization I joined in law school. It was like meeting an ancestor! Haha And an even more amazing detail is that he works for the Office of the Solicitor General, the only government office I want to work for. Indeed, what are the chances?!

Respect the place and register as a visitor
Respect the place and register as a visitor

So after 20 hours in transit, we arrived at Sagada. Because of our limited time there, we decided to just try different restos the rest of the afternoon/night. Of course, the first order would have to be the holy grail…

Nothing fancy, just good food
Nothing fancy, just good food
Another item off my bucket list
Another item off my bucket list
i was voraciously hungry. I can't even pose for a shot.
i was voraciously hungry. I can’t even pose for a shot.

Restaurants and sidewalk stalls lined up the road. For a quaint rural town, food here are quite pricey. Even the lowly, bland hotdog-on-stick costs more than what we have in Davao. In this place, I found the local pinikpikan more satisfying than the over-hyped lemon pie, which failed to meet my average palate standards.

I actually indulge in street food for the side conversations, rather than the taste.
I actually indulge in street food for the side conversations, rather than the taste.
I tasted Mountain Dew instead of lemon.
I tasted Mountain Dew instead of lemon.

We stayed at Isabelo’s, which is a stone’s throw away from everything (bus stop, town hall, police station, etc.) The family that manages the inn was very accommodating and friendly. They will help you explore the place like a local. There were times when I found myself helping out with the chores, because I just feel so at home. Some said that we should have stayed at a homestay, but I think Isabelo’s was just as homey (if not more).

The remaining half day was spent exploring nearby tourist attractions. The movie Tadhana introduced every broken-hearted person to Kiltepan View. Famous for its sunrise and billowing clouds, Kiltepan was jam-packed when we got there. You could not take a selfie, without someone photobombing you. The reflective and emotional atmosphere depicted in the movie was a lie, an illusion. How can you reflect if you stand at the edge of the cliff like sardines?!

Kiltepan sunrise
Kiltepan sunrise
Running the trails leading out of Kiltepan
Running the trails leading out of Kiltepan
Not missing the forest for the trees
Not missing the forest for the trees

Last stop was the famous hanging coffins. We were running short of time, so we decided to go to the nearer coffins at Echo Valley. It was a tough hike going there. But for a chance to see this rare archeological find, I will climb anywhere.

The treacherous downhill leading to the hanging coffins
The treacherous downhill leading to the hanging coffins
What an honor to be part of the mountain even after death.
What an honor to be part of the mountain even after death.

We also found interesting town scenes…

The morning flea market place
The morning flea market place
This place does not run out of fresh produce.
This place does not run out of fresh produce.
I made a wish on this church.
I made a wish on this church.

So another place explored. Another weekend well spent. As I go back to my daily grind, I now have something to look back on. I don’t know why, but Sagada charmed me. I might go back. My destiny (tadhana) beckons.

A stroll away

“We’re like a child standing in a beautiful park with his eyes shut tight. We don’t need to imagine trees, flowers, deer, birds, and sky; we merely need to open our eyes and realize what is already here, who we really are — as soon as we quit pretending we’re small or unholy.”

Mt. Kinabalu National Park at twilight
Mt. Kinabalu National Park at twilight
Kota Kinabalu City Park
Kota Kinabalu City Park
Hopscotch area, Công viên 23 Tháng 9
Hopscotch area, Công viên 23 Tháng 9
Royal Gardens, Siem Reap
Royal Gardens, Siem Reap
Baywalk Park, Puerto Princesa City
Baywalk Park, Puerto Princesa City

Temple run

Who would not be inspired with this view?
Who would not be inspired to run with this view?

Because I dare to do everything for the first time this year…

My first race outside of the Philippines. My first trip to Cambodia.

The first race…

  • where I ran solo, as in I don’t know anyone.
  • where my fingers bloated (I thought they were going to explode!).
  • where I got chased by wild monkeys (at 18K!!!… which made me run like a crazy tired person hahaha).
  • where I doused myself with electrolyte drink for fear of heatstroke.
  • where I chatted with a fellow runner while running. At 19K, he said that he was in so much pain. I told him to just think “mind over matter.” By the way, he finished the race.
  • where I had to eat while running. Gels are amazing!
  • where I got so sunburned (even if I smothered myself with sunblock before the race!). Cambodia morning sun is scorching hot!
My post-race arm-thigh skin color ratio. LOL
My post-race arm-thigh skin color ratio. LOL
  • where I just enjoyed the locals. High-fiving Khmer kids really pepped me through the race.
  • where I got a medal! I have not received a medal in all my 5Ks and 10Ks before.
Hopefully, the first of many...
Hopefully, the first of many…
  • where I genuinely felt proud of myself. I trained for three and a half months, albeit intermittently. I watched what I ate and forced myself to wake up every 3:30 a.m. for my practice runs. I practiced even if it rained or if I had a deadline or if I was out of the country or if my legs were still hurting from the previous run. Every sacrifice was worth it.

This race is just the beginning. I will aim for podium and longer distances. I will aim for more prestigious races. I will aim for abs and thigh gap. I will aim to be the best runner that I can be. I will not stop until I have achieved them all.

Nordin’s words of climbing wisdom

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Look at the mountains. They are a great source of inspiration.

Nordin, my Mt. Kinabalu guide, was the most patient of all the guides during my climb. And I declare him so, because I consider myself the slowest and the most difficult climber to deal with. LOL He has been doing this job for 18 years. Guiding every single day, he has developed not only impeccable English, but also the best motivational strategies for climbers like me. Here are some of the things that he shared along our journey:

  1. Don’t feed the squirrels. You are not their mom. LOL
  2. Resting entertains the thought that you might not make it to the top.
  3. Just because steps were laid out on the trail, it doesn’t mean you have to step on them in that order. Look for an intermediary surface and use it to make your ascent easier.
  4. Do not step on stones too long. They might not be able to take your weight that long; they might start to roll or crumble.
  5. Climb with foresight. Don’t just plan the next step; plan the next five steps.
  6. Don’t look at your feet, because that posture blocks your air passage and makes you slouch.
  7. Look at the mountains. They are a great source of inspiration.
  8. When I told him I suddenly have my period again (yes, that’s how comfy I was with Nordy), he said that I was just peeing blood and it happens when we do strenuous activities. (Whaaatttt???!!)
  9. If you use your trekking pole, that’s already 50% effort taken off your legs.
  10. Love your health more than your ego.

Nordin never once complained. He was like a coach or a psychotherapist. Other climbers envied me, because unlike their guides who let them move ahead, Nordin was always just two steps behind me, giving me a pep talk when needed.

I told him that when I return for my second climb, I will specifically ask for him to be my guide, but I will then make sure that I will be fitter and less of a diva. LOL

12,000ft above sea level

I took my sweet time going to this place.
I took my sweet time going to this place.

After swearing off climbing a mountain in 2012, I finally got the courage to climb another one. This time, I was alone and I traveled to a different country just to rekindle this passion. I used to climb mountains in college, back when I was fit and young and crazy. I guess when a person grows older she tends to complicate things and thus, forgets her basic pleasures. After reading hundreds (yes, hundreds! because I was paranoid!) of blogs about climbing Mt. Kinabalu, I was convinced that I want to do this. I have to do this.

I made the necessary reservations with Sutera Lodges around April. In fact, I was initially told that there are no more slots available. But I made them put my name on a waitlist and luckily when some cancellations were made, I got in. I don’t think I have the right to tell you how I prepared for the climb, because truth be told, whatever preparation I did was very inadequate and practically useless. What propelled me to the top of the mountain was not my physical fitness, but my mental toughness.  My guide Nordin said so.

I experienced a lot of firsts during this trip. Just to share a few…

  1. First time to do backpacking. I have not tried room-sharing or backpacking before, because I snore and I am not very trusting with strangers (which this trip totally changed). But since the activity called for it, I tried to go out of my comfort zone. It was not that bad, so yeah, I might try it again.
  2. First time to share a room with three men… three hot, GQ-looking, Swedish men! At Laban Rata, I was already too tired and feverish to go to Gunting Ladagan hut, so I requested to be transferred to the main Laban Rata Resthouse. When I opened the door to my room, I was shocked to know that I will be sharing the room with them, but I did not complain. 😉 But nothing happened. They are kids and again, I was too tired to even think of possibilities.
  3. First time to share a cab with a stranger. And I was pleasantly surprised that the guy I shared the cab with was a Dental Medicine sophomore from Harvard. I did not believe him at first. I mean, why would a guy who goes to Harvard stay in a guesthouse and share a cab with me? If stereotypes will be believed, he should stay in a posh hotel and rent a car to go around Kota Kinabalu. But I guess that is what traveling does to people; it throws them curve balls and opens their minds.
  4. First time to run out of money. Actually, I still had money, but it was in my ATM and there were no machines in sight. When I reached the Kinabalu Park I actually had enough money to take a taxi back to downtown, but I figured that if the mini bus costs only RM20, then I can give a hefty tip to Nordin, who patiently guided me in my 7-hour ascent and 5-hour descent. So I gave him the tip and suffered the consequence of waiting for 2 hours for a mini bus, which eventually did not arrive (thus, I had to share a cab with a stranger).
  5. First time to consciously teleport (I guess). I am not kidding. One kilometer before Laban Rata, I was already having out-of-the-body experience. There were times when I just stopped and I felt like my soul left my body for a few seconds, saw my own body standing from a distance, and finally returned to it. Perhaps I was just very very very physically drained that my mind started playing tricks. But it was a cool experience. I have not felt that before. I must admit, I was so charmed with that feeling that I wanted to try skyrunning just to feel that again.
  6. First time to make genuine friends on a trip. Aya and Satomi, if you find this blog, please get in touch with me. I regret that I did not wait for you on the way down. I hope we’ll see each other again in our future travels. You guys are the most awesome Japanese 40-something women I know. I am not afraid to grow old single if I can be half as awesome as you guys are.

My trip to Kota Kinabalu is definitely one for the books. It is the most expensive (so far), but it was worth it. I kept replaying in my mind the moments I shared with the people I met and the experience I went through. When Satomi told me that that was already her fourth time to climb Mt. Kinabalu, I was puzzled. But when I got home, I finally understood her, because all I could think about was going back to that place and climbing the mountain again.

PS – I googled the Harvard guy’s family name and found out that his family owns a group of companies in Chicago. Knowing that, I find his humble nature and way of traveling truly admirable.