Road trip! What’s life on the road like?

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Ahh. Road trip.. life on the road, filled with new experiences, spontaneity, getting lost, and finding your way back, its very exciting! The romantic feeling of rolling down your window, one hand on the wheel, the other holding the hand of your amazing partner (if available), or if not, a can of Coke  (bullshit let’s admit it, its beer!). Wind and dust blowing while you cruise along a road framed by mountains, fields of corn, the occasional adobe farm house, it stretches until the very end of the horizon.

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On the road, when the journey is just as fun as the destination, it does feel nice to just sit and watch the world go by as if it were some silent movie directed by God. 

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Road trip! It’s the epitome of adventure and discovery. We’ve all had this. When you went for camping, after prom, towards the end of your senior high school year, cutting afternoon classes in college, or just time off work. Regardless of time and age, on the road, you are young and free!

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Recently catching up with a couple of lifelong friends sealed by road trips, we relive exactly what elements make life on the road unforgettable and legendary.

The classic road trip characters

The designated official driver, the music director, the accountant, and the sleeping beauty.

Road trips are volatile

It can easily go wrong from the smallest of mistakes, such as missing the last gas station, dropping a nuclear fart, or breakdowns of either car or people. It is important to establish rules. Who gets to ride shotgun, how much toilet stops, or the right to vote to leave someone behind.

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The soundtrack

I read somewhere that the only fault in the creation is that someone forgot to add background music to fit special moments in life. You can easily mend this tragic flaw by making a trip defning playlist for every beautiful moment you will have on the road. Trust me, you will have many. Moments looking out the window, moving your head about to the rhythm of music, as if you were part of a B roll of some catchy One Direction music video.

Road trips give a really strong bond to a group

Its spending hours talking, laughing, and singing in chorus to the Beatles and Bob Marley, or simply looking out into the clouds while finding comfort in everyone’s silence. But more than those moments of wonderful shared sunsets or the unnerving sight of hundred foot drops, its about having someone to reminisce and relive that bygone era of excitement. When no one was having a better time than we did, because during those rare moments, we were truly part of something greater than ourselves. 

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Road trips can be memorable for all the good things, but the bad things make it more interesting.

You will get lost, figure out how to ask directions in different dialects, or that world-falling-apart moment of being left behind when you took so long to pee. It could also be that life threatening moment when you turned on the ignition and the engine took a longer time to start, or when someone opened the window that doesn’t close, they all make the best stories years after, or at least once you’ve forgiven each other. 

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Road trip as summed up by Tiffanie DeBartolo from How to Kill a Rock Star,

“The concept of time, as it’s commonly understood by normal people with normal jobs and normal goddamn lives, doesn’t exist on the road. The nights spread out like the dark, godforsaken highways that distinguish them, and the days run together like Thanksgiving dinner smothered in gravy. You never really know where you are or what time it is, and the outside world starts to fade away. Its cool.”

So find the perfect destination, take the funniest combination of characters, play all the right music, buckle up and drive slow homie!

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How to travel the world without seeing the rest of the world.

Beyond time and money, it takes an obsessive level of interest in the world to want to see all of it. Sure, there’s Maldives, Paris, Sydney, Napa, etc. But the world is not exclusively Mai Tais in beaches, or cigarettes and a magazine in a cafe. There are places such as Bolivia, India, Somalia, and the rest of those countries which to describe as severe is an understatement.

Unfortunately, I have a very poor imagination for a person who loves and enjoys reading and writing as much as I enjoy wine, food, music and sex, not necessarily in any particular order. 

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In order to complete the equation of fully getting lost in the orgasmic pleasure I get from reading and writing, it becomes an imperative for me to experience and collect stimulus from different landscapes and people.

Take sentences such as;

“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…”  from the The Prince by A. de Saint-Exupery

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“Anyone who is observant, who discovers the person they have always dreamed of, knows that sexual energy comes into play before sex even takes place. The greatest pleasure isn’t sex, but the passion with which it is practiced. When the passion is intense, then sex joins in to complete the dance, but it is never the principal aim.” from P. Coelho.

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For me, lines like those are as usefully descriptive as a limbless person playing charades, or a mute explaining the beauty of poetry.

In short, it becomes necessary for me to see and experience the world, which isn’t always a bad thing if you only read about wineries and brothels, but I’m also interested in Hinduism, the Bolivian alitplano, German Christmas, touring endless Moroccan highways and bullfighting.

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So in order to have more time for books and notebooks, I made a list of guidelines that will give me a general idea of what the world looks like without having to see the rest of it.

1. My best tip is to divide the world in terms of religion. 

Religion has the biggest influence and impact on culture and lifestyle. And why not, after the crusades, burnings at the stake, warring prophets with their delivering words.

It may not always be the same for each country. For Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur in particular has Islam-lite compared to Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern nations. But monks are never balder than the next Buddhist nation.

Religion may not have dibs on food selection, but next to terroir, they have the biggest say on it.

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2. Visiting neighboring countries tend to look similar, be it in people, architecture and culture. 

Because most borders are relatively new compared to human civilizations, we don’t always have to see the world through countries, instead, divide the world in parts. While some countries are sandwiched, like the Basque country between France and Spain, most tend to be drawn from the same pepperoni pizza. Take for example Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, they are like different versions of a curry that is India. Hong Kong and Macau, tearing themselves from China, for better or worse. Or Yugoslavia, broken down into a couple of super nationalistic eastern European countries, but visit each one and you’ll probably see more castles than you ought too. As much as the Germans and Austrians like to differentiate themselves from each other, they speak the same language for chrissake. And don’t even get me started between Spain and Portugal.

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Although sometimes, similar neighboring countries are on your side too. I wanted to see Tibet, but for now, Nepal will do because the Chinese government took over and imposed ridiculous rules for visiting.

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My tip is to visit those old superpowers where civilizations centered themselves during the time when they used animals, precious metals and stones to trade for commodities. They would usually be a few countries per continent. They would tend to be where architecture and culture are grand, such as Rome, Peru, India, China, Russia etc.

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Or if you want to have a view of Mediterranean life and architecture, skip between 3 countries, they are not exclusively Spain, France and Italy. Check out Slovenia, Bosnia or Croatia too and you would be surprised to see that its not always comfortable and sexy. And still, there’s Greece and Turkey (again, choose one) for Europe meets Asia. Also Tunisia, Libya or Algeria for the African continent. Israel, Lebanon, etc. for the Asian side. They mostly form the Mediterranean sea and you wonder why they sell kebabs in different names from all those countries.

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3. Nature will always be nature. 

If I dropped you in the middle of a tropical forest, would you be able to tell if you were in Brazil or South East Asia? Or if, like Leonardo Di Caprio from Inception, you wake up/arrive from/in a dream/real life (only Christopher Nolan knows) and find yourself randomly beached, could you even tell which continent you are in? The Philippines have 7107 islands, sounds intimidating. But visit a a really nice beach, maybe two, same for mountains, do it good and you’re done.

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When I was seriously contemplating about taking a $400 90 minute mountain flight over the Himalayas, some European guy from trip advisor wrote “If you’ve flown over the Alps on a nothing special commercial flight, its not gonna be very different.” That was a really lame thing to say but I realized after that he wasn’t completely wrong and $400 poorer.

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Between deserts and snow, they’re always hot and cold, sandy and wet. The Sahara transcends from a lot of African nations, some are at war with each other. Choose one and save yourself from the risk of being caught in the crossfire. 

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4. Food

When it comes to food just as in wine, “terroir”, or land, is king. Before immigration, refrigeration and shipping, if a couple of countries reside on the same valley, coast or mountain, don’t expect the vegetation and animal protein to be different. Don’t believe what the Portuguese say that they have completely different cuisine from the Spanish, you are probably talking to a person named Ego. Or land locked nations, again, like Germany and Austria, sausage anyone?

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5. Colonies

When it comes to colonization, I have a very mixed feelings about it. Its a two faced coin. Producing mixed cuisines and beautiful people (mestizas, creole, etc), but it made the world so much smaller by erasing cultures and wiping out the indigenous people. I have a big reservation when it comes to visiting South Africa for the people because I find it decidedly English in so many ways. Even parts of Australia. Maybe because they mostly came from England anyway.

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Borders give us a challenge but we don’t always have to see the world through countries. The idea is to spread up that map, take a ruler and lay it on the map, stick pins between countries maintaining 2-3 inches of space in between. Divide the world in maybe 8-10 trips, do it well by completely immersing yourself in each one and you will get a sense of what the world looks like without having to see the rest of it.

Things that I am thankful for this week.

Today, I decided to write something completely uninformative and ultimately personal. I believe that if you recount all the things that you are thankful for, you are spending less time thinking about unpleasant things.

So this Sunday, as I drove back to the province, I was extremely happy for everything that happened this week and I couldn’t wait to get home to start listing down things that made me this appreciative and content about how my life went one day at a time.

-I was able to have a good mid week catch up and drink with my urban friends. Met new people, Gil from Icon and Ciella the Cinderella.

Mic treated Gelly, Ara and I, a midnight burger before going home. Thanks Mic! The burger from URBN might not have been so good that time but how can you beat something that’s free? My turn when you visit Balayan bro.

-I was finally able to submit my visa application for Chile, which will really give me a breather since I’m completely running out of time before I leave for South America.

I had another chance to visit Hooch, which, by the way, is my favorite 12-6pm place for their 50% off on all drinks during that time frame. And was finally able to introduce my 2 favorite alcoholic friends, Yama and Margaux, who are really cool despite actually getting married soon, I really love you guys. Ciella the Cinderella was present too, and she was a completely agreeable person, considering the ridiculous amount of alcohol Yama, Margaux and I were consuming. We had the loudest voices in that place, we made friends with all the bar tenders, free shots, and a lot of things I couldn’t remember.

By 7pm of the same day, we were totally smashed as we headed for dinner in I’m Angus. We each ordered steak, which was on special that night, paired with a really good Malbec from Argentina. Lovely!

Being a responsible driver, I decided to park my car in Lakandula Street, Salcedo village for a 5-hour sleep inside my car before waking up at 2am to drive safely back to Batangas.

I was able to work and be productive, an important element in life. There must be a balance between pleasure and responsibilities. And whenever I get to balance that equation, I am extremely happy.

I am also thankful for some alone time I’ve had during the rain. I felt bad for all those affected people but I am comforted by seeing the strength of our country’s spirit amidst everything.

One of my blog posts have been shared by Our Awesome Planet, which is awesome in the most superlative word, being one of the most followed blogs in the Philippines. It was such an honor Anton Diaz!

-I finally got to explore Maginhawa and found a really interesting hang out place called The Zone. It had a hip-Brooklyn feel, some Williamsburg type neighborhood. 

-That night, Cinderella and I tried this restaurant called Van Gogh is Bipolar, for good reason. First, you have to leave your shoes at the door. Second, you can wear hats, write curses on walls, and leave kiss marks on the ceiling. Third, you’re absolutely bullied by the chef in the most interesting and fun way by not being able to know what food you are going to have. The level of novelty in this place is beyond the roof.

Finally able to visit 801, Dana’s place, besides from being super cool, is also one of the best hosts in her hospitable and generous nature. Mic sorry if I fell asleep mid-sentence during our serious conversation. You can ask Wanda, Nikki, Karla, Margaux, Yama my sister Jazz, and her fiance Archie, how surprisingly common I do this.

-Sunday and my alcoholic friends took another visit to Hooch. Being mature adults that we are, we didn’t get as smashed as we would normally prefer, but then there never really is a bad time here so I’m still thankful for that.

With all these in my mind on Monday’s eve, I am just so excited to go back to work tomorrow, balance equations, to workout, and to live some more. Happy new week ahead to everyone! Smile and be light!

Seryna, a Japanese love affair.

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I’ve been hearing from my foodie friends that Seryna is not somewhere us regular earning people come to eat every weekend, or whenever we impulsively crave for sushi, but what made me decide to go was when a Japanese friend of mine mentioned this place to me. Japanese people understand quality, and they would pay for it too. So albeit pricey, I’m extremely excited yet a little apprehensive for the experience.

So I arrived in Little Tokyo, a small neighborhood in Makati, rightfully named for ubiquitous Japanese restaurants that surround it. Outside the restaurant, I noticed a significant number of chain-smoking skimpily clad women, always a sign of a good Japanese meal to come. Ethics has nothing to do with food, you connect the dots.

Once inside, being a solo diner, I thought of them generous to offer me a table as it is a packed tuesday night, but I asked to be seated by the bar, as I would like to watch well trained hands prepare my meal. I order an imperative beer before anything else, crucial element to having a better observation of the place. Halfway into it, I am starting to be in unison with the rest of the happy diners, I am ready to order. A confident server arrives, hands me a hot towel, opens the menu to me as I asked to have the food explained to me. I ask for their Omakase, specialty in Nihongo, which she understands, plus 1000 points. I told her I wanted to try their sushi and she recommended I get the special platter called Matsu. Its not the most expensive platter they offer, which is good, because I hate it when a server instantly points to the most expensive dish in the menu. And for the astounding price Seryna charges for each piece, I would rather get the platter and save myself from having to know the price of every bite.

I smile as I observe the hands of the person making my meal, every rolling, slicing, pouring, and patting, the usual hand movements in making a sushi. I look around the place, appreciating the modern Japanese interiors. I eavesdrop on Japanese conversations that I would never understand but they sounded pleasantly drunk anyway and that I understand. I also noticed they have private tatami rooms for bigger groups who want privacy within those Japanese paper like walls, expecting some one will just accidentally roll away tearing down those paper doors laughing. Ahh.. God believes in my undying pursuit of happiness.

A $20 sushi platter

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My plate comes and it looked like an asian renaissance artwork. I ordered a hot sake which I think is a perfect accompaniment to the cold food I’m about to cure my hunger with. Each bite was a revelry, lightly damped with sauce and maybe a little more wasabi here and there. The best part was that having been seated at the bar, I can easily ask the person responsible for my meal things about my food, like types of fish used, a hint of spring roll perhaps? Or the origin and freshness of my uni, which made my meal quite educational. What a way to learn! If only academics can always be this pleasant.

Reasonably sized and priced hot sake

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Things worth mentioning about my food, tamago/egg sushi was sweet and delightful. Maguro/tuna and salmon were average, the habachi (the palest one) was my favorite among the three. The ama ebi/shrimp was glorious, it felt like cream as it went through my mouth. The only disappointing part of my plate was the uni/sea urchin, already having seen what a freshly opened urchin looked like, I knew this creamy melting brie-like uni (a fresh uni is soft and solid) has been standing here for some time.

Over all, it was a pleasant experience. Its a fun place to be in, people talk and laugh loud enough but not raucous. The owner seemed to be having just as much fun, at times I caught him leaning to the right while walking. Oh how I love an owner representing what it means to be professional (he sometimes went to the kitchen and fiddled with his staff) but not hesitant to join in with his happy drunk diners. The damage? Well its definitely not cheap but my curiosity paid me well. Kanpai!

A romantic Moroccan table in Boracay

Image     White sand on your toes should get you giddy enough for your expected visit to Boracay. Visitors of all nationalities seem to be attracted to the sunset view from this island as moths are to the beauty of flame. Aside from its natural beauty, it has a wide selection of restaurants to cater all sorts of taste and cravings. From the famous street food called “Chori Burger” a bun with chorizo sliced in half and slathered in your choice of sweet or spicy sauce, to quality Mediterranean goodies.

Apart from these quality competitive choices, secluded from the rest of the crowd, you will find the only true Moroccan restaurant in the Philippines. Welcome to Kasbah, Flavors of Morocco. Located towards the end of station 1, its far enough from the raucous parties the island is famous for. Its right in front of the beach, so you can enjoy ambient waves, while your toes dig playfully on powdery sand as you gaze on the clear night sky and its silvery reflection on the beach.

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On a special night for my partner and I, who have deeply fallen for the diverse and exotic beauty of Morocco, what better way to reminisce our best moments together than dining in one of the two small tents where you sit on really comfy pillows while you eat on a requested rose petal dotted table lit by a lamp with really intricate metalwork. With a complimentary bottle of rose to ease the flow of conversation, it was indeed tres romantique! We may or may not have secretly gloated on envious stares from passing couples.

As for the food, I ordered a Moroccan staple of a lamb with dried fruits and almonds tajin while my partner ordered a coastal street grub of grilled tiger prawns marinated and seasoned in herbs and spices. “Tajin” being the conical clay pot from which Moroccans put all the ingredients, as they amazingly stew it without stirring, opening it only when its cooked. It tastes sweet from the honey and prunes, while the almond gives a pleasant texture, but the real star is the succulent lamb that explodes exotic flavor in my mouth from every devouring bite.

Drunk and satiated from food, happiness and romance, we bid their extremely pleasant staff good bye and always with much appreciation. As we slowly swayed, carefree along the shore, we were reminded we are still in Boracay after all.

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Fundacion Pacita: A home at the end of the world

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One trademark of the Philippines is the fact that we have 7,107 islands. Expectedly, it offers varied landscapes and scenery. A quick observation is that it has a lot of tropical beaches with pristine shores and challenging mountains, but it is puzzling and quite surprising that it has Batanes, a group of northernmost islands.

Somehow, it feels like a lost paradise, a piece of land shipped from the Scottish Isles with all its cliffs, rolling hills, the capricious forces of nature, and violent waters. Not to mention a slumbering volcano towering one of its islands. Batanes, to me, is the definition of diversity in terms of Philippine geography.

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Travel quirks

Getting a window seat for your flight to Batanes, you get  hint of what’s to come. Prior to landing, you see its exciting topography and its not unusual for lucky passengers to gasp in awe. I wasn’t so blessed to get a window seat but I think I made the passenger next to me quite uncomfortable for trying my best to share his view as we prepared for a shaky, nerve rattling landing on a narrow strip of inclined runway. Suddenly, nobody’s talking, everyone tightens their seat belt as we gripped on to our arm rests. Very unstable, the plane hits the ground. As it breaks to a halt harder than usual, white knuckled, and with a sigh of relief, we let go.

Getting out of the airport, I greet a wide smiled man holding a board with our names on it waiting to take us to our hotel. First impression of Ivatan hospitality. The Ivatans are the tribe who settled, stayed and now form the community here. Even the conquering and evangelizing Spaniards noticed how different they were from other the rest of their conquest in what would be the Philippines, most noticeably in their amiable nature and receptiveness to the religion.

Fundacion Pacita: A home at the end of the world

Perched on the edge of a cliff, in an island caught between two vast oceans, with strong, unrelenting, gusty winds, and an erratic changing of weather in minutes, it can feel like doomsday. But what a divine way it is to feel so powerless in a place so bewitching such as this. Welcome to the home of Pacita Abad, a national artist, traveler, a volunteer, political activist, a dreamer, just to name a few things from her myriad life that I have discovered in my short sojourn at her home.

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A person who once hitchhiked from Turkey to the Philippines for a year, have worked and lived in 80 countries, is bound to have all the quirkiness in every nook and corner of her home. Every detail is a reflection of her colorful life and paintings, somehow, a stay here feels like a personal and intimate introduction. Its the feeling Owen Wilson had whenever the clock strikes midnight and he finds himself in the setting of his literary idols in Midnight in Paris.

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It is a haven for the creative types in seek of inspiration. For every dull gray stone, there’s a splash of bright cheerful color. There’s not a chair, a bench that you wouldn’t want to spend an afternoon on while looking out to the unobstructed view of the ocean, the drama that rolling hills unfold, or simply watching strong waves constantly crash into tall cliffs making permanent white washed water, an ideal contrast to the resplendent blue sea. It is forgivable to stay here and not to see what other things Batanes has to offer.

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Its easy to admit that staying at Fundacion Pacita made all the difference in our trip to these northern most islands of the country. A love at first sight upon arrival and a heart break to depart from. It may have cost an arm and a leg, but every waking moment I spent here made me realize I would have been willing to give up more.