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.

My top 25 at 25.

Being 25 is fun. You are independent enough to do what’s wrong but you’re mature enough to know consequences. So you weight down which highs you want to chase, and when it comes to chasing the next high, travel is my choice of drug. At 25, I may not always know what I want to do in life, but at least I know where I want to go.

25. Dubai (U.A.E.)

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Perverse and boastful show of wealth and a nightmare for eco-tourism advocates, with its indoor ski park, one of the world’s largest indoor aquarium, etc., Dubai has it all. From a simple fishing community, it has emerged as one of the richest oil producing middle eastern countries. You are never far away from a Lamborghini or a Rolls Royce wherever you are in this city. Go to any hotel and surely there’s a Porsche (cheapskate) parked somewhere.

Glitz and glamour aside, there’s one road called Al Dhiyafha where a melting pot of blue collars, the backbone of any society, gather and exhibit specialty cuisines from their respective home countries. If you want real food in Dubai, its the place to be.

24. Seoul (South Korea)

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Already having lots of Koreans in the Philippines, its a wonder why I even went here. But to my surprise, Seoul turns out to be a one stop shop of Korean culture which I never really was curious back at home. Amidst skyscrapers, suit clad businessmen and efficient modern public transportation that smells of kimchi during the day and soju at night, massive shrines and temples located on prime real estate locations have been left untouched by city developers. A visit to these shrines automatically and surprisingly drown out the usual city sounds, a place to slow down your pace.

23. Bruges (Belgium)

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Old town Brugge gives you what most European old town squares offer. Everything is built around the town’s main church, where Jesus christ torned blood stained cloth is purportedly stored. Specific shops selling different things are organized and concentrated on their respective places, bierhaus (if you need translation for this, I am not talking to you) being the most popular of course. Equally famous for their chocolates, expect to find lots of overpriced chocolates here.

22. Nuremberg (Bavaria)

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Nuremberg is located in Bavaria, which is a part of Germany, but when I was here, everyone bragged about being Bavarian first, only then they are Germans. Proud people, these Bavarians are. Nuremberg is most famous for its Christmas market, or Christkindlemarkt in German, it is outlandishly cute. Although it may feel like you’ve just missed the party if you visit outside the Yule season, but this city is alive, thriving with history and students alike. Hungry? Try those tasty little Nurnberger sausages.

21. Hallstatt (Austria)

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A short train ride from Salzburg, Hallstatt is a small town that became opulent once from the salt trade, now, its nothing more than a postcard town. Although residents still cling to the narrow strip of land between the mountain and the lake, I actually don’t remember meeting any local in my short time there. The most interesting part of my visit is that since real estate is remarkably scarce, there is a limit of 50-year lease for a spot in the minuscule but quaint grave yard. After your golden death anniversary, some family member gets to write your name on what used to be your forehead and stacked up among the rest of the oldies.

20. Venice (Italy)

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Venice, a once powerful kingdom and a symbol of opulence just a few centuries ago, now suffering from the negative aspects of tourism, is sinking from its fame. There is no shortage of tourist influx here, rain or shine, for better or worse. But I can hardly blame anyone who goes to visit Venice, even if they make the place sink deeper from junk, waves coming from wakes of tourist boats and cruise ships. You have to see it at least once. Oh the grandeur and renaissance. Interestingly, Marco Polo, probably the worlds most famous traveler (not just a chain of hotels), was a Venetian. He somehow made it to China through the silk road, rubbed shoulders with Kublai Khan, and made it back to tell the story.

19. Jungfraujoch (Switzerland)

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I started my journey to the top of Europe from the small, cliche of a German speaking Swiss town in Grindelwald. Jungfraujoch is the highest point in the Alps, hence, the rest of Europe, with an elevation of 3,471 meters above sea level. Beyond the prized title of being the roof of the continent, it is also really expensive to get here. But the fun really is in getting here. You take a really cute train that gives you a view of the quintessential Swiss country side, slowly making elevation, change trains a few times, until you get a peek of the snoq capped mountains. Bring sunscreen as UV rays get really harmful with the elevation. When it gets too cold, you can always have the most expensive lackluster cheese fondue you’ll have in Switzerland at the restaurant on top.

18. Vienna (Austria)

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They say Vienna is for old people, I don’t always disagree, especially if you’re young with hormones running wild. But I enjoyed Vienna. I spent Christmas here, away from my family who were comfortably warm at our home in the Philippines. I loved Vienna for probably the most different reason why people come here. I came here for my favorite philosophically romantic couple, Jesse and Celine of the Before Sunrise series. I walked their walks, rode the creaking ferris wheel where they first kissed, because Jesse was too shy to do it on the booth at the record store, the cafes and the rest of it.

17. Bratislava (Slovakia)

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It does sound familiar, heard it somewhere once, where the hell is Bratislava? In the film Eurotrip, Bratislava is presented as a drab communist dead end town. Sure it does, once you cross the bridge with a weird looking UFO bar in the middle, it is the epitome of communism with its tenement housing, much like SMDC really. But if you arrive here by train, you’ll see that it must have been habituated by rich, cultured people once. The old town is just as beautiful as any other Eastern European old towns, with an overlooking upturned table-like castle. Its mystical and almost deserted in winter, but that’s where the charm comes from perhaps?

16. Pokhara (Nepal)

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Kathmandu can make you crazy after staying there for too long, and that’s what Pokhara is for. Get away from the city, take the nerve racking highway that falls a few hundred meters into a river that’s dotted with, wait for it, ill-fated buses. I personally just closed my eyes, prayed to the universe that should my time come, please please let me see the Himalayas first. The mountain gods must have heard my appeal and I was able to reach Pokhara, white knuckled, but safely. The city has a picturesque lake, and hordes of hippies that comes with a super laid back place. From here, I rented a plane to see the Himalayas, the rooftop of the world. Let’s just say I would more likely forget my first sex, god knows how bitter sweet that was, than my face to face experience with the Himalayas.

15. Krakow (Poland)

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Schindler’s list anyone? Save one life, save the world? Yes, Schindler’s enamel factory is located in Krakow, a 15 minute walk from the main square, Europe’s biggest square. And where else better to spend New Year’s eve than Europe’s biggest square? Yup. Spent NYE here and was rewarded threefold. Different stages for different bands of different genres, an intoxicated, super charged hormones of a crowd and you get the picture. To equalize the fun, a visit to Auschwitz concentration camp, around an hour by local bus from the square, is a never fail depressant.

14. Oxford vs Cambridge (U.K.)

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Let me tell something personal to you, sure, I like beautiful and intelligent students, but I like beautiful schools more. Professor Charles Xavier graduated here, prince Charles, also that egotistic physical theoreticist (clue, not Sheldon Cooper) named Stephen Hawking aka wheelz, and the infamous philanderer, Lord Byron, to name a few of my favorite, albeit one is fictional, alumni. In my next life, I only want to study here, graduate and become a fellow and tenured professor in either Universities.

13. New York (U.S.A)

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From JFK airport, I took the train to Bronx where I was staying with a friend in his flat. On the way, I had to transfer overland from one station to another, it was just before mid town, around the 30s when I got overland, luggage rolling and bouncing on rough and uneven pavement, Jay Z and A. Keys, as my friend, Angela, who, mind you, is personal friends with, even followed her back on Twitter, started playing in my head “Neeew yooooooork”. I love New York. There’s America and there’s New York. Its a city that’s got something going on at some place at any time of the day, and night. People from all over the world, with different ethnicities, from all walks of life, they’re all here, trying to make it big. As a result, really damn good food, cheap and expensive, so many interesting people, so much quirks.

12. Amsterdam (Netherlands)

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Amsterdam has an unfair reputation of a place where people go to for legal dosage of drugs and lenient bureaucracy. Sure, you get taxed for prostitution and marijuana, but the city itself is gorgeous on its own. With canals that smell so much better than those of Venice, low rise buildings with curious ground floor life size windows (wink) and the only place I’ve seen that’s got more bikes than people. Park your black, nondescript bike in some corner, when you come back, its impossible to tell which one is yours, hopefully not the one floating along the canal. I’ve never felt so short in my life than when I was here. The Dutch have the award for being the tallest people on Earth. It must be the cheese, that world famous Edam cheese. Spent two nights here, watched a sex show, got drunk, smoked a joint, passed out, magically woke up in my room, with pictures to show for. On the second night, got a tattoo. The following morning, really glad to have left.

11. Siem Reap (Cambodia)

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I’ve never been more humbled by this feat of mankind. The Khmers built something so vast and grand in the far east, that until now, the very basic maintaining of upkeep still puzzles the best archaeologists. Such colossal strongholds and places for worships, mysteriously abandoned, reclaimed by the forest, lost for generations until a French explorer chanced upon it. Wow is definitely an understatement. I don’t think there can be any superlative adjective used that will ever be an overstatement when describing Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Bayon, and the rest of the structures that dot the rest of the once powerful kingdom.

10. Edinburgh (Scotland)

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Before becoming part of Great Britain, Scotland was a mysterious land of rolling hills, foul weather and inhabited by fierce mythical creatures and hell of a tough Scottish folks. Now, Edinburgh, its capital, is truly one of my favorite cities. The only reason its in number ten is because I didn’t like the food here that much. It still retains its foul weather, tough folks with very weird accent, hence, do not ever get into a bar fight in Scotland. Like the rest of my favorite cities, literature is always an inspiration to visit. For Edinburgh, there’s Trainspotting (“it sucks being Ska-ish”) and The Da Vinci code (Rosslyn chapel). Regardless of inspirations, it is a must visit city for any self respecting traveler. To see the old town from the Edinburgh castle, walk the Royal Mile, and a real Scottish pub crawl are experiences that are truly YOLO-ing.

9. Bled (Slovenia)

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I arrived in Bled when it was winter, dark, and empty. Its a sleepy lake town and the fog that blanketed the whole place didn’t afford me to see beyond a few meters from me. Its the perfect setting for Silent Hill. Upon checking in at my hostel, the receptionist informed me that I was the only guest and that she was glad that I have finally arrived so that she can finally go home and leave the whole 3 floors of that damned building all to myself. Needless to say, I did not sleep well. Making it alive and unscathed come morning, I am a different man after that. Anyway, the only exciting thing about this place, is not the church planted on a small island inside the big lake, but the Vintgar gorge. A 1600 meter walkway made of sleet covered broken wood planks on top of a gushing river and in between wet mountains. I was the only traveler in town and had I fallen into the river, at least I meant that goodbye hug to my parents when they dropped me at the airport.

8. Tokyo (Japan)

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Tokyo, its easily the most shocking place I’ve ever been in my life. There seem to be an electric current running from the buildings to the neon signs to the people and food. Everything is alive, even the food you’re about to eat was surely living just a few moments back. You only have to see the famous Shibuya crossing and the morning auction in Tsukiji market to know what sort of energy and pace I’m talking about. During the day, everyone’s busy with work, the ideal Japanese salary man, at night, all fetishes are catered for. From Pachinko parlors (casinos), Purikura machines (a photobooth that’s girlishly blown out of proportion) to dive bars that fit 3 people the most. Food? Its all about sushi. Tuna is king and O-toro is gold.

7. Hong Kong (Hong Kong)

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Upfront, I would tell you that what moves people here is money, it is the catalyst in this city. People are flashy, Rolex stores are as abundant as 7elevens, but they are hard working people who know exactly what they want in life, except maybe that they have really really small expensive hotel rooms, but the rest, they’ve figured out perfectly. Duck rice, that’s what I go to Hong Kong for, that meal I cry myself to sleep at night when I want it and can’t have it. The Avenue of The Stars, the Victoria Harbour, the skyline from the opposite side of the river, shopping, nope, I’m skipping all that for all the Duck rice in Hong Kong.

6. The Sahara Desert (Disputed between neighboring North African countries)

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The Sahara, extends from Morocco to Egypt, Tunisia to Sudan. In English, its vast. Caravans of the past crossed this arid, uninhabitable, interminable landscape after landscape to do trade from Asia to Africa. Even Islam crossed this desert from the Middle East to reach Africa. Spending a night here will make even Bear Grylls humble about his self preservation instincts. Between the punishing mid day heat and chaffing camel ride to the campsite where we’d spend the bone chilling night is a moment spent siting down on top of a really tall dune, watching the most glorious sunset that nothing will ever compare to, slowly giving way into the moon and the stars to paint the sand silver and the make the rest of the desert seem like a violent ocean frozen mid wave.

5. Varanasi (India)

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Basically, Hindus go here to die. If you don’t get an instantaneous heavy dosage of culture shock with that, you are one tough bastard. You are in the holiest city in India. Expect to hear chanting everywhere, poor people resigned to their fates and get cremated and the remains thrown away in the Ganges river, where supposedly, the act of reincarnation will end and your samsara, over. Literally, where fire wood are stacked, you will see dead bodies being burned open air by the river. If that’s not enough, the Ganges is popular, aside from being one of the holiest rivers, but also the dirtiest. It makes Pasig river look like Evian. But in Hindu belief, a dip here will clean up all your karma, a sort of soul cleansing, and as weird as I am, I took a not so refreshing but inner cleansing morning dip.

4. Marrakech (Morocco)

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Dictators, colonialists, and governments may change with time but Marrakech will always be what it is, a hub of trade, culture and energy. Marrakech is damn sexy. A veiled woman walks by, taking with her the mystery of whats hiding underneath her perfect form, the way her hips sway when she walks, intrigues you like a mad lover. The constant sound of pounding metals, shaping them, gilding them to become something so exquisite, be it a lamp, a figurine, or any other Islamic art. The curious looking conical shaped pottery from which they stew their food, when opened, explodes different aromas of cinnamon, to olives, dried citrusy fruits and animal protein. Mud brick kasbahs, riads (guesthouses) mosques and shops form the labyrinthine medina. Come night time, a visit to Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square is like an assault on the senses. Everything moves, some things bite, some dance, some sing, but mostly, they cook. Its the biggest open air stage I’ve ever seen in my life.

3. Penang (Malaysia)

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From Indonesia to Singapore, there is a general consensus that Penang is the food capital of the Straits. It used to be frequented by the British colonialist for Penang Hill which offers refuge from the damning heat, overlooking the sea. I’ll give it to Penang, the island is beautiful, but nothing of the landscape and the sea can beat what the island offers when it comes to food. Let me tell you straight, you need a local friend here to know which places to visit, and how to get there. The best Nasi Kandar, Nasi Lemak, oh and the Laksa! I’ve tried them all here. This place is second only to, you guessed it, San Sebastian in Spain, when it comes to concentration of so many good food in one place.

2 San Sebastian/Donostia (Spain/Basque)

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San Sebastian is the food capital of Spain, there is no contest. And if Spain is, arguably the food capital of the world, then logic follows that San Sebastian serves the best food in the world. Its got more than 3 michelin star restaurants concentrated for its small size than any other place in the world. But food doesn’t have to be expensive here. Nightlife here is a system of Pintxo (tapas) bar hop. You go to one bar, order the best Pintxo (normally advertised), drink just enough wine or Txakoli (sparkling dry white wine), then move to the next one. That sounds good enough on its own right? But did I tell you the buildings have very alluring old world appeal, the people are so beautiful and there’s a long stretch of beach, actually, two or three coves that stretches long enough to cover so many good looking people.

1. Hanoi (Viet Nam)

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Of all the places in the world, this is where I had the most fun. I found the perfect ratio of strangeness and familiarity in Hanoi. From the moment you wake up in the morning to eat Banh Mi (French baguette with fillings) while you sip that strong dark and gooey Vietnamese coffee, and then you head to watch people from all walks of life and generations exercise around Hoan Kiem lake to make room for all the delicious food to be had. Then you start looking for lunch and of course, its going to be Pho (rice noodle), the only choice really is if you’ll have it with beef or chicken. Alternatively, you can dine on some authentic French cuisine, but I’d rather explore more from Vietnamese cuisine like the Bun Cha, Cha Ca La Vong, and etc. up until you walk along the old quarter to look around old French colonial architecture, while somewhere in the corner, propagandas blast from a speaker on top of an electric post.

What you have to know about India

Its the most dazzling, puzzling, beautifully disorganized, and irresistibly chaotic set of places I’ve ever found myself in. From the ethereal and omnipresence of honking 21st century caravans to since-the-time-of-age camels in Delhi, my James Bond dreams in Udaipur, the withstanding merchants of Jaipur, the holiest place in Varanasi, and of course, to that postcard, desktop image, and posters we’ve all seen, the majestic Taj Mahal.

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You’re no longer just a desktop background!
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Breaking presumptions about India

1. It doesn’t stink and they don’t all wear Lungis

I took the metro in Delhi basically everyday, except when I’d get home late and its closed. I don’t want to sound unpatriotic, but to break our racial discriminative ideas about India, our MRT smells worse than the metro in Delhi. I’m not saying people from Delhi, or the rest of India, doesn’t reassure me once in a while of what I used to think about it, but its not any worse than the metro in Paris, infact most of them smell great.

They dress ridiculously well. No short pants here and the rest of India lest you want to look like an overgrown boy who never outgrew his age. Dressing up is a form of respect here, partly more for self respect really. You wear short pants/shorts in India and you’re literally looked down upon as an eight year old boy.

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Its sweltering hot and they don’t mind

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2. They are scammers

Only if you’re a fool. Scams in India are not so much worse than seasoned frauds in South East Asia. Agree on a price, check the quality, and count your change. Its not so different from Binondo or Bangkok when it comes to getting short changed, hustled or pick pocketed. Like the rest of the world, common sense rules. Which is not so common as I would find out as I got out of the airport, 12:30 am, bought a prepaid cab ticket, short changed by an innocently smiling cashier, hopped in the cab, counted my money, didn’t feel right, got out just before my cab left, got back to the counter and the cashier instantly gave a smile that says “you’re not as stupid as you look after all” and gave me the rest of my change. I arrived in NAIA once and got hustled by a cabbie who wanted to charge me more than what I knew was a generous fee, I got off in the middle of EDSA, not paying him a miserable cent. Sometimes its more about the principle. To be honest, next to Japanese folks, Indians are the nicest Asians. I’ve met the nicest people I’ll probably ever meet in life in India.

3. Food will give you constant indigestion

I love Indian food, I love street food wherever, even so, I experienced a tolerable Delhi belly. Okay. Most indigestions come from unfamiliarity with the spices used in your food than from hygienic reasons, even if you eat in fancy looking restaurants. So when I developed a tolerance with the spices, I had the best time eating whatever I wanted, so long as I see Indians buying food even from the dirtiest looking places, I grab the opportunity and reap rewards. Let me tell you one thing, Indians know how to eat. Follow their trail, never eat in any restaurant or food stall that only serves tourists (its the dirtiest food you’ll eat, trust me), apart from that, have the guts to eat along with white and blue collars, homeless people, holy men and the rest of them. I had my best meal in India from a stall that opened up at 8pm, a 15 minute queue, and worth 10 rupees, about 7 Philippine pesos.

I see a queue and I know I’ll eat well

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My 10 rupee meal!

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A plate of food here looks like an artist’s palette

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What you should know when visiting India

1. Book trains way ahead

Its not easy to get tickets from the Indian website called IRCTC. You have to provide a local Indian number, which, guess what, you can only get in Indian land, even then it still won’t be easy to get one. They start selling tickets 2 months ahead of your planned date of departure. Trust me, its worth setting up an alarm in your calendar for. You don’t want to take a regular class ticket traveling by rail in India more than once. So I suggest you spend a little more for getting a 1/2/3 AC berth when traveling long distance. I missed my train from Agra to Varanassi for a ridiculously rookie mistake, the only way to make it was to get a general class ticket. It was one of the highlights of my trip to India, but I would probably never do it again. Its masochism.

Traveling around India through rails

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Bed for the night

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Mornings in general class compartment

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2. Stay in guesthouses owned by Indian families

For me, the best way to do it is through Airbnb. Read the reviews, if most of the reviews mention anything related to food, book the damn place. I’ve never met an Indian mom who doesn’t cook well, with recipes at least from 3 generations past. Indian moms would never let you out of the dining table without a bursting tummy, so a word of advice, bring bigger sized jeans. if you ever plan on eating your way through India, with all the generous use of Indian butter called ghee, carbo loaded flat breads and those sinfully succulent sweets eventually take its toll.

3. Its all about romance

I made the unfortunate mistake of visiting India alone. PDA is an understatement in India. People make out in every dark corner, an alley, Vishnu knows what’s happening down there. I stayed in an apartment in Delhi and the newly weds on top of my room kept me from ever having a peaceful sleep the moment the husband gets home at around 3am from his call center job. I’ve concluded that Indian structures are earthquake proof because that couple would give it a definite rocking night after night.. I can easily tell you the sequence from my deduction. First there would be loud noises from water pipes, shower time! Then there would be closets opening and closing. A few minutes of gentle but audible movements, then its bring-the-house-down, wake-all-the-fucking-neighbors time. I feel a little bad for the new bride though because from the moment of audible rocking, 5 minutes after, its all silence.

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They say “There’s the rest of the world, and there’s India.” I cannot agree more.

Why is traveling good for you?

DSC_1993They were looking at the Taj Mahal during sunset.

Every time I leave our front door, airport bound, giddy with excitement for all the new places, people, and food I will get to see, meet, and eat (not always in that order), I take a good look at our home, and imagine how different I will be next time I enter this door. In so many ways that you can educate yourself, to improve ones personality, gain confidence, and learn to love, I find traveling to be the best way to get it. 

From my first bus tour, more like a blitzkrieg around Europe, I learned how to trust myself to be able to organize my own trips next time because depending on others to arrange your trip is why most people come back home completely disappointed in Paris, or swearing that pasta at home tastes better than in Italy. With confidence in the bag, there seemed to have been infinite possibilities for improvement. I learned to cook, hand wash, be organized, converse, say hello, sorry, and thank you in a dozen different languages, etc. I developed patience, acceptance, forgiveness, and appreciation with fervent passion. From interminable waiting for connections, the haunting punctuality of German trains, from the omnipresent crying infant in economy, the ill fated ordering for a cup of espresso against all these hand waving Romans, are just some of the moments that caused such personal developments.

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My favorite app that tells the schedules of most trains in Europe!

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The horror of taking your first intercity train ride.

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You hear them in movies in every scene from economy.

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you rich.” Obviously, after plane tickets, daily food consumption and museum tickets, this is not true in the most literal sense of the phrase. Traveling is not like buying stocks at their IPO, its not a financial investment. It is though, an investment for your self, in the most philosophically existential way which is what I want to share with you here.

1. To find courage

People who never believed in themselves, who shied away from the world, intimidated to take risks and opportunities, will discover the strength and courage they never knew existed within them. Leaving the comforts of home, the familiarity of your city, and your wolf pack friends is not easy. To find yourself in a strange city with not so much an understanding of their inaccessible language, and suddenly you’re hungry as you try to choose which food to order from the indecipherable hieroglyphic menu (yes I am afraid of hunger), pressured by the impatient underpaid waiter, you will take a leap of faith. To expose yourself, to get out of your daily state of normality, to me is what real courage is. To put yourself out there to the unfamiliar, not between your group induced testosterone, is what real courage is. 

IMG_1344Awhile back, I showed some friends this photo and they were mortified. Its ridiculous!

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Stuck in the middle of an Indian crowd, alone, and blending in!

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Got a tattoo from Amsterdam, not exactly sober, not that courageous then yet.

2. Learning acceptance and forgiveness.

When you lose your passport, pocket money stolen, memory card crashed, misread the 20:30 train departure, and a whole lot of other regretful events, at the moment, anger fills you up. Its so predictable, “Why me, of all people?” as if it would have been less worse ethically if it happened to the person next to you. Or “How could I have let that happen?” as if you had control of all the things that could go wrong in your life. Travel often and you’ll experience enough of this to get over that initial anger and regret. 

What better way to learn how to forgive people than by starting with yourself? Serious travelers know that there is nothing else to do in life’s irreversible lapses but to accept them, and as time heals all wounds, make a good story out of it. 

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I’m so sorry Brix, my man! First time to admit that Cherry and I instigated this. Time heals all wounds! 

3. To appreciate beauty.

No, I’m not talking about you, Angela, back from kindergarden! I’m talking about breaking our preconditioned idea of beauty, dictated by media, ethnicity and society’s bigotries. For example, Asians mostly dream of having fairer skin, while Caucasians take so much time getting a tan. People grow up basically dictated which details to admire. But after seeing some parts of the world, I learned to appreciate everything I encounter. The painfully pallid details of a Japanese bamboo forest, women of North India, Moroccan Kasbahs, German Christkindlesmarkt, and maybe hopefully someday, Italian wines. 

Beauty is everywhere. Everywhere you go, at home, a block away, halfway around the world, queuing at the bank, in your office, always find something beautiful to look at and devote your attention there. There are endless bad things to complain about, but you could be spending equal amount of time talking about things you appreciate. 

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Slender and graceful North Indian woman.

 

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Irresistibly cute Christmas market in Nuremberg. 

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Majestic Sahara sunset.

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A Russian roulette of a ferris wheel ride in my town of Balayan. 

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Picture perfect postcard shot of Hallstatt in winter.

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Japanese bamboo forest.

4. You’ll become an anthropologist.

Okay, maybe traveling doesn’t come with a degree, but you’ll build up enough curiosity that different people and cultures seem to be like a writing assignment. You will learn that douche people come from a certain background that when understood, they’re really not as douche as you have originally thought. It must be the circumstances of the lives they live in. People from Batangas speak loud, oft mistaken for having a verbal argument until they smile and wrap arms around each other’s shoulders. New Yorkers are always mad at tourists but try to imagine having leisurely walking people encroach on your office’s sidewalk when you’re running to make it on time for that life changing presentation. Hell the French eat everything, from tail, entrails, to head that will make the lousy American run for, wait for it, Golden “Mcdonald’s” Arches. You can easily be the second-rate tourist and simply just pass judgement, or you can be a sponge and learn why people are like that in those parts of the world. Perhaps when you get home, you’ll understand why your neighbor has the money to drink alcohol and rent karaoke but never pays the money he owes you.

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NY protesters screaming “Get out of our sidewalks!.” I kid!

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A sinister looking sausage, bland pretzel and a liter of beer for breakfast in Munich.

5. Learn to love.

You’ll meet a lot of things and see a lot of people (there is a joke somewhere inside). You’ll find a certain set of people that you had so much fun with but only have 3 hours before you have to part ways. Love at first sight, but never meant to last. The beautiful lady in La Maja Des Nuda, or the gothic church in Prague, you’ll understand that you can fall in love with these people and things, but ownership unnecessary, if not impossible. Suddenly, loving becomes easier, simpler. Understand that goodbyes and farewells are the norm but although some may stay, time is relevant, eventually, everything goes. Instead on focusing on how to prolong relationships and precious time with desired things, it’ll be about how can you make every moment special. Remember John Green? “Some infinities are just bigger than other infinities?” When you look at it this way, every moment becomes precious and spent with more quality.

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Jesse and Celine, total strangers, had to part ways before sunrise, ended up together 10 years after.

Haven’t found what you really want yet? Having trouble with your identity? Travel my friend. Explore your local neighborhood, allocate budget for a plane ticket, do whatever it takes to travel. Hustle, fight, take! Make it a priority, no one ever said on their dying moments that I wish I traveled less. 

5 Life And Mountaineering Lessons

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1. Pack light, you don’t want to carry too much weight.

They tell this to you in pre-climb, but nobody tells you this in college. Night before departure, you wonder if it would hurt to add that facial wash, special lotion, maybe an extra shirt and some more canned goods for your climb. When you’re exhausted and moody, trust me, it will. If you doubt you’ll use something, the fact that you have to think about it means its almost unnecessary. You can only need so much in mountaineering and in life. So what if you lose your comfort zone for a day or more. Do not let what you own start owning you. Things accumulated are things you have to take good care of, or else you run the risk of losing them. Learn what’s important. More things, more worries and responsibilities. Less of them, more time and energy for fun and appreciation.

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2. Budget your consumption of resources.

Learn how to allocate and budget your consumption properly. Food and water, have never been so scarce than when in hiking. Like all resources in general, they’re limited, regardless if you’re an oil sheik or a silicon valley billionaire. Finish your 2 litter water mid way and you’ve just formulated the perfect disaster for the second half of your climb, or in real life language, do not spend beyond your means.

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3. Its not a race

Save for marathons and hiking races, casual mountaineering is not a race unless you impose it on yourself. There will always be someone who is impeccably faster, or impossibly slower than your pace. In the end, we all reach the same “summit”. Life and mountaineering is about appreciating moments, flora and fauna. Consider it a race and you just ended up rushing yourself to the “summit” without having experienced the beauty of those accumulated moments we call life.

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4. Going up is hard, but going down is harder

Leaving the jump off point for base camp/summit, filled with excitement, it fuels your drive to make it to the top. With wobbly legs and and self gratifying ego, somehow you’re able to strut to the top, breathlessly basking in some breath-taking view and the majestic color combination of dark blue, purple, pink and orange of sunset or sunrise only a mountain summit can provide. Bad news, nobody stays at the summit forever. At some point, in relative time, all of us comes back down to sea level. Climbing down is harder because your knees take more impact, and your brain needs to decide quickly on which stone is most likely not to move when you step on it. Excitement long gone, fatigue sets in, much like in life, when life goes downhill, your character is tested and eventually revealed.

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5. You will not run out of summits to climb.

There are more summits to climb in par with our human lifetime. If you devote your attention to climbing every summit than appreciating each one, then the battle is lost. Each summit you achieve exposes you to another one that is even more tougher. Although it is in our nature to always go for more, to evolve and to best our previous states, never over look achievements in life and mountaineering. Celebrate every each one, every resting hut and shelter, those are what make reaching the goal more rewarding.

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DSC_0340“Live your life each day as you would climb a mountain. An occasional glance towards the summit keeps the goal in mind, but many beautiful scenes are to be observed from each new vantage point” – H. Melchert

Rocky’s Top 10 Travel Tips

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1. Guidebooks are expensive but they are essential.

I’m never comfortable everytime I line up at the counter of Fullybooked to pay for a guidebook. But trust me, its always the first step.

Never open a guidebook in public lest you want to look like this.

ImageI would never recommend Frommers to anyone. It was my first and last.

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2. Great back packs are a one time investment.

They will probably last longer than your traveling career, stuck on the deepest and darkest places in your basement or garage, to be discovered in your 80s while you find yourself suddenly reminiscing. Back packs are pillows on  long train rides, a load on your back while you walk the streets of infernal Delhi in summer, rain of London in September, or Wilson if you’re an outcast.

I would never have survived miserable train rides if not for my favorite pillow.

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3. Bring medicine.

I like leaving some things to spontaneity. I like trying to find the same soap I use at home, but struggle with different labels and packaging of other countries. But try that with medicines like hydrochloroquinone, medroxyprogesterone, you’ll probably have the most difficult time explaining that in Khmer. There are also some types of medicine that come the time you need it, its just too late and you’ll probably have to hide your soiled underwear and pants on page two of google. A small tip though, it has been a habit of mine to buy shavers on foreign land, but understand that a pack of 5 costs 5 euros in Spain, I don’t even want to think about its price in Switzerland.

When it comes to traveling, bawal magkasakit. (its forbidden to get sick)

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4. On homesickness.

When you’re feeling homesick, nothing feels like home more than going out to watch a movie. Inside a dark movie house, with the latest block buster playing, you could barely tell the difference. Just make sure you ask if they show it in english. I once watched The Hobbit in Slovenian, glad I read the book. Its also a good gauge for measuring the difference in cost of living, how much are locals willing to pay for the simplest entertainment says about how much people’s wages are.

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5. Keep a journal.

You don’t have to sound like Hemingway, you probably couldn’t drink as much to be one anyway, but write about your trip, give time. As simple as bullet form will do. 5 years from now, you will not remember that extremely tasty Czech food you had from what was that pub called again? Damn.

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6. Learn basic words from the language of your destination.

Yes its true, everyone speaks english in Germany. Okay, perhaps they do, but you’ll get better portions in a restaurant if you ask the server “Enshooldegenzee, shprekenzee English?” I don’t expect you to speak Japanese fluently, they will help you anyway if you need to ask. But you will be hard pressed to find a Parisian who would, regardless if they do speak english or not. A hint, most of them do but are unwilling. Nor do you get points for effort even after desperately trying and ending up with bad grammar as well. Bottom line, its just hopeless to speak French to a Parisienne.

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7. Travel alone once.

You will find out how to talk to people, regardless of how shy of a person you are. Some days, your first conversation are 10 hours away from the moment you wake up if you don’t try to start one yourself, some you really have no one to talk to. You will learn more about yourself, like how much shit you’re willing to put up with life. Traveling isn’t always comfortable. Aside from learning to be happy with yourself, you will also understand the value of companion. How can you go wrong by learning to value yourself and others? Its a win win situation.

Prost to new friends!

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A Filipino, English, Japanese and Taiwanese.

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Some days you just have no one to talk to.

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8. Travel with a group.

Be it your loved one, or just a friend. There are trips that are defined by the people you spend it with. I remember my girlfriend and I traveled to Vietnam when we were still friends and there were times she’d cry from keeping up with me. When she became my girlfriend and we went to Japan, we fought most of the time. We went to Morocco after that and she suffered from exotic food and different people, lost 15 lbs. in 3 weeks, and got hospitalized the moment she got home. Now we’re talking about marriage and its probably best we stop traveling together. Haha. I kid. Bad experiences make excellent stories. Travel with a group because it becomes the seed from which endless conversations and life long friendships will spring from.

Let’s get weird in NYC!

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Backpacker vs Tourist

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Lovers in Japan

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My girlfriend enjoying the Sahara wind.

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My super group!

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Along busy streets of Hong Kong.

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Ayutthaya with my high school friends.

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Street fighter in Seoul.

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Forever couple buddies in Vigan.

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Road kill!

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Sid and Nancy.

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Pretending to be stranded with my love.

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9. Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive, far, or different.

I used to think that traveling means flying 10 hours stuck in economy cabin, landing on a different place that millions of other people dream of going, which millions of people have also been before you. Sure, Marrakech is exotic, listening to Scottish people talk is just as difficult talking to a Japanese, the funny lisp in Spain, spicy smell of Indians, the mighty Himalayas, but after some of these places I’ve been to, I realized that the mountains that I take for granted, barely 15 minutes away from my house by bicycle might be the highlight of the trip for a western traveler. I learned that taking my bike to the farming villages nearby, talking to their beautiful people and their simple and interesting way of living is also a form of traveling. The hell with it, I live a few houses down this house, and I am extremely fascinated every time I pass by it, reminds me of Under The Tuscan Sun.

A really short bike ride from my home.

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Looks like a set from Under the Tuscan Sun’s Bramasole.

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10. Embrace the difference.

The most important thing I’ve learned about traveling is that people are different but they mostly want the same things. If by chance, you find yourself complaining about widespread poverty in Delhi, boastful show of wealth in Dubai, most expensive cupcakes in NYC, merciless killing of bulls in Madrid, swimming outdoors in the coldest of winter nights in Budapest, a communal naked bath in Japan, or the European obsession in wine, its always best to embrace these differences. When you do, you’ll simply be a better person. You’ll be less judgmental about your alcoholic neighbor, flashy friend, or the daily beggar at the corner of Wilson and Ortigas.

Ridiculously priced cupcakes from NYC

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The coldest of winter nights and people are swimming outdoor.

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Human towers always crash.

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Sexy and exotic Marrakech

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This was plain dumb but also my best night in Barthelona.

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Animal lovers nightmare in Lath Ventath, Madrid.

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Why is Chefchaouen so blue?

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Mighty Himalayas

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European love for wine.

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Child labor in India.

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A taste of edible gold in Dubai.

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People may be different but mostly they only want stability if not wealth, self respect for those who lack confidence, and most important of all, love, in whichever way they can find it.

Where the hell is Slovenia?

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Western Europe has always dominated the tourist trail, casting a very vast and dark shadow on its eastern counterpart. Its dark 20th century history not favoring it as well, tourists often miss out on the goodies that seasoned travelers revel about the most. Welcome to Slovenia! One of the nations that used to be part of Yugoslavia, hence, more bad memories.

“Where the hell is Slovenia?” Said our local volunteer guide for our free walking tour in Ljubljana, the nation’s capital. Not to know the answer to such sarcastic and rhetorical, close to being metaphorical question, is forgivable. Slovenia is a really small nation that you can traverse it from its northernmost border with Austria to its southern end along the Adriatic sea in a half a day’s time. Located in the middle of such touristic heavyweight countries such as Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary and Croatia to the east, making it a melting pot of different cultures.

Europe in one country

From its diverse topography, it has all the cliches of Europe in it.

1. Of course, It has to have a lake with a church at the middle, a very beautiful and ever-changing with the season in Bled. I was here during winter and it felt like I was the only tourist in town, it was reassuring, and horrifying that I was the only guest in my hostel, and the receptionist leaves at 9pm. The whole town felt like Silent Hill at night, I couldn’t see past 3 meters with the fog. Whew!

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2. From the town of Bled, you can visit a river that violently gushes along the Vintgar gorge. Although my guidebook says that it closes during winter, the receptionist from my hotel secretly hinted that yes it is closed, but nobody really bothers to watch if life-risking tourists dare to enter. Good enough for me. Apparently, it was not the easiest part of my visit to Slovenia. Wood planks were broken, solid slippery ice clung on it too, I slipped a few times, dropped my damn moisturizer beyond arms reach, you need it in winter regardless of your metrosexual requirements, I let it go. From the exit, you enter a forest and walk through unmarked snow trail, with no other person but you, with more luck than you need, hopefully you will find the exit.

As if this ever stopped me.

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Vintgar gorge.

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 3. The highest point in Slovenia, Mt. Triglav. Its easy to skip this one because of the more competitive ski resorts along the more famous mountains of Austria and the alps, but for a Slovenian, it is highly regarded. You have no right to call yourself a Slovenian if you haven’t climbed it.

4. One of the most beautiful underground caves in the continent in Skocjan. A nondescript, oft missed out town perched on top of a sink hole, no wonder, is where you can enter the archaeological treasure of Skocjan cave. From the entry that is reminiscent of a mine passage, you descend alarmingly deeper underground, just 223 meters below is the lowest point. Goosebumps crawling on my skin, I entered, alone with a dodgy guide who between him and I, had the only access to the light switch.

The empty town of Skocjan.

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From outside the cave.

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The famous photo, the hanging bridge they made to cross a very deep whole, is probably the highlight of the trip. So deep that you cannot see the bottom of it, drop a coin, as my creepy guide suggested, and you will not hear it fall to the bottom. Make no mistake, there is a gushing river below, and from where I stood, there was no sound of such to be heard. Although photos were not allowed, there’s no stopping my lust for life.

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5. My favorite, the port of Pirano. Its shaped like a dagger as it stabs the Adriatic sea. It used to be a part of the Venetian kingdom, so that explains why Italian language is spoken here, and houses are reminiscent of Venice. Narrow, winding cobbled lanes, fancy windows, a very big square and sea food, reminds me of King’s Landing.

I stood at this view point as I wondered what good in life did I do to deserve this?

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 Quite a big square for a small port town.

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Narrow, and winding cobbled lanes.

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Venetian house.

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Boy I was glad to see the sea, after being land locked for weeks, I can say without bias that one of the best sea food I’ve had is from a local family run restaurant called Pri Mari, redundantly translates in English as by the sea. Its worth the detour in itself.

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Oh, and they have a violinist as a national hero too, talk about renaissance.

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Neighboring with Italy, they adopted this ugly habit.

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6. Most importantly, its capital, Ljubljana, my image of medieval Europe and its lofty cultural status to back it up, is the top reason why I can call Slovenia, Europe in a country. Ljubljana might not compare with the performers of Staatsoper and the history of Vienna, but it does sure look a like. Lifestyle obediently follows. Obviously, though unfairly, it is often nicknamed a small Vienna

With a castle on top of a hill which Veronika regrets not visiting before she decided to die.

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They are obsessed with bridges too.

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The square at night.

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The culture.

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The last necessary medieval effect.

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Why go to Slovenia? Its cheap, still gives off a sense of the old Yugoslavia, but most definitely because its not visited by hordes of annoying tourists that line up outside the Louvre.