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.

Hardworking but happy DelhiitesDSC_1377James Bond was here!
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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.

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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

A movie script ending

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Prologue

5:30 am, your phone rings the alarm you imprudently set the night before you slept, just after you finished your second bottle of wine.

Act I

A smell of certain but distant familiarity in the air as he walks up to her, ever so feverishly beautiful as she sat by the bed, not a word of invite to come close to her because Helen of Troy knows what herculean effort it is not to. His pride takes over his feet and he defiantly walks around the room, pretending not to notice her while she does something in her computer. Did he just see her fingers playfully tuck her hair behind her ear? An effort from her to unblind side her from your vantage point? He over analyzes as he panicked to find something for his hands to play with, buying time to think before the air gets stale and the silence deafening.

“You don’t need to be so damn cunning”, he wanted to say, “Your hair falls differently on your face now”, he said. She looked up, pretending to be puzzled from what he said, but she knew she’s already had him from the moment he nervously grabbed his phone to check nothing, and said, “You notice too many things about my face, but you can never look straight at it.” Damn her, he thought.

He struggles to find courage to come and sit on the bed beside her, realizing how making those two steps can feel like crossing the widest, deepest ocean.

Act II

In bed, shoulders barely touching, he listens to all the new things he missed out on her, years of it. While he struggles to focus on her stories, responding with generic uhums, yes, and exactly!, she reaches in for the bottle of wine beside him, as her bare skin uncovered by her tank top touched his, for a moment, an electric current runs from her skin to his shoulder, sending a shock to the deepest nerves in his body.

“Oh how pleasantly devouring it is to be struck by a lightning! Benjamin Franklin was wrong to wait for it under the rain, it was from her, my heroine.” He thought.

Emboldened by the shock from the current that still runs through his nerves, he stretches an arm that finds its way around her slim neck. A few interminable seconds of nervous silence, to feel no resistance from her and  the sight of a sly smile across her face, he knew he’d just won the lottery. Suddenly, her words became bubbles and the room looked like the sky from underwater.

The night went by as she excitedly continued to talk while he helplessly descended deeper underwater, holding on to her tightly, as if the slightest gap between them would drown him.

Act III

He reaches for the snooze button. Windows all at their pale shade of blue, he turns to look at her, the source of a faint glow amidst the darkness. He delicately pushes her hair back from her face to see what cherubs looks like when they sleep.

He plants a blasphemous kiss, it lands as soft as cotton, but she gives a muffled grunt anyway. Stubbornness was something she never lacked. Even demigods, just like humans, don’t want to be disturbed this early in the morning.

She breathes, warm and alive. She’s human after all.

He rests his head back to their only pillow, facing her, their eyes leveled to each other. Instinctively, he closed his eyes when he saw a slit of opening from hers, afraid it would turn him into a stone when she opens them. Yes, she could be as vicious as Medusa sometimes. He felt movement, and then the unexpected kiss lands on his face. Medusa or not, he had to open his eyes but it was too late, her sleepy arms were already wrapped around his suddenly weakened frame. There has been no embrace emotionally reciprocated more than this.

Finding the strength to overturn her, he endlessly kissed her face as she began to laugh on every tickling kiss that lands. Not a part unkissed, from ear to ear, forehead to chin, every sweet laugh from her an encouragement for him to pursue.

When the alarm rang for the last possible time, and it was time to pull away, he understood that if magnets had feelings, this is what its like every time you pull them apart.

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.

 

A Manly Way To Eat Cupcakes

Cupcakes must be one of the smallest, simplest and most joyful things man (more like woman) has ever made. Those irresistible bundles of joy light me up every time as I close my eyes on every sinfully sugary bite, the world ceases to exist, as if my cupcake and I are alone in a void. Oh those endless possibilities! Imagine if world and religious leaders settled disputes over a box of colorful vanilla sunshines, cupcakes might have succeeded where politics and war failed in attaining world peace. It may seem that even real estate developers fashioned our lives in cupcakes as they try to fit our lives in 40 square meter boxes.

If heaven existed, it must have took in a form of a cupcake frosting.

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But let’s face it. There is no manly way to eat a cupcake with colored frosting that befits a unicorn. You will not see Vladimir Putin eat one in public lest he loses his machismo, or imagine Fidel Castro sneaking one every after meal time, carefully wiping his mouth from frosting stain just before he takes another photo with a tobacco between his lips. Its not like simply devouring them in the most carnal way makes it any more manly than using a delicate knife and fork. Gentlemen, heaven that manifests itself in a form of a cupcake must be appreciated. The least a man can do when eating his cupcake is to be systematic about it, like maintaining a car, disassembling a gun, running an empire, etc.

So here’s what I devised about the art of devouring these euphoric little pieces of paradise.

Step one: Peel off the paper.

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Step two: Slice the bread in half.

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Step three: Miserably eat the bottom half and UTTERLY RESIST the temptation to get some frosting, its called delayed gratification.

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Step four: Selfishly gorge on the 2-1 frosting to bread ratio with reckless abandonment!

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Go ahead and savor your cupcakes shamelessly but always keep in mind that article 12 of the Bro Code still states that “Bros don’t share desserts.”

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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On dealing with pain and forgiveness

If you may allow me to digress from my usual posts about my travels, I would like to talk about what its like to aggravate, be aggravated, and the most important thing, to forgive.

The aggravated:

No matter if you’re buddhist, christian, hindu, muslim, agnostic and atheist alike, when you’re hurt, there is no meditation, confession and self reflection that can take you away from that burning feeling within your heart.

You lose sleep, appetite (although it might not be the worst thing), and most important, trust. They say trust, when broken, can never be repaired. I would agree perhaps at the first instance, forgiveness will be talked about later on but for now let’s talk about that ugly, self defeating feeling you get in those harshest of moments.

The first question is why? Did you deserve such blow? Some do some don’t. If you do deserve it, its a learning experience and most probably, you deserved it douche bag. But personally, its worse if you don’t. You give your heart to someone you thought you could trust and then what do they do? They fuck you up anyway. So let me tell you something about pain, for those fortunate enough not to have experienced it, and trust me, you will. Pain feels like a heavy object laid on top of your chest (not surprisingly, its a symptom of a heart attack), it lingers regardless if you’re the emotional or detached type of person. With heart racing, it becomes worse, your mind seems to connive with your heart who, in my opinion should be on your side and practice laissez faire. But no, your mind makes it worse, you cannot stop thinking about it. Its like asking someone to stop thinking about dolphins, eventually, they think of one to negate one. Your mind fills your heart with nothing but anger and sorrow, while your heart gives you the most painful of sensations that you would prefer to beat yourself up physically, crash your car, or worst, just end it completely by jumping off a building.

There is no going around it. Your mind and heart know when it hurts and that’s the reality of it. Psychedelics and alcohol are no escape either, they only make your feelings bolder, hence more pain.

If you’re on this side of the world, you will have better appreciation of Anna Karenina, especially the side of Alexei Karenin.

The aggravator:

On the other side of things, being the aggravator doesn’t make it easier, if you truly love the person you hurt, it actually hurts more than the aggravated side. If you truly love the person you hurt, the pain is exponential compared to what you’ve done to the aggravated. You feel so guilty, and guilt, albeit self imposed, it kills you. It kills the humanity out of you, you start asking yourself how you have been capable of hurting the most important person in your life. Unfortunately, none of us have the portrait of Dorian Gray, who can suffer all the bad things for us, while we continue to live forever young, undamaged by life and its mishaps.

Sometimes, out of guilt, the aggravator chooses to leave because the pain in seeing how much pain you inflicted is too hard for you to accept. Sometimes its the most honorable thing to do, the Japanese have a word for it, Harakiri.

Remember the line “Oh when a heart breaks no it don’t break even, even” That’s true for you. No matter how much guilt you feel, and how much more pain you experience from your mistake, its always harder for the aggravated. Regardless of sides, the most important thing is the next part.

On forgiveness and acceptance:

My advice on either side of that regretful moment, is that if you can manage to forgive your partner, and yourself, please do. If you have more happy moments in life, focus on it, remember the good times more than the worst. Happy moments count more than bad memories, besides, if you have more bad memories than good ones, then you’re stupid to hang on to your relationship.

For the aggravated, forgiving means so much to the person who hurt you, if anything, the forgiven one will truly appreciate it, and will know how much you love him/her by giving another chance. It might not be easy to forgive, and forgetting is out of the question, but if you believe that the future means more than the past, you will reap more than you sow.

Oh, and please, revenge is just out of the question. If you’re thinking about vengeance as a form of justice, then just end the relationship then and there. Its just going to add more pain than good. Justice is just a form of sugar coated vengeance. If you cannot forgive, there is no point in staying, but I’m not saying its going to be easy. So think about it, decide, and stick to it.

For the aggravator, what you do from now on matters most. You have to exert effort. If you feel tired from explaining yourself, assuring your partner, just ask yourself how you would feel if tables were turned. Its that easy. Yet some people are just incapable of empathy, so let me give you a list;

– Never fucking do it again.

– Never ever fucking do it again.

– Make promises that you dare not break, its reassuring.

– Assure them more, action means more but words are truly comforting.

– Understand that you have to stop doing things, hanging out with those people, that your partner used to trust you with. At least temporarily.

– Give your full effort, its gonna take so much. If you’re unwilling, then just leave the person alone.

– Lastly, and the most important thing, FORGIVE YOURSELF.

I hope this will reach people who are in dire need of it. Forgive, accept, and move on to a better future. The past will always be a lesson, and the future will always be another chance. And if you can, give more. Besides, “He who has not sinned cast the first stone.”

The rice terraces of Ifugao

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I have always had an interest in quaint villages perched on high lands. Regardless of border, they all seem to share an identity of mysticism and spirituality. People who live in such communities seem to have a better understanding of the nature that surrounds them, like a secret has been passed on from past generations that they can easily trace. The simplicity of their cold bitten faces, their skin, tanned, wrinkled and hard from agricultural labor, in contrast with their enigmatic animist beliefs . What lies underneath that simplicity, there seem to be mystery. Like that universal image of a wrinkled old woman, sitting by the window overlooking the street, staring blankly ahead while smoking a tobacco as her lips move as if in chant or giving a curse.

So when I was bound for the mystical rice terraces of Ifugao, I was determined to ride on my idea of simplicity while giving respect to the spirit of nature that surrounded us. We all know what it looks like, we grew up with that image from our history books, always from that angle which is even printed in our recently replaced 1000 peso bill. So upon ascending the road to Ifugao province, every turn is a hope that the outing would be those green auditorium like rice terraces. And every time it isn’t, disappointment is instantly replaced by awe for those valleys between mountains, the steep drop it would make for a small miscalculation. Driving here, you know you do not get the slightest margin for error.

The road to Banaue

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Roadside view

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A miserable attempt at trying to piece them together

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After a few small villages and many blind corners later, we arrived at Banaue, a thriving town funded by tourism from its world famous two thousand year old rice terraces. Albeit a little commercialized for mountain standards, it still gives a quaint feeling, with a few homestays, some restaurants catering for tourists from most parts of the world, and a very helpful tourist information center from which all travelers must register upon arrival. Its the sort of town where you pick up most of what you need, from food and water, to hiking shoes and transportation, before you delve deeper into the region. Staying in Banaue View Inn for a night, nobly located at the top of the town, we had an overlooking view of the happenings down below. The unofficial bus station occupying half of the street, blocking the occasional flow of traffic, while their waiting passengers have only road railings to lean on for comfort, and those last minute shoppers from the busy town square, with everyone seem to be moving about in all directions, we watched over them until everything slowed down as the sun set, giving way to the slowly glowing moon. At night, the town gives a totally different atmosphere. With hushed conversations from obscure faces overcast by dim light, tracing distant foot steps, the feral barking of a dog, it feels like something straight from a Scorsese movie.

The town of Banaue from our balcony
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Lording over Banaue from Banaue View Inn

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An hour drive deeper into the province is Batad saddle, the end of one of the toughest roads ever. The strenuous incline to this point is still under construction, but its muddy and rocky tracks are open for vehicles who dare. While other travelers have no choice but to rent a jeep with fortified suspension, luckily, our vehicle, a Toyota Land Cruiser from the 1990’s, with its tall vertical clearance and armed to the teeth, is hungry for such a terrain. My driving partner offered to take the wheel, while my girlfriend and I dared to top load. White knuckled from our industrial grade grip on the railings, we were definitely rewarded with spectacular views that will haunt our memories for a lifetime. Upon arrival to the saddle, we gladly parked our tank and refused every offer of a guide for the single track human pathway down to the terraces.

Meet Elsie, our tank

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The road going up to Batad saddle

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Top loading going up to the saddle

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Risking it for views like these

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View of a lifetime

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Single track from the saddle all the way to Batad

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Unlike Banaue, Batad rice terraces is smaller in scale but offers more interaction by being able to hike around its amphitheater like terraces that is individually riprapped with rocks and cement. You can circumnavigate as you watch the locals tilling parches of land. We were advised to hire a guide to take us around the area. He was a short, thin and single middle aged man who lived in one of the few houses that stand on the terraces itself. Needless to say, he outpaced us in our desk job trained mid 20s bodies. Much to our desire to do this on our own, the guide proved to be very essential. With every information he disposed, we gained a better appreciation of the land. He told us that the communal process of planting starts by everyone working on the chief’s land, afterwards, they proceed to the second biggest owner of land and so on until everyone’s land is tilled and planted. It is then time for an end of plantation festival which includes a flooding of rice wine and ill fated live stock. Against common belief, whatever rice that is harvested here almost never gets out, its made for local consumption, and some that do are for souvenir material only. For entertainment, he explained to us that his reason for being a bachelor at his 50s is because in a small community such as this, the slightest imbalance of men to women ratio is a real problem.

Hiking Batad rice terraces

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Interaction with the village

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Smiles of achievement

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After a short swim on the extremely cold water around the mighty waterfalls, we headed back to our home stay. To say that our room in Batad Homestay is simple is definitely an overstatement. There is nothing in that spartan room that you do not need. There’s the luxury of a ceiling lamp, two beds, 4 pillows and a cozy Ifugao made blanket. There are no 20th century power outlets. You stay in Batad for a couple of nights, and it is impossible not to find yourself regardless if you are lost or not.

Ice cold gush of water

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That humbling feeling

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Spartan room from Batad Homestay

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Do you really need anything more than this?

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Waking up to a morning covered with fog offering zero visibility, we opted to let it clear out by having breakfast on the restaurant balcony that should be over looking the terraces on a clear day. After all,  our jelly legs were not in a hurry knowing that the 30 minute strut going down here converts to a 90 minute tongue-sticking-out trudge going up. After filling up our tanks with our hefty breakfast, we packed our bags and bid farewell to our reserved but generous host, and to those foreigners who we shared this home with. As hard as we tried to speak French, German and Spanish, a wave of hand was all we could muster. Laughing in our doomed attempt, it was the last thing we had to smile about as we made our ascend, barely making it to the top.