Where my courage took me: 2016 travel recap

Like any other year, 2016 threw a lot of breakthroughs and breakdowns on me. I welcomed one of my best friend’s first born that felt like my own. Another best friend got engaged. I met beautiful souls from different walks of life. I embraced the life in North Metro Manila, which is an achievement for a south kid like me. I learned to write poems in Filipino. I started writing my book. I got reunited with my grandmother. I lost a lot when my grandfather died.

You see, like you, I gain and lose a lot of wonderful things and people every year. It happens. That’s how life teaches and shapes us. We just have to figure out how to turn our miseries—and curiosities—to great discoveries. In my case, I decided to see the world—or our motherland, the Philippines, at least. I didn’t let misery win over resiliency. I didn’t let the lack of time and money to hinder me from exploring. I went to Batanes, Cebu, South Cotabato, Zamboanga, Bacolod, Guimaras, Iloilo, Zambales, La Union, and Baguio, to name some, and I’ve never felt this alive and enlightened. I felt totally connected with Batanes, Zamboanga, and Baguio, but all the places I’ve been to marked different intensities of learning experiences in my life. I learned to trade the comforts of my sedentary life to a nomadic one. I learned to let go of my material vices. I learned to score cheap airfare tickets. I learned basic Bisaya. I learned that Mindanao is not all about chaos. I learned to be independent. I learned to endure long bus rides. I learned to entrust my life to habal-habal drivers. I learned to appreciate cities and mountains. I learned to battle with the imaginary anaconda on my mind every time I swim. I learned that locals are the best element in every destination. I learned to trust my poor ability on remembering road directions to lead me to the right places. I learned that I’m stronger than my grievances. I learned (okay, still learning) to be patient. I learned that there are two types of homes: people and places, and that both have to house joy and pain. Otherwise, you’ll be left homeless. I learned, relearned, perceived, and shared a lot.

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountains and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.” –John Lubbock

Here, allow me to reshare with all of you where my courage took me this year. Know that you’ll be reading a lot of my memories with places, phases, and faces AKA emotional breakdowns, post-travel depressions, and how I see life in general. Enjoy the ride.

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Friends from GK Enchanted Farm

JANUARY
Angat, Bulacan

My business trip to Bulacan is the first trip I had this year, and it led me to the magical world of Gawad Kalinga (GK) Enchanted Farm. I spent three days there and learned from the different social entrepreneurs around the world, listened and acquired wisdom from GK founder Tito Tony, spent time with the kids and the GK community, ate lots of farm-to-table meals, and well okay, gushed over western men who traded their fab life for the farm life to do good business and to be of help with GK’s mission to end poverty by 2024.

Starting off my journey this year at the GK Enchanted Farm shed a different kind of light to my perspective. It even gave me a three-month long separation anxiety, and you won’t understand why until you experience the farm for yourself. It’s a different world in there, I tell you.

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We luckily witnessed the sun set as we walked by the beach

MARCH
Matabungkay, Batangas

March is the most miserable month of my year because of my grandfather’s death. I was unprepared for his eternal rest. I cried myself to sleep. I almost lived in his wake and in the cemetery. I lost the heart to do anything, but my college best friends were quick to lift my spirit up by pulling off a Batangas trip.

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Shoot outtake

APRIL
Nagsasa Cove and Capones Island, Zambales

This Zambales trip with my workmates is the first and hopefully not the last getaway we will ever have. We went to Nagasasa Cove and Capones Island, and no matter how much we wanted to make it as leisurely as possible, work always win whenever we’re together. Thus, we decided to include the shoot we did in the glossies of the magazine, which I whole-heartedly wrote about!

Nagsasa Cove’s water is impressively crystal-clear, clean, and has lesser crowd than of Anawangin Cove. Meanwhile, Capones Island is dotted around with garbage! It’s disheartening to see a small island brimming with limestones like that.

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Keepsakes from Calle Crisologo

MAY
Ilocos

I went to Ilocos for the first time with my mommy, my sister and her boyfriend, and their workmates. Ilocos had a sentimental effect on me because it was the last getaway my deceased grandfather had with his friends before his sickness came. Nonetheless, I just chose to relish what he saw and experienced on his last few days in our world while I was there. I had an exhilarating sand dune ride. We went to Paoay Church. We were left in awe with the beauty of the gigantic windmills. We got to swim in Pagudpud right before the rain pour. The trip turned out pretty well except that Calle Crisologo was jam-packed with tourists!

100 Islands
Few minutes before I got lost in Marcos Island

Hundred Islands, Pangasinan

My trip to Hundred Islands is probably one of the most productive trips I’ve ever had with one of my best friends this year. With just a span of a day and a half, we were able to squeeze in a lot of activities without having to compromise time. We went to five islands, snorkelled, cliff dived, camped out, saw a giant clam, and I got embarrassingly lost on Marcos Island.

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My legs were shaking from the heights, hence the awkward stance

JUNE
Batanes

Ahhh Batanes, the most beautiful place I have ever been to in the Philippines! I explored the province alone, and went back home with more than 10 new friends! The locals are very obedient, honest and trustworthy. They have the sweetest lobsters. Their meals are generously served, and by that, I mean three viands in one meal for one person. Damn. Each place has the best of both worlds. Their thoroughfares are surrounded with trees, hills, or sea. I even found the heart to live and hold my future wedding there. Every part of it will just make you feel alive. The cost of it may take you to Japan, Singapore, or Korea, but this is Batanes. Its beauty is one and only. See it for yourself. I can’t wait to be Batanes-alive again!

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Got Pescador all to myself

JULY
South Cebu

I was terribly sick when I went to South Cebu alone, but the doze of Vitamin Sea I got relieved me for a while. I went to Pescador Island, Sumilon, Moalboal, and Oslob. I swam with the sardines, turtles, and whale sharks, which I openly regretted. I got the funniest tour guide and lived in a cozy transient house.

I’m coming back next year for Osmeña Peak, Kawasan Falls, and other parts of North Cebu and the city itself!

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Willy’s Rock in Station 1

Boracay

I went back to Boracay alone with no plans and accommodation at all, but hey, I survived! I was able to swim, paddle board, paraw sail for free, and spend the night listening to that eargasmic reggae band along Station 2.

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All smiles after successfully braving the wilderness

AUGUST
Liwliwa, Zambales

Our business trip to Liwliwa brought us to Yangil Village, the eye-opening side of Zambales. The road to Yangil Village is no easy trail, but the stories along the way made everything light. An almost two-kilometre stretch of lahar and volcanic ashes, and four rivers with mild to rough currents need to be crossed to reach the village, and Aetas endure these from and to Yangil every single day to bring and sell fruits and crops in town, come hell or high water. As voluntourists, we braved the same roads and held on to our purposes: to help and to not let anyone get left behind—‘walang iwanan’ as they call it.

This trip is definitely one of the most adventurous trips I have ever had this year, and the photo above perfectly shows how relieved we were after braving the wilderness.

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Hikong Bente or Immeasurable Falls, the second of the 7 Waterfalls

Lake Sebu, South Cotabato

South Cotabato is the first place I booked when 2016 came in, and also my first Mindanao trip ever. I was scared at first, but the woman I met in the airport turned my fear the other way around. I went to Lake Sebu. I rode on what is said to be the longest zipline in Asia and saw the majestic 7 Waterfalls from above.

Everything about South Cotabato is what you are missing out in Mindanao.

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Cabugao Gamay, the only island on Islas de Gigantes that can acquire cellphone signal

SEPTEMBER
Islas de Gigantes, Iloilo

“Nako, ingat kayo doon. Mari-it doon,” said the man we met in the van on our way to Estancia Port, the jump-off point to Islas de Gigantes.

Islas de Gigantes or islands of the giants, collectively known as Higantes Group of Islands, has two major islands Gigantes Norte and Gigantes Sur, and 11 islets Balbagon, Bantigue, Bolubadiang, Cabugao Daku, Cabugao Gamay, Gakit-Gakit, Gigantillo, Gigantito, Gigantona, Pulupandan, and Uay Dahon.

It is often tagged as ‘mari-it’ or enchanted because of the age-old mythical stories that go with its chain of islands. One of the many is that Islas de Gigantes is believed to be inhabited with giants years ago, which remains were found in Bakwitan Cave. For one, two of the three giant wooden coffins found in the cave were well-kept in Hideaway Tourist Inn, our home in the island for four days. When we were there, the most enchanting thing that happened to us is when we walked over the water to reach one island to another. The sea is at its highest tide on day time and it almost evaporates on night time! We also explored Bakwitan Cave, and managed to travel for a few hours to reach Panay Church in Capiz.

Islas de Gigantes is one of the most beautiful islands in our country, and I hope it remains unobstructed as it is in the next few years!

“We live on a blue planet that circles around a ball of fire next to a moon that moves the sea, and you don’t believe in miracles?”

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The colorful vintas along R.T. Lim Boulevard

OCTOBER
Zamboanga

I welcomed my birth month in Zamboanga or “Asia’s Latin City.” Apparently, the city welcomed me with bombs, and I knew right then and there that I was celebrating life in the right place. As mentioned above, one of the three places I felt totally connected with is Zamboanga. Its extraordinary vibe left a huge impact in my heart, and I’ve been meaning to come back since then. Here’s a secret: I’m planning to live in Zamboanga for a month in 2017. Don’t tell my mommy about it yet!

“You don’t choose the location; the location chooses you.”

Tuguegarao
The Batanes-like view from Cape Engano Lighthouse

Palaui Island, Cagayan Valley

I spent my birthday weekend on the far-flung island of Palaui. I originally booked a flight alone, and one of my best friends decided to celebrate with me. The best part of it is that she and her boyfriend endured a 15-hour long bus ride just to be with me on my birthday! Her sweetness deserves a kiss…using my fist.

When we were there, occasional downpours welcomed us as we island hopped to Anguib Beach, Punta Verde, and Nangaramoan Beach, and trekked to Cape Engaño Lighthouse, but that added to our already fun and adventurous trip! When we were about to leave the island, a storm came in and my flight back to Manila got cancelled. Guess what happened next? I joined their 15-hour long bus ride in time for my 22nd birthday! It was my first time to spend my birthday in a bus, away from home. I felt a bit blue because I could’ve been with my family if the storm didn’t come in, but looking on the bright side; we were able to come out of the island safely, and I was also able to start writing my book when I was there. And this is how I learned to endure long bus rides. Cheers!

“We are only here briefly, and in this moment, I want to allow myself joy.” – Elise de Woolfe

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One of the oldest houses in Ozamiz

Ozamiz

Ozamiz is honestly a city that still needs to be developed more, tourism-wise. It doesn’t have much destination to visit, but if you are looking for a new city to live in, Ozamiz is a good choice. The average cost of living in Ozamiz is quite impressive and easy to live up. For instance, a stick of grilled barbecue is only PHP 2, a three-roll of bite sized rice is only PHP 5, and a cup of coffee in an elusive hotel is only PHP 80. The most common mode of public transportation used to go around the city is a tricycle, which price ranges from PHP 5 to 20, depending on the distance. The estimated cost of tuition fees in universities like La Salle University (LSU) Ozamiz, formerly known as Immaculate Conception College-La Salle, is only PHP 15,000, maximum. Weekdays in Ozamiz could get jam-packed as most students from the neighboring provinces opt to study in Ozamiz, no matter the distance.

Though my Ozamiz trip was typical, the city is special to me because it led me to one of the most beautiful souls I have ever met.

Iloilo
Langit, Iloilo’s heaven on earth

NOVEMBER
Bacolod-Guimaras-Iloilo

This trip is the first tri-city tour I did on a whim, alone. I originally planned to go around Bacolod only, but I ended up crossing overseas to reach its neighboring provinces, Guimaras and Iloilo.

When I was in Bacolod, I learned that not much destination is in the city, and are otherwise located in its neighboring cities. For instance, Balay Negrense, alongside with 29 other heritage houses, is in Silay City, Lakawon Island is in Cadiz City, The Ruins is in Talisay City, and the Manokan Country and Masskara Festival happens in Bacolod City. Though these may sound far, going around Negros Occidental is easy and pretty accessible. Just learn how to ask and memorize basic Bisaya by heart! Lakawon Island is the best thing that happened to me in Negros Occidental. I spent my day lounging in its Tawhai Floating Bar, which was brilliantly built with huge beds on the rim of the ship! Ahhh.

As I was about to put an end to my Negros Occidental trip, I spontaneously thought of going to Guimaras the following day. Luckily, I found a tour guide right there and then. I rode a RoRo (Roll-on/Roll-off vessel) for the first time to reach Guimaras. Destinations in Guimaras are quite far from each other, but my guide managed to bring me to Guisi Lighthouse, Raymen Beach, Trappist Monastery, windmills in San Lorenzo, mango plantation, and the humble home of Kuya Cherrald and his family who taught me basic Bisaya, accommodated and fed me with their fresh catch of squid for a night! Sadly, mangoes were off season when I came. I shall come back for it and its primed beaches!

After Guimaras, I had another boat ride to Iloilo. I had no idea where to go when I was there, but fate brought me to the heavenly Molo Church and to ‘Langit’ in Garin Farm. It is a one-stop destination for pilgrimage, leisure, and agricultural purposes. Here, you can swim, kayak, ride a zipline, horseback ride, goat cart ride, and play billiards. But the most challenging activity to do here is to take the 456-step stairs towards the Divine Mercy Cross and the famous ‘Langit.’ Langit or heaven has a blinding-white infrastructure of angels, which will somehow give you a gist of what heaven on Earth looks like!

This tri-city tour is one of the most tiring and fulfilling trips I did, but I’m definitely doing more of this in 2017!

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Sea of clouds in Mt. Yangbew

DECEMBER
Baguio-La Union

Baguio has been a childhood home-break spot for our family. We used to spend the dog days of summer there, and I’m happy to be back in the City of Pines after six-long years. Meanwhile, it was my first time to visit La Union, or Elyu, in October for work. Since then, I spent all of my December weekends in both Baguio and Elyu with different set of friends. I kept coming back to these places just because tito Ernest Hemingway once said, “The world breaks everyone and afterward, many are strong in the broken places.”

The cost of living in Baguio is perfectly low and no matter how crowded it is up there, the City of Pines is still tolerable and liveable than in Manila. A minimal cost of PHP 800 can feed three people with whole crispy pata, two slices of cake, half serving of buttered chicken, pork sinigang, three full cups of rice, and three refreshing juices in one sitting! Locals and tourists alike utilize taxis to go around the city because of its affordability with a flat rate of PHP 35, plus most, if not all, taxi drivers are accommodating enough and will let you in no matter the distance! When I was there, I spent most of my time eating, climbing mountains, walking, curling up myself in blankets, photoshooting, and enjoying the rest of the city. I can honestly tour anyone around the next time I’m heading up north again!

Meanwhile, La Union has a higher cost of living than in Baguio, and even in Manila. Tricycle fares can go up to PHP 60 to PHP 100. Some ice creams are for PHP 150 above. Every time I go there, people I’m with never fail to ask if I have tried surfing already. Well, I haven’t. I don’t have the courage to ride and battle with the wild waves yet. So what does a non-surfer like me do in the surf town of San Juan? I eat along its food strip, beach bum, people watch, and get to know locals! Recently, I watched a free concert by the sea staged by Johnoy Danao, Ebe Dancel, and Bullet Dumas. I also trekked in the forest en route to Tangadan Falls in San Gabriel. Its trail is flourishing with wild vegetation, has rivers and beautiful scenery, which make all the intense leg work worth it! Elyu has an explainable magic. No wonder why some Manileños chose to settle down there.

And that’s a wrap! All of these shall not stop in 2016. Traveling shall go on ‘should oceans rise and mountains fall.’ And by traveling, I mean not only going to places, but also seeing with new eyes, sharing raw stories, and touching people’s lives. There’s more to life than just by surviving. We deserve to breathe and live in His creations. Above all, we get better with age, experiences, mistakes, and this is how we acquire wisdom. Life is beautiful. Leave to live—with money or none, alone or not, mother-approved or not.

As we all welcome 2017, may we all let our courage thrive and take us to old and new places, phases, and faces. May we live the life we’d always feel damn excited to wake up to. May we seize each day. May we allow ourselves to take every journey, chance, and challenge. Life is happening now, keep up and live up. Go and do.

In 2017, I’ll be going to Baguio, Cebu, Siargao, Bohol, Dumaguete, and my most awaited Visayas escapade. I’m still waiting for a miracle for another Batanes trip. Explore with me, yes?

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” -Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

World in my words,
Mikee

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