I honestly thought I was going to die.
When I reached the top, I dropped my backpack unconsciously and mustered all the energy I had left to catch my breath. I was vomiting air, and my chest was starting to tighten. Ten minutes and ten gulps of water later, I began feeling alright. That quick climb kept me grounded both figuratively and literally. I remained seated on the rocky ground, wondering how it came down to this.
I loved hiking. I loved it because I could do it well. I’m never the strongest person in the group, but I used to be so nimble and swift. Whenever we would trek to a mountaintop, I would always be the first or second to reach the destination. I could climb trees effortlessly. I could slide down slopes unscathed. And I could run fast. Before this, the last time I trekked for hours was at Mt. Melibingoy (Mt. Parker) in South Cotabato in 2013.
What a difference two years make. Since that climb, I got myself a full-time office job again, gained pounds (lost count), quit regular jogging, and restarted chain smoking. And it all led to this: me, knees shaking, wheezing like a dog in labor, but too embarrassed and stubborn to quit.
And why would I? Just in between gasps, I could see just how stunning the place was. And if it’s any indication, then I was in for a bombardment of gorgeousness. Assuming, of course, that I make it alive.
It only took two steps for me to slip and hurt (and almost break) an ankle. Considering how much time it took for me to find this place, I was absolutely determined to push through with the climb. Never mind that I was limping in pain — my clumsy ass be damned — but this was my last evening in Taiwan. Nothing was going to stop me from making it a memorable one.
Darkness has already set in when we arrived at Dalongdong Baoan Temple, a Taiwanese folk religion temple. The site was built from 1805 to 1830 by the clans of Tong’an District who later moved to Taipei, which gives it its name Baoan, meaning “to protect those of Tong’an.” The temple was included in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation.
During its construction and early days, Baoan Temple was funded by four clans: the Wangs (who donated the land), the Chens, the Changs, and the Tsais. They are also credited for the creation of what was known then as “44 Kans” (or 44 shops), which became the center of the Dalongdong community at the time.
Being a full-time employee in Manila is no joke. Every single morning, stress (in the form of horrendous traffic) greets you even before you step into the office. Then you spend at least nine hours of your day working your butt off. You end the day enduring another hour or two stuck in a sea of cars. When you get home, you just collapse into your bed because you’re too tired to do anything else. The next day, you repeat the same routine all over again. No wonder we have an undying love for weekends.
But you know what we love more? Long weekends. When a non-working holiday falls just around a weekend, we know it means more time to relax, pamper ourselves, and do the things that we love. One of these: travel.
The best thing about Metro Manila is that no matter how stressful it can be, it is surrounded by countless wonderful provinces. Previously, we wrote about 15 cheap but awesome destinations near Manila. The list covers places that can be reached through a 5-hour drive from the capital, perfect for a regular weekend getaway.
This time, we’re expanding the coverage. Long weekend means more time, and more time means more options. We asked Filipino travel bloggers for recommendations, and here are their top picks. (Not in any particular order.)
Our mini-bus pulled over on the side of a viewpoint, and we hopped out of the vehicle carrying a camera in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. Running parallel the parking lot was a lane of fastidiously arranged tables, champagne glasses and all. Waiters were on a watch, checking if everything was as it should be. Such a beautiful setup. If only it was ours.
Those tables belonged to most likely a well-off group on a luxury tour. We were not a well-off group and this was not a luxury tour. All we had were bottles of beer and cider, and a permanent round table, which we would be occupying in the next few hours. But none of it mattered. There was no room for envy in a heart already filled with awe. Everything was set. We had a good spot, our time-lapse camera was rolling, and the light was beginning to dwindle. Right before us was Australia’s most iconic symbol: Uluru.
“I can’t wait for it to glow,” our new friend Rachel couldn’t contain her excitement; her eyes glued to the giant rock.
It’s not every day that it does, warned our tour guide. But everyone was hopeful that it would that evening. Our shadows painfully slowly grew longer as the sun started its descent behind us. Venus, Mars, and Jupiter made their appearance as more and more stars showed up almost one by one. The blue skies were no more. The horizon exuded a golden radiance that painted the scene honey and purple.
And then, it glowed.
They stood in the middle of the deck and spoke, “Today, you’re gonna be part of the crew. Sweet?”
The announcement triggered a strange mixture of excitement and nervousness. Excitement because I had never boarded a tall ship before, and it is always a delight to open myself to new wonderful things. Nervousness because, er, I had never boarded a tall ship before, and the idea of working on one was a little too intimidating.
But the members of the legit crew had a way of making everything, no matter how mundane it is, sound fun and interesting. They shared what a knot is or why the right side of the vessel is called “starboard” as though it was standup comedy. They explained how to control the sails in a totally laidback fashion, reminiscent of Finding Nemo’s Crush, the cool turtle.
I’d always imagined myself touring the Li River at sunrise. In my head was a picture of me, rafting through the mist that hugged the cliffs that rose from the banks while a cold, purplish blue light covered the scene. That picture, for the longest time, had been framed and nailed to the walls of my mind. If I would ever find myself in Guilin, that scene would have to happen. River. Cliffs. Dawn. Perfection. It had to happen.
But I am not a morning person. Absolutely not a morning person.
So when I was asked what time I wanted to see the river, I foolishly and nonchalantly picked a twisted number that rhymes with hate. “Eight o’clock, it is,” said the confused hotel receptionist, who looked at me judgingly. “I thought you said the earlier the better?”
I did say that. But that was before I had tried getting swallowed by their beds. After almost a full day of being on my feet on the train to Guilin from Zhangjiajie, I wanted to marry the first mattress I’d see and spend the rest of my life in its soft, comfortable embrace. I was intent on making sure that the aching temple of my soul would have the rest it deserved.
That night was especially cold in Osaka. It was my first Christmas Eve away from home; I had always celebrated the occasion with family. That night, however, there won’t be any noche buena or wine or reunions for me.
I picked up my luggage at the hotel and made my way to Umeda Sky Building where I would catch the overnight Willer bus to Tokyo. I would be welcoming Christmas on the road. Merry Christmas to me indeed.
I enjoy planning trips, but I refuse to be overly meticulous about it. What greeted me at the Umeda Sky Building is one of the reasons why. I didn’t know that it hosts one of the city’s biggest winter events — the German Christmas Market. I was pleasantly surprised that I felt my insides turn liquid. In my stomach were not butterflies but fairies, determined to shoo away the holiday blues that had overtaken me. For a split second, I believed in magic and all the crazy, juvenile delusions that the season brings.
I looked at the town’s location on the map, and I was instantly intrigued. I had never been this far from the shore: Alice Springs is tucked 1200 km from the nearest ocean. And it appears to be almost at the very heart, the dead center of the continent.
Roger, the hostel manager, whipped out a street map this time and scribbled all over it. “Follow the river,” he said with a smile. “Turn left when you reach the corner, and you’ll see the hill.” He was recommending places to visit while we waited for the check-in time.
We trod in the direction of the river but found in its stead a wide groove on the ground, flanked by thirsty trees. The Todd River reminded me of my college love life: dry, wanting, and — to a certain extent — non-existent. It’s there, but the exposed riverbed doesn’t give any semblance of activity. As I walked along the river, I began to wonder after whom this river was named. The answer to that, of course, is Sir Charles Todd, a telegraph pioneer and Postmaster-General of South Australia from 1870–1901. And then my silly self wondered why.
As human beings, we have a very important responsibility towards the other creatures with whom we share the planet, especially those that face the threat of extinction.
Among the most remarkable animal groups that live in our waters are the whales. These aquatic mammals are some of the largest and the most widespread, inhabiting all oceans. Humpback whales, for example, can be found from Japan and United States down to Australia. However, some species are targets for being kept in captivity to perform tricks in theme parks, and some are being hunted for meat. A number have been declared Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
There’s a lot that we can do to help protect whales and other marine wildlife. Here are a few of them.