I spotted a stranger walking in my direction. His smile was shining, and his eyes were fixed on me as he leisurely trod through the crowd. If there was one thing I did not expect in Darwin, it is how friendly the people are. Any local we crossed paths with would greet us a joyous “G’day.” But I did not have this realization at the time; it was only my second night in Australia.
So when this middle-age man glued his eyes on me as he walked, I just looked at him with utmost curiosity. In my head, I was rummaging for any reason why this stranger would look at me. I was a fool.
When the man passed by me, he tapped my shoulder — his smile was gone — and said, “It’s a beautiful evening. Smile, mate.” I blame my resting bitch face.
But he was right.
The boat approached a nook along the Mary River, parting the sea of lotus lilies along the way. Our driver and guide Reuben moored the boat and rose from his seat. “It’s been a wonderful afternoon; thank you for spending it with me,” he said before revealing a bottle of champagne.
It wasn’t just the afternoon that had been wonderful to us. From that first step into the AAT Kings bus down to that jump out of it at the end of the day, every single moment we had on that tour was nothing but pleasant. Kakadu had been nothing but accommodating and cooperative. She gave us most of what we visited her for: a peek at her cultural past and a closer look at her biodiversity.
Our journey began in Darwin, 171 kilometers northwest of Kakadu. Darwin is the closest major city to the national park, but it took us more than three hours to get there. Spanning over 20,000 sq. km of forests, wetlands, and savannas, it is the largest national park in Australia, about half the size of Switzerland and nearly the size of Slovenia. Because of its ecological and cultural value, the UNESCO listed it a World Heritage Site in 1981.
Here are the four highlights of our day tour around Kakadu.
There was a lot to be nervous about during the cruise.
For starters, we would be cruising down the Mary River, one of the eight Top End rivers and is known for having the world’s highest concentration of saltwater crocodiles. “There are two major species of crocs here in Kakadu: Saltwater crocodiles or salties, and freshwater crocodiles or freshies,” shares our guide Ray. “There are plenty of both in the wild.”
“How can you tell the difference?” someone from our group asked.
“Well, if it sees you and starts moving away from you, that’s a freshie. If it runs toward you, that’s a saltie.”
Our tour guide Ray called everyone to gather around a particular stick figure of a man with barbed spears and a dilly bag above a signage that says, “A Lesson in Good Behavior.”
The image is that of Mabuyu, a hunter. “He was dragging his catch on a string after a day of fishing,” Ray narrated, “when someone cut it and took the fish. He followed the culprit and waited until they have had their meal, hoping that there would still be a few fish left and that they would share them with him. There was none. That night, as the thieves slept inside a cave, he blocked it with a huge rock, trapping everyone inside it.”
On that bus, I was the only one below 40.
As I made my way to my seat, I was greeted with cheery hello’s by a bus-ful of middle aged to senior tourists, all ready to explore the wilderness. It was not my usual travel company, but it was a welcome addition to my growing list of first times here in Australia. The bus, or coach as locals call it, was bound for Litchfield National Park, 100 km southwest of Darwin, roughly an hour-and-a-half drive.
Traveling with people not my age was a breath of fresh air. As the youngest of the bunch, everyone seemed to be very protective of me. (“Watch your step, dear.“) And everyone was amused by the littlest things. (“That’s a long stick, honey.“) She was referring to the monopod. It was an enjoyable ride, needless to say.
Our Driver Guide for the day was Warren, armed with a great personality and an even greater sense of humor. How he was able to turn what could have been a snoozefest-ish drive into a humorous but highly informative journey was astonishing. He did have a lot of help from nature, though. Along the way we spotted a dingo wandering by the roadside and a wallaby trying to outrun the
bus coach. But that’s not everything this park has to offer.
It was so beautiful, I couldn’t breathe. And I mean it literally.
Our vehicle breezed through the forested slope of the crater rim, and I was reminded of how beautiful things are earned. I remember how I reached the last crater lake I set foot on: hours of trek, tens of scratches all over my limbs, a little bit of blood, and a million swearwords thrown into the air. But this is not like the last time. The road was paved, the ride short, and I comfortably seated like a boss. Not that I’m complaining.
Still, beauty is better appreciated when you move mountains to witness it. A trophy looks shinier when you make it past hurdles before hitting the finish line. We reached the entrance to the site in a matter of minutes. This is it, easy. No climbing, no sweat, no human suffering. (Human suffering talaga?!!?) There won’t be any hurdle this time, I thought.
At one point during our walk, I thought I’d be stuck there. Flooding the historic Asia Afrika Boulevard, the crowd was too thick, and I struggled to squeeze myself into whatever little gap I could find to make it through to the next block.
Thankfully, I was not alone. Alfi, an Educator at SMK Telkom Bandung, patiently waited for me on the other side. Alfi is one of the thousands of souls who offered help to make the Asian African Conference a success. It is Bandung’s biggest event, one that locals and tourists alike had been anticipating for years.
It was not just an ordinary day for Bandung. On 19 April 1955, world leaders from Asian and African countries who had just gained independence from colonial rule gathered in the city and agreed to work hand in hand. Sixty years later, this momentous event was commemorated over several days, peaking on April 24th when costumes painted the city streets with the colors of the participating countries. Saying that the event is huge doesn’t do justice to the magnitude of the celebration. It was one of the biggest crowds I have seen in my life, if not the biggest.
Batanes isn’t new to the local movie scene. Filmmakers attempting to capture its sheer and undeniably cinematic beauty have used the country’s northernmost province as setting for their treasured stories. The most notable of these are Hihintayin Kita sa Langit and Batanes, Sa Dulo ng Walang Hanggan.
The newest addition: Star Cinema’s summer offering “You’re My Boss.” While the majority of the sequences were set in the corporate world, the latter part was shot in Batanes, with its mesmerizing landscapes giving a stark contrast to the usual office setting. Starring Coco Martin and Toni Gonzaga, the film used Batan and Sabtang Islands as the places where the characters’ budding romance fully blossomed.
Disclosure: I co-wrote the film with its director, Antoinette Jadaone, so of course, I am promoting it. There are a few spoilers below so read at your own risk.
Anyway, here are the 10 destinations in Batanes where “You’re My Boss” was shot.
One of the terrific things about Dubai is the sheer variety. This is especially the case when it comes to places to eat, and if you’re a fan of Asian cooking styles then Dubai certainly won’t disappoint. Thai, Chinese and Japanese cuisine lovers will all be in their element. Here are just a few Asian-inspired restaurants you’ll want to try out while you’re in Dubai.
“We’re on the wrong boat,” he shouted in utter exuberance as he turned his gaze back to the nearby junk. The other boat was having a party, complete with loud electronic dance music that reverberated onto the walls of ours. Kid — his name was Kid — posed as though he was ready to jump into the water and swim to the “party boat”, as what he called it. The only thing that stopped him was the humongous jellyfish that Matt caught earlier that night. “There might be plenty of them where it came from,” Matt warned.
“I’m right where I want to be,” I said joshingly as I climbed the stairs in search of a little quiet. This was exactly how I imagined my day would end — lying comfortably on the top deck of the boat, with a drink in one hand and a Neil Gaiman book in the other under the velvet skies. Starless — stars have become as elusive as peace of mind these days — but the emptiness was oddly therapeutic.