Category Archives: Philippines

Three Mountains in March

Last March 2014, I had the opportunity to hike 3 Easy-Level mountains. If you want to start a career in hiking, you should definitely try the following treks.

1. Mount Sto. Tomas, Benguet (March 1-2). It is a very easy trek because the trail is actually part of the National Road. The spice of this trek is the cold Benguet air. If you want to leave the crowded Baguio City and want to try something new, wake up early and take the challenge.

Unforgettable personal experience: My cousin Jared and I had to take a rest. Since it is a national road, we sat in front of a stranger’s house, on the floor like some teenage Nomads, opened a canned tuna and soda crackers, and talked about larger than life topics. People passing at us were smiling as we invite them to sit and eat with us. (We also hitchhiked downhill. It was Jared’s first hitchhiking experience)

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2-3. Mount Manalmon and Mount Gola, Bulacan. (March 8)– 2 mountains in 1 day? Possible? Yes it is. We actually booked a package under Trippy Travel. It is very cheap. The package includes a trip to Mount Manalmon, but my Dad decided to explore another mountain called Mount Gola. We just have to pay an extra amount of money for the guide. But everything is worth it. (If you want to try it out, go check Tippy Travel’s website at http://www.trippytravel.com/events/mt-manalmon-madlum-river-bayukbok-cave-adventure/ )

3 Unforgettable Personal Experience:

1. Since it is a package trip, we have to share the experience with other people. But this time, it is an experience worth sharing for. A bunch of yuppies were traveling with us and I enjoyed every minute I was with with them. The tour guides were not just guides but a bunch of big brothers willing to protect and guide the flock.

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2. Any mountain, for me, is a huge spiritual object. It connects my spirit with nature, literally and figuratively. The feeling that the mountain gives you no matter how cold or hot the weather is will just heal your soul. During my trek, my dad and I had a heart to heart talk. We don’t usually have these kind of talks but the mountain opened doors for it to happen.

Last year, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. It was also the season when my Dad is preparing for a trek to Mount Pulag. We were all devastated. My dad associated that low season to mountain climbing. From that day on, he stopped hiking. He was traumatized. I guess this is the irrational stuff that depression gives us. I can’t blame him.

I didn’t know. I have regarded my dad as a tough guy with no soft spots. But this is quite a revelation for me.

While walking downhill, my dad suddenly told me that it was difficult for him to start climbing again. Because every mountain reminds him of my grandma’s cancer season (Thank God Grandma is now ok). But everything is ok now and the mountain, whom he once despised is now his friend again, and probably his healer. Mount Manalmon and Mount Gola is the 3rd and 4th mountain he climbed this year. 2 weeks ago, he climbed his 5th and as I write this post, he is planning for his 6th. I am waiting for his plans to hike Mount Pulag.

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3. To start the Mount Manalmon trek, you should pass Madlum River. You have 2 choices: take the raft with zero level of difficulty OR take the monkey bridge with an infinite level of difficulty. Of course, life is short so I took the Monkey Bridge. It is a death defying act. It is a rope-walking thing without any harnesses or safety gears. Those are the moments when you are completely alive, without giving a damn if it is your last.

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*Special thanks to Ace and his team for organizing this trek. Check out http://www.trippytravel.com

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Hare Krishna Part 5 (Finale)

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After my conversation with Mataaji, I went back in the kitchen to help. One of the twins taught me how to make a samosa. I thought I flunked again, but he told me that I was good at it. I just don’t want to ruin their feast so I stopped making stuff and just observed the devotees.

After a couple of minutes, Prabhu called everyone so that we can already start the ceremonies before the feast. We all hurried upstairs.

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In the altar, I saw small amounts of every viand that we prepared. They call it the Prasadam, meaning the food was already offered to the Lord. The devotees call it “mercies of God”.

Then, Prabhu asked each devotee to get 3 petals in the bowl next to us. Then he instructed us to offer one petal at a time in the altar and offer obeisances in front of it.

First petal…. Bow down.

Second petal…Bow down.

Third petal…Bow down.

After the petal ceremonies, we did the chanting and dancing similar to the morning program until it ended. The devotees exhaustion from the tedious preparation of food was gone. Strength was renewed. I myself felt that bliss.

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The devotees and I went downstairs in the kitchen to get the viands that we prepared. I’m good in carrying stuff, so this time, I felt that I am very useful. Prabhu took the food offering in the altar and returned each food in their respective food containers.

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Then the devotees prepared my plate and asked me to sit in the garden floor outside the temple. One by one, the devotees sat with me. There were 9 of us that time. It was a good weather and a good conversation. We were laughing at simple things plus we can now say that the food is delicious. I sighed and said to myself “This is the REAL life”.

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After the meal, Prabhu instructed us to clean the temple. The twins and Vraja’s brother were instructed to clean the kitchen. Vraja and I were assigned in the garden.

That moment, I cannot help but smile while sweeping the floor. God really did designed that day perfectly. A week ago, Vraja was just a stranger in front of a Buddhist temple. Now, I am with him cleaning the temple after a huge feast. I felt good. My spirit was refreshed. I met great people who were passionate about God, living simple lives. Their stories are inspiring. I chanted. I danced. I cooked. I served. I worshiped.

One great lesson that I’ve learned in my day with the Hare Krishnas is that although we have differences with our beliefs, we also have loads of similarities. I really want to focus on the latter. I really want to understand instead of pushing others away. That’s who I am before. Scared to challenge my faith. Scared to meet people outside my religion. Scared to ask. Scared to learn. But now I am free from that. Real faith is willing to embrace the unknown, the unfamiliar and the mysteries of life.

To the Hare Krishna devotees in Manila, I really thank you for a wonderful experience. I have learned a lot. Thank you for being God-like and welcoming me with open arms. I will be back very soon. Hare Krishna!

Hare Krishna Part 3

After the morning program, everybody started doing their thing.

Vraja formally introduced me to Prabhu. It was funny that Prabhu cannot pronounce my name properly, but after a few tries, he was able to perfect it. Prabhu was delighted that I came all the way from Pampanga just to attend the morning program. He actually invited me to stay for a longer period of time.

“Why not stay here in the temple? You will be working with Vraja. It’s going to be fun. You don’t have to worry about food because everything is provided for. We can cook delicious vegetarian meals. You don’t have to worry about your shelter because you can stay in the ashram. You don’t have to worry about your clothes because you will just be wearing our traditional robes. Call your boss and tell her that you’ll be quitting”

I was just laughing. His offer is really tempting. I want that kind of lifestyle. I want to live in a tight knit, intentional and unconventional community. Even for that moment, I really feel my work-life is starting to fall apart; I feel that I have nothing to lose anyway. That’s why I came in the temple in the first place. To breath some fresh air. To experience something new. I want to give them that YES. I want to live like them and work for God.

“Think about it”, Prabhu added. “If you really can’t, try it for a week.”

“I will…soon”, I said. “I will definitely stay for a longer period of time. For now, I’ll just go downstairs to help the others prepare the food”

“Think about it”, he said again as he smiled at me. “Enjoy the food preparation!”

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I went downstairs in the 4th floor where the kitchen is. The devotees are there–Vraja, his brother, and the twin brothers from New Zealand. The preparation was humongous. Tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, string beans, ginger, lime, bananas, etc. There were also groceries bought from Assad, a local Indian store. While cooking, they were playing some Hare Krishna songs.

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“Do you sing other songs aside from Hare Krishna songs?”, I asked them.

“No Prabhu. We just sing songs that will honor Krishna. The songs nowadays are just about sex and drugs”, Vraja answered.

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The twins from New Zealand are great with their Indian food. Even Vraja and his brother were impressed. I was really, really, amazed.

“Hmmmm. The food really smells good,” I said, trying to compliment them.

“I’m sorry Prabhu, but during the preparation of food, we don’t usually try to please ourselves with the smell and even the taste. In fact, we cannot taste the food while preparing it. That is for Krishna and Krishna alone”, said Vraja.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know”

“It’s ok. Don’t worry. This is your first time”

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The food preparation is a bit tedious. We  are trying to prepare around 8 vegetable viands in 3 hours. Although pressured trying to beat time, we were still able to chill out, have fun and joke around. It was a great experience for me because I’m not a kitchen person. Well I tried cooking Indian food before but it took me 2 hours to finish a single viand. The devotees were really patient with me as I was their burden that time. I can’t even slice a broccoli. 

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Since I am now useless on the “advanced part” of cooking, Ms. Fe, the Filipina devotee who welcomed me earlier in the morning invited me over to her house located also in the same building. She introduced me to her neice, Sarah (I forgot the name but the girl do look like as if she’s a Sarah or probably an Irene, I dont know). Sarah is a non-devotee like me. She was originally from Iligan who just traveled in Manila for her board exams and staying with her aunt.

Sarah and I sat in the sofa next to Ms. Fe.

“What do they call you here Ms. Fe?”, I asked.

“Oh, they call me Mataaji which means mother. All the male devotees address all women as mataaji even for the little girls. They believe that women should be respected that way.” she answered.

Sarah was quiet throughout the conversation. She’s a Catholic and probably confused about what her aunt is telling us. But I kept on asking mataaji more questions.

“How did you find out about the Hare Krishnas, Mataaji?”

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To be continued…

Hare Krishna Part 2

I filed a leave and traveled to Mandaluyong City to spend a whole day with the Hare Krishna devotees. Since I feel fucked up and fed up at work, a one day leave doesn’t hurt at all! No guilty feelings!

I have been coordinating the whole trip with Vraja, the devotee I met in Divisoria. I was supposed to go on a Saturday but Vraja encouraged me to go on a Thursday because some devotees from Singapore and New Zealand will be coming. Also, they will be celebrating the appearance of Sri Krsna Caitanya (similar to that of our Christmas).

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Since the temple is located at the 6th floor, Vraja instucted me to use the intercom.  He told me that a devotee will pick me up downstairs. So I pressed “6” and after a couple of minutes, a tall white guy opened the gate and greeted me with a smile and a “Hare Krishna!” He introduced himself, told me that he was from New Zealand and traveling with his twin brother.

At the 4th floor, 3 Filipino devotees welcomed me. “You must be Bhakta Darby”, said the Filipina devotee in Sari. Bhakta means student.

“Yes I am. Good morning and Hare Krishna”

“Hare Krishna. Welcome to the temple. Go upstairs and enjoy the morning program”, she said.

“Aren’t you coming with us?”, I asked.

“Oh no. I will be leaving in a while. I need to buy some food for our feast later.”

“Oh Ok. See you soon. Hare Krishna”

“Hare Krishna”

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I can already smell the incense in the 5th floor. I am becoming more excited because in a couple of seconds, I will be entering a temple without any ideas on what’s going to happen.

I missed such moments. Those moments when you don’t have a clue on what’s going to happen. What does the temple look like? Are the devotees going to be friendly? What is the festival all about? What am I going to learn? How would I move? It’s all mystery. Life should be like this. Excitement. Full of surprises. Not routinary. Not ordinary.

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Then finally I arrived at the 6th. There I saw Vraja in the altar waving a broom-like object in front of the pictures of their spiritual masters and Krsna Himself. Aside from Vraja, I saw the twin brothers from New Zealand with small cymbals in their hands, a guy from Australia carrying a drum, the older brother of Vraja, another Filipino devotee and an elder from Singapore. We were 8 that morning.

The older brother of Vraja approached me and handed me a book where I can find the lyrics of the song they were singing.He was explaining to me why they are singing it and to whom they are singing it for. I’m a bit overwhelmed because the room was really loud because of the chanting, the drums and the cymbals. Also, the song was written in Sanskrit making it difficult for me to chant it. I tried to sing it anyway. I felt peace not because I am chanting a foreign scripture but because these strangers I just met opened their temple for me and accepted me wholeheartedly.

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After the chanting, Vraja took a golden object with 4-5 small candles in it. He approached every devotee. The devotee touched the flame of the candles about half of a second and placed their hand on top of their heads. I did it as well. After the candle ceremony, Vraja took a flower and asked each devotee to smell it. I did the same thing. I’m not really sure about the symbolism of the flower but I said to myself, “Hey, we should not forget to smell flowers every once in a while.”

After the candle and the flower ceremony, we did a lot of dancing while chanting the Mahamantra:

Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

The devotees and I formed a circle and each devotee will go in the middle, do some praise dance and turn around until you are dizzy. I did it too and it was blissful but a bit awkward. I was just there for 10 minutes and the next thing I know is that I am dancing in the middle of the devotees. After that, Vraja took my hands and we turned around together until we were both dizzy. It’s a different dizziness. It’s not the “I need to puke” dizziness but its more of a “Am I in heaven?” kind of thing.

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After the chanting, the devotees and I formed a semi circle, sat down, while the elder (We will call him Prabhu, meaning Master. Everyone in the temple call each other Prabhu as a sign of humility. For this post, I will be referring to the elder as Prabhu) sat in front of us with his small table. Vraja’s brother sat on the right, opened a laptop and the lcd projector. I was in the middle of Vraja and the Filipino devotee.

Prabhu is a bit techy. He is bringing his iPad. His lessons are there and probably his copy of the Bhagavad Gita. Anyway, I’m a bit proud because I also have a copy of the Bhagavad Gita although Prabhu instructed me not to put it on the ground after seeing mine on the tiled-floor. Well this is true even for the Bible. I remember the time when I was also reprimanded by our youth pastor when he saw my Bible on the floor. How could I be so insensitive?

Anyway, Prabhu emphasized the need to be pure especially in the time of Maya (illusion). He told us that lust can turn into anger and so on and so forth. He also told us that we should turn away from illicit sex as stated in the Bhagavad Gita, one of the world’s oldest religious scriptures. This is the same thing with the Bible. The message of Prabhu became an answer to my questions after having some confusions about the topic of sex and purity. I’m surrounded with people saying “Everybody is doing it” and “If you love someone, you can have sex even before marriage”.

I was reminded of Shane Claiborne, one of my favorite Christian leaders. He said “You can live without sex, but you can’t live without love.” 

The Hare Krishna devotees take that seriously. Some of them took a celibate life and yet they have peace in their faces . They are having the most pleasurable time of their lives but in the service of Krsna.

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I am starting to love the Bhagavad Gita. According to Prabhu, the Bhagavad Gita doesn’t contradicts the Bible. In fact, it complements it. That’s what I want to hear, to be honest. I dream that one day, all the religions will come into an agreement with each other. I want them to come up with a common ground. And that common ground is where I want to stay and serve God/Krsna/Allah in all his splendor.

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To be continued….

Hare Krishna! Part 1

A year ago, I started planning (and dreaming) for a Masteral Degree in Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines. While browsing their site, I saw this advertisement about an Indian Festival called the Ratha Yatra Festival. I have an unexplained penchant for India since God knows when so I called Jogs and asked her to come in the festival with me.

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During the festival, people were chanting HARE KRISHNA (the Mahamantra) for a couple of hours. It’s a foreign concept for me as I was born and raised as a Christian. But one thing I observed is that I enjoyed it and actually chanted Hare Krishna even after the festival. I have said to myself that I want to learn more. I want to know what this Hare Krishna Movement is all about. But it never happened last year.

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Last week, while we traveled in Manila for the Chinese New Year, we went to this hidden Buddhist temple in Divisoria. At the entrance, I saw a tall Indian Guy wearing clothes similar to that of the Hare Krishna Devotees last year in the festival. He was carrying this donation box for a certain feeding program.  I am a social person so I greeted him “HARE KRISHNA” and he answered with a “Hare Krishna” ,a smile and a bit of confusion. He’s probably thinking “A Buddhist who greeted me Hare Krishna” or “A Christian in a Buddhist Temple greeting me Hare Krishna”. I asked myself the same thing “A Hare Krishna devotee in a Buddhist temple”.  Well I have to say that this interfaith thing is beautiful. 

After lighting some incense, I went back outside to meet the Hare Krishna Devotee and talked to him. (Yes, I really do talk to strangers).

“Hare Krishna”, I greeted him again and dropped a P20 in the box.

“How did you know about the Hare Krishnas?”, he asked. I explained the whole story I mentioned earlier.

“Do you have the Bhagavad Gita? I have been searching for the book last week. I saw one online, but I’m not a fan of ebooks”, I asked.

“I have one here. Actually this is the last copy. I just brought 3 Bhagavad Gitas with me”

“Wow. How much for this?”

“It’s up to you.” and he smiled at me.

I dropped another P100 in the box. That time I was completely broke.  Then he gave me his calling card.

“So your name is Vraja Kisora Das. I assume this is your spiritual name.”

“Yes it is. You really know a lot about us huh?”

“I’ve been reading a lot lately about faith. I consider myself as a seeker”

“Can I have your number?”, he asked.

“Sure”, I said.

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After a couple of minutes. He texted me:

You see how Lord Krsna reciprocated with you. You have been sincerely been looking for a Bhagavad Gita and Krsna arranged for your meeting with me.. So please take advantage of it and take it up more seriously and I am sure Krsna has a lot more similar surprises for you in store. 

Like last year, I told myself again..”I want to learn more.”

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To be continued…

Summary of my 2013 Travels

I love this year. Its probably the most traveled year I had ever since I was born. And I can proudly say that because of these travels, I have become a better man and a better human.

February 8-10, 2013 – The Weekenders

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A – Pampanga – Starting Point

B- Makati City – Brasilipinas– A Brazilian themed party held at the Rockwell Tent, Makati City. We all had fun and probably deep inside us we can all shout “PUTANG INA, SOBRANG SAYA!!!”  Cheers to CS Manila!

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C. Lipa City, Batangas- Ate the best Lomi ever. We were hosted by our Italy-based friend, Oyo.

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D. Tagaytay City (Taal) – Saw the Philippines’ “Lake in a Volcano in a lake”

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E. Binondo and Intramuros, Manila- Celebrated the Chinese New Year and ate some frog legs with the couchsurfers in Manila. Delish!

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February 21-24, 2013- The Impromptu North Luzon Travel

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A. Pampanga – Starting Point

B. Laoag City, Ilocos Norte

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C. Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte – Experienced the beauty of the North and the best homestay ever.

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D. Bangui, Ilocos Norte – The windmills are just awesome (and I am awesome for wearing a boxers while traveling)

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E. Burgos, Ilocos Norte- Help! Im running out of adjectives!!!

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F. Paoay, Ilocos Norte – Just like in the postcards.

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G. Vigan, Ilocos Sur- A taste of the past.

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H. Baguio City – witnessed my first Flower Festival or commonly known as the Panagbenga Festival.

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March 22-29, 2013The Holy Week Adventure in Central Visayas

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A. Cebu City – Starting Point. Couchsurfed @ Tsari’s Place

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B. Dumaguete City – Toured around Siliman University and ate at Sans Rival Restaurant.

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C. Siquijor City- Experienced brownout at night at the mystical island of Siquijor. Creepy? Nah! Hosted by the Abing Family.

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D. Just passing by Dumaguete again

E. Oslob, Cebu – Whalesharks!

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F. Carcar, Cebu – The heritage town of the province of Cebu

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G. Cebu City- attended a seminar on Social Media and Website Making

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H. Badian, Cebu – an extreme spiritual retreat at Terra Manna Camping resort

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September 22-25, 2013 – The Birthday Trip in Vietnam

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A. Hanoi Vietnam – Starting Point

B. Trang An, Ninh Binh Province – Paddled, Prayed and ate a goat..

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C. Bai Dinh Temple – The largest temple in North Vietnam

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D. Hanoi, Vietnam – traveled around the city and had the chance to spend it with the beautiful people of Hanoi.

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December 6-9, 2013 – Being Complete in Bicol (Yep, Im a quarter Bicolano)!

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A. Pampanga – Starting Point

B. Naga and Pili, Camarines Sur – Wild sports, spicy foods and very generous hosts– special mention: Kha and Jeson of CS Naga.

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C. Ligao, Camalig, Cagsawa, and Legazpi, Albay – Extreme food trip, Brilliant Sites and awesome CSers– Special Mention: Julie and Jopz of CS Albay.

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December 14-17, 2013 – The North Mindanao Trip, Last for the year.Image

A. Manila – Starting Point

B. Camiguin – Too bad there were no lanzones during that time.

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C. Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental – Nightlife at its finest with CDO couchsurfers

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D. Bukidnon – getting lost in the pineapple maze is worth it!

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Short travels:

A. Ratha Yatra Festival, UP Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines (February 2, 2013)

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B. Ermita Church, Manila (March 2, 2013) – during the feeding program of CS Manila

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C. Visita Iglesia in Pampanga (March 14, 2013)

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D. Potipot Island, Candelaria, Zambales, Philippines (August 7-8, 2013)

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That’s it for me this year. Hope you were able to enjoy the pictures the way I enjoyed them. If you are from the Philippines and Vietnam, what are you waiting for, our countries are really SOMETHING! If you are outside the aforementioned countries, come and visit us.

Happy New Year and lets welcome 2014 with a blast!