Category Archives: Travel

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

Naity, Yian and My Final Hour in Borneo (THE BRUNEI-MALAYSIA EXPERIENCE, PART 18)

I have to admit that this blog series about Borneo is really long. I am writing it since February and it already reached 18 parts for a 4-day journey. Blame my Iack of discipline for the 3-month period I spent just writing about this adventure. Anyway, I am excited to end it in this post. I am also excited to proceed to new topics and probably try some poetry.

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Remember Pastor Anthony? The guy I met in Brunei? Well, he texted me in the afternoon asking me where I am. He wanted to meet me again. I am glad I just finished my me-time  and I am now excited to be with people once again. Pastor Anthony met me in Mcdonalds near the City mall.

“Darby, I know this is your last day. Do you want to go to *he mentioned a place which unfortunately, I have forgotten already* before you leave the country? It is like the Signal Hill but it is better. I will be touring some of the congregation there”

“Sure Pastor. I would love to”

“Before that, I just need to pay some electric bills and meet our church musician at a nearby mall. Then we will go to the church to fetch some of the members. They are also travelers like you”

“That would be great!”

After running some errands, Pastor Anthony bought me some curry-based snack then went to the church. Unfortunately, it rained really hard. The place he was talking about is uphill so it would be difficult for the car to go there. Instead, Pastor Anthony and I just talked about a lot of larger than life topics–his faith, his advocacy in life and his mission in Kota Kinabalu. Aside from that, I was able to talk to some of his members. During my stay with Pastor Anthony, I realized two things:

1. I am no longer familiar with purely Christian conversations since I was exposed to different faith systems.

2. I am enjoying purely Christian conversations the same way I enjoy other conversation with people with different faith system.

Ironic? Maybe.. but come on, realizing it in a foreign land is something awesome right?

After my stay, Pastor Anthony and some of his members took me to the bus station to Adam‘s place.

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At the bus..

It was around 6pm when the bus left. I was alone again with a smile on my face while thinking about the conversations I had with Pastor Anthony. I am seated with a girl on her early twenties who is taking a nap. Kota Kinabalu is a bit gloomy now after the rain. Or maybe it is gloomy because I am about to leave. After 5 minutes, my phone rang. It was Adam.

“Hey Darby, where are you?”
“I am still on a Bus to your place”
“We will just meet you in One Borneo. I am with Anne and Yian, a new Couchsurfer” (this time, Andris, the Indonesian guy already left Kota Kinabalu for his Brunei trip. I advised him not to take the ferry)
“Wow. You have a new Couchsurfer? That’s cool! Ok. I will just see you in 1B. Bye!”
“Take care Darby”

After my phone conversation with Adam, the girl who is sitting next to me smiled.

“Hi. I heard your conversation on the phone. You are not Malaysian?”

“Oh. Yes. You are right. I am from the Philippines. Is One Borneo mall far from here?”

“No. Just around 10minutes from here. I am Naity by the way”

“Nice to meet you Naity. I am Darby”

“So, how long are you staying here in Kota Kinabalu?”

“Oh, I am just staying here for 3 days and 3 nights. This is my 3rd night”

“You are already leaving? Oh that’s a short trip”

“Yes it was. Too bad I can’t file longer leaves at work.”

After a great 10-minute conversation with Naity, the bus stopped in One Borneo. I bid farewell to my 10-minute friend on a bus. Even it is just for 10 minutes, I can still say that it is one of the highlights of my last hours in Borneo.

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My final hours

I saw Adam, Anne and a new face waving at me when I arrived One Borneo. We hurriedly went into the car because Adam still needs to go to a supermarket to buy some ingredients for tomorrow’s food in the cafeteria (remember, they have a cafeteria biz inside a university).

While in the car, Adam introduced me to Yian, his Taiwanese guest. Yian is one of the brave Asians who quit their job for travel. He speaks good English with an Australian accent. The smart Anne figured out that Yian learned his English from an Australian Tutor.

When we arrived home, I spent 20 quality minutes with Adam’s dad. Adam’s dad is 100% Filipino who married a 100% Filipina girl making Adam a pure blooded Filipino.

“When did you left the Philippines, dad?”

“It’s been 50 years already”

“Do you still have contacts with your siblings back home?”

“I stopped communicating with them after my 1st year here. I have done that to stop the pain. I have to detach myself”, he said with tears in his eyes. I can’t blame Adam’s dad. I am an advocate of non-attachment. But of course, the tears only proved that a part of him was lost when he stopped communicating with his family here. But that doesn’t mean he is not ok. He is ok. Until now, while writing this, I am missing Adam’s dad more than I miss Adam.

After that, Adam prepared our dinner–my final dinner. It was actually cooked by his Turkish uncle. It’s called Kebab Sandwich. My last dinner in Malaysia is Turkish food. Isn’t that special? Anne, Yian and I enjoyed every bite while saying our “oohhs” and “ahhhs”.

…and the last ahhh

…the last bite…

is actually the start of my goodbye speech.

“Anne, thank you for everything, for traveling with me, for sharing your inspiring stories of strength and courage. Good luck on your Mexico to Canada hike. Yian, you are in good hands with Adam. You are brave for quitting your job. Hope to see you in the Philippines someday. Auntie and Uncle, thanks for opening your home. You cook really good food. Good luck on your business. Dad, stay strong and stay healthy. You are blessed to have Adam and he is blessed to have you. And for Adam, words cannot express how much I appreciate your goodness. Here’s a globe as a simple token”

I handed a small globe to Adam which I secretly bought while he was buying some stuff. I have written the words V.I.P. TRAVELER because he will always be a VIP and he deserves a VIP treatment EVERYWHERE.

After that, I hugged everyone…

…Holy Ground…

THE END.

Taming Kota Kinabalu (THE BRUNEI-MALAYSIA EXPERIENCE, PART 17)

I left the country alone..

To explore exotic places alone..

But I realized that I was never alone during the trip. I am always with someone–an angel in disguise. I have nothing against being with people. I love to travel with my couchsurfing hosts and friends but something inside me just want to be quiet, to set on a course and just be alone. You haven’t really traveled if you haven’t traveled the place alone, in a quiet pace and with a calm heart… Balance will always be the key. Sometimes you need to be with your friends. Sometimes you need to be with strangers. Sometimes you need to be alone.

The following pictures were taken during my Me-time in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

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Holy Ground (THE BRUNEI-MALAYSIA EXPERIENCE, PART 16)

Last night, I have been reading a Bob Goff book entitled Velvet Elvis. 3 pages were devoted about his “Holy Ground” stories. Bob Goff believes that we all have “Holy Ground” moments where God is evidently at work–as if everything was perfectly intertwined giving us breathtaking, heart-pounding and words-cant-express moments.

Although most of my experiences in Borneo are “Holy Ground” moments, this one is my favorite. Adam have decided to take us to Tanjung Aru Beach. Andris and Anne were with me. Anne is an American Couchsurfer who left everything to travel the world (well, true to most of the western couchsurfers I met). Anne is one though girl. She inspired me to take a course which I desperately want to take. She took French Studies. She encouraged me to take Asian Studies because I have mentioned to her earlier that I want to take that.

Anyway, Tanjung Aru is a public beach.  Upon arrival, Adam bought some mangoes dipped in sweet and sour syrup while I bought some peanuts. The beach scene was crazy. It feels surreal because I still can’t believe that I am here.

While walking along the shore, we heard some upbeat music. Much to our surprise, it came from a small Couchsurfing party 300 meters away where we were standing. There’s a dj and a Coleman filled with light booze. As we approached the small party, the DJ handed us some beers. Some of the girls invited us to eat chicken wings. It was 5:30pm and the sun is setting.

A Private DJ..

Good music…

Adam, Andris and Anne still with me, and probably the most important people for me during that time..

Chicken wings…

Heineken Beer…

The Sunset…

The beach…

Malaysia…

My Holy Ground…

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ANDRIS (THE BRUNEI-MALAYSIA EXPERIENCE, PART 14)

At dinner, Adam and I fetched Andris, the Indonesian Couchsurfer.

Andris is another interesting character in the story. He is an employee of UNESCO . Adam and I were like “How can one enter that company? Hire us please” Andris’ job is mainly travel making him really outgoing and knowledgeable about Asia. At a very young age, he was able to visit Europe and USA. His English skills is terribly great!

Adam decided that we eat at the Filipino Market. Yes, you heard that right, FILIPINO MARKET! There is nothing Filipino in that place, don’t even bother asking me why it’s called Filipino Market. Bitch please!

Again, the conversations we had were really interesting. Adam and Andris were really updated on what is happening around Asia–the good, the bad and the ugly. Adam talked about the issues among the federations in Malaysia. I can hardly cope up. I was really tired that moment that I cannot even swallow my Nasi Goreng. You know those moments when you are really tired and forget about eating–that sleeping is the top priority? But looking back, I still find that moment really unique and I still dream about it. Why? I am conversing with a Malaysian Local and an Indonesian who works in Unesco, while eating Malay foods with all sorts of good smell in the area. Again, this is travel. This is how one should travel. It should be vivid. It should be tasty. It should be sensible. You should use your 5 senses.

After eating, Adam toured us around Kota Kinabalu…

Adam (THE BRUNEI-MALAYSIA EXPERIENCE, PART 13

At Jesselton Ferry after the Hell Ride…

“Anthony, my Chouchsurfing host is over there! I can see him already. I’m gonna introduce you to him”, I said to Anthony as he was also dizzy as hell.

I am bit nervous that Adam, my host, is furious about me not answering his calls and texts. But Adam was all smile when he saw me. It was a relief.

“Adam, I am sorry. I just…..”

“Don’t worry. I understand and its ok. I ferried my sister here earlier so its just cool”

“Thank God I survived that ride. By the way, this is my friend, Anthony. We met in Brunei Ferry Terminal.” The guys shook each others hand.

“Where do you live here?”, Adam asked Anthony.

“I live in ##########. Darby mentioned you are a Filipino”

“Yes, I am. But I grew up here. My surname is ###########”, said Adam

“Oh. Do you know Ryan ########?” Anthony asked.

“Yes, Ryan is my cousin. How come you know him?”, Adam asked with a surprised tone.

“Well, he is a member of our church. I am his Pastor”, answered Anthony.

“WHAT? You are a Pastor?” I said shockingly. I remembered myself cursing and using F words and S words during our hell ferry ride. I am a bit embarrassed now.

“Yes Darby. I am a pastor of ############ church. I don’t usually tell people that.”, Anthony replied. Adam was laughing at me.

“You were with him for 6 hours and you didn’t know he is a pastor?” Adam asked jokingly.

Still embarrassed…

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After the three of us had a short conversation, we parted ways. Adam took me to his car and drove me around the city.

“Hey Darby. Is it ok if I do some errands before we explore the City?”

“Of course it’s ok. This is actually the dream. Becoming a local, immersing in culture and helping out my host”

Adam is an enterprising guy. He helps run his aunt’s cake shop and do some cooking for University of Malaysia Sabah’s Cafeteria. For this day, he needs to deliver a Minnie Mouse cake to a birthday party in town. I admire Adam. He can juggle work time and fun time. I enjoyed doing errands with him as well as the conversations we had while doing them. It was always a meaningful one with Adam. He knows a lot about his country especially economics and politics. Not to mention his love for Malaysian and Filipino culture. As I’ve said earlier, he is a full blooded Filipino who was born and raised in Malaysia. He was always proud of this mixture.In fact, I have learned a lot of things about the Philippines from him. The irony.

Aside from that, Adam loves his Islam. He is an advocate of Halal. Back home, I encourage Small and Medium Enterprises to be Halal certified. Then he told me that he had conducted a seminar in the Philippines about Halal years ago. That’s when I found out that we have a common non-Couchsurfing friend. The world is really small. The 6-degrees of separation is an understatement.

After finishing the errands, Adam decided to have dinner and fetch Andris, an Indonesian Couchsurfer, another character in this long detailed story.