Friday, March 7, 2014

A Bittersweet Moment: Trekking Mt. Pinatubo

After more than 20 years, I've been able to set foot on the crater of the historical Mt. Pinatubo. Honestly, I was reluctant to trek at the said volcano for 2 major reasons: Health and a remarkable Past. I was diagnosed with respiratory asthma when I was a kid, and it's also a fact that you never outgrow asthma. I feared that I might have an attack during the trek due to lahar dust. 

Second, Mt. Pinatubo made a huge impact in my life during my childhood years that made me question myself if I am ready. It became historical because of it's massive eruption last June 1991, which is also considered the second-largest volcanic eruption during the 20th century. Our family was one of those greatly hit and affected by the lahar, a debris flow with a mixture rocks and water. Our whole house and town got buried in lahar 
which forced us to relocate and start all over again. 
Until now, I can still vividly recall the catastrophe that happened. We were awaken by the loud sound of the Town church bell and sirens. Everyone was rushing while I stood on our balcony waiting and wondering what's going on. Suddenly, my jaw started to move involuntarily and uncontrollably. It was the first time I felt so much fear. 
Our whole family stayed on the roof of our Ancestral House during the lahar flow. We were praying so hard while watching other houses get washed away by lahar, which was like a "boiling cement mixture". Our house was spared during the first eruption, only the first floor got affected. However, the second eruption totally buried everything in our hometown. But I was still thankful that my whole family was safe during the calamity. So how's are town now? You can read my blog, click here-->Bacolor: Town Down under your Feet.

One day one of my closest friends, Resy texted me that she'll pay me a visit one weekend. She requested that we visit nearby places aside from my province, Pampanga. She showed great interest to go trekking at Mt. Pinatubo. "OK! This is the sign.", I said to myself. Time to meet the volcano that changed my life. So, I researched and asked some friends about Mt. Pinatubo tour. I tried to email some tour coordinators and checked on the most convenient one for us. I narrowed down my choices and grabbed a good friend's referral. I booked a tour under Poch Jorolan (via 09999948634 or 09175108961) of Outer Eater Tours and Events, also the owner of Everybody's Cafe, a famous restaurant in Pampanga serving Authentic Kapampangan Dishes. This made me excited and giddy for our Lunch. 
Poch was very accommodating considering there were changes on our booking details. We were supposed to book a group tour however some friends had backed out. I requested if we can still push through considering we were only two and if he can just include us in another group. He was able to grant my request, provided a tour on our preferred date, February 16 (Sunday) and even gave us a discount because of a common friend. Thanks again Poch! 
We chose the Tarlac starting point Tour because it's cheaper and we're from Pampanga. On the day of the tour, he met us around 5:30am at Lakeshore, North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) first and had a convoy going to Capas, Tarlac since we're not familiar with the place. We also met other travelers in our group tour, a solo American guy and a Family. So how did the tour go?

What to expect?
The trek to Mt. Pinatubo involved riding a 4x4 and a long walk. The 4x4 ride was a grueling hour and a half. We passed on rivers, lahar formations, big rocks and bumpy roads. You need to tighten your grip to survive the adventure and also expect too much lahar dust. We passed on the Old route because the New road got severely damaged during the Typhoon Yolanda. Therefore, the 20 minutes walk or trek to the crater became another hour and a half. It involved crossing rivers with huge rocks, steep and slippery roads. The tour duration is usually from 8am until 2pm, which includes the 4x4 ride from Brgy. Sta Juliana in Capas (jump off point), trek and lunch at the crater. There are also available shower rooms at the base camp. 

NOT Mountains sign must be placed here. Yes, these are Lahar Formations! Huge lahar formations out there, no wonder it almost erased a whole town in the Map.
Stop-over for some Picture taking. Our group together with the natives, the Aetas. "Kuya" (Tagalog term used to refer to an older man or Guide) warned us to prepare for the topsy turvy ride. 
Manong Driver checking engine for safety. This ride surely looks old and rusty but still rocked the off road adventure. If it can talk, it'll probably say I am still BAD Boy on the road. You almost scared us to death! 
This will be your view during most of the trek. Hello Biggie-O rocks! 
And also some of this view. Oh Mother Nature, you truly are amazing. Depicting the "Ferngully: the Last Rainforest" aura, if you are familiar with the movie you'll definitely agree with me. 
The sulfur coming from the volcano turned some parts of the river and the rocks yellow orange in color.
Are we there yet? This question kept running in my mind during the trek. Oh well, 20 more minutes. Getting there in a jiffy! 
Group Picture!
No we're not yet there! 100 plus steps going down the crater. Can you just imagine the way up? Aaaaaaaaaaaah, I almost fainted. 
Of course MUST not miss a SOLO with Tshoes. 
The crater of the Volcano. Isn't it Amazing? There's always Beauty in everything.
My first and forever travel buddy, Resy!
 We did it twin! Looking forward for more Crazy Adventures with you. 
DITTO! Travel shoes and I are definitely leaving some "shoeprints" everywhere. Off to more adventures and beyond!
Lunch, Oh lunch! 
Because I am a Girl Scout, ready for some picnic at the crater!
The food was HEAVENLY! It satisfied our rumbling tummies and our tastebuds. 

I almost forgot to take a quick picture of the food served, so you'll have an idea what to eat in case you book a tour with Outereater Tours.
Almost empty containers! We ate Adobong Puti (Chicken dish), Paco Salad (Fern), Chicharon (Pork skin) and some atchara (pickled unripe papaya) as side dish. And we partnered it with Cold Coca-Cola sold at the crater at 100 bucks. I won't complain on this knowing the effort they exerted going to the crater.  

Travel Shoes leaving shoeprints at the beautiful crater. Finally Mt. Pinatubo, we met.
Swimming and boating are no longer allowed at the crater due to a past incident. How I wished I was able to see the other side and the Hot Spring. Oh well. 
We want you!
A good looking buddy sporting my favorite color. You SHOULD be our ride. (Loud Chuckle!)

The weeks of physical conditioning paid off, thanks to Yoga and my scarf. Another destination conquered and survived!  
Don't we just look good together?
Oh the shades of Blue. 

MUST Bring:
1. Water- you might get dehydrated and too exhausted during the trek.
2. Big Scarf- it will protect you from dust and too much heat. 
3. Sarong- same use as the scarf, plus you can use it for picnic purposes. Just like what we did at the crater. I always bring a scarf or sarong during all my travels because they are so helpful and I can use them in so many ways. You just need to be creative.
4. Snacks- the trek made me so hungry even after lunch. We munched on some cookies and chips on our way to the crater and back. 
5. Sunblock- you'll be exposed from the heat and there's rarely a shade. 
6. Long sleeves or Jacket- these will help you avoid having unwanted or uneven tan lines. During our trek it helped provide warmth because it was so windy and cold. 
7. Sturdy and Reliable foot wear- My travel shoes did a great job during my trek. I suggest you wear shoes rather than slippers. You can avoid getting wet but you can't avoid rocks and sharp objects you can encounter during the trail. Safety always! 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Leaving Shoe Prints: Halong Bay, Vietnam

This photo was taken during our cruise trip in Halong Bay, Vietnam last September 2012. 

I called our trip the "Instant Millionaire Getaway" due to the money currency in Vietnam plus the pampering we got. It was surely one of the most spoiled trips I had but still pocket-friendly. We rented a junkboat, a local yacht, during our cruise from Cat Ba-Halong Bay via CatBa Ventures owned by the ever reliable Mr. Tung. In our private junk boat we had our own Captain, Butler and Chef. It has two rooms with bathrooms, dining room and also a sun deck, which is still quite spacey for the five of us. All the food served in our junkboat were sumptuous. We also just can't get enough of their coffee "Cafe Viet". The best cafe viet we've ever tasted during our entire stay in Vietnam. 

This photo captured the perfect moment I had during our sail in the famous Halong Bay. I am grateful I had the chance to savor the Beauty of Nature while sipping the Best Coffee in town. Travel shoes and I surely had that perfect spot, another add on in my memory and experience bank. The kind of ecstasy your heart feels every journey is definitely priceless. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Leaving Shoe Prints: Cabugao Island, Isla Gigantes, Carles, Iloilo

I feel blessed and grateful that i was able to witness the beauty of this Island before it got totally ruined by the typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) last November 2013.

Summer of 2013 (May), travel shoes left some shoe prints at Isla Gigantes also known as an "Enchanted Island". It is located at Carles, Northern part of Iloilo, Philippines. 

Many stories and folk tales revolve around this mystical but splendid place. According to legends, long ago some feared that going to this island might mean, never coming back.  
It was also believed that the island was first inhabited by "Giants" hence its name "Isla Gigantes". Fossils and giant coffins measuring around 7 feet long were found inside the caves of some islands. Recently, the place is freely explored by locals and also some tourists because of its pristine and crystal clear white sand beaches. Isla Gigantes is composed of many different islands, each boasting a unique and majestic beauty. 

The photo was taken in Cabugao Gamay Island, one of my favorite spots. It is divided into huge rock formations and white sand beach. The climb at the top was quite challenging and daunting BUT the view at the peak was impressively beautiful. I am glad that I was able to conquer another place together with my Travel Shoes. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Beyond Happy: Korea Winter Photo Contest

Last December, a colleague of mine gave a piece of article from Philippine Star Newspaper. It was about the Korea Winter Photo Contest. She kept the article because she saw that I just visited Korea and she loved our photos from our recent trip. I felt really touched with her gesture and encouraging words. 

I was hesitant at first to join because the theme was about "winter" and during our visit it still looked like autumn season. But our travel dates were a part of the contest's time frame. I was really unsure what photo entry I can submit to depict "winter season'. But still I gave it a shot. 

I got really nervous because it was my first time to join a "photo contest" like this one. Oh well, aside from the mini contest held during my high school years. Nevertheless, I got too excited as well because I've always loved photography. I love taking pictures and cameras really fascinate me.I used a Nikon D3000 with an 18-55mm stock lens. Is it a sign to upgrade my lens? haha 

I passed my entry on the 6th of December and it was so hard for me to choose which entry. I was able to narrow down my choices into two. I asked some friends to help me  pick my final entry. And thankfully, my photo entry was accepted after so many revisions due to strict requirements.

On January 9, 2014, I received an email from the Korea Tourism Organization, Manila stating that my photo was chosen on the Top 40 list. I felt really happy that they were able to appreciate my photo. It was truly an unexpected surprise for me. The best part of the email was; "Your photo will be exhibited in the Korean Cultural Center. You will receive a separate notification if your entry is included in the Best 5 photos." Honestly, The photo exhibition itself was enough to make my heart oh-so-happy. I got so giddy with the thought that I will be seeing a blown-up picture of my work on Display. 

I didn't expect more and I felt really blessed already with the news that I've received. 
On the following day, I got another email from them stating that my photo was part of the Top 5, Silver Award. 
It was one "BEYOND HAPPY" moment for me. It was a surreal feeling at first. All smiles to know that other people get to appreciate the thing that you love doing. I call my Korea trip, a lucky one. I got to enjoy the place and their culture, do my passion: photography and travel, and lastly got some really good perks out of my trip (gift cards, glass trophy, LG mobile printer, be part of the photo exhibition). It was definitely oh so worth it. Now my passion for photography, travel and culture fueled a lot more. 
I got a thankful and a blissful heart for all the blessings. Definitely an EPIC way to start my 2014. Can't wait for more travels and unexpected surprises (hopefully my luck doesn't end here.) 

Thank you Korea Tourism Organization Manila for the opportunity and for appreciating my work. Thank you as well to Korea Cultural Center Manila for the photo exhibition chance. I am really amazed on how the Koreans really preserve and share their culture. So many more places to explore in Korea. 

I am such a Happy Lass! 
A photo together with my entry and awards last  January 20, 2014.  I wanted to caption it: "Love and Pray: Locking Love Promises and Wishes at the Love Tower (N Seoul Tower) and Saying a Heartfelt Prayet that they may come True (Temple). 
Gamsahabnida KTO and KCC!

Photo Exhibition: "Remembrance of the bygone days" at the Korea Cultural Center. January 20-27, 2014. 

Because I missed the Hanbok fitting during my stay in Korea. The closest to wearing it is a picture together with Korea's Traditional Dress.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Biking Destinations Around Asia

I love biking ever since I was a kid. It really gives me that ecstatic kind of feeling after every ride. 
I can still vividly recall my hard work, wounds and accidents back in my childhood years just so I can pedal a bike, balance and go further. And yes, all those battle scars were worth it. 
Until now, my love for biking never fades. Biking always gives me a different perspective about life and the places i see. It gives me an opportunity to slow down, see the world in an open space, savor every moment and lastly, provides a good exercise to the heart. These i believe contribute to the state of euphoria I am in after every biking experience. 

Every time I travel, I always try to check if I can go biking in my chosen destination. And luckily I was able to bike even away from home. Each biking trip I had was really unique and different. I compiled places around Asia where you can go biking with a group or even solo. I am hoping that I can add more to this list.

1. Singapore
 I had my first biking experience away from home during my solo travel in Pulau Ubin, Singapore.
Contrary to the Busy Singapore, this part is very laid back. It's a small island located North East of Singapore and also known as the last "kampong" village, imagine Singapore years back before tall buildings and busy streets sprouted. Biking in Pulua Ubin was like a scene in the famous "Back to the Future" film.

Bike Rental Cost: $6-$12/ whole day rental

Sights to See:

One of my favorite spots and it was really breathtaking. I called this the "Blue Lake". 

It was so hard to say goodbye to this Island and view. I am grateful to have witnessed this spectacular view. 

Well, a picture with my bike and travel shoes is a MUST. Thankful for my mini-tripod. 

You can read more about my adventure: Biking Around Singapore

 2. Thailand
Remember the famous "Temple Run" game? I call this next biking experience, "Temple Biking". Yes, it was like a temple run experience but on a bike. Can you guess what you'll see in this place? 
Ayutthaya, Thailand has a very rich culture. It is considered as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Biking in Ayutthaya is a bit challenging and risky compared to Pulau Ubin. In here, you'll bike around busy streets meaning 8 lane roads, hello monster buses and gentle giants. I was glad I braved and survived one hell crazy biking adventure.

Bike Rental Cost: 20 baht/ whole day

Sights to see:

One of the Temples (Wat), you'll see during the trip. Temples were everywhere. 

The famous "Buddha in the Tree". 
Another MUST photo with my bike and travel shoes. Oh hello there Dumbos! 

You can read more about my adventure: Biking Around Thailand.
3. Korea
Being born and raised in a tropical country where there are only 2 seasons, this biking trip really made me so exhilarated. I was able to explore and bike around Nami Island, South Korea during Autumn Season. I felt blessed to have witnessed another impressively beautiful nature. 
Nami Island is a small half-moon shaped Island. It became a popular tourist attraction because it showcases different scenes every season and also the shooting location of the famous Korean Drama Series, Winter Sonata. 

Bike Rental Cost: KRW 6,000/ 30 minutes. (The bike rental was expensive compared to the others but you can tour the whole island by 30 minutes. However, capturing photos will take your time because every spot is great for picture taking.)

Sights to see:

Showcase of colors. Let your eyes feast.
Because Winter Sonata became so sensational, a monument of the lead characters was built. Welcome to "The Island of Love". 
Every corner of the place was picture perfect so I  grabbed the opportunity. I am forever grateful that I can see and travel. 
Bike, travel shoes and Autumn= Beyond Happy Moment. 

Where to go biking next?