I’m at the rooftop skybar of my hotel–we have free-flow house wine, ice cream, and cookies. There is a movie on tonight, where there will be popcorn, although I’m not quite sure if popcorn + The Revenant make a good pair.
I’ve been in Penang for three days now. It’s sweltering hot, but the laid back vibe of the town makes up for it: this has to be one of my most meandering, lazy trips ever. I don’t mind, and Penang seems like the perfect place for it: it matched my mood perfectly. This feels like the perfect melding of “staycation” and “tourist holiday” (I’d always wanted to go on a staycation but could never justify the expense), so I’m pretty pleased.
I’ve one more day in Penang (let’s see if I can wake up before dawn tomorrow), so hit me up at @angelamaria for some in medias res grams and stories; in the meantime, some quick photos from my first two days:
A few years ago on a trip back home to the Philippines, my friends and I went to San Pablo, Laguna and visited Lake Pandin, one of its Seven Lakes. The lakes are in Barangay San Lorenzo, San Pablo City, Laguna, Philippines. It is about two hours on the road from Manila, assuming you don’t forget about one of your friends in Canlubang exit and have to turn back to pick them up.
Pandin is one of the crater lakes and twin to Yambo, “next door”, only separated by a narrow strip of land. It has an area of 20.5 hectares and a maximum depth of 63 meters, about 206 feet, although our hosts told us it was 180 feet deep.
Conclusion: it’s deep.
There is a 10-15 minute walk up to Lake Pandin from the parking area. I wouldn’t be looking forward to this walk if the weather is bad: a dirt road that would undoubtedly turn slippery in rain. Otherwise, it’s a quick invigorating walk, with some incline to build your appetite.
If you’re planning to take a swim, think about dressing appropriately prior to going. There is only a tiny toilet/changing room, so if you are particular about these things, you need to plan ahead. We didn’t have an issue using the facilities, such as they were. Before we pushed off, we were able to buy some roasted peanuts in the shell, and some ube halaya (purple yam dessert).
We had lunch prepared by our lovely hosts. You can take the balsa ride by itself and bring your own food, but in my opinion, you’re missing out if you do. The food is simple, but very fresh and the flavors are just amazing. This was easily the highlight meal of my San Pablo weekend.
Rafting only: P180/head
Rafting and lunch: P360/head
This was my first time having Ensaladang Pako (fiddlehead fern salad in vinaigrette salad dressing) and Pinayti (micro shrimps from one of the Seven Lakes of San Pablo City, cooked in seasoned coconut milk). To this day, I have very fond memories of that pako salad.
We also had fresh buko (coconut) to drink and eat, and some bananas.
After the quick swim in the lake and the delicious lunch, we decided to take a look at Yambo, the lake next door. This involves a relatively steep but brief hike. Protip: do not forget your glasses on the balsa. Going down this steep slope without the aid of your glasses will give you a headache.
Blue skies, clear water, delicious food, and great company.
I was standing on top of Chamantad Tinyan viewpoint when I remembered the Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli animated film The Wind Rises, because of the strong winds that ran every which way, almost frivolous, certainly playful: an unsteady foot on the uneven hillsides could cause a tumble or two.
These lines came back to me on that windy hilltop while I waited for the rest of our party to come back, looking over the crashing waves just a few feet before me. Mortality, impermanence, transience. The wind is rising, the world is changing; and all logic says that we must change with it, to move on, to live.
But let me stand on this hilltop, frozen in this moment, for just a while longer: a hill which my poor knees would rather I slide down than walk down.
Momentarily stranded: a few minutes out, my parents waited on a much tamer hill; a few shorter minutes closer, our guide and the rest of my Instagram-happy tour mates would be wrapping up soon. Even closer, intermittently, a few more fellow tourists: a boy possibly two thirds my age, strides boldly to the cliff edge, selfie stick in tow: he sits down with slippered feet dangling over the edge, takes a shot or three, and checks his result. I watch and don’t watch. He stands up and strides back out, and he disappears from my not-watching view. The wind carries my companions’ voices to me.
I take a breath and keep watching the waves.
There is something so timeless about Batanes that makes writing about it difficult for me. What could I say, when our days were so free and easy even with a settled itinerary listed out for us? It seems useless to talk about where we went and at what time and how much time we spent, when Batanes could change your plans on a whim. The seas may get choppy, the air so sweet that it lulls you into staying longer, longer, longer. Rest a while. Stay in the moment. Live in the moment.
In a place where the wind seems ever-rising, it called me back to simpler times where values were steadfast and the hustle and bustle of progress is a distant hum. We must try to live–and these people haven’t lost sight of what it meant to truly live.
I don’t think any place on Earth, so far, has been as over-hyped to me as Batanes, Philippines, had been. The few months of planning and the weeks leading up to my multi-day Batanes tour felt like everyone was telling me how amazing Batanes was going to be. They were so excited for me! Take lots of pictures! Oh, you’re going to love it there. Eat coconut crabs! Oh, it will be so amazing.
So it was with a bit of trepidation that I started my short vacation last week, but it was still difficult to shake off the excitement and expectation I’d built up. I couldn’t help but be so expectant, but it felt like disappointment was inevitable.
But…there wasn’t any.
Don’t get me wrong, there were some things that could have dampened the experience. Typhoon Meranti (Ferdie in the Philippines) wreaked havoc on the local cell sites and mobile data was nonexistent, and extra for lodgings (if they had any). Even text messages had problems getting through. Also, I did not do my due diligence and confirmed that our Batanes tour package was private. I only found out a few days before our trip that it was a small group tour package (my fault of assumption). So, between having my parents with me, and the tour group dynamics lottery, so many things could have gone wrong. There was even a local fiesta on our last night and the restaurants that were open were packed to the gills, and we were stranded without a ride back to our lodgings. I mean, how’s that for mishaps?
But the place, the people: it was everything they said, and how. It was a step back in time into a place yet untouched by many things people take for granted in the cities; a visit to a people whose simple lives, while difficult, felt so much more meaningful and purposeful to me than the helter-skelter of city life.
No mobile data? Who cares?
Who cares, when you’re in the middle of all these amazing views, just soaking in the soft, cool breeze and the cheery sun? We soaked it in, and even in the evenings, we talked and rested and just turned off from the hyper-connected lives we’ve usually led.
Tour group lottery? No problem.
Question of luck aside, there was something in the air, with the locals we interacted with, that I think mellowed out everyone in our group. Each one of us was just happy to be there and had hearts full of the beauty and vastness of the place. Because the locals around us had such unassuming friendliness, and the environment had such a cheery laid-back-ness (totally a word) to it, I feel that we were in a state of perfect openness and agreeability.
My friends told me our group was “large” by Batanes tour group standards (aside from my parents and I, there were also three couples with us). Because each group in our tour had their own ten-or-so-minute photo taking care of our guide, we spent a fair amount of time “waiting” for all four sub-groups to be done with photos before moving on to the next place, or finding out more about where we were.
But the size did not matter; the wait did not feel like waiting. We were all perfectly content just to be there: quiet, basking in the sights, or sharing words with one another.
Photo finish dinner mishap? Serendipitous!
Even the last dinner mishap turned out for the best. The restaurant recommended to us was closed; the restaurant we returned to was full up and we ended up waiting an hour and a half or so for a table and food. But once again, we had each other, and our fellow dinner hopefuls, to talk to, to share, to enjoy the ludicrousness of the moment in.
And at the end of the evening–late by Batanes standards–every tricycle driver seemed to be out at the fiesta. Walking was out of the question–it was far, and the streets were dark, so that even if we had known the way in daytime, we would surely get quite lost then. But we did not feel worried at any point, and we ended up even having a chat with the restaurant’s owner before a kindly man came by (straight from the fiesta) to bring us back to our hotel in his quaint wooden sidecar.
It was–is–the perfect getaway. Cool wind to soften the bright sun; the cheery ‘good mornings’ and ‘good evenings’ that lighten the heart; the simple, fresh, and delicious food; the clarity of the air and water, and the wide expanse of land and sea that just begs the mind to expand as they do. As the days went by, it felt like I was also traveling back in time to an age when I didn’t worry so much, when things were clearer, simpler, straightforward.
The way we went: Batanes tour itinerary summary
We flew out of Manila to Basco (the capital) at 6am on the Sunday, and came back Wednesday morning. (All commercial flights to/from Basco are in the morning.) The official Batanes tour started at noon of the first day, giving us plenty of time to lounge about and rest after our very early morning rise (with my dad’s penchant for being early, that meant 2am rising for a 6am domestic flight…and, uh, I had just been on a 6am Singapore-Manila flight as well just the previous day).
Day 1 Sunday
North Batan island tour – In and around Basco and Mt Iraya, the highest peak in Batan island.
Day 2 Monday
Sabtang island tour – 6am pickup for a 7am, 30-minute ferry to Sabtang island. (It was lucky our guide decided to switch this around from our official itinerary, because the next day proved to be windy and moody, which would mean a more turbulent ferry ride.)
Day 3 Tuesday
South Batan island tour – covers the southern municipalities of Mahatao, Ivana, and Uyugan.
I regretted that I couldn’t extend my stay. It would have been great to just spend another day or two just going around and returning to the spots we loved best. The rest of our group did stay behind for a few more days, and one couple opted to do a homestay in Sabtang when we nipped over there for the second day.
Still, there is always next time. At some point I would love to visit Itbayat (a 3-4-hour boat ride, or an 8-seater plane). I’ve also found out there is the Vakul Kanayi Festival over at Sabtang on April 25-27, if anyone’s interested in an almost-impromptu trip. ;) Regardless, Batanes was an amazing way to rest and recharge and I will definitely try to come back.
Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind. – Seneca
“Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.” – Walt Whitman
I’ve been thinking of new beginnings recently.
Ten years ago
Ten years ago, I moved to Singapore. In March, my friend (then-online-acquaintance) asked me if I was interested in joining Yahoo!–not thinking too much about it, I sent my CV along. I’d never thought of moving “overseas” before; I had never actually been overseas, I applied for my first passport only that May. I didn’t think anything would come out of it, but soon enough, I was filling a box of my most beloved things (my books! the pillow I had since I was a baby!). I was at Immigrations with a clear folder filled with various papers clutched to my chest like any other OFW, I was at Changi looking awed and cowed and just a little bit lost (my mother, who was with me, is not much better in the directionally challenged department).
I remember my mother, the night before she left, leaving me a box full of chocolates and cookies. She was already telling me to control my eating by then (how does one do that, when all my life, I ate everything and did not gain an ounce of weight?), but she left me a box of food because she was worried I would starve myself for being too shy to come out and forage for food from my cousins’ fridge.
I remember her texting me the night after, when I went out to watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with my new colleagues-turned-friends and I was late coming home: Huhuhu. Uwi ka na. Wala nang bus. Maiiwan ka. Huhuhu uwi ka na. (Yes, she actually meant ‘come back to the Philippines.’)
Five years ago
Five years ago, I had finally been on my first long haul trip with Frances Ellen. I’d been elsewhere–on company trips, with a friend or two–but it was this trip that sparked the fire.
It sounds rather pretentious that other Asian destinations had not yet, by then, ignited my interest in travel–and certainly I’d been exposed to other cultures through the melting pot of being in a large multinational company in eclectic Singapore–but there is nothing else to account for it. Walking through the cobblestone streets of Paris, sampling wine in Tuscany, having a kind gentleman wordlessly grab my large luggage and haul it up the stairs for me and disappear without so much as waiting for me to say merci, seeing a great expanse of people out in the open parks just picnicking and talking in the middle of the day–it filled me with excitement. You know how westerners seem to love going to Asia because it is so different from what they have back home? The west was as different to me as the east was to them.
The urge to travel bled out into more and more places, into better ways of seeing other cultures, in their own homes, in their own streets, west or east.
I resolved to make up for lost time. I learned how to pack (I actually brought a clothes iron to France and Italy. A clothes iron.), and how difficult it was to arrange trips with friends. Venturing into my first solo trip was a delight. Getting lost on my own was a bit more stressful. My sense of danger, dulled somewhat by safe and low-crime Singapore, came in useful (thank you, Philippines, for your dark streets replete with snatchers).
I’m a slow traveler, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m not an expert traveler, I don’t have any unique nuggets of wisdom you wouldn’t find from others braver and more experienced than I. There is little point in blogging about my simple trips, but life is made up of these little moments in time, in “pointless” things that make up a beautiful whole. I find joy in looking back, in remembering, in retracing the steps I took discovering these places. (I also find joy in cataloging things and putting them into neat buckets I can refer to ;) and words, of course, words are love, words are life.)
I’ve journalled forever, and I’d started doing some of this at whimsical.nu/traveler, but when I started doing it, it felt like what it was: an afterthought, tacked on at the end of a week.*
So, eventually, I started retracingsteps.com. It’s an appropriate domain; I get lost so easily, I do end up retracing my steps literally. Plus, I would walk everywhere if I could (bad knees notwithstanding), and to frame my reminiscing as a “walking back” through the places I went and actions I took, seems right on the mark. I learn a place on foot, after all.
It’s not an amazing amount of places. It’s only been five years, and I’m a slow traveler with a day job, so no whizzing by places for me. But it’s been five years of amazing travel and many more to come.