Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Much Needed Escape to Sarnath

One of the most interesting places to visit in India has got to be Varanasi. Everything that is shocking, rattling, and sensory-assaulting about India is magnified ten-fold in this most sacred city in all of Hinduism. The cow dung, the heady incense smoke, the dizzying alleyways. It didn't help that I was scammed here, too, just a couple of days ago. My breaking point was nigh. (Yes, nigh!)

I knew my travel buddy, Angelica, was about to break, too. And that afternoon, she did. First thing the next morning, she says, she was heading to a place a fellow traveler recommended. Only 40 minutes from Varanasi, but worlds away from it. I was not planning on going with her, but that night, when it suddenly reeked of gas from the busted propane-powered shower heater close to our room, I made a decision. The next day, we headed to Sarnath.

Sarnath, Varanasi, India

Monday, May 28, 2012

Photos from the Adventure to Fatehpur Sikri in Agra

Right. Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. And who doesn't know about the Taj Mahal? The greatest monument to love ever built by man. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and definitely a place you can see in just one day. Given this, much of the tourists you will see in Agra are only on a very short stay. With the Indian capital Delhi just two hours away by train, some don't even spend the night. Personally, I think that's a mistake. That's because only an hour or so from Agra's city center lies an equally enchanting site: Fatehpur Sikri.

Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, India

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Anomaly That Is the Filipino Backpacker

Filipinos are known for a lot of things. We export, not our products, but ourselves as laborers abroad. Our heritage produces talent like no other. I need only cite boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, or Jessica Sanchez on the latest season of American Idol as example. Yes? Yes? Then, finally, we have some of the most beautiful tropical virgin beaches in the world. Here's proof.

Being backpackers or long-term travelers, however, now that is something we are definitely NOT known for. Filipino backpackers? Nah. Never heard. For one, the Philippines is a third-world country. And those of us who have the means to travel long-term rather use our resources on more tangible investments: house, car, higher education. Completely understandable.

Of course, there is the select few, the few who choose to abandon all conventions and choose a travel-filled lifestyle, the few who said, "Heck yes! I want to be in the Filipino backpackers club!" So what's it like backpacking as a Filipino and backpacking as a Filipino in Asia at that? Here's my experience.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Fatehpur Sikri

(Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features Persian-Indian wonder that is the Fatehpur Sikri.)

Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, India

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Trek to the Annapurna Himalayas in Nepal: The Take Away

"Still I felt uncommonly happy at trekking once more behind a string of mules with their bright headbands, gaudy red wool tassels and jingling bells, over a road and country new to me with the promise of sixteen such days ahead. I felt I could go on like this for ever, that life had little better to offer than to march day after day in an unknown country to an unattainable goal."
HW Tilman, Nepal Himalaya

Have you ever read something so simple, so straightforward, that you feel every single word resonating in every bone of your body? I think I have. When I read that passage, I was sitting alone in my room in a mountain lodge after a particularly grueling day, the eighth in our trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal. I was suddenly overwhelmed with all kinds of emotions. I realized tears started flowing down my eyes.

I saw mules, and goats, and cattle, and was even asked to slap one on the butt as it was blocking the stone staircase. I marched the mountain trails day in, day out and felt the truest and sincerest joy of being there, of being at the moment. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before.

Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, Nepal

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Calaguas: What Makes a Perfect Beach

Beach Snob. That is something I inevitably slip into whenever the topic of tropical beaches and islands dominate a conversation between fellow travelers. I can't really help it. I am from a country that has 7,107 tropical islands. And I have been to some of best of them. I guess it's only natural that I then define what makes for a perfect beach. Thankfully, I have just the most fitting example. Here are reasons why Calaguas in Camarines Norte, Philippines, in particular, the wide stretch of beach locals call Mahabang Buhangin (Long Sand), is my definition of a perfect beach.

1. It takes at least two hours to reach.

The Calaguas Islands are a group of tiny islands off the coast of Camarines Norte, a province southwest of Manila. It takes two hours to reach the island from the nearest port town of Paracale. That is on a good day. When weather is rough, as it usually is in the typhoon alley of Bicol, a region facing the Philippine Sea and the Pacific, a boat ride can take up to three to four hours, something I experienced the first time I went there. By the way, there aren't any tourist boats in these parts. You hire small fishing boats to take you there. But really, that's alright, when the reward is something as beautiful.

Calaguas, Camarines Norte

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Calaguas Islands and My Plea for Sustainable Development

I had the pleasure of first setting foot on one of the beautiful remote beaches of Calaguas this time last year. The Calaguas Islands are a group of tiny islands located two hours off the coast of Camarines Norte province, southeast of Manila, Philippines. Weather was a bit rough that time, as it usually is in Bicol, a region that faces the vast Philippine Sea and the Pacific. Waves were as high as the boats we were on and the rain splashed on our faces every time the wind blew. When we arrived in the island, however, the sun was up and the winds stopped. We felt like explorers arriving at uncharted territory.

For the most part, Calaguas is uncharted. No towns, roads, facilities, or other infrastructure exist in the island, be it for tourism or for the small fishing families that call the islands home. What awaits foolhardy explorers and independent travelers such as myself is this long stretch of powdery fine, white-sand beach set amidst the clearest bright turquoise water you will ever see in your life. Thus, Calaguas, for our purposes here, is a virgin beach.

Calaguas Island, Camarines Norte, Philippines