Dec 31, 2013
2013: a Year in Review
With 2013 coming to a close, I refer back to the philosopher, Epicurus, who said that a key to having a happy life is to have an examined life. I don't know about happiness, but having an examined life allows you to be mindful of the series of events that took place to shape what you now have in the here-and-now - whether that place is a shit-hole or a paradise. This way, you tend not to repeat the same mistakes. Or perhaps realize a repeating pattern that puts you in a vicious loop where you get stuck on auto-pilot.
The first day of 2013 saw me in Compostela Valley where I helped distribute relief goods to victims of Typhoon Pablo. Having a ringside seat to actually interact with the victims and their pressing needs gave me cause to count my blessings and be mindful of the things I have to be grateful for. Helping out in that capacity became a recurring theme throughout the year as the country became inundated by typhoons and earthquakes. I begin to wonder how much of that is a cyclical process and how much is man-made (through green house gases). For a smart species, we're doing a great job fucking-up the planet.
2013 Travel Route
I stayed in Davao for a good month. Davao is one of those places you could relocate to, given its peace-and-order situation (many thanks to its iron-fisted mayor, Mayor Duterte), low cost of living, abundance of food and access to just about everything (urban lifestyle, outdoors, good restos, etc.) Being the mecca for durian, I readily indulged in my 1-kilo a day habit. Of course there are mangosteens, marangs, and other exotic fruits at bargain prices nearly all year-round. Davao remains one of my favorite places to go to. Dormitels in Davao is one the best in the country - P180 for an a/c room with clean restrooms, wifi, entertainment center, etc. Unbeatable. I met new friends in Davao, specially in the yoga community at Holiday Gym. Yoga would remain a cornerstone during all my travels, teaching free yoga wherever a clean and suitable place is freely accessible - like People's Park and hotel rooftops.
Davao was also my reconnection to the other side of my family - mother's side. It was a part of my life I always knew was there, but never really connected to - until now. Given my isolationist viewpoint about family, my aunts in Davao redefined family in a more inclusive and supportive setting.
But not having made in-roads into Davao's business community to sustain my stay, I left Davao feeling defeated specially after all the due-dilligence I've done with nothing to show for at the end of day. I had to pawn my GPS for loose change to get me through the next city. Money-wise, Davao was dry as a bone for me. This caused me to rethink if I should remain local with my enterprise or go global where the pasture could be greener. Next stop....
At 500+ meters above sea level, Malaybalay boasts of a cool climate. It's a small city that seems to hum its way through time, unperturbed by what's going on outside its borders. It has many natural attractions to offer but all I did in Malaybalay was work on my laptop. Lesson: never be too busy to experience what's around you - you may never pass this way again. I stayed a week and befriended another seeker in search of resonance. At this point, my funds were getting extremely low again.
Monastery of the Transformation
I sequed to the Monastery of the Transformation where I had an engaging conversation with the resident high priest, Fr. Elias and Dom Martin (formerly known as Gang Gomez, Manila's famous fashion designer of the 80s). After havng been turned back by the guard for wearing shorts, I had my chance to ask Fr. Elias an irreverent question, "as the Shepherd, why would you turn away a sheep because the sheep's wool didn't suit your taste?". He laughed. As for Gang Gomez, how cathartic could life's curve balls be for you to walk away from Manila's glitzy high life and seclude yourself inside a monastery for 23 years (and counting)?
Cagayan de Oro
CDO redefined a lot of things for me. Perhaps abundance is the word. After emailing a few of the big hotels there prior to my coming, Pryce Plaza agreed to house me for one night upon my arrival - I didn't have to wonder where I'd sleep at least for my first night. What followed was three months stay collectively at Uptown Condotel, Hotel Conchita and De Luxe Hotel. Work-wise, the contracts kept coming in. Before I could spend my last peso, the money started pouring-in. The money I earned in CDO sustained me many months after I left the place. It was uncanny. It validated something for me - that places, just like people have an unexplainable way of interacting with you. They have their own personalities just like people. Depending on the energies, they can make or break you. Fortunately for me, CDO lavished me with a roof over my head, food in my belly and money in my pocket. With that realization, it became very clear to me that if a place doesn't do it for you, it's best to go somewhere else. Staying in a place indefinitely even if it's draining you is like staying in a relationship that has long gone sour.
On the people horizon, my clients, mostly young people, became my friends. They'd invite me to hang-out with them and some took me along their gigs. But they were still clients. There was still that line. On a purely social basis, given the more than 3 months I stayed there, I didn't really become a part of a social scene - odd, but not surprising. I was attracted to a beautiful local, but just like my Mystery Lady of GenSan, she was taken. As a general rule, I go not where angels fear to thread. As coincidence would have it, Oma, a long time friend from my New York days paid me a short visit. So did Jang, a yoga teacher I met in Cebu, paid her folks in CDO a visit. It just felt good hanging out with old friends in a new place.
Cagayan de Oro Peoplescape
CDO Outdoor Highlights
Dahilayan Adventure Park with its mountain chalet and ziplines was a highlight for me. So was the wild water rafting along the Cagayan River. For the more daring, a trip to Sumalsag Cave is a must - if you like a submerged exit out of a cave. By good chance, I was there to attend the Summer Peace Festival at Ki Bathala Garden. There, I met like-minded people whose energies still reverberate - Rene, Todd, Mai, etc.
Stay or Go?
I got restless in CDO while it rained abundance. What to do? Do I stay and milk the abundance for everything it's got? Or do I pack up and take my chance on the open road while I continue my journey? Tough choice until I regained my perspective. What's my whole point? Wealth or adventure? Red pill or blue pill? It became simple. I packed up and almost immediately, the abundance dried up. It was expected - no regrets, that's what I bargained for.
I drifted in Butuan only to find it the exact opposite of Cagayan de Oro. Butuan was nearly inhospitable. The powers that be have done a great job corraling the population into submissive compliance - a mall monopoly, bad air conditioning, long lines, runaway lodging rates, etc. The energy I felt was that of resigned contempt. After giving it the benefit of the doubt for 2 days, it was time to pack up again for greener pasture.
I would have gone straight to Surigao City from Butuan, but I met someone who suggested I take the bus for Enchanted River in Hinatuan. I thought it would set me back a day. Little did I know it would unravel into a full month of adventure along the Surigao coastline - caves, deep springs, waterfalls, marine sanctuaries, clean rivers, etc.
Enchanted River is perhaps one of 2 destinations in the Philippines I would call truly unique (the other one is Barracuda Lake in Coron). It's actually an 85-foot deep spring as wide as half a basketball court. With a dive mask, you could see the bottom crystal clear from the surface! Underneath are caves where the intrepid cave divers of Filipino Cave Divers have explored. A must visit!
I continued going north along the coast just winging what might be available until I came upon the Britania Islets, a cluster of small islands accessible through pumpboats. The whole scene had potential but the resort owners were doing so many un-touristy stuff. It didn't look like they knew what they were doing. It didn't really do it for me, so after 3 days, I left going north again.
Finally, I drifted into Tandag - the one place the guy from Butuan warned me not to go to, because the roads are treacherous and buses usually fall-off the ravine killing just about everyone. Hmmm...that was comforting thought - but I was still in one piece. I didn't think it was the road but the hellacious bus drivers who carreen they way through the zigzags. I was already there when I learned about the cave system. I ventured into Dayao Cave. There were more caves to discover, some don't even have names. Tandag has been abandoned by time, but keeps its quaint charm. But after 7 days, it was time to move on again.
While I was traveling along the coast, election fever was in high gear. Political billboards were crassly draping the city. Politicians were making stupid tv advertisements doing stupid song and dance numbers appealing to the 'huddled masses' for votes. One theme kept recurring as I asked locals about the political climate - that even if a politician is doing a good job, putting integrity and statesmanship before anything else, he will not win unless he pays the 'huddled masses' money for their votes. In effect, the corrupt vote-buying politician wins the office and of course, he extracts the money back and more. In some perverse sense, the public deserves the crummy politicians they vote for. This is seriously sad.
Most people know of Lanuza as a surfing mecca, next to Siargao (in Mindanao) and that's it! But upon closer scrutiny, Lanuza offers so much more. For the next 8 days, I immensely enjoyed myself splashing at Hubason River (in Carmen), free diving at the Lanuza Marine Park and Sanctuary, splashing at Magkawas Falls, dipping at Silop Spring and exploring Campamento Cave with its abyss and sun roof opening.
Cortez was a never-heard place until I by-passed it for Lanuza. It called out, so I had to go back. I was already in the interior when I realized there was no public lodging in Cortez! Where do I sleep? I talked to the tourism office and somehow, I ended up staying at the parent's house of Vincent Duenas, the strategist and planner for the mayor and acting tourism officer.
Given all the things I've done in Cortes - frolicking in Lubcon Falls, exploring Laswitan Rocks, walking along Sihagan and Buybuyan Beaches, treking along Campiri Rocks (the most enjoyable and most memorable), scuba diving on 2 marine sanctuaries, exploring Bakwitan Cave...all this while inviting myself to be a house guest, wow...that was a pretty intense 3 days. Cortez is such a diamond-in-the-rough.
Continuing my direction north, I ended up in Cantillan, a town doing a tight wire-act between being a mining town or a tourism town. It lies along the Surigao coastline. After combing the place and haggling for the cheapest lodging, I finally found one at P200 at Rudobalbalda Resort followed by free lodging at Torpedo Beach Resort, one of the town's upscale places. I was also offered free lodging by Cathe of Cathe Pacific. I became friends with the 3 owners and my experience is largely defined by their hospitality - Danny Lobo, Roger Huerta and Cathe Duero. I have fond memories of my island adventures in Ayoke Island, General Island, Jelly Fish Cove, Blue Lagoon and Casarica Island. Its quaint and rustic wooden bridge, is a throw-back to a nostalgic era when the world was still a simple place. I would have stayed longer, but after 3 days, my laptop broke down prompting me to shelve my plans and head straight to the nearest big city to replace my laptop - Surigao City.
Like most places I go to, I didn't know anyone in Surigao City, haven't been there before, and didn't even know where I'd sleep for the night. The first day of arrival to a place is usually the most challenging. I'd be lugging my heavy gear from lodge to lodge, negotiating the best deal I can get. I probably relish the unpredictability despite all my complaints. I was shocked to find out how expensive lodging is in Surigao City. I just wanted to do my business there and leave asap. But a strange thing happened when I visited the tourism office.
Surigao City Peoplescape
Ms. Roselyn Merlin
The tourism office opened the floodgates for me to do my job for the city. The tourism officer, Ms. Roselyn Merlin took charge and sponsored my lodging through 19 of the city's best lodging places plus breakfast! I had to pack up every 2 days to move to a different hotel. With my commitment to develop an online travel portal to help Surigao City with its tourism efforts, Ms. Merlin put her office behind me and took me to experience the wonders of Surigao City - boat ride, snorkeling and island hopping to the Floating Village of Day-asan, the deadly Bitaugan Whirlpool, Pebble Beach and Looc Beach, Silop Cave, adventure tour in Nonoc Island, wooden footbridge and waterfall of Cantiasay, judging beaty pageants and street dancing festivals...and many smaller 'others'. To me, given the so-many tourism officers I've met in different parts of the country, Ms. Merlin remains the quintessence of a tourism officer who takes her mandate seriously.
Zati and the Fab People of Surigao City
While teaching Karma Yoga (free yoga), I met Zati and her friends. They invited me to tag along with them in their gigs - that was essentially my social life in Surigao. It was an awesome adventure - strong-current diving in Cantrasa Shoal, scuba diving in Cagtinae, and fab eats at Zati's. I was practically on the tail-end of my Surigao odyssey when I met them. It was short and sweet. I have a lingering connection with Zati long after I left Surigao.
I stayed nearly 2 months full of island adventures in Surigao City until I left. It's interesting to note that I arrived there not knowing anyone and only wanted to stay for one night. Just a few weeks into it, I was already giving a speech on tourism, seated beside the Regional Tourism Director for Caraga (who asked me to do for the entire Caraga Region, what I was doing for Surigao City), sleeping in 19 of Surigao's finest hotels, chauffeur-driven sometimes to choice destinations, indulging into my daily 'kinilaw' habit and scuba diving with the fabulous people of Surigao. I don't know about you, but that is nothing short of magical to me. It was tempting to stay longer, but my universe pulled me out to venture into other destinations - I don't say 'no' when that happens.
Cheng and Siargao
I drifted into Siargao to check-out the surfing scene. With its prohibitive lodging rates, I decided to sleep on my hammock by the observation tower. Luckily, I met a Singaporean surfer who became my Good Samaritan - Cheng. She offered her hotel room to store my stuff in, her bathroom for the call-of-nature duties, her porch for our chillout time and her peanut butter for my bread. I spent my Siargao time mostly in her porch hanging out with her. More than the surf-action of Siargao, Cheng remains my highlight of Siargao.
While developing a tourist guide directory for Surigao, I was invited to spend a few days in Tagana-an, a coastal town just south of Surigao City, to experience the inate beauty of the place. A boatman took me island hopping, free diving into coral perimeters with an overhang, deep drop-offs, diving for lato (edible sea weed) while coasting through majectic mangroves.
Rest in Peace
My mother passed on after losing her battle with cancer. Her ashes were flown by my sister from Canada to Davao. I had to cut-short my plans for exploring Siargao and make the trip to Davao and be reunited with family. The whole process of mourning, of getting reacquainted with my sister whom I haven't seen in decades, of being with my Davao relatives, redefined family all over again.
Davao became another chapter. When I left it early this year, I felt defeated. Now, I feel ambivalent. But after 2 months here, Davao has become many things to me - getting in touch again with the yoga community at Holiday Gym and spending time with Jackie, Pinky, Joanna, Roel and Jude, feasting on Malagos Farm's wine and cheese through Olive Puentespina, hanging-out with Mel Pangan for some peanut butter adventure at Bankerohan Market, trying out online dating for the first time, developing a 1 kilo/day durian habit, and having great lodging at Royale House and Bahay ni Tuding.
I didn't know Sonny. I first saw him on cable tv in Davao. Then I saw his picture in Facebook, posted by Jackie (his wife), a friend from yoga. I commented, "Hey, that's the guy I just saw on tv!" That remark started a series of exchanges that snowballed. The following day, I was already on his speedboat headed to his Maxima Aquafun Resort in Samal Island, to partake in his Mom's birthday. I met members of his family and friends, dined prawns and drank vintage wine. The following days saw me tagging along Marc Nelson and Dyan Castillejo to Sonny's Davao Crocodile Park and Zipline City for more adrenaline. This was followed by wild water rafting through his Davao Wild Water. Sonny was also instrumental in hooking me up with the Uys of Tagum which opened the doors of Compostela Valley for me. One thing led to another. Imagine it all started from a comment I made in Facebook!
I was doing pretty well in Davao when I got an invite by my Subic friend, Bianca, to be a wedding date for Tagum. She couldn't make it afterall, but the die was already cast for Tagum. I didn't know anyone there and I didn't even know where I'd sleep for the night. I met the Uy family (as arranged by Sonny) who made arrangements with my lodging. After, they extended their invite for me to stay at their plush beach resort in Compostela Valley, the Magnaga Beach Resort where I spent 2 days. I didn't know where I'd end up after 2 days.
I learned that while some beach resorts in Compostela Valley are first rate, the coastal strip with all the resorts were being by-passed by beach vacationers from Davao and Tagum on the way to Mati or other far-flung beach destinations. Why? They were not aware about these resorts, except for the obscure roadside signs. I took on the challenge of launching a marketing campaign to boost Compostela Valley's beaches. First was to give it a catchy name - Comval Strip! Second was to develop a Comval Strip online travel portal detailing the essential resorts lining up that strip.
Jienos Beach Resort
I met Jessa Ompad, owner of Jienos Beach Resort, who liked my idea and subscribed. I stayed a good 7 days in her resort developing the portal and helped myself diving the coral reef, being tagged along for beach hopping boat ride to Samal Island, etc. It was a fun 7 days, but I got restless. While pondering where to go next, I got a text message from Jeanne, my yogi friend from Cebu, "come to Cebu anytime, yoga tayo everyday". With a hotel deal from M Citi Suites assuring me of lodging, it was perfect timing. Cebu, here I come again!
Of all the places I'd been to, Cebu is the closest thing to home. First thing was to invite my friends to join me for M Citi Suite's compli-breakfast offering, on each of my 30-day stay. There's nothing better than getting quality time to catch up on a one-on-one basis. I fondly refer to it as my Theosophical Breakfast.
Cebu City Peoplescape
I eventually moved to Jeanne's Dragonfly Yoga Studio and almost immediately, I was absorbed into Cebu's yoga community. I attended and conducted yoga classes at YogaHub, Surya Nanda, Holiday Gym, Plantation Bay, saw old friends (Jason, Noricel, Blanne, Jang, Arlien, Nandinii, Melanie, etc.), made new ones, seamlessly defaulted back to my routine (Thursday Zen meditation, Saturday Theosophical Society meetups) and even had abundance coming through commissioned travel writing and web work. Nice! Cebu is where it's at. It felt like an old comfortable shoe I could completely sink my feet into.
Together with yoga, my obsession on doing the handstand went to the roof. Despite help from many sources (Jason, YouTube, Veer, etc.), the handstand continues to be elusive. It's truly difficult to combine all the ingredients to make it happen - balance, strength, concentration and body locks. One day...
Cebu's peoplescape is largely defined for me by two luminous people who resonate on many levels - Jeanne Torrefranca and Veer Vaibhav Rana, my Yin and Yang teachers. Through their guidance and friendship, I see continued growth.
Magic Carpet Ride
2013 has been generous and perhaps even magical. For a guy with no money, I get to eat good food and wash it down with good wine. As a drifter with no home or address, I get to stay in nice plush resorts and hotels. I don't hold any position, but I get to give talks about tourism, emcee events, judge beauty pageants, and more importantly, meet magnificent lives. With freedom as my currency, I get to explore caves, free-dive deep drop-offs, scuba dive coral reefs, go island-hopping, and essentially go wherever I want to go.
Just say Yes
What I find critical in making things happen is just to say Yes on every opportunity that knocks on my door. By saying Yes, I allow life to unravel and reveal what it has in store for me. I latch myself on the ensuing Flow and brace myself for the great ride. No is not an option. If I bite more than I can chew (like saying Yes to YogaHub's 21-Day Challenge), I can always stay away from my ego and back-off.
Given this abundance, I notice one subtle thing - the more I let go and cease control, the more doors open up and the more things become productive. The challenge is not to panic (oh shit! I only have P500 and I don't know anyone in this new town and I have no place to sleep). Sometimes, I come too close to sleeping on a cardboard box on some sidewalk. But if this lifestyle is not viable, I would have gone hungry a long time ago. But I'm still alive and well...very well, indeed.
More than just a recount of what happened in 2013, this looking-back is more a thank you to the fabulous people I crossed paths with and helped shape this year to the magic carpet ride that it has been. Profoundly, eternally, I thank you all - you know who you are.
Dec 31, 2013
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