Friday, April 28

How Travel Changed My Life Forever

'When did you start traveling?' 

I remember a random stranger asked me once in one of my solo travels. I can almost hear the words in my mind, falling in line accordingly, my brain nerves signalling what words to utter then. I could have said, "Oh, it's because I'm a natural wanderluster!" 

I could've even explained how I was influenced by my traveling friends. There were actually many reasons that came to me naturally. 
But as I looked in her kind and curious eyes, I tried to stop the tears from forming.  I swallowed back as I smiled in return and casually replied, "Oh, it's a long story. Really."

And a long story it was. The kind of story that many wouldn't actually believe in the first place. Some were moved by the very heart of it. Others were inspired. While many became reflective of their own blessings. A few even showed discomforts upon hearing it. I couldn't blame them. Because if it was me, I wouldn't also know how to say something good out of something that was totally heartbreaking.
It's been nearly a decade since then. The stabbing pain has disappeared. The bitterness gone too. The longing has subsided to a dull ache once in a while. But when I am alone at night somewhere far, the wounds would open again. My heart would break to a million pieces once more. The questions in my mind would yearn to be answered again. But I have already accepted the fact that some of these will remain unanswered. And I guess it will stay that way.

Many moons ago, a dear friend and I took a vacation to the City of Smiles. It was my first travel. First in everything. I was like an innocent and wide-eyed four year old - excited in doing everything for the first time. I felt independent, scared, and free all at the same time. 

There on that ship to Manila I met a dashing young man. Tall and dark. Charming and kind. A total stranger. Someone I didn't know. But there was something in his eyes that kept me wheeled in. When he looked at me, he was staring into me. His heart was smiling. And my heart, as cautious as it was then, slowly smiled back at him. 

The three of us quickly became friends. And as the night got deeper, we discovered more about each other. We shared stories, experiences about life. The good and the bad. I remember when he accompanied us on top of the ship. I cringe at the thought at how funny I must have looked upon seeing the bright stars. Squealing. Jaw dropping and all.

That scene was just like in the movies. He was the main actor and I his leading lady. It was surreal. If wishes can come true, my wish then would be that time be frozen. We. Us. Him and me sharing that special moment. Nothing with us but the deep and calm sea, the stars and the quiet night.

But as much as we tried to stop it, our bodies were longing for sleep. Reluctant goodbyes were exchanged and a promising promise to meet again the next day was made.

When the sun's first rays hit the ship, we were already nearing the port. It's slow and gentle movement was a sad reminder that something magical was about to end. Our good friend, we will never meet again. For some reason, we were unable to exchange information that would able us to keep in touch. The mere presence of each other got us both tongue-tied. Caught in the moment. Never minding later or tomorrow. What more of the future.

I expected a lot then. I expected to enjoy the trip and learn a lot of things. I learned to not be afraid. To laugh. To smile. To worry. To be with strangers.

But I wasn't expecting to fall in love. Truly, deeply, irrevocably in love with the man I met on board that ship. 

I would be ecstatic if I could tell you we met a few months later. Or caught up with each other in one of my travels abroad. I can even welcome the thought that somewhere down the road we will meet again, his two-year old toddler in tow.

But none of these will happen. For Mother Nature has decided he is better with her, asleep in her loving arms. 

It came to my knowledge that my beloved friend has boarded a ship when he decided to go back home. One that met the rage of Typhoon Frank in 2008. He perished and became the Prince of the Princess of the Stars. 

I was broken. I wasn't me. But time has helped me heal. Friends gave their support. The stars above reminded me that he is just out there. And I choose to believe that he will lead me to the man who will be with me for the rest of my life.

Him. His life. His love is my guiding light. And I know that if he could see what I have become today, a strong-willed traveling woman, I know he would not be anything but proud. 

While my heart was at its worse, meeting him has changed my life for the better. 
This travel changed me. My inner being. My views and take on life. I learned to see the good in everybody. 

Though I have sadly realized, day after day, that the person you once lost can never be found again, I do not regret that our story ended this way. I will never know the answers to my many whys. But what I am sure of is that I will never stop moving forward. I will never be still. There are still so many places to explore. And I have so much love to give. 

And it's all thanks to meeting him. 

** TravelokaPH #WhyITravel #TravelokaStories
** This is my entry to Traveloka's How Travel Changed My Life Blogging Contest

Monday, April 24

Conquering the Bewitching Siquijor

When I told some of my friends that I am going to explore Siquijor on my own, words like scary, witch and the like instantly came out of their mouths. These and a couple of occult warnings which could send chills up your spine if you are someone not keen to the supernatural.

Well, I can say I am one adventurous gal and I can no longer postpone a visit to this island province much longer. So when a chance to book an uber cheap round trip ticket to Dumaguete came up last year, I reserved right away. 

It was supposed to be a five day sojourn, but my work schedule didn't allow it. I trimmed down my vacation to four days and voila, I was still able explore Siquijor for two whole days, my eyes and heart all full.

The heavens answered my prayers when the sun decided to hold a sunny novena for the whole week. I was ecstatic as I know I could see the full beauty of the seas with that kind of weather. And when the vessel I was in slowly approached Siquijor's shores, I found myself holding my breathe as I could only stare in awe. Blue greens and clear waters greeted me on the onset of my vacation. And at that moment I knew I was completely enamored.

Upon disembarkation, I quickly hailed a trike to bring me to my hotel. After checking-in, I napped for a couple of hours and swam at the pool. I decided to do the whole day island tour the following day. I was quite tired from the inter-island travel, causing me to turn in early after dinner. 
I was up and about as early as six since I didn't want my tour guide waiting past our agreed time of 8 AM. Kuya Joam was supposed to fetch me but it was Tata who was enlisted as my guide/chauffeur that day. He was kind and nice and took good pictures too!

Around the Island
It wasn't my first solo island trip. Back in 2014, I toured Camiguin for four days and it was one fantastic trip. I had a feeling that this trip would have the same effect on me. 

We passed St. Francis de Assisi Church enroute to the other side of the isla. This church greets all visitors as it directly faces the road leading to the port. The parish was established in 1783. 

Kanheron Museum
Kanheron Museum was not part of the usual island tour itinerary. But I was glad that my guide suggested visiting here since it showcases antique stuff from the Midwestern US. And you should know by now that I am a sucker for these kind of things.

Entrance is at Php 50

I was the first visitor to arrive that morning so taking pictures was a joy. The lovely girl manning the museum was also kind enough to present herself as my photographer. 

The owner of the place, Daryk Cuaresma, hails from Siquijor and was into the art of woodcarving into art. He and his family is currently settled in the USA but they go home once in a while. Mr Cuaresma obviously has the eye for the good old things and has an exquisite talent too! He carves images from wood - so good his creations were that I assumed these were paintings from a distance. 
 I was looking forward to jumping off the cliff at Salagdoong Beach Resort. But before that stomach-churning adventure, we passed by some obscure spots and stopped for a quick snack. 

I wasn't really planning on doing some major water activity. But I thought I was already there and the blue sea didn't help in making me say no. So I said yes and for about an hour I snorkeled in open waters. 

At Tulapos Marine Sanctuary

And oh boy, I was so glad that I didn't pass up on this one. It was my first time to see a huge school of Barracudas, a sea turtle in open waters and a dancing and too cute Nemo! :D

Salagdoong Resort 
Our lunch was spent at Salagdoong Beach Resort. Here I found the beaches really nice. But I wasn't able to swim because I was so concentrated in mustering enough courage to jump at the cliff. My stomach was in knots the whole time we were there. It was actually not my first time to jump. I did this two years ago in Boracay. But I really wanted to do it so after some gentle coaxing from my guide, and the fear of lagging behind our schedule, I jumped in the end and conquered the 35 foot high cliff. 

I find the beaches of Salagdoong Resort as one of the nicest ones in the island

I only jumped once since the photos and videos taken were all good. I smiled to myself since another bucket list have been accomplished that day. But I guess it would be sometime again before I do a similar feat. My mom and a few friends called me crazy. And I guess I was. :D

It was only upon leaving Salagdoong beach that I regret not being able to swim even for a while. The water looked so cool and inviting! But I think that's a sign for me to come back again in Siquijor.

Our next stop was the Lazi Church and Convent. I was looking forward to exploring the ruins of the convent, the biggest in the country, but it was undergoing renovations. I got sad since I will no longer see it in its former glory but thankful at the same time that it is being restored for future generations. 

Lazi Church and Convent
Lazi Convent is under renovation during my visit

Lazi Church 

Since the convent was closed, we headed on to Cambugahay Falls soon after. And this is where I really enjoyed my stay in the island. The falls was just walking distance from the road, hidden beneath lush canopies. There were quite many tourist when I arrived but their numbers are not yet enough to be called crowded. Most of the people in the waters were foreign visitors. And no one was doing what I call the Baging Jump!

Cambugahay Falls

Cambugahay Falls

I asked how deep the center was and I was told that it was about 10 ft. Good thing I know how to swim because I think I jumped more than 10 times! 

Man-made Forest
Trudging along the man-made forest

It was a long, tiring but memorable day for me. Siquijor is truly a wonder. A rare gem that should be protected. And I am glad that I pursued this trip despite some obstacles. I learned that though rewarding myself of a good vacation once in a while may hurt my pocket, it will give me lasting memories that money can never replace. 

Trike Island Tour
Motorbike (Habal-Habal): P 1000
Tricycle: P 1200

Kuya Tata: 0935-192-7565

Siquijor: Fees to Remember

Monday, April 17

Where to Stay in Siquijor: Blue Wave Inn

I originally planned a solo trip to Siquijor. Last year, I was able to score an uber cheap RT airfare for only 560 pesos. Siquijor has always been in my travel pipeline and I was glad to share my successful booking to a couple of friends.

Well, it turned out they wanted to accompany me on this planned solo getaway. I immediately invited them given that three heads are better than one. Specially when it comes to travel expenses.

Since one became three, we agreed to look for a nice place in Siquijor that could conveniently accommodate us all three. We also wanted a room that comes with free breakfast.