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Hiking Mt. Arayat in Pampanga

A little reflection…

I had the opportunity to hike Mt. Arayat for the first time last January 20, 2018. Since then, I’ve hiked it three more times (January 26, 31, and February 16). My brothers always ask me, “Why do you keep on going back?”

The answer to this question is simple: Because there is always something new to see, feel, taste, hear, and smell every time I visit.

Mt Arayat.jpg

Wish I had this view for lunch every time.

I haven’t climbed many mountains (landform, not on a personal level, because if we talk about the latter I’ve come across so many of that haha!) in my 28 years of existence, and I’m glad I’ve discovered this connection this year. Before Mt. Arayat, I got to hike for a fair bit, yet because of my outlook back then, I didn’t get to appreciate these trips as I do now.

Interestingly, I find it more difficult to climb mountains these days compared to when I first started doing it in 2012. I still run regularly, but I guess it is gravity and poor nutrition taking over. However, even with this internal challenge, I look forward than ever before on taking these hikes. I guess in life if something clicks at the right time and space, then it will stick, no matter how much you want to push it against the puzzle.

Now, enough of me.

Let’s get down to business on how you can plan your trip! 🙂

Official name of mountain: Mt. Arayat

Address: Barangay Baño, Arayat, Pampanga

How to get there: Via private vehicle, navigate towards Mt. Arayat National Park, then go past the park’s entrance towards “Treetop.”

Before starting with your hike: You need to register at the jump-off point with the guides on duty.

Fees are as follows (as of March 2018):

  • PHP 30/person (environmental fee)
  • PHP 700 for up to 5 people for South Peak (local guide fee)
  • PHP 1,500 for up to 5 people for Pinnacle (local guide fee)
  • PHP 1,750 for up to 5 people for North Peak (local guide fee)

Important reminders:

  1. There is no water source at Mt. Arayat. You have to bring enough water to sustain your entire hike.
  2. It is going to be hot on the first hour of the hike because of Mt. Arayat’s open areas, so wearing a cap or hat, and light long sleeves or arm sleeves is a must.
  3. Toilets are not available along the trail. They are only available at the jump-off point.
  4. There is a small local store at the jump-off point where you can purchase water, Gatorade, chips, and candies.
  5. Please bring a plastic bag for your own trash. It’s unfortunate that many hikers leave their trash along the trails. As any responsible hiker would know, what you bring to the summit, you must also bring with you when you get back.
  6. Please don’t haggle with the local guides’ prices. Many guides have this as their sole source of income. If you’re doing budget travel, save on other areas of your trip, not on the guides’ fees.

Why you must consider a trip to Mt. Arayat: Mt. Arayat, a protected virgin forest, is home to thousands of flora and fauna species. If you are lucky, you will come across monkeys wading on the sides of the trail, or the Philippine Eagle’s majestic songs. What an experience!

P.S. The keys to sustainable hikes are universal (lifted from The Leave No Trace Behind program):  plan ahead and prepare | travel and camp on durable surfaces | dispose of waste properly | leave what you find | minimize campfire impacts | respect wildlife | be considerate of other visitors | listen to your gut ❤

If you have other questions about this trip, do not hesitate to contact me 🙂

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Why It’s OK to Leave Your Camera Behind

Early this year, my friends and I went to Tingloy Island, Batangas for a two-day-one-night trip. We had the chance to catch up on our lives and to talk about our plans. And more than anything, we also spent time basking in the serenity of being away from the mainland.

It was quite a long trip, with a one-hour bus ride to Batangas Grand Terminal, a one-hour drive to Mabini Port, and a one-hour boat ride to Tingloy Island. It was quite a spur-of-the-moment trip where we planned our entire trip just one week before.

The unexpected hike

My friend J and I decided to walk around the area after lunch, while my friend M stayed along the beach to read a book.

From a view of a calm and waveless sea, we were greeted with rows of lush rice fields, freshly made bamboo huts, and Eurasian tree sparrows ready to dive for grains. It was such an awesome feeling to be caught in between the sea and these beautiful rice fields without having to compromise on which path to choose. We were there, in the middle of it all, allowing ourselves to enjoy the best of both worlds.

As we walked around the area, we decided to explore further afield and set our eyes on this gentle peak, Mt. Mag-asawang Bato (The Couple Rock Mountain). My friend J was wearing a dress and flip-flops, and I was wearing my swimwear and flip-flops, too.

I was a bit wary at first since we didn’t have a guide, having left all our things behind including our money and– gasp!– mobile phones. At this point, I have never experienced hiking without being ready, so this is a first. But then I thought, I am with my friend anyway…

Hiking without a working camera in tow

So, we hiked without anything else other than the clothes and flip-flops hugging our bodies, our water bottles, and my friend’s defective camera. At first, I felt incomplete without a camera in tow. It would have been nice to document our little adventure. How I wish I could take pictures of these views, and replayed these thoughts in my head over and over again.

But as we continued with our hike, I did my best to simply let go: to let go of my needless wants and self-doubts. Although it wasn’t easy, I chose to take a closer look at the views I see. I never thought it would be THAT difficult to remember something so beautiful. It was way easier to just let a camera capture things, rather than me making an effort to make sense of the moment.

Savoring the view

As we reached the first peak, I learned, for the very first time, to try to remember everything I’m seeing. I don’t have a pen and paper to guide me, nor a camera to capture the moment. I only have my sense of sight, smell, hearing, feeling, and taste to guide me.

Weeks after that camera-less hike, I could still picture in my head many memories of that hike, to that moment that we reached the first peak, and up until the time we reached our friend M back to the shore. Surprisingly, what initially felt like “nothing” now turned into “everything.”

Mt Magasawang Bundok_Anthroonfoot.jpg

Mt. Mag-asawang Bato, one of Tingloy Island’s many iconic peaks

Looking back, I’m glad for that off-the-grid experience. Albeit short, it gave me an idea as to how liberating it feels to get face-to-face with nature. Although I cheated with bringing my water bottle, it was my first time to hike without a mobile phone and camera, and I intend to do it again.

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Why I Started Unfollowing My Favorite Travel Bloggers

I used to look up to travel bloggers. How can they amass such a large following, given that all that they do is travel, eat, drink coffee, and take photos of their adventures? I would scour page after page of travel blogs, drooling over the places that these lucky few get to visit. How I wish I were like them, I thought to myself. Who wouldn’t want to travel the world for work, right?

Where it went downhill

But as time went by, I noticed the trend of brand hashtagging, wherein as the blogger is soaking under the sun (with sandy toes in tow!), he/she will thank the sponsor with the brand’s hashtag at the end of the post. I noticed this trend on almost all social media influencers, and then I realized how mainstream this strategy is.

Turns out, as I read this article, partnership with influencers is now a new marketing tactic that many companies have started exploring. It works in many ways, although how to determine its reach is still being fine-tuned, so companies do not end up losing their investment.

Travel bloggers, therefore, had to upsell themselves to companies for an exchange in the form of products, services, or a fee. It can work both ways: (1) If you have already established your brand online and you’ve gained lots of followers, companies will approach you; or, (2) You will approach companies and market your brand.

Going into this partnership takes a lot of responsibility from the blogger. Can you really stand up for the brand? And do you agree with how the company operates? Some influencers may take ambassadorship lightly, but there’s a whole lot of responsibility that goes with this role.

I used to look up to these travel bloggers, and how I envied the lifestyle that they had. However, many bloggers these days do not offer anything of value any longer. Many simply talk about the things that they did for the weekend, thanks to XYZ company; or how they celebrated their birthday, thanks to their hundreds of sponsors.

I used to love reading these bloggers work, but advertising has increasingly taken over. Not only do brands overpopulate their blogs, but more so their social media platforms.

I don’t mean to judge bloggers for being at the mercy of brands. We all have to make money somehow, right? I respect the fact that it takes a lot of courage for these bloggers to do the things that they do. I can never in a million years flaunt my body and pose in front of a camera. So, the level of confidence that they exude is just incredible.

However, I still believe in the value of a blog, which is, simply, a journal. Anyone can put up a blog these days and share whatever they feel like. If the blog gets too staged, though, I unfollow immediately because I’m so overfed with advertisements online, on TV, on the radio, and along Philippine highways. I see a blog as an extension of the blogger’s self, so to get even more ads on blogs I follow is something like irony when all I want is to detoxify my online life.

Why I choose to keep my blog the way it is

I have been keeping a blog since 2011, but it is mostly for personal use. I don’t do for-profit brand ambassadorships and marketing. I simply write, edit, and hit publish. Thanks to WordPress’ auto-post feature, I also get to automatically publish my posts on my social media pages. I don’t have a wide readership, and it’s in my wildest dreams for companies to even consider approaching me.

Raizel in Ilocos

The perk of blogging for myself: I don’t have to pose for a brand. I can simply choose to be me. (Taken while traveling around Badoc, Ilocos Norte)

I admit I’m also guilty of this brand partnership trend when I accepted affiliations from Booking.com, Languages 101, Onlinejobs.ph, and Zalora and started blogging about them. At that point, I wanted to get brownie points from these brands so I can reach the point of where I can get invited to their events, or I can start receiving more other than from commission links. But it didn’t feel right, and I stopped doing this immediately.

I see this blog as an extension of myself. I only wish to share what I see, smell, hear, taste, and feel. Even though I don’t receive as much compared to other bloggers, I don’t get the pressure of doing this and that post for a company that I am not sure I would want to speak for.

I foresee this blog staying as a personal one for a long time. And in the end, my only readers may only be my family, friends, and their friends. But that’s fine. In this online world full of BS and false advertising, at least I know I can still speak from the heart.

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Angeles City Historic District Walking Tour

Anthroonfoot is now an audio tour provider for Izi.Travel and Freetour.com! Yayyy, dream come true ❤

Our first walking tour focuses on the Santo Rosario Historic District, the oldest square in Angeles City, Pampanga, Philippines.

Access the tour here: Angeles City Historic Walking Tour. It’s best viewed on a smartphone through the Izi.Travel app. The tour is free for the first 50 downloads!

anthroonfoot tour-min

Special thanks to Santo Rosario’s residents, local officials, and library and museum staff who have made our work easier 🙂

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Itogon, Benguet in the 21st Century

This is an excerpt from my research conducted from 2014-2015 on the Ibaloi, Kalanguya, and Kankana-ey communities of Itogon, Benguet.

To say “Benguet,” many would think of a land far away, secluded in the mountains, with people having to resort to walking for hours along the trails just to get to the nearest town. One is left with the impression that people still use g-strings, bury their dead in their homes, and have pristinely preserved their traditions because of little or no contact with those from outside their community.

But as I arrived in Itogon, the largest municipality in Benguet, I was greeted with a 4×4 that will bring me to my host family’s gathering for a house blessing. Then I met the grandchildren who were busy with their iPads and iPods; the elderly men enjoying some San Miguel Beer; and some teenage girls putting on some make-up and taking pictures of each other with their smartphones. I was blown away. Every bit of “Benguet” that was all along pictured in my mind just didn’t fit in. It was like living in the suburbs of Baguio but with more trees, a way smaller population, fresher air, wider, open roads, and a skyline where the stars give way to one’s imagination.

Lusod-Ambasa

A view from the barangay hall: The hazy mountain at the distance is Mt. Ugo

There are three major indigenous groups in Itogon— Ibaloi, Kalanguya, and Kankana-ey—with each group comprising the largest population for Barangay* Tinongdan, Ampucao, and Tuding respectively. The field notes below are excerpts from my research** funded and published by the United Nations Development Programme.

The Ibalois of Tinongdan

Barangay Tinongdan, the farthest from Baguio among all research areas, is reached in two hours by jeepney from the terminal at Lakandula Street, just across the City Market. There is only one ride for Tinongdan-Baguio which is at 7-8am; and the same ride for Baguio-Tinongdan which is at 1-2pm (or until the jeep is filled up). This makes it a challenge for the community to purchase their necessities, that’s why it’s common to ask for favors when a relative or a friend makes a trip to Baguio City.

Tinongdan, comprising mostly of Ibalois, is still largely agricultural. The area is suitable for agriculture because of the wide rice fields, hillsides, plateaus; and the presence of the Agno River which makes water available throughout the year. Rice is the main crop here, with coffee following suit. Other crops include camote (sweet potato), gabi (taro), cassava, ginger, potatoes, celery, tomatoes, pechay (Chinese cabbage), saluyot (jute leaves), kintsay (Chinese celery), pako (fern), saksakdong (rice weeds), avocados, bananas, pineapples, oranges, mangoes and papayas. These crops are also grown through uma or kaingin, otherwise known as swidden farming, which makes planting available for previously cleared areas.

Households also engage in raising pigs, cows, carabaos, goats and chickens. Native black pigs and cows are particularly important because of their necessity in rituals. On smaller rituals, chickens are also used as sacrificial animals. This upkeep of pigs, cows and chickens goes to show the still-central role of rituals in the Ibalois’ lives.

Other activities include fishing, but this is usually supplemental and mostly for home consumption. The native rice wine (tapey), the important part of every ritual especially for cañao, is still manufactured usually by elderly women. Among the wealthy Ibalois, ranching is still present with cows set loose in their privately fenced ranches (estancia).

The Kalanguyas of Ampucao

One hour from the jeepney terminal at Lakandula Street, Ampucao is the most challenging to reach because of its high altitude and sharp zigzag roads. The largest barangay in Itogon, it is home to Philex Mines, the largest and most established large-scale mine in the municipality. Though the roads are zigzagging and an endless set of uphills, these are wide and thickly cemented because of the investment of Philex Mines on revitalizing Ampucao’s highways. It is not uncommon to see, every few minutes, large Philex trucks carrying unprocessed ore with signs of “No Riders” in front. This is for security of the Philex employees carrying the ores, the ores itself, and the riders. A recent incident point out to the immediate disallowing of riders in these trucks, with a rider being accidentally hit while stepping up for the truck. This, of course, had to be settled by the company.

The main industry in Ampucao is mining, both large-scale and small-scale. Mostly settled by Kankana-eys who have always been, traditionally, expert miners, and by Kalanguyas who eventually learned from the trade; and with a mineral-rich soil, it is no wonder that this barangay grew up as a mining community.

Though the people also engage in farming coffee, sayote (pear squash), camote (sweet potato), gabi (taro), beans, bananas, ginger, and a few fruit trees mostly on swidden farms (inum-an), and selling fishes from the Ambuklao Dam, these activities pale in scope with mining. With Kalanguyas residing in high altitude areas, the water is also too cold for irrigation, making it almost impossible to engage in wet rice agriculture.

The area is large, the people are few, the houses are far apart, and the weather and winds are quite

unforgiving. As anyone would choose to agree or disagree on, the environment plays a big part in molding the community’s culture. This kind of environment could explain why households are, generally, more detached from their neighbors than the other research areas, Tinongdan and Tuding. Another possible contributing factor to this is the history of the Kalanguyas, originally living in scattered settlements and moving from place to place to avoid persecution from the Spaniards. Thus, families depend on each other; and seldom do they ask for favors from outside their circle. They had to learn to be as self-sufficient as they could be.

The Kankana-eys of Tuding

Tuding can be considered, distance-wise, a suburb of Baguio City as it is only five minutes away from Wright Park and the Mansion House. There is a feeling of being in Baguio but with smaller establishments, narrower roads, a crisper and cooler air, more trees, and a horizon that extends to the other parts of Benguet. It is also not uncommon to see mine tailings on the mountainsides, with small-scale mining as the main source of livelihood in this barangay.

Settled mostly by Kankana-eys who are, traditionally, expert miners, it is admirable to think how they can extract so much gold, silver and copper from such a small land. Small-scale mining is always a gamble: financiers provide food, shelter and the resources for the miners, and the miners continuously work to extract whatever they can on an usok (mining tunnel) which is in itself, also a gamble. The financiers and miners continuously work until they find something immensely valuable, but other times this is until all resources have been used up and nothing was mined other than soil and rocks.

The Kankana-eys also engage in swidden, and on a smaller scale, wet-rice farming. What used to be a chief means of livelihood, hunting and foraging are now more of past time activities. Many households keep pigs, chickens, dogs, carabaos and cattle as additional sources of food and income, and for ritual purposes.

These days, many people also venture into businesses like putting up sari-sari (convenience) stores and small eateries, but these are but sources for financing mines, or as alternatives when mine revenues run dry. Kankana-eys are traditional miners, and there is no question as to why generations after generations are into mining.

What’s in It for the Future?

I have laid out first-hand observations when I did my field work in Itogon back in 2014-2015. It is such a rewarding assignment, being given the opportunity to live in these communities for six months, and six more months of going back and forth to and from the main office in Manila. I have never experienced until then picking coffee fruits for consumption the following week, eating meat as a rather rare luxury, or not feeling in any way that I need money to survive. Everything that I needed was uprooted on land, the sea, and sky.

With nature as a central theme for survival among the Ibalois, Kalanguyas and Kankana-eys, what future does it hold for the present and future generations amidst the threats of capitalist-driven modernizations? Will they be forced to give in to the demands of local and foreign invaders who present themselves as benevolent assimilators? Only time will tell; but hopefully, I get to go back to Itogon with happy memories as I had on my first visit.

*Barangay is the smallest political unit in the Philippines.

** Title of research: “A Study on the Customary Laws and Indigenous Political Structures of the Ibaloi, Kalanguya and Kankana-ey Communities of Itogon, Benguet.”

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What Jaipur Bazaars are Famous for

This article is part of a regional reporting project in partnership with GoUNESCO, a UNESCO New Delhi initiative.

Visitors in Jaipur may be surprised to find store after store in every space imaginable in the heart of the city that one bazaar area leads to yet another bazaar, then another, then another… It seems, a simple activity as “going to the market” is an endless loop on itself.

Jaipur is divided into two, the Old City and the New City, by a massive pink wall. Whatever is inside the wall is Old Jaipur, and whatever is outside is New Jaipur. It is safe to say that whatever lies inside the wall gives a story on how the region was built into Jaipur, and what lies outside is a testament to how Jaipur was built into the city that it is today.

That being said, the oldest bazaars in Jaipur are built inside the wall. The Indian continent, being part of the legendary Silk Road that linked Asia and Europe, is a sight to many ancient trading places. It is not unusual to meet merchants manning stores with histories that go as far back as the 18th century, or merchant families that expect their children to follow the same profession. Entering the Old City, you will find yourself immersed in a somewhat overwhelming array of choices with an overwhelming “pressure” to recognize a merchant’s presence. It is not “pressure” as we know it today, though, but good old “marketing.” It’s just how things have been working here, so patience from the visitor is appreciated.

Jaipur_Marble Carvings

Centuries-old stone sculpting tradition in Jaipur

All bazaars are interconnected and while the whole of Jaipur is famous for its textiles, each bazaar area has its unique character (i.e., is known for products it offers):

Bapu Bazaar: for leather shoes (most popular items sold are made from camel skin), local perfumes, and textiles.

Indira Bazaar: for new and used electronics, and home furnishings.

Johari Bazaar: for jewelry, sarees, silver items, and textiles.

Kishanpol Bazaar: for textiles.

Mirza Ismail (M.I.) Road: for blue pottery, brass items, jewelry, and wood items. It is also famous for its traditional restaurants and street food.

Nehru Bazaar: for traditional attire.

Ramganj Bazaar: for local shoes.

Sanganer Village: for block printing, blue pottery, and handmade paper.

Tripolia Bazaar: bangles, carpets, ironware, marble carving, small souvenirs, textiles, and utensils.

It is easy to walk through these bazaars as they arranged in a loop. Here is the Google Map link for your reference: https://goo.gl/maps/Vym3i1PoNjJ2.

  • Why it’s a must to visit local bazaars while in Jaipur: You may get overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, and smells, but personally I find it the best way to experience Jaipur. No other grand structure can replicate this living museum!
  • As with any country in the world: Do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in the local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut❤

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Water Collection in Jaipur, India

This article is part of a regional reporting project in partnership with GoUNESCO, a UNESCO New Delhi initiative.

India, unfortunately, has a bad reputation with the quality of its water supply. While this may be true when you compare it with Singapore (the country with the highest standard in the world, outperforming even the World Health Organization’s recommendation), it is not ‘that’ bad as you imagine it to be—in Jaipur, at least.

Rajasthan, with Jaipur as its capital, is located along the fringes of the Thar (Great Indian) Desert. With this challenging environment, generations after generations had to innovate methods to successfully collect, store, and distribute water all throughout the state. People had to consider methods that will keep up not only with the vulnerable geography but also with the increasing population. In Jaipur alone, population density is at 6,300/sq. km, the 10th in India.

haveli water-min

A rainwater collection tank at a haveli-turned-guesthouse where I’m staying now.

Walking along bazaars in Jaipur, it is not uncommon to see rainwater collection tanks secured on top of havelis and rental buildings. This centuries-old tank system is just one of the many indigenous water collection methods being employed in the city. Other methods include putting up of artificial lakes, baories (step-wells), kunds (stepped ponds), reservoirs, and wells. Most of these were constructed at the time of Jai Singh II, founder of Jaipur and the city’s master planner.

These indigenous facilities are continuously preserved and renovated, still enjoyed by Jaipur’s citizens even after almost three centuries since they were built. Badi Chaupar and Choti Chaupar, 19th-century public squares, still provide water to the public up until today. The only difference is that from an open reservoir, supply from these fountains is now delivered in pipes. It is not difficult to miss these fountains as you will often see people gather around the pipes bringing bottles and buckets.

Water storage was once a mark of social status, with those from princely and noble families having their own water collection system in their homes. Water distribution was also controlled by these affluent families. Palaces (which are now converted into hotels or museums) and havelis still have these storage systems in place and are still being used.

Today, thanks to everyone’s effort to preserve and improve on centuries-old water collection, storage, and distribution systems, the public now has free access to clean water all around Jaipur. The concept of ‘clean’ is always relative, but so far, I had no problems with bathing and washing with tap water, and enjoying my coffee and tea with boiled tap water.

  • Why you should not be so trusting of tap water here just yet: If you’re not used to drinking from the tap, it is best to stick to bottled water even for brushing your teeth. You don’t want to ruin your trip for trying out something ‘local.’ Before this trip, I exposed myself to drinking a fair bit from different taps and eating street food in the Philippines to get that ‘more resilient stomach’ for digestive issues that may arise. So far, the trick works.
  • As with any country in the world: Do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in the local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut❤