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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❤

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Havelis in Jaipur, India

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

haveli-min

Havelis: a constant sight in Jaipur

An interesting constant feature in bazaars around Jaipur, India, is the haveli.

Havelis of Jaipur refer to “medieval north Indian mansions belonging to nobles” (UNESCO, 2011) that feature square or rectangular-shaped courtyard houses. These structures are hard to miss for they form the very fabric of bazaar life in Jaipur.

Without the unique typology of havelis consisting of bungalows, stepped terraces, multiple courtyards, well-defined chowkri (sector), and intricate window panes, Jaipur’s noble past can be easily overridden by urbanization. Putting historical socio-economic issues aside, on architectural and cultural preservation points of view, we can give Rajasthan’s* Tourism and Urban Development Ministry due credit for all the preservation work being done.

Many havelis are passed down through generations and to sell these heirlooms are considered unthinkable. Today, many havelis are transformed into commercial rental spaces, restaurants, and guesthouses. Usually, the first floor is for rentals; and the subsequent floors serve as a guesthouse which is also managed by the haveli-owning family. The owning family lives in the haveli, as well.

It is best to think of a haveli structure as divided into two: the single-family cluster (1) and the servant cluster (2). Between these two clusters lies a thin zenana wing, a waiting area reserved for the house’s attending ladies (today, these cluster differentiations are redefined as you will read below). A family’s status is determined by the number of clusters in their haveli: more clusters mean a higher status.

  • Why it’s a good choice to stay in a haveli:  R and I are grateful for the opportunity to live in a haveli all throughout our stay here in Jaipur. Living in one is like stepping back in time with marble floorings, pillars, carvings, antique implements, and paintings found even in the tiniest of rooms.

A haveli guesthouse is run much like how it was in Jaipur’s noble past, with the owning family in its own cluster, the guests in another, and the attending men and women in another. These days, thankfully, things have changed: the clustering now only refers to sleeping arrangements, and it is not uncommon to see the owning family, guests, and attendants sharing a meal and working together.

Staying in a haveli is one of the rare opportunities to live in a breathing museum. It is okay to get too comfortable, too!

  • 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❤

*Rajasthan refers to the northern state of India.

Source: Jain, S. (2011). Walking into the Microcosm of Jaipur. UNESCO New Delhi.

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Salomon Xtrail Run 2017 Review

After five years since my last race… Finally! And now, with a new addition to my weekend run trips from this day forth:

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On our first trail run together

R and I haven’t been to Subic for x years now, and signing up for this race has not only been a good motivation for us to pick up running again but also as a willing excuse to take a weekend trip to celebrate our anniversary!

For the event details:

Name of event: Salomon Xtrail Run 2017

Date: July 23, 2017

Main organizers: Salomon and eXtribe

Venue: El Kabayo Stables (start and finish line), Subic Bay, Olongapo City

Trail run categories: 32K, 24K, 12K, and 6K

Average elevation: 48.33%- 46.67% (downhill- uphill ratio)

Run route (6K): from El Kabayo Stables, you run along the concrete path towards Mt. Maritan, then back towards the stables.

Registration fee: PHP 950 per person (additional 5% if paying via PayPal) inclusive of technical jersey, post-race meal, and giveaways

Impressions:

  • The race was well-organized with strategically stationed race marshalls along the route.
  • Unlimited refills of sports drinks before and after the race, and water during the race, provided that you bring your own water container. I personally prefer bringing my water bottle even during races as I can afford to do so because I do not run competitively 😛 Plus, I feel bad about wasting heaps of water.
  • Lots of goodies for worn-out runners after the race, something that is quite uncommon in the Philippine scene.
  • The only thing that could be better next time would be their race kit pick-up arrangement. All participants were required to pick up their race kits at extremely slim date windows (July 14-15 for registrants before July 10, and July 20-21 for registrants after July 10), and only at Salomon stores in Manila which happen to be in SM Aura, SM North Edsa, SM Megamall, and Glorietta 3. The inconvenience of picking the race kits for participants coming from areas in and around Subic might have contributed to the lack of local support. It felt like an event catered for those from Manila.
  • Why I’m joining again: Despite the race kit hassle, I will definitely join again because I felt so safe despite the event being a trail race! I actually felt so much safer here than in other road races, thanks to the many professional and supportive marshalls present all through the race. The event being in Subic, it is also a destination in itself. Check out Subic Bay’s official tourism website for local travel advice.
  • And at par with my usual travel advice: 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 local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut ❤