It’s already February but I am not yet through with my 2019 recaps. I’ve been too caught up with the book blogging side that I have forgotten about my travel blogging endeavors. Haha! With all the necessary 2019 reading recaps done, it’s time to turn my attention toΒ  my travel blog. 2019 was a slow traveling year compared to previous years. I was jobless for three months but I managed to travel to a couple of places. It may not be as grand as the previous years but I am thankful that I got the chance to travel and see my own country.

If there ‘s a phrase that can describe my 2019 travels, it would be about “revisiting places”. Rather than exploring new destinations, I revisited places I’ve been to before – Mt. Pulag, Baguio City, Vigan City, Cebu City, Baler – to name a few. These are places that are dear to me and it was an honor getting the opportunity to revisit them.

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Okay, time to snap some shots of the Philippine’s diverse beauty.

Immersing in the Beauty of Nature

My 2019 journey started in the mountains. Despite being out of the mountaineering scene for nearly seven months, I knew I had to keep in touch again with nature. My first mountaineering adventure was at Tarlac’s San Jose Circuit. The circuit is comprised of three mountains and is a series of traverses and backtrails. As the trail was my Achilles heel, i.e. open trail, I tried to quickly complete the circuit. The challenge came at the third mountain when the parching heat was zapping every bit of energy we had in store. I managed to complete the circuit to kick start my climbing journey for the year.

My next mountain brought me back to a familiar territory – the mountains of Rizal. Mt. Mapalad is an emerging destination because of its beginner-friendly trail. The view, however, was underwhelming. It was still a great way to spend the weekend as I got the chance to interactΒ  with nature and with fellow climbers.

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One fine day in Tarlac.
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The lonely traveler. Or not.
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Obligatory picture at Mt. Mapalad’s “palm”.

I followed it up with a climb to Benguet’s Mt. Pigingan; I’m not going to waste my momentum. I thought it would be as challenging as, say Mt. Tapulao but I guess I was wrong. The trail is long and is exposed to the elements. This is the reason for my rush to complete the climb; I did it six hours, about three hours less than the estimates. Climbing the knife-edge summit was challenging though because of the howling winds that were pushing us back.

My last three two mountains for the year all happened to be in Benguet. After Mt. Pigingan, I next climbed Mt. Timbak, the third highest mountain in Luzon. It was the easiest mountain I had to climb as the mountain was converted into a farming area with paved roads to transport the produce to the big cities. From the third highest mountain in Luzon, I next found myself on the proverbial rooftop of Luzon, Mt. Pulag, the third highest mountain in the country. It was my second time climbing Mt. Pulag and it was as memorable as the first. The sea of clouds and the sunrise are just as surreal as ever.

After seven months of obstinacy, I returned to mountain climbing. My last climbing adventure for the year brought me to Luzon’s second highest mountain, Mt. Tabayoc. It was also my second time to go camping on the mountains. Mt. Tabayoc’s monkey trail is one of the most idyllic trails I’ve ever climbed. It is a mossy trail reminiscent of Mt. Napulauan but sans the blood leeches. Moreover, it’s not as physically taxing. We capped off our Mt. Tabayoc excursion with an exploration of the five mystical lakes that flanked it. It was truly a memorable climb.

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The mystical lakes of Kabayan, Benguet mirror the beauty of its surroundings. Both are things of beauty.
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Mt. Tabayoc’s monkey trail and canopy is one of the most idyllic trails I’ve ever had the privilege to climb.

Of Nostalgia and Memory’s Tricks

I once recall a friend mentioning how it is impractical revisiting a place one has been to before. At first, I agreed because of budgeting constraints – why spend on a place you’ve already spent on before? My perspective changed when I toured my friends around La Trinidad and Baguio, two places I though I knew by heart. Visiting the renowned Strawberry Farm made me realize that I still have a lot to learn about these places. Ironically, it was my first time visiting the place!

Going around Baguio and visiting familiar places like Wright Park, the Mansion, and Mines View Park roused in me a sense of nostalgia. It brought me back to when I was younger, when these places were more famous as postcard pictures. With all the rapid development that is afoot, everything is changing. They are no longer images of the places I visited as a young boy. The commercialization was drastic but it is inevitable. I was just glad I was once part of the Baguio that wasn’t enhanced by the superficial veneer of development.

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Oh look, my first picture at The Mansion!
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I love the succulent strawberry.

The same sentiments were aroused within me when my friends and I found ourselves on the lively Crisologo Street of Vigan City during our Ilocos road trip. Nearly a decade has passed since I was last in Vigan. Back then, I was in awe as it was my first time visiting this historic city I only read of in history books. Ten years thence, its transformation is palpable as rapid development made the city accessible to the rest of the country. Sans the crowd, the UNESCO Heritage City still managed to keep some of its warmth and charm. There was still a lingering feeling of incredulity at the rapid transformation. Then again, the only thing that is constant is change.

My next adventure brought me back to Baler, Aurora. Back in 2014, it was my favorite travel destination and I was raring to go back as it was a haven for adventure and nature. Back then, Baler was more rural but with sprouts of urbanity slowly springing everywhere. The surfing boom in the area has helped usher in a new era of commercialization. It seems like ages ago as my memories of 2014 were shrouded by sepia. In 2019, the change was palpable. There are now fastfood companies are now making their presence felt in the once sleepy town.

My Baler excursion was comprised mostly of relaxation rather than exploration. Billeted in Sam Pinto’s private resort, my colleagues and I spent most of the time recouping lost energy. We still managed to drop by some popular stops like the Baler Museum, Aurora Quezon’s House, and of course, the enchanting Balete Tree.

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I can’t remember seeing this sign back in 2014.

Cebu was my next destination. Cebu is a very memorable place for me as it made me experience my first airplane flight in 2015. I would revisit it a year later and for the third time in 2019. Unlike my first two times, my third visit, with my former colleagues, brought me to the province’s northern part, to Bantayan Island and to Bogo City. Bantayan is famous for its beaches and it didn’t disappoint despite the outcast weather during our stay.

To close the year, my family and I had a post-holiday road trip around our home province. We climbed Kaman-utek (or Blue Soil country to most), a site I last visited in 2015. We also found ourselves in Sagada, where both of my blood kin trace their roots. The Sagada of now is a far cry from the Sagada of the past. Modernization is a very large culprit but who am I to deprive my hometown of this when it was instrumental in alleviating most from poverty. I’m still praying that it won’t suffer the same fate as Baguio as Sagada means a lot to me.

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To More Places and Beyond

I found myself in places I’ve been before but I also found myself exploring new places during the year. One of the most memorable is Atok, Benguet’s Northern Blossom Farm. In 2018, it made the rounds in social media because of its picturesque setting and the beautiful flowers. True to what was advertised, the place had a very foreign atmosphere to it. It was like visiting another country. For three full hours, my friends and I scampered around the farm, taking pictures and just enjoying the beauty of nature.

On my Project 81 endeavors, a measly one province was added – Ilocos Norte. It was a memorable one as finally I was able to visit some of the most talked about places in the country – the historic Cape Bojeador, UNESCO Heritage site Paoay Church, the white sand beaches of Pagudpud, the adventure-laden Paoay sand dunes, and the gigantic windmills of Bangui. I had a grand time and with this adventure, Region 1 is the second region I’ve completed the rounds of, after CaLaBarZon.

As already mentioned, Cebu’s Bantayan Island is one of my newest destinations. Its laid back atmosphere brought tranquility to the soul. Simply watching and feeling the waves lap my naked feet was meditative. The unspoiled and cerulean waters were awe-inspiring. The weather was outcast but it didn’t dampen our spirits. The last leg of our Cebu shindig brought us to Bogo City’s Capitancillo Islet, which serves as a lighthouse to seafarers. We had the entire islet to ourselves and the turquoise waters were surreal.

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Like a chameleon mimicking its environment.
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Apart from the caretakers, we were the only ones in Capitancillo Islet!

My flight to Cebu was my only flight for the year but it was still worth it. Cebu is as charming as ever and is still one of my favorite provinces. And thus concludes my 2019 travel recap. How about you fellow traveler? How was your 2019 journey? I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Happy travels in 2020!

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Friends for keeps, from Benguet to Ilocos to Pampanga! Here’s to more travels in the years to come!
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Exploring means learning too!
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The symbolic “tree of life” is the centerpiece of the National Museum of Natural History.