The Road to Machu Picchu

IMG20170927205437.jpgThe Road to Machu PicchuIMG20170927164854.jpg
Disclaimer:  Exhausting, unnerving and expensive! Prepare to battle. LOL. I didn’t get this memo when I chose to join my friend on her ‘expedition’ at the last minute. So now, consider yourself warned. Ha ha.
Dubai-Madrid : 8 hours flight (Emirates Airlines)
Madrid-Lima : 11 hours flight (Iberia Airlines)
Lima-Cusco : 01 hr 30 mins flight (Avianca Airlines)
Cusco-Ollantaytambo : 02 hours by car
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The air was cold and the streets deserted, as we walked out at dawn to find a tuktuk to the train station for our 2 hour train ride via Peru Rail that was scheduled to depart at 05 am (best to buy tickets online to avoid the queue. Show your passport for validation.) We brought a backpack filled with essentials meant for surviving the 5 hour hike (see list below). We were surprised to have been handed over a breakfast loot by our host when we were heading out the door; he had a take-away bag filled with fruits, sandwich and a drink. Hot/cold drinks and a big chocolate cookie were served inside the train from a trolley same as the one in the aircraft. I had a good eye-shut in the spacious 2-seater cabin but when the sky turned lighter and the mountain views visible, it was hard to keep it closed.received_10154646061022024.jpeg
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There was an early morning mist and drizzle as we disembarked at Aguas Calientes station. Raincoats were selling at 5 sols and bus tickets were payable only by cash at the ticket booth (Present your passport.) It wasn’t the road less travelled after all…there was already a snaky line formed ahead of us, waiting for the bus. And the 20 minute ride was thrilling and daunting to say the least. The zigzag road is deadlier to that of Quezon province’s Old Zigzag Road.
What to bring:
-walking stick
-high altitude sickness tablets ($84 USD) OR Coca candies (10 sol)
-backpack
-water
-energy bars
-face towel
-body heat ointment
-hiking boots
-selfie stick
-sunscreen lotion
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Machu Picchu is reminiscent of an oversized Minecraft game (no kidding!). The big blocks of stone terraces, vast fields of green grass and the blanket of fog hovering in the horizon were testament to this (my) realization. The nonexistent gamer in me was unleashed each time that I was on the cusp of aborting the “mission” to reach the top.2017-10-09 08.42.51.png
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Nobody came for glamour or to glam up. Sneakers, hiking shoes, hooded jackets and worn-out faces were the norms. Some came with a glow and most others with purposeful strides.
Choose the morning group for a less crowded space. The lone toilet was in the entrance and it was about a 5-hour hike so better wear an adult diaper if you can’t hold it.
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It might be the longest, most expensive trip ever, but coming face to face to this massive citadel is nothing short of incredible. It is an investment. The ultimate face-palm-pinch-me-am-i-dreaming moment worth that cha-ching.
Oh, and one thing’s for sure– the llama won’t bite.IMG_20171003_221239_228.jpg
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Transit 101 in Amsterdam

IMG_20170929_232350That dreaded layover. 4hours? 12hrs? Been there done that. The perks and woes of an airline staff.
If you’re transiting and have a few hours to spare till next your next flight, why not go out of the airport and visit the city? (Considering no visa is required.) And if a train is inside the airport connecting to the city, you’re in for some luck.IMG20170929204541.jpg
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Transit passenger 101 in Amsterdam:
– Check the local time; synchronize watch/ mobile phones.
– If on stanby, store luggage at Baggage Storage on level -1. One large sized locker fits 2 medium sized trolleys: €9.50 —good for 24hrs— credit cards only accepted.
 – Exchange money to local currecy; ask for smaller bills.
– Look for Info Centre; ask for a map of the city & which station to get off, etc. Metro to Central Station: €9.50/ 2 way, 10 minutes travel time.
– Walk around the city, while eating. Saves time. Hello, fries and sausage!
– Churches, the Red Light District and ‘drug stores’ are a stone’s throw away from each other from the Central Station. Choose your own adventure.
– Shop for souvenirs or buy groceries at the Schiphol airport (which is more of a mall with an airport.lol) Stroopwafels are cheaper there and everything else.
– Be back at the airport at least 3hrs before your flight.
– Have a Shiatsu massage on coin operated massage chairs at the airport: €2, 5 mins.
– Use airport wi-fi and log in back to your social media life.
– Post pictures and make life look easy.😊IMG20170929195512.jpgIMG20170929201445.jpgIMG20170929195305.jpgIMG_20171004_214551.jpgIMG_20171004_214212.jpgIMG_20171004_214327.jpgIMG_20171004_214424.jpg

Happiness is that place called Granada

Happiness is exploring the enchanted labyrinth of Al Hambra

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Basking in the richness of gardens and palaces

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Cruising along roads of green and yellow fields

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Happiness is the timeless union of nature and architecture

Stepping on a pavement of white pebble stones

Standing behind majestic wooden doors and wrought iron gates

Walking the streets under the shade of orange trees

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Happiness is witnessing an intimate flamenco showdown

Watching the dancer prance in fiery, graceful passion

Hearing the singer bare her soul

Feeling your heartbeat climb to a crescendo

 

Happiness is wantonly surrendering to sinful sweets

Dunking big sized churros into a hot thick chocolate drink

Getting a complimentary buffet breakfast

Eating two kinds of ice cream

 

Happiness is the never-ending dose of sensory satisfaction

A colorful plateful of paella

A hefty serving of Jamon Iberico with queso

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Happiness is spontaneity

Bonding with charming Spanish speaking cousins

Laughing over silly little things

Learning the art of letting go

 

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Happiness is writing the story of your travels

Finding catharsis in wistful wandering

Breaking down fears into smithereens

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Happiness is contentment wrapped in faith and sobriety

Discovering churches that are old as time

Waking up to a view of mountain tops

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Happiness is that place called Granada.20150222_113047

 

A place called Granada

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I knew this place was special the minute the bus I was on, was cruising along fields of green and yellow. Then it was heading up to a narrow highway leading to this small town bursting with pretty buildings. When the bus pulled into a stop (my stop) in front of the Cathedral with a wrought-iron door & an orange tree, I was sold. Orange trees!

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Then I stepped into the most interesting road and I just couldn’t (won’t) pass up the opportunity to take a picture of my black boots on those white pebble stones.2015-03-09 20.57.04

And there I was, the odd one out, wheeling my turquoise luggage asking strangers in the street if they knew where my hotel was. And even if how many times I wrongly turned on a dead-end street, even if my phone’s battery was running low, even if I was lost in translation I still found myself smiling for being wonderfully lost in this beautiful, medieval Andalucia.20150220_15013020150220_145845

 

My Film Appreciation professor in college once told us that the first 5 minutes of every film (Exposition) is vital and not to be missed for it can already foretell the plot of a movie. And if this were a movie, I bet you could already tell that it’s bound to have a happy ending.2015-04-20 07.03.28

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Puerto Princesa

Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan.IMG20170520102251.jpgIt is home to one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of the 7 Wonders of Nature: the Underground River. It spells warmth—the people, the weather and food (hello, crocodile sisig!). While the beaches are not as pristine as El Nido, Coron or Boracay, the sand, sand castles and trip inside the cave will be enough to take your breath away. (Tip: keep your mouth closed for the duration of the ride.)

A visit to the Crocodile Farm, Baker’s Hill and Butterfly Eco-Garden and Tribal Village will make you feel like a tourist in your own country…do these tours. An interactive, educational and cultural tours are provided by local tourist guides. When it comes to eloquence, flexibility and generosity in bathroom breaks, Filipino guides are the best.

It was just like a field trip that my Google-searching expertise can’t provide extensively. I learned that most butterflies have a lifespan of only 2 weeks and that the smaller scorpion has the deadlier sting than the bigger one. I held a snake & a scorpion, saw a ‘tulala’ tuko & sleeping bear cat,  a hundred crocodiles and a walking bayawak for the first time, up close. I came to know that there is a group of birds called peafowls— peacocks refers to the male while the female peafowls are called peahens & their offsprings, peachicks.

I saw how one’s imagination can lead to a wonderful creative paradise called, Baker’s Hill. And it’s not only bread or pastries that they sell (heck, they don’t even charge for an entrance). It has this Alice in Wonderland vibe with well-manicured lawns and garden, beautifully arranged flowers, colorful tiles, life-size figurines of Shrek, Snow White, etc., and tall trees that cover the sun.

We met the indigenous tribe, Pal’awan, who were confident in their flawless brown skin wearing only bahags (loincloth for men). They showcased their hunting tools and musical instruments like kulintang (the names I only remember reading in my highschool books). They played music and showed us how to start a fire the natural way (done in seconds!). It’s good to know that they are encouraged to make handmade products to sell and not only thrive by hunting alone (I bought a bamboo speaker).

Puerto Princesa has a good geographical location close to seaports that is why it is also called the princess of ports. For more technical information, please search the internet.

Palawan, you were a wonderful, hot summer fling. I hope to see you again next year. El Nido or Coron, here we go!IMG20170522095557.jpg

When in Santorini

Wine and dine.

It was an 8-hour ride aboard the big vessel, Blue Star Ferries. We left the pier in Athens at 0730am and arrived in Santorini at 3pm when the tides have turned and the sky, a solid blue dotted with white fluffy clouds. There was no sunshine on this day but the ride up the mountain to our hotel provided us with a sombre yet tranquil view of the volcano and the Aegean Sea. Our welcome drinks were a cup of coffee or tea, and a carafe of the local wine which is available for free, 24 hours. You’d wonder why there’s no complimentary water, but my guess is as good as yours because in Europe, a bottle of water costs more than an alcoholic beverage. (But hey, who’s complaining?) In the four days that we stayed in Santorini (and the 2 days in Athens), we merrily indulged on white and red wines anytime of the day that there wasn’t any room to whine or gripe (make sure to try the Visanto wine which is the island’s flagship grape). One night while perusing the sunset at Fira, we struck an interesting conversation with a local guy who later offered to buy a bottle of white wine from a convenience store. We drank in plastic cups and sat on a spot by a hilly area with the cold wind breezing by, while we talked the night away. I guess it’s typically Greek. Cheers to the maker of wine and giver of life!

Eat gyros.

Pita bread, roasted meat, tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce = ‎€2 gyro, the works! Not only does it tastes so good, it is also filling and easy on the pocket. We ate it on most days and I still crave for it up to this day.

Know the bus schedules.

On days that we leave our languid state, we head out to the bus terminal and devise a plan for the day. In Santorini, time goes by so quickly and before you know it, another day has passed. The best thing with our location?— the terminal is just 10 mins. away and bus fare is less than ‎€3 per destination.

Visit churches.

On our way up the shops are the churches and monasteries that are open for visit. There was music playing at St. John the Baptist Cathedral and live singing from the nuns at the Monastery of Dominican Sisters. It’s cathartic praying while listening to hymns.

Wear your colours.

In my luggage was a yellow vintage dress (1970s?) straight from my mother’s closet and I wore it on the day when the forecast promised of sunshine and clear skies amid a 10 C degree weather. I paired it with a baby pink thick trench coat and leggings. Next day’s outfit was the powder blue long caftan-like dress, and the next day, a red bright long-sleeved blouse. Santorini is an ideal venue for OOTD photo-ops, most especially in summer where the sun will shine down on you like a spotlight. Leave your black outfits behind, let the colours lift you up.

Take a dip.

It was not the season to swim but we still took the bus to Akrotini to see the Red Beach. The sea was a shimmering, splendid sight and I wanted to be inside the picture, looking out. It just suddenly came, the need to connect and touch the ground so I stepped down the big rocks, took off my shoes, dipped my feet in the cold sea and sat motionless like one of the rocks.

Watch sunsets.

The main attraction in Santorini is the sunset. And it sets both in Oia and Fira with the same intensity. In Oia, you have to go up the winding alleys to get a better view, so we nestled on top of a hill along with other sunset-seekers. There was an applause when the sun showed its true colours and it was ahh-mazing and to die for. I couldn’t help but stare for minutes on end until it settled down. In Fira, the view was the caldera (a volcanic feature formed by the collapse of a volcano into itself, making it a large, special form of volcanic crater) and we easily found a spot as the surrounding areas are far apart from each other. In both sunset sessions, my heart was bursting with excitement prior the showdown and then settled to a complete state of trance when the sun was down. I reckoned that if I were to spend my last day on earth somewhere, it would here.