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, almost a hundred crocodiles and a walking bayawak for the first time ever, 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. It’s not only bread or pastries inside that they sell (heck, they don’t even charge for an entrance). It has this Alice in Wonderland vibe with its 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 are 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!). 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.

Chicago

When buying diamonds, they say that you have to look for the 4 C’s — carat, colour, clarity & cut. I realized that when traveling, there are also 4 C’s to consider — cash, credit card, connection (wi-fi) & courage (as per my aunt). It was all that I got the one week my baggage was missing and ’twas all I needed to survive— no-frills, minimalism at its finest.

Nobody would bother viewing an entire album of more than a 100 photos, unless they’re in it (lol), nor bother reading your (long monologue) story. But what the heck, I’m posting anyway and you can press like if you want (he he).

This album serves as a reminder that this trip has made me a little kinder, wiser, bolder and tamer (my temper not rising at all, surprisingly!). I wanted to see Barbra Streisand’s concert but in the end, got more than what I bargained for. It was a learning curve that I appreciate having in my life.

There is a reason why things don’t go your way and it usually is to develop your character and make you eat that humble pie. That you can break down in public but not cause a scene— that crying helps & praying protects.

Buy that ticket, book your hotel, enjoy your own company, fly away and make your dreams come true. See the world and travel as much as you can, get lost and find your way back in, or tread a new path.

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” 💋💓

Ourika Valley, Morocco

The great outdoors.

Ourika Valley is an hour-ride away from the city of Marrakech. It is where lie the 7 waterfalls of Setti Fatma, on the foot of the Atlas Mountain. My friend and I booked a private tour online and met up with the driver at a famous restaurant down the market, as no car can squeeze in the narrow alleys leading to our hotel. (Only motorcycles and donkeys can pass through.)

The drive was smooth and easy that I found myself drifting off to sleep to the sound of Arabic beats blaring on the SUV’s stereo. After some time, I woke up to bladder calls and hunger pangs and to a view of rushing lakes with colourful hues of blue and pink table tops by the bedrock. And bam, hunger’s intensified.

Initially thinking that our trip would compromise of a lakeside lunch with views of the picturesque mountain, we were mistaken: lunch was on us. When buying a tour online, make sure to read the details and take a screenshot or a printout of the receipt. And if it says a tour guide will be provided, it should be at no extra cost. Ours was a native Berber from the village in the valley. Skilled and brave as he was, we were the complete opposites. And as we crossed the wooden rickety bridge, I knew there was no turning back. We didn’t endeavour to climb a mountain, but climb we did. We huffed and puffed and amidst the coldness of the January air, we felt the sweat and the heat escaping from our bodies. We devised a plan, and that was to stay in one piece. The struggle was real.

My mission was:

a. to reach the first Waterfall unscathed;
b. that my Kate Spade bag had to be salvaged;
c. to take awesome pictures (as a proof that we made it alive).

The Berber villagers prepared a visual feast for the climbers as they displayed their wares along the way. Earth-coloured ceramic plates, rainbow-painted pots, hand-carved white stones and beautiful patterns of handwoven carpets were strewn on grounds for all to see and buy. And it seems that the higher you go, the more expensive the product gets. And why not, if rightfully deserving of their ingenuity?

The three-hour trek up and down the steep & rocky terrains of this valley was worth every panic and mini heart attack. The crystal clear waters, white fluffy clouds on blue skies, yellow tinged mountains, terracotta plateaus and gigantic grey rocks were like a painting come alive. The houses at the hilltop resembles Cinque Terre (minus the vivid colours) in the way that they’re smartly piled up beside and on top of each other. To call it beautiful is an understatement.

We finally had our lunch by the lake: chicken tagine with vegetables, a plateful of flatbreads, pumpkin soup, freshly squeezed juice and orange slices with sprinkles of cinnamon powder. A trio of Berber natives clad in their traditional clothes came playing at our table and indulged us of their music: a fusion of drumbeats, bagpipe, guitar and chants. It was time to rest our feet and enjoy the fruits of our labour, so to speak. (Don’t forget to tip your guide, by the way.)

In reality, nothing comes easy. And I relish the rewards that will be reaped from sheer hard work. This trip was one for the books and I am happy to recommend it to the not-so faint-hearted who will dare to step out of their comfort zone once in a while.

Ourika is Eurika!