In memory of Luang Prabang

City of questions and solace. 
Temple window, Luang Prabang,
one year ago

"Cities also believe they are the work of the mind or of chance, but neither one nor the other suffices to hold up their walls. You take delight not in a city's seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.
Or the question it asks you, forcing you to answer, like Thebes through the mouth of the Sphinx."  
                                           - Marco Polo, Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino


What Sarah said

May I take the time to sit propped up in bed at 1:55 in the morning, to tell you that if you are younger than I am, truth is, life doesn’t really get easier? You just learn to deal with hardships with more grace and wisdom as time goes by. Pain still hurts, and confusion is still real, and sometimes things still fall apart no matter how convinced you are that your heart was enough to keep it together. But falling in love still tingles, and laughter is still contagious—and though things from the past seem smaller the older you get, truth is, it’s the little things that hold weight. 
May you be blessed with the ability to face it all with your head held high and a smile on your face, despite the fact that the gravity of life often seems hell-bent on pulling your shoulders down. What’s that quote about the number of muscles it takes to frown? 
May I also be so brazen as to tell you you’re not dreaming big enough? Granted, I don’t know all of you, and you might have an elaborate plan that supersedes anything I could devise or comprehend, but I’ll take a chance and say that you can go further, go harder, be stronger, love better, fall better, rise steadier, heal deeper, move faster, breathe slower, act braver. 
May you find your way and become a light that helps others find theirs.
 Sarah Meier-Albano, "May wishes"  

little checklist: how to live

1. Celebrate the ordinary (thanks, Turtle, for bringing this to attention).
2. Keep a collection of places you love and revisit them; they will always have something for you.
3. Reclaim yourself as often as needed.

The Vigan diet

My bestfriend Froi has probably been to Vigan about 8 times. Yet, when someone asks him to go, he still finds it hard to say no. I may have caught the bug. Found myself in Vigan for the second time this year, which was perfectly fine because what kind of non-life loving person would turn down second servings of Vigan food?  

Empanada from the plaza -- the stall my foodie friend Turtle recommends is the one called EVELYN'S. Apparently, Evelyn's is already an institution. We saw heaps upon heaps of empanadas (Php30/each) leaving their tiny stall. When it was our turn, the empanadas proved they were indeed worth waiting for. 

Another must-try empanadas are the ones from Irene's (Php35). Their shop is located at Calle Crisologo. 

What's in a Vigan empanada: egg, Ilokano longganisa, grated papaya, all wrapped in a deep fried rice flour and dunked in Ilokano vinegar. 

Tip: If you're having some empanadas, grab some okoys (around Php30), too.

*slobber, slobber*
Photo from Gail's Footprints
Bagnet -- much love has been written about the bagnet. And why wouldn't people do so: it's crunchy on the outside and oh-so-amazingly soft and chewy to the bite. Anj (the new Ilocos convert) and I tried a serving at Cafe Leona, at Php235/plate, a good enough serving for 2 hungry girls.

Admission: we were so in want of food and the bagnet served before us looked so yummy, we forgot to take our own photos. 

Another thing about Cafe Leona's - the servers are pretty funny and ready for some laughs. Chat them up when they're not too busy. 

Tidbit: bagnet is like bacon, it tastes good with everything. Expect to have it in your kare-kare,  rice, even pizza. But please, that's not for you to think you don't have to order it separately. That's just so you can have as much of it as you can while you're in its homebase. 

Tick off your vegetable roll call from the "Bahay Kubo":
Who's there, who isn't?
Pinakbet, Vigan-style has your talongs, sigarillas, sitaw, okra, kamatis, atbp., but the bettest of them all is the bagnet thrown in!

A plate at Tummy Talk set us back around Php100-120. Good enough for two.

Where else to have it: Cafe Leona's, Grandpa's Inn

Melt-in-your-mouth bibingkas at Calle Liberation is something Froi and I discovered while we were aimlessly wandering around town.** Lo and behold, a lovely manang was cooking some rice cakes. At Php5/piece, they're even yummier than the pre-packed ones. They're crunchy on the outside and all soft and bursting with coconuts on the inside. It's a glorious mix of salty and sweet.

**We were gawking at the other beautiful houses, unrestored and some in alarming conditions. It's the hope that the entire town proper could be converted into a heritage site. Why just focus on one street? The other houses are just as beautiful.  

Other food to try:
  • Miki at Tummy Talk - comforting, with bagnet bits (isn't it great how everything has bagnet here?).  Try the miki-all-you-can for meryenda. That's Php40 for all you can have miki bowl between 2-5pm. 
  • Sans rival and coffee at Grandpa's Inn. The perfect tea time Vigan-style consists of really good sans rival (Php60/slice) and an equally affordable cup of brewed local coffee at Grandpa's quaint inn. How good Grandpa's Inn's sans rival is best attested by the fact that the cafe always runs out.  One serving is usually not enough and Granpa's servings are not small at all. Go there early afternoon if you wanna try it, which is around the time it gets delivered. 
  • Vigan longganisa. Garlicky, perfect with garlic rice. 
  • Okoy 
  • Tsokolate batirol
Right about now, I'm craving for some bagnet and sans rival. Someone tipped me about an Ilocano eatery at Maginhawa. Keeping my expectations real (but hoping for some really good pinakbet). More days of these cravings and I may soon find myself there.

Had anything good to eat lately? Do share. 


Floating along and swimming

The weekend that was:  the sea in my dreams
Photo by PJ Christine

Twice this month, I dreamt about the sea. In the first dream I was with a group of friends and with this group was a boy who used to matter a lot. We were in an upscale-looking resort house with a veranda that overlooked the ocean. The waves were quite ferocious, crashing against the walls of the house, but keeping their distance. In this dream's narrative, though the boy was there, I was more excited to dive in and swim.

A little backstory: the water & I, we have a love-hate relationship. Nearly drowning as a kid has made me pretty tense around the water- i.e. I know how to swim, but I won't dare go in without any life vest in heights I can't reach on tiptoe. Since snorkeling ranks as one of the top two things I most like to do, this has always been a wee bit frustrating.

In dream no. 2, I was on a small plane. For some reason, the plane had to go through a deep curving tunnel. When it did, a flood of sea water came rushing. With the approaching waves, the aircraft's powerful turbines did a ninja move and blew the water away. Our plane managed to fly out of the tunnel safely.

In both dreams, I saw the same clear, green water. Even with dream no. 2, it inspired neither fear or panic.

The weekend takas
Sometime last week, I stumbled upon a pretty shattering piece of news. Granted that it was probably the little kick in the shin I needed, it still hurt. Good thing Turtle and her friends from her MA classes were bound for a nondescript beach in Ilocos Sur and were welcoming enough to accommodate tag alongs. If I stayed in Manila, I knew I'd probably unravel and, just like that Postal Service song, that's when we'll explode/ and it won't be a pretty sight.

On the bus, I was thinking how I would just mope in one corner and drink myself silly once we got to our destination. I was planning not to talk to anyone. Figured it was a good time to "meditate" (yes, yes, I know alcohol and meditation don't really go together).  

But as all beach trips go, things took a different turn. For one, Turtle's friends were a wonderful bunch. Bogarts na funny at smart, ang hirap magmukmok.

After a quick stopover in Vigan where we had some empanadas and did some grocery shopping (the next sari-sari was quite a distance from the beach), everyone was put in high spirits because the "nondescript" beach turned out to be a really great place to escape to. Fine sand, bright shining sun, and complete seclusion (it was just us and the fishing community). The only blight was the uncomfortable stinging we got from the invisible jellyfish milling around the water. But given the choice between a cool hut or a smelly bar, I'd pick the jellyfish anytime as companions for my somewhat broken heart.

After dinner, I sneaked off, alcohol in a glass, and cried myself silly to Turtle.

The morning after, I woke up feeling exhausted but okay. And this water (see picture above), was waiting. Could it be the sea water in my dreams? And unlike in the previous day's bluish and gray sea, this water's jellyfish inhabitants went on their own holiday. There was little stinging for my companions and me. Yay!

The water, the sky, the deserted beach: it's what my hungover head (& weary, once-stubborn cardiovascular muscle) most needed. There's never an easy fix when it comes to dealing with heartbreak. Sometimes the only way to get through shit is to go through it and be shit. Do yourself a favor though: arm yourself with people who will look out for you and who won't take your puke or drivel against you (good thing my puke went straight to the toilet bowl).

Staring at the horizon that morning, the thought was that one does wake up, all appendages intact, and gets better. Not completely healed, not yet at least, but no longer as broken as the version of yourself that passed out drunk the night before.

Yoga in the water 
With that drama out of the way, the water transformed into a playground. Seven grown girls in the water- some were doing hand stands, others were beefing up on their basic swimming know-hows. To my surprise, I found myself treading. Wee! It was the first time I managed to tread successfully.

So comes the next part: unlearning the panic. Putting into practice the things I learned in recent yoga classes, I tried to study how my body behaves when submerged. I found tense neck muscles, head that could drop some more, stiff shoulders, and legs that got too agit when kicking.

With some breathing exercises and the mental note to relax, I tried to "let go" and be one with the sea water's flow. For starters, I practiced alternating swimming, treading, and coming up for air to breathe without panic.

I'm far from becoming an expert swimmer and I seriously need more practice swimming in deeper depths. The panic's still there, but at least we now have the awareness. The plan is to take it one relaxed baby padjak at a time and the same goes for this internal sh*tznit.

Anj, one of my bestfriends who thankfully also tagged along, taught me a word on this trip: maktub. It is a kind of claiming; a declaration of "so it shall be done." And I claim that I'll eventually arrive at getting to snorkel without a vest, skin dive and swim with the fishies, and surf freely. Maktub. 


If you haven't yet, please do.

That is, buy a copy, get on a bus, go North.

May/ June issue: adventures around the Cordillera region, a Western Visayas backpacking itinerary,
fiestas, streetfoods, and many more. 

The mag is bursting with travel stories, like taking part in "salad days" in La Trinidad (Miro Frances Capili), museum dates with one's Chinese grandmother (Meah See), and getting inked in Bontoc (Bernice Varona).  

Pitched in my share by writing about that exhilarating experience ziplining and jumping 60 feet at an adventure park in Baguio and wandering around Banaue and Kiangan where I met the kindest, warmest strangers who reminded me how welcoming a place the world can be.

Hope you enjoy every feature. May one or two trigger that desire in you to up and leave. Sidetrip is also available for online subscriptions here.


Only nothing is eternal.

For Each of You
Audre Lorde 

Be who you are and will be
learn to cherish
that boisterous Black Angel that drives you
up one day and down another
protecting the place where your power rises
running like hot blood
from the same source
as your pain.

When you are hungry
learn to eat
whatever sustains you
until morning
but do not be misled by details
simply because you live them.

Do not let you head deny
your hands
any memory of what passes through them
not your eyes
nor your heart
everything can be used
except what is wasteful
(you will need
to remember this when you are accused of destruction.)
Even when they are dangerous examine the heart of those machines you hate
before you discard them
and never mourn the lack of their power
lest you be condemned
to relive them.
If you do not learn to hate
you will never be lonely
to love easily
nor will you always be brave
although it does not grow any easier

Do not pretend to convenient beliefs
even when they are righteous
you will never be able to defend your city
while shouting.

Remember whatever pain you bring back 
from your dreaming
but do not look for new gods
in the sea
nor in any part of a rainbow
Each time you love
love as deeply as if were
only nothing is

Speak proudly to your children
where ever you may find them
tell them
you are offspring of slaves
and your mother was
a princess
in darkness.

When you're groping in vagueness, a poem can be the hand that pulls you out of that blank. Or at least, re-draws the context for you, shows you the edges, reminds you what it should be about. Salamat for lending me your favorite poem, Joelle. =)


Now about heart ouchies

After giving my nephew some chocolates, I told him whatever he's had was enough because he has a toothache. He told me, "But I eat on the right side because my ouchie's on the left."

When did he become such an expert on handling ouchies? And what about ouchies of the heart? Curious what he'd say, I told him, Achie has an ouchie here (pointing to that area around the thoracic cavity), what should I do?

Enzo paused and then said, "Um... I know! You let him rest. And then you make him fat. And then, you make him wear eyeglasses."

Oh, wisdom from a 5-year-old. So, about those spectacles...


Hong Kong, part 2

Habang namamasyal sa paligid ng Ladies Market.
(While walking around the Ladies Market area.)  

Squid on skewers and other delectable-what-have-yous
Keep busking
States of being

Hong Kong, part 1

Salbabida, date, flowers, man in red

Watch out, baka ka malunod. Kumuha ng salbabida bago lumundag.
(Careful or you might drown. Grab a life buoy before taking the plunge.) 
You in red with a backpack, come into focus, won't you?