Mt. Pulag Adventure

Disclaimer: I am neither a mountaineer nor an athlete.

To be honest, I dared climb Mt. Pulag as a test run for my planned two-day trek to Machu Picchu.

Why? Here are the facts:
Mt. Pulag = 2,922 meters above sea level
Machu Picchu = 2,430 meters above sea level
Cusco = 3,399 meters above sea level

It was a very spontaneous trip. We formed a group of seven people and went on a trip to Benguet. We left Manila at 1 AM, passed through Baguio, had breakfast somewhere in Ambuklao, and reached the DENR station sometime around 8AM. We had a 30-minute briefing there, and soon enough, we were top-loading on a jeepney for an hour-ride to the base camp (a.k.a. Ranger Station).

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Upon reaching the Ranger Station, we looked for an open space to start pitching our tents. We chose an area near the other houses where we can easily pay to use their restrooms, charge our phones, have meals, and so on. It was more convenient to stay here than somewhere farther.

The tent experience (for a first-timer) was very interesting. It was good for two people and we fit it comfortably. We unpacked all our stuff inside our tent and spent the rest of the day wandering around the little town. It was too stuffy and hot to just stay inside the tent. After all, it was the easiest part of our weekend adventure.

Since our trek was scheduled to start at 1 AM, we planned to sleep at 7PM. So right after dinner, we started preparing to doze off. Sleeping on a tent was quite… different. It was drizzling at that time and the winds were making sure their presence were felt. Good thing our tents were water-proof. I realized how helpful it was that I brought a sleeping bag and an earth pad. (I was hesitant to bring them at first, since they were too bulky for a backpacking trip.) They definitely helped bring warmth for my back and body when it was nearly freezing outside. I recommend you do the same.

It wasn’t long before my alarm went off. It was time to prepare for the trek. Honestly, I was already bundled up and ready to trek with all the layers of clothes I packed on before I slept. Besides, we didn’t really have an easy access to a bathroom or a changing room where we can have the luxury of time and comfort. All I really needed to do was take out my head light and make sure it was working.

When we were all set, our group of seven people started our adventure. Since we decided to climb Pulag on a weekend in May, it was relatively warmer than the rest of the months, but it was still cold enough to be out and about on top of mountains at midnight. Our trek started from the Ranger Station. (Note: On weekdays, DENR allows campers to spend the night in Camp 2 – which, I think, would’ve been a better idea to at least pace yourself and have a little more sleeping time.)

Okay, so on the average, here’s the breakdown of hiking time from Point A to B:
Ranger Station to Camp 1: 1 hour
Camp 1 to Camp 2: 2 hours
Camp 2 to Summit: 1 hour
Total Trek to Summit: 4 hours

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It was really cold when we started our trek at 1 AM, but I must’ve bundled up too much as I started sweating only a few minutes later. I decided on taking out my thickest layer, as the cold appeared to be bearable when you are constantly moving. At least I know I am literally burning some calories here. I’m sure it would have been a totally different scenario had I went in December or January.

The first hour was the warm-up. It started with a mix of uphill and plateau, but it was bearable, for the most part. The adjustment to the dark proved to be more challenging than the actual climb itself. There were areas that seemed to be safe in the dark, but it turned out they were on the edge of cliffs when we passed by them again upon our return in the morning.

The next two hours to Camp 2 proved to be more challenging. It was drizzling and the trail was muddy and slippery. We were trying to hurry up to make sure we get to the summit before sunrise. It would’ve been so much helpful if we did this trek in daylight. But since we had to start from base camp and target to catch the sunrise at the top, this was a necessary hurdle. Good things take time, eh?

Two hours later and upon reaching Camp 2, we didn’t spend much time resting as we needed to continue right away. Somehow, it was beneficial that we were a small group as we didn’t have to wait for everyone to catch up and be ready. The rest of the bigger tour groups with around 20 people had to wait for everyone to prepare.

A few minutes and a lot of chocolates later, we were starting our last hour of the trek to the summit! (You should really bring some Trail Mix.)

Maybe it was the cumulative three hours of trek, or maybe it was the terrain, but I was really beyond exhausted at this point. So near, yet so far! There was one area where it was purely uphill for a few meters and I was just catching every single breath. At this point, I was considering being left behind, but I was almost there already. I had to stop in the middle of the uphill climb, find a rock I could sit on, and finished a bottle of Gatorade (and some more chocolates).

But after this mini-climb, we finally got to the beautiful picturesque part that Mt. Pulag is famous for. Even if it was still too dark to admire the beauty of the paths circling the mountainsides, it was a beautiful sight overlooking the tiny town lights below me, and the beautiful sparkling stars above. A few more minutes and I would reach the top. (I hoped!)

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At this point, I only focused on putting one foot in front of the other just until I can see the summit. There was no other way I can condition myself to keep climbing. Eventually, the terrain was relatively flat until the last ten minutes of the climb. The last portion was a pure uphill until you get to the summit. Even if I wanted to give up at this point, I WAS ALREADY THERE!

And when I reached the top, I had no words. It was the culmination of the physical exhaustion, the sense of achievement, the beauty of the panoramic landscape right before me – It was absolutely beautiful. We had a few minutes to spare until sunrise and we spent it just laying down on the grass trying to catch our breaths and admire the view at the same time.

It was time for the sun to rise and it was just so peaceful trying to watch another day come right in front of your eyes. I know it happens every day, but how often do you wake up in time for sunrise, right? It’s amazing how something so normal can feel so special.

After sunrise, we spent a few more minutes just marveling at the view. The descent back to the camp site was much easier and faster than it felt. I can’t believe I was able to do it, but I was so glad I made a foolish decision to try anyway.

After all, the best view comes after the hardest climb. Just do it. 🙂

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Turkey Adventure: Cappadocia

 

Cappadocia

I cannot recall when I first saw Cappadocia (in photos or in Pinterest) – but when I did – I thought, I definitely have to see this place and experience riding the hot-air balloon first-hand. It just looks so magical. There’s no place I would rather try this (and risk my life) if not for a landscape as beautiful as Cappadocia.

So when I found myself planning a trip to Turkey, it had to include Cappadocia, or I wouldn’t go at all.

But the weather – oh the weather – you really just cannot tell. It was partly our fault: We booked a trip on a late November.

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I have been keeping an eye on the weather in Cappadocia for weeks prior to our arrival. The forecasts were either cloudy or rainy. Searching for information in Google is.. well, heart-breaking, to say the least.

I Googled extensively if and how hot air balloons can fly if it’s raining or snowing. I couldn’t get my hopes up because it was most likely going to be cancelled if the weather does not cooperate.

It sure didn’t help that upon landing in Cappadocia, we found out that the hot air balloon flights have been cancelled for two consecutive days prior to our intended date of flying.

We needed prayers badly.

Cappadocia

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Since we arrived in Cappadocia late in the morning, we had a whole day to explore Goreme, Urgup and the nearby attractions prior to our hot air balloon flight the next day. After checking in Dedeli Cave Hotel (which was AWESOME, by the way), we headed straight to Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme National Park, visited Urgup and the Fairy Chimneys, Pigeon Valley, Uchisar Castle, Derinkuyu Underground City, and some other places I can neither recall nor pronounce.

We were testing our fate with the hot air balloon ride. The tour guide from Assiana Balloons said we needed to wake up before dawn just to check if we could fly anyway. I had been calling on all the goods for good weather. The weather forecast was “light showers”. To be exact, it was light showers from 9AM onwards. I had a little bit of hope knowing that we only needed NO RAIN until a little after sunrise.

The Ride

Minutes later – lo and behold – we were given the GO signal to fly. When the balloon was big enough to stand on its own, we were told we could get inside the box while the entire thing was still on the ground, being held up by a few people.

The box could fit 18 people, if I’m not mistaken. One by one, we found our own little spot in that tiny box. When we were all inside and the balloon was big enough to fly, the pilot started our ascent and the crew below slowly let us go.

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I couldn’t believe we were lucky enough! It felt so surreal. Gradually, the balloon made its ascent, and we were flying! With Cappadocia as our backdrop, the experience was too much for me to take in (in a good way, definitely) . I could use up all the beautiful adjectives that exist and I still wouldn’t be able to describe the entire experience. From our take off, to our slow ascent, and until we realize we are already way too high above ground – it is really beyond magical.

What made the scenery more beautiful was that we were flying with about a hundred more hot air balloons! Seeing balloons near and far, in different sizes, it is a sight I’d love to keep forever. And get this: we welcomed the sunrise up in the air. We were freezing, but there was enough warmth coming from the fire engine. We were so high flying over valleys and small towns. The pilot was skilled enough to navigate around rock formations, up and down the air.

I wanted to stop the time and freeze the moment because it was just so beautiful up there. I was expecting to be scared of the heights, but on the contrary, the feeling was just so serene, so peaceful. It was an hour of my life I will always fondly remember.

It’s true: you have to live for the moments you just can’t put into words.

Teşekkür ederim, Turkey. I am eternally grateful.

 

Kyoto & Nara Adventure: Geishas and Deers

While in Osaka, it would be a great idea to do side trips to neighboring towns Kyoto and Nara. Both can be done on separate day trips.

Kyoto

 

Golden Pavilion

Kyoto is most likely famous for Memoirs of a Geisha. While not entirely filmed in Kyoto, it is the inspiration for both the book and the movie. Visit the Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine for the actual location of that famous scene!

Kyoto is a quaint little town full of history, nature and culture. We took our time walking around its neighborhoods, towards the bamboo shrines, the temples, and eventually into the Geisha district. It is absolutely impressive how up to this day, there remains the uniquely Japanese culture of the geishas. And while you’re at it, try all the matcha (green tea) goodies all over town!

Nara


Nara, on the other hand, is famous for its deer. We went to Nara specifically for that. Once you get out of the station and start walking to the Deer Park, you don’t even need to get far to get sightings of the deer, simply because they are everywhere! There are vendors selling biscuits everywhere, too, so you can feed the (overfed) deer. 🙂

It is a nice experience interacting with these animals, coming from someone who lives in a country where you only find them in zoos. Just be careful whenever you feed them, because while some are nice and cute, others can be rude and aggressive. They’ll harrass you for food! So if you want to play it safe, just don’t get biscuits at all. 😉

Osaka Adventure: The Land of Takoyaki, Ramen, and Gyoza

There are cities I visit to experience their culture and learn about their history; others, for nature-tripping and adventure; some others, for shopping and relaxation.

Japan? Definitely for the FOOD.

We had a very simple itinerary for Osaka: Universal Studios Japan, Osaka Castle, Dotonbori.. TAKOYAKI, RAMEN, SUSHI, and GYOZA. 🙂

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Ichiran Ramen

 

First stop: Ichiran Ramen at Dotonbori. We arrived at 10pm and it was full. The space isn’t too big, but we waited for a few minutes until we could all fit in the restaurant. The moment you enter, there are automated machines where you input your orders and pay the bill. Don’t worry – There aren’t much choices. It’s basically just Ramen or Ramen with Salted Egg. But mind you, it is one of the best ramen I have ever had! The experience is one-of-a-kind too! You arrive at your seat that’s more like a cubicle, fill up a form to indicate what goes into your ramen (spices, onions, pork, oil, etc.), and your ramen is served to you from behind a curtain! You won’t see the cooks, but you’ll definitely enjoy your mysterious ramen!

Next on the itinerary – UNIVERSAL STUDIOS JAPAN.

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USJ

Two things to take note of if you plan on making the most of your visit to Universal Studios Japan:

  1. If you are a HUGE Harry Potter fan, get the EXPRESS PASS. There is no way you’ll get to try all the rides if you spend hours waiting in line every time. The website, however, is in Japanese, but there are lots of blogs that guide you how to purchase.
  2. If you are NOT big on Harry Potter but would like to enjoy the rest of the Universal Studios rides, take advantage of the SINGLE RIDER lanes. Not all rides have this, but it is very efficient and sometimes even more efficient than those with the Express Pass! Just make some new friends along the way!

Second food stop: TAKOYAKI stall beside Ichiran Ramen (by the bridge).

Now forgive me because I wasn’t able to get the name of this stall. It is right by the bridge and a few steps away from Ichiran Ramen (Ichiran’s Original Counter Table at Dotonbori). You’re not going to miss this because there’s quite a queue of customers leading towards the stand. Takoyaki, after all, takes a while to get cooked, but it is just so worth it! You might as well get yourself acquainted with the process while waiting for your order.

Osaka Castle

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Osaka Castle

Now the other thing left on our Osaka bucket list is the Osaka Castle. Really – we just couldn’t miss it since we’re in Osaka already (although we were very tempted to just continue the food trip or go shopping instead!). So we took the train to Osaka Castle Park, took pictures, ate some more, and walked around the area.

I wish I could tell you there were things we did other than that, but that was really it. It’s probably Osaka’s biggest landmark. We just had to. 🙂

Bottom-line: I have no idea how the Japanese get to keep their figures, but their food is just beyond delicious! Lucky to be living in Asia! OISHI!

Turkey Adventure: Istanbul

They say if you want to know more about the world, you have to travel to places that are very different from yours, meet people who see the world from a different angle, and generally just try things you haven’t done before!

Turkey was a natural option. Not only have I wanted to see Istanbul for the longest time, I also couldn’t get Cappadocia off my mind! (But, who could, right?)

Fifteen hours later (and after six lazy months of planning), we find ourselves in Istanbul!

Old Town & New Town

 

Hagia Sofia

 

Two days, we spent in Old Town (Sultanahmet). The other two days, we spent in New Town. I cannot emphasize further how two neighboring towns can be so near and yet so different!

 

Blue Mosque

 

Old Town has all the touristy and historical places like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Topkapi, Spice Market, and the Grand Bazaar. Most of the places are closed by 7pm. We were left wondering where all the people went beyond that time.

Two days later, we figured out where they all were… to New Town! New Town is hustling and bustling all day! Other than the Galata Tower, Taksim Square, and Istanbul’s Istiklal Caddesi, New Town has all the people, stores, food, nightlife and what-have-you!

Bosphorus Strait

 

Not only is Istanbul the city located in TWO continents, it also possesses quite a charm and a very distinct personality from the rest! And the people… the people are just too nice! Turkey must’ve placed their Tourism Industry on a pedestal, because even though the entire trip to Turkey was tedious, we didn’t feel burdened at all!

If we found ourselves lost, the people gladly showed us the way. If we needed something, everyone was just so accommodating. If we didn’t understand a foreign sign, the people were quick to translate. We were treated very well in Turkey.

To cut it short, we undeniably had the most wonderful time in Turkey. If there’s a country that best points out where East meets West, it would probably be Turkey. I felt a foreigner and a local all at the same time.

Bottom-line, we traveled to Turkey because we wanted to experience something very different. We left Turkey realizing that, though we may be different on so many levels – at the core of it all – we are all really just the same.

Humanity is universal. 🙂