Born for Snow

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When Joshua tried skiing, his body couldn’t get used to the new motions he had to master.  When Jimmy tried snowboarding, he couldn’t quite get the hang of it.  But switch them up and get them into their element, there’s no stopping them.  They could go on and on.  I’d be dead tired and they’d still be at it:  Joshua on the snowboard and Jimmy on skis.  Jason and the boys can already conquer the slopes together since their levels go beyond decent.

Me?  I’m forever a beginner on the slopes but I’m in it for the views.  I can’t get out of the paranoid V stance and transition into consistent parallels although I’ve had moments when I nearly got it only to be foiled by the fear of the steep, steep slope — the kind where you arrive and not see anything but a line between you and the sky.  It’s a drop that stops me in my tracks.  After getting stuck several times, after botched attempts at skiing through a clump of trees, after whimpering for help, after wishing life was a Matrix movie CGI and I could lift myself up with magic ease, after countless attempts to put on my skis at wrong angles, after feeling sorry for myself watching everyone including small kids whiz by, I realized next time, I should take lessons from a professional.

It’s like a metaphor for a start-up enterprise when you feel you’ve lost confidence and doubts paralyze you, when the challenge feels too overwhelming at times, when chutzpah dissipates due to historical and current insecurities.  You can’t get up and people pass you by oblivious you need their help.  At this point or before you reach that point, you have to seek out other people’s support and expertise to guide you out of muddled thinking and ineffective action.

My kids: they’re another story.  Every parent’s dream is for their children to surpass them, to soar through greater heights.  They’ve done that on the snow and hopefully carry it on wherever they choose to go.

We went to two different places to ski because Niseko was too expensive so we cut up the Hokkaido trip into two parts and hit Sapporo first.  Niseko is too painful on the pocket that we could only afford 7-Eleven meals but by that time, we had become more adept at saving money in Japan.  For instance, layering t-shirts works as well as a rented ski jacket.  This doesn’t take away from the magic of the adventure, the beauty of snow on trees and marshmallow delicious on the ground and rooftops.   We extend and stretch ourselves to find versions of ourselves that we befriend again.

I would probably never ski like these guys below but these photos from free magazines in Niseko motivate me to improve enough to conquer my fear of the near-vertical.

Ah!  To be fearless in that sport and in life!  How does one get there?

How Can We Go to a 7-Eleven Now?

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The way Jimmy looks at this “Hachiko” dog with love and longing is how we feel for Japan.  How will we ever go into a 7-Eleven or Lawson or Family Mart in Manila without hankering for the numerous food options of this developed nation known for its cleanliness, well-designed solutions to everyday hassles and high-tech toilet seats?

Soon after arriving at the Tokyo airport, we were greeted by rows upon rows of Gacha vending machines that spit out plastic eggs with surprise toys spanning themes that show how crazily creative, how infinitely imaginative these people are.  We save money by taking a slower train to our Airbnb and find the place exactly how it’s depicted in the pictures down to the blue car parked beside the modern concrete building.  Our Airbnb bathrooms make us feel like riding a first class airplane cabin while Jimmy simply savors his bathtub time.  We get lost several times in the train and subway system because it truly is as complex as how it looks, even if we have the advantage of Jason recognizing some Japanese characters since they are the same as Chinese.

We walk through a park to get to the Science Museum where the numerous interactive exhibits make us conclude it’s no wonder this country is so technologically advanced.  Although we do wish we had enough time to visit the Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Odaiba where we had too much fun and spent too much time with no regret enjoying each moment at the Teamlab Borderless exuberant exhibit of digital art.  The first floor was mesmerizing but the second floor was engaging with art you make and instantly see crawl across the floor, with a trampoline that feels like jumping in a black hole, with a climbing gym playing with lights and senses.

Jimmy’s two dreams come true: visiting the Pokemon Center and the dog cafe filled with Akitas, a Japanese breed known for their loyalty as exemplified by the film-immortalized Hachiko.  At Harajuku, Joshua finally bought the soccer shoes of his dreams in a five story building dedicated to his favorite sport.  My dream was already realized with the four of us together in Japan, a trip we had been planning since last October.  The corona virus almost threatened its fruition because Jason thought he wouldn’t be able to enter the Philippines if he left since he was Chinese.  Thanks to Vince, our friend who works in the airport, we were convinced that worry was for nothing.

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Goodness Overdose

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You can never have an overdose of goodness and on February 1 and 2, that’s what everyone had exactly at the Leading with Heart Global Women’s Summit at Palma House in Poblacion, Makati with speakers coming from the Philippines and abroad rocking the stage generously with their stories, learnings, movement, song and laughter.  Each one shared their struggles in life that led them to find their purpose and run away with it.  Maybe we need that overdose of goodness for days when things don’t work out.  Maybe we need that extra-strong reminder because sometimes it’s easy to forget.

I’ve always dreamed of attending TED Talk and this is the closest to that experience without flying off to a far-away country.  Each speaker was given only 15 minutes so it was one intense sharing after another.  There were those who spoke forcefully and those who spoke calmly but whatever the style of delivery, it was their heart that they laid bare for everyone in a setting more intimate than usual in a building aptly named Holism Center.

Beng Puyat, President of the Filipina Women’s Network shared her leadership journey of empathy and kindness.  Jillian Goff asked us if we ever feel less than a woman if we don’t live up to expectations.  “You are enough just as you are,” she said and, “Your performance doesn’t determine your value.”  I missed the talk of Messy Bessy founder, Krie Lopez but fellow speaker, Marie Balangue’s take away from her session is that leadership is a choice.  Clarissa Delgado from Teach for the Philippines presented statistics throughout history that convinces us how urgent action is needed in education.  Decked and accessorized in sunflower, Rhodora Fresnedi talked about her Sunshine Farm of sunflowers in Tiaong, Quezon where the farmers and workers are people with disabilities.  Her advocacy of inclusivity and spreading joy gave birth to a love story that blossomed in the farm.  Rica Buenaflor was a stay-at-home mom who found her way from distributing slippers to putting Bicol cuisine on the map, elevating the pili nut to world class status, creating laing longganisa and other products plus restaurants that celebrated the region.  Author and publisher, Bing Carion is a happiness guru who seeks to infect everyone with her winning attitude.

Georgette Medel calls herself the Soul Igniter who followed her passion for personal development believing each one of us is a spark waiting to be ignited.  Three key words are: Intention, Attention and No Tension (letting go of expectations).  When we are in a place of calm, synchronicities appear so we need to come back to that center into ourselves, regardless of the chaos.  Joei Villarama (Ahem!  Who dat?) showed how she has been pushing for her circles of Ikigai to meet and how her seemingly wayward path has led her to starting Abot Tala, an alternative to mainstream school.    Media personality Lexi Testa posed a challenging question:  How do we sell Malala Yousafzai to girls who usually look up to the Kardashians?  She talked about the imposter syndrome, how we feel like imposters. Get over it and think we are already a masterpiece and a work in progress at the same time.

Decked in beautiful Filipiniana, Cora Manimbo drove home the point of caring for our culture and promoting who we are as Filipinos through the way we dress.  When she was 7 years old, Marie Balengue knew exactly what she wanted and asked for it: land.  She worked for it and wove her way to being an perennial volunteer.  Majella Villaroman is fighting for the cause of mental health and well-being because years ago, her sister was shot in a New York subway.  Majella successfully lobbied for the passing of the mental health parity law and used the pain of losing her sister to continually raise awareness in the area of mental health.   I’ll let this slide introduce the amazing Ginggay Hontiveros-Malvar.

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Oryspa founder, Sherill Quintana proudly proclaims the Filipino brand CAN!  From a hobby, she built a business, connecting the dots while caring for 4 kids and 128 employees, pirating her husband from the World Bank. Sherill made spa products from rice, saying, “My journey is beyond myself,” so we need to capacitate ourselves and choose significance over success.  It’s continuous learning so you can then give back to others.  World Robot Olympiad ambassador, Mylene Abiva advocates for more children getting into STEM.  In developing countries, more boys and girls actually want to become scientists but are not given the opportunity.   Somewhere in between these talks, Kate Moynihan had us all dancing with wild abandon to “Love is Still the Answer” and “Sexual Healing.”

And that, was just the first day.  On the second day . . . .

Tammy Severino, co-founder of SevBerg Global, organizer of this event, told us something that rang true for me: being an entrepreneur is doing 80 hours of work to avoid working in an office for 40 hours.  The upside is, since you own your time, you can choose not to miss what you don’t want to miss from your kids’ growing-up-years.  Balance is like the four legs of the chair where if one of the four legs representing family, career, community and self are not equal, you don’t feel comfortable so you need to re-calibrate.  Robert Sigler, CEO of the Global Trust Group advised that your role is to strengthen yourself from within.  It takes courage to be a trailblazer so surround yourself with leaders.  Entreprenologist and conversation change-maker, Pauline Omps says the future is ours to create – women leading with heart and men who value them.  She encouraged everyone to get into magical conversations where we get into a space of not judging other people.  We need a little magic to make the unbelievable believable.  CEO of Fliqs Media and serial entrepreneur, Rex Wong wishes to empower women entrepreneurs and influences.

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Author Christina Hoag delivered a powerful story about her own experience in an abusive relationship and how writing was cathartic.  She ended up writing a young adult novel, Girl on the Brink, taking what was a painful part of her life as an opportunity for growth.  I was hanging onto every word of her story since she weaved it with such literary grace and beauty. Sometimes good things fall apart so that they can be put back together.

Christoff Weihman burst into the room with such high energy with his tagalog with a twang.  Ten years ago he lived in Manila and even starred in a movie called My Sitsiritsit with Andrew E.  It’s all energy and we are a part of each other’s story.  Why is it easier to say “You have greatness within you” than “I have greatness within me?”  Baka kasi tayo magmukhang mayabang.  Counter this with: My gift is not for me. It’s for me to give away. Seems to be more men on the second day than the first and the next one up was Joshua K. Blair, who with his creative team at BrandThumb developed and crafted appreSHEation to show insane gratitude for the women in our lives who are not appreciated enough.  Conviction of the heart is all about consistency of daily, year round, decades long action because they believe “She is Everything.”

When I heard Edna Chua’s unassuming talk, something inside me said, I want to be healed by this woman. She is one of the founders of the Holism Center, the home of alternative wellness right next to Rockwell, a safe space for healers who do energy work. Edna has cured somebody with lymphatic cancer by recognizing that all she needed was to speak her truth.  Portia Gantioque of Trend Micro is a security expert who wants to prove that IT which usually requires hard skills and designed for men is equally a territory for women.  She aspires to close the gap and shift gender norms, ultimately seeing us not through the lens of gender but purely for our strengths as human beings.  Rachel Jamiro quit a high-powered job as a prosecutor in the Office of the Ombudsman handling high-profile cases to be a stay-at-home mom since she didn’t want to be handing out her family “leftovers.”  She discovered her life purpose is not her career but instead she should find a career that meets her purpose. She felt lonely and cut off from friends feeling there must be something more than changing diapers.  Eventually, she found a community of mom entrepreneurs and grew a home-based business herself.  The community is not just where women want to sell but where they share life, truth and laughter.  “Show up and be vulnerable; share our messy parts.”

Purpose finds Michelle Baretto, brand strategist who believes design can change the world and impact people’s lives.  She sees herself as a multipier helping organizations with a cause like Mano Amiga to take off and fly.  Self-love is the solution, Lia Bernardo believes and shakes us by asking, “What if you are not broken?  What if you don’t need fixing?  What if our only obligation is liking who we are?”   Kevin Goff is the grand nephew of Hatti McDaniel who famously played “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind for which she won the first Oscar for a black entertainer.  A sustainable farming practitioner, Karla Delgado has a Seed School in her Kai Farm in Cavite that teaches age-old seed saving techniques to anyone who is interested.

We all stepped out to the balcony with Mawi de Ocampo demonstrating movements with a bamboo wand.  They had bamboo sticks for each one of us so we could stretch our bodies against the blue sky and skyscrapers.  For me, Vaughn Payne delivered the sucker punch of the day because he asked: after listening to all these, what do we do tomorrow?  There are three roadblocks that will throw us off track: 1) comparison, 2) worrying about what other people think, and 3) yourself.  What story are we telling ourselves that we find believing even if it’s not true?  Similarly, Elaine Kahn echoes that we are like that elephant that was trained from a young age not to venture out because it’s tied to a tree.  Even as the small elephant grows to be big and powerful enough to uproot the tree, it is still immobilized due to its conditioning.

Tina Lebron recounted her journey from reluctant healer to being the founder of the Healing House and how she was led along the path by a dear friend and fellow healer who had passed away.   Hindy Weber fell out of love with the fashion industry and that was a blessing for organic farming where she landed eventually.  Michelle Aventajado took over Best Buddies when her friend left the Philippines. Michelle thought it would only take an hour a day from her busy working-mom schedule but the responsibility was more than that.  Best Buddies is a global volunteer movement that nurtures one-to-one friendships, employment and leadership opportunities for people with intellectual and development disabilities.  Because Michelle’s youngest daughter was born with Down’s syndrome, Michelle took the cause to heart and made it her mission.

In a nutshell and a mouthful, that’s the two days of Leading with Heart.   Each speaker found their unique purpose and answered the call with a resounding, unequivocal yes.  These two days were a call to simply be audacious, bodacious and ultimately, contagious!   It’s a cry for self-care, stepping up to the plate, running away with your dream no matter how crazy it seems, even if the deck gets stacked against you.

If you noticed, I took down more notes on the second day compared to the first day.  It’s because I typed on my phone on the first day and wrote in my notebook on the second.  So next time, I should go old style.

One day and two days after the summit, I wake up early in the morning with a louder, bolder voice inside me telling me what I need to do.  The tone is more urgent and with deeper clarity than before.  I wonder how long this will last and hope it sustains itself.

A big shout-out of thanks and undying gratitude to the organizers who made this overload of blessings possible!

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Leaving you with the lyrics by Jason Mraz:

The question is why, why are we here?
To say our hello’s and goodbye’s and then disappear
This beautiful life, what is it for?
To learn how to master peace or master war
There’s only one answer that matters
Even if your heart has been shattered
Whatever you want, whatever you are after
Love is still the answer
Love is still the answer
Love, love, love, love
Love, love, love
We all make mistakes, no, we’re not perfect yet
Maybe God made us all from an accident
And the question that sits on everyone’s lips
Is why should we pick ourselves up and start over again
There’s only one answer that matters
Even if your heart has been shattered
Whatever you want, whatever you are after
Love is still the answer
Love is still the answer
Love, love, love, love
Love, love,…
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Last Stretch: Jungle Joy & Jollibee

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Casa San Miguel was home to Hero’s Journey for a couple of days and its theater hosted the camp’s shadow play-improvisation program.  This time, however, our group grew too big to fit in the available rooms but we still wanted to take the campers to marvel at genius Coke Bolipata’s ever-evolving creation.

From Casa San Miguel, we drove to another Hero’s Journey home: Camayan beach resort in Subic where the kids could snorkel near the shore, see and feed fishes.  It was our jump-off point to the Pamulaklakin Forest Trail where we do a jungle survival course with Marc and his team of outdoor adventurers.  They taught the kids to make fire, cook a mean-tasting sinigang and rice in bamboo, eat heartily using bamboo plates and utensils.  They taught them how to build an a-frame, lean-to and convertible shelters.  The guides built animal traps that the kids played with, pretending to be clueless chickens walking into a trap.  After that came the freedom we longed for: to hop from rock to rock, wade and swim in the water flowing through a dense jungle, swing on vines like a tamer Tarzan.

Society has taught our kids to be overly-cautious.  Parents and grandparents might have passed on a finicky attitude. Sometimes kids don’t seem to be the kids that embrace what childhood is all about: jumping at the opportunity to try something new, exploring and having an adventure, gleeful at getting wet and dirty. Hopefully they carry that spirit all the way to adulthood.

Originally, I didn’t want to go to Ocean Adventure Park because I just wanted to stare at the sea at Camayan Beach but then Ocean Adventure also faces the same side of the ocean. The amphitheater and the whole park backdrop IS the mountain-sea-sky. I could sit and wait in the air-conditioned restaurant, work on my laptop while looking out at the infinite blue horizon.  Someday, I want to have a name card that indicates what I do for work: Staring at the Sea.

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. . . . and my office has a view like this:

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P.S. Jollibee never fails.  Neither does Cheetos or dolphins.

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P.P.S.  It was doubly good that our group went to Pamulaklakin forest because tourism in the area was affected by the Taal eruption so the skilled guides needed the business that the guests from China brought.  The local guides made tall cups and spoons out of bamboo for each of us and made the jungle survival course possible, together with Marc Gana and his team of facilitators for wilderness adventure learning camps.

 

Finding Home: Magical Macampao

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In our four years and five camps of doing Hero’s Journey, we have been dreaming of having a base camp where we can stay for several days straight instead of moving from one place to another.  It was getting tiring hopping in and out of vehicles, packing and unpacking, herding kids from resort to resort even if those were by beautiful beaches.  Time could be better spent playing more games, having more outdoor activities, just chilling, chatting, creating and savoring moments.

When we reached Macampao Beach Resort also in Zambales, it felt like we found home, like everything we wanted our camp to be was there.  It was magical. The rooms felt like your very own treehouse and the view to the sea felt you were standing at the prow of an ocean ship. The activities available included kayaking, rafting, carabao sled ride, horseback riding, fishing and they had the most amazing food serving us pumpkin flower tempura, too many delicious dishes to mention, a rich variety of fruits and superb suman. They topped all in cleanliness and personalized attention.  They wrote each of our names in pink on a shiny black slate by each room door; they had flowers in bottles labeled Hero’s Journey 2020 and welcome Hero’s Journey on the chalkboard by a canopied queen daybed.  And to top it all off – it was all ours, at least for the two days and one night that we were there.  It was ours exclusively including the beach that had hammocks, wooden swing seats and huts festooned with capiz shells that tinkled and sang with the wind.

 

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Taj is our resident artist who in the past, made art works with the kids using objects from the beach.  For this camp, they made headdresses from natural and man-made materials. They did printmaking on paper and on t-shirts.  Each kid designed their names and cut them out to be silkscreen printed on any extra shirt they had.  There were “mistakes” that in Taj’s artistic hands turned out happy.  In Macampao, Taj settled in an ideal art workshop studio nestled among trees, open yet still protected from the elements.

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All About the 4×4

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The first part of our trip with the group of kids from China turned out to be about going off-road. We rode a 45-seater bus from Prado Farms to Crystal Beach and the roads were too narrow for the bulky behemoth to maneuver.  Always with impeccable service, Crystal beach sent us a tricycle with a staff to lift the low-hanging electric wires to allow the bus to pass.  On the part where our bus couldn’t make a turn just a minute away from the resort’s gate, three vehicles fetched us including a shiny red pick-up that was the same truck that brought us to the surfing area that afternoon.  Usually, we surfed at the resort but this time, they took us further north, past Zambawood to a more secluded place with ideal waves for beginner surfers.  Wind in our faces, we rode at the back of the pick-up and had a beach stretch all to ourselves.  The day after, the 4×4 adventure in Botolan we booked was more than what I had imagined, going through terrain with an army Saddam and three other rough and tumble 4x4s.  At some points, it felt like going to a war-torn country in the desert, under the shadow of Pinatubo and its gray-white lahar.  At some points, we were Bear Grylls survivalists or contestants in a reality TV show that had to go up against nature.

We added a trip to Tukal Tukal waterfalls to replace our typical boat ride to Capones island.  Googling online and talking to two people who knew the area, I thought it would be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy but boy was I wrong.  The ride from Crystal Beach to Botolan was double what the internet told me.  To get to the waterfall, I thought it would be a short 4×4 ride followed by a one-hour trek shaded by trees but turns out it’s a longer but rollicking fun with gorgeous, gorgeous views.  The one-hour trek they told me after the drop-off point was certainly not going to be only one hour with 18 kids in tow, 4 of whom are 6 years old.  Another person informed us, it was a two-hour hike but regardless of the time, the other unfactored fact was that a big chunk of the trek had few trees to protect the troop from the searing heat of the sun.  If we wanted to really do this, we had to be there at 6am, not 11am.  We had to abandon ship, retreat from this Hero’s Journey challenge and leave it for another time.

It must be di regueur that I check each and every place that we visit for our camp.  This time around, I had to juggle more things than usual because of a start-up enterprise that required more from me so the time left to take care of the camp was less than I wanted.  I felt guilty for not preparing adequately with a proper ocular beforehand but we were heaped with rewards. Even if we did not make it to our goal of Tukal Tukal waterfalls, our 4×4 drivers let us off at a river with mini-falls of clear, cold water.  Kids navigated through huge rocks, picked beautiful stones on the river bed and had a fantastic ball.  We filled our tummies with spaghetti and tuna melt sandwich prior to entering the cool stream.

The other rewarding discovery was Camp Kainomayan which was a treasure trove for kids: ATV, zipline, obstacle course, paintball, playground and swimming pool with slide. Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to do those but we are definitely coming back here in our next camp or as family doing an ocular inspection.  (Who do you think has the best job in the world?)

Crystal Beach Resort in San Narciso, Zambales really walks their talk when it comes to environmental protection.  Their round cake of soap does not come in any package.  The soap dispensers in the shower stalls save on those pesky shampoo sachets that pollute.  The drinks come with edible straws.  When they packed us lunch, everything came in a paper box within a paper bag plus they gave us cloth bags.

Carl, our Hero’s Journey partner and teacher from America was looking forward to seeing a pawikan laying eggs.  In my inspection visit to Pawicare a few minutes away from Crystal Beach, they didn’t have anything set up that month in particular.  So Carl and I rode a tricycle the night before we were scheduled for a visit with the kids to check what they had.  In a big, blue palanggana, they only had 3 baby turtles left because a group had come before us and released 30 to the sea.  We promised to return the next day with the kids but that didn’t happen because we took our time in Botolan.  Next year, we will make sure to book and tell them to keep at least 30 hatchlings for the kids to see, not touch.  With stars against the night sky overhead, Carl and I walked back to Crystal Beach trying to see if we could spot pawikan tracks. The volunteers of Pawicare taught us what the tracks looked like and drew the pattern on the sand. What are the chances that we will see pawikan laying eggs or tracks that a mother left?  I was amazed at Carl’s optimism and followed his lead.

 

Beyond Taal and into the Hero’s Journey

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The first Hero’s Journey camp in 2017 was held in Club Balai Isabel fronting the Taal Lake where in January 2020, the volcano within the volcano of the lake spewed ashfall that had people evacuating to higher ground.  Our camp had moved to the Pampanga and Zambales areas so it was far and relatively safe from Taal’s rumblings underneath.  However, one dad and his son cancelled their trip but 17 kids and 4 adults from China went through with the journey with our team of 5 from the Philippines eagerly waiting for their arrival at the Clark airport, praying Taal would hold whatever grudge it held inside or figure out how to let it dissipate in non-explosive ways.

The camp is improving year by year with new activities and revised programs, tweaks here and there but no matter the preparation, the essence of the journey is still the unexpected and dealing with them with grace and wisdom.

Three days in (with 4 to go), and a lot has happened – the usual and unusual adventures – minor airport inefficiencies, improvisation, farm time at Prado, bonding time in between, troubleshooting coordination, surfing and the new addition of 4×4 rides in the mountains of Botolan.

Three days after Taal’s alboroto, the camp participants’ plane arrived on January 15 at 12:30am.  They got out after an hour and a half and the kids were tucked in bed at 3am at the nearby Royce Hotel in Clark.  We proceeded to our go-to fave farm, Prado at Lubao, Pampanga.

For foodies and quirky-creative interior design enthusiasts, Prado thrills with works of recycled objects turned into art, light through the leaves of tall trees, shadows moving with the still water of the pond, the sky over the rice fields promising peace.  The kids bike to their hearts content on our second day after feeding the pigs.

I find this treasure of a book from the owner’s collection.  As I told Reimon, it’s probably one of the reasons why I came there — to receive its message.

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