Happy Campers at Last and Forever (RORO Part 2)

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Jason’s dream for us to resume our camping life at last comes true and the tent we have not used for more than a year (or two) is brought out, gets wet with cold morning dew and feasted on by greedy ants while we slept.  It’s in our family DNA to backpack and bask in nature’s glory.  Why did we ever wait this long to rediscover this old truth?  All thanks to a typhoon that got us stuck in Iloilo and after two nights of living too comfortably in a hotel walking distance from the usual gigantic SM mall, we thought too much convenience is not good for the soul and sought the mountains.

At first, it was quite a bummer not being able to take the RORO to Bacolod where we ideally wanted to celebrate Christmas with our friends who have become family.   Ferries were canceled because of the impending typhoon Ursula.  Somehow, we managed to squeeze joy out of the hassle because right across the hotel was a street side restaurant that served fresh oysters for P80 a bucket.  Jason and Lele, his friend from China and our travel companion, insisted on having both lunch and dinner back to back in the oyster place, since where else can you get such a bargain?  Our friend from Bacolod tipped us off about Bucari, the Baguio of Iloilo where we found a campsite.  Though we didn’t stay in a tent that rainy night, the facilities were only for those willing to rough it out.

Jason was back in his element cooking for us.  Instead of eyes glued on a hotel TV, the kids played chess with their dad.  Two sets of bunk beds served as Jimmy’s gym.  The next morning we hiked up the fourteen stations of the cross and were treated to one gorgeous vista after another.

After calling the coast guard every day to check on the ferry service, we were given the go signal on December 26 and took the third RORO of this trip, and once again experienced the chaos and inefficiency that’s sadly the hallmark and trademark of our nation.  Par for the course, expected, psyche yourself up — we smile through it all because a reward awaits on the other side.  Joan and her family prepared our favorite Chinese hotpot and it was amazing relief to plop our exhausted bodies in what felt like second home.  Giddy with excitement, Joshua and Jimmy were reunited with playmates Andy, Dylan and Kylie.  Joshua dared to eat balut because he saw Kylie relishing it.  We have homemade youtiao for breakfast and corned beef far from the blandness of budget inns.

Joan’s husband, my husband and Lele belonged to an outdoor club in China so it’s only fitting that our three families would celebrate the season with a camping trip with two treks to the waterfalls of Guintubdan.  Three men from China showed their cooking prowess on the grill and portable stove.  Six kids ran amok playing hide and seek in a wide, lush, terraced area.   One Superwoman from Bacolod orchestrated it all while one Filipina couldn’t stop eating.

Jason chose a spot to pitch our tent further away from the noise of other campers.  It was a spot suffused with the scent of flowers more intense at night than the day, a spot were the stars were closer and brighter, a spot where Jason could build his own fire and toast his feet above the coal.

GO RORO, GO RORO!

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This was the plan:

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But as all ambitious plans go, they are not necessarily followed and this is the latest iteration:

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The wanderlust, itchy feet, spirit of escaping from the city into the UNKNOWN (with matching Frozen warble) has been hounding my husband and me.  Jason has been craving to explore places that he has not been to in the Philippines while I’ve needed a real, work-free break, not a cheat break but an honest to goodness one.  For the kids, this is the way we want to homeschool / worldschool on the road with all the stopovers, “Are we there yets,” exhaustion from long drives, bureaucratic nightmares of getting space in the boat made worthwhile by lying on the ferry roof deck staring at the stars (in their multitude, scarce to be counted).

Knowing how government services work in this country, I was prepared for the worst so it was an unexpected delight that the first RORO trip went smoothly with a two-hour ride from Manila to Batangas punctuated with an almost immediate usher into the belly of the ferry.  However, the 7-headed Hydra of red tape reared their scary faces in the next port of Roxas.  It took us a whole day to navigate our way to a coveted spot that had to be earned with sweat, asking too many questions and grease money.  The frustrating, inconvenient truth was rewarded with the opportunity to sleep under a starry, starry night sky.

Thanks to Rachael, we were able to secure a booking in their favorite “suki” hotel in Boracay which was a surprise addition in the itinerary because I thought my husband didn’t want to go to what was certainly going to be an overcrowded pre-Christmas party.  Since Joshua was a toddler when he last went and Jimmy wasn’t born then, we had to make the stop for the kids.  I understood why Hey, Jude hotel in Station 3 was Rachael’s choice home away from home because the value was hard to beat.  Unfortunately, they were fully booked on our second night so we had to find another place nearby and the choices paled in comparison.

Coincidentally and divinely, my sister and her family were in Boracay at the same time as us so we managed to have a quick reunion.  The cousins were able to get the rare playtime on the beach and paddle board and laugh at Uncle Juan’s magic tricks.

Many years ago, my friends and I were walking along the powdery stretch of sand in Boracay and a person approached asking if there was a couple among us.  I jokingly pushed two of our single friends and announced, “Here’s Mr. and Mrs. Lim!”  They were offered an attractive deal from the newly opened Astoria hotel in Station 2.  We were smart enough then not to take the bait but this time around, I was walking along Station 3 and lo and behold, there was a swanky new Astoria hotel.  This time the offer of a free buffet lunch was too tempting to refuse.  I knew they were going to sell me some sort of membership after our group of 6 enjoyed the sumptuous eat-all-you-can feast as well as the pure eye candy of  interior design and a glass-sided swimming pool.  After a tour of the impressive facilities, I had to artfully and diplomatically decline the proposal at the end of a well-rehearsed and strategized marketing spiel.

By the way, “Mr. & Mrs. Lim” eventually got married not long after that prophetic prank.

In Boracay, my niece Anita was looking for halo halo in coconut and they weren’t able to find before they flew back to Manila while we continued our road trip.  We did find it in the food court of SM Iloilo where we headed next and where our effort to reach Bacolod was thwarted by an impending storm named Ursula.

Christmas at Our Second Home

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These past three months at Abot Tala were capped off by a sumptuous Christmas spread, baking pandesal and cookies using the new oven, the block presentation of photos, artworks, videos wacky fun and waxing nostalgic, videoke and games, people in pajamas — all making this feel like one cozy house party.

This is a second home already aside from being the place where teens can learn what they’re interested in: fencing, improvisation, cooking, filmmaking, 3D printing, coding, sign language while still taking up the usual subjects in school, albeit taught not in the usual way.  Second homes like first homes and any home for that matter are all about the people, relationships and our shared, flawed, precious, perfect, imperfect humanity.  Homes and communities are works in progress with room for continuous growth and improvement but enough, blessed and grateful the way we are right now.

I love the personalized mugs created by Owie for each of the mentors and trustees.  We had mugs in the house but I desired a mug for my scattered pens that kept hiding under piles of papers and moving places on their own (I swear it was here but where did it go?).  I thought of buying how silly was that since there were plenty of cups in the house.  It just didn’t feel right to use the same vessel for coffee and tea for writing tools.  Now, Owie unknowingly solved my problem plus gave me a compelling visual to keep imagining and re-imagining the future, and a powerful reminder that no matter how lost you get, you will always be found.

Moments from the past few months include, among the everyday activities in the center, two field trips — one impromptu and another semi-spontaneous brought about by the feeling that “Hey, we should do this more often.”

They Don’t Build Playgrounds Like this Anymore

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It may be a throwback to the seventies — the design aesthetics and all, and it might be a tad unkempt, but one thing is for certain, they don’t build playgrounds like this big and this well-thought-off and not picked from a catalog of plastic products.  Instead, a designer took pride in conceptualizing each and every detail and government funds were poured into this piece of social goodness.  Sadly, our government doesn’t go into much playground building anymore.   They leave it up to the private sector because it’s probably more sustainable that way with commercial activities paying for maintenance cost, but the private sector is not providing much either.  Still, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the generous playgrounds we dream of could come true?  Wishful thinking till I’m blue in the face, but perhaps someday.

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All These Backlog of Talks I Attended

I faithfully took down notes thinking I would blog about each talk that I attended these past months but days and work piled and I never got around to it so I’ll just slap on these slides here as a way to remind me someday that this crazy period of attending events, seminars, conferences was a form of cramming the marketing I should have done if I was not waylaid by mental glitches and dubious choices and it’s a form of DIY-ing my continuing education in life and life-long learning is rather like a run-on sentence that never seems to end until it does, but unlike the sentence, it shouldn’t but it is a kind of life sentence, pun intended, not the bad kind but the good.

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