It's that time of the year when we are all allowed to be scared shi*tless.

And no I don’t mean scaring yourself with a semi-terrifying, semi-cute bloody nurse or a slightly gory but really sexy, shirtless hunter showing off his abs. No.

I mean being haunted by the kind of stories that make it to the Magandang Gabi Bayan Halloween Special.

If you were a 90’s kid, Halloween means watching Noli de Castro in his ghastliest appearance as he narrates paranormal stories. It means covering your face and peeking through your hands when it's time for all those too realistic reenactments of floating caskets, drifting white ladies, and red-eyed devils. That’s the sort of thing that I miss with the Halloween of the 90’s.
So last year, we decided to scare ourselves ala Magandang Gabi Bayan style.

We ended up sleeping in a haunted house.


I'll backtrack a bit.
I said 'We ended up..' because all of us participants did not know where we were headed that night. 
We joined Experience Philippines' Haunted Road Trip. This is not your ordinary tour group. The guys from ExPH took the idea that most adventure-seekers have always had in mind and turned it into reality - going on a road trip, not knowing where everyone's headed, and ready to be surprised with the randomness of it all.

SLEEPOVER AT BAHAY NA PULA

Before the trip, we were told to bring these things: sleeping bag, rosary, headlamp, and Holy Water.
I initially thought we'd be sleeping in a hut with no lights in the middle of nowhere.
As it turned out, I was close to guessing it right except that the hut was actually Bahay na Pula, a well-known haunted house in San Ildefonso, Bulacan sitting right in the midst of a huge chunk of property, surrounded by unkempt grass, and without access to electricity.

If you follow local haunted stories, you'll know that the owners of Bahay na Pula abandoned the house after Japanese soldiers used it as their barracks. Stories of paranormal occurrences have been reported since. More than a haunted house, the house serves as a reminder of a dark time in Philippine history when the Japanese took women, both young and old, as comfort women. Unfortunately, news of demolition broke out in August of this year. If you are curious to see Bahay na Pula, it might be too late now.

12185570_10106392263245079_5083224448658694829_o
Photo from Road Tripper Jonathan Roque

We arrived late into the night after visiting a couple of other haunted houses in Nueva Ecija. The air was filled with excitement, curiosity, and a twinge of fear. The house had an eerie feeling to it, the kind that would make you talk in hushed tones and with the constant awareness that we were in the same place where crimes against humanity were committed.

12184260_10106392270445649_97139771798158422_o
Bahay na Pula Interior- Photo from Road Tripper Jonathan Roque

We were told that this is where we would stay the night.

I chose to sleep by the balcony with the view of the highway and occasional cars passing by. I thought it was a better view compared to seeing the walls of the house with its gaping holes. The group was in a chatty mood the whole night, sharing stories, munching on junk food, and laughing with other participants. I'd say that the group was not an easily scared bunch. Maybe it was our way to drive the fear away and to ignore how quiet the house was if it weren't for our voices.

Looking back, I was frightened of the possibility of actually seeing something out of the ordinary. I remember sleeping with a blanket covering my face just in case I wake up in the middle of the night. They say "Close your eyes to make it go away" but who wants to see it anyway? I'd rather not see whatever it is in the first place.

12183982_10106394999212179_5339141677608317385_o
Less eerie in the morning -Photo from Road Tripper Jonathan Roque

Other road trippers have their own spine-chilling stories to tell about the entire experience. Nothing happened to me though. I say that as a form of relief (Thank you!) and not as a challenge for paranormal entities to show up.

THE EXPERIENCE

Sleeping at Bahay na Pula was definitely the highlight of the Haunted Road Trip. The rest of the trip was deftly planned with the Halloween theme in mind - from a welcome dinner of dinuguan,  sharing horror stories under a huge acacia tree, to visiting caves in Biak-na-Bato where the souls of Katipuneros are said to be still roaming. After a night of exploring the paranormal, dipping in the falls of Biak-na-Bato to literally wash our fears away was a fitting ending.

12190101_10153593437570155_5278599634966196869_n
HRT#1 Road Trippers - From Karen Navarozza

The best part is I've met a handful of fun people who are always up and ready for the next road trip. After HRT, we've seen each other a couple of times, met randomly in different places outside the metro, and we're all still connected up to now, nearly one year after the trip. Fear binds. Or we're really just a great bunch of people hanging out. 😉

This year, ExPH is cooking another spooky Haunted Road Trip on October 29-30. If you want to get the real Halloween thrill this year, click on the link to register.

For top L to bottom R: coffee with Mayoyao Rice terraces as background (July), swimming with sea turtles at Apo Island, Negros Oriental (August), Salagdoong Beach, Siquijor (October), Bulusan Lake, Sorsogon (May), Falls #2, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato (December), Tinuy-an Falls, Surigao del Sur (December),  Cambulo Rice Terraces, Ifugao (August),
Porchetta at FAT, BGC (because there ought to be food), Batad Rice Terraces, Ifugao (August) 
2015 has been a year of green and blue hues, of an unending love affair with the outdoors, of curveballs, and of unparalleled great times. I'll always remember 2015 as the year I finally (wo)manned up and took the leap to my longtime wish.


Experiences on the road make up a huge chunk of this year, and more than the places I've seen and things I've done, it's the people who I've spent moments with (even the short ones) who fill up my overflowing happy memory bank. I'm writing this post to thank everyone who has been a part of my 2015.

I will spend the next few days envisioning what 2016 will be for me and I'm excited about what the year will bring, both in terms of travel and other aspects of life, because gasp! I've come to terms with the fact that there are other things in life other than chasing adventures. I want to take the time to wish you a great year ahead. May your days be filled with beautiful, jaw-dropping sunsets, long conversations that make your heart soar and dream, fun nights that go on until the wee hours of the morning, and with all kinds of love that inspire.

I wish to see more of you in 2016! Cheers!

From a corporate employee, I have turned myself into a freelance writer/online worker/ self-employed individual. I'm still at loss when answering forms that asks for Occupation because I still can't believe that yes, even when it doesn't feel like it, this is my occupation (at least for now). I've been tempted to write non-practicing telecoms professional. I would love to romanticize how the whole decision-making process went, how years of imagining finally became reality, and how it felt to finally take the leap into the giant unknown but you can look that up and I swear I feel the same way as the others who have gone before me.
I'm here to write about the reality of the pursuit and some of truths I have discovered so far.
Who doesn't want to see this view all day, every day?

The lifestyle is not for everyone.

Because, of course, there's the monetary side and there are bills to pay.

If you can't figure out how you can earn outside of the four walls of the office, then don't even try. If you can't create self-imposed deadlines and if you can't meet your own deadlines, then stay in the office. If you need someone to help you in setting your career goals and if you are always acting based on mandates, this life is not for you. Being location independent is best suited for self-motivated individuals who can work on his own defined structure. There are no rules and no guidelines to adhere to so it will all be about you and your discipline. It's a process I'm still working on because of the next item.

And there are days when you just don't want to work.

And that's ok.

I've learned to forgive myself for days when I would rather read a book, blog, or hike. Same as in the office, there are lazy days except that in the office, even the lazy days are paid. Since I'm doing freelance writing, all my transactions are result-oriented which means lazy days equal no income days. The key is balance. 

And taking your laptop to the beach sounds great.

But it only looks good in photos.

I'm not saying it can't happen because it can but to work well and to be productive means setting up a good place where you can actually think and focus and where internet connectivity is great. I think it also beats being in the moment. It may not work for me but it can work for someone else. Setting days for recluse and days for making money works for me.

*That's a crappy photo of me failing miserably to work, distracted by the sound of waves. The other guy out front was watching a movie. He knew better than to work with that view.

And you need to have a to-do list. Maintain a calendar.

Or else you can easily be sucked into days of lounging.

A to-do list also helps you keep track of things you have accomplished. Even the smallest things can help you feel motivated. If you go on Google and find the daily schedule of the most successful creative individuals who ever lived, you'll find out that they have set specific chunks of their day to do meaningful work. It's easy to get sidetracked if you don't set your day's priorities.

And start thinking about what's next for you.

Because it's easier to climb a corporate ladder, with the rungs well-defined and you just need to know how to get to the next level.

Self-employed individuals have to sit down and define the rungs themselves because while there are plenty of options, you only have time to pursue a few. It's even harder for location independent persons (or digital nomads) because there's also another question of when and where the feeling of wanting to settle will take place. As for me, I have not figured out this part yet. I'm focusing on learning the ropes, expanding my knowledge, and keeping my world open to endless possibilities.

My own journey is new and so far it has been a good start of self-discovery. Sometimes it feels like a complete struggle but I always go back thinking that this is something I know my future self will thank me for.

Are you living the location-independent life? Cheers to living the alternative lifestyle!

Today marks the sixth month that I've been out.
Out of my old loop, out of a regular job generating steady income, out of my previous routine.
I thought of writing this post to remember this day and to tell the story of how the past six months have been. To say that it is bittersweet is an understatement. To romanticize the experience would be to lie. The digital nomad, location-independent, strike anywhere life is not all unicorns and rainbows as one would like to imagine it to be. It's hard work, and I can honestly say that this is harder than when I had a corporate job with a regular stream of things to do and things to worry about. However, it is the path that I wish to keep and cling to as long as I could, if the universe permits.
For the past six months, I've been living off my meager savings and when it ran out, I relied on my earnings as a freelance writer to sustain me (and I still write for a living up to now). I started with the vision of living by the sea, going anywhere, anytime I want to, and I did exactly like that. I was someone with too much time on my hands, going anywhere aimlessly and for a moment, I may or may not have been a hedonist. A friend once told me that having too much time can sidetrack you from seeing and doing what's important. And that scared me for one bit because time, while I have plenty, is something that I can never take back.
Photo taken last Dec 17, 2015 - after spending 3 weeks in Mindanao

Six months later, I have met a lot of people who are true to their passions, who are dead on sure about the path they want to take, and who selflessly share their time, talent, and resources with others; it humbles me to know them and I wish I could infuse each bit of them into myself. Each person and experience has made me feel that there is something more, something larger than myself and my selfish vision of going anywhere, anytime I want to.

"Happiness only real when shared"

That phrase from Into The Wild says it all. Purpose is important and I think mine lies in that phrase (I think.. because one can't be too sure). I am most happy when I get to share the joy of experiencing things with others, may it be friends or strangers. The 'Why' of things is important. I've been searching for that one 'Why' and as of this writing, I still couldn't say I am 100% sure but I am there, almost certain. If you've come this far in reading this and still haven't figured your 'Why', take the time to do so. Your motivation ends when your 'why' ceases to make sense.

Sea turtle rescue at Dahican, Mati - I wished to see a turtle and there it was the next day
I've learned that: 
  1. Some dreams you just have to give up (maybe just for now or maybe it will never happen) in exchange for what you feel strongly about.
  2. You get to decide what you can throw out the window and what you can't live without.. I don't need much. 
  3. The things most important to you can move you to tears. The things that don't matter don't evoke that much emotion.
  4. There is much joy in having a genuine connection with people regardless of how fleeting the moment is.  
  5. You should always choose to be kind but remember that being kind is different from being plain stupid.
  6. It's easy to get lost in new ideas and experiences. You need family and friends to help you stay grounded and connected.
  7. You can change your mind (consequently, your reaction) about a person, about places, about events. Meditation has taught me to watch my emotions as they unfold and from there choose how I want to handle things.
  8. I'm turning into a dog person - which is fine - read number 7. 
I'm afraid I'll turn this post into a long winding post about self-realizations and start posting month's worth of notes but I'll keep it at this. The past 6 months were fun, revealing, rash, all a blur, enlightening, a rollercoaster of experiences, sudden breakdowns, fits of laughter.. anything and everything but a waste of time. Just like any good thing, I need to work harder this coming year for the life that I choose to live. I'm looking forward to spending the next months and years striving for the life that fills my big, fat heart with joy. <3 
Thank you to family and friends who have all been very supportive. See you on the road!


Coming from a one-year hiatus, I'm back with a pretty hardcore post. Go ahead and watch the video at the end.


I have a long-standing fear of small crawling or flying insects.. generally anything so small that can go and play inside bodily orifices (nose, ear, eyes, and all the other 'holes' we've got). Thinking of these things gives me the creeps. 

Naturally, stories of leeches (locally known as limatik) scare the heck out of me. Limatiks are widely known in the local hiking groups and there are thousands of horror stories that give me goosebumps. Last July 4, I had the chance to.. get acquainted with the little bloodsuckers.


Before setting out, I read blogs and asked Christine of Jovial Wanderer for tips. It's my first time at Mt. Makiling and while I know that the mountain is notorious for leeches, I needed to hear it straight from fellow hikers. Leeches are active during the rainy season and have an uncanny preference for warm-blooded creatures. Since the trail we took was unpopular (we were the second group to use the Yakult trail), the leeches welcomed us with all their slimy heart (if they have one). I came armed with isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle and wearing arm sleeves, long pants, and leggings. We left for the Yakult Trail around 8AM.
We were navigating the steep ascent of the Yakult Trail fairly well until the typhoon made its presence felt. It rained while we were in the mossy forest and the leeches all came out to play. I saw them on my rain jacket, pants, gloves, and on my arm sleeves. It's easy to just flick them away when they're just on your clothing. The first time a leech made contact was on my lips. I thought I had mud that I couldn't get off. Luckily, a fellow hiker plucked it off quickly. Five minutes later, there was thunder and lightning, a tree shook from above, and I suddenly felt a limatik in my eye. I stopped midstep on a steep trail, closed my eyes and asked a fellow hiker to take it off from my eye. Fortunately, again, he was able to pull the sucker off before it began to feed. There were four of us in the group who had the bloodsuckers burrowing into our eyes.

Watch the video and see how a leech was removed from a fellow hiker's eye. I think hers stayed for a little more than 2 hours. Since the leech was burrowed deep into the eye socket and could not be immediately removed, we continued to trek up to the summit. It seems that the leech had no intentions of feeding on her blood vessels so our team leader proceeded on removing the parasite.
After the leech-infested forest trek experience, I feel like I have grown some balls with regards to dealing with the bloodsuckers. The thought of leeches no longer scares me as much as before. (I hope the leech gods don't hear this and send an army to my bed..)  
Here are some tips if you're going on a leech-infested trail:
  • Wear tight clothing. Wear thick leggings, long pants, arm sleeves, gloves, and a scarf/headwear to cover your ears and head. If you have an extra scarf, wrap it around your neck.
  • Have a spray bottle of alcohol or saline solution ready. If you see a leech on the process of attaching itself, spray alcohol on the bloodsucker like a crazy gunman.
  • Keep your head down low. At some point during the trail, I looked up on a tree and I think that was the time the limatik jumped to my eye. 
  • Resist the urge to wipe the sweat off your face. Sweat has a small amount of salt which can drive away the bloodsuckers. 
  • Do a limatik check with your fellow hikers. 
  • Have fun! Don't let the limatik get the best of you. In our case, limatik bites were the least of our concerns. The steep, slippery, muddy trail made us forget them for a while. 
We reached the summit around 4PM and started the descent to Tabayak Camp via Los Banos trail at 4:30PM. Leeches were still all over the place but they were lesser in number compared to the ones on the Yakult Trail. It was an easy descent until we reached the campsite around 7:30PM. I was more than glad to finally sit back and relax for the night.

Thanks to the team for a fun and equally challenging training climb! To more limatik experience in Amuyao! 

Photo from Sir Migs' GoPro H4
Climb Details: Mt. Makiling Traverse via Yakult, Calamba-Los Banos Trail

Commute:
Ride any bus bound to Lucena and ask them to drop you off at Yakult in Turbina, Calamba
Cross the pedestrian bridge and take a tricycle to the jump off at Brgy. Makiling

Budget:
Around PHP500 for transportation, food, and guide fees