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Filipina Explorer is a travel blog that believes in the power of stories to connect us to the world, shape ideas, and move us to action. Read these stories from the archives.
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About Filipina Explorer
Hi! I'm Gretchen, a travel writer based in the Philippines. I created Filipina Explorer in 2009 to document my journeys through places, parenthood, and word weaving. This blog is a collection of those stories and everything in between. (Photo by Martin San Diego)
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A Good Day to Be 35

After long, dizzying weeks of drafting three-day mock tineraries from Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino to Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental to see which option is cheapest, I finally prebooked our near-expiry, one-way complimentary flights with CebPac, then purchased one-way tickets to CDO on seat sale. As yearly name day tradition goes, November 4 is a day we dedicate to a mountain.

However, complications arose this year.

Apart from piling article deadlines and loved ones' financial emergencies, on October 30th, I was also informed by clients that due to typhoon conditions and the long holiday, October payments would have to wait until banking resumes on the fifth.

We were to leave November 2 and arrive back on the fourth. I had nothing except P100 in my wallet.

My friend Celine told me, "If you really want it, the universe will find a way." I waited until a couple of days before the flight. The universe didn't yield.

"If one doesn't have extra money, then one shouldn't be borrowing money to travel. It's not a need. Maybe I should just give up the tickets?" The woman who said that, by the way, is also a stingy biatch who wouldn't waste even a bad-tasting two-peso quek-quek.

It was an impossible dilemma that I couldn't decide what to do with. Turns out I didn't have to.

The day before the flight, Celine volunteered to transfer money to me. "If anyone deserves this, it's you. Be selfish. Pay me back on the fifth," she said.

So, on the third, straight from Iligan City's majestic waterfalls and lechon stalls, we made our way to a little-known, mineral-rich mountain in Misamis Oriental called Mt. Anggas, along with veteran mountaineers who took us noobs in their circle like Lia was their grandchild. Inside our tent, Lia and I snuggled amid the cool westerly winds and the pitter-patter of the rain. On the fourth, as our eyes turned wide-eyed at the golden glow of sunrise against Macalajar Bay and omnipresent views of mountain ranges, I said, "It is a great day to be 35."

With little money, we enjoyed less must-sees in our days. Yet, we also came home with more must-feels in the pockets of our souls, all because there are so many good people surrounding us: strangers in the mountains, friends who empower our dreams, editors who are so patient with my shortcomings (cc: Timothy Jay, Ms. Marbee, and Carla). Indeed, it is the people who walk and stay with us in our moments of becoming and unbecoming that truly make leafing through another page worthwhile.

A family who loves you, friends who support and enable you, and adventures that are worth the risk - may you all enjoy this just as I did, and it seems, will always do.

Hiking Mt. Gola with a Kid (San Miguel, Bulacan)

This trek was nearly postponed. I crammed work till 2:45 am and was dead tired. But by 6:30 am, Lia woke me up, saying she wants to hike. I asked her thrice if she really wants to, hoping she'd say no. Every time, she said yes.

We headed first to the Kalawakan barangay hall in Dona Remedios Trinidad - San Miguel's mountainous neighbor - to inquire about a yet undocumented mountain. It turns out at 1 pm, no guide was around. We had already spent P600 on fare alone and dealt with a four-hour ride, traffic, and a whiny tricycle driver. We weren't going waste all those by taking a ride back home.

We asked the trike driver to turn back and drop us off at Sitio Madlum - a good 30 minutes away from Brgy. Kalawakan - so we can hike Mt. Gola instead. We weren't able to complete it in 2017 as I was severely hyperthyroid then.

Mt. Gola is the sister mountain of Mt. Manalmon. It''s visible on the other side of the river, just across the latter. You use the same trail for hiking, but after the stream crossing, a left turn on a prominent bifurcation will lead you to Mt. Gola (and a second river crossing. Mt. Manalmon only involves one river crossing - after Madlum cave). A right turn on this bifurcation leads to Mt. Manalmon. Twin hikes can be easily done in half a day, often starting in Mt. Manalmon.

Without asking which mountain we wanted to climb, the old guy manning the registration area wrote down "Mt. Manalmon" on our sheet. Calmly, I said, "Sa Gola po kami aakyat." He gave me that look as if I was a daft to even request it.

"Sigurado ka? 2 o' clock na." he asked, still not crossing out Manalmon on the paper. I nodded.

He beckoned a guide. The guide, a 40-some year old stern-looking male, repeated the question. "Gola? Sigurado ka, ma'am, kaya ng anak mo ang Gola?"

The registration officer butted in. "Eh sinusulat ko na nga sa papel Manalmon, pinigilan ako."

"Nakaakyat na po kami sa Gola. Nakaakyat na rin kami ng Manalmon," I replied.

A few more male guides in the background yelled out, "Gola? Hindi kaya nang bata yon. Porter ka. Papabuhat 'yan sa 'yo."

The apprehension is not unfounded. At 196 meters above sea level, Mt. Gola is 36 meters higher than Mt. Manalmon. Its trail is also a kilometer and a half longer each way. The trail to Mt. Manalmon's two peaks is mostly on flat terrain.

While two-thirds of this terrain is shared by Mt. Gola, the remaining one-third is a different beast. Hikers would have to negotiate rocky, uneven, and steeper surfaces for about 30 to 40 minutes on the last leg toward the summit, with one segment featuring a 30 to 40-degree incline. This short section, completed in around three minutes, may require the use of your hands and a rope.

Our guide didn't seem excited about the idea either. He never talked to us - not even to provide the obligatory pre-hike briefing about the mountain - unless I asked something. The one exception he did so was to only reconfirm if we've previously hiked the mountain. I told him matter-of-factly that I hiked Manalmon thrice already and Gola once, and three of those, Lia was with me.

In one instance, he distanced himself, brought out his walkie talkie, and remarked to another guide (who kept telling him we should have gone to Manalmon instead of Gola), "Nakapunta na daw sila diyan tatlong beses. Dapat nga diyan na lang eh."

I kept mum. As a woman, in the long run, you develop a sense of comprehension when people say things out of genuine concern and when they say it because they underestimate your gender. For six years that Lia and I traveled together, it's mostly the second one, and often, the remarks come from men.

For six years too, I've tried to explain that I don't encourage challenges with calculated risks for superlatives but for the experience. For our collective enjoyment. For her to develop a better appreciation of nature, judgment, problem-solving skills, and patience. For her to learn that if she wants to get something nice (i.e. a good view, trees to hug, and a dip in a river), she has to work her ass off for it.

But I've grown weary of explaining. I'd rather Lia show them what she can do than tell them. And I think she did.

Except for two knee-deep river crossings, our guide didn't carry her, nor did she ask to. Barely stopping for breaks, our entire hike lasted only three and a half hours. We made it back down before sunset. Through all of this, Lia didn't complain. And I didn't even have to say a word.



From the Cubao bus terminal, take a Baliwag Transit or Golden Bee bus to San Miguel, Bulacan. Tell the conductor to drop you off at the intersection going to Sibul. This is after Camias. You should see a police station on the right, and on the left a huge red horse signage.

Walk to the tricycle TODA/ terminal (sometimes a tricycle is already parked at the intersection where you'll alight), and tell the driver to drop you off in Madlum. The registration area is located from the parking lot just across the bridge.

(Bocaue, Norzagaray, Balagtas, Meycauayan, Marilao, and Sta. Maria)

Take any jeepney that plies the Sta. Rita exit via NLEX (It has to be via NLEX). Alight at Sta. Rita exit, right after the tollgate. Baliwag and Golden Bee buses regularly pass by (the signage will read San Miguel, Madlum, Gapan, or Cabanatuan). Tell the conductor to drop you off at the intersection going to Sibul. This is after Camias. You should see a police station on the right, and on the left a huge red horse signage.

Walk to the tricycle TODA/ terminal (sometimes a tricycle is already parked at the intersection where you'll alight), and tell the driver to drop you off in Madlum. The registration area is located from the parking lot just across the bridge.


Bus to San Miguel from Cubao and back - P234 (P117 per way)
Tricycle to and jumpoff point in Madlum - P480 (P240 per way; can comfortably fit 3 people)
Entrance fee to Madlum - P20
Environmental fee - P10
Guideship fee - P300 (for every 5 persons)
Use of bathroom for washing up - P20

TOTAL EXPENSES = P1,064 (one adult or one adult and a child)


5:00 am  Take bus from Cubao to Manila

8:00 am  Arrive in San Miguel; take tricycle to Sitityo Madlum

8:30 am  Arrive in jumpoff point; take footbridge to registration area

               Register, get guide, briefing

8:40 am  Start hike

10:40 am  Mt. Gola summit

                    Photo ops

11:00 am  Start descent

12:00 pm  Back at Madlum river

                    Swim; lunch

2:00 pm  Leave for Manila

6:00 pm  Back in Manila

The Top 3 Museums In and Near La Mesa, California

La Mesa, California is often noted for its beautiful weather, stunning scenery, and abundance of outdoor attractions. However, it's also a great place to learn more about history, art, and culture. Here are the top museums located in and near La Mesa where you can see impressive artifacts from around the world or discover fascinating facts about the city's own history.
La Mesa Historical Society
Want to learn more about the history of La Mesa? Be sure to visit the La Mesa Historical Society. This group helps to collect and preserve important documents to help educate community members and visitors about La Mesa's past. The historical society has three fascinating options for learning about the city's unique and interesting history:
  • McKinney House Museum: Tour this period-finished home to see what life was like for La Mesa residents in the early 20th century. 
  • Historical Society Archives: Visit the Palermo Building Research Reading Room to see the society's impressive archival collection with documents, newspapers, photographs, artifacts, and video and oral history records focused on the history of La Mesa.
  • Annual Historic Home Tour: Sign up for this yearly event, and you'll receive transportation via Old Town Trolley Buses to see some of the city's historic homes which have been beautifully restored.
La Mesa Depot Museum

Image via Flickr by ARG_Flickr

The La Mesa Depot Museum is conveniently located right in the heart of downtown near many of the top-rated hotels in La Mesa. It's actually the city's oldest building in its original form and the only San Diego and Cuyamaca Railway Station still in existence. This stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad was constructed in 1894. 
Though the stop has been out of service for decades, the original building has been carefully restored. Visiting this museum is like taking a step back in time. Pass through a ticketing and waiting area before exploring the telegrapher's station and the baggage room. View a steam locomotive and a string of freight cars on the nearby tracks. Be sure to check out the exhibit inside to learn even more about the station's history.
Heritage of the Americas Museum
Located just outside La Mesa in El Cajon, the Heritage of the Americas Museum features the prehistoric and historic art and culture of the Americas and the natural history of the world. The Natural Wing contains a vast collection of meteorites, minerals, gems, and fossils from around the globe, while the Archeology Wing focuses on pre-Columbian artifacts from the Americas. 
There is also the Anthropology Wing which is filled with artifacts from the last two centuries after the arrival of the Europeans. Finally, don't miss the opportunity to fully explore the museum's Art Wing, which features a vast collection of Western art along with a unique collection of Chinese artifacts, including a 2,000-year-old jade burial suit from the Han Dynasty.

Make your visit to La Mesa more enriching by visiting some of these local museums. With attractions that will interest kids and adults alike, any group can enjoy a fun and fascinating outing at these museums.

Santa Cruz Experiences You'll Never Forget

Vacations should be about making memories, and there is no better way to make memories than by trying new and exciting experiences. If you want to make your next vacation memorable, look for extraordinary activities. If you happen to be planning a trip to Santa Cruz, California, consider these four unusual ideas that will provide you with an unforgettable experience. 
Take Professional Surf Lessons
Image via Flickr by Tim Green aka atoach
California is known for its surfing, and travelers who are looking to immerse themselves into the culture of Santa Cruz need to look no further than the crashing waves of Monterey Bay. Regardless of your skill level, surf school instructors are equipped with the experience and knowledge to help you. From swimming with your board to balancing techniques, surf lessons will have you riding waves in no time. This fun and immersive activity will give you an unforgettable memory of your Santa Cruz vacation. 
Go Whale and Dolphin Watching
Do you want a truly life-changing experience? Find a whale and dolphin watching cruise. These incredible charters will take you out into the Monterey Bay where you can come across majestic sea creatures in their natural habitat. The list of sea life that you can encounter on a whale and dolphin watching cruise in Santa Cruz includes:
  • Humpback Whales.
  • Blue Whales.
  • Gray Whales.
  • Dolphins.
  • Porpoises.
  • Sea Otters.
  • Sea Lions.
The marine life you can come across while in Monterey Bay will depend on the time of year — so keep that in mind as you book your stay in Santa Cruz. 
Tandem Skydive
There is nothing more exhilarating than jumping out of an airplane 10,000 feet above the ground. You will freefall thousands of feet before releasing your parachute in a burst of excitement and then gliding safely to the ground. During the descent, you'll have unbelievable views of California and Monterey Bay. Skydiving over Santa Cruz is an experience that you will never forget, and one of the best ways to see the Bay area. 
Ride Thrill Rides at the Boardwalk
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is one of the must-see destinations while staying in Santa Cruz, California. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is an amusement park with free entry for locals and travelers alike. You will have to buy tickets if you want to enjoy the rides — which you definitely should. 
Thrill seekers will have no shortage of ride options, including one of America's most famous wooden roller coasters, the Giant Dipper. You can also enjoy the oceanic views from 12-stories up before freefalling on the Double Shot tower ride. The memories made at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk will bring a smile to your face long after you return from vacation. 
Going on vacation is a fun and exciting experience. You are able to step out of your daily routine and immerse yourself in a new environment. To help you make your Santa Cruz vacation even more memorable, try the four activities above. Not only will you enjoy each experience in the moment, but you'll keep that memory for many years to come.

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