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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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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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Five of the Most Naturally Beautiful Travel Destinations on Earth

As travelers, we’re more aware than any other demographic of just how vast, diverse, and beautiful our world really is. Whether we’re talking about the natural flora and fauna that spill out of the rainforests of the world, the majesty of the glaciers in the Arctic, or the mesmerizing shower of lights that make up the Aurora Borealis, planet Earth is an endless gallery of wonders that we, as travelers, are fortunate to bear witness to.

Not only can these experiences enrich our own lives, but they can introduce both awareness and hope to anyone who seek them out. As travelers, we have a responsibility to share the wealth of knowledge that we’ve gleaned about the beauty of the world, whether we’re using social media, our personal blogs, or any number of media platforms available to us.

You can get a great idea of just how amazing some of these places are by just referencing them in stock nature photos, but to fully enjoy them, you have to seem them for yourself. To help you get started, I’ve put together a list of five of the most naturally beautiful places in the world that you should definitely consider for you next trip!

1)   The Grand Canyon National Park

One of the most instantly recognizable landmarks not only in the USA but in the world, the Grand Canyon is a testament to the truly awesome power inherent in nature. Formed over 70 million years of erosion, the Grand Canyon spans an astounding 277 miles long, and in certain places, is more than 18 miles wide. One of the most highly visited locations in the world, the Grand Canyon welcomes over 5 million visitors each year.

There’s something truly awe inspiring about the Grand Canyon, whether it’s the fact that such an astounding feature has continued to evolve over millions of years or how it can convey the sense that, despite all of our achievements, we’re still very small in the grand scheme of the world. By standing on the edge of this immense precipice, and letting yourself bask in its majesty, you’ll find yourself both humbled and uplifted, and come to appreciate just how powerful the cycle of nature truly is.

2)   Machu Picchu

As the historic site that is believed to be the seat of the lost Inca civilization, this majestic landscape, where the lush greens of the mountains meets the seemingly impregnable stone of ancient structures, will wow anyone who gazes on its glory. Located in Peru, Machu Picchu has been attracting tourists, travelers, scholars, and historians for hundreds of years.

Machu Picchu is unique from many other natural spots of beauty in that it’s one of the few places where man’s efforts to establish a society didn’t bring instant decimation to the local ecology. The structures are made all of stone, carved out of the surrounding mountains, and the spare pockets of trees that grow amongst this jagged range of mountains have been given their own space to thrive in. Machu Picchu serves as an example of how man can advance our species, while leaving the Earth largely untouched, if we would only put in the effort.

3)   Mount Fuji

Standing over 12,000 feet high, Mount Fuji has come to be synonymous with Japan, and helps to enhance the air of majesty and mystery that has long been associated with the Land of the Rising Sun. It is so prominent that when the filmmakers of the historical drama, “The Last Samurai” needed a visual cue that would be instantly recognizable, and let both Tom Cruise’s character and the audience know he’d arrived in Japan, they used a shot of Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji has long served as not only a visual icon to represent Japan to the world but also as a prime destination for adventurers and geologists. The mountain is rife with trails for hiking, with plenty of stops along the various routes to rest and resupply. Paragliding has also become a favored activity during a trip to Mount Fuji, and several businesses that specialize in paragliding training use Mount Fuji as their primary testing ground.

4) The Amazon Rainforest

Home to the largest single collective of different species on earth, the Amazon Rainforest is a sprawling forestscape teaming with different animals and plants. Covering over 2 million square miles of South America’s Amazon basin, the Amazon Rainforest is one of nature’s most extensive natural blankets that supports the birth and development of some of the most amazing species of animals on Earth.

Within the rainforest itself, you can find almost every kind of exotic creature imaginable, from parrots to frogs, monkeys to sloths, and bats to cougars. Each has their own role to play within this beautiful field, and all are unique in their own way. A trip to the Amazon rainforest will definitely help you appreciate just how diverse and wonderful the species that we share this planet with are.

5)   The Vatnajokull Glacier

As one of Iceland's most beautiful scenes, the Vatnajokull Glacier has been capturing the imaginations of and inspiring wonder in visitors for a long time. Covering over 9% of the entire volume of Iceland, the glacier is yet another reminder of just how extensive and awesome the natural powers of the world are.

Developed over thousands of years through freezing and thawing, the glacier stands as one of the biggest area glaciers in the world. It also enjoys an oft disputed reputation for having the world’s longest, continuous line of site, at over 550 km, as reported by Guinness World Records. It’s said that when weather and atmospheric conditions are perfect, one can see the outline of the Faroe Islands, which are over 340 miles away, from the edge of the glacier. Regardless of whether or not that claim is entirely accurate, the Vatnajokull Glacier is one of the most naturally beautiful creations in all of nature, and would be well worth a trip!

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.

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