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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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Getting Cultural in Yogyakarta

Words and images by Nikki Ferriols

On planning a visit to Indonesia, the first destination that comes to mind is always Bali. Its beaches and coastal town vibe mixed with the island's distinct history has attracted tourists around the globe for decades. But Bali is just one in Indonesia's 17,000+ islands. Dig a little deeper into the country's attractions and you might just surprise yourself.

One city that seems to be creeping up the radar among visitors is the city of Yogyakarta. Yogyakarta, sometimes referred to as Jogja (also, how it is pronounced), is the last monarch-ruled city in Indonesia. It is located on the island of Java and is accessible via flights from either Jakarta or Bali. Dubbed as the cultural hub of Java, the city is a blend of  youthful modern energy that brings traditional culture to the forefront. 

Sometimes deemed as a gateway to other sites around the Javanese island, the city itself has much to offer. Take a trip back in time and visit historical monuments and delve deeper into their culture by participating in decades old activities. 

Taman Sari

Learn more about Indonesian monarchy by making your way to Taman Sari Water Castle. A short distance from the Kraton or Royal Palace, the monument functioned as a defense fortress, religious site, and resting place when it was first built in the 17th century. Today, some of the castle's buildings have either been demolished or used as housing by locals, but some remain in tact and stand as monuments of Indonesia's royal history. Around and inside the compound, a town called Cyber Village can be explored. Known for their colorfully painted houses, the town is an Instagram hit where you just have to snap a photo or two.

A walk through the pools, village, and down a staircase will lead you to Sumur Gumuling, mosque used for Muslim cleansing rituals years ago. Its architecture is composed of five staircases to symbolize the five pilars of Islam: profession of faith, praying fives time a day daily, alms giving, fasting during Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to Mecca. 

Taman Sari Water Castle, Wisata Taman Sari Jalan Tamanan, Patehan, Kecamatan Kraton, Kota Yogyakarta, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta 55133, Indonesia


Connect with your spirituality by visiting Borobudur Temple.  Built in the 9th century, the monument is considered the largest Buddhist temple in the world, consisting of nine stacked platforms and topped by a central dome.  The structure is decorated with 504 Buddha statues and 2,672 bas relief panels that depict the teachings of Buddhism. Across the storeys of Borobudur are 72 stupas and one mother stupa at the very top. Its role in history and Buddhism is widely revered, considered as a shrine to learn more about the religion and a place of pilgrimage.

Situated right outside of Yogyakarta in the town of Magelang, Borobudur Temple can be reached either by bus or car. It only  takes around 1-2 hours to get there. If you’d much rather spend more time in town, there are a few hotels and homestays around the area. 

For a more enlightening experience, book a sunrise or sunset tour. Climb the 100 steps to the top and take in the view of the mountains as the sky's colors gradually change. Before heading back down, don't forget to circle the mother stupa clockwise three times. In Buddhist belief, if you do this, your wishes will be granted.

Borobudur Temple Compound, Jl. Badrawati, Kw. Candi Borobudur, Borobudur, Kec. Borobudur, Magelang, Jawa Tengah, Indonesia

Batik Making

The Javanese  batik is a decorated piece of cloth made using the processes of waxing and dying and is revered as a national treasure in Indonesia. There are three types of batik, differentiated by the process in which they are made: printing, stamping, and handwritten. The handwritten batik is regarded as the most meticulous, time consuming, and expensive of all.

After a design is placed on the fabric, melted wax is drawn over the design. Once dry, a batik undergoes several stages of dying and/or painting until it becomes a colorful piece of work. These steps may be repeated several times and, depending on the design, can even take months to finish.

Visit Batik Plentong to see firsthand how this artwork is made. Once you've learned the basics, try your hand at making your own handwritten batik piece to bring back home.

Batik Plentong, Tirtodipuran St No.48, Mantrijeron, Yogyakarta City, Special Region of Yogyakarta 55143, Indonesia

Silversmithing Workshop

Years ago, the town of Kotagede established itself as the home of Yogyakarta's silversmiths. Until today, the neighborhood is speckled with silver craft stores. Take time to visit at least one to learn more about their products.

At HS Silver, one can get a firsthand experience as to how their silver pieces are made. Take a quick tour around their workshop, meet the silversmiths, and witness how their most famous product, filigree jewellery, is crafted. In this method, wire is bent and coiled to produce elaborately designed artworks that are nothing short of elegant. 

After the tour, participate in a workshop and you can get to take home your very own filigree piece. It might take a while to complete, but it will all be worth it.

HS Silver, Jl. Mondorakan No.1, Prenggan, Kec. Kotagede, Kota Yogyakarta, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta 55172, Indonesia

Unwind at an Angkringan

As the sun sets, you'll notice mats being set up outside stalls along the sidewalks. These are roadside establishments known as angkringans, ready to welcome customers.  An angkringan is essentially a cart or stall that sells food and drinks and exchanges tables and chairs for mats.

Munch on satay (grilled meat) aplenty and wash it all down with a plethora of Indonesian beverages. Don't miss a chance to drink Kopi Joss, a Jogja classic of black coffee dunked with a burning piece of coal. Watch the coffee sizzle and listen to that 'ssss' sound, which is said to be the onomatopoeia that gave the drink's name. The coal adds a dark, smokey taste and is believed by locals to neutralize the coffee's acidity. Angkringans are found all over Yogyakarta and is enjoyed by everyone in the city. So kick back, relax, and do as the locals do.

Shop at Malioboro

Before heading home, don't forget to pass by Malioboro Street so you can bring home pieces of Yogyakarta with you. The major shopping street of the city, the area is populated with stalls that sell batik, clothing, leather goods, food, and many more. If you kmp

9 Awesome Things to Do in Coron

Image by jahcordova 

Most Filipinos and tourists light up at the mention of Coron. After all, this limestone-studded island is the most beautiful place in the Philippines, and boasts of seven lakes. It is home to some of the loveliest white sand beaches in the world with clear blue waters. 

You are making a big mistake if you still haven’t placed Coron in your bucket list. It looks like a smaller and quieter version of El Nido. This sleepy fishing town is fast becoming a tourist magnet, and most travelers prefer to book Jetstar air tickets for their flights to Coron.

Coron and its natural wonders simply defy logic and force you to question if you are truly in paradise or if it;s a dream. Get ready for nonstop adventures that take you to hidden lagoons, underwater mountains, and otherworldly reefs! So, go ahead and book cheapest flights to Coron and plan a wonderful trip to paradise.

Here are some to the top things to do and enjoy while in Coron.
  • Admire sunset at Lualhati Park. Make your way to Lualhati Park for an amazing sunset experience.  Do not miss this chance as it is indeed one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have in Coron. Do not forget to bring your camera!
  • Enjoy Coron Bay. Coron Bay is made of a breathtaking mix of tall limestone cliffs. It boasts multiple shipwrecks and natural reefs. This is what makes it a perfect spot for divers and snorkelers. Just locate the best spots for diving and swimming to enjoy the bay.
  • Visit Kingfisher Park for natural life. Get ready to investigate tons of natural life, and countless species of birds in the mangroves of Kingfisher. The flora and fauna species found here are endemic to Palawan, which means you can only see them here. Take a local tour guide with you to get a closer look at the wildlife.
  • Explore Twin Lagoon. Do not miss the opportunity to see Twin Lagoon during your island hopping tours. You are sure to get blown away by the towering cliffs surroundingyou  and the abundance of fish below. You can swim in the two lagoons during low tide.
  • Dive in Barracuda Lake. Get a chance to see mysterious underwater rock formations by diving in the famous Barracuda Lake. This is indeed an incredible dive spot where you can dive deep down to see those underwater rocks.
  • Soak in Maquinit Hotspring. Maquinit Hotspring is one of the few saltwater hot springs in the world. Sitting in those natural hot waters amid a mangrove forest is a soothing experience. As the pools produce therapeutic waters, the experience leaves you feeling relaxed.
  • Wreck diving in Sangat and Lusong. Wreck diving destinations are very popular in Palawan. In Sangat and Lusong Islands, you can spot submarine chasers and a number of ships and gunboats that sank during World War II. As those ships are well-scattered, you get a different experience every time you dive in a different spot.
  • Experience Coral Garden. Dive in Coral Garden at depths of 40 meters or more.What Coral Garden offers you is a crystal-clear dive and the chance to see the protected reefs. It is home to rich biodiversity. Note that this activity is meant only for the experienced divers, but for non-divers, you can snorkel and still have a good glimpse of the corals.
  • Stay in Sanctuaria Treehouse – If you want a unique experience in Coron, why not stay in a treehouse? Well, all you need to do is head towards the Sanctuaria Treehouse and away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Enjoy the sweeping view over the mangroves, and spend some laid-back time in your treehouse.

Sexual abuse destroyed me. Motherhood saved me.

As a child, I was shy but did well in school. I played and hung out with friends regularly. On the outside, I was pretty much your average kid. But what many people didn't know - and don't know until now - was I was raped when I was five and molested by different men on separate occasions: between the ages of 4 and 8, twice as a teen, and once as an adult. Eleven out of the 13 perpetrators were people I know and trusted. These happened in places deemed safe and non-threatening. 

I subconsciously compartmentalized these memories. They festered inside me. The effects of sexual abuse did not manifest until I was around 15. I never even remembered anything about the rape until one night in bed, when I was 17, the details suddenly surfaced. They were sharp, vibrant, and stinging.

I lied awake for hours - confused, crushed, and crying helplessly. 

I didn't tell anyone until I was already 22. I lived day in and day out carrying shame, guilt, and a misplaced burden of responsibility. When I was 7, someone caught a man grabbing my vagina and commented, "Siguro gusto mo kaya di ka sumigaw (Maybe you liked it that's why you didn't scream)." I thought maybe if I called for help, pleaded, or resisted enough in any other occasion, I would not have been sexually assaulted. I had a hand in my own circumstance. 

It was a lonely path to tread. I learned that it hurt to smile. Every time I went home from school - and later on, work - I locked the door behind me and didn't look back.

In an attempt to gain control of my life, I dove into a sea of destructive habits: binge drinking, eating disorders, underperforming in school. I began inflicting harm to myself using any object I could get my hands on: rulers, blades, shards of glass, pens. To let the pain bleed.  Initially, it did. The sight of crimson blood on my skin rendered instant relief and adrenaline. "Now the pain is symmetrical inside and out," read one of my journal entries. 

But the following day or two, the pain would swim right back into my bed. So I hurt myself some more until I had to wear jackets and pants at home in the sweltering summer heat to hide the wounds on my arms and legs.

During the semester I was about to graduate from college, I found out I flunked two major subjects. That meant I wasn't going to graduate.  My family expected me to be a doctor. I was supposed to take care of them after pre-med. 

I wanted to move on, but I was tired taking on what seemed like a pointless fight. I had a world purposely built for me, and now that world is no longer possible.

The last thing I wanted was to disappoint or hurt anyone. They deserve better lives without a fuckup like me. I texted a friend, saying, "Please tell him I love him, but I can't do this anymore. I'm so sorry."

I swigged a bottle of beer, along with a handful of pills: six paracetamol, two anti-anxiety medications, a sleeping pill, and others that I no longer remember. At six in the evening, I passed out in my bedroom. 

Sunlight seeped through window cracks. I squinted, lightheaded and dazed. Was I in a dream? Am I finally home? 

I turned and saw an empty beer bottle. Pills and cigarette ashes on the floor. A chipped cherub figurine. Tens of unread messages and missed calls. It's been 12 hours and apparently, I am still alive. 

I shivered with anger. All I wanted was to find peace. Instead, the Universe threw me back into chaos. I violently chucked books in the air and gave the heavens the dirty finger. "Why do you have to keep me alive? You are a sick sadist."

My phone rang. On the other end of the line was a familiar voice. "Napakababaw ng dahilan mo para magpakamatay. Para hindi ka lang naman ga-graduate (Your reason for attempting suicide is so shallow. You're not graduating, that's all)," it said. 

Maybe it seems silly and irrational to take one's life for things that can still be rectified. But it was the only rational way for me to find comfort. It was not just one thing that drove me to the edge. It's a series of small burdens, with school problems as the tipping point. Back then, I wasn't aware that everything - the band-aid solutions, the misery, the rebellion - pointed back to sexual violation. That to take back my life, I have to address the root cause. 

Every over-the-counter medication and tool I used for self-harm were confiscated. "You will live."

So lived I did, day after day until they turned into years. I nursed wounds, ill-equipped for the battle - without medications, a shrink, an ear. I got married and became more preoccupied with work and house duties. Yet, some days remained terrible that I wanted to sleep through them and never wake up. No kind of relationship could fix me. Maybe you can be happy, but not really. Maybe happiness is a fish, and it's like a lottery on who gets to bait the fattest one. Maybe everyone's fish is supposed to be mediocre. 

I was on a plateau until I gave birth to my daughter at 28.

As I watched her grow, the darkness dissipated inch by inch. I didn't understand how or when or why, but the world became sunny again. I started looking forward to waking up. I can breathe easy. Everything felt lighter. Whenever I walk roads, it is no longer aimless and hazy because she is walking beside me. I can charge into the world with might and courage.

Suddenly, taking care of someone did not feel like a conundrum. It is a joy. A privilege. A purpose. A legacy. To know something so pristine can be birthed by a soul that's been tainted black; that my time with her is fleeting made me appreciate mortality.

With her, I found a reason to live. Not just survive, but truly live with hope, love, freedom, and trust in humanity - things that were so elusive before. And all it takes is a smile, a hug; a tiny voice uttering, "Mama", "I love you", and "You are the best gift God gave to me". 

My daughter and I have bad days when money is so tight that we share a couple of fried eggs or instant noodles for a meal. There are rare occasions when I don't want to talk to people for days to a week. But I go through them knowing I will still come out alive and stronger not because as a mother I need to, but because I want to. Because I now possess the certainty that after those brooding days, I have her to come back to and a life whose every second is worth living.  

Some find redemption in career success, friendships, intimate relationships, or religion. I found mine in the purest and most unconditional love. It turns out that sometimes, it's the children who save their parents, not the other way around. When I look back at the morning I questioned why I had to be kept alive, I am relieved that I now know the answer. And I am eternally grateful for this second shot at life. There are parents who, despite their great love for their kids, succumb to mental illness - sometimes with grim outcomes.

I want to tell you that if you suffered or are suffering from abuse, depression, or both, you have the right to be happy. But more than anything, you have the right to forgive yourself. You should not account for a fault that is not yours. Your abuser does not deserve to steal one more second of your life. They have stolen enough. They have scarred you, but your scars do not define you. 

Know that it will be a long, dark, and seemingly endless road. But if you fight and hang on a little more, even though it won't be easy, it will get easier. Things will not turn out to be the best, but they will be better. I hope you find your light and hold on to it, no matter how faint its rays are. You deserve to see that the world isn't as fucked up as we think it is. As I can attest, happiness and redemption are possible at the end of that road, if only we hold on just one more day.

All photos taken by Martin San Diego

7 Small but Useful Items to Have on Hand When Traveling

If you are planning to take a trip, then you are probably in packing mode. You are deciding what you need to take with you to make your trip successful. If you are looking for specialty items, there are some great ones out there for travel. And most of them are small and easy to take with you. They can be especially useful for travel abroad.

Read on to learn about 7 small and helpful items that you'll want to have on your next adventure.

Dependable Case

If you go anywhere, especially out of the country, your phone can be an important lifeline. If you get lost, your GPS can help guide you to your next destination. You can use it if you need to contact someone. Not to mention its creative uses, like snapping photos of exciting spots.

To protect your phone while traveling, you should invest in a good case. For example, the new protective cases at getcasely.com could be perfect for your trip. You are sure to find one that fits your style in addition to providing a sense of security, just have a good look around.

Portable Batteries

When you are on the go, you don't always have time to sit down and charge your phone and other electronic devices. It can also be difficult to actually find a place to do it outside of a your hotel. If you carry around a portable battery or power bank, you can use that instead. Just remember to charge them up again after you have used them!

Document Organizer

To travel safely and effectively, you must have all your proper documentation. This includes things like passports, visas, and government issued IDs. You may want to consider purchasing a special organizer. You can find document organizers in a variety of sizes and styles. They do make small ones that are easy to bring with you. Most importantly, make sure that whatever you chose is able to be secured.

International Adapters

When you travel to a different country, it is a good idea to bring an adapter. The outlets in your hotel will likely be very different from your ones at home. Being able to plug in your devices is important. You can purchase adapters for each country that you go to. They also have large adapter blocks that include a range of different adapter types.

Mobile Hotspot

When traveling in large urban centers, it shouldn't be too difficult find and use free Wifi. Being connected to the internet is useful for communication, navigation, and more. If you think that finding free Wifi might be a challenge, consider bringing a mobile hot-spot. They can be set up and used like a normal connection.

Water Bottle With Purifier

Having access to clean water is extremely important when traveling. You need to be able to stay healthy and hydrated. You can even purchase a water bottle that has a built in purifier. To use it, just fill your water bottle up at almost any spot. Then, you will be be able to drink clean, filtered water while on the go.

Photo Accessories

While you visit new places, you may want to take some photos to remember them by. If you have a nice camera that you use, you can easily take it with you. Just make sure to keep it safe. You can also attach special lenses to your smart phone to take different kinds of photos.

These are only a few small and useful accessories for your trip. You may find something even better suited for you!

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