Australia · travel guide

A Day to Wander Sydney

Sunday is a perfect day to wander around Sydney because you can take unlimited bus, train, and ferry rides for only $2 with your Opal card. (That’s Australian dollars, so about 1.50 USD)

Start at Circular Quay and mosey to the Opera House

From wherever you are, catch a bus and/or train to Circular Quay. Make sure you say “key” and not “kway”.

For routes and schedules, Google Maps is all you need and it will give you real-time updates on changes and delays.

From the train, you will emerge at the ferry terminal and we’ll get back to that. First, walk along the harbor, past the Harbor Bridge, and head toward the Opera House.

Take your time and definitely stop to enjoy the street artists and performances.

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There are plenty of spots to grab a coffee to go or a bottle of water, both of which will cost you $4-5.

Get your photos of and with the Opera House and the bridge and go down the steps to the lower level of the Opera House for bathrooms and the cafe.

Stroll the Royal Botanic Garden

Get lost here for a while; it’s already one of my favorite places in the city and a beautiful place to kill however many hours you’d like.

Have a picnic, have a nap, read a book, eat a snack, and enjoy the view.

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Catch a ferry to Manly Beach

When it gets too hot in the gardens and the water starts to look quite inviting, walk back to the ferries and catch one to Manly Beach. They leave Circular Quay every 30 minutes and it’s roughly a 30-minute trip across the harbor.

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Cool down in the Pacific Ocean

Walk through the pleasant shopping street, grab a bite, and find a spot in the sand. Watch the surfers and the waves or maybe even take them on.

Eventually, the sun will start to set behind the trees and they will cast shade on the beach but if you want to, you can walk back toward the ferry and catch a bit more of the sun on the beach beside the wharf before it sinks into the harbor.

Without any waves, the water on this beach is beautifully translucent and, once it touches your toes, its cool clarity will pull you right in.

Have a drink to the setting sun

Find a pub with a view and sip on a cold one to the last of the day’s light.

Travel Tips

Top 10 Pros and Cons of Expat Life

The best and worst of living outside the borders of your citizenship.

Having recently joined a variety of groups and communities of traveling teachers, world schoolers, and expats in general, I’ve had a number of interesting conversations on the pros and cons of the expatriate-slash-globetrotter lifestyle.

I’ve been living in the Philippines, a country far from my own, for eight years now and the process of preparing to leave–whether or not for good I can’t say–was an interesting time to reflect on the good and bad elements of my life as an “expat” or, in plain English, an immigrant.

Since I’ve also lived in a few countries in Africa and many of my online coworkers live in China and otherwise all over the world, I’ll avoid centering this post on any one country or continent and try instead to include not only my own experiences but also what I’ve gathered from fellow expats along the way.

Having been raised as a third-culture kid and now being a mother myself, I will, of course, be discussing how the expat life impacts children. However, that’s not what this list is centered on.

Instead, I’m looking at the bare-boned questions of what makes an expat leave their home and what makes them miss it.

Pros

1. The Freedom

This, more than anything, is my personal number one. It’s why I will–if it’s entirely up to me–likely always live outside of my country of citizenship. It’s hard to say home because I’m not sure anymore which country I would identify as such.

When I say freedom, I’m not talking exclusively about that feeling of heading to the airport with a suitcase, walking away from what had been your life and excess belongings, feeling light as a feather and ready to explore the world.

I’m also talking about the freedom to do more or less whatever you want without the constraints of an often rigidly organized and restrictive western world.

Life in most non-western countries can be considerably less orderly, but far less restrictive as well.

(Although I should point out that some countries offer us the best of both worlds. I’m thinking of places like Taiwan, a country with excellent infrastructure where you can drink beer in public. No wonder it consistently tops the expatriation charts.)

However, excepting such examples as Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, and Japan, many less-developed countries in Asia, Africa and the Central and South Americas tell quite a different story.

Whether it’s the lack of modern infrastructure, prevalent and multilateral corruption, or perhaps that people simply don’t care about such trivial issues as whether or not one should be allowed to harvest rainwater, the tradeoff for a somewhat messy and unstructured life in a third-world country is that there are far fewer restrictions on what you can and cannot do.

When I bought a motorcycle and, having never ridden and with no lessons or license to my name, rode it home on Manila roads I basked in that freedom.

Granted, it isn’t always a good thing but it is what draws me to the expat life nonetheless–to the point, in fact, that I will likely never be able to (re)assimilate into either the Netherlands or–God forbid–the US.

Call it the travel bug if you will but for some, once we see the world, the place we had called home–no matter its size–will always be too small to contain us. Being contained, after all, is quite unbearable once you’ve had a taste of freedom.

2. The Learning Experience

This goes for you, your kids if you have them, and in some ways even your friends and family back home because the things you learn living abroad will change you as a person.

For one, your view of the world will widen as you begin to understand and grow close to people born and raised in a country and culture different from your own.

Additionally, you will pick up new languages and as you reach fluency in a new tongue you will awaken new areas of your brain and start to think in new ways.

If you travel with kids, they will pick up new languages faster than they can put away their toys and if they start speaking at a young age they will achieve near native-speaker fluency the way adults never quite can. This will give them a huge advantage and increase their options in any career path.

Finally, you will learn a lot about life in general, especially by seeing how simple and enjoyable it can be.

The things we find to stress out over and the first-world problems we create are laughable when you realize how little you need to live a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. You don’t need many things (the less you have to pack, the better), or even much money, which leads right to a third advantage.

3. The Cost of Living

This ties right in with freedom and is another thing I’ve loved about living in the Philippines: cost of living is low. That means I didn’t have to work fulltime to make a decent living and that gave me the freedom to spend more of my time doing whatever I want.

4. The People & The Stories

The most interesting people I’ve met are travelers–ever since I was a child I’ve loved their stories–and there’s no better way to meet them than by traveling.

I’ll have to write a post one day on some of the fascinating people I’ve met and the insane stories they’ve told.

5. Being a Stranger (or feeling like a celebrity and a zoo animal at the same time)

This is at the bottom of my list of pros because in some ways it can definitely become a bit of a con. However, though we like to complain about it, I think deep down most of us expats secretly enjoy it.

The simple truth is that in most cases, being different from everyone else allows you to do things most people won’t or can’t.

For example–as a Brit living in China pointed out–because you’re already an oddball, you can go ahead and do all the odd things your heart desires. Since you’re attracting attention anyway, you might as well make the most of it.

Once you get used to constantly being stared at and talked about, it stops mattering. Well, either that or you become really good at ignoring it.

For me personally, this is a tough one because it’s a feeling I have almost everywhere, including at home in Holland. When I’m in Holland I’m not really Dutch; somehow I still tend to stand out, especially in the small village where I went to high school.

When I visited America, I did not at all feel American and found it difficult to identify with the culture. Visiting Australia earlier this year was uniquely enjoyable, on the other hand, because I felt significantly less odd than I do in most countries–probably because it’s such a melting pot of immigrants from Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world and people are generally laid back.

Cons

1. The Mess (infrastructure, bureaucracy, trash)

Whether it’s the mess of infrastructure, the bureaucracy, or the literal trash, messy is often a part of expat life, and again I put this in the first place because it’s what I find the most difficult to deal with.

By nature, I’m a fairly organized and efficient person: I don’t like messes, especially ones that result in wasted time. I also despise bad smells and stay as far away as I can from the Pasig River.

Sydney, where I am now, is such a welcome contrast from Manila because it’s so fresh and so clean. On the other hand, it is a lot more expensive.

2. Lack of Access to Specialty Items, Your Favorite Things from Home, Your Friends & Your Family

Whether it’s English tea and meat pie, any good European cheese or sausages, Canadian cheese curds, or salty Dutch haring and licorice, there will be things you miss from home that may be near-impossible to find.

But, if visiting friends and family isn’t enough, at least it’s a reason to make that trip back home every now and then.

Right. I haven’t talked about family yet.

Yes, being away from them is tough but honestly, the most difficult part is saying goodbye. After that, you go on building your life and with social media, there are a million ways to stay in touch.

I will say that when you have kids, not having family around to help you take care of them is especially difficult. Beyond that, family is important to kids: my daughter cherishes any opportunity to see her grandmother, uncles, aunts, and cousins.

However, I see missing home or family and friends in other parts of the world as just another wonderful reason to travel.

3. Health & Safety

Honestly, based on personal experience, it hardly seems appropriate to list this as a con. I have been asked over and over if living in Ivory Coast, or Nigeria, or the Philippines, was dangerous, and I’ve honestly never felt that it was. I visited Baltimore once though; there’s a city with some spots to avoid.

However, just because I’ve never experienced what I would consider a serious threat to my safety in a third world country doesn’t mean that I don’t know people who have. For some, safety is a primary reason not to travel or relocate to a third-world country. To that, I can only say: danger is everywhere.

I ride a motorcycle to get through Manila traffic and people tell me it’s dangerous. Yes, maybe it is; so is driving a car; so is crossing the street. You can either live your life in fear of danger or–with a few reasonable precautions–you can live your life.

If you’re going somewhere that might be considered dangerous for foreigners, take some reasonable precaution.

For example, if you want to shop at Divisoria–Manila’s massive and crowded commercial center–dress plainly, don’t wear expensive jewelry or accessories, and keep your valuables and/or your bag in front of you and not on your back or in your pockets.

Another safety-related concern includes health care: there’s a good chance that it won’t be on the level of what you’re used to back home.

Conversely, some forms of healthcare can be available at a high standard and more affordable prices than in western countries. Dental and optical procedures in the Philippines are an example of that.

4. The Discomfort

Whether it’s extreme weather conditions, uncomfortable transportation, or socially awkward situations, travelers and expats alike have to be comfortable with discomfort.

More so than the sticky heat and heavy humidity of Metro Manila, what tends to make me most uncomfortable is the blatant staring.

5. A Different Kind of Etiquette

Finally, the people in your new home may be intolerably polite or outrageously rude but either way, you’ll have to adjust to new social norms and a different kind of etiquette.

You may very well find after living somewhere for years that you still struggle to relate to the culture.

Conversely, you may find that you have adopted so many elements of this new culture that you experience reverse culture shock when visiting home or repatriating.

At the end of the day, I feel that the reasons to leave home and live a different kind of life–if only for a while–decisively outweigh the cons.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

 

My MMA Journey · Philippines

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 12: Best of the Arts in Manila

It’s been almost a year and a half since I first stepped into a boxing gym for my first lesson.

After about six months of that, I tried my hand (and foot, knee, elbow) at Muay Thai for a few months, before taking a break for a trip to Australia.

Upon returning to the Philippines, I trained for a few weeks at Lakay, an MMA gym in the mountains of Baguio City. While there, I was introduced to grappling and–seeing how terrible I was at it–I took up Brazilian jiu-jitsu back here in Manila.

Now I’m packing my bags for the skies again and wrapping up my third month of jiu-jitsu at Fitness Unlimited.

Here are my favorite things about each art I’ve had the pleasure of trying in Manila (and Baguio).

Boxing

Elorde was my boxing home for some time and I had a number of good trainers but I must say that it was at The Den where I, shall we say perfected, my punches with the help of one of their head trainers.

 

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The Den Fitness and Athletics; get great apparel from Pinay Fitness

 

Here’s what I love about boxing: It’s fun to hit things, and in Manila, there are gyms on every street corner where you can do just that. If you want the real deal, though, I hear you have to train with the national boxing team and they have relocated to Baguio–another reason to head north for your training.

Bonus: nothing gives you tight abs like boxing. Jiu-jitsu comes close, though.

Muay Thai

I’ve done a bit of Muay Thai at Elorde, The Den, B.A.M.F., Team Lakay,  iGym Yaw-Yan Fervilleon, and Fitness Unlimited.

Why I love Muay Thai: it challenged my balance and improved my footwork, which was a weakness of mine when boxing. It also forces you to master your breathing–I nearly hyperventilated the first time I did 50 kicks–and builds serious leg muscle.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

With a 30-day trial at B.A.M.F. and then three months at Fitness Unlimited, I’ve enjoyed a fairly solid introduction to the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

What I love about jiu-jitsu: it’s a struggle from the bottom up, but–comparable to say, rock climbing–nothing is more satisfying than getting past the point where you almost give up and making it to the top, in this case, of your opponent.

Jiu-jitsu is, in my opinion, humbler than boxing or kickboxing, or perhaps it would be better to say that it’s more humbling–and that’s exactly what I love about it.

Also, you can join amateur competitions after only a month of training, whereas competing in boxing or Muay Thai can be a little more daunting.

 

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Brazilian jiu-jitsu class at Fitness Unlimited Submission Sport Paranaque

 

MMA

MMA is a violent sport. To be honest, I’ve never watched UFC and, excepting names like Rousey and MacGregor that buzz around, I don’t know any of its fighters.

As a hobby, a workout routine, and a competitive challenge, however, I find it quite fantastic. It’s an excellent way to build physical, mental, and practical strength, fitness, balance, speed, and coordination and it never gets boring.

Plus, it feels good to know that you could sweep someone twice your size off of you and incapacitate them if necessary.

Hands down, my favorite place to practice MMA is Team Lakay in Baguio. There’s nothing quite like it.

 

Philippines · travel guide

A Backpacker’s Guide to the Complete Baler Surf Experience

Destination: Baler, Aurora
Objective: learn how to surf in four days

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Planning and Budgeting for Your Surf Trip

Travel & Transportation

The bus from Cubao to Baler and back is 650 pesos each way if you take the Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe. It’s a faster and more comfortable trip than the regular air-conditioned Genesis buses and doesn’t cost much more.

Bus schedule:
Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe leaves Cubao at 1:00 AM and arrives in Baler around 6:00 AM
Deluxe buses also leave at 12:30, 1:30, and 2:30 AM, with another Semi-Deluxe at 3:30 AM. The Deluxe bus costs 730 pesos, while the Semi-Deluxe is only 650.

Two Semi-Deluxe buses leave Baler bound for Cubao, one at 4:00 AM and one at noon. Three Deluxe buses are scheduled at 1:00, 2:00, and 3:30 PM.

When you arrive in Cubao depends on traffic; in my case, I left on the noon bus and got to Cubao after 6:00 PM, meaning the trip back was a good hour longer than the night-ride to Baler.

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From the bus terminal in Baler, a trike to the Sabang Beach area will only cost you 15 pesos.

Accommodations

If you’re looking for something simple but nice, affordable and still close to the beach, I highly recommend Go Surfari House on T. Molina Street. You can book in advance on Airbnb for about 500 pesos per night. You’ll get a bed with a fan in a shared room and a tasty breakfast.

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I’ve been going for an omelet with pandesals, which they get fresh every morning from a bakery across the street and I have to agree with everyone else in this town and say these may very well be the best pandesals I’ve had in my eight pandesal-eating years in the Philippines.

Other breakfast options include tapsilog, longsilog, and bangsilog–a silog for everyone

The guest house is clean and cozy, with a few rooms and one bathroom upstairs and downstairs, a comfortable lounge, a workspace/dining area, a small kitchen, and a bit of a backyard where you can hang out and hang up your wet swimming gear.

Initially, I booked three nights here via Airbnb and with the booking and cleaning fee it cost me just under 2k. Later I decided to stay one more night so I could catch the first day of the Aliya Wahine Cup, for which the host instructed me to simply pay the housekeeper an additional 500 pesos.

I should mention that when a group of guests decides to hold a little house party it can get a little noisy.

One evening, sometime after midnight, I asked the host if there was a cut-off time when guests are supposed to keep quiet and while that didn’t seem to be the case, she did offer to move me to a quieter room farther from the noise.

I passed because I didn’t feel like moving all my stuff in the middle of the night; however, I can draw the conclusion that, while the accommodations may not be perfect, the hosts are perfectly accommodating.

Surfing Budget

The next item in your budget is, of course, surfing lessons and board rentals. From GoSurfari, it’s a five-minute walk to the beach and the nearest surf school is at Nalu Surf Camp.

While there are countless spots along the beach where you can take lessons and rent a board, I chose Nalu for two reasons: firstly, they have lockers for your valuables. Secondly, the going rate for a one-hour surf lesson is 350 pesos but at Nalu, you get a free beer and photo op with that.

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That’s a done deal.

In my case, I took two one-hour lessons before renting a board to try surfing on my own. Board rentals are 200 pesos per hour, 400 for a half day (from 7AM to noon or noon to 5PM/sunset), and 800 for the whole day.

My surfing budget was as follows:

  • Day 1: 350 pesos for one lesson
  • Day 2: 350 pesos for one lesson, plus 400 pesos for half-day board rental
  • Day 3: 400 pesos for half-day board rental
  • Day 4: 400 pesos for half-day board rental

That’s an average of fewer than 500 pesos per day and with that, I got in a good 16 hours on the waves.

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Food & Beverages

Since breakfast and (instant) coffee are included if you stay at Go Surfari, you only need to budget lunch, dinner, beer, and snacks.

You can sit down for a good meal for 100 to 200 pesos at Maple Inn Seafood Restaurant, which is right before Nalu Surf Camp on your way to the beach.

Alternatively, you can get those delicious pandesals at 2 pesos a piece, or other tasty pastries at Dialyn’s Bake Shop (also on the way to the beach). Moreover, Dialyn’s has the best-brewed coffee for on 45 pesos.

Another nice spot to eat is the Hungry Surfer, which is a little out of the way but easy to get to if you follow the signs. You’ll spend more like 200 to 300 pesos on a single meal here but they do feature some of the best wifi around.

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At most restaurants and bars, you’ll pay 50 pesos for a beer, while you can get them at a sari-sari store for 30 to 37 pesos a bottle. A bag of chips might cost you 12 pesos and you can get some tasty mani (roasted peanuts) for just a couple of pesos as well.

Altogether, you can get some nice food, tasty snacks, and a couple of cold ones for about 500 pesos a day.

Budget Summary
  • PHP 1,300 Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe, round trip
  • PHP 500 per night at GoSurfari House
  • PHP <500 per day for surfing (average)
  • PHP <500 per day for food and drinks (average)

Note: 500 pesos is about $10.

Stay for two days and one night, the trip will cost 3,800 pesos; stay for five days and four nights, as I did, and we’re talking 7,000-8,000. That’s about $150 for a five-day surfing trip–not bad.

The Surfing Experience

Learning to surf

Well, for starters, take a lesson. That’ll get you going with the basics but after that, you’ve got to rent a board and head out on your own to learn from the waves and from the local surfers.

Watch and learn, my friend.

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When you take your 350-peso one-hour surfing lesson, the instructor will make everything superbly easy: you simply lie on your board, he pushes you out to a good spot, watches the waves for you, gives you a push when the right one comes along, and tells you when to stand up.

All you need to do is perfect your getup and stay on the board.

When you go out on your own, for one, you’ll have to learn how to get through the waves without being tossed about and pushed two steps back for every one you take forward.

My advice: watch how the other surfers do it. When it’s a small wave, paddle into it and coast over with your board. When it’s big, turtle–as in, flip your board upside-down with you under it. I do recommend caution when trying this, especially with regards to the board and your face.

Once you reach a good spot to start catching the waves, you have to face out at least somewhat in order to watch them and turn around fast enough to catch one. Once again, watch the surfers and do as they do: use both arms to paddle in an s-shape–one moving down and one moving up–to turn faster.

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What I did, after a few hours of trying to figure things out all on my own was paddle near-ish to surfers who looked like they knew what they were doing.

I would watch them watch the waves, see which ones they caught and how they caught them, and try to imitate. That worked alright for me.

When I ended up in the area where I had taken my lessons, the instructors would yell at me to paddle harder when they saw me not quite getting the waves.

On my third day, I met a chill dude with dreads who let me tag along with him and his crew and took me to some nice waves.

On my fourth and final day on the waves, I met a group of local surfer boys down on the other side of the beach. They not only helped me catch my last good rides after what had been a tough day at sea for me but later, over beers and 2-by-2 while watching the sun set over the beach, they taught me some great Tagalog (Filipino) surfing lingo.

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Essential Tagalog Surfing Phrasebook
  • Lusong! – when you see a beautiful wave;
  • Wapang! – when you’re slashing that wave;
  • Langisin – when you spend enough time in the ocean and you get that sleek surfer skin;
  • Kamatis! – I’ve come up with this one myself, applicable if you’re like me the sea and sun get you tomatoed
  • Palong palo – when you’re a wild surfer
  • Kasung – as far as I’ve gathered this is the Tagalog equivalent of Tubular, bruh.

After the waves, we have buhay surf, or the surfer life, which includes such essential vocabulary as:

  • Katuga – a combination of kain, tulog, and gala, meaning eat, sleep, and wander around–which is an excellent way to spend your days in Baler (besides surfing, of course).
  • Sabog – getting high (not on the waves)
  • Manginginom – being a strong drinker (or an alcoholic, depending on who you ask)
  • Yosi – to offer or ask for a cigarette
  • 2-by-2 – the locals’ drink of choice, made as follows: buy a bottle of Ginebra (local gin) and C2 (a juice); open both bottles and place to C2 upside down on the Ginebra bottle; wait for it to slowly seep into the gin, and drink by the shot: old school.

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There you have it: an affordable trip and an unforgettable experience in the very chill and beautiful Baler, a place to still your mind, reflect on life, lose yourself in the waves, and wash away that city stress with an invigorating salt-water cleanse.

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My MMA Journey

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 11: This One is Personal

So my MMA journey has been more than a journey about MMA.

My life as I knew it ended quite definitively a few months ago and here I am, on the path of rediscovery. So far, I can say that it has without a doubt been the most difficult one I’ve walked yet.

Today, I would like to say, to friends, to family, to strangers:

I’d like to think I’m good at being strong and I don’t exactly like receiving attention (Why am I blogging again?) but that makes me good at pretending to be OK and sometimes I’m not. When life falls apart it’s an opportunity to rebuild and that, truthfully, is fairly exciting. It still hurts, though.

When I’m not OK, please don’t worry about me; don’t look at me with pity. Do nothing but acknowledge and carry on with me as usual; neither seek me out nor ignore me. I want neither more attention nor less. I still want to smile and enjoy everything that’s good but I also want to be able to cry and not ignore everything that’s bad and I can do that only with people who are comfortable with me not being alright all the time.

To those in my life with whom I’ve been out of touch: chances are the things I’m going through are not about you and you can’t do anything with or about it anyway. If you are concerned you’ll acknowledge that and give me space and freedom to make the decisions I need to make without having to worry about you worrying about me. I need to trust that you know I still love and care for you even though I don’t have much time or emotional space for you right now.

To those in my life who are trying to understand my situation and draw conclusions: don’t. Let it be.

Don’t ask me to tell you the story of what happened like it’s an interesting piece of news and don’t make me justify what is happening in my life to you. Don’t ask me why or why not. Don’t tell me it’s awkward.

To my new family at the gym: you guys have been amazing and have kept me sane in ways you’ll never know. I will always have gratitude in my heart for you.

To the good Christians who I thought were, dare I not say family but let’s settle on friends when I first moved to Manila: please remove yourself from my life so that we can stop pretending you have any concern for me or mine.

How odd that sometimes the angels among us are not the pastors or the missionaries who say they are here to preach God’s love.

Instead, I’ve found angelic folk in unexpected places.

Take those sweaty people at the gym, for example. The ones who teach you how to fight your way up from the bottom, how to cope when you’re being crushed, how to get hurt and never give up, how to show respect and compassion, how to come out on top, win or lose, broken and bruised, laughing and smiling and giving glory to God.

 

Travel Tips

5 Reasons to Love Traveling with a Toddler

Toddlers.

I’m hard-pressed to find a more exhausting word in the English language, yet I love traveling with mine.

To be fair, she’s not a baby anymore–she’s a big girl–and she makes that clear to everyone.

She’s only just turned four and as much as she insists that she’s all grown up, it hasn’t stopped her from losing the ability to walk or talk like a human being on a whim.

Instead, she resorts to whiny puppy, clingy koala, clawing kitten, or worse.

What’s not to love?

No, seriously. There is a lot to love.

 

1. Everything is an adventure

Even the stressful things become adventures.

Running to catch the bus that’s about to leave without us: adventure. She will talk about it for days to come.

 

2. They make friends with everyone and force you to be friendly too

So I wasn’t in the mood to strike up a conversation with every stranger we encounter? Too bad.

The kid has already roped me into a dozen conversations with her adorable charm, fantastic sense of humor, and outgoing nature.

 

3. You’re making memories that will shape them as people

Every time we travel, she’s collecting memories and experiences that will build up her future self.

Having traveled around the world with my mother when I was a child, I cannot put enough emphasis on how life-shaping it is and I want my daughter to have that as well.

 

4. You get to experience things as a kid again

Everyone wants to be a kid again. At least sometimes.

Along those lines, I can recreate amazing memories from my childhood with her and, in a special kind of way, they live on.

 

5. You get priority treatment

This is a really cheap one, but yes, you will get some priority treatment when you travel with little kids–or a little kid.

You’ll board airplanes first, readily receive assistance when needed, and in general having a cheeky little toddler as a company will bring out the good-humored side of just about anyone you encounter.

 

That’s all I have for now. Unlike a day with a toddler, let’s keep this one short and simple.

What do you love about traveling with little kids? Let me know in the comments!

Philippines · travel guide

Day Trip to Lakes Pandin and Yambo

It’s the morning of All Saint’s Day; as Halloween revelers are stumbling home in a stupor at the break of dawn, I’m having a quick breakfast and getting ready to head out.

I’ll reference this article on day tours at Pandin Lake as that’s where we got some basic information for the trip, plus give my own account of the day’s adventures.

Getting to the Lakes in San Pablo

From where I’m staying in Alabang all I have to do is get a jeep to South Station, where I’m meeting my friend and catching a bus headed to San Pablo–the City of Seven Lakes.

At South Station, you’ll walk down to the provincial bus terminal and catch a bus heading to Lucena. Before you get on, make sure it stops in San Pablo.

There’s a 7-Eleven at South Station where you can grab snacks and coffee for the ride, which is only about two hours depending on traffic and how many stops the bus makes.

San Pablo is the city in the south of Laguna province and it features seven lakes in its vicinity.

Lakes Pandin and Yambo are about 10 to 15 kilometers away from the city proper so you’ll have to get a jeep and a trike there.

This was a little complicated for us because we got bad directions and ended up at the wrong tricycle terminal, so instead of the 80-100 pesos we expected to pay for a ride the driver was going to charge us 300.

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If you find yourself here at the “Grand Terminal” you’re in the wrong place.

Unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of useful information about trike rides to the lakes, so that’s something you’ll have to figure out when you get to San Pablo by asking for directions or consulting a map.

In our case, we ended up getting on another jeep to a different terminal-like area closer to the lake and getting a cheaper ride from there. However, the path to Lake Pandin–where we got dropped off–turned out to be closed as some rocks were blocking it.

A tricycle driver offered to take us around to another pathway but he did charge us a bit for it. Later, on our way back into town, we ended up walking that blocked path anyway and climbing over the rocks.

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The path was quite scenic.

The same driver was there waiting for us and took us to SM San Pablo where we had a late lunch after working up quite an appetite.

 

Lakes Pandin and Yambo

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Yambo is a small lake surrounded by heavy foliage and it’s one short hike away from the slightly smaller and equally scenic lake Pandin.

We were ferried across both lakes on simple bamboo rafts with covered benches and a picnic table and taken to a relaxing waterfall where we could dive in.

The only day open for an out-of-town trip was rainy and overcast so it was a bit chilly but not enough to stop us from swimming in the beautiful, clear water.

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The average depth of Pandin Lake, where we took a swim, is 63 meters and because many people can’t swim here they will make you wear a life jacket before getting in.

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The jackets were pretty annoying so I mostly kept mine nearby; one cannot go underwater with a vest on after all. Granted it made the ferry guys a little uneasy at first but who jumps into a lake with a life jacket on?

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The water was wonderfully refreshing and just a few hours at the lakes was enough to wash away weeks of city stress.

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Eventually, we got cold and hungry enough that we were ready to leave. After lunch and a coffee, we waited outside of SM San Pablo for a bus heading back to Alabang and two hours or so later we were back at South Station.

Because it was late afternoon, the bus we caught back to the city was pretty packed and we ended up standing most of the way home. Not to worry: the day was so relaxing that we couldn’t be bothered by a thing so slight as an over-crowded bus.

 

Trip Budget

Bus to San Pablo – 97.50 pesos per person, one way
Jeep – 8 pesos per person, per ride
Trike – more or less whatever you can negotiate depending on where you get the trike
Raft tour (without food) – 600 pesos
Fresh buko juice (water out of a coconut) – 25 pesos per coconut

For two people, you can budget about 1,000 pesos for the travel and lake tour and add some for food. There are plenty of cheap lunch option in town, including Inasal at SM San Pablo where you can get tasty grilled chicken and unlimited rice for just over 100 pesos per meal.

There you have it: that’s all you need to get out of the city and dunk your head in some fresh water to clear away the stress.