On a high


I have always been on the prowl for activities that make my head scream of excitement, and my heart pump with exuberance. Free falling from a plane is one of those, and (I would bet) is on any adrenaline junkie’s bucket list. It has been on mine for more than half a decade. With a lot of prodding and a bit of kismet, I booked myself a tandem jump slot last summer with Skydive Legazpi.

The session starts with a brief class on the basics of the activity. The instructor introduces skydiving as a popular high-flying extreme sport. A tandem jump is an easy way to experience skydiving for the first time. Tandem jumps offer the thrill of a free fall while securely harnessed to a professional instructor. The instructor then demonstrates use of the equipment, and completes it with a comprehensive safety instruction. Finally, the support crew fits me with a harness, and ushers me to the tarmac.

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Back to basics


When investors are faced with volatile market conditions, they are advised to be prudent. In times when both the local and global markets are bleeding, investors revisit their investment strategies. Back to basics. What is the tolerance for risk? How diverse is the allocation of asset classes? Will there be any change in the time horizon? Similar to the business of building wealth, it is back to basics when coming out of commission in the world of climbing mountains. And so as Always Wandering emerges from its shell, it also returns to the most fundamental of hiking – a minor dayhike.

Mt. Mabilog (442 MASL) is an inconspicuous peak that stands in between San Pablo City and Nagcarlan in the province of Laguna. This quick hike is straightforward with mostly covered foot trails lined with the usual forest and fruit trees. The ascent to the summit has portions that are exposed and unforgiving at high noon. Although not prominent compared to its more popular neighbors, it has an unobtrusive view of the three peaks of Mt. Banahaw, and the seven lakes of the province. The local guide patiently shares the surrounding bodies of water as Pandin, Yambo, Palakpakin, Sampaloc, Mojicap, Kalibato, and Bunot.

The view from the summit at 442 MASL.

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Travel makes you richer


Lifted from the oft-quoted saying: “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” Unlike tangible and financial investments with its risk component, travel, although not without exposure, reaps rewards whether on the positive or flip side. While some prefer to work, save, then travel later; an enlightened bunch mostly adhere to the work, save, and travel now mentality. As a good friend put it, that is investing in experience.

Indeed. Diplomas are earned after at least 16 years in a conventional educational system. An illustrious career is obtained inside the four corners of the typical workspace. What about travel makes you richer? Lifelong lessons are fulfilled within and beyond a geographic comfort zone.

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A ninja adventure



On the hunt for a ninja adventure a couple of hours away from the metro? A trip to Cavinti Falls (or Magdapio Falls) in Laguna will satisfy the itch. Previously called Pagsanjan Falls, the mighty cascade actually straddles the river, and cool mountain range of the municipality of Cavinti. While most visitors ply the Pagsanjan route, the entry point via Pueblo El Salvador Nature Park and Picnic Grove (Pueblo) in Cavinti offers more activities.

“Shooting the rapids” from Pagsanjan involves a one-hour banca ride along the Balanac and Bumbungan river. Because of the sheer skills (in maneuvering and in enduring the rapids) required of the boatmen, this costs Php1,350.00 per person. On the other hand, the package offered by Pueblo amounts to Php270.00 only. The package includes the service of a guide, and the use of a harness for the vertical trek. In the first half of 2015, they will start offering a package that includes both the vertical trek going to the falls, and a one-way boat ride to Pagsanjan.

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I don’t want to sit next to you


Disclaimer (since people can be so literal at times): This is a mockery. I aim to poke fun at my ridiculous tendencies. I do not mean offense nor disrespect to anyone who would associate themselves with one or more of the personalities enumerated below.

"I don't care."

“I don’t care.”

I am generally a peaceful person (smirks). On days I am hormotional, I have my misgivings when it comes to sitting beside someone while traveling. On days I want to be left alone, I have my reservations when it comes to sharing my thoughts with a seatmate. On days I am unlucky, I need to be on my own so as not to channel my misfortune on others.

Here I share with you some personalities you may not want to sit with or be within a radius of one foot when having a bad day in a trip.

Crying tots. Just no. Yes they are adorable, chubby, and cute; but when you have a headache, a wailing baby on overdrive is not the better alternative to paracetamol. On top of that, seeing the hapless mom or dad feeling at a loss is simply – sad.

Heavy people. Not to be mean, but I dread sitting next to someone a bit on the heavy side. A one-hour bus ride is tolerable. What if it is an extended overland trip? Twelve hours of being squished in a tiny seat next to someone big is plain uncomfortable.

Loud snorers. Ah, the envy of insomniacs – people who, as soon as they rest their head, doze off to dreamland. Not cool if they start blaring snores in your ear, or worse, using your shoulder as a p-i-l-l-o-w.

Stinky dudes. This includes inconsiderate smokers, not just unhygienic travelers. Sweat and (unpleasant) body fumes are never okay. They trigger a massive throb in the head, and will be the death of anyone.

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A 30-hour executive climb


The longest I have gone in the belly of the boondocks is three days. Beyond that, I get cranky and itchy with the mere thought of spending another hour without a bath (fortunately, this multi-day climb allowed us an executive experience where we got to bathe every single day). Being the practical innovators of hiking itineraries, our group tried to compress the usual 5-day Mt. Mantalingahan traverse itinerary into just four (including the long bus trip to and from the jumpoff). It came about not to display speed and brawn, but more so for monetary considerations, and to have a longer time to enjoy the islands of El Nido.

A major climb rated a difficulty level of 9 (out of 9 by PinoyMountaineer), Mt. Mantalingahan stands at 2,086 MASL. The jumpoff for a Mantalingahan traverse is Brgy. Ransang in Rizal, Palawan. Leonard Shuttle vans ply the Puerto Princesa – Rizal route regularly. From downtown Rizal, there are Sicud-bound jeepneys that pass Brgy. Ransang. For convenience, take Leonard’s 5:30 AM direct trip to Sicud and get off at Brgy. Ransang.

A climb to Mantalingahan is on every serious enthusiast’s bucket list. Aside from being one of only a few rated 9/9 in the Philippines, the attraction of being located in the country’s last biodiversity frontier presents a naturally rich and culturally indigenous experience. The forested mountain range has varying displays of towering trees and small shrubs like the pungdan and pitcher plants. Birdwatching is also listed as one of the recommended activities in the area. The variety of birds is noticeable given the different bird sounds heard throughout the day (at times taunting but most times amusing). Mt. Mantalingahan is also home to indigenous Palaw’ans like the Tau’t Bato and Tau’t Daram. Small communities of the Tau’t Bato tribe live on the mountain and still lead an olden way of life. More popular in terms of urban myths are the members of the Tau’t Daram tribe. According to the locals, the Tau’t Daram, although no longer in existence, were cannibals. Stories of locals from the lowlands not returning home from the mountain, and being eaten by the tribe abound.

After the registration and a courtesy visit to the community chieftain, hikers walk for 2.5 hours to the next village. Wide open roads lead to Balin-Balin Village where the real trek commences. If arriving from Puerto Princesa late in the afternoon, an option is to stay overnight in the village and start the trek the next day.

© Iniel Caballero

The first night is spent in the Magtangob campsite located 2.5 hours away from Balin-Balin. There is a hut available for overnight use at the campsite and a water source nearby. The following day’s itinerary is a pleasant surprise. Aside from the easy (relative to the other days) trek (and the occasional appearance of the limatiks), it was one of the shortest with a total walking time of five hours only. The trek passes through a small community of the Tau’t Bato tribe whose curious members greet passersby with timid smiles. While the recommended campsite is Kawayanan, it is more convenient to stay at the Kabugan Village because it has a wide camping area and a flowing brook.

The abandoned Kabugan Village (as pictured below) provides shelter for the night. According to the guide’s account, the village was abandoned by the Tau’t Daram when they were unknowingly driven out one night by unexpected visitors (a mountaineering group that went up on an induction climb and that apparently numbered more than 30). This prompted the tribe to flee and go up deeper into the mountains out of fear that the visitors will “conquer” them.
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It’s black and white


I was selected to do the 5-day black and white (B&W) challenge on Facebook. Simply put, the game forces the nominee to post B&W photos for five (5) consecutive days. For each day, the nominee will then pick someone else to do the same thing. While shooting in color is how most of us in the digital era started and saw images (in print or otherwise), B&W photography is temperamental. Easy on the settings; but difficult on the tone to convey.

Day 1 is portrait photography.

"Audience with a Centenarian"

“Audience with a Centenarian” (Batanes, January 2011)

104 years old at that time, Mang Marcello Hostallero is the oldest resident of Sabtang Island. Here he is whiling the day away, and keeping busy by his lonesome outside his house in Chavayan.

Day 2 is landscape photography.

"A Beautiful Destruction"

“A Beautiful Destruction” (Mt. Pinatubo, March 2012)

Breathtaking and devastating at the same time, Mt. Pinatubo’s crater lake is a stark reminder of Mother Nature’s play on turning her powerful fury into a magnificent display of beauty.

Day 3 is nature photography.

"By the Beach"

“By the Beach” (Bali, February 2013)

A banten (traditional Balinese offering) can be seen almost everywhere in the island of the gods. The most unlikely place I have seen one is perched precarioulsy on a cliff face. Its solemn symbolism of worship striking in contrast with the mad beating of the waves below.

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Ambaguio touchdown


Five years after my first Pulag hike, I have finally completed all of her four (known) trails: Ambangeg, Akiki, Tawangan, and Ambaguio. The Ambangeg-Ambaguio traverse records a total walking distance of 34.5 kilometers with a trekking time of twelve hours. While most Ambaguio treks commence at Ambaguio and end at either Ambangeg or Akiki, a weekend hike is possible by doing a reverse traverse. Hiking begins at Babadak, progresses to the summit using the Ambangeg trail, and then traverses to Ambaguio via the Lusod trail. This is more manageable as the lengthy portion of the trek (about two thirds of it) involves the descent to Ambaguio.

After summitting Mt. Pulag, hikers enter the Lusod trail. Entry to Lusod is near the first campsite. Unlike Ambangeg’s mostly stoned steps and moderately inclined trails, Lusod is established albeit slippery and steep. The moss-covered trees are reminiscent of those found along the Tawangan trail sans the beloved limatiks. Since the trail is mostly used by locals, a number of resting sheds provide shelter along the way.

The first day ends at Lower Napo, and hikers may settle for the night at the Napo-Tuyak Integrated School. There is a restroom and a water pump within the school compound available for use. The other possible camping area is at Upper Napo’s elementary school which is about one hour away.

The second day is straightforward and covers a very long scenic trek through local villages, rice and corn fields, farmlands, and communities. At the last village, if fortunate, motorbikes are available for rent to take hikers to Ambaguio town and then onwards to Bayombong. Otherwise, the last leg of the trip will be a one- or two-hour walk to the town proper where those motorbikes will take you to the national highway in Bayombong.

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Halcon and its appeal


I never fully understood the clamor to climb Mt. Halcon. What perplexes me is the desire of most mountaineers to “conquer” it back when government authorities have publicly announced the park is off limits. Ever since the municipality of Baco in Oriental Mindoro declared authority over park management in early 2014, weekends have been booked to the hilt.

The golden peak as seen on the way to the first camp

The first day involves going up limatik-infested trails to the first campsite. Trekking from the jumpoff to the Mangyan villages is scorching at the height of summer. The path is established but there is minimal cover. The forest line is entered after passing through the last village. There are a couple of stream crossings in between the steep trails. This stretches all the way to the hike up to Aplaya Campsite.

The beauty, and difficulty of the revered mountain are fully appreciated on the next day’s hike. The second day is technically a day hike of Mt. Halcon. On top of being laden with limatiks all the way to the summit, it is mostly a cardiac trail. A variety of terrain awaits on the second day. From rainforest to a mighty river; waterfalls to giant roots; mossy forest and a bonsai forest; it adds up to the finale – the knife edge.

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Three days. Two nights. Six life lessons. 3 – 2 – 6. Most trips last for three days and two nights. But the lessons we pick up from each leg of travelling are ingrained for a lifetime.

1. Mind the gap.
Whether traveling alone or with a buddy, there will be considerations and sensitivities. You will consider each other’s preferences in the choice of trips and activities. You will be sensitive to leaving minimum impact and attaining maximum learning on the places visited.

Travel to build bridges between cultures, between interests and between personalities. Mind those simple and daunting differences. And that gap between the platform and the train.

2. Fall in love.
Travel ignites passion; like falling in love. Fall in love – with the place or with the experience. Relish the memories and feel the moment when you hold on to someone while exploring. Like falling in love, do not hold back. Do not be afraid to get hurt. That activity or national treasure other travelers rave about may not be what you expect; be prepared to be disheartened.

Travel to treasure the enjoyment and remember the disappointment.

3. Get lost.
Lose yourself. Break the rhythm. Enjoy the cloak of the unfamiliar and being unknown in a foreign land. Go around the side streets and keep on walking. Losing yourself may be the ticket to enjoying how to wander and explore. Going nowhere will actually lead you to where you are supposed to be. Those unannounced changes in itineraries make magnificent teachers.

Remember: happy accidents make the best trips. Travel to create lots. And begin again.

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