SEEKING WEEKEND RESPITE AT ARAKAN VALLEY

There are places that I’ve visited and stayed that remain so close to my heart. Places that have been etched not only because of their sheer beauty and grandeur but because at one point these places brought me to find deep comfort and reassuring solace in the most unexpected way. In fact, everytime I find myself troubled and burnout, I would think of these places and pick up those moments hopeful that they can ease up, mellow down my mental exhaustion.

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…and the great Einstein was right!

Just like everyone else, even seasoned traveler would find themselves lost at nowhere and would try to find and meditate for answers and meaning to things hampering their journey. Whenever I get caught in the middle of this, I would simply wish to be at those places, reconnect my soul to those days and imagine their healing powers that made me get through whatever it is that I feel.

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The Rolling Hills of Arakan

Arakan Valley in North Cotabato is among those places I considered so special. It is so dear to me that everytime I need a breather, I think of it as an immediate place of gentle respite – primarily because of its proximity to where I live and secondly because it is where I can easily find comfort and consolation communing with nature and its gentle people. And one weekend, along with my peers who pledged to be loyal to the brotherhood of the so called Weekend Warriors, I went back to the rolling hills of Arakan to find breathing space away from the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle.

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Arakan Valley, North Cotabato

To be honest, there were many things that were running in my head days before our trip to Arakan. I was caught in between deciding things that would matter my future and so my present. I was preoccupied by such thought that I hated bearing it every day. I was never a worry freak but it is slowly consuming me and the thought of it seemed to make me one. Thus, a weekend break was what I needed. But have I not been roaming around places every weekend? I asked. And so, I told myself to go back to a place that had once left indelible marks in my heart and perhaps from there find enlightenment to things that needed to be illumined. Arakan popped up in my head. Thus this epic trip.

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My love and fascination with Arakan Valley started in 2012

Arakan is not new to me. In fact, this trip was my third. My first visit back in 2012 was melodramatic. That was after two great losses I had that shaped the better person in me now. I went to Arakan that time filled with grief and consumed by anger. I went there to supposedly pour out everything that was inside me – to burst out and perhaps loosen up. But it never happened. Just when I thought it is the right place for such, the serenity of the valley seemed to possess an enigmatic power that calmed my senses and eased up my dog-tired heart. I can hear the sound of the hills echoing from the distance whispering thoughts I never ever wanted that moment. “Let go. Let go. Let go.” I was crying for I know it wasn’t what I wanted but it was the best thing to do – to let go and move on. And there I was submitting myself to that realization that it was time to move forward. Arakan helped me realized that. And that was how I become so connected to this place.

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…because I love my country! And i love this place!

And now I’m back. I’m back not because I’m mending something broken. I’m here to clear my mind – to think, to breathe, to find enlightenment. But what I thought to be a weekend of respite turned out to be an adventure so tough only the bravest can last.

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Being here brings me closer to nature and its Creator.

Like my previous visits, I was at awe seeing the magnificent landscape of Arakan Valley. The verdant hills, the green plateau and copious grassland – they’re all made up to make this land so magical bringing me closer to nature and its Creator. Every step I made traversing narrow trails reminded me of how very small I am compared to this vast scenery I was walking. And I realized, “Yes. I am so small. So does the thought bothering me these days.” Every step I made made me realize something.

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See! The hills are alive in Arakan!

Arakan came to fame not only for its imposing valley but for its majestic waterfalls that lure many nature worshippers to come to this place – the Matigol Falls. This was our goal. To get down and marvel at this most beautiful cascading waters of Arakan. But getting there is no joke. From Sitio Inamong, the jump of point, getting there takes about two hours passing though rugged trails, sharp rocks and steep terrains not to mention slippery boulders and gushing streams. But then the prize of all these is the astounding beauty of the twin falls.

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BEHOLD the loyal brotherhood of WEEKEND WARRIORS!

My friends were armed with enthusiasm to reach the place and being first timers I can feel their excitement with this exhilarating adventure. I, on the other hand, was taking my time slowly forgetting all the thoughts I was carrying while I was there. But I knew it deep inside me, there will be lessons I’ll learn submitting myself to this nerve-wracking adventure. And with the company of my equally adventurous friends, I was much assured of one great unforgettable moment.

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AMAZING PHOTO, right! Thanks Jem for this. This is a gem to me.

Trekking for two hours braving the rugged and muddy trails, sharp rocks and steep terrains was easier said than done. As we trekked down deeper to the woods, unto the streams, deep into the bushes, I sensed there was no turning back. As we moved down deeper and deeper, the trail was becoming treacherous. Thanks to captivating scenery encircling us, we could stop for a bit and relish nature at its best – and then trailed forward. Even how hard it was, the trek had to continue – I had to move forward. That was something so meaningful to me – that whatever decision I’ll make in life, I should stick to it, be firm and more forward. Silly, this trek was becoming so significant to me.

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BEHOLD the twin falls of MATIGOL.

After two hours, finally we reached our goal – the basin of Matigol Falls. The sounds of the cascading waters were so loud but it sounded like music to me. I waited for no second. I hurried to the edge electrified to marvel at its astounding allure. And when I got there, my eyes were instantaneously glued to the most striking Twin Falls I’ve seen so far. It was so beautiful. I yelled out at the top of my lungs with joy and praises and slowly drowned myself to admiration of such splendor before me. And then inadvertently I started crying. I wept for I know this prize of seeing such grandeur was the most beautiful prize a nature worshipper would want. My tears began flowing but they were easily washed away by the refreshing mists sprinkled on my face. And then another realization came – that whatever I’ll do, I will always find beautiful reward at the end. Although I’ll journey rugged roads but I know I’ll get precious prizes worthy of all the pains and hardship I’ll gain along the way. And then, I was crying again – crying because I was enlightened. Soon after, my friends came and thanks to the mists, I hid my tears. But my heart beamed for I now knew the answers why I was there.

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MATIGOL FALLS is the worth the 4 hour death-defying trek.

The Twin Falls of Matigol is exceptionally eye-catching it will leave you breathless and speechless. We wanted to stay longer but we had to leave and start another challenging trek this time to reach the main base about 90 feet above the basin of the Twin Falls. Looking at it from the basin, all of us doubted if we can make it climbing the trail close to 90 degrees. But everything begins with a single step, thus, we took the challenge.

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Seeking Simple Respite

We were catching our breath panting like forever as we trailed up to reach the base. The trail wasn’t that established. We were trailing over loose soils, sharp rocks and had to hold onto weak twigs and even bushes for support. The trail is about two hours but it seemed like eternal to me. Nevertheless I had to move up and never look back. Doing so would trigger the panic attack in me. I told myself to consider it as a major test in dealing what I’m going through these days – trapped in major decisions. I had to move forward, to climb up and reach our goal – whatever it takes, I should get there.

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Nature has its own way of amusing and even healing tired souls.

Halfway to the top, we halted and cooled down at one tier of boulders where waters were freely cascading. Our bodies were tired and warm but soaking them in the cold waters was a great reward. I was enjoying the cascades, enjoying life right at that moment when out of the blue I got leg cramps. It was the most excruciating physical pain I ever felt in years and I felt like I was paralyzed at an instant. Thanks to my friends’ help, the pain mellowed down. I tried to rise up thinking the pain was gone but the moment I moved my legs the pain went back. So I sat down looking up the base half way from where I was seating. “Can I still make it there with this leg?” I murmured. While a part of me doubted, deep inside me knew that I was going make it – I had to get there and finish this whole thing.

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…cascading waterfalls give meaning to my existence!

And so again it began with another single step – this time with my right leg stretched to the ground. I had to do it because whenever I bend it the pain got worse. And the further we climbed, the more difficult the trail becomes. Loose friable soil made the trek harder. There were times I had to crawl to survive one challenging trail. I had to use all my strength and endure the difficulty of reaching the top. And I kept reminding myself not to look back. Everything I did there seemed to have meaning. That life is simply like this – life is made up of challenges but once I make it, there’s a great reward waiting for me. I was thinking of that thought as I braved this death-defying treacherous path.

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CAREFUL. Be very extra careful. One mistake and you’re DONE! Photo by Javie the Lakawero.

Finally we were at the most challenging part of the trail – wall climbing with no harness or safety gear at all – one mistake and I’m done. All I have at that time was my determination to finish that trek and go back to the camp. With my right leg still aching, I used all my strength to survive climbing that 20-feet wall to finally get to the top. And when I got to the very end of the wall, I looked back this time gazing down savoring the triumph I made as I braved one of most difficult trail in my life. And then I smiled and whispered, “I can always survive. I can always win.”

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The Weekend Warriors surviving Arakan’s Matigol Falls.

And so there I was along with my friends savoring our feat reaching the base of the Twin Falls of Matigol. It was a sweet achievement for each of us who went there gained our individual story – our individual triumph. It was a kind of trip and experience we will all cherish.

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I AM A FREE SPIRIT. I BREATHE IN THE GOODNESS OF THE UNIVERSE.

As I hiked back to the camp, I recalled that minute that we had to cross the cascading waters with current so strong that each step we make had to be exact and precise otherwise we will fall, it made me understand something. That in life we don’t have to go with the flow all the times. Sometimes we can go against it for us to test our strength and will to get through life’s challenges – we just have to be precise. I guess this is all what I needed – this the message of this trip, an enlightenment I just needed.

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Sitio Inamong, home of the gentle Manobo Tribe of Arakan Valley. I belong!

So I say, wherever this life takes me, I always go back to those days I traveled so hard for I know some answers are there waiting for me to realize.

Thank you ARAKAN. You’ll always be special to me.

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The Travel Teller, the Weekend Warriors (Jonallier, Jayvie, Fra, Dan, Kikit, Deejay, Abdul, Jem, Erwin) and the Manobo Kids

HOW TO GET TO ARAKAN VALLEY:

From Davao City, take a bus plying Davao-Bukidnon Road (BUDA). Ask the driver to drop you off at Campo Uno. Bus fare is around Php 100.00. Once you get to Campo Uno, hire a habal-habal that will bring you to Sitio Inamong where a community of Manobo lives. Habal-habal fare is Php 80.00. Sitio Inamong is the jump off point to expereince Arakan Valley and Matigol Falls. Manobos can also be hired as your tour guide going to these places. They know well the place.

A BEAUTIFUL SEA GYPSY

She sailed her rugged wooden boat from port to port not as a fisher not even as a seafarer but as a trained diver forced to dive in seas for coins tossed by tourists and bystanders. She dressed in wet clothes, dived without goggles and exposed herself to the scorching sun almost all day. She had no choice. She had to do it. The little sum she collected diving after those coins thrown by tourists who even cheered for her would buy them food to eat – would fill their empty stomach for the day. That is her life – a seaborne lifestyle she embraced being a Badjao daughter, the sea gypsies of Mindanao.

_DSC0396 copyThis was the scene I caught when I chanced to stroll around Paseo Del Mar in Zamboanga City. This wasn’t a kind of view I see everyday but in this part of Asia’s Latin City and other parts of country, this is an everyday reality – children steering their paddle boat, diving after tossed coins, chasing little alms to feed their hunger. And that poor girl was one of them.

_DSC0398 copyI was pitifully watching her from a distant observing her moves, her words and her little world. I pitied on her but I immensely admired her stunning beauty that set her apart from her peers and even from those girls whom she begged for pennies. She was beautiful. A beautiful sea gypsy.

_DSC0399 copyShe had that innocent look so different from her friends. She had a sun blonde hair that complimented her sun-burnt copper skin. Her eyes were sad and deep set. She had that pretty face but it seemed to bear the weight of the earth. But she was just beautiful. A beautiful sea gypsy.

_DSC0412 copyI moved closer to get a good snapshot of her as she busied herself doing her business on the waters. She dived and got up back to her boat. Dived again and got back. Still, her innocent beauty retained. She was wet but she still looked beautiful. A beautiful sea gypsy.

_DSC0356 copyI wanted to throw a coin. But I opted to get a 20-peso bill and asked her to paddle her boat closer so I can simply give her my shameful share. She paddled forward quickly and got what I promised. She looked at me with those sad eyes and smiled so sweetly I almost froze in awhile. Those eyes. Those sad eyes. I smiled back at her. I prayed something for her. I pray for her life in the sea of uncertainties.

But she just was beautiful. A beautiful sea gypsy.

BUDGET TRAVELS: The Travel Teller’s Way

Most of my friends and those who followed me on this blog would often ask how rich I am to afford an unceasing and unstoppable travels. They would always think I have enough resources to finance this weekend travels I habitually do. The truth is I am not rich and travelling is not exclusive for the rich. Savings is the key to this freedom. In my case, I have several bank accounts but I opened a separate account dedicated exclusively for my travels. Every payday, I would devote a small portion of my salary to fund that account. Whenever I get extra earnings from my photography, consultancy and other blogging stuffs, most of it would go to my savings for my future exciting travels. As travelling becomes my lifestyle, savings enough money to fund these travels also become my routine. As often said, savings and financial management always go together.

BUDGET TRAVELING (6)This I said before, “If travelling is a vice, then call me an addict”. Why? Back in the old days, I used to believe that travelling is only for the rich and famous. It is for those who can only afford and those who travel for work. But when I started to embrace backpacking and learned the art of budget travelling, I came to realize that travelling is not exclusive for the rich and the privileged but for everyone. Travelling can be anyone else’s lifestyle as long as one knows how to do the very economical way. When I perfected that art of budget travelling, I become so addicted to it.

...airfares are always on sale nowadays.

…airfares are always on sale nowadays.

You see, there are many places to visit. There are number of spectacular destinations out there waiting for you to discover. All you need is to research and plan purposefully for your next trips. If you’re next destination requires an air travel, airfares are always on sale nowadays. Book in advance. You can save up a lot by doing so. Make a do-it-yourself itinerary rather than joining organized group tours. Aside from being cheaper, DIY itineraries can extend up to places only locales know. Read travel blogs that talk about that certain destination. Some travel bloggers are the best references for budget travelling. Research. Research. Research.

Travel solo. It will bring out the best in you!

Travel solo. It will bring out the best in you!

One of the most effective ways to save up from travelling is to travel with a group of friends. One rewarding thing about travelling in group is that you get to share all accumulated expenses during your travel – like rooms, transportation, food, etc. The bigger the number of travel buddies you have in group, the lesser expenses you get. I have constant travel buddies I travel with regularly. And most of us liked the idea of travelling together – more fun, lesser expenses.

My favorite travel pose.

My favorite travel pose.

Now if you’re up for travelling solo, that’s never a problem.  Always take public utility vehicles – buses, jeepneys, tricycles, habal-habal. It is cheaper to ride PUVs. Never go for vehicles-for-hire. But when the need arises, learn how to haggle. Mingle with the locals. Locales know a lot about their own place and they can give you tips how to get there conveniently. My favourite mode of transportation in my solo travels is habal-habal. After a bloody bargaining, I could explore the whole place  riding  motorcycles in full glory. Solo travelling perfected my bargaining skills. Now what about food? If you’re not picky, check local Carenderias. Don’t you know that Carenderias are actually where most authentic local food are served? Trust me, I do that a lot of times during long travels.

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Go out. Travel. Have fun!

There are actually more to learn. Travelling, whether in group or solo, will bring out the best in you. Don’t be afraid to travel. Like I said, it is for each and every one – privileged or not. Learn to save money. If you need to give up something to save up for your next trip, then do it. Everything is worth it when you get to see the destination of your dream.

LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST. TRAVEL.

THE TRAVEL TELLER’S VALENTINE BIRTHDAY REFLECTION

“I am grateful for the kind of life that God has designed for me. In my humble journey, I’ve met different people and experienced the so called life’s ups and downs that molded me to become who I am now. When I grow older and get the chance to look back to my life’s journey, I know I would be smiling realizing that at one point of this God’s given life, I was able to touch someone else’s life – that in my own very little way I was able to inspire other people and made them happy even for awhile. That is the gift I truly cherish now and the years to come. To GOD be the highest GLORY!

– OLAN FERNANDEZ EMBOSCADO
The Travel Teller
Born on the Day of Hearts
Certified Valentine Boy

THE BEST LAID PLANS

Planning a holiday is always exciting. Whether you’re having a quick weekend away in the UK or planning a major stay in a far flung country, the enjoyment of escaping for a while can never be underestimated. However, where you travel to and the accommodation you choose is somewhat determined by your budget. European breaks make for a great summer vacation and low cost Greece holidays are all about family fun but without breaking the bank, which makes for a fantastic choice if you’re looking for an affordable summer holiday or a mid season break.

There are many different choices for your vacation. A lot of this can be narrowed down before you start by deciding on how much you wish to spend and how long you plan to go for. A trip to Australia would not be worth the time or money if you only wanted three nights away. However holidays in Spain are quite achievable and can be any length of time thanks to the short flight distance. Most European resorts are easily accessed with frequent flights to and from the UK so whether it’s a long weekend or a fortnight, it’s not going to create jet lag and ruin the first part of the holiday.

Setting your sights on further afield are plans best made in advance. If you are hoping to visit Africa or Asia for example, the flight times will vary substantially as will the length that you are in the air. Plus, there will be vaccinations which are necessary before travelling to more exotic countries to prevent illness, which is not a memory you would wish to bring home!

When all’s said and done though, planning well in advance will stand you in good stead with your holiday and sometimes this can be more beneficial in the long run, rather than saving a few extra pounds on a last minute deal.