Little victories

"Whenever a person makes a decision, he is actually plunging into a powerful river which will carry him to a place he never even dreamed of when he made that decision." -The Alchemist
There comes a point in your life when you know exactly where you want to go, how to get there and what you want to be when you finally get there.

But sometimes, the universe has a funny way of teaching you things.

Because there also comes a point when you've finally gotten all that you thought you wanted but suddenly realize it's not all it's cut out to be.  And then your journey leads you to a fork in the road.  The one on the right will lead you exactly to where you envisioned yourself to be years ago.  The one on the left, on the other hand, is an uncharted road giving you no assurance where you'll end up.

This year, I took the road on the left.

As a result, it has been a year full of blind corners and unknown turns.  It made me scared, sad, and frustrated even.

And then there are the little victories.  They come in the form of unexpected messages of gratitude shared among the little groups I have had the pleasure of interacting with, making me realize that leaving a footprint, even if only a small one, in the life of another person is much more satisfying than that grand recognition we so blindly covet for sometimes. And when you finally decide to rethink the direction you want to go, these are the victories that matter.   Because they affirm the person you have grown into while on that journey.

So before 2014 closes, I want to thank the Big Boss Up There for this humbling experience and for my family, friends, and that special man who has been making me feel that these little victories are a step towards that something great that is waiting for me at the end of this uncharted road :)

Here's to more new and exciting turns in 2015!

A new day, a new year, countless new opportunities.  (Taken during our trip to Myanmar last November.)

Myanmar: Getting there, going around, tips, and other amusing discoveries

A Bagan wonder.  One of the many nameless temples in Bagan, Mandalaya, Myanmar.

I remember Googling--as fast as my hands and internet connection would let me--routes from Philippines to Myanmar the moment I saw the headlines "Philippines, Myanmar to sign VISA-free agreement" back in 2013.  Coincidentally, a good friend of mine has had her eyes set on the Golden Land for quite a while too.  Hence the start of a year-long planning for a trip to a place Lonely Planet calls "a living edition of the National Geographic, circa 1910".

However, compared to other tourist destinations in Asia such as Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and even Cambodia, going to Myanmar is a bit trickier. 

"Tourism in Burma (Myanmar) is a slowly developing sector. Although Burma possesses great tourist potential and attractions in many fields, much of the industry remains to be developed. Also, the number of visitors to Burma is comparatively small compared to her neighbours - even outpaced by Laos. This is primarily due to its current political situation. However, after the junta transferred power to the civilian government, the tourism sector saw an increase in tourism arrivals and in 2012, tourist arrivals surpassed the one million mark for the first time."*

Nonetheless, my companions and I had fun figuring out how to get there and go around the country.  And since I've been gushing non-stop about this trip, here's our itinerary and some tips which, hopefully, will be helpful to travelers also Googling ways on how to get to this land still enveloped by the traditional ways of an ancient culture.

Bagan: the land almost forgotten by time

"Slumbook question No. 3: What's your favorite Bagan experience?"

Two days after we came back from our Myanmar trip, our group was still inflicted with a serious case of vacation hangover.  Every now and then, one of us would send a photo in our Viber group or prod each other with questions which would launch an hour or so of reminiscing.

This particular question, I really had a hard time answering.  Our vacation was only for seven days but it felt longer with everything that we experienced.  Rather than just going on two three-hour flights and a 10-hour bus ride, it felt like we traveled back in time to a land filled with stories of old waiting to be told.   

Everything about Myanmar is just memorable.

The island of Boracay

It's one of the places I frequented during my college years when funds were tight[er] and I had to do a series of garage sales so I can raise funds for my pocket money.

Boracay has long become a home away from home for me that I never really made a post about it since I usually blog about new places I've explored.

But my recent trip to this island 2 km off the northwest tip of Panay Island in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines made me realize that its glorious white sand and amazingly clear waters deserve a spot on my side of cyberspace.

Yes, it can get disgustingly crowded during Holy Week and Labor Day.
Yes, the commercial franchises popping up in every corner are eyesores.

But you can't deny, it still has one of the best beaches in the world. 

The colorful world of Selaron

"My tribute to the Brazilian people."

That is what Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón called this set of world-famous steps in Rio de Janeiro: the Escadaria Selarón or Selaron Stairs.

I was like a kid in a candy store as we ogled at the colorful staircase located in the Bohemian neighborhood of Lapa.  I couldn't even decide which part of the distinctive landmark I would photograph first!

Like a kid in a candy store.

Into the cascades: A journey to Iguazu Falls

"Poor Niagara!" 

That's what United States First Lady Eleonor Roosevelt reportedly exclaimed upon seeing the Cataratas do Iguaçu or the Iguazu Falls which is located in the Brazilian sate of Paraná.

With 275 drops, this UNESCO World Heritage site is higher and wider than the Niagara. (Read more here.)  I have never seen the latter so I have no point of comparison.  But to say that we had an adventure when we went to Iguazu Falls?  That's definitely a huge understatement.

Wandering into Wanderland

"My bangs were, like, flat on my head, and they were, like, awful," tweeted my friend PJ using the hashtag he created (#overheardatwanderland) for the Wanderland Music and Arts Festival 2014.

"Wanderland is set to fulfill your music fancy and take your concert experience beyond imagination. May 17 marks this much-awaited gathering where Wanderers can go to celebrate youth and pour out their hearts in the open field of the Circuit Events Ground in Makati."

I'm a newbie at music festivals (a recent influence by the boyfriend).  The first one I ever attended (not counting the annual fete dela musique held worldwide) was the Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival 2014 held in the island of Puerto Galera last February.  (Read more about my Malasimbo experience here.)

So I didn't know what to expect in this year's Wanderland (except that the heat was bound to be almost unbearable at 32 degrees plus plus celsius and that we will be surrounded by today's so-called hipsters) so I decided to just wing it and follow my companions' cue.  PJ wrote a review about the whole festival here.  I, on the other hand, will just take you through the festival through some of the photos I snapped that day.

Under the Ipanema sun

"I'll walk down Ipanema beach, have my picture taken, then post it with the caption: Girl from Ipanema," my close friend, April, said. 

"But that's MY idea!" I replied.

"Fine, fine!  We'll both have our Girl from Ipanema photo!" she said and we both burst out laughing.

That conversation took place four years ago when my friend and I had just decided we wanted to go to Brazil.  But because of budget (or lack of it thereof), work, etc. etc., we never really got around to booking the trip.  At one point, I felt sad at the thought that the trip may never ever take place anymore.

Until last year.

One hot November afternoon, I finally found myself walking down the Ipanema beach basking under the glorious Ipanema sun.  I was beside myself with excitement, drinking in all the colors in the beach whose popularity was also magnified by Brazilian bossa nova, Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema).

Olá, Copacabana!

"Her name is Lola, she was showgirl..."

It was as though Barry Manilow's song was on loop in my head as we stepped onto the Praia de Copacabana or simply, the Copacabana beach.  I know, I know.  What a cliche.  But what can I do?  I've been hearing about Lola since I was in my teens and to be actually setting foot on the famed beach in the famed song was just too thrilling!

TRIVIA:  The song "Copacabana" was conceptualized during a conversation between Barry Manilow and his co-writer Bruce Sussman at the Copacabana Hotel in Rio De Janeiro. 

But the "Copacabana" in the actual song refers to a night club in Cuba as described in its lyrics:  " the Copa, Copacabana, the hottest spot north of Havana."*

We managed to get to Copacabana an hour before sunset (we were on a city tour the whole day) and we wasted no time exploring the strip.

A taste of the Brazilian carnaval

In Brazil, the month of March is all about one thing:  THE CARNAVAL!

The country's annual festival officially kicked off last March 1-5.  And while it was nothing compared to the videos of the recent parades my cousin sent us, I feel so lucky we were able to attend a rehearsal for the carnaval when we were there last year and got a glimpse of what the world-famous festival has to offer.

My cousin Melisa brought me and my sister Ainna to the rehearsal of G.R.E.S. Acadêmicos do Salgueiro, a popular school of samba in the city of Rio De Janeiro.

TRIVIA:  Every year, different schools of samba compete each other for the best performance during the festival.  Salgueiro was the vice champion of this year's carnaval while the Unidos da Tijuca was the grand winner.

Initially, I thought we were just going to be mere spectators as the performers showed off their moves.  But four glasses of caipirinhas later, us ladies found ourselves partying the night away!

Luckily, I was able to take a couple of shots before I got carried away by all the singing and dancing.

Malasimbo 2014: A fusion of music, arts, nature and heartbeats

The Malasimbo 2014 stage set right in the middle of the forest of Mount Malasimbo.

When someone says "Puerto Galera", one would automatically think, beach! 

I've been there a couple of times what with the island so close to the city.  But during the first week of March, my friends and I went there for somethings else besides the sun, sand, and the sea.

We came for the Malasimbo experience.

"The Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival is the first international music and arts festival of its calibre in the Asia-Pacific. It is set amidst the tropical gardens of Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines; truly one of the world’s most enchanting backdrops for a festival. The festival grounds is situated on the foothills of the majestic Mount Malasimbo where its most prominent feature is a grass-terraced amphitheatre that overlooks the bay, renowned as one of “The Most Beautiful Bays in the World”....
The festival is produced annually by a group of individuals who are passionate about music, arts, nature and the Filipino heritage. Adventure, environment, and eco-cultural tourism are its cornerstones. "  (Read more here.)

It was my first time to attend a music festival.  Let alone a music and arts festival.  And the experience was spellbinding, to say the least.

I wish I'm as good a writer as my friend PJ (Read his review of the festival here.) but I'm afraid my limited vocabulary isn't enough to describe everything.

So I'll just take you through the Malasimbo experience as captured by my lens.

Around São Paulo: Mercado Municipal and Estação da Luz

The Octávio Frias de Oliveira Bridge.
 All work and no fun.

That, according to my aunt, is how the Cariocas (native inhabitants of the city of Rio de Janeiro) describe the Paulista (inhabitants of the state of São Paulo).  IMO, it's easy enough to get that impression since the state is considered as the "major industrial and economic powerhouse of the Brazilian economy."*

In fact, its capital, the city of São Paulo, reminds me very much of Makati City, our very own financial district here in the Philippines.  But despite commerce being its strong suit, the city is not devoid of culture.   Beneath those flashy skyscrapers, horrendous traffic, and thick smog are different haunts where you can get lost in the Paulistas' world of arts and entertainment.

Mercado Municipal de São Paulo (The São Paulo Municpal Market)

Around São Paulo: Beco do Batman

Blending in.  A wall in Beco do Batman (Batman's alley) in the city of São paulo.

Psychedelic and surreal.

These are probably the two words that best describe Beco Do Batman or Batman's Alley in Rua Gonçalo Afonso, an alleyway in the neighborhood of Vila Madalena in São Paulo City.

Far from the dark and dreary Gotham City, every inch of this alley is covered with splashes of color making it an open air graffiti museum and instant heaven for photographers.

It was just our first day in Brazil and already, I've consumed a sizable amount of space in my SD card taking photos.  I mean, wouldn't you go camera-crazy too if you saw these life-size works of art?

Arquipélago de Ilhabela

Praia do Perequê (Perequê Beach).

Beautiful island.

That's what the Portuguese word, Ilhabela, literally means.  And true enough, this archipelago located in the state of São Paulo very much deserves that name with its beaches, dense forests, and--from what I hear--excellent wreck dive sites.

In fact, this archipelago is so rich that almost 85% of the island has been turned into a park and Unesco-protected biosphere.*

Other stories you might be interested in: