SenseCampPH and Sustainable Travel

It is unfortunate that the only way to escape from our stressful busy lives and to re-connect with nature is when we visit places like Mount Purro Nature Reserve. Yet it’s a shame how a lot of tourists are obsessed over the Instagrammability of a destination. No wonder we face issues like overtourism, pollution, and commodification of culture.

There should be a better or more sustainable way for tourism. This very theme was tackled during the SenseCamp 2018 organized by MakeSense, which is a two-day event that included discussions on various facets of sustainable tourism, different workshops, advocacy and awareness building, and opportunities for networking (Read about last year’s SenseCamp here).

In the said event, Alo Lantin who loves telling stories through photographs, reminded participants to travel beyond social media – to genuinely wonder, to be authentic, and not to fake experiences. Alo’s message is also perfectly captured in his favorite quote from the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

Melody Melo-Rijk from WWF-Philippines also talked about their project, “The Sustainable Diner: A Key Ingredient of Sustainable Tourism.” As discussed, one can be a sustainable diner by eating local, trying plant-based dishes, using reusable utensils, and not wasting food, among others.

TJ Malvar, who helps manage the camp’s venue, Mount Purro, said that their goal is to be a truly sustainable travel destination. He admits that there’s a lot of work to do but the key is balance of the triple bottom line – profit, people, and planet.

We normally think that when we take care of the environment, we are saving the planet. But in reality, we are doing so to save ourselves. When we travel, when we see the world, may we appreciate it and make an effort to protect it so the future may also have the opportunity to see and experience these places.

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The SenseCamp Participants (Photo by George Buid)

 

 

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Fun Taiwan!

Have you noticed how everyone seems to be heading to Taiwan?

Well, thanks to the visa-free entry for Filipinos which started in November 2017 and was extended to July next year, a lot of Pinoys, myself included, took this chance to visit the country (a shout out to my friend who practically planned for everything!).

We stayed in Taipei in an ultra chic and modern hostel, the Taiwan Youth Hostel conveniently located near the train station. This made it so easy to go around the city; considering, too, that they have a very efficient transport system like any other highly developed country. Plus it’s worth mentioning that Taiwan is PWD and pedestrian friendly. There are also bikes which you could rent, with corresponding bike lanes. Makes you want to cry when you compare everything to the Philippines.

We availed of day trip tour packages (book through klook or kkday) which led us to usual touristy places – the Rainbow Village and Gaomei Wetlands in Taichung, the Yehliu Geopark featuring rock formations, Shifen Village, and Jiufen.

It was nice to learn about the history of the Rainbow Village, how former soldier Huang Yung-Fu painted houses to save them from demolition.

Seeing people release sky lanterns along old train tracks at Shifen was amusing but I was a bit concerned about pollution. Well, at least there’s an effort to make this cultural activity a more environment-friendly one.

Riding one of the fastest elevators in the world to get to the top of Taipei 101 may be overrated. But it was still quite an experience to have a bird’s eye view of the whole of Taipei.

If you’re into cultural performances, catch a show at Taipei EYE for authentic traditional performing arts.

But the best part for me is the variety of Taiwanese cuisine you can try and enjoy for a reasonable price. There’s beef noodle soup, tofu (not the stinky one for me, please), dumplings, pineapple cake, bubble tea, and the list just goes on.

It’s no wonder why so many people are wanting to go to Taiwan which has so much to offer – the scenery, the food, the people. It sure is fun in Taiwan.

 

 

Negros, beyond the City of Smiles

Bacolod, known as the “City of Smiles” is the capital of Negros Occidental. Tourists would normally go on a food trip as part of their itinerary to sample the namit (delicious in Ilonggo) dishes the place offers.

You can have dinner at Aboy’s Restaurant, a turo-turo style resto famous for their grilled seafood; have chicken inasal at Chicken House for lunch; and have desert at Calea Pastries and Coffee.

“The Ruins” tagged as “Taj Mahal of Negros” is a must-see tourist spot in Talisay. You can sip your coffee while gazing at the lit structure providing a mesmerizing view at night. Don’t forget to take the obligatory table top reflected shot of this once great mansion, burned down during the World War II (to prevent the Japanese from using it), the fate of a lot of the mansions all over Negros.

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Just 30 minutes away from Bacolod is Victorias City where you can find Peñalosa Farm. At the farm, you can learn about organic farming and eat organic meat and vegetables.

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Travel back to the past as you visit Hacienda Santa Rosalia, a sugar plantation located in Manapla owned by the Gaston family. Built in the 1930s, the Gaston Mansion survived the forces of war and nature. The Chapel of the Cartwheels is situated near the ancestral home. This non-traditional church is made from cartwheels, plows, mortar and pestle, and broken pieces of glass. The church aims to make the Catholic faith more local and more accessible. The Hacienda Crafts Factory is also in the area, where world-class craft and woven products are made, providing livelihood for the locals.

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Bacolod is the usual travel destination in Negros but explore the rest of the island and you’ll be happy to see that there is more beyond the City of Smiles.

 

 

Anyeong, Korea!

 

 

Back in 2005, as part of a cultural exchange program, I was able to set foot on Korea for the first time. Since then, I’ve been wanting to go back to the land of oppas and k-pop.

The problem is, for most if not all of my travels, they’re organized by someone else. I don’t initiate it myself. They plan everything, book the flight tickets and all, and I simply tag along. Imagine my surprise when out of nowhere, I got invited to participate in the Organic Foundation Course. And the venue was in Korea! I mean how awesome, right? Talk about the universe conspiring to give you what you earnestly hope for.

If not for this opportunity, I wouldn’t have had the chance to go to the countryside, to the beautiful Goesan County, and experience its fresh air, catch a glimpse of cherry blossoms, and eat tasty organic food.

Of course, I was able to explore a bit more of the capital, Seoul. I went to the usual touristy places – Insadong, Namdaemun Market, Gyeongbukgung Palace, and Cheonggyecheon Stream. It’s so convenient to go around with the city’s efficient transport system.

I climbed 291 steps to marvel at the nightscape of Seoul from Haneul Park located on top of a hill which used to be a landfill.

I also went to a jimjilbang or a bathhouse. It was very relaxing. You have to know that in jimjilbangs, you must be completely naked, but this didn’t faze me at all. To be honest, it actually felt liberating, no pun intended.

Kamsamnida to my Korean friends who were the best babysitters, kkk (hahaha in Korean). Thank you for touring me around and stuffing me with all these amazing Korean dishes which you should try – bulgogi, haejangguk (amusingly, known as a hangover soup), kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew), mul naengmyeon (noodles in ice soup), tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), and dak galbi (spicy chicken stir fry).

Now I should decide where to go next and hope for the universe to once again conspire to bring me there.

Wanderings in the Kingdom of Wonder

It took us around five hours to get from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh by bus. Upon arrival, one thing I noticed is how organized the land use planning of the city is. We saw a lot of Lexus cars and we found out that it’s easy to buy them here because it’s also easy to get a loan. The locals constantly complain of the traffic jam but it’s nothing compared to EDSA traffic in Manila.

We got to go the main tourist attractions, the Royal Palace and the National Museum. We also went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school used as a concentration camp. A sad reminder of the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge nevertheless an important way of keeping us vigilant to never allow such thing to happen again.

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National Museum
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Royal Palace

From Phnom Penh, we traveled to Sihanoukville to attend a reunion for a youth program I joined five years ago. We then headed to Siem Reap via Phnom Penh to explore their famous temples – the Angkor Wat, the Bayon, and Angkor Thom (also known as Tomb Raider, thanks to Angelina Jolie’s movie with the same name). It’s amazing how these structures stood the test of time. Though overcrowded with tourists taking a gazillion of photos, your visit to Cambodia wouldn’t be complete without going to these sites.

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Angkor Wat
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Bayon
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Angkor Thom / Tomb Raider

Going around Cambodia is very convenient with its tourist-friendly transport. You can choose to ride their sleeper bus or van that has regular trips. They even have Uber for tuk-tuk called PassApp Taxi.

Payment is also not a hassle as they use US dollars alongside the Cambodian riel. There are no coins. The Cambodian currency is usually meant for anything less than a dollar. It can be confusing and amusing how you pay in one currency and get the change in another but you get used to it eventually.

St. Augustine said that the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. I’m quite fortunate to have the privilege of reading more than just one page. I consider myself a passive traveler. Usually someone else would organize all the logistics of a trip and I simply tag along. The destination is secondary to me. I mostly go on these trips to enjoy the company of friends, meet people, get immersed in a different culture, and learn and experience something new.

Looking forward to the next chapter of the book!

Re-visiting Vietnam

“It’s better to be a foreigner in Hanoi. When they learn you’re from Ho Chi Minh because of your accent, they charge you more.” Interestingly, there’s this apparent north-south divide in Vietnam.

Funny how conversations can range from guy stuff to serious topics like this one during drinking sessions. I find the drinking culture of Vietnam pretty unique. It’s all about service they say. So don’t be surprised when the waiters or waitresses would keep on refilling your drink and replacing the ice. Their “beer chow,” or food taken with drinks or “pulutan” in Filipino, is meat with generous helpings of vegetables. And they end the drinks with a dessert of fresh fruits! For the record, I don’t drink so I just helped myself with all the food. I love how every meal here is not complete without greens and herbs adding rich flavor to every dish. I hope they maintain this and not give in to the invading fast food culture.

It’s been five years since the last time I was in Ho Chi Minh. Now, you can barely see the “old” Vietnam as it’s transitioning fast to the western way of development. It’s sad how we set that as the standard.

Coffee shops are everywhere and there used to be no Starbucks anywhere but that’s no longer the case. I noticed how they use a lot of plastic cups and straws and these drinks are further placed in plastic bags. It’s no wonder how Vietnam, like the Philippines, is one of the top plastic polluters in the world.

We visited the usual tourist spots – the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, Ben Thanh Market, and some museums. I truly enjoyed Ho Chi Minh’s organized chaos of shops and motorbikes here and about. I couldn’t get enough of the affordable, healthy, tasty food. And the best thing was really embracing and learning more about Vietnam and its culture through conversations with locals and being hosted by our Vietnamese homestay mom, Mommy Helen.

Cam on (thank you), Vietnam for another memorable experience!

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Commune with Nature at Mount Purro

Go on a hike and enjoy the air’s freshness of the forest.

Savor the generous helpings of freshly prepared healthy dishes (you can request for vegan/vegetarian options, too!).

Sleep in cozy kubo-style cabins and let the sound of crickets and the flowing brook serve as your lullaby.

Take a dip in the pool.

Bond with your barkada in the game room.

Meditate and have your reflective moments in nicely decorated huts.

All these you can do at Mount Purro Nature Reserve.

If you’re looking for a quick getaway and escape the hustle and bustle of the city, then this place would be perfect. Sounds like a promotional campaign but really, if you’re into nature and trees, like me, you’ll appreciate Mount Purro which is located at Barangay Calawis, Antipolo City, and is about an hour and a half away drive from Quezon City. It started as a reforestation area now it boasts of facilities and activities suited for everyone.

Truly, we always go back to nature for healing and rejuvenation. I just wish we could bring more of nature, greeneries, and trees to the city so we don’t have to go somewhere else to escape the concrete jungle.

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