Weekly Photo Challenge : On Top

Being on top can be a feeling, a perspective, or a physical location. 

I was walking outside a monastery in Mingun, Myanmar when I saw this scene. The monastery was surrounded by rice fields and trees which gave an overall peaceful feeling to the place.

On top

On Top

The cart driver might be on top physically, but I also want to know his perspective on his life.

The Gift of Myanmar

A short trip in Myanmar (Burma) led me to explore different scenery. From the colonial city of  Yangon, to the fascinating temples of Bagan, the pine-tree covered mountains of Kalaw, the rolling hills of Pindaya , the beauty of Inle Lake, and more places in and outside of Mandalay. This country has a lot to offer, but the best thing it offers is the genuine character of its people. They smile and try to help whenever and however they can.

These kids at a temple followed me around and then one of them went to a mango tree and picked one fruit from a short branch. He then ran after me and insisted on giving me this mango. This is how I experienced Burma; simple, but everything comes from the heart.

Kids at the Temple

More stories to come about this trip soon. :)

Snorkeling Around Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan

“I guess we are going to swim with turtles or sharks, whichever come close or show up!”

Koh nangyuan

 My internal dialogue started right when we stepped on to the ferry boat that will take us snorkeling around Koh Tao. Marianka and I were in a big ferry with many other foreign tourists who don’t have the time or courage to actually try scuba diving yet. After our initial registration process, we were given our snorkeling gear and off we started.  Along the shore line are many rock formations that looked like people looking out to the sea. It was a pleasant ride to our first snorkeling stop.

Stone formations along the shore line

Foreign tourists flock to this island on the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand because it is the most popular place to learn scuba diving. It has one of the cheapest rates around and has beautiful underwater views. Koh Tao translates to “Turtle Island” because of its turtle-like shape and is also an important breeding ground for Hawksbill and Green turtles.

Koh Tao2

Shark Bay

Our first stop was Shark Bay. As exciting/scary as the name sounds, we had to be reassured that the only sharks to be found were black tip reef sharks, known for their timid nature. It is one of the most popular snorkeling spots on the island. The weather did not cooperate with us during this time because the water was rough and murky. Nobody was able to spot a shark which was actually a relief for me; although I’m sure others were quite disappointed.

On the way to Koh Nangyuan, the boat faced an onslaught of big waves. Then, one pair of my flip flop fell into the water! I wanted to ask the boat to stop but I couldn’t really find the courage to even tell that to the captain.

Koh Tao 7

Arriving on the island was the highlight of that tour for me. Koh Nangyuan was really pretty and astounding! Three islands connected by a sand bridge and all sides are great for snorkeling. It was like paradise. Since it is also really small, the only way to go around is by walking.

The walk to the view point was not that difficult because they paved the way but it was rather hot. There was a wooden bridge that led to the entrance of the path which made the walk exciting and easier for us. The climb was easy and we were rewarded with a great view of all three islands at the top. It was the postcard perfect spot to take a picture.

Koh Tao 5

Koh Tao 3

Snorkeling at one of the bays was perfect too. The shallow and calm water provided a refuge for the many fishes and corals to survive. This gave us a clear view of the wonderful gems that are underwater. I did not have an underwater camera to show them, but seeing them with my eyes was enough. I may not have seen sea turtles or encountered any shark, but what I have seen already made me want to go back to Koh Nangyuan again.

Koh Tao 8

Before boarding the ferry back to the mainland with Marianka, Katie and Carla

 

Weekly Photo Challenge : Inside

Stones inside small pits of a popular pastime game in the Philippines.

Sungka

Stones

The game is called Sungka. It is similar to other Southern Asian mancala games such as Naranj (Maldives), Dakon ( Java), Congkak (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia) and Tchonka ( Marianas). More information can be found here.

A Glimpse of Bohol After the Earthquake

Home is indeed where the heart is.

I was out of the country when a tragedy struck my hometown Bohol in the Philippines. It was at the airport when a friend called me about a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that ruined many buildings, churches, homes and left loved ones with less family members. I immediately called my mom and was thankfully able to connect to her. Her voice was shaky and she was talking about my brother not being home. After a minute, her voice turned panicky because another aftershock is happening. I could hear her running and saying that they have to go out to an open space. That was about 30 minutes after the big one struck. I could hear people around her talking nervously about what they need to do. Then another shock came, and they were shouting and running again. It took about an hour to convince myself to put the phone down and that they’re going to be fine. At that time, the aftershock was almost every other minute. It was a blur of news and messages days and weeks after that.

Bohol

However, that was 2 months ago.

Flying from Manila to Bohol, the view from the plane was beautiful and familiar. Those small mounds of rolling hills dotted with some brown areas where the land sunk in, the long white sand beach, small roads lined with coconut trees, and the small airport that always makes me nervous whenever the plane is landing. As the plane skidded to a stop, I breathed a sigh of relief. I am home at last.

Home4

When I got to my parents’ house, I immediately saw cracks on the walls. However, those cracks did not really bother me. I was more bothered about how my family is doing. It was not the visible effects that I was concerned with; it was the emotional toll of the tragedy to my family that I wanted to know. The day after, I experienced an aftershock that lasted seconds. I was not scared but I was disturbed nonetheless. The aftershock made me realize how traumatic the experience was for my family and friends. A small aftershock can still rock a bed; I couldn’t imagine how the actual earthquake felt.

So then, I started asking questions. Expecting to hear sad anecdotes and heart-breaking stories, I tried to ask politely. However, the surprise was on me. When I asked people to recall their experiences, what I get are mostly funny anecdotes of how they ran for safety, or what they did. A cousin was talking about them running together to one place so that they can laugh and chat together. It is one of the characters of Filipinos to look at the brighter side of what happened. I have seen that before and was seeing it again.

Passing by some places that were heavily affected, I saw posters and signs saying thanks to those who helped them. Beside ran down houses and cracked walls and roofs, I saw children running and playing. The make shifts tents are the only proof that something really happened there. I saw old churches ruined, but people were having mass outside. I remember the priest saying that it is not the building that makes the church; it is the people who are the church. As long as there are people, a church is there. That is how a small island with mostly catholic people adapts to a tragedy. People help each other and laugh about it after.

It was a short but poignant visit that reminded me how time flies so fast. I met many people who I do not remember anymore because of how fast they have grown up. As I look around our house and at the neighborhood, I can still see the younger me; playing under that big mango tree, running around with my siblings and cooking imaginary food made out of flowers and leaves. Many things happened there, but I can still breathe that nostalgic smell of my room and be struck at how everything looked smaller. That is how home should always be like.

Home1

As my Cebu Pacific flight to Manila lifted up, I looked down to the small island that I have grown up. It is an island that taught me all about family. The people molded me into someone who can take adventures to other foreign countries but still maintain that Filipino character and spirit within. It is a beautiful island with wonderful people, and I know that I will always bring a part of that island with me wherever I go.