Chapter 3: Finally Home

By November 30th, 2019

I woke up from my sleep to the pitter-patter of rain on my tarp and the light of day. I had slept clear through to noon, snug as a bug in my sleeping bag and hammock, between the trees. When I finally peeked out of the confines of my hammock, I spy a pair of deer among the trees on the gravel bar across the river. They seemed to not mind me being there. I suppose I was not snoring loud enough to scare the wildlife away.

Why hello, neighbors!
Living room, kitchen, bedroom all in one.

I began my day by washing the sleep from my face and freshening up before making myself a hot cup of oatmeal. Thankfully, I had a pretty good-sized tarp over my hammock. I had enough room to stretch out and cook my meal without getting wet in the rain or setting my tent on fire. I even decided to have some “breakfast in bed”.

Mornings are for oatmeal and contemplation.

I spent a good hour just chilling in my hammock, listening to the falling rain on my tarp and staring out at the river. Soon enough, I realized something: I get bored very easily. True, I was relishing the solitude, being surrounded by nature. However, I felt restless. My mind began to wander. Thoughts of home began to creep into my consciousness. Also, I missed my cat.

I debated whether to take another nap and maybe explore a bit around camp if the rain let up before it got too dark. My brain was too awake, however. Despite wiggling around in my sleeping bag, trying to get comfy for some shut-eye for a half hour, it was just not in the cards.

I finally and metaphorically put my foot down. I’m going to try making it back to the trail head. It was barely 2 in the afternoon. I figured I had at least 6 hours of light to make the 11 miles or so back to the car, or at least close to it. Last night’s fiasco only proved to me that I was capable of hiking in the dark. So, I packed up my stuff, did a final sweep of my camp, hoisted my pack on and started to walk.

Solitude and silence can only entertain a hyperactive brain for so long. Then I began to feel that the miles are so many and my pace too slow. I tried to pass the time by playing the army game. I looked around the trail for wildlife but it seems the rain had driven most of them into hiding. I did find a lot of slugs, however.

I ran into a deer on the trail that did not seem to care that I was (slowly) barreling down the muddy trail towards it. Making noise with my hiking sticks barely fazed it. I finally resorted to loudly asking it to let me through. Thankfully, when it saw that I was determined to walk the trail, it bounded off into the woods.

(Photo) shoot first, ask questions later.

When I got to the Guard Station, I noted the distance to the trail head: 10 more miles to go. I must have been farther away than I thought. I felt like I had been walking over an hour. I should be at least 2-3 miles closer by now. Perhaps my boredom was just making time feel so much slower.

There was some funky looking math going on
The now familiar Guard Station

I saw a few more deer resting on the meadow just past the Guard Station. I also ran into a young couple headed in the other direction. We exchanged pleasantries. They were planning on heading up to Elk Lake and maybe the Glacier Meadow in the morning. I told them about the blow-downs near Martin Creek and wished them luck.

The monotony of the hike began to get to me. Soon I was starting to feel every achy step, hear every muddy squish of my boot. I began to count the slugs I saw on the ground. Before long, I was beginning to realize that it was getting dark. My yearning for home was getting stronger. I needed to quicken my pace.

Excuse me, sir. Which way to the Entmoot?

The rain was also doing little to improve my quickly fading patience. I was beginning to feel frustrated: at myself for being such a slow hiker, at my pack for being so heavy, at my hiking boots for offering next to no cushion from the rocks on the trail. I was becoming a very unhappy camper.

Thankfully, before it got dark enough to need a headlamp, I was able to reach the Visitor Center and my parked car. All the literal and figurative weight finally lifted off my back as I unloaded my heavy pack on the back of my car, kicked off my boots, and peeled the damp socks from my sore feet. I spent a good few minutes just sitting in my car, scarfing down fig bars and gulping the rest of my water before settling in for the 4-hour drive home.

The morning after: contemplating the 4+ hour drive back, in heavy fog, almost running out of gas in the middle of nowhere, and finally making it back to I-5 where I could finally go 80 miles per hour and still be the slowest car on the road and get home at 1 in the morning. Also, the cat cheerfully sunning on the balcony.

The Hoh River Trail Chapter 2: A day of bad decisions

By September 17th, 2019

The trail along the Hoh River meanders pleasantly under a canopy of trees. Occasionally, it winds across a clearing covered with ferns and moss. There are a few creeks along the way. Some of them are easily crossed by hopping on rocks. One or two require balancing on a skinny log bridge – not an easy thing to do for someone who trips on a flat surface (even harder when you have a >25 lbs pack on your back). I could occasionally see horseshoe tracks on the mud, probably from travelers who have brought horses with them to the upper camps.

Day 2 of my first multi-day backpacking trip. I woke up to the sun barely rising past the horizon. Usually, I wake up earlier than that when sleeping outdoors. I suppose being swaddled in my hammock kept me warm and cozy throughout the night. I started my day on a breakfast of coffee and oatmeal. I changed out of my sleep clothes, packed my gear, and got back on the trail. My goal was to make it to Martin Creek and camp there for the night.

I found myself at the Olympus Ranger Station close to lunch time so I decided to take a break. I rested my heavy pack on one of the benches by the station and had some lunch. I spent a few moments taking in the solitude. The ranger station was still closed and there were no other campers in sight. As I was taking a sip of water from my pack, I realized that my water bag was somehow empty. I was pretty sure I had refilled it before leaving camp. It did not seem like a particularly hot day. I couldn’t have possibly drank all my water already, or have I? When I looked down, I noticed the ground by my feet was soaked. I had laid my pack on top of my water hose and had squeezed the bite valve open. It ended up dumping all my water into the ground!

I managed to choke down the rest of my lunch. After I took a few calming breaths, I paused to think. I checked my location on my phone and saw that there was a stream just ahead of me on the trail. I wasn’t sure how far the water was from the camping area at the Ranger Station, or if the river was accessible there at all. I decided to go for the sure thing and got back on the trail to go towards the creek. Luckily, it was not too far from the Ranger Station. It was also a decent sized creek. I was able to refill my water bag before crossing the creek and continuing on my way.

Lesson #1: pay attention to your equipment.

I trudged along the trail as it went steadily upward. I reached the High Hoh Bridge in the early afternoon. The bridge looked pretty impressive. The raging river hundreds of feet below, even more so. I knew the bridge was pretty sturdy. If it could support the weight of a horse, I’m sure it could support mine, heavy backpack and all. However, I was reminded of how afraid I was of heights. It took all of my willpower to fight down the rising panic as I walked across to the other side. That was probably the fastest I had ever walked across the bridge in my life.

As I continued on up the trail, the slopes became noticeably steeper. The trail turned into a narrow ledge on the side of a heavily forested mountain. There were signs of fallen trees around me, as well. Being this early into the hiking season, and the snowy winter not that long ago, I suppose it is to be expected. There were a few blow-downs across the trail that I had to maneuver around and over. Being on a narrow ledge high up a mountain slope did little to help. Neither did being terrified of heights and carrying a heavy backpack. After a few grueling hours of trudging, I found myself at the creek. The trail looked washed out and I could not find a place to cross. There were also a pile of fallen logs across the creek and I was not sure how I would make it through that and up and over the steep bank to the campsite.

I paused by the creek and weighed my options. I was by myself, unsure of my skills, hours (or even days) away from help. I did not see any other hikers pass me on the way up so I did not know if there would be anyone coming down. I decided to forgo the risk and turn around. I remembered seeing a few nice camping spots near the bridge. I headed back towards it. I made it back to the bridge in less than an hour and still had perhaps 2 more hours of daylight. I set up camp and began to get ready to make my supper. As I was finishing up my supper, something niggled at me. For some reason, I decided to pack up camp and head back down. I did not know what possessed me to do so. Something in my lizard-brain told me I should hike down and stay at Lewis Camp instead. It was about 3 miles from the bridge and I was sure I could make it by night fall. That turned out to be the second big mistake of the day.

The sun seemed to have magically disappeared a few minutes into my hike. I did not anticipate it to get dark so quickly. I spent the next hour or so walking as fast as my poor, tired legs could carry me down the trail. The last few hundred feet to the meadow, I had to put on my headlamp just to see where I was going. Luckily, I was able to find the meadow and the sign pointing towards Lewis Meadow campsites.

Lesson #2: Better safe and early than tired in the dark.

I found a nice little spot to camp and began to gather some firewood. Perhaps a campfire would cheer me up. I also decided to get some water. I still had a fair bit left in my pack but I figured I might want to make some soup or hot cocoa before turning in. Also, the forecast was predicting rain early the next day. I wouldn’t want to be trying to find water in the middle of a downpour when snuggling under a tarp in my hammock would sound like a better idea. I put on my headlamp and pocketed my bear spray and water bag and set off towards the river.

Getting to the river from my camp meant crossing a rock field filled with loose rocks and the occasional stranded fallen tree. This also meant that a straight path from point A to point B may not always be possible. I found myself having to walk around logs, up one hilly pile of rock and down another. It took me about 20 minutes of careful stepping and meandering to get to the river and fill up. It took significantly longer to find my way back to camp… Much, much longer.

As I was heading back to camp, I realized that all the meandering got me turned this way and that. I barely recognized where I was. It was too dark to see anything other than silhouettes of trees that looked exactly like every one next to it. I tried to find landmarks that would look familiar. At one point, I decided to make straight for the trees. Perhaps if I walk along the embankment in one direction I would end up in camp. I was wrong. I ended up crashing through the bushes until I gave up and decided to walk back towards the rock field. I spent the next hour or so trying to find my way back to camp. I was tired, hungry, scared, and as close to tears as I ever want to be out in the wild. I have been lost in the city before. This is much worse. Also, did I mention it was going to rain soon?

I decided to retrace my steps back to the river. I was able to find the exact spot where I had filled my water bag. I turned around, and slowly and calmly attempted to recreate my path. I double-checked every turn and closely inspected every fallen tree, every rocky hill. Slowly, things became more familiar and I found myself scrambling up the embankment back to my camp.

Lesson #3: Don’t go wandering about in the dark.

After spending the next 10 minutes admonishing myself for my foolhardiness, I finished setting up camp and sat down for some hot cocoa and a snack. After changing into my sleep clothes, I snuggled into my sleeping bag and promptly fell asleep. It was almost 2 am. That was more than enough adventuring for the day.

The Hoh River Trail: My first multi-day hike, chapter 1

By September 4th, 2019

I am all for long leisurely walks most of the time. It helps to clear my head. Being around lush greeneries and catching glimpses of wildlife, big and small, never ceases to fill me with wonder.

I have only ever done an overnight camping trip until now. One night away from the creature comforts I am used to was often enough to make me appreciate the small things. There are only so many things in civilized life I can do without for so long.

I wanted to try my hand at sleeping out in the woods for longer than a night. Perhaps if I can walk a bit farther, linger on the trail a bit longer, I would appreciate nature more and set my inner wild child free.

The Hoh River Trail seemed to be a nice “beginner” trip for me. The slopes are gentle, the camps are plentiful, and hiking along a reliable water source feels reassuring. I did some research and asked people in the know for advice before packing my gear. I opted to sleep in a hammock instead of on the ground so I gave my tent up for a hammock, underquilt, and rain tarp. Forgoing the bear canister, I thought I might work on my bear bag skills instead. If there is one thing rainforests have plenty of, it’s trees.

Driving through the Olympic National Park road under a canopy of mossy trees was a treat in itself. It was like being transported to another time and place, somewhere far away, and long ago. There were plenty of people in the visitor center. Groups of young folk just hanging out, families out for a day of picnicking. There were also quite a few cars in the overnight parking area. It felt reassuring to me. As much as I do cherish solitude in the woods, I would want other people in camp especially on my first multi-day trip. At least I would have someone else to ask should I find myself lacking any essential backcountry skills.

The first few miles of the trail was still full of day hikers despite the time of the day. My pack was heavy but my pace was leisurely. Even early on there is already the promise of ancient stands of trees bearded with moss. The afternoon was humid but not too hot to feel oppressive. The uphill slopes were not so steep and the greenery along the way made even the climb a bit enjoyable.

I arrived at my first camp at about 5 pm. There were 2 or 3 other people in the campsite but I had plenty of space for myself. I picked two promising trees for my hammock, and set up camp. My first attempt at hammock camping and it only took me a few minutes. It was a pleasantly breezy day but the wind did no favors for me while I was tying down my tarp.

No friends to take your pictures? Use the shutter timer, run really fast, and make it look easy. Or use a shutter remote.

I still had plenty of time before sundown so I scouted around for a good place to take night pictures later. I also went and looked for the bear wire to hang my bag of food. After scarfing down my dinner and getting a water refill from the nearby river, I snuggled in for a quick nap and rest my weary feet. I wanted to wake up at full dark, spend an hour or so taking pictures of stars, watch out for nocturnal foragers across the river, and maybe sneak in one more hot cup of cocoa before snuggling back into my sleeping bag.

The night sky over 5 Mile Island. No luck with the wildlife sightings.

I had found the perfect little spot to set up my camera just a few paces away from camp with a clear view of the river and the woods across as well as a decent amount of open space to see the sky. I spent at least an hour taking long exposure shots, hoping I had dialed in the right camera settings and spent a few more minutes listening for wildlife. I was going for another cup of hot cocoa but the constant rumbling of the river was starting to lull me to sleep so I climbed back into my hammock instead. I have a long walk ahead of me in the morning.

The Garden of Flowers, and of turtles, ducks, and fish.

By August 10th, 2019

I have always found that a well-kept garden, even in the middle of a bustling city, can do wonders for a troubled and anxious mind. I found such a garden not far from my work, mere blocks from the hustle and noise of downtown. It is were one can truly appreciate the Japanese attention to detail and drama, where simple lines and curves can awaken all five senses. You don’t need to hop on a plane to Tokyo for this one. If you live in Seattle, you can easily hop on a bus to get there.

The view from inside the community workroom into the garden

The Seattle Japanese Garden has been open to the public since the 1960’s. It’s designed as a stroll garden with winding paths around a central lake and every area of the garden evokes different aspects of Japanese culture. The path itself curves up and over hills, and around trees and strategically placed bushes as if to hide just what is around the corner.

What delightful sights could be just around the bend?

Stepping through the gates and into the garden, I imagined myself like Alice stepping through the looking glass. However, the flowers here were not as “live” as the ones in Alice’s garden. The colors and beauty of the blooms were very captivating.

As you walk along the path, you get transported from a soothing forest to a lakeside garden. Vibrant koi fish languorously swim across the water like rainbow ribbons. There is a wooden bridge spanning the water with a platform where you can stop for a sit. On some days, they will let you feed the fish. They will happily swim closer and nibble on the fish food you bless them with, unless the ducks get there first.

The koi were a little shy today.

You can also see stone lanterns along the path, by the stone bridge, and in the pond. They remind me of the lanterns that I see travelers carry around in the anime shows I love to watch. As you keep walking along the meandering foot path further into the garden, you will also see a small pergola where you could pause in the shade and enjoy the view. There is also a concrete platform right along the pond that reminds you of a Japanese boat deck.

As far as gardens go, this one comes close to being a favorite. The landscape doesn’t change much over the years but each time I come back, it still feels refreshingly new. At least, this pretty garden is not behind the tiny door. I won’t need to shrink myself just right to find my way in.

Lincoln Park: of ferries, berries, and beaches.

By July 22nd, 2019

I needed a break from my adventuring. However, my restlessness leaves me wanting for the outside. I thought, perhaps, something local may check both boxes. There is a park a few blocks away from home that I can get to with a short bus ride. It has trails for walking, and a nice pebbly beach where you can cool your feet. There are trees and flowers everywhere. You can grab a bench, or a log to sit on and soak up the sun. You can close your eyes and listen to the gentle lapping of waves, the amiable chatter of people walking by, and then you hear a boat horn honking just across the water.

White berries not your jam? Paint them red.
Looks like summer has come and went

It’s still a nice place to spend some time, even on a cool, foggy day. Sometimes, you may only have half a day free and a few hours to yourself. Maybe you just did not feel like getting behind the wheel of your car and get on the road for more than 2 hours away and back. In any case, it’s a good place to hang out and spend some time with your tree friends. Also, I hear there’s a good dim sum place just a short walk away.

Gnarly tree friends

And if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key

By June 28th, 2019

I had always dreamed of building a miniature city of sorts. I read a book once about how to build a miniature house in a bottle. I fantasized and planned that one day I would find the perfect house to shrink down to size and keep in a bottle. I would probably stare at it all day, imagining myself shrinking like Alice after drinking from the mysterious bottle, living in that little house.

One day, I realized that I could do the next best thing with a tilt-shift lens. I had been playing with my Rokinon Tilt-Shift Lens for a few years now. I use it mostly to take better photos of buildings and do reflection shots from windows without seeing my reflection. I knew you could use it to take “miniature effect” photos and I wanted to figure out how and try it for myself.

The trick works best from a high place. The Space Needle had finally reopened after a major renovation although there were still some sections closed off and being worked on. I stepped out onto the glass-encased viewing platform and snapped away.

I think that’s I-5 down there.

It took some trial and error before I figured out the perfect combination of narrow depth of field and tilting the lens.

Tiny buildings and tiny cranes!!!

It was so much fun. I could see it was turning out well from the camera’s screen but I knew I would see it better on a bigger screen when I got home to get the images on my computer.

I spent a few more minutes up in the view deck then sat down at the snack bar for some lunch. It was a lovely time spent people-watching. I did one final walk and took a few more shots then headed back down to catch the monorail back to downtown.

Sometimes, being at the bottom gives you a new perspective on things.

I also managed to catch this gem of a shot before I headed home for the day.

3 icons in one shot!!!

This last one actually got turned into a piece of Photoshop art that now graces my office and reminds me of all the pretty places out there that I can’t wait to see, snap, and share with everyone.

The First Backpacking Trip

By June 9th, 2019

The past few weeks, I had been prefacing almost every sentence with “If I make it back alive from the mountains…”. It was to be my first backpacking trip, up in the mountains, with strangers. I had never met these people before, only talking online or by text message. It was to be an adventure in more ways than one.

I was to be carpooling with a fellow camper who lived in my neighborhood. Then we were to meet at our group leader’s house where we were to ride together to the ranger station, pick up our camping permits, then head to the trailhead to start the grand adventure.

There were quite a few cars parked at the trailhead. Some were already parked on the side of the road. We had a group selfie to commemorate the start of our trip and then we were off.

The trail led through tree-covered areas and mountainsides covered in brush. There’s a river that runs alongside the trail. I could hear it constantly but could only see it every now and then. The river was at the base of the mountain and we were high up above it.

I have been day-hiking for years now but this would be my first trip carrying a heavy pack. I am slow enough as it is with just a day pack and a liter of water. I am queen of the sloth hikers with my backpack.

The last mile before our campsite was the toughest. When I finally reached the campsite, I was the last to get there. We spent some time sitting together in the clearing, swapping stories and getting to know each other. One of the guys even brought some IPA to share. After finishing our beers, we each made our dinner, set up our tents, and turned in for the night.

Excuse me while I channel my inner Julie Andrews’ Maria and frolic in that meadow.

I fell asleep to the dull roaring of the river below and the creaking of the trees above me. Some time in the night, I woke up. When I took a peek outside my tent, there were stars in the sky above. I wasn’t expecting it to be clear enough for stars. A wildfire was raging not so far away and the smoke still clouded the air even as high up as we were.

I grabbed my camera, dialed in what settings I could remember from my photography lessons, and snapped away. After I snapped a few photos, I went back into my tent and snuggled back into my sleeping bag and fell back asleep.

I see stars.

In the morning, I was woken up to the dawn light. It was not fully bright yet outside and I can still hear my fellow campers snoring away. I figured I would creep about the camp and maybe take photos of the shrubbery in the dawn light.

After coffee and breakfast, we broke camp and began the trek back. It was a lot less hot on the trail since the sun was now shining on the other side of the mountain. Since I’m now hiking downhill and with my pack a little lighter, I had enough energy to be looking around me and appreciating the trees.

We finally made it back to the car. After loading up our bags, we made our way back to the city, civilization, and hot baths.

The Garden Beyond the Door, the Lights Down Below, and The Land of Lego Things

By April 26th, 2019

There was a very short reprieve before we were off to the next big adventure. I had just enough time to say hello to the duchesses. They seem to slowly fade each time I see them. I always fear that every visit would be the last. I lost a few of the dukes and duchesses while I was on the other side of the looking glass. We swapped stories and refreshed old and happy memories. I hope we have many more visits in the future.

We boarded a late night plane to Singapore: the land of lion-headed mermaids. Since we arrived at Changi airport in the wee hours, we decided to find a quiet place to nap and wait for daylight before we headed to our hotel. Changi is one of the most interesting and nicest airports I have visited so far. There are mobile sculptures hanging from the roof that I could stare at all day long, sparkling clean bathrooms, and food kiosks serving both international and local fare. Their immigration area is very efficient and even during peak hours, I rarely see a line longer than 4 people.

From the airport, we stopped by our hotel to drop off our luggage and took a cab to Gardens By The Bay to spend a little time exploring. The Supertrees were amazing. I’m told that they are even more captivating when they are lit up at night. They are an architectural and biotechnological marvel. Cruising around Singapore, you will also notice little pocket gardens and plant-covered concrete structures. Singapore wasn’t kidding when they decided to turn the “Garden City” into a “City in a Garden”. Despite all the buildings and urban structures, it still felt quite like being surrounded by nature.

The metal trees
Binky and Captain Jack in the Garden
The Captain feigning sleep…
Below: A few of the Garden’s inhabitants.

Our first two days in the city were spent checking out the food places near our hotel. We stayed in the Katong District along the Marine Parade. Apparently, I had inadvertently picked a hotel smack in the middle of one of the city’s epicurean neighborhoods. We even found several vending machines that made orange juice about as fresh-squeezed as any could ever get.

Day 3 was spent checking out the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. All the luxury brands I was familiar with, and some that I have never heard before, are all there. I was never much of a shopper, thankfully. There was, however, a feature in the mall I wanted to take Captain Jack and Binky to: The Digital Light Canvas. It’s an interactive light feature where your steps trigger animations on the floor like a school of fish following you around as you run or walk. I figured I should let the kids burn off some energy so we could all have a good night’s sleep before our big adventure the next day.

Thankfully, instead of mall kiosks, they have sculptures.

I also had a birthday surprise for Binky that day. I booked our group for an all you can eat cheese and chocolate buffet at one of the restaurants atop the Marina Bay Sands. Nothing like gorging on my two favorite things in the world while enjoying the company of my two favorite part-time kids and watching the bay light up below us. The restaurant was also nice enough to bring out a piece of birthday cake for Binky and she got to blow out the candle.

The best way to end a birthday after eating all the cheese and chocolate is more chocolate.

The next day, we got up early to cross the border to Malaysia for the day. We booked tickets to Legoland for the kiddos. Travel time from Singapore to the Legoland theme park, including queuing at immigrations, took a little over an hour and a half so it was about 11 am by the time we got inside the park. It had prerequisite rides for every age so young, old, and those in between were all able to have a good time. There’s also a section of the park with scaled down versions of architectural and landscape features from all over the world all made of Lego blocks. It was a nice break from the rides although since it was summer, the heat dissuaded me from meandering around at a leisurely pace.

Getting back to Singapore from Malaysia at the end of the day, it meant we had enough time to get on the Singapore Flyer. Being from Seattle, I have been on the Great Wheel and it was pretty unnerving. I have a fear of heights that can sometimes take me to the point of ceasing all body functions. I was a bit apprehensive getting on the flyer especially since it does not stop. You have to chase it down the platform as you catch a ride to your gondola. Luckily, it was going at a leisurely enough pace to keep me from tripping on myself trying to get on. The Great Wheel’s pace was actually rather pleasant. I barely felt my heart dropping like it did on the Great Wheel back home. It was just the perfect pace to capture some time-lapse photos of the city lights below.

The lights from high up the Flyer

Day 5 of our trip was spent in Sentosa Island. We had tickets to Universal Studios Sentosa. Binky and Captain Jack had such a good time despite the humidity and summer heat. There were enough of the milder attractions for the weaker-hearted members of our gang as well. After the requisite souvenir shopping, we took the shuttle home for some rest and a dip in the hotel pool.

Bumblebee and the fam.

Our 6th day in The Garden City, we decided to sleep in a bit before we headed out for lunch in Sentosa Island. We ate at Din Tai Fung and the gang enjoyed the dumplings. Even Captain Jack, the ever-picky eater of nothing but chicken-gravy-rice, had a pretty good appetite. After lunch, we visited the S. E. A. Aquarium. The kiddos had fun checking out the marine life. The grown-ups had a nice break being indoors in an air-conditioned place. Despite the crowds, it still felt pleasant and cool.

After the aquarium, we took a cab to the Singapore Zoo for their Night Safari. The zoo is a bit farther from the city. It took us about 45 minutes by cab in moderate traffic. By the time we got to the zoo, the lines were already supremely long. Getting to the zoo at about 5 pm, it was 2 hours before we were finally in the zoo. After about another half hour standing in line for the trolleys that would take us around the zoo to see the animals, the ride itself took barely a half hour. The gang loved it though. I saw animals I only ever see on the Discovery Channel. Being night time, it was also party time for nocturnal animals. It was nice seeing them out and about instead of hiding in the shade like I often do when going to the zoo in the daytime.

One week in Singapore and we still hadn’t run out of things to do. This time, we got day passes for their get on – get off double decker buses so we could ride around the city and look around without having to keep hiring cabs all day. We took Binky to Kinokuniya to shop for school supplies for the coming school year. We then took the trolley to go see the Merlion statue. We also went and ate dinner at Makansutra Glutton’s Bay since it was a short trolley ride away. There was so much variety that even the picky eaters were able to find something to nosh on. Bellies full and legs tired, we headed home to rest.

The Merlion and the giant durian
Ches’s new favorite place to be.

Our last full day in Singapore was spent shopping at the shopping center across the street from our hotel. We checked out of our room and deposited our bags at the lobby. Our flight wasn’t until the wee hours of the morning the next day so we decided to hang out at the mall for most of the day before heading out to the airport.

If the arrivals area at Changi airport was impressive, the departures area was a shopper’s delight. We bought so much candy and souvenirs for the folks back home before it was time to board our plane. 8 days in Singapore left us all tired when we got off the plane and arrived at the house. It was certainly a very memorable, albeit spendy, week.

Worship places: a church, two temples, and a guitar factory.

By March 19th, 2019

Like a slowly fading dream, my short-lived beachside hiatus becomes yet another pleasant memory. Alas, I was too preoccupied with the sound of gentle waves lapping the shore, the feel of sand (so much sand) between my toes, and the din of laughter and giggling of two very enthusiastic and happy children to even think of snapping a picture. No delicious seafood fare immortalized, nor any scenic images of hammocks on coconut trees with the wistful bokeh of the crystalline ocean and the azure sky behind it. The next thing I knew, like my typical self waking from a much needed nap, we were again packing our bags and getting ready for another adventure.

We crammed ourselves and our luggage into a not-very-roomy-at-all vehicle to be driven to the pier where we boarded a ferry to cross back to Cebu. From there, we split our group in two and took separate cabs to our hotel. Familial affection be damned, one can only suffer being stuffed like sardines in a cramped car on a sweltering day for so long.

I purposefully chose our hotel accommodations for this leg of our trip. It’s swanky by local standards: indoor pool, fitness center, shops in the hotel lobby, a casino… More importantly, this place had a backstory in my life. My mother and I occasionally recall it with much laughter. After getting settled in our rooms, a quick take-away dinner later, we snoozed off. We had more adventures in the morning.

The view from the hotel room window

We left Kuya Kim behind in the other island and piled into a different van this time. Our first stop was a fulfillment of a promised ukelele to a very eager young girl who is so much better at playing guitar than I can ever hope to be. The guitar factory was rather low key for a classic tourist stop. It was a single level home with an airy looking hut next to it where men were busy crafting amazing musical works of art.

The craftsman hard at work
They sound as pretty as they look, if you know how.

After we had bought our stuff, we went off to go looking for famous monuments. There was quite the historical battle in this here island hundreds of years ago. One side was fighting for their freedom and right to their ancestral lands, the other side fighting for the belief that the crown they served pretty much owned everything they saw.


Our next stop was rather confusing. Apparently it has quickly become a tourist attraction since it was built. A “temple” built to celebrate a family matriarch seemed noble enough. The obviously fake and cheesily Romanesque frescoes and “sculptures” left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Personally, I found it very ostentatious. Everyone else in my party was having a good time, however. I resigned myself to averting my eyes from the garishness and was rewarded with one of the most amazing views of the city.

I recall a Bible story of what happened when Moses came down from the mountain with God’s commandments
When NOT in Rome…
Sometimes it pays to look where nobody else is looking.

The next temple we visited was a real one, this time. It was a tranquil spot among the city’s hustle and bustle. I also had the chance to ask favors of the temple deity. Hopefully I came away as blessed as I felt. At any rate, the peace and tranquility was very welcome at this point in the day.

The temple
All the bells, none of the whistles.
The traveling party, halfway up (or down) the stairs

Our last stop for the day was a church built in the early 1700’s. A lot of parishioners still worship there. Also, being smack in the middle of the city, it is a hub of activity. I left the rest of my party to pay their respects inside the church and went to explore around.

In the background, they’re getting ready for more ceremonies

After a late lunch at the local fried chicken chain across the street, we headed back to our hotel for some much needed rest and relaxation. We had souvenirs to pack and there was a pool somewhere in the building whispering my name.

7,000 Islands and then some: a short story

By March 11th, 2019

From Taiwan, I flew to the Philippines, eventually making my way to Cebu to meet up with my family. The plan was: meet at the Cebu International Airport and check into a hotel for the night, get some rest, wake up early morning the next day, and take the ferry to Tagbilaran. My travel buddies comprised of my mom, my aunts, my sister-in-law, my niece, and nephew. We booked a van to show us around Bohol and take in the sights all day before getting dropped off in Panglao to spend a couple of nights by the beach.

Thankfully, after an entire day of sitting in planes, sitting in airports, and sitting in cabs, we finally made it to our hotel late in the evening. We had just enough energy to grab a quick bite and wash the grime of travel off before settling in for bed. The next morning, we woke up, grabbed a quick breakfast, and headed to the ferry station. After about 2 hours on the ferry, we made it across the water to Tagbilaran island, our gateway to Bohol. We were met by “Kuya Kim” who was to be our driver/tour guide /fixer /finder of amazing food for the day.

Our first stop was the Sandugo statue. It commemorates the blood compact made between the Filipino natives and the Spanish conquistadores in 1565. Being a healthcare worker, quite frankly, I found the concept quite unnerving. Clearly, hepatitis, HIV, and many other blood-borne diseases weren’t a thing back in the day.

Nothing like a cup of sangre to seal a deal

We also visited what was left of the old churches built during the Spanish era. Unfortunately, most of the stately stone churches have been reduced to rubble by the recent big earthquake that hit the island a few months before. Most of the churches have been rebuilt since then and you can clearly see the difference between the old stone and the new one. I was happy to see that the ornate altars I remember from childhood Sunday mass of yore are still as beautiful as ever.

One of the rebuilt old churches
Ornate altars hark back to the Spanish Era

Kuya Kim drove us through one of the largest man-made forests in the country. According to him, this was the result of years of tree-planting ceremonies that were all the rage back then. Being the selfie-rabid group that they are, the family couldn’t resist making a quick stop for a photo op.

Captain Jack and the ladies

Our next stop was a Philippine Tarsier sanctuary. These teeny-weeny little primates are considered an endangered species. We had to be quiet while tiptoeing in the woods since they nap during the day. Disturbing them puts the primates under stress and they have been known to kill themselves when under too much strain. If only there was such a thing as a Tarsier Therapist.

Shhhhhhh, you’ll wake the furry
Tarsiers are an ancient type of primate, hence the “old man” eyes
The look your teacher gives you when you act up in the classroom

Finally, it was lunch time. I had heard of this river cruise lunch thing for a while and I thought it would be a great treat for the family. I arranged for Kuya Kim to set us up for lunch in the river and he was more than happy to oblige. Aside from the standard lunch fare, there was a local delicacy called “humba na nangka” which translates to “braised jackfruit”. I found it so intriguing that I became too busy consuming as much as I could to take a photo. The ambiance certainly helped the appetite. We were floated down the river and serenaded by a group of folks singing the typical karaoke songs. Along the way, there was also a side-show where the locals sang songs, played ukelele, and did native dances for us. Overall, not a bad way to lunch.

Busai Falls
Lunch. On a Boat. Down the River.
Floating restaurants would be all the rage pretty soon
Ukeleles, songs, and dancing for dessert

After lunch, we headed to one of the iconic attractions that Bohol is famous for: The Chocolate Hills. Sadly, these are not hills made of chocolate but natural geological lumps spread over acres of land. Some of them are not even brown, but are covered by lush forests and vegetation. The best way to see them is to take the stairs all the way to the top of an overlook. If only stairmasters had the same awesome view, I would probably work out more often.

Chocolate Hills covered in lush greenery

Our last stop for the day was a butterfly farm. Captain Jack and Binky were delighted to see all the butterflies and I got to play with some caterpillars. I used to be scared of those things. Creepy crawlies with way too many legs always give me the willies. We also stopped at a “zoo” of sorts that had an enormous snake I was allowed to pet, and a rescued monkey that Captain Jack seemed to take a shine to.

From an adorable caterpillar to a gorgeous butterfly
The prettiest bug I ever did see
I wish I could be as chill as this guy

At the end of the day, Kuya Kim dropped us off at Panglao Beach and we made our way to the resort for some much needed rest and relaxation.

The winking stars over Panglao