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Wanderlust Wednesday:Philippine Adventure

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Hello again! My husband and I recently had the amazing opportunity to visit the Philippines, where I learned to love fish and to sleep with the constant sound of car horns blaring. It was a wonderful adventure almost a year in the planning (for me) and I’d love to share a few of the things I learned about this beautiful country while I was there (accompanied by random pictures).

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But first, for the curious, a little background. WHY the Philippines, do you ask? Well, about 17 years ago, Mr. LPMD served a mission for our church there. He mostly served in Manila and some of the nearby areas. He loved the country and the people, but thought he would never get to go back. And then a bit less than a year ago I got this crazy hair-brained idea that I could surprise him with a trip back. Unbeknownst to him, I spent the next several months secretly saving my dollahs and feverishly typing up his journal from the time he was there (whenever he wasn’t home). A couple of months ago I let him in on the surprise and he got as excited as he gets. Which pretty much equates to a smile and a little bit of shock. And that was that.

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On our trip, we spent 5 days in the general Manila area and then flew over to Puerto Princesa on Palawan and spent 5 days staying in a lovely little place in Buenovista. Can we just enjoy a bit of the beauty of that place for a minute?

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Facing the house and cabins

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Facing the ocean

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Not a terrible place for some morning yoga, eh?

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Teeny tiny shells and coral covered the beach

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All of our accommodations were found through AirBnB.com and they all turned out to be great places to stay.

So…what did I learn from our trip to the land of over 7,000 islands (though we barely even scratched the surface)? Well…

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1 – Driving rules are rather like the Pirate Code.
cc9e1cf6aebe92588ca7586f89959de7The honking made me crazy at first, but eventually, I just found it rather amusing. If you’re driving in the Philippines, especially in the cities, you might honk if: you’re about to pass someone, you’re letting someone know you’re there, you’re in a bigger vehicle than someone else, you’re a bus, jeepney, or trike that can or can’t pick someone up on the side of the road, you’re coming around a corner, you exist, you want to see if your horn works, it strikes your fancy. There’s a plethora of reasons, really. The place we stayed in Manila (Mandaluyong, actually), was right next to a light rail station, so a whole lot of transportationess was going on outside our window. I realized one morning while I was lying awake from jet lag, that the muted sound of horns in the distance had become rather like listening to quiet classical music as I fell asleep. It was almost peaceful.

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Early morning, before the traffic set in.

Aside from the constant honking, I’m not sure why there are lines painted on the roads. Because it’s not like people stay in any kind of lanes. Three lanes could actually be 4. Or 5. Depends on if you can squeeze in there or not. Standard mode of driving is, if there is a space in front of you, you speed up and continue speeding up until there isn’t space in front of you anymore, then you stop, with probably 2 inches between you and any vehicles in front of or next to you. Motorcycle? Well, as long as you fit between or on the side of the other cars, you’re good to go. But watch out for the busses, because they’re bigger than you, and frankly, bigger has the right of way.

2 – Fish can be delicious.
I went into this trip a little hesitant about possibly starving because, frankly, I don’t like seafood. Hey, I have an idea – let’s go spend 2 weeks in an island country where the most common meat is fish! What a great idea! {Can you feel that sarcasm? Because it’s dripping.} My husband assured me that I wouldn’t starve because there would always be rice (which, there definitely was) and I promised him that I would at least try some fish. And miracle of miracles, I can honestly say that I tried all the fish I was served and ENJOYED it! Something about fresh sea fish is sooooo much better than the stuff we get here in our little landlocked state, that’s for sure. I also tried some fried calamari (didn’t like it) and clams. Well…one clam. Ew.

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3 – “House spiders” are no joke.
I can’t. I just can’t.

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Here’s The Man trying to catch one because there’s no way no how I’m peeing in a teeny tiny bathroom with that thing on the wall a foot away from me. (That’s an extra big prescription bottle he’s using, and it was too small to get the stupid thing.)

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And, as Mr. LPMD lamented, I unfortunately “didn’t even get to see any of the big spiders.” Oy!

4 – In a public restroom, look for the toilet paper dispenser before you go into a stall.
Because it’s probably outside of the stall. But there might not be any. But if there is, don’t flush it. And maybe be prepared to squat.

5 – Taal Volcano: you won’t get lost.

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View of Taal Lake from the balcony of our apartment in Tagaytay

Luckily for us, I read some reviews of the hike up the side of this volcano before our trip and knew we’d get hounded by a “guide” to lead us up the trail. So when a very nice guy began to walk us from the registration desk, I mentioned to my husband that he needed to shake the guy off or he’d act as our “guide” and then demand money at the end. Holy Hannahballs, was he hard to get rid of! He kept saying that we needed him or we’d get lost. We finally convinced him we’d be fine and off we went. Hint: Follow the horses. Extra hint: You CAN’T get lost. For real. It’s like a straight shot on a very well worn path up the side of the hill.

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The trail on which you’re sure to get lost without a guide. ;)

But if you’re around Tagaytay, or have a chance to take a trip down from Manila for the day, it’s a very nice (though a bit overly tourist-ified) hike. I loved the (somewhat expensive) boat ride across the lake and the view from the top was awesome.

 

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Crossing Taal Lake

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My favorite flower

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View of the volcano lake from the top

Granted, you’ll be met at the top by the standard vendors for tourists, but still totally worth it.

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The other view from the top

6 – Rural driving is quite like the city driving, but without the traffic.
A thought I had while riding one of the local busses on Palawan from Sabang to Buena Vista: This reminds me of an amusement park “jungle tour” kind of ride, only it’s real. Lush green scenery, steep hills, sharp curves, never know when you’re going to stop to pick someone up or so some bus passenger can exchange money or goods with someone waiting for them on the side of the road. Lanes don’t really matter, especially on curves. It’s all just a bit of a thrill ride. And you know what? I loved it all.

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Loved these bright masks

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Drinking buko

7 – The Underground River: go early or be prepared to wait…
…for hours. And by early, I mean, be there at 8am when the office opens.

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Beach by the Underground River waiting area

We did not arrive early (probably around 9:30-10?), but it was the only thing we had planned for the day, so it wasn’t a big deal. It is a cool experience to see, but patience is key. There’s a lot of paperwork to fill out. And also, keep your own ticket! We were not with a tour group, so rather than pay for a boat all to ourselves, we decided to share a boat with a group that had a couple of extra spots. The tour guide had Mr. LPMD give him our registration paper thing, and then they went off to do some mangrove tour during the anticipated 90 minute wait for a boat. We opted not to go with them, so we set up a meeting spot. We spent the next bit wandering among the little shops where we bought some $3 “Prada” sunglasses and had delicious fruit smoothies, and when the time came to meet up, the group never showed. Our boat number was called and no one was there. Luckily, another tour guide had us join her group to ride over and told us we could meet the first guide on the other side to get our papers. (Little did we realize that there is another long wait once you get across the ocean to the entrance to the cave as well.)

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Our boat

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Super Goobers!

So we waited and waited and it was time for our second group to go into the cave and STILL no signs of the first guy. The awesome second tour guide got us through, though, so it was all good in the end, but hold onto your paperwork, even if you’re sharing a boat!

We truly enjoyed the adventure to and through the underground river. The recorded tour audio is a little hokey (at least in english), but it was still quite enjoyable.

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8 – You can say a lot with your eyebrows.
Yes, for instance. Or hello. Add a little “mm” if you feel the need to verbalize.

9 – Andok’s.
Skip Jollibee (that might be sacrilege to say in the Philippines) and go to Andok’s. Oh my delicious chicken. They make what is quite possibly the BEST chicken I have ever had. It’s cooked on a rotisserie and when you buy it, they wrap it up in a banana leaf and holy moly it’s delicious. Mr. LPMD laughed at me while I devoured half a chicken in no time flat. But I was hungry and it was so good!

And also, get some Spanish bread from a little street bakery. Mmmmm. Great way to spend a few pesos.

10 – You are beautiful.
Here in the US of A, we are bombarded with the message that dark, tan skin is beautiful and tanning products abound. So I was a bit surprised in the stores to see so many products boasting “skin lightening” powers. My husband explained to me that in the Philippines, light skin is considered beautiful (whereas I am so use to hearing the opposite). And then it hit me pretty strongly that the beauty industry the whole world over isn’t trying to sell beauty – they’re selling self doubt. They tell us, “You’re not good enough, but if you use our product, you will be.” But you know what, they’re wrong. You are good enough. And you’re beautiful too. Your beauty and my beauty and that kid down the street’s beauty isn’t about the color of your skin or your hair or what kind of makeup you wear or how tall or short you are. It’s about who you are as a person. It’s how you treat the people around you. It’s about the love and joy you spread, the light you exude. You don’t need to lighten your skin and you don’t need to darken your skin. You just need to be you. And in that vain…

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11 – The Filipino people are beautiful.
I loved all of the people I was able to meet on our trip. Everyone was kind, genuine, and helpful to us. The people there are humble and happy. For many, life is simple and sweet. One man told us that “Filipinos, we are always smiling. There is trouble – we smile; we have a problem – we smile; something does not go right for us – we smile; and because we smile, we can be happy, even when things are hard.” I loved this, and, for my brief visit, I found it to be true. I hope I can follow his example and be better at smiling, even when things are hard.

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So there you have it, 11 random things I learned in the Philippines. It was a wonderful trip and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to return again some day and see even more of what this country has to offer.

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So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good bye, & hanggang makikita tayo muli

Have you ever been to the Philippines? What did you learn and what did you love? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

Wanderlust Wednesday: Giraffe House Manor

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You guys. Close your eyes and imagine yourself on a safari in Nairobi, Kenya. Just think about how awesome that would be. And then imagine where you would stay during your adventures in Nairobi. I’ll tell you where I’d stay. Well…where I’d want to anyway. There is a hotel in Nairobi called the Giraffe House Manor. The unique distinguishing feature of this hotel: a friendly herd of giraffe that visit daily, multiple times per day. For. Real.

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Can you even imagine?! These gentle giants poke their heads into some of the guest rooms. They visit the breakfast room looking for their own breakfast and eat right out of the hands of staff and guests alike. Friendly as can be.

In addition to the giraffe (for real?! For real.), the property itself is said to be pretty fantastic. Reviews from those who have stayed there describe it as charming, old world, like taking a step back in time. I don’t know if they all do, but at least some of the rooms feature their own fireplace, creating a cozy, old fashion atmosphere. The food receives great reviews as well. There is a beautiful dinning room, a breakfast room, a tv room, and lush gardens to walk through and enjoy. While the cost is well beyond the reach of my pocketbook, I tell you what: if ever I’m able to swing a pleasure trip to Africa, a night at this place will be a major goal. I guess I have another thing to add to my bucket list!

Wanderlust Wednesday: Newport Beach (or any beach, really)

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Do you know what season I could do without? Winter. I hate cold. I’m not sure how I’ve survived the past 30+ winters here in ski country, but I swear I turn into a bigger baby about it with every passing year. Do you know what it’s doing right now? Snowing. It has begun. I could cry.

So I’m sitting here thinking about the awesome and unexpected opportunity I had to accompany my husband to a conference in California a couple of months ago. We visited Newport Beach during some of his down time and I’m wishing I could transport myself to a warm beach right at this very moment. So while it’s not an exotic location in a land far, far away, today I’m sharing just a handful of pictures from that trip. We arrived just a bit before sunset and it was perfect.

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The lighting was nothing short of stunning, and despite having only my little waterproof camera, I couldn’t help but try to capture it.

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We had a lot of fun collecting seashells for the kids and climbing over the rocks looking in the tide pools for different sea creatures. I loved the colors of this little anemone (sorry it’s so blurry!):

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Until next time, dear any warm beach anywhere, I’ll be dreaming of you!

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Wanderlust Wednesday: Mount Timpanogos

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Whew! Thought I was a goner there for a while, didntcha? Well, I’m back! Seeing as how it’s still Wednesday (barely), I’m gracing you with a little Wanderlust Wednesday post I’ve been meaning to do for a while now. And by “little” I mean long and with picture overload. You have been forewarned.

Today’s post is a bit different in that I’m sharing somewhere I actually got to go! I’ve been trying to be more positive and active in enjoying the gorgeous area where I get to live, because really, I’m pretty lucky. There are a lot of people who live where I live because of the natural beauty and easy access to so many opportunities for hiking, biking, camping, fishing, hunting, and whatever else you want to do outdoors. Just a quick drive from my home is the beautiful Mount Timpanogos. And by a quick drive, I mean closer than the nearest Costco. Or Target even. I mean, I actually have to pass by this mountain to get to these places.

So one day this summer, I got the crazy idea to drag my two oldest children (who are 8 and 10) up and back down this magisterial wonder with me. I would get them out into nature! And fresh air! With no screens! For a whole day! It would be a wonderful bonding experience! Little did they know what I was getting them into when they looked at me with glitter in their eyes for all the excitement they felt that Mom was taking just the two of them on an adventure for the day. {insert evil laugh}

Now, I had hiked this mountain as a teenager, but not since. There are two trails you can take – and I think we probably took the slightly more difficult one. Oops. I mean, it was okay except for the hundred and fifty three times I thought my 8 year old was going to fall right off the side of the very narrow mountain-goat-esque trail and plunge to his death. It’s a miracle I didn’t have a heart attack, actually.

Anyway, it was glorious and beautiful and gorgeous and a fantastic hike. We only hiked so far as the lake, but many people hike to the summit. All along the way we saw wildflowers in full bloom. We had our handy-dandy Field Guide to Wildflowers book and often took the time to stop and smell (and identify) the roses.

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I only had my iPod with me because I didn’t want to haul my big ol’ Nikon up the mountain, so the pictures aren’t as crisp as they could be, but it was good enough to capture a little glimpse into the memories we made that day. So I’ll spare you any more rambling and just warn you again of the impending picture overload. Enjoy!

Before. Despite the chilly morning, I can assure you that these two were, in fact, excited for the adventure ahead.

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Our view from the get-go.

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Along the way, there are multiple waterfalls that you pass by/over/through. This was the first of the many.

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We took a lot of rest stops. ;)

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We are STRONG! {And we don’t realize just how far we have to go.}

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Stopping to see just how far we’ve come from the trailhead.
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Also, selfie proof that I was there too. :D And another gorgeous waterfall.

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There are parts of the trail we liked to call “The Jungle.”
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And then the heart attacks started. This was the beginning (and the easy part) of the scary part. I didn’t take many pictures for the next long while because I was busy yelling at reminding my children to stay next to the mountain instead of the cliff.

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One of my favorite places we rested. Mountain bluebells for DAYS, I tell you!

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We were getting pretty worn down, but just over this hill and then another small hill, was Emerald Lake. Ah, sweet rest! Unfortunately, or fortunately really, we were enjoying it too much to take pictures.

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Headed back down. This picture makes me so happy – those are my kids! On that mountain! They were troopers!

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And this one. My favorite from the whole day. We can do hard things.

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Aaaaand after:

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Contrary to their faces, they really did enjoy the hike. We all did, but yeah, we were pooped by the end. I tell ya what, though, I can’t wait to make this a summer tradition! I love getting to spend time like this with my kids with no distractions for any of us. But next time, I think we’ll try the trail up the other side of the mountain. Okay, one last look at that before and after:

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Do you have a favorite trail you’ve hiked? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Wanderlust Wednesday: The World

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Hello hello again! Here it is Wanderlust Wednesday again and I actually have a post! It’s a bit different than my other Wanderlust Wednesday posts because today I am not highlighting just one place. I recently stumbled across this gem of a list of 33 Unbelievable Place to Visit Before You Die. 

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Ain’t that photo right there just the bee’s knees?! There are so many incredible places listed there! But I thought to myself, “Self, where would you go if you could choose to go to just one?”  And after much deliberation (i.e., a few minutes of looking at all the cool places), I decided that one place would have to be the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia.

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What can I say? I’m a sucker for lush green forests and stunning waterfalls.

So, if you could choose just one place to go on that list of 33 incredible places, where would you go? And why? Please share!