Traversing Mt. Makiling with Team HERO Mountaineers

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Team HERO Mountaineers, a group of people who wanted to Help Everyone to Reach Out, spearheaded a day hike at Mt. Makiling Laguna. Joining this challenging trail made me glad. I bonded with my friends, got acquainted with new people and fell in love once again with the beauty of our mother nature.

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Team HERO Mountaineers group shot

It was a fine morning when I received an invitation from my friend Marvin asking me if I wanted to join him on his next adventure: MakTrav (Makiling Traverse). I was quite hesitant at first but then I accepted since I think it would be fun. He also invited Brian — my previous workmate and our mutual friend — to join us.

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My first ever travel bag tag from a hiking team

Our group’s meeting place was in Jollibee Farmers Plaza Cubao. I was astounded by the number of people — hikers alike — who were there to meet their respective team of mountaineers. Being in that place surrounded by crowd of people who share the same enthusiasm in hiking was awesome — I felt a sense of belongingness.

Later on, Marvin introduced us to Len, his friend who invited him in this MakTrav. I also met and talked to other people within the group. We mostly discussed about our experience on the mountains we had already climbed, our common denominator which glues us together.

I just found out that my second climb was major one with a difficulty rating of 5/9. I wasn’t really paying much attention to those details. I just know that there’s no going back once we started and I really wanted to conquer this one.

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From left to right: Marvin, Brian, Xander and Len

We left from Cubao at around 4AM. I took my chance to sleep in the van but I wasn’t able to do so as my mind was wide open, wandering about the things that could happen along the way. We arrived at Sitio Jordan, Brgy. San Miguel, Sto. Tomas, Batangas at around 7AM for registration. Our journey began a while later.

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The weather was perfectly calm. Fortunately, the clouds blocked the sun from slowly roasting our skin. After about an hour of steady walking, I realized that my legs didn’t ache that much like it did during my first hike at Mt. Balagbag. Did it mean that it became stronger and had already adapted to the rigors of hiking?

While on our excursion, to start a conversation, I asked people near me what is the nature of their work and where they are working. My curiosity about their decent day jobs opened my mind about what other people do to earn a living. It also enabled me to know them more.

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It was a steady ascent. A series of dry, sometimes wet and slippery land. Various kinds of plants and trees were visible everywhere, giving life to the mountain. There were also cliffs that could possibly take your life away with just a simple mishap. We stayed alert and careful as much as we could to prevent any accidents from happening.

To that person I like: if ever you slip over the cliff, you would realize within the last seconds of your life how I feel whenever you ignore me — helpless. I would hold your hands tight and never let go. I wanted to save you, to save us. But sometimes you have to let go of the person who brings you pain and heart ache. So goodbye. But of course, all of these won’t really happen cause you weren’t here. You would rather be somewhere else, a place distant from me.

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Bloodsucking limatik or leeches were along the way ready to attack and I just don’t care. Some shriek and cry out for help whenever these little parasites came into contact with them. Oh people, if only they were aware that these creatures is unlikely to leave long-term damage and they could easily get rid of them — flick them.

Scenic view was clearly visible once we reached the top part of Mt. Makiling. We took the chance to take photos before the fog conceal its picturesque landscape. Nature is so marvelous it indeed took away our exhaustion.

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We continued our uphill climb. The road got steeper. Boisterous wind blew away sporadically. Drizzle added difficulty to our route. Little did I know that rappelling was also part of this trail, good thing I have a strong desire to continue. Breathtaking sceneries help me to move on and survive the assaults.

I really like the wireless bluetooth speaker I brought with me. I could play random songs along the trail which made me focus and just enjoy the moment. Good thing it had plenty of charge.

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We reached the peak at 2:20 PM. There was not much that you could see at station 30. I was a bit disappointed. I thought there was something more. Nonetheless, I felt relieved that we were successful and safe upon reaching it. We met others at the top and then took some photos. Minutes later, we started to descend. Twenty-nine more stations to go.

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There was a habal-habal or motorcycle ride which could take us to our exit point. My group decided to walk through UPLB College of Forestry to fully complete the trail experience. It was already late night when we reached the venue. Upon arriving, I cleanse myself from dirt. A refreshing bath it truly was.

It was a long, tiresome and fulfilling day. Team HERO helped me to reach out to other people and especially to the nature. Their event was a success. I am looking forward to climb more mountains.

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Year in Review: Things I Am Grateful For In 2016

Year 2016 has been a series of ups and downs. I reached for something big which I really wanted but fate wasn’t good enough to me. My desire was not granted after all of the planning and effort. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop me from pursuing my other life goals. Coz life goes on, baby.

Exploring Singapore

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This is my first overseas travel. A mixture of hope, nervousness, excitement, and disappointment. It was a bittersweet memory. Nevertheless, I am still grateful that I made it happen and I won’t regret someday about not having the courage to do it. At least I’ve tried. Optimistically thinking, the universe has a bigger plan for me.

Masasa Beach, Tingloy Batangas

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Another fun memory with my college friends. This was our second far far away out of the town trip after our Ilocos tour. I am grateful for the company of the people I was with and the laughters we shared together.

Fractional Laser CO2

I have to undergo several sessions of fraction laser CO2 therapy for skin resurfacing and rejuvenation. Why? It is all because of the permanent marks my teenage days left me: acne scars. Now I have to literally pay the price. Good thing I have the budget to avail Shinigawa’s four sessions of fraction laser CO2. The procedure was fast but painful and will leave scarring for almost a week. After that, it will heal and new skin will emerge. Acne scars fade with each session. So far I am happy with the results. I am grateful for this kind of opportunity to improve myself.

SM Friends and Activities

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I’ve met awesome people in my new work in SM Retail and became friends with them. We had a lot of fun activities such as Archery at Kodanda, wet activities at Laresio Laguna, bachelor party, Trekking at Mt. Balagbag, bowling, skating, lunch-outs and dine-outs. I am really grateful to have met these people. They are really cool 😎

Blog

It was once just a dream to have a personal blog. Now, with the right amount of inspiration and self-discipline, I was able to post articles about my ideas and experiences. I am grateful that this blog of mine is still alive and I am also thankful that I can express what is on my mind through writing.

Photos and Videos

2017 Photos and Videos

My iPhone’s storage has been occupied by lots of photos and videos. Count? 4,471 photos and 183 videos at the moment of writing. Size? Almost 30GB! I want to just store them and look at them one day when I become sentimental. Haha. I am grateful for all of the memories.

Books

Reading a book is fulfilling. This year I’ve read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins; The Maze runner, The Scorch Trials, and the Death Cure by James Dashner; Retire Young, Retire Rich by Robert Kiyosaki. I am grateful to have been in another place, met people and see how they think, by just reading a book.

Items Checked On My To Do List.

Late this year I posted My To-Do List Before Twenty-Sixteen Ends. Well, I was able to do most of them. Like read books, set to a new place, try new activity, save more money and give love. I am grateful that I achieve things in a short span of time.

Give Love.

It really amazes me up to this day that I had the courage to tell someone how I really feel. In years I’ve built my own fortress so not to hurt myself. But not this time. I let my wall down. I let myself be vulnerable. It was unthinkable, specially for me. I am grateful to that person who made me honest to myself.

All Year

Family and friends. I am blessed to have a loving family whom I can be with for the rest of my life. Other than that, I am also thankful to my longtime friends and new friends. I am lucky to have them. These people around me is the reason why life has been more amazing.

Work and money. I am thankful for the companies which accepted me and helped me to develop my programming skills. Also, I am happy to have earnings and savings which let me do things I wanted to do.

Health and wellness. I work hard to develop my physical, emotional and mental health. I am happy about the results so far and so, I will continue to strive harder to improve on the these things.

Overall, 2016 has been really good to me. I’ve gone far and did a lot of things I thought was impossible before. I’ve also failed and rejected a lot of times. Nevertheless, these made me steps closer to the person I think I wanted to be. I became stronger and braver to face realities of life.

Trekking at Mt. Balagbag

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Ever wonder how it feels like to embark in a journey that seems like there is no end? The road to your expected destination is stretched far too long you just force your tired legs to keep on moving. But as you experience the pain and the unexpected trail, you also appreciate the second-to-none beauty of the mother nature and the incomparable company of your good friends. These made the whole experience complete and unforgettable.

If you’re looking for a do-it-yourself guide on how to trek at Mt. Balagbag then this post is definitely not for you. But if you’re interested in our group hiking experience then it’s my pleasure to share to you our story.

Our itinerary titled “Mt. Maranat / Falls” was prepared by Gerald. He had already been there before so it was his primary suggestion for our group activity. It included estimated time for everything, things to bring and some important notes. Little did we know that most of it would just be left unfollowed. Haha.

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First to arrive at our meeting place in Jollibee Tungkong Mangga were Ram and Jayson at 5AM (thirty minutes early), followed by Mark and me at around 6:10 AM. The last one to arrive was RJ. He woke up at around 5: 30 AM. After few hours of waiting, he finally came at 9 AM. It was easy for us to botch the itinerary for being late. Nonetheless, we still continued our trip and made use of the time left for the day.

We took a jeepney going to Licao-licao. The cold breeze of the air caressed my skin. I put on my eye mask and tried to get some sleep but I couldn’t. After 45 minutes we reached the terminal. We registered our names then paid a minimal amount of environmental fee.

There was an option to either start our trek now or to take a tricycle to the barangay. We chose the latter for convenience. Upon arriving, we registered again and I filled out a waiver form. Later on we were introduced to our tour guide for the day Ate Midi.

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This was my first-ever mountain trek. Our original plan was trek to Mt. Maranat and see its falls but unknowingly we went on a different traverse. Our tour guide suggested we go first at Mt. Balagbag then cross to Mt. Maranat. Those two are just far from each other. With her being more knowledgeable about the place, we followed her.

The road was wide and bare. As such, it is also favored by bikers and other outdoor aficionados who have their own 4×4 trucks. The scorching heat of the sun slowly crept under my skin as we walk. I had been questioning myself from time to time whether to put on my jacket or not. This piece of clothing helped me to hide from the sun as well as contributed to my skin’s pores to sweat even more.

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The estimated time of ascend of the hikers from the barangay to the mountain peak (including selfies) was around one and a half hour. But our team took more. One of our companion faced his own personal and physical challenges. Nevertheless, we poured him with encouraging words as much as we could to boost his confidence and courage to continue the journey. If only he brought his magic beans! lol.

I felt burning sensations on my leg muscles  as I forced it to move forward. I’m sure they felt it too. We barely had time to stretch our body nor exercise weeks before starting this adventure. Other parts of my body also ached but I’m still good to go. Our mini stops relaxed our tensed muscles and made us recuperate a bit.

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A few hours later we already saw how far we’ve come. It was as if our tiredness was somehow alleviated by our satisfaction from the stunning view we saw. Then, after more than two hours of steps and stops we reached the mountain peak. Spectacular! It was also a fulfilling achievement to realize the great distance we had covered.

There was a waiting shed house where tourist could stay and rest for a while. We took our time to recharge our energy. There was also a middle-aged woman who sells hot balut or duck egg for P15 each. I haven’t eaten balut in a long time plus it was already quarter to noon so I ate two. After regaining our energy, we went out to take photos. On the edge of the cliff, on the big boulders, on the wooden bench. Anywhere we could possibly pose. Ram’s GoPro and selfie stick accesorry are indeed a technological marvel in taking selfies to the next level. Within a few minutes we already have tons of solo and group shots.

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We went back to the house. Ate reminded me to pay the two balots I ate. Oops! I honestly forgot about it. I really don’t intend to leave damages behind. So I paid her P30 with a lot of apologies.

The tour guides recommended RJ not to continue anymore because the trail was more difficult but his fighting spirit overcame those discouragements. That moment he was thinking about the things he’d miss rather than his physical well-being. So off we went.

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Ram was throwing satirical jokes every now and then about the hurdles we had. His humor and wit were so satisfyingly entertaining almost everyone around were either guffawing or sniggering. He has his way to jest without being offensive. It made this arduous trek a little bit lighter.

Mark was always the first one among our group (just behind our tour guides). He took plenty of energy drinks such as red bull and gatorade. It made him exuberant and move fast. We wonder how long it would last.

We continued our trail. It was a fine Saturday. Sometimes the king sun was peeking over the clouds, roasting us whenever it could. Whenever we ask our tour guide if we are near our destination, they always say “we’re near”. I don’t know if they lie frequently like this or it was just a form of encouragement for us trailers. Our path was sometimes steep, slippery with mud, rocky and wet, or surrounded by various plants. We were careful, sometimes calculating, where to step or else it could cost us our lives. Just kidding.

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Ate Midi’s 10 year old daughter who walks fast like a ninja also joined us. We witnessed one of the visible advantages of children growing up in the mountains.

The raging falls could be heard from the distance. It echoed like it was just minutes away but actually it was still too far from us. Later on, after all of the trials and uncertainty, RJ can’t proceed anymore. He tried his best and exerted a lot of effort but the trail was really physically demanding. Ate Midi accompanied him while the rest of us continued with the ninja girl.

After a series of uphill and downhill hike, we finally reached the falls we heard earlier. It wasn’t one of Mt. Maranat’s waterwalls but rather a lone falls called Ipo. It was a fine falls, but not picturesque. Then, when people we asked told us that the water is clean and drinkable, we quickly filled our bottles and quenched our thirst. Ahh… it was cold and refreshing!

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Submerging my tired and aching body in the cold running water of the falls was one of the best feelings I had since … I don’t know. There were also other people around us. Some were just relaxing while some were eating their packed lunch. Speaking about food, we haven’t eaten anything solid yet! We thought there was some food vendors here but there were none.

Mt. Maranat is just on the other side of the falls. We could still proceed but the time wasn’t enough. It was already past 2PM so we just decided to go back. Clothes wet. This time we once again forced our tired legs to just take another step, then another one, then some more. I never saw it coming. I never imagined that it would be hard like that. My knees were getting weak so I stop whenever I could and then move again. Repeat.

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On our way we saw RJ again with our tour guide. He was happily sitting and it seemed like he already had plenty of rest. In my mind I think he should have gone back first. Later on we continued walking. I was with Jayson and Mark when we heard someone wailing. At first we thought it was just Ram and RJ joking. So we just ignored it and we kept moving. Few moments later I met Ram in a fork. He said that RJ yowled because his back ached. It wasn’t a prank after all. We pity him but we can’t do anything about it. As such, we told our tour guide (Ate Midi’s husband) to get back to the barangay to find volunteers to assist him or carry him until he comes down.

Ram has been pouring water over his head and taking stops every once in a while. Jayson’s knee already hurts but with just a few knocks to it worked again just like what people do in their television when it’s malfunctioning. Mark was still doing good even though the effects of his energy drinks had already waned. I sometimes sing so that I could beat the deafening sound of silence. You could visibly see on our faces how tired we were.

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After hours of walking, I was relieved when I saw Julma’s mini stop in that long lonely road. It meant that I can now feed my hungry stomach. We arrived there at around 4PM. I ordered seafood flavored cup noodles while the others had Bulalo flavor. We stayed there for an hour, chatted about what we did, what we could have done and what else we could do. Oh, the mysteries and surprises of life! Then we walked again. It was already getting dark. I used my phone as a flashlight. Good thing it still has a charged battery left.

Around 8 PM we were back at the barangay. Finally a time to rest, relax, talk and deliberate about things. There was little bar of signal on my phone. I received text messages from Gerald. He explained why he wasn’t able to come. Then he called. To make amends, he said he will treat us for dinner.

Solar energy is the main source of power for their everyday electric consumption. So it was really gloomy and quiet outside. Nonetheless, they have unlimited supply of cold spring water. I felt fresh again after I took a bath. As if every fiber of my body had been cleansed. Ready to dive for another adventure. If only my legs didn’t hurt the way they did when I walk. My joints needed some lubricating.

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RJ already arrived at around 9PM. The rest of us were relieved. He came back safe. We were also grateful for all of the people who tirelessly helped him. We gave them good amount of money as a reward. The duty officer said he was #trending all over the barangay for the act he did.

Later on, we rode on a tricycle from the barangay to Tungkong Mangga because there were no more available jeepneys for commute that late night. Another bumpy ride. Ram, RJ and Mark were inside. I seated at the back with Jayson. After almost an hour, we met Gerald and ate at Mang Inasal. Then we went home.

It was a tiresome journey, but tolerable. Quite stressful, but fulfilling. Unexpected, but memorable.

Archery at Kodanda

It was a humid Friday night when my colleagues and I went to try Kodanda’s Archery Range for the first time. After a long-day of work, we were set for a new adventure. Not really knowing what might happen. Nonetheless, we were all excited. The venue is located at the ground floor of the MAAX Building beside MOA Arena. A clear convenience to us since our office is just near it.

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We availed promo on MetroDeal to get big discount. After submitting our vouchers and signing a waiver, the instructors put protective gears on us. An armguard on the left arm to protect it against string’s backlash. Then a fingertab as a protection for the right finger’s repeated pulling of string. A while later the coaches showed us how to assemble and safely string our bows. They also instructed us basic safety and proper shooting techniques. It is required to take this elementary archery lesson before starting the game, specially for beginners like us.

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My stretched left arm holds the bow tight, making sure I stay focused on my aim. My right fingers are holding the bow string, ready to propel the arrow. Left eye closed while the right one is straightly looking to the target, aiming for the bull’s-eye. Then within a split second, I let loose the string and made the arrow fly.

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It pierced directly to the target paper. I released a sigh of relief. A big smile was etched on my face once I saw my arrow accurately hit my aim. Four more arrows left on my quiver. I quickly charged my bow with a arrow and aim again. Repeating the process and continually sending arrows until the last one.

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My friends seemed to also enjoy what they were doing. We compared our hits once in a while. Made fun of those who were clearly out-of-range and then praised those who hit the bull’s-eye. Kodanda’s fully air-conditioned 12-lane indoor range is really a comfortable and convenient location for archery. For an affordable price, we were able to experience and learn the art of archery.

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From left to right: Robin Hood, Katniss Everdeen, Hawkeye, Oliver Queen, Legolas

It is a relaxing, stress-relieving and not-so-demanding game. The rules are just so simple. I would like to try it once again. More so because the venue is just near our office and SM employees also have a discount. We just have to present our ID to avail. Overall, it is enjoyable and I recommend you to try it.

My To-Do List Before Twenty-Sixteen Ends

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At the moment of writing, I still have 117 days left before 2017 starts. Plenty of time to accomplish more stuffs. But time flies so fast I don’t want it to just slip by. So by creating this to-do list I have a written reminder of what I intend to do. This will push me to actively pursue them. Here they are in no particular level of priority:

Finish Reading One More Book: The Girl on the Train

Reading fiction is fun. It provides an alternate reality, a new perspective. So far I’ve finished reading two books this year: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne. Now, before I even started reading HP, I was already reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins on-and-off. It was just that laziness and distraction prevent me from finishing it.

How to: Read few pages whenever I have free time or whenever I have nothing else to do.

Write Goals for 2017
Goals are important. It give direction in life and fuel to live. So I better plan what to do for 2017 in general, and of course they should be aligned with my short-term and long-term goals. Next year I think I might focus more on health and investments. A deep meditation in this activity is a must.

How to: I’ve already have an idea what to do, I just need to write them down.

Set Foot to a New Place
I’ve been to Singapore, Malaysia, Batangas (Tingloy), and Laguna (Nuvali) this year. It was my first time to visit those places. It was fun, memorable and liberating. Before the year ends I want to set foot somewhere local and new. I could go alone, be with my family, friends, acquaintances or strangers. As long as it’s within my budget of 5k or less. A day tour or two. Any suggestions?

How to: Check facebook travel groups, plan and go.

Let My Creative Juices Flow More
One of the ways I do to express my thoughts is through writing. It makes me creative and at the same time enables me to practice my English skills. Seeing my blog posts written articulately (as much as I could) makes me feel I’ve done something good for myself. Continuing my commitment in publishing an original content, I mandate myself to post at least on blog per month.

How to: Be inspired. Think of a idea, expound it and then write about it.

Think of a Topic for Dedicated Blog
My personal blog, xanderlopez.com, is all about my ideas and experiences. Anything I can think of under the sun. Now, to take my blogging skills into another level, I like to have another blog wherein I could focus more on a certain topic. Something which I will be interested for a long time. What do you suggest?

How to: Research about topics which are interesting to write.

Save More Money
Saving portion of my income every month is a must. It makes me feel secure (and less stressed) knowing that I have kept money somewhere safe. That money will someday fund my other goals or be used for investments. So I must save more. Save. Save. Save.

How to: Automatically keep at least 20% of total salary before spending it. Be Disciplined.

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Try a New Activity: Archery
Time to try something new before the year ends! I’ve already tried bowling, skating, swimming, indoor climbing, and laser tag before. Right now I think I wanted to experience archery, gain knowledge on how to aim and propel arrows accurately using a bow to a target. Who knows, I might be a toxophilite in the future. Could be fun though.

How to: Buy a voucher in MetroDeal. Reserve a date.

Give love
Hey, it’s already Ber months and Christmas is coming. No need to explain.

How to: it’s complicated.

I still have other unwritten goals for my career, relationship with people, health and well-being. Them being not listed here doesn’t mean I won’t look into them. I’ll just share them when I want to.

At the end of the year, when I wanted to be emotional and reflect on the things that had happened to me for the past twelve months, I desire to feel that I’ve used my precious time productively. That I’ve done everything I could to achieve things. That I have accomplished a lot. And that I am ready for more.

I will welcome 2017 with open arms and then slap it with new goals 🙂

Weekend at Mabini and Tingloy Batangas

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Panoramic view of the Majuben Beach overlooking from Aileen By the Sea Resort 

It was around 6 AM when my friends and I rode on a blue wooden boat off to Tingloy Island. It was approximately one hour travel according to our two local companions operating the boat. The sun was already up so we lathered sunscreen on our skin for protection.

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We saw other resorts along our way which offer water activities such as scuba diving and kayaking. Other than that, I also saw children who climbed on stiff rock formations and jumped on the calm water, something thrilling I wouldn’t dare to try.

We took group shots when the boat was quite stabilized. Fortunately the waves weren’t that strong yet. Our phones are quite safe from the sprinkling salt water and the waving boat.

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I also took my chance to take photos while I was still on the boat. The clouds and the clear blue sky as my background. The bright orange life vest as my costume. And the wind blowing my hair. I put on a big smile to express how much I really enjoyed that scenario. It was picturesque.

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We arrived at Masasa Beach after an hour. It is stunning and inviting. Additionally,  there were also campers with their tents built up. Perhaps they slept there for an overnight camping. So it is possible then. Then, another ugly truth was also noticeable when we set foot on the island. Human trash were scattered around, some already half-buried with the sand. If only the tourists could just be more disciplined in protecting this island’s natural beauty and clean it at the same time then that would really help preserve and save whatever the island has for the generations to come.

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Leftover foods from yesterday still taste delicious as we ate them on the seaside. We should have brought a beach mat for a complete picnic experience 🙂 I was still chewing and savoring my second piece of grilled pork when all of them were already done eating and ready to go. I told them to go and I’ll just follow. But being good and kinds friends they are, they let me finish my meal. After that, we walked around and took photos. And swam. And more photos.

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We packed up before lunch. The boat was there waiting for us to get onboard. Needed to go early as the waves will get stronger in the afternoon, said our boat men. By the time Sombrero Island was on sight, I became excited. Only to find out later we won’t really land there, but just go around it. I was disappointed. The waves were quite in a rage that time, splashing water here and there. After an hour, we were back at our room. I immediately showered when I had the chance and prepared myself for departure.

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Back on the road, I made sure I never drink too much. I don’t want to repeat my hapless situation yesterday ever again. I once again opened my music app and searched for some pop songs to play. It will be quite a long time again before we embark in another get together outing. Overall, it was such a fun weekend.

It was my friends’ (Jhoy and Diane) birthday celebration. Happy Birthday to them!