As an island nation that straddles five geological fault lines along the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines endures far more than its fair share of natural disasters. Earthquakes, tropical storms of all stripes, and volcanic eruptions routinely exact a fearsome toll on the archipelago. On the upside, this is a uniquely beautiful country to call home for a few years and, in some ways, Manila has proved a far better posting than our previous assignments. The last couple of weeks in particular have underscored this dichotomy, as a volcano we hiked just a few months ago blanketed Manila with ash several days before we headed out to Palawan for a beach vacation with S’s visiting family.
Posts from the ‘Travel’ Category
A few years ago, the NY Times ran an op-ed encouraging travelers to plan less, ostensibly to reduce stress. It stuck with us, not because we found the advice helpful but rather because we thought the piece thoroughly infuriating and completely out of touch, a flippant acknowledgment that “for most travelers, particularly those with families, such an extreme lack of planning seems impossible, even inadvisable” notwithstanding. We traveled like this during our backpacking days, but that was before grad school, marriage, kids, and careers. Once adult responsibilities entered the picture, such travel became out of reach. During his recent visit to Nepal, D found an opportunity to practice what the article preached. Whether arriving in country with only half of his work itinerary booked led to less stress is debatable, but D did manage to turn a potential bureaucratic nightmare into an enjoyable adventure.
Kathmandu has a peculiar time zone – coming from Manila, D had to set his watch back two hours and fifteen minutes. It wasn’t enough to cause major jet lag, but the time difference did work in D’s favor when he set his alarm to go off before dawn his second full day in Nepal. After wandering around the heart of the city the previous evening, D wanted to venture farther afield – and see some of the Kathmandu Valley’s seven UNESCO world heritage cultural sites during daylight hours – before his work meetings commenced.
Certain countries possess an undeniable mystique, holding sway over one’s imagination long before one has the opportunity to visit. For D, Nepal was high on this list, though his fascination had more to do with the country’s landscape than its reputed spirituality (as one travel guide puts it, “Nepal is a one-stop spiritual destination: every activity here revolves around finding yourself, seeking your roots…”). Ever since D got into mountain climbing during his Peace Corps days in Ecuador – and especially after reading a handful of mountaineering books – he had longed to see the Himalayas.
Since returning from Japan, we have visited Vietnam and Laos, and D has also traveled to Nepal for work. Those trips did nothing to dispel a notion that began forming in our minds as we made our way from Kyoto to the Japanese Alps and back, and which has solidified with our subsequent travels. Part of Japan’s mystique, and the reason we think Western travelers find the country at once alluring and bewildering, is that it feels uniquely foreign in a way that other foreign countries do not.
We didn’t quite make it to midnight, seeing off the last few hours of the decade without fanfare at a transit hotel outside Noi Bai Airport. We did get an early start to 2020, however, rising before the sun for our return flight to Manila after splitting the last dozen days between Vietnam and Laos.
It took us a couple of weeks to recover from our kids’ antics in Japan. Once we did, an irrepressible desire to get away, even for half a day, set in. We revisited our list of hiking destinations in the Philippines, made dinner and massage reservations at a nearby hotel, arranged for childcare, and hit the road for a day trip outing without the kids. Our destination: Mt. Maculot, an hour-and-a-half south of Manila.
We saved the best for last, spending the tail end of our journey to Japan at an onsen in the Japanese Alps. Fresh mountain air and spectacular scenery greeted us in the mornings. Elaborate home-cooked meals and a natural hot spring right outside our door awaited in the evening when we returned from the day’s adventuring. At the outset, when our kids were putting us through our paces, we had caught ourselves looking forward to the end of this trip. As soon as we had checked into the onsen, donned our yukata robes, and taken a hot dip in the chilly shadow of the Hida Mountains, however, we wished our sojourn to Japan would stretch on indefinitely.
One of the reasons we had chosen Japan for our late October trip instead of the numerous destinations in Southeast Asia that are on our travel list was our nostalgia for autumn. Kyoto, in particular, was rumored to be breathtakingly beautiful in the fall, with its ancient temples surrounded by colorful foliage. We got a heavy dose of autumnal weather, but not much in the way of scenic landscapes during our five-day stay in the Kansai area. Fortunately, we found what we sought in the mountains.