Traffic is driving me insane. Just in and around Makati (Philippines) where I live, it has gone from bad to worse. Thank God I live in a condo where I can walk to the mall, drugstore, movie theater, beauty parlor, bakeshop, church, supermarket, coffee house. The one time I ventured out of Makati for a reunion dinner with friends, I got stuck in a traffic jam and had to walk the last few meters to catch up with friends who waited 2 1/2 hours for me. But the insanity soon turned to moments of reflection. Amidst the chaos, the incessant honking of cars, the traffic standstill, I looked back on what has been a pretty good year. Many off the bucket list, so to speak .
January: The golden temples of Bagan in Myanmar beckoned and we found ourselves in what was then the former Burma in early January 2015. Months earlier, I was spared from Delhi Belly in India and indigestion from food trips aboard a luxury yacht in Halong Bay. Lucky. Not as lucky though when I visited Myanmar. Worst when we got to the highlight of the trip: Bagan and Inle Lake. Such is a traveller’s life and I survived on BRAT meals (bananas, rice, apples & tea). Sad, but the unexpected beauty of Myanmar truly made up for the restricted diet.
April to May: Between January and April, I focused on my next trip. My personal pilgrimage. My Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I took the 6-hour slow train from Madrid to Sarria where I planned to start my walk. Dripping with excitement, I readily made friends with “walkers” from different parts of the world: UK, Germany, Australia, Korea, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico. We were the guys doing the last 100++ kilometer walk from Sarria in Galicia to Santiago de Compostela (SDC). Walked from 8:30am till 3 or 4 pm , detours & coffee breaks included. What a journey. What a pilgrimage. What an experience!
Post Camino/May: I repeated “I deserve this” to myself countless times as I met up with friends in Berlin and traveled together to Copenhagen to join our Royal Carribean Cruise for a good week. Except for St. Petersburg, it was my first time visiting Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki and Tallinn. Sailing provided a much-needed, longed-for therapy. It was also a fine time to reflect on my camino experience. 🙏
May-June: I was well-rested after the cruise and ready to meet up with more friends when I got back in Madrid. I met up, then “sent off” my friends to do a similar Camino. I brought my US-based friends and a couple from Manila to their first cocido in Madrid, cochinillo in Segovia and pastillas y turron from Toledo. After a week in and around Madrid, we ventured north towards Burgos, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Getaria, out of Spain to Lourdes and Bayonne, then back to Santiago de Compostela. SDC a 2nd time for me is just as meaningful. More so as we visited Fisterra and Muxia as well. This time, I shared the experience with dear old friends. From SDC, we headed down the coast towards Lisbon from where we hired a van to drive up to another pilgrimage site – Fatima & a sidetour to lovely heritage site, Sintra. Oh, we made good time indeed! Good, old friends counting over 35 years of friendship.
I know, some of you may say we’re eating too much or that it’s all we do. Yes and No. But we’re having a blast and who’s to say we should do it some other way? Traveling with these friends was a breeze despite some mishaps — no water in our AirBnb San Seb apartment on first night, one of the men running a fever for a couple of nights, circuitous transport arrangements from Lourdes back to Spain, a run-in with Irun “cops”, and a long train ride from Lisbon to Madrid. No one lost his temper. We were cool!
July: I barely had time to rest after my April-June travels (a camino, a cruise, a meet-up in Madrid, a 3-week iti which covered Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Burgos, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Getaria, Lourdes, Bayonne, Santiago de Compostela, Muxia, Finisterre, Oporto, Lisbon, Sintra and Fatima). Off again after 2 weeks with a busload of family and friends in Bangkok for a wedding. Another “Oh, what a journey!” My OZ family is home, so with my Madrid-based niece. We are complete, along with friends from Manila! The Thai-Buddhist wedding took all day of July 5. Before & after July 5, our busload of family & friends (23pax) did some touristy stuff. What a fine reunion!
October: Going to Morocco and spending a night in a bivouac under the stars in the Sahara is one off my bucket list. Doing it with old & new travel buddies who spell F.U.N. is a bonus. Never mind that we all grew tired of Moroccan food after 3 days. We can forget couscous but not our memories of meandering around the medinas of Casablanca, Fes, Marrakech & Essaouirra as well as our camel trek and partying in the desert.
October-November: The Morocco Group split up in 2 by mid October. A 2nd group of 12 pax proceeded to Sevilla, Ronda and finally Madrid. From “no pork, no vino” in Northern Africa, you can say we binged on Andalusian cuisine and spirits. I even got to celebrate my birthday away from home 2 years in a row in Madrid. That, plus Halloween too. Boo!
More birthdays to celebrate back home. Mine, my grandniece’s 18th and more recently, my grandnephew’s 15th. Plus there’s the apo’s mural project — her very first painting job. And barely resting from the travels and the debut party, I was off again with college buddies in Balesin Island. Yes, more birthdays. Phew!
December: As the year draws to a close, I took the first weekend to spend QUIETLY in a rustic place somewhere in Catanauan, Quezon. Now this is one vacation you take after all those vacations. Early morning and late afternoon walks by the beach. No crowds. Just you, the beach and a few stray dogs.
It’s that time of the year again. And as we bid adieu to Hotel Intercontinental Manila, we look back with gratitude for all the happy memories. The year 2015 was quite hectic. Very busy. And I’m thankful for the energy, enthusiasm and capacity for joy. The last matters a lot. You may have much in life but lost all capacity for joy. It’s a gift, this life. And it’s a blessing to enjoy it!
MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!