Friday, June 26, 2015

Curious in Kalinga

"Why do you even do it?"

After a 14-hour bus ride, three-hour top load jeepney ride, and a two-hour trek and climb while carrying heavy camera equipment, friends ask why do I even do it.  Not to mention a new baby in the family and a tough month in my job, I am still addicted to the road less travelled especially when it finds a space in my hectic calendar.

In this set of photographs, you'll find how I am still curious with the things around us or how pieces of our old traditions make it's way to today's modern ways.  Why I still have the eyes of a "visitor" and why I still find gold in little things that most travelers find ordinary.

If curiosity killed the cat, it sure made me to pack my things and head to Kalinga of the North.

A note of warning though.  If you wish to find things like "how to get here", "what to eat", and other tips, this write-up is not for you; because you might as well use Google.  But if you wish to peek why Kalinga inspired me to travel more and sell our couch for a good back pack, this read is for you.

"Ten Thousand Times Better"
An office memo was circulated a week prior to this trip and said "try a different kind of stairs, schedule your vacation leave now".  Taking it literally and going to Kalinga is ten thousand times better than reading the circulated memo from my office chair.  

"What's Not to Jump For?"
When you are blessed with blue skies through out the journey and greens with purest kind, what's not to jump for?

"Choice of Vehicle"
The traverse from Tabuk to Tinglayan needed a vehicle that can take all the abuse and not complain, plus it should make a good contrast if parked side by side the rice terraces of Bontoc.

"Don't Tell My Mother"
When locals rely heavily on jeeps to transport goods, women, and children, you've got no choice but to give way and take the top load.  Don't tell my mother that most of the landscape photographs taken here were from on top of a jeepney while negotiating rough zigzag roads going to Tinglayan.

"Base Camp"
Sleeping Beauty Inn in Tinglayan, approximately 1,100 MASL,  is where we replenish loss of sugar (Coke) and protein (San Miguel) after a day's climb.  This is also where great plans are made during breakfast, and a jump-off point for most of our epic treks.

"Altitude Chili"
 These fuckers are left to dry in the mountain wind and in the thin air of Kalinga for it's full flavor to come out.  It's orgasm in your mouth, but not the kind you are familiar with.

"Support Crew"
Gotta give it to the staff of Sleeping Beauty Inn.  A smile starts our day while a hot Tinola soup topped with a cold bottle of the great brown beer cap of the five-star service of the inn.

"Suck in the View"
Take in the view?  This you got to suck in.  Shot just few inches from by bedside let's you forget stoned nights in Kalinga and gives you a better perspective for the day.

"Apo Whang-Od"
The only "mambabatok" (traditional tattoo artist) left in Kalinga.  Elvis represented rock-and-roll , Apo represented the Filipino culture.

Grace is the grand daughter of Apo Whang-Od who made a pact with the natural light of Kalinga mountains to follow her and light her path at every "mambabatok" session.

"97-Year-Old Gestures"
Ben Cab told me to capture gestures of your subjects.  This will not only give you a special signature in your art but also capture the real character of the subject.

"Human Design"
The body of a human, especially a woman's body, is designed for cradling our infants.  Notice the angle it automatically makes to make the baby comfortable and not slide to the ground.  Thanks to the bending lines on Ate's shirt in contrast to the straight lines of the bamboo so we can all enjoy the human design.  

"High Hi"
Houses in Butbut Tribe are distinctively elevated from each other with porches taking them straight to the view of the rice terraces.  However, visiting these houses gave me a unique low perspective of Tribe's high hospitality.  

"Flash Bright Smiles"
The children are the treasures of this magnificent tribe.  Untainted by technology and social media, you'll see them all over the place doing what children do, play outside, grab dirt, ask for candies from visitors, and flash bright smiles.

"Substitute for Human Hands"
Each tribe in Kalinga has different characteristics unique from the other.  The fine plaid design in this photograph that bind these two kids caught my attention.  It's a substitute to real human hands. 

Philippines still has a lot of cultural treasures waiting to be discovered.  Sadly, we are not that fascinated anymore of our own kind, we are more interested of other foreign cultures and westernized places.  In fact, visitors are more interested in us.  

Maybe on your next travel be more curious about our provinces, our local growers, and our artists because they are slowly disappearing.  Especially in places not accessible by planes and cars, or tucked away in our mountains.

For a change, let curiosity lead the way so you won't ask me again...

"Why do you even do it?"

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Personal Notes from the North

This is not your typical Sunday read with the normal post card pictures, but rather photographs that are very personal to me, photographs which left me mental notes like ink on a white shirt.  

After traveling back and forth to the north in the past 10 years like it was only a jeepney ride away, I was still surprised and thankful I am seeing Ilocos again like it was my first time.  

A person suffering depression does not see the big picture anymore and magnifies the smallest of things. During our low times, take this opportunity to see what's for you in a church just by looking into it's keyhole.  Shot through the keyhole, or the holes found in the capiz windows of Sta. Maria Church, Ilocos Sur.

"5am, I'll Be Gone"
It gets cold & lonely in Calle Crisologo in the months of February.  But we like it just like that.  Jojo's invitation for the 5am walk was never a doubt my vacation within the vacation because it's minus the crowd, minus the noise, plus I get to sit in the 16th century cold cobbled stones of the streets.

Scientists continue to find preserved animals in Antarctica kept in its cryogenic goodness.  Inside Vigan's UNESCO World Heritage City, I am sure there are still hundreds of preserved artifacts waiting to be discovered.  If we can only put all the houses in giant nets to control souvenir shops and cafes from sprouting, I'll be very happy to find them in their fossilized state again.

"Textured & Rusty"
The doors of the 16th century colonial houses in Calle Crisologo show braving all the elements that passed the region and welcomed all the memories that enveloped the houses.  Them being rusty & textured only tells us that getting old shouldn't be a worry at all.

Vigan lies in the river delta, where the great Abra river meets the China Sea.  During the 15th century, Spanish and Chinese traders use this as trading channels thereby putting influence on the Ilocano's food preparations, just to name a few examples.  The Lumpianada is one of the greatest examples of the evolution of the Chinese Lumpia and Vigan Empanada.  Best eaten with vinegar, Ilocano garlic, and that thick caramelized brown sauce.  

"Hidden Kitchen"
If Hong Kong has hole in the walls and Singapore has hawkers, Bantay, Ilocos Sur has hidden kitchens only accessible by bike or tricycle.  Manang Marichu's Php 22 Lumpianada is deep fried to perfection, minus the invasion of oil, to seal it's ingredients (carrots, turnip, garlic, eggs, and ground pork).  

"Bricks & Banisters"
The church of Sta. Monica in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte is my favorite church.  It's bricks and banisters have been around since 1779, or when it was tastefully built.  Though with webs found in its cold corners, I say those things still add to the church's appeal.

"Shaken, not stirred"
A 5.7 magnitude earthquake shook Sta. Monica Chruch in 1983.  Her brick walls remained standing and her floors stayed intact.  When our life is visited by an earthquake, are we only stirred or are we completely shaken?

"Stop the Imitation"
They say we cannot give what we don't have.  Our lands are very rich and can produce bad ass garlic and onions.  Let's stop acting like westerners because we are not, and concentrate on developing the produce of our local farmers.  Stop the imitation, and start the imagination.  Shot in Burgos, Ilocos Norte.

"Ilocano Anting-Anting"
Not to dodge bullets, but to lure you with taste.  Every Ilocano dish might have Garlic.  Small but tasty and locally grown in the deep soil and warm climate of Ilocos.

What do you see?  These are offered prayers in a church.  The church of Paoay in Ilocos Norte has lots of spaces where you can light candles.  Imagine one per person saved just by lighting a candle.  Can you count how many persons were saved in this picture?

"Coral Facade"
Paoay Church is popular for it's facade made of coral.  When hit by the afternoon sun, it provides a great contrast from the blue and cloudless skies of the North.

"Life Jackets"
Conveniently found in Paoay Church like life vests conveniently located in planes and ships.  

"Ginisang Ipon"
Gulash or Dulong in some parts of the Philippines.  Sometimes cooked with eggs or in omelette.  I like mine carefully sauteed and not overcooked.  Only Mang Nanie Pasimio of Cafe Uno in Vigan knows what I am talking about.  Best matched with a cold bottle of San Miguel Beer Pale Pilsen after long and hot days in Ilocos Sur.

On our way back to Manila, I asked my two circa 1980 "activista" friends Jojo and Gladys Ledina about what's the difference between the activists now and the activists then?  Their answer was simple.  Activists before take the streets, or the infamous Feb 25 Edsa Revolution.  The activists now have options to be heard or take advantage of different forms of media.  

After the road trip, I decided to take advantage of my willingness to share with you my thoughts on supporting the Philippines' local growers and protecting our UNESCO world heritage sites.  We have to believe in our local farmers again and do not desecrate our world heritage sites.  

You know what I am talking about, and this is my personal note, like ink on a white shirt.  

Saturday, February 7, 2015

What did I Really See in Cambodia?

Somebody asked me, what is your favorite place to photograph?  Tough question.  For me, it's not the photographs I take home, but the experience while taking them, especially the ones that move me, or led me to see things differently. 
Our recent trip to Cambodia and the boat ride to Tonle Sap Lake changed my perspective.  The people you'll find in this collection are gems because of the smiles they reflect back form the murky waters of the lake, because of how they appreciate their resources, and most especially they don't approach the boats for money from touriss.  Maybe because, they feel happier than us, or more contented than us.
I hope this will change your perspective too. 
It's no Gondola of Venice, but his stripes put a striking resemblance to a Venetian boat man.  Maybe to them, it feels like Venice, or even better. 

 "Crayola Boats" 
No fancy cars in the next 10 kms, but endless rows of Crayola boats.  These colorful boats have amazing handling capabilities even in choppy waters. 

I don't speak Khmer (Cambodian language) but from the way our boatman moves his boat in the lake while he looks at the horizon, pride is louder than the boat's roaring engine. 

 "Long Legged Ladies"
These stilt houses are ready for the rising of the tide when seasons rapidly change in Cambodia.  They also provide great ventilation from beneath the house and wise storage for firewood.  Just like a long-legged lady, in a red gown, yes?

  "Giant Playground" 
Kids in the lake make the most of what they have.  With no monkey bars to use, the lake is like a giant playground to them.

"Refreshingly Murky"
Though very mysterious, the waters of Tonle Sap Lake does not leave even a stint of bad smell in my shirt; and when the afternoon sun directly hits the water, it glitters like the fresh waters of Coron. 
 "Blame the Mangroves"
I am no biologist but mangroves taught us a lesson in Baler. If we don't take care of them, they don't take care of us.  The steady and fish breeding waters of Tonle Sap Lake is because of it's abundant mangrove covers while entering and exiting the lake. 
"Row before you run"
Learning to row before learning to walk.  Just like I learned how to ride a bike first before learning how to walk. 

"Himalayan Replenishment"
Tonle Sap Lake shares the same water flow with the Mekong River of Vietnam.  They are continuously replenished by the melting snow from the Himalayas. 
"Bus to School"
They ride the boat everyday just to go to school.  Some kids I know who have all means of transportation to get to school but still don't get the idea.
"Just Roll w/ the Punches"
There's no complaining, just rolling with the punches.  Even when bigger boats create wake that toss the boat of a fish vendor, she still proceeds to the market.

Fish paste from Tonle Sap Lake grilled in wrapped banana leaves are found in the streets of Cambodia as soon as the sun sets.  Matched with Khmer fish sauce, greens, noodles, and chili, it's one of the best and freshest rolls in Asia.

So, what are you complaining about lately? If you still think you don't deserve where you are now, think again.  Perhaps it's time to change your perspective, or the way you see things.

Like taking photographs, always look for a different perspective.  I am pretty sure you don't want to go home with identical photographs similar to other tourists.  Stop looking for the picture perfect and postcard like photographs.  Go for the ones that will change your perspective and change the way you see things. 

This is what I really saw in Cambodia.

Monday, December 1, 2014

My Love Affair in Cambodia

My search for the pure and uninterrupted dawn lighting is a love affair, it doesn't last forever and is very unforgettable.

Images found here are captured during an early trip to Angkor Wat Temple and Bayon Temple in Siem Reap.  Catching the drama of dawn lighting is not easy especially when few bottles of beer and European foreigners dancing in Pub Street dangle in my memory like a strange after taste.

Check 'em out and let me know what you think.

"Murky Mirror"
The ground where I chose to stand that morning was very soft and only inches away from a murky pond in the temple grounds of Angkor Wat.  However, when you change perspective, the dark water reflecting the five towers of the temple with water lilies adding foliage was an unforgettable shot.

"Legs & Pillars" 
Human legs carry the weight of a human body like these pillars carry the weight of Angkor Wat.  I like low key photographs that emphasize darkness and the soft introduction of light that blends well in this frame.
The sunrise in Angkor Wat does not only provide popular silhouettes of the temple's towers, but also provide great natural light for kids playing in the pond.  I remember taking this shot while the tourists around me were very busy taking pictures of the temple.  

"Window for the Soul"
When taking photographs inside a temple, I'd like to use frames that capture a patch of green paradise outside.  Since Angkor Wat is a really big temple, her structure provide frames that soothe the eye when all you get to see inside are gray stones and solid heavy structure.  
"Not Even A Nod"
Buddhist nuns when reaching old age shave their heads, use a simple white uniform, and volunteer to watch over temples.  To them, this is the purest form of happiness and service.  The light on the right side of the frame is from the morning sun on the eastern side of Bayon Temple.  

"Breathing Towers"
From total darkness, the sun slowly went up at around 5:30am.  I felt the towers move and wanted to document it.  The old "zoom-in-zoom-out" trick in slow shutter did the story.  This old trick in the bag never fail to add flavor to my photographs.

"Early Monks"
It was almost noon when these Buddhist kid monks showed up.  They were too willing for a quick photograph while I take advantage of the rim lighting in their head, shoulders, and emphasizing their saffron robes.

"Late Sunrise"
According to traveler's stories, the sunrise of Angkor Wat is one of the most epic sunrises in the world.  Hundreds visited the temple that day but when the sun blinded us, only a few stayed to photograph the sun directly.  An under exposed setting to emphasize the shapes of Angkor Wat, the color of the sky, and the reflection in the pond is an eccentric shot but a damn good unique shot.  

On your next trip why not go out of the usual shelf itineraries and veer away from groups itching to take one and the same pictures; because chances are you'll have identical photos.  Look for the unique ones.

I've always believed in finding treasures in thinking the opposite.  Maybe it's time to change your perspective too.  Because like a love affair, dawn lighting is hard to catch but can be very unforgettable.