Blog update – “Where have you been lately, Leilani?”
I hope everyone is doing well and after returning to LA after my 2-month trip to SE Asia, I was busy settling back in and lining up audio work to make some money. 🙂 It was nice to be home and to catch up with family and friends. It was also nice to get back into audio too despite my love for travel and photography. It’s been about 6 months since I’ve been back home and I couldn’t stay put in LA long enough without venturing to the east coast for a bit.
I admit that part of the reason for traveling there was not only to visit family but to help out my cousin’s husband with some photographs. I just recently sold him a few of my photographs (several that I’ve posted here) and they will be on display at his Annapolis office. Mahalo SILA Solutions Group – most especially to Rohit. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to showcase my work. It means a ton!
You might be wondering where these photos were taken. I discovered the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge park and was amazed by it’s natural beauty. It’s stunning here and I was also very surprised and how empty the park was that I basically had it to myself. Though with this trip out to the Eastern Shore I felt that I was always a step behind with the light so I was worried about how my pictures would turn out. As usual, I end up surprising myself once I sit down and pull them into my mac. Needless to say I’m very happy with the results. I look forward to returning but on another note, I don’t miss the bugs that I encountered there. I kind of wish I had my GoPro mounted in the car as I was jumping in and out to the locations along with fighting all the nasty insects. Ick! But I survived and the results were better than I expected. 🙂
I also gifted a photo to my friend and colleague Chip Beamon who has graciously been promoting my photographs via FB and getting people to check out my website. Below is the picture that was taken at Leo Carillo Beach in Malibu in December of last year. It’s one of the few times in the year where the sun rises over the ocean. I know… weird right for many of us living on the west coast?! Well, I took a photography class and the instructor shared with us that from October to about February, the sun “rises” off the south facing beaches. So I woke up bright and early on a chilly December morning at 4am to check this out and see if it was true, this was also the time that I fell in love with the Nikon wide-angle 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. Amazing and it was so worth it to capture the vibrant colors and also luck out with the pelicans flying in formation as if coming out from the sun. I actually was planning to leave the beach then because I felt the best light was done for the morning, but the clouds that I saw forming pulled me back and I decided to stay a little longer which I’m happy I did. This photo below was just recently purchased which I was very excited about.
Aside from audio work and getting my pictures shipped off, I also acquired a new puppy. Many thanks to my sister, Cindy for that one. It’s been over a year since Koa went to doggie heaven and my nephew and I drove up to Washington state last month to grab my new dog, Frodo! He’s a sweetheart and definitely great to have around. I hope to head off on a road trip or two before the end of the year but there are a few audio projects that I must attend to first. In the meantime, I’ll be continuing to go through my many photos from my SE Asia trip earlier this year. Yes, I have a ton more to get through and post. I’m planning to do a newsletter/blog update 1 or twice a month to keep my photography side busy along with doing some local excursions. Until then I hope everyone is well and have a great weekend!
Mahalo nui loa for reading and following!
Chiang Mai – Day of the Temples and eating lots of ono food
Good morning to most of you. It’s about 9pm here in Chiang Mai, Thailand and I’ve had a full touring day of temples.
I arrived late afternoon yesterday and I’m staying in a great guesthouse near the Warorot Market, called Rustic Guesthouse. Nan greeted me and gave me the first official impression of the Thai people here. She was extremely gracious with great curiosity and everything with a smile. My room is on the “2nd floor” but be wary it’s technically on the 3rd. There’s no elevator so prepare to climb. The handy thing about a backpack it fits in narrow staircases. 😉 Beds are comfy and they have AC – yay! Good thing because during the days it’s about 96 degrees F or about 35 C, at night it’s about 70 F.
View from the kitchen at Rustic
Nick the owner came in after I settled in and squared away some tours with Nan. He was great, very sweet and took me on a quick tour of the sights nearby. We took a few of the bicycles they had and we rode around the markets and headed into the night bazaar and over the bridges of the Ping River. We crossed both the Iron Bridge and Nawarat bridge before returning to the guesthouse. After the intro tour I ventured out to the market and got some street food. I admit that I was safe this time around as I got some spring rolls, some awesome spicy pad thai and I bought some fruit as well. I hope to get more pics hopefully tomorrow evening but I have to make sure to ask as many vendors don’t want pics. I had hoped to arrange a photography tour with a talented photographer here in Chiang Mai. He’s an ex-pat that has been living here for some time but when I contacted him, his workshops were closed for the season and won’t start up until September. 🙁 Bummer but gives me all the more reason to return.
Today I did a tour of the city temples located in the Old City and then ended the day by seeing one of the biggest attractions here the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
In the morning we toured about 4-5 temples, the first being Wat Chiang Man, which is said to be the oldest temple within the city walls built in 1296. All the temples here have been well kept and continue to be. They are all vibrant with color and have ornate designs but it was never gaudy to me. Perhaps the essence of Buddha is what makes it peaceful and calm. We saw many monks who were as young as 10 years old and also saw wax monks for those that have passed. Believe me the wax ones freaked some of us out on the tour because they looked so real, but it is all done so in reverence and respect.
Offerings placed at one of the pagodas
The next we visited was Wat Chedi Luang, which was believed to house the tallest structure in Chiang Mai but according to our guide, an earthquake in 1545 destroyed the top of it and to this day the pagoda still hasn’t been reconstructed.
Inside some of the temples you can make an offering and get some of these banners to place inside. They are placed on strings across the interior of the temple and it’s supposed to provide you with good luck. These in particular below had the animals just like in the Chinese horoscope.
We also visited Wat Phan Tao and ended our 1/2 day tour by visiting Wat Phra Sing. The latter is the highlight with it’s tall ceilings and open air temple and of course with a massive Buddha. It is here that the Thai people bring in the New Year (Songkran).
After my morning tour, I took in a quick lunch of shrimp with ginger and veggies and ended it with an ice cream cone from the famous McDonald’s 😉 It was here I met my tour group to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
It’s located up in the hills about 30-40 min away from Chiang Mai proper. The gold shimmered in the sun once we arrived and it thrived with many tourists and monks giving blessings. I received one earlier from a monk in Wat Chedi Luang and they bless you with holy water and give you a white string on your wrist. It’s said that this will bring you luck, you keep the string on your wrist for a minimum of 3 days before you cut it off. We received another blessing at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
I’ve always been intrigued by Buddism and after learning more here in Thailand, I can understand why many convert to it. There’s something peaceful and nurturing about this religion and all in all, they seem to have a calmer outlook on life with a lot of simplicity which is what I like about it. I have to have more conversations with Fr. Jim Fredericks when I get back to LA. 🙂
I wrote my name on the orange fabric as they will wrap this around the pagoda. Much of what you do at the temples seem to be all of good luck and fortune. I also kept hearing these shaking sounds and they were sticks in a bamboo cup. You must shake it until 1 comes out, once one does there is a number and you select the proper paper and it gives you a fortune or outlook on your future. Mine said I had enough luck – ha! Should you shake it and 2 come out than you must do it again.
We then walked down the 307 steps. The legend of this temple is that a white elephant climbed up here from Chiang Mai and there was a Buddha relic on its back. The elephant walked up and went around 3 times until it died and therefore it became the the relic’s new home. Many people will walk around the pagoda 3x just like the white elephant out of respect and for the sacredness of the temple.
My day then ended with a meal at a place called The Kitchen in the night bazaar with a bean sprout and tofu dish complete with a small Chang beer and rice shaped like a bear. Ha! I also bought some fresh lychee that I’m about to dig into now.
Tomorrow I head to a Thai cooking class and I’m also hoping to join a street food tour on Thursday night. I may end up just browsing the many markets here on Thursday during the day but we’ll see what pops up. Till then hope everyone is well and good night!
Cebu – Meeting new Family in Cebu City and discovering Bohol
I’m catching up on my blog and my next entry is about my time in Cebu which is an island that is south of Luzon and is the heart of the Visayas. This is also where my maternal grandfather was born and raised. It’s where I began my journey in finding more about my family roots on my maternal side here in the Philippines.
First and foremost, yes that is a Dunkin’ Donuts in the Philippines. There are many and I thought I’d take a picture for my friends that are from the east coast living in Lala land. It seems as though SE Asia is ahead of us when it comes to Dunkin’ Donuts. 😉
Anyway, at the start of my trip I had not yet met this part of my family in Cebu. So I went in blind not knowing where they lived and what they even looked like – LOL so when I spoke to them on the phone I asked that they have a sign for me when I arrived so I knew who to approach. I was picked up by my cousin Nila’s nieces and nephews, Gladys, Raje and Buen. The pace of Cebu City is definitely more laid back and traffic actually moves unlike Manila. They live in a province named Punta Princessa about 30 minutes or so from the airport. Upon my arrival, I was greeted with open hearts and curiosity as to who this mysterious relative was. One of the most common questions they had for me was, “Are you traveling alone?” and “Why did you want to come to Cebu?” They wondered why would a relative that we’ve never met before want to stay and meet us, at least that’s the impression I got. Granted they don’t live in a very prosperous neighborhood but as I stayed with them and got to know them they were extremely generous and giving.
I met MM short for Euphemia who technically is my niece, who is the granddaughter of my mother’s 1/2 sister, Materna. She was the one that helped me piece together my grandfather’s past and life in Cebu, along with my cousin’s brother Delfin. He showed me letters from my grandfather and grandmother Matilde that was written to his daughter, Materna and it slowly connected this past that was once a bigger puzzle. The story is much more intricate and complex with questions still to be answered but for me it helped derive a clearer picture on my grandfather’s past. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet my Grandpa Rallos as he passed the year I was born, in fact my mom told me that soon after my grandfather died in April ’75, she found out she was pregnant with me. I felt a strong connection in Cebu while digging into his past and despite us never meeting, I felt that he was with us through my stay with the family.
There are many relatives there and the family I stayed with is only a snippet of my grandfather and great-grandfather. I stayed with a new found cousin, Ate Letty and they all live near each other on land that was owned by my great-grandfather. It was a different experience seeing and immersing myself in their everyday life. I rode a jeepney, an elaborately decorated open air jeep where I think I consumed the max capacity of carcinogens for my lifetime… LOL. My cousin’s nephew Raje and my cousin Delfin, toured me around Cebu City. Raje also showed and spoke to me about his volunteering in Tacloban where Typhoon Yolanda struck. He and his brothers volunteer weekly helping to send supplies there. All of the clothes and toiletries that TANG and FOT donated have gone here. Raje and his brothers are quite amazing and so selfless. They themselves might not have much but they give as though they did. No doubt they are and continue to be inspiring.
I saw many sights there and one of the highlights was Mactan Shrine where Ferdinand Magellan was killed by Chief Lapu-Lapu. The Spaniards came in hoping to take over Mactan Island and instill their reign and religion, but Lapu-Lapu wasn’t going to have any of that. They fought at this site and Magellan was killed. I’m not sure what they did with his body but the confrontation reminded me of Captain Cook against the Hawaiians.
On my last full day of Cebu, I took a day trip with my cousin Delfin to the island of Bohol. It’s a 2 1/2 ferry ride from Cebu. This was also the place where a huge earthquake took place last October and the people and area are still recovering. It’s a beautiful island, much of it untouched and the vibe is even more laid back than Cebu. My cousin’s daughter-in-laws parents (say that 10x fast) were kind enough to give us a quick tour of Bohol and the highlight was Chocolate Hills. Sorry these pics are from my iphone as my camera shots are pretty big. There are about 1200 of this conical hills and they’re referred to as chocolate when the vegetation turns brown, obviously in this photo they’re about mint chocolate. They were apparently formed by the uplift of coral deposits and the effects of rainwater and erosion (explained in Lonely Planet’s guide) but there are a few legends including that they are tears of a giant. My cousin also joked that they are big poops from giants too LOL. It’s quite bizarre to see them laid out and the landscape within and that it surrounds is stunning.
We then went to visit the nocturnal tarsier at Sagbayan Peak Resort and Recreation. I hear there is another sanctuary, the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary, which I’ll have to visit when I return, but for my audio friends, this is the animal that made famous the THX sound with it’s eyes opening up wide with the trademark sound. These creature are so small, they can fit in your hand and I want one for a pet, but they are an endangered species so I’ll just have to be content on seeing one in person. 🙂 I couldn’t use my flash so I apologize for it being dark.
After a whirlwind daytrip to Bohol it was time to head back to Cebu. Bohol is also known for their beaches which I’ll have to go back and stay for a weekend as I’m sure there are breathtaking views there.
Cebu is certainly a place I want to return to not only explore more outside of the city but now to find out more about my grandfather and to visit family. I flew back to Manila for just a day before I flew out to the jaw-dropping beauty of Batanes where I found new relatives from my maternal grandmother’s side, aka in our family as Paga. Stay tuned and Mahalo!
Batanes – Breathtaking landscapes and embracing new found family from Paga’s side
The picture above is just a glimmer into what Batanes had to offer. Batanes is the northern most province of the Philippines and it’s where my maternal grandmother was born and raised. It’s a land of untouched beauty that reminded me of what Hawaii must have been like before tourism got a stronghold on it and it also gave me an insight to where my beloved Paga came from. Paga was our family nickname for my grandmother Matilde Alamillo, whose roots began in 1909 in the small, quiet, rural town of Basco.
It all started with a few key names that my Auntie Rose provided me when I mentioned to her that I was planning a trip to Batanes. She asked that maybe I could look into some of the civil records and also the churches to see if they had further information on her mother’s family. All it took was for me to mention that my grandma was born in Basco and was from the Abengana and Librero family and within 4 days, I had discovered and had been embraced by both families as if I was born there myself. This place is so small everyone knows each other and my guide Danny was key in helping me put the pieces of the puzzle together on my maternal grandmother’s side. By the end of the first day, I had met multiple aunts on the Abengana side and met the current matriarch of the Librero family. The native group in Batanes are the Ivatan and it was funny because as I met new people and family, they would look at me and say, “You look Ivatan.” Turns out that my family has a strong foundation back in Batanes and with the beauty of it’s landscapes meeting my new found family on this island definitely makes me want to come back.
Batanes is starting to get more attention from tourists, primarily local Filipinos with 90% being from the Philippines and about 10% of foreigners. They’re promoting eco-tourism and I’m a huge supporter of it because now that I know I have family here that live and enjoy this beautiful part of the earth, I certainly do not want it to be exploited in any way.
Life here is slow and simple where the living is made from farming and fishing. The airport is literally walking distance to downtown with no traffic and transportation is either a van for tours, motorbikes, a few jeepneys and by boat. The people here are so laid back more so than Hawaii I think and there’s no rush even when there are blackouts and water can’t be pumped. My last night in Batanes was spent with my Tita Petra and the Amboy family and as we were arriving at our host’s house, there was a total blackout. Back home people would be in a bit of a panic because so much of our world thrives on electricity, the family here just simply kicked back, continued on preparing dinner with flashlights and candles and offered me some beer to pass the time. It’s a world where disconnecting isn’t a factor because they’re still trying to solidly connect with the rest of the world. Cellphone usage and texts are easily attainable but internet and wifi is very spotty. Though as my days were spent, I loved disconnecting and just taking it all in. I could come back here annually to just get away from it all for a few weeks.
(Yep that’s me with a kerosene lamp!)
In terms of the family I discovered, once they found out I was in town to trace my grandmother’s roots and we were able to square away the connection between us, they took me in with open hearts and many dinners. 🙂 The closest relation I found was my Tita Petra Abengana Lizardo. She is the daughter of my great-grandfather’s brother, Juan who was the youngest of the family. She is an absolute sweetheart and have been told that when I return to not bother renting a room but to stay with her. She has 4 daughters and 2 sons, one of which is a tour guide on the island.
She’s a great cook too who made sure I had a bunch of food when I left the island to take back to Manila. I also connected with the Librero family where my great-great grandmother was from. I met my Aunt Leo and her husband Jose and I also met the matriarch of their family, Lola Valentina Enciso Librero who was married to Graciano Librero. Aunt Leo has a brother Ike and Rocopio. They invited me dinner on Wednesday night for authentic Ivatan cuisine and I have to say my meals in Batanes were the best since I’ve been here in the PI. Everything is organic, nothing processed, all fresh fish, vegetables and organic meats. For a girl from CA, this was awesome. 🙂
(Lola Valentina, Tita Leo, Tito Jose and Me)
Aside from meeting family, of course I took in the sites. I toured the northern part of Batan Island, the first and last days, which also included an excursion into an old Japanese tunnel from WWII. I have a gopro video that I’ll post when I return.
The second day I took a boat ride to the nearby island of Sabtang which is even more rural that Batan. My cousin Malia would have probably freaked out that I rode on this boat but hey that’s traveling right? 😉 It’s just as beautiful with amazing beaches, ridiculously clear water and lush rolling hills.
Many of the homes in Batanes are made of stone as they are prone to typhoons. Here on Sabtang, most if not all homes are made of a combination of stone, coral and cement. Winds here on an average day can gust up to 20-30mph and at times hinders trips for boats and the few flights that come into Basco. My own flight was delayed about 3 hours because of winds.
My third day touring was of the southern part of Batan Island. The landscapes seemed more dramatic with the rock formations and outcrops of Alapat to the rolling, pasture lands of Malboro county. Batanes has been compared to New Zealand in many ways but I feel that Batanes will give NZ a run for it’s money in terms of untouched lands.
I plan to return here for sure and hopefully bring some family members to join me to not only enjoy scenery but to especially meet our new family. It’s totally worth it and also worth disconnecting for a few weeks and get down to simply living. Just take it from this dog I saw napping on the beach. 😉 I’m back in Manila for the weekend but my next blog will be from Chiang Mai Thailand next week. Mahalo for following and have a great weekend everyone!