When was the last time you did something for the first time?


                  After months of planning and actually saving up everyday for a year we are finally embarking on the long awaited trip to the places we’ve literally only seen in movies and read about in blogs, or at least that’s just me. I totally blame “That Thing called Tadhana” for my instant desire to go to the places I’ll be mentioning and talking about and of course there will be tips along the way to help other “barkadas” to do what we just did. I’ve been psyching myself out since last month that I finally get to spend a week with three of my college best friends. This trip is in fact the ending and the beginning of something new. It is the end of our youthful strides of actually being lost and embracing the beginning of the fact that we are as of this year turning twenty-five (yikes), and also it’s the firsts of everything that will hopefully unfold for us four in the future. 

     So to start off; Our budget is 10k for 7 days, 3 places, 2planes, countless of bus trips and tons of walking, with that settled let’s get started. Please note that the 10k budget includes all the transportation expenses, food and activity expenses only. Budget for souvenirs and pocket money is a different personal expense.

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                We've been saving up for a year and we each have our own "Saving Jar" I think this is a healthy way of setting goals for yourself without the pressure of actually raising the funds directly right then and there, that's why it's better to plan long before. Set a long term deadline ,we started saving since 2015 and I've been putting in change every week just to get to our budget. I put it in my room so that I can see it all the time which will remind me to keep saving change, it will also help inspire me to work harder to look forward to the travel.
              And then once the tickets are already paid for, our next step is to actually start planning for the trip. We've established our itinerary which is Pulag-Sagada and lastly Baguio.  Cathy and Mae are already in Manila by then prior to the trip because they were with their families having their summer vacations, we've established that our rendezvous point will be at Baguio city. 
Two weeks prior to the trip we found out that one of our friends couldn't come with us in our trip,  I would like to just state that, since you might just notice from all the pictures that instead of having four people, you only see three. Alexis's is dealing with some personal problems of her own as of the moment, and needless to say we understood why she had to skip this trip. 
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They say you can never fully appreciate something until you have done it too, yourself. A week ago I was able to do something I never thought I would be able to tick off of my bucket list--- but it was a promise I asked myself to do before I turn 25. So me and my friends, dreamed it, planned it and finally did it.
 It was a process though, we took a six hour trip from Baguio to Bokod, Benguet in a van who's driver seems to know only two types of speeds----- fast and FASTER. After hours of bumpy, not at all comfortable car ride to the mountains we first got our medical certificate at their hospital (50.00). Then went on to the DENR where we paid for the registration as well as the environmental fee (175.00). It was there too, where we got our orientation about the rules and regulations to live by while climbing the magnificent mount Pulag. 


Climbing mount Pulag was by far one of the most painful and challenging thing I've done yet this year, but it was also the most satisfying feeling upon reaching the summit. I have asthma, and although the trail to the summit in Pulag isn't that difficult, it proves to be trivial for someone who has problems regulating their oxygenation with every rising elevation. But well as they say--- if I can do it, so can you. We were scheduled to climb at one in the morning. Despite our preparedness for the climb ahead we were proven wrong countless of times upon taking on the mountain. We were clothed in layers and layers of jackets and warmers because we were told it would be freakin' cold at the top, despite our nursing education it never crossed our minds that the body produces heat when it has exerted a lot of efforts. So you can bet that we removed and replaced our jackets a few times during the climb. With only the headlamp in tow to actually see where we were going and the not so comforting chill early in the morning, I walked slowly but surely somehow keeping my body temperature in check and at the same time not fall over the cliff side. I was already scared of what lies ahead and asking if my lungs will be able to keep up?
 The mountain breeze smells of pine and freshly cut grass, it was chilly, moist and quiet early that morning as if every whisper made would be heard all throughout the mountain side. We started our trek with high spirits, smiles and each other. The first part of the trail, it wasn't that difficult but it was there when I realized and I was told that I had to shed a few layers of clothing because I was having difficulty with breathing upon the ever rising ascent and me having layers of clothes made it more difficult for me to climb the mountain, just like life sometimes you have to let go of the unnecessary baggage that's literally holding you down and stopping you from moving forward. 
 Thirty minutes or so after we reached camp one. Where there are bushes everywhere. I sat down catching my breath and trying to slow my heart beat down to normal, I looked up and saw one of the most awesome things I've ever witnessed, it was clear to me then that God was in fact a romantic, because it was just so beautiful that you can't help but fall in love with nature. The stars seems to be so close that you can just touch them, gosh if only my eyes could capture that exact moment when I saw them. (Kung may dumaang falling star, anong ewi-wish mo?) 
We thread on forward for another two hours worth of trekking onward to camp two. My patience was wearing thin by this time, I was tired, my legs hurt and my lungs ached every time I inhaled. Thank god for friends that pushes you on to keep moving forward ,comforting you telling you that everything is going to be okay and waiting for you to regulate your breathing and heartbeat and literally not leaving your side till you started moving again. Upon reaching the mossy forest---it smelt of petrichor one of my most favorite scents ever! Everything was wet!!! The ground was wet and splotchy which made my shoes muddy, there were dew drops trickling down from trees hitting my face, and then there was just me struggling to keep up with my friends ahead but not giving up because well we're almost near the summit (at least that's what I kept saying to myself). When we reached camp two, we rested for a while, drank a little water and ate some gummy bears.


                   Assaulting the summit was the most frustrating at the same time fulfilling thing I've ever felt yet this year, it was so frustrating because----- to see the destination but you have a LONG way to go (ugggghhhhh psychological torture). To quote the best words of how I felt at that time---- "so near and yet so far". In our group I was the last one to reach the summit, a woman who was behind me talked to me pushing me on telling me "not to stop now because the summit is literally a few more steps to go", with a faint heart and an awkward smile I pushed myself to reach the top. And when I did., reach the top I was greeted with tired but happy smiling faces of other climbers, and the view alone was enough to make a big macho man cry. It was so overwhelming, fulfilling and humbling that you can't help but be proud of yourself. It was indeed a magnificent feat to accomplish. So of course what better way to celebrate reaching the top than to smile and take tons of pictures (bragging rights).


What goes up must come down and let me just say it was a long way down back to the village. I wouldn't say it was easier, I will however say that I felt more uplifted having to reach the top of the highest peak in Luzon exactly 2,922 meters above sea level. So regardless of what's ahead going down, I was confident enough to be able to do reach the bottom just as sure enough as I have reached the top. I fell three times while trekking down the slippery slopes of the mountain, coating my shoes with more chocolate colored mud. It was painful but all I could do was laugh with the people alongside with me because apparently it was part of being a mountain climber, to slip and slide. Trekking down the mountain with the warmth coming from the rays of the sun and giving you new perspective of the greenery surrounding the place gave me a new appreciation  for God's beautiful creations. Plants of different colors, shapes and sizes. Birds and insects with different colors.   

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                 The mossy forest became a dream come true for me, it was like taking out a scene from the Lord of the rings and at any minute Gandalf will be presenting himself and ask me to join him on an adventure. I was able to try fresh spring water from the mountains, I ate edible berries that naturally grow within the vicinity. Which taste oddly like mangoostine. And while I was too busy taking a few shots of the view I went ahead and sprained my left ankle. So after 11 hours of trekking down the mountain I had to complete my last one kilometer riding a motorcycle back to the village because it was too painful for me to walk on foot. I finished and survived it without using my inhaler, fell down three times, sprained my left ankle, I got dirty, too cold, too warm, stinky and wet but that day despite all the minor difficulties and mishaps, and the fact that every part of my body ached. After what felt like a death march, I went to heaven and came falling down back to earth, bruised but definitely happier. 
We ate our last meal at pulag and went on ahead for another bumpy rainy car ride to Sagada. But before that we had to go back to the DENR office to "log out". 
 Ahhhh Sagada the place where in the movie That Thing Called Tadhana, Mace shouted her frustrations away. (Siguro sa daming gustong mag move on, nabibingi na si Sagada)If mountains could talk back I wonder what the mountain province of Sagada would say? 
We were greeted with heavy rain fall in the dead of night at Sagada, finding a place to stay for the night--- we opted to reside at an inn (350.00 per head). We slept all through out the night and woke up early to witness yet another sea of clouds at Kiltepan, Sagada peak. Greeted with the freezing windy morning air with its captivating view of the valley below covered with cotton candy-like clouds truly speaks for itself that Sagada is a place that's in one with their culture and nature. It's not a wonder why people come here in search of peace and trying to move on.
With many tourists taking epic shots, waiting for the sun to rise proved to be a more tedious task to witness because it became a no show. We did however witness a sea of clouds. So it was still every bit as beautiful and breathtaking than I expected it to be. When we went back to the city from Kiltepan, it was then that the city became clearer to me. The sun rose on top of the clouds giving light to the city below covered in fog and clouds. 
Sagada was literally a mountain province, their civilization is sitting on top of the mountain,they are nestled within the mountain.... they are a part of the mountain as much as the mountain is a part of them, I was amazed how the people thrived within this element covered with fog and the cold and minimal "technological" advances and the fact that the city is not as urbanized and "hip" --- still they were able to appreciate and in fact develop every bit of what the mountain was able to give to them, and not only that but they still conserve and respect everything that has to do with the mountain--- for if it weren't for mountain then they wouldn't be living as well, you can see that the people here love where they are and have a great deal of respect and contentment with what they have. 
Whether it be with the richness of vegetation or taking advantage of the view before them and the rich caves that is naturally made by the mountains, Sagada has become a famous tourist destination of everyone near and far with a myriad of activities to choose from--- whether it be shouting your lungs out at kiltepan, sight seeing and picture taking with their gorgeous mountainsides, spelunking, canyoneering, rafting or just as simple as immersing with the locals and talking to them. Oh by the way I almost forgot to mention everyone is required to get a guide it's within their tourism laws and also it's one way of helping out the locals to earn a living we booked a package tour including the transportation: (1500.00/head.) Another thing I would like to state is that Sagada has a very organized system in terms of their tourism; you need to pay first and "log in" to their tourist center (35.00) and then book a tour with a tour guide. So I know what you're thinking you would like the cheapest price possible right? Don't fret, whether private or public tours they ALL HAVE THE SAME PRICES. So no need to haggle you can be rest assured that what you get from the tourist center has the same price as what you can get from private tour package groups.  Your budget will only differ in terms of where you stay, and the number of people you'll be splitting the bill with. So as the old saying goes---- the more the merrier also in this case, the more, the cheaper!
Sagada is home to locals that appreciate art as well as make them, what I love about their art is that just like their lifestyle they were able to include natural resources from the mountain, incorporating such raw materials innovating them into something beautiful and useful. Whether it be weaving bags and baskets or molding clay to make beautiful stone wares. And yes if you were wondering the clay comes from the soils of the mountain and the threads they used come from natural fibers from the plants that grow within the mountain as well. Isn't it amazing? They were able to make their own signature souvenir food as well---  you wouldn't expect to find the tangy tartness of a lemon pie in these mountains but SURPRISE!!!! --- oranges and lemons are native in this place where the locals were able to profit well from it by making juices and pies. (When life gives you lemons Sagada makes lemon pies and lemonade). I fell in love with the overall simplicity of things in this place, where not everything and not everyone are reliant on posts and number of emails to answer, where in fact letters are still sent daily, and radios are all the rage when it comes to listening to music and or listening to the news, where locals dress not to impress but rather fit with their lifestyle of comfort and warmth, where I imagine everyone knows everyone and help each other out when someone is in trouble. It seems like I went back in time when not everyone had cellphones and people are still practicing backwards traditions respectively. It's a charming neighborhood where art, food and music and the mountain itself is highly appreciated. 
One last but crucial thing I would want to mention about Sagada. And yes this may be mainstream and yes I may have only wanted to go to this place because it was one of the focal points of the movie but I urge you go to Gaia Cafe and Crafts ---- not ONLY because it was featured in "That Thing Called Tadhana" but because of the following reasons I'm going to point out; 1. It really nice to hang out at this place --- it's quiet, cool, windy and has a spectacular ambiance. 2. They serve Vegan food---- let me be more specific I'm not only talking about vegetarian food, I'm talking about nothing from animal food and let me just say I was quite impressed and the food was delicious and reasonably priced.(150-275/meal) 3. Great service. 4. You can literally stay there the whole day and no one will disturb you, you may have been reading a book, writing a blog or whatever...the place screams of inspiration and getting the creative juices flowing. (If I had brought along my laptop with me, you can be sure I'd be sitting there sipping on some of their homemade tea and just writing whatever felt right at that moment).
So yes please do try their food, the service and the place. (tip: order the carbonara, the sauce is made out of Cashew nuts and shitake mushrooms, sounds unappetizing but it's to die for.) After eating our lunch and managing to squeeze all the activities into one day we packed our bags once again and head on to a six hour ride to  Baguio City, the summer capital of the Philippines. 
We arrived Baguio at exactly eight in the evening of June 7,2016  greeted with the buzzing mixture of tourist and locals walking about in the ever busy session road it's quite apparent why Baguio is dubbed as the summer capital of the Philippines, among all the destinations we traveled to, Baguio was by far the most urbanized and the most crowded--- there's just so much to do in this secluded tiny cold place in Benguet.  So no more quiet walks strolling down the mountain side adoring the view of the valley below. We however were too tired to do what tourists do in Baguio, we just wanted to slip out of our mucky shoes, worn out clothes, put down our heavy back packs and just spew the night away in our comfy bed bunks. Night stay at YMCA (543.00) Fact: I was surprised that most of the facilities including the hotels not to mention SM Baguio does not have air-conditioning. (Amazing) later on that night we ate our dinner  we pretty much slept through the whole night but we did plan on what to do for tomorrow. 


From the grotesque charming idea of picking Strawberries from the field, to strolling about in the numerous parks that they have, appreciating Sun flowers and other plants, eating Strawberry taho while in a swan shaped boat or picking through cheap finds in their night market---- there's just so much to do in Baguio. But since we were quite short on time we just picked to do the important stuff, I guess. We did go to La Trinidad Strawberry field but since strawberries were out of season we weren't able to harvest them, but we did buy some. It's sort of an understatement for me to say that the whole place doesn't smell of strawberries--- because the air itself is as if it was infused with strawberry perfume. And when we got there---- Strawberries everywhere, jammed, made into wine, lotion, key chains or just the fruit itself. This is also the best place where to buy souvenirs. We ate dirty ice cream (at 25.00 best dirty ice cream I had yet!!!) And went on to Burnham Park. No, I wasn't able to ride the boat but I was able to experience the every illusive Strawberry Taho--- and my god it was awesome. A trifecta of flavors, the soothing rawness and blandness you get from the taho compliments the sharp sweetness you get from the strawberry syrup and lastly to top it off with semi sweet pearls (sago) is worth every penny of your (30.00). We went to Mines View Park where I was able to see a bird's eye view of Baguio city, and took a picture of the cutest biggest baby ever Bernie the Saint Bernard.


 Although we weren't able to do everything we planned to do, in fact there was a lot of things that we also did that weren't planned. At the risk of sounding like a cliche hallmark card "It's not about the destination but rather the journey" --- and this journey really did teach me a lot about myself and the friends I travelled with. What we tasks ourselves to do was not the most easiest of "vacations" but we chose to do it not just because of the sights and the spectacular sceneries we will be able to witness or the foods we get to taste and the activities we get to experience ---  but also as a milestone for our friendship and a first to everything that will come to be in our lives. I learned that in every step of everything you wish to take in life there's always this pause whether it's because you're tired or lost, one things for sure you need to unload a few things and humbly accept the help you can get from the people that are kind enough to reach out for you in your time of need. And if and when you are lost--- don't be afraid to ask for directions, you would surprised by the answers you get from the people you will be encountering on your journey.  That in fact some plans need to change in order to give way of a more beautiful opportunity that's meant to be, that time is in fact precious and through communication you get to know a lot about the person you're with. Through experience you get to learn a lot about yourself and your limits and what you're willing to sacrifice  to overcome such limitations. Through tough times it's a test of your patience and determination to push through that and survive. This journey we took was in fact a test amongst ourselves and each other. How we value each other whether it be scaling to reach the top of the highest peak of luzon for the first time or enjoying a simple cup of tea ---- life is not an easy feat to live with, but it's nice and comforting to know that you have friends who will always be there for you in all it's up and downs, to the highest peak of mountains and the widest shores of the seas----- only time and our faces will change but the memories will live on forever. 

So as promised I will now show you the budget and the expenses;

Budget: 10,000.00

Expenses are as follows: 39574_screen_shot_20160612_at_11.05.52_am.png
Okay okay, granted we have breached the budget by 277.00 pesos but to me that's not bad at all. Please note that we could've chosen cheaper accommodations and not to mention cheaper forms of transportation ( we opted for a Private van) however we had a change of plans, so this was not a bad thing that we went overboard a bit with our budget. 

So in conclusion,  3 places, 2 plane rides, pretty much what feels like 100 hours of car rides, 2 bus rides, we climbed 2,922 MASL, ate at 10 different locations, went to one of the most unique cemeteries ever, met three dogs (yes that happened) walked thousands of kilometers, took a total of 716 pictures with videos. 3 friends, 365 days of planning, 7 days of vacation on a 10 thousand peso budget. Everything has value, based on the numbers I have presented  but the memories and the lessons I've gotten from this journey = PRICELESS.