Gratitude is one of the healthiest exercises you can do for your soul. 2014 has been, far and away, an unbelievable, life-changing year of journeys around the world and in the self. So I think it’s fitting that I do something special by writing this personal retrospective of 2014, and I hope in doing so I can multiply my own gratitude by sharing it with you. It’s been a year of epic and small moments alike that I'll treasure for life.
So here’s my list, in chronological order:
1. Southern Journeys: Diving in Negros Occidental and Bohol, and Sinulog
A serendipitous January consisting of two different trips to the Visayas. First on assignment for Balikbayan Magazine, checking out the diving in Punta Bulata with two of my best friends, followed by a dive trip to Bohol rounded out by my first experience of the wild party of the Sinulog Festival in Cebu.
2. Phoenix Live in Manila
Watched one of my favorite bands live together with my own bandmates. Losing yourself to the live music of a band that’s always in your headphones is the best natural high.
3. My First Night Dive
As part of the requirements for my Advanced Open Water scuba certification, I had to complete a night dive. I was pretty scared just thinking about getting into the water in the dark, but it ended up being magical. But the best part was at the end: I surfaced and lay floating on my back in the sea and found myself staring straight into a sky full of stars. As quiet and breathtaking a moment as they come.
4. Battling the Elements in Batulao
My wild and woolly introduction to Philippine mountains. More difficult than I expected, complete with punishing heat and heart-stopping drops on the way up, and pouring rain on the way down that caused me lose the whole group during the last half-hour or so of the hike. Brought home that old lesson to me: It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.
5. Awesome Anilao
A day of doing Anilao’s signature dives and being richly rewarded for it, with eagle rays, a huge hawksbill, and all the beauty and color of Anilao on display.
6. Sunrise on Mt. Pulag
Nothing to add here: this iconic (and easy) hike is something every Pinoy should do.
7. Dumaguete Birthday
Spent my birthday in Dumaguete with dear friends and proudly became the first official guest of Gabby’s B&B, the coolest new hostel in town.
8. A wedding in San Francisco
Was fortunate to have perfectly timed my visit to San Francisco to be one of the very small group of friends present for this wedding at City Hall. A simple and meaningful ceremony that touched me more than most big weddings I'd been to.
10. Arrival in Bolivia
The official beginning of my grand South American adventure. Three flights down from LA, not knowing what to expect, all the anxiety and excitement, finally arriving at 1:30a.m. in El Alto airport, afraid I would be downed by altitude sickness because I was landing at a stupendous 4,061 MASL. Everything went by without a hitch, and so began the best two months of my life.
11. Lake Titicaca
The first major highlight of my trip around Peru. Played football with the local kids, stayed overnight with a host family and chatted in Spanish about our lives back home, and made many new friends.
12. The Lares Trail Trek
The highlight of my stay in Peru, breathtaking, remote, and unforgettable. The start of what I think will be a lifelong fascination with long walks and snowcapped peaks.
13. Machu Picchu
My dream come true. When you get up to the top to the classic viewpoint, the grandeur of the place is like nothing else in the world.
A day of pure fun in the desert. High-speed dune buggies, sandboarding, and partying all night in the most surreal setting. I remember two of us drunkenly climbing up a dune until camp was out of sight and marveling at the full moon above, pretending we were lost in the middle of the desert.
15. Montañita, Ecuador: a month of Spanish, yoga, surfing, and whales
After the non-stop thrills of twenty-one days in Peru and Bolivia, I decided to slow it down and stay for a month in Casa Del Sol in Montañita, Ecuador, where I had Spanish classes every morning, yoga in the afternoon, drinking and parties at night, and the occasional surf lesson in between. And just an hour away from town, I saw humpback whales for the first time on a pair of boat trips.
16. An unexpected detour to Cancún
Thanks to some stupid error in Philippine Airlines’s booking system, I found myself in LAX at eight in the evening, sleepless and exhausted after flying in from Ecuador, with no ticket home to Manila. So what else could I do?
I hopped on a bus to San Francisco, crashed with my cousin for a few days, then flew to Cancún to meet a friend. Crossed diving in the Underwater Museum and in a cenote off my bucket list, attended a big pool party and drowned my iPhone 5, experienced my obligatory dose of backpacker drama --- the appropriately crazy ending to my eighty-day soul vacation.
Spent a relaxed October weekend in Boracay for my mom’s birthday. Even with all its problems, Boracay was still paradise. That sunset is as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen in the world, and I even got to dive a sunken airplane just a few minutes from the beach.
Not long after I set my wheels down in Manila, I was invited to be a cameraman for Asian Air Safari, an aviation-themed travel show, and off we went to Europe. My first time in Switzerland, a place too beautiful to be real.
Being Southeast Asian myself, I was never that curious about traveling around Southeast Asia, but my week shooting in Myanmar for Asian Air Safari has changed all that. The Golden Land has some of the most beautiful light I’ve seen anywhere and also some of the kindest people. I will certainly be back.
20. Sharing it all with you
Since I started writing about my experiences on this blog, I’ve been surprised many times over by the response to what I've shared with you all. Perhaps, more than anything, that is what I am grateful for, because that makes everything I experienced this year a thousand times more meaningful. Thanks to you guys, I’ve even been on TV!
The thousands of views and shares you’ve given me for my blog posts and my video have been a heartwarming affirmation of this journey I’m still on, and I hope to be able to continue spreading the love and light I’ve received this year as I continue to discover what abundance life has in store.
So thank you for being part of a 2014 that has many times seemed too good to be true. Happy new year, and I wish you all the love, light, and adventure this life can give. Pura vida!