Bungy jumping in New Zealand had been in everybody’s bucket lists long before “bucket list” became a household term. Traveling to NZ isn’t complete without a bungee jump, may it be in Queenstown or in Taupo. NZ tourism sure knows how to couple extreme activities with paradise-like nature as backdrop.
Just over a fortnight after I got married, the X and I drove over to the North Island’s adventure capital, Taupo, to jump off the edge. 47 meters high and no turning back, it was the single bravest thing I have done in all my 27 years. The X chickened the last minute and decided he couldn’t do it. But I, at only 5 feet 4 and 55 kgs, took on the challenge like it was no different to the age-old cliff jumping I used to do as a kid back in my mum’s hometown of Iloilo.
Water has always been my comfort zone. Nearly 50m below from where I stood, the mighty Waikato River, in all its almost-frozen glory, had its arms outstretched. It enticed, promising liberation.
In less than a month’s time, the X and I will be relocating to another country with hopes of good fortune. Until I make that jump, I could never really claim I have lived in New Zealand. In addition, If I really desire to travel the world like I say I do, it is only just to explore my backyard first and do the very things other travelers come here for.
As the Bungee crew gear me up for the plunge, my eyes trailed to the viewing deck. I saw the X, the in-laws, a bunch of other people who couldn’t make up their minds if they’d also jump or not and many others who knew in their hearts that they never can do such feat.
Then it happened. I was asked to stand on the edge, look up to the camera above for posterity, and savor the picturesque reality of New Zealand: whitewashed cliffs, a lake that was all shades of blue, lush forests and long white clouds. There was only one way for me to take all of it in: succumb to gravity.
It was so fast there was no time to entertain fear. The next thing I felt was the rope pulling my feet and for the first time ever, I saw the whole world upside down. It still was just as beautiful.
I grinned from ear to ear, knowing that I have conquered something that was far more than what it looked like it was. It wasn’t only a jump, it was a manifestation of how fiercely brave my heart is. I did myself a favor; I made the whole world hold their breaths.
Cape Reinga, Northland. idea of a country was just too huge in my imagination. It was hard to fathom how there were boundaries; edges that wrapped around a motherland’s entirety. Somehow, facts used to come to me bland, they were almost lies.
But at lunch time last April, after a short downhill walk from where the bus driver dropped us off, we found ourselves standing on the edge of the country. Maori legends spoke of the place as the leaping-off point for the spirits, where the turbulent union of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean pulls (or pushes, no one knows) the departed into the abyss of forevermore; of heaven.
The lighthouse in Cape Reinga was a fixture. It beaconed like an old friend. It was stout; not as tall as how it was in photographs. I wondered if it still lit up at night, if it still called fishermen home.
Beside the lighthouse where yellow arrows to everywhere. I liked how it conveyed of crossroads, though there weren’t any. The distant horizon was cloaked with clouds. But on a good day, they said, Australia can be seen from the cape.
Australia and Aoteroa. Sisters. Rivals.
“Do they say hello to each other in the morning?” I asked myself.
There were grasses, shrubs all over. There was no need for mowing, I reckoned. The wind in that part of the world was strange; so dense I could almost see limbs grooming the surrounding grassland. Indeed, nature was taking care of itself.
Not far below was the unforgiving waters of Tasman and the Pacific. The half court line came in the form of white froth from waves lapping to opposite directions. How did they mark territories, I never knew.
And of course, there I stood, on the rugged edges of Northland, my kingdom of rock and soil on a constantly losing battle with water. I counted how many more million years it could buy before finally conceding defeat. “More than what I could afford in a lifetime,” I guessed. (I actually managed to bring myself to entertain that particular detail without having to realize if I was ready; if I ever will be.)
By the time my musings trailed as far as wondering if the Pirate of the Caribbean sailed past there, too; if the end of his world was different from the end of mine, the driver coaxed everyone to go back to the bus at once as we still have to go sand boarding in a dune a short drive away from where we were.
I looked back one last time, to the frayed edges of my country– falling apart but holding itself together, still.
She was 26 when she had me. I remember us sporting the same hairstyle back in the day. She was my role model, I was her favorite accessory.
The bond that mommy and I share is more sisterly than it is mother-daughter. We share secrets, gossips, cosmetics, and for many, many years, hairbrushes. We share the same passion in writing too. When I wrote my first poem at 8, she gave me access to an old suitcase filled with diaries, with pages yellowed by years. Kept in each yellowed leaf were verses written for my father and those that she loved before him. I have not ceased writing since.
The reckoning took place in 2002, on the summit of Mt. Agad-Agad, Iligan’s highest peak. Jopet Pee, the only decent looking boy in my block, smelt of onion halfway through the ascent. Up to this day, I am uncertain if it was his packed corned beef for lunch or his armpits. Either way, all hopes of me falling headlong in love with him dashed into pieces.
But perhaps it was the best turn of event in my life so far. Because over the years, all the men I have sworn undying love to have long since disappeared. But Jopet stuck through, even if most of the time, we got into each other’s nerves.
You see, our compatibility was very unlikely. I was this odd girl who wore tribal-printed pajamas to school and wrote poetry with euphemisms that were incomprehensible to the sane. He was an ordinary (boring) boy who did ordinary (boring) things. But he adored how my heart was of the colors of the rainbow. The longevity of our friendship rested in that; in the fact that we are each other’s walking contradiction.
In 2007, half a decade after that day of reckoning in the summit of Agad-Agad, he took a leave off work to pay me a visit to Cebu. But I too, was burnt out with corporate whoring and needed a break. So after a taxi conversation from Pier Uno to Ramos, we decided to escape to Bohol that night.
Coincidentally, fellow wordsmith and wayfarer, Tey, was in town and was bound for Tagbilaran that night as well. He offered for us to stay in his flat in Baclayon for the weekend and we could tour the countryside on his motorcycle.
Tey and Jopet stood on the either ends of my friendship spectrum in terms of personality and having both of them in the same square meter that night wasn’t really the most favorable situation. Tey was kindred, and Jopet’s indifference to “my kind” was something that took me years to overcome. Tey wasn’t to learn that in one night.
True enough, the 3-4 hour ferry trip to Tagbilaran turned into a monologue courtesy of Tey’s inquisitions and Jopet’s obvious intimidation. Exhausted from Jopet’s cluelessness, Tey turned to me with a look that said, “How the hell did you even become friends?”
GETTING LOST IN BACLAYON
We reached the port of Tagbilaran at midnight and off we hired a tricycle to Baclayon. Jopet didn’t only fear the tryke, he didn’t want to surf in Tey’s place too. His idea of a Bohol Trip you see, was a private coach transfer to one of the posh resorts in Panglao. I told him that Tey lived just at the back of the historic Baclayon church hoping to sow interest, but he only shrugged and made me promise that as long as we’d go to Panglao the next day, he’d be okay.
We woke up early the next morning armed with the tourist-y itinerary Jopet fished from his Friendster friends, only to find out that Tey already made arrangements for us, the wayfarer way. Reasoning that we’d gonna drive up to Cesar Montano’s mansion, we have successfully convinced Jopet to ride Tey’s Honda XRM. We drove up the hills of Baclayon to the little communities that Tey served as part of his NGO involvements, with Jopet still oblivious to the fact that we were nowhere near the Montano mansion.
But karma favored the innocent. After a few turns in a limestone-paved road, every thing started to look the same. At that point, Tey kept glancing at the gas meter, calculating how much more we could spare before we find the right turn. When we realized that we could no longer waste any more gas, we stopped. I expected a tantrum, but surprisingly so, Jopet wasn’t at all affected when I confessed the truth to him. Apparently, he enjoyed the motorcycle ride so much he no longer cared if our real route wasn’t really to Cesar and Sunshine.
“The bliss of ignorance,” Tey quipped, as Jopet and I took pictures of each other, unmindful of the looming threat that we may not be able to find our way back.
Eventually, it paid to loosen up. Jopet threw some more shallow jokes our way until he finally made Tey laugh. We drove again with a knowing knowledge that sometimes, it just wasn’t depth and intellect who could save the day: sense of humor, too.
When we finally reached Tey’s friend’s hillside villa, we knew straight away why it had to be the first on his itinerary. Who would have thought we’d found an abode nestled in a forest, overlooking the arresting Bohol sea? Not only did Carrie, a Malaysian national who owned the villa, made use of indigenous materials, she also employed many of the area’s locals to look after the place. To top that off, she even commissioned a Boholano architect to design the masterpiece.
THE TOURIST LANE
Still on our motorcycle but out of Baclayon, Jopet queried if we could at least play “tourist” for a while and go to the places people expect everyone to go to when in Bohol. Tey and I looked at each other with mixed amusement and annoyance. We eventually gave in to Jopet with respect to the fact that 90% of the country’s population, sadly, shared his views. But not without ground rules. Tey made Jopet swear to (1) not have the overpriced buffet lunch in one of those floating restaurants in Loboc and (2) not have those broom-riding photos in the Chocolate hills. It was painful of course for Jopet who had hoped that he’d have exactly those showcased in his Friendster albums. But in the end, he agreed.
Over lunch at a carinderia outside the tarsier sanctuary in Loboc, Tey continued his, albeit less hostile, endless inquiries to Jopet. He still couldn’t believe how someone, in his words, “without poetry could live through all twenty-five years without succumbing to depression or some sort of suicidal tendencies.” Had he said that to me, I could have eaten him alive. But he said that to Jopet, who never took offense of whatever people said to him because he was happy how he was.
In between mouthfuls of tinolang manok, he quipped, “When life gets complicated, I stop thinking. I just let things unfold. Then I try to live with what is unfolding.” At that stage, I was smiling, because his totoong tao reasoning was exactly what made him who he was in my life. Then he continued, “I envy how the two of you think and live. I wish I can be half as good, but I’m aware that I’m not, so I make do with what I have, what I can.”
Tey, tactless as he can sometimes be, blurted out, “Amazing. I’ve quit school and have ran away from home trying to find myself. And even after all that I’ve proven through the years, I still feel that I’m a failure. And here you are, also 25, and you haven’t even done anything, haven’t gone anywhere. Yet, you’re happy. Amazing.”
But before the plot could change into drama, I stood up, paid for lunch and together, we headed to our next stop.
Like any other tourist to Bohol, Jopet’s ultimate dream destination was the Chocolate Hills. When we reached there, he disappeared with a throng of Chinese Excursionists, who, like him, were having the time of their lives. He attempted to push his luck with the broom-riding pictures but Tey threatened that he’d have to find his own transport back to the city if he embarrass us any further. So he was left with no choice but to content himself by taking pictures of himself with the chocolate hills in the background.
After the Chocolate Hills, we headed off to Panglao for some beach loving. Jopet and I sang jukebox along the way, ignoring Tey’s plea for alternate drivers. We kept taking pictures of ourselves and were moving a lot. That while Tey, who was driving, were cursing us under his breath; shocked that I could actually be as thoughtless and mundane. It wasn’t everyday that I was mababaw and magaslaw, so I understood my butterfly friend’s disbelief. But I was with Jopet and admittedly, the guy couldn’t understand had I started harping about how the roadtrip reminded me Che Guevarra’s Motorcycle Diaries.
I wasn’t sure if Tey pulled a prank on us or the mishap was legit, but our motorcycle died halfway through. Jopet, ever smiling even in the face of adversity, suggested we do some more camwhoring while Tey (pretended to) repair the thingy. Suddenly, the glass of buko juice I drank on the Chocolate Hills was taking its toll and I needed to pee. Great. We were in a middle of an empty highway surrounded by rice paddocks. Our motorcycle was (playing) dead. I was left with no choice but to squat in the middle of the field and trust that the two men I was with won’t play peeping Toms.
After some time, Tey found a way to make the scooter work. We then made our way to one of Panglao’s coastal barrios, where Tey had fostered friendships in many of his community immersions. Jopet was screaming Alona the whole time, echoing the default destination of his tourist friends.
BOCA DEL CIELO
It felt like homecoming. Tey said he discovered that beach. It didn’t have a name so he called it Boca del Cielo. Unlike most of Panglao, Boca del Cielo was unassuming. Kids littered the shore. They gathered around us with veneration akin to that of fans and superstars. One of them finally said they wanted to pose for us, and so we obliged.
I also made Jopet sport a pair of Batik pants we purchased back in Cebu. He had earlier expressed his desire to dress like us but wasn’t sure if he could pull it off. Tey argued that in order to pull off a look, one must first have the attitude. So while waiting for sunset, Tey gave him a crash course on projection and the difference between Photography and Picture taking. Although looking at the pictures after the shoot, It didn’t appear that he learned. (<-insert evil laugh->)
At the end of the day, though, it was apparent that Tey and I have successfully gotten the message across to Jopet. The latter kept gushing about how fun-filled that day had been even if we never really splurged on anything except food and fuel. He also chuckled on the realization that we weren’t really the unreachable stars we seemed to be in our blogs– that he had more money than us but we rocked more because we exercised our brains and flaunted our art more than the average Joe and Jane.
And just when I was having a good time being appreciated, in the signature Jopet bluntness, he said to me, ” You sure do know how to juggle hotness and coolness. I now know why you get all the best-looking guys even if you aren’t really that pretty.”
THE RED HORSE EFFECT
Jopet and I may differed in a lot of stuff. But if there was one thing we clicked on so well, it was Red Horse.
Later that night, Tey brought us to Martin’s Restobar in downtown Tagbilaran. It was an old house converted into an acoustic bar. We feasted over Red Horse, sisig, and a playlist of Pinoy acoustic. I fell for the vocalist and his protruding cheekbones. We laughed a lot.
Tey and I took off our we-are-fierce-and-fearless masks and whined on us being too tired to be deemed strong and responsible all the time. Artsyfartsy drama, y’know. We poured pain and angst over memories of broken hearts. But then, you know, we were with somebody with so much apathy he couldn’t relate. So we shut up.
Tey talked about Tagbilaran being the keeper of his dreams; Jopet, about the whole trip being an awakening; And me, about a memory a decade ago, on the port of Jagna, and how it influenced the battles I’ve fought through the years.
The Red Horse effect. A drunken night that spoke of sober hearts.
MY BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
I have never been to Bohol since. Half a year after that trip, I migrated to New Zealand. Jopet went on to work as a theater nurse before he migrated to Bahamas last year. We are now earning enough to afford a London Olympics 2012 reunion. That, or celebrate Jopet’s birthday in Hongkong Disneyland in May. But we always know deep inside, nothing could topple over that weekend in Bohol more than four years ago. Because then, when we were overworked and underpaid, we clung on to each other and made the most of whatever we were blessed with.
I taught Jopet how to brave life according to the will of the spirit, no matter how odd, mad and unpopular my choices were. He taught me how it was alright to blend in sometimes and fare through life as happy as one can be; that ordinary people are also just as capable to experience life extraordinarily.
This post is for that one boy who have turned his back from a very sheltered upbringing to travel with me the poor-girl-mad-writer way. I have gone to so many places since, but when the chance to write a “journey” came, nothing came close to how this one particular journey was different to all the rest because you were there.
As I always tweet in many of my travels, WISH YOU WERE HERE, other BESTFRIEND.
“The weekend saw me on somebody else’s passenger seat. It is a wonder how suddenly, people who seemed to have been around forever, start to see and treat you differently the very moment you tell the world you are single.” -excerpt from my journal, November 2010
The road trip to Matamata took place on a Sunday, the starting point being a cabin in Waingaro Hot Springs. The previous day was spent in Hamilton’s Lake Rotorua and Botanical Gardens. It wasn’t the first road trip I took with the neighbors, but it sure felt like it was.
For one, the passenger seat was saved for me by the one guy I have never really gotten along with. It was odd, considering that a.) I just broke up with a boyfriend got rid of junk and b.) I was perfectly fine with it, nobody has to make me feel any better.
The drive was around an hour and a half long. The sun was out and the roads were empty. I was snapping away lomographs of daily life– business signage, electrical wires, lamp posts, haystacks when we drove past a couple of hitchhikers holding out placards that said Hobbiton. But I wasn’t the driver and the driver was indifferent. He found it pathetic when I found it amusing. At that point, I asked myself if it was worth hanging out with, as my cosmic friends would say, “mortals”.
Admittedly, I found it hard to survive conventional relationships. I prided myself with madness; with an aura screaming like the colors in a cross-processed photograph. Case in point: we were on our way to the very materialization of one of my favorite pieces of literature. It was so special for me. Sacred, even. But everyone in the van, the driver included, saw it as an excursion; as a chance to take a picture beside a life-sized Orlando Bloom.
But admittedly too, I sort of cared. So even in the face of all contradictions, I still was willing to see it through.
When we reached the roundabout to the Hobbiton Movie Set Tourist Farm, I asked him to pull over. Garbed in 3-inches high platform wedges, a high-waisted mini skirt and a fascinator along with the rest of my ensemble, I braved the noonday sun to pose for a photograph under the farm signage. Note that this signage was in a middle of a roundabout in a busy motorway. Everybody applauded my guts but couldn’t muster the same themselves. Then the unthinkable happened: Mr. Indifferent walked my way and joined for another photograph.
I knew then that (my) madness, muchness have indeed commanded some sort of gravity.
When we reached the Shire’s Rest Cafe, we found out that the bus tour inside the farm actually cost a little fortune. Fairly so, it was quite pricey for an “excursion” so the rest of gang bowed out. But because it was a Bucket List item for me, I willingly shelled out some bucks for the fee and signed a waiver that said I wasn’t allowed to upload anything from the set itself to Facebook. There were other conditions, but I only cared about the misfortune of not being able to send upload it to Facebook. gah.
Mr. Indifferent, as it turned out, wanted to take the tour too. But because It would seem suspicious if we go by ourselves, we tagged along another friend, for whom he offered to pay.
True to its name, Hobbiton Tourist Farm, was indeed, A FARM. Around us were fully operating sheep and cow farms. There were patches of green that seemed never-ending.
The whole time, I had to follow the herd of tourists in my wedges, thank you very much. We were led to Middle Earth, and from memory, identified which house belonged to whom. I recalled the landmarks from the movie and the book: the bends, the roads, the gardens and the porches. A Scottish boy from my tour group queried the guide several times for inconsistencies with the details of the actual set from the books. The tour guide tried her best to answer at first but later on conceded and admitted that she only watched the movies but didn’t read the books.
After the tour on the hobbit villages, we all gathered around the Party Tree and talked more on the cinematography side of things. We also identified the distant mountain ranges and in which parts of the movies did those appear. The guide also gave us an idea of how a large part of the movie was only actually in done in Peter Jackson’s studio in Wellington.
At that stage, my inner nerd was in full attention, unconscious that indirectly, I was giving somebody a crash course on the things that I’m interested in: Geek Stuff.
The good thing with “him” was that he wasn’t totally clueless. He was smart in fact. He just didn’t have the circle and influences that I have had. Towards the end of the tour though, he admitted that he liked Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory, which was a plus for me. We were still very different with each other, but I said to myself I could hold on that for a start.
N.B. The constant usage of nerd/dork/geek aims to stress out how scholarly I find those JRR Tolkien pieces; that knowledge of those has the potential to, in a way or another, revolutionize the ways of the world. (yeah right, gibberish.:P)
The ten hour drive between the world’s coolest little capital of Wellington and the big little city of Auckland, is my single most travelled route in the country. today, let me drive you through the experience– must have’s, must do’s and must snaps.
First and foremost, I am a traveler AND a photographer, not a travel photographer. Ergo, I cannot be bothered with manual settings and tripods when traveling. It helps that I have a photographer for a boyfriend, so he does all the photography engineering (which is stiff and boring, bazinga! :P)
I do, however, snap away with analog cameras. I dig the element of surprise in using film, the hopes for happy accidents. The art that I know is unrestrained and that is very well embodied with the analog loving.
PROs: affordable, low-maintenance, can be put anywhere without having to worry about a broken lens, lightweight.
CONs: lomo: non-instant, poor depth of field | pola: expensive film
An active lifestyle doesn’t leave so much room for accessories, so I invest in whatever I have left. A pair of sunnies isn’t only my favorite accessory, it is also an essential. I’m big on dramas, and sunglasses are my secret weapon for that. It conveys character, even on days that my eyebags are the size of Texas. I am particular though of what to wear where.
GEARS: Cheap aviators from Cotton On in blue glass/silver frame and black glass/gold frame, Calvin Klein bronze-framed aviators, Ralph Lauren Square framed oversized sunnies. The boyfriend, on the other hand, is loyal to Oakley’s Ducati.
New Zealand is the most tourist-friendly country I’ve ever been to. You can go out of the airport, pick up a free map, rent a car and you can go to anywhere in the country without getting lost. And if you ever will, everywhere is a tourist spot, there is absolutely no need to worry.
The problem with sign spotting is that, it can be suggestive. Tempting, even. A million times we have run short of time because we make unplanned turns because of interesting signs that were not really part of the itinerary. But as they say, it is the journey that counts, not the destination.
5.) Fruit Markets
One of my favorite things in road trips are short stops in roadside fruit markets. Fresh fruits, cheap prices.
For what fun is a road trip without an accompanying music trip? Aside from the iPad/iPhone playlists, I keep an album of CDs for road trips. And my favorite of all? OPM. (Parokya Ni Edgar, Eraserheads, Silent Sanctuary, Imago, Teeth, Yano, Kamikaze etc.)
A drive along the coast is an oasis in a road trip desert. There is always calming about the sight, feel and smell of water. New Zealand has freezing bodies of water though, even the sea. Especially the sea.
North Island boasts of a rich farming community. Driving from Wellington to Taupo, acres of farmlands wrap superhighways in seas of green. I particularly brood on this part of the trip, thinking of Heidi, a TV program from my childhood, which was set on a countryside like New Zealand but was dubbed in Filipino.
New Zealand is as big as the Philippines, but the population is only 4 million, 86 million of the total Philippine Population. Imagine how much free space this country has— that is the blinding expanse one can see from the road.
When my mom came out from the arrival lounge of the Auckland Airport on her first visit to the country, her first question was, “Where are the sheep?”
No, they don’t roam around the cities. But on a road trip to Palmerston North aboard the Naked Bus, she finally saw herds and herds, much to her utter joy. She told me later that night that she didn’t really believe she was in NZ until the very moment she saw a sheep.
10.) Roadside Cafes
Over the years, I have learned to live with the misfortune of not having rice and <i>sabaw</i> in most NZ restaurants. But a life of chasing the sun and beating the weather has taught my palate to enjoy the quick fills on the road. Apart from fruits, I usually devour steak pies and fish and chips while on the road. For drinks, the ultimate Kiwi faves are Lemon and Paeroa and Bundaberg.
11.) Desert Road
Think Road to Vegas, that is exactly what State Highway 1’s Desert Road is. When on the Desert Road, one is actually, at least 3500 ft. above sea level, the highest in the country’s state highway networks.
12.) Mt. Ruapehu
Nature is indeed ingenious. It is surprising to suddenly see a desert in the heart of a country with rich farmlands and abundant waterscapes. But once you’re there, you will understand. The Desert Road’s neutral brown is a necessary pathway that leads all eyes, all attention, to the grandeur of the snowcapped Mt. Ruapehu.
Unstoppable may be too strong as an adjective. But a freak head-on collision with another vehicle in a suburb near Huntersville two years ago confirmed just that. Still bearing the pain of spine contusion, I found myself embarking on another roadtrip to the Taranaki region a mere three days after the accident. I knew since, that I was more afraid of NOT living more than I’ll ever do with dying.
(all photographs, though without watermarks, are mine.)
The tide was almost always low in the afternoons, as if the sea was a pair of palms pleading for the skies. Half of my barrio’s women were seashell gatherers and the other half were fishmongers. I was the odd child caught in between realities of the mundane, of survival.
My task, I felt, was to dream on behalf of those who couldn’t afford the luxury of reverie, the gift of marvel.