They say this date will come only once in my lifetime, so I felt I had to do something. Since I just started this blog about my travels, I thought of posting my top ten favorite places (only the ones that I have been to, of course) to celebrate 10-10-10. These are places that have enchanted me, left me with a sense of bewilderment and affirmed to me that the Earth really is a wonderful place.
So here they are, just off the top of my head:
1. El Nido, Northern Palawan, Philippines – Hands down, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. It’s amazing how those towering limestone formations can form lagoons and white-sand beaches. The pristine state of this place makes it the ultimate destination for a beach lover like me. The sense of peace that you will get from kayaking from one lagoon to another is just priceless. El Nido is truly unspoilt paradise.
2. Älgön Island, Bohuslän, Sweden – (roughly pronounces as elyon) This island is considered as paradise by the very few residents there, and it’s not hard to see
why. One can easily be swept away by the charming meadows, amazing cliffs, and peaceful forests. You can tour the whole island in a day, as it is just over
3 kilometers long. If you climb the highest point in Älgön (which is not at all hard, considering it’s height is less than a 100 m), you will be rewarded with the breathtaking view of the lush meadows of the hilltop with the sea and nearby islands at the background.
3. Fuji-san, Japan – The highest mountain in Japan offers one of the best views of the sunrise for me. The overwhelming feeling of wonder while watching the sun rise among the clouds that are several meters below will always remain with me. The climbing experience is also one that I will not forget easily. Being a prime tourist spot during the summer season, the way to the top of this beloved mountain is literally lined by hikers from the start of the Yoshida trail until the summit entrance.
4. Donsol, Sorsogon, Philippines – This place is made wonderful by the whalesharks that pass by its waters. For half the year, Donsol is transformed from a sleepy town to a prime tourist spot. A 3-hour boat ride to the waters just off the coast of Donsol brought me so much excitement–from waiting for the whale shark to be spotted, to jumping off the boat and finally swimming with the biggest fish on the planet. The first time I put my head in the water and saw the gigantic creature, I was really dumbstruck by its size. It’s so…. big! haha (I was literally at a loss for words that time). But I think what was more amazing is the fact that they’re such gentle creatures. Those whale sharks are really a thing to behold.
5. Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan – Kyoto, for me, is the epitome of traditional Japan. It is where you can find the most beautiful temples and shrines. Arashiyama, located in the western outskirts of Kyoto, is my favorite because it contains the best parts of Japan in one place. There is the Tenryu-ji temple (whose garden is considered as one of the most beautiful in Japan, and is a World Heritage Site), the Bamboo Forest (its bamboo plants are so neatly arranged that you can’t help but be carried away by the magic of the place), the Hozu River (where one can enjoy the view through their idyllic boat tours). A hike to the top of Kamayama-koen will give you the view of these fascinating sites.
6. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Puerto Princesa, Philippines – (OK, maybe I am a little biased towards my hometown… :p) The Underground River, as it is most popularly known, is the longest navigable underground river in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is well on its way to be one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature (vote for it here). The first time that I entered the cave was the first time I knew what total darkness meant. The only light came from our small boat’s lamp, and we can see the majestic formations that the speleothems (i.e. the stalactites and stalagmites) created. I was particularly amazed by the thought that the supposedly random crystallization of limestone can form so many familiar shapes and silhouettes. The boatman’s jokes were also an added bonus to the trip (I think those boatmen are trained to make cave-related jokes).
7. Mt. Banahaw, Quezon, Philippines – (oh yes, I have a bias for mountains too) This mountain is sacred to a lot of people. Pilgrims flock to hike this mountain during the Holy Week. It’ s just sad that people don’t know how to clean up after themselves, because the mountain became so polluted that the government had to close it off. Our clean-up climb to Mt. Banahaw (with the proper permits, of course) became one of the most memorable climb of my life (though I couldn’t say that it was because of the 12-kg backpack I was carrying while climbing over fallen trees and going under tree branches). I will never forget the tranquility that the Banahaw forest brought me during the ascent, but I think what was more memorable was the night on the summit. It was a clear and cool night, and the lights coming from the city below and the stars above made the moment magical. That climb made me believe that Banahaw is indeed enchanted, for i was put under its spell of majesty and tranquility.
8. SmögenVillage, Västra Götaland, Sweden – Smögen is a island in western Sweden that is highly dependent of fishing and summer tourism. The place is simply wonderful. I especially love taking in the view of the rock formations coupled with the vibrant blue of the sea and the clear sky while walking along the boats and the summer houses. I can just sit for hours and take in the sight and never get tired. Oh, and I wouldn’t mind devouring the crabs, crayfish and shrimps that are the specialty of the place.
9. On the ship deck, in the open sea – I got the chance to join a scientific cruise to gather geophysical data for the seas between Taiwan and the Philippines. For a month, we were in the open sea (and encountered four freaking typhoons) and at times, we weren’t able to see a body of land for several days. One of my favorite moments in that cruise was when we went out one night to the top deck. It felt so peaceful to just sit in the dark and feel the wind on your face. It was also wonderful to see the night sky with no other visual obstructions. You can just see the numerous stars (and an occassional shooting star if you’re lucky) when you look up. I also enjoyed just staring at the froth that the water made while the ship cuts the waves (yeah, I’m weird like that). Another favorite was whenever I was out on the deck during sunset. It’s wonderful to stare at the open sea with the sun setting on the horizon, and the sky breaking into a myriad of colors.
10. Hishikari Mine Underground, Kagoshima, Japan – (OK, nerdy me turning on) This is a mine with a world-class gold deposit. It boasts of having one of the highest gold grades (it’s like the percentage of gold in a rock) in the world. I was one of the lucky few allowed to go to the underground mine (around 35 m below) and check their highest grade deposits. We had to wear the standard coverall, helmet and steel-toe boots, complete with headlamp and mask. While I was standing there looking at the gold-rich veins, sweating my ass off from the natural underground heat, I was gripped by the miracle of earth processes. It’s just wonderful to see with your own eyes the evidence that the combination of cracks, heat and fluids can produce the most valued commodity.
So, there you go: my top ten. I realized in making this list that what I treasure most about traveling is the sense of wonder that it gives me, that “awwww” moment when I become captivated by a place. It also occurred to me how very big the world is, and how I can’t wait to see more, travel to new destinations and experience the magic that each place possesses.