A Travellerspoint blog

Ziplining the treetops and greens in Lake Sebu

The long queue in the zipline zone is proof that Lake Sebu is fast living up to its name as one of Mindanao's best summer hang-outs.

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Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, Philippines - Today, we discovered a trick. The best way to get the kids off their beds very early in the morning is to announce a trip, particularly a ziplining and eating trip...in Lake Sebu!

By 7:00 am, everyone has bathe, taken breakfast and in the car. Ready to go. Sounds like a miracle but true. For these human beings who have the uncanny talent to sleep on until lunchtime, it was, indeed, a feat to remember.

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Everyone's mind was filled with the zipline agenda. Eating lunch overlooking the famous lake in Punta Isla Resort became a poor second. I knew it was a temporary reprieve. Wait until we finish with the trek - food will be an obsession, as always.

We shoot past the zipline area in Lake Sebu's 7 Falls and have to go back as we kept asking where it is. The uphill trip of our car Avi was in itself a nice, refreshing experience. The government is doing a great job preserving the natural environment - the lush, greening vegetation fully intact. Even if the road was a bit rough, it was obviously well-maintained.

We were early but the line was already long. Our 3 zipline enthusiasts toed the line like eager beavers - anxious yet excited. According to Rene Edjan, one of the 11 landowners of the estimated 20 hectare-area, as many as 400 people troop for the experience during weekends and holidays. The slowest day could generate not less than 10 people.

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"Sometimes, it is even hard for us to control the crowd who often come as far as Manila and neighboring cities like Davao, General Santos and even Ilo-ilo. Everyone is just too excited to wait", Rene said.

Ziplining has started in Lake Sebu only last year but already, the income has gone over P3 million (around US$70-80,000). Rene added that he has owned and tilled the land since 1955. This time, they seemed to have struck gold as local tourists keep coming.

I have seen it 10 years ago and it is still awe-inspiring, its beauty stood pat through time. We briefly talked to a woman who was busy getting shells. Unmindful of the visitors lined up to see the waterfalls from a bridge, she told us she got enough for a day's meal.

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I cannot help but feel proud that this wonderful place is just in our vicinity and the locals know well how to preserve it as nature deserves.

Going ziplining is more than just gliding through the heights. One gets more pluses with the unbelievably beautiful sights that can only be found in Lake Sebu.

On our way back, Avi took some serious grunts while being maneuvered to a climb. Stones crunched. After stalling for few more minutes, we were able to survive the challenge. Avi delivers! As the kids filled the car with their adventure, we all headed for the much-awaited food part.

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Note: Lake Sebu is a thriving municipality in South Cotabato, in the southern part of the Philippines. To get here, you take a roughly 2-hour plane ride from Manila to General Santos City, go by land for another 2 hours. Taxis and passenger vans are available for hire. If you do not have friends who can host you, there are guest houses. Zipline operators do not take reservations and follow the first-come, first-served policy.

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Please visit my other blog http://www.istoryya.com/ for a hodgepodge of stories.

Posted by LaguardiaC 20:03 Archived in Philippines Tagged landscapes waterfalls bridges people trees travel lake philippines holiday sebu Comments (0)

Taking On Underground River in Palawan

If you are claustrophobic, better stay in the wharf. If you love going into the unknown, then go for it!

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I have an adventurous spirit. The Underground River in Palawan will be a breeze. Or, so I thought. When I put on my life-jacket, I know my life literally depended on it. I was smiling but a bit edgy. Can't swim but venturing out on an uncharted underground deep? What else was there to feel? Friends assured me it's exciting. It's a different experience. I gotta try or miss half of my life. If I won't, then I am too old to try when I go back. Sometimes friends can be too honest bordering on an unveiled sarcasm.

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The river was sparkling. Palawan is the last frontier and lives up to its tag. Green waters, my favorite. This side of the Philippines definitely knows how preserve what should and must be. As the boatman rowed towards the entrance of what looked like a jagged cave, there was a rush of excited whispers. Darkness set in before some fumblings -then there was light. The guide was talking but I wonder if our group, majority of them foreigners, were in full attention.

Everyone was busy making their cameras work. In that pitch black condition, the points-and-shoots were almost hopeless, much more if you use the flash. Forget it. Still, brave souls were trying as the guide moves on with his work - listeners or none, undaunted.

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He was saying stalactites and stalagmites, droned by mixed feelings and reactions. I cannot figure out the difference. The limestone formations were awesome - and unnerving. What if they go down on all of us, being there for hundreds of years? I can't swim. Not even in the bath tub. It was a 8.2km-long ride of my life. I am glad I learned it too late, or else I would have chickened-out.

It was serenely quiet inside. If you have a friend who talks too much - a trip to the river would do the trick to encourage the quiet. Maybe for a lot of reasons. Scared, I suppose. Numbed, most likely. Awed - oh, well. Most of the time, just simply stumped. When you want the most of the experience, you need to keep your mouth tightly shut. Or you lose it. I tried my best.

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I forgot what I did for that hour-long journey to darkness and light. In some instances I tried to get my Nikon to work. The battery was almost spent with the effort. Then, I got mentally busy thinking about the "what-ifs". Gliding in a boat inside a cave with a bottomless water below you was not really my kind of thrill. As we got half-way, I began to enjoy the calm. It was hard to clearly see the rocks in varying edges and graying shades - but I know they're trying to tell people something. I am not sure what - but your imagination can take you as far as its limit.

As we reached the end of the ride, a new boat came in. New faces, new versions of how the trip went. It is so much like life - everything depends on how you view things. Are you going in or not? Once inside, will you enjoy or suffer in paranoia? Sink in or swim? I'd sink without the jacket, that's for sure (maybe even with one). Ah, well...getting a hang on a situation can sometimes be normal. We're not Superman. Name any super hero you want.

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There are times when its good to accept that we also buckle. I wonder how this talk got into a supposedly-adventurous trip. Maybe I am descending, I need to get out of the cave. When we all got up from the boat, a chorus of sighs (relief?) took over the calm. Then, the chatter rose in a crescendo - both negatives and positives at the same time. One more exciting, life-defining trip done. Definitely, more coming up!

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Posted by LaguardiaC 00:33 Archived in Philippines Tagged mountains people sea boat river cave palawan underground boatride Comments (0)

Now, that you've landed...Vientiane 2.0

You can't really have enough of the place. You can't. Unless you try it for a year or two, that's a maybe. The thought of staying is a sweet thing. People don't live this simply anymore (I know, I know, I already stressed that in my other blog).

Life's simple surprises still happen in Vientiane. Such as ... eating khao niaw (sticky rice) straight from a bamboo basket. Or joining that heart-warming baci ceremony to welcome and thank guests for visiting. Or being welcomed by children and community people lined up with bunch of flowers. The last time I did this in a remote village, I got misty-eyed. I felt like Michelle Obama (presuming I guessed it right how she feels in a red-carpet walk). When I opened the floral wrap, a child has written what her dream is - to go to school. If I wasn't thinking of making a you scene, I would have cried a river. Very sweet, without really trying. I hope I am not drifting.

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Can you remember a pizzeria entrance looking this great? I've been dying to get this picture for a long time. I did finally, while we were on our way to Qua Din Market for our week's food supply. To top it, right across the road, one of the yummiest paos (asado or bola-bola?) are being cooked and sold right in the street.

Barely 10 minutes away is the Swedish Pizza. It's a runaway favorite. Next to that heavenly curry-flavored thin-crust pizza I ate in Chennai, India - this one could convince you to eat pizza forever. Having friends who knows where the right places for food is, sometimes (careful...being lynched by friends is not a good thing), not an advantage to your healthy diet. Resisting the urge is a sweet torture. Then, you give in. I guess, that's why food was invented. You learn the art of failed resistance.

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Floral offerings make Vientiane's streets really eye-popping. Watch out during Pimai (Lao New Year) and there's a rowdy display of colors, sizes and shapes. Imagine them side-by-side with the walking monks in their orange robes, just perfect for a Nikon stop.

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The Lao's take their creativity and ingenuity seriously even on the smallest of details. These boat-shaped Buddhist offerings come in amazing colors and designs along with the candles. They dot the homes and shops during celebrations and boat-racing festivities.

Forgetting where we were and that the acronym in Lao PDR could stand for "please don't rush", we went very early to witness the boat-racing festival along the Mekong. We've been waiting for it for months! Well, at 6:30am, the streets are deserted. Except for few rowing boats that were being spruced up, nothing seems to be moving. So, we got worried the race was over. We assumed foolishly that it will be done very early. We found out in stinted hand language that they do it in the afternoon. Ahhh...we're way too early. We ambled around shops and busied ourselves watching crowds at the temples. Then, we got back terribly late - in time for the race to call it a day and the boats were rowing away. We ended watching the sun set. At least it was breath-taking...an unexpected solace.

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Then, there's this shopping street along the Mekong. Shops and street cafes compete for your attention. But the night market would always be the winner. It is fun to bargain with the shop ladies. They're too nice to get upset when you crumple all the merchandise - and ready to laugh away the language barrier.

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Here goes your limousine. The tuktuk is a runaway (literally) choice when doing an authentic tour around Vientiane. Taxis are few and far between...and pricey, if I may add. Just be ready to zoom in and out of traffic. It is safer to shut your mouth and have fun. Scared stiff? Hold on to your seat! "Baw pen yang"!

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How can stop yourself from keep coming back? Kob Chai Deu Restaurant's ambiance is as unforgettable as its food. A plateful of spring rolls is a must, make it two if you want. A watering hole of many falangs (foreigners), its lunchtime eat-all-you can will keep you wanting for more.

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Then, there's Swensen. Well, we know of a dirty ice cream shop down the road that tastes even more exciting. But if you're thinking of a slow day chatting with a friend over a delightful cup strawberry ice cream, then this is your place. It's nice to people-watch as Lao Plaza, one of the biggest hotels in town, is just around the corner. Don't miss Rashmi's bread at the corner. I am not a regular but get to go when I am bullied by my kids to empty my wallet.

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Gosh, "phet" (spicy and hot)! There's no other way to eat the Lao papaya salad but hot. Minced tomatoes, fish sauce, shredded papaya, condiments and a load of chili. I hate spicy food but when it comes to this and tom yum soup, I endure and persevere. Some things you accept you cannot change without ruining what they were on earth for. It's worth the sweat and tears. Sugar and cold water, please!

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Rice cakes being dried on the streets of Vientiane. Delectable, I should say. Don't let it cross your mind that flying dusts from passing vehicles could add more to flavor and taste. The last time I checked the local papers, nobody got to the hospital eating rice cakes. I am still contemplating but one of these days, I will.

Right on the left of Vientiane's Cultural Hall, so grandiose you can't miss this building, is a small unassuming food shop selling grilled fish and other local food. It doesn't even have a name. But one curiouser would not fail to notice that it is crowded at lunch time. From bank employees to sales girls to tourists. The shop's secret is no secret at all. They whip up the best iced-coffee in town! Hold your breath...one order is a pitcher-full of native coffee and condensed milk with lots of crushed ice. Don't ever try it if caffeine keeps you away at night. This one could keep you awake for a week - your boss will be happy you worked 24-hours without stopping. I am exaggerating, of course. I just don't know how to describe that the experience is mind-blowing. Regardless of the repercussions, this is a not-to-be-missed treat. But don't tell me I never warned you.

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Lest you accuse me of trying to play chef, I am veering away from all that diet-wrenching stuff. I think I gained 10 pounds just writing about them. The splendid Mekong River overlooking Thailand on the other side at dusk. Now that view decks have been built, the park is drawing a long line of gawkers. Just don't wonder how those exercisers ended up as children swings, I have no answer. But if they make the children feel good, why not let them?

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These are sight for sore eyes. The magnificent Prime Minister's Office, in its white splendor - and the Friendship Gong of Nations in Pathuxay Park - will always get you to take a step back.

There's more to Vientiane than meet's the eye. I'd say a bursting package in one small box. There's even more to keep those bulges stretching forever.

Posted by LaguardiaC 07:34 Archived in Laos Tagged laos vientiane Comments (3)

Where on earth is Vientiane?

When I wrote Vientiane as my current address, the bank employee asked, "Is this city in Europe?". Maybe he was thinking of Venice...or a place anywhere in France.

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I sort of expected the question. Much like being Google Earth turned human. I get it all the time that I am beginning to consider a tourism job here (not that I qualify). I've been doing a lot of briefing about the place since I came - friends, acquaintances and people I get to sit with in flights. Those blank stares look familiar. Let me do it one more time. Vientiane is the capital city of Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR), otherwise known as Laos, the (once) Land of a Million Elephants. It's not anywhere near Europe but right here in South East Asia - idly draping the historic Mekong River.

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The Pathuxay Monument is the Lao version (almost) of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. According to Lonely Planet, the US-cement used for this monument was supposedly intended for building an airport.

Languid and quiet, Vientiane is an icon of friendliness and warmth. All you need to get by is to wear a nice smile and say "sabaidee", a local greeting that covers almost everything from welcome to good morning, evening and night. The Laos would return that in a jiffy. A kind of warmth that does not come easy in many places nowadays. Only in Vientiane. Only in Laos.

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The Vientiane night market at the Mekong River is a colorful mix of Lao handicrafts, hand-embroidered and handwoven cloths, wood carvings, silver wares and trinkets. Just prepare to bargain like crazy.

When I boarded my flight for my first trip to Vientiane, I was filled with so many misgivings - and a prick of excitement that one usually gets when visiting a new country. But I didn't anticipate fireworks to go with it (much less a marching band). I've been traveling like crazy around Asia but it took me years to drop by. Ah, I thought it wouldn't work. I cannot stay for six months, much less two years. I am beginning to eat my words as I speak. A joke going around is that the country's national motto is "Please slow down". Me, slow down? Haven't thought of the words for a long time. In this age of multi-tasking, who can run and hide from the frenzied world. Nah, it doesn't exist.

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Wat Sisaket is said to be the oldest temple in Laos, made in 1819. Something tugs in your heart watching the orange-clad monks as they serenely enter the temple.

I was floored, but very gradually at least. It does exist. Surrounded by all the frenzy of growing Asian cities, it has managed to hold on to its own comfortable footing. It's like the rest of the world rushes in full speed - as Vientiane takes a stroll and gets the privilege of enjoying the view. The world is almost on full-stop. Almost. On Sundays, you can walk all you want around the city with very rare annoyances of crowding and speeding cars.

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The Lao National Museum in front of the massive Cultural Hall.

I always smile (that's almost daily) when the ever-patient Lao's bring up the morning "traffic". You can't call that traffic when the car stopped for five minutes, can you? Just watch out for the tuk-tuks, the drivers could drive like crazy. Once when my friendly tuk-tuk driver zoomed in and out of big cars like a jet, I howled in fright - all I got was a baw pen nyang (no problem) with a huge grin. He's right. I survived.

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The Xieng Khuan or Buddha Park built in 1958 is interestingly composed of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures. A bit eerie for my taste, its unimaginable to be left behind here at night. It is, however, a calming sight watching Lao women do their worship and offerings.

Then, there's Joma. I suggest it be considered part of the city treasure - and I am not talking of Joma in Luang Prabang yet. A favorite hang-out of yuppies and expats and bums (that's my future dream, to become one and afford it), their coffee choices could give Starbucks a run for its money. Not counting their BLT, quiche (spinach for me), taco salad and cookies. Between the two - I'd spend my hard-earned dollar on Joma, anytime. A Laos trip won't be complete if you missed a visit. If you are on a diet, you are in big trouble as soon as you hit the door.

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I love Joma's caramella - hot or iced. My friend Steph (visit her site http://colorcloudhammocks.com/) would willingly trade her bed (pillows and blanket included) for an early-morning coffee trek to Joma. It is habit forming. So tricky you're hooked even before you figured out. Every Vientiane trip gets more much-awaited and sleepless and incredibly breathless with the thought of slouching in the cafe's chair, coffee in hand.

Ah, well, so we end this up momentarily with coffee in our minds. Lao coffee is one the best, and I agree with a government executive's final word. He downs four large cups in a day. Only Lao coffee or nothing. There's more to life than running after deadlines, lugging bags in airports, catching-up with emails and watching your day start and end with tons of reports. Even before I got half-way with my Lao tour-of-duty, I woke up realizing a lot of better things we can do to fill our days - like doing nothing in between napping and reading the books accumulated in airport bookstores unread for months.

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Your Lao world does not just turn around Joma, of course. Let's be clear on that. There's khao jji paa-tee, French baguette with Lao fillings that you can buy even at the bus station, the khao niaw (sticky rice) paired of with ping pao (grilled fish) and the absolutely heavenly avocado shake in Sabaidee Cafe. Other restaurants abound serving international dishes. Swedish Pizza does the best pasta and pizza in town. My mouth waters.

Now, let me go back to The Scarpetta Factor. I'll give you a rundown of Luang Prabang the next time I find my way to my computer keys.

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Posted by LaguardiaC 07:36 Archived in Laos Tagged monument laos vientiane tuktuk mekong joma pathuxai Comments (2)

1.0 Many bests in life are...in Davao!

Prepare for a feast. At all turns. Except for firecrackers on December, this city offers fun not just half-way, but all the way.

Be forewarned - this is the start of many. Let's do a bit of hiking after taking on beaches two blogs in a row. Where else would it best be - Davao, of course!

I will treat you to a rollicking ride in our red car cum van one more time. Overloaded. Again. This time there's 10 of us...and voila, no room for the food and all the luggage. I am glad tinted windows were invented! Bar none, Id be on a mask (though I remember wearing my largest sunglasses) during the trip in case people dared a peek inside. You see, each of us were assigned at least one bag. Remember, no more room...and the only available space was in our laps. So, that was how we looked like on our way to Eden Nature Park and Resort. Go picture. More cargo than human beings. If our uncle, who was driving, allowed us, he would have his share of the burden, too. But safety first, so he was exempted. We're getting good at bearing all the inconveniences for the sake of a much-needed family holiday.

A warm welcome at Eden's entrance

A warm welcome at Eden's entrance

Going there was a build-up of excitement as the route went uphill and the sights gradually transformed into mountains and a smattering of huts and fruit stands along the way. Getting off the car to a refreshing sight of greens and pine trees (said to be 100,000 of them around) was as close to paradise as one can imagine. So, we're inside Eden. This 80-hectare mountain resort has probably logged a million guests since it was discovered in 1971. That's just my best guess - judging from the non-stop flow of visitors decades after it was opened. The resort is always fully-booked, a favorite site for company events and family holidays. We did our reservation a month before - and got a nice, spacious log cabin that has a lot of room for all of us - and a niffy-little kitchen for a cook-fest.

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The etheral jade vine

Holidays are always synonymous with food for Filipinos. If you disagree I bet you're in the minority. I cannot remember so much fuzz about hiking and sights and reservations. It was food that was on top of the worry-list. Better to have more, than less, a battle cry that's becoming more and more painful to the wallet. I can hear my daughters' whining of "ruined diets" on the side, the same human beings who lugged all that grocery bags with junks. Does not add up - never will. For a close of few precious minutes, food was forgotten and exploration was on everyone's topmost agenda. I've been to Eden several times, but I found - this one's cheesy but true - a mountain of difference when you are with family. The rowdy cast definitely changes the landscape and the feeling. Ok, that's going farther than cheesy.

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Lagoon and water lilies

Eden lives up to its name. Paradise. Nature. Fresh air. A long array of floral delights. Greens and greens as far as your eyes can feast on. A gastronomical treat of organic food. Ever the self-proclaimed green thumb, my sister was beside herself with excitement. Her most pressing mission is how to bring a seed of this and that to add to her already crowded garden collection back at home, amidst reminders that its not allowed. Recently, I saw one floral vine nicely growing at home that looked familiar. Hmmnn, did she or didn't she? As soon as the bags were at our cabin's doorstep, everyone disappeared for a walking spree. At least there was hope for those calories to be burned after all. The orchard right in front of cabin was finally explored, fruit trees scrutinized and discussed extensively. My vocabulary lag by a hundred miles at these agricultural phenomenon so I just hemmed and hawed pointlessly. Now, you know when you want me quiet.

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An herb and organic garden. There was basil, lettuce and rosemary along with others I completely forgot. There was grandma's garden with a buffalo and a cart. The buffalo has been there standing and accommodating visitors for decades so it mustn't be real. Close to is it a thatch-roofed bamboo hut - a copy of the typical house in the rural areas - although most people would prefer the hot tin roof nowadays. Detached from other cabins, the location was perfect for us. We can talk and shout the night away and nobody will protest. No air-conditioning needed. While the city itself is close to 30C at that time, Eden enjoys a cool breeze owing to the abundant trees around it. The night was chilly, everyone bundled up bracing for the next day's rolling junket. That is, after finishing off what was laid on the table.

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Our big feat was that my 82-year old mom at least admitted she was enjoying the trip (after her near boycott). As I said, convincing her was like doing your algebra. There was at least a week of persuasive efforts to ge her to agree that the trip was way better than her rocking chair. The entire bunch had fun walking and running and catching-up with stories already told and re-told. The icy pool was not spared. Despite the cold water at dusk, everyone jumped in and swam as we continued to dig up family inanities and history out in the vault. Tip - if you're planning to document your family history, try bringing them to Eden. During conversations, my mom would chime in out of the blue (often out of context) and get us to laughing fits without really trying. Fading memory isn't that hopeless afterall. It has its own purpose and value - depending on what side you're looking at.

To be continued. 2.0 coming up.

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Posted by LaguardiaC 07:03 Archived in Philippines Tagged landscapes mountains skylines trees sky hills travel sunrise sunsets holiday fruits Comments (2)

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