A Travellerspoint blog

Johannesburg and my journey in Mandela's land

Landing in South Africa at dusk gives you that exhilarating yet sentimental feeling of being privileged but would also bring you sad thoughts of goodbyes.



I have traveled in other amazing African countries but last March 2016 was my first time to get to Johannesburg, South Africa's biggest city and it's main gateway to the rest of the world. Compared to other premier cities, I am enchanted by the wide open spaces that is hardly filled by its closely 5 million population. Yeah, compared to Manila's estimated 12 million, this has a large room for people to move around. One thing not to confuse with: South Africa is a country that is part of the Southern African region covering 15 countries (Angola, Botswana, Congo, Lesotho, Mauritius, Malawi, Madagascar, Seychelles, Namibia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa). Pretoria is its administrative capital (population: 690,000) while Johannesburg earns the tag as its biggest city with population close to 5 million. Of course you know that it's top tourist destination is Cape Town.


After an emotionally packed humanitarian work in the displaced camps of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the slowly fading sunset I watched from the car provided a perfect backdrop while pondering on the new journey ahead of me. How can sunsets be so dramatic anywhere in Africa? With a few backdrops of acacia trees at winter time, they're stunning! Traffic was heavy but at least moving - the city lights were awesome, almost welcoming. The challenge and privilege of doing the new assignment ahead of me felt daunting but what cannot be done by hard work and good intentions?


Taking advantage of the weekend breaks, first explorer's stop was the Soweto township, the Mandela Museum and Constitution Hill with MoAfrika Tours. All I did was email and they've quickly provided the schedule. Their tour service, which also included a ride-up the 30-storey building to see the sprawling city from the top, was prompt and well-planned, I joined 10-other tourists covering the city in one day. The prison stories in Constitution Hill, where apartheid detainees were held in appalling circumstances, was difficult to listen to - it is looking at the accounts you read in many books during the period. Mandela's struggle is right next in your face as the guide relives the era with passion. I just wonder what does that do to him emotionally?


If I can, I always take a day-tour in any city I go to so I get familiar with the sights and sounds before I go explore it myself. It helps me absorb the vibes and atmosphere. With the cold winter breeze blowing on a sunny day, I did exactly this finding a new Kenyan friend Caroline, a future lawyer, in the process. Together we walked through quietly and sadly at the Mandela Museum listening to our guide's account of the apartheid and a tumultuous history I just read in the books. I was feeling drained but it was a good walk through history.

Posted by LaguardiaC 01:59 Archived in South Africa Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises skylines city south africa johannesburg southern Comments (0)

Shopping, crazy taxi rides and Phnom Penh

Combining work and fun isn't an impossible thing; just go with the flow.

Leaving Siem Reap in our friendly taxi driver was one for Speed the Movie. He drove like there was no tomorrow. At a point, Steph and I almost locked our jaw in mild-scream when he tackled a huge truck – but avoided it just in time.

No amount of pretending to talk about work and anything we can think of has lessened my fear that anything can happen.

Nothing did, except for frayed nerves. We arrived in one piece. Then, when I got down to my hotel, I found out I was booked at Frangipani Siem Reap. The joke was on me that day. I eventually got a room at the Almond – which was a good replacement.

I am supposed to stay for four nights. On my 3rd, the hotel assistant asked why I haven’t checked-out yet. Gee, I thought the surprise has ended. I was able to keep my room, don’t worry.

I’d say it was a week full of mirth. Mirth is that bubbling laughter that can hardly be contained. This week I realized Phnom Penh is my second home.

Staple food includes French-style baguette stuffed with an assortment of fillings.

Staple food includes French-style baguette stuffed with an assortment of fillings.

You just feel comfortable with the place. No wonder nobody wants to leave (that’s my wild guess).

Of course, I didn’t miss going to Toul Tom Poung (or the Russian Market as many foreigners call it). Notwithstanding the heat, early shoppers crowded the stalls overflowing with all sorts of clothes and merchandise imaginable. If you think shopping is a stress-buster, try the market that might change your belief.

The best way to beat the bug is never to bring excess money more than what you budgeted for. I guarantee you that if you will – you will be way, way poorer that you every anticipated when you go back to your hotel.

I just found out Phnom Penh is known as the Pearl of Asia. While Siem Reap has Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh also teems of old but oh, so lovely French colonial buildings and historical architecture now standing proudly side-by-side with new high rises.

The first time I went to Phnom Penh in 2003, it was a sleepy place with roads generally unpaved. It has metamorphosed into a full-grown metropolis and is even building its highest office building downtown. I noticed that most of the tuktuks are newer and cleaner.

Some could complain but majority of the drivers I engaged were friendly and very helpful. Oh, the shop-keepers were so friendly – even if you messed up with their neatly folded shirts. Maybe I got lucky, but maybe it is also new wind blowing.

Good thing that some didn’t change. The Living Room was almost as its homey self almost three years since I last ate there. Distinctly obvious are the mushrooming of cafes and quaint diners, always with a good-running wifi connection.

Sisowan Quay at the long-stretch of the Mekong is much better than it was. When we went out for an early-morning breakfast, a good number of physical health enthusiasts were stretching and jogging while doves were being fed by excited children.

On my way to the airport, my taxi driver, after learning we’re early, drove slowly pointing at many tourist spots and new buildings. Now you know why it felt like home.
Sisowan Quay with grand view of the Mekong River is now so far different on my first visit. Its buzzling!

Sisowan Quay with grand view of the Mekong River is now so far different on my first visit. Its buzzling!

Posted by LaguardiaC 17:44 Archived in Cambodia Tagged parks market the in shopping cambodia river room holiday tuktuk back living rides travels mekong guesthouse khmer phnom penh frangipani coming surin thrill Comments (0)

Of donkeys, ripped luggages and glorious African moments

When I clinched a one-month assignment in four Southern African countries, it swooshed on me like a windfall. I never felt it was about work.

all seasons in one day -15 °C

"We think we control this place, but this place controls us" - Kuki Gallmann, I Dreamed of Africa

I staggered from sleeplessness squinting into a chilly, dark Nairobi skyline. Eyes-wide-shut. But a different kind of excitement was brewing inside me. Finally, I am in Africa - for an assignment I have been dreaming of for years. It doesn't matter if the work schedule was hectic. It felt like a grand holiday to me.

My itinerary said I would be spending over a week each in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Malawi and Kenya - with brief stopovers in Johannesburg, South Africa. Well, I thought of a real blast - nothing less. In-between project visits, I managed to squeeze wonderful opportunities to enjoy the absolutely stunning landscapes of each country - golden brown at dusk, with lots of friendly, wide smiles at any time of day. Simply unforgettable, I vowed to go back (even half-way through the assignment!).

The refreshing view of a wheat field from the sky on my way to Zimbabwe from a stopover in South Africa</p><p>Despite my overflowing interview notes, I managed to make a list of things I learned along the way. Here goes the [b

The refreshing view of a wheat field from the sky on my way to Zimbabwe from a stopover in South Africa

Despite my overflowing interview notes, I managed to make a list of things I learned along the way. Here goes the [b

Top 5[/b] I picked up and stored in my mind like precious stones. Some made me smile, the others made me blush (in embarrassment). There's more but the rest would best be divided for future blogs. You can wait, can't you?

1) Patience is a necessity. Make it double. We lined up for check-in @ the counter of my flight to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe an hour before departure. After an hour of standing, we're still there listlessly lined up, without anyone coming over to check us in - or to explain what's going on.

Even the neighboring counters just blankly mouthed a "no clue" at the getting-angrier passengers. Not worth the temper. After almost two hours, we were able to get checked-in and boarded. I asked a seat mate why the delay. He just shrugged and said, "Welcome to Africa!". I heard this several times in the course of my trip. Patience, I ticked - top priority! I got to store enough to get me through for a month.

[img=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/355456/DSC_0057.jpg caption=The week-long splurge on steak gave me my first-ever heartburn experience.

2) Don't assume. Check again. It was a Sunday, so I decided I should venture and go to a church in Nairobi. The friendly staff in Jacaranda Hotel where I stayed told me distinctly, that at the far-end of the road I need to get to an overpass on the left and cross. The church is across the road and can't be missed. But when I got there, as soon as I saw a cross jutting out, I entered. Mass was starting. Maybe the guy got it wrong? No need for an overpass at all. As the church service went along, I wondered why it seemed similar but different.

When a colleague and I passed the church again I told him I went there for Sunday's worship. He asked, "I thought you are Catholic? That's an Anglican Church." Ah, ok. Then we both doubled over laughing. Anyway, I loved the service and it was one of my most memorable moments in Kenya. The church was lovely, too, and parishioners warmly welcoming. There was only I time when I got puzzled why the priest - garbed in a vestment - was talking about his wife and children. That got answered at least.

[img=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/355456/DSC_0375.jpg caption=Huge, ripe tomatoes sold along the roads in Bulawayo.

3) Enjoy the worrying surprises. They don't last. As soon as it was my turn at the immigration line in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, I was told Filipinos are on a no-visa-no-entry status. Gosh! A searing worry crossed over me. The officer was quite stern-looking. I stared at my accompanying colleague waiting for his advise on what will be next but all I got was a wry smile. Then, in a blink, I was advised to pay for the entry visa. Whew!

When I reached for my bag I asked him why he didn't look worried. He said: :"If they're not giving you a visa, they would make the plane wait and get you on board fast." There's only one flight daily. Uh-huh. I sat relieved at the back of a huge pick-up car and enjoyed the yellowing trees ready for winter. Finally, Zimbabwe!

[img=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/355456/DSC_0042.jpg caption=The lush streets of Bulawayo at the onset of wintertime.

4) Don't put valuables and important documents in your checked-in luggage. If you do, be prepared of the consequence (this principle applies in all trips although some airports could be more notorious). When we arrived Maseru, Lesotho, 4 luggages were ripped open. I am glad I used a worn-out one nobody took interest. But come to think of it - if you just lugged your travel documents and lost your bag, sharp headaches will surely haunt you.

And don't forget to put a pair or two of clothes in your hand-carry. Just in case you don't like wearing the same wrinkled clothes and you have no time to shop after losing a luggage.

[img=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/355456/DSC_0141.jpg caption=Locals waiting for a bus along the highway of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

5) Elephants are not cute most of the time. When we passed an herd in Mombasa, Kenya, I requested the driver to stop for some pictures. A staff who accompanied me argued and never allowed me out of the car. He said a lot of rogue elephants roam around this part of the country and they can go wild for no reason, especially if it just lost a turf to another elephant. Huh, sounds very human. So, I put my photography skills on hold that day.

[img=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/355456/DSC_0406.jpg caption=Tiger clubs in Zimbabwe's Wildlife Orphanage once supported and visited by Princess Diana.

Our last argument that I won't forget in wrinkled irony was when I hardheadedly insisted: "I can always run when they come charging. They're heavy and slow". He answered me in a non-budging monotone: "They are slow. But they hardly get tired when they are after of something - or someone." He did not add, I am in-charge of your safe passage here, but I heard it loud and clear.

Sixth lesson learned, locals know better. Don't insist. It's for your own good.

[img=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/355456/DSC_0040.jpg caption=A homestead in a rural African village
[img=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/355456/zim_profile.jpg caption=Of course, the donkeys and me in Zimbabwe.

"Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Others stay awhile, make footprints on our hearts and we are never, ever the same". - I Dreamed of Africa


Posted by LaguardiaC 07:29 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Going Home and Everything In-Between

A week before the trip - ok, make it two for real - I slept and woke up thinking about getting off the plane in General Santos City (place strikes a chord?)


It was almost the same when you turn a DVD in and out of the player. Well, the thing is, it wasn't a trip after 20 years! I've been home like three months ago.

As Kenny Rogers blared over the music player, I left our Vientiane home with a lot of things in my mind – foremost of which is how to survive a sleepless night in Bangkok airport. I have done this a few times in the past years but I haven’t really mastered the art. I think I won’t.


I sauntered languidly coming out of the plane – I have 12 hours to kill. Bought some books at the airport shop, among them my own copy (finally!) of Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Now, I am fully equipped.

Well, I still have one more book being re-read in my bag to prep me up for the holiday break - Robin Sharma's The Monk who Sold his Ferrari. This one's an "almost" perfect company.


One of the quotes in the book that best describes what it is - "Life is no brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations." - George Bernard Shaw. Precious words to reflect on.

I went to Café World for a hot chocolate and free wifi, as I used to– only to find out the freebie is non-existent anymore. Maybe that was good, I thought of taking on sleep and successfully got two hours. Better than zero.


The hotel in Manila, where I usually stay, was good to me this time - gave me a real non-smoking room to sleep (better than last time)...and sleep I did as soon as I hit the bed. I didn't go out. Manila traffic is getting on to me - I guess I got spoiled by Vientiane's so-called traffic jam which can never be anywhere like Manila's or Jakarta's or Bangkok's.

After settling my excess baggage fees (at $4 per kilo now!), I smoothly went through my check-in, drank my first coffee after two days of holding back and started Kiyosaki's bestseller. Only one thing ran in my mind as I did - "I should have gotten the book as soon as it hit the bookshelves!"

Thirty minutes before take-off of my Philippine Airlines flight to General Santos City (yes, I live in close proximity to world boxing icon Manny Pacquiao and has shared flights with him when he was still starting and based in the city), a passenger shouted for an emergency - a friend was having an attack. It was unnerving. Traveling has its hazards. Good that she was with a group. What if you're alone?


Now, I am back home in Koronadal City sitting in my usual chair and enjoying the cramped bedroom I share with my two daughters and a niece.

Day two and counting. We will hit the beaches of Glan on weekend. Come follow me on this holiday!


My dad said it best when he said, "John, on your deathbed you will never wish you spent more time at the office." - The Monk who Sold his Ferrari


Posted by LaguardiaC 03:50 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Sarangani Travel Twists

Bare setting gets a head-turn


I have known the road like I lived there. Just don't let me drive to prove my point, ok? After several years, not much has changed in the General Santos City to Sarangani route - which makes things just perfect. I loved the way it is and a deep wish is to keep it on hold for the longest time. That's a bit selfish of me, I know.

The scenes along the way are breathtaking in their simplicity - friendly locals on motorbikes loaded with farm produce from Malapatan and nearby towns, rusting bridges with interesting characters of their own (there was heavy rain the night before we traveled so the rivers were still noisily guzzling through), the combined blue and green landscapes interspersed with mountains on one side and a dazzling sea on the other. Enterprising farmers sell tuba (native coconut wine) along the road, making me remember how our father Eling (a fierce tuba fan and an expert on making it) would climb several trees with his bamboo tube firmly strung on his back every afternoon to collect it straight from the top. Our car was loaded with the entire family and food in containers to last for a week (we stayed only for a night but the food was gone all the same) but that did not hamper our delight for the attractions past our car's tinted windows on the left and on the right.

Sarangani beach dazzles

Sarangani beach dazzles

Mornings in Sarangani

Mornings in Sarangani

Located at the tip of the Philippines' southern part of Mindanao, Sarangani is a gem awaiting full discovery. If not for travel advisories hounding interested travelers, its long stretch of beaches will give Boracay a run for its money in no time. To bar arguments, that's my own personal forecast. I bet many hands are up! Glan, especially. Glan has become a favorite destination because of its Gumasa beaches courtesy of Sarangani Bay. White sand. Pristine. Unadulterated. No 5-star hotels here but you don't need one when you have the natural amenities for free. Locals should enjoy this while it lasts. This is also part of boxing great Manny Pacquiao's turf now as a newly-elected congressman. All these pluses and more, the beaches are a stand-out winner.

Sarangani Bay at dusk

Sarangani Bay at dusk

Mornings in Sarangani

Mornings in Sarangani

Our first stop was a small resort that looked good on the web. After few phone calls, the reservation was set. When we got there, we decided to check first before we give it a go. Thumbs up we did. It was a downer. Let's not name the poor place that looked like it was trying to get by. Next stop was White Haven Resort. We haven't heard rave reviews about it but after analyzing (yes, even going to beaches on an overnight stay needs serious analysis) that the next resort is still quite a distance, we decided to stay put. It was a make or a break. Mentally, I was prepared for another downer - there goes my brief holiday. It you always get perfect vibes on trips - how can that end up exciting?

Sarangani Bay at dusk

Sarangani Bay at dusk

But surprise awaits! We got a tail-end 2-bedroom beach house after waiting for at least over an hour. The receptionist was kind enough to let us stay temporarily at an open cottage where we ate lunch - and feasted on the smelly but mouth-watering durian. The occupants of our assigned house were supposed to leave after an hour but seemed planning to change their minds. We paid the bill and decided not to give in if it happens. Good for them they didn't. For around US$60, we have the jolly little cottage with a grill, a cooking range, a veranda overlooking the beach and all its wide-expanse, a large bamboo table with long wooden benches that can double as beds when you do not feel like soiling the bedsheets. One of the rooms is air-conditioned and it was good to have a choice when it got warm at night.

White Haven beach cottage

White Haven beach cottage

So, White Haven lived up to its name. Perfectly. I am no beach bum but it was one of the very few times in my life (Phuket, Mombasa and Bali included) when I stayed on the water up to midnight, strong waves (and biting jellyfish) notwithstanding. That does not make the other beaches less enticing but being a Mindanao native makes the heart more biased I suppose. Sunset was a glorious sight (you might have read this pronouncement somewhere but cannot think of a better phrase to describe what I saw)! My 72-year old mom happily concurred - you have to take it seriously. She does not agree easily - it took a lot of spins to market the family holiday on her - and take her off her rocking chair at home.

Sunrise was heavenly. I mean almost literally - with soft clouds dotting the skies. We uncomfortably laid down on our backs and tried our niece's way of looking at the sky - it was surreal, like having your bedroom ceiling in soft blue and white - only on this one, sky is the limit (pun intended). I do not know how these two sights found one place for an open exhibition. But they did.

Then came the local vendors where we bought fish for breakfast - so straight from the sea goes the newly-caught to our waiting charcoal grill. I cannot also imagine (poor in Math that I am) how all the food crowding in the car got lost in seven tummies - not counting the ones we bought along the way and those from the vendors. That is a mystery that better remained as one, I guess.

This is what we did last summer. Just the beach and us. But it will always remind me of one good reason why I need to go home to the Philippines every time there is a chance - even at the smallest of excuses. After several years of traveling - 17 countries and counting - there is certainly no place like home.

Sarangani Bay at dusk

Sarangani Bay at dusk

Posted by LaguardiaC 16:04 Archived in Philippines Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises beaches sky Comments (3)

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