Into the Heart of Mexico II

The essence of knowing a place is beyond what our camera lenses and words can capture. It is beyond that famous tourist spot. Beyond the sights and sounds we easily remember. But we are lucky that we feel and that our hearts remember so that when we recall memories, we find out that the feelings from the experience are alive. They are the ones that really stay with us.

Whether it is a short trip out of town, a retreat by the mountains or a surrender at the beach or a rare opportunity to be in another country, I try to remember the sensations and write down my reflections or realizations. Sometimes, I don’t get to write them until after weeks, or a month, or months, or a year. Like this writing comes thirty-three days after I arrived.

Reflections and realizations are what makes traveling a learning, to some, life-changing. But they are also the ones that make you realize that wherever you go, you carry your home with you. Perhaps, because our home is inside. So, maybe, traveling, as a process most would describe as getting lost, is just about finding ourselves again. Or seeing what we have been failing to see. Or realize what we have been missing back home.

When I saw the Monument of the Revolution in Mexico City, I remembered what a friend said about how we could have immortalized the lessons of martial law but that we failed to do so. It seems difficult for the youth these days to see and believe that martial law during the Marcos regime was a dark time in history. But it is not difficult to believe the horrors of the holocaust because they have been immortalized in journals and museums. Perhaps, one reason why almost each one of us has a level of fascination with histories is because it is how we connect to our past and they are our mirrors—a reminder of how our present and future can be. They help us move into the direction that we want and evolve or regress.

When I was at Centro Historico, the seat of the Aztec ruins, where you can find the metropolitan cathedral and the national palace, where Aztec artists bang the drums and dance to the beat, while hundreds of people, probably, thousands, come and go to hear a mass, while tourists revel in the beauty of this expansive main square, I asked my Mexican friend, “what does this mean to Mexicans?” “Do you think this means something?” I added. “I doubt,” he said. It is possible that he is in a way disconnected or distant to the history of his city, but it is also possible that historical or archaeological or cultural centers like this have lost relevance to the lives of its people and that it will stay like that until they help us correct mistakes in our history—or until such time they serve to actually make our countries, the lives of the people, better. Look at the EDSA People Power Revolution in the Philippines and how the country has not really changed twenty to thirty years after.

Truly, Centro Historico was beautiful. I could almost cry with joy when we were approaching the main square, because it reminds you of the glories of ancient civilization and they make you see the beauty of human creations. It is in the air. I could taste it.

Some three-to-four hours away from Mexico City by bus is San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato. It is a charming place. The culture is so vibrant you see it in the streets—the music, the food, the souvenirs, the celebrations. I was in the city of Guanajuato in the same state of the same name sometime in May last year. Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende have almost the same features—the long and winding roads of cobblestone, the vibrant colors of houses sitting on the slopes of a hill, the awe-inspiring architecture of different churches and shops—including a Starbucks coffee shop that seemed to have no choice but to blend into the features of San Miguel. The difference, I would say, is that I would liken San Miguel de Allende to a woman and Guanajuato to a man. It has a softer, more feminine features. It is probably the tunnels when entering and when in Guanajuato that makes me think it is more masculine, plus the mummies and El Pipila and the riding of the funicular to get there. San Miguel is more relaxed and graceful, like a woman walking, her dress flowing, swaying with the wind.

When my bus to Mexico City was leaving San Miguel, we saw a rainbow, and it stayed for a while. I knew then that the time that I was in Mexico was a crack to let a whole new light in, to a new way of seeing, thinking, feeling and willing. And I wasn’t wrong. Those angel-winged hearts at the souvenir shop were trying to tell me something.

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Hearts and Jacarandas in Mexico

Something in my heart bloomed with the jacarandas in Mexico. I didn’t realize until a little after the start of spring that the universe has prepared to align events according to the decision that I have made to pursue a path many months ago. I didn’t expect it, but I had a feeling that I knew that this was going to come. I just didn’t know when. And so I am reminded by what my favorite travel writer realized when he was traveling in Japan where he met the woman he would want to spend the next chapters of his life with. “None of the things in life—like love or faith—was arrived at by thinking; indeed, one could almost define the things that mattered as the ones that came as suddenly as thunder,” he said.

I just finished my HeartMath certification training in Phoenix when I flew to Mexico City. When I was fine-tuning my travel plan earlier this year, I knew that the ensuing weeks or months after Phoenix should be a time to let the learnings percolate—through my heart, through my being. So all these weeks that had passed had been part of what I call my incubation period in this heart-fullness practice. This practice of connecting to and listening to my heart.

When I was in Mexico City, the universe has given me opportunities to make choices from a more peaceful place. That place where you are able to quiet down the noise, to calm the turbulence, to become more accepting, to become more loving, that is, to graciously receive and wholeheartedly give. When we quiet down the voice of expectations, in giving and loving, and consciously replace the forming feeling of disappointment with joy and appreciation, we open our hearts and we connect and radiate that quality of the heart. It creates a space that allows others to be what they are—the best that they can be. It is a sacred space where we connect through our hearts, trusting and believing, intuitively knowing that you will be received. I had been bad at receiving in the past. This time has taught me that receiving is a joyful thing just as giving is.

The universe has mastered the art of timing. There wouldn’t have been a better time to meet somebody in my life than now when I have committed to a path of perpetually learning self-awareness, of less attachments, of recognizing the ego, of overcoming the shadow, heartfulness and spiritual communion.

It’s been three weeks since I was back in Cebu, and I feel deep joy and appreciation for meeting this man in this lifetime. Each time I tune into my heart and send its essence to his, I feel its fullness and wholeness. There are moments when I sit still, in deep awe of knowing that another being on the other side of the planet feels it when I tend to and communicate through my heart. The heart has the capacity to connect beyond space, or physical presence. Non-locality is a real experience and we only need to cultivate the qualities of our hearts.

We have our circumstances, and we may not be physically together, but my joy and appreciation keep vibrating because once upon a time, when the jacarandas bloomed at the start of spring in Mexico, I met my twin flame. He who says it feels like this isn’t the first time we’ve ever met. I know.

Hale Manna and Novembers

These are photos from November 2015 when I hopped on a bus, alone, to seek refuge at Hale Manna, for the second year. Life in the city gets harsh, and although ours is a time when we are learning that we can stay in one place to be still and rest from the constant motion of things—or events—the process of leaving and arriving from one place to another facilitates the same process of leaving and arriving from one state to another. The feeling of getting used to some things, or getting comfortable with situations we’re in, needs to be shaken lest we fall deeper into our complacencies and familiarities. Because feelings like this do atrophy and we hardly notice when we are no longer moving towards the direction of our dreams—or our truths.

This particular time I went to Hale Manna was different from the usual times we go to the beach where the sun is high and burning bright and the water sparkles at its reflection. Clouds hovered above, the sea was blue gray, not a tinge of the pink and orange glory at sunrise and at sunset. But, see, the charm of Hale Manna never ceases when the sun is gone. The lush gardens, the stillness of the sea, the palpable dew that is in the air, the calm in colors and the energy that wrapped around me were reassuring of a presence in the absence of shine, of sparkle, of glitter.

November has been associated with darkness and the dead. Or with grief and anguish, cold and chilling like the proverbial Guns N’ Roses’ November Rain.

But  isn’t it that it is in the darkest that we find our most enduring light? And isn’t it that we feel most alive when we have gone through dying? November for me is a time of rebirth, and so I welcome tomorrow with a boldness of the heart.

 

 

 

  

 

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Into the Heart of Mexico – May 2016

I wanted to start with the trees in León. Because I fall in love with cities of lush trees, and decent sidewalks, and bike lanes, and wide, open spaces to add to that. Somebody tells me that Guadalajara actually has more trees, but I still love the fact that even non-major roads in León have trees. It tells me that the vision to have preserved them goes beyond superficial beautification and a main thoroughfare showoff. Being from a city—and a country—where it’s mostly bad sidewalks and dangerous roads for bikers, I get fascinated with places that offer the opposite. I like bringing home the good news that it can be done.

There is also something about a church next to a church, that is next to another, and plazas next to them, that feel very much like home. Although gatherings at plazas, in some cultures like ours, have been stereotyped as uncool or “baduy” in the Filipino language, I think that the practice is part of a heritage that societies need not be ashamed of. The plazas represent a central activity for genuine human interaction—conversations, stories, music, dances, crafts, or the arts, in general. It has ties to something of historical significance that has been passed on through generations.

As almost everyone realizes, the culinary heritage of Mexico is one of the best, and it has raised my standards for good food. One doesn’t have to be a connoisseur to know good food, I think. And, yes, appreciation is subjective, but the creative, or intuitive, ways in which Mexicans cook or prepare food and the delightful blend of flavours in most dishes that I have tried is heaven. The combinations of different salsas and guacamole, dishes stuffed with cheese, or with chipotle sauce, the hint of smokey sweetness and the blend of flavours they create together is something I will probably not find outside of Mexico. I hope yes. The variations in the softness or the hardness of the tortilla depending on the dish, I think, is also cunning. I love chilaquiles paired with fajitas de arrachera and fried banana. It’s my kind of perfect gastronomic combo.

I love having seen the city of Guanajuato within the state of the same name. León is also in Guanajuato. While León is more of a commercial center and industrialized, at that, Guanajuato is a colonial city—a picturesque setting of bright-colored houses sitting atop the hill and the valley below, baroque architecture, cobbled pathways, alleyways and underground passages that bring you from one place to another.

I have been told that it was once a mining city, why the tunnels. One thing about being in Guanajuato that takes you on a dreamy experience is the celebration at almost every turn—not material, but rather ethereal, from the singing and dancing, or musings at paintings and monuments and the sight of remembrances of the present past.

Cultural heritage dictates how we live and defines what is important to us and, therefore, what we preserve—or, at least, what our societies try to preserve.

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I have seen lovely sights and tasted heavenly good food. I met wonderful and warm people and said I would like to come back. But what I find most intimate and sacred about the time I spent in Mexico is having participated in a Temazcal ceremony. We sit in two concentric circles, around a pit filled with a pile of hot rocks, inside an igloo-shaped mudhouse. It is pitch black darkness inside when the door is closed and only tiny sparks of light are given off when the temazcalero swirls water on the smoldering rocks, infused with different kinds of herbs, that give off different scents—one, pungent, and the other, breezy. The rocks give off hot vapors, or steam, each time the water hits it. And we sweat, moderately, in the beginning; profusely, as the heat intensifies. The temazcalero says a prayer, another tells a story, invoking the spirit of grandmothers from ancient past to allow our healing and purification. They pray, and chant, and sing in a Spanish that I could only barely understand but at the same time understand in a language that speaks to me without words. In the beginning, I feel fear from the fact that the door is closed, and that the lodge is an unfamiliar territory. But as I listen intently, and feel the reverberating sound of the drum, of the singing female voice, and then more voices, my fear subsides, my body sways from left to right, eyes closed, sometimes wide open, feeling home, feeling that I have been here before, grateful that we remember and that we offer our intentions.

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They say that the ritual has been passed on from ancient Mayans and that it is performed to do physical, emotional, mental and spiritual cleansing. Out of a few reasons I’d like to go back to Mexico, Temazcal is one.

Back when I used to sing Soul to Squeeze a lot, I would sing my heart out and sing it loud when I say “where I go, I just don’t know, I might end up somewhere in Mexico.” And I did

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Camotes Island, Cebu – 2015

The first time I went to Camotes was in 2005. I remember how I was suspended in awe of the beauty that had been waiting for us. As the motorized banca that we rented was about to dock, approaching where the receding sea waves that reached the shore come back and join the body of water again, I thought we found a paradise. I went back a year after, and went again last month—8 or 9 years after.

I often describe Camotes as “guapa” when I talk to my friends about it. Cebu has several white-sand beaches. Some are powdery fine while the others, a little more coarse. Camotes’ is powdery fine. But it’s not just the quality of sand that gives it a feminine feature. Santiago Bay, where we were exactly in Camotes, has a mass of elevated land with lush trees, mostly, coconut, extending to the sea on both sides of the bay. I liken it to a sense of boundary which women, in general, have. The shoreline is not very long so one can definitely walk the entire stretch of the bay. Some who stay at the beachfront by the bay go walk to check Santiago Bay Garden and Resort, a more high-end resort that sits atop the elevated land to your right if you are facing the sea.

That the water is crystal clear—in varying shades of blue, deep blue and green, if you look from the shore—is not anything new about most beaches in Cebu. But, yes, Camotes has it. The first time I went there, we stayed at a resort called Payag, literally a nipa hut, right at the beachfront by the bay. The sea view was totally unobstructed, which is still the case now. For this recent visit, I stayed at Masamayor, with my friend Carla, where we did in 2006 or 2007. More concrete structures have now been erected a few meters from the shore which makes it less unadulterated than it was years ago. But the beach is still glorious in its beauty.

We woke up very early on our second day, around 4:30, and went out for a walk around 5 am or a little past that. It was low tide. The morning was peaceful. The breeze, light and touchy. The air was cool. It was perfect for deep breathing and for emptying the mind with the worries of the city, allowing the self to get drawn to the details of the sea—like the bare beach sand, moist from the water that had just receded and the rustic colors that were starting to infuse the low sky as the sun was starting to rise. We picked up some trash on the beach: a foil pack of junk food, which, obviously, had just been dropped, or thrown, rather, within the hour we went walking and taking photos as well as a few pieces of thin plastic that had lodged in the moist shore.

Santiago Bay is a public beach. I say, the best way for locals to appreciate what they have and enjoy. You see them resting in cottages or waiting for customers who’d like to pay for their services to cook for them or to take them to a tour around Camotes Islands.

Santiago Bay is just a piece of Camotes. There is more to explore and discover. But the beauty and charm of Camotes can only be preserved for as long as the locals help protect the sea from garbage and pollution and as long as the visiting tourists and travelers do the same.

Miami in March – 2014

In the house of digital memories, there is a vault where you keep the photos that you have not—yet—uploaded. When you have taken random shots from vehicles flying through an expressway, salvaged sweet scenes through a fading daylight, captured animated conversations in the setting darkness, without the right camera, you will have, alas, dark, blurry or uncharacteristic photos that need editing. For me, this is one of the hardest part about sharing the digital album. Sometimes, it’s either there’s too many to choose from or too little—decent photos—to choose from.

That was how I collected memories in Miami  in March of last year. I was there for work. The kind where you don’t normally get to willingly waste time exploring the bedrock of culture, of food—or people. But I like taking in my surroundings, breathing in an air of wonder and finding some things magical about the moment. Alas, I found out that the photos on the road to and our sweet little time in Lancaster—before heading to LAX for our flight back to the Philippines—have not been saved. The setting sun in the city of angels, my supposed last refuge, are nowhere to be found in the vault. Nothing to recover. But I remember that I loved the rustic Lancaster the most among the cities I’ve visited on this trip and that the sun warms the heart wherever you witness it set.

My no-strings-attached relationship with the streets of Miami made me realize, or affirm, that I cannot live in places like Miami. I am not the one who belong to the highways, to the criss-crossing expressways, to the towering buildings, to the party hotspots. But I loved the fact that there were lush trees in Doral, that beautiful colors glowed at the bayside, in the dark, and the thought of going to Miami Beach was exhilirating.

Interestingly, the things that I loved about this trip, I see, are here at home. And the things I hardly fell in love with are things we—some of us—resist to consume us back home. There’s truth in what my favorite travel writer—again—said, that “there is, for the traveler at least the sense that learning about home and learning about a foreign world can be one and the same thing.”

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Bidding YIP Adieu

One of the gifts of traveling is seeing the world differently. Sometimes, it means seeing ourselves differently—what we are capable of and what we are worthy of. Sometimes, we realize that we can trust some more, love some more or that we can be trusted and loved some more. I think that it’s true to both the one who physically travels and the one who travels in the presence of he who physically travelled.

When we travel, we are blown away by the capacity of the human being to feel the same way or think the same way. Wherever we are, in another city or country, we receive a thousand affirmations of our humanness—our hopes, our desires, our trivialities, our vulnerabilities, our joys. We see universal truths as we peel away layers of our own traditions, practices, preferences or idiosyncracies. This capacity to feel the other and to find deep in our hearts that we are the same and that we understand each other has power to feed some of our deepest hungers or heal some of our deepest wounds. Perhaps, the more people travel in different directions, the more understanding the world will be and the more that it will be able to shed light on the assumptions that we have built in our own spaces, territiories and jurisdictions.

I believe in the capacity of the traveled and the travailed individuals to help their worlds see the other. As we bring stories from one place to another, we light a spark of interest, we open doors and windows in which others can peek into and see what must be seen. The experience is a revelation. It hums, it sings, it inspires. It is an instrument of new seeing and understanding.

But  there also is an aspect of travel that, to me, is still quite surreal. The pull that a place has on you years after you have traveled. Not all places do this to me. But there are certain places that I feel I must go back to. The pull manifests in many different ways and it never goes away. And it’s not necessarily because of the intensity of an experience or a vivid memory. I believe that we were meant to be in some places—in the past or in the future—and that the soul recognizes it. It’s the same with people we meet when we travel, physically or not. The impulse to make the most out of it because we might not see each other again is in the deep recesses of  our souls. We are more sensitive and attuned to what our hearts desire. When I sink into the sadness that comes with goodbyes, I wonder if it will take another lifetime for our souls to meet again. Separating ways casts a dent in my heart but I believe that having crossed paths, and having exchanged love and energy, we are meant to honor  the journey our souls are taking.

This recent soul encounter with our friends from YIP who we said goodbye to yesterday is probably one of the best travels I have had without physically traveling. And I will always remember the fullness of the experience. Because “the best trips,” said my favorite travel writer, “like the best love affairs, never really end.”

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¿Conoces A Eineda?…18 de Agosto de 2008

I thought that a smile was welcome when I saw her at the passengers’ waiting area. I smiled, and she smiled back at me. Perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that we smiled at each other—at the same time.

We stayed in a spot where you get a view of the airplanes outside the gates. It was more than an hour before our boarding time. I told her that I wanted to get some drinks; she said she’d like to do the same. I got an orange juice in a huge bottle. Whether she got coffee or water, I can no longer remember. We had a nice chat.

She told me that her name is Eineda and that some call her Anita. She is from Cuba. I told her that almost anything about the revolutions in Latin America have become interesting to me. I told her that I like history. But she hasn’t been in her country for the longest time. She’s been in the US, where she works as a nurse, for twenty years with her husband who is an Argentino. She said he is in Mendoza, on vacations. We were to board the same plane from LAX to SCL—our connecting flight to Argentina. She will stay in Mendoza for a month, she said, and we both had to regret that there would be no chance for us to board the same flight in going back to L.A.

I was at 36C—aisle seat for a long flight. Eineda was waving from 39F. We had been talking about SCL before we boarded the plane. It is beautiful, she said. “Like a shopping mall,” she added. She said she would accompany me to the departures where I boarded my plane for Córdoba since she just had to wait for her flight for Mendoza until 9 am Santiago time. My flight was 7:05 am. We were scheduled to arrive at SCL at 6:00 am. She, probably, sensed that I was worried that I only had an hour to change planes and realised that I was not sure about where to go after getting off the plane.

Eineda is a very warm person. And, indeed, she stayed with me at the waiting area until I got to board my plane.

She doesn’t know how to use e-mail, she said, but that her husband does. She couldn’t recall his e-mail address either and had a hard time recalling her home phone number. She wrote down what she remembered and said in case I need to go to L.A, again, I should call her and let her know.

En La Mañana…18 de Agosto de 2008

I woke up to the alarm at 6 am. Seven in the morning still looked like 5 am. Ten in the evening back home. From the window, I saw Radisson Hotel and I knew that it was one of the hotels I passed by the night before. I thought of walking around and looking for a fastfood—I was told that there’s a McDonald’s along Century Blvd.

I passed by several hotels along Century Blvd. As I felt the straps of my sandals trying to tear the skin on my ankle, I decided to get a cab to take me to McDonald’s. On my T|X, I see a memo saying I spent a total of $7 for the cab (back and forth) and $5.50 for the big breakfast—with coffee (in a tall paper cup), of course. Yes, it was more expensive for me to go back to the hotel by cab than to eat.

I took some pictures when I got back to the hotel.

  

   

And some more (including the ones I have in the previous post) before I left the room past 1 pm. I had a white jacket with me for the Argentina winter.

 

I bought 2 bars of Snickers (my power snacks) at the frontdesk lobby as I checked out and then waited outside for the shuttle to take me to the airport. I had a little chat with the assistant—”I hope you can come back,” she said.

Espero que sí.

Busco El Hotel…17 de Agosto de 2008

It was still the evening of the 16th in Los Angeles when I arrived. “Saan po ang punta niyo?” greeted the admitting officer at LAX airport to my delight. “Argentina po,” I said smiling and added “but I’m staying here in L.A. for a night.” My flight to Santiago, Chile—which served as a connection to Córdoba—was scheduled at 3:55 pm the following day. I saw more minorities at LAX—Asians, Black Americans, Mexicans and more of those who looked like Latin Americans. The idea of a melting pot of races.

I would find out later on  that I boarded the wrong shuttle at the airport—it stopped at LAX Marriott Hotel and not at Courtyard Marriott Hotel where I had a reservation for a night. I was told that my hotel is just a block away so I considered walking.

I went down one block along Century Blvd but realised that my hotel was nowhere to be found, down another block on the side, towards the back of the street (which I found out later on, as I googled, is W 98th St) where hotels were towering only to find out that not one of them was what I was looking for. I have asked in one of the hotels but they couldn’t give me directions, either. It was around 9 pm already and I wondered if I would find my way to my hotel.

Few yellow cabs purred the street. I can’t remember seeing anybody but there was one car parked in front of a building where I had asked for directions. The man I asked didn’t know where Courtyard Marriott Hotel is. He doesn”t live there, I was told.

I started becoming nervous—or frightened—as I trailed the second block, and as I realised that the state’s crime rate was not something I had read about before traveling (or that the probability of me not getting mugged on the street or raped is not something I have calculated before leaving the Philippines), I saw a black woman with the braided hair walking the same direction that I was. I asked her if she knew the hotel and, like I had guessed (or was that blind faith dictating), she said that the one behind the street must be it. A sigh of relief. She asked me where I am from and what I was doing in California. Just before I got to reach the back gate of the hotel and just before she bade goodbye, she warmly said: “welcome to my country.”

A smile greeted me at the lobby. My reservation was confirmed. To my surprise, it hadn’t been paid in advance. I had to pay for it. The corporate office just arranged the booking. My manager was right about having me file for a contingency fund.

Finally, I found myself in my room—tired but as happy as a clam.

 

    

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