Thursday, April 28, 2011

7 historical churches, 7 beautiful moments

Holy Week in the Philippines has always been a solemn occasion. With the exception of a few who chose to hie off to the beach for the holidays, most people opt to just stay at home or go to their hometown where they can be with family while doing simple sacrifices to commemorate the death of our Lord.

Visita Iglesia or "Church Visits" is a tradition that most Filipinos still exercise to this day. Maybe the reason why this custom which started in Rome remained, is because it is a great opportunity to bond with family without deflecting from religious observance.

A church for each of the 14 Stations of the Cross was the usual practice. But our family decided to bring the count down to 7, since it would be a real challenge to visit 14 churches with several kids in tow. Anyhow, we already visited 7 chapels around Las Piñas yesterday. Our Thursday is for my husband's family while mine does our Visita Iglesia after the church service on Good Friday.

Our route for this year is the area of Manila. Traffic is minimal during this time so our travel from Cavite to Manila is considerably easy. 

1) Malate Church is our first stop. Historically significant as the base from which the British launched their assault on Intramuros, this church dates back to 1588.

 This is where my youngest brother was christened.

My son enjoyed roaming around while observing the street vendors sell all sorts of stuff, from balloons to snacks. 

2) Ermita Church. Founded in the late 16th century, legend has it that the image of the Virgin Mary housed inside was found by soldiers of Miguel López de Legazpi along the seashore, the day Spanish forces took over Manila.

Right outside the walls of this church is the house where my mom grew up.

The parish put up the "Stations of the Cross" at the courtyard to accommodate more pilgrims.

3) Paco Church. Built in 1820, this was where the remains of the Philippine's national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, was secretly buried until it was transfered to the Rizal Park (Luneta) in 1912.

They closed the church after the service, so we just recited our prayers right in front of the park's gated entrance.

The church where one of my brothers was married in 2009.
Paco Park was once a municipal cemetery for the well-off Spanish aristocrats living within the walls of Intramuros.

 4) Sta. Cruz Church. Commissioned by the Jesuits in 1608, the church served as a parish for the growing Chinese immigrants in the area.

Sixteen years ago, I often stood here distributing fast food flyers to churchgoers. My first job: Halo-Halo crew at Chowking. 
We forgot to bring our prayer booklets so we have to make do with the two I was able to buy for Php30/pc. I could have bought those for Php10 each on a normal day.

5) Binondo Church. Erected in 1596, this church is one of the oldest places of Christian worship in the country. It's also the same parish where the Filipino saint, San Lorenzo Ruiz, served as an altar boy.

The church where my husband, son and I were baptized.
Masses here are held in English, Filipino and Chinese dialects (Mandarin and Hokkien).
My son has never been to any of the churches we were to visit that day, except here in Binondo where he was christened. Surprisingly, he knew where to doze off and still not miss anything on the itinerary.:)

6) San Agustin Church. The mother of all churches, being the oldest in the country. Constructed from 1587-1607, it has survived earthquakes, typhoons, the British Invasion, the Philippine Revolution and World War II and is the only building left standing in Intramuros.

The church where one of my sisters would soon get married.
The church contains the tomb of Miguel López de Legazpi, Juan de Salcedo and  Juan Luna, the famous painter.

A replica of the Shroud of Turin was hung up in the choir loft.

My 6-year-old niece, reciting the Stations of the Cross. 
7) We ended our Lenten journey at the Manila Cathedral. The present edifice was built in 1981, after the original structure of 1581 was destroyed several times by natural calamities and war. The cathedral was the seat of the Archbishop of Manila during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines, and still remains the ecclesiastical seat of the Archdiocese of Manila.

The church where my husband and I sealed our bond.
The crucifixion scene depiction at the Manila Cathedral. It's interesting to note that the INRI inscription was not used here. It showed instead a more realistic one in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. 

Our wedding day, 2005.

6 years later, we're back with the product of our union.
Lent is a time for prayer, and prayers are better said with family. Visiting these 7 churches brought back so many wonderful memories for each of us. Beautiful moments of the not so distant past. 

A family that prays together stays together. An old saying, but true.
Who knew history would also be a part of our itinerary this year? The stories behind these religious landmarks may not have been all glory, but it's history that gives these churches an air of mystery that transports one back in time for a glimpse of a past long gone.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Elevation: My Skydiving Adventure

It's 3am and I couldn't sleep. I felt as if a thousand butterflies were swimming in my tummy, or more like birds. I'm no adrenaline junkie. I don't even ride ferris wheels because I have vertigo. I kept berating myself why the heck I agreed to SKYDIVE?! I was even tempted to go online to check the fatality rate of the sport, but decided against it. I finally dozed off an hour before my alarm sounded.

We were at Skydive Chicago a week before for our tandem jump. Unfortunately (or fortunately for me at that time), they had to cancel due to heavy clouds and high winds. We took the 20 minute tandem class though, where they teach you the basics and verify if you're qualified to jump. I was feeling confident then after seeing a couple of old people in the classroom. They were, give or take in their 60s, which reminded me of  the movie, "The Bucket List".

So with hardly no sleep, I found myself ordering a muffin with hash browns and  a cup of hot cocoa at McDonald's. Before I was able to digest my breakfast which could also have been my last meal, I was signing my death warrant. They gave us waivers which detailed how we were fully aware of the risks, that we wouldn't be holding the skydiving club liable for any untoward incidents, and that we had adequate health insurance to cover any medical assistance we may require. Putting my signature in that piece of paper makes me question my sanity even now.

I am doing this with my husband and a group of friends. At least, I would be in good company...just in case. We chose to avail of the tandem jump (US$209) with video services (US$119). The cost of video services may sound absurd but that's because an additional professional jumper would fly side by side with you just to take photos and capture your excitement in a video footage.

Our expert tandem instructors discussed with us individually, the dynamics of skydiving --- from aircraft exit through free fall, parachute deployment, descent and landing. They made us don jumpsuits and because the color of mine was purple, I didn't complain even if it smelled a little "off". I also had the altimeter on my wrist, which will measure how far I had fallen and at what speed. They asked me to tie my hair and gave me a pair of goggles to protect my eyes from debris and other particles. The instructors would wear the parachutes but we would be the ones to deploy it by pulling the ball from their pocket. Just jump, check your wrist and release the chute when the altimeter indicates you're at 5,500 feet. It sounded so easy, except we're doing it all in bird territory.

After 30 minutes, we were ready to embark on what we all agreed to be our greatest adventure ever. The plane was ready with its engines running. The cameras of our freefall photographers started rolling to record our pale faces and forced smiles. The moment I set foot inside the plane, I knew there's no turning back.

All 7 of us with our respective instructors and photographers were squeezed like sardines inside the aircraft. The plane ascended to the altitude of 13,500 feet in about 15 minutes. But it seemed like a lifetime to me. I couldn't count the number of saints I called and prayers I said while my instructor repeated his lecture on the importance of constantly checking the altimeter and deploying the parachute on time.

My husband, before his jump.
When the plane door opened, the sound coming from the engines mixed with the roar of the gushing wind was deafening. Everything was a blur to me from the time I saw our first companion jump and disappear in a nanosecond. Humans looked like bugs being sucked up by a vacuum from up there. I suddenly had the urge to kill my husband for convincing me to agree to this.:) But he just disappeared off the plane and I was already strapped to my instructor for the jump.

Then, it's my turn. In the split second before my instructor pushed me to oblivion, I saw for the very first time the spherical shape of the earth. And it was the most beautiful view I had ever seen.

It almost brought tears to my eyes, but my glands never had the time to produce them for I was already shouting at the top of my lungs. But I didn't hear myself. It made me wonder how the heck people talk to each other while falling from the sky in movies. Another myth busted! Of course, I never thought of this until I was safe back on the ground.

Up there, I was just panicking while falling at over 120 miles per hour. I will forever hold a grudge against Skydive Chicago for forgetting to mention how difficult it was to breathe from up there.:) For the first 15 seconds, I was just struggling to get enough air into my lungs. When I was finally able to breathe, I began waving a little at my photographer who kept pulling my hand so he wouldn't fly too far to record my adventure. It was a little hard to smile while my cheeks were flapping in the wind.

After almost a minute of free-falling, I was violently jerked up and back when the chute deployed. Then it dawned on me that I never once looked at the altimeter and had completely forgotten about the parachute. If this was a test to get a skydiving license, I would definitely flunk it. Or if I was alone and didn't have my tandem instructor, I won't be around writing this article.:)

That orange ball was the one I failed to pull to release the parachute.
At least, I remembered to say cheese and smile for the camera.

The next 7 minutes were the most peaceful ones I had in my life. It was so silent up there and the slow canopy descent gave me time to wonder how beautiful our world was. The contrast of the blue sky with the green foliage and gray structures on the ground was perfect. It was like being sandwiched between two majestic heavens. For me, this was the real thrill.

My instructor was considerate enough not to talk to me while I appreciate this fleeting moment. Then I realized it was almost over when I  began to notice the other jumpers beneath us.

If the crazy first 45 seconds of falling took forever, the 7 minutes of gliding in peace ended too fast. Our rapid approach to the ground was exhilirating. One minute we were falling then my butt was hitting the grass field in a perfect landing.

With impeccable composure, I stood up for a glam shot but fell down when my feet got caught in the parachute. After a minute of getting tangled in the middle of the big balloon, I was finally out and posing with my husband and instructor.

I'm absolutely glad I did this stuff 2.5 years ago, before I became a mom. There's no way in hell I would be jumping 13,500 feet from the sky again...till I am 60.

Skydive Chicago
3215 East 1969th Road
Ottawa, IL USA 61350
Phone: 1-815-433-0000

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How do I say goodbye to Boracay?

On our third and last day, it was breakfast as usual at Vintana. I was expecting the same menu because after serving all the food I can think of yesterday, what else was left? And lo, there was a lot more! Half of the dishes in the buffet were new ones. I was in pig heaven! I took a bite of everything and walked away with a light heart and a full stomach. So that's where all the heaviness goes.:)
We immediately returned to our hotel room to change into our swimwear. For the first time in 3 days, the sun was up and shining. It's the perfect time to take a dip in the hotel pool. My son failed to enjoy the beach yesterday for it had been raining and the water was cold. This was his last chance to splash around.
After requesting the pool attendant to pump air into my son's lifesaver, we waded in the not-so-warm waters of the infinity pool. The weather was chilly yesterday which explained why the sun's heat hadn't penetrated the pool water yet.
The view from the pool was nothing short of breathtaking, the turquoise waters of Boracay sparkling and shimmering from the sunlight. I could almost hear the splashing waves.
My son particularly enjoyed playing with the cascading water from one of the tiny waterfalls in the pool. After an hour, we reluctantly said goodbye to the already warm water. If my son had his way, he would stay there while we pack our bags.:)
A view of the sea from Shangri-la's lobby.
The checkout process was fast. The lobby personnel gave us the bill and after he swiped our credit card, we're on our way. No more waiting while they check the room for property damage or missing things from the mini-bar. They do take your word at face value. They figured they could always charge your card afterwards if you had been naughty.

Since our flight was not yet until 4pm, we left our luggages at the reception while we did a little sightseeing around the hotel.
Just one of the many private sanctuaries around the hotel where guests can relax and feel at one with nature. 
Lush tropical gardens surrounding the resort. 90% of guests during our stay were foreigners. I can imagine why Brangelina (Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie) thought of vacationing here. Unfortunately, some Filipinos couldn't keep their mouths shut. According to some, they were here. But a reliable source said they never were. They backed out when the news was leaked to the media.

After a while, we requested for a golf buggy to take us to CHI Spa. We decided to burn some time taking pictures. If not for my son (and the price of the treatments!), I would go there for a massage. An hour of massage would cost you Php6,000 and a 4-hour treatment inside a CHI Villa would set you back Php11,500. I can already hold a spa party in a decent place in Manila for that amount. Or...said my guilty conscience, "it can feed several destitute families for a week".

CHI Spa entrance.
Odd-looking bamboo and rock embellishment in CHI's reception area.
Spa Pool

Treatment Villas encompassing the pool.
 I wasn't able to take pictures inside a CHI Villa, so I got some from Shangri-La Boracay's site. What do you think? Is it worth the cost? An hour of massage inside a regular spa in the US costs around US$100 or Php4,500. Foreigners and the really rich would definitely find CHI Spa's rates reasonable.
Spa Villa Bath
Banana Leaf Treatment inside a Spa Villa.
Time flew fast and we had to depart for the airport. After the considerably calm boat ride, we were back at the comfortable lounge where a number of guests were already waiting for the shuttle service. The van arrived 20 minutes later.

At the airport, the Shangri-la personnel not only unloaded our bags but also brought it for weighing inside the terminal. He also asked for our passports and e-tickets so he could take care of everything. After a few minutes, he emerged and gave us our boarding passes and luggage tags. He then bade us goodbye and left in a breeze. Outstanding service! He succeeded in making me feel like a real VIP.
The Caticlan airport was a little busy that day. And while waiting for our flight, I saw a lady foreigner boarding a plane wearing nothing but a two-piece swimsuit. A little bit shocking to my sensibilities.:)

The priceless look of awe on my son's face when he witnessed a plane taking off right before his very eyes. Something you don't usually see in other airports.
The Air Philippines plane was early and left 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Alas, it's the end of a nice vacation that forever changed my resort standards. So, how do I say goodbye to Boracay?

May this three part article serves as my farewell to the island with the most beautiful beach I have ever seen.

This is the last in a three-part article dedicated to the wonderful island of Boracay.

Related Articles:
Shangri-La's Boracay Resort & Spa
A paradise called Boracay

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