As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to visit Japan.
Growing up in the messy urban sprawl that is Metro Manila, I was always fascinated by how castles and traditional structures could coexist with more modern architecture, especially in such a technologically advanced country like Japan. This was pre-anime days, mind you, when what I knew of the Land of the Rising Sun was the zany, wacky weirdness of Takeshi’s Castle (hosted by Anjo Yllana and Smokey Manaloto!) and information gleaned from those old and boring documentaries they used to show on the now-defunct government-run PTV13.
And then along came anime during my teens, then Japanese food a few years later — needless to say, I became hopelessly in love.
(To be continued.)
While I may be (partly) stereotyping, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that environmentalists and vegetarians consider us, the human race, the biggest threat to the planet. And it’s true — we generally destroy everything we touch.
In July last year, I took my family up to Baguio for an early celebration of me and the missus’ 5th wedding anniversary, and Amy’s 1st birthday. As it is custom for me to do, I asked around if anyone knew some good sunrise or sunset spots nearby where I could head out by myself to take some landscapes.
A family friend and fellow photography enthusiast who is now based in Baguio pointed me in the direction of Mt. Cabuyao, particularly the area near and going to Sitio La Presa, which became hugely popular due to an ABS-CBN telenovela that has (thankfully, at least IMHO) long completed its TV run.
The area, which is actually Sitio Pungayan and nearby Sto. Tomas, technically belongs to the municipality of Tuba, Benguet, but is just a few minutes away from Baguio City. I headed out there two mornings in a row, and besides discovering just how rusty my landscape photography was, I had a really good time and took home a couple of great images.
However, the second morning I was on the way to the area, I was accosted by policemen who wanted to know my purpose. I told them the truth: That I was a tourist and hobbyist photographer and I just wanted to take photos of the sunrise. Apparently, the area of Sitio Pungayan and Sto. Tomas is presently off-limits to non-locals as the deluge of tourists and visitors during the soap opera’s run basically messed up the ecological balance of the place. The quiet lives of local residents were constantly bothered, and to make things worse, a lot of folks left their garbage with them. As a result, the local Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) ordered the area closed to tourists until things return to the way they were.
I eventually got permission to go up and shoot, but it really got my blood boiling when I thought of how horrific tourists so many of us are. The taxi driver who was with me even told me that during the height of the Sitio La Preza hype, the line of cars from visitors would extend all the way from Pungayan, which is close to the top of the mountain, to the main highway down below. That’s A LOT of visitors.
Why is it so hard for us to be responsible tourists? Why is it so hard for us to be sensitive about the places we go to and the people who live there? Seriously, a lot of people who like to brag about being “travelholics” and sufferers of “wanderlust” don’t deserve the privilege to travel. It’s not as simple as you having the “right” just because you have the money and means to do so — there’s an attached responsibility as well. There are natural conditions to be considered, local residents we have to sensitive to, and local customs and cultures that should be respected.
Don’t get me wrong — it’s great to see more folks traveling, even those who do it just to be “in.” It’s not only a sign of better economic conditions, but it also brings in added income to people who live in tourist locations. But again, let’s all please learn our boundaries, and ENOUGH with this smug sense of entitlement. We are always mere visitors, and we should learn to act accordingly.
If I bring my camera, I HAVE to bring my (a) tripod.
That’s sort of a hard and fast rule — albeit unwritten — that I’ve come to adhere to through the years. Being a landscape photographer by nature, you never know when an opportunity to capture a sunrise or sunset might arise, so my policy is to always be prepared.
These past few months though, my (along with my wife’s, naturally) travel dynamic has changed drastically with the addition of Amy into the family. Before, I could manage bringing the majority of our stuff with my trusty (but heavy) tripod in tow, but a baby changes things — now, we need to bring more stuff, and every ounce of weight off our backs is a welcome prospect.
While I ultimately wouldn’t have minded lugging along my trusty tripod up our recent trip to Baguio, it’s a good thing I asked around and Manfrotto was kind enough to lend me one of their BeFree tripods for me to bring along and review.
First off, it’s small and it’s light. And I’m talking about the aluminum version, not even the carbon fiber one (I have some personal misgivings about CF tripods in general, but that’s entirely off-topic). Especially compared to the one I own, it was refreshing to have something so small and compact.
Since this was a loaner I just picked up, there was no manual, and I had no one to teach me to use it. But I figured how to set it up pretty quickly — the simplicity of the system was another plus for me. I also appreciated how easy it was to spread the legs out — there’s a knobby thingamajig you just twist to quickly adjust how spread out you want each leg to be. Just be careful, since you can accidentally realign the twisty things even if they’re spring-locked in place (although I don’t know if this was just because the unit was used) which could potentially upend your camera. Also, since this is a small tripod, it had more leg locks to make it more compact, which in the field translates into having to snap out more extensions.
The small ballhead that came with it gave me a bit of a pause, since I still shoot with a DSLR — which today, if you are wont to listen to mirrorless preachers, is “archaic” and “outdated” — but it managed to hold my 5D Mark 2 with a 24-70 2.8L Mark 1 pretty well and I experienced no issues like tilting. I also appreciated the simplicity of the locks for the ballhead and the stem — just one for each — which were also surprisingly stable and tight.
The mount took a bit more time getting used to, and I never got comfortable using the small plastic lock on the side that keeps the mount in place. I also got confused a lot by the main lock for the mount (does it go left or right?), which was a real (literal) pain to unlock whenever I happened to tighten the lock a bit too much. I was also disappointed that the main stem did not have a hook at the end where I could hang my camera bag for easy access to my stuff and better stability; while small, I feel this feature is especially useful in situations like shooting seascapes and you have nowhere to put down your bag.
Cons considered, I’d still say I would not be sorry in the least to have one. My heavier tripod is still useful for rougher situations, but the BeFree is a great all-around travel tripod that wouldn’t make me think twice about bringing it (if I had one) when I go out. It’s easy to use, compact, light, and considering the brand, of good quality as well.
Filipino culture is by nature, colorful. From small gatherings and occasions like local barangay fiestas to the full-on, humongous, and production-value festivals the many of our provinces hold, there is the undeniable and irrefutable stamp of Filipino creativity and ingenuity.
But when you think about it, many of our local festivals that have been part of our culture for decades stem from our Catholic heritage and our Spanish colonization that lasted for more than 300 years.
This is where the Imbayah Festival in Banaue, Ifugao sets itself apart.
Imbayah is a festival that celebrates local Ifugao cultural traditions, such as the thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. It’s also interesting to note that the name of the festival itself is derived from the Ifugao word for rice wine, bayah. Perhaps our penchant for calling out “Inuman na!” during special occasions has far deeper cultural roots than we realize.
Traditionally though, Imbayah was about the rising of status in the community and the more affluent members of society hosted the celebrations in their respective homes. In recent years though, it has been more of a celebration and means to remember Ifugao culture in general — while it has still a lot of ways to go in terms of tourist spectators, especially compared to the larger celebrations in other provinces, more and more people have braved the twisting mountain roads to catch a glimpse of this truly unique festival. In fact, Imbayah used to be held only once every three years, but has become very successful that it is now a yearly occurrence.
Contingents from Banaue’s 18 different villages converge in the town proper, terraces, bringing with them their own tribal symbols. They dance, they compete in ethnic games, not so much as performances or shows for visitors — although visitors are most welcome — but as more of a remembrance of where they came from and what makes them unique as a people. In fact, a number of the competitive sports played in the ethnic games were used to settle disputes between tribes.
Another popular event of the festival is the wooden scooter race, where participants zip down the mountain roads from of one of the highest viewpoints of the rice terraces down to the Banaue town proper. These scooters have no motors whatsoever, with the racers relying on their deft maneuvering and the craftsmanship of their bikes to get ahead.
There are also several opportunities to further appreciate mountain culture — there are organized treks through the famed rice terraces themselves that visitors can take, or for the more adventurous, a trek to the village of Batad where even more majestic rice terraces await, and below them, the raging but beautiful Tappiya waterfalls.
It may lack the pomp and splendor of other festivals, but there is something profound about the Imbayah; it’s more than the top-load traveling, or the unique food (ants and kamote, anyone?), the strapping fellows in tribal g-strings, or even the ingenuity and persistence behind the beautiful rice terraces. It’s something pure, something largely untouched by our colonial history, something inherently and uniquely Filipino.
Getting there: You may opt for a side trip to Baguio City first and then catch a bus to Banaue, or take a bus straight from Manila to Banaue. This year’s festival is on April 18-22.
*This post was originally published in the April 2016 issue of the Filipino-Japanese Journal.