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It was our last day in Yosemite. After watching Alex Honnold climb El Cap in the riveting documentary, "Free Solo", El Capitan was definitely on our list. I also wanted to fulfill my lifelong dream of seeing the giant sequoias. The best place to see them in Yosemite is at the Mariposa Grove, which was unfortunately closed because of the wildfires. The only place open was the Toloumne Grove, where they had about a dozen trees, more than enough for me!
Woke up at the butt crack of dawn. Nervous and excited. Not only am I climbing Half Dome, but I am climbing Half Dome ON MY BIRTHDAY. Feeling that exhilaratiion that makes you wanna dance a jig yet throw up at the same time. I have never hiked anything like the Half Dome before and it is definitely anxiety-inducing. Am I ready? Do I have enough water? What if I slip on the cables? What if (fill in the blank)...? I was so anxious couldn't even eat. I had a sip of my Vega protein shake and that was it. I brought 2 of them, a Costco-sized bag of beef jerky, and some protein bars. I should be ok foodwise. I also have about 5 liters of water and Gatorade in my backpack.
Driving out West is so much different from driving out here on the East Coast. Man, the rugged beauty of the Sierra Nevadas really just takes your breath away and there's no feeling like it when you're driving through these mountains and seeing the beautiful vista. In fact, I don't think there's any place on the East Coast that I can properly use the term "vista", IMHO.
The drive from Napa to Lake Tahoe was surreal. The wildfires have created a smoky haze creating what one would imagine a post-apocalyptic nuclear fallout to look like. Was unable to take photos because I was driving but I couldn't imagine living like that every day. The air quality was so unhealthy that it started to affect my voice.
Calistoga was such a cute little town. Known for its mineral hot springs and famous mud baths (which were closed because of Covid), the town got its name from a drunken boast of the town's founder, Samuel Brannan, who claimed that he was going to make the place the Saratoga of California only to say the "Calistoga of Sarifornia".
So I turned 41 a little bit over a week ago. Apart from my Hawaii trip last year, I usually spend my birthday overseas, usually in a country I have never been before. With COVID putting a damper on international travel, I decided to go on a camping and hiking trip to the West Coast. I went with a good friend, Aileen, who usually spends her birthday overseas as well. We decided to go to Yosemite National Park as both of us have never been and planned to summit Half Dome on my birthday.
A friend of mine shared this beautiful poem with me almost 20 years ago. I had no idea then that this would resonate with me in a deeply profound way through numerous points in my life. It made me realize how much he really knew me, more than sometimes I even knew myself. It is amazing when you are truly seen and heard by another person and that means everything. It is such a rarity with the ubiquity of social media and the constant curating and crafting of our personas. Allowing ourselves to be authentic and vulnerable is one of the hardest things to do and something that I am constantly working towards.
When I was 16 years old, I achieved my dream of becoming a published author when I wrote an Op-Ed for the national paper in the Philippines. At that time, I was reading, "Mga Ibong Mandaragit" (Birds of Prey), the Philippine literary classic about neocolonialism by social activist, Amado V. Hernandez, and had just come back from a trip to the United States. My article was about the destructive effects of colonial mentality that was still so pervasive in Philippine society over a century after Spanish colonial rule officially ended. Growing up with dark brown skin in the Philippines, I never considered myself beautiful or attractive in any way, shape, or form. The ideal beauty at the time was a demure Filipina with pale skin and westernized features. I was even once passed down for a modeling job because I would not capitulate and say that I was not pure Filipino. The casting director wanted me to say that I was part-Filipino and part-something else. I just couldn't do it. It was just something that I accepted as a teen. I thought to myself, "Ok. You have to accept this. You are not physically the ideal concept of beauty here, so you are just going to have to compensate by being intelligent, charismatic, athletic, and fun to be around". So I grew up not putting value on looks and placing my worth on my achievements and accomplishments instead.
I was born and raised in the Philippines, a country of 134 ethnic groups, 120 different languages, and 7,107 islands. Growing up close to the capital, Manila, I was most enamored by the southernmost portion of the country, called Mindanao. Though most of the country is Christian, that part of the country is predominantly Muslim.
There are 18 different ethnic groups that live in Mindanao. One of them are the Badjao/Bajau, also known as Sea Gypsies, as they move with the wind and tide in their small houseboats called Vintas. These seafaring people have the most fascinating rituals that illustrate their concept of life and their relationship to the sea. For example, it is said that immediately after birth, a newly born  infant is thrown into the seas and the rest of the family save the newborn.
The COVID quarantine was a very challenging time in our lives. I have to admit, I was really anxious about being alone for the first time in almost 20 years. But I came out of it learning so much about myself and also had the time to pursue one of my passion projects...Worthy Goods!