January 30, 2011

Caleruega of the Philippines

     PhP150.00($3)  Distance: 10KM- The meter displayed the numbers 6:00AM in the taxi meter. My right eye still shut, my hair was  fresh from shower and my shoes untied as I alighted the grumpy old cab. It was January 29, 2011 and it was our Photography Trip to some place I've been before, I wasn't that excited like the others because one year ago, I was there for 5 days and 4 nights. 

     The bus was scheduled to leave at 7AM even if the letter said departure was 6:30AM (They just say that so that everyone comes on time). 7:10AM, 7:22AM, 7:36AM came and we were still in Manila. I was trying to contain myself from being impatient, yes when it comes to time management, I hate being late. At last! She came around 8:00AM and soon after she came the bus sped away. I wasn't aware of the time when we made it to the SLEX (South Luzon EXpressway) to have our breakfast at McDonald's.

This was the "Eggy and Beefy" breakfast we all had inside the bus. You can also see I have a can of A&W soda. It was my favorite beverage before it just disappeared in the market and I haven't had one for at least 8 years.
     A funny rumor was actually circulating inside the bus and one guy was saying "Is the breakfast for free?" and a girl would go "Will it be pancakes only?" and I would say "it should be free because we paid big bucks for this trip". All our rumors were realized when boxes of food were delivered inside the bus. The first was the Burger-Egg-Cheese Sandwich and then the main course was the "Burger-Egg-Rice" meal. Everyone was stuffed and I was so full. I fell asleep ZzZzZzZz.....

"Ah! The Golden Sun shines on her radiant skin, morning birds gladly sing and cows do the lowest hymns. Once you laid your eyes on her is almost replacing your one true Love. She gives you the the widest smile in you and takes away the things you must not keep inside."

                                                               -an excerpt from my feature article project "Caleruega of the East"

     The real Caleruega is located in Spain, in the autonomous community of Castile-Leon which is part of Burgos province. It is also where St. Dominic De Guzman, founder of the Order of Preachers or the Dominican order was born. However, the Caleruega here in the Philippines is a retreat house and it is also a park and part tourist attraction. It is owned by the Dominicans and it is the venue for the retreat of the Dominican educational institution like University of Santo Tomas that recently celebrated its 400th years of unending grace and Colegio de San Juan de Letran that is the oldest existing institution in its original location, 391 years. 

I wonder what this structure was supposed to be but it's clearly have been abandoned a long time ago. I refer to it as "The Stairway to Heaven".
     We've reached Caleruega around 11 in the morning. It was cold and the breeze makes my hand freeze, I can leave a can of soda and let the winds cool it up for me. Our group consists of Communication Arts, Digital Arts, Advertising and Journalism students. The first three programs were enrolled in basic photography and their task was to take flora, modelling and panorama photos. As for us three Journalism majors enrolled in Photojournalism, we were tasked to take photos of the life in Caleruega, the locals specifically were our subjects and had to take photos of what they do and somehow show who are the "Philippine Caleruegans".

Here's a shy kid selling freshly harvested Sweet Potatoes just outside the Retreat Center. He wouldn't look at me and kept evading my camera. I was maybe intruding his early lunch.
     The first timers were scrambling their equipment and quickly went to work and as for me, I just sat for a while. Feeling the cold gust of wind and my face being kissed by the Sun. I found company with the 4th year students who were also keeping a relaxing slow pace, because we already know that the place can be covered for less than 3 hours. 

This is the plaza once you enter Caleruega. The building's facade is taken from the style of Caleruega, Spain.
     Chitter Chatter Chitter Chatter they go, I was a little silent as we walked. I remembered the first time I was there, I was tired and on a 5 day retreat and because of that I didn't really get to see the place on my own pace. While I was walking, it was like seeing it again for the first time; A different dimension unlike before.

It is one of the famous wedding venues called the "Transfiguration Chapel".
     When I saw the Transfiguration Chapel I always remember how it is so quiet inside it. We stayed there quite a bit for it really just a place to think about things.

"Once you enter, butterflies lead you to floral gardens. Birds then capture your eyes as they fly away to the view of the vast region" 

                                                           -an excerpt from my feature article project "Caleruega of the East"

Here's a group having their lunch in the picnic grounds. There were lots of other people around, either by personal trip or field trips, everyone seemed to enjoy the place.
     Lunch was served 12:30PM and you know what, it's the only call time everyone was there 12:30PM sharp! We had Nido soup, Chicken Adobo (One of my Favorites) and the mouth watering-Freshly cut Pineapples which I dipped with rock salt.

     It was after lunch when I really started to get some shots. I was quite frustrated because the people of Caleruega were so shy, may it be the vendors, the gardener and even the children are quite reserved to visitors.

This is me in a "Jump Shot" routine. I didn't have a photo the first time I was here so there, and because of this now you know how strong this hanging bridge is.
     The hanging bridge is the only way to reach the Tent Chapel or what others and I refer to as the "Shouting Hill". It is where the coolest breeze are, as far as I know it was probably known as Shouting hill when people often shout on top of the hill to the overlooking region of green. The Shouting Hill is a place of serenity, the only sounds you can hear are the waving trees as the winds collide with it.

Finally, here's a local open to camera shots. This was taken on our way to the Shouting Hill.
Taken just below the Shouting Hill. I just asked 5 minutes of her time to have a shoot with me,  it worked out pretty good.
Me and Nature drawn together, I always love sitting under a Tree when the Sun is at its highest, and the cold breeze just takes away all of my worries, even just for a while.
     Caleruega will always have a special place in my Heart. It is where I spent 5 days and I found myself, I found meaning to why I am in this world. I discovered what I really want to do with my life, and the most important thing that happened to me here was that during the summer of 2010, my Faith for God was unstable, I was a wreck and I almost didn't believe that there was a supreme being, my life was shut to believing there is one. 5 days I've stayed and I came out with a Faith stronger than before and that's why I Love this place, because this place found me when I was lost, guided me when my world was dark and taught me that to live in this world, we need Faith, Hope and Love.

January 12, 2011

Holy Sheep! It's the Black Nazarene!!!

January 8, 2010
I was preparing myself to bed when I heard that my brother's friend was going to throw a party at our house. The visitor's lounge was next to my window so I can't beat them to sleep easily, they were laughing and were very noisy. They were just having a good time. Time passed on and on until I just decided to hang out with them till 5AM of January 9 since I couldn't sleep at all.

January 9, 2010
Feast of the Black Nazarene
Without sleep for 18 hours, I rode the transits MRT and LRT. The only possible transportation to get to my destination since almost all major roads were closed for the feast. I was meeting with a friend and told him to meet me at the center of the Philippine Archipelago, at the "0 Kilometer" marker.

I arrived at the marker and so does my friend Joshua who was a little late but it didn't matter. So I told him to follow me because I knew the way how to get close to the Black Nazarene without much human traffic. I noticed there was a problem, around that time the mass should only be starting, what I saw was that the carriage of the Nazarene was already being moved out and it means that the procession has begun! So there I was, dragging my friend with me through the crowd of millions to get ourselves a worthy shot of the artifact.

The Black Nazarene with his guardians. They say that if you could touch any part of it, miracles happen to the devotees. As you can see, it's crowded even when it's raining.
After following it at Quirino grandstand, we were at Padre Burgos hoping to catch a closer glimpse and action of the 400 year old sculpture. We saw a TV network van, the "NHK" and Joshua asked if we could go up to where they were so that we can capture it at a higher ground. They were nice and let us up, so we were 4 in a roof of a van.

Devotees go over the fence to catch the Nazarene, We did that too!
It was my second time to witness the Black Nazarene procession, yes you read it right. "To witness" because I'm not a devotee but rather a spectator to a magnificent spectacle that only happens every January 9. The first time I was at the procession, there were fewer people and for me what I saw at Quirino grandstand was cruel, but nothing prepared me to what I saw this second time.

The ocean of people at Roxas Boulevard
While I was up in the van I reached for my cellphone which I kept inside my bag, I noticed it was missing. I checked and checked again if it was gone, it was gone. However, that didn't stop from capturing the unforgettable scenes at the procession.

This is me at Lawton, Manila. I'm at the top of a waiting shed. Don't ask how I got there :)
So I've lost my cellular phone. I believe it wasn't stolen from me because when we took an early lunch at Jollibee, I was calling my phone and it was still ringing for almost 3 hours until it finally was turned off. Someone must have picked it up and decided to keep it. I understand that not all who join the procession are devotees, the procession is also swarmed with pick pockets. To forget the stupidity I did I just told myself over and over again that I answered someone's prayer by giving away a one year old cellular phone.

This was taken while I was sitting on top of the waiting shed. They say that to hold the rope connected to the Black Nazarene's carriage brings luck, miracles and answered prayers.
1:00PM - We were at least waiting patiently for at least 2 hours for the Nazarene to pass by. Waiting for hours on the roof of a waiting shed along with other photographers is a bit boring. Good for me, I've got Joshua to keep me amused. We were singing and played a game we called "Spot the Nazarene babe" where we will find a beautiful woman and whoever sees her first scores. I won 2-1, yes the low scoring game was surprising amidst the millions who pass by our station.

At last! It finally came and as it came closer to the range of my Nikon D40 DSLR with a name I call him "UNO" or "One" with stock 18-55mm lens, I shot almost a hundred photos in 3 minutes! I felt the heat and smelled the odor of the people who were all barefooted. It is a rule that to join the procession, one must go barefooted. I saw a lot of banging, shouting, people stepping on other's shoulder using them as a bridge to get nearer. People were looking at us and were asking for water, so I threw in my bottle, he didn't catch it but my bottle ricochet into another man's eye and it hurt him. I'M SO SORRY! Miraculously, they gave the man the bottle to the person I was trying to give it to. I mean everyone's thirsty but they respected to whom the bottle should be with. A simple nod and thumbs up from the man made my day, I hurt someone's eye but helped someone's thirst!

An amazing scene that has been happening for decades. Maybe centuries! This year was the biggest one.
 7 MILLION participants.
You can see at the picture above the kind of waiting shed I was seated. It was a safe place and actually the best seat in the house! From there I was only a few feet away from the Nazarene. It's amazing how the image can move millions.

After the it passed by from where I was, Joshua wanted to go to Quiapo Church, where the Black Nazarene would be returned. I was tired, my feet hurts and I lost my cellphone. I called it a day and we bid goodbye to each other, I just had no energy left. I was awake for 26 hours straight and to be able to witness and cover the event was already a miracle to me.

When I got home, I just slept and learned that the procession took 17 hours. The longest in its history. 17 hours of procession in a distance that is about a 15 minute drive from Quirino Grandstand to Quiapo Church. 7 Million participants, what an awesome experience it was even if I lost something that day. I would love to be there to witness what does the Black Nazarene procession has to offer this coming January 9, 2012.

January 2, 2011

2011, what experiences will you bring?

The last year of the first decade for the 21st century is over and thus opens another decade. 2011 years of history, so much has happened and I didn't even notice that I've been in this amazing and dangerous world for two decades now. Wow! Everything about my past has been so extraordinary, I've been to the ups and downs of life in such a short period of time.

2010, what did last year brought me? Happiness and Sadness, contentment and frustration. Periods of being overjoyed and suddenly being depressed. 2010 brought challenges to my time and decisions over priority from bumming. I became a President of an organization that hasn't have a solid foundation and an organization without interest to the school community these days. I also became a photo editor for the school paper and it challenged my leadership skills because the roster of photographers were my friends and some are seniors and I felt a little uncomfortable telling orders to higher batches but I tried my best and it works so far.

I'm not going to deny that because of these tasks and obligations, I became a bit of a loner for this academic year. It's either you see me holding activity sheets, running back and forth to offices to get permits or bringing 500 newspapers to the school lobby and folding it myself, but like I said; I think I've done well in planning and time management.

It's so hard when people expect you to bring out what you can give. Giving out the best what I can and trying hard to reach marks that would make me qualify for a scholarship hasn't been successful for 3 years. Co-Curricular activities take its toll in studies I tell you, there are times where I am just so exhausted and I just want to be alone, sit for about 3 hours and rejuvenate, take a nap, but every time I try to do that all obligations are running in my mind and all I can hear is "DEADLINE, DEADLINE, DEADLINE!" so I stand up and go out!

I've also been to a lot of shit in 2010, I've had so many shortcomings and whenever I fail people get upset, they go "you could've done this, I expected better, you could've been the best" - HEY! I'm imperfect, I'm not a wonder kid! Yes I can do a lot of things but this is what I always say:

"I'm the Jack of all trades, King of none"

So 2011, what experiences do you offer? I've been into so much failures in 2010. I'm sick of failing people and disappointing them, I'm trying harder than hardest but I realized that I can't really be anything what people ask for because if I'll be what they'll ask, that's not me, that's them. I'll do what you say, but on my own way.

So dear 2011, bring me happiness and contentment, bring me the smile I've lost and bring myself where I could be happy to be me. Teach me more experiences where I could learn life in a different way, teach me all these things so that I could be better. Enlighten me.