Choosing a single highlight from my recent trip to the Holy Land is not an easy feat, with the many experiences that could truly be considered once in a lifetime. If I had to name one, though, it would have to be looking at the Old City of Jerusalem from across the valley at the Mount of Olives. More than the stunning canyons at Petra or the stillness of the Sea of Galilee, the Old City is a sight to behold—the high stone walls, the sloping terrain filled to the brim with buildings, the setting sun gleaming off the golden Dome of the Rock. It becomes especially impressive when you ponder on the history that comes with it.
Traveling to Israel (and other notable historical cities in Jordan, as well) was full of poignant moments like this. When visiting places that have been around for hundreds, some even thousands, of years, it makes us take a moment of introspection—of all the generations and faces that these places have seen, we are but a speck in the grand scheme of things.
Realizing this, of course, isn’t the main reason people travel to the Holy Land. Its tumultuous history and still somewhat fragile present has not been enough to deter the hordes of pilgrims who make their way to Jerusalem every year. As a Holy City to three of the world’s biggest monotheistic religions—Christianity, Judaism and Islam—Jerusalem itself sees more than three million tourists every year.
I was lucky enough to be one of those three million this year, and had the chance to visit coming on Korean Airlines’ flight from Cebu to Tel Aviv, conveniently connecting via Seoul three times a week. After our midnight flight to Seoul (Korean Airlines operates daily flights out of Cebu) and a comfortable layover ensconced in the SkyTeam Lounge at the Incheon International Airport, we were on the 12-hour trip to Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv is Israel’s more modern city, with a reputation of being a favorite gay resort destination. Towering skyscrapers, manicured pocket parks in the middle of residential districts, and a vibrant nightlife make it completely different from the rest of the country. It does, however, pay homage to history in the ancient port city of Jaffa on the Mediterranean Sea. Brick paths, old churches and a site where replicas of the city’s ancient gates add to its old world charm, as do the town squares in the midst of the city where tourists and locals gather to enjoy afternoon coffee and other refreshments.
However, Tel Aviv was meant as just a short stop on the trip, as following in Jesus’ footsteps took up a bigger part of the weeklong schedule. Meteor Philippines Inc. organized the itinerary, which managing director Ligaya Tabirao has been doing for 20 years. The agency has organized several group tours to the Holy Land, with support from the Council of Bishops of the Philippines.
On this particular tour, Meteor Philippines was represented by team leader Mai Hasan, who explained that their local partner Eternity Travel had taken care of the local arrangements. Our tour guide Rami Munayer, who we later found out was highly sought after for both his historical and Biblical knowledge, ran us through the schedule on our first night.
Our first stop was in Tiberias and the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee, which includes Nazareth, the town where Jesus lived, and later on Jerusalem and Bethlehem. We were set to cross the border to Jordan towards the end of the trip. Throughout the journey, we visited places that seemed to have popped up from the colorful pages of my children’s Bible—and Rami excellently provided some historical background to each one to add more depth to the stories that we had grown up with.
For example, the wine jars at Cana where Jesus first performed a miracle by turning water into wine at a wedding, were actually large, hollow stone containers, quite different from the clay jars I’d imagined. The Mount of Beatitudes, too, featured a topography that made it a natural amphitheater, which means that Jesus may have, in fact, been preaching from the lowest point but was clearly heard by everyone.
There’s always a sense of wonder to finally visit a place that you’ve read about for years, and here it really all comes alive—the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, where Jesus turned five loaves of bread and two fish into enough to feed 5,000 men (and that’s not counting women and children); the old olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the bedrock enshrined in the nearby Church of All Nations that was said to be the rock Jesus had prayed on before being arrested; or the serene shores of the Jordan River, where tour chaplain Father Joseph Yntig performed a ceremony so we could renew our baptismal vows.
All of these places spoke of such history, and it was amazing that they remained standing there to this day. Of course, as Rami told us, many of the sites had been destroyed and rebuilt throughout the years—but that somehow makes it even more astounding. Whether or not you believe in religion, there’s no denying its awesome power to inspire people to build and preserve ancient structures.
I would have to admit to not being very much of a religious person myself—I am a Roman Catholic who, for the most part, goes through the motions for the sake of ritual—but many of the places we visited that week came with an almost overwhelming sense of sanctity. Goosebumps ran all over my arm while venerating on the 14-point silver star that marked the spot where Jesus was born in the Church of the Nativity; and in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, kneeling in front of the marble slab where Jesus’ body was laid to rest before His resurrection was enough for me to burst into tears.
Even the experiences that weren’t exactly religious still somehow bordered on the spiritual. One of the last places we visited before flying back to Cebu was Petra. The sight of the beautiful canyons glowing red in the sun, and later on the intricately carved façade of the Treasury, was a humbling experience—here was a city and a site that has stood for thousands of years, long before we got here, and will probably remain standing long after we’re gone.
The feeling that comes over you throughout the trip is like you’re walking into a fascinating part of history as a minute spectator. While Petra is magnificent in its own right, nothing makes you feel more like a spectator than Jerusalem. As a city that has been destroyed time and again throughout history, there’s something absolutely beautiful about how it perseveres to withstand the test of time—much like religion (whether ours, or that of the Jews and Muslims we share such a close history with) and the places that pay homage to it.
Get Lost in this Not-so-distant Island Safari Paradise
LOST IN PARADISE
Tao Philippines Crusoe-style deserted island camp paradise is perfect for those who understand the luxury of simplicity and disconnection.
by Melo E. Esguerra photography by Scott Sporleder
Just when you think Palawan is fast becoming a second Boracay, where congestion of concrete buildings and human bodies have begun to define the island experience more than the pristine beaches of white powdery sand, the Lostboys of Tao Philippines came up with a new island project that guarantees an escape to paradise. They call the island Camp Ngey Ngey.
The Lostboys have taken over the abandoned resort of Manguengey in Busuanga, a remote island in Palawan. They have kept the ruins from the typhoon and built their signature bamboo Tuka huts around the main beach of the island, which serves as the camp area. Just a short walk away you’ll find jungle trails that lead to three other wild beaches, preserved reefs and windswept cliffs encompassed by crystal blue waters. And on certain days, when the winds are strong, one side of the island becomes a good site for surfing.
Eddie Brock, one of the founders of Tao Philippines, explains how this concept of an island safari came about. “When we took over Manguengey Resort, we were stuck with the idea of how to run it. We do not know how to cater to resort guests, the individual choices and needs, and menus,” he admits. “Tao’s expertise is to show travelers something new, something more raw and adventurous. We decided that we will not worry about things we don’t understand, and stick to what we do best. One of the best aspects of a Tao trip is creating an atmosphere of connecting with other travelers, disconnected from digital clot—without the worry of planning, wallets and keeping a status. Five days out in the remoteness with the islanders in control leads to a positive attitude: guards down, inhibition is off and open to meet new friends.”
The camp is accessible through the three day/two night boat safari from Coron, with beach and reef stops en route the camp and back. Guests will be joining other travelers, staying in individual Tuka huts dotted along the beach. There are lounges, a dining and kitchen area, and open hang-out places. Currently, the big mansion from the old resort is being restored into a villa that can accommodate a family or group of friends.
The island can be reserved for big events like weddings, parties and other meaningful gatherings.
In the island, there is no room service, no menus, no WiFi. You will arrive as strangers, you will eat together, swim together, laugh together, drink together, and get to know each other offline. Become part of the magic of Tao, and see what happens!
For more information on how the trip to Camp Ngey Ngey works, log on to www.taophilippines.com
(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s June 2017 Men’s Issue, “Lost in Paradise” on pages 110-113.)
THROWBACK THURSDAY. Our Stylish Voyage on a Boat with Loida and Richard
With hosts Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau, we take entertaining to the high seas.
by Shari Quimbo photography Steffen Billhardt
The sky was decidedly gloomy on the Sunday afternoon Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau invited a small group of us for a sail, the clouds getting darker as I make my way to Porter’s Marina, where the Blue Planet was docked.
“Richard built the boat himself in Cebu,” Loida explains, going on to share that he was the former honorary French consul in Cebu. “It was built here, and I designed the interiors.”
All that work certainly paid off—Loida and Richard would often sail the boat out to different Philippine destinations such as El Nido, Siargao, Boracay and the Gigantes Islands in Iloilo. These could mean days-long journeys that sometimes meant dealing with some rough seas. Quick day trips, much like the one we were about to embark on, were also a regular past time.
Loida gives me a quick tour of the boat then shows off her tropical spread. With its bright blue and white floral seating, the cabin’s dining area is already a pretty festive site. “I wanted to keep it simple,” she tells me, arranging her fresh fruits around on the banana leaf-covered wooden slabs she was using as serving trays. “And I wanted it to look more local, more tropical. We are on the water, after all.”
The bamboo slats of the dining table were the perfect backdrop to Loida’s spread, which featured tropical fruits alongside an entire roll of lechon belly, fresh lumpia, empanada and steamed shrimp.
The highlight of the table, though, was the chicken liver pate, a dish that Richard makes himself. “Luckily, the French love to cook,” Loida jokes conspiratorially.
Finally, it was time to take the vessel out onto the high seas, and the group makes its way above deck to enjoy the view. The cool sea breeze was a bit stronger than usual, something that had to do with the dark rain clouds looming above us—something that would have deterred any other group, but not this adventurous bunch. Armed with a glass of champagne in one hand and a biscuit smeared with pate on the other, many stand against the railing, admiring the sight of the sky turning orange above the Mactan Channel.
And then it starts to pour. No matter, though—as the rain pounds against the deck, the party finds its way down below. A bottle of wine is opened, and then another, while a second pot of pate is transferred on a plate. Our captain waits until the waves calm before he brings us back ashore.
(This story has already been published in the printed edition of Zee Lifestyle Magazine’s November 2016 issue as one of the Entertaining Features on pages 82-85.)
Experience authentic Korean Barbeque at Da-In Restaurant
Filipinos are crazy for Korean barbecue. As such, there are a lot of places that are offering Korean barbecue. But Da-In restaurant isn’t just one of those restaurants.
Located in Salinas Drive in Lahug, Cebu, Da-in restaurant is a joint project between the Creative Cuisine Group and Da-Won restaurant. With state-of-the-art grilling stations in each table and various Korean cuisines ready to be served, Da-In would surely sate your Korean barbecue cravings without any hassle.
Visit Da-In restaurant today!
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