How CouchSurfing Influenced My Way Of Traveling

Secluded beaches if Beautiful Rio. A walking distance from my host who live in the foot of the mountain

Secluded beaches of beautiful Rio de Janeiro :). A walking distance from where my CS host lives. In the foot of the mountain. Which serves as my home too. For a week :)

I would say that in the family where I was raised, kindness to strangers and genuine hospitality has been part of our growing up. I was born in a small village close to Pacific Ocean, in the North East part of the Philippines – 3 hours by land travel outside Manila. I had vivid memories of those foreigners who were in a mission where they interact with my folks in the community and part of it, they live and stay in our home for a few days. My mother whom has a heart like Mother Theresa (I am not exaggerating but she is really like that). She has passion for charity  works, active in people’s organization, non-government organizations and other women’s group for a cause. As a kid we were taught to behave when there are visitors at home. That means, we act more finesse and a little quiet when there are other people around. Aha, that I think was one of those training ground where I learned to practice speaking basic English until eventually I got fluent with it. Most of the time, I was the unofficial translator, from Filipino to English and vice versa. I remember, one of our guest spoke to my mother, “Fely, you are blessed to have such a smart and bright children!“. And yes, me and my sisters would automatically burst into that BIG smile. My mother would reply in a joke (which I have to translate in English after), “my children inherit that to me!” and then we will all fall in a non-stop boisterous laughter! :)

One of the things I am truly thankful is to be introduced to this kind of group whom I would say, practically resonates my persona. CouchSurfing (from my viewpoint, ^ in my opening paragraph) has just formally put into organized group what I think has been a tradition that is going on (in small villages) for a long time – hosting strangers hosted by complete strangers. Isn’t that strange? ;)

Before I learned about CouchSurfing (CS), a classmate and a friend in my postgraduate class, Janice Gabuat has introduced me to Hospitality Club (HC). Basically, the concept is the same. I had an opportunity to be hosted by extremely interesting people who have that thirst for traveling and have keen interest in learning about other’s culture. I had experience HC while traveling to Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Italy, France, Norway. While my first CS meet up was when I was in Kota Kinabalu and then I was first hosted in Switzerland. The folks I had met and hosted me in all these places were simply respectful, down to earth, accommodating and generous. Until one day, I had encounter a not-so-good experience from CS, I stop and abandoned it for a little while. More often, one bad thing that could happen to you would cloud all the good that you have had. I consciously chose to focus on the good. I have to unlearn and re-learn to trust people again. That’s the only way. And I have to give it a try.

Then came, my very first voyage to South America. I realized, that this attempt to reaching out to complete strangers and people I don’t know who could be a huge step to restore my trust to other people (again), to believe in the goodness of humanity (all over again). I have to mention it here: I hate “the actions” of people who constantly lie, who gives false flatteries to seek approval, who does not know how to RESPECT. These are some of the few things that I could not compromise. I put emphasis on “the actions” as I try to objectively separate the action of the person to a person’s persona. Though, it’s a difficult work to do. But worth a try.

So there, VAMOS SUR AMERIKA!!! :)

1) Sao Paulo, Brazil. I will be forever grateful for Nayara and Renato for their gentleness, kindness and warm hospitality when I was in Sao Paulo. This interesting city has been my gateway to South America. Renato and Nayara pick me up at the train station on the eve of my arrival. It was drizzling. Upon reaching home, Renato cooked a very special dinner while Nayara prepared a smoothie juice. We were chatting and chatting and chatting and chatting and chatting endlessly!!! It felt like they were my friends I have not seen for a long time! But it was the first time I met them! I love their home. It’s very cozy, organize, clean. I have my own room. And they have a pet named ___ I forgot haha :)  Despite their busy schedule, Renato is constantly giving me direction how to go to places and before they left for work, they already prepared my breakfast. They make everything for me to feel at home. Talking about them and expressing my countless gratitude would never be enough – I arrived as a complete stranger. I left with a heavy heart parting from my newly found friends in Sao Paulo. Muito Obrigada! Until we meet again! And yes your love story will always serve as my inspiration. Some things just happen when you least expect it. Keep the love alive and stay in love! :)

Sweet couple Nayara & Renato at their beautiful home in Sao Paulo

Sweet couple Nayara & Renato at their beautiful home in Sao Paulo

2) Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I really feel lucky for having met someone from Rio who has a big heart. Luis is a very patient, cool, extremely accommodating, humorous, fun loving and a laid back person. Although I have arrived a bit late in Rio de Janeiro and there was miscommunication about my time of arrival.  He has been very patient. Well, am really glad for all the strangers who offered their mobile phones, who make their way to help me translate talking from English to Portuguese. Those random people who despite the warning that I got before I fly to Brazil that it is not a safe country and crimes happen everywhere. Nonetheless, I had not felt a single danger. Luis lives in the quiet suburbs near the foot of the mountain, a walking distance to beautiful beaches near his place. There are fruit trees at the back of his house adjacent to the swimming pool. My room that serve as my temporary sanctuary for a week has a view towards the beach though a little blocked by the neighboring homes. It has an atmosphere of a rustic home which I liked. With high ceiling, a long sofa and a prayer corner with the images of Jesus Christ and Mama Mary. My bed is adjacent to the window where I am happy to see the sunrise every morning. Luis has showed me all the tourist spots in Rio – plus those off-the-beaten-path. We went to museum, dine in at Lapa, went to paragliding point at the middle of the night. The best thing that happened was my birthday falls while I was in Rio. And Luis family friend, cooked a sumptuous, extremely delicious lunch for us! It was a very memorable birthday. Roaming around Rio’s beaches, driving to the city centre and seeing Christ Redentor at the middle of the night from one of the highest mountain peak in Rio. Luis, I wish you’d have time in the future to visit Southeast Asia, I would love to show around my place. Muitto Obrigado!

Luis & his energetic son. With fellow CSer Paloma from Colombia. Dining in at a Japanese resto in Lapa, Rio

Luis & his energetic son. With fellow CSer Paloma from Colombia. Dining in at a Japanese resto in Lapa

Whilst traveling to South America, I had a layover in the UAE. I am truly grateful for the newly found friends I met there. There was this kind gentleman, Suhail from InterNations (an organization for expats living abroad) who arranged to meet up with me who drive all the way from Abu Dhabi to show me the Palm Atlantis, The Burj Khalifa, the CBD area. We had long walks at the Marina Promenade and had a relaxing time people-watch while cooling down ourselves in one of the many restaurants alley near the coast. I learned a lot from him about his life back in Pakistan. We had a pretty great deal of things to talk to as we’re both in the construction industry and the American firm which currently employs him used to be one of our consultant in one of my previous project involvement in Singapore.

3) Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It was like a breathe of fresh air to be connected with one of the kindest soul I have never expected to meet in Dubai. Amit who hails from India has just move to Dubai a few months back. Although he has an 8am work the next day he waited for me patiently since I arrive after midnight. We met almost 3am and still he has the energy to cheer me up though I look so groggy and hardly fall asleep at the plane. Despite his busy schedule he make his way to show me around Dubai. We went to Jumeirah  beach and had clubbing in one of the bars and restaurant located somewhere in the middle of the sea – 360 Degrees. Now I understand why he asked me if I have a ladies shoes. Imagine I was wearing a green sneakers. Next time I should bring some formal clothes. I never know when will be the next party again hihi. The security officers might not let me in anymore. The next day we managed to watch some live bands performance  – my folks from the Philippines. On my first day, he introduced me to try some Lebanese food which is worth a try haha. Amit regularly practices yoga and meditation. He taught me the basics and we had some sessions and showed me several books about spirituality. Osho which is his most favorite.

Amit, my host in Dubai. Bringing me to a Lebanese resto, my first try of Lebanese food

Amit, my host in Dubai. Bring me to a Lebanese resto, my first try of Lebanese food

To conclude,

My CouchSurfing Hosts: I can’t thank you enough. Your presence makes the world a better place to live. Together, we build a world of inclusivity not exclusivity, a culture of collectivism not divisiveness; a society that understands not criticize; that no matter where you are from; whatever color of your skin or your status in life – there is a culture of openness not judgment; a culture of acceptance not stereotyping.

Travel Notes from Siem Reap

Angkor Wonder!TRAVEL NOTES 101. Siem Reap. 2300 hours

Angkor Wonder Hostel: Highly Recommended

After traveling for nearly 14 hours from Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) and being left by the sleeper bus after early morning stop (coffee/ breakfast/ toilet break) between the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap where the world’s famous Angkor Wat is located, I felt relieve and happy to be greeted by a down to earth owner of Angkor Wonder Hostel – Mr Why Not. Why Not? :) Yes, Why Not. I thought it’s a very catchy name.

Travel Mishap

That awful feeling of helplessness to be left in the middle of nowhere, where no one speaks a single word in English. I think the bus has stop for relatively longer time but maybe I was in a deep sleep. When I wake up, I quickly made my way to the toilet and upon return the bus was gone. I think it was crazy for the bus driver assistant not to do a head count and just leave like that. I left my dslr camera in the bed. My luggage was in the storage compartment of the bus. I was mad at the guy who share with the sleeper bed who never bothered to tell the driver that there’s one passenger left. I thought he wanted to get even with me. I have said I was not comfortable to share the sleeper bed with a man, a stranger, I do not know. I requested to swap with a woman. But I think the number was odd, so I ended up feeling uncomfortable for the entire trip.

I have tried to communicate my best with the locals in the store to help me call the driver or the office of the sleeper bus company. But no luck. Early morning, all offices are closed. People are still sleeping. I was a bit worried. Nevertheless, I tried to keep myself composed. Worst comes to worst, if I lost my luggage – I still have the money and my passport with me. I can buy some clothes, toiletry, small notebook and a pen. I’d be sad if I lost forever the camera not because of the camera per se but of the beautiful memories stored in the memory card and the book I am currently reading – The Secrets of Happy Families – I will lost this beautiful companion of mine. Nothing lasts forever indeed. Everything can be taken in an instant. But these are material things. I can easily replace it. So I thought, I will be fine. I promised myself, after this mishap, I will have a great time for the rest of my stay in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Twenty minutes feels like two hundred minutes being left in a place where I know no one. What guarantee can I have the sleeper bus will return to pick me up? Nothing. My mind was still running for all other possible scenarios when I heard someone shouting from afar, the assistant bus driver, the sound of the bus coming. Ohhh thank God!

At Home At Angkor Wonder

After the semi-ordeal at a very unholy hour of early morning – things went well afterwards. I was pick up at the bus station by the Angkor Wonder tuktuk and was offered a refreshing mineral water. In about 15 minutes, we arrived at the hostel. I was greeted and shake hands with the smiling hostel owner who introduced himself as Mr Why Not. What a nice name, I said. Several people who were having breakfast wave their hands upon my arrival. I thought wow, the people here are so cool. I admire how the entrance of the hostel was nicely decorated with rustic Khmer, some flowering plants, banana trees and a nipa hut.

Mr Why Not offered me another bottled drink then gave me a brief orientation about what to do and how to efficiently explore Siem Reap. He handed me a map and carried my luggage all the way up to the 4th floor. Mr Why Not has offered lot of options on how to explore Angkor Wat – he never imposed a single way like taking the tour. He has been very cordial and honest about giving advice and I could sense that he is not a greedy businessman who likes to rip off money from tourists and travelers alike. Mr Why Not is genuinely interested in helping people. I have observed some arrogant travelers who expect too much and sounds too bossy – but Mr Why Not maintains his cool. He is definitely a super down to earth hostel owner I have ever met. I felt instantly at home at his place. Meeting his family and those independent travelers – we were like a big family staying in a 4-storey residential building! And there was always a cocktail party at the Gazebo house every night. So why go to the Night Market when you can have free drinks at home? ;) And at your own choice. It was one exceptional feeling to be immersed with these group of people coming from all walks of life. And it was made possible because of how Mr Why Not relates to everyone. He treats all of us as a friend, as a family.

Place for breakfast, cocktail party at night :)

A place for breakfast, cocktail party at night :)

Dreams Reawaken

I was again reminded of my very own dreams, to have a Bed-and-Breakfast (Guesthouse) in one of the beautiful islands in my country, the Philippines – Palawan :). Run by our family. We will employ my own folks, as my way of giving back to my community. It will not be a typical Bed-and-Breakfast. It will offer the  tourists and travelers the opportunity to get involve in basic environmental protection and conservation. I will probably introduce them to a couple of endemic and exotic species with its scientific names. Explain how these tropical plants affect our well being, show the connection how our action in return affect the whole ecosystem and our life on Earth. While incorporating community organizing to build People’s Organization that geared towards empowerment, self-reliance, independence. Crafting local products, creating something new, recycling used stuff that can be exported where the target is the international market. The tourists and travelers will not only have the best holiday experience in one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Not only that they will enjoy, they will return home full and fulfilled because they have done something meaningful. They have taken something. But they also give back. Being an environmental steward of our beautiful Earth, immersing in the community and experience first-hand how the local people work, et ce te ra. I don’t know how it will work. But I have a feeling that it will happen. Someday. One day. Oh it feels so good to dream! Yes!!! :D Pursuing my love for traveling while incorporating a little bit of everything in my Bed-and-Breakfast dreams :).

I was inspired by Mr Why Not humble beginnings. If he can do it, so I can :).

Dream Come True

I approached Mr Why Not and asked if I can interview him. I told him about this little blog of mine. I promised him I will create a post about Angkor Wonder because the world needs to know Mr Why Not is not only providing a cheap stay in his hostel – he is building connections, relationships, friendships from all over the world. To have his own hostel run by the family is Mr Why Not long time dream. He cited that his goal of building a hostel was to get closer to his family as he has his four young growing children. He started as a tuktuk driver and then worked for a bus company. It was difficult for him to always go back home as he is almost always on the road. He admit, he has no entrepreneurial background. At first he does not know how to use computer, how to create profile in facebook, how to manage booking reservations, until slowly he started to learn about all these things… He is getting there. Mr Why Not himself is a successful person despite citing that he has made lots of mistakes while starting. The hostel is only 3 years and I think he has done a good job. In fact the hostel received an excellent accolade from the TripAdvisor.

2013 & 2014 Recognition of Excellence

2013 & 2014 Certificate of Excellence

I am really happy to have found a welcoming home in Cambodia. I will definitely stay here again when I’m back. If you find this – you are indeed lucky. And I am certain you will feel the same way :D

Angkor Wonder - Your Home in Siem Reap :)

Angkor Wonder – Your Home in Siem Reap :)

ANGKOR WONDER HOSTEL

#59, Street Phsar Krom, Vihear Chen Village, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Phone:+855 12 328 893

Email: whynotbeyourfriend@hotmail.com

The man behind Angkor Wonder - Mr Why Not with his cute son Bryan :)

The man behind Angkor Wonder – Mr Why Not with his cute son Bryan :)

Captured Scene: Beautiful Cambodian, SiemReap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat...is the play field of this beautiful littlle Cambodian girl. I wonder what she's watching the passersby tourists...

Angkor Wat is the playing field of this beautiful little Cambodian girl. I wonder what is she thinking watching the passersby tourists. Looking into her facial expression melts my heart… Glad to be back in Cambodia :)

“LOVE… it surrounds every being and extends slowly to embrace all that shall be.” -Khalil Gibran

Recycle Bin

Isn't it BEAUTIFUL? :))

Isn’t it BEAUTIFUL? :))

Staring at the dashboard.

 For a long time.

No words seem to come out.

Looking for inspiration.

Nada .

That creative juice.

I’m convinced writing cannot be forced.

It has to come naturally.

Natural is but normal?

What is normal is dictated by norms.

Should there be norms about writing?

Writing is an art.

Art is an expression.

Expression is action.

Action can be edited.

Or deleted.

When something is edited

Does it change reality?

Reality can be deleted.

When everything is deleted

There’s one last option –

Restore it from the Recycle Bin.

 

#Whenyouwanttowritesomethingbutdoesn’tfeellikeit’srighttoshare   #Ihatetorant   #Trypoetrywithoutpoint

Captured Scene: Flat Tire, Genting Highlands, Malaysia

After visiting Batu Caves and seeing Petronas Tower, the girls are still in a high energy to go to Genting Highlands...

Last Friday, I accompanied my friends for a short weekend get away as Monday was a public holiday. After visiting Batu Caves and seeing Petronas Tower, the girls are still in a high energy to go to Genting Highlands. We rented a cab for an uber expensive price, as there was shortage of buses on that day. Ended up stranded for a little while… Thanks to the PrimeRonda who helped our captain fix the broken tire. Looks like the girls enjoyed the ride :P

“Live,
Travel,
Adventure,
Bless,
And don’t be sorry.” – Jack Kerouac

:(

:(:) :) :)

A Short Poem: Transcendence

Happy Oktoberfest! I mean, October first! :P

I thought, for a change, I will share a poem. This blog has a page for “Poetry” but nothing has been written. I have a collection of poems that I opted not to publish because I may be too shy and not ready for public scrutiny ;). It is in my undisclosed blog where I write stuff that I cannot share with the public. For the time being. Let this be, an exception :).A short poem about TRANSCENDENCEThis was written for someone, whom in so many ways, with little time, have touched my life and have affected what I have become now. I wish you joy from here and beyond. Until we meet again. xxx

Captured Scene: Rangitoto Island, Auckland, New Zealand

Overlooking Rangitoto Island from Mt Eden on a sunny windy day :)

Overlooking Rangitoto Island from Mt Eden on a sunny windy day :)

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.
The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves”. – J. Muir