Remembering the Days of Old While on lockdown

So in response to the growing pandemic of COVID-19 in the Philippines, our President declared the entire Luzon under enhanced community quarantine. It is essentially a lockdown—movement restrictions with exceptions (the front-liners such as medical professionals, grocery clerks, restaurant workers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, and sanitation workers).

Although I am on a work from home arrangement, I have more time in my hands, and so I’ve decided to give this blog a little love.  

So I continue with our Holy land journey focusing on Israel this time.

The land of Israel is also known as the Holy land or Palestine. It is the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity.  

Until 1948, the land of Israel had lain in a virtual state of waste for over 1900 years.   As God had promised in Ezekiel 11:16-20, He gave back the land of Israel to the Jews and gathered them from the nations to which He had exiled them. Today, over 6 million Jews have returned to Israel from more than 102 different countries representing 38 languages. The deserted desert land is once again blooming as promised.  

Some Significant Places Not to be Missed

Follow me as we step into history through the sites where my faith was born, tested, and proven. We will walk where Jesus walked, taught, and died.

Dead Sea

A salt lake bordered by Jordan and Israel. It lies in the Jordan Rift Valley, and its main tributary is the Jordan River. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the earth’s surface, which extends from Asia Minor to Africa. Its shoreline is 430 meters below sea level, 72 kilometers long, and 18 kilometers wide. 

It is one of the most unusual lakes in the world, and people from all over the world flock to this hypersaline phenomenon. It has no outlet, so water is only lost by evaporation, making it the world’s saltiest body of water.  

Rich in mineral content, many as far back, Cleopatra has been making use of the Dead Sea mineral for beauty treatments and health remedies. It contains 33% salt and 328 minerals, such as magnesium, bromide potash, potassium, and other metals. Its concentration of salt and minerals is about 50% compared to 5% of that of regular oceans.

Because it smells of rotten eggs from the sulfur of the earth, the Dead Sea (also referred to the Salt Sea in the Bible) has been called many names — Sea od Sodom, Sea of Lot, and the Stinking Sea. According to the Book of Genesis, God “rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed all of Sodom and Gomorrah. They once stood at the south end of the sea, they were submerged beneath the waters that formed the lowest and saltiest lake in the world.

Masada National Park

On the western shore of the Dead Sea, between Sodom and Ein Gedi is a natural fortress on a mesa in the Judean Desert. The plateau rises 440 meters above the Dead Sea and is surrounded by a deep gorge on all sides. Its remote location made it a natural fortress.

Masada shows the engineering and architectural abilities of Herod the Great. 

He kept his family at Masada during the years of his struggle for power in Judea. In the days of the Great Revolt, a group of Jewish rebels besieged by the Roman army entrenched themselves in Masada. 

From its beautiful views of the desert and the Dead Sea to the legend behind it, this stunning archeological site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see.

Qumran

In 1947, two Bedouin shepherd boys found the Dead Sea scrolls, the oldest known copies of biblical texts, in caves north of ancient ruins near the Dead Sea. 

How the Qumran caves look like

Its origin, which was written between 150 B.C. and 70 A.D., remains the subject of scholarly debate to this day. They are supposedly the work of a Jewish population that inhabited Qumran until Roman troops destroyed the settlement around 70 A.D.

The Dead Sea Scrolls include fragments from every book of the Old Testament except for the Book of Esther.

Ein Gedi

The literal translation of Ein Gedi from Hebrew means “the spring of the young goat.” It is the biggest and the most crucial oasis in Israel. It has springs and waterfalls and flowing brooks at the foot of the cliffs. You can find trails of dessert streams along the reserve. The abundance of water yields thriving vegetation that formed the foundation of its ecosystem.  

There is much to explore throughout this expansive park, including archeological sites that date back to the 1st century. Still, the most popular is David’s waterfalls.

The site was known in the Biblical times as fertile, blessed by the spring it is named after. This area is where David hid from the pursuing King Saul (1 Samuel 23 29: “And David went up from thence, and dwelt in strongholds at Engedi “).

Beit She’an

Walk back through time as you explore an old theater that is still in use today, a public bathhouse, two streets with partial columns still standing, temple ruins, and many more ancient sites.  

A city in Northern Israel, which has played an essential role in history due to its geographical location, where the Jordan River Valley and the Jezreel Valley meet. 

In biblical account, the most famous episode featuring Beit She’an follows the death of King Saul on Mt. Gilboa (1Sam 31:8-13 and Chronicles 10:8-12). Later, Beit She’an became incorporated into the Kingdom of King David and his son Solomon. It became a significant administration center in Solomon’s Kingdom.

There is so much to explore in Israel so I will break Israel into 2 parts, so join me on my next post as I share with you more of this small diverse country.

Stay safe, everyone. Praying that you are all well. Let stay away from crowds so we can flatten the curve. God Bless us all, and may this pandemic end soon.

Israel

Those who love history, current events, and the spiritual will enjoy exploring this tiny country.

Israel has a history of survival, the Jews have had to endure captivity after captivity throughout their existence.  Its history begins with God, who chose Abraham and his descendants to be His people and entered into a covenant relationship with them.  He was to be their God and the Israelites, His people.

Beit She’an Ruins

He promised that they will inherit the land of Canaan and grant them national protection, provided that they keep the 10 Commandments.  This covenant took effect at Horeb and renewed on the plains of Moab.

The ruins of Beit She’an

As recorded in the Bible, the land of Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish people, where its culture, religion, and national identity was founded.  The Jewish people never severed nor forgot its bond with the land, even after many were forced into exile.

Best friends spotted at the Jewish Quarter

Israel gained independence in 1948.  It is (today) a modern-day nation in the Middle East that makes up part of the biblical Holyland.  The modern country of Israel included two distinct nationalities, the Palestinian and the Jewish.  Each nationality is free from its religious identity.  The Palestinians are Arabs whose traditions are founded in Medina culture. At the same time, the Jews define their culture in large part around their religion as well. 

Streets of Tel Aviv

The Israelis embrace many lifestyles, from modern to traditional, from urban to rural.  The country has a lively contemporary culture that is also very variegated because of the country’s diverse population originating from some 100 countries.

Jews at the Wailing Wall

While the majority of Israel adopts a secular lifestyle, both amongst Jews and Arabs, freedom of faith and worship is a cornerstone of Israeli democracy. 

The Dead Sea

A fascinating country steeped in history.  It is the land of the Bible.  In the next posts, we will walk through the days of old.

Egypt Highlights:

One of the oldest kingdoms on record dating from 3100BC, officially known today as the Arab Republic of Egypt is a country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and the southeast corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula.  It welcomes you with its mighty Nile and magnificent monuments, the enchanting desert, and lush delta. 

Egypt was one of the first countries in the world to embrace Christianity.  By the time Abraham was in Egypt, it was already over 1,000 years old.  After 2,500 years of triumph, this nation fell to conquering armies.  It has never gained back its past glory. 

Before its collapse, ancient Egypt the land of the Pharaohs and monuments like the legendary Great Pyramids and the Spinx. 

A visit to Egypt must include a visit to the Egyptian Museum, where around 120,000 Egyptian artifacts can be found, albeit not all are on display.

Likewise, for the Great Pyramid of Giza, the only one of the Seven Wonders of the World still standing, the oldest and largest of the 3 pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex. The famous three pyramids of Giza were built around 2700 BC., primarily used as tombs.

The Great Spinx is a statue of a reclining lion with a human head that stands on the Giza plateau, a national symbol of both ancient and modern Egypt.  Recent studies are still inconclusive as to who founded the Sphinx, why and when it was constructed, or whose image was carved on the Sphinx’s face.

Climbing Mount Sinai was the highlight of my Egypt leg.  Located at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, a mountain ridge that has long been considered the site of Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai. 

According to the Bible, it was in Mount Horeb that God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and commissioned him to return to Egypt. (Exodus 3:1-4:17).It was also here that God told Moses to strike the rock, which provided water for the Israelites (Exodus 17:1-6).  In Mount Sinai, God appeared to Moses and gave him instructions and the 10 Commandments (Exodus 19:13-34:45)

From the foot of Mount Sinai in St. Catherine, we rode a camel up to the last rest stop before ascending to the summit (never again… lol), the final 750 steps.  To catch the sunrise, we started the trek a few hours after midnight and reached the summit before dawn.

The scenery on the way down was fascinating – expect dramatic, jaw-dropping granite landscape views.  It is one of the richest eco-system in the Middle East.  It is home to many endemic, rare and protected plant and animal species. 

The Camel path is a 7km long snake-like trail and trekking up to the top will take about 3 hours on average.

Journey into the Land of the Bible

Credits: JSprague’s Lesson Supplies

A journey back into time, a pilgrimage to the land of my spiritual roots, the backdrop of my Christian faith.  This trip to the Holy Land was not only history and geography but an experience altogether as we treaded in its streets, relished its stories and basked in its colors, shapes, and sounds.  Here I grew to appreciate the sacrifices of all the men and women of faith. 

In this journey, I walked where Jesus walked, taught, died, and rose again.  In this few weeks, I’ve developed a deeper appreciation of God’s word and who He is to me.

Our journey started in Egypt following the Exodus route through the Sinai Peninsula onto the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem.

Gorgeous Zamboanga Islands

We were welcomed by a “Bienvenidos!” by the Alavar staff, as we entered this iconic Zamboanga restaurant for dinner. An excellent way to distress after a 3-hour flight delay from Manila. 

For a while there, I was disoriented… where am I?  Zamboanga is popularly known as Asia’s Latin city because of its unique native dialect.  The Chavacano dialect is a mixture of Spanish and various other local dialects and international languages.  It is also the oldest spoken language in the country reflecting a rich linguistic history of its people.

So rich in natural resources, it is dubbed as the “Sardines Capital of the Philippines” as sardine fishing and processing accounts for about 70% of the city’s economy.  Having said that, it is also known as the City of Flowers (the etymology of Zamboanga comes from the Malay word “jambangan” – garden of flowers.

I’ve always wanted to visit Zamboanga but never got around to it until now, upon my urging and the invitation of (my new and hubby’s old) friend.

An emerging tourist destination, the city continues to attract visitors because of its multi-cultural dishes, gorgeous beaches, and rich history.

On limited time, we went straight to the top sights:

The Great Sta. Cruz Island

It is known for its pink sand beach, sand bar, and mangrove lagoon.  Just 20 minutes away by boat from the Paseo del Mar, it is probably the most popular tourist spot in Zamboanga. 

The pink sand comes from the crushed organ pipe corals.

A protected area in the Basilan Straits, visitors are allowed to visit the sandbar but with a 15-minute time limit. 

There are also no accommodations on the island and camping is likewise not allowed.  No restaurants, only low-impact facilities, and structures were built on the island. 

There are locals selling seafood, and you can request them to cook it for you, for a fee.  In our case, our host brought most of the food.  A start in the right direction, don’t you think? 

Clockwise: sambal, pitik (sea mantis), Pyanggang chicken (cooked with burnt coconut and other spices), mud crabs… yum!

Make sure to also explore the mangrove lagoon because this was the highlight of my day.  You will witness an extensive mangrove system where flying foxes and various waterbirds roost.

Richard, the guide, talking about the different types of mangroves.
The group looking for stingless jellyfish

Costs:

Boat rental: P1,000

Entrance Free: P20/guest

Terminal Fee: P5/guest

Cottages range from P100-500 depending on the size.

Once Islas

Composed of 11 islands along the Moro Gulf, located within the boundaries of Barangays Panubigan and Dita.  Four are open to the public so far.  To ensure responsible and sustainable tourism development and cultural sensitivity, the islands are managed and led by the community of indigenous people who live there.  This is, of course, with the support of the Local Government Unit and the City Tourism Office.

Just an hour drive from the city proper, these islands are ideal for low-impact activities like swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and trekking.  Formally launched in July 2018, Once Isla is the newest eco-cultural tourism attraction of Zamboanga.

We went to 3 of the 4 islands:

Bisaya-Bisaya

Beautiful, powdery white beach on one side and stunning rock formation on the other, which can be trekked with a guide. 

During low tide, they said that visitors can cross over to the smaller islet nearby and take a dip in the tidal lagoon.  We didn’t get to do this.

Bauang Bauang

Our second stop is a lovely island with powdery soft sand and crystal clear water.  

Sirommon

The island has a fine sand beach with a fabulous sandbar that appears during low tide. 

A short trek away, on the other side of the island, is a Sama Banguigui tribal community, which can prepare food if given enough notice. 

This side of the island is equally, if not more beautiful because of the mangroves grown on one side of the beach. 

Guests are required to book with the Zamboanga Tourism Office at least one day in advance.  Email them at tourism.zambo@gmail.com or call them at (063) 992-3007

Costs:

Entrance fee: P100

Environmental Fee: P100

Boat rental: P1,200-2,000 depending on the size and capacity

Cottages: P150

Other Important Information:

Alavar Seafood House: Dr. Alfaro St., Tetuan  (063) 991-2482

Abaniko Cottages

fields-to-falls

We keep talking about vacationing in Adams—but we knew better. We purchased the property beside the Chen’s with retirement in mind. It had a beautiful view of the river and a perfect spot to build a vacation/retirement home.

river-view

But somewhere along the way, that home (using repurposed wood from old houses) turned into three cottages that we turned into a bed and breakfast intended for the more discerning travelers, and we’ve, in fact, managed to lure some city folks to come visit. Adams is about 2 hours from Laoag and a 45-minute (thereabouts) drive up bumpy roads (for now).

grounds-2grounds-3

For nearly three years now, the cottages beside Ilyn’s Homey Place, which we named Abaniko (from the shape of the lot), has been home to more than a few travelers visiting Adams.  Our rooms are simple but has all the basic comforts such as clean, crisp linens and towels, screens (to keep the bugs out), cold and hot showers, and a lovely balcony that can ease your stresses away.  Me and my book in the balcony makes me a happy camper

roomenvironmental

Ilyn of Ilyn’s Homey Place is Ilyn Chen, an energetic woman with big round eyes and a warm smile. She met her husband while working in Taiwan. The couple came for a visit and Chunyi fell in love with Adams, Ilyn’s hometown. They eventually settled there and opened their home to visitors, mostly backpackers and locals from neighboring towns. We met them because everytime we go up, we stay with them. We have become friends and like Chunyi, we fell in love with Ilyn’s town.

koi-and-tilapia-togetherkoi

Chunyi, on the other hand, loves his fish. He has tilapia and koi ponds around the properties.

koi-pond

He also likes to cook and dishes out fantastic food. He said that every meal he creates are those he misses (from Taiwan) or merely loves.

chinese-pork-adoboChinese Pork Adobo

It wasn’t easy convincing him to cook for our guests, but he eventually relented, and his meals have become part of the highlight of our guests.

ulang-in-sate-sauceUlang in Sate Sauce

It has its ups and downs, our little B&B—typhoons, collapsing bridges, floods, landslides… you name it.   But small wins like discovering Chunyi’s culinary passion, happy guests, good feedbacks, lush garden, beautiful blooms, improved road conditions, all make up for the obstacles.

grounds

It’s an open invitation, folks. It’s glorious here. Come on up while the weather is still lovely and crisp.

lotus-flower

Exploring Penang

Credit: Papers by Sepia Lane; Elements and embellishments by SFJ CT

The streets of Georgetown, Penang’s capital, is filled with mouth-watering street food, artistic murals, and gorgeous heritage architecture.

If in season, the durian (in this case the musang– the king of durian) is sweet and creamy
A plate of oyster omelette can be found in many food hawker in the island.

An absolute feast to the eyes, the soul and the taste buds.

A city somehow frozen in time yet woven with today’s modern lifestyle caprices, Georgetown easily caters to history buffs, photographers, shopaholic and foodie fanatics.

Once an important trading hub, the British East India Company established spice farms throughout the island. The export of these spices helped cover the administrative cost of Penang in its early years.

The influence of Asia and Europe have endowed this city with a unique multicultural heritage and with all the astounding history around, Georgetown was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2008.

Pedestrian-friendly, the well-planned series of roads and paths will reveal an exciting, vibrant city with eye-catching street art caricatures, colorful heritage houses, atmospheric temples, beautiful mosques, and bustling food hawkers.

Highlights of our exploration:

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

One of Penang’s most prominent attraction and one of the only 3 UNESCO Heritage award-winning buildings, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, also known as The Blue Mansion is a stately 1880 manor that stands out because of its indigo blue façade.

The Guestrooms

Designed in traditional Hakka – Teochew Style, the mansion was restored into a Boutique Heritage Hotel by a conservation project that went on to win numerous architectural awards.

A tour of the estate will reveal the lifestyle of Cheong Fatt Tze, his family and the cream of Penang society in the era it was in.

Penang Hill

Dominating the Georgetown landscape, Penang Hill was the 1st colonial hill station developed in Peninsular Malaysia. The top of the hill is accessible by a good hike or the Penang Hill Funicular Railway (which, by the way, is the steepest tunnel track in the world) from its base station at Jalan Bukit Bendara, Air Itam.

The hill is a community of attractions that include food and drink options set 821 meters above Penang’s capital. It is the last piece of tropical rainforest in Penang, so flora and fauna have been protected since 1960.

The Habitat on Penang Hill

For the ultimate Malaysian rainforest experience, a visit to this part of the hill is a must.

When you walk through the gateway of the Habitat, you enter a magical kingdom of a 130-million-year-old rainforest.

This world-class ecotourism site is the first of its kind in Malaysia. It aims to promote environmental consciousness and conservation awareness.

Walk on the new world-class Stressed Ribbon Bridge named the Langur Way Canopy Walk 
The Tree Top Walk

Clan Jetties

Along the pier are villages on stilts that house descendants of Chinese immigrants. Constructed over a century ago, the jetty has developed into a town propped up over the sea.

Planks create paths linking houses on stilts, owned by families of fishers creating a rustic and peculiar impression. We found ourselves at the Chew Jetty, but in total, there are 8 different clans still residing there.

The Chew Jetty Café is a good stop for lunch or refreshments. Though the White Curry is what the café is famous for, we were too late. Here’s what we had instead — also quite good and worthy of my recommendation.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

The mansion allows you a glimpse back in time as to how the wealthy Straits Chinese settlers once lived. The Peranakan, also known as the Babas and Nonyas, was a prominent community of acculturated Chinese unique to this part of the world.

Adopting selected ways of the local Malays, and later, the colonial British, the Peranakan lifestyle and customs had not only left a rich legacy of antiques but its cuisine and languages as well.

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is one of the best surviving examples of the lavish lifestyle of this prominent community containing an extensive collection of furniture, silverware, dresses, decorations, collectibles, and appliances.

Nyonya Cuisine

A feast we devoured in Kebaya

A must-try! It echoes the cultural identity of the Peranakans. Nyonya cuisine is as exotic as their east meets west architecture, their beautiful fashion, and their elaborate pottery. It is mostly traditional Chinese food altered to suit the local palate and to augment the limited ingredients found in their new homeland.

Some of the signature ingredients used in Peranakan cooking include coconut milk, laksa leaves, lemongrass, and tamarind. The result is an extraordinary cuisine that is altogether tangy, sweet, sour and spicy.

Little India

A few steps away from the Pinang Peranakan Mansion is Little India.

Wander around and experience a whole new world. Its culture and food adventure is definitely worth the exploration.