#MoroccoIsAmazing: Where getting lost is finding yourself … and what you really want

The Morrocans have a beautiful way of doing and selling things. Every product display is a work of art. It seemed like nothing was spared to make them appealing to the eyes.

“And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, in dimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” ― Pico Iyer

As I packed a small suitcase for my Morocco trip, I resolved not to shop but to have more time to enjoy without thinking of things to carry. The cabin bag is perfect for moving at airports. Easy. No waiting time at the baggage carousel. Every time I travel, this is my goal – no checked-in bag! How wonderful to get out of the plane, queue at the immigration and out to the waiting car. I wish!

How do you say “no” to all these and just enjoy the feast? I did. What I am impressed of the shopkeepers here is they can urge you to buy but they aren’t offended when you don’t. I love that kind of respect. Not all, but most.

I met the same mom and daughter team from Argentina who were traveling from Buenos Aires to Barcelona to Cairo then Marrakesh for a month. One carry-on bag each, less hassle. “We washed and re-used and made sure we carried the lightest clothes we have”, Adriana said. Imagine if they traveled in 3 countries with a lot of heavy bags? That can be a nightmare!

On my first day getting into the souk in this small alley, I was already giddy with excitement on what will I find out. I was honestly not disappointed.

I learned well that the best way to travel in Europe is light and easy. Just lugging bags in the train’s overhead bin had been tough for me. Never again. If it is winter time, nobody will even appreciate (including yourself) what you are wearing. All you need is a comfortably warm jacket and a nice neck warmer. If you have other ideas to solve this, let me know.

Going through the shops are convenient, all of them competing not just with an array of things to sell but also on how they creatively display them.

Going through the labyrinth of souks (traditional markets) in Marrakesh was both fun and mind-boggling. The way between shops are small and often, you compete with a very languidly moving crowd, a motorbike doing deliveries and even horses in intersections. Watch your back! This did not faze me, however, as I found it so amusing in most times when a tourist shrieks and shouts after a close brush with a cart pushed by a harried worker.

I was brought to a carpet shop by my guide who insisted there is no pressure for me to buy. Of course I know they wanted me to. After a lot of explaining I don’t need one, we parted ways. Handwoven carpets can sell from US$500 and up. They’re the best buys when in Morocco. You can also arrange to have them shipped.

Most shops open between 9:00-10:00 in the morning and closes at around 6:00-7:00pm except on Fridays when most of the shop owners go for worship. There are few money changers in the big souk but one can always go to the Jemaa El-Afna Square where you can find Bureau de Change and even withdraw money from the ATM machine. I found it easier to do this in the morning when people are still few. It becomes busier by mid-day and all the way to sunset.

Too many choices! Traditional herbs, tea leaves and different kinds of oils are aplenty. Check out where to buy authentic ones before you decide. Your hotel staff can always help advise where to go.

Marrakesh is not a place for people in a hurry. It is best enjoyed slowly, taking time to look at every incredible doorway, a line of ceramic pots in a riot of colors, a rhapsody of tea leaves and oils. Morroco, in general, is best planned like you have all the time in the world to soak even in every small detail of life. Its history is rich and reading about it before you arrive adds to the excitement. It is like meeting a friend after a long time.

A friendly grandma showed us how they prepare and extract oils from the nuts. A painstaking process that Moroccans are happy to do making their oils, especially the argan oil, among the most-sought after.

“Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell not stuff to show.” – Anonymous

Exploring Marrakesh: Awesome airport, nice weather, fun flea markets and souks

If you want to soak in vibrant colors and hues, go to Marrakesh. Every plate, wall, sign – even horse carts – are magnet to the eyes.

Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac

Marrakesh (or Marrakech), a former imperial city in western Morocco, is a major economic center and home to mosques, palaces and gardens. The medina is a densely packed, walled medieval city dating to the Berber Empire, with mazelike alleys where thriving souks (marketplaces) sell traditional textiles, pottery and jewelry. A symbol of the city, and visible for miles, is the Moorish minaret of 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque. It is also the 4th largest city of Morocco after Casablanca, Fez and Tangier. *

As Royal Air Maroch taxied in the runway from Casablanca to Marrakesh, this scene bid us goodbye. Doesn’t this looked like a copy of a scene in Casablanca, the movie?

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Flying from Juba, South Sudan to Cairo, Egypt, I arrived in the morning in Casablanca, Morocco and has to wait for 5 more hours for my domestic flight to Marrakech. It was almost a 2-day flight but was made easier with the smooth flights via Egypt Air. The only ruffle was the long wait for the car to take us to our transit hotel in Cairo and the much longer wait for our passports at the Egypt Air office. Otherwise, the trip was hassle-free.

Photography book The Art of the New Airport has named Marrakesh Airport as one of the most beautiful in the world. Indeed, it is.

I was in awe of the Menara Airport. It is one of the most beautiful that I have landed into. It is said to have a capacity of accommodating 19 aircrafts and over four million passengers in a year. The immigration process was fast and in no time, I was out waiting for my taxi driver. I requested from the hotel and the cost was 200 Dirhams (USD20).

This profusion of lights greet the passengers warmly upon arrival and look even more fascinating at night.

Hotel Racine located in Gueliz did not disappoint. The room was spacious and clean with a small verandah that gave me a view of the sunset and the daily lives of the people. Breakfast was a wonderful treat – usually with fresh juices, an array of bread and fruits. There were choices of coffee and tea. The Moroccan tea is not to be missed! I agreed with one tourist who said she is a latte-person but in Morocco, she fell in love with their tea.

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Hotel Racine’s location was very strategic. It is also walking distance to many landmarks, shopping areas and event the Catholic Church.

The hotel lobby. It is fully booked most of the time so I got lucky to have reserved early. Staff are friendly and would patiently explain the direction where you want to go.

People, from hotel staff to drivers, would often laugh every time I ask if it is safe for me to walk alone. Indeed, I have never felt threatened while exploring on my own, even with or without a crowd. The Moroccan traders are among the friendliest! In some countries in Asia, shop owners will scold you taking pictures without buying anything. It is free advertising!

All things nice and beautiful – find them in Marrakesh’s souks (shops) – where every item draws the eyes. It was relaxing!

I learned one needs to bring a light coat or a jacket all the time when traveling on March. The mornings can be warm but the afternoons can be chilly. Depending on where you come from and your tolerance to cold weather, it is best to be prepared. I am glad I brought my thermal shirt with me, it was nicer to layer on top of it. You get the best of both on March and I was happy I came at the best of times.

I almost got tempted bring these plates home. It was too hard to refuse. I am glad my resolve did not break down. Next time, plates (when I have learned to cook)!

Few shops accept US dollars but currency exchange shops are in every corner. Even hotels would prefer the Moroccan Dirhams when you are settling your bill, or pay in credit card. It is also smart to have smaller bills. Taxi rides would often range from MAD 30-50 around the city. Most drivers’ shift ends at 7:00pm but they would gladly refer you to the next if you feel comfortable of the service. I prefer taxis recommended by the hotel but in some instances I just flagged on the road and agreed on the fare before I got in.

Carpet overload! Remember your flying carpet story? I got reminded. If you are into expensive handwoven carpets with amazing intricate Berber designs, they’re waiting for you.

If you are around on a Sunday, never ever miss the choir from the Church of Holy Martyrs at its 10:00am mass. They were amazing you would think you attended a concert with a variety of African instruments being played, including the drums, of course. A lot of tourists and visitors have been raving about this choir. The mass is in French but there are translated guides in a variety of languages from English, German, Italian, etc. I met few Filipinos on my way out of the church.

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The Church of the Holy Martyrs in Rue de Imam Ali in Gueliz. Conveniently a walking distance from the hotel. The church was said to have been built in 1928.

The beautiful mosque in Rue de Imam Ali facing the Catholic church.

They said the mosque and the church facing each other is a testament how the city and the country values diversity and respect of the people’s beliefs, traditions and faith. Morocco is said to have over 50,000 Catholics out of its 36 million population which is 99 percent Muslims.

Jemaa el-Fnaa is a square and market place in Marrakesh’s medina quarter. It remains the main square of Marrakesh, used by locals and tourists. It is also known as the big square and fills up in the afternoon with people. This is said to be one of the busiest in Africa.

Next blog: Getting lost in the labyrinth of the souks!

*From Google and Wikipedia

#MoroccoisAmazing: Goats on trees, how argan oil is made, the beautiful culture and camel ride to the Sahara

The Sahara Desert experience was one of my best unforgettable adventures. The sunrise was amazing! There is indeed no limit to God’s fantastic creation. Below is our desert camp accommodation.

“I believe that Marrakech ought to be earned as a destination. The journey is the preparation for the experience. Reaching it too fast derides it, makes it a little less easy to understand.” – Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams

I learned something new on this trip: When it is your birthday treat to yourself, it better be different. My 16 years on the road made that a tough challenge. What will I do? Where will I go? What kind of adventure can I still do without me buckling on my knees? In the end, I called the travel agent and booked Morocco. Deciding too long has cost me an additional US$400 more for my ticket, so I closed my eyes and confirmed. I told myself this better be worth it. It was, and more!

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The palm tree is an icon in Morocco! Do you know that there is an estimated 5 million palm trees in the country, many of them are 150 years old. Their role in everyday life cannot be understated – they provide shades and prevent soil erosion, among many other uses. This view was from the verandah of my room in Hotel Racine.

I did four stages for my 8-day trip: 1) Walking tour in Marrakech – ½ day, 2) Ourika Valley – 1 day, 3) Essaouira – 1 day and 4) Sahara Desert – 2 days/1 night.

I intentionally reserved 2 days for myself exploring the city and going to Jardin de Majorelle, where Yves Saint Laurent’s ashes were enshrined. The famous garden had been said to be his refuge after leaving the fashion world before his death. Wow, imagine walking in the same steps where the fashion icon had frequented.

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The villa inside Jardin de Majorelle designed by French architect Paul Sinor inside the garden created by French artist Jacques Majorelle. It is also where the ashes of fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent was enshrined.

Surprisingly, hotels and riads (or townhouse with courtyard) are aplenty and amazingly designed. They are also affordable! My first 5 days were spent in Hotel Racine in Gueliz, the location is a 10-minute walk to the city center. It is clean, rooms are spacious and staff were very friendly.

My last 2 days I have to move to a riad right in the center because the hotel was fully booked. They were friendly enough to keep my luggage while I went to the Sahara. In every city I visit, I always book for a walking tour to get familiar with the landmarks. After that I prefer to be on my own. I prefer my holidays at my own pace, no rushing and early morning trips except for special ones I wanted to do.

Marrakech’s big square is a mish-mash of colors, bright and muted, but all a feast in the eyes. It was a pain not to buy anything. So tempting! But this time, I am determined to just enjoy the experience.

Tip #1: When you are taking a walking tour, make sure you agree with your guide where to go, what you want to see. If not, you can end up being taken around shops and being cajoled to buy things from carpets, argan and olive oils and all sorts of silver jewelries.

The Ourika Valley tour gave us a glimpsed of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains and the valley’s famous landmarks, the waterfalls and couscous lunch by the river. The view along the way are these open-air ceramics and trinkets shops.

Tip #2: Marrakech is easy to explore and generally safe. Just be careful with your things as you do in many other countries you visit. The Moroccans are very friendly and will always go out of their way to help you, even the taxi drivers and hotel staff.

Needing a mind-boost? On your way to Essaouira, the van will stop at these hilarious trees filled with argan-eating goats. I have never laughed to loud with my fellow tourists. These goats are in the serious business of balancing and eating on top of the tree, unmindful of the gawking tourists!

Tip #3: Do your research what you want to see before you leave home. I sat with 2 girls on holiday who have no idea where to go and what are Morocco’s important sites and landmarks. It is such a waste visiting the country and will never know what are the beautiful stories behind them.

The streets of Essaouira is a labyrinth of these amazing doorways, old colorful walls. This harbor city faces the Mediterranean Sea, a long coastline and beautiful port.

Tip #4: The best thing of traveling alone is you get to appreciate solitude more, and have more time to enjoy the sights. Even in a group try to find time for peace and quiet. That’s what holidays are supposed to be for.

Inside the luxe desert camp in the Sahara. The tour is an amazing experience!

Watch up next: The fun Marrakech maze!

Throw those fears and ‘what ifs’ out of the window: Maryann shows you can learn and drive in your 50s

When you have the persistence, you can do what you want. Maryann did it at 51. So can you!

Three years ago she decided it’s time to drive. Maryann Pudadera-Morales was already 51! Did she survive? You bet, she did! In the Philippines, it is almost a luxury to have a car, hence, not many women drive. Those who dare are a cut above the rest.

For one to do it past midlife even deserves an applause. With the kind of traffic we have in most cities around the country, it takes a lot of nerve and spunk. In her own words, here’s her story and the exciting adventure that went with it.

When did u decide to buy a car and drive?

When I moved as area services manager of South Cotabato 1 Electric Cooperative, Inc. (Socoteco 1), my office was in one of the malls in Koronadal City. It was almost a 2km daily commute from the house.  I usually go home at 7pm and my grueling challenge include walking to the highway to get a pedicab. It was uncomfortable passing through dim alleys. It often takes me two ‘rides’ as drivers would demand extra fare for direct trips.

This made me think of “what ifs”.  What if I drive my own car so I can move in and out anytime? I told myself I should start with a second hand car so I can have a trial period and will not lose my head if I end up damaging the car.

A week after, I found out my husband Boyet’s nephew was selling his blue Kia Sportage. I actually love the car! We agreed on a P65k (USD1,300) deal and it was delivered from Bukidnon to Koronadal on July 2015. None of us knew how to drive yet!

My sister Majal recommended Mikmik Marquez who taught at a driving school and in a month’s time I was driving. I maneuvered through the city’s traffic and the rotunda that most new drivers dread. I did not waste time. Few days after, I already drove long distance to nearby towns of Surallah and Tupi.

You think I am too confident? Of course not! While on the wheels, there were too many fears playing on my head: car stalls at the highway or intersection and cause massive traffic jam; attack of my astigmatism & farsightedness especially driving at night; and yes, an accident beyond my control.

What did I do? It is good I started with a good teacher who boosted my self-confidence and believed I can do it. He always had positive feedback when I commit mistakes. I believed on the principle that every driver has a right on the road. Nobody should be pushed or rushed even if other drivers are impatient for their turn. I always stayed calm.

I chose defensive driving most of the time. But before I leave the house, I make sure I check the car and necessary documents. I often forget my driver’s license when I change handbags and it is an inconvenience if you get flagged unexpectedly on the road for random traffic checks.

That kind if independence driving your own car gets to you. It is not about the car. It’s the experience.

What was the feeling when you first drove on your own?

It was on August, 2015. I was nervous and fidgety. I shouted on top of my voice inside the car asking myself “Why is it only now that you learned to drive!”. That day I experienced three engine shut down. I tried to perfect the shifting of gears and the engine stalled every time I was slow. I prayed while on the road. I avoided the highway and took the secondary roads which were less busy.

I scolded myself most of the time that I could have done it earlier but I waited until 50. Eventually, I had a sense of triumph because it gave me more chances to bond with my two fast-growing sons. It was also a huge accomplishment that at my age, I did it.

Until now, my biggest challenge is parking in a crowded area, such as malls teeming with cars and people. It was always tough for me to estimate the distance of the parking space and the cars beside me.

Then you got yourself a new car and drove from Luzon to Mindanao?

It took a while to decide. A mother like me would always look at the practical side of any decision. That was how I approached the idea of buying a new one. By then I was driving for close to two years.

I had countless discussions with my two sons Kyle and Ken on the type of car, how much and the payment terms as our budget will be affected. The most crucial question was, “Do we really need a new car?”

I asked around, checked with my co-workers and went car-shopping. While I was in Bacolod City on a work summit, I test drove a Honda car and I resolved that if ever I buy one, that would be it! I know that car prices are set to go up late that year so I have to decide fast. I did beat my own deadline.

But to save money, I have to buy the car in Manila, drive or get it shipped to Koronadal. That’s three major islands away. We decided it will be a fun challenge to drive it from Luzon to Mindanao. By then Kyle was already driving. I have a back-up.

Our two boys, Kyle and Ken, were my ultimate travel buddies. The car has become our bonding place.

How did we prepared for the one-week Luzon to Mindanao trip?

I started doing a good research. I browsed on the internet, read vlogs, blogs and reviews. I checked the route and roads for travel time. I also asked people who did it then marked the weather patterns. I chose the lodging houses plus the tourist spots along the way, noted the boat-transfer rates, took some notes and brainstormed with Kyle. It was an amazing way to teach my sons how to plan and execute it.

Then we decided on the schedule. I have to time it with my sons’ school holidays. Kyle chose the make of our new car, a metallic silver Honda, and after completing the transaction in Manila, on 14 October 2017, he drove it out of the Honda Cars shop in Shaw Boulevard together with our sales agent Cedric and picked me and Ken at the airport.

We ensured that all the documents are in place especially the car insurance. We want the trip to be hassle-free. We headed to Lucena City for the test-drive and formal turn-over. After a dinner, Cedric left us on our own. On the way we realized we forgot to take our ceremonial hand-over. Lucena was memorable because that was where it all began.

The route you took and what have you learned along the way?

 We travelled almost 1,500 kilometers in a span of two days with our online guide-WAZE.  We set off from SLEX to the Pan-Philippine (Maharlika Highway) with our goal to hit Legaspi City and see the majestic Mayon Volcano before dusk then head for Batangas-Quezon-Camarines Sur and finally, Albay.

I had my first, but short, driving stint (less than an hour) for an automatic vehicle when we traversed the CamSur to Albay road, as Kyle took his first nap from a 4-hour drive from Lucena. We were not able to marvel the real beauty of Mt. Mayon because the weather got bad. We left early at 4:00am and also never caught a glimpse of the beautiful Aurora Province.

Our second night was spent at Matnog, Sorsogon where Brave, the car’s got its name by now, got to her first boat ride in the Roll On/Roll Off (RORO) Fast Cat trip at 4:00am. We bid goodbye to Luzon on 15 October 2017.

Visayas Island came next via Allen, Samar through the San Bernardino Strait. With mixed emotions of fear and excitement, I took the wheels for my second driving leg and my first ever long drive from Samar to Tacloban.  It meant missing some fantastic scenic views especially the San Juanico Bridge which was truly a sight to behold!

Goofy time at Samar’s famous landmark – the amazing San Juanico Bridge. I was driving so I missed most of the view.

Kyle and Ken enjoyed the view of a lifetime on Samar’s famous landmark while I drove. We headed straight to Liloan Port in Southern Leyte for the second ferry boat ride to Surigao after being stranded for almost 2 hours in Palo, Leyte due to the heavy downpour which flooded the main road. We did not drive through the flood fearing the car might stall andl damage the engine.

The Fast-Cat (Catamaran) sailed us quickly back to our beloved home island of Mindanao. From the port to Davao City at midnight of April 15, with me driving, we reached Davao City at 8:00am for some quick stopover in a mall. After the rest, we were on the road again to General Santos City for Brave’s first Preventive Maintenance Check (PMS) at a Honda Cars shop.

On October 16 before dusk, our brand new car was parked in front of our house.

The time I spent with Kyle and Ken was every mom’s amazing adventure. I had their undivided attention and we even were able to talk about our issues, plans and aspirations in life.

After that wonderful trip, we did another one to Iloilo City recently on March 31, 2018 where we traveled through Cotabato City-Pagadian-Dipolog-Dumaguete-Bacolod route.

It always starts with a decision. The rest will follow.

Can you use your lessons in driving at work?

I have been the area manager for three years but had been working with Socoteco 1 for 29 years. Learning how to drive provided me opportunity to understand and relate with the problems and difficulties encountered by the frontline personnel who does a daily grind of job on the road on a 24/7 work shift. It was a tough job to do.

 

 As a woman driver, I always reminded myself to take mind over matter all the time.  Before learning to drive, I was delayed by the belief that I can never ever drive a car because I have difficulties with my eyesight. I also entertained fears that I may cause discomfort to other drivers. My mentor encouraged and boosted my morale.

Dare yourself: Dream. Save.  Conquer.

Any more lessons on driving and traveling?

Traveling in the Philippines means roughing it out! There were challenges on stop overs such as rest-areas with unpleasant odors, misrouted ways, undisciplined drivers and narrow roads. We sometimes had no choice but to hold our breaths and just laugh them off. That’s positivity in action.

Long-haul land travel, at times, can be uncomfortable, but the right attitude makes a big difference. We got left by the fast craft, and we had to settle for the slower boat. We never got annoyed, it was still a good experience! We enjoyed the sea breeze and island views on the upper deck as we wondered, “Are we there yet?”

The trip taught us to be patient. Patience is indeed a virtue with a lot of waiting in the ports, so much like life when you wait for the right things to happen at the right time. Rushing takes you off a fun experience!

The trip was not perfect as we wanted it to be. We had few hitches along the way we could have stayed longer to enjoy the sights. But then that’s a good excuse to do it all over again next time. I know we did the best.

The trip was an exciting adventure that Kyle and Ken will surely remember for the rest of their life. What truly makes us rich is not the things we own but the experience we dare to do – then live to share.

Meet Brave, my new best friend.

Fab at 63: Jo finds the fountain of youth via common sense and discipline

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you do not mind, it does not matter.” – Mark Twain

There is no secret at all. The fountain of youth is right in our hands. 63-year old Jo proved it works with discipline.

Take a look again. Does she look like one? I mean, is she 63 years old and now is eligible for that senior citizen’s card plus benefits. No way, you’d see. Some will say, it is unfair or it is in her genes. Ok, we can list a lot of excuses and never ran out of them.

I have known Jocelyn Suelo, or Jo, to us her friends and her family, for probably over 20 years since our all-women Venture Club of Koronadal days. She is one of those friends who, when you need anything urgent, all you need is call. But I cannot for the life of me, imagine she past 60!

Then in our of our annual impromptu get-togethers, this time at our farm house, she shared her unforgettable climb at Mount Sinai in Egypt. Yes, all the glorious 3,500 steps on foot from 12 midnight to 7:30 in the morning.  That’s 7 and half hours of uphill walk. “I did it and was never tired at all when I reached the top. I even wanted to shout at the top of my lungs but I got concerned other people around might get annoyed at me”, Jo recalls.

“I wanted to shout but I might annoy tourists around us.” Scaling the 3,500 steps of Mt. Sinai was a major victory for her.

While the rest of the entourage was slumped with exhaustion and lack of sleep, Jo was almost starting her day and ready for more adventure. Any secret? She reveals, “During the steep climb that felt like an eternity, I was focused in praying. In every step after completing 15 Holy Rosary Mysteries, I prayed Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. It made me very strong and full of energy.”

Jo’s consistency in watching her diet and doing her daily physical exercise is paying off beautifully. Take that literally. Imagine how storekeepers’ eyes get wide with surprise at her when she hands over her senior citizen’s card like she was making a joke.

Jo did the incredible at her age together with friends Fr. Louie, Mary Ann and Susan.

“I maintained a healthy lifestyle from the very beginning. I seldom drink soda, hardly eat pork and beef. My food always consisted of veggies, fruits, fish, seafood and milk. I love sleeping and would always complete my 6-8 hours and still take a nap after lunch. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I drink 2 tall glasses of warm water. I don’t drink any cold water at all. Yes, I laugh and smile a lot”, she says smiling.

The eldest of 6 sibling, Jo is the only girl. When her father died, she was 26 years old and became the head of the family taking care of everyone including her youngest brother who was 5 years old at that time. “My father did not leave us anything like a farm to support all of us, not even a spoon of property”, she wryly recalls.

There is no secret. Maintain a healthy diet, exercise, sleep for 6-8 hours, pray when you are troubled and smile a lot!

Jo became a working student at the South Cotabato Integrated Provincial Health Office since 1974 to sustain her education. She eventually was hired when she finished college and still works there until now. Despite the tough life she went through, Jo said she maintained a very positive outlook at life.

“Everyday I thank God for my blessings. If any problem comes, I resort to prayers and ask God for help and guidance. He has never failed me. God never ignored my prayers”, she says adding as a reminder, “Keep on smiling. There are so many reasons to smile.”

After standing by her 6 brothers, one of whom is now a ship captain, Jo lives her life to the full. Her daily routine? She shares what all of us can do daily, “I do zumba and always find an excuse to stand up and walk when at work. I love sweeping dried leaves in the backyard of our ancestral home that never failed to get my sweat pouring out.”

No rocket science involved here, right? Jo just exercised dear old common sense to practice and got very good at it through the years. Despite all the banquets, endless parties and celebrations she attended, she never went beyond her 50-53kg. weight.

Jo got us all thinking and it is not too late. If she can do it — then we too can!

Remember what Maya Angelou said? “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.” Sum them up simply as ageing gracefully. Yes, with a smile!

Surrounded by friends and her loving family, Jo lives a full life despite being single.

A Christmas Love Story: Lino and Vernie finds marriage like a tandem bike ride

Knowing that the challenge will be an arduous one, Vernie and Lino prepared themselves to work as partners. The trip required 100kms per day for 23 days. At that time she was 58yo and Lino was 59yo. Just like life, through coordination, physical preparedness and training prior to the trip made the goal possible.

Guest Blogger: Vernie Chiu Basilio

Our married life got richly defined by our Tandem Bike Challenge for 23 days. It changed the way we viewed our marriage and our faith in God. From April 18 to May 10 , 2015, Lino and I embarked on achieving the goal.

Very much like the day we pledged for a life together 33 years ago, we decided on this long tandem bike ride with faith on God’s great providence and the goodness of the people who supported and cheered on us. It also put to test our support for each other.

We kept our preparations simple. The Couple Tandem Bike is for a cause and the finances used for the journey should be just enough for our day to day expenses. Even the tandem bicycle we used was not expensive. It is a surplus  singled speed tandem bike with old-fashioned brakes, the back-pedal system.

Physically, we were not in a superb condition. Each day we rode for about 100 kilometers, a feat that is impossible without God’s grace. As a woman, I was psychologically anxious most of the time because the road was new to us. But I overcame this by soaking at the scenery and the reaction of most people seeing us bike together. I found it funny most of the time.

Not a geek, I learned to use my pocket wifi and phone installed with Strava app to record our trip and our performance. You can never be too old to learn new things.

As we cycled from Aparri to Koronadal, almost the opposite ends of the country, we faced very difficult challenges but we found comfort and happiness in seeing how beautiful the Philippines is and how kind Filipinos are on our way. For the most part of the ride, the panoramas are breathtaking, the sceneries are idyllic and most the people on the way are welcoming.

Our Couple Tandem Bike 2015 was partly dedicated to the St. Anthony Parish & St. Lawrence Kalinga Orphanage both located in Koronadal City. It was reassuring to see all of the children playing in the streets all over the Philippines. As we passed through populated areas, among our fans and admirers were the children.

Vernie says she wants to inspire other women, as well as couples, that if she can do the adventure at her age, then also can! Biking promotes good health and positive outlook towards life.

They would immediately notice us and always cheered for us even if we were strangers. It served as a great inspiration that every time we passed children we could also share with them the joy that we felt. They would often call the attention of their friends and share the discovery of us riding a tandem bike.

Now we understand why Jesus declared that God’s Kingdom belongs only to those who are like little children. They alone have the capacity to see the important things in life. What is important is invisible to the eyes and only the heart could see.

On our stopovers after a day’s ride, we were always welcomed by people we didn’t even know. During the entire course of the 2,287 km journey from Aparri to Koronadal, we never felt that we were strangers in their hometowns. In some places we had friends waiting for us but more than 95% of the well-wishers were people we didn’t know.

Others expressed their support and concern through messages or calling us while some have shown their support by donating to the cause.

Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Single life may be similar to riding a bicycle but married life is like riding a tandem bicycle designed for two people so that they can take a ride together. To keep the balance, both need to keep moving.

There were also simple truths we learned along the way. If one of us falters, then the travel to our destination becomes harder. Any difficulty affects both of us as the other rider needs to pedal harder and stabilise the bicycle until the other one is able to recover. This teamwork of give and take is one of the secrets of a successful marriage life.

The ride also taught us to take everything one day at a time. We would plan only for the route of the next day and mostly on the potential challenges we might encounter. While most highways are easy, some can be tough.

Vernie and Lino: Perfect combination. This couple proved once more that marriage, just like life, is like a bicycle. You keep pedalling to go through the ups and downs and enjoy whatever comes.

From Sogod to San Ricardo in Southern Leyte, we were met with heavy rains, steep downhill terrain with landslides and some flooding. Our bike skidded so we decided to just walk and push our bike. The opposite happened in Atimonan, Quezon’s bitukang manok (chicken intestine). The terrain was uphill so we did single speed and walked up.

Uphills are the most difficult part because we need to pedal continuously to be able to climb up. In these occasions, the slope was too steep and the road too slippery. We often stop and start pushing the bikes until we could mount them again.

Life can be sprinkled with obstacles along the way. We can step down and push forward.

We learned that sometimes life isn’t lived in a straight line. We need to make decisions on which route to take and sometimes need to go through unnecessary paths because there is no other way to go.

I have to admit that going downhill is fun and easy. I wish we can live our lives this way. Unfortunately, it is when we push uphill that our muscles get stronger, just like life’s challenges. It makes us capable of climbing new heights.

We celebrated our return by sharing “Caldo (Soup) for a Cause”, the success of our efforts will be measured by the donations we received. The support for the completion of the construction of St Anthony Parish in Koronadal City is overwhelming. Donations for St. Lawrence Orphanage could continue as it seeks to serve more abandoned and needy children.

The trip also raised Koronadal City, the capital of South Cotabato province, in the hearts of those who do not know where it is in the Philippines. For those who want to donate, you can make your deposits for for the construction of St. Anthony Parish Church at PEC – Bank of Philippine Islands (BPI) Koronadal Account # 1833116599 and for St. Lawrence Kalinga Foundation, Inc. at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) Marbel – account no. 1543579978.

Our goal next year? For more couples to join us! Please email me for queries at linobasilio@yahoo.com.

With Vernie and Lino are their daughters Love and Faith with son-in-law JP.

Vernie Chiu-Basilio, who turns 60 years old next year, is the President of Easy Pay Finance Corp, and member of the Board of Directors of Marbel Universal Trading, Inc. (MUTI). She is a civil engineer by profession, graduated Cum Laude and a second placer at the Civil Engineering Board Exams. Vernie is also a licensed nurse, a junior geodetic engineer, a licensed real estate broker and appraiser. An active advocate in the community, she is an officer of the Philippine Breast Care Foundation, South Cotabato Chapter, a supportive Rotary Ann of RC Koronadal Central and a graduate of HAGGAI International. An adventure-seeker, Vernie has tried skydiving in Hawaii, paragliding in Indonesia and General Santos City, bunjeejumping in Macau Tower, scuba diving in Palawan and locally, she actively participates in marathons and duathlons.