Prieto Diaz and the Ten Years We’ve Shared

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It was exactly ten years ago when I first set foot on the beach of Prieto Diaz, Sorsogon. I was a college freshman trying to test my luck in BS Biology. There were no fancy sheds and cottages in the place, no boats with colorful sails, no expensive restaurants to match the ‘summer’ temperaments. Only nature and people were there and, if forever does exist, will forever be bonded in the web of time.

The marker and my abs, carefully protected by my fats, are two of the things you can always ogle at in Prieto Diaz. hahahaha
The marker and my abs, carefully protected by my fats, are two of the things you can always ogle at in Prieto Diaz. hahahaha
That mountain along the horizon is Mount Bulusan, an active volcano, in the adjacent municipality of Bulusan.
That mountain along the horizon is Mount Bulusan, an active volcano, in the adjacent municipality of Bulusan.

I become a bit garrulous when I talk about those ten years of visiting the place. I do so with gusto, unparalleled even by the many places I’ve visited. It might be because the place and I have shared quick ‘flings’ on a yearly basis, and needless to say, we wait unconsciously for the next year to come. Like the waves kissing the shore, it is a show of goodbyes and hellos that no one knows when the end would eventually dawn.

My first time to taste this starchy breadfruit, and I must say its true to its name. Has the consistency of soaked bread (lol) and the sweetness of ripe fruit. I love this! (Breadfruit: I love you, too!)
My first time to taste this starchy breadfruit, and I must say it’s true to its name. Has the consistency of soaked bread (lol) and the sweetness of ripe fruit. I love this! (Breadfruit: I love you, too!)
Navigating through the mangrove forest is through a boat na walang katig (what is that in English? lol)
Navigating through the mangrove forest is through a boat na walang katig (what is that in English? lol)

Prieto Diaz, Sorsogon has a vast expanse of mangrove forest and seagrass bed and corals of varied forms. A swimming area called ‘Halabang Lapis’ (literally Long Pencil) with a white sandy bottom is at the middle of the sea, close to the waves of the open Pacific. Add to that are the marine wildlife: the colorful sea stars and brittle stars, the red and blue fiddlers, the birds that frequent the mangrove canopies, the snakes and the snake-like holothurians, the countless gastropods, the urchins, and the myriad of fish swimming (and I bet, happily) in the complex root systems of the mangals. It’s a smorgasbord for a biologist and it is life at its finest for all!

Documenting the mangrove species and the many organisms that thrive in the place is one of the few reasons I come back here. Most of all, it's because I like to break free from the usual routine in the concrete forest of the city.
Documenting the mangrove species and the many organisms that thrive in the place is one of the few reasons I come back here. Most of all, it’s because I like to break free from the usual routine in the concrete forest of the city.
Sea stars are part of our annual surveys. We return them to the sea after. Remember the Starfish story? =)
Sea stars are part of our annual surveys. We return them to the sea after. Remember the Starfish story? =)
With fellow researchers. =) We are equals in this place. =)
With fellow researchers. =) We are equals in this place. =)
The paddle and a bamboo are the two things used to move the boat. The water is relatively shallow so the bamboo is usually used over the paddle.
The paddle and a bamboo are the two things used to move the boat. The water is relatively shallow so the bamboo is usually used over the paddle.
Some areas are best navigated by foot.
Some areas are best navigated by foot.
Wear the proper footwear to avoid unnecessary cuts. =)
Wear the proper footwear to avoid unnecessary cuts. =)

The place is sustained by the community. SEAMANCOR is a people’s organization dedicated to protect and sustain the place. Established in 1995, the organization has become one of the best managed in the country, an independent and concrete example of how men and women can live harmoniously with nature. The sea provides them with their food and livelihood, and in return, they provide the sea with loyalty and friendship. They translate the call of the waves because theirs is the wisdom that no knowledge can surpass.

This is where the community culture crabs as part of their livelihood activities.
This is where the community culture crabs as part of their livelihood activities.
Some of the folks are gleaners. =)
Some of the folks are gleaners. =)
Some parts of the mangrove forest is so dense so a makeshift bridge was constructed. This also leads to the crab culture pond.
Some parts of the mangrove forest are so dense so a makeshift bridge was constructed. This also leads to the crab culture pond.
Go, backstab me. Lol
Go, backstab me. Lol

I never missed a year since 2005 without a two-hour drive to Prieto Diaz. It’s a break from the bustling metro and from the routine that consumes me. This is where I fist seven cups of coffee by the beach, but still gets a sound sleep. It’s where I know exactly when to board the boat and when to walk back because the tides are low. It is where I understand this: some people are poor because all they have is money and some of us are rich because our lives are simple. When I sit by the beach and listen to the call of the sea, I smile because usually the only ones who hear it are those who are free. =)

Sama Sama sa Samal Island

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We planned it the night before to wake up early so we can take that first trip to Samal Island, Davao del Norte the next day. I traveled alone to Davao and found a bunch of people who did the same. How good is that? The next day, however, gravity was so strong I couldn’t leave my bed. We ended up leaving at 10am, and I caused further delay because I had to shower and prep my things. (sorry haha) But I’m sure they all forgave me! haha Love is such a wonderful thing!

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From where we stayed, it was a five minute walk to the Sta. Ana Wharf. Homitori at Bangoy St cor. Sta Ana is a cheap but comfortable place to stay, especially when you’re doing a backpacking trip. We had someone from Davao with us so we were confident we were headed to the right direction. When we arrived at the wharf, there were two boats. We instinctively boarded the one closest to us. Truth of the matter is, we assumed it was going where we’re headed. We were told days before it’ll take ten minutes and ten pesos to reach Samal Island. One and a half hours later, we were wondering which latitude and longitude of the Earth we were at. We were still at sea, and it took us that long to ask the captain where we’re going! haha To kill the time, and the boredom, we had fun shoots at the boat. Good thing we had an amazing production team! Onel, LJ and Koi are seasoned photographers/ videographers haha Aboard the boat, and all throughout the trip, was a budding love team ready to challenge Kathniel and Jadine (OMG, i actually know them!). Xyra and Koi are ready to to be Koira. Lol

The kids are ready to set sail. That's me (left), Bryan, Enry, Xyra, Koi, Onel and Lester.
The kids are ready to set sail. That’s me (left), Bryan, Enry, Xyra, Koi, Onel and Lester.

We finally arrived at Samal Island two hours later. It was almost 3 in the afternoon. We headed to the closest resort and just shook off the long trip away. haha Enryson, our lone Davaoeno, was bullied for the wrong direction and probably because he was the youngest. haha (We still love you Enry! haha) Sir Ket had a flight to catch so he stayed dry (at least his torso) the whole time. He was so funny running away from the waves every time and I just love the way he stayed positive knowing he might miss his flight. Haha  Kurdel, from Tuguegarao of the north, didn’t even exerted effort to look good on cam. Everyone just dissipated when he was doing his rounds of shoots. But no. Probably Onel and Direk LJ were really good in making everyone look good on cam! Lol Lester made me laugh a lot because of his evil schemes, and he had all the supplies in his bag for us to shop! haha Bryan was last to dip, and Enry and I had to tackle him down for that.

Enry, Bryan and Koira (you're one, right lol)
Enry, Bryan and Koira hahaha kiddin’. It’s showbiz. hahaha
Wala lang po. It took me minutes to finally leave this desperate ettempt. Lol
Wala lang po. It took me minutes to finally leave this desperate ettempt. Lol
This was how desperate I was. Lol
This was how desperate I was. Lol
Jump shots are mandatory. Lol
Jump shots are mandatory. Lol
The calm face hides the
The calm face hides the “napapraning” feeling inside because Sir Ket might miss his flight hahaha We love you!
Aren't sweet? I can be your manager in showbiz. Lol
Aren’t they sweet? I can be your manager in showbiz. Lol
We all bought sunglasses because we were unprepared for this trip. The man gave it to us for 80 pesos per piece. hehe
We all bought sunglasses because we were unprepared for this trip. The man gave it to us for 80 pesos per piece, and he said he’s gonna pray for us, too! hehe

The place was the tip of what Samal Island really is. If the resort where we stayed had a great shore and strikingly blue waters, what more of the ones on the other side of the island? Although the time for swimming was cut short because of the long trip, the bonding time compensated for it greatly. We packed up by 4pm and took the habal-habal back to the barge. That’s where we should have alighted in the first place. But whatever. It was so much fun doing “Bahala Na” trips with the cool kids!

Ready for the habal habal, but we had to take one last photo. Hehe
Ready for the habal habal, but we had to take one last photo. Hehe

Albay: Let Me Talk About Home

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I come from a place where nature and history co-exist, and where boredom has no place to nestle. I wake up in the morning with a scene so beautiful, both of now and of the legends. I practice my faith many steps closer to heaven.

By bus or by plane, you know when you enter our borders. Her majesty welcomes you at the very gates of the province. Mayon volcano is a permanent sight to behold, a beauty and a beast at the same time. Climb Lignon hill early in the morning to get a full view of her perfect cone. Take that selfie, too, and tell the world of the things you see. =)

This view of Mayon Volcano is on top of Lignon Hill. Take that walk uphill early in the morning to avoid the heat.
This view of Mayon Volcano is on top of Lignon Hill. Take that walk uphill early in the morning to avoid the heat.

Proceed to the historic Daraga Church sitting on top of a hill. If you’re lucky, you get a good view of the volcano, too. But more than that, check out the architecture and imagine how our forefathers built them with their bare hands. Send that tweet and tell the world of the things you discover. =)

Daraga Church is one of the oldest we have in the province. It sits on top of a hill. You get a good view of the city at night, too!
Daraga Church is one of the oldest we have in the province. It sits on top of a hill. You get a good view of the city at night, too!

Check out Cagsawa Ruins afterwards. This belfry is the remnant of an old church. It’s a living picture of the Albayano’s resilience that stood the test of time. Finally, challenge yourself to an ATV package across a rough terrain, over volcanic soil and towards the slopes of Mount Mayon.

Cagsawa Ruins is the remnant of an old church which, according to common knowledge, was submerged by lava. Recent evidence suggests, however, that that is not the case. =)
Cagsawa Ruins is the remnant of an old church which, according to common knowledge, was submerged by lava. Recent evidence suggests, however, that that is not the case. =)
ATV packages depend on how far you'd like to go. The closer you get to the lava front, the more expensive it becomes. But you can always bargain for the best price. =)
ATV packages depend on how far you’d like to go. The closer you get to the lava front, the more expensive it becomes. But you can always bargain for the best price. =)

Albay beckons you to experience the simple and the quick. Got two days? No problem. I reckon my province has many things to offer to fit in your schedule. You just have to take that first step and go! See you!

Philippine Travelogue: The Country’s Top Destinations

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Exploring the bustling cities of our dreams and the island paradise of our choice and even climbing the mountains that captivate us are all in our bucket list. Given the chance, we all want to take a breather every once in a while, or to the jetsetters, a never ending gait to the meandering roads of the planet. It takes a bit of cash, a dash of confidence and a splurge of wanderlust to get going. But once we start the engines of our lives, we learn twice as much, gaining wisdom along the way. The only fuel we need is the insatiable craving for adventure and to acknowledge that we are living without borders.

The Philippines is one country that is blessed with thousands of destinations, both famous and hidden, both the mainstream and the subtle. There is at least seven thousand one hundred reasons to pack our bags and rush out the door.

Go trekking at the UNESCO Heritage site of Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao and be amazed by how free men carved the mountains and brought them to life. Take a plunge right after in the icy water of Tapiya Falls. Or perhaps, test your patience and endurance by climbing the highest peak of the island of Luzon: Mount Pulag. It may be the perfect place to reflect and put everything back into perspective.

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Allow the spirit to discover the myriad of faiths, too. Visit the old churches of Cauayan, Isabela and Tuguegarao City of the north, the Taoist temple of the queen city of the south, the Buddhist temple of Davao and the sites of our Muslim brothers and sisters such as Surallah, South Cotabato.

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Travel back to the time of the Spaniards by walking through the cobbled streets of Vigan in Ilocos Sur. Remember the chivalry and friendship between the Filipinos and Americans within the fortress of the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City. Learn from the historic battle between the Filipinos and Japanese, and the mutual respect and amity the two nations enjoy today, from the Filipino-Japanese Amity shrine in Valencia, Negros Oriental and the Mansion in Silay, Negros Occidental. Give honor to our national hero in the historic Luneta Park.

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Treat the taste buds with a gastronomic feast of seafoods in Roxas City in Aklan. Fall in love with the famous batchoy of Iloilo City and the sweetest mangoes of the world in the island province of Guimaras. Challenge yourself with the fish ceviche and pork of the sinuglaw in Cagayan de Oro and the flavorful Satti of Zamboanga City. Pair a cup of coffee with a blissful serving of Sansrival in Dumaguete City.

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Connect with nature through the multiple landscapes of the chocolate hills of Bohol or by gazing at the world famous Mayon Volcano in Albay and the luscious greens atop the Palace in the Sky in Tagaytay City. Be inspired by the best sunset in the world at the Manila Bay. Join a mangrove planting activity in one of the country’s biggest mangrove reserve in Prieto Diaz, Sorsogon. What about flexing those muscles through a spelunking activity in Caramoan, Camarines Sur?

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Check out the Philippine’s last frontier, Palawan, and the many scenic sites it has to offer. Go hopping in the islands of Coron and revel in the sandy beaches of El Nido. Practice your imagination in the dark stretch of the underground river in Puerto Princesa. This sword shaped island in western Philippines will surely enthrall travelers!

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Try exploring this planet’s top beach, Boracay. Go banana boating, helmet diving or fly-fishing and join the merry-making along the three stations of the place. Whether it is morning, afternoon or night time, Boracay is always ready to serve the best from its menu. Or maybe, go for the more secluded pinkish – white beaches of Subic Island and Paguriran Island in Sorsogon.

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Experience the adrenaline rush of surfing! Enroll in a surfing tutorial in the town of Baler, Aurora or beat the heat by surfing in the sands of Paoay in Ilocos Norte. Level it up by trying every pit stop in Sandbox of Porac, Pampanga or smiling while aboard the zipline in South Cotabato, the highest in all of Southeast Asia!  Engage in the fun rides of theme parks such as Enchanted Kingdom in Laguna, Arts in Island Museum in Cubao, Quezon City and the Manila Ocean Park in the Philippine capital city.

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Dance with the hundreds of festivals across the country such as the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo and the Manggahan Festival of Guimaras and the Magayon Festival of Albay. Enjoy the colorful ‘kiping’ grandiosely arranged in the houses in Lucban, Quezon in the annual Pahiyas Festival and the warm smiles of the Maskara Festival of Bacolod City.

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Every bend of this planet leads to an adventure. Take a deep breath and take that first step. Enjoy your travel! Count every atom and make every story count!

The City of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

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Every year, I try my best to take a trip outside the country. In 2013, I visited one of the provinces in Indonesia. The year after, I experienced the culture of Malaysia. This year, I chose to stroll the high-octane streets of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

Vietnam is a culturally-rich and diverse country, owing to the centuries of economic and political highlights. From once being part of China to the French colonization, Vietnam has somehow interlaced these historical sachets into its very own fabric of identity. Today, Chinese, French and, quite recently, the global influence are in the Vietnamese architecture, cuisine and way of life.

A statue of Ho Chi Minh stands a few feet across the city capitol. Guards are on the look out day and night.
A statue of Ho Chi Minh stands a few feet across the city capitol. Guards are on the look out day and night.

Ho Chi Minh City is a large metropolis in South Vietnam and was named after one of its revolutionary leaders who sought liberation from France. This city is formerly known as Saigon. As a kid, the only association I can make of Saigon was Miss Saigon which Ms. Lea Salonga starred in. I had repeats of this thought every night I stroll Ho Chi Minh. Lol The city is divided into districts, with most of the tourist destinations located at District I. Streets are lined with restaurants, bars, shops and what-nots that will draw the attention of locals and travelers alike. The currency is the Vietnamese Dong (approx. $1.00 =  ₫ 20,000.00).

The night market boasts of an array of merchandise, from the simplest to the most creative. When shopping for 'pasalubong', make a list of people you intend to buy for, or you'll end up buying for yourself. =)
The night market boasts of an array of merchandise, from the simplest to the most creative. When shopping for ‘pasalubong’, make a list of people you intend to buy for, or you’ll end up buying for yourself. =)

When I visited Vietnam, I had little cash on hand. Good thing the city has relatively cheap price range. I opted for motorcycles instead of taxis (when alone, but choose the taxi when in group), and the De Tham market for souvenirs rather than the malls. Street food and night market are a staple in Ho Chi Minh. One good skill to bring along is how to bargain. Honestly, I find it really hard to do this. Good thing I have companions expert on this art. lol

Some of the many items in Vietnam are crafts made of wood. Try looking for the best bargain before locking into one store.
Some of the many items in Vietnam are crafts made of wood. Try looking for the best bargain before locking into one store.

The city architecture manifests the culture of the French. The city capitol, opera house and the major establishments such as the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral have the elaborate Parisian style that let them stand out. No one will miss the Romanesque style of the Cathedral or the picturesque Saigon opera House, both good reasons why Ho Chi Minh is sometimes called the “Paris of the Orient”.

The Saigon Notre Dame Basilica has two prominent bell towers, reaching a height of 58 meters. It follows a Romanesque style of architecture.
The Saigon Notre Dame Basilica has two prominent bell towers, reaching a height of 58 meters. It follows a Romanesque style of architecture.
The Saigon Opera House is a premiere theater in Ho Chi Minh. It stages musicals, plays and many shows. Its design is French.
The Saigon Opera House is a premiere theater in Ho Chi Minh. It stages musicals, plays and many shows. Its design is French.

Vietnam has its own share of travails. The country has plunged into a tragic civil war, and many of the scars of that dark era are still etched today. The War Museum exquisitely documented the story and how it finally ended. I was moved to tears just looking at the photos, and honestly, this was the first museum which actually mustered by emotions! A few blocks from the museum is the Reunification Palace, a symbol of the end to the bitter civil war and the start towards development.

The War Remnant Museum has rooms depicting one chapter of the civil war. This room, the orange room, depicts the chemical warfare using the
The War Remnant Museum has rooms depicting multiple chapters of the civil war. This room, the orange room, depicts the chemical warfare using the “orange bomb”, claiming the lives of thousands, and still affects children today.
The Reunification Palace. We opted not to enter because we were pressed for time. Having a photo with it was satisfying already. hehe
The Reunification Palace. We opted not to enter because we were pressed for time. Having a photo with it was satisfying already. hehe But my tummy seems to be in bad shape!

Aside from rice being a food staple, coffee seem to be teeming in Vietnam. They have perhaps one of the most booming coffee industries in the world. You can choose from the packed coffee (sold at fixed prices) or those from the market, which they pulverize and sold per kilo (cheaper, and healthier, too). I bought a month’s supply of coffee and decided that those too would be great ‘pasalubongs’. Unfortunately, I left them at the hotel the night of my flight back to Manila. I realized they were not in my luggage when I was already at the airport. I really had a hard time moving on from that. =(

The market is a good place to ask for bargains. Make a good balance between getting a good price, and not underestimating the efforts in making the craft. =)
The market is a good place to ask for bargains. Make a good balance between getting a good price, and not underestimating the efforts in making the craft. =)

So there you go. It was a quick trip. It was just five days. Perhaps, there are three things I learned. One, that the art of travel is only perfected when you do it. Two, that the logic of travel is to immerse and not be lost. Three, that the love for travel is both a feeling and a choice.

Chocolate House, Rizal St., Old Albay District

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There’s this new snack house along Rizal St., Old Albay District that captured my attention, and I had a chance to try it out last week. The place is called Chocolate House. Owned and managed by a group of entrepreneurship students from Bicol University, the concept was an offshoot of their feasibility study. Because I wanted to taste most of their snacks, I had my friends order each of the four combos they had. Of course, we paid for each of our orders. hehe

Most of the food items were tweaked and drenched in melted chocolate. Each of the combos featured one food with a choice of juice drink. At a glance, they all seem so “chocolately”. Once you take a bite, it pleases me to know that it wasn’t “chocolately” after all. That was positive for me because that would mean they serve for multiple palates. If I were hungry, for instance, Chocolate House can satisfy my taste buds with its diverse food choices. It wasn’t too sweet and not too bland, either, at least for me. Tweaking some of the common food items was a plus. And these viands are relatively cheaper and affordable. They also serve pasta and other plated meals.

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Poppers
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Sweet Potato with chocolate dip
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Cucumber Lemon Juice
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French Toast

Check out the Chocolate House from Monday through Saturdays!

Exploring the Islands of El Nido, Palawan

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Whenever you can, wherever you are, take a trip to one of the best island beaches you can think of: bask in the sun, splurge in the crystal blue waters and have fun etching your footprints on the shores. However ephemeral this may seem to be, somehow it may remind us that life is fleeting and the best time to enjoy it is now! So go ahead, start looking! Can’t find one? May I suggest El Nido in the island of Palawan!

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A once quiet town in the island province of Palawan is now transformed into a center of tourism. El Nido in the Philippines holds the title of being one of the best tourist destination in the world. Tours and island hopping are a booming enterprise, coupled with restaurants offering authentic Filipino cuisine perfect for capping the night. The islands and rock formations spread across the waters of El Nido are aesthetically spaced to make them crisp to the senses. And perhaps, what makes the place highly enticing are the warm people who give the extra smile to make you comfortable.

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Enjoy swimming with your friends and family in the hidden lagoons and beaches. They say the most essential are invisible to the eye. True enough, the most picturesque spots are hidden from plain sight. Discover the wonders of El Nido by wading your way through the waters always armed with the hope of witnessing the best.

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Relax as you eat the sumptuous food served either in one of the islands or when you come back from the long island hopping. There are many ways to devour the food, but may be best eaten, I suppose, with bare hands.

Forget about work and commune with nature. Wiggle stress out of the system and allow the sea breeze to take the rest of your concerns. Visiting El Nido is a decision to loosen up, rejuvenate and re-organize.

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Capture the moment as it happens! Who knows when the next time will be? Telling people you’ve been to El Nido is different from showing them you’ve been there and letting the pictures speak for themselves. Note, however, that what the senses can absorb are always far better than what the lenses can capture. Seize the day with a balance of everything.

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Be grateful that places such as El Nido exist. Wherever we go, a conscious mind and a responsible body are the first elements of gratitude.

Start packing and make those long overdue plans a reality. It’s about time. =)