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Weekly Photo Challenge: Summer Lovin’

As Asian, the warmth of summer is something that has already been embedded in my system. I hail from a country that is up to a snuff when it comes to the world’s top summer destinations. This explains why my wandering feet will forever itch for estivating at the umpteen beaches and mountains of the Philippines.

Doing that used to keep me in perfect fettle. Sadly, I am now based in a place where littoral sights, sylvan surroundings, and palisades are but becoming part of a distant memory. Nevertheless, a reality whenever I return home for vacation.

My idea of summer lovin’ is getting my battery energized while elevating my appreciation of the aesthetics through seeing those typical tropical views. It becomes all the more momentous and spectacular when I watch them in their element during the gloaming. There is an exquisite beauty about capturing the moment in time while the sun begins to set in the horizon.

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Coffee Pot in the Arab Culture

Arabs have tons of effusive symbols but there is one that kept me intrigued: the coffee pot (dallah in Arabic). The modern dossier says that dallah is a metal pot with a long spout designed specifically for making Arabic coffee. In particular, it is used in the coffee tradition of the Arabian peninsula and it was first made in Baghdad using brass or another alloy. Syrians made their own in Damascus by copying the Iraqi Dallah that was then used by most Arabs especially the Bedouin.

I had seen this coffee pot countless times during my travels within Riyadh and Dammam most particularly in and on the premises of the nearby mintaqahs. The pot seems to be all over the place, which made me think it must be a national symbol.

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The Al Salem Museum, in the heart of the historical Ushaiger Village, is where I got to see different colors, designs, and sizes of dallah but I did not bother wringing out from the curator what these containers symbolize.

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In my recent trip to Diriyah, I came across a massive coffee pot that made me ask my sapient Arab friend, Mohammed Al Obaidan, about what this thing signifies, finally.

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I learned that a coffee pot is indeed a national symbol for hospitality throughout the Arab world. Arab hospitality is incomplete without sharing a cup of coffee. It is served everyday at all gatherings. Further, the youngest person of the host should be the one to serve. Nowadays, that practice has already been obliterated by a coffee man or tea man.

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Weekend Swim: A Perfect Disport for White-Collar Workers

During the holy month of Ramadan here in Riyadh, I and the people in my circle opt to just stay at the accommodations and busy ourselves with the boobtube. Summer has already reached its peak and–generally–this keeps people from leaving their air-conditioned rooms. As a result, excursions are like pawikan in the Philippines—extinct. Swimming is no exception. Ironically, we don’t care about the piercing rays of the sun if there’s a chance for us to swim even in a pool. We all crave the water element at this point. So when we were invited by some, for lack of better term, angels to go with them for a weekend swim, saying yes was totally easy. Yahoo! Another grant–in-aid for this travel blog.

Last Friday, 11 July 2014, ten instant weekend warriors headed straight to one of A Company’s top depots in Al Kharj to get a dose of the metaphysical benefits of swimming via the ten-foot deep diving pool in it—free of charge! That’s us. It’s been a decade since I and the rest of us did a twist to our workout routines.

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A two–hour drive from the capital city brought us to the diving pool. As soon as we’re there, we couldn’t stop drooling at the sparkling azure water that seemed to tease our hot bodies in our birthday suits (pun really intended). We couldn’t contain our excitement either so after resting for  a few minutes, we showered then dipped into the fetching water right away. Our adult bodies, minds, and hearts somehow turned into that of a tyke’s. I must say it’s really so much fun to flounder around in the water with a bubbly crowd.

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From Left: Chris, Joel, Onel, & The Blogger

Soon, I stayed in one corner and pondered upon what’s happening around me. In the middle of the chortles I hear and the frolic I see at the pool is a sanctuary. I saw it as a good place for relaxation. The kind of silence the pool provides, especially when I was floating and both of my ears were submerged, allowed me to just step away from this frantic world momentarily. I’m sure the rest of us discerned the same.

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The metrical strokes through the water are very soothing and therapeutic because they collectively provide a great cardiovascular exercise. That’s a fact. The pool, despite its chlorine, emits a unique form of therapy that is explained by the meditative quality of swimming. In our accommodations’ gym, where I get to work out on a regular basis, everyone can see me. In this pool, there is less pressure for I became virtually invisible thereby making me not self–conscious. There’s just me and my mind moving through the water—which is very cathartic, invigorating, and liberating. I felt like I was doing my mastered yoga stances in water but with less effort. And when I got out from there, I felt like I’ve done hours of meditation.

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What struck me most though with all these hooplas is the kind of happiness that radiated from us while frolicking in the water. The happiness that vivified the quiet place. By digging the modern dossier, Google, I learned that all of that happiness was most likely due to the release of feel–good chemicals known as endorphins—one of swimming’s most pleasant side effects.

Later, I joined the crowd that seemed to be the happiest mortals in the happiest mood again until we’re up for the next activity (i.e., visit to A Company’s Bakery Gallery) on our itinerary.

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With all the snaps and realizations that emerged from this experience, I could say that a weekend swim is indeed the perfect disport before the work week ramps up.

(Note: Credits for the original copies of photos go to my budding photographer friends, Leonel Mark Tuscano and Jerome Eguia respectively, except for the first one.)

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Weekend Getaways at gmanetwork.com

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The Highlight of My 30-Day Vacation

Leaving the country a couple of years ago was an epoch in my life. So many things took place from then till now and the most noteworthy is after almost 11 months of waiting, I was again back to the east for vacation last 19 February 2014.

A few days before that day, I prepared an itinerary where I included scaling five mountains, meeting special friends, and embarking on a solo travel for the fifth time. What I saw at home, after a couple of hours from the airport, soon turned the big PLANS into a nano plan. My eldest son immediately nestled in my arms upon smiling at him. His yen for me is as scatheless as his dear mother’s. On the other hand, the youngest progeny sniveled, not to mention feared my uneven receding hairline when I took him from his mother’s. That moment was very heart-pulverizing. I forgot that I had a lot to catch up on his mother’s ranking in the Attention Department.

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The following day, I engineered countless persuasion tactics to run circles around the untamed but expectedly, they all failed. Of course, it did not end there. I needed three days of sedulous drills to trammel his punishing eyes and resistant arms. I must confess, that was more than nailing 1st Runner Up in a badminton tournament. I then thought this was perfect time to have a meet-up with special friends and pay a pumping visit to my concubines. So I attempted to “broadcast” the foregoing plans the next day but when I was about to press send, I caught my three raisons d’être cachinnating from a horseplay near me. I was so gurged into the moment; I insensately dropped the phone and joined them instead.

Before I went to bed later, I reviewed the itinerary and made a long, fixed stare at the part that underlines putative climbs, meeting friends, and solo travel. I realized one thing: This 30-day vacation was for no one but my family. Hence, climbs, meeting friends, and solo travel were crossed out. There was only one palpable course on the piece of paper since: To wisely spend my time with family no matter how banausic it may be.

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“To The Mountains”

It was 26 February 2013 when I caught a note titled “To The Mountains” on my newsfeed. What’s so special about the note other than it belongs to a friend, whom I met on the mountain trails two years ago, is that he is a silent, brilliant writer. I’ve always admired him for his impeccable diction and his ability to transcend words. Every piece of narrative he makes turns into a masterpiece; I can’t help but relish every element of it.

I believe that gripping note on climbing is oughta be shared via my blog just as I’ve promised him I would on that very day. And that day has come.

Please read on, and don’t stop until you reach the last dot.

It began with a desire: a longing to get out of the city. I needed to get away from the crowds, the insufferable traffic, the apathy that descends upon the streets like rain, and break free from my day to day routines. I needed to escape the depravities of commercialism that blinds people with material objects which we absently spend for in an effort to give our existence some sort of value — some sort of worth.I wanted to make something more out of this pale death that I miscalled my life.I grew up in the countryside slopes of Baguio, in a small house flanked by enormous pine trees that reached for the sky. I always adored those trees, which I sometimes imagined to be mighty sentinels standing watch.

As a child, I had very little to occupy my days — save for a few well-loved toys and my own company. I often played alone in the gardens, and fancied staying there until dark — a little boy, perched in a garden facing west, watching the sun slowly set far beyond the mountains, casting the sky in glorious flames before disappearing entirely.

I spent many sunsets that way: serenely huddled in a warm jacket as the cool winds gently played at my hair, admiring the sun and the sky and the far mountains on the horizon.
I grew to love nature then.

But that sort of bliss came to pass when life brought me to the metro. The beauty of the land was lost to me for many years, replaced by shoddy and crowded parks, noisy streets, and the wretched stink of pollution and waste. At night, I would often dream of our secluded home in Baguio, where the cold air was redolent with the sweet smell of pines and dama de noche, while the crickets filled the night with their soft music. Waking up with a deep longing for home was a real heart-breaker.

Thankfully, after a few years, I met the people who led me to higher grounds.

Mountain by mountain, my friends and I soared.

Trekking along long-trodden and unused trails alike, day after day after day, often well into the night, and sometimes even until morning. Facing formidable obstacles and difficulties like crossing raging rivers that seemed intent on carrying us downstream, using fallen trees as bridges high over foreboding ravines, and holding on to roots and rocks and vines and grasses for dear life. We’d be kissing bare rock-faces, trying with all our might not to look down should we be pierced by terror at the suicidal heights we found ourselves in.

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This is one of the most surreal moments of my life…

I remember the insane grins on each of our faces as we were negotiating past knife-edge trails, even as the wind threatened to knock us over to a rather lengthy and painful fall. Crawling through the mud and muck, slipping and sliding our way down, and falling on our already-sore rears all throughout (to the point that even as we slept, we dreamt about slipping and falling that we instantly woke up with a shock); going over and under branches and trees and boulders, scaling insanely-angled ascents with nothing but a prayer (and going back down through these parts was often more difficult); getting lost along the trails, bearing the unbelievable cold that froze even our facial muscles, being burned by the rays of the unforgiving sun, and braving the hammering rain. Through all these obstacles, step by little step, mountain by mountain, this is how we soared to the summits and discovered what such joy it is to truly live.

And these, among others, are the experiences that are in our savings account of moments that we take pride in having lived.

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Aside from the physically extravagant efforts we put into climbing, there are other experiences that make mountaineering truly an incredible adventure. Like that time when we managed to nervously smile at gun-totting NPAs that we crossed paths with. Looking back now, I wish I had taken a ‘selfie’ with them.

From suffering a horde of blood-thirsty limatiks, to avoiding fearsome ants and slithering snakes; from enduring the remarkable pain of little thorns prudently digging into the skin, to running away from angry bees, wasps, and wild carabaos and pigs bent on skewering you with their beastly horns. These are but a few of the things we would have missed had we chose to spend our time mindlessly roaming a mall.

Climbing mountains is not easy, but the rewards are definitely worth-while. The effort of carrying a backpack that can weigh anywhere from 15 to 30 kilos is something that demands more than physical strength and endurance. It also takes a lot of mental toughness. Because after some time, the burdens of carrying a heavy load and walking for hours wilts away to nothing more than an accepted state of reality. Pain becomes a constant: aching muscles, collapsed knees, and sore feet afflicted by fallen arches and numerous paltos. Cuts, bruises, bodies racked by fatigue, and dear physical discomfort all mean to argue that there is no greater pain than physical pain.

Climbing mountains teaches you a lot. The least of which is to appreciate the little things that you normally take for granted — a hot cup of noodles, a shower, and — blessed be, — a toilet bowl, to name a few. One of the things I’ve found is that there is no one more blessed than someone who can appreciate the smallest and simplest of things.

One of the other things that you’ll find is that the mountains teach humility the hard way. You will learn that people are weak and frail, and at the complete mercy of the world. That we are but specks of dust compared to the mountain; that our bones shall long be nothing but dust and yet the mountain shall still stand. And so you learn that you never do conquer a mountain, you conquer yourself, and you let the mountains change you.

I’ve always felt sorry for a person who is unable to appreciate the outdoors. One can only give a rudimentary explanation when people ask us why we do this; why my friends and I eagerly put ourselves in such uncomfortable situations — not to mention potentially dangerous.

Experiencing the beauty and greatness of nature is something that demands effort and perseverance. It is not something that can be bought like some cheap thrill. The experience of actually living, independent of most of the comforts and conveniences of these modern times, is unlike any other.

Man exists for the achievement of his desires. And it’s entirely up to the individual whether his desires bring purpose and meaning to his life. I’ve found that for those who climb mountains, our unspoken desires are pretty much the same: we climb because we are restless. We climb to see the world, to see sceneries that are infinitely more beautiful than any photo can ever portray. We climb because it’s like we have a raging fire deep within our hearts, a passion for adventure burning hotter than a thousand suns, urging us to go farther, reach higher; urging us to live beyond the conventions of the city life that seem to be more bane than boon. We climb to find the best within ourselves.

And as the saying goes: the only thing better than an adventure of a lifetime, is a lifetime of adventures.

Verily, I couldn’t have said it any better myself.  I’m honored to have this note as my first ever guest post. 

The man behind “To The Mountains” is Kevin Jason Sarfati Manuel. Aside from being an incontestably talented writer, he is also a superb photographer. I’ve been convincing him to create a blog but has remained reluctant up to now. I actually waited for his blog to shake the blogosphere since but was rather compelled to just fulfill the promise to him two years ago. This explains the birth of this blog post.

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Why Do I Love Mountain Climbing at yobynos.wordpress.com

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The Alpha Dogs’ Typical Day Out at Kamsa Ashra Park

For us Filipinos, Kamsa Ashra Park is still the best place to go to when we want to feel that laid-back atmosphere we luxuriate in back home. The park makes us appreciate simple things like seeing fellow Filipinos singing via the karaoke, playing billiards, merrymaking under nipa huts, and a whole heap more. Also, we get to experience that semblance of freedom, which actually seem to favor women, who are most of the time all covered, greatly. It is the only place where they can tear the black robe. No wonder, the birthdays, and at the same time nature break, of our two good friends took place there a couple of weeks ago (20 June 2014).

The invitation actually came on such short notice; nevertheless, majority of the ones invited showed up. An opportunity like this is absolutely a grant-in-aid for a poor traveler like me. Getting a breath of fresh air, basking under the shades of green, and eating authentic Filipino cuisine for free are a decent treat. Together, they make some sort of every overseas worker’s desideratum after a busy week.

It has been months since we went on a break outside the four corners of the Head Office. We thought it is a good way to greet the upcoming Ramadan that already started in the last week of June.

Of course, it would have been a lot better dipping in the beaches of Dammam, Khamis, or Jeddah if the case were that we are all that financially capable. The tropical–like atmosphere of those places is just too fetching for someone in the desert.

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As soon as we alighted from the van, the xeric clime of the morning ushered us to benches of that “big time” hash house. The tall trees that provide a hugging shade for visitors give a unique form of comfort in the midst of the current weather.

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I never really appreciated sitting under the shades of virident coppice until I saw these friends around me laughing while idling away with the moment. It wrung that blithesome nature out from each of us. The smiles on our faces form the rident expression needed for this claim.

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We then strolled along the barren steppe that leads to the verdant veldt of the park like it is our first time. We walked in the company of nature, slowly. Simultaneous with this was the birthday boys haggling for some cool budget deals at the eatery.

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We let our eyes feast on the views around until we got to the hanging bridge. We thought it would be nice to get a photo of each of us on it, so we wrestled our way through just to give ourselves a primary picture worthy for Facebook wall. The latter is a jape.

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At exactly 10:00 AM, we were prompted by the birthday boys to return for tiffin was already waiting.

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It is good to have a long walk before eating because it makes a boodle fight a lot more enjoyable and appetite–increasing.

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I thank the birthday celebrators for paving the way for me and friends to take that much needed nature break after some time. In today’s high-tech world, a shared nature break is a good way to build if not sustain a friends’ bond. This kind of break presents a chance for us to put into practice some important components of good friendship—interactions through kanto talks, affective sharing at some point, and emotional availability to each other—even just to a degree.

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The Birthday Boys: Warren and Adonis

Over the years, I have been very effective at recharging my batteries by taking a short break. Nature break that is. It allows me to calm down and get back in focus when I am having a tough time, not to mention puts me back on track when the fearful “blogger’s block” creeps in. There have been a large number of researches that prove such point. That is why I am advising all workers out there to do the same. You will be glad you did.

Photo Credit: Adonis Escoto (Please check more stunning images from this rising photographer at pixoto.com.)

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“Looking forward to reading your comments.”

For this episode of Common Grammatical Errors (CGEs), I will be discepting three: The stock phrase in business letters “Looking forward to hearing from you.” and the common words “mails and emails”.

While I was busy attending to some urgent emails this morning, I was disturbed by a sound coming from a colleague sitting right next to me. A sound that is more of like a correction to the email I just sent across our division. I am talking about what is in the screenshot.

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The incident fueled my muse to share why is that construction so. “Looking forward to hearing from you.”

Having said that, I truly admire my colleague’s audacity in saying that the sound of the sentence is strange. That it would have been better if I used the infinitive form to hear  as in, “Looking forward to hear from you.” My response was this: “Such is a stock phrase in business letters and the choice of words does really sound odd in normal context. But believe me when I say it is grammatically correct.” The workplace is not the right venue for doing a grammar 101 lecture but here. Hence, this post, which will explicate the meat of the email I sent to that colleague later.

I thank the universe for throwing me to the Middle East in 2012 so that I became more meticulous as to the words I use in business correspondence. This explains why I dig reliable grammar guide sites whenever I am in doubt about a particular word or usage.

Let me start by acknowledging a useful fact about my colleague’s constructive feedback. If the preposition to in my sentence were an infinitive, it would be correct to use to hear. The thing is, to is not functioning as part of an infinitive but as a preposition. Therefore, it has to be followed by a noun or a nominal phrase—and hearing is a noun. Grammatically speaking, a thing being looked forward to (hearing in this case) should be a noun.

One of the many phrasal verbs in English in which an adverbial particle and a preposition is combined with stem verb to signify a particular meaning is look forward to or looking forward to. This is exemplified as either a noun phrase or a verb phrase that will make use of the –ing pattern.

A friend says he is not looking forward to attending Thomas’ party the week after the next.

They are all looking forward to meeting the new CEO.

The second grammar pet peeve is the word mails, which is like an iPhone 5 in the office. It is visible everywhere. The word sounds practically correct; however it may be, it is unfathomable in Standard English.

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The Chicago Manual of Style and reliable dictionaries explicitly say that mail is a mass noun—a noun that cannot be counted and thus resists pluralization by adding s. In my opinion though, sometimes, using that word alone sounds awkward like in this context: “I received six mail today.” This is where the need to add a counting word like pieces (i.e., pieces of mail) comes in. That is in order to make the plural concept sounds pleasing to the ears as in, “I received six pieces of mail today.”

That rule actually applies to the word email. Thank God that was before, a few years ago when grammar sticklers still vomit the usage of emails as the plural form of email. In 2010, I came across an article at nytimes.com titled “The Plural of E–mail” that asseverates emails as a recognized plural form of email.

The countification of email and the expulsion of the hyphen therein mirror a lot of recent developments in tech-talk. Who knows? In a few years or so, it could be considered an official English word.

In the meantime, do not forget that mail is not a contraction for email and mails stays as a grammatical mishap. You might as well refrain from using the latter in this regard.

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Grammar Pet Peeves: You logined?! I’m giveuping. at jkathleencheney.wordpress.com

What are your biggest grammar pet peeves? at storify.com

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrasts

Recently, I dropped by a popular restaurant in Hyatt Mall where I got to snap a photo that speaks a lot about this week’s theme. The effect of the motley of lights illuminating subtly in the crepuscular interior provide an irresistible contrast, which makes the ambiance insanely cozy and romantic.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Between

In the photo, you could see two birds between the sky and water, and a wandering soul between the birds. But there is more to this between darkness and light photo than meets the eye: that magic of nature called daybreak, which is seldom neglected. It is that time of the day when nature is painted in incredible colors.

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You cannot sure avert your optical organs at how the day slowly gets brighter; at how the breathtaking colors start to seep through.

Oh, magic at its best!

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A Perfect Estival Treat

Here in Saudi Arabia, summer has started last April and is now in its driest month (June). As this weather nears its peak (August), my appetite for oily and protein rich foods loses more and more. My craving for the dog days of the season turned into something cold, sweet, and trophic. Nothing could better define what I have in mind than the word “smoothies”.

Smoothies are slushy fruit-based drinks that got a boost from the growing popularity of home blenders in 1940 in the West coast of the United States. The birth of Smoothie King chain in 1970, which popularized a nutritional smoothie formulated juice with the addition of vitamins and other supplements, made Steve Kuhnau the pioneer of this particular beverage. By the 1990s, smoothies were already a multibillion dollar industry, with the introduction of smoothie machines that helped propel the drink out of specialty shops and on to menus in restaurants and university cafeterias (nestleprofessional.com).

At present, the popularity of smoothies continues to evolve. Its common indulgence category as a beverage is now penultimate to the on-the-go meal or snack or dessert, most especially in the West and, of course, the tropical parts of Asia. This is the reason why it is a must-listed item on the menus of quick-service restaurants.

Recently, I stopped by not a restaurant but a local smoothie shop called Tabeie wa Sehei (in English, Natural and Healthy), which is just beside the grocery store near our place, to quench my longing for a cold drink. I took a friend’s word for how good their smoothies are.

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I was then asked to choose among the fruits that are absolutely ambrosia on the counter. Picking was not easy. All the fruits are pleasing to my taste and smell. Eventually, I chose strawberry because my two most favorite fruits (soursop and guacamole) were unavailable. The best from the choices were strawberries because they are very good sources of vitamin C; in fact, they contain more vitamin C than citrus fruits providing 149 percent of the daily value (Food and Nutrition Information Database, University of Illinois Extension).

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Tabeie wa Sehei’s smoothies only come in two sizes: medium (6 SAR) and large (7 SAR).

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While waiting, I decided to watch the beverage specialist make my healthy drink. He only used four ingredients: approximately 10 pieces of strawberries, 4 pieces of ice cubes, 2 tablespoons of vanilla, and a cup of milk. After about 10 minutes, there he was pouring the red smooth thing in my medium cup.

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On the flip side, do not be confused between a milk shake and a smoothie. A milk shake is blended with milk, ice cream, and flavoring. A smoothie will never need an ice cream and is often made with limited ingredients — ice and milk as the primary ones. Flavors can vary from frozen or fresh fruit to liquid flavoring.

What I liked most about this beverage is the natural sweet and sour taste that just leaves the mouth wanting for more. There is not much of that sugary taste thereby making the shop’s name (i.e., natural and healthy) congruent to what it sells. I remember how I savored slowly sipping the saccharine and vinegary contents of that cup in order to enjoy the natural flavor and grainy texture of the berries as well as their pellet-sized chunks swimming in the pool and slipping through the straw. The first and last sips provided me with the sweet indulgence I longed for.

Until summer is over I am considering this smoothie shop as a sort of harborage amid this scorching weather. Payday is now around the corner; I will surely come back for another cup. A large cup is what I will take by then.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Extra, Extra

It was said that a beautiful photo is one thing, but a photo with an unexpected detail has personality and pop. For this week’s photo challenge, what my entry has particularly speaks about the former.

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This plant, which I stumbled on the wilderness of Mount Manalmon in Bulacan a couple of years ago, is one of those that give blooms of the brightest vermilion after the transient cold season in the Philippines. That brilliant scarlet red you see is the very element that makes the subject extra, extra striking.

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In Search of A Rebound

The journey to the Edge of the World made us down in the dumps because it turned out to be a failed mission (“A Series of Unfortunate Events”). So as we were heading back to the capital city, we were discussing the discomforts of what took place in that valley and the plight’s silver lining. This was when the place called “Diriyah” surfaced. Thank heavens, all of us, especially Chauffer Sai, were still up for a rebound.

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Onel and I were actually a bit disinclined to the idea of choosing the place so that Sai and Rico had to put in a good word for it.

The excitement heightened when we passed by the highway’s exit to Diriyah where we caught a big signage that says “Diriyah: UNESCO World Heritage”. Sai and Rico’s words slowly made sense.

A few minutes later, we parked on the side of Wadi Hanifah’s road, which is just a few meters away from the historical dam. Feast time for the views around was not something we wanted to do upon debarking but to devour the packed lunch. I must admit, the viand made us consume four plates of rice. It goes without saying Rico is really a good cook.

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From Left: Sai, Onel, and The Wandering Feet & Mind (02 May 2014)

Thereupon, we chatted for a while until the summer breeze–assisted by the birds chirping on the rami–started playing a lulling song. The sweet Cassie perfume being dispersed by the needle bushes (Acacia farnesiana) swaying above us just made it more conducive to slumber.  It was perfect time for us to gorge the views around instead.

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The sweet-smelling yellow flower of  Acacia farnesiana.

Diriyah is a town in Saudi Arabia sitting on the northwestern outskirts of Riyadh. It was the original home of the Saudi royal family and served as the capital of the first Saudi dynasty from 1744 to 1818. The said town is now the seat of the Diriyah Governorate, which includes the villages of Uyayna, Jubayla, and Al-Ammariyyah, among others, and is part of Riyad Province.

There are six open parks (Al-Elb, Lake Park, Bio Treatment, Sud Park, Factories Lake, and Wadi Hanifa) in Diriyah but we ended up with only one. That is the latter, which is Wadi Hanifah—the largest of its type. It is one of the longest stretches of open recreational spaces in Saudi Arabia reaching a length of 80 kilometers, from  the north at Prince Salman Road to Hayer in the south. The park rises from the highlands of central Arabia and runs southeast for 75 miles before losing itself in the sands of the Empty Quarter desert. We actually passed by to some of the other mentioned parks where I was able to snap a photo to include here.

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For nature lovers, Wadi Hanifa is a decent place to do nature tripping with its acacias, flowing water channel, natural landscapes, and trees. Unfortunately, we were not privileged to catch the glorious wet days (pun intended) of the dam considering the current season. That explains the dry yet fertile Wadi Hanifah made possible by aquifers close to the surface. People have been farming and trading up and down the valley for millennia. It also offers numerous areas to enjoy recreation and the outdoors, most especially for hiking, playing, and picnicking. The valley is landscaped with flora suitable for re-vegetation in accordance with the environs.

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“A total of 30,000 desert trees have been planted in the middle of the valley, and about 7,000 palm trees were planted along hiking areas and pathways. Another 2,000 desert trees have been moved from desolate areas in the valley and exchanged with plants that grow naturally by moving them from thick shrubby areas and re-planting them in desolated areas and 42,000 trees have been planted via seeding and cultivation” (sauditourism.com). Some of the trees that I was able to recognize are tamarisk, needle bush (which was already mentioned earlier), Acacia tortilis, Acacia gerrardii, fluffy fountain grass, saltbush, and the common boxthorn.

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Heavy rains used to fall on this part of the kingdom until climate change intercepted making the wadi barren and dry. This was the reason why several decades ago, a large sewage facility was constructed to bring water to this area. Cultivating date palms, irrigating public gardens and parks, and running oil refineries became possible since.

It should be noted that Wadi Hanifah became a dumping area and a public health hazard at one point, for many years. Seasonal flooding swept pollutants into residential neighbourhoods leaving stagnant water to imperil public health. In addition, construction firms did mine in the area for minerals. Who would have thought? The place now shows a minute trace of its once infamous state.

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Therefore, it is not surprising that the environmental rehabilitation—which took place for ten years—of this valley has won many awards. The said rehabilitation was initiated in 2001 by the ArRiyadh Development Authority through clearing rubbish, grading the banks, landscaping and replanting native flora. “The comprehensive plan for the development of Wadi Hanifa won the Water Center Award in Washington, D.C., USA, as the best plan for the development of water resources in the world for the year 2003. It also won Foundation International Award for Vital Communities in London, Britain in 2007, and the World’s Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2010” (sauditourism.com).

Countless palm trees now serve that needed oxygen in the desert to attract fauna and cool breeze in a line of picnic pods along the walk ways for people. Stone-bedded plots likewise fill out the curves of the walking trail and tot a unique gilding to the wadi floor. There were also slabs that are horizontally laid to create steps down to the valley floor to facilitate those who want to play along the trails and under the acacias.

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From Left: Sony, Onel (owner of this photo), and Rico

In my homeland, we usually head up to the high lands for a breath of fresh air but not here in Riyadh. Heading down to the low-lying areas like this Wadi Hanifah coulee is the theme.

Yes, we did not make it to the Edge of the World but setting foot on this historical site is also an experience of a lifetime. For a lover of history, it is always an opportunity to get a feel of an old place’s historical thread because it provides an understanding of how the place and its landscape have developed over time. How saddening it would be if we only get to learn by books more so if this were the only way to see them.

Wadi Hanifah is a great rebound in sum.

(Geographical Infomation and Technical Features of the Dam were based on the 2007 On Site Review Report [Wadi Hanifa Wetlands] by Wael al-Samhouri and Mashary al-Naim)

Related Blog Posts

A Riyadh favourite-Wadi Hanifah and Diriyah at alexofarabia.com

Aga Khan Award or Architecture at akdn.org

Wadi Hanifah-No Litter Please, We’re Saudi at theodysseia.blogspot.com

Wadi Hanifah at smyh.wordpress.com

Visit to Al Elb Dam in Wadi Hanifa, Saudi Arabia – PHOTOS at aayjay.wordpress.com

Palm Trees-Wadi Hanifah, Saudi Arabia at yohoproductions.com

The King’s Forest: Rawdat Khuraim at desertelixir.wordpress.com

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The Kind of Miracle I Received From the Lady of Manaoag

In the Philippines, Ramadan’s counterpart (Lenten Season) took place a couple of months ago. During this period, the so-called panata (religious vow) is widely practiced given the fact that the country is a predominantly Christian nation in Asia.

The Lenten Season commemorates the significant moments of Jesus’ life. During this period there are a lot of religious activities and among the most common ones are people flock the national roads and churches to watch the procession reenacting Jesus’ life—from his preaching times to his death and ascension—and use this time to reflect. Traditionally, the season begins right after Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of abstinence, contemplation, fasting, and repentance. People try to live the following days by veering away from a sinful life.

Over the years, that way of commemorating said season has changed. What more common nowadays is that people take this season as a perfect time to travel to places where they can reflect. Places that are usually away from the hustling city or places that are being frequented by tourists. It has become the highlight of the summer season for most people especially the young generation from then on.

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Amid that evolution though one thing remains deeply valued. We, in general, make it a point to go to church on the last day of the Holy Week to catch that special mass in the early morning of Sunday or do, at the very least, Visita Iglesia. The latter made us (with my family) visit Our Lady of Manaoag Shrine in Pangasinan (the home of the Hundred Islands) during the Lenten Season in 2012. This is another unforgettable summer moment because my family, siblings and their children, in-laws, mother, and I got reunited after some time. Pulling the family members together, most especially in our case, is really hard nowadays. Most of us have already settled in places far from each other’s.

It was one fine summer day when we coalesce in a four-wheeled vehicle to head to the most miraculous pilgrimage site (Our Lady of Manaoag Shrine) in the north. We left the house with our sacs full and we arrived at the jam-packed road near the shrine’s gate five hours later from the metropolis. This was something expected knowing the time of the year.

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We needed to scuffle with the crowd in the middle of the day just to enter the church, but all of those physical exertions became goose eggs once we got inside.

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The main attraction at the entrance is the very statue of the Lady. The kids were enjoying playing around the statue’s railings when our dear mother commanded us to catch the ongoing mass. All of us enthusiastically gave in. Inside the church, the sound of the choir and the voice of the priest provided a euphonius ambience, which kept us all awake until the end. There is quite a special feeling in seeing the family as one in such a solemn gathering like this. That feeling that combines comfort, for the most part, and sadness, knowing that it is ephemeral.

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It still brings a smile on my face each time I remember our children’s high jinks on our way to the shrine. These were the things that cuittled, if not kept alive, the mood inside the congested vehicle. Kids are just natural entertainers when they do stuff.

The ensuing scene was we were having lunch in the national burger house of the Philippines (Jollibee) along the North Luzon Expressway. I am used to capturing landscapes and other nature’s wonders when I travel. At this juncture, I died to capture the very poignant spectacle in my head by transferring the screen to my memories. Each time I turn the pages of that day, there is one that remains intact with me: Our boisterous laughter that drowned out the sounds of the plates, spoons and forks as well as our conversation in the heartbeat of the burger house. Funny how I refrained from pressing the shutter when I had to. Instead, I just snapped them through my brain.

This is a single moment of true joy. I consider it a miracle given by the Lady for me, for us, to cherish. A special kind of joy that will echo through me without limit.

Related Blog Posts

Bolinao, A Crazy Weekend Itinerary at guiltlessgetaways.blogspot.com

Pangasinan Summer Getaway: Manaoag at keepingtraces.blogspot.com

Manaoag Church of Pangasinan at travbuddy.com

A Pilgrimage to Miraculous Manaoag at choosephilippines.com

Churches of the Philippines for Visita Iglesia at islandsofthephilippines.com

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“Memoir” of Manoosha

In our workplace, I am in charge of the big wheels’ food—for breakfast and lunch—each time that monthly meeting takes place. I witnessed them change food for lunch from time to time but there is this one that became like a constant for breakfast. After two years, it is safe to say that this particular food is really something.

Ever heard of the word “Manoosha”?

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Manoosha (also man’ousheh) is the equivalent of the word “pie” in English. It is the singular form of manaqish (Arabic word for more than one manoosha) and it is the word for the special vittle that we are to talk up.

Basically, manoosha is a very popular Middle Eastern traditional food that is composed of dough topped with thyme, cheese, or ground meat.

The Manoosha concept, which rooted from natural simple ingredients, was founded in Riyadh back in April 2001. The credit for the advent of this restaurant (i.e., Manoosha) goes to the two Saudi entrepreneurs who live with the passion for food combining traditional and modern cuisine though classic dishes and for reviving old recipes of manaqish and a notion of establishing a leading Middle Eastern restaurant chain.

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Within a short period of time, Manoosha became well-known as a local fast casual dining establishment that serves a selection of premium quality pies. Its modern trendy setting not only offers manoosha that comes with traditional ground meat toppings but with mixtures of vegetable toppings such as spinach, tomato, cucumber, olive slice, or lettuce. Some varieties combine three or four of those veggies like “Labnah Bayteya”, “Manoosha Halloumi Wrap”, or “Lahem Be Ajeen”. This puts the three as top favorites of health conscious people. Further, this traditional food already took on different new tastes, shapes, and sizes to become a piece of dough flavored to ones’ palate.

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Manaqish are similar to pizza, which is also another item as fukharat in their menu, but different in the way they are being served. Unlike pizza, manaqish are folded or rolled before being sliced. Although the pies are eaten for breakfast in the office, they are recommended for lunch too.

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Let us get to the talking point: the way the manaqish are being cooked. The store uses the classic cooking in stone hearth ovens, which has quite a distinctive interior design, to cook the pies’ high-quality raw ingredients.

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This way of cooking enables the restaurant to meet the highest standards of quality—the realization of the concept that revolved around dough and stone hearth cooking. Hence, the name “Manoosha”.

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At present, Manoosha operates 11 restaurants here in Riyadh and is embarking on an aggressive plan that will make the brand expand not only regionally but internationally. This would not be far from possible with their continued efforts to keep up with their concept fresh and on the cutting edge of the restaurant industry in food safety and hygiene. Add to that the fact that Manoosha has already established itself as a market leader in the Manaqish business.

To our big bosses in the office, Manoosha has always been a part of their routine especially during whole day meetings. When I read from the restaurant’s website that the combination of thyme and olive oil, which are mixed with any variant of manaqish, are believed to be an excellent stimulant to the memory, I stopped wondering why the bosses are so into the pies. That information, to a degree, has a lot to tell about why they so want these manaqish. I must say I also got hooked on the food for that long.

So whoever happens to be in the area, you might as well stop at Manoosha one time if you are in the mood for pies with herbs toppings that will leave a warm tinge on the sides of your lips or for a hot cheese to melt in your mouth.  I assure you, once you tasted one of those manaqish, you would always find yourself biting your way back into their succulent delights. All of which are at a very reasonable price ranging from SAR5 to SAR20.

For more information such as the respective lists of the branches and the complete assortment of delicious culinary choices to suit your appetite, please visit Manoosha’s website at www.mymanoosha.com.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Split-Second Story

There is one place here in Riyadh that I am dying to see. I am talking about Salam Park, which is parallel to the Rule Palace on the South bordering King Fahad Road on the West and Tariq bin Ziad Road on the North, Salam Road on the East and Aseer Road on the South.

What is striking about the park is the lake in it. The lake has a total area of 33 thousand square-meters and is divided into two zones. One is assigned for boating and the other represents natural life that is expected to attract local and migratory birds. Lastly, it is accentuated by a pythonic fountain, which is pretty visible on the skyway in the area.

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The place was a remnant of date palms and is now composed of different environments. Several measures and precautions were taken to ensure the continuous movement of lake water in order to prevent insect and mosquito growth. These measures include pumps to create continuous water current and plantations that limit the growth of bryophytes.

The hard part of this story is, I will never be able to see the place in full unless I bring my family here. It goes without saying the entrance is only for families. This is why I just catch a split-second memento of the place each time I pass by the area. I do that either by feasting on the view of the lake or snapping the same whenever there is a chance.

(Reference: arriyadh.com)

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Pluralization of Initialisms

It has been a decade since I published a post about grammar pet peeves so it is high time for this “mash note” to come out.

The topic that we will be weaving for this episode is another very common grammar pet peeve: initialisms being pluralized by adding apostrophe s (‘s) as in, MIC‘s for Medical Insurance Cards and TRA’s for Travel Request Authorizations. Needless to say that is generally how they do it in the office and it is, of course, out of line in Standard English.

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Let me share my knowledge about the subject. But before anything else, I need to inform you that way back school days, I can clearly remember that I did not encounter the word initialism in all my English classes. Abbreviations like CIA, FBI, NASA, OPEC, UNICEF, and WHO were all identified by our English instructors and professors as acronyms. It was only when I started working as a stenographer and blogging three years ago that I stumbled upon another variant of abbreviation, which is initialism. As a result, each time I introduce the word, the default position of those who do not know it is skepticism.

Note that any shortened form of a word is an abbreviation (e.g., etc. for etcetera, LMHO for laughing my head off, or Mon for Monday). Acronyms are special kinds of abbreviations, such as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nation) and OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries). This makes them a subset of abbreviations. All acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms. This is where initialisms appear on the scene.

Initialism is another type of abbreviation and is often confused with acronym because it is made up of letters too, only it cannot be pronounced as a word. MIC and TRA are examples of initialism because they are made up of the first letters Medical Insurance Card and Travel Request Authorization, respectively, but they cannot be pronounced as words. On the other hand, PAG-ASA and NASA are acronyms because even though they also made up of the first letters of their respective agencies’ names (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical & Astronomical Services Administration and National Aeronautics and Space Administration) they are pronounced as words, PAG-ASA and NASA, and not by spelling out the letters.

Remember these to grease the wheels: Initialisms are made from the first letter (or letters) of a string of words, but cannot be pronounced as words themselves.Acronyms are made from the first letter (or letters) of a string of words but are pronounced as if they were words themselves. Abbreviations are any shortened form of a word.

Going back to the main topic, I already read the rule on how to pluralize initialisms, when I was editing a Transcript of Stenographic Notes in 2011, on Chicago Manual of Style’s website. It is actually simple. Just treat the acronym itself as a word with its own meaning so you should be able to add that little s” without fretting (e.g., GROs for Guest Relations Officers; IBIFs for International Business Itinerary Forms; MICs for Medical Insurance Cards; PROs for Public Relations Officers; RFPs for Request For Proposals; and TRAs for Travel Request Authorizations).

The exception is when the first letter of an initialism indicates the plural item. For example, COE for Certificate Certificates of Employment and MOA for Memorandum Memoranda of Agreement. Their respective initialisms cannot be COEs or MOAs nor CsOE or MsOA.

What about those initialisms that end in letter “s” like GPS and SOS?

This is where the apostrophe s (‘s) is put to good use. According to editfast.com and to cut to the chase, it is a good idea to separate the final s from pluralizing s with an apostrophe (e.g., GPS’s and SOS’s).

So, please do not forget to up the ante against that pet peeve the next time around.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist

Nothing could be more catchy in a vitrine of ancient artifacts than a thing that deviates from the sequence.

Take a look at the photo that I captured at Al Salem Museum (“The Exhibit Archive of Ushaiger“) in that Heritage Village down the town of Shagra, Saudi Arabia. The antiquated 38 caliber pistol in the supposed assemblage of jewelry rendered a poignant twist.

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Black Sand Beach

The Joy of Summer

In the sunny morning of 02 April 2013, two vans sped along the quiet roads in Albay. These are the only roads that give tourists a privilege to snap decent pictures of the majestic Mayon Volcano.

Mayon Volcano

After the vehicles past a cradle that covers the long stretch of beach in the bucolic and charming town of Bagacay a few minutes later, they stopped. My loved ones, together with some relatives, and I were osculated by the ocean breeze upon debarking.

Cerulean Ocean

Slowly, the fine debris of molten rocks shook by time into minuscule black quartz on the tip of the Pacific Ocean ushered us to Viento de Mar Beach Resort.

Black Sand Beach

As the welkin dispersed the cotton clouds to bare its ethereal blueness, my optical organs surrendered to the placid surrounding of this rising black sand beach, made primarily from the natural erosion of volcanic rocks. One doesn’t need to fly to that place famous for this kind of attraction in Hawaii as you can just head straight to Bagacay where jet-black sand beaches are swarming.

My visit to this place is one of those countable travels that I didn’t use my camera much. I considered it a rare opportunity to just savor the revolution of time with “them”. Instead, I only gave focus on the things I want to remember about this special moment.

The four of us later clowned around tirelessly for hours on the well scythed sward—playing tagging…The scent of her midday sweat lingers on me; it still brings that exotic sweet smell into my nares. The seemingly unending laughter of the two little boys while I was chasing them still brings music to my ears. Watching the sun give life to the entirety of the place and reminiscing the chilling days of making promises together evokes that incomparable longing for summer. On the other side of the coin, espying other families merrily preoccupied with making the most of that day still reminds me of the good old days we never had. This is why I now do this kind of trip—for them.

There was this point where I caught a sight of a mother and daughter cooing together in a day hut a few meters away from where I was sitting. In conjunction with hearing the wind blowing in my ephemeral solace is seeing the smiles of the two. Their smiles were like whirlpools that got me drowned at once, when the kid struck me with this Kodak moment.

Mother and Daughter

The joy radiating from them was just too riveting to ignore that I gave these two beautiful souls an oeillade. It dawned on me at that very instance that the joy we get from our children’s smiles never fades.  I saw the same in the two little boys beside me.

The Greens

At this juncture, I’m still in a place where winter is indomitable so I can’t help but just drivel in the thought of enjoying the estival fete in the tropics soon. The furlough’s bridge is looming. Right now, the vivid memories of that one fine summer day almost a year ago still keeps me excited. Memories that were snapped by my eyes and kept in my mind to serve as pelages in times where apricity is very much missed. Memories made from the redolence of green grasses, sturdy trees, black sands, fine clouds, sea breeze, blue sky, cerulean ocean, and the mighty sun. Memories that summon me to wake up with a smile on my face knowing that I will soon be reunited with them to redefine this story. I wouldn’t see myself holding my camera more by that time but my three precious. That is because I realized that, sometimes, picturing a special moment through the head makes the sound of the recollection more metaphoric and profound.

The Sea Breeze

Blog Carnival BadgeThis is my most joyous memory of summer so far. A summer trip well spent at Viento de Mar Beach Resort, with the three of the most important persons in my life. I have always been a summer person because summer is just the way to go. An opportunity for me to be reunited with loved ones to go out and play, swim in the beach, climb mountains and hills, camp, take vibrant pictures, and a whole heap more. There’s absolutely no lack of options for activities with summer.

This post is my entry to Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Blog Carnival for May 2014 titled “Luzon Lavapalooza”, hosted by Mervin of Pinoy Adventurista.

For more information about the place, please click these blog sites: lakwatseradiaries.blogspot.com and bicolrising.blogspot.com.

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A Day with Dates at Kamsa Kamsa Park

Several months ago, I was invited by one of my colleagues to go simmer down with his friends in this place famous for the name Kamsa Kamsa Park. An opportunity like this comes only once in a lifetime so the thought of hesitating is totally irrelevant for my wandering feet. In Saudi Arabia, there is an arbitrary restriction on freedom to maunder around just like that, especially without a car. All I had to worry about were waking up early in the morning and packing victuals for the trip.

Kamsa Kamsa Park is a nature park located in Hair, a mintaqah of Riyadh.

Usually, I prowl the internet to see what a particular tourist spot has to offer as far as activities or things to see are concerned. On the contrary, I didn’t do it that time as the invitation came in on such short notice. It doesn’t matter. This is what heightens the excitement and thrill as they say.

A thirty-minute drive in an arid morning of 28 September 2013 from our place brought us to the park wearing big smiles on our faces. Anybody who sees a boscage of viriscent trees and a sward coupled with respiring a breath of fresh air away from the city will smile.

The first thing I noticed though were green trees majestically standing at the entrance. What can be flashed onto the eyes next are sturdy branches of palms quietly enveloping the driveway all the way to the parking lot like a caring canopy in a forest.

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Apart from the natural inland scenery the place offers, it also has cottages, karaoke booths, and poolhalls for rent. Add to that an eatery that caters to authentic Filipino food (e.g., pansit bihon) because majority of its visitors are Filipinos.

A portion of the place showcases historical ruins of old Saudi houses made of mud like Ushaigher Village in Dirab (“The Doors and Mud-Built Houses of Ushaiger Heritage Village“). There is also rock valley near the area.

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Upon debarking from the van, I was taken aback by the sight of women who seem to have availed of the temporary license for tearing abayas. They instantly caught my attention. It has been a while since…It was only at that moment where I got to digest why a lot of Filipinos and other nationalities here regard the park as a haven for freedom. “Thou shall not dig the details.”

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Anyway, the objective for my every travel is intact: to discover, learn, or see something new. I then worked my way to find that new thing. I stopped at almost every point to gorge come-at-able sights. I saw possible choices but they are not enough to make my pants ripped off of me yet.

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I imperturbably traipsed from one site to another until I got to this coulee on the far side teeming with grass and huskier date palms. The latter have something exquisitely noticeable so I must say I got what I needed at last.

I had already seen a date palm on the median barriers of the kingdom’s national road; however, it is not as attractive as it is in the wilderness. In other words, it captivated my optical organs. I became powerless to take them back so I just succumbed and tasted every piece of it. That is, by revealing the wonders of its fruit called dates in different colors and forms. All of which were taken on the same day.

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A chunk of information about this plant from the web: The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) is a palm in the genus Phoenix, cultivated for its edible sweet fruit. Dates contains 20-70 calories each, depending on size and species. Dry or soft dates are eaten out-of-hand, or may be pitted and stuffed with fillings such as almonds, walnuts, candied orange and lemon peel, tahini, marzipan or cream cheese.

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The detailed information about dates such as its countless commercial and domestic usages are presented here.

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There are a lot of other cool things about a date palm like its strong relation to desert travelers, which is explained here. It has an impressive and unique defense mechanism against desert conditions (the long taproot enables it to reach down to water sources). Also, the staple food it bears–dates.

No wonder Arabs consider it a tree of life just like coconut.

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Truly, this day with dates at Kamsa Kamsa Park is worthwhile.  It’s always refreshing to see something as green as the palm’s leaves and as yellow and red as dates, to witness people chilling out, or just to inhale a trophic air from the woods therein.

For more beautiful pictures of the park or date palms, visit these websites:  noobtography.com and onthewingsofwen.com.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Work of Art

There is this newly constructed artificial landscape grass called Cloverleaf along Abu Bakr Street, where the old airport road snakes, here in Riyadh. I get to pass by this place every month for an obligatory appointment at Al Taj International School. I have never seen a road with such an ornate tracery so I always admire the kind of (work of) art it displays.

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Cloverleaf was designed by landscape architect Eduard Gevers from Bödeker Partners. It is covered by a checkerboard pattern of artificial grass with an aero plane flight path (sculptural element) and circular boundary wall. There are more than 160.000m2 artificial grass rolled out on the Cloverleaf. The credit for the realization of this spot goes to Happy Feet Sports Systems in accordance with Arriyadh Development Authority’s recommendation. (Reference: happyfeetsports.com)

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