Travel Bucket List

Just last year, I crossed two items off my bucket list -- Climb the Great Wall of China, and see the limestone karsts of Krabi, Thailand. Both of these happened purely by grace -- they were an unearned, undeserved, and unmerited blessing from above.

What is also striking about both experiences, is that they happened when I least expected it, but just at the right season in my life. They were not on any of my timelines or to-do lists, they just happened at the best possible time.

So these that follow -- I've no schedule for them. I trust that they will be given to me, or not be given to me, for all the right reasons. After all, my God is a God of perfect timing, and perfect wisdom.

1. Experience the cherry blossom season in Kyoto


I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree
There is nothing in the world as pretty as the delicate pink petals of the cherry blossom tree, as they bend low over serene lakes and winding roads. Imagine the pictures you could take.

A national obsession
Cherry blossom season is a much-awaited, much-anticipated event in Japan – not only does it signal the advent of spring, the arrival of the sakura also means the celebration of hanami or cherry blossom appreciation parties. The Japanese sit under the pastel pink blooms, eating and drinking and  – I imagine – congratulating themselves on being blessed enough to be born in the land where God chose to entrust the sakura.

Did you know?

Cherry blossoms are so popular in Japan that the nightly news even tracks and reports how, when and where they are blooming. Japanese companies also get into the craze by churning out products like Kitkat Sakura MatchaSakura Mochi and even a Starbucks Sakura Blended Frapuccino.

It would be good to know
Cherry blossom season lasts from March to mid April. Amble on to Tetsugaku-no-Michi lane in Kyoto, the street is lined with these ethereal beauties.

2. Take photographs of colorful India 

A distinctly Indian allure
LonelyPlanet once ran a survey among its readers asking them, what the most photogenic country in the world is. And – you guessed it – India won, hands down. That's a good enough reason to visit, isn't it? When I imagine India, I think of women walking around in vibrantly-colored saris, noisy streets of honking cars and jostling people, colorful marketplaces, and somewhere far away, majestic temples and palaces. 

I also imagine being in this hyper aware state – the cacophony of the sights and sounds must be a jarring assault to the senses. It's insanity at its finest.

The Taj Mahal and beyond
Of course the Taj Mahal would have to be in the itinerary. Add in, a festival or two. Diwali perhaps, which is also known as the “Festival of Lights.” This is India celebrating the Hindu New Year through lighting fireworks, candles, and lamps to represent the victory of good over evil. We'll also have to try curry in its birthplace, and tandoori chicken, of course. But, let's skip the Karni Mata Temple, because this place of worship is devoted to a rat goddess, and so there are around 20,000 of her furry friends scurrying about. We certainly didn't traverse thousands of miles for something we would gladly have gotten rid off, at home.

3. Hang out with locals over rum and reggae in Anguilla 

Paradise for the better informed
Part of a recent writing assignment was to research and write about the different islands in the Caribbean. Out of the literally hundreds of islands that I read about, this little charmer stands out. It's the kind of beach you'd want to go to if you want the beauty of a Caribbean beach, all to yourself. Unlike its neighbors, this island on the eastern side has been staunch in keeping things natural and low-key. Anguilla has said no to touristy operations like casinos, night clubs and cruise ships. Instead, it allows its innate exquisiteness to be the main draw.
Life's A Beach 
And I like it when the beaches are unassuming and underdeveloped. The beaches here are serene with wide stretches of sand and clear blue waters for miles on end. It's possible to enjoy a walk without being harassed by enterprising locals trying to sell their wares and services. They say that many big-name celebrities have been spotted on the island, and yet no one makes much of a fuss. An uncannily intelligent parrot at one of the hotels stirs up more buzz. Plus, it offers a range of accommodations. Here, you can have the luxe privacy and ultimate pampering of a high-end resort, or the laid-back quarters of a local favorite, with its barbecued ribs and reggae beats. I personally prefer the latter.

4. Wine and dine in Provence.

Provence by way of a book
My friend Clarise gave me a copy of Peter Mayle's Encore Provence, which I read one weekday afternoon when I was sick at home. It filled my head with such sublime images of the French countryside – markets with the freshest ingredients, locals enjoying their al fresco lunches, rows and rows of scented lavender fields and  quaint old chapels designed by Matisse. All of a sudden, I was in the south of France, far away from a hot Manila afternoon, and our karaoke-singing neighbor.

 Provence by way of two quotes
I have never found a more pleasant way to go shopping than to spend two or three hours in a Provencal market. The color, the abundance, the noise, the sometimes eccentric stall-holders, the mingling of smells, the offer of a sliver of cheese here and a mouthful of toast tapenade there-- all of these help to turn what began as an errand into a morning's entertainment.” --Peter Mayle, Encore Provence

Provence is an old-fashioned love affair that never dies.” – Lonely Planet

5. Live in the myth of Casablanca and Morocco 

"Of all the gin-joints..."
Casablanca the movie, has been chosen by the American Film Institute, to occupy the top spot in its list of "Greatest Romantic Movies of all Time." And for good reason. Who didn't gasp when Rick first saw Ilsa in his cafe for the first time after many years? Who didn't feel Rick's pain when he said his famous line, "Of all the gin-joints, in all the towns, in all of the world, she walks into mine." Who didn't shed a tear when Rick bid a final farewell to Ilsa, with the words, "We'll always have Paris." I don't know about you, but these are enough reason for me to visit the Moroccan capital. 

Grace Kelly and U2
Casablanca, and the rest of Morocco occupies and almost mythic state in my mind. One reason, as I explained is because much of Casablanca, the movie is set here. Another is because Grace Kelly fulfilled every little girl's fantasy, when she married a prince, and became a princess here -- predating Kate Middleton by more than 50 years. Another is because it was so wonderfully depicted in the U2 video for Magnificent --  a rock anthem to God, if I ever heard one. ("Justified, till we die you and I will magnify, oh, oh Magnificent, magnificent")

6. Visit St. Basil's Cathedral 

A fairytale in the middle of a city
I think St. Basil's in Moscow is the only existing building that looks something out of a children's fairy tale.
It's an unmistakable sight -- with its tall towers topped with large, onion-shaped domes, colored and carved in all manner of color and whimsy.  And in a world that's bent on being serious and formal and businesslike, it's just so wonderful to have this massive monument to magic.

Never to be replicated, again.
Built by Ivan the Terrible, the Cathedral was erected to celebrate his victory against the Tatar city of Kazan in 1552. In an ironic twist of fate, Ivan the Terrible's greatest critic, St. Basil, who condemned Ivan for his brutality, became the namesake for his grandest creation. Legend has it that the cruel tsar sought to ensure that the architect who built the cathedral would never be able replicate this masterpiece. Ivan the Terrible did this by having the said architect, blinded.

7. Wake up in a room that looks out to the ocean in Mozambique 

Out of Africa
One of my students used to live in Africa. She would tell me that she would wake up in the morning and her front door led to the dazzling blue sea and a stretch of bone-white sand. In particular, she said she lived in Mozambique, because her dad was involved in development work. 

Though hobbled by a very destructive guerrilla war for a long time, Mozambique is slowly getting on its feet, and people, especially the traveling kind, have taken notice. Beautiful, secluded beaches, excellent dive spots, a jungle safari, plus colonial architecture and cobble-stoned streets -- Mozambique might be a good first destination out of all the places that Africa has to offer.

8. Stay in an Aman resort. Any Aman resort. 

Odd one out
I know an Aman resort is not a country or a city, but these luxe hideaways have created such a unique, singular experience with its decor, service and overall philosophy, that I felt it deserved its own spot in my bucket list. 

The Aman mystique 
How? First is in where they actually choose to set up their resorts -- they always pick an obscure, remote location. A forest in Indonesia. A secluded valley in Bhutan. A tiny, far-flung island in the Philippines. I read an article before that said, if a Marriott hotel signals that the destination is at its bursting point in terms of commercialism, an Aman resort means the place is  on the verge and barely on travelers' radars. 

Second, the resort focuses on the small, and intimate. Always a highly individualized, personal experience, which is localized to reflect what is distinct about its particular setting. For example -- luxury tents in a protected forest in Moya, near BaliCasitas modeled after our very own bahay kubo nestled on hills and on  the beach in Pamalican island, Palawan. Domed-pavilions with zellij-tiled floors, right outside of the ancient city of Marrakech in Morocco.

9. Step back in time in the kingdom of Bhutan. 

Last kingdom standing
What's so beguiling about Bhutan is that this tiny country in the Himalayas is so -- how shall I say this -- "pa-hard to get." First, there's the location. It's in a mountainous region -- so its temples and palaces are seemingly carved out of cliffs. Many of the mountains here have remained untouched because they have been designated as sacred sites. 

Then there's this Buddhist kingdom's  stubbornness in clinging to, and preserving its old ways. While elsewhere in the world we only see the terno, the hanbok, or the kimono during UN Week, formal occasions, or in specialty restaurants --  in Bhutan, the citizens are required to wear their national dress, all days of the year, when they are out and about during the day. Travel here operates on stringent rules. The tours are all locally operated, highly regulated by the government, and reportedly costs around $200 per day. 

Needless to say, the country is not overrun with souvenir stands, fast food chains, casinos, high-rise hotels and all the other marks of crass commercialism. After all, the Bhutanese famously value their Gross National Happiness over and above their GDP.

10. Go on a pilgrimage to Israel.

All for love
If you meet the love of your life -- the one who has pursued you, romanced you, and  loved you like no one else has, and like no one else ever will -- wouldn't you want to know all about this lover? Including where he was born, where he lived, where he ate, drank, walked, and talked? Where he died, for you?

This is why I want to visit Israel.

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