Sheep Crossing

When we we’re traveling in Jordan, our tour bus came to a sudden stop not because of traffic, nor stop sign, nor because of a bus stop.

It stopped because of this.

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I am not sure why the sheep cross to the other side, when the grass is greener where it came from. Maybe the grass always looks greener when we look at it from the other side.

Discontent, can put our lives in peril.

(*photo taken in rural Jordan)

Hanging Gardens

When we visited the Holy Land last month, we went to the city of Haifa, the third largest city in Israel. Haifa is where Mount Carmel is located.

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monument of Elijah in Mount Carmel

Mount Carmel, as you probably know, is the site where prophet Elijah, as recorded in the Bible, challenged the prophets of Baal in where his sacrificial offering was set ablaze by a fire from heaven. But that’s for another post.

What I want to feature now is another popular tourist site also found in Mount Carmel, the Baha’i Gardens.

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The Baha’i faith is a religion, which started under 200 years ago by a Persian, of the name Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi, who proclaimed himself as the prophet Bab (Bab means “gate” in Arabic). Today, some 7 million people practices this religion.

The Baha’i Gardens or also known as the Hanging Gardens of Haifa, are garden terraces around the shrine of the Bab.

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These gardens are relatively new, as its construction was started in 1987, and was completed and opened to the public in 2001. It has 19 terraces and has about 600 steps.

From the garden terraces you can view the Mediterranean ocean, the port of Haifa, and part of the city.

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We entered the garden from the top entrance and work our way down through steep stairways. Definitely it was much easier going down than up, as long as you don’t get dizzy and fall down the steps.

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Starting from the bottom and going up the stairs will be a real chore, unless you feel like Rocky-in-training.DSC_0595

The gardens are linked by a set of stairs that are flanked by streams of running water cascading down the mountainside through the steps and terrace bridges. These waters are fed by fountains on each terrace level.

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The Shrine of the Bab is the second most holy place for the Baha’is. The Bab was executed in 1850 in Iran and his remains were later brought to Haifa and laid to rest in this site in 1909. The original mausoleum was turned into this beautiful shrine built in the 1950’s, complete with a golden dome.

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Located also in the gardens is the Baha’i Archive Library which holds many of the sacred items of the Baha’i faith (photo below).

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Today, this garden and shrine attracts more than a million visitors a year. It is also a pilgrimage site for the Baha’is. And since this place is considered sacred, they would like visitors to be reverent and be quiet while visiting this garden. For sure it is a beautiful place just to be silent and reflect.

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I may not be a Baha’i pilgrim, but as a life’s pilgrim, I feel grateful and blessed to visit this magnificent place.

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(*Most photos taken with an iPhone, except for the B&W photos, which I took with Nikon DSLR, but forgot to check that its mode is on “effects,” so the B&W shots were unintentional.)

Little Things

While we were on a trip in Israel, we stopover for lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Even though it is named the Sea of Galilee, it is actually a lake and not a sea.


Besides enjoying the view, I enjoyed the food there as well. The most popular in their menu being beside the Sea of Galilee is fish of course. And that was what I ordered.

After the meal I saw this sign on a wall.


That is absolutely correct. Be thankful for even the small stuffs in this life. Like a good meal. Or a beautiful day. Or a smile from a stranger. Appreciate the little things. Nothing wrong with this reminder, right?

Except that we must be careful on what we call  as “little things” as it could be a slight jab or even a downright insult. Depends on the situation, I guess. You don’t believe me?

Well, here’s the whole story of this sign.


(*Photos taken at a restaurant in Tiberias, Israel)

Walking Through Old Jerusalem

In our trip to the Holy Land, we walked inside Old Jerusalem. It is a walled city that roughly covers one square kilometer within the modern city of Jerusalem. It’s a place that has been, and still is, the center of constant clash of powers throughout history.

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The city of Jerusalem have been surrounded by walls for its defense since ancient times. These walls have been destroyed several times but also have been rebuilt through the ages depending on whose occupying the city.

Since Biblical times, the walls of Jerusalem have been well-known. Photo below is the tower of David, old Jerusalem’s citadel, located on the western side of the walled city.

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Most of the walls that exist today is from the Ottoman Empire of the 16th century, when Sultan Suleiman decided to fully rebuild the walls.

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Entrance through the walled city is through several gates. Currently there are eight open gates to the city. The ninth gate, the Golden Gate, is blocked and closed, as according to tradition, is awaiting for the arrival of the Messiah.

Below is one of the gates leading to the old city. I believe this one is called the New Gate.

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We entered the city through the Jaffa gate and began our walk inside the old city.

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Perhaps the most known part of Jerusalem’s wall is the Western Wall, or also known as the Wailing Wall. This is considered sacred by the Jews, believed to be the only remnant of the wall that was part of the Second Jewish Temple, rebuilt and renovated by King Herod the Great, and was destroyed by the Romans. (The first temple was built by King Solomon and was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E.)

The Wailing Wall has been the site for pilgrimages and a place to pray for the Jews, where it is believed that one has immediately has the “ear of God.” Below is part of the Wailing Wall.

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Walking through the narrow streets and alleys inside the old city gives you a feeling that you’re walking through the pages of history.

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Most of these small streets are only passable by walking.

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Though there are very narrow alleys that cars can drive through.

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There is also a part of our walk that we went through market-like alleys. As a Filipino, I feel like I was in Divisoria or Tutuban in the Philippines.

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There is food, spices, jewelry, and other merchandises as you can imagine.

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There is even this Holy Rock Café. Only in Jerusalem.

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But perhaps the most visited locations in Old Jerusalem are the churches and religious sites.

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A famous path for pilgrims and visitors is the path known as Via Dolorosa, or Way of Suffering. It is also called the Way of the Cross. This path is believed to be the path that Jesus took from Pontius Pilate’s court, to Calvary, and finally to his tomb.

On this Way of the Cross are 14 stations where significant events were believed to have happened. However, many of these locations were based on traditions only, rather than hard facts or archeological findings.

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Above photo is station V, where Simon of Cyrene was compelled by the Roman soldiers to carry the cross of Jesus. Below are other stations we passed through.

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We also passed this church, the Holy Sepulchre Church, which by tradition is the site that encompass both Calvary where Jesus was crucified and the tomb where he was buried.

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As expected it was packed, and there was a long line of people waiting to enter this church.

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It will be unfair and I will not give the real picture of Jerusalem if I only mention the famous sites for Jews and Christians. In fact, if you view Jerusalem from afar (see the very first photo), the most conspicuous structure is the golden dome, known as the Dome of the Rock. This is a Muslim shrine believed to be the site where Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Below is the Mosque of Omar, which is adjacent to the Church of Holy Sepulchre.

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Definitely Old Jerusalem is a place that provides a passageway to the storied past. It is also a crossroad of the past, present, and perhaps even of the future.

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It was quite an experience for me walking through Old Jerusalem, adding my footprints in the thoroughfare of time.

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(*all photos taken with an iPhone)

 

Not Bound for the Promised Land

During our trip to the Holy Land, we visited  a place known as Mount Nebo, which is located near Madaba, Jordan, or the land of the Moabites in Biblical times. It’s pretty high that it provides a panoramic view of the surrounding areas around it, including the land known as the Biblical Canaan.


On Mount Nebo’s highest point, the remains of a church and a monastery was discovered in 1933. Today a Christian chapel stands on its site.


As we were enjoying the view beneath an iron cross, the tour guide was giving insights and explaining the significance of this place to our group.


While another group near us was having a devotional and they were singing the hymn “I am bound for the Promised Land.”

You probably know or heard that song:

I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land
O who will come and go with me
I am bound for the promised land.

But the irony of this is, historically, here in Mount Nebo was where Moses stood and God showed him Canaan, the Promised Land from afar. But here also in Mount Nebo was where Moses died and was buried, without reaching the Promised Land. Moses was not bound for the Promised Land.

Moses, even though he was chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to go to the Promised Land, was not allowed to enter it. All his life work – including 40 years of top-notch Egyptian education, including military tactics and operation, and another 40 years as a lowly shepherd just to learn patience in preparation for his mission, and finally 40 mighty years of leading God’s people out of Egypt, and into the wilderness, on their way to the Promised Land – yet he never set foot to that land.

Was Moses a failure then? Not at all!

Sometimes we are assigned something to do, but we may not see the conclusion of that work. We may have started something that we are not able to finish, not because we are a failure, but because it is not planned for us to fully fulfill that. For God has some other plan for us, or He had appointed another one to finish the work we have started.

More importantly, when Moses stood there in Mount Nebo, while looking at the Promised Land from afar, he did not complain to God why he was not allowed to enter the land that is “flowing with milk and honey.” A land that was promised to his ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A land he probably dreamed of claiming all his life. He humbly submitted to God’s plan for him.

He may have not entered the Promised Land here on earth, yet God had a better plan for him. For he was taken up to the Promised Land in heaven.

So we may not be able to achieve the dreams or goals we set for our lives here on earth. We may never live a life so rich that it is “flowing with milk and honey.” We may not be able to claim the “promised life” we hoped for here on this world. We may not be bound for the earthly promised land.

But may we set a higher goal, the one God had promised for us. To live in heavenly Canaan with Him.

(The sign under the cross reads: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” John 3:14-15)

 

The Adventures of Iowa Jones

Have you heard of Indiana Jones? Forget him. I introduce to you, Iowa Jones and his (mis)adventures. Here is his quest to find the Lost Temple of Doom.

It started in a deserted place forgotten by time.


A place where the terrain was so alien, it’s out of this world. Could it be in another planet?


Then Iowa Jones came to a path that seems to be blocked by a stone wall.


But as he inspected it closer there was a narrow passageway, as if it’s a secret path through the stone walls.


So he pressed on and walked through the unknown path. What danger could be lurking ahead? Would there be a big Rolling Stone? Or maybe giant Beetles? Would he meet Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney? Huh?


Anyway, some of the stones seems to have caved in. Were the stone walls moving? Would he be crushed to his death?


While some of the passageway seems to be so clear that it was even lighted by the sun rays.


Iowa Jones even took short rest under the stones to catch his breath.


But he knew that he must hurry as the dreaded army of the Last Crusaders of Doom was pursuing him.

Iowa Jones must also avoid the booby (poopy?) trap that were scattered on the path.

These booby traps are left by the Last Crusaders’ fierce beast the Donkey Kong.


Even though tired and weary, Iowa Jones continued on his quest.


Then he came near a clearing. He now has a glimpse of the temple!


Finally he now stands in awe in front of the Lost Temple of Doom.


Then he saw the Guardians of the Galaxy, I mean the Guardians of the Temple. They were assigned to protect it against the army of the Last Crusaders of Doom.


They warned Iowa Jones that the temple should not be rediscovered by the army of Doom, or else the whole kingdom of Camelot (not reigned by King Arthur, but by camels) will be doomed. Good thing he understands and speaks their ancient language.

So with all his might Iowa Jones toppled down the temple like Samson, without the long hair, of old.


Alas, it was not a Temple of Doom, but rather it was a Doomed Temple.

And all that was left were ruins. The End.


This story was brought to you by the jet-lagged brain of Pinoytransplant.


(Photos taken at The Treasury in Petra, Jordan, a site named as one of the seven wonders of the world, built more than 2000 years ago. And with Pinoytransplant as Iowa Jones.)

Walking in the Land of History

In my lifetime, there are trips that I really cherished. Journeys that have deep personal meaning, that they are more than just trips.

Like the trip we made a few years back to the place that gave me so much inspiration since my teenage years (see previous post). And to see and be there in person in that awe-inspiring place was a life-fulfilling dream.

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me in the Grand Canyon

Then there are the trips that are always dear to me. Trips that bring me back where I came from. That even though how far I wandered, this place always pulled me back, for this is where my heart is. Home.

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photo taken somewhere in the Philippines

This year we made another epic journey. To a place whose relevance is more far-reaching than the place itself. A place so rich in history, that the events that happened here changed the course of humanity. This place has a special spiritual meaning to me: to walk where my Savior walked.

Jerusalem as viewed from the mount of Olives


(*More post of our trip to Jerusalem to follow. No, not the musical chair, but the real trip to Jerusalem).

Don’t Take Your Valuables

Last summer, we took a long road trip that took us from the cornfields of Iowa, to the mountainous wilderness of Montana, and to the concrete jungle of Los Angeles California. As we were pulling up into a parking lot in Los Angeles, we saw this sign that said, “Please take your valuables with you.”

I think that is a fair warning, as they don’t want you to lose something that is important. Or perhaps they just don’t want to take responsibility of any theft that will happen. Or perhaps they don’t want you to tempt others of bad thoughts by displaying something valuable, or something that they would think is valuable, inside your vehicle.

I don’t think this warning applies in Los Angeles only, as it is true in many parts of America and the rest of the world.

I remember when we were still living in New York City, somebody tried to break in into our parked car, and in the process broke the door lock of our car. And there’s really nothing of value inside, except maybe the car itself. They took my tire hub caps and antenna instead. Then we had some friends whose car windows were shattered just to get some change of coins and some barely valuable things inside their car. Maybe the thief needed coins so badly for a cup of coffee or for a ride on the subway.

Same in the Philippines. When I was still living in Manila, there’s an instance that me and my dad witnessed a car theft while we were parked near Binondo. It happened in a blitz, and they acted so smoothly that we think these guys were “professionals.” Bad use of their skills and talents, I guess. With dexterity and quickness like that, they could be show-time magicians. On second thought, they were already magicians, making things disappear!

Back to the parking lot in Los Angeles, we kind of chuckled when we read the sign. Not because it was funny nor it was an unreasonable or unusual sign. To us it was just interesting that few days before that, when we were in a national park in Montana, we read several signs that contain a completely different warning.

The warning sign when we were in the wilderness of Montana states, “Please take your trash with you.”

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It was just sensible that they don’t want you to litter in such a pristine place. Plus the wild creatures, like bears, can get attracted to your trash and rummage through them. This may endanger their well-being. More so, your well-being and your life may get endangered as well, if the bear cannot find what it’s looking for (a jar of honey?) and is not happy with your trash and attacks you.

It was a totally different perspective. In one, “take your valuables with you.” In the other, “take your trash with you.”

Yes, there are places in this world that they don’t care about your valuables. It does not matter whether you’re lugging a Louis Vuitton bag or a DSLR camera with an ultra zoom lens. Just don’t leave your trash too!

This made me think, in this life, there are things that we consider our valuables. Like our fancy jewelries, our expensive toys like our cars and gizmos, our pricey wardrobes, our houses and estates, our bank accounts, and other worldly treasures. And it’s not only that there are places that they will not matter, but there will come a time as well, that all of these will be deemed worthless. Rubbish. Garbage. Trash. For you cannot take them forever with you.

I do hope that we discern what really are the important things in this life. The “valuables” that no thief nor anybody can take from you.

(*photo taken last summer in Montana)

 

Destined Rest Stop

Returning home one evening after dropping off my daughter to her university, I came to this rest area. Since I was still several miles away from home, and needed to take a leak, so I use the rest stop.

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Rest Stop where I stopped

For the weary road traveler, rest stops are such an inviting place. Especially if they are beautiful, clean, and well maintained, like the one I used above. For people with hyperactive bladder, like me, rest stops are life-savers.

Many times we just stop to take a bathroom break. Though sometimes we take a rest for several minutes to stretch our legs or take a walk. While some take a longer break and even sleep for a few hours in their car or truck, before continuing on their long journey.

Not to brag, and since I have driven from America’s coast to coast, I believe rest stops here in Iowa are among the cleanest and well-maintained facilities. Of course I’ve also been to ones that are not worth a stop at all.

The world’s largest rest stop or truck stop is found here in Iowa along I-80. This stop has pretty much anything a road warrior needs. In addition to plenty of fast food restaurants, there is a movie theater, a laundromat, showers, a trucking museum, and a church that have service on Sundays.

Though rest stops are not meant to be our final destination. They are mere transient stops along the way. They are just there to provide us a respite from the weariness of our long travel. And that’s should be true as well in our life’s journey.

Few days ago, I learned from our batch that two of our classmates from medical school passed away. One died from a “lengthy illness” according to his obituary. While the other died suddenly from a ruptured brain aneurysm while he’s on a trip.

Of all circumstances, dying while on a break or a vacation, to me is just not right. Perhaps some will say, at least your last memories are of a happy occasion. But then again, is there really even a “good” time to die?

I am deeply saddened by these news. I guess me and my classmates and contemporaries are now in that age that we can get seriously ill and die. Though I would say, they were still too young to die.

The one who died suddenly from a ruptured aneurysm was a classmate of mine not just in medical school in the Philippines, but even since we were in pre-med. Besides being in the same classroom together since our teen years, we also played a few basketball games together, went to some outings together, and much more.

Then when we were both doing our post-graduate training here in the US, when I was applying for my subspecialty training, I even stayed in his home for a couple of days when I had an interview in Chicago, where he was still living at that time.

He worked in the US for several years, but he left a lucrative cardiology practice here, and went back to the Philippines last year, to practice back home and serve our own people. Perhaps he’s more nationalistic than I am. Or perhaps he just wanted to go home.

In one level or another, he did go home.

The last time I saw him was in Manila during our 25th graduation anniversary from University of Santo Tomas (UST) medical school, earlier this year. At one time, after a whole day event in UST, we, together with other friends went to a restaurant near Ortigas for a night-cap. Even though the place was probably less than 10 miles from the school, it took us almost 2 hours to get there due to horrible traffic. Who needs a rest stop, when we were already stopped all the time?

As I was riding with him in his car and we were stuck in Manila’s traffic, at least this gave us more time to catch up with each other’s lives. Never did I imagined, that will be the last time we’ll spend time together, and that will be our last shared trip.

Our life’s journey is so unpredictable. We plan for a long haul, but at times our travel is shortened. Way too shortened. Some of us will arrive at a rest stop. And it’s a permanent rest stop.

Rest in peace, my friends.

Country Drive

Last month when we were driving in Montana, we encountered something in the road that reminded me of the following story:

There was a city driver that wandered in the countryside, so the story goes.

As he was navigating the narrow winding road, an old beat up truck came around the bend where he was heading, and was driving towards him.

When the truck passed by him, the farmer rolled down his window and shouted, “Cow!”

The city driver felt insulted. How rude can this country driver be, and how dare him call him a cow!

So the city slicker angrily shouted back, “Pig!”

Feeling triumphant that he was able to retaliate at the “rude” farmer, the city driver approached the narrow bend, and made the sharp turn.

He then drove smack into a cow.

Back to our Montana drive, we indeed saw road signs warning of cows crossing. Luckily we did not crash into cows. But this is what actually stopped us.

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Not cows but horses! Horses with no riders.

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I did not honk my horn, nor revved my engine to scare them away. I just let them be and passed by them slowly.

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Have a good day horse! (*Who are you calling horse?*)