Garden of the Gods

This is the Garden of the Gods, a national natural landmark in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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Five years ago when we went to Colorado, we planned on visiting this place, but a wild forest fire that closed the roads leading here, prevented us on going. Then two years ago, while visiting Colorado once more, we planned on going again. But heavy rains and hail stopped us.

This year, no fire or rain or hail can prevent us from finally visiting this place. Not even rush hour traffic.


This place, is one of the top visitor sites in Colorado. It is a geological wonder with incredible rock formations.

This place was purchased by Charles Elliot Perkins, a man who lived in Iowa. (Because I live in Iowa, of course I have to mention this.) But he donated this land to the City of Colorado Spring in 1909, so everybody can enjoy this wonderful site for free.

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Some of the rock formations are massive. Some are not so massive.

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And some are thin and delicate, with some rocks even dangerously wedged waiting to crash down.

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Though the rocks are already wonderful to see, the light from the setting sun added magic to the show. Note the colors of these rocks change from red, to orange, to fiery yellow.

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Of course, the sunset is in itself a spectacle to witness. Certainly this is a place to spend some moments of awe and silence. A befitting name to be called the garden of the gods.

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It might have taken us several attempts to visit this place, but it was sure worth the wait to finally see this impressive landmark.

From the Garden of the Gods,

Pinoytransplant

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(*photos taken with an iPhone)

 

View Through a Battle Shield

I sat quietly surveying my field of vision like a pilot of a battle tank. And I realized that I was looking at a killing field. It mostly happened last night, but it was veiled in the darkness. I had no idea that it was this vicious, until I saw it in the morning light.

In front of my eyes lay several casualties. Perhaps in the hundreds. They were all dead. Crushed and mangled. Their innards scattered on the battle field.

Life is short. I know for them it is shorter. And it just become even shorter. Life can be unfair sometimes.

All they want is freedom. Freedom to live. Freedom to propagate. Freedom to roam on a beautiful warm summer’s night.

But I want my freedom too. And my freedom to roam clashed with theirs.

I don’t like it. Nor did I plan it. It was not my intention to annihilate them. No, not at all! They were just in the wrong place, and in the wrong time. Or was it me that was in the wrong place and in the wrong time?

Dang it! My windshield is splattered with dead bugs again!

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(*photo taken with an iPhone)

Figments of Lavender Field

Few weeks ago, my family visited a 90-acre field of wild flowers. It was actually a farm land before, but the owners turned it into a natural prairie. Here in Iowa, the state gives incentives through federal conservation program wherein the government will give yearly rental payment in exchange of farmers turning their agricultural land into a prairie or a wooded area. This is one way of reclaiming industrial lands into natural habitats for the wild life.

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Wanting to see more beautiful field of flowers, my wife checked on a website and learned that there is a lavender farm here in Iowa. She envisioned that it will be an expansive gorgeous fields of lavender flowers. Besides, the farm is located near a scenic route, the Loess Hills, which is included in the National Scenic Byways of America, meaning it is a must-see drive. Since we have not seen it yet, so we drove to it last weekend.

The lavender field is about two hours drive away from our place. Here in the United States’ midwest, two hours drive is nothing. At least when we say two hours drive, we mean we’re really driving mostly at maximum speed limit. Unlike in other parts of the world, like in Manila, two hours drive means a distance you can get to in twenty minutes but you’re stuck in traffic for two hours.

After finishing our Sunday morning chores, we packed the family in the car and drove. My college-age daughter, who is home for the summer, was not even feeling well that morning due to menstrual cramps, but we drag her anyway so she won’t miss it. She just brought a pillow and laid down in the backseat.

It was a relatively cool day for a summer, as it was cloudy and even had intermittent showers. In fact we encountered some heavy rains along the way, which to me, just made the trip more interesting.

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As we approached our destination, we passed by an overlook area. It has a tower where you can view the surrounding scenery. My daughter was feeling better already at that time, that she got off the car and also climbed the tower.

When we came to a nearby town just minutes to our destination, we decided to stop for lunch first before heading to the place. We discovered a nice old diner. It has a 1960’s theme, or perhaps they just did not change it since they opened. We found out that this diner was a major hub even back in the days, as it was near a major train station.

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When we continued on our trip, we got lost as our GPS directed us not to the exact site. Yes, I gave the verdict that the GPS was at fault, and it cannot defend itself. We phoned the farm’s number and it re-directed us to its location.

Finally we found the place. As we were pulling into their parking lot, we saw the field in front of us and it was nothing like what we imagined or expected. It was a dud. A let-down. A disappointment.

No stretches of beautiful lavender. No expansive field of wonderful flowers. Instead, it was a patch of drying bushes. In its defense, perhaps we were just expecting too much.

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As we already drove for two hours, so we still went down and checked the farm, including the small shop they have in that place. We did not tarry though.

We then decided to drive further in a road that has a sign “National Scenic Byway.” It was said that this scenic byway, the Loess Hills, has a unique terrain, formed by windblown silt, called loess. No other place in the world except the one in China, where there are higher loess hills formation than this place in Iowa.

After driving for some time in this said scenic byway, we admit that they were interesting, but we’re not utterly impressed. Maybe because we have already driven from US coast to coast, and we have seen more stunning scenic byways. We turned around and headed for home.

We passed by a small town that has a number of antique shops on our way home. The last time we were there was more than 10 years ago (see previous post). My son who was less than 3 years old at that time, accidentally knocked down an antique mirror sitting on a floor at one of the stores. The mirror fell on its face and shattered the glass into several pieces. I ended up paying $200 dollars. Since I paid for it, I took home the wood or board where the mirror was mounted. $200 for a piece of board!

They say that breaking a mirror will cause seven years of misfortune. I don’t think so. What followed was several years of bliss living in Iowa.

This time we did not shatter any mirrors. Just shattered expectations, I guess. After that last stop, we came home after almost 6 hours on the road.

Have you had any similar experience? Going to a place that did not live up to your expectations? Did we just wasted a day and some gallons of gas? I don’t want to believe so. For even if the destination was less than spectacular, we still spent some quality family time together.

Life is a journey. Sometimes it is not the destination that matters. But it is the joy of experience, discovery, shared moments together, and the eventual precious memories during the travel, that really matters.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Masada: the Last Fortress

Masada, which means “fortress” in Hebrew, is a place of history, defiance, triumph and tragedy all rolled in one. About three months ago, we had the chance to visit this place.

After Jerusalem, Masada is the second most visited site for tourists in Israel. This fortress became a symbol of pride for the Jewish people, as it was their last stronghold against the Roman invasion.

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Masada is located at the western end of the Judean Desert. Sitting on top of an isolated rock plateau, with surrounding cliffs as natural barrier, it is understandable why it was so hard to conquer it.

Today, it does not shun intruders, instead it even invites guests to come for a visit. To get to this fortress though, you have to ride a lift.

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There is also a trail going through stairs that you can hike from the bottom of the valley to the top of the cliff.  This route is for the more adventurous souls, and definitely you need to be in excellent condition to go up this way.

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After reaching the top, we feasted on the spectacular view around us.

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Masada is overlooking the Dead Sea valley which is the lowest point on earth.

Photo below is the Dead Sea which is about 430 meters below sea level, while the height from the valley floor below to the Masada fortress is 450 meters. So even though it looks that this fortress is at such a height, in actuality, it is at sea level.

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While we were on top of the cliff, we saw some paragliders sailing above the Masada fort. I would say this is far more cooler way to tour Masada, that is through a bird’s-eye view.

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King Herod the Great built the Masada fortress as a refuge for himself. Not only as a fortress, but on the northern part of it, separated by a wall from the fort, is a residential villa for the king.

Below is what remains of a palace court.

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Even what was left were ruins, it can be noted that this king’s palace was such a lavish place during its heyday. Photo below is one of the terraces of the king’s villa.

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King Herod the Great found a way to bring water to this fortress. Not just that it was in the middle of a desert, but also bringing up water to such a high place took a lot of engineering, logistics and possibly enormous brute labor.

Below is what remains of a large bath house.

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This specific room is the caldarium, where the suspended floor was supported by rows of low pillars, so hot air from the furnace outside, can be blown under the floor and through clay pipes along the walls, to heat the room to the desired temperature. In other words, it was the sauna! Who would have thought sauna was existing already more than two thousand years ago?

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After Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70 CE, a group of Jewish rebels, zealots, and their family, held the fort of Masada. According to history written by Josephus Flavius, the Romans established camp at the base of Masada, and the fort was laid in siege. The Romans constructed a ramp from thousands of stones and beaten earth against the western wall of the fortress. It was said that part of the ramp were bodies of dead Roman soldiers, who died during the battle.

Below is the photo of the ramp the Romans built to conquer Masada.

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Finally in 74 CE, the Romans moved a battering ram up this ramp, and breached the wall of the fortress.

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The tragic story of Masada was when the Jewish defenders realized that it was apparent that the fortress would fall and they would be conquered, they decided to commit a mass suicide. There were almost one thousand men, women and children. They chose to die from their own swords than be conquered.

Those Jewish defenders casted lots to choose 10 men who would kill the last survivors. And then the last Jew killed himself, before the fort finally fell to the Roman invaders.

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Masada, a mighty fortress by a mighty people. Yes, it was breached and invaded. But never conquered.

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(*all photos taken by pinoytransplant)

 

 

 

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)