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21 Unforgettables

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1. The Lord’s Prayer in Syria. On the periphery of the capital city Damascus, at Our Lady of Saidnaya Monastery, we requested a devout monk to pray the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. We froze up, feeling a seeming miracle.

2. A Living Goddess in Nepal. In disbelief, I caught a glimpse of Kumari, a Living Goddess, from the balcony in Kathmandu. These young prepubescent young girls are believed to manifest the divine female energy.

A Living Goddess in Nepal. / photograph courtesy of Nirmal Dulal (CC BY-SA 3.0)

3. The canonization of San Lorenzo Ruiz at the Vatican. An answered novena enabled us to witness at close range the perfectly-curated canonization rites of the first Filipino saint at St. Peter’s Square, officiated by then Pope John Paul II.

4. Brush with royalty in the United Kingdom and Spain. Thanks to the diplomatic receptions and participation in global travel fairs, I treasured brief conversations — must confess with a tinge of nervousness — with Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Sofia of Spain and Diana, the Princess of Wales, who all exemplified the grace, elegance, charm and wit that only they could possess.

5. The Holy Land. This sacred territory like no other touched my soul, as we retraced the life of Christ, from Bethlehem on Palestinian grounds and ambled all the way to Calvary, His Crucifixion site in the old town of Jerusalem. Need we say more?

6. The Concentration Camps in Poland. We were sadly horrified by the
man-made destructions within the camp complex in Auschwitz. Sights such as the suffocating brick barracks, waterless showers, non-working latrines and crematoriums conjured vivid haunting images of past terrors. We paid our respects, whispered a prayer, followed by an extended silence before we could move on.

7. Iguazu Falls in Brazil. Another memorable sight was the imposing Iguazu Falls, the largest waterfall on earth. With multi-length drops and raging rapids, there was a double rainbow after a quick squall.

Iguazu Falls in Brazil. / photograph courtesy of Enaldo Valadares (CC BY-SA 3.0)

8. Cappadocia in Turkey. This expanse boasts of soft volcanic rocks transformed through the ages by the harsh forces of nature into entire hills and valleys, cones and caves, towers and pillars. These natural constructions have been utilized as churches, monasteries and even dwelling places for nomads. Today, the trademark Cappadocian skyline is often dotted with hot-air balloons.

9. The Antiquities of Egypt. Intrigued by the priceless museums and the impressive Pyramids and Sphinx, we subsequently sailed on the Nile River, admiring the wonders of Abu Simbel, Luxor and Aswan.

The Antiquities of Egypt. / photograph courtesy of kallerna (CC BY-SA 3.0)

10. Mont Saint-Michel in France A unique island due to its tidal nature, it is home to 44 inhabitants, mostly monks and nuns who reside in the Abbey, where one can be dazed at the angelic sounds of the choir. Seven hectares large and protected by this defining natural feature, this site is surrounded by artisanal shops and heirloom restaurants.

Mont Saint-Michel in France. / photograph courtesy of Amaustan (CC BY-SA 4.0)

11. Borobudur Temple in Indonesia. Thoroughly enthralled by the largest Buddhist temple known to man, it is composed of nine levels of seemingly never-ending collection of Buddha statues inside individual stupas, relief panels and a central dome which pierced the skies.

Borobudur Temple in Indonesia / Photograph courtesy of 22Kartika (CC BY-SA 3.0)

12. The Taj Mahal in India. A precious jewel, the entire piece of beauty is made of marble, which upon closer inspection, reveals precious intricate floral patterns and lapis-lazuli designs, plus grand fountains and gardens just in its vicinity. As one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it remains as a lasting remnant of the tragic romantic love story which everybody recognizes.

The Taj Mahal in India. / Photograph courtesy of Kristian Bertel (CC BY-SA 4.0)

13. The 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, USA. As a
lead-up to the main event, we had a 10-week-long Olympic Arts Festival, with over 400 performances of theater, arts and music. The Games of the XXIII Olympiad was every athlete’s dream come true, with 140 territories joining, the highest participation at the time. The air had an electric frenzy, with infectious enthusiasm and patriotism, where everybody seemed to become an instant cheerleader.

14. World Expo in China. Usually, the season’s greatest show on earth, it always feels like an adult Disneyland. But the grandest, without a doubt, was when Shanghai played host. China wanted to showcase the ultimate in everything they could muster, while all participating nations put their best foot forward.

15. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, USA. Museums in my travels have been must-sees through the years, but the crowning glory is the Smithsonian complex, composed of 19 museums and 21 libraries, containing a wealth of knowledge, cultural and historical artifacts.

16. Musicals in New York, USA and London, UK. All it took was a hosted ticket — with the
most-desired seat in the house — to watch the original run of the Chorus Line, my first-ever musical in Broadway. This cultivated an interest in me — make it gladly hooked, almost an addiction
— which carried over to the West End, where I would attempt to catch a play almost every single week.

Broadway in New York, USA. / Photograph courtesy of Peter K Burian (CC BY-SA 4.0)

17. Tango in Argentina. In this country, tango is as common as breathing air. This is much more pronounced during the Tango Buenos Aires Festival y Mundial, which invites the sexy and the sultry, lithe and lissome dancers who more with flair and passion. It is not just concentrated in city clubs, convention halls and theaters — it spills over to the streets due to this catchy and rhythmic dance bug.

18. Rose Parade in Pasadena, USA. I love parades and the Tournament of Roses has got to be one of, if not the loveliest. Held on New Year’s Day, it is a mobile garden of the most fragrant, varied and artistic floral floats, a battalion of marching bands and expert equestrians.

Rose Parade in Pasadena, USA. / Photograph courtesy of Noe Gold (CC BY 2.0)

19. The Cotswolds in England. One of the prettiest areas ever is arguably the Cotswolds in the southwest region of England. This rural landscape contains Jurassic limestone-built cottages and quaint gardens which all come together to be designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Cotswolds in England. / Photograph courtesy of Saffron Blaze (CC BY-SA 3.0)

20. Parks in London, England. During my residency in the city, I would take extended walks during summer when days were long, from the office to home along its four interconnected estates, namely, the St James’s Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, all with different distinguishing features.

21. Pilgrimages. A sucker for pilgrimages, it is always my choice, wherever we may be, at whatever phase in my life. These include my repeated journeys to Guadalupe in Mexico, Canterbury in England, Bruges in Belgium, Fatima in Portugal, Lisieux and Lourdes in France, Covadonga, Montserrat and Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Assisi and Padua in Italy and Nazareth in Israel. It always gives me bliss — a sense of inner peace, constantly reminded that life is just a passing moment.

No Philippine destinations in this list? You’re right. It is simply because it would have been even longer! But trust me, there are a trove of treasures in our own country.
But that’s for another story, another time.

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