Traveling through Films

I stand there, eye to eye, with the Great Sphinx of Giza as my feet imbibe the warmth of the sand. Afterwards, I put on my backpack to trek and get lost at the Grand Canyon. My unreliable sense of direction manages to find the way out to one of the stalls in Akihabara district in Tokyo, Japan.

mt damas tarlac lost rocks river hopping

I also got lost at Mt. Damas in Tarlac, Philippines. Photo by Karah Decapia.

How am I able to do all of these in just one sweep? I watch a movie, or a TV drama.

Production companies are like travel agencies, offering package tours to consumers, in the form of movies. A film is like a comprehensive tour, complete with transportation, accommodation, food, culture, music, art and most specially, story and experience.

Movies can also be considered the best tour bargains. Only a small portion of one’s salary is needed, plus it will not require full-blown leaves from work. More or less two hours is enough, unless one is catching films from Filipino director Lav Diaz, whose movies range from more than an hour to almost 9 hours of running time.

So sit back, relax and join me in this trip.

cine adarna university of the philippines

The old seats at the University of the Philippines Cine Adarna.

Business class or economy?

Seats and services depend on what movie we are seeing. Hollywood movies will always offer the finest cruise cabins of Titanic. The science fiction genre may even give us an exclusive cockpit tour to outer space, like in Gravity. Aladdin‘s magic carpet ride is also always available for those who seek Alice in Wonderland.

Upon arrival at our destination, there is always a choice between the local bus or a local taxi from our favorite crime film, and make a Pulp Fiction kind of confession. Who will not want a rickshaw ride with Bruce Lee from the Fist of Fury. Or we can try the Philippine kalesa from the historical film Jose Rizal, for a more nostalgic effect.

For accommodation, an independent film, may not be able to book us a first class hotel. But it can definitely remind us that there probably is “no place like home” just like the Cinemalaya 2005 Best Production Design winner, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros. And we can always lie down with Mother Earth, or even over a frozen body of water, like that star-watching scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

But for budget travelers like me, we can always experience luxury treatment, every once in a while, through movies. Biopics can always grant us a chance to sit on the royal throne from The King’s Speech. Political films may give us exclusive passes to the official Presidential residence like in White House Down. A movie adaptation, on the other hand, can guide us through the Hogwarts castle of Harry Potter.

After settling down in our choice of accommodation, it is now time to mingle with our destination.
Complimentary Gourmet Meals

Stomachs growling from the long journey? The national cinema can offer us the best food tripping experience, from gourmet cuisines to budget meals.

For the first course, we can have a Korean soup from Le Grand Chef. This appetizer also comes with a free historical discourse between Korea and Japan. Then we can try some Jiro Ono sushi to stimulate our palates and learn the culinary discipline from the full-length documentary about the first sushi chef to receive three Michelin stars.

For the main course, we can have satisfying Filipino dishes from the upcoming Cinemalaya 2016 entry Kusina by Cenon Obispo Palomares and David Corpuz. This film will feature how we Filipinos make our cooking special by using a secret ingredient called pagmamahal (love). For dessert, we can enjoy the enchanted sweets from a small French village in Chocolat.

After that, we can enjoy our to-go coffee, just like Holly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s while we search for some Hong Kong street food from Chungking Express. Then there is always the popular Filipino fertilized duck egg called balut which we can enjoy through Balut Country, an official entry to Sinag Maynila Film Festival 2015.

Exclusive Gig passes

Experiencing the culture of each destination is a must for every traveler. And every film is also somewhat a virtual recital of some of the famous and award-winning artists in the world.

The Star Wars saga will never be complete without the signature John Williams symphony. Hayao Miyazaki films will not feel as magical if not for the accompanying music of Joe Hisaishi. Polish music can also be appreciated through the movie The Pianist.

Films also feature actual artist performances, like that Madonna act on the 1985 film Vision Quest. Ang Nawawala (What Isn’t There), an official entry to the 2012 Cinemalaya Film Festival, is an on-screen gig of Philippine indie rock musicians like Pedicab, The Strangeness, Flying Ipis, Ang Bandang Shirley and Ebe Dancel.

We can also tag along a whole European tour of one of Japan’s most promising bands today, ONE OK ROCK, through their full-length documentary, Fool Cool Rock.

There are also art gigs from Frida, showcasing Mexican art to the world. Still Life, on the other hand, another entry to Cinemalaya 2007, is a showcase of Filipino talent.

Free Counselling

When we travel, specially when we are alone, we discover a lot of new things about ourselves, as much as about our destinations. Traveling acts as our own personal psychologists, healing us every time we go out together.

Films also offer free life counseling, especially if we can relate to the stories of the protagonists. Ordinary People, the 1981 Academy Best Picture, features one of the most healing conversations of all time.

The drama series Hannibal also gives us an interesting relationship between therapist and patient.

Indeed, films have that ability to take us to our next destination, be it magical or realistic.

So while saving up for my next trip, let me enjoy some more films first, and use my imagination to go anywhere I want.

hong kong avenue of stars director

“So, Direk, what’s our next film?” At the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong. Photo by Mai Calapardo.

Jewels in the Damas

Mt. Damas

Photo by Karina de Capia

Mt. Damas surely offered us an array of barely-polished, almost virginal jewels of nature. And because they were virginal, they were hard to find.

Our Chinese New Year started from Quezon City, as we rode a bus going to Alaminos, Pangasinan around 4am. The bus was SCTEX-bound, and it gave us this early morning motivation at around 6am.

View from SCTEX. Bundok

We arrived at Camiling, Tarlac around 8am and had our breakfast at a local gotohan. The bus fare was two hundred sixty pesos. Then we had an hour’s ride in a tricycle going to Brgy. Papaac where the foot of Mt. Damas rested. The tricycle driver charged us two hundred fifty pesos.

Mountain Guides

The Jeweller and the Pet: Kuya Marvin and Gin

The base camp fee was twenty.  And there we met Kuya Marvin, our ever-reliable mountain guide and his dog, Gin.

Hay stack

A womand and a kid carrying wood

A woman and a kid carrying wood. Photo by Karina de Capia.

The first hour of the hike was spent touring Brgy. Papaac where we saw the jewels of rural life: the residents, the fields, goats, carabaos, cows, hay stacks, a chapel, a modern house (which is kinda off-themed) and a nice view of the mountain we are about to soar.

Brgy. Papaac, Camiling, Tarlac. Bundok

Tree and skyFallen tree

The second hour brought us jewels of the forest: all sorts of standing and fallen trees, flowers, rivers, and a torture chamber, or I mean, a sorting tool for hay.

Hay Tool aka Torture Chamber

Then at about past eleven in the morning, we came to the priced gem that saved us from the heat of the sun.

A Nipa Hut!  Photo by Jenny Syjueco.

A Nipa Hut! Photo by Jenny Syjueco.

Here at the Jewel in the Palace of Damas, we had lunch with Jang Geum.

Jang Geum in the Damas

Jang Geum in the Damas

But Jang Geum’s smile seemed mystifying. It was as if she was telling us, “Enjoy yourselves now. The forces of nature are up ahead.”

A short hike after lunch led us to the third hour of the trek: jewel-hopping, or I mean, river-hopping.


Photo by Karina de Capia

And we were literally hopping.

River shadow.

The river is flowing with crystal clear water, even potable so one can clearly see the bottom of the river. In some parts, the water was just ankle-high. In some areas, maybe waist-high. But there were sections where the bottom was just dark and even Kuya Marvin could not tell us how deep it was. So the best way to surpass the river was through the rocks.

As the water level varied, the rocks were created accordingly. There were boulders and sand. There were rocks close to each other. There were those that needed some leap of faith. And there were those unstable rocks. Actually, you had a choice whether to fall to the water or to another rock. Go all wet or scratch your knee? Mt. Damas valued your freedom of choice. Jewels really were not easy to find.


Photo by Karina de Capia.

But honestly, this was the part I liked the best. I liked how the chilly water touched my feet as I was stubborn enough to still walk in the water. I was wearing sandals anyway, unlike my friends who wore shoes. So I said I would just savor the moment. And I was thankful I was given the time to appreciate the trip this early, because our next stop was this.


Rappelling Site 1. Down the river. Photo by Karina de Capia.

Rappelling 1

View from the top

Are you ready to rappel? According to, rappel is the “method of moving down a steep incline… by means of a double rope secured above and placed around the body, usually under the left thigh and over the right shoulder… .” Luckily, our tour guide brought some rope for us to hold on to. But I simply could not find any rope wrapped around my body! And this was my first time! I was calling non-stop to the Lord. Maybe I was also able to call all the spirits from the Jewels in the Damas to help me.

Rappelling. Bundok.

View from the other side

It was a test of grip. Loving the rope, to make it cling to you as well, and loving the rocks, to not let you slip you all the way down, was the deal. And after a very slow but sure descent, I was with my friends again. And I was able to finish the first rappeling wall. Uhuh. You read it right. This was only the first of the three rappeling sites.

Rappelling 2

Karah’s turn on Rappel Site 2, with Tim waiting for us


Site 3. The Sideways Rappel. Photo by Karina de Capia.

But Damas was not that cruel. After every grip test was a jewel reward, a mini-falls serving us nature-chilled water. And this rappelling lasted for almost two hours.


But the challenges of Mt. Damas were not over yet.

After a few minutes of rest, we saw Kuya Marvin tying his rope again on a tree somewhere up. Uh-oh. Another rappel? That was what I also thought.

The rope led us to an area where taking photos was very unlikely because all you would want to do was to concentrate on the climb.

Mt. Damas had its customized definition of steep. The rappel might have been steep but at least they had a creased surface, allowing grip for the soles of your shoes. But a steep mountain edge with nothing but soil was not easy. And at your left and right, you can see the river below. I was literally crawling. There were barely any stones that were rooted firmly to the ground that you could grasp and rest your whole weight onto. And the trail was almost vertical. At some parts there were the pepper trees and bamboo plants that can reach a helping hand to you.  Good thing I had my gloves to protect my hand from the sharp bamboo leaves. And thanks to them for holding the soil firmly, but some particles were just stubborn enough to get your shoes sliding.

Two hours passed by. It was already 4:30 in the afternoon, but we still were not at the summit. Kuya Marvin said it might take us another hour of steep-walking.

Taller than you. Photo by Karina de Capia.

Taller than you. Photo by Karina de Capia.

We took a little rest and off we went.  And we were welcomed by these tall sharp grasses we call talahib. And I was thankful again for my arm warmers, gloves and pants. Though my feet already had a bunch of scratches since I was wearing sandals.

And then there was this story of the 50-year old marathon-winner who broke his leg during this ascend.  I knew we were near the summit.

And after an hour, Damas finally gave in and showed us its most treasured jewel in its palace.

Summit of Mt. Damas

Jewel at the Summit. Photo by Karina de Capia.

The Camp Site. Photo by Karina de Capia.

The Camp Site. Photo by Tim Reyes

We camped and ate adobo. And Damas gave us another reward, a night sky full of stars. It was a guessing game of which constellation was which and whether we were looking at the North star or Venus. Tim even said he saw a red moving star. Then the word UFO came up. I said that we might already need to go to sleep before the UFO talk became a ghost story. And besides, we need to get up early to prepare for breakfast to be able to leave camp around seven in the morning.

And that was one good sleep. We were all tired.

We were not able to witness a great sunrise though because of the clouds, but we were nonetheless ready for the second half of the trip, the descent.

We did steep-walking again, which for me was more difficult than when we were going up. Sliding might had been the best way down but I chose to sit down while sliding. And leaning forward was also prohibited if you wouldn’t want to roll head first. My friends already got ahead of me. But I did not care. I was the slowly-but-surely type. I would prefer to go slow than dead.

And after two hours, I was happy to be reunited with my friends at the river.  For this day, we would have a little detour from the itinerary the other day.

Photo by Karina de Capia.

Photo by Karina de Capia.

We were going to Ubod Falls! But this was not Ubod yet.  It was a smaller falls that was yet to give us the steepest rappelling wall Mt. Damas had to offer.  Maybe Ubod was such a treasure that it needed a guardian to test the determination of those who wanted to see it.

Rappelling. The buwis-buhay roped area. Photo by Karina de Capia.

The buwis-buhay roped area. Photo by Karina de Capia.

Since this was a higher one, our rope was not enough for the whole wall so there was a part where we need to go sideways, without any support.

Rappelling/ Rock-climbing

Karah and Jenny on the no-rope area

My greatest problem about this wall was that the creases on the rocks where you were suppose to put your foot onto were just widely separated from each other! My short arms and legs just could not reach for them! Maybe rock-climbing was really meant for people taller than five feet. But I won’t turn my back on this.

 Photo by Karina de Capia.

Photo by Karina de Capia.

A few more rock and wood-climbing and we came to yet another Jewel in the Damas.

 Photo by Karina de Capia.

Photo by Karina de Capia.

The Ubod Falls became our natural refrigerator. The water was so clear and chilly too! And this was best served with hot rice, salted eggs, tomatoes and pechay. And that was the most refreshing lunch we had.

But the challenges were not yet over. On our way back, we need to pass through the guardian falls again. Then go up the three rappeling walls, again, which was harder for me this time around because first,  I could not lift my whole body up! Secondly, it seemed that the rock creases made a conspiracy against me.  They planned to move farther away from each other after seeing that I can pass through them the other day!  Thirdly, the conspiracy attracted more forest elements that when we came to the rappelling sites again, I could not remember the trail anymore!  This was my sense of direction for you!

After nine exhausting hours, we reached the foot of the mountain.  And finally, our smiling ego blurted out, “We survived Mt. Damas!”

And so, am I going to climb again after this? Sure, why not? 🙂

At the summit of Mt. Damas

Summit view


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