yosemite_falls

What better way to start the new year than looking back at the travel highlights of the past year? 2013 was a year of stunning scenery and spectacular land and seascapes in my travels. My wife Reizel and I were able to cross a few more items from our travel bucket list. In February I went to California to be with my wife on our wedding anniversary. She was in Silicon Valley at that time for an eight-week business trip. I arrived via a direct MNL-SFO flight on a Friday evening US West Coast time, and after having dinner and a couple hours of rest, we (along with the gang of officemates who were also on business trip) started past midnight on a 750-mile (1,200-kilometer) drive to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Grand Canyon

A full 14 hours and 5 fuel stops later, we arrived on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. This is where the vast majority of visitors arrive. At an altitude of 7,000 feet, the South Rim is roughly a mile higher than the banks of Colorado River below. The more remote North Rim is located even higher, at an altitude of 8,000 feet, that the roads leading to it are closed in winter. I never imagined that the Grand Canyon was a cold place. In the books, it always looked sunny, dry, and brown. Since we visited in the middle of February, the temperature was just above freezing. Patches of snow were present mostly in the shade where the sunshine wasn’t enough to melt it.

Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon as seen from the Visitor Center

Sunset in the canyon was just as how the travel books and countless other travelers described it: magical. The setting sun washed the jagged rocks and cliffs of the canyon in a reddish brown hue before finally disappearing in the horizon.

Sunset at Hopi Point

Sunset at Hopi Point, Grand Canyon

Yosemite

The next weekend, we drove to Yosemite, which like Arizona’s Grand Canyon, is both a US National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was a shorter drive at 4 hours each way from the Silicon Valley area. Large portions of the park were closed to vehicles for the winter season, but fortunately the most popular sights which are centrally located in Yosemite Valley were open. I was afraid that we would be turned back at the Yosemite entrance if we had no chains for our tires; luckily road conditions were not icy when we visited and chains were not required.

Yosemite Falls would undoubtedly be more impressive in the spring when the snow melts, but in winter it still shows off its beauty with its 782-meter drop and the ice that forms at its base.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls in Winter

The advantage of a winter visit to Yosemite is that there are few visitors this time of the year. We were able to stop wherever and whenever we wanted to, in order to wander a short distance away from the main road. There is also less likelihood of other tourists being immortalized in your photos.

El Capitan granite face

El Capitan granite face

El Nido

For our sole major local trip for the year, we went to El Nido last May. We took the land route from Puerto Princesa. The main south-north highway is generally good and is concreted until the town of Taytay. The unpaved portion from Taytay to El Nido is also surprisingly good outside the rainy season, and van drivers can still do 80kph without flying off the road. Our first agenda upon arriving in El Nido was to hire a tricycle for the 45-minute ride to Nacpan-Calitang Twin Beach. It was worth the muddy and bumpy ride since we were rewarded with this view of the beach before rain poured.

Nacpan and Calitang Twin Beach

Nacpan and Calitang Twin Beach

One or two days in El Nido are best spent on the island hopping tours, which can be arranged at most shops and resorts along the town’s main street. We spent days 2 and 3 on tours C and A, respectively. Tour A covered El Nido’s best known spots: Miniloc Island’s Big and Small Lagoons. A more detailed El Nido narrative can be found here.

Entrance to Big Lagoon

Entrance to Big Lagoon

All in all, 2013 was good to me in the travel aspect. Quality made up for the quantity of trips made throughout the year. Looking forward to more road trips, long weekends, and vacation leaves in the future!