You Know What’s at Mountain View?

I stepped down from the plane into American soil a bit weary but completely awake. The flight was fully booked and, despite having more leg room than I expected, sitting for a flight of around twelve hours still took its toll. My legs felt odd from all that sitting. The whole flight I tried to minimize my trips to the toilet as I did not want to irritate/inconvenience the couple sitting beside me; I should not have taken a window seat. But given the circumstances of my trip, I don’t think I’d have a choice other than the window seat. After all, this flight was only booked around a week back.

(Author’s travel note: When taking flights, the window seat is cool if the flight isn’t too long and the cruising altitude isn’t too high. Otherwise, there won’t be much sight-seeing and you’re better off taking an aisle seat. For toilet breaks.)

Clouded Underneath
But don’t you think all that seating in an uncomfortable window seat is still so totally worth it just to see something like this? ;)

This story actually starts last October, during a particularly tiring week though not one completely devoid of fun. That was the week our office held its Halloween celebrations. Tired from leading our area’s decorations for the event, I ended that Friday sleeping on a sala sofa. I woke up at around dawn feeling a bit refreshed and took a bath. Afterwards, I checked my email and found an unread item from an “@google.com” email address. I shouted my surprise/amusement and caused my mother to panic.

By now, I’ve told the story countless of times already. Long story short, Google flew me to Mountain View for a job interview during the last week of February. I did not get in but I remember making a new year’s resolution last year and I’m amused to find out that I managed to eke out something akin to what I expected within a year.

I went alone, which is more or less my idea of travel, in contrast to tourism. I’ve experienced the kindness of strangers and talked to some really smart people. This experience is definitely one for gratitude.

During my first night, I happened to ride a taxi driven by a Vietnamese guy. We had a little chat wherein he learned why I’m in America. He was very thrilled for me in the same manner the people back home were very thrilled. He kept wishing me good luck while reminding me what privilege this is. I have not traveled much but I can’t help but think that had I been with a large group, the conversation would not have taken place.

My first order of business upon arriving at the hotel was to procure some dinner. I wanted to eat American food until I realized that America’s common foods are items I can easily buy back home: pizza, hamburger, fries. I loaded up Google Maps1 and decided on a Mexican place seemingly a walking distance away from my hotel.

(Author’s note: America’s foods did not come from America. Pizza is Italian. Hamburger is German. Fries is French. Totally a melting pot, America is.)

At this point I need to backtrack a bit in this woolgathering. I took my undergraduate degree in UP-Diliman, which has a campus larger than The Vatican. During my undergrad, I used to walk the distance from our department to the University’s exit. According to Google Maps, the shortest path from those two points, is 1.8km, roughly 1.12 miles. This should tell you what distances do I consider walking distances.

I started walking towards that Mexican place. I was wearing city shorts and sandals, which is what I’d wear for any hike in the Philippines, which is also mistake number one. California, you see, is biting cold. I’m aware that it is that part of North America closest to the equator but it remains way colder than the Philippines. Thankfully, I had the sense to keep my hoodie jacket on my person.

A few street crossings2 passed and I noticed that the Mexican place I intend to eat in is still nowhere in sight. At this point, every bit of exposed skin I had was numb and I started to marvel at how I took the number of food stops in the Philippines for granted; in the Philippines, you’d be hard pressed to find an urban stretch of several meters where there isn’t even a single stop selling any kind of food. I consulted Google Maps again, to make sure that my bearing is correct (it is) and that’s when I realized that the Mexican place I am trying to get to is 0.9 miles from the hotel.

I’m pretty sure my body language was shouting “TOURIST” during my first night, a body language expression that did not change for the length of my stay. With the cold biting at my skin, I began to wander in open establishments for some warmth and to maybe decide on alternatives to the Mexican place I’ve set as my destination. I happened into an amusing cross between a convenience store and a wine cellar clerked by an Indian man, judging by his turban. I did not stay long inside but, as I left the premises, the clerk followed me outside just to ask if I’m okay, not lost or what. After assuring him that all is fine (without, of course, conceding that I am a wondering wanderer), I finally decided to skip the Mexican place and just dine on pizza for my first night.

(Author’s note: Google Maps lists an establishment’s operating hours. If you are planning to visit any place at unsure hours, this is worth a check.)

The duration of my stay was only around four days. I did not go that far since I do not know how to estimate transportation costs. And yet, I’ve explored quite a lot. Did you know that Mountain View has a cozy public library? It’s been my dream of sorts to visit libraries in different places and Mountain View’s is a nice bonus first.

There’s this place in Mountain View—Castro Street—which earned my fondness the first time I went there. That small strip of space felt so me. In the ubiquity of American food even in Philippine soil, I began looking for Asian food and it was there3. It had two book stores, Books Inc. and BookBuyers, which both looked so cozy it’s a shame we’ve had so short a time together. It had a Taekwondo gym, and is near Mountain View’s Center for Performing Arts as well as the public library I’ve been raving about.

When my recruiting coordinator at Google informed me (via phone call) that I did not make it, she was apologizing that I bothered to take so long a trip for nothing. I wanted to tell her that it was fine, I enjoyed, and that the opportunity itself is a rewarding experience in so many ways. And it is. Until next time, I guess.

Thrilled and grateful as ever, as usual. ~Chad

Only in America.... Ramen!
BookBuyers

Castro Street

Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts

Wonderlust
  1. I do not find Google Maps very accurate in the Philippines yet though I expect it to get better as Google now has operations here. But if there is anywhere in the world where Google Maps is supposed to provide good info, it’s at Mountain View, California. []
  2. Where I can count the number of other people I met with just the fingers of one hand. One. Hand. []
  3. Nothing Filipino though; all that’s in Castro Street is a Japanese and a Chinese place. []

Meeting Maria

I spent last weekend in the wild, being dirty and sleeping inside cramped messy tents whose temperature fluctuates between cold and scorching hot, depending on what time of the day it is. I brought some mosquito repellent with me, only to find out that I should’ve feared the ants as well. The only way I could’ve cleaned myself (even partially) entailed going through the cold caress of mountain water. This is adventure indeed, the kind catterpillars sadly forget as they become butterflies.

My muscles are aching as I type like I worked out for a whole month straight without even a few seconds of water break anywhere in between. But the ache reminds me of a good two nights and two days spent in the cradle of Maria Makiling. Clearly, this is the welcome kind of muscle ache, one that is the sign not of deteriorating health but of a life lived in two-days’ worth of adventure. I’m both glad and sad that they’d be gone in a few days. How I’d miss this feeling and the kind of joy the experience brought me. I feel that I’ve lived life, for two nights and two days, as the experience took my breath away.

Before I delve into the fun of reliving the adventure allow me first to wish my left shoe a very solemn “Rest In Peace”. You have been loyal to me for the past two years or so my dear friend, going through mud and shine, opening your mouth that protects the fingertips of my left foot eventually but not making a single sound of complaint. Your twin, right shoe, will have to rest as well, now that you are gone. I regret that he won’t be able to do it in the house though, as we are pretty crowded already.

My left shoe died an honorable death, in the midst of adventure, as I spent the good part of last weekend jumping through rocks and grabbing various plants for dear life, double checking in a hurried fashion beforehand that it is without thorns and that it is not actually some camouflaging fauna. It died last Saturday but I had to abuse it further by using it again for the same purposes the next day after last Saturday which is last Sunday. My vocal chords nearly died as well, as I screamed cheers and whoa’s in flow with my group’s collective effervescence.

And as I know that general allusions to the experience will do the adventure no justice, allow me to compress about two days’ worth of story in a single web page, as I try to set the record for the longest blog post ever. Right. Let the stories start.

Table of Contents
Laying Down Ground | The Trek | Running Again, Some Swimming, and Goodbye Finally

Laying Down Ground
Friday, February 5, 2010, Deep Evening

Tired and exhausted from last night’s academic cramming as well as from the day that passed, I stepped off the bus and was readily greeted by Orion. Arr hunter, I say. Thanks for the greeting as I am here not to choose the events that will happen but to let the adventure choose me. Be my guide.

For the good part of the night we tried to make the provided tents as cozy as possible. Evidently, a man’s idea of “cozy” is way different from a woman’s. A tent is capable of holding six people but seven of us had to share, plus a few battalion of ants. I brought some mosquito repellent but I’m totally unprepared for these warriors, biting us violently for entering the critical zone of their territory. And we had our luggage with us too, taking up a generous part of our already-cramped tent. I remember being told once that pretty men travel light. If that is true, then Maria Makiling won’t be dating any of us by default.

We were briefed of what awaits us. I didn’t hear anything save for the word “exciting”. After about an hour of planning we embark for slumber land and I felt the rough contours of the earth against my back. Adventure here we go!

The Trek
Saturday, February 6, 2010, Morning to Mid-Afternoon, and then whole day

We rose before the sun to prepare for what lies in store for the day. This is the first time we’ll be actually cooking and, incidentally, my stomach’s been lucky enough to have a choice between two culinary sets so that if something goes wrong here, I always have the other group for back-up. It’s a long and complicated story of how come there were two groups but in any case, the two groups merged into one later on, forming what can be considered as our main class, plus a few additions.

And yes, pictures…

Rappel Instructors

As you see, it was still pretty dark when we started cooking that I cannot rely on natural lighting and I had to resort to flash. This is one of the two groups I’ve been talking about. Though not really a part of the group in the strict sense of the word, pictured here are our two rappel instructors.

 

Chemical Engineers

Left to Right: Stephanie Peralta, Ariel Jan Sadural, Cherielyn Cariso, Dyan Canlas. All of them major in Chemical Engineering. All of them are in the group with me even in the strictest sense. And all of them are fun to be with.

 

I’m pretty fond of these people. For one, AJ has been my highschool classmate from year two to year four. Then again, they’re just plain fun to be with. And also, they are the second cooking group I’ve been talking about.

And oh, yes, just to give you an idea, this is where we’ve been sleeping:

Tents

Being the celestial body lover that I am, I made sure that I know what time will the sun rise and set for the whole time we’ve been there, as part of my preparations. Unfortunately, sunrise and sunset isn’t as pronounced as I expected here. But that is not to say that I did not shoot some scenery.

Saturday morning sunrise at camp…

Saturday was scheduled for trek, an activity which I thought will have me clicking through shots and feeling the cool mountain breeze. I was wrong. The trek found me with my shirt glued wet by perspiration on my back. I found myself finally appreciating Gatorade and thanking AJ for lending me a cap. The trail was beautiful, green and overflowing with flora, ripe for some shots. Unfortunately, my hands had been busy looking for firm features to hold on to and breaking the momentum I gain as my feet followed the dictates of the natural laws of inclined planes, too tired to resist. This is where my left shoe died, in service, ever loyal.

That all said, I still managed to take some pictures while trekking.

Dyan and Che, with a flower they find pretty

Dyan and Che, with a flower they find pretty

 

Don't faeries bathe in here?

Don’t faeries bathe in here?

 

Taken just before we stopped to eat packed lunch live at the trail.

 

Ging and Baki. Not taken by me, most probably taken by Dyan.

 

Dyan and me. If you stop for a moment and think, it will become clear to you that I obviously did not take this picture. Taken by either Ging or Baki.

 

Chilling out live at the trail

Chilling out live at the trail. Taken by Dyan.

 

Returning to camp, I found myself slumped dead near the entrance of our tent, not minding the heat, nor the flies buzzing around, nor the ants who seem addicted to my shirtless torso. I know not how many miles we walked nor how high a height we reached. I did not take a bath immediately which was lucky because our group had someone to sprawl on the ground when we were taught how to rescue someone down in a cliff with a possible spine injury.

Darkness bit the skies again and soon we were cooking and eating by flashlight. It’s such a shame we were not able to light a bonfire because all the firewood around can only be found along the trail, and our own legs might just kick ourselves in protest if ever we plan to return there just to gather some firewood.

Running Again, Some Swimming, and Goodbye Finally
Sunday, February 7, 2010, Morning to Mid-Afternoon

AJ and me woke up at around 4AM. Being one of the two group leaders, AJ spent sometime going around the tents of our group, retrieving their consciousness from slumber. A few minutes into the activity and we were entertained by someone’s semi-consciousness and made-up terms courtesy of the spirit that is alcohol: “Lutuin na yang mga AJ na yan!” (Cook those AJ’s now!), and, “Lagyan ng isang metrong wetness yung shroup” (Add a meter of wetness to the shroup), she’s been saying (yes she’s a she). We laughed our heads off from that episode for about a couple of hours, until the person concerned regained full control of her consciousness and…you should’ve seen her face.

I spent two hours doing nothing but walking around and eating breakfast, breathing fresh mountain air. It feels and sounds so bummer to relate that I ate instant noodles on a moment as fresh as that. Instant noodles is the only junk food that remains in my system after all. I’ve kicked my addiction to soft drinks and cheesy potato chips but not to instant noodles. Note, however, that I suggested, before Saturday’s adventure, that we hunt for snakes along the trail so that we’ll have something to cook in camp–a suggestion that was met with yeah-right faces from my groupmates.

Breakfast at Camp

Sunday morning breakfast at camp.

 

Sunday’s most anticipated activity is map navigation, an activity very similar to trekking sans the almost-vertical slopes, packed lunch, and instructor guides but with a lot of competition, a lot of tasks and a single compass. I cannot decide what is more memorable between the trek and map nav. They’ll most probably tie. The trek is memorable because of the ooh’s and wow’s generated by nature’s beauty; map nav, on the other hand, is memorable due to all the adrenaline and willpower involved. We were so competitive in map nav that I really wasn’t able to take any pictures.

We were misguided and so we were lost for about a good half an hour. Nonetheless, we returned first in camp and you can only imagine with what euphoria did we tread around the still-empty tents, willpower being replaced by effervescence and cheers. Unfortunately, we didn’t win Best in Navigation because start times are not the same for all groups and so there are some chronological translation involved.

After lunch, some refreshments, and a few hours’ rest, we proceeded to the pool to cross about 100 meters, with an optional break after meter 50. Not the most anticipated activity because swimming isn’t really something you’d learn in a few meetings. At this point, I would like to thank one instructor who gave me some last-moment pointers on how to conquer water. It’s thanks to him I crossed 50 at my first try and almost made it to 100 at the second one. I am most grateful.

And what did our group get after this whole adventure? Aside from bonding moments, we got also got this,

Best Group

Best in Navigation went to the group who made their way past all the tasks and points fastest; it does not necessarily mean that they did the tasks best. Best Group, on the other hand, went to the group who did everything best; since they are best in everything, it also means that they have the best time in navigation (it need not be stated since it is already implied). Quod Erat Demonstrandum. That I want to show.

 

It’s been fun and I am thankful for this adventure, this opportunity to bond with nature and other people. I didn’t travel light but I guess Maria Makiling still dated me. I saw her beauty and I hope I’ve been the gentleman Nature deserves. In about two days I’ve seen cliffs, walked a forest and drank mountain water–lived all my boyhood dreams, in short. After such an experience, it feels so bummer to say “Damn! I have a Calculus exam this Saturday and a Data Structures exam this Monday”.

I shall not forget, the day I met Maria.

 


Colophon: I keep on saying that the adventure lasted for about two days when my story is divided into three chapters. The explanation is this: we only spent one whole day (Saturday), as Friday and Sunday was arrival day and departure day respectively. Hence, about two days.