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North America

North America

Seeing snow for the first time

October 3, 2011
Snow in Brussels

It’s often the simple, unnoticeable things that makes travel moments special.

A good example would be the first time I saw snow.

For some this may not be milestone,  but for most people coming from tropical countries (or at least from people I know), there is an unavoidable excitement that comes out once you get to see and touch snow.

December comes in the Philippines but we never see a single snowflake – perhaps I’ll never see it happen here at least in my lifetime.

So as a kid, I had ways to “create” snow.  I used to scrape our fridge freezer lining to get the ice out and play around as if it was snow. I also used to take old boxes and scrape the styrofoam to create small bits.

So I was delighted to find out that I’ll get a chance to see snow on a trip.

My first encounter with snow was on a trip to the US in 2002 –  also my first trip abroad. We went on a 50-day trip across the country – from California, Texas, New York, Virginia and Florida.

It was a trip of many firsts. Aside from being my first international trip – it was also the time when I first got to drive (it was a truck) and first to ride a rollercoaster. It was my first time to eat a turkey leg and first time to see sunset at 10 in the evening.

My aunt drove us up to Squaw Valley Ski Resort in California the day after we arrived in San Francisco from Manila.

The drive from San Francisco was scenic – making the four hour drive passed quickly.  I remember passing through Napa Valley (made famous for me by Parent Trap).

Squaw Valley, the site of the Winter Olympics back in 1960, was a pretty epic place itself. We took a cable car (another first for me too) to go up to the ski park. We got out, and just saw white.

Squaw Valley Ski Resort

Me, my sister and grandfather on Squaw Valley’s Olympic podium


There it was – a white field that glistened like glass. The ground shone so much that I had to wear dark eyeglasses. It wasn’t that cold thanks to the thick jacket and snow pants that I borrowed from my aunt. Well, it was April, the beginning of spring, so it was a cool 8C.  I knelt down, removed my gloves and touched the snowy ground – it’s not like ice where you feel wet & slippery but more of a powder.

Squaw Valley Ski Resort

Every time I stepped on snow there was a thrump. I was wearing shoes that weren’t snow proof so as I step on the ground tiny bits goes inside my socks and got it wet. But I didn’t complain, I didn’t want to ruin the perfect day.

Snow Tubing in Squaw Valley

Snow Tubing in Squaw Valley

We went to do snow tubing where we rode a tube and  slid down a small hill.  I wanted to ski but there was no time as we were there one day.

After snow tubing, we went on to do ice skating. Luckily Philippines, despite its year-tropical weather, has a few indoor skating rinks so it wasn’t much of a novelty. I had slight problems standing and gliding across the ice, but we were tourist so we were allowed to be clumsy.

We took lots of photos – souvenirs that I was looking forward to showing to my friends back in the Philippines. The day passed by quickly – in the end we were  tired and slept on our way back to San Francisco. Despite being tired, I remember feeling that I’ve accomplished something  extraordinary.

It was the day where I went out and experienced things that are different – a philosophy that I took on as I continue my travels. They maybe something as simple as snow, but you take on and enjoy the moment.

North America

That day in 2002 when I visited NYC’s Ground Zero

September 8, 2011

I remember the day I learned about the September 11 attacks in New York. It was a Tuesday about 9:30 in the evening in Manila, when my grandma called us to turn on the television and watch CNN.

Immediately, we saw people covered in grey dust and dried-up blood running across the streets and falling from the towers – a scene as if from a clip of the disaster movie Independence Day.

My dad immediately called my titas  and tito (aunts & uncle) in the US and fortunately, they were safe. We watched the scenes until we finally saw the towers, once landmarks of New York City, disappearing from the NYC skyline.

My dad, who had been inside the World Trade Center a year before the attacks, took out after a photo album and showed me and my sisters photos from their visit. One of the photos, had my dad and grandpa standing stiff, as if imitating the towers themselves. He also told us that you can almost see the entire Manhattan from the viewing deck on top.

Ground Zero in 2002

A few months after the attack, I never thought I’ll get to see Ground Zero.

It was May 4, 2002, eight months after the attacks of September 11, when we visited New York and Ground Zero. I was 14 years old and on my first trip abroad in America.

It was school vacation and my Tita Lucy sponsored a 50-day to tour across the US. We left Houston after a month of staying in my Tita Angie’s place and arrived afternoon at my Tito Junji’s place in Hauppauge, Long Island. We were to stay there for a week, and my tito, being as organise as he is, already have an itinerary in place.  Our first day was in New York City.

He drove me, my sister and my Uncle Tommy to the local train station to catch the train to New York City. We made it to Grand Central after an hour.

Tito Junji handed me and my sister a map of the New York city subway. I have never seen a map as complicated as the NYC subway – criss-crossing colours of and train numbers – with stops at almost every street in the area. On the map, there are the familiar stops – Wall Street, Central Park, Rockefeller Center – and the station once belonging to the World Trade Center.

We have an itinerary in place including Broadway and Times Square but Ground Zero was our first stop. We got off at the subway station prior to the Ground zero and walked towards the memorial.

It was early evening and the sun was just setting down turning the sky dark purple. It was a cold 10C, the coldest weather I’ve been then.

The way going to Ground Zero was quiet apart from the sound of sirens coming fire trucks and construction vehicles. Along with the chilly weather and purple sky, the near-silence elicit a somber feeling.

We passed by a church with its steel gates filled with tied flowers, ribbon bows, posted pictures and messages from people. On the photos, there were couples kissing on their wedding, parents with their children in vacation on the beach, and brothers and sisters with arms over their shoulders. The people in the photos were all smiling hoping that they may be remembered on their happiest moments.

Ground Zero in 2002

Below the photos were messages of love, prayer and longing. The most heart-breaking perhaps that I saw  was “I should have told you how much I love you”.

The messages and photos continue up to wooden platform going towards the view deck. We went slowly up the ramp, continuing to read the messages on the walls.

We finally got on the view deck and saw what were the remains of the once mighty World Trade Center towers. There were two big holes with trucks cleaning up the remaining rubbles.  Gone were the cinder blocks, dust clouds, bent steel bars we saw on TV. But I felt that the emotions were still there and I can’t help but feel heavy and gloomy.

We stayed there for a couple more minutes and gave a short prayer for the victims.

Ground Zero in 2002 - monument

As went our way down the ramp, we passed by a monument placed in honour of the iron-workers who worked long shifts to clear out the rubble. It was a steel bar with 11-men sitting on it and on its right side it was written: “The tribute to the Hard Hats of WTC – America’s forgotten heroes.”

My visit to Ground Zero was an emotional experience. Writing this post, even after nine years since this visit, a memory of my visit still remain strong.

On one of our photos on the platform (top picture), we were all staring up as if the towers still exist, imagining how high it may have been or how it may have felt to be on top of it.

The colour of the sky was reflective of the feeling we were all having that instance – dark but with a faint of orange light peeking out. It’s reflective of our thought that day that despite the darkness, hope and love still remains.

We need to live the moment and to cherish the love ones every given day that we have.  Our life is very fragile. We live in a delicate balance of life, and it is up to ourselves to live everyday as if it’s our last.

Have you been to the Ground Zero memorial? Share your thoughts and experiences on our comment box below.

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