Inspirational Interview with Lauro Serra-Polancos

I have known Lauro through a travel website that we both used called Travbuddy . His blogs and photos have amazed me. He is an inspiring traveller who loves to explore the great outdoors, especially the mountains in Spain. I hope his travel and experience inspires you as much as it inspires me.  This is Lauro’s interview.

Who or what inspired you to travel?

It was my father. He is the vagabond in the family and I rarely saw him when I was growing up. Because of his job, he has been to exotic places around the world.

He would send us postcards as far as Djibouti and Panama. He brought home two skulls of different species of sharks from South Africa which I was fascinated with as a child. We had a huge world map at home and whenever my father came  home he would ask me to pin the places he had been to and I would get a reward for that. It  helped me a lot with geography.

My mother also influenced me. She bought me encyclopaedias and other educational books for which it opened my eyes to the world. I dreamed and yearned that someday I would visit the places in the books that I  read and  in the world map that was hanging in our living room.

What have you learnt from traveling?

I have learnt how to respect because respect is a premier quality of a human being.

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Have you travelled much in the Philippines , If so where?

Yes I did, I already travelled around when I was 5 cause my parents came from different islands in the central part of the country. So every summer until I was 15, I usually tagged along either with my mother or father to visit their hometowns and if my father was home, he usually dragged me along with our little jeep to do small road trips in the nearby provinces around the capital.

When I was 18 my friends and I would do out of town road trips just to get drunk and do crazy things but in my early 20’s things changed when I went with my best friend deep into the heart of the cordillera mountains in the Philippines.

Many people go to Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos  but often miss out on the Philippines. Why do you think so and what are they missing out on?

Hmmmm, geographically speaking, the Philippines isn’t connected to mainland Asia, I think that hinders travelling unlike Thailand, Laos, Cambodia for which one could take a bus and then cross the border in a flash but now we have low cost airlines that operates around South East Asia with connections to the Philippines. I think that will change alot in the coming future, of course it would take its time but we will surely be up there.

Well, apart from the fine beaches and thousands of islands we have, the Philippines belong to the small elite group of mega diverse countries. Our ecosystem is quite unique: we have cloud and pine forests, tropical jungles, volcanoes, sand dunes, coral reefs…  I just think our government needs a little bit of  a push to tap these resources to promote eco-tourism in our country, not just domestically but internationally as well.

Philippines doesn’t have a great reputation for its food compared to other Asian counties in the region. Does the Philippines deserve this reputation? What is the food really like there?

Oh that is so wrong (laughs). The Philippines was a crossroad for traders and travellers even before our colonization from spain. Ancient traders from India, China, Indonesia and the Pacific islands have settled briefly in the Philippines and brought along with them their culinary culture. Our cuisine has been influenced by many for centuries.

The Filipino cuisine caters to different palates from sweet, salty to spicy. Then came the Spanish who brought with them the European cuisine influence and mixed it with the native produce in the Philippines to create distinct Spanish-Filipino dishes.

Let me give some examples: for the Spanish-Filipino  we have mechado, menudo (with potatoes and tomatoes) and caldo (hot soup). For the Chinese influenced dishes – we have  batchoy, stir-fried noodles, deep fried rolls etc. What I like is our traditional dish called pinakbet – my mother makes them really nice.  What I remember was that my mother prepared it with calabasa (a vegetable brought in by the spanish colonizers from Hispanic America) and stir fried it with native vegetables, sauteed in pork fat with meat and preserved brine shrimp.

You have a love for the outdoors, especially the mountains. Tell us about your first experience in the mountains?

This was the time  my bestfriend and I went into the Cordillera mountains in the Philippines when I was  21. I still remember how it was, we took a very small bus and drove into the heart of the mountain range.

There were some sections on the road that were  so narrow that could only support one vehicle, so you have to stop to give way to the other vehicle coming from the other direction while holding on for dear life as there was no protection from the ravine, thousands of meters deep on the side.

As we went higher on the road, the appearance of the people were different from the lowlands. They had pinky cheeks, their eyes  slanted more,their hair was scruffy  sort of like Tibetans  and there were rows and rows of high mountains, rice and vegetable terraces and it was  colder. I was in a dreamy state just looking at the sea of mountains that lay beyond the horizon and I wondered what lied behind them.

I also met some locals in Sagada and shared stories with them. I  was fascinated to know that some of them had never even seen the sea considering that the Philippines is an archipelago.

While walking around we saw a very old woman who was naked from waist up but the sensitive parts, arms and neck were covered with tribal tattoos. She came straight out of our Philippine history books in high school, where we studied the different ethnic groups in the Philippines. She came from the Kalinga tribe, before their conversion to Christianity they were fierce warriors and headhunters and we guessed that she was the last of her kind.

It was then when my outlook in travel changed. The culture of the people living in the mountains / highlands are different from the lowlands. They have barely enough for themselves but they do everything what they can to help strangers in need.  Since then, for 5 consecutive years (sometimes twice in a year) I went to Sagada to visit the people who I  had made friends with.

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clockwise The Cordillera mountains in the Philippines / Lake Thingvallavatn in Iceland / The Jungfrau seen from the highest astronomical observatory in Eeurope (The Ssphinx) / El Pico De Arenizas in the Picos De Europa

You have a love for Northern Spain and the high alps. Why do you love this particular area?

Oh Northern Spain had so many memories – only beautiful memories for me. It was where i first organized a roadtrip in Travbuddy with people I didn’t know and we ended up being friends forever.

The provinces of Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria are spectacular and wild and I don’t even know how to begin by describing them. I particularly love the small fishing town of Cedeira in Galicia. We were invited by a Galician family – the Grandal-Caneiro family to stay with them and spend nights in their chabola (hut) on top of a hill surrounded by eucalyptus forest, with no electricity, only a fireplace to keep us warm but with a grandiose view of the fishing village and the stormy Atlantic Ocean. They took us to places, cooked and fed us. The epitome of spanish hospitality.

In Cedeira lies a place where it is special in my heart – the wild and high sea cliffs of the Acantilados En La Serra Da Capelada. Northern spain is called españa verde (the green spain) because its lush with greenery and vegetation and home to the Picos De Europa mountain range. It is the toughest hike I have done.

The mountain range creates a barrier for storm clouds that gives the rain shadow phenomena in Spain because on the other side of green Spain – lies the arid part of Spain. It is also a part of Spain where the people believe in myths, legends,superstitions. creatures and witchcraft.

The landscape is dotted with small coves, deserted beaches, fjords, grottos, forgotten mountain villages, picturesque sea side towns, high and strong waves – it is a small part of Europe but so much bigger in terms of what it has to offer.

In the Picos De Europa, the landscape is just magnificent – out of this world, the mountains aren’t as high as the alps but as you go higher, only barren landscape, crags, rocks and towering peaks that loomed like sentinels above. It was surreal –very lunar and the reward was a spectacular moment because of the rain shadow, you could be above the clouds that covers hundreds of kilometers blanketing the Cantabrian sea in the distance.

In the alps however, when I say high alps – these are the mountains above 4000 meters. The Jungfrau-Aletsch region, the Valais Alps and the Mont Blanc Massif are so spectacular that it is impossible to compare them.

I usually hike the mountain ranges parallel to the higher alps, it should be above the treeline more than 2400 meters so it doesn’t obscure the wholeness of the mountains and seeing them spectacularly rising some kilometers from the valley floor. The trails here are fantastic.

In the Jjungfrau-Aletsch, the Bernese Alps Are seen from the trail leading to the Schilthorn forms a formidable barrier of rocks, snow, ice and glaciers while in the Valais alps, the highest peaks of the alps are concentrated including the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa and the peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif rises like needles piercing the sky. There are also lots of hidden mountain lakes in high altitude that mirrors the majestic mountains that surrounds them.

I’ve been doing the hikes in the alps with my trekking partner Tracy from America for quite some time now. My most recent memory here, was we did night trekking last Summer to catch the mountain peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif in their alpenglühen (alpenglow), where the last rays of the run hit the ice or the limestone composition of the mountains giving it an orangey tint that glows in fading light.

Oh my god, I don’t have any words how to describe how it looked, it’s just so spectacular and breathtaking. We just stared while our jaws dropped at mother earth’s masterpiece. It was hypnotic. It looked straight out of a fantasy film.

We also saw tons of elusive chamois high up there, as they were shy creatures, they only appeared at sunset and sunrise where human activity is all but gone. These are the places where i would let my hair down, just be crazy and feel beautiful.

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clockwise the mountains in Alpenglühen (alpenglow) the Jungfrau after a storm in sunset / Mont Blanc at 10 pm / the limestone composition of Peña Castil / the rain shadow phenomenon and twilight seen high in the Picos De Europa.

The mountains give you a time to think and reflect. What do you think about when you are out there? How do the mountains make you feel?

If I’m there, I don’t think about anything. The silence, the atmosphere – it gives me inner peace. I detached myself from the superficial world by just being surrounded by peaks that glow in the sunset, their magnificence. An ethereal feeling where the mountains fill my life with beauty. I think this is what we call – Nirvana – a spiritual bliss. Being there as a human, standing amongst these glorious peaks make me feel insignificant that we’re just all but grains of sand.

Has your life  ever been in danger while hiking in high landscapes?

Of course, we all cannot escape the inevitable. As i said before, the toughest trek I did was through the Picos De Europa mountain range in Northern Spain. We wanted to see the grandeur of the rain shadow phenomenon (it could only be seen on the range of the Macizo central facing the Cantabrian sea) in high summer where the storm clouds are very low while you have the endless blue sky above.

I got lost from the group because it was my first time truly trekking and i was excited taking pictures of the surroundings. The temperature was searing and the sun was beating straight at the shadeless path and I fainted halfway because of dehydration on the way to the campsite, fortunately, a Spanish family saw me and helped me get back on my feet.

Then going back down, Tracy and I separated from the group and got lost in a forest where the trail was covered by thick and tall grass. We were so lucky that we found some farmers and i ran to them like madman and as they saw me, I fell to the ground and lost consciousness. They helped us to get back on the trail that would lead us back to civilization  in a way it was scary, because it’s a national park – there were no more mobile signal for emergency calls, and wild animals roam the area  including wolves and bears, so it could have been much worse, i was just lucky.

Another time, again with Tracy hiking through the Bernese Alps in Switzerland. We saw a man who was about to paraglide from a cliff on the trail. Tracy and I were so curious so we went down below him to catch some action photos of him about to glide through the air.

But it wasnt to be, as soon as he released himself, the wind suddenly changed direction and pulled him backward and then another wind change pulled him forward straight towards me and my foot got caught on the strings, the man used all his strength to stop us being dragged down on the cliff with a fall of 2500 meters. I was speechless after that,I couldn’t even think. I was just lucky again.

I never knew that my father read my blogs about my “little escapades” and he is always scared whenever I’m on the “road” but he supports me all the way, because if these things like hiking makes me happy, then i should go for it, he says. That’s why I love the mountains: there’s action, comedy and drama behind. It is for me, where the true adventure lies.

lau mountain

In terms of mountain,hiking, exploring what is your goal? Could it be possible for you to reach Everest’s summit, one day?

To be honest I don’t have any goals, I want to see these spectacular places because they are there. About Everest, well I don’t deny that it would be the crowning glory of every mountaineers, trekkers and mountain photographers to stand side by side with the tallest mountain on earth.

In my opinion, there are much more beautiful mountains than Everest for me to explore one day like the Trango Towers in the Karakoram, Minya Konka in Sichuan, Ushba in the Caucasus, and Alpamayo in the Andes – though they pale in height comparison to everest, they have beautiful shapes which are a delight to my eyes.

But I guess most of them would be just a dream for me, apart from the financial cost, I just recently discovered from a thorough examination that my back is breaking down and my spinal cord is bent. So no more carrying heavy things in the future or roughing up for me.

The one thing that would complete me the most is doing the pilgrimage to the Camino De Santiago. I would like to do the toughest trail there that runs across Northern Spain, my favorite place in the world. It would be a dedication to my favorite country, the country that gave me the best memories and to my mother who passed away. I’m not getting any younger and i started hiking quite late in my years, the Camino De Santiago pilgrimage would be my swansong as I would end another chapter in my life.

You also love photography. Were you into photography before you started to enjoy the outdoors or did this come once you started to enjoy hiking?

Oh im not a photographer (laughs) I’m just a person who happens to take lots of pictures. I got my slr camera more than 3 years ago and I’m using it’s full capabilities. It doesn’t have anything to do with hiking. I like taking pictures of water where I could manipulate in the camera settings how the speed of water runs into the picture, and also night photography

I love the details of the certain structure, space or skyline if they are separated by different colors of light at night I always bring my tripod with me wherever I go because it is impossible to shoot these kinds of pictures without a tripod, and well then of course – the mountains. My ultimate dream is to catch a picture of the milky way in the night sky but unfortunately I live for a time being in the central part of Europe where there is too much light pollution.

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clockwise – Edificio Metrópolis, Madrid / the Akropolis and the Parthenon from the Lykavittos hill, Aathens / the springs of Kyra in Boeotia, Greece

Not only do you travel but you have also organized some travel for groups. One particular trip was to Iceland. Tell us about that and what you experienced from it?

(laughs) It was a crazy trip, I mean it was so multicultural with people from all parts of

the world. We did a roadtrip through Iceland’s great Ring Road. I co-organized it with Maike from the Netherlands at the time when Iceland was still in financial crisis (2010) even so, it was still expensive to do a trip circling the ring road (3000++ euros per person to do that with a tour) because most of the major attractions of  Iceland are located near the ringroad, so we decided to make it cheaply by inviting friends and friends of friends from Travbuddy website to share and cut the cost and doing it by ourselves, rent gigantic 4×4 vehicles and drive 1400 kms in 8 days and  do wild camping in Autumn (because in Scandinavia, except in Denmark – the law says that its legal to camp anywhere in the wilderness and outside of farmlands).

It was a trip full of craziness, the cars were our homes and we were a family during the duration of the trip, everyone relied on each other’s strength and capabilities because none of us had ever done this kind of trip before. We had the drivers, the route planners, the athletes who were in charge of wild camping and most important of all the guys who put humor into the situations The total cost of the trip was only around 700-800 euros per person so it was  really a good bargain to organize it ourselves rather than paying 3000++ euros per head for a tour.

Then of all the sites I saw in Iceland, I left a part of my heart in Reynisdrangar. Legend says that they were trolls caught in sunlight and turned to stone. Iceland is also the farthest and northern place I had been away from my home, the Philippines.

As for some crazy experiences: We were pardoned (?) by the police cause we sort of illegally camped near a farm, caught by a storm and in Iceland it is very windy some of our  tents just flew away, we trespassed a property to camp, drinking water coming from the glaciers, high camping at the base camp of Snaefellsjökull Volcano and camping at -7°c with windchill at lake Thingvallavatn, it was so icy and freezing cold. But  the crowning glory of our trip was seeing the elusive northern lights. That was purely magic.

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clockwise The troll rocks of Reynisdrangar in Iceland / the macizo central of the Picos De Europa mountain range / the rain shadow blanketing the Cantabrian sea from the mountain pass of Vega Urriellu / the high sea cliffs of Acantiladoes En La Serra Da Capelada in Galicia, Spain

You mentioned  wild camping. Could you tell us more  about this and the situations you have been in?

I love wild camping, specially in higher places around 2000 meters. Nothing beats eating food cooked in a gathered wood, and I love tomato beans and crackers, bread and cheese for dinner and then waking up in the morning in a great wide open,surrounded alone by wilderness, the wet ground from morning dew and the smell of crisp air and watching as the sun goes down casting shadows below as the clouds slowly moving in at sunset. Of course ingenuity and quick thinking also comes in how to survive with only limited resources.

The most extreme wild camping i did was in Iceland, -7°c plus the windchill factor but I do well in cold rather than camping in a jungle by the beach in the Philippines where it was so hot and humid and it was impossible to open the tent because mosquitos were coming in. What we did was we sprayed  our bodies with mosquito repellant. It kept the mosquitos away but not the heat though.

One particular moment was one of my best adventure friends Ben and I were stuck inside a tent for 11 hours camping high in the Cordillera mountains in the Philippines because of a storm. We couldn’t cook so we had to eat some noodles raw and we ran out of drinking water. We had to collect rain water from a pot (laughs).

Our tent was so small that one false move and rain water would seep in, miraculously we slept so well between loud thunder and lightning that in the morning we were greeted by chirping birds  and the slowly rising sun in the horizon breaking through the thick clouds.

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Could you leave us with some of your favourite inspirational quotes?

es necesario correr riesgos. sólo entendemos del todo el milagro de la vida cuando

dejamos que suceda lo inesperado.

“we have to take risks. we will only understand the miracle of life when we allow the

unexpected to happen.”

– by the river piedra,I sat down and wept (Paulo Coelho)

credit to Tracy Lagunero and Ian Fgueroa for some pics of Lauro

I would personally like to thank Lauro for participating in this interview and providing some amazing photos. You can find more about Lauro and read his blog’s here

I will leave you with his favourite photo.

Lau Ro

If you have any questions for Lauro, you can leave them in the comments box. I’m sure he would be happy to answer any questions

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