2016 : My Year Of Awesome “First Times”

2016 : My Year Of Awesome “First Times”

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I can’t believe the year 2016 has closed as I write this personal note. Where did the 365 days actually go? It is crazy how time flies when you are having so much fun they say! Surely 2016 wasn’t all about triumphs and glory, in fact, I had the most tragic loss this year when I had to let go of my greatest friend, Grace Nobleza. This website was actually put up in memory of her. (Read A Walk to Remember) Then again, endings are beginnings of beautiful things. And 2016 proved to be just that; beginnings of an even more exciting adventure ahead!

Bucari, Leon

As I am working on the draft of this post, I jotted down my most memorable experiences this year and I was surprised that I had one too many unforgettable stories to tell! Or maybe it’s kind of normal that I just talk a lot? Haha! Anyways, I narrowed down my list to 15 awesome “First-times” and here it goes.

15. First time to engage with LEGIT social media and travel celebrities.

This year Ashley Yee,  and I had the opportunity to meet and travel with two amazing vloggers and power couple, Christian Leblanc and Laura Reid. We linked up and traveled around the beautiful island of Bohol, Philippines. We explored the hidden beauty of Anda, away from the popular destination which is Panglao. They were such genuine people and were generous enough to share with us tips on how to grow our own personal social media platforms. I bet Christian will not ever forget this trip for the reason that he crashed his “flying turkey” while shooting aerial content there. It was terrible but he chose to look on the brighter side of things and moved forward. Mad props!

Way before his rise to FAAAAAAAME, I was already a HUUUUUUGE fan of THE ONE AND ONLY, S.A.M K.O.L.D.E.R! I can’t even contain how much I respect his artistry. He is just insanely talented and has a creative eye that is larger than life. Okay, I am fan-boying now. Sorry! hahaha! But as I was saying, I had a few conversations with him before he made it big as he’s now a part of the prestigious BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS team. So when he followed me on Instagram, I almost lost my shit for real! You have no idea! It’s one thing to idolize celebrities but it’s totally different to idolize celebrities who actually influence and inspire your life! Thanks, Sam! Close kami kaya first-name basis. Wag kayong ano! LMAO!

Future member of Beautiful Destinations. Chos!
Future member of Beautiful Destinations. Chos!

14. First time to go on a solo adventure.

I am a travel addict but it is a bit ironic that I have never tried traveling solo. I’ve been wanting to do this but I’d usually hold back for some reasons. Then one day, I decided to just go and follow my gut even if it was not a major trip. For someone who is social and outgoing, I thought traveling solo could get a bit boring. I was proven wrong. I immersed myself with the experience in ways I never do when I travel with a group. It was so liberating to say the least. You should try it for once in your life, too!

Dau Falls, Samboan

13. First time to get robbed with money in Thailand.

Thailand has TOURIST TRAPS written all over it. I cringe. It was my second time in Bangkok and it remained a haunting city as it was. I was not “literally” robbed or held up in Thailand but their sketchy and disgusting monkey-businesses targeted to trap tourists are just hideous! I will write a separate blog on this soon. Just to give you a heads up, consider it a RED FLAG when a Thai local speaks good English and is acting like a good samaritan to assist you in every way possible. They are scams! I mean, most of them are.

12. First time to climb a legit mountain.

If someone asks me if I am more of a beach or mountain adventurer, I would say beach in a heartbeat. However, when I had my first ever legit climb at Mt. Binacayan this year, I couldn’t answer the same thing right now. There is just something about the great outdoors that made me love it like instantaneously. Cliche as it may sound, mountain climbing really pushes you to the limits. I was not even halfway through the climb when I felt numbing on my knees. It scared me because I was not conditioned at all; but I was left with no choice but to finish the race. And when I reached the summit, all of my doubts vanished in thin air. It gave me the same fulfillment when I get awarded at work. In short, it was a sweet taste of VICTORY! And I had a “pabebe” moment with a cutie at the summit! LOL!

11. First time to see dolphins in the wild.

Our trip to Manjuyod Sandbar was very special for me. For one, I met and gained a good friend after that adventure through the person of Tia Lacson. Another thing is, I had an epic encounter with my spirit animal- the Dolphins! They were such a joy to watch from a very close distance. I reacted like a 4-year old child taken to his favorite play park. It was a struggle to act like a grown up for each time the dolphins would show off and do tricks! 😀

Follow instagram.com/joweetoroy for more adventures!

Our Manjuyod travel video became our first solid viral content, reaching 6 figures in social media views. It got featured in online magazines and hubs which, in effect, helped kick off the local tourism in Manjuyod and our social media influence as well. The most gratifying result of this trip is the random messages we received from locals thanking us for presenting their silent town to the rest of the world, perhaps. Nothing compares to that.

10. First time to go on a backpacking adventure.

My siblings and I are the type of travelers who will bring a closet for an overnight trip. We squeeze as much clothes and non-sense stuff into our luggages and we find it so much fun! It took a while for me to get used to backpacking but I got the hang of it a few travels later. This particular trip was like a real-lfe Amazing Race. We were hopping from one place to another, racing against time and battling with comfort. The word epic perfectly describes this trip because we trekked to summits and dove certain depths. We saw the Milkyway, lightnings and fog invasions at Osmena Peak all in one night! And the best part was spending 5 days with the most awesome group of friends.

Backpacking South Cebu

Backpacking South Cebu


9. First time to ride the longest wave of my life.

My first attempt at clumsy and amateur surfing was in Baler, Aurora and since then, I just wanted to learn the sport. Go-getter as I am, I set a goal to actually do a legit ride thru the waves so we flew to Siargao. After a good number of fails and falls, I was able to finally stand tall on my board! Yeahhhh! I felt like a pro and at some point. I thought all eyes were on me when I managed to maneuver the board and stand all the way to the shore! HAHAHA! That was the feeling. You’ll understand if you’re a noob and you experience the same thing. 😛 There is no better place to surf than the wonderful island of Siargao! Siargao is like no other. The vibrance of the island and the natural charm of the local will tug your hearts, making it hard to leave.

8. First time to actually chase the Milkyway.

It was a spur of the moment plan with my great buddies. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I read about the meteor shower forecast that night and it was New Moon, then. My friends and I decided to drive just a few kilometers away from the city but ended up in the mountains! Hahaha! Upon reaching Don Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental we still can’t find a perfect spot to frame our shots. So we decided to get into the woods and go to the land area that my family acquired just to check what’s good. We were still unlucky as we were welcomed with a cloudy sky and chances of rainfall. It was 12 midnight so we decided to stay for a bit and kept our hopes up. After an hour, our jaw literally dropped with what we saw from inside our car. The Milkyway was right there in front of us in its full glory! It is true that patience is a virtue. And you know what’s the best realization after this? It is the fact that on its season, the Milkyway is positioned right in front of our property! I need to build my humble house there soon!

7. First time to travel cross-country.

One of my dreams in life is to join The Amazing Race. Really. So while I continue dreaming that dream, I decided to do my own version of it according to my rules, pace and destinations. Living in Asia, the most perfect fit for this adventure is the Indochina leg. I traveled with great friends to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. It was a trip of a lifetime! It was during this time that it dawned on me that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I just want to explore the world and see life in the most beautiful way. I don’t want to tire myself making as much money that I wouldn’t be needing. I mean, I don’t have eternity to spend all that I have. I thought I just need money that is enough to make me live and fund my travels as I continue to be an instrument of inspiration for others. I started to draft my life goals after this trip. It was an eye-opener. By 2018, I will cross bridges and direct my life the way I wanted to live it. 🙂


Indochina6. First time to land front page feature on a newspaper.

I remember how much I rejoiced over a repost from an Instagram hub 6 months ago. I would laugh at myself when I vividly remember how I would react when I get a repost. It just felt so good then and I am grateful for all those features and mentions because it helped me build my platform. Until last November, my biggest feature to date happened. My scuba diving photo with the sea turtles in Apo Island landed on a newspaper. It was on FRONT PAGE! I am honored.

5. First time to witness a proposal at a mountain top.

This is the most poignant memory I will keep of 2016. Two of my great friends got engaged in one of the scenic places in the country. Ashley and I documented the heart-warming event and it still moves me to tears everytime I watch the video. However, fate twisted the love story into something else. My greatest friend was later diagnosed with the fucking “C” and was gone too soon. Life is so full of suprises; we will never be prepared enough.

4. First time to experience the biggest scare of my life.

Nothing haunts me more than the memory that I almost lost my life while on a great adventure. We were wild river rafting and the strong currents threw me off the raft! Not only that, I got stuck under our own raft for under a minute. Good thing that I could hold my breath a bit longer than most average people could. However, when I resurfaced, another raft came crashing straight into my head, giving me a huge blow! Think about a Manny Pacquiao killer punch; yes it was that intense! But you know, when it’s not your time, you’ll survive. And I did. God must have bigger plans for me, I believe. I lost my GoPro in the process though.

3. First time to be included on a list of amazing photographers.

Amongst all of the other features I had this year, this one is the most meaningful. STATUS Magazine rolled out their annual list of the fresh photographers they have their eye on for 2017; and I made the cut! I was ecstatic to learn about this because I came to realize that I am actually on the right track. For people from the creative industry to even consider me on the list is so validating. Citations like this just fuels my drive to improve and continue to share stories of my travel through my photos and blogs. Expect more inspiration and awesome travel stories from me next year! 🙂

2. First time to experience Autumn season.

It was also autumn season when I went to South Korea a few years back but I arrived a little too early. Except on our way to Nami Island, I did not really see that much foliage. So I consider my trip to Japan as my first legit autumn experience. From a guy who only gets either just rainy or sunny days, Japan was a total breather. The temperature dropped to as low as 5 degrees and I had the time of my life then. I fancy wearing autumn/winter collections and I was able to do that! Scarves, gloves, boots and layers of clothing- I LOVED IT! I can’t even name one thing I could hate about Japan. I loved every bit of it and I wish to go back soon. It is safe to say that I fell in love with it but I never expected that my trip will end up as a beautiful mess! I missed my return flight! Hahaha! But will not elaborate on this one as I just want to remember all the good memories I had at the land of the rising sun.




1. First time to finally align my future plans with my mom.

Nothing compares to my family when it comes to support system. If there is one thing I loved about 2016 it is the fact that I have finally found the courage to work on my life goals. I told my mom about my future personal and career plans with a bit of anxiety that it may not sit well on her. But to my surprise, I got her full support! Her plans were aligned with mine through which I confirmed that I will be making the right decision soon. 2017 will be my year to solidify my ground, sharpen my sword and prepare myself for the biggest chapter of my life yet. I’ve never wanted to live this life in such a way that I will just make a lot of money but compromise LIFE in the process . All I ever want is to go through the unknown, touch as many lives, take as many photographs and come back home fulfilled. 2017 is going to prepare me for that. I am ready!

I just wanna give a huge shout out to my great friend who’s based in the USA. He doesn’t want to be named, but “Bro, THANK YOUUUUU so much for doing this with me.” He is the one responsible for developing and maintaining this blog to serve you better. And selfless as he is, he never charged a single cent! Be blessed a thousand fold return, Bro!

So there you go, guys! Thank you so much for supporting me all the way and for taking time to read my blogs and appreciate my photographs. I thank everyone of you who sent me random messages of gratitude. It melts my heart whenever someone tells me that I inspire you through my stories and photos. May God bless you with an awesome life, too! 2016 was just testing the waters; 2017 will be a year of getting equipped and 2018 will be the LEAP OF FAITH. I wish that you will still be with me when I cross that bridge. 🙂 Cheers to an awesome 2017, guys! God bless you with your heart’s desires! Mahal ko kayo! Hahaha!


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  1. Terina

    Keep up the good work Sir Mark. I so envy your posts and blog, so informative and very detailed. So perfect indeed! Thanks for inspiring us, your readers and supporters. Be happy and God bless! 🙂

    January 15, 2018 Reply
    • Mark Roa

      Thanks for dropping a comment, Cath!! 🙂 Melts my heart. haha Hope to see you on the road soon. God bless you even more 🙂

      January 16, 2018 Reply


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