Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Fly, Work, Fly, Work

I am terrible at this. I missed all of May (my birth month!) when I wanted to share about the trips leading to my birthday. I went to Camiguin and Ilocos Norte in a span of two weeks, and I was exhausted but so, so content.

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It's June now, and I'm flying to the US in a few hours: primarily for work, but it's easy to enjoy anywhere. If anyone is interested in watching our concert tour of the west coast, go to Music Arts Events for the details.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Old Manila, New Eyes

On palm Sunday, I was a tourist in my country's own capital upon the invitation of one of my best girls, Clarissa. She wanted to show her Romanian friend around, who was in town for the weekend; so through a simple Google search, she found Old Manila Walks and easily booked and paid online. I didn't know which tour outfit she picked, but when I arrived at the meeting place, I was told to look for a certain Ivan. When I saw the man holding the telltale blue umbrella, I recognized him from a few years ago, when I did the Big Binondo Food Wok that his group also offers. 

The Walls of This Content! was a walking tour around Intramuros that took us through some of the more important landmarks of this "walled city." I'd been to Intramuros several times before, but nothing beats having someone narrating your journey with stories from 400 years of history. We started at Plaza Roma, and worked our way through the Manila Cathedral, the Intramuros Walls, and the San Agustin Church and monastery. Each stop highlighted different periods and events, which added value to all the physical structures we were surrounded with. 

Gates to the Walled City
Filipiniana Mother Mary
At the Manila Cathedral, captioned Our Lady of the Philippines
Death of Christ
Replica of Michelangelo's Pieta made from the same mold

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Stone Structures
The streets to ourselves

It was a hot and humid day, and by the time we reached San Agustin, we welcomed the roof over our heads and the air-conditioning in the museum. The place was lavish, with wide halls and high-ceilinged rooms filled with expensive artifacts that all betrayed the corruption of the Spanish friars. 

Handless saints - the ivory appendages are stored elsewhere for safekeeping
At San Agustin's courtyard
2-year old Alessi, enjoying the cold marble in San Agustin's museum

Brick facade
Bike Tours
A baby Bambike (bamboo bike) from the thoughtful owner

The tour ended with a visit to Casa Manila, one of the reconstructed colonial dwellings in Barrio San Luis. As we entered the complex, we bumped into the Bambike Intramuros Experience; and while the tourists were returning their wheels, the owner lent our little girl a tiny version! After allowing her to play for a few minutes, we proceeded inside the casa.

This was my favorite part of the tour for two reasons: 1) it was my first time there, unlike the other places we visited, and 2) there were so many unique items in the house that let me imagine what it was like to live in the start of the century, like betel nut spit bowls, a literal ice-box for refrigeration, and a manually-operated ceiling fan (see in video below).

Turn of the century kitchen with molds, irons, oven
Vintage baking molds
Biscuit molds with religious themes
Love toilet?? Apparently for gossiping in the bathroom!
It was an afternoon well-spent, educational for our foreign guests and a reintroduction for me. Our package cost P7,920 for a maximum of 6 people (and P1,320 for every additional person) and it was worth it.

Candle Dance
Twirling in this exuberant candle dance

Candle Dance
In traditional Filipino fiesta garb

We capped the day at Barbara's, an iconic restaurant on the cobbled road of Plaza San Luis. The dinner buffet was P699, which already included a cultural show. We arrived at the perfect time, with dinner service starting at 6:30, and the show at 7:15. The menu included squash soup, buttered fresh beans and corn, steamed fish with mushroom, callos madrileños, chicken with peanut sauce, roast beef, baked mashed potato, fried heart of palm lumpia, pasta, paella, and dessert of sesame banana, sweet potato fritters, and fresh tropical fruits. My favorites were the soup, fish, callos, chicken, lumpia, and all the dessert. I came in very hungry, so I managed to eat a lot. I wasn't expecting much, as with many buffets, but I give it many happy thumbs up! 

On top of that, the performers at the show were young but well-trained. It started with an excellent rondalla ensemble that played Filipino folk songs and Spanish-inspired pieces (like the Prelude to Act I of Carmen), and later the same musicians traded in their strings for gongs and other native instruments. They accompanied the dancers in numbers like the Pandanggo sa Ilaw, Maglalatik, Singkil, and the most popular TiniklingI was entertained from start to finish, even for someone familiar with the craft. I'm adding the place to my go-to balikbayan and foreign visitor musts the next time I need to play tourism ambassador.

What places do you usually bring your guests to? I'd love to have more suggestions.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Masungi Georeserve: Benchmark of Conservation

The iconic giant spiderweb made of steel wires

Since Masungi opened its gates to the public in December of 2015, I've been intrigued by the photos on my social media feeds. Visits are by reservation only, so after two foiled plans of going, I was invited by fellow Mabuhaykers with only two days notice and finally went. Lately, spontaneous has always worked out the best for me, despite my propensity for thorough research and detailed itineraries. 

Located in Baras, Rizal, it was just a surprising hour and a half away from my part of the city, even on a Wednesday morning. We left at roughly 6:30 am, and arrived at San Andres, Tanay by 8:30 am -- we had apparently gone past it on the highway for several kilometers at that point. With time to kill until our 12:40 pm tour, we decided to look for Kinabuan Falls, which was said to be nearby. 

Entering through the same arch as I did a month ago en route to Mt. Batolusong, we asked around for Kinabuan on Mt. Ibid, but received mixed information. To cut this part of the story short, it turned out it was at least 10 km away from the highway on very rough roads, and the hike a good 14 hours to and from the falls, so we knew it was an adventure for another day. Even the alternative Mt. Maynuba and Mt. Cayabu with its "8 Wonder Falls" would've had us pressed for time, even if it was much closer to where we were.

Idyllic landscapes and cool, crisp air
 Crispy Talong & Calamari at Cafe Katerina: delicious food, beautiful view, and golden retrievers

We killed time at Cafe Katerina, a restaurant by the highway further down, and apparently frequented by cross-country bikers. Our al fresco table had a killer view of the mountain ranges, the winding road below, Laguna de Bay in the horizon, and even the windmills of Pililla to the far right. It was cool enough for my companions to sport their jackets and leg warmers. 

We were greeted by a friendly Golden Retriever, and as it led me in, I saw that they were a pack of about 6 dogs! Anyone who knows me can guess what happened after that... I played with all of them, except a black retriever, who was chained up, looking moody. The staff warned that he was known to snap at people on "off days." Oh yeah, we were talking about the restaurant, count on me to get sidetracked by dogs. 

Ate Isay ordered longganisa with garlic rice and a side of crispy eggplant, Kuya Robert got some sort of beef stew, and I got the calamari and crispy talong pictured above. All the food were well seasoned and prepared, with hefty servings good for sharing, and prices ranged between ~P90-200 only. Certain value for money, and I'd definitely eat there again next time.

Photo grabbed from

I was introduced to the rest of the group when they caught up with us there for lunch, and then we convoyed to Masungi. The entrance to the place is easy to miss with its classy minimalist sign bearing its logo and the words "KM47 Baras, Rizal." From the highway, only a small parking lot is in view; and it's not until you take a short walk down a path past a tower with buzzing power lines that you will see the receiving area. They had tables to gather people for the welcome orientation, shelves for bags and helmets, and clay pots to refill bottles with mineral water. The paths were lined with colorful flowers and marked with sketched wooden signs.

Wild tomatoes by the path that a caretaker gave me to plant

We were assigned a tour guide who took us around the trails and gave a little information about each highlighted area. From the top of my head, she took us through 3 hanging bridges, the famous spiderweb, 3 prominent peaks nicknamed Tatay, Nanay, and Ditse, a small cave with great natural light (yes, good for pictures), and numerous hammocks of different sizes, styles, and shapes. She coordinated with the other guides to ensure well-timed stops at each location.

Labeled as Suotan, loosely translated as pathway or somewhere you can squeeze into
One of several hanging bridges
Could this be the biggest hammock in the world?
Swings inside a hut: unusual but fun
Mosaics that feature some of the endemic animals found in those mountains: this one is the mouse deer
After descending a rope section, it extends to the other side of the forest
I took this from the highest point of Tatay, my companions on the way up
Sunset of a really good day
LOVE the entire project, from its beginnings of stepping up against illegal loggers and miners, to their dedication to the conservation of the environment. Their values really reflect in the guide's opening spiel about respecting everyone and everything in the mountains, which you can hear a snippet of in the short video below. I'd love our hiking guides to say a similar spiel in all the destinations in communities around the country. I wish all people could hear it and live it. LOVE the bathroom facilities, built into the natural rock of the mountains, with amenities like sunscreen, lotion, and mosquito repellant. LOVE the many hammocks, but being a timed visit, we couldn't really stay and lounge in them for very long. LOVE the cleanliness and maintenance of the trails, it's a really good way to ease new hikers into going outdoors. LOVE the included snacks at the end of the hike, so thoughtfully packed under a net; it was like opening a gift to reveal a loaf of bread, lettuce, tuna salad, bananas, and calamansi juice.

LUKEWARM about the cave scented with ylang-ylang, although it did mask the smell of guano that I despise. LUKEWARM about our guide who came late and who, in the end, seemed very irritable toward us (though she told a story about visitors that appreciate the surprise appearances of wild animals that I liked). 
Overall, it's a safe and wonderful place to re/introduce nature to city-dwellers, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a couple of free hours -- because really, that's all it takes. A short drive to Rizal and 3-4 hours of walking = breathing fresh air, appreciating birdsong and silence, and burning a few calories in the process.

1. Go to the Masungi Georeserve Website and request a visit. Again, they're by appointment only, so walk-ins are not accommodated.
2. We paid P1,500/person for a group of 7. Accepted group sizes are 7 and 14, no more and no less.
3. Check the weather to dress accordingly. I was in shorts and a tank top, and it was fine; but I can imagine it getting nippier in the rainy season or in our cooler months. Wear comfortable walking shoes or sandals, though I discourage slippers (I don't know if they have official regulations against it). No need to worry about scratches, as the trails have been well-manicured, though for those who want extra protection from stray branches or itchy tree trunks, you may want to wear pants and gloves. They provide helmets, and because the trails weave through the many rock formations, you will really need it. They sanitize them, and in fact, we saw them out drying under the sun after a wash. 
4. Must be fit enough to walk up to 4 hours, though there are many resting areas along the way; and rope sections need some sort of upper body strength and good grip.
5. Always be aware of your surroundings, look at where you are going and stepping.
6. Listen to your guides and adhere to their rules. Some photos are not worth stepping (or jumping!) into danger for.

I'd love to hear what you think, and hope to see you out there soon. That's a lot of things done, just in One Day,


Monday, March 6, 2017

The Catch-Up Storybook: Half a Year

I've been away. I didn't realize that 6, almost 7, months had passed since my last entry. Since the last one was written at a sad time for me, some of you might've wondered if I had given this up altogether; but no, I'm still here. Just taking it one day at a time.

Let's see, I was sick for half of August, but still managed a trip to my favorite island, Coron

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Mt. Tapyas

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Mt. Dalara

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Kayaking in the mangroves

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Caught in a storm at sea

I kicked off September with the launch of our third album, Sa Panaginip Lang (Only In Dreams,) and spent most of the month promoting it on TV, radio, and other platforms. 

Come October, we were off on our US concert tour, spanning New York, New Jersey, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu. At every stop, I managed to escape work to roam in and out of cities for a few hours, and I'm grateful for all the friends who shared their time to be with me.

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Watchung Reservation, New Jersey

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Park Avenue, New York

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Muir Woods Redwood Forest, San Francisco

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Lake Hollywood Park, Los Angeles

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Topanga State Park, Los Angeles

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Waikiki, Honolulu

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Halei'wa, North Shore

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Koko Head, Oahu

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Stairway to Heaven, Oahu

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Ka'iwi Coast, Oahu

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Golden Gate Bridge view from the residence of the Philippine Consul General

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Lulumahu Falls, Oahu

When we arrived in Manila in November, it was back to work for everyone. I spent those weeks picking up the backlog from my clinical practice, setting make-up therapy sessions with my clients, and finishing progress reports. In December, things started to get busy with holiday events. We were invited to fly to Cebu for a gig, and it gave me the chance to visit its less-traveled spots afterward. 

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Osmeña Peak, Dalaguete, Cebu

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Kawasan Falls, Moalboal, Cebu

Night by night, I was glad to have the time to attend get-togethers with friends, and appreciate how we'd all grown, yet again, as adults through the year. We celebrated quite early, because I was going to be spending the holidays out of the country for the first time in my life. Since my sister is currently based in Sydney, we decided to travel to her, so we can all experience a different kind of Christmas and New Year's Eve. I'll post separately on it, but for now, here are some shots from when we visited the beach and the Blue Mountains.

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Manly to Shelly Beach, NSW Australia

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Blue Mountains, NSW Australia

Since we were already in the region, we went even further south and spent a couple of days in New Zealand. That deserves its own post as well, because I was so happy to be back after 10 years; and perhaps because of how much I've changed since then, it seemed even more beautiful. 

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Hobbiton, Matamata, New Zealand

I dedicated all of January to work, and started writing my friends' second book. The process was slow because I was whisked away on all weekends of February. We had gigs with a foundation, for a baptism, and I got the opportunity to sing with one of my favorite local artists. Sometime in and around that period, I took a friend's fiancé to see the clouds, and I hiked through some canyons and visited several shores

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Duhatan Ridge, Mt. Batolusong, Tanay, Rizal

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Mt. Isarog, Naga, Bicol

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Panicuason Hot and Cold Springs, Naga, Bicol

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 Canyoneering adventure, Badian, Cebu

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Hermit's Cove, Aloguinsan, Cebu

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Thunderbird, Poro Point, La Union

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Flotsam and Jetsam, San Juan, La Union

Whew! It's March now, and I'm renewing my passport in April. Let's see where else this year takes me. I'm, more than ever, encouraged to keep exploring and finding wherever happiness leads me... and I wish everyone could have a piece of that. So, I'll put it out there for commitment: I'll be sharing my travel itineraries! If I help even one person put together an enjoyable trip, it'll all be worth it. Bye for now, and MABUHAY!