Tuesday, September 27, 2011

unique, weird and bizarre travel essentials

Fifteen of today's most prolific Filipino travel bloggers (with a cult following to boot) share some secrets with me. This entry offers first-hand information outside the circle for the first time. A few of their answers are suggestive and may offend polite society while others are wrapped in an air of mystery. Nax! Dramatic intro, ah! 

Now, in the spirit of fun and free speech, I've asked the well-known and quirky Pinoy travel bloggers what travel essentials they have. Dig down deep. Inside their backpacks or sling bags are some unique and weird if not bizarre travel secrets you never imagined they keep. From action figures to toothpick to practical stuff like pepper spray, kissing kit that contains mint and toothbrush, to oil control film to objects that need verification from Ripley's believe it or not: handcuffs, nails, chainsaw and more. Reminds me of a colleague who keeps a rubber in his wallet for prosperity. Go figure!

Let the cat out of the bag!

ChiChi Bacolod of wearesolesisters.com:

"Gatsby's oil control film because I have skin that produces so much oil, you can deep fry potato wedges with it. Oiliness is next to godliness, that's what they say."

Monette Fernandez of fliptravels.com:

"Hangover sweets. Di mo alam kung kailan ka tatamaan ng kalasingan. Mabuti na yong handa. Which reminds me, I need a refill!"

Robx Bautista of thetravellingdork.com:

"My fox hat and a pack of toothpicks."

Lauren Gaile of pandelicious.wordpress.com:

"Food for bribing purposes. ATM card (kahit probinsiya) and cute socks."

Marky Ramone Go of nomadicexperiences.com:

"Handcuffs, saw, hammer, 12 inch nails, masking tape, rope."

Brenna Bustamante of philippinetravelogue.com:

 "Tictac. The same reason with Monette. Lipgloss (weird ba to? haha) and tear gas or pepper spray"

Eileen Campos of possiblypinay.com:

"Foldable shopping bags (less plastic and multipurpose-laundry bag), payong (kasi waterproof material gamit ko), pasalubong center."

Jerome Baluyut of balintataw.org:

"Toothbrush & paste (kasi pagnakatulog ka na minsan sa kalasingan at least pag gising mo pwede na mag toothbrush agad lol), mints (sagot sa kagutuman kapag nakalimutan mong bumili or kumain before or during the ride), eyeglasses (malabo kasi mata ko) --- weird ba yun?"

Ron Cruz of fliptravels.com:

"1. captain ronron & cowgirl monmon (action figures/dolls from Nina) 2. my old straw hat 3. kissing kit (breath freshner, vanilla mint lip balm, hand sanitizer) ... di mo alam kung kailan ka tatamaan ng kalandian... buti nang handa."

Lai Marie Mirasol of pinaytravelista.com:

"1. toothbrush and paste 2. box ng Band Aid and alcohol, for the usual cuts I get sa pagiging klutz ko and 3. surgical scissors! LOL! Ewan ko bakit ayaw magpa.iwan nito.. parang may Operation Tuli akong palaging pinupuntahan!"

Nicely Rom of travelingnicely.com:

"Advil for migraine and lomotil for lbm, 2. pangshave ng kilikili para smooth skin always lalo na pag beach trip, and 3. mouthwash for kissing purposes."

Gay Mitra-Emami of pinaytraveljunkie.com:

"‎1. small toy (for luna) 2. water bottle (kuripot bumili ng inumin) 3. eyelash curler."

Darwin Miranda Cayetano of trackingtreasure.net:

"medicine kit (seriously laging meron bag ko nyan), ID (if ever may mangyare sakin atleast my identification), lip balm (hahahaha, mabilis kasi matuyo labi ko, sa lamig at init, bigla nalang dumudugo)"

Doi Domasian of travellingfeet.com:

“Nail cutter - alternative to scissors especially sa flights. Toothbrush & toothpaste - in case I decide to eat adobong pusit or daing or kahit anong malansang food.”

Kara Santos of travelingup.wordpress.com:

I always bring a mini-swissknife and several buffs/multipurpose headwear (aside from being a bandana, it's served as a motorcycle mask, eyemask to sleep in buses and planes, camera protector if it suddenly rains, instant handkerchief, pamunas ng chair, and a host of other things).

What are yours?

pre-departure area massage by blind massuers

I have the impression that anything that has to do with services in airports and seaports equate highway robbery, I mean, a hefty price tag. Budget traveler that I am, I always make sure to get last-minute take-away meals, pasalubong and other services in the nearest one-stop mall. (SM and Kultura Filipino, you are mannas from heaven for a frugal traveler like me!)

But on this latest trip, my assumption was downright wrong.

I arrive a tad too early here at the Supercat Terminal building for my Cebu-Tagbilaran(Php520.00/pax/way) trip. With nothing else to do but kill time, I check the few stalls in the terminal building. One food stall at the ground floor offers good food and reasonable rates. I walk up the ramp, check-in and proceed to the waiting area. Last time I was here, with a few minutes to burn, I bought a wifi coupon (Php80.00) at the stall near the gate so I could browse the web while waiting for departure.  The hall is still empty when I get in. I walk toward the back end and stumbl upon a curtained area at the edge of the hall. Actually, I know this area so well since I passed by here many times before. In fact, I always see these guys in the same corner wearing a pair of scrub suit and sunglasses the color of midnight.

I approach one guy who appears to be the receptionist. Surprise, surprise! Seventy pesos for a half-hour massage and Php140.00 for one hour! That affordable. With an hour to go before boarding time, I get myself the one-hour massage. 

The PWD (person with disability) massuer assigned to me is Roel. He lives in Labangon with his wife and their daughter. In the course of our conversation, I find out that he is blind since birth. Makes me ponder deeply what his images of this world are like. A world he has experienced but has never seen. I look at his face. No trace of regret or angst. Only acceptance and inner peace.

Roel with the aid of his cane, actually commutes to and from the terminal every work day. He takes the jeepney from Labangon (a barangay 40 minutes away from his workplace) by his lonesome. 

Within an hour of good head, back, leg and foot massage that relax my tired body and sole, ermm, soul, I get it from Roel that Supercat actually provides the massage corner for free. And then, ten percent of the massage fee goes to the PWD's organization fund while another 10 percent goes to the guide/receptionist. The rest is Roel's take home pay. 

Let's all support Roel and other PWDs earn a decent living. 

SUPERCAT TRAVEL TIP: At the check-in counter, you can choose your seat at no extra cost. For solo travelers who want personal space and wide legroom, 9c and 9j are my top pick. 12c and 12j are reserved for people with disability. 

Last call for boarding na. Got to go!

See you on the road!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

your guide to Bohol countryside (tour balik sa Bohol, balik)

The day ahead is going to be long! Fret not, I tell everyone, because the day also holds pleasant surprises and amazing encounters. Their faces glow with anticipation. At the back of the bus though, I think I see eyes rolling with the thought bubble saying yeah, right! hahaha

While we are at it, here's the lowdown on the places we will visit:

  • Tarsier Sanctuary, Corella 
  • Chocolate Hills, Carmen 
  • Butterfly Garden, Bilar 
  • Bamboo Bridge with Buko (coconut) King, Sevilla 
  • Floating restaurant for lunch, Loboc 
  • Sandugo Marker, Loay (
  • Philippine Python, Alburquerque
  • Baclayon Church and Museum, Baclayon 
  • and then Prawn Farm for dinner, Island City Mall in Tagbilaran 

Unlike in the past when we missed the floating restaurant schedule and had to wait for one slow, torturing hour, today the tour starts at 8 in the morning so there will be enough window time to wriggle around.

It's a pleasant surprise to see a videoke machine (free-of-charge) in the bus! What a wicked way to kill  the one hour and a half travel time to Chocolate Hills (Php50.00/pax).

In no time, the hills begin to appear as the bus rolls into the Chocolate Hills complex! Huge mounds of Hershey's chocolate kisses that seemed to be dropped from the vanilla sky! Because I told everyone I will give a prize to those who can give me the exact number of hills in the complex, a number of kids start to count the hills one by one. Sweet.

As the bus comes to a full stop, everyone is reminded about the 20-minute rule to take-in the scenery or explore the area. Controlled time. Always the downside of going in a tour group.

The hills are actually spread throughout five or six towns but the best place to see them is at the Carmen viewing deck.The other viewing deck, a bit off-the-beaten with a hideous design replete with dinosaur statue and what-not is in Sagbayan town. 

Did you see the photo that hog the front page of the Sunday issue of Philippine Daily Inquirer a few years ago? The photo below did not make it! hahaha. Just inspired by that classic jump shot that became viral. Here, taken two years ago:

The ugly fence! Whoever designed this must be stoned or barb wired to death! Good thing the management tear down some parts already. You should have seen how, a year before, jump shots were done with the hills eternally frozen in time on tarpaulin!! wtf! I'm glad mine had the real hills as backdrop!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

pssst, psst. balut for foreigners!

Psst, pssst, psssssst! 
Welcome to the Philippines, Joe! You like it hot? 16 or 21?

"Right now we’re smiling at you because we are curious as to what you, a foreigner, are doing in our country. Are you a corporate executive, a chef, a diplomat? A retired soldier fetching your fiancĂ©e whom you met online, or a Brazilian model? A Peace Corps volunteer or an NGO worker? A tourist drawn by our famous beaches, or just looking to get laid? Filipino curiosity is insatiable. We have to be in the know. We don’t even have to do anything with the knowledge, we just have to know. 
No doubt you have been told that we pride ourselves on our hospitality. Our hospitality is not a PR thing; it is genuine. We are glad that you’ve come all the way here—we like having guests. You are someone new to talk about. Entertaining others entertains us."--Jessica Zafra

I'm talking about a chick, Joe, snuggled inside a shell:

What were you thinking, Joe?

Balut is a fertilized duck embryo, boiled and eaten while its warm. As my expat friend aptly growled: this.is.chicken abortion! He got the 21-day balut! I'd recommend, for starters, try the 16-day first. Then chug an iced-cold San Miguel beer after you chow down the poor thing.

Balut is believed to be an aphrodisiac and rich in protein.

This Filipino street food has been doing the rounds in international media circuit. Not too long ago, one contestant in Amazing Race cried buckets before she swallowed whole the embryo. Did I mention she puked after? Overacting na ha! It's just egg yolk for Pete's sake! Egg yolk with beak, a little feather here and there and of course those cute little feet and claw! How crunchy! hahahahaha

It's not funny anymore if you only saw how these adorable kids want to go home first week into Philippine Culture class. Look!

But why do these kids look excited!? It's beyond me! They were supposed to cry!

Oh, by the way, we eat balut with a dash of salt and a sprinkle of vinegar with chilli. Just leave the hardened egg white to the dogs.

We teachers here are not that awfully bad, you know. So, we reward them with something to chug after the hurdle. Definitely not an iced-cold beer!

We reward them with halo-halo-- a Filipino dessert with these ingredients: fresh mixed fruits, nata de coco, kaong, crushed ice, evaporated milk and a generous ice cream topping. Mix them well and slurp. Weird match though, balut and halo-halo.

Psssst, psssst. Don't get offended Joe if I called your attention by pssst, psssting you. It's just hey! loosely translated in a country with 175 different languages.

So there. I wish you a happy journey to my country's 1,707 islands 7,107 islands!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

a tip to save on food while creating memorable connections while traveling

I love to eat! We all love to eat!

I'd like to believe that food holds the key to unlocking the richness and complexity of a culture. Wow, that.statement.was.brainfuck!

In practical sense, let's face it, food eats (pun intended) a big chunk of a traveler's budget. Alcohol and drugs come close at second spot. Of course, I'm kidding on the alcohol and drugs part! hahahaha. That is just silly statistics.

I call myself the sleeveless cook for no reason! lol

Don't be fooled by the sheer opening lines of this post. This entry is really about cooking while on the road. To save on food expenses while traveling long term, Do-It-Yourself cooking is the way to go! I just can't survive on toast and marmalade free breakfast in hostels. I want just a cup of rice any given meal (that's the undeniably Pinoy me) and I'm good to go. I save on breakfast and then maybe lunch and then splurge on dinner! How's that flashpacker united?

I've tried cooking a hundred times whenever I travel. And because I try to cook as much as I can, I look for accommodations with cooking facilities. By far, cooking for my home-stay family in Batanes was the most memorable episode!

The food below I prepared them myself. They are awesome, surefire conversation (and at the same time edible) pieces over lunch or dinner. A bit of trivia: Do you know that avocado originally came from (just like mango) Mexico? The galleon trade brought the fruit to our shores. Or do you know that fern salad commands a hefty price tag in New York? (<-- a friend said. Not sure on this, haven't been to New York meself!)

freshly squeezed passion fruit to boost immune system while on the road!

dessert comes first with my avocado with feta cheese, raisins, honey, fresh mangoes and condensed milk!

my bamboo shoot with black beans dish. at cost, Php50.00. can feed 6 hungry travelers.

fern salad (blanched in brine) in pinakurat vinegar dressing. this one with cheese topping. 

unripe jack fruit (langka) in coconut milk. with anchovies, laurel, pepper and lemon and then some secret ingredients 

On our last night in Basco, our hosts, a lovely old couple, invited me and W for dinner. In exchange of the warm hospitality the couple showed us, W and I volunteered to cook a dish or two for them. W and I had to make do of whatever was available in the public market. With a very limited array of ingredients, we selected the ones we were very familiar with. To cut the story short, tatay was so impressed how W made the lowly fern frond taste first class! He kept telling nanay to ask W about the recipe and the secret ingredient. W and I just smiled in the corner.

W is the kind of person who cooks (gourmet or otherwise) for other people she has met and made memorable connections with while she is on the road. I got this good habit from her. Unoriginal na kung unoriginal. Cooking is her turf, eh. Mine is what ba? I just pimp myself to score discounts and upgrades! hahaha

Seriously, I also cook several Filipino dishes. Those food shown above. I still have to learn though how to cook sunny side up and bacon in electric iron! That would be the ultimate budget travel tip! So, should you come visit my corner of the world, let me know. I can probably cook for you. We split the cost of ingredients of course.

As they say, citizenship is determined by the memories of food in your childhood. I silently agree. I grew up with those food I just posted. Every time I miss home, I simply cook and relive home and childhood again through those dishes.

Do you also cook? What's that one special food that created a lasting memory in your travels? Do share.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tara na sa MassKara Festival 2011!

photography | Aimee Andrade
Feast for the Senses
I've been joining in the pomp and pageantry of MassKara Festival five years in a row and yes, year after year, the festival never failed to excite, surprise and involved the senses! Starting off with the innovative electric masskara, endless street parties and of course the highlight of the festival which is street dancing. There's more! This year's MassKara will have live drumbeats as music for the streetdancing competition. A first in MassKara history! 

The First Time
Coming from a small town in Bohol, I first joined as an outsider. Painfully shy and with no friends who are based in Bacolod, I gathered enough courage and threw caution to the wind. The gentility of the Bacolodnon is disarming so even before I knew it, I felt welcome already like a long lost brother. 

String of Good Juju
But those previous trips were all work-related. In a twist of fate last year, the school where I worked suspended, for some reasons, the annual students' responsible travel program in Bacolod. In the last four years, it always coincided with the MassKara Festival week. For the first time, I attended the MassKara Festival with no work load attached. And boy, it was so much fun!   

Next Layer of the Onion
But it was not just a trip to take beautiful photos nor to party, get drunk and dance on the streets. It was a trip to celebrate new friendships. To give FREE HUGS to total strangers. To celebrate the resilience of the Pinoys in times of crisis! 

drum rolling the FREE HUG event at Killer Bee Bacolod
Create Inspiring Experiences
In the course of my travel last year, I forged meaningful connections with a band of travelers whose sole mission is to create inspiring experiences with the people and places they encounter. It appears to me that coming to Bacolod during the MassKara week has become an annual pilgrimage of sorts already for the group.  

Here's one of the photos during the FREE HUGS we did at the electric MassKara parade:

Masskara 2010 | FREE HUGS with couchsurfers from all over the world
I was also there four years ago. Here it is:

WORK and PLAY marries well | working holiday during the 2008 Masskara 
And in 2009:

Masskara 2009
Masskara Festival in Bacolod City, I'd like to believe, is hands down winner as one of the grandest festivities in the Philippines! 

This year, the organizers have upped the notch higher with an innovation! And what an innovation it is! On its 32nd year with the theme MassKara: Celebrating the New Icons of Bacolod, the city will see light shows every night beginning Friday, September 2, at the plaza with the unveiling of the new Bacolod bandstand (the venue of the final masskara streetdance showdown). Negrense artists will also float artworks at the fountain area of the Government Center. This year, the electric masskara will also see the return of La Consolacion College after 7 years with 30-45 innovative giant masskara puppets. 

Come, let's celebrate the resilience of the Filipino people! Let's come to Bacolod!

So, what else can I say but I hope to see you in the festive streets of Bacolod!

In the meantime, here is the festival schedule I lifted from www.masskarafestival.com, updated as of September 2, 2011.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Bungee Jumping in Danao Adventure Park?!

Something is not right? suicide? rope tied on neck? what?

It was hard to tell if my Korean colleague B said  bungee jump. Inside my head this is just another lost in translation moment. To prove his point, he said his students enjoyed the experience a lot and even added that the students would like to go back to the park any given day to try it again and again. There was not a single photo I could see to check on the veracity of what he said.

scared written all over her face! photography: RV ESCAT

I've never heard, in fact, that there's even a bungee jumping experience anywhere in the Philippines!

relaks. readying, ready na! photography: RV ESCAT

Fast forward >> Three weeks later, here I am standing on a metal platform 50 or so story-high above a gorge with a mocha-colored river snaking though the valley below. Half a kilometer across me is the other half of the canyon. The same height but quieter with an occasional scream that dies faster than when it started and pretty soon blends with the roaring rapids of the river.

say your prayers lady! 

Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Bombs Away! What's with those magic numbers? Every time somebody takes the plunge, the crew holler them like an orasyon! Laway at tot-ho na lang ang kulang at kompleto na ang ritwal. Split-seconds later, I hear a splitting scream of what used to be a dignified-looking woman in the platform a few minutes earlier. She is now hanging on the rope for dear life! Her forehead trying to meet the hinge in front of her. She bounces off like a ball and then hovers above the thick foliage in the gorge. Her feet actually seem to step on the treetops as she moves like a pendulum. She screams again. In contrast to when she started off, her scream this time is blasted with pride and achievement!

photography: RV ESCAT