I Believe…

Our generally peaceful elections happened more than a week ago.  We have a new president-elect.  My candidate did not win and it left me emotional for a day or two but life does not stop just because…  and so it went on.  The people have chosen and well… gotta respect that.  But I am entitled to my opinion, after all this is my blog.   🙂 Methinks we let the good one slip away, yes we did.  And why do I think so?  Because the good one had a plan, his proposed policies are practical and doable; he gives importance to education, it is key to one’s success in life as it is key to a country’s success.  To minimize corruption, his plan was to offer incentives and rewards for good behavior.   He also does not bicker as the other politicians do.  He was able to mount a positive, credible and issue-based campaign without having to resort to mudslinging tactics against any of his opponents to win over millions.  One of his main platforms is national unity and reconciliation.  I believe that if he had won, he could do a lot more for our country as he thinks outside the box.  I also believe that this is just the beginning.  He has awaken a previously indifferent constituent in me.   I will, in the meantime, silently keep an eye on our newly elected President; pray that integrity and good principles guide his administration for the next 6 years.

As I was contemplating on the events of the past week, I remembered this cool video with very good advice to boot.  Inspired by it, I came up with a few lessons learned thus far, that I strongly believe in.

Credits:  JS In A Word papers, text flowers and text swirls.

Back to My Everyday

Credits:  JSprague TW paper kit (JSprague Brown Solid, JSprague Red Solid, KHMize Boogie Star Stripe, KPertiet King Me, K Pertiet Letterbox Bird Watcher, Trish Jones TNC radientessence papers); JSprague TW Snapshot template

Journal reads:

Today I come back home to my everyday.  As I enter, I am transported back to the usual accustomed routine.  I however welcome the smell, the organized chaos and the quietness of my home.  A jaunt, long or short, breaks the monotony of my everyday and makes me look forward to the familiar, every time.  The comfort of my bed, the smell of my pillow and the warmth of my blanket never fail to welcome me back home. Today I cook with glee after eating out every single day.  Today I enthusiastically put up my feet, sit on my couch and work on my computer as I always do on a normal day.  Today I say hello to home sweet home… it is good to be back.

Five Reasons Why…

You should try Whitewater Rafting at least once in your life.

Credits:  Bannerwoman Designs Worn, Folded Edges, Judy Meibusch Doodle Dot elements, LivEdesigns SSunFun Alpha

Ever since my first rafting experience in 1999, I was hooked (see here, here and here).  I can’t count the number of times I’ve rafted the Chico, after all as they say, you never run the same river twice.  And I felt it time to share this exhilarating experience with my team.

So for 3 days in January, we found ourselves in Tuguegarao slaving away, devising strategies for the year

with a little bit of team building on the side.

Then on day 3, we spent an adrenalin-filled day at the Chico River in Kalinga.  Here are insights gathered from this experience.

It’s Liberating

When was the last time you’ve tried something at least once in your life?  I am one to try almost anything (I say almost because I have yet to convince myself about bungee jumping) at least once.  Whitewater rafting may not be for everyone but you’ll never know unless you’ve tried it.

I’ve rafted with many first timers with sedentary lifestyles through the years and as often as not, they at the very least, had a blast and in numerous occasions, a wild side they never knew they had is kindled.

Anton Carag, charismatic mover and shaker of whitewater rafting since 1998 at the Chico

Many among my team were apprehensive before the run and listened intently to Anton Carag lecturing on proper paddling techniques, what to do when one falls off and how to get back on the raft.

Doing a Hi-Five for a job well done

I saw how their fears transformed to confidence after the first few rapids.  They started to have fun.

Some even enjoyed the falls, bringing home stories of how they survived it etc.  It also helps to know that two internationally recognized wilderness specialists trained Anton and his team of guides some 10 years ago.

It Fosters Team Spirit

Rafting only works if everyone works as a team.  Listen to your leader and follow exactly the commands.  If the team fails to act as one, the raft may capsize.  If you’re not prepared to drink gallons of water, you probably don’t want this.   It’s also a hassle getting back on the raft and if the water’s low, you will most likely be going home with bumps and bruises as a remembrance from the river.  But hey, isn’t that proof of that adventurous spirit you thought you never had?  So listen to your guide and be in sync with your teammates.

It’s Actually Safe

First of all, the guides (mostly natives of Kalinga) know the river like the back of their hands.  And to reiterate, top-notched, seasoned river guides with international experience trained most of them.  But in case you didn’t follow instructions or to put it nicely — misunderstood the guide’s instructions and you fall off or worse, the whole raft flips, not to worry because the equipments, most especially the vest you are wearing (I can only speak of AEPI’s as I am not familiar with the other outfitters) is US-certified safe.  This means that when you’re under, the vest is buoyant enough to carry you out.  Sometimes with a little help from you, but hey again, sometimes you need to work a little harder eh?

It promotes Eco-tourism

And provides jobs.  Whitewater rafting is part of the new adventure and eco-tourism that the Philippines have to offer.  Most of the guides used are from neighboring communities and the more tourists, more jobs and other business opportunities are not far behind.  It also teaches us to respect and appreciate Mother Nature.

It’s Gorgeous Out There

Spectacular views of the Cordillera Mountains coupled with beautiful riverbanks and clear waters (not always the case though) surrounds the whole stretch of the run.  Unspoiled.  Pristine.

Except for raging rapids that never fails to stir up your adrenalin, the only other sounds you hear are chirpings of birds and the flow of the river.  Serenity in a most natural setting.

Excellent Food at Casa Carag

The 6th reason why you should try whitewater rafting with AEPI.  The food is just extraordinary.

Nothing is ordinary, from the longganisa, Salinas and hot native chocolate for breakfast, to the local Ibanag dishes such as their pinakbet and inabraw.  It’s all good!

So, at the first chance of rain (which is sadly a long way off), book a package with AEPI and experience the ultimate adventure of your life.  Season starts in August and ends in February.

*  All photos at the river courtesy of AEPI.

Contact Details:
Anton Carag, Jr.
Mobile:  (63)917-532-7480
Landline: (6378)844-1298
Email:  aepi@whitewater.ph; anton@whitewater.ph; whitewater1ph@yahoo.com

New Year Preview

Another fresh new year is here…
Another year to live!
To banish worry, doubt and fear,
To love and laugh and give!

This bright New Year is given me
To live each day with zest…
To dearly grow and try to be
My highest and my best!

I love the opportunity
Once more to right some wrongs,
To pray for peace, to plant a tree
And sing more joyful songs!

~ William Arthur Ward~

‘Twas a good year.  There were great travels, adventures, and new discoveries.  With it came new and rekindled friendships, new experiences and milestones.

‘Twas a full year too.  Many (wonderful) things came about; my posts couldn’t come fast enough.  Here’s a glimpse of what to expect this year.  And these are just places I’ve been to last year that is pending a post. God willing, my journey continues.  Thanks for the company and do stick around as I press on to explore the world near and far.

Credits:  Papers – Defining Flower by Jen Wilson, King Me Paper by Kate Pertiet.

“Here’s to the bright New Year, and a fond farewell to the old; here’s to the things that’s yet to come, and to the memories that we hold.”

Cheers!

A Taste of Filipino Hospitality on the High Seas

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Ay Pilipino pala kayo!” (Oh you’re Filipinos!).  A reaction we’d get all the time when A and I would start conversing in Filipino.  You see, A can pass for a Latino and I any Asian origin (Koreans, Japanese or Chinese), thus the reaction.  Always excited to meet “kababayans” (fellow Filipinos or countrymen), I gather owing to homesickness as they have been away from their country for 6 months at the least to up to 2 years, depending on their contract.  They are called Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), our country’s new heroes.

Waiters-in-BanffA photo with our servers in Banff

OFWs are Filipinos who are employed in foreign countries to seek better opportunities out of a desire to earn better wages.  The National Statistic Office estimates that the number of Filipinos working abroad has increased by 15% from same period last year.  About 3/4 of OFWs are land based laborers and unskilled workers, which includes domestic helpers, cleaners and manufacturing laborers.  Seafarers (or sea based workers) on the other hand, make up 24% of total OFW deployment and they account for some 20-25% of the world’s seafarers.

“Filipinos are in demand to man ships from luxury cruise ships to giant tankers and container ships.  They are known to exhibit a great ability to learn, to be hardworking and loyal”, according to Pier Luigi Foschi, President and Chief Executive of Costa Crociere Cruises.  “They set a good example for other employees and crew.  They sign up for months at a time and have very little free time”.

GrillingFilipino cooks grilling salmon at the poolside

One feels at home right away at the Ryndam.  From the boiler to the front desk, the poolside to the pantry and the bar to fine dining are Filipinos always ready to serve with a smile.

Roger-at-the-barThat’s Roger, one of the bartenders with his shaker

Hanging out at Crow’s Nest almost every single day of our 7 day stay was made unforgettable due to the many stories told and friendships developed.

bartendersAlways the happy bunch at the Crow’s Nest Bar

The Filipinos comprise perhaps about 30% of the crew at The Ryndam.  Being so much an entertainer at heart, they were given the privilege to entertain the passengers by way of a Filipino Night.

chef-singingHead Chef of the Lido Restaurat by day, singer by night

No longer the cooks, waiters and boiler men, here on stage, they transform into entertainers, well known for their singing prowess and their knack for humor.

tiniklingOur National Dance (I think), the Tinikling

planting-riceDoing the “planting rice” dance

goofingYes… look again… they’re all guys!

Filipino snacks were served right after the show, because I think all the cooks are Filipinos. Tee hee!   🙂  In my opinion, Filipino Night is the Cruise line’s way of honoring the well-loved Filipinos as employee, crew and servers.  And they make me proud to be one of perhaps 6 Filipino passengers aboard The Ryndam at the time.  Mabuhay!

ice-carvingAnd the finale… a demonstration of ice carving… again a Pinoy!

To join in the fun and get to know more worlds, click here.

30 Random Things to Do in Sagada

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I love the mountains.  I often find myself craving for the crisp fresh scent of pine air. Although that yearning is not always appeased, I do try to indulge every so often by spending a few days up in the mountains, sometimes Baguio will suffice but many a time it’s Sagada that I yearn for.  Many ask what I do when I’m there.  On many occasions, it’s just spent chilling out but there are so many activities worth exploring and here are some that came to mind (some still unchecked on my bucket list). Inspired by the 25 random things about you that is currently promulgating Facebook, here’s my random list of things to do in Sagada, except that I got carried away and came up with a list of 30.  This list covers an array of activities from chilling to thrilling and all the in betweens.  Do add to the list!   😉

  1. Hangout at the Basketball court near St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and get to know the locals and/or fellow travelers.
  2. Buy the best bread in Sagada at Masferre Inn.
  3. Explore Sumaging Cave or better yet, do the connection and traverse to Lumiang Cave.
  4. Trek to The Big Falls (Bomod-ok) passing through beautiful rice terraces.
  5. Take a dip in the icy-cold water of the Big Falls.
  6. Order the Pork Tenderloin specialty at Log Cabin.  One can’t leave without having tried it.
  7. Take an afternoon merienda of German Chocolate cake (best with coffee) at the Cooperative in front of St. Mary’s.
  8. Pay a visit to the Pottery workshop on your way to Lake Danum.  A bit pricey but the craftsmanship is first class.  Investing in at least a piece or two will not only make a superb souvenir, it fires up the sagada-coffeepotters to forge on as well.
  9. Get lost in Kiltepan and delight in the panoramic view of the terraces at the tower.
  10. Walk around town, visit the market especially on a Saturday, it’s market day.
  11. Ride top load (the roof of) a jeepney (if you’re coming from Bontoc).  It’s fun and less dusty.
  12. Pick up some Sagada coffee at 18 Days Coffee Roasters.
  13. Devour the fantastic yoghurt at Yogurt House.
  14. Climb the walls of Echo Valley.
  15. Or if you can’t climb, how about counting the hanging coffins at Echo Valley instead?
  16. Have the nummy Banana Crepes at Ganduyan Inn.
  17. Stay at Mapia-aw Pensione and enjoy the stunning view from your room or balcony.
  18. Or alternatively, get a cottage at St, Joseph and enjoy the privacy of your own place.
  19. Go orange picking at Rock Inn.
  20. Stop by Masferre Gallery to ogle at the awesome photos of Sagada taken in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s by the late Eduardo Masferre. sagada-lemonpie
  21. Read a book while enjoying a piece of either the lemon or egg pie at the newest town fancy, Lemon Pie House.
  22. Wake up early and bike to Marlboro Country to try to catch a glimpse of the wild horses.
  23. Try itag, a cured meat similar to a slab of bacon, unsliced.  Best in soup, monggo or pancit.
  24. Conquer Mt. Ampacao and revel in the outstanding view once atop it.
  25. Enjoy a picnic of wine, cheese and some cold cuts while admiring the beauty of Echo Valley.
  26. Bike to Besao and witness the sunset, raved to be the best in that side of the cordillera.
  27. Get a massage at the privacy of your room or cottage.
  28. Play board or card games or simply relax beside the fireplace at either Mapia-Aw Pension or St. Joseph Resthouse.
  29. Go shopping at either Sagada Weaving or Ganduyan Store.  They have lovely locally produced items for keepsakes.
  30. Raft the Chico River from Dantay to Bontoc.  To do so, look for Steve Rogers – he’s not hard to find.

Summing Up the Year That Was

I am blessed.  Blessed to be able to explore the world, albeit not as extensive as I want to but I’ve had some fair share of adventure and fun last year.  So I’m not complaining.  Last year was a good mix of local and international travels, small and big trips. Rounding them up, there were highs and lows, great satisfactions and some disappointments.  Here’s a run down of my best and not so best experiences of 2008.

The Disappointment

waitingdonsol

Donsol – in pursuit of the elusive whale sharks (Feb)

We were ready to jump anytime but the whale sharks were scarce.  There were way too many boats, way too disorganized and so we caught a glimpse of its… tail.  Oh well… this calls for another trip sometime in the future.

One Miserable Climb

pulag-rained-out

Mt. Pulag – rained out! (Feb)

We started the trek with just overcast clouds, then it drizzled and when we reached the campsite, it poured.  It let up a bit just so we can go to the loo and cook our dinner.  Then it started again.  Rained the whole night and the whole day, next day.  Needless to say, the summit was foggy and really, really cold!  No sunrise, just slippery, flooded trails.  Good thing this was not my first time here and I’ve seen a glorious sunrise in 2002.  But we still had fun.

My Favorite Asian Destination (thus far)

luang-prabang

Luang Prabang, Laos (Mar)

The jewel of Indochina and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surrounded by mountains at the junction of the Mekong and its tributary, the Khan River, Luang Prabang to me is a city where time stood still.

It was a wonderful 5 days of various adventures. One day was spent trekking to the Kwang Si falls, another learning to cook Lao dishes. There were a lot of walking, eating (Lao and French meals), sunset cocktails and we even had a taste of a traditional Khamu massage. It was fantastic.

A Delightful Road Trip

ugo-display

Viaje del Sol (Apr) – a blend of good food and the arts.  From Kusina ni Salud (for dinner) to Ugu Bigyan (for lunch and his potteries) to Carlito’s (for coffee, mangoes and his sculptures) in one weekend resulting to another follow-up weekend.  This time, we stayed in Casa San Pablo, checked out Kinabuhayan Café, and had a satisfying lunch at Sulyap Gallery Café, a restaurant cum antique gallery.  There definitely will be a 3rd trip to this Viaje del Sol sometime in the future.  Perhaps we’ll try a meal at Kinabuhayan Café, try that famous buko pie locals are raving about and do an overnight at Sitio de Amor.

Wonderfully Surprised

dolphins

Dolphins Galore at Puerto Bay (May)

Didn’t even know that they had a lot in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.  There were tons of ’em.  What we didn’t see in Donsol, these dolphins made up for.  We didn’t even need a spotter as they were all over the place.  Never saw so much in my life.  Tons and tons of them.  Hope to dive there someday.

A Junk Experience

halong-bay

Cruisin’ Halong Bay, Hanoi (Jul)

When in Hanoi, one must experience cruising along Halong Bay in a junk at least once. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the bay features calm water and thousands of limestone karsts and islets in various shapes and size.  Something like Palawan.

A Star-strucked Moment

bobby-chin

Dinner at Restaurant Bobby Chinn, Hanoi (Jul)

Even if he wasn’t around, I was excited to be there.  Totally am infatuated with this celebrity chef of Travel and Living’s World Asia Café series.  And the food did not disappoint.  Maybe because I’m so infatuated. Hee Hee! Expensive but superb.  Sorry but no photos of the food and the place except from across the street.  It was a treat from DBF to cap our Hanoi adventure and we agreed no cameras, besides the place was too dark to get even one decent photo.

Great Amusement

honoi-traffic

Watching the traffic of Hanoi at the Old Quarter (Jul)

We spent hours atop a restaurant sipping beer, relaxing and watching the traffic below with amazement.  The chaos of Vietnam traffic just amused us no end.  Watch and be amused.

The Best Reunion Ever

sf-reunion

A San Francisco get-together with my high school buddies (Aug)… some I haven’t seen in 26 years.  It was a trip down memory lane but more importantly, it was literally a food trip as well.  Our friend and classmate, JT, now a chef cooked a superb dinner for us!  They’re actually planning another one this year… a US trip 2 years in a row is out of my budget if I want to explore other new places as well, so boohoo for me.

A Cove Truly Breathtaking

anawangin

Anawangin Cove (Sep)

This could pass as my runner-up for the Most Miserable Climb too.  I am a clumsy person and more often than not, I fall and hurt myself.  So during the trek I was already asking “why do I do this to myself”? when I banged my knee in the course of what I thought was an easy trek. I’ve seen beautiful pixes, read and heard so much about this “not so secret” place and finally am hours away from it. Thrilled and excited as I started the 7.3 km trek to Anawangin Cove, I was 3rd to arrive at the saddle (which had an awesome view of the cove, by the way). Not bad, if I may brag… Many months of lifting, walking on a machine (that goes nowhere), puffing and pushing is finally paying off.  THEN… without warning, I slipped and fell about 30 minutes through our descent, all because I was not paying attention to the trail. It was agony from then on. Let’s just say that I trudged downhill, passing rocky streams for another 2+ hours before I reached the camp… From 3rd to last! Thirsty, tired and in pain but dampen my spirits it did not as it was indeed so BREATHTAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL! Picture this, Agojo (imagine pine trees as it looked so much like it) forest on the beach with a meandering fresh water stream that flows out to the sea. And that is why I keep doing this to myself.

An Adrenalin-filled Birthday Weekend

rafting-chico

Rafting the Chico (Oct)

Been doing this for almost a decade but never on my birthday.  So that’s new.  If you’ve never tried this, you should!  You will experience one heck of a weekend, a totally worked out upper body, and the thrill of a lifetime.  Contact Anton Carag of AEPI for bookings.

An Incredible Underwater Experience

2-mantas

Mantas and Sharks up close in Yap (Nov)

Amazing… is all I can say.  An experience of a lifetime.  Read more about it here.

Hello 2009!

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How did you spend the extra-long break?  I spent it up in the mountains… two, in fact.  After Christmas, my family and I flew to Denpasar and spent 5 relaxing days in a wonderful resort in Ubud, Bali.  As soon as I landed in Manila, I was on my way to Baguio to spend a quiet New Year in Sagada with good friends.  Both locations I return again and again for their food, so I indulged in good eating this season (as always).   😉 Overindulgence aside, I also found time to finally make a dent on the pile of books on my shelf, waiting to be read.

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Despite the gloomy forecast, I can’t wait to get started.  I’ve already got a growing list of plans for the year.  Four exciting places I want to explore within the 1st half of the year. Learn one sport (starting this month) and master it (in a year or two, I hope).  Know Photoshop inside out.  Take more photos… and the list goes on.  But before all these, it’s back to the gym tomorrow to shed off those extra pounds!   😛

Seriously though, I am thankful and grateful to the almighty God for a wonderful 2008. Hope the blessing continues with the same grace and faithfulness He has bestowed through the years.

A blessed New Year to all!  More on Bali and Sagada in the next few days.

All Things Beautiful

allthingsbeautiful-web

Journal reads:

All things bright & beautiful,
All creatures great & small,
All things wise & wonderful,
The lord God made them all.

–       Cecil Frances Alexander

From the Hymn:  All Things Bright & Beautiful

Took this shot in 2006 at Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.  I just love this photo of the little birdies resting on the neck of the giraffe.  Isn’t it amazing how God created all creatures big and small to live together (albeit not always harmoniously)?   😉

Gotta Love Nitrox!

nitroxrulesLove it so much it’s got a post all it’s own.   Divers breathe nitrox as a means of extending the amount of time they can stay underwater or what we call bottomtime.  Got myself Nitrox certified prior to our trip to Yap so I (or we as a group) can stay longer underwater with the mantas (and sharks).  And I’m glad I did!  If you came across my earlier post (here), you would know that on our first dive, I only had 7 minutes left when the mantas came appearing, which also meant that I only had 3-4 minutes of “up close” time with them.  That’s what one gets for scrimping — didn’t wanna pay the extra $8 for Nitrox air. Haha!  From then on, it was Nitrox all the way baby! 😉

Aside from it being safer as it reduces the risk of developing decompression sickness (DCS), another reason to use Nitrox air is it does not drain you out at the end of the day.  We were partying till the wee hours — ok, that’s an exaggeration but we were up till almost midnight at least, considering that we had to be up by 6 every morning.   Nitrox Rules! 😀

Nitrox Air – is a breathing gas that many scuba divers use to extend bottomtime & increase safety while diving.  It is simply a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen but with a high concentration of oxygen than normal air.  Also called Enriched Air Nitrox, Safe air, or EANx.  Strict adherence to guidelines and procedures can allow divers to safely use Nitrox.

Ok… I will stop being dorky now.   I’m off to another (hopefully) great weekend out of town.  Hope to be back with new finds… until then, keep safe and enjoy your long weekend, which officially started this morning. 😛