New Year with the Crew (Kalibo)

Last December, Mom announced that for New Year, she’d be having a flight to Kalibo, and invited me to come along. I had never actually been there to linger, as it’s always been just the passageway to the popular beach destination of Boracay. Arrived there at night and went straight to where the crew was staying, Sampaguita Hotel. To my surprise, it’s a year-round Christmas village! We were greeted by a row of Precious Moments angels and Christmas lights. Plus, check out our room! IMG_0555.JPG

Got me quite nostalgic since I used to have Precious Moments coloring books and figurines as a child. More where that came from…

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These dolls are housed in the hotel’s very own Christmas museum. Apparently, the owner of the franchise wanted to retire in the Philippines, and so he put this up.

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On New Year’s Eve, Mom and her crew were bound for a roundtrip flight to Incheon. They currently have several flights of that route because in Korea, going on a trip to Boracay is on everyone’s must-do lists. To the point that if you haven’t been to Boracay, you’re not “in.”

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Saying bye to my mom, the purser 😉

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So, I still had lots of company during New Year’s Eve because PAL crew of different flights were stationed there or on standby. It was a simple celebration of wine, beer and chips, with only a handful of fireworks in sight, but hours of chatting and playing Categories.

I used to wonder if they ever felt lonely during occassions like these, normally spent with family. I looked back at those Christmases and birthdays when mom would be away. I clearly remember those long distance phone calls she would make using those phone cards (Skype and Viber were non-existent) and oh, how I would miss her back then!

But I took comfort in what lay before me- people who were not necessarily close, but who made each other feel warmth and companionship. Who knows when they’d be on the same flight again? What mattered was the moment, the fact that they shared it with one another, with laughter and celebration. In fact, some of them shared with me how blessed the feel to be there, to have made it into their dream profession.

A middle-aged couple, upon meeting me asked if I had plans to apply as a flight attendant, and I said no because I was still enjoying my job. The husband replied, “Yeah, flying is so demanding. I mean, we get to stay in such nice hotels, we get allowance while traveling the world, free wifi, free breakfast, it’s a tough job!” — of course it goes without noting his sarcasm..

Later on, someone working for about 20 years, still feels it’s the best job in the world because “how many people can say they saw the ball drop in New York for New Years Eve?Let alone, bring their families along with them on free vacations- something that corporate folk spend their entire year saving up for”

That got me thinking quite a bit haha. But one thing’s for sure- I’ve always been proud of my mom for all her hardwork and for sticking it out for over 30 years, even more so now. So, cheers to these people who are at the forefront of our safety and comfort throughout our travels!

Bellevue Bohol

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Our last two days in Bohol were spent making the most of our hard-earned vacation by lounging around in Bellevue. Just a little back story on why I chose this place: a few years ago, I was part of the team who created their web and in-room video ad. It was one of my first projects as an assistant director, but even to this day, it’s on that list of favourite shoots and works I take pride in.

We set up Bellevue Manila to be the grand, luxurious hotel for the lady, while the B Hotel, for the hustling business man. Then, the two characters spent their honeymoon in Bellevue Bohol, frolicking along the shore, taking a boat out to see some fish, and having a romantic dinner set up by the resort with some fire dancers to boot. I’ll let the video speak for itself:

Even if we stayed there as their crew that time, we still felt like we were on vacation.  Their rooms were very comfortable- we slept like babies on their comfortably cushioned beds after days spent under the sun, shooting. They would greet us with comfort food for working our butts off. To top it off, the resort staff was hospitable, cheerful and ready to help in any way.

I’ve always wanted to come back since then, so our 2nd anniversary was the perfect opportunity. Following them on Instagram gave me leads to a bunch of their promos. We got to grab our 4D3N stay for around 20k for both of us, which is not bad at all, considering their original rates and free breakfast.

Speaking of breakfast, their buffet was a delicious smorgasboard of pancakes, breads and cheeses, creamy potatoes, stuffed tomatoes, and the crispiest, best bacon ever! Aside from breakfast, you also get one hour free use of the kayak, which I suggest to use it in the morning during high tide.

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I do have to warn you that the water far out is teeming with seaweed. That’s probably why they put up a T-shaped floating platform. Given the amount of seaweed, not to mention the possible sea urchins latched on to them, Alona beach seems to be more condusive if you want to swim far. Otherwise, the shore’s still pretty neat- you can swim up to a certain point without being bothered, and the sand is white and fine.

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We’d switch it up swimming from the beach to the pool, playing with sand to playing billards, and eating to our heart’s content.

Bellevue is the perfect paradise to unwind and be away from it all. I would highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Bohol, seeking tranquility, and quality time with family, friends or a loved one.

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Bohol by the Sea

We set out at sea at the break of dawn during our second day- which marks our 2nd anniversary together! I remember being told that the dolphins come out to play early morning. Unfortunately though, the rain decided to make an appearance. Torrential waves made for a bumpy boat ride. Foggy clouds obstructed our view, and our boatmen looked at each other, speaking only in their dialect. Joshua’s hand squeezed mine in anxiety- “we shouldn’t have gone out in this weather.” Because we couldn’t see ahead, we felt like we were the only ones in the vast ocean.

Minutes later, they appeared before us. Majestic blue creatures with their fins on the surface, swimming alongside their family. They would leap high up in the air, flipping their bodies up in a cartwheel. And that’s when we knew we were not alone. Too bad I forgot to pack my GoPro charger for this trip, so I couldn’t capture it, but some things are better off stored in our memory than on camera.

After getting a good view of the dolphins at play, we headed out to Balicasag Island. I was really excited to be there because I remember 2 years ago, the moment I jumped out of the boat, we were surrounded by a variety of fish and some pawikans.

This time, we had to hop onto a smaller bangka. The weather slightly improved at this point, but it was still raining. Each time I tried to swim away to explore, my group would call me back and tell me not to swim too far. Josh clung to the boat, floating on his back the whole time, while I was face down on the water, trying to spot some fish. However, the visibility was not good at all, so I don’t recommend snorkeling even when it’s just drizzling.

When the waves got stronger, we knew it was definitely time to go. Our bangka brought us to shore, and we waited it out on the island. A local was kind enough to adopt our shivering selves, along with some kids, on his terrace while we ate cups of hot noodles. It took about an hour for the sun to finally show itself for a bit, but as we got on the boat, it started to drizzle again. I was looking forward to visiting Virgin Island next, with its white sand bar and fresh coconuts, but Josh didn’t wanna risk getting stranded again.

So back to land we went. Alona beach was now more developed than what I remember as a kid. We settled down in a nifty bar whose main selling point was their P50 rum cokes and beers! Plus the music of course. That’s always important. IMG_0447.jpg

The bar’s name is Aluna, and I highly recommend it not only for their cheap drinks, but also their killer tacos/burritos and fun-to-chat-with bartender, Cris.

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Chilling there for hours, I couldn’t help but notice the ad playing on loop on their TV. It was for a hotel on a cliff with an amazing view of the beach called Ocean Suites. Cris told us that her French employer owns it as well. Looks like it’s worth checking out based on the photos, and not to mention affordability- P4k for an ocean view room for two. Cris has been helping her boss run his business finances’ because he apparently loves to treat newly acquainted people who visit his bar.

She’s been working there for quite some time now, so she and her husband have been able to build their own boat for island hopping tours. It comes out much cheaper if you book with her or a local, than what you find online or through travel agencies. Figured it would be more of help if we go directly to the locals for their services so they could be better compensated for their labour.

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Several beers and rum cokes later, we not only made friends with our bartender, but with a buncha beach dogs as well!

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Reminds me of a scene in Lion King

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They weren’t so fond of taking photos though…

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Oh well, we tried hahaha!

Went out for a nice swim because the sun was finally out and I was so tempted to get on one of the boats to reach Virgin Island. After swimming in Panglao’s clear waters, we retreated back to our hotel in Doljo beach, Bellevue. What’s so beautiful about it is its seclusion from the rest of Panglao, and the fact that it’s beach front. More on that in my next post!

We were so tired from being out the whole day that we slept through dinner. Got up at around 11PM, went down to scavange for food, only to find that room service was the only thing available. We had been so used to lodging in budget/botique hotels that such a term came as a pleasant surprise for us.

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What an adventure our 2nd anniv turned out to be!

 

Bohol: The Countryside

It’s becoming quite the tradition for Josh and I to celebrate our anniversary out of town. Last year, we spent it in Conde Nast’s Most Beautiful Island in the world, El Nido.

This time, we celebrated in the Land of the Golden Sun.

Despite having visited Bohol several times in the past, I was certain it would never lose its charm.

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The river cruise took us through the long and winding Loboc River, as we feasted on a buffet of seafood, grilled liempo and gulay. But what really rocked the boat was the man in a straw hat, belting out tunes from The Beatles to Freddie Aguilar’s “Anak,” to “La Bamba,” that got everyone dancing on their feet.

Stopover at the Ati Tribe

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I didn’t get the memo on being fierce, Khal Drogo!

While this makes for a great shot (a slow-mo video at that!), I do hope it isn’t detrimental to them. Imagine how many tourists they have to do this for, day in day out… just something to think about!

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clowning around

To balance out the calm, I was then craving for something thrilling! So much to Joshua’s distress, up we went to the Loboc zipline. It was every bit as exhilirating as I imagined, being able spread my arms and fly above the greens & the rushing river.

Josh kept his eyes zip the entire time due to his fear of heights. He refused to take it again on our way back, and opted for the cable car. I yawned while waiting for our turn because it moved so slowly… krrrooo…

We got on and I was wrong. The pace it went made me appreciate the view even more! I gushed on about the ride then I realized, “Hey, isn’t this scarier for you, since it gives your mind more time to imagine what could happen while we’re up there?” And the whole time Josh wasn’t speaking cause he was completely stunned 😦 poor little boy!! Thanks for accompanying me despite your fear!! biggrin

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Next was a visit to some wide-eyed, nocturnal critters! The last time I was in Bohol, you were allowed to pet, feed and get close to them. Good thing they’ve changed that now. The tarsiers are scattered in the forest, and there’s this pathway for humans with a barrier, so it’s up to you to spot them from afar. Though we did get to take a photo with a tarsier, you’re not allowed to touch them or take flash photography, otherwise they’ll get stressed and have the tendency to commit suicide.

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On the way to the chocolate hills, we couldn’t help but make a photo-stop at the Bilar manmade forest. Planting these towering trees began back in 1950’s, when deforestation became a problem due to kaingin, aka. slash and burn farming system.

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The forest turned out to be pretty bad-ass if you ask me! I hope for more efforts like these to help lessen pollution, especially in the city.

Speaking of bad-ass, what better way to get a glimpse of the Chocolate Hills than by getting off-road?!

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Riding ATV was the highlight of the day! We highly recommend this. It was my first time driving a four-wheeler, and I admit to being a bit nervous at the start, since we had to cross the road with lots of cars passing. But shortly after, we were on our own with the tour guide on his motorcycle, taking an awesome video of us! We sped along the countryside, spotting some goats and cows, surrounded by trees, and the Chocolate Hills, no less.

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We also enjoyed our view from the top, by climbing what seemed to be 100 steep and tiny steps. IMG_0381.jpg

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trying to copy me daw!

The day was drawing to a close, and we were ready to retreat to our hotel, but our driver made on last stop- the butterfly garden. Check out this gorgeous glass-wing butterfly!

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While the two on the right are actually doing it. All day, even while they’re flying. (Our funny guide called it “helicopter style” haha). And then the girl proceeds to eat the male or he just dies. Welcome to the insect world! lol

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Warning: cheesy shots to cap off the day. Sorry not sorry, but our guide insisted! razz

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This one however, takes the cake! Now I leave you with this image:

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El Nido’s Best Kept Secret (May 3-5, 2015)

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Silence.

My first encounter with pure, almost deafening silence was surprisingly in the province that was two hours away from the town of El Nido, via a winding dirt road. Joshua and I found ourselves in a tiny compound of ten nipa huts, fronting the ocean. My heart pounded, not because I didn’t trust my surroundings but because the silence and near solitude were quite unfamiliar to me.

“Good evening Ma’am and Sir, your bahay kubo is the one on the top left, but before you enter, here are a few reminders. There’s no electricity here until we turn on our generator from 6-10PM daily. If you need to charge your cellphone, we have a solar powered room next to the front desk. You may walk down this area to find the common bathroom, and in your room, you will find a kulambo (mosquito net), Off lotion and bottles of water. My name is Randy and I’m the tour operator. I will be taking everyone island hopping tomorrow, to places you’ve never seen before”

Iba na rin talaga ang itsura ng dagat sa standard tours ngayon. Kalbo kalbo na ang mga coral dahil sa dami ng bangka na dumadaong, at kumokonti na yung isda.” (The ocean has changed drastically in those standard tours that the people in the town proper offer. Due to the increasing number of boats that dock just anywhere, corals have been destroyed and there are less fish)

Kuya Randy was a dive master. His salt and pepper hair and dark brown skin tell you that this has been his passion for years. A Pawaleno at birth, he’s seen much of its islands and explored the depths of its oceans with divers from all over the world. Though his age doesn’t permit him to dive as deep anymore, he loves to share the beauty of the ocean to a few number of snorkelling tourists at a time. Thanks to his tenure, Kuya Randy has designed a tour of Palawan’s secluded islands, unique from the standard El Nido tours.

Ready to sail away with our fellow tourists- a Polish couple, French couple, Chilean couple, and a Frenchman who we found out is part of the team who made Iggy & the Cockroaches and Angry Birds on TV!

Ready to sail away with our fellow tourists- a Polish couple, French couple, Chilean couple, and a Frenchman who we found out is part of the team who made Iggy & the Cockroaches and Angry Birds on TV!

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And what a unique, breath-taking experience it truly was! It was a whole other world down there, astounding in every sense of the word. Aside from these corals, we bumped into swift-moving pawikans (turtles), a squid and a baby shark! Kuya Randy even scooped up a fish, which immediately bloated up (we put him back and didn’t stress him out too much, of course!)

Kuya Randy not only let us explore these hidden troves, but brought us to a beautiful islet with such fine, white sand and crystal clear waters! The best part was that we had it all to ourselves- no signs of trash or traces of footprints, just a few harmless boars roaming around. We all hoped it would stay that way, and that they wouldn’t develop the land into another luxury hotel of sorts.

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Capped off our island hopping trip with a meal of seafood, rice and veggies on the islet, and said thank you to Kuya Randy for giving us the best snorkeling experience ever. We will most definitely be back in this side of El Nido soon and try out the other tours he designed. I’m willing to give up electricity, aircondition wifi signal, and other such commodities just to be this close to nature again.

At night, our little group lay on the hammocks and beach beds, built a bonfire, and spoke in hushed tones, underneath the blanket of stars. It was the most comforting silence I’ve ever heard.

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El Nido: Paradise Discovered (May 1-3, 2015) pt. 1

Towering limestone cliffs greeted us as we arrived from our 7-hour long journey, which consisted of getting on a plane, a tricycle, a jeepney and a bus. As we set foot on the white sand beach of Las Cabanas, all forms of exhaustion were whisked away. Like children, we attempted to build sand castles, sipped on and ate the flesh of fresh coconut, and got excited over a party invite left on our spot while we were swimming.

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But everything came to a halt the moment the sun started setting, and we stood, gazing in awe and still couldn’t believe we made it to such a beautiful place.

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We woke up the next morning, eager to discover more of why El Nido is called the best island in the world. 20150502_123809

Off we went on a tour boat that day, where our first stop would be the 7 Commandos Island. It was a simple beach with a row of cottages, and the only island in all the standard tours that had a stall selling fruit shakes, halo-halo, and beer. With regards to the beach itself, you could only swim up to a certain distance and it was near that barricade where you can find interesting corals, fish, and unfortunately for my boyfriend, tiny jellyfish that caused him to swim back to shore 😆

Our next destination called Shimizu Island, was named after a Japanese diver who died there during his exploration. For me, it was not so much the island itself, but the underwater life that surrounded it. The moment we got out of the boat, we were greeted by plenty of these striped fish!

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Due to the number of tourists, I was glad that our boatman decided to park the boat further away from where everyone else docked and we had our lunch on the boat. As Joshua and I were peacefully snorkeling amongst the beautiful corals and fish, another tour boat started honking at us to get out of their way. That still didn’t stop us from appreciating various corals and fishes, but it also made me think of how this view might not be the same in a few years time if we aren’t mindful of our responsibilities as visitors of these islands. Most of us are well aware of the state of Boracay, the island that was once a pristine paradise but is now facing problems of overtourism, waste management and algae and e. coli infestation. Hopefully, despite its rising popularity, El Nido’s innate beauty would be preserved and respected.

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Uni!!

Uni!!

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Our next stop was quite literally hole in the wall! After treading through a rocky path, we had to crawl through a tiny entrance to get to the secret lagoon. It felt like a place where you can hold someone captive, like a Jon Snow, perhaps.

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huge, pink & dead jellyfish!!

huge, pink & dead jellyfish!!

It took a while before our boat got back to us, but apparently, it’s because it broke down in the process of trying to save another boat. Unfortunately, this meant we had to cut our trip short and we missed out on seeing the Big and Small Lagoons. As excited as we were to be able to kayak, Josh and I knew this wouldn’t be our last time in El Nido, so we would probably go for a combo tour of Tour A & C next time!

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For dinner, we ate at the popular beachfront restobar, Sea Slugs. Coincidentally, this American guy and his Filipina wife who were on our tour, were treating out our tour guides, so they invited us to sit with them. They were al very fun to be with, especially the boatmen who showed us some magic tricks involving only a few match sticks and a 1.5L bottle of soda. None of us figured out how the tricks worked, until they explained how simple it was. When I asked them how they learned it, they said they just used their imagination in coming up with these things!

Then, we were attracted to Pukka Bar’s trippy paintings, black light, but most of all, the reggae music that’s all-too inviting for beachgoers. As night trickled on, the music got livelier, until the dancefloor was filled with people dancing to Spanish pop songs.

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Early the next morning, we were debating whether to extend our stay in town, since we loved it so much and were given a chance by the tour operator to join tour A that day to see the 2 lagoons, free of charge. Good thing though, that we stuck to our original plan of going to a more secluded place, further away from the town proper. We were definitely in for a rare treat, and a refreshing round of new surprises.

Here’s a sneak peek of our next adventure, which I’ll be publishing next week!

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