Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I have a new web address! Please click on the image above to take you to my new home. This blog will still be available in the next few months but will no longer be updated. All the contents of this blog have been replicated in my new blog. Thanks for following this blog and I hope that you will continue your support by following my new blog. See you!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I first got the news that Cats will be performed in Manila early November 2009. My friend Karen and I immediately bought tickets for the July 25 (the 2nd day) performance at a huge discount courtesy of Citibank Credit Cards. I kept the tickets in a safe place and forgot about it for a while.

Fast forward eight months later, we found ourselves driving through heavy downpour en route to CCP. Our plan was to have a leisurely lunch in the CCP Complex before watching the show. Some parts of Gil Puyat Ave. were already flooded with at least 6 inches of water. It was almost 1pm. When we hit Roxas Blvd., our plan was to go all the way through the Macapagal intersection. However, the road in front of World Trade Center was hardly passable. Cars who attempted to drive through got stalled. To avoid the risk of stalling, we decided to make a U-turn and take Roxas Blvd. instead. It turned out Roxas Blvd. was also flooded, though the water is not that high. Nonetheless, traffic slowed down to a crawl as vehicles cruised the three-lane road in single file, staying in the middle lane where the water is most shallow. By the time we found a parking slot, it was already 1:45pm. We definitely did not have time for a leisurely lunch so we ended up grabbing a quick bite at Jollibee. By 2:15, we crossed the street to the CCP entrance. The show started a little after 2:30pm. Despite the few minutes delay, there were a lot of empty seats owing to the heavy downpour and unexpected flooding. Cameras are usually not allowed in the CCP theater so I left mine in the car. No souvenir photos for me and Ariel. 

Lifted this from the net

I came to the show without any expectations other than to be entertained. I had no idea what the story is all about. Other than Memory, I also have not heard of the music of Cats. I watched it because it has been shown in Broadway and it boasts of an international cast (not that I don’t believe in local talent). Of course, the fact that Lea Salonga is part of the show justified the cost of our seats. Anyway, it took a while for me to catch on the story. I was already warned that the story is not linear. However, as with most musicals I’ve seen, I expected the song to be strong enough to tell the story and move me from one scene to another. I realized that I won’t get that from Cats. Aside from that, there were moments when I couldn’t even understand the lyrics which didn’t help in the storytelling. Nonetheless, I found the show to be very entertaining, and I was often mesmerized with the dancing. It probably helped that I’ve been watching So You Think You Can Dance lately which taught me to appreciate modern dance and jazz. Many times I would find myself in complete awe of the dance routines in SYTYCD, imagine how I felt watching similar routines live. I liked the tap dance routine – maybe because it’s a type of dance I have never ever seen live. Of course, the performance of Mr. Mistofelees was unforgettable. And to think that the Cats were singing (except for Mr. Mistofelees who didn’t sing a single note – not even lip-synch!) while doing those routines made it all the more awesome for me.

And Lea. I have always been a fan. I always liked that I can understand the words to her songs. And she sings them beautifully, with emotion so real and so strong, I am almost moved to tears. The first time she sang Memory as Grizabella, just before the intermission, she did so like she was whispering. She was trying to get back to her crowd and wasn’t sure if they will accept her. She was old, weak and worn out. The last time she sang it, it was more powerful, more soulful, like she was so sure of herself, like it was her last chance to sing. She didn’t sound old and weak and worn out as she probably should, but I didn’t care. It was just beautiful. And moving.

Lifted this from the net

A Tagalog version of Memory was also performed but it took a while for me to recognize it because it was performed by a foreigner and the accent (and her soft voice) made it difficult for me to understand the words. I thought that particular number wasn't spectacular but the audience broke into an applause just the same.

The set, of course, was just outstanding. I liked the larger than life mess of a junkyard with odd objects like a tennis racket, an old discarded oven, garbage cans, old tires and the like. “Cats” would surprisingly emerge from the tiny openings all over the stage. The costumes were magical, the kind that made me wish I could come close and touch them. Throughout the show, I kept thinking “What kind of cat is that? Maybe that one’s a Persian. That probably is a Siamese. That one reminds me of my aunt’s cat. In any case, the whole look and feel instantly transported me to a different time and place. Such is the effect of watching a live musical.

I also liked that the “cats” interacted with the audience during the show and the intermission. During the show, Cats would run and/or dance along the aisles. At intermission, they actually mingled with people acting their playful cat character, giving us a chance to take photos up close with our phone cameras (sorry, I didn’t take any good photos). No one came close enough for me to touch though. I would have wanted to feel the “fur”.

Overall, I enjoyed the show. Perhaps it’s because we were seated close to the stage and it felt like we were part of the set. However, it is a bit long and I did see a lot of people dozing off. I cannot imagine kids sitting still for the whole duration of the show although I did see a lot of kids in the audience that Sunday afternoon. It really helped that we bought the souvenir program before the show started as it gave us a bit of background, having no idea what Cats is all about. It also helped us understand each character, which made it easier for us to follow the story. One alternative would have been doing a bit of research before coming ot the show - hello Wikipedia! That way, the decision to watch would have been based on whether you find the story interesting. In my case, it was enough to know that it is one of the longest running shows in musical theater history. Plus, and I am not ashamed to admit it, Lea is performing.

To sum up, on a scale of 1-10, I'll give it a 7.5.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Boracay after 5 years

Last time I was in Boracay was November of 2005. It was a family trip. Back then, the place was already a bit crowded but not as much as it is now. There were fewer hotels, the boats still dock at the 3 stations, and Jonah's is still by the beach.

The first time I went to Boracay was in the late 90's. I was totally smitten. It wasn't crowded and even the non-beachfront resort we stayed in was surrounded by white sand. After a couple of visits, it has lost its appeal. I'm not really a night person, so the thriving night life was never a strong selling point for me. I prefer to have aquiet commune with nature which Boracay, sadly, doesn't offer anymore. It was far from quiet, and the hotels sprouting everywhere is taking so much from its natural beauty.

Back in the day, the boats deposit guests in one of the three stations nearest the hotel you are booked in. Then it's just a short walk to the hotel, eliminating the need for motorized vehicles. The number of tourists then was only a fraction of where it is now, so the number of boats docking on shore was not really an issue. With the influx of tourists, more boats are coming to shore, crowding the white sand beach that should be for the enjoyment of island visitors. As a solution, there is now a central boat station, a pier, where all guests will first set their foot in. It's quite a distance from the hotels so the need for motorized transport sky rocketed. Boracay Regency alone must have at least 10 vans to accommodate the hundreds of guests that come daily.

So, did I have a good time? Of course I did! Taking an early morning walk when most of the vacationing guests are still in hybernation, perhaps recuperating from the previous night's party, almost brought me back to the old Boracay where the long stretch of white sand that is glimerring from the early morning sun is almost deserted. It afforded me a few minutes of peace and quiet, a bit of time to appreciate the beauty of God's creation, and a moment to take a breath of fresh air and take in my surroundings. Then the island will wake up and pour out the crowd into the beach in search of good coffee. That would be my cue to walk back to the hotel and have breakfast (in a crowded buffet).

Will I come back? Probably not at my own expense. I'd rather spend my travel money in a less developed island destination where I can have my quiet time in the midst of nature's beauty. Unless I'll be staying in Shangrila Hotel, in a luxury villa, away from the maddening crowd. Then maybe, just maybe, I'll go back to Boracay again.

Some photos from the trip...

I really don't mind having this view while enjoying a cup of coffee
Breakfast with a view

A strip of paradise
Palm Trees

Beachfront amenities
Lounge Chairs

More lounge chairs
More lounge chairs

Colors of summer
Complementary Colors

The beginning of monsoon season
Preparing for the monsoon season

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Zuzuni - A Big Disappointment

On our last day in Boracay, Aileen and I decided to eat out instead of joining the conference lunch. We've been eating Regency food for three days and we want to sample other offerings. Zuzuni is among the top in our list since it offers Mediterranean dishes which we both love. It's also just a few minutes walk from Regency and so we decided to give it a try.

The restaurant has a quaint interior. Framed mirrors line the wall and all tables provide a nice view of the beach. We arrived at noon after a few minutes of leisurely walking. We were the only guests and was readily attended to. The first thing that struck me was how expensive the food offerings are. I ordered the salad that has arugula, lettuce and walnuts in Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing (forgot the name) - similar to Cyma's Roka Salata. The salad costs more than P200. We asked the waitress to split the salad in two. Then I asked her how big the Gyro is since it is priced at P190. She said it was just small. We ordered one and asked to split it in two again. We thought it might be bigger than the waitress thinks given the price. I ordered frozen Mango Daiquiri. Aileen opted for Coke Light.

The Mango Daiquiri was pretty good. It was scorching hot so I could use the refreshment. Aileen was served with an expired can of Coke Light and had to replace it. Then the salad came. The serving was very small. There was not a single piece of arugula. The lettuce leaves were wilted. We could hardly see the chopped walnuts. The dressing was pretty good but we were already too disappointed to appreciate that bit. For the price, we expected at least fresh greens. And if they didn't have arugula, they could have mentioned that when we ordered. Then came the Chicken Gyro. It was tiny. It didn't taste particularly great either. I have no idea how they ended up in the 2009 Phil. Tatler Best Restaurants. We were so disappointed that we decided to get dessert somewhere else. We already spent way too much for something that didn't even tickle our palates. We should have gone to Cyma or even Cafe Med.

And so we flew home without a sample of Boracay's culinary delights.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Our Amazing Palawan Vacation - A Recap

Our Coron escapade was our longest vacation yet. We had an amazing time - save for the one day I had to stay in bed due to cramps (can't stop the biological clock from ticking!). Anyway, here are my thoughts on Coron and our amazing vacation:
  • Majika is a lovely resort, but I definitely won't come back until they've installed airconditioning. Even with huge windows, the cottages feel like an oven in summer.

  • Coron is beautiful. Cayangan Lake. Twin Lagoons. The wrecks. The snorkeling places. But it's becoming too crowded. I'm scared of what it will become in a few years.

  • I wish the locals will take care of the Coron town proper and keep it clean.

  • I wish there are better eating places in Coron. La Sirenetta isn't so bad.

  • I wish I can eat fresh seafoods in Coron. Not just the squid, but really good prawns, crabs and lobsters.

  • I don't know why Maquinit Hot Spring is so popular. I don't think it's great. The moss on the cement is icky. Maybe it's just me. I never liked Camiguin's famed hot springs either. Icky.

  • Coron's Mangrove channel (near Sangat Island and the Bintuan Marine Sanctuary) is awesome and should be part of every tourist's itinerary. Did you know that 2/3 of the Philippines' mangrove forests are in Palawan? When you go snorkeling, you are most likely going to have the same experience over and over again. So why hop from one snorkeling spot to another? Go to the mangrove forest for a different experience. You can kayak to the mangrove forest from Majika.

  • Culion is worth a visit. It's a beautiful island and is very rich in history. I wish our government will exert more effort in preserving historical sites like Culion. And the museum can be improved. It obviously needs more funding. And granted that not a lot of people will see it, and will therefore not generate revenue, it's still worth saving. It's musty and mouldy, and dark, and smelled of gas from the floorwax. But it has a rich history. It tells a great story. People worked hard to make it one of the best leprosariums in the world during the early 20th century. And you can spend the morning there and still have time to snorkel and go to the more popular sites. So go!

  • Calauit is amazing. I've heard rumors that it will close down soon. I pray it's not true. It's one of its kind. I know it's a bit out of the way and it's expensive to go there (because it's far!), but it's worth it. Over 3,000 hectares of land where giraffes, zebras, deers, antelopes and other animals run freely. It is also a birdwatcher's paradise with birds of all shapes, sizes and colors fly from tree to tree. It's beautiful.

  • I can't make up my mind on which resort is better - El Nido or Club Paradise. Club Paradise wins in terms of facilities/amenities. But El Nido has better food and a more breathtaking location.

  • If you want to explore Coron, stay in the nearby islands (like Majika or Sangat) or if you don't mind the crowd and noise, stay in the city. But if you want a relaxing vacation in Coron, Club Paradise is the place to be. It offers enough adventures, but nothing too taxing. It has its own reef for a great snorkeling experience and you have a good chance of spotting turtles and a dugong. The peak of the island is a short and easy trek that even the most unexperienced hiker can easily conquer. Or you can choose to relax by the long stretch of white sand beach, or by the pool. It's in my list of places to return to (on top of that list is El Nido).

  • Watching thousands of fruit bats fly out into the night at Club Paradise is another noteworthy experience. On our first day, we spent a long time looking up the sky and just watching them fly away.

  • We didn't do any kayaking during this trip. I regret that we didn't go to the mangrove channel at night during our stay in Majika and we didn't get to see the sea fireflies (planktons that light up at night). It's one reason to go back to Majika - when they already have airconditioning.

  • I'm glad we decided not to go to far off islands (Banana, Calomboyan, Malcapuya) and instead opted to visit Culion and Calauit. How different can one island be from another? Our Culion and Calauit tours offered a much more unique experience.

  • Mt. Tapyas gives you bragging rights - climbing up 762 steps isn't easy - but if the schedule is tight, you're probably better off skipping this.
Here are some videos that Ariel took while we were in Coron. Pardon the quality. I'm new at this. :)
1. 360 degree view at the peak of the hill behind the cottages of Majika Resort.
2. 360 degree view of Dimakya Island - taken at the highest point of the island.
3. Snorkeling around Dimakya Island, with a footage of our encounter with a Dugong.
4. Encounter with wildlife at the Calauit Reserve.

And here are the links to my previous blog posts - a detailed account of our Coron Escapade.
Part 1 - Arriving in Coron, first day in Majika island Resort
Part 2 - Days 2 and 3 in Majika: Tour of Coron Island which includes the Twin Lagoons, Cayangan Lake, Banol Beach and CYC Beach
Part 3 - Days 4 and 5: Transfer to Coron Village Lodge at the town proper, our climb up Mt. Tapyas, a short visit to Maquinit Hot Springs, tour of Cullion Island, snorkeling at the Bintuan Marine Sanctuary (Coral Garden, Caldave Marine Park) and Sangat Gunboat
Part 4 - Day 6: Transfer to Club Paradise at Dimakya Island
Part 5 - Day 7: Going up the hiking trail at Club Paradise and our Calauit Reserve tour
Past 6 - Days 8 and 9: The final installment - Exploring the waters around Dimakya Island, and our encounter with a Dugong

I think this is the first time I was able to edit ALL photos and blogged about a trip within just a month. I still haven't gotten around to finishing our photos and blogging about our Cambodia, Vietnam, Dumaguete and Singapore trips last year! I'll finish them someday. :)

Some people appreciate that I go through all the details of our vacation. Some probably don't have the patience. I love reading through my blog and I love all the details. They help me remember.

And before I move on to other posts, I leave you with my favorite photo from this trip.
Sunset Stroll

Happy reading!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Coron Escapade - Part 6 (The Last Installment)

To view previous posts in this series, click the following links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Day 8: April 30, 2010 - Club Paradise

There's not much to do but enjoy the resort and nature's beauty. In the morning, we walked around and discovered that there is a small chapel in the middle of the resort.

Holy Land

After our walk, we decided to go snorkeling and check out the house reef. It was beautiful. Lots of colorful fishes. After a while, we went to the other side of the resort to see the giant clams. The water was deeper in this part of the island but we were able to spot one clam. Ariel caught it on video but we weren't able to take a photo. Then we just decided to hang out by the beach.
THE pose

Several minutes later, we moved to the pool area. The sky was getting darker and the waves rougher. No more snorkeling for us.

Then, the most exciting thing happened. Just before noon, while lounging by the pool area, a guy from the aqua sports center approached us and told us that a dugong had been spotted near the house reef and asked us if we'd like to snorkel to see it. Ariel and I jumped on the opportunity. Ariel ran to get a pair of fins and life vests and we walked into the docking area. When I saw the waves, I hesitated to jump into the water. Good thing the aqua sports guy encouraged us and promised to swim with us. So we got into the water and swam with all our might against the pounding waves. I was on the verge of giving up when we finally saw the dugong quietly feeding on seagrass on the sandy bottom of the sea, just a few meters from the surface of the water.
Hungry Mammal

We were told to approach quietly, avoiding noisy splashes from our fins and not to come too close so as not to disrupt the feeding.

Here's a video of our snorkeling experience.

We were so pleased with our experience that we just relaxed the rest of the day.

At dinnertime, we were serenaded by the resort musicians as we enjoyed the sumptuous buffet.

I wanted to take a photo of the full moon for the last time but when we went out to the beach after dinner, we couldn't see the moon. After a few minutes, I noticed a faint glow from behind the distant islands. Slowly, the moon began to rise from the horizon. It was amazing! My first time to actually see the moon rise!
The Rising of the Moon

After our photo op, we walked to the Dugong Bar to have drinks - our last hurrah before heading back to the hustle and bustle of real life.
Dugong Bar

Check out all the photos here.

Day 9: May 1, 2010 - Time to go home!

Just because it's our last day doesn't mean we will just lock ourselves in our room and just wait for our departure. On the contrary, we wanted to enjoy our stay in the resort up to the last minute. So, we changed into our swim wear and headed off to the house reef for another round of snorkeling. We enjoyed the cool waters up to around 10am. Then we headed back to our cottage to pack. We ordered room service for lunch (pancit and sandwich) at around 11:30am and walked to the docking area by noon. Goodbye Club Paradise!

The Starfish and the Fish
Looking out
Last few shots
Saying goodbye
At the dock

See all Day 9 photos here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Coron Escapade - Part 5

If you missed the previous posts, click these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Day 7: May 29, 2010 - Club Paradise

We were informed the night before that no one else signed up for the morning tour to Calauit. There is a chance, however, of an afternoon trip. So for this morning, we decided to go up the hiking trail and get to the highest point of Dimakya Island. Ariel and I woke up early, packed our cameras and bottled water to take the short trail up to the peak. Dimakya is a small island and the peak is only about a kilometer of uphill trek, along a narrow trail lined by shady trees. We expected an easy climb.
Nature Photographer

I made sure my macro lens was attached to my camera. I saw a lot of macro opportunities the day before, specially along the swamp area. True enough, I was able to take a lot of nice macro shots.
Beauty Unleashed

Ariel and I took our time, making frequent stops to shoot photos. The trail was a gradual incline which makes it very easy to hike, even for a child. There were short intervals of steep ascent but nothing really difficult, even for an out of shape hiker like me. Bamboo railings line the trail for added protection.
Photo Stop

After a while we heard a loud screeching sound. We were surprised to see thousands of bats hanging on trees. They seemed to be disturbed and some started flying about. It feels spooky seeing them up close, and flying about at daytime.

Before long, we reached the peak. There was a concrete tower built for sightseeing. We climbed up the very narrow steps and got to the top.
Ariel and the Bats

It gave us a much better vantage point, allowing us a 360 degree view of Dimakya Island. Ariel and I just stayed there for a while, took some photos, and admired the view. We could see nearby islands, the stretch of white sand beach just in front of our cottage, the marine sanctuary and all of Club Paradise.
Dimakya Islang Beachfront
Conquering Fear
Dark Blue Bird
Blck Bird with Red Eyes

Here's a video of the 360 degree view on top of the view deck.

It was much faster going down as we didn't take as many stops. We rewarded ourselves with a scrumptious breakfast buffet. I tried the congee with my usual protein-rich omelette (onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese) and coffee, while Ariel sampled more types of breakfast food from the buffet. After breakfast, Ariel and I went to the beach just in front of our cottage for a short dip. The water was cool and clear, and very soothing. We spotted a few jellyfishes as big as my hand which scared me a bit but we eventually learned to avoid them. We built our very first sand castle which we patterned after the temple mountains of Cambodia. Well, at least that was our concept.
Sand Castle

We got confirmation that our Calauit Tour will push through at 1pm. So after lunch, we headed to the docking area to wait for our boat. We found out we were going with a Japanese family - a couple and two young boys with very plump and red cheeks (they are so cute I so wanted to pinch them!), and a pinoy couple who looks to be in their early 20s. It took us about an hour to get to Calauit Island. The tide was a bit low so we docked several meters away from the shore and we had to wade through knee-deep water to get to the sandy shore. We were greeted by a gigantic Heron feeding in the shallow beach. The bird moved away from us as we approached the island, and as much as I wanted to snap a photo, I was afraid to take out my camera while we were wading through the water. First thing we saw as we approached the island was a small outhouse which Ariel lost no time getting acquainted with, and a guardhouse where a local guide awaited us. We crossed a wooden bridge on a small creek into the mainland where a four-wheeler truck waited to drive us around the 3,700 hectare sanctuary.
Bridge to Safari
Inside the truck

It was an educational trip of sorts for us. I must admit I knew very little about Calauit other than animals roam freely around the island. Our guide started our education on the development of Caluit. It was in the late 70's when former President Marcos decided to develop the island, and the first batch of African wildlife arrived from Kenya. Giraffes, Zebras, Antelopes and other non-carnivorous African wildlife successfully adapted to the local environment and lived in harmony with endemic wildlife like the Calamian deers, mousedeers, bearcats and others.

As soon as we boarded the truck, a rush of excitement filled me. I've always been fascinated with wildlife. That's why I watch Animal Planet almost on a daily basis. Zoos and other animal parks are major attractions for me when visiting a foreign land. That is why I love Singapore so much. It's such a small country, very near the Philippines, and it offers a lot of animal parks. I've dreamed of going to an African Safari and this would be a similar experience, minus the carnivores. While driving along the rough terrain, we spotted many types of birds, the likes of which I've never seen in the wild before. After a while, we saw a group of Giraffes from afar. My excitement grew at the prospect of seeing them up close. Our truck carried branches of their favorite food and we were told we will be feeding them later. After about an hour, we came to a clearing where Calamian deers and zebras were grazing. We got off the truck to take photos.
Striped Horses
More African Zebras
Alby, Ariel and the Zebras
At the Safari

After a while, two male zebras started fighting which caused the other zebras to run around us. Our guide quickly ushered us back to the truck fearing for our safety, specially since we had kids in our group. Exciting! After driving a few more meters, we saw some Giraffes. We got off and the guide started waving the leaves. One giraffe approached us and started munching on the leaves. The guide said his name is Beethoven. What a beautiful creature!
Ariel and Beethoven

We saw a lot of Calamian deers around. most of them were very thin, with their ribs showing through the skin. The guide told us that with El Nino, the grasses have dried which deprived the deers of food. The giraffes and zebras, on the other hand, continue to thrive since they feed on leaves from trees which better tolerated the dry season. Because of this deprivation, the deers which do not normally approach people, would warily come near us to nibble on the leaves. As long as we are looking away, they would munch on the leaves, but as soon as we face them, they would run away from us.
Ariel and the Calamian Deer

After a while, two bigger giraffes started to approach us. Our guide thought it would be safer to go back inside the truck for our safety. Just like horses, they tend to kick when people approach them from behind as they probably see them as threats. We continued to feed the giraffes in the safety of the truck until we ran out of leaves.
Long-necked friends
Alby and the Giraffes
Sharing food
Feeding the Giraffe

Then we drove around some more and saw some Impalas. We also went to see some animals in captivity which included a bearcat, some porcupines, civet (locally known as alamid - famous for the alamid coffee), python, wild boars and some turtles. We also dropped by the freshwater alligator enclosure before heading off to the island's staff house. Near the staff houses is an enclosure for animals that need to be treated. It was all in all an exciting and memorable for all of us.
Procupine Feeding
The Bearcat
Calamin Dear
The beautiful Calauit landscape
Leaving Calauit island

On the way back to Club Paradise, our guide gave us a giraffe stuffed toy as souvenir. I felt like a kid again. Ariel and I really felt that is was money well-spent.

Here's a video of our wildlife encounter.

After dinner, we took some more photos by the beach as the moon is still full and bright.
Palawan Full Moon

Then we headed off to the bar where Ariel and I ordered a few drinks. I tried the frozen margarita, while Ariel had light beer of course. When we got back to our cottage, we were still awake enough to watch another episode of Criminal Minds. I love that show!

For the complete set of photos this day, click here.

To view Part 6, the final installment, click here.