“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain
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28 December 2011

"Talk Time" with Susan Calo Medina

"Talk Time" with Susan Calo Medina

First, my apologies for not having uploaded my supposedly 3-part series of my year-ender. I have no other major reason--it is Christmas and New Year holiday--when all we have in mind is forget the gym workouts and the diet regimen to give in to our earthly desires to eat, drink and be merry! I guess, with that, my apologies are accepted. [Smile!].

Second, I just want to share with you a once-in-a-lifetime experience just this afternoon--that is meeting the Philippines' travel icon--Ms. Susan Calo-Medina of Travel Time!

It started with me commenting about Travel Time episode "My Personal Baguio" in their fan page, then a series of communication ensued between me and her staff to find a common schedule for the meet, which is actually an interview.  Actually, I did not expect this to happen.  In fact, with so many concerns before Christmas, I have already forgotten all about the possibility of an interview as mentioned in the Facebook note in their fan page.  It was just a "try" on my part.  Besides, whether or not I would be interviewed, I gave a  comment that comes from the heart.  I was stunned, of course!  I have met dignitaries because of my work, but I never felt this way!  The mere thought that I will have the chance to meet the Travel Icon, simply kept playing in my mind!

Then I began to weave possible questions and answers. Restless, I even sent SMS to her staff what possible  questions she would ask so at least I can prepare and not look nincompoop infront of Mrs. Medina.  She told me, it is very simple and we would have a "rehearsal."  I was relieved with that.

Then the day came for the interview.  It was simple and short--and I hope I did not make a fool of myself.  It was my first time to do an on-cam interview.  Considering that I am new to this, it was both a surprise and a relief that there is no one directing and telling me what I "should" say, or say "cut", or "re-take".  It was very casual that, in my mind, I asked--"That's it?" Yeah, yeah, I stammered a bit but Ms. Medina was quick to come to the rescue with another question.  It was just awesome for a first-timer for an on-cam interview.

What helped me go through this is perhaps the pleasant disposition of Ms. Medina.  She had no air and was just so accommodating.  It was definitely an honor on my part to have met her.

When we had to bid each other goodbyes and said our "thank you's", I had to let go of my inhibitions. I have never done this before-even with the Philippine President I worked for (which I regretted, of course!).  I was always shy to ask.  This time, I just had to let go and ask if we could have a  have a photo for posterity.  She was game with it even if she was worried she was not wearing make up.  But then as I told her, she still came out beautifully in the photo.  (The sad part is that the photo was a bit blurred.  The flash was set to slow synchro.  Sigh!).  Then I asked permission that I will blog about this.

So this is it!  Now, this is my yea-render post!

The interview will be aired on January 14 over ANC Channel, Saturday at 9:30 AM.

Watch "Travel Time with Susan Calo Medina"
ANC Channel
Saturdays at 9:30 AM
Replays:  Saturday (5:30 PM), Mondays (6:00 PM) and Fridays (2;30 AM)

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20 December 2011

Judy Ann's crispy pata

After performing our duties as wannabe social welfare officers pretending to be photography enthusiasts, we thought of rewarding ourselves after a job well done. Since some of our colleagues were from Malabon, they wanted us to taste the best that Malabon can offer. So off we went to this small but famous restaurant.

Judy ann's

At first, the waitresses were unsure if they could still entertain us, because they were expecting guests who have a reservation at 3PM. Looking at our watches, it was only a bit past 1PM. So we negotiated. We promised we will eat fast, as long as they can cook fast too--and we had a deal.

Of course we ordered the famed crispy pata (pig knuckles) ! And since some of us (like me, LOL!), were health-conscious (tell it to the marines!), we ordered veggies like the usual chop suey and ampalaya (bitter gourd) with meat. So we had this!

Judy ann's
Crispy, succulent and tender crispy pata!

Judy ann's
Apparently not your usual chop suey

Judy ann's
Ampalaya with beef (but we learned later it had shrimps too!)

True to our words, we were done in 30 minutes, and we only paid a little over a P100 each. I thought it was better than having the usual fastfood fare, and we get to taste what Malabon is known for.

The crispy pata had a different taste and had just the right tenderness!  Apparently, the home-made pickles and and its juice sprinkled all over nailed it.  The veggies are stirred in oyster sauce that made it taste better.  Unlike the predictable ampalaya with beef, this one had tomatoes that, I think, made the bitter taste to stand out.   I am no food connoisseur, so I will not speak more.  Let the taste speak for itself.

So where do you find this restaurant?

Judy ann's

There.  Judy Ann's is already a part of Malabon heritage.  Among other Malabon delicacies, their crispy pata is always sought for.

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16 December 2011

No more ghost stories in Baguio's Casa Vallejo

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The urban legend that Casa Vallejo has become over the past decades, has drawn a lot of interest.  Why not? Casa Vallejo in Baguio City is believed to be a place for ghostly apparitions.  In fact, it has become the subject of pre-Halloween or Halloween specials of many TV shows in the Philippines.

No more ghost stories in Casa Vallejo

No more ghost stories in Casa Vallejo

I recall that at the time I visited my friends and former colleagues, I stayed here 2 years after my 6-year Baguio sojourn.  If my memory serves me right , I was the lone guest of the hotel manned solely by an old Igorot man.  If my memory serves me right, I stayed in the farthest left room at the mezzanine.  It was a bit eerie, but it was not that scary except by nightfall. The mere thought that the building looked old both from inside and out, there can be no denying that whether or not you believe in ghosts, you would still entertain the possibility of apparitions. Well, I had no option.  It was the cheapest hotel at that time, I think, and I was on a tight budget.  Nonetheless, the rooms and the bathroom were clean, but not five-star clean, so to say.

No more ghost stories in Casa Vallejo
The then dark corridors.  It is still dark at the stairs portion but
fully lit up at night.

No more ghost stories in Casa Vallejo
The staircase you'd not want to look at while walking along the corridor when it
was not yet renovated.

Back in the day, the interiors were dark--a stark reminder of Baguio's old haunted houses. The battered wooden floors that had seen better days squeaked at every step.  It was so silent you would hear your own breathing  and think more than twice if you would want to go out to wine and dine at night along Session Road. There was no intercom, and the only communication between me and the old man and the noise that breaks the silence of the night was the desk bell on the front desk in the middle of the lobby--which was a good 25-30 meters away from my room. One early morning when I ordered coffee, it took a while for the old man to appear from the dark corners! Much to my trepidation, I had to entertain myself by looking at the glass windows.  Unannounced, he suddenly appeared at my back mumbling some words I could not decipher!  True, I almost fainted right there and then!  [Smile!]

Fast-track to 2010, we had the chance to had an overnight stay in this hotel again.  It being on a soft launch, with a rich history, and the one with available room because the other hotels were fully booked,  we gave it a try.

No more ghost stories in Casa Vallejo
Well-appointed rooms.

No more ghost stories in Casa Vallejo
Cozy and homey lobby.

Upon entering the lobby I was surprised with its transformation. Even at night, the interior looked bright and sunny.  It was unpretentious with its simple and homey, yet elegant design. And I just love how they made that old fireplace the centerpiece of the lobby! The corridors are already well-lighted (thank, heavens!), the wooden floor--though still squeaking--is now carpeted, the rooms are also carpeted, the sheets and linens are crisp and clean, and the bathroom and comfort room is neatly tiled, with a good supply of hot and cold water.

Knowing Casa Vallejo in its former state of disrepair after DENR has occupied the place, its renovation and restoration to its former glory to become a well-known boutique hotel in Baguio City, is simply commendable!  Too bad I was not able to take interior photos that time. Overall, it was a night well-spent and there was no ghost that appeared to me that night.

No more ghost stories in Casa Vallejo
Where important men and women, once, passed through.

On several occasions, I had the opportunity stay in this hotel again and had more time to better appreciate its historical significance, and of course, having more opportunities to take some photos (but not that much for I am wary that the management might hinder me from doing so.).  The scent of aged pine wood, the romantic ambiance, and its historical significance gives you that old-world feel in a modern and vibrant Baguio City. Likewise, while it's well-appointed rooms can give comfort, there is nothing more comforting than its courteous staff who always had that ready smile.

I think the historical significance of the hotel exudes that irresistible charm and interesting character that can draw a transient to book into this hotel.  At this point, allow me not to reinvent the Casa Vallejo's history but cull out, instead, from other online sources like the website of Casa Vallejo and Philippine Daily Inquirer, and other online sources which I failed to  (credits of the succeeding texts, therefore, go to these websites).

Here's the attention-grabbing bits of information about the hotel:
  • Built in 1909, Casa Vallejo is one of the oldest remaining structures, built before Baguio City's founding anniversary (1910).  
  • It became a German Prisoner of War detention center in 1917, 
  • Dormitory 4 to house the employees of the Bureau of Public Works before the 1920s, when the American colonial government began populating Baguio. 
  • Became a  hotel in 1923, 
  • Salvador Vallejo (where it got its current name) leased the hotel from the government in 1927 and converted it into a hotel;
  • It became a British and Indian refugee center in 1940;
  • Together with Baguio Cathedral, it survived the Japanese carpet bombing during World War II in 1941; 
  • Served as a temporary site of the Baguio City High School in 1945 after WW II;
  • It is the the only remaining building of the Government Compound built from 1908 to 1909, and
  • It has been named by the Baguio Centennial Commission as one of the 10 oldest institutions in the city. 
Of recent, Casa Vallejo has become the home of the Philippines' first Cinematheque built and managed by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP). The cinematheque is a 70-seater theater that shows art films from the the Philippines and abroad.

No more ghost stories in Casa Vallejo

Aside from the hotel, Casa Vallejo features the restaurant Hill Station, Mt. Could book shop, and North Haven Spa. If you happen to plan to stay in this hotel for work or vacation, make sure you book ahead since they are usually full.

No more ghost stories in Casa Vallejo

No more ghost stories in Casa Vallejo
Hill Station Restaurant, formerly the ballroom.

No more ghost stories in Casa Vallejo
North Haven Spa on the left side of the hotel.

Casa Vallejo has very rich historical significance to Baguio City's heritage, as such I would not mind blogging about it for the sake of blogging alone.  I say it is worth staying in this hotel and becoming part of its living history and hospitality to people of different nationalities and background whom it had kept in its comforting embrace under abysmal and pleasant conditions and situations.

While the ghosts of the past may still be lurking around it its every nook and cranny, I am sure they are happy with what has become of Casa Vallejo today.

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13 December 2011

Batanes' oldest Ivatan house

Batanes' Oldest house

Date taken: September 17, 2007

Also known as the House of Dakay, it is believed that this is the oldest house in Batanes. This was was built in 1887 and the only stone house that was left after a strong earthquake that hit Batanes in September 13, 1918. Its walls are made of layers of corals and stones, and are two-feet thick, which could stand the pounding of strong winds during typhoons. It is located in the town of Ivana.

Batanes' Oldest house

Batanes' Oldest house

Batanes' Oldest house

When I took these photos last September 17, 2007, it was 3 days after the anniversary of the earthquake and the house was exactly 120 years old. Auntie Ida (Ivatans or locals commonly call elders, auntie) or Florestida Estrella, then 81, owns the house. I do not know if she is still alive. If it were so, she would be 85 by now, and the house is now 124 years old.

Batanes' Oldest house

Does anybody know if she is still alive?

Batanes' Oldest house

By the way, my apologies for the poor shots.  I was then a noob in photography with just a 4 megapixel Olympus point and shoot in my hand.

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12 December 2011

Calapan Bay by day and night

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Calapan Bay by day and night

Going to and from field work in Oriental Mindoro gave me the chance to appreciate the beauty of Calapan Bay. I was billeted in Calapan Bay hotel, a stone's throw away from Calapan City pier. For the first 3 days, I was disappointed. It was always raining. On the 4th and 5th day of my stay in the hotel, bright sunny mornings greeted me. It was a break from gloomy breakfasts.

Initially, I thought it was just an ordinary daily scene. But then peeping through the grills of the fence that separates the sea and the hotel, I noticed some people gleaning (it was a lowtide).  Again, another dramatic scene I always wanted to capture through my lenses.  So, I dashed back to my room and grabbed my camera backpack and in minutes, I was shooting the beautiful scenery. Thus for three mornings, what could be better than enjoying morning sun, sniffing the salty sea air, savoring your coffee while admiring this God-given scenery?  Lovely, isnt't it?

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The view from Calapan Bay Hotel's rear veranda.

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A fisherman catching some fish.

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Wide view of Capalan City Pier.

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A gleaner, apparently collecting clams and other edibles.

However, I did not have much chance of capturing Calapan Bay by nightfall.  It was either raining at night or too late when I reach the hotel from field work.  I had a full week and felt drained and sometimes I would just doze off until dinner time.

When it was dinnertime on my second to the last night in the hotel, a beautiful sunset became a reliever to my worn out body. Again, I ran back to my room to get my camera! (I seem to have a penchant of not bringing my camera with me! Well, it happens.  Besides I had to dine and not shoot.).

 Thinking that sunsets happen so fast I felt I had to do it again. Unlike my other previous sunset photos, it was not very dramatic, but then, sunsets always fascinates me. I was careful not to have camera shake as I did not have a tripod with me (Yeah, a lame excuse!). I tried on some, but I only made some good shots, especially in some long exposures, and increasing the ISO is the only way to have it fast.

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Sunset in Calapan Bay.

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Super Cat heading to Batangas Port. Trying on an incandescent white balance.

Again, I am just happy to share with you some photos of Calapan Bay by day and night.  I hope you like what I saw.

For more photos, please visit the Calapan Bay set in Flickr.


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09 December 2011

Shooting cascades in Papa-a

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Shooting cascades in Papa-a

Papa-a is another backyard nature wonder I have visited in Brgy. Mangangan I, Baco, Oriental Mindoro.  It was just a good 50 meters hike from my friend's house!  Again, they are just so lucky to have this in their own backyard!

As soon as we arrived, I prepared my photography gears and headed to this rocky stream.  There are no big falls to see (or perhaps further upstream, I never asked) but as soon as I stepped on it, I was simply awed by its cool and clean water!

There was a looming rain, and I thought it might be dangerous to trek as there would be a possibility of a flash flood coming from the mountain.  I was told, this stream can go high at 10 feet during a continuous and strong downpour.  But then, the sun shone brightly in between cumulus clouds.  Besides, it was a break from a week of work in Calapan City and I had to unwind even just for a day and negative thoughts can't just defeat this overwhelming natural beauty right before my eyes.

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The cascade that flows between the mag-asawang bato.

As soon as I saw small cascades running down the stream, I immediately thought it would be good to do long exposures.    It was just disappointing that I did not bring my tripod [again!].  However, with a luggage of wardrobe good for a week, heavy documents and laptop in tow, it was cumbersome to bring a tripod on your official trips.  Again, I had to improvise.  Despite the shutter lag in my camera, plus the strong sunshine, which made it difficult for me to time and expose correctly, I was able to get some usable photos.

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Mag-asawang Bato [twin rock].  The water is so cool and clear you can see the rocks below.

The main attraction in this stream is called mag-asawang bato [a twin rock].  It has a waist level pool in between. As soon as we arrived, I was already dying to plunge.  But then, I had to accomplish my main agenda in coming here--to photograph.

After doing my photography, and although not pleased with what I have taken, I thought it was time for me to plunge!  It was just frustrating having a camera that does not cooperate. Besides, I was soaking in sweat and the cool water was just inviting and irresistible!  So I took the plunge!

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Taking the plunge!

After I was refreshed, I looked for more cascades to shoot upstream and found a good shaded spot and got lucky to have these shots. (It is advisable to have long exposures under overcast skies or under a shade).  Having no tripod was just challenging!  I had to prop myself on top of rocks just so I can have these taken.

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Definitely, this visit was worth the not-so-bumpy trip.  It was just refreshing and definitely a break from a heavy work week.  If I were to describe it in one word, literally  or figuratively--COOL!

For more photos, see Shooting cascades in Papa-a set on Flickr

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04 December 2011

Revisiting Barangay Calima

Revisiting Brgy. Calima

At a glance, Brgy, Calima in Pola, Mindoro Oriental, is just another ordinary coastal barangay.  On a second look, and with a keen eye for something beautiful, however, it will reveal its rustic appeal.

It is not a sleepy village at all.  Economic activity is very much alive.  They have village stores where you can buy your basic necessities without going to town.  Although it is separated from the town by a river, transportation is not a problem.  For P5.00 you can easily just cross the estuary, and ride a single motorbike for P5.00 or P10.00 for a solo back ride.  In 2 minutes from the riverbank, you are already in the barangay center where all the basic amenities are a few steps away, except for the elementary school which sits on the hill around 50 meters high.

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Our first time.  Since it was high tide, we had to skip the motorbike ride and went straight
ahead to the small port. 

Endearing people

Austere as they may be, there is something that makes Calima's people endearing.

There seems to be no idle moment for most of the residents. You will find women tending their homes and sweeping their backyard and streets.  Thus, I could not help but compare this community with other coastal barangays I have visited.  The community is relatively clean except that they need to manage their solid waste (which, as of my last visit, is a big concern in the deliberations of the Barangay council).

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A clean and green community.

While households have a source of entertainment they are not preoccupied by their television sets or radio except, perhaps, during lunchtime when they have to watch their fave noontime shows, and at night for their soaps.

If you happen to visit the place on a weekend, you would wake up, even before the crack of dawn, by the loud dance music playing at the community plaza, a.k.a. covered basketball court.  Pray that you would be dead tired from the previous day's travel, or you'll find this quite annoying.  But it was okay.  we were guests, and we could not complain.  So, what is the loud and thumping dance music all about?  I was told it was time for moms' and grandmas' weekly aerobics exercise.  I was told I should have taken photos of them.  I agree it would have been a documentary piece, but I was lulled back to sleep and dreamt, instead, I was partying in a club or so. [Smile!].

After breakfast, men proceed to theirs farms up on the hills or go fishing.  Teenage boys play basketball while the girls help in their households. Children, on weekdays, go to school or you can find them playing traditional Filipino games like dama, patintero, piko jolens or simply enjoy the slides and monkey bars in the playground during weekends.  During low tide, you can see them gleaning on the shores looking for shells and other edibles like sea urchins and sea cucumber.

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Boys the playing traditional marble game.

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Fishermen tending their boats during the low tide.

Ideal? Maybe.  That is because everyone is is part of "isang pisa."  Isang pisa, like a single hatched egg, is a colloquial term for "angkan" [clan]. Calima got its name from the five (5) families [lima or five] from the province of Romblon who settled in this community.  These families, who happen to have family names that starts with letter "F," also come from a single clan in Romblon.  So, practically, everyone is related by blood affinity.  Everybody knows everyone, and everyone is friendly to total strangers.

Blood affinity works well in terms of politics.  It does not matter who wins in the next election for the Barangay officials.  So everyone gets to support the local leaders who happen to be their relative so they can also speak their minds to their officials like they were their younger or older brother or sister.

It also takes pride in being an awardee for having a zero-crime rate.  Why not? Nobody would dare commit a crime against a blood relative.

Of course, one cannot prevent some occasional brawls among teenage boys and among men.  However, they cannot evade justice in this small village.  Without discriminating about who started the fight, all who were involved are all "sentenced" to do a day of manual labor like cleaning the community or hauling sacks of sand from the beach.  The worst and, perhaps, the amusing and  most excruciating part of their punishment is that they serve their sentence right infront of the witnessing community, and they become the laughing stock of  young boys and girls cheering and jeering at them. Since the last verdict was made, nothing of this sort has happened--simply because the boys and men are just too shameful to act stupid and be shamefully punished that way--again.  A classic example of value for hiya or shame? Definitely.

Hidden beauty      

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Rest area for famers going down from the hills.  They built this hut as their rest area
before proceeding to the barangay center.  This area is also used as
a camping ground during summer.
The rustic charm of the place cannot cannot escape from a photographer's keen eye.  Yes, it does not have those wide and white sand beaches that could pass for a postcard.  It is near an estuary, which gives additional character to the place. I have visited the place twice and in those two instances, it was always overcast and always raining.  The colors were drab.  No blue skies and cotton-like clouds to shoot, but it had that view of a seascape that reflects rain clouds, gleaning fisherfolks and kids during low tides--creating interest and drama. Not bad at all!

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Cemented pathway along the river, lined up with coconut and narra.

On my first visit, I never had the chance to walk through and along its river.  So when I had the chance on my second visit, I thought I should take some more photos. I was told there is a waterfall 1-hour walk away (again, depending on how fast can you walk or climb), but then I was there on an official visit this time, and have to go back to Calapan that same day. Perhaps, I should go back to visit its falls. So I just had to be contented taking some photos I took going to the cooperative's project I was evaluating. For them, it is just an ordinary part of the community,  but it is not only me who told them they are lucky having this natural resource right at their backyard.

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Crystal clean river, where children take a bath and women do their laundry.

On our way back, I took some more photos, until we bade them goodbye.  Perhaps, not the last goodbye.  I was told, there are places that need to be explored more. I hope to revisit it again when the right time comes.

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Going back to the community.

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A teenage boy carrying a head basket.

Fascinated with a lot of gumamela flowers that come in different varieties and colors.

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Traditional nipa hut.

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The community rest house.

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Amused by these langka fruits hanging over the road. 

One last look from the other side.

For more photos, please visit Revisiting Barangay Calima set in Flickr.

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