My 7,107 | Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Palawan is picture-perfect.

Although it is not immune to the trappings of the modern world, its relative isolation helped it to somehow fend off excessive commercialization and environmental degradation. True, economic progress and conservation usually do not meet eye to eye, and surely the province has been a battle ground for many a war fought in this field. There are victors and losers, with tables probably turned every now and then. But as I have observed, Palaweños are generally the nature-lover bunch, for practical reasons. With travel and tourism as the province’s main draw, the people stand to benefit from caring for the environment and its natural wonders.

And so I came back to Palawan, the country’s last frontier, to enjoy and bask in its wonders and its beautiful, uncluttered beaches. The heat in the Metro is at an all-time high and there is no better time to go swimming. Destination: Sabang!

We took an AirAsia flight to Puerto Princesa, the capital. First stop on our itinerary is the crocodile farm. Upon entering the PWRCC (Philippine Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center) main lobby, we were greeted with a skeleton of a huge crocodile.

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Its skin was laid flat and hung on the wall. The guide says the skin of older crocodiles tend to be tougher and so are not ideal for creating wallets, bags, etc. That belongs to younger crocs who have softer skin. So this oldie’s skin might have to stay here for a little longer.

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There’s another one hanging on the other side painted with different colors of what seemed like tribal markings, maybe for aesthetic or art purposes.

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The guide also says this particular croc (the one whose skeleton is on display) and the biggest and longest one on record found in the Agusan marsh -“Lolong”, both died of the same reason – stress. This elicited lots of laughs because as humans, we only know too well how to feel stressed. And if these fearsome, magnificent creatures can only be downed by something as mundane as stress, then who are we humans to feel superior against it. We’ve all heard it said over and over: “Nakamamatay ang stress” (stress kills). Even the mighty crocodiles are no match to it.

Next we visited the hatchery where we see baby crocs, of course. The house smelled of croc pee.

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Then we moved on to where the full grown monsters are. When you scroll down farther below, you will see how this group of crocs form what seemed like crocodile pinwheel.

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After this, you get to have a chance to have photo op with or have your picture taken with a baby croc and get a souvenir picture. This leg of the tour gives you chance to relax and buy some refreshments like buko (coconut) juice and ice cream.

Next we went to Palawan’s Millionaire’s Row, where the Mitra estate/ranch (of the former House Speaker of the Philippine Congress) is located. This is also called the Sta. Monica Ranch. The property overlooks Honda Bay, another famous tourist destination. It’s an ideal spot for picnics.

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Just a few minutes’ drive away is Baker’s Hill where you find different breads and pastries like hopia, butterscotch, pianono, etc., and the famous local product – kasuy (cashew).

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Afterwards we went to another local market where you can buy more native produce like dried or sweet & spicy pusit, dilis, dried danggit and more nuts. Also you can buy local handicrafts and souvenir items. Everything is at a more affordable price here.

It was a fun yet exhausting first half of the itinerary. Before we proceeded to the resort where we will be staying, we first had lunch at KaLui. It’s a traditionally-themed restaurant with an artistic vibe, and has lots of organic and native artworks everywhere. We were even asked to remove our shoes and slippers as is commonly practiced in traditional Filipino homes.

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The food is also good. I particularly liked the fish fillet with mango tartare and the “lato” (seaweed). After having our tummies filled, it’s time for us to go to the resort. It was a long drive – about an hour and a half to 2 hours, depending on how fast the drive is. I think all of us dozed off because of exhaustion. We couldn’t have been more excited to reach the destination as we all feel like freshening up and retire to our rooms.

We had dinner at 6 – buffet dinner. Felt bloated afterwards. Swam at the pool. Had a few drinks. Wasted, at the end of the day 😛

To be continued…

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A Night of “Hugot” and More

My friends from work invited me to join them in their food trip and to this music/art event they saw online. I thought I should join since I feel I have been working myself to death lately. A little time off wouldn’t hurt.

We decided to grab some bite to eat first before taking off to this open mic event they were so excited to go to. It’s called “Hugot Night 2”. We imagine something like a karaoke/videoke bar where people take turns singing their heart out and belting songs to express their angst or to make fun of their own misery over some heart break or something.

But more on that later.

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First we went to Sweet Ecstasy where we heard the burgers are really good. Based on some online sources that I checked,  they cook the beef fresh and not from the freezer.

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There is a marked difference in the meat’s texture and taste although there’s mixed opinion within our group as to whether they like it or not. Some do not find it juicy enough, which is their standard for a good burger. I personally liked the burger but I feel like I should have ordered more if not for the fear of being judged “matakaw” (glutton), haha! Some of the things I think could be improved are the lack of space and the customer service. The lady at the counter has been scrimping on the ketchup and gives me stoic looks everytime I ask for more. There’s seven of us who ordered burgers and she only gave us like four packets/sachets (do the math).

After having our tummies filled, we headed to Sev’s Cafe. Traffic was a bit heavy Saturday night. Good thing my friends are creative and talented enough to find ways of entertaining themselves while on the road. They would actually be thankful that they did, as you would find out later on. So, the entire time we were on the road, they were already starting with their version of the hugot concert – a never-ending playlist of songs hugot-themed (or not), loud and chaotic mostly, with matching medleys and sound effects to boot. It was pure… noise. Haha!

Like I said, it’s good they enjoyed themselves early because when we arrived at the location, we were (well, some of us), were kind of thrown for the loop as they never expected the event to be a little on the serious side (serious artistic side, that is). I’m not sure if it’s the nerves that got into them, like stage fright maybe, or is it the crowd, the artsy/artistic crowd, they’re not really comfortable with. To cut the story short, they left. Some of us though were quite curious as to what this whole thing is about, so we stayed. It’s a different perspective, a different kind of entertainment. To sum it up, it’s like watching an indie film or some indie art – raw and unapologetic. The place is a seedbed of creative minds similar to undergound art events I see in American films, like Begin Again,  only it’s not confined to just songs and music but also poetry, drawings, even dance, as what I’ve seen on YouTube in one of my searches. All art forms, basically. There was even a portion in the program where drawings were auctioned off. One of us even tried her hand in bidding. All of these is for a good cause by the way, proceeds of which go to the “Piso Para Kay Toto” fundraiser, which would help patients of the Philippine Children’s Medical Centre.

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Below are some of the pictures of the performances.

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There’s even a hip-hopper from New York who joined
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The auctioning of the drawings

The more intense and more profound however, I think, were the last 2 to 3 acts before we left. So profound in fact that I wasn’t able to take pictures because I was so absorbed with it and because I don’t want to create distraction. Everyone was so quiet listening. The poem “Pindrop Silence” by Words Anonymous, is probably our favorite. It’s the ultimate HUGOT! Search for it yourself online. Perhaps you would like it too 🙂

As I mentioned earlier, I felt a little underfed with the burger, so by this time I’m beginning to feel like eating something more filling and heavy, like rice, maybe. We decided to go to Solaire Resort and Casino since they have available food purveyors open 24/7 and it was a bit late already.

Solaire is awesome! Just look at their lobby. We will definitely go back. We will play hard and burn some cash (naks!). As if I have cash to burn, LOL! Paging Lady Luck. Now is the best time to have yourself felt.

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Anyways, our main purpose here is to be fed. And fed we did with our multicultural dishes. I ordered “dak galbi” (Korean spicy chicken) from Namsam and I would have to say it was really good. I was really satisfied.

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“dak galbi”

Two thumbs up to this amazing place. Really nice 🙂 I would have helped myself with the desserts if I wasn’t so full already, haha!

And here are the photos of the other dishes.

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beef rendang
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roasted chicken with mashed potatoes

More Life Happens Here

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My friends and I embarked on yet another random, spur-of-the-moment food trip, to celebrate the weekend and some milestone. This is what happens when: 1. it’s payday, 2. people crave for cheese pops and, 3. one generous person willing to have freeloaders onboard.

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The much craved-for cheese pops

I love the food that they serve here. It’s delicious. It’s filling. Heck, even colourful! And you would almost certanly find something that’s infused with dairy and its derivatives, like cheese, cream, butter, etc. And just so you know, I LOVE cheese, I LOVE dairy! So that’s saying a lot 🙂

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The price is relatively affordable compared to others, and they even have perks and promos that entice you to try out their food and indulge. Case in point – unlimited nachos. You would think it impractical spending four or five times the price of nachos when all you really want are nachos. But it does the trick somehow, and from a business point of view, that’s all that really matters, does it not?

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December last year, they raffled off USB’s, watches, calculators, and an iPad. I won a USB.

Isn’t that cool? You know, these types of gestures, no matter how small, sometimes make a huge difference.

We tried the P999 promo which, if my accounting is correct, includes 1 appetizer and 2 of their main courses. This comes with unlimited nachos and cheese pops as add-on. For the appetizer we tried the calamari. And for the main courses – cilantro pesto with shrimp pasta and the Monterey chicken wrapped in bacon with cilantro rice.

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I never thought cilantro would work wonderfully as a pasta dish. In fact, this is becoming one of my favorites. And then there’s the Monterey chicken wrapped in bacon. I mean, who doesn’t like bacon? Unless you’re a vegan or someone who, for some religious or health reasons, could not eat pork, I don’t think anyone could refute the fact that bacon belongs to the topmost levels of delicious.

Having said that, should you need to get your “umami” fix, come to this place. With good food and good company, what more could one ask for? It really is a place where you can celebrate friendships, special occassions and good company. A place to celebrate life!

Discovering the Metro | SM Mega Fashion Hall

I have not been to Mega Mall for a long time and I was surprised to find that the area which used to be the parking lot in front of building A is now building D, otherwise known as the Mega Fashion Hall, an upscale property from SM that’s opened early part of this year. This is of course where the high end stores are located. A chance visit led me to the area. I have a lunch scheduled later in one of its restaurants.

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Mega Fashion Hall’s Olympic-sized skating rink

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It’s huge, and it’s got amenities like bowling alley and skating rink. I’m not sure though if the bowling alley and skating rink from the other building(s) still exist, or if these new ones were built to replace them. There’s also an extension of the Trade Hall and an IMAX. The Otaku Expo is being held that day and so there were lots of cosplayers outside the Trade Hall in their colorful, interesting costumes (and hairstyles).

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Things are definitely changing in this area, and they are changing fast. Buildings seem taller and you could find them in just about every corner. The mall has a modern, sleek design. It incorporates natural light and so the abundance of skylights everywhere, which is kind of cool. You know I’m all for sustainable, environment-friendly architecture and design. I think we need more of those. In fact, we need to make that the new standard for all structures, moving forward.

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As mentioned earlier, I am scheduled to have lunch in one of the recently-opened dining establishments here and the idea is that we will be eating like crazy, like nobody cares, because this is going to be a buffet lunch. We would be devouring the buffet table. We would be eating like hungry Vikings of old who toiled building ships, crossing oceans and finding new lands. Well, at least that’s the idea.

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Unfortunately for me, I was nursing a toothache so I couldn’t be in my A game. Even so, I still managed to eat some steak and lechon, albeit painstakingly so, chewing meat slowly and being careful not to have the hard pieces touch the aching tooth. Talk about bad timing, huh? I hope I am physically better able to take on the challenge the next time I come here.

My 7,107 | Camotes and Cebu City

It’s my second time visiting Camotes Island in Cebu. The last time was just about a year ago. I never really had the time to explore Cebu city itself back then, so I made sure to stay in the city and have myself familiarized with it before heading to Camotes, this time around. There are still lots of places to go to but in the limited time I had, at least I was able to go to the more popular destinations such as the malls (SM and Ayala Center) and the area near and around Fuente Osmeña Circle, where I had my room booked in one of its pension houses.

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At the Fuente Osmeña Circle

I had a taste of what it feels like backpacking. I even went to the Tabo-an market on my own where I thought I could find the type of galletas that my boss wanted. Alas, I didn’t find it there. Tabo-an, according to one reference I read, is one of the best places, if not the best, to buy danggit and other seafood as, I believe it is the first drop-off point of the catch from all over the province to the city. It is quite off-the-beaten-track though. One thing I was not able to do was to ride the jeepney because I don’t really know how the routes work, plus the language barrier. I was afraid I might get lost and not be understood where to go or find my way back 😛

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View to the east from The Terraces, Ayala Center, Cebu
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View to the west from The Terraces, Ayala Center, Cebu
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Water fountain at the Ayala Center, Cebu

Cebu is like Manila in so many ways, minus the pollution and rude cab drivers. Despite being a major economic hub in the Visayas, with the proliferation of malls and other modern amenities you will find in any developed city, you still get a small-town vibe, which makes easy for anyone to warm up to. The people are friendly and the food is great.

Now to my main destination – Camotes.

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My RORO (Roll-On, Roll-Off) ride to Camotes
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Camotes beachfront during low tide (as seen from the San Isidro side)
Saint Joseph Parish fronting the San Francisco (SanFran) municipal hall
Saint Joseph Parish fronting the San Francisco (SanFran) municipal hall

I was here primarily to attend the fiesta in the town of San Isidro where my relatives are. To be honest though, I didn’t have any itinerary planned out, so it’s a “go-with-the-flow” kind of stuff. I leave it all to my “ig-agaw’s” or “agaw’s” (cousins) to decide where to go in the island. They decide that we should go to the Busay Falls in the municipality of Tudela on Poro Island, and some of the sights in Poro itself such as the beachfront.

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Busay Falls in Tudela, Poro Island, Camotes
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The Port of Poro

It was my first time attending a true, blue barrio fiesta. The things I hear about guests being welcomed inside different homes and offered lots of food still hold true. And since this is Cebu, the star of every buffet is the lechon (roasted pig on spits). I never had a lechon this good for a long time actually. I conclude, nothing beats a lechon that’s been traditionally cooked and prepared – not even CnT or Ayer’s (some of the famous lechon sold commercially in the city that I have tried) come close. In the barrio during fiesta, it’s lechon all day long, fulfilling every person’s porcine fantasy with its savory, melt-in-your-mouth meat (and fat), and crispy, golden brown skin. I’ve been living my dream well until dinner and on into the following day, where leftovers become “lechon paksiw”. Hmm, just thinking of it makes me drool.

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The famous Cebu lechon

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It’s been part of the tradition to hold dance parties, or what is still commonly called here as “diskuhan” (disco/discotheque) every night, programs, games, bazaar, etc. In the town plaza before dusk, my cousin and I visited the church to pay respects to San Isidro Labrador – the town’s patron saint, the patron saint of farmers, and to check out the bazaar. In the town plaza we found a hundred-year old tree still standing. It is quite amazing if you think of it actually.

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San Isidro’s hundred-year-old tree
Moonlight over the San Isidro beachfront

It was a fun-filled week, indeed. An ideal R&R. I certainly would be coming back next year. In fact, this might be habit forming, a yearly affair. I thank my family and friends for their hospitality. This wouldn’t have been possible without them.

Also, I just want to share how in this journey I was treated with the sight of these lovely creatures both going and coming back from the island. Dolphins! It’s a childhood dream. I hope I could see them up close and maybe even touch them.

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This, plus a spectacular sunset over Danao port gives this vacation a nice ending.

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Not Your Ordinary Katsu

Probably the best katsu I have ever tasted. What the “melts in your mouth” catchphrase to M&M’s is, to Yabu its jewel – the kurobuta pork tonkatsu. And it has that nice crunch at the outset.

With a P500 price tag, this better deliver – and it did. It also comes with unlimited servings of sidings – miso soup, rice, thinly sliced cabbage, fruits (this time it’s watermelon, not sure if it changes with the season), and probably including pickled veggies, which I didn’t get to eat much due to being so full already. You get to create your own sauce as well, with a number of condiments at your disposal. You can make it sweet, spicy, mild, some bitter note, what have you. Whatever floats your boat, really.

The "kurobuta" pork tonkatsu - the crown jewel in Yabu's menu. A nice crunch on the outside and soft, melt-in-your-mouth meat inside.
The “kurobuta” pork tonkatsu – the crown jewel in Yabu’s menu. A nice crunch on the outside and soft, melt-in-your-mouth meat on the inside.

This food is so decadent and luxurious, it’s definitely not something an ordinary drone worker like me would eat on a daily basis (unless, of course, you are the type who happen to have the cash to burn). However, I feel like it’s something worth spending or saving up for during special occasions, especially for big groups, family gatherings, and the like.

It was a spur of the moment idea my friends came up with. And of course, when it comes to food, I didn’t think twice joining. One does not have to do much imposing, you know? I am easy to get just like that, haha!

The KitKat Project

Since I missed the opportunity going to the Land of the Rising Sun, I decided my friends should pitch in completing or at least contributing to my KitKat Project.

You see in Japan, they have so many kitkat flavours it blows the mind. “Kitto Katsu”, as how the Japanese call it, are the most popular confectionery treat in Japan. Literally translated as ‘surely win’, “kitto katsu” is an expression of good luck.

Some of the weird and wacky flavors of kitkat (from upper left, clockwise): dark chocolate, blueberry cheesecake, green tea, wasabi, strawberry, purple yam, rum & raisin, and regular

Although completing all the flavours is a work in progress, what I have collected so far seems like I had come full circle, especially after the last batch has arrived. Suffice it to say, although kitkats are the highlight of this whole project, it is interesting to note that not only kitkats but also all other brands of chocolates and sweet treats were flown in, which equally deserves much appreciation.

And just to show how much ‘sweet’, generous and thoughtful my friends have been, I am posting a photo of some of the treats they brought. And I say some because there’s actually more than what you see here that unfortunately could no longer fit the frame. I feel like I could actually open my own candy store with all these stuff.

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