Food, Travel

The real chili sauce

Tried this artisan pinutos sa kanto. A teeny drop is all it takes. Truly “extra hot spicy”! ” So where’d the chilies come from?” I asked the guy at the counter. He just grinned. I imagined they’re picked from the native chili tree that’s maybe by the gate, growin’ wild and bloomin’ free and unnoticed. Until somebody got a bright idea.

pinutos sa kanto chili sauce

Food, Travel

Made in Basilan

It’s not all fighting in this island. I learned that the Moro, though not so the younger generation, love coffee which Bisaya people here find strange as they’re not coffee drinkers. Or, should I say coffee is a staple for these natives- not the instant kind but the real brew. A typical family stores the drink in a flask or thermos to keep it hot throughout the day. They like it strong and sweet. Reminds me of Moroccan coffee.

coffee #madeinBasilan

Interior Design, Travel

Home color palette inspiration: gray, green, brown, and a dash of yellow

This is exactly the color palette of my place out here which I’m loving, especially the wood (my bed for instance is solid teak or something, I can’t move it by myself). I guess it was just plain luck that the first rental place my hosts brought me to see is newly-built (the first renter was a female nurse and obviously took good care of the place) and came with a modern design. I immediately said yes to the caretaker (and worried about how to justify my yes to my agency only after).

home color inspiration

Food, Travel

Native delicacies: dodol

Dodol is a toffee-like delicacy made of rice flour, coconut milk, and palm sugar. The ones I saw hanging from a road-side store while on a stop-over on my way to Cotabato City were wrapped in corn husks. The sweet treat is purportedly found all over Southeast Asia, but it was my first to see and taste one then. It was Ramadan at the time.


discovery channel
People, Travel


ready to rediscover the world

Stored away my personal things, done. Leased the house, done. I am these days practically homeless again. This “lightness” is essential when going away to work in a rather unstable environment. But having children has changed me, inside. I worry and have guilty feelings. But, I know and have read about women like me whose children turned out well. As if to reassure me, I chanced on cable TV recently a feature on Leticia Ramos Shahani, pioneering UN official among her other achievements. I learned that she became a single mother after having been widowed young. This happened at the height of her career as a diplomat. “I was so busy I’d tell my children ‘alright, you have five minutes to tell me what you need,” she said in the interview. I smiled. That sounded familiar. But, look her children grew up to become fine men and women. That’s what’s important which I’m always on guard for, even from a distance, and pray for. No, in truth, that’s the only thing I pray for. I hope that one day they will come to understand “mommy’s project”.

As to the career path I chose (or, should I say, it chose me after which I then came to love), there have been innumerable lessons I learned on the way. I came upon a better wording of these, in a post by Philen Naidu also a WordPress blogger. I’m sharing here her three insights that resound with me most:

The Truth Is That We Are – at Our Core – Most Interested About Our Own Happiness.

No matter how we try to word it so that it sounds good to us, as soon as we accept this; that our philanthropic endeavors are nothing more than an attempt to discover our own happiness … then we’re one step along the way to being authentic and true. And this is what is needed more than anything.

Through volunteering, the people you think you are serving, are actually serving you for you to discover your own joy and passion.Volunteering is just a weird vehicle that is used where we trick ourselves into believing that we’re actually the gift-givers, when we’re not. We are only co-participators in something bigger.

Only an Arrogant Fool Believes They Can Show Anyone a Better Way

Remember this wherever you go. The people, cultures, and communities you will meet, were all there before you arrived. They have successfully nurtured generations of children through conditions that you could likely not handle for longer than a few weeks, and then, only in the knowledge that it will end at some stage and you can return home. They will also be there after you leave. While you are taking a break, the people you meet are not. They are in their life and they take no breaks. When your trip or project ends, their life continues, unbroken in its stride. Remember, it is you who has gone to them, and it is not them who has come to you or even called you.

Listen First, Talk Second

Resist the chance of appearing as a coloniser who is trying to impose their ways on another society, by listening and observing first. Without judgment. Learn the way of the people and the land; Be a community member who understands and shares the desires of the people of the community you’re visiting, before offering your carefully considered opinions.

What Every Traveler/Volunteer Should Know Before Leaving Home, Philen Naidu

bamboo bend with the wind

camotes island cebu

Postcards from around the Philippines: Camotes Island

Immigration is the buzz word these days. Well, migration is the word this season. Like birds, migration for survival is written in our system. Besides, going off to warmer climes is much cheaper overall than paying for home heating and all.

Santiago Beach, Camotes Island, Cebu, Philippines
Santiago Beach

Two hours off mainland Cebu is a little known island- Camotes Group of Islands (or, just Camotes Island) of virgin forest, reforested mangroves, white sand, and pristine waters. It’s a quieter hideaway for those so inclined. One could go back to mainland Cebu, or take the boat ride to Ormoc (Leyte) on to Tacloban City. Whatever the return plan, your Camotes Island vacation will surely warm you the rest of the year.

Lake Danao Park Camotes Island Cebu Philippines
Lake Danao Park also called Lover’s Lake. There is a boat cruise, Sakanaw, that takes tourists around the place.
Snake Islet on Lake Danao, Camotes Island, Cebu, Philippines
Snake Islet on Lake Danao
Technology, Travel

Sustainable tourism for Mt. Pulag National Park

The third highest peak in the country, Mount Pulag, which is part of the 11,500 hectares Mount Pulag National Park straddling the three provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva Vizcaya, has been closed off on all weekends of this year. To me, the decision is inconsistent with the region’s tourism goals.

Closing the area reveals that the towns and officials are not prepared to manage a biodiversity-based tourism strategy and are without the necessary resources to realize the plan despite the region’s Department of Tourism’s rhetoric on competitive tourism for the region.

To sustain tourism at Mount Pulag and neighboring areas throughout the area regardless of temperature, there need to be

  1.  A business proposition, as in, what ways can tourism harness biodiversity at the same time preserve it? how can conservation of Mount Pulag Park and neighboring areas contribute to the economy and cultural preservation of local communities through tourism? At the moment, mountain climbing. What else? A wedding venue? A fitness center? Host to a local music, arts, wine and food festival? All that as an “on top of the world” experience, because why not? It should be something tourists would value ie. to come running across oceans for. Then build up the area around that idea.

comparative advantage of a mountain city

  1.  Lodging places, not just to sleep but to comfortably rest, sleep, and/or eat. Places for solo travelers, backpackers, for families on a budget, for guests who could splurge on a thousand dollar a night accommodation, in other words, for all classes of tourists.
lodging for backpackers
Accommodation for backpackers
  1.  These lodging places should put in appropriate heating. In Baguio City, it is most ironic that hotel rooms, even those that charge four- or five-star rates, do not have heating! Instead, they have airconditioning as in cooling! Hotels supposedly spend the most in heating (keeping guests warm in the dead of winter) which is why they ask for the equivalent price of it’s maintenance. So when guests pay five-star rates and there’s no heating and not even a fleece blanket, just thin cottony ones, bloody hell! It’s a rip off! So yes, heating, because we’re a mountain region.

adjusting hotel room thermostat

  1.  Transportation. You don’t suppose tourists unless they’re on penance, reenacting the nativity would want to go by donkey, on cold foggy days, all the way to Mount Pulag? Yet this approximates the present state of transportation, for instance, from Baguio to Mount Pulag. It’s why only mountaineers, athletic college kids, are the usual tourists on the site. A more tourist-y ride, one that gives a bird’s eye view of the picturesque mountain scene, a once in a lifetime experience, should already be in the works.
chamonix mont blanc cable car ride
Chamonix Mont Blanc cable car ride
  1.  Other details, such as signages. Signages do matter. What we have with many small businesses are names and signages written on clapboards and cartons, often indiscernible, and hung haphazardly on strings. They are a distracting irritating sight. This projects irresponsibility, of the business not caring whether or not it’s potential customers have to twist their necks just so they would know the product or service it offers. Signages and their content are part of a business’ asset pool, it’s intellectual property, and if businesses don’t give a shit about their property, it only tells the public about their worth which is they’re not worth the premium. So, yes, the small but important details in image consistency matter.

signages at mountain resort

Local tourism need a local government, a private sector, and a citizenry whose mindsets are ahead of the needs and wants of their guests; who are able to see opportunities in their surroundings and create new things of it; who are generous in their vision ie. they want to have others – tourists – partake of their creation because that in itself is tourism (hospitality).

Tourism, creating a brand and sustaining it to meet expectations, is actually hard work. It takes mental work. It requires networks. You don’t say It’s More Fun In The Philippines! and then sit back and expect a million a day visitors to just stream in. Where will you get the money to realize the things stated in your tourism strategy? It takes hard work, constant assessment – how are we doing? are we meeting needs and wants of our target guests? are guests meeting expectations (they’re not raping the park?)? if not, why? and how can we all do things better? – and at times rebranding.

Food, People, Travel

ThrowbackThursday: Greek kindness


At the heart of the matter, I believe, is the concept of philoxenia, the obligation in the Greek culture to treat strangers as honoured guests. This obligation is so ancient that its origins are thought to lie in the belief that, you never know, these strangers that you’ve just met could well be gods. Zeus or Hermes, perhaps, disguised as ordinary human travellers. So ingrained is philoxenia in the Greek psyche that, to my mind, it has become who they are.

Travellers to Greece are often astonished by the spontaneous generosity they meet, I once read in a guide book, and astonished I’ve been. I’ve received endless offers of coffee or ouzo. Wine pitchers topped up with a wink. A lime once tucked into my hand by the grocer after I’d paid for my iced teas. A basket of Sifnos eggs to cook for my breakfast the next day. A home-made goat’s cheese. Sweet treats from taverna owners to end many meals – cakes, cookies, or yogurt with fruits… On occasion in more than one taverna, a meal that I’m not allowed to pay for  … well, just because. That’s the other thing with Greeks. They express their love through their food.

Imagine, I often think and especially these days, a world that lives by philoxenia.

Greek Kindness, thesifnoschronicler on wordpress

Reading this, I remember again Mother’s story about her Greek friend when we were in Zambia. That time, the country was reeling from the tailend effects of the Rhodesian War. Food supplies got scarce, even in the capital (Lusaka). Families worried.

Luckily for us, Mother had a Greek lady (and her British hubby) friend she met from my school, also expats but had been in residence much longer than us, who owned one of the biggest grocery and bakery in town. She reassured Mother not to worry and said that if she needed anything, flour, sugar, eggs, anything at all Mother only had to call her. And that, Mother can relay the info to the other Filipino expats (about five families in all in the area).

So when, indeed, our supply ran out and so did local shops’, it was to her Greek friend that we relied for regular replenishment until such time a semblance of normality in the local market returned. Their supply chain apparently had not been affected by the civil war.

I was too young to have been aware of that event but I’ve since been filled with gratefulness. One doesn’t forget such kindness.

People, Travel

The business of hosting Miss Universe

Ms. Universe 1974

Nineteen seventy-four. The first time Ms. Universe candidates came to town. It was Martial Law, I believe, but thanks to then First Lady Imelda the impossible became possible. Mother’s recount of that time when young people like herself reveled in the “parade of beauties in swimsuits” is among my favorite stories from her. Ms. Finland was beautiful, but the crowd favorite everywhere, in the capital as well as with locals, was Ms. Aruba, she said. Strange though because these days Carribean islands representatives appear as if they’re joining just for the heck of it. Nobody notices the ladies from that side of the universe.

Ater 42 years, Baguio City will again welcome pageant candidates (32) along with reigning Ms. Universe-Philippines Pia Wurtzbach (as with Margie Moran Ms. Universe 1973, this is the second time the reigning Ms. Universe-Philippines will pass on her crown in her homeland). This time around, the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Baguio (HRAB), chaired by Baguio City Country Club, will host. Reportedly, the candidates will have a foretaste of the City’s upcoming Flower Festival in February: street dancing and presentations in the downtown area while riding in floats covered in local flowers.

Ms. Universe 2017 schedule of activities

As host, the HRAB will pay the franchise USD500,000 (PHP25M) which is apart from taxes and out of pocket expenses for candidates’ food, accommodation, transportation, press conferences, etc. that in all roughly adds up to PHP40M (preposterous really considering that no such amount was made available when the City’s native Kylie Versoza the reigning Ms. International came home from her win, or in light of the City’s inability to address problems in waste disposal and ageing infrastructures but which HRAB insisted is worth it). There is no free lunch even with Ms. Universe, yes?

This prompted the Association with backing from the City Government to hold a month-long Christmas bazaar at the Melvin Jones Grandstand in Burnham Park, which the local court struck down after a quick thinking local businessowner filed suit. The City Government and HRAB contested the allegation arguing that their only intention is to raise funds which will defray the costs in hosting this leg of the Ms. Universe pageantry. The court however maintains that it’s only upholding existing laws, viz.:

City Ordinance No. 13 series 2012 in which the City Government regulates conduct of trade fairs not exceeding 15 days in suitable private places only (which is to say) disallows totally in City-owned or -managed public parks.

Executive Orders 695 and 224 by former President Ramos, particularly the provision on accrual to the City Treasury of revenues and collections generated from Burnham Park for purposes of Park operation, management, and maintenance and whatever amount saved to be equally shared between the City Government and the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA).

I agree with the court’s decision. Besides, who is the consumer who will knowingly go to a bazaar – and we know the kind we have here – and spend, say, PHP5,000 (I imagine, mostly to binge with family and friends on street food and what trinkets?) and not be given at least complimentary pass to Baguio Country Club (tickets sold to the public at PHP5,000-10,000) to meet and dine with the pageant contestants? Or, to rephrase: who is the Filipino who will buy street food and trinkets in order to pay for Ms. Some Country’s Beautiful Representative’s pampering and tour of the City? Acknowledging the wisdom in charity begins at home, Filipinos will first sponsor their representative. After all, isn’t the pageant a contest? That dear folks at City Hall forms the core of the case- it’s not the Park or it’s misuse but rather the end-consumer who stands to get a shitty deal in the multibillion-dollar franchise.

The Department of Tourism as well as the City Mayor did not fall short of extolling the benefits the country and City will gain as hosts: from the Mayor- “contestants will be informed and educated on the rich culture and traditions of the Cordillerans” and “added international exposure for the City”. From Tourism Secretary Teo- “boost to local businesses” and “livelihood of millions of Filipinos, and “if this translates to reality, our tourism industry stands to gain tremendously”. If. If organizers – local governments and the private sector like HRAB – knew how to negotiate with the franchise for a fair and mutually beneficial deal in which local communities would feel the benefits, then yes. Otherwise, why invest one billion when all you get out of that is ten pesos?

Let’s go in with open eyes. The Ms. Universe franchise has been running for 60 years or more now and plenty of places around the world have hosted it. But do we here for instance all know Doral? Same for Baguio City to the rest of the world. I don’t think the City made it’s mark on the global map after it hosted events back in 1974.

Manila Times article by Katrina Stuart Santiago written last year cited the Philippine Statistics Authority’s 1994 data on tourism when the country hosted for the second time:

There was no “boost” in tourism compared to 1993… there was more foot traffic but in terms of growth 1994 was lower (14.7 percent) compared to 1993 (19 percent). 1995 was even lower than 1994 (11.8 percent)… On that same Miss Universe year the Philippines had the lowest tourist numbers compared to other Asean countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. We were only a tad bit higher than Vietnam. The same rankings hold for 1995 and 1996.

When Teo says that local businesses stand to gain by having the Miss Universe pageant here, she’s really only talking about big business—and businesses NOT in competition with Sy (owner of SM chain of malls including Mall of Asia where the coronation programme will be held).

The franchise has not significantly improved people’s or communities’ lives. Not in 1974 when Imelda went all the way and thereafter (in Baguio, it’s still the same obsolete sewers as before when the Americans built them after WWII. Beauty has not inspired City dutybearers to beautify their immediate surroundings). Not in 1994 and afterward. In fact, if we recall, what did happen afterward were coup d’etats. There’s no correlation between the two, of course. It’s just observation of a weirdly random pattern.

But if there’s any higher good that’s gotten out of the pageant, it mostly impacts at the personal ie. the winners and candidates themselves who usually go on to live the Cinderella dream. If that’s not helping to fulfill every girl’s dream, what is?

All in all, Ms. Universe is increasingly a playing field for corporate businesses out to profit from sponsorship but don’t let this hinder us from enjoying the pageantry while it’s here and we’re at it. If the New York Times will pick up what’s happening in the City as it hosts the event and mentions it, well, then, hooray! cheers! But, real and significant change is initiated from within, by citizens and a forward-looking government through effective policies and consistent good practices.

Food, Travel

Post-holiday diet: go vegetarian

Basement of La Azotea Building, Session Road, Baguio City. Photos: various sources.

I love their house salad, pumpkin soup, mushroom sisig, and veggie squid rings. Oh, and the brewed coffee, refillable and served with a stick of cinnamon (this is the only cafe in town that does. Having this, you can do away with the sugar. Cinnamon also helps reduce spike in sugar level in between cups). The servings are heftier than most and you could see that each dish is thoughtfully prepared for you. Most of the time, it’s the owners who serve and you’d feel you’re their guest more than a customer. Plus, there’s wifi and surprisingly fast too though if you don’t care for it, the weekly paper’s on the table. It’s next door to a tattoo parlor and if you need convincing into getting one or just curious, you could sit by the window corner and watch.

I don’t think there are other dining places in the downtown area serving strictly-vegetarian fare (ie. vegetarian right down to the oil and such) which can be a headache when you’re with people on special diet, like when a former colleague who’s diabetic came to visit. Option was that I cook, or we dine out. I didn’t have the skills to do the first so I brought him here. 

Food, Travel

Filipino street food galore

Filipino street food at A.Venue Mall night market, Makati Ave., Makati City
Along vibrant Makati Avenue near Century Park Garden Hotel (and Trump Tower, construction ongoing) is A.Venue Mall’s night market (inside a large enclosed white tent-like structure on the mall’s former parking lot, unlike the night market in Baguio City that’s irresponsibly all over the public place even the smoke and garbage from cooking and eating) where Filipino street food galore are sold and cooked right there. When we first discovered the place, my friend bought two orders of lechon (roast pork) with rice which only cost PHP150. I was at the next stall waiting for my order of chicharon bulaklak and crablets at just PHP100 each. As with the lechon, the servings were large. The only disappointment was the sawsawan (sauce)– the vinegar tasted like water! Anyway, we gorged on our food our appetite heightened by the funky live band music. My friend suggested we have a beer each but I had to decline as I had work waiting back at my place. The following evening, I went alone and bought chicharon bulaklak again and bituka ng manok (chicken intestines). The seller at the chicharon bulaklak stall recognized me and added a bit here and there. I would’ve gone back to get the same food for the rest of my stay had not my sense of health got the better of me. But when I’m in the area again it’s definitely among my stops. The night market is a mainstay there and there are a few stalls selling clothes but I noticed hardly a customer dropped by them. It’s the food, drinks, and band music that people go to the place. 



Postcards around the Philippines: Bulusan Volcano National Park

Bulusan Volcano National Park, Irosin, Sorsogon, Philippines
In Irosin, we inquired from locals places in their area we can visit. “Lake Bulusan” was mentioned. What can we see there? we asked. The lake, were the responses. That sounded like there was nothing of interest to see there. Still, we went. And didn’t regret it. We alighted the tricycle to ooh and aah at the individual giant trees (spotted red lauan and molave) and ferns. We were inside a rainforest! A cooler temperature and fresher air pervade the area no doubt because of the rainforest, a virgin rainforest no less. Noticeable too was the stillness which compels one to tread quietly, reverently. The forest is King here. The “lake” really is a part of the 3,673 hectare Bulusan Volcano Natural Park. Visible in the background is Sharp Peak, another mountain. We chatted up one of the guides who we learned is with the local NGO Aggrupation of Advocates for Environmental Protection Bulusan (Agap) that’s managing the Park. We learned that the eco trail actually takes at most three days to explore in it’s entirety, and that guides are a must. Also, that the Park connects or is part of the Sierra Madre ecosystem. Waters of Bulusan Lake (featured in this photo) according to the Agap staff serve as weather gauge. At the time, the lake waters were choppy and moving with the Easterly wind. That’s the habagat, the staff said. Not far from the guide’s post is what looked like a bamboo shack on a raft floating on the lake. We learned that it’s a spa which was still being completed in time for Ms. Earth contestants who were set to visit the Park for an event. Shame it wasn’t on the day we went. Leaving the place, we reflected on the response we got from the locals ie. the Park being just a “lake” that we almost didn’t go. Apparently the locals themselves didn’t know or haven’t been to the place. Or, don’t see the ecological significance and beauty of a rainforest. But, for the sake of local tourism, locals ought to know such things about their home place.
Food, Travel

Food finds: lechon

Lechon pit roast pork
Sunday,  I and members of my team decided to have a lunch picnic at Lake Bulusan. We bought food downtown where we were super delighted to find this stall selling lechon (pit roast pork). A kilo cost only PHP200! At the Eco Park, my team members – all guys – were so excited to start exploring the place that they ate little. I took my time relishing the meat. I gobbled up half of it actually.
Interior Design, Travel

Postcards from around the Philippines: Irosin

St. Michael the Archangel church, Irosin, Sorsogon
Also known as Hilltop Church, for it’s sweeping view of the downtown area and Mt. Bulusan. A 100-step staircase leads up to the church. A grotto dedicated to Mary lies left to the main entrance. The area on that side is called Little Baguio. On the right side of the church, facing Mt. Bulusan, is a floor to ceiling figure of St. Michael on stained glass. It’s the most imposing and beautiful stained glass rendition I’ve seen of the Archangel. When we visited, reconstruction of the church facade and interiors was ongoing, from damages during Typhoon Nona in 2015. Hopefully, it’s original Byzantine design will be preserved.