Sunday, July 10, 2011



Actually that's last year's summer. Just thought it would sound witty as a title. Cliche. Ramona and I had been friends since high school but this was our first time to go to the beach together. With our gang of high school friends, we went to Pangasinan in April of 2010. Over a year ago now, but the experience is still etched in my memory.

It was a well planned trip. Two months before the date a detailed itinerary was written and everyone had a part to do. We'd been long anticipating the escapade. But one Saturday morning when everybody was all ready and set to go, the van we hired bailed out. I couldn't believe we were doomed. Taking a bus was another option but for a large group it was cheaper and more comfortable to ride a private vehicle. Instead of pining, some of our friends pulled out their contacts and started dialing the right people. After an hour of negotiation, we found a replacement.

Alaminos, Pangasinan was a 5 hour ride from Manila. We arrived around 2 PM, stopped by to eat and buy some goods at the market and after much confusion on the directions, finally found our way to Lucap Wharf where a boat was waiting to tour us to the Hundred Islands National Park. Only three of the islands have been developed for tourists: Governor, Quezon, and Children's Islands. And we eagerly hopped from one island to another.

After thirty minutes on the boat, we docked on our first destination, Governor's Island. Being the largest island in the entire park, it has an area of 74, 408 square/meter. The island has the best accommodations for tourists who would like to stay for the night. It also features the highest peak that offers a bird's eye view of the park. Climbing to the summit on a hot summer day was no easy task for me, but the sight from up there was more than rewarding. It was breathtaking.

Scattered along Lingayen Gulf are 124 islands resembling green mushrooms floating on the water. Believed to be about 2 million years old, these islands are ancient corals in an ancient sea. Through time the lowering  of sea levels have exposed them to the surface. I have always imagined these islands have real land in them with green trees actually growing on soil. But when I stepped foot on an islet for the first time, I realized it's mainly made of stone and all sands.

The next stop was Children's Island so called because  the shallow waters near the beach is ideal for little children. With wooden cottages, floating picnic sheds, restrooms, tent rentals, camping areas among other things –  this island is perfect for family gatherings. Seeing the crowd of people, we decided not to get out of the boat. We just coasted along to our next destination.

Then finally there was Quezon Island. Another well developed and favorite among enthusiasts in the Park.   Our group decided to relax for a while in here.There was  lot of going on in the island.  Though I wasn't impressed with its shore, I found the clear blue water tempting enough. I could hear people singing from the nipa huts strategically built on elevated rocks. There were others geared with binoculars, catching a glimpse of migratory birds nesting all over the place.

Probably the most remarkable activity for me was our kayak experience.Ramona and I were first timers. Both of us weren't great swimmers. Both of us were scared (but good scared). Both of us didn't know what we were doing. But after paddling against the current, crashing on the rocks more than a couple of times, Ramona and I were addicted. And though we realized we might end up with Johnny Bravo's triceps after so many rounds, we definitely loved Kayaking!

The original plan was to camp on the island but a friend had discovered, through the wonders of internet, this beautiful beach tucked an hour away from civilization. So we embarked on our boat and with hearts full of praise, we blew kisses to the Hundred Islands National Park. As a young schoolgirl, I have always thought these islands existed only in the pages of my geography textbooks. When I saw them before my eyes and even laid foot on some of the islets, it felt like taking part in a living postcard.


The night was filled with fun, booze and laughter. And when the morrow came, everything spelled paradise to my senses.


Light house photo credit

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011


This is our second time in Sentro 1771. Ramona and I weren’t particularly impressed with our previous experience, considering that they claim to be the first in our favorite cuisine, FIlipino. Food is supposed to bring you happiness. The restaurant's failed to do that for us. Or maybe we just didn’t get lucky on our first try. Maybe we didn’t order the right things?

According to former food critic of New York Times and Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet—Ruth Reichl, a critic should dine in a particular restaurant at least five times before concluding a review. This is to be just, to be as objective as possible. It could be that the first time you ate there, the chef was having a bad day so he unconsciously poured too much salt on you soup. Perhaps the hostess was exhausted from everyone asking her  tables that she forgot to smile when you were politely reminding her your reservation. There are a lot of possibilities. Humans as we are, there are lot of excuses. So, we decided to give Sentro 1771 another chance.

Together with our date, we arrived at Greenbelt 3 by 6:00 PM. A charming man by the door greeted us with a suave smile, bowed a little and just like a true gentleman, motioned his hand to the way inside the restaurant. The wooden interiors radiated simplicity and timeless class. Yellow lighting made a cozy, almost romantic atmosphere but the narrow space in between tables couldn't offer privacy. I mentioned we needed some fresh air so he eagerly ushered us to the smoking section outside. The place was calmer than I remembered, gone were the crowd who hovered the hostess and the customers who almost ran to a newly emptied table only to be informed that it was already reserved. People were just starting to pour in when we were settled comfortably in our wooden seats. It is a wise thing to be early. Sentro 1771 is after all a famous restaurant.

After quickly surveying the menu Ramona and I exchanged conspiring looks, warned about the particular dishes we wouldn't want in our table and designated to our friend the task of ordering. The waiter who took care of us was a neat guy with a red bow tie and seemed to delight flashing his white teeth at my direction. When he presented our drinks in their elegant tall glasses, in just a few minutes, I knew I liked him more. Ramona had a bottomless Black Gulaman, RC opted for the Green Mango Smoothie while I chose a refreshing Raspberry Smoothie for myself. We had no idea if our drinks would go well with the food, since it was a hot Tuesday night in Makati, we just relished every icy sip.

One by one our food arrived. Seeing the Boneless Crispy Trotter (Crispy Pata) glistening on the plate was an exciting moment. The aroma of garlic and lemongrass filled the air and I could feel my mouth watering in anticipation. The skin of the pork did not betray its name. As crispy as Lechon's or even better. The whole trotter was deep fried but the meat was surprisingly soft and juicy. Dipping the pork in soy sauce with crushed red chilies and calamandarin made up for its lack of just a little pinch of salt. I also enjoyed the garnish of mango salad as the acidic bite awoke my taste buds and helped fend the trace of cholesterol.

Ordering the Grilled Chicken Steak however, was a mistake. It looked pale, the generously sprinkled golden minced garlic didn't help elevate its visual appeal. Plating and Food styling are crucial in every restaurant. Food should emanate an appetizing aura. But the sight of the Chicken Steak didn't at any rate tickle my gastric fancy. It took a huge amount of will power to put the steak inside my mouth, it felt like risking my own palate. The meat had this weird texture that didn't agree with my senses. It was dry and moist all in the wrong places. I should have ignored the dish the whole time.

My favorite Vegetable Stew was a relief.  With less than a hundred bucks you can enjoy greens in tamarind soup. Before everything was set on our table, the waiter brought us a little bowl of soup for a "taste-test." I have never seen that done in any restaurant before. Because taste is subjective, I appreciated that the Chef would make sure that his flavors would suit the customer's preference.

Over all , I could say our trio was satisfied with the meal and of course, with the superb service. Though there were glitches on the road, the culinary experience changed my initial impression of Sentro. Ramona and I might even go back to try the other specialties of the house!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


We finally had our taste of the famous Ilocano cuisine in Laoag. Around here you can never call yourself a bonafide Ilocano if you cannot stage magic in the kitchen. Their signature of food awakens your taste buds, introducing sensations your palate has never known existent.

Bagnet is also known as Chicharon. It seems a plain dish against a white plate. To an untrained eye, it looks like Lechon Kawali but it in fact takes longer patience and preparation. To bring these golden cuts of pork onto your table, the Ilocano Cook goes through a meticulous process. He picks the most favorable parts of the pork and calculates the skin, fats and meat. He proceeds to fry the pork for more than half an hour in pot of boiling oil. He takes it out, inspects it, and then simmers it into another pot until his creation pops violently to his culinary delight. Bagnet owns subtle flavors. Dipping it to a shrimp paste with the hint of spice, every bite brings rapturous crispiness.

Another famous dish in the region is Pinakbet. The dish is popular in the entire country and almost everybody knows how to prepare this healthy meal. Pinakbet remains special in Ilocos where the recipe was originally created.  The Ilocano Cook gracefully conducts a production of sautéed vegetables ornamented with prawns. The repertoire of bittermelon, squash, eggplant and string beans presents into your plate the bounty of the earth. And the shrimps mildly cooked and so juicy you can hear the soothing waves of the sea in each munch. All the flavors harmonize to give you a heavenly treat.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011


IT WAS FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH. I was of the few who arrived in the meeting place. There were twelve of us friends who confirmed for this annual summer trip and I knew there was a hired driver along. With Friday the 13th and 13 people on an evening road trip, it was too easy to see myself starring some Hollywood horror flick. But no superstition could deter me from this adventure. I’d been so looking forward to this event. I had my favorite set of friends. I needed this break. Before I could feel the cold beads of perspiration trickling down my spine, my smiling friends disembarked from a dark shiny van. And much to my relief there were actually two drivers who would alternate on the wheel.

The journey began. We were finally conquering Ilocos Region. Three hundred fifty miles and twelve hours on the road.  My butt could have gone numb forever, I didn't mind. It was all worth it. Because I had seen photographs of the landscape and heard of testimonials from several people who’d been there but nothing prepared me to the immense beauty that awaited us.

“Welcome to Vigan!” the driver announced around four in the morning as the engine halted in a dark square. And I opened my eyes to a sky devoid of stars, a seemingly plain canvass a painter happily whisked unto his palettes of blues and blacks. The air smelled of something familiar, old and rustic. As I inhaled the scent of the fresh fallen leaves swirling in the breeze, I realized Vigan was reminiscent of the town I’ve never been to in years. It felt like Bislig. A rooster frantically crows in the background and I could almost hear the yawns of the locals eager to start the day. My body thought it was home.

Vigan, the capital of Ilocos Sur, is 249 miles away from Metro Manila. It is the quintessence of an exceptionally preserved Spanish colonial town established in 16th century. With the unique integration of the Filipino, Chinese and European influences—reflected in a culture and townscape that remain unequalled in the whole of East and Southeast Asia—this historic town is a UNESCO world heritage site. Amidst my companion’s raptures of delight, I ambled on the cobbled-stone street with hushed excitement. Through the amber lamps illuminating Calle Crisologo, the influence of Spanish architecture was evident everywhere. Each single crevice and crack on ancient walls promised of stories never printed. The atmosphere was too enchanting. It spelled classic to my senses and I willingly drank in the history of the place.

Deep in my revelries I already imagined a hot cup of rice coffee and smoking in between sips as my friends converse about politics, our worries and hopes for the country, our personal dreams and whimsies. But to burst my bubble, no cafes or restaurants were open at the time. As as tourist from Manila, I was excited to dine in a regional restaurant serving authentic Ilocano cuisine. It disappointed me all the more to see the abundance of modern fastfood chains in the vicinity. This is a remarkable glitch in the whole vintage aura the old city projects.

The group had a hectic schedule to follow: Poaoy, Bangui and Pagudpud. So by six in the morning with hungry stomachs but ecstatic spirits, we were heading further up North.

Thirty seven miles from Vigan stands yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Philippines—San Agustin Church of Paoay, Ilocos Norte. It was built from 1653 to 1710. The Augustinian friars who ruled the land, without substantial engineering background, compelled their growing number of parishioners to construct a comfortable place of worship. With innate resourcefulness, the Filipinos were able to reinvent a European architecture with an oriental twist.

The Church of San Agustín is the best known Earthquake Baroque church in the country. It was designed to endure earthquakes frequenting the region. From the outside I counted fourteen colossal buttresses projecting along the sides of the dome. The walls were mainly made of coral stone blocks, with bricks and lumber finishing the upper part. To make things more interesting, prior to the invention of cement, the locals had to depend on tree saps to glue massive stones together.With that ladies and gentlemen, my forefathers were able to build churches, mansions, defense walls that still stand to this day.

The three storey coral stone bell tower was built a few meters away to protect the church in case of collapse. This structure has not only announced masses and ceremonies; it has also played an important role in the history of Philippine revolution. It served as a look out post for the Katipuneros (Filipino revolutionaries) in the 1896 battle against the Spaniards. During the Japanese occupation in World War II, the Filipino guerillas also used it to their advantage.

My friends and I gasped at the sight of this gothic monstrosity. This was something we only read about on the pages of our elementary History textbooks. Seeing the historical church for real is a personal milestone to me. Kneeling on an ancient pew, I mumbled my gratitude to the heavens. There were countless sculptures of Jesus Christ, his virgin mother Mary, and the rest of the saints. For a brief eerie moment, I could feel their eyes burrowing into my soul. I‘d been brought up by Catholic parents who imposed on their children to attend masses every Sundays because a family that prays together stays together. Though I have failed to live strictly by the religion as I grew older, my fascination in the Christian edifice has never faded.

Laoag, the capital of Ilocos Norte is the political, economic and industrial hub of the province. If you think Laoag, you think of the Marcoses. Who would ever forget the family who reigned the country for over twenty years? The Philippines went up and dramatically down during Ferdinand Marcos’ governance. His ostentatious wife is world famous for her intense affection on the beautiful and grandiose. Her excessive extravagance has won her a spot on the dictionary—Imeldific.

In spite the corruption and the bloody years of Martial Law, among other things, the Marcoses are well loved in Laoag. One of the attractions in the city is their ancestral mansion converted to a museum. It stores documents, photographs and memoirs of the family. A mausoleum was even built in his honor and people from all places visit the site to lay eyes on the waxed figure of the late president.

It was noon when we arrived in Pagudpud. The coastal town lures tourists from all over the world into its sandy trail. And my friends and I were more than happy to bask in the beauty of Pagudpud's two most revered beaches: Saud and Blue Lagoon.

Saud is home to the most promising resorts in town. Most of the posh resorts offer cottages fronting the ocean and a package tour to the attractions in the area.  For travelers on budget trip "home stays" (homes for rent) are available at a reasonable price. The locals have ready smiles and are eager to be at a visitor's service. Our group went straight to Polaris, the one and only public resort. My friends and I are nomads. We are always after what Mother Nature has to offer, and not some VIP accommodation.

Since it was a Saturday and we were at a community resort, I wasn't surprised to see that most of the beach huts were occupied. Families were celebrating. Old school mates were reuniting. Lovers were kissing. Children were playing. Everyone was merrymaking. We were too excited to dip into the water, we never cared for lunch. Saying that it was so much fun is an inarticulation on my end. A beach bum will find no idle time swimming, snorkeling, diving, boating and surfing in Saud. Star gazing and camping at night by the shore proved to be exciting too. The only drawback was the temporary power outage and lack of tap water. But the inactivity of our iPods even amplified the tranquility of the atmosphere.

Blue Lagoon is also known as Maira-Ira Point. The overlooking view from the highway offers a picture of the sea forming an elegant arch. Rock formations on the right end are astounding. And the islets of Dos Hermanos (Two Brothers) seem to be two sentinels watching over the cove on the left end. People say it is the Boracay of the North sans the numerous bars and other establishments on the shore. I haven't been to Bora, I couldn't compare when we went there the next day, all I knew was that I was immediately smitten by the sight.

What I loved most about Blue Lagoon was its laid back feel. It was like a secluded place and we seemed to be the first people to discover the tropical haven. Walking on  the white powdery sand,  I felt the grains bringing sublime tickles to my feet. The water glistened in the sunshine and I was lulled to serenity by the humongous waves. The  rain forest against the blue sky was immaculate, as if Mother Nature was announcing her strong favor to this land. Hearing the laughters and banters of my friends, I could have died and my soul ascended to heaven. Bliss.

They are nineteen proud brothers.They tower among the mountains. They own the skies. With the ocean as their audience, the windmills stand on the gray shore unabashed by their sleek nakedness. The blades lazily flirt with the salty breeze. As if lovers on a first date, each one anticipating what seems to be a tedious courtship.

That's what was going on in my mind as I marveled at the enormous windmills up close. The bluish greenish sea and the limitless horizon were hypnotizing, I forgot about the heat and the blisters emerging on my soles.

Located at the municipality of Bangui, Ilocos Norte, The Northwind Bangui Bay Project is the first wind farm in the country and the largest in Southeast Asia. The project was aimed to produce renewable energy to help reduce greenhouse gases which aggravate global warming. Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the then Governor and forerunner of the project, must be very proud that the windmills now cater to forty percent of the power requirements in the province.

Before we drove back home, we made our last stop at Vigan. It was a bit crowded in the day. Calle Crisologo was lined with various antique shops and stalls selling crafts and memorabilias. I was mesmerized at the sight of the ones made of coconut shells and other raw materials and hardwork and pure passion. I will always be proud of the genius of the native Filipino. How could anybody else make such marvelous piece of art out of scrap? And that’s without formal training yet. Only in the Philippines indeed.

The city also boasts delicacies such as bibingka (rice cake) that looked and tasted like cassava cake to me, longganisa (ground meat wrapped with intestines) and empanada. Empanada is certainly not one of my favorite food but Vigan's must be really good because I found myself savoring every bite.

 A group of competitive young professionals, currently thriving in the same city, who grew up in the same small town, went to the same high school and speak the same dialect. We fondly call ourselves, "The Gang".

In three days, I have fallen in love with the Ilocandia Region. If to immerse in such rich cultural heritage, bask in the pristine beaches and have an amazing adventure with friends, I wouldn't mind the intense northern heat and long hours of travel. I'd surely go back in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


This is our latest escapade. We ate at Buon Giorno in Rockwell Center, Ortigas. This place was still being built when I left my last job. Now I can finally stop wondering. The food was delicious. We ordered a rack of lamb in red wine sauce and white seafood carbonara. (Actually I forgot what they were called.) My partner and I have never tasted lamb, and thank God we got out of our comfort zone (and budget) and finally tried something so heavenly. When I woke up the next day, I was still thinking about how juicy, soft, and tasty that piece of lamb was. It tasted like pork with a twang. Or make that spunk. Pork with a spunk. The pasta was cooked perfectly, and paired well with the lamb. I didn't miss having rice for the entire meal, so that was definitely good news.

The place itself looked nothing like we were within Ortigas area. My favorite thing was the natural afternoon sunlight. We chose to sit on the white-draped, wooden chairs that almost resembled a wedding spot in Tagaytay. Lastly, I was so amused by the gigantic glassware they used to serve their drinks. The glassware theme was "Go Big or Go Home". We shared a glass (not a bottle ples) of wine after.


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