Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dinner in Stock market

Raffa celebrated his birthday more than a month ago so when we had dinner in Stock Market in Bonifacio High Street, it was a really belated birthday celebration.

It was good to have most of the gang there - Raffa and Joh of course plus Chris (miracle that he was there and that he was early! lol), Me-ann, Peegee, and Mike. It was technically my second visit to Stock Market but only the first time I ordered anything. The first time I went there was right after the Rihanna-Chris Brown concert a few years ago when the group I watched the concert with managed to get a table there, but the place was bursting in the seams that the expected service time would be about an hour so I ended up looking for another place to eat.

The food was pretty good and I loved the lighting of the place. The interesting thing was that I didn't realize that this was Raffa's celebration, so once I had eaten my main course, I ordered an ice cream parfait and coffee (interesting combo, ice cream and coffee haha). Naturally, when Raffa took the bill I felt embarrassed that I ordered so much food. I left at around 10:30pm, just as the discussion was turning slightly serious with Mike raising some key government issues (wow, we are so adult in our conversation LOL), since I was meeting up with a few friends for drinks in The Keg.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sagada: final thoughts and tips

Here are some parting thoughts (and a few more photos) from my Sagada trip.


You should visit!
It's a 10-11 hour trip by van (and I think a 12-13 hour trip by bus) but that investment in time is well worth it. If you join a tour like we did and ride a van, expect to have issues with leg room and make sure you get out of the vehicle and stretch your legs whenever your van makes a pit stop. Bring ear plugs and a neck pillow if you can. And make sure you pass by the Banaue Rice Terraces. It would be a shame if you were in Sagada, only 2 hours away from Banaue, and not get to see one of the most famous places in the country.

Go early in the year.
You need to avoid the rainy season, otherwise some of the roads may be rendered impassable by landslides. While May is still technically summer in the Philippines, I've heard that rains do start to come in the Mountain Province around that time. (My mom was actually advised to go in March because last year, it already started to rain in April so we were lucky that the weather cooperated while we were there.)


Bring food and drinks.
You will most likely get hungry on the long drive to and from Sagada. The establishments also close at around 8pm (closing time shifts to around 9pm during very busy periods like Holy Week) so you won't have any place to get food late at night. You will also need a lot of fluids in your adventure trips so bring water or other drinks, or buy them from the town proper and bring them with you during the day.

It was in this trip that I discovered the Cheese and Mushroom Pie of Banapple. My mom brought a couple of these pies to Sagada since (1) they are pretty heavy, which means you can eat about a third of it as a snack and be ready to go, (2) it lasts at least a few days, even with no refrigeration, and (3) it tastes good, even when it's not warm. What I love about them is that they cost only P65. Considering the heft of this pie, I'd say that's exceptional value for money!

Join the Tripinas Sagada Tour!
I've mentioned this a few times already in my past few blog posts but the Sagada Tour of Tripinas should be one of your top options when visiting. It costs P3,890 per head but this fee includes transportation, lodging, entrance fee for the cave, and payment for the guides. You are also saved the hassle of having to book and pay for all these individual items. Plus you get a van that takes you to all the must-see places in Sagada. I read another blog post about a do-it-yourself trip that actually cost more than ours!

My mom was concerned about the payment terms (she had to deposit the payment upfront to someone's bank account) but we didn't have any issues with this.

Visit Tripinas at http://tripinas.blogspot.com/.


Study the itinerary.
If you do take this tour, make sure you study the itinerary. Sometimes, the drivers may not take you to all the spots mentioned in it (we missed a visit to the Lumiang coffins because of this) because they don't have it handy and might not necessarily remember what is part of the package. Also, make sure you remind the driver that the trip home should have a couple of stops for photo opportunities in the Bontoc and Banaue Rice Terraces. The driver told us initially that there were landslides along this route and as such, we would pass through Baguio again on the way home. However we sort of had this feeling that it was because this side trip would use up a lot more gasoline (due to the ascent through mountain passes), and would be a more difficult drive. I think the fact that everyone in our tour group were insistent that we should see the Banaue Rice Terraces eventually led to our driver saying that he confirmed with other drivers that there were no landslides and that we could take the route home prescribed in our itinerary.


Sagada is mystical, beautiful, and adventure-filled, and it ranks as one of the best places I have visited in my life. I'm really happy that I got to experience this amazing place and actually enjoy it with my family.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Banaue Rice Terraces!

We headed home after two full days in Sagada. The great thing about our Tripinas tour is that on our way home, we passed by the world-famous Banaue Rice Terraces!


We were worried that we wouldn't be able to pass by this Philippine landmark because our driver told us that bad weather in the Mountain province left some roads impassable. Luckily for us, the day before, our driver confirmed that there were no landslides (thankfully) and we would be able to make this detour on our trip home. Yahoo! We left our hotel at 730am on Saturday and made our way to Banaue, but along the way, we also passed by Bontoc. There are rice terraces all across the entire Mountain Province, and Bontoc is no exception.


We stopped by for just a few minutes to take a few photos. Pretty cool that my shirt and shades are color-coordinated with the Bontoc sign. :)


It took about an hour and a half after leaving Bontoc before we got to Banaue. Along the way, we passed through several mountain ranges that featured a lot of amazing rice terraces, some of them pretty massive. We finally arrive at the Banaue Rice Terraces and it looked magnificent!


Can't believe I have now been to the Banaue Rice Terraces and had my picture taken there. Fantastic! There was a shop next to the viewing station where we got a few more souvenirs before heading home. This Sagada tour with Tripinas, while tiring and difficult to make, was definitely worth it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sagada: Rice Terraces and Falls

Day 2 featured a trip to the Sagada Rice Terraces. The most popular ones are found in Banaue, but practically anywhere you go in Ifugao, you will see these amazing terraces carved into the mountainside. To jumpstart the day, we got up really early to take in the sunrise views in Kiltepan point.


The view here is great. We also had a bit of exercise since we went up a hillside to see the sunrise. It didn't matter though since it was a beautiful walk through the pine trees.


After checking out the views and taking some photos, we have breakfast to get us ready for another physical day. At 830am, we head out towards Banga-an to see the rice terraces and the Bomod-ok falls. It was about a 45 minute walk to the falls from where our driver dropped us off (our tour package provided a guide who would take us there). Along the way, we get to see the amazing rice terraces in Sagada!


It's great to finally see something that I have heard about ever since I was a kid. I can't imagine how much effort it took to actually carve out these terraces. But even better than seeing the them from afar is actually getting to walk through them! The trail to the Bomod-ok falls takes us through the terraces, providing us with a lot of photo opportunities.


We finally get to the Bomod-ok falls. It was a long, hot walk under the summer sun and my brother promptly got into the cold water to cool down. My mom sat down in the shade while I walked around taking photos.


Naturally I needed to have my own photo taken.


Before heading back to the town-proper, we pay a visit to Sagada Weaving.


After a late lunch, we met up again in front of the Ganduyan museum. It's basically a small room that contains a lot of Ifugao artifacts that have been collected by the owner throughout her life. She gives visitors a basic and very interesting tour of the museum: we were all just seated on the floor and she moved around different parts of the room and talked about the different artifacts there, as well as the history and culture of the Ifugaos.


To cap off the tour, we pay a visit to the a pottery workshop. It was quite late by the time we got there so all the workers had gone but our guide still walked us through the workshop to talk about the pottery processes.


We head back to town and purchase more souvenirs before having dinner in Yogurt Place. This is arguably the most popular restaurant in town and even at 6:30pm, we were 6th in the waiting list. Thankfully, there were only three of us in our group (me, my mom, and my brother). When a table for four became available (after waiting for an hour) and every party ahead of us had more than four people, we got bumped up and given a table in the veranda. It was a great meal to cap the night.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sagada: St. Mary's, Echo Valley, Hanging Coffins

Next part of our itinerary was a trip to the Echo Valley where we could see the famous Hanging Coffins. Our van brought us back to the hotel so we could get cleaned up and we had a quick lunch before being dropped off at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the starting point of our nature hike. It was quite funny that the church was actually just a stone's throw away from our hotel and yet our van still drove us there. :)


The Church of St. Mary the Virgin is an Episcopal parish. It has a pretty interesting altar that seems to have been constructed from the limestone that is found all around Sagada. (According to our guides, the limestone as well as some seashell fossils found in the area are proof that the Philippines was once under water).


We then start our nature trek through Echo Valley. We passed by a small cemetery along the way.


I didn't check the itinerary so I wasn't sure where we were going. Our guide told us we were heading down into the valley but didn't tell us what we would see there. Nevertheless, the views while heading down were beautiful.


Finally, our guide brings us to the hanging coffins. She explained to us that the locals have a few choice of their final resting place - it can be the hanging coffins, the Lumiang coffins (which we didn't get to see), or a cemetery. Some of the coffins are shorter than others, but this is because the deceased was placed in the fetal position.


It was around 3:30pm when we returned to our starting point, and we decided to take a few more photos. I believe this bell used to be in the belfry of the church.


Our tour companions decided to return to the hotel for some much-needed rest but my family decided to try out some of the recommended food places in Sagada. I read about "Yellow House" which serves some pretty good pies and suggested it to my mom, so we asked our transport to bring us there. We ended up ordering coffee and five slices of pie: 2 blueberry pies (my favorite), 2 lemon pies (really good), and 1 egg pie (it was just okay). The lemon pie and egg pie both cost P25 per slice while the blueberry pie cost P35 per slice. Very cheap!

We shopped for some souvenirs before heading back to the St. Joseph Resthouse. We decided to just have dinner in the St. Joseph Cafe. It was a very tiring day with all of us severely lacking sleep and we knew we had to be up by 430am so we called it a night at around 9pm.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sagada: Sumaguing Cave

We arrived in Sagada at around 7am. The first part of our itinerary was a trip to the Sumaguing Cave, but before heading there, we had a quick breakfast in Salt and Pepper then checked into St. Joseph Resthouse, our accommodations for the next two nights. At around 8:30am, we make our way to the cave.


What to wear: sandals or slippers that provide good traction and a quick-dry shirt and board shorts as you will get wet. If you can, bring a head lamp, but it's not necessary as the guides all have powerful lanterns. The guides will also suggest that you give your cameras to them so they can take pictures of you as you go through the cave.

I didn't get the memo and wore a cotton shirt and shorts and my slippers didn't provide the best traction. :)

The Sagada guides give us some basic instructions and tell us that our spelunking adventure can be split up into three parts. The first part involves the descent. There's a basic trail you follow heading down the cave but you have to be a bit careful because the bat guano makes the path quite slippery in some parts. As there are no handrails, you really have to hold on to the rocks sometimes (so yes, unless you are wearing gloves, you will end up with bat poop in your hands. :))


The second part begins once the descent is complete. The guides ask us to leave our footwear before going further, but this is no problem since at this point, the jagged rocks are replaced with smooth stones that are surprisingly not slippery at all. There are a lot of interesting rock formations in this area, some of which have been given pet names by the locals. Here, we are sitting on the 'turtle':


and here, our tour group sits right in front of the 'curtains'. (It's too bad we only have a photo up close to the 'curtains' since I've seen fantastic photos of a wider shot of this area of the cave.)


The final part of Sumaguing cave adventure is pretty much the 'action' section. You will need to crouch if not crawl,


wade through waist-deep water, and use ropes to make your way through certain parts of the cave.


While this trip may seem daunting, it is also a lot of fun and not nearly as impossible as it may seem. My mom made it through just as easily as anyone else, which I thought was just amazing because some of the people we were with were not even half her age. I've been through a cave once before but it was more like a nature hike. Sumaguing Cave stands out because it offers a lot of physical challenges and great photo ops that keep you excited and entertained.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sagada!

I've been wanting to go to Sagada for a while now but it's not exactly the easiest place to visit. It's about a 10-11 hour drive from Manila and once there, you need to get involved in a lot of physical activities like trekking and spelunking. My family normally stays in Manila during Holy Week. However, my mom saw that Tripinas was offering a Sagada tour that would leave Manila on Wednesday night and return on Saturday night and we felt that this was a good opportunity for us to see one of the best places in the country without having to take any days off.

Some highlights of our Tripinas tour were a trek across the Banga-an rice terraces,


a visit to the Bomod-ok Falls,


spelunking in the Sumaging Cave,


a nature hike in Echo Valley...


...to see the Hanging Coffins,


and a trip to the Banaue Rice Terraces!


I will be sharing details of my amazing trip over the next few blog posts, but suffice it to say that despite the extremely long and uncomfortable drive, this trip to Sagada (with a very quick side trip to Banaue) was definitely worth it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rio and Taio Cruz's "Telling the World"

Kid movies seem to have been a big part of my life recently. I watched Rango and Hop in the cinema. I also caught TMNT, The Spiderwick Chronicles, and Flushed Away on DVD. But I did promise my nephews (again) that I would take them to watch Rio. So that's what I did.

Rio was pretty entertaining overall. It has a pretty good storyline, fun characters, a nice mix of humor and romance, and great music. I found it really interesting that the antagonist was a vicious and incredibly strong cockatoo named Nigel who sported an English accent. The fact that the film i set in Brazil make a lot of the scenes colorful and vibrant. The music definitely adds another dimension to the film.

I discovered Taio Cruz's song "Telling the World" as it played during the end credits and I was hooked. It's probably my favorite current song (I'm thinking now whether I should get his album since I enjoy a lot of his other songs including 'Dynamite' and 'Falling in love'.)


uploaded in youtube by TaioCruzVEVO

I hope I can get to perform this song in some future event at work. It's a catchy and uplifting song with some pretty cool instrumentation. Add a few dancers performing with us and it the overall performance could be well-received by the audience.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sports roundup

A new tennis record has been set. Rafael Nadal has won the Monte Carlo Masters title for the 7th year in a row. No other male player in the open era has won a tournament seven times, much less in a row. This is his first title of the year, and it's great that he finally snaps his losing streak in tournament finals (he lost his last three, twice against Djokovic and once against Federer). Hopefully he repeats his 2010 success on clay and sweep all the tournaments he plays, including the French Open.

***

Sebastian Vettel finally gets beaten in Formula One this season. A strategic mistake on the part of Red Bull allowed Lewis Hamilton to clinch a win in the Chinese Grand Prix and move up to second. The performance of the race for me, though, belongs to Mark Webber who went from 18th all the way to a 3rd place podium finish. It's unfortunate that Jenson Button briefly held first place for a few laps but ended up in 4th.

***

While Liverpool may not make it to the top four in the Barclays Premier League and thus miss out on a Champions League spot next season, they are at least generally doing well against the top 3. They beat Chelsea and Manchester United recently, but were in danger of losing to Arsenal after they conceded a late goal. However, by some miracle, they snagged a penalty late into injury time which they converted, giving them a 1-1 draw. Even if they don't finish in the top four, at least they are ending this season strongly. Hopefully, that gives them momentum leading in the 2011-2012 season.

Monday, April 11, 2011

SYTYCD Season 7

There's a dearth of dance-related reality TV shows on now. Starworld features Got to Dance UK as well as Live to Dance (the American version of Got to Dance which stars Paula Abdul). A lot of my friends really enjoy this show. While it is a great show that displays amazing talent, my favorite dance reality show is still 'So you think you can dance' (SYTYCD).

AXN picked up SYTYCD and has shown all the recent seasons, from season 4 all the way to the most recently completed season 7. Season 7 is different from all the past seasons in that it features all-stars or contestants from past seasons who have been standout performers in their particular style: contemporary, hip-hop, jazz, or ballroom. When the current season's contestants pick out a dance style to perform, they get partnered with the all-star for that particular style.

Unfortunately, practically every recent video of SYTYCD on youtube has disabled embedding. So here are links to some of my favorite routines this season:

Robert and Allison's contemporary number - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnguqsMQmg4 (jump to 0:53 to skip the intro). It's choreographed by Travis Wall who was Allison's co-contestant in season 2. I know Allison was looking forward to working with Travis so it's perfect that they get to do this number which was one of the best performances of the season. I do think Allison completely outdances Robert in this.

Alex and Twitch's hip-hop number - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLtSfYX8tJk.This is probably the most fun routine on the show I have ever seen! It's choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon to the song 'Outta your mind' by Lil Jon and LM*AO)

Adechike and Comfort's hip-hop routine as choreographed once again by Tabitha and Napoleon to Alicia Key's Fallin - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5McyQQ29X5A. This is probably one of the most powerful hip-hop numbers I have ever seen. I would never have thought hip-hop could evoke such strong emotion.

Billy and Ade's contemporary number, choreographed by Stacey Tookey - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BePGx_KjvmM. Check out Ade lifting Billy at 2:43! Ade is one incredibly strong man!

Alex and Allison's contemporary dance number to Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah' (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B03TjhI40aQ (jump to 0:49 to skip the intro)

Pasha and Anya's hot ballroom number which they themselves choreographed - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjb57Zex5SM. Pasha and Anya were both all-stars this season, with both of them being contestants in Season 3. They actually auditioned together but never got to be partners on the show, or at least never got to perform ballroom on the show, so the producers thought it would be great entertainment to have them perform together. And it certainly brought down the house!

I love the whole all-star set-up because (1) it brought back Allison, who is probably my favorite contestant of all time, and who got to perform in some of the most memorable numbers this season, and (2) because it brought back a lot of amazing dancers who all seem to have grown and improved since they were contestants on the show. What I didn't like this season was how the judges judged. It was clear who their favorites were and the pimping was reminiscent of AI. I especially disliked the judges' blatant favoritism and what seems to be a combined dislike of Adechike, who was dissed and picked on so many times this season (in contrast to Jose and Robert for instance who had just as many technical flaws as Adechike, if not more, but who were rarely given any grief).

Nevertheless, I still love the show and will continue to watch it. I do wonder if season 8 will still feature the all-star format, and if so, which all-stars will they bring back.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A birthday and a movie

My grandmother celebrated her birthday this weekend and so my family headed over to their house for lunch. I got a large mango torte from Dulcelin because I was sure they would enjoy it (after all, they love the mango torte in Conti's and the mango walnut torte in Mom and Tina's). As is always the case, the food was overflowing and I stuffed myself silly again.

The week before, my nephews said they wanted to watch 'Hop' so I promised to take them. Since 'Hop' had already been showing for about 1 1/2 weeks, I knew its stint in the local theaters would only last a few more days. So I took my nephews to see it.

'Hop' is a fun movie for kids. Good visual effects, lots of cute and lovable characters, several fun and funny moments, and a simple story about having dreams and interests that are different from what your parents, or dads in particular, want for you that revolves around the universal theme of wanting to make your parents proud.

Here's a pretty cool 'Hop Featurette' showcasing Phil, the chick who can't stop from dancing, and Taio Cruz's smash hit 'Dynamite'.


uploaded in youtube by user HoptheMovie

Saturday, April 09, 2011

DVD buying

I'm probably one of the few people I know who still goes out to buy CDs and DVDs (most other people just download music and movies). I haven't purchased CDs in a while, but I do tend to grab a DVD every now and then. Movie tickets cost about P200 now and a lot of DVDs tend to go on sale and end up in the price range of about P125 to P299 so whenever I miss a movie in the cinema that I really wanted to watch, I sometimes pick up the DVD.

So recently, I picked up 'Mission Impossible 3' and 'Pathology'. I tossed in a couple of other older movies, including 'I am Sam' and 'The Day After Tomorrow'. While looking for movies, I saw a couple of old Pinoy movie classics - 'Bona' and 'Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos' (both of which star the original superstar Nora Aunor). I know these two are brilliant films, so I decided to buy them as well. I now have a few DVDs of Pinoy movies from the golden age of Filipino film (the 1970s to early 1980s) - I also have 'Ina, Kapatid, Anak' and 'Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa'. I hope I have time to watch them all soon. :)

Monday, April 04, 2011

Running again

I have this bad tendency to rush my marathon preparation almost every year. To avoid another crash-course, I decided to kick of my preparations a bit earlier this year and start running again in April. I am starting slow, and covering only a short distance, but hopefully I can slowly build my strength and endurance better over the next couple of months leading to this year's marathon.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Djoko on a hot streak

Novak Djokovic started this year in amazing fashion, notching his second Australian Open title and thus becoming a multiple grand slam title winner. Not wanting to rest on these laurels, Djokovic has used that AO win to build momentum and steamroll past everyone else. In fact, he has yet to lose a match in 2011. His 24-match winning streak is the best start to a year since Ivan Lendl won 29 consecutive matches to kick off 1986 (McEnroe holds the men's record with a staggering 39 wins before his first loss in 1984). This streak includes three wins over Roger Federer and, unfortunately, two over Rafael Nadal as well.

(That those two wins over Rafa came in finals of Masters tournaments are rather awful for any Nadal fan like myself, but its good to know that Rafa remains immensely competitive on hard courts, especially when you consider the fact that hard courts are Novak's best surface.)

Djokovic's amazing 2011 has allowed him to firmly supplant Roger Federer as world #2. He's now nipping at the heels of Rafa, who is ahead of Novak by less than 4000 points but has a ton of points to defend over the clay court season leading to Wimbledon. Hopefully Rafa can defend most, if not all, the points he won between April and July and thus remain at #1.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

"Tonight" by FM Static

I had to learn this song last Valentine's Day for our 'harana' activity in the office but no one requested it so it ended up being shelved. It's a really difficult song to sing and if you listen closely, you will notice that vocalist Trevor McNevan has incredible breath control (he takes very short and light breaths and has really long phrasing in the second verse)! Nevertheless, I was looking forward to singing it since it's a good song. Who knows, maybe we I still get the chance to perform it as some point in the future.


video uploaded in youtube by user xaace