March 30, 2011

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS: Keep 'em Dry

I don’t know about you but I like my stuff dry and functional.

Next to losing my belongings on a trip, keeping them dry as bone is always a concern.  Although of course you wouldn’t intentionally jump on the ocean with your pack on or walk through the pouring rain and drench your camera in the process. To be on the safe side here are my constant travel companions that helps me safeguard my gears from the elements.



JJC CAMERA RAIN COVER
The JJC rain cover is probably the cheapest DSLR rain cover there is in the market, it works just well and it is reusable. It is made of polythene to protect cameras from rain and any other unwanted weather and environmental particles. Its drawstring lens opening offers a snug fit on any lens with a 6’9 inches in diameter and 17’9 inches in length. It also has an eyepiece opening fitted for almost every type of camera viewfinder and is designed either for handheld use or tripod mounting.

google images
JJC DSLR Rain Cover (php350 for a pack of 3)



KINGCAMP BACKPACK RAIN COVER
Most internal frame backpacks and laptop/DSLR backpacks even if they are water repellent come with a rain cover but they also come with a slightly higher price. So if you have a pack that doesn’t have a rain cover and you’re a bit paranoid and don’t trust that your water repellent pack isn’t enough to keep your stuff dry, then getting a separate cover is something you might wanna consider. Kingcamp is one of the lesser popular brands and therefore costs less. The material is Polyester and has a sewn-in elastic outer lining flap that can easily fit any 30-45 liter backpacks.

Kingcamp 30 liter Backpack Rain Cover (php350)
available at JS Gaisano, Davao



SEA TO SUMMIT ULTRA-SIL DRY SACK
A roll-top closure dry sack made with the toughest and lightest waterproof nylon called Siliconized Cordura (perfect if you’re traveling light). All seams are double stitched and tape sealed with a smooth and flexible finish for easy packing and has a Hypalon (polyethylene and synthetic rubber noted for its resistance to chemicals and extreme temperatures) top rolling closure with a buckle. Although this particular sack is not designed for boating and marine use, it keeps my stuff dry (especially electronic gadgets) perfect for a day lying around the beach. The sack also doesn’t have a lash loop for a carrying strap, but Sea to summit has a wide variety of dry sacks you can choose from and most of them do have lash loops. This works perfectly well for me during city tours as I can just roll it flat and stick on my pocket ready to be whipped out in case of rain.

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sack (php900)
available at all branches of The Travel Club and The North Face 



RUBBER DUCKY DRY SACK
A much thicker material and a tad heavier, but it’s a lot prettier more perfect for the beach. The see through material makes it convenient for me to see my stuff stashed inside. The top can be rolled down to lock and form waterproof seal. With this, all my worries about my gadgets getting soak melts away. It comes with a lash loop and adjustable carrying strap that I can just sling it across my body leaving my hands free.

Rubber Ducky Dry Sack (php900) 
available at sports and outdoor shops of Robinsons Galleria, 2nd floor
  


ZIPLOC
What was once only a home essential used for storing food, clothes, toys and linens, these multi- purpose resealable bags has become an important element in traveling. Here’s why:

i use it to keep all my snacks together

or my first aid kit

can also double as a compression pack
available at all supermarkets

Ziplocs and other resealable bags come in different sizes and its uses are virtually limitless, bottom line is, it keeps everything organized and because its made of plastic, it keeps my stuff dry at all times.

DISCLAIMER: This post is not meant to encourage you to leave your gadgets and other belongings to the elements or to purposely dump it on water.

written by kim

March 27, 2011

DINING: Aldente Ristorante Italiano & 101 Luna Steak House, Iloilo

We were kind of in a celebratory mood that night having tackled the Southern Heritage Trail and wanted to eat somewhere with nice ambianceand maybe have a good bottle of wine to go with dinner. So I asked some locals at Tatoys while I was finishing off a plate of the freshest oysters for a measly Php 50 (USD 1.13) washed down with an equally fresh cold buko juice where to get good steaks but they were all drawing a blank. Can’t really blame them, I mean if you have these seafood at the cheap why else would you still be craving for meat.

But being the red blooded carnivores that we are, we decided to try Sarabia Manor which is just beside our hotel. It looks posh to me from the outside so I haphazard a guess that there might be a decent restaurant within the area and if ever there is none that is up to our liking, we can just walk back to our hotel and order room service.


Turns out, Sarabia Manor is a first class business hotel in the city that boasts of several International dining options from American, to Korean, Japanese, Filipino and Italian. Their Italian restaurant Al Dente also shares the space with 101 Luna, a steak house and you guess right that’s where we headed to have our steak fix.



I was still a bit full from the huge plate of oysters I finished all by myself so I just ordered a deconstructed blackened steak salad with pine nuts, sliced apples and pears and assorted greens drizzled generously with truffle oil. I was expecting a few slivers of meat but was surprised to find huge slices of top blade steak on top of my salad done medium rare, just the way I like it. The pine nuts gives a crunchy texture while the fruit slices brings a tangy sweet contrast to the earthiness of the meat and the woodsy aroma of truffle oil. This is a well executed beautiful dish that If I can have this every day with a bulbous glass of cabernet, I’d be a happy woman.

101 Luna Steak House's
 Deconstructed Blackened Steak Salad with Pine Nuts, php220 


Kim ordered the house’s best seller steak Florentine on a bed of garlic rice with pesto sauce. The meat is seasoned very well and very tender. I’m not usually fond of garlic rice because I find them oily but this was really flavorful and really tasty having absorbed the juices from the meat. The pesto sauce also gives it a bit of a kick and rounds up the taste. Admittedly I had more than a couple of forkfuls even if I was already stuffed.

Aldente's Steak Florentine, php255

Dinner was capped off with a warm really rich chocolate cake. It’s a layered goodness of moist dark chocolate with cream filling topped with vanilla ice cream.

Aldente's Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream, php90

Dinner was incredibly satisfying and the lakwatseras are happy campers but the best part is the bill. For everything we only paid a few pesos above P800 but no more than P900. Sorry I misplaced the receipt. It was a pretty cheap dinner I should say considering we had excellent slices of protein, a glass of red and dessert in a very cozy ambiance. Service was also commendable – it being prompt and the waiters knowledgeable. All in all it was a pleasing dining experience and I wish to go back and try other things on the menu.




CUISINE:  Italian and Steaks
PRICE RANGE:  php100-800
LOCATION:  Sarabia Manor Hotel and Convention Center, General Luna St., Iloilo City
TEL.No.:  (033) 336-7813

written by mj

March 24, 2011

MY PHILIPPINES: Southern Iloilo Heritage Trail, Guimbal & Tigbauan

You might as well call this the non-religious folks lakwatsa to Southern Iiloilo's Churches because for our last and final installment of the Heritage Trail posts, yes you guessed it right, another church. 2 actually.

After the jaw-dropping architecture of MIAGAO CHURCH, we headed to the municipality of Guimbal, considered to be one of the oldest municipalities in the province of Iloilo and as follows, it has one of the oldest churches in the country.

We have to disclose though that at this point, we were getting churched out so we did not stay more than 15 minutes per structure. In this short span of time, here’s our impression interlaced with a few historical tidbits gleaned from our research.

Guimbal Church

The Guimbal Church was constructed by force labor in 1774 during the Spanish Colonial Period, it is made of yellow sandstones and coral stones quarried from Guimaras. The design was patterned after Baroque architecture but has a strong oriental design while its columns are distinctly Corinthian.

 Guimbal belfry

 entrance to the ruins

The 4-storey high belfry also served as a watchtower against Moro raiders, back in the day, when the churches’ bell tolling usually means danger.

A couple of minutes from Guimbal Church and right on the way back to Iloilo City, we passed by another one of a kind place of worship, probably the only one in the country. St. John Sahagun Parish or more commonly known as Tigbauan Church, has a Churrigueresque design, a type of Baroque architecture that originated in Spain but flourished in Mexico. The beautiful interiors built with mosaics depicting the life of Christ sounds really pretty and interesting but woe to us, we didn’t get to see it. It's shameful but we own up to our guilt of not entering the church.

Tigbauan Church 

Our thoughts were already consumed with bowls of halo-halo (a popular Filipino dessert of shaved ice, evaporated milk, various boiled sweet beans and fruits and sometimes topped with ice cream and egg custard) due to the unrelenting heat of the mid afternoon sun by then so we just snapped a few touristy photos at the exteriors and boarded the air-conditioned comforts of the car we have left on the curb with the machine idling on.

halo-halo

Moral of the story is not to fit in too many places to see all in one day, especially if it’s about the same theme (e.g churches, architecture). The tendency is you get tired of (seemingly) seeing the same thing no matter how exquisite it is and end up not appreciating the place for its unique special worth.

written by kim & mj

March 21, 2011

MY PHILIPPINES: Southern Iloilo Heritage Trail, Miagao

This is Part 2 of our Southern Iloilo Heritage Trail, if you haven't seen the militaristic themed church and grand cemetery in San Joaquin, CLICK HERE

Fortified with our lunch, we went back in the direction of the city just 20 minutes away from San Joaquin for the world renowned religious structure and now a UNESCO Heritage Site, Miagao Church. It is our 2nd stop for our Southern Iloilo Heritage Trail and cannot be missed as it sits majestically right by the road as you enter the town.



Built over 200 years ago in 1787, it is made with limestone that casts a warm golden yellow and light- brown color. The design is predominantly Baroque-Romanesque mixed in with local artistic elements. The differing watchtower belfries were commissioned by different parish priest (which explains its dissimilarity). The belfries flanks the facade adorned with carvings of coconut trees which symbolizes the tree of life. The image of St. Christopher in a tropical forest carrying the baby Jesus on its shoulder is also carved at the upper part of the exterior, while right above the door is a large stone image of St. Thomas Villanueva, the parish patron saint. The main entrance is guarded by the images of the Pope and St. Henry. Other images depicts the Miaganons local way of life.



Miagao church also called as the Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva is not just a place for worship. Its fortress-like design serves a dual purpose as it was used as a place of worship and as a fort in defending the town against moro raiders in the old days. The 1.5 meter thick walls although made from limestone glued together with egg whites since there was no cement yet at that time did look like it could withstand any kind of attack!


While the exterior is elaborate, the interior in contrast is simple but highlighted with a gold plated altar and filled with sunlight streaming in the stained glass window.





This church is indeed a true architectural gem making it also one of the most photographed religious frameworks. You shouldn’t miss this when in Iloilo even if you’re a non-religious like us.






This is only Part 2 of the Southern Heritage Trail, our final stop is a 400 YEAR OLD CHURCH PLUS ANOTHER UNIQUE STRUCTURE.

written by kim

March 19, 2011

MY PHILIPPINES: Southern Iloilo Heritage Trail, San Joaquin

 Going down from Iloilo city is dubbed as the Southern Heritage trail. The trail showcases the historical and cultural attractions dotting the landscape of the province.

59 KM south of Iloilo is where San Joaquin is at. It is the last municipality before entering Antique. CNN Go (http://www.cnngo.com/explorations/play/unseen-asia-040355) listed this municipality as one of the most overlooked destinations in Asia because it’s not always included in the tourism maps or guidebooks which is a shame.

San Joaquin Church

We got off on this sleepy town upon paying Php 60 (USD 1.30) per person for our 1 hour jeepney ride. From the town proper’s highway, we took a 3-5 minute (travel time depends on the age of the driver) pedicab (a human powered type of a 3 cycled vehicle) ride for Php 5 per person (USD .10) to go to the only church in the Philippines with battle depicted on its bass relief instead of the usual Virgin Marys.



The militaristic motif is titled “Rendicion de Tetuan.” It captures the Spanish victory over the Moorish forces in the battle of Tetuan - a district of Madrid in Spain. The carvings are complete of men on horses armed with rifles!

 
details of San Joaquin church's facade

the stairway leading to the belfry

Done marveling at this National Cultural Treasure as declared by the National Historical Institute, we were surprised to find our pedicab driver just hanging out on the shade. We asked him earlier about the cemetery that caught our eye as we passed by on the highway so he purposely waited for us. From the church to the cemetery, he only charged us Php 15 (USD .34) one way. Manong (a FIlipino term used in reference to older men and has a respectful connotation) driver became our instant photographer too and even gamely posed on some photos with us.

San Joaquin town situation-er as seen from the church

The Campo Santo de San Joaquin or “patyo” to the locals is hard to be missed as it is facing the coast just a few minutes before the town proper. It is a century old Roman Catholic cemetery with baroque design influenced by the Orient. 20 wide stone steps frame the capilla (chapel) made with coral rocks and baked bricks. The capilla crowned with a pointed dome is where the dead are blessed before internment.

 Campo Santo de San Joaquin

It is said to be the grandest and most preserved in the entire province of Iloilo and I thought to myself, where in the world can you go and be wowed with a cemetery with no feelings of morbidity!

the gate of the patyo

carvings on the gate - a cherub sandwiched between cross bones

images of saints standing guard over tombs

the cemetery facing the coast

People of San Joaquin are a hospitable bunch. The caretaker talked to us and even expressed regrets that he doesn’t have the capilla’s key with him at that moment. An old man on his way to visit his mom’s tomb took the time to tell us about the church and where to have lunch. Sweet!

Just then my phone went off with Pen on the other line informing me that they are already in the area, so we headed back to town to meet up with them and grab lunch together. Manong driver was huffing and puffing all the way back due to the uphill terrain but still got a smile on his face, proud to have played a tour guide showing off his home. We got so enamored that we paid him Php 220 (USD 5) instead of the Php25 (USD 0.55) we have previously agreed on and he was really appreciative. It’s a nice feeling to get around the beautiful sights, interact with the locals and help out their industry in the process.

 our trisikad driver who was huffing and puffing but still manages to smile

Reunited with the rest, we proceeded farther down south up to the border of Antique to look for lunch among the many seaside restaurants. 5 of us shared a simple fare of fried fish, grilled pork chops, adobong squid, vegetable stew and a huge plate of steamed rice for only Php 275 (USD 6.25)!

  magpataohay is a local dialect which means to relax

view from the seaside eatery in the border of Antique

HOW TO GET THERE: flagging down public transpo from Molo Plaza heading south is already prohibited so head on straight to the transport terminal of Mohon Public Market where jeepneys leave for  San Joaquin every after 5 or 10 minutes.

This is only Part 1 of our Southern Heritage Trail. Next stop a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

written by mj 

ON THE NEWS: South East Asia on a Single Visa

Good news for those who have been wanting to visit these culture, sights and gastronomical rich part of the world but have been dreading the confusing visa requirements for each member country within South East Asia (SEA).


Tourists could see S-E.Asia on single visa

March 18, 2011

MY PHILIPPINES: Transit to Southern Iloilo

We we’re supposed to just stay for a night in Iloilo, to have enough time to grab bowls of batchoy (a noodle soup with pork organs, crushed pork cracklings, shrimp, vegetables, chicken stock, chicken breast and beef loin) and molo (is a soup dish composed of a mixture of ground pork wrapped in wonton wrapper, shredded chicken meat, and shrimps), do a little sightseeing in the city and catch an early bus for transit to Boracay. But reading up on the gems of the area, we decided to cut our trip in Guimaras short and extend a night more in Iloilo instead. We reckon we have 4 days of beaching in Boracay anyway.

 Molo

The day of the tour became our chance to experience the locals way of commuting via public transport to get around as our travel buddies Nikki and Pen and the latter’s cousin Tata who has been graciously shepherding us around on his car overslept and couldn’t make it on our agreed time to regroup. We had an early lights out while they proceeded to check out the popular nightspot in the city –Smallville the night before and quite enjoyed themselves and had a bit too much to drink. We didn’t want to risk delaying the trip out of town because of the forecasted rain in the afternoon so Kim and I went right ahead on schedule and just arranged to constantly communicate by phone and meet up with them for lunch.

jeepney ride going south of Iloilo with driver Reynor

So at 830 AM after finishing off a bowl of molo and a plate of toast and bacon, we hopped on a cab that brought us to the transport terminal at the Mohon public Market. We took our seats beside the driver and were ready to wait for the jeepney (the most popular means of transport in the Philippines originally made from the US military jeeps left over from World War 2) to fill up but as soon as we were settled we soon sped away with only 4 more passengers.

 paved roads all through out

Reynor, made for an insightful and entertaining driver/tour guide volunteering information after information peppered with funny personal tidbits. He would even slow down from time to time so we can snap photos along the way. I’m glad that the other passengers didn’t mind at all and indulged us.


The country side drive was very scenic passing beautiful coastal towns, scattered with old ancestral houses and impressive mansions showcased by wrought iron grills. Some even boasts of a fountain and grand driveways!




The transit was an experience in itself!

This commuting experience leads to a trail that showcases the historical and cultural attractions that dots the landscape of the province. Part 1 of the said trail STARTS HERE.

written by MJ

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