Thursday, December 31, 2015

Journey to the North during Family Christmas

Our family sojourn kicked off at dawn of December 25, 2015, literally a Christmas Day.

Bantay Bridge, Batay, Ilocos Sur
Right before entering Vigan Heritage City, a wild adventure is catered to you by this bridge - the zipline ride - where fun is enjoyed more because of the green surroundings, luscious green silhouette of Bantay (local term for mountains) above and the deep emerald waters of the river below.

Antique Shop, Vigan Heritage City 
Vigan City

A Heritage City

Preservation of heritage is the greatest challenge we Filipinos face day after day. We aren't just citizens of the Philippines but of the world and so our customs and traditions easily evolve in the constant change of time. We are so adaptive that we keep abreast with latest trends, hips and chic. We are so creative that we fuse olds and news or transfigure old into new with ease. We are so resilient that we are able to stand the test of time. We are so forgiving that we have the propensity to forgetting the past.

Fortunately, some labored to keep it. And Vigan succeeded in one aspect - preserving the heritage houses.

Calle Crisologo, Vigan City 

We checked in at Cordillera Inn and my family had a first-hand experience of the old Filipino community. And of course, we did not miss out the long queue for the famous empanada in the city's luneta park.

White Beach and Surfing Point, San Juan, La Union 
San Juan, La Union

Sands and Waves

Known as the surfing capital of the north, the place offers beyond riding a surf board, standing willfully on it, and cutting waves by it. The fine sand shoreline is already a treat so conducive for a morning and/or afternoon stroll. The marvelous sunset view is another treat that you shouldn't miss. Dipping, picnicking, camping, drinking, and more definitely are must-dos 'round here.

Sunset and Sands, San Juan, La Union
We checked in at the Costa Villa Resort and had closer feel of the sandy beach.

Thunderbird Resort and Casino, San Fernando City, La Union

City of San Fernando, La Union

Thunderbird Resort

It is a wonder that maximizing nature and creating something out of it could result to a beautiful infrastructure. With Mediterranean as its architectural inspiration, the resort exudes a European cum Middle Eastern beauty that blends in the Philippine climate. Perched on top of a hill, the design of the hotel cascaded down the cliff towards the West Philippine Sea. And the sunset, a nature's marvel!
One word to define it, Luxury. One word to describe it, Beauty. Well, Luxury and Beauty is definitely expensive. Therefore, it only caters to rich people or to not-so-rich but can afford individuals.

Security is tight here. Gate is always closed to onlookers. If you want to gain access to and have a feel of Mediterranean ambiance? Check in or get a pass from local government officials. I did the latter in my first entry. But when I brought my family there, it was closed to public and non-guest.

So we had instead a hearty dinner at Halo-Halo de Iloko.

Paoay's Baroque Church at sundown

Paoay, Ilocos Norte

Baroque Church

I don't wanna dig the history of the church here but know that Paoay's is one of the 3 old baroque churches in the Philippines.

Inside Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte
The interiors is so cozy that one might think nothing has even been done since time immemorial. The exterior design is already a treat, and with natural aging, its endurance to the test of time, has become even more wonderful. Be there before sunset to witness the color of the walls changes with the sun's hues.

Paoay's old convent ruins

Laoag City

La Paz Sand Dunes

T'was a surreal experience of a desert! I never thought Philippines has it... If you dreamt of a middle eastern sand dune experience, head to north. The desert-like land mass stretched from Paoay, Ilocos Norte to Laoag City; the aerial view (while the plane your taking is landing) would confirm its vastness.

Sand Dunes in the Philippines

Known to be the set of Panday Films, it now offers various adventure to enjoy the place: sand boarding or surfing, sitting or standing on the surf board, and the extremely wild 4x4 drive (up, down and around).

Another natural wonder!

Sand Surfing and more
Burgos, Ilocos Norte

Before proceeding to Kapurpurawan Rock Formations, we climbed the Cape Boajero Lighthouse and tasted delicacies at Dragon Fruit Farm all within Burgos, Ilocos Norte.

Dragon Fruit Farm

I had plenty of memories in this farm. First, I never thought cactus could bear some edible fruits and that this breed of cacti could produce some sweet pinkish dragon like bell-formed fruits. Second, I was in awe to know that dragon fruits could come in various by-products, from ice cream flavor to lumpia. Third, a friend of mine made the biggest faux pas in her life when upon entry she thought that the lumpia on a center table was served for free-taste and so she picked one and encourage me to take another, then later she realized it was ordered and paid by the people sitting around it.

A very natural thing!

Rock Formations and Windmills all in Burgos, Ilocos Norte
Kapurpurawan Rock Formations

Best known for its white stone formed like a lion king pedestal, one could find the place more than limestones. Getting there is already an adventure, the way is adorned with giant windmills, the pathway is crammed with shops.

Experience a dramatic entry by riding a pony which footsteps cadence with the slapping of the waves against the rocks of different colors - yes, there's black, white and pink. The movement of the tides and the windy environ had shaped the rocks into natural sculptors. It's nature at its best!

Bangui, Ilocos Norte
The pioneering Bangui Windmills

The northwest is very windy and it is appropriate to harness such natural phenomenon to produce renewable and sustainable energy. It's been there before the governments of the world intensified its drive against climate change. What made it more amazing is the way these giant fans were planted along the Bangui coast curve. The site is so beholding, a testament to preserving and maximizing nature and thus produce one natural wonder.

Our little Wan was enjoying the wind
Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

White Beach

With its prestine white sandy shoreline, it is indeed living up to its monicker, the Boracay of the North. The absence of bars and clubs, hordes of people, loud music, blinding lights, cafes and food stalls, is fully compensated by the presence of very affordable resorts, flocking of fishermen after the usual catch, slapping of waves, a beautiful sunset, and strange closeness to nature.

Feels good to walk on bare foot

Windy and freezing!

Include all the destinations in your itinerary when doing tours in the northwestern Philippines.                                    

My mini-me!
A 7-day family tour was priceless. We were back to base at the dawn of December 31, 2015, a New Year's Eve.

Monday, December 7, 2015

In Singapore: Run Cring Run

Time flew so fast and suddenly it was already December 4, time for me to fly to Singapore.

A clear view of the Marina

I had unpredictable schedules these days being a freelance consultant. I just got an invite from DA Region 2 to be the Resource Person in the conduct of the PRDP's I-REAP component's Financial Analysis and Management, with some DA personnel and community groups' representatives attending. The final schedule was from December 1 to 4, held at Hotel Venezia in Subic Bay, Zambales, but I declined the last day as it would fall on my departure date to Singapore. Another engagement was entered with the same project, but this time with Region 5, to act as Resource Person in the conduct of the Simplified Financial Management System Training-Workshop on December 7-11 at Villa Caceres Hotel in Naga City. Again, the first day of the latter training would be in conflict with my return trip schedule. I will be arriving at 10pm of December 7.

Good morning, Singapore

This was my fourth time in Singapore and so I had hoped I would have different experience this time around. The first time that I was traveling alone I just dropped the garden city in June 2008 and then crossed the border to Malaysia. The second time in August 2010 (if I'm not mistaken) was with three other friends and we went to Universal Studios before crossing through the border to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The third time which happened in December 2012 was with the whole family of my good friends, Ruth and Samson Go. We experienced the whole of Universal Studios and Sentosa Island and then experienced a day at Legoland Park in Johor Baruh, Malaysia.

Got my finisher's medal

At the starting line for the 7th wave of 10km runners

True enough, I visited Singapore mainly to join the Standard Chartered Fun Marathon. I had booked my flight since July 2015, so I adjusted the dates of my facilitation engagements to accommodate it. I attended the Subic batch on December 1-3 and the Naga batch on December 8-11.

Meeting Ann-Ann, Michelle, and Lynette at the Forum along Orchard Road

Lunch with Ann-Ann and friends at a Korean Resto inside the Raffles City

It was a unique experience of Singapore this time around. I arrived in Singapore on the fourth of December at 7pm. Learning that the claiming of the Fun Run singlet will still be opened until 9pm, I decided to drop by the Singapore Expo before heading towards my hostel reservation. This was also my first time to check in a hostel in Singapore and found the Bunc@Radius, Clarke Quay very satisfactory. Best feature of the hostel is that it is close to prime locations in the garden city - a walking distance to Boat Quay, Fullerton Hotel, Merlion Park, Victoria Museum, St. Andrews Cathedral, Raffles City, Esplanade, Marina Bay, Singapore Flyer, and even Bugis Street.

Taking the cable car

On my first day, December 5, I woke up at 5am and decided to walk around to familiarize the South Bridge Street then walked towards the Merlion Park and made a 360-degree turn around the river, from Fullerton Hotel to Esplanade and back to the hostel. It was a picturesque Singapore I got in my lenses. Then I took the subway to Vivo City and rode the Cable Car, which I missed last time. I loved the bird's eyeview of the city's harbor. My day tour closed at the SEA Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa.

With new friends, Joyrel and Anna

I met Ann-Ann Canoy on December 6. I joined her group of friends and coworkers who reserved a room at Fairmont Hotel within the Raffles City Mall. Up there, the view of Singapore City, with Esplanade Mall, Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands on a landscape, from the poolside was one of a kind, so priceless! We dined at a Thai restaurant, talked about preps for the following day's fun run, and retired early for the night...

We then reunited on the run day at the same hotel and headed together to the assembly area at Padang grounds. The four of us, Anna, Joyrel, Ann-Ann and myself, ran the 10km race. Ann-Ann who earlier suffered a fall in her bathroom was still feeling pain on her right leg, so we ran in slow pace until we completed the first 5 kilometers. Then we walked the remaining 5km until we neared the finish line, then jogged up to the end. We both finished the race within 1 hour and 50 minutes - an accomplishment already for our kind of fun-walkers.

SW7 Exhibits

With HS friends Michelle and Lynette

After a few hours of relaxation after the run, Ann and I decided to meet up again at Orchard Road along with some more hometown friends and my classmates from grade schools, Lynette Sajol and Michelle Maniwang. I lately heard that they were working now in Singapore. And before that, I also had a meet-up with a former coworker way back in 1999 whom I lost contact for more than a decade and just reconnected through facebook, Beth Chai. She was the househelp of my former boss who operated a sea vessel where I was the accountant.

Singapore meetup: It's a small world afterall

Meeting Beth Chai for the first time in a long time

The added bonus to my visit to this expensive city was the Star Wars' exhibits everywhere, with lifesized Stormtroopers and Empire Aircrafts. In fact, there mascots joined the fun run alongside us.