Beach Getaway in Mandaluyong

My title is so misleading, I’m not really writing about a beach in Mandaluyong… how can that city have something close to a beach? Haha! I’m writing about R and J, a bulalohan along Boni Avenue.

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So you wonder why beach? Well, if you check out the interiors of this hole in the wall, you’ll literally be confused and think you’re transported to some island in the Visayas. The tables are monoblocs, the walls are made of bamboo, banderitas and Christmas lights are hanging everywhere and they have a 5-peso coin operated videoke machine!

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Although the unassuming beach ambience is part of the reason why I always go back to this place, a lot of people know it as the best bulalohan in Mandaluyong. This is testified by a couple of known celebrities who are fans and have posted testimonials all over the walls of the restaurant. It’s amusing how such low profile restaurant can gain such following.

Try it out, food here for two will only cost you 220 pesos. This includes a bowl of bulalo, tilapia, kangkong, 2 cups of rice and 2 glasses of iced tea! Really affordable bulalo. Watch out on the cholesterol, though! 🙂

Diamond in the rough. More fun in the Philippines!

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Party Jeepney

If one asks what typical Filipinos do for fun, karaoke probably tops the list. It is very famous in birthday parties, fiestas and even wakes! When the current top songs are being played, chances are, you’ll hear a couple of people singing along. If you’re one of those guys who love to sing the night away, the party jeepney is for you!

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The party jeepney is a custom made jeep that can seat 20 people. Unlike the typical public utility jeepney which seats people facing each other in a sideways orientation, this one is bus style with people facing the front and with a center aisle. It is airconditioned, has a tv and two microphones. You can fully customize the tour by asking the driver where you’d like to go. For our trip, we cruised through EDSA and dropped by the Rizal Park, Intramuros and Malate.

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I will try to update this with full information on how to book the party jeepney but with 2000 pesos per hour, it’s a bit more expensive than your regular KTV bar, but it’s an experience worth trying.

By the way, we had a cooler with bottles of wine, vodka and whiskey, and if you are drinking in a moving vehicle, it gets to your head faster. Be careful with the booze! 😉

Karaoke. More fun in the Philippines!

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    Kota Kinabalu: Land Below the Wind

    On the day that we were to go to Kota Kinabalu, I had to work even though it was Ninoy Aquino’s holiday. I finished work at around 2:30 PM, and I still had to go home to pack my stuff. I was already panicking because my flight was at 4:40 PM and my iPod was playing Rico Blanco’s Antukin. First line goes, “Iniwan ka na ng eroplano (the plane has already left you)”.  Fortunately everything went smoothly, and I arrived in the airport just before check-in closed.

    packed backpack and drove to the airport in less than an hour

    packed backpack and drove to the airport in less than an hour

    The flight was pretty straightforward. There weren’t any turbulence. We arrived in KK at 6:40 PM. Even though the airport was big, it still felt like we were landing in some Philippine province because of all the coconut trees, houses and buildings along the runway.

    After immigration, baggage claim and customs, we followed the guy who was holding out my name in a laminated paper saying, “Welcome to Sabah.”  He was the driver of the Lavender Lodge’s free airport transfers. After the 15-minute drive from airport to hostel, we checked in our backpacks and went to a mall called Centerpoint to exchange money. I also bought a Malaysian sim card so that I can contact my couch surfing friends in KK.

    steven, the hostel driver, fetching us at the KKIA

    steven, the hostel driver, fetching us at the KKIA

    Next agenda was to go look for food, we were starving so we asked around for a good restaurant nearby and they led us to this Malacca restaurant. We ordered Beef Rendang and Shrimp Sambal, and they tasted like Chinese cafeteria food -fail.

    first taste of teh tarik, the every-meal drink of the trip

    first taste of teh tarik, the every-meal drink of the trip

    I started contacting my friends, and Sam from CS said he’ll be hanging out with some friends in Rumba Bar at Le Meridien. Since it was only a few blocks away, we decided to go and meet them. We all thought that bars in KK were like in Boracay where you can just go in slippers and short pants but apparently they were strict about dress code so we had to make do with what we had… for me it was shirt, pants and a funky pair of orange shoes. The girls had to wear sneakers and rubber shoes., only to find out later on that the dress code only applies to men.

    paula is the lead singer of a filipino band in kk

    paula is the lead singer of a filipino band in kk

    The bar was small and they were alternating between live band and DJ. The band was Filipino, apparently all bands in Sabah are. The drinks inside were expensive. I ordered a pint of Guiness beer at RM 33, equivalent to almost PHP 450. We didn’t stay long not just because of the prices but also because we had a long day the next day. So we started for the hostel and called it a day after arranging our transfers to Kinabalu Park with the hostel travel agency.

    To be continued.. Will be posting more of the Sabah trip in the next couple of days.

    Banaue: Up the 8th Wonder of the World

    The trip to Banaue was a very spontaneous one. I had been planning to go to this part of Luzon, but I was never sure when the perfect time was and who I should get to accompany me. One night, I got a text from Marvin, “let’s have dinner at Cubao X this Saturday.” I casually replied that I’ll check my schedule because I might go to Banaue. Then he said he and his friends want to tag along..

    I made arrangements with a couchsurfer, Rae, for us to live in his restored native Ifugao huts in Batad, and when we got a go signal, it was full speed ahead. I got two other couchsurfers to join the group: Mark was going to Sagada alone, but decided to tag along for company and Matt whose status message was “misses sagada and batad” also came. It was a very diverse group, but it mixed well.

    The trip from home to the Florida Bus Terminal was a journey of its own. I had to go meet Mark and Matt in Gateway Mall because we all didn’t know how to go to the terminal. We decided to take the train to avoid the traffic, and I never thought I’d be using my Lonely Planet in Manila to look for the locations of the train stations. Eventually, we were able to arrive while the bus was still there, albeit 10 minutes late.

    We left Manila a few minutes past 11 in the evening of Friday. The bus ride was pretty good but I didn’t get to sleep properly because of the full-blast A/C. After a long journey along paddies and cliffs, we arrived in Banaue at around 7 in the morning of Saturday. We went to get our return tickets for the next day and met up with Pio, our guide in the Cordillerra.

    although the bahag is not used as often, there were still old ones donning their ancestral costume

    although the bahag is not used as often, there were still old ones donning their ancestral costume

    After all logistical concerns were addressed, we went to People’s Restaurant to have breakfast while getting ready for Batad. The restaurant had a sink hanging from the balcony, so we brushed our teeth facing the rice terraces.. only in the Philippines.

    Pio informed us that we were still waiting for two other people who are also living in the same native hut, so we decided to go to the public market to buy ingredients for dinner. After a few minutes of buying and walking around, we started our jeepney ride to the Saddle Point in Batad. The ride was like a “getting to know you” session because we spent it talking about our travels and interests.

    There was a landslide somewhere between Batad junction and the Saddle Point so we were forced to go down and hike the rest of the way. We met a group of foreigners who were here to work as interns under the AIESEC program. It was fun to talk to two Chinese nationals in straight Mandarin.. I missed that.

    one of the few ifugao balai left in batad

    one of the few ifugao baluy left in batad

    After 2 hours of hiking, we finally arrived in Batad viewpoint with an amazing amphitheater type rice terraces. After taking in the view, we ordered lunch at Rita’s, while thinking of activities we can do while in Batad. We had to rush because Nancy had to go home that night, so after lunch, we hiked across the terraces to our native Ifugao hut near the bottom part of the mountain. It was amazing. If I had the luxury of time, I can spend a week reading and writing in that hut.

    this was home sweet home for us in batad

    this was home sweet home for us in batad

    After a few minutes of rest below our huts, we started the long hike to the Tappia falls. It was a very tiring walk but the first sight of the falls made us forget about everything. Excited to take a dip, we hurried down and and started our way to the pool near the waterfalls. It was freezing cold, but it didn’t stop us from swimming and wading around. This was by far, my favorite in the trip. It reminded me of my trek down the Tiger Leaping Gorge, except this one had a reward in the end, a nice cold swim.

    big, strong, and imposing falls with ice cold waters at the end of a long, hard trek

    big, strong, and imposing falls with ice cold waters at the end of a long, hard trek

    When it was time to go back to the hut, it started raining. We were all wet from the swim anyway, so the rain didn’t really stop us from walking. Thank God for Mavic’s ziplock or else my camera would have been bye bye. I enjoyed the rain on the way back. It was the first time I bathed in the rain for a long time. It was almost sun down when we were back in the huts.

    Rain continued to shower while the girls prepared dinner. I had a nice time chatting with my friends and the locals while enjoying a nice homemade rice wine. After dinner, Pio showed us his ancestors’ prized possessions. They were inside our hut (inside OUR HUT!). There was a Bulol (Rice Guard), a box filled with 50 years of chicken blood, a vase with insect infested rice wine and other artifacts. He told stories of how these things were used, not really helping us get warmed up inside our hut.

    our trek guides in batad, cousins marlon and pio

    our trek guides in batad, cousins marlon and pio cooking rice for us

    After the session, we continued drinking rice wine inside our hut, when Pio’s drunk friend came and talked to us in Ifugao. He got mad because he overheard us saying he can’t speak Tagalog and that he was drunk. That was actually me who said that comment so while the bed was really comfortable, I had three nightmares because I thought of him getting back at me by getting my head! They were headhunters after all, heads of monkeys, wild cats, and carabaos were hung all over our hut. The worse nightmare I had was someone pushing me down a deep well, and a few minutes later I woke up to see myself on the floor already.

    The night went by and although I had a few bad dreams, I woke up energized, excited to watch the sun rise in Batad. We went down to look for Nganga, the thing that the locals chew to clean their teeth. It was a like a mint leaf spring roll with a Betelnut, a crushed snail shell, and dried tobacco inside. It was an acquired taste. I almost puked a couple of times. We were spitting red, blood-like spits all over the place. The tobacco had an effect on me. I was buzzed. It was like I chugged down three bottles of light beer in one go. The effect didn’t leave me until after 30 minutes when I decided to let go of the Nganga and just spit what’s left of it. We asked our guide to get us Passion fruit (Masap in their local dialect) to remove the taste and after enjoying the fruit, Mark, Mavic, Eve and I started our walk towards the peak of the terraces.

    sun slowly lighting brgy. batad and the rice terraces

    sun slowly lighting brgy. batad and the rice terraces

    The climb was long and tiring, not only because of the distance and the slope, but also because of the rising sun. We were walking along paddies and terraces so naturally, there wouldn’t be any trees to shelter us from the sun. We forgot to bring water so out of desperation, we drank a few sips from a clean looking stream uphill. After almost an hour climbing, Mark and I were victorious. We reached the peak and started counting how many terraces Batad had, our best count was 106. Eve was a few terraces below us, and Mavic was almost near the middle part (where I left my Ateneo jacket – the 60th terrace according to my count). It was hard, and while walking I was very thankful for malls with elevators and escalators. But I think it’s all relative, people get used to where they live. We were surprised we saw an old lady near the top selling us pineapples from the village. I wanted to get her photo, but she wanted coffee money in exchange.. no thank you.

    When we arrived back in the hut, everyone was still asleep. We decided to cook sardines and freshly picked Baguio beans for breakfast. I went in the hut to get a power nap for the return trip to Poblacion, Banaue. I didn’t know how important that 15-minute nap was until we climb up back to the viewpoint where Rita’s is. It was the most difficult climb partly because Eve and Mark were in front of me. They were fast hikers, so I had to keep up. When we reached the top, I didn’t care how much a C2 costs, I needed one. It was time to say goodbye to Mark, our American companion, because he had to go catch a public jeepney on his way to Mayuyao, where the “Paradise Terraces” are. With him and the guide gone, we took our time walking back to the Saddle point and to the landslide area where we’ll meet the jeepney to take us back to the Poblacion.

    a bulol by the entrance of a restaurant at the viewpoint of batad

    a bulol by the entrance of a restaurant at the viewpoint of batad

    It was a nice walk mostly because the weather was chilly and cloudy plus it was downhill after the Saddle point. We took our time to enjoy the mountain ranges of the CAR. We even saw a group of people transporting a pig that’s ready to be roasted for a wedding the next day in Batad. They invited me to join in the celebration, and I would have loved to if not for work the next day. When we arrived at where the jeepney waited for us, I had the bright idea to ride on top of the jeep. It was brilliant! Although the road was rough, and we almost fell a few times, the sight of all the random rice terraces made up for how uncomfortable we were up there. It was really amazing how these people were able to adapt to the mountainous environment. 2000 years ago, when their race was forced to move upland by the Tagalogs, they were able to engineer an irrigation system that proved to be better than its counterpart in the Luzon plains. They had two harvests per year, because of the constant supply of water from the unique irrigation system that they had.

    jeepney traversing the highway cliffs of banaue - a very common sight in the cordilleras

    jeepney traversing the highway cliffs of banaue - a very common sight in the cordilleras

    We concluded our trip with a sample of Pinikpikan, a Cordillera chicken broth in Las Vegas Restaurant with Miki, a lone Japanese traveler who we met a few times before during the trip. I don’t want to talk about the details of the preparation, but to make it simple, it’s roasted native chicken boiled in water with preserved pork. It was good, similar to Tinola. But for me nothing beats the native chicken Lauya of the Bisaya.

    I have to say, of all the trips I’ve had in the Philippines, this is one of the most memorable and exciting. It is sad that during our travels, we didn’t meet a single Filipino tourist. They were all foreigners from all over; US, Holland, Canada, Finland, China, Japan, Switzerland, Australia, you name it, they were there. I don’t know why, maybe we take it for granted or maybe we’re just not that adventurous and we stick to the safer destinations like Batangas and Tagaytay. But if you ask me, this trip is worth the effort so try to be there to experience one of the Wonders of the World.

    For people planning a trip there, load up on cash because Banaue and Batad do not have banks. The total cost of our trip was more or less PHP 2000 including transportation, food and accommodations. To people like me, who are working.. it can be done on a weekend. You leave Manila at 11 pm of Friday; arrive Banaue at 7 am of Saturday; spend two whole days at your Baranggay of choice; leave Banaue at 8 pm of Sunday; arrive Manila at 5 am of Monday. Famous food not to be missed are their rice meals (mixed meat, vegetables and Banaue rice with sunny side up egg on top) and Pinikpikan (Roasted Chicken Broth).

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