Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Meet the Wandering Surf Travel Junkies

One of the great things about traveling - whether it is with your family, your friends, for business or for vacation - is that you get to meet new people. Granted, not all of them are nice and some of them you wish to never see again (the lamest ones I like to call speed bumps)... but the ones that you do end up getting along with... the ones that happen to share that sameness in spirit... they often more than make up for the speed bumps and pot holes.

All of them have been bitten by the same bug as I have. We all tend to suffer from severe personality disorders when we are kept trapped in one place for too long. Our feet are always itching to get on the move... to return not only to familiar haunts but also to experience new places. While quite different from each other, we are kindred in our desire to constantly see the world beyond the horizon... Tolkien has been quoted as writing that not everyone who wanders is truly lost... well... not everyone who travels is truly a traveler... but I have been fortunate to have met the follwing people on the paths that I have found myself on.

Zeny, Tals, Man Man, myself and Pao in Siargao 2003.
Meet some of the more regular people on my travel map. If you click on most of their names, it'll take you to photos of these lovely folk. Just promise me you wont stalk them! ;)

KAZ I have known for a little over five years. To be fair we didn't meet while traveling although she was kind of traveling at that time - making the move from California to Manila. We technically first met through work (as editors for The Cutting Edge Magazine) and fairly soon after that started hanging out together. Kaz is a poet, a word-smith, and a dreamer. Our biggest trip together to date was Siargao 2002.

Another merry wanderer that I love to travel with is TALS. She is a kick-ass writer, fellow capoeirista and surf addict. I'd known of her for years but we only met when we both went up to La Union together. Tals is currently livin' the dream for all of us -- taking 6 weeks off from Manila to travel through Mexico. Her last email was all about surfing Puerto Escondido and working at a reggae bar owned by two Italian hippies.

Tals' brother DINO is off the travel map at the moment, getting his pilot's license. So we dont see him as often anymore. He's like our leader (Leader Dino) - always on top of things, very organized and never ever in panic mode. Even when we got stuck behind a landslide in the Sierra Madres and had to drive home in total darkness. It was Dino who talked to the construction crew guys to find out how long it would take. It was Dino who was calm the entire time. Plus, Leader Dino is an all-around nice guy.

Someone else that I'd known of for a bit before we met is ALEX The world is a small small place... Alex and my friend Jenina have been friends since they were children. I'd been friends with Jenina all throughout college. And yet, it took a surf trip to bring me and Alex together. He is one of the most respected Manila surfers that I know of... funny, bald and one of the people who helped open the surfing door to me. I've not traveled with him in a while now but we keep each other posted through text and email.

Next up is ANA whom we all lovingly call Ana Bear or Ana Banana is another person that I met about a year before we actually began hanging out in earnest. I met her through surfing. Up in La Union. Then we'd run into each other in all these places but it wasn't til my Siargao trip with Kaz that we started for real traveling together and then hanging out in Manila. Her line of jewelry BOHEMIANA is not only gorgeous but is also a reflection of her personality. One thing about Ana Bear that I can claim as true: she has Jedi Powers!

ALLAN aka Man Man hails from Davao. He's steady... a true blue nomad who followed the surf for about two years. He's got all this Red Cross training background so he's usually the one who ends up bandaging my wrist or checking out my cuts. Heehee. He and Paolo (see below) kind of coach me in the water. Sometimes he rags on me hard but that's generally for my good anyway. He's back in Davao right now -- havent seen him since our Siargao trip. I think he's decided it's time to settle down and do the wandering the 'normal' way from now on.

Then there's PAOLO, entrepreneur, surfer boy and (now) tv host for TxTube on channel 7. We actually met in 2001 while I was in Siargao (notice how that island seems to play a significant role in the people I've met?) but we didn't really bother to hang out or keep in touch until the year after. He's kind of my 'little brother' on land and my 'coach' in the line-up. I know a lot of people tend to think that Pao Pao is nuts but really, in the water, he always makes sure that I am safe. Sorry Pao, I'm blowing your cover now. Oh and now we're working together on that show he's hosting... so it's a lot of fun to be able to see him even when we're at work.

Meanwhile CAT fell into my life by way of Pao. And having her in it has truly enriched my life. A writer, blogger and model, she is both beautiful inside and out. A truly free spirit, Cat is the original wandering gypsy. She and Ana actually have a cool business now. They co-own Planet Zips-- zips are a lot of fun and a great way to exercise without knowing it.

Now ZENY works for the DOT and is good friend of Olin's. I met her because she was my liason for a travel piece I was doing years ago. We kept in touch and now that she is based in Manila, I get to see her more often. Yay! She's one of the sweetest people on earth... but watch out! This swan has teeth. Definitely not a push-over. I love that Zeny is even more compulsive and organized about travel than I am. When in doubt about anything involving the Caraga Region, Zeny comes to the rescue.

Then there are the local surfers...
Olin circa 2002.

MAKO & OLIN are from Baler, Aurora so we don't always see each other either. Olin was one of the very first friends I made on my first surf trip. He and Mako can be extremely mischievous but when push comes to shove, they've always taken care of me and helped me sort myself out in the water. Oh and don't try to outdrink either one of them... it just wont happen. Other Baler Boys include: Bad Boy, Smelly Cat, Noel, Kuya Mack, Kidlat... you know what? Just go and get to know them... you wont regret it.

The LA UNION boys are another group of local surfers who are fun to chill with. The Kubo Boys recently added another past time to their repertoire -- Scrabble. They're a big bunch who live to surf and surf to... well ... to surf. If you ever head up there, look for Lemon, Angel, Kali, Luke, Moro, Micky Boy, Mickey G, Valdez and the rest of them. They'll hook you up... if they like you that is. Haha. Kiddin'.

And while I only see them maybe twice a year if I'm lucky the local SIARGAO SURF GANG are in my life as well. These guys have one of the most famous Philippine breaks right at their doorstep. It's like living on the North Shore and waking up to see the Pipe. Kind of. They're what I like to call the "Repeats" -- Yok Yok, Den Den, Dodo, Al-Al ... haha. And there's Intsik, Manet, Nilde, Usot. All of them rip in the water... and know how to have a good time on land. They always take the best care of us when we're visiting them and are so sweet. One of the younger surfers, Zaldy, has kind of been adopted by pretty much most of the regular visitors. He is going to go big when he gets older. Just you wait and see.

MILLIE I dont know how to classify. She's part-Oz, part-Fil and lives on and off in both places. She is both balikbayan and tourist at the same time. We started corresponding through YM and email almost three years ago but didn't really get to spend much time with each other 'til September this year. We spent nine days in Siargao just terrorizing the island and having fun. Millie is hella talented. She creates her own line of clothing called Eillim. There's a link to her site over on the right side. On top of that, she is also an aspiring Pirate and a maker of Strange Sounds.

There isn't enough space on this one blog to talk about all the wonderful people I've met... so, there's going to have to be another entry about everyone else.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Return to the Island: Siargao 2004

Millie asked me to do a small piece on, what else, Siargao. A personal point of view on an island that we both love to bits. I think this piece is coming out in zine she's publishing. If you were there this year... hello from the two of us! If you were there the year before, we missed you this year. If you've never been but plan to go... maybe we'll see you then.
Siargao 2004

I've been visiting Siargao for the last five years. I feel like a displaced Manileyno... the city holds nothing for me when compared to the promise of the ocean. Every year I live for my Siargao trip. Never mind that I am not from the island or even related to anyone who lives there. Never mind that prior to the year 2000, I'd never even heard of Siargao, much less been on a surfboard. The bottom line is: every time I set foot on the island, it feels like I'm coming home.

This year I was on the island from September 21st to the 29th.
Originally it was supposed to be til the 2nd of October then I had to cut it back to eight days. Then on my seventh day, I got antsy and I realized that it was going to take a team of wild elephant seals to make me leave the island... and I ended up staying for nine days... and it still wasn't enough time.

We watched the surf comps where you could totally see that the level of local surfing has shot up... those boys were just ripping in the water. We went on a few boat trips but since I didn't bring my board, ended up surfing only once... but hey, better once than not at all. And that one session was really enjoyable. Just me, Paolo, Allan, Kerwin and another group of about four guys. Eight people total in the line-up... nice.
Cat and me at sunset on a boat in the middle of the ocean. Good times.
We hung around Ocean 101 a lot, just drinking mango shakes, reading borrowed books or watching surf videos. At night we would down cold San Miguels while listening to show bands. Or we'd just sit in front of our room, listening to the silence and going over the day's events. We were often in bed before midnight so we could rise with the sun.
In the morning stillness, we would see surfers coming in for breakfast, hungry from their first sessions... already thinking of their cheese jaffles or scrambled eggs. Or boats loading up with boards, surfers headed off towards breaks that they hoped would be uncrowded. The late-risers would be heading out to catch what was left of the swell before the noon tides changed.
The days melded into each other and it came to a point where we could no longer tell if it was Monday or Wednesday or how long we'd been wandering around Siargao.

Millie and I 'discovered' a beach near Ocean 101 and named it "Herbert Beach" for reasons only she and I will ever truly understand. It became our little swimming spot... a place for us to muck about in between shooting the competition and planning boat trips around the island.

There was that one morning that we rented a boat to take us to Bucas Grande so we could swim with stingless jellyfish and be awestruck by the scenery zooming past us. The guys climbed inside one cave and jumped straight down into the water... while a less-brave me sat in the banka and took photos. The water was so clear you could see straight to the bottom even at depths of what we estimated to be about 30 feet. Lunch was grilled fish and rice. Eaten with our hands while sitting in a hut that we pretended was ours.

I remember laying around in Millie's hammock one afternoon while Weng and Noel grilled fresh-bought tuna in the garden. Later some of us - mostly new friends we'd met that year - took a boat to Magpupungko in Pilar to jump in the tide pools and terrorize the fishies. In a word: stunning. It didnt matter that I'd been here the year before... or that I had also lost myself in the beauty of Magpupungko.
Not to be cheesy but it felt like I was falling in love with Siargao all over again. Because I do love that island and often tell people that I am having an affair with it.

I've mentioned this before I think but one of the things I truly love about going to Siargao is that it is feels like one big reunion for a lot of people. You see surfers from all over the country as well as the locals that, by now, have become our friends as well.

And I meet so many interesting people ... most of them tend to be very laid-back... and by the third day, an informal commune of mixed races sort of just naturally happens:Pinoys, Israelis, Aussies, Brits, Swiss, Brasilian and Kiwi... everyone just hanging out and enjoying that natural island vibe. Some of them old friends made from trips past... others new acquaintances that could become old friends in the future.

So days blended into each other as they are wont to do ... and I forgot all about my life waiting for me in Manila. But as much as I would have liked to stop time, I couldn't. And there came that day that I had to leave Siargao. Bags packed. Bills settled. Emails traded. Hugs shared. One last visit to Cloud 9 for the year. One last sip of mango shake. One last look at Rock Island from across the ocean. Time to go.

While waiting for the ride that was going to take me away from Siargao, I started to feel restless. I thought maybe I'd left something, so I checked our room again. Then I worried that maybe I'd
neglected to leave enough money. But I had. It wasn't until I was waving goodbye from the back of the habal-habal that I recognized the feeling for what it was... sadness.
For photos of Siargao 2004:

Sunday, November 21, 2004


Originally written for The Cutting Edge Magazine in 1999. There's another piece I did on Cairo somewhere in the archives. Since that Colin Farrel movie "Alexander" is getting so much hype, I'm jumping on the bandwagon and reprinting this here.

Alexandria is fascinating when you notice the dynamics between the old ways and modern days. One of the first things you’ll notice is that the people are proud to be Alexandrians, as well as Egyptians. Their claim to fame, after all, is that the conqueror/warrior Alexander the Great founded their city.

It is a city of great historical substance. The architecture of most buildings reflects the cultural and religious influences of their people. Even the newer buildings are erected in the traditional architectural style. But if you look closely, you will see that they are not as “backward” as the dusty roads, veiled women and old buildings make them out to be. Atop almost every apartment building is a satellite dish. Most women wear chunky wedge-heeled club shoes with the curve-concealing jellabiyahs.

Situated beside the Mediterranean sea, Alexandria (or Alex as the locals call it) is the country’s summer capital for reasons made obvious by the innumerable public beaches that line the coast. So bring swimwear and your spf number of choice. (In fact, even if you don’t intend to take a dip bring protection from the sun anyway. Egypt as a whole is a very hot country.)

The best thing to do is to lodge at the hotels found within Montazah Park. Inside the park are two of the King’s palaces, his wives’ palace and, of course, hotels that give you access to private stretches of yellow sand and an indigo ocean. One I would recommend is the Helnan Palestine Hotel... their ice cream? Divine!

Sunbathing and strolling through the park grounds is not all that Alex has to offer. There are several locations that might interest a traveler curious about the city’s past.
There is the Gold Museum. Inside are the jewels and other adornments of the royal families of the modern centuries. It’s almost enough to give you gold fever. Then you notice the guards standing at each doorway, holding their automatic weapons and you think twice about your sudden urge to be dripping in diamonds.

If you want to travel further back in time, head on over to the Graeco-Roman Museum. (Except on Fridays... um... because they’re closed.) Massive marble carvings and statues of Greek and Egyptian gods reach for the high sunlit ceiling. On either side, there is an impressive collection of mummies, terra-cotta figurines, bronze artifacts and other odds and ends that were found in archeological digs. Little white cards at the base of each display case briefly describes what you are looking at, the date of excavation and the estimated period of make.
You may also want to check out the Catacombs of Kom El Shuqafa (shoo-kah-fa). It’s a lot of fun to walk down the stairs they’ve carved alongside the outer walls of the underground catacombs. Just remember that who walks down, must walk all the way back up.

Another recommended tourist-y spot is the Citadel. Built right beside the water, the former stronghold is now open to the public. The fortress still contains the military residences (minus the militia), the armory, a mosque and a museum.
For most of these sites there is an entrance fee, an extra fee to bring in a still camera and yet another fee for a video-cam. Personally, I think the small fee to bring in the still camera is worth paying for all the places but only the Gold Museum and the Graeco-Roman Museum merit a video-cam. For the most part, these places open at 10 am and close at 4 pm. Check with your hotel to be certain.
Another thing that the hotels can do for you is arrange for a driver to take you around for the whole day. This is really convenient as there is no need to hail a cab every time you want to go somewhere else. It is also the safer way to go as the drivers – although not hotel employees – are well known by the bell captains and can be trusted. Fees can range from 100-130 L.E. for about 5 hours plus tips. The driver will more often than not also give you a talking tour while he takes you around, pointing out other interesting sights. It is only polite to listen even if you can barely understand him. They try very hard to make the tourist as welcome as possible and it’s the least you can do. Don't be one of those ugly tourists that give the rest of your country a bad name.
A coastal city of historical worth, Alexandria is a city better experienced than read.

Getting there: From Manila, Singapore Airlines has almost daily flights to Egypt via Dubai. Check with your travel agent for a more detailed flight schedule. Once in Cairo International Airport – the only entry point via air into Egypt – rent a cab for the two hour drive to Alexandria (about $75). There are several taxi services lined up outside the Customs area.

Friday, November 19, 2004


Originally written for the now defunct I bring it back to life on this blog... because while I am proud to be Pinoy, I continue to hold very fond memories of the time I lived a stone's throw away from Washington DC.

The Mall

Only in D.C. can you say you spent your day ON the mall and not be grammatically incorrect. Only in Washington D.C. can you spend the entire day at a mall and not see a single store. But it is a mall definitely worth exploring.

The nation’s Mall is actually a long oblong stretch of green with the Lincoln Memorial on one end, the dome of the U.S. Capitol at the other and the many museums of the Smithsonian Institution surrounding it. To wander around this Mall is to soak up diverse cultures and history.

Start your tour Lincoln Memorial (at 23rd Street, NW) which was completed in 1992 and modeled after the Greek Parthenon. Inscribed in the walls are the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. The Emancipation is depicted on the ceiling murals. Martin Luther King’s world-changing “I Have A Dream” speech was one of the many civil events held here.

For more emotion-evoking sights, don’t pass up the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Constitution Gardens at Constitution Ave). A grim black granite wall etched with the names of the men and women who died in that war. It is never without flowers and remembrances left by veterans and families who leave with rubbings taken from the etchings. Nearby, the companion statue of three infantrymen makes the experience complete.

Next stop is the Washington Monument (at 15th Street, NW). The simple obelisk you will see is the last – and final – depiction of the monument which has gone through numerous designs. At 556 feet, it is the height limit for the tallest building in the city.

There are several other memorials and monuments of interest near and around the Mall that you should look into while you’re in the area. But we’re talking about the Mall now and after those memorials, it’s time to hit the museums.

Washington D.C. has the most impressive museums thanks, in no small part, to the Smithsonian Institution. As a kid growing up near the city, I looked forward to going to the Smithsonian on weekends. They never seemed to run out things for me to see and become enchanted by.

The Castle (1000 Jefferson Drive, SW), the first of the Smithsonian Buildings was built in the mid-19th century. It now houses a Visitor Information Center where you can find out about the events for the day and a video that gives visitors an overview of all the museums.

The museums are open every day of the year except December 25th. The museums are open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. except the Anacostia Museum which closes at 5 p.m. There is no admission fee to get into the Smithsonian museums.

Located on the Mall itself are:
The National Air and Space Museum, called the most popular museum in the world, clocking more than eight million visitors annually. Everything from the Wright brothers’ 1903 Flyer, Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Lois to missiles and rockets that have revolutionized our world can be found here.

The Arts and Industries Building, the second oldest of the Smithsonian buildings. The south hall is the most interesting part – the Experimental Gallery which explores innovative exhibition techniques.

The National Museum of American History looks at, well, American history beginning at the Industrial Revolution all the way up to present day events. Most interesting are the displays of Americana memorabilia like Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Fonzie’s leather jacket.
My favorite of these buildings both as a child and as a working adult is the Museum of Natural History. It is the official repository for specimens collected on scientific expeditions of the 19th century. Inside, over 120 million animal, plant fossil, rock and cultural artifacts call this building home. A favorite among the kiddies are the life-sized dinosaurs and the hands-on Discovery Room and Insect Zoo. (Years after we moved back to Manila, I can still remember the excitement the 9 year-old me felt every time we took trip to the Insect Room... home of my favorite Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches)

Other museums on the Mall include the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden contemporary and modern art), the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (Asian and Near Asian Art), the National Museum of African Art, and the Freer Gallery (Asian Art).

Not on the Mall but definitely worth a mention are the Anacostia Museum (dedicated entirely to African American history) and the National Postal Museum (opened in 1993, it houses the world’s biggest collection of postal documents, and artifacts).

Do some exploring of your own while you’re there. Who knows what other interesting sights and things you’ll discover.

See, while in D.C. it isn’t an insult to be called a “mall rat.”

For more information on the Smithsonian buildings: go to

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Random Thoughts: SO SHOE ME

Note: This was written five years ago for the now defunct See, apart from being a confessed travel junkie, I am also what my friend Jenina calls a Shoe Whore. Not that she really complains as we are the same size... so she can borrow pretty much any of my babies. Below is one of two articles I'd been asked to write about my addiction to footwear. The other one… comin’ soon as I find the file.
A woman bears her heart and soles on the subject of her shoe fetish.
You know that old Indian saying, "Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes"? If we take that literally, to get to know me, you’d have to walk about 52 miles changing shoes every mile.
People who have seen my shoe rack(s) say I’m trying to give the Imeldific One a run for her title. And, at twenty-two, I could very well succeed although I’d like to state for the record that, contrary to popular belief, I am not trying to break any records. (Since my feet haven’t grown since high-school, I actually have amassed a rather impressive hoard.) Honestly, I don’t have a justification that doesn’t make me sound shallow. But I’ll take a shot at it.

First of all, shoes can make or break an outfit. The wrong choice of footwear can catapult you from a potential fashion do into a major fashion NEVER.

In the same vein, different shoes can totally change the look of one outfit. Take a pair of blue jeans and a plain white tank top. Pair them with rubber thong slippers and you’re a laid-back beach chick. Suede sneakers turn you into a comfy concrete warrior. 3" cork-soled sandals give you a vertical lift while uplifting your look to a slightly higher plane. (Red leather stilettos in faux snakeskin patters, by the way, are a fashion never... unless you are a drag queen... or a hooker... or both.)

Velvet, leather, suede, rubber, satin, cork, plastic, canvass are only some of the more popular materials used in shoe-making. Then there’s design and style to think about. Wedge-sole, blunt/square/round/open toe, strappy, Mary Janes, buckle/velcro/lace closures... I could go on forever. It’s almost impossible sometimes to come to a decision. There are so many things to consider – material, usage, price, color are only the tip of a veritable iceberg of options.
It hasn’t been easy. Like that time I was looking at the two pairs of snub toed leather boots – in one black, the other brown. Take a look inside my mind:

The black ones go with almost everything in my closet.
But I already have three other black boots.
But none of them have wedge-soles.
I don’t have brown boots though.
Yes I do. The ones I like to wear when it rains.
But those are everyday brown boots. These boots are going-out boots.

I bought both before my internal dialogue could drive me crazy. It was the only way to solve the problem. If I had left one and brought home the other, I would always wonder if the other pair might have given me more wear and pleasure. Besides, at less than P500 each, it wasn’t like I was squandering good money.

The unlimited choices and decisions challenge me. I enjoy going through racks of shoes silently discarding pairs until I come across one that makes me itch to try them on. (Like the aforementioned boots.) My only problem with trying shoes on is that I am a rather small size (4½ - 5, 5½ if I’m lucky). I buy my cross-trainers at the kids sections sometimes. I don’t really mind because some of those kiddie styles really rock. And the chances that I’ll run into someone at the gym in the same pair are slim to none. What could be better than that?

Getting back to the size issue... it does matter when it comes to footwear. There aren’t a lot of shoes out there made to my Lilliputian size. Correction: there aren’t a lot of funky-ass shoes out there made to my size. So when I find a pair – or seven – that fit well I jump at the opportunity. It gives me a rush to slip a pair of shoes on for the first time and feel them fit snugly against my rather high sole and small size.

Maybe this is why I have three pairs of brown strappy sandals with different heels (flat, 2" and 3 ½ "), 6 black wedge-soles (different materials) and I don’t know how many pairs of slippers (I go to the beach a lot). Or maybe it’s because, simply put, I like shoes. Every time I find a new pair, I feel the way someone who collects stamps would feel after finding a rare issue for his collection. I collect shoes because it makes me feel good.

It also gives me a sense of accomplishment, even though I have nothing to do with the shoe’s make, model or material. It’s like I mentally pat myself for finding such a great pair again. 52 pairs later, I’m still getting the same high.