Stories from stuff: souvenirs from Hawai’i

Confession time: I love bringing home souvenirs from my travels. Aside from the physical representation of actually having been there, each one I bring home has a memory behind it. They also need to be something I’m going to keep: no pesky desk trinkets here.

The haul from my recent trip to Oahu and The Big Island:

1. Ref magnets! My family collects magnets and I picked up the habit early on. And hey, magnets are useful! 🙂 I got the Hawaiian map magnet from Walmart (I know, I know, but it was the only one I liked) and the other magnets from their respective places. Waikiki Aquarium was small but nice, Diamond Head was a bit of a hike (I’m really not a hiking person) but the views were fantastic, and Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was one of my favorite places in this entire trip.

1-ref-magnets

2. A book! Specifically, Archipelago: the Origin and Discovery of the Hawaiian Islands by Dr. Richard Grigg. I love this book! I love well-written history books and I love well-written science books, so a well-written history AND science book is a magical unicorn for me. It mostly explains the science of how the Hawai’ian Islands were formed and how life arrived and evolved on the islands, but the last section deals with how the Polynesians discovered Hawai’i and how people have impacted the islands. I got this from the gift shop of the Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park on the Big Island. Tip: items bought in the gift shops of Hawai’i parks help support the parks and don’t get charged sales tax 🙂

2-archipelago-book

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El Nido: my forever place

Have you ever been to a place and fell absolutely, irrevocably in love? How about a place that changed your life forever? A place that no matter where you went to next, you’d end up coming back to over and over again? El Nido in Palawan is my forever place.

01 bacuit bay view from tapiutan_Macy Anonuevo

The view from the top.

El Nido and I had our first date in early 2006, when I visited to see if I truly wanted to commit to living and working there. In hindsight, it wasn’t a fair fight. How was I supposed to make an unbiased decision when confronted with limestone cliffs so high that my neck hurt when I looked up, skies bluer than Paul Walker’s eyes, and water so clear that I could see all the way to the corals at the bottom? Of course I said yes.

06 snorkeling by Raymond Ranit

This is happiness right here.

Our first relationship lasted from most of 2007 to 2008, with me leaving in September 2008 to go to graduate school. El Nido and I didn’t have time to miss each other though, as I visited several times throughout 2010 to 2011 to do fieldwork for my master’s thesis. Like coming back to a boyfriend you just can’t quit, I came back to El Nido full-time from 2011 to 2013, with me leaving (for good? maybe) in September 2013 to focus on my thesis and (finally!) finish my master’s degree. I’ve only been back once since then but El Nido is never far from my thoughts.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that El Nido changed my life. El Nido’s responsible for a lot of firsts.

My first baby sea turtle! This was taken back in 2008 but it’s still one of my favorite photos ever.

02 baby hawksbill

My first whale shark! The photo’s lousy but I promise you that that mass of white spots is a three-meter long whale shark (a baby!) beneath the surface. The pier guard called my office and said “Miss Macy, may butanding sa pantalan! [There’s a whale shark at the pier!]”. I ran to the pier and jumped into the water without changing out of my work uniform and without prepping a proper underwater camera. I regret nothing.

03 whale shark

My first climb up a cliff! We explored Ille Cave and Rockshelter in Dewil Valley, New Ibajay, a cave complex where the first tiger bones (Panthera tigris) in Palawan were found. I’m not good with heights and sharp rocks but I climbed to the top of the cliff anyway. The view was worth it.

04 el nido cliffs

El Nido was also where I found my purpose. I was a BS Biology graduate who didn’t know what to do with herself. I knew I wanted to stay in the sciences but I also knew that I didn’t want to go into academia nor into medicine. El Nido came at the right time and offered me the chance to stay in the sciences but in a more casual setting. I shared El Nido’s wonders with tourists, tour guides and other resorts staff, and members of the local community. I may have ruined quite a few childhoods when I told them that Nemo’s dad Marlin should have changed sex and become his mom Marlene after his mom Crystal was eaten by the barracuda. I also got to combine science with the “fun” aspects of my life, like writing and acting. A clutch of hawksbill sea turtle eggs hatching became the first episode of “Enchanting El Nido”, an environmental education webseries I started. El Nido also inspired me to take photography more seriously, which resulted in one of the biggest non-academic achievements of my career:

RTA 2013 announcement poster

I was invited to attend the awarding ceremony in London during World Travel Mart but alas, they wouldn’t shoulder my expenses and I couldn’t afford to go on my own.

El Nido wasn’t always fun and sunshine. For one thing, it can get quite lonely on a tiny island full of people. I was away from my family and friends for extended periods of time, often running myself ragged during my days off in Manila just so I could spend more time with more people. But despite the hardships, everything that happened in El Nido and the people that I met along the way helped shaped me into the person I am today. I wouldn’t trade my time in El Nido for anything.

Macy with a turtle - Bobbit SuntayOh hai there friend! Screencap from a video by Bobbit Suntay.

 

The Islander Girl in Japan!

As detailed in a previous post, 2014 was a particularly huge year for me in both personal and academic events, not the least of which is the numerous trips out. (Off-topic: what is it with me and travel? I go maybe two to three years without going anywhere then BOOM several trips in one year?) While all my trips out of the country are special and memorable, this one trip is sure to be seared into my memory because I’d been waiting to visit and explore and dive into this country since I was in high school. This year, I went to Japan. JAPAN!!! <3

01 view from the plane

I visited Japan with my family last May 16-24, basing out of Osaka and Tokyo and taking day trips out to Kyoto, Nara, Nikko, and Hakone. When I say “family”, I mean a literal tour bus with about 20 people, ranging from 7 to 60 years old. Yes, my mother’s clan loves to vacation together. It can get overwhelming at times but hey, they’re family.

We took Philippine Airlines late afternoon flight out to Osaka via Kansai International Airport. Combine it with the bus ride from the airport to the actual city, we got to our hotel room near dinner time. Our first challenge: figuring out the ordering machine for the nearby hole-in-the-wall shop:

04 ordering machine

It’s basically a vending machine: you punch the button for your orders, pay the total, get your change, and bring the printed order slip to the chef who then prepares your order. The problem was the buttons had text labels, not photos. Whoo. There were photos above the machine but truth be told, I had a shitty time comparing the labels on the photos with the labels on the buttons. So much for that 1.0 in Elementary Japanese I class. Luckily, a very nice man who spoke English helped us out with the machine and we were able to eat our first dinner in Japan. Of course I ordered ramen 😛 Finally: the real thing!

05 ramen dinner

After satisfying our cravings, we went back to our hotel rooms to rest up. We stayed at the Hilton Osaka because of a discount that a friend of my mom’s was able to get for her. We were also granted access to the Executive Lounge! I guess one advantage of traveling with family is the much nicer hotel room that I couldn’t have afforded had I gone on my own. Hooray for being a recent MS graduate with no money.

02 Hilton Osaka1

Next day’s itinerary: Kyoto!

Note: This is a Back Blog, AKA I Should Have Written This Earlier But Couldn’t For Some Reason. My actual trip to Japan took place on May 16-24, 2014 but I’m dating this entry for July 13, 2014. I’m actually posting this on January 12, 2015 as part of my New Year’s Resolution to actually get some blogging done this year and fight through my backlog. Wish me luck!

Amazing Alaska: wandering around Juneau

This trip had me exploring a place that never in my wildest dreams (okay fine, maybe in my wildest, most fervent dreams) did I think I’d ever visit. Alaska always seemed so remote, and yes, so amazing, that setting foot there just didn’t seem possible. That changed because of a semi-serious joke that an Alaskan cruise would be the perfect venue for a family reunion. Because why the heck not?

Our cruise started out in Seattle, then went on to Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, then Victoria in Canada. Each place stole my heart in its own way.

Juneau is the state capital of Alaska and is one of only two state capitals that aren’t accessible by land (the other one is Honolulu, Hawaii). Because of the rugged terrain surrounding it, there are no roads leading to Juneau. The city is only accessible by sea and air (cars are loaded on a ferry). Our tour guide told us that Juneau International Airport qualifies as “international” because of the one flight a week to Canada via Alaskan Airlines but alas, I have yet to find that route (yes, I actually checked Alaska’s website).

01 Juneau downtown

Juneau’s modern history, as with most Alaskan towns, started because of the gold rush. The city is named after prospector Joe Juneau. It used to be called Harrisburg, after Juneau’s co-founder Richard Harris, but the local Tlingit ended up not liking him very much and shifted their allegiance to Juneau. Tlingit Chief Kowee guided Harris and Juneau to the mouth of Gold Creek in 1880, where the two struck gold.

So what’s there to see in Juneau?

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The Peninsula Manila – a tranquil oasis in the heart of Makati CBD

When most people think of vacations, they usually imagine far-flung places where they can laze in the sun and be waited on hand and foot. Unfortunately, traveling to said far-flung place means time spent on the road and if you’ve only got the weekend to spare, that’s time you can’t afford to lose. The popularity of the “staycation” has increased over the years and there’s no better place to retreat to than The Peninsula Manila in Makati.

Opened in 1976 to coincide with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Conference in Manila, the Peninsula Manila is the first Peninsula hotel outside of Chinese territory. It’s located on the corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues in the heart of the Makati Central Business District, just across the street from the Glorietta and Greenbelt malls. This makes it perfect for both business and leisure travelers, as well as Manila residents looking for a quick and convenient escape. There are 497 rooms and suites in the two towers – the Ayala and Makati towers, respectively – including the 372 sq m Peninsula Suite (it’s bigger than my house!). The Peninsula Manila is home to five restaurants and two bars, including their iconic lobby area simply called The Lobby.

When your lobby is this grand, there’s no need to think of a separate name for it. The Lobby says it all.

I entered the Pen’s lobby after a 15-minute walk from the bus stop across Glorietta. It was raining and my fold-up umbrella could only protect me for so long. Confession time: this was only my second time to visit the Pen, the first being years ago during my grandparents’ 50th anniversary reception in one of the function rooms. It was nerve-wracking to go inside knowing that I was only a couple of steps above “bedraggled”. The nervousness disappeared once I got a good look around the Pen’s famed lobby. The place really does deserve to be called The Lobby as no other hotel lobby I’ve been in so far can compare to it. I found the Front Desk quickly enough, where I met the friendly Rowi who escorted me to the elevators and took me up to the room. Nothing if not efficient!

The Deluxe Rooms are the room category above the Superior Rooms, measuring 41 sq m and with a view of the park. The king-sized bed and the heavy yet soft pillows are the perfect place to rest while watching movies on the 40″ LCD TV with cable TV. Just lying on the bed made me want to fall asleep right there and then, cuddling the pillows. I marveled at the bedside panel used to control practically everything in the room: the lights, air-conditioning, TV, radio, plus the “Do Not Disturb” on the door. You can also use it to call the Front Desk and Room Service! (Yes, I’m a newbie when it comes to stuff like this.) There’s also free wired and wireless Internet access (a must!) and a kick-ass executive work desk. There’s also a coffee and tea-making unit in the room. Then there’s the matter of the bathroom. It is possible to fall in love with a bathroom? A tub, separate toilet and shower stalls, a huge mirror, and large, white, and fluffy towels and bathrobes? I’m sold! The standard room amenities include a daily fruit platter and newspaper.

I wouldn’t mind waking up in a bed like this day after day. And the executive work desk is boss.

Have I mentioned how divine the food at the Peninsula is? Escolta is home to their delectable buffet breakfast (included in the standard room rate). I consider breakfast the most important meal of the day and Escolta’s spread did not disappoint. From miso soup, dumplings, and mini siopao to eggs, sausages, bacon, and waffles, to pastries, cereal, and fruit, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. The food was so yummy that I filled up two plates. Not my finest moment to be sure, but I can’t the regret savoring those bites of blueberry danish as they melted in my mouth. One tip from me: leave room for their ice cream!

The entrance to Escolta
My second breakfast plate. I regret nothing.

Walking around and exploring the pool area was a must after eating such a heavy breakfast. It was warm and humid – practically how yesterday was except that it wasn’t raining. Part of me envied the people lounging on their chairs and soaking up the sun but another part welcomed being in the shade. My bid to start digesting breakfast failed when the pool bar staff offered fresh fruit skewers. Curse the fruits for looking so good!

I left the Peninsula counting the days until I come back. There were so may other places to explore: Old Manila for modern European food, Spices for Asian cuisine, and The Peninsula Spa to reward myself after long days at work. Now I know where I’ll be spending my birthday!

Many, many thanks to Meet Manila and The Peninsula Manila for making this experience possible. As one of Meet Manila’s Empowered Travelers, The Peninsula Manila sponsored my Peninsula experience, including the room and breakfast buffet at Escolta. Please note that while my experience was sponsored, The Peninsula Manila had no editorial control over the content of this post. I raved because I was impressed by everything they had to offer, including excellent rooms, good service, and mouth-watering food.

What is an experience worth?

I may not mention it outright or link to the company’s official website, but I think most people here know that I work for a high-end resort in El Nido, Palawan. My official job title is “Environmental Officer” but because of my fondness for blogging and social media, I tend to keep track and update the company’s official social media accounts even though it isn’t technically part of my job. I post photos, tweet, edit videos, and answer questions from potential guests. Now, I don’t mind answering basic questions like “How do I get there?” (even though you totally could have Googled the question yourself and gotten an answer faster than waiting for me to reply) or “What activities do you offer?”. What annoys me to no end are people commenting “You’re too expensive! Your rates are un-Filipino!”, “Do you have promos for Christmas?”, “It’s cheaper to go to Hong Kong than to Palawan!”, or some variant thereof. As a fellow traveler on a limited budget, I absolutely understand why you want to get the lowest possible rate at the best time to visit and experience the best holiday you’ve had to date. But as someone who works in the tourism industry, have you ever considered what goes into your experience?

  • Exclusivity. Each property only has 50 rooms, so the maximum capacity is 100-120 people. This means that if you stay with us, you’ll have approximately 1.5 staff (or more!) taking care of your needs and wants throughout your stay. This also means that we’re quieter compared to other places. A guest from New York once said that he paid top dollar for silence.
What is this room worth?
  • The luxury of being taken cared of. We have fewer guests and more staff compared to other hotels, which helps us give you a level of service that will make you cry in happiness. Seriously. Guests have cried during the goodbye song. Some of them also didn’t want to leave. We had a couple over Christmas who willingly paid to stay in the Manager’s Quarters because they wanted to extend their stay but all the guest rooms were taken. We greet you by name (unless you don’t want us to, of course) and strive to make your stay as enjoyable as possible. Please note that there’s nothing we can do about the weather, the jellyfish, or the birds that sing really loudly in the early morning.
  • Increased costs. We operate island resorts in northern Palawan. We prioritize local suppliers but there are still some things that we need to bring over from Manila. That means moving them via cargo ship or plane, which cost money. We also operate our own diesel generators, desalination plants, sewage treatment plants, and a materials recovery facility. These also cost money.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I am NOT saying that it’s not possible to have an equally good time while on a limited budget. Our barkada trip to Antique-Guimaras-Iloilo only set us back around P5,000 each and we had a blast, but it was a very different experience compared to a luxury resort. We relied on the hospitality of local friends and their relatives (thank you Mike and Kuya Nonoy!), bought groceries and cooked our own food, slept on mattresses in one big room, and arranged everything ourselves. Though equally fun, it was worlds away from sleeping with down pillows, having someone else arrange our activities for the day, and eating food prepared by someone who used to be the personal chef to one of the richest families in the Philippines.

The heart of every travel decision should be getting the most bang for your buck, whether that’s AUD 31.50 per night in a hostel (did this in Australia) or the presidential suite of a five-star hotel (got to take a peek inside – not stay! – in the Hilton Hotel in Sanya, China). The bottom line is that the property I work for is worth it. Yes, staying with us might mean saving up for several months but we make it worth your while.

Exploring Fuerza de Santa Isabel

After the 12 days straight of nature interpretation training in Miniloc and Lagen, we moved to Apulit in Taytay for Batch 4 of the training. It wasn’t included in our original schedule but we reconfigured it once we found out that the Pangulasian “Shark Squad” would be in Apulit and available to take over for the regular guides.

August 9 marked my first trip to Taytay Poblacion. I visited Apulit back when it was still Club Noah Isabelle but I never got to see the town because we transferred directly to the resort from CLR Airport in Sandoval. The van ride from Taytay to El Nido took two hours. Since we had plenty of time to kill, Kring, Mavic, and I left our bags in our Taytay office so we could look around.

First stop was lunch in the Taytay branch of Sea Slugs. The waiter shouldn’t have bothered giving us menus since all they had available were fries and some sandwiches. Also didn’t help that we got two orders of fries and they took forever to serve. I’m sticking with the El Nido branch from now on. Our second stop was Casa Rosa café, where we drank juice (there was no electricity yet so no blender for shakes), played dominoes, and took photos of the fort.

Third stop was the Fuerza de Santa Isabel. Known in Taytay simply as “kuta” (fort, or hideout), the Fuerza de Santa Isabel (Fort of St. Isabel) was first built in 1667 using wood by forced laborers under the Augustinian Recollects. It was rebuilt using coral rock (again using forced labor) and completed on December 17, 1738 during the term of of Governor Fernando Manuel de Bustillo.

View of Fuerza de Santa Isabel from Casa Rosa café
As you’re about to enter
An introduction to the fort by the National Historical Institute
Proof that the fort is made up of coral rocks. I’m guessing Goniopora.

The Spanish built the fort to protect Taytay from Muslim pirates (hope they tried that line with the Taytayanos they forced to build it). There are bastions at the fort’s four corners, each with a statue of the fort’s patron saints: St. Toribio, St. Miguel, St. John, and St. Isabel. The story goes that when the Muslim pirates finally stormed the fort, they smashed the first three statues but left St. Isabel’s statue intact because they believed that women shouldn’t be dragged into warfare. This is also the reason the fort’s chapel is also intact.

The chapel
View from a bastion
Up a tree
Waving flags. Unfortunately, the first flag was twisted around the pole and couldn’t fly nicely.

My only complaint about the visit is that there was minimal interpretation around the fort. If you wanted to know the fort’s story, the only signage was the one in front by the National Historical Institute. There was no English translation for it so good luck to foreign tourists. There were no docents. The only reason I’m able to share the fort’s story now is because Mavic was with us and because of post-trip Googling. How do you expect to get people to donate for the fort’s upkeep if you don’t give them a reason to?

We spent the rest of the afternoon eating and eating and eating: dirty ice cream, pork barbeque, and some chicken barbeque as well. There was practically nothing else to do. We finally left the Poblacion at 4pm and headed to Apulit. More diving, hiking, and training to come!

Reference:
Taytay Tourism website