It’s more fun in El Nido!

So the Filipinos reading this will (no doubt!) already be aware of It’s more fun in the Philippines, the new campaign by the Department of Tourism to kick-start our tourist arrivals. If the success of the campaign were judged on how viral it went, well. Twitter trending worldwide? Check! Twitter mention by award-winning British author Neil Gaiman? Double check!

But that’s not even the best part. I am in absolute awe of all the fun, funny, and fabulous photos and captions that the campaign sparked. When Filipinos latch on to something, we really go all out. Some of my favorites are over here. For my humble contribution, I decided to highlight the fun stuff that happens where I work: El Nido, Palawan.

Photo and caption by me. Taken in South Miniloc
Photo by the fabulous Rima de Dios, caption by me.

And my favorite part:

Photo and caption by me. Taken at 7 Commandos beach.

Visit El Nido! Yahoooo! ๐Ÿ˜€

Our lunchtime view

We had our first department meeting for 2012 this morning (huzzah!), followed by lunch at 360 – the rooftop restaurant of Ipil Lodge in El Nido Town. The restaurant boasts that they have the only 360 degree view of El Nido Town but I beg to differ. Because of where their kitchen is located, the actual view is only 270 degrees. Ah well. The important thing is that they have a kick-ass view of Bacuit Bay:
Bacuit Bay

Unfortunately, the awesome view was spoiled by my rumbling stomach. Despite being the only customers there (four people. FOUR!!!), our pasta + fish/pork/chicken dishes took 40 minutes to serve >_<

Welcoming the new year, island-style

Working in the tourism industry, you eventually accept that you’ll never be able to spend the holidays with your family and friends and learn to make the best of it by celebrating with your co-workers and guests. From a certain point of view, your co-workers and guests become your “family” of sorts.

Some photos from our New Year’s celebration on the island. May you all have an exciting and meaningful 2012 ๐Ÿ™‚

Stars of Miniloc
December 31, 2011, just before the fireworks
Fireworks 1
The pretty lights reflecting off the water.

The rest of the photos are over here ๐Ÿ™‚ Happy New Year!

El Nido’s underwater denizens

I returned to full-time work in El Nido, Palawan last September 18. Much thanks to my boss who let me fly out the day after my birthday ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m slowly returning to the swing of things, considering that I’ve been away for three years now. It doesn’t help that I don’t recognize most of the staff, which is especially embarrassing since everyone seems to know who I am *blushes*. So yes, I need to learn everyone’s names ASAP.

One of the bright spots is that I’ve already gone diving twice with my handy-dandy Canon S95 camera in its Ikelite underwater housing and got some decent shots despite the limitations of not-so-good visibility and lack of strobe. Just a reminder: despite what the gearheads say, you do not need fancy underwater camera gear in order to take great photos. The trick is to know what your camera can do and to work with (not against!) those limitations. If it doesn’t do well in low light, then focus on taking photos in shallow water. Take a white slate with you for on-the-spot white balance correction so that you don’t rely on the camera’s “Underwater” setting. Limited flash range? Take macro photos! Again, it’s all about making the most of what you have and not moaning about what you don’t.

And now, presenting El Nido’s quirky underwater denizens!

Disclaimer: since I’m studying to become a marine biologist specializing in coral reef ecology, what I find interesting may be somewhat different from other people ๐Ÿ˜›

[slideshow]

Yes, that is a hawksbill sea turtle. And it was feeding. And I got HD video too. YEAAH! ๐Ÿ˜€ For the curious ones, the red spots are caused by the water having lots of suspended particles. This was one of the times it would have been great to have a separate strobe but hey, I’m not angsting about it ๐Ÿ™‚

A journey to the sugar land part 2 – how sugar is produced

Part 1

After the impurities settle, the clear juice is transferred to the first of a series of metal vats where the juice’s water content is continuously boiled off. The juice goes through eight vats, with the juice transferred to the next vat after about 50% of the water has boiled off. The juice gets darker and thicker as it’s boiled, turning from a watery dark green juice to a thick dark brown syrup as it cooks. The fires beneath the vats are fueled by dried crushed sugarcane.

Boiling off the water in the sugarcane juice

After several hours, the syrup is almost ready. Mike tests the syrup to check if the sugar will crystallize properly. He does this by dipping a stick into the hot syrup and letting it drip into a coconut shell bowl filled with water, cooling the syrup instantly. If the syrup solidifies into crackly tendrils, then it’s ready. If the syrup becomes gummy, it needs a few more hours of cooking. Mike is one of only two people on the farm who can give the order to cool the syrup. This is because this stage is so crucial to the production process. If the syrup is cooled too soon, the potentially high-quality sugar turns into a chunky, gummy mess.

Testing the syrup

When it’s ready to cool, the syrup is transferred to a cooling trough. The syrup is continuously stirred to make sure it cools evenly. Continue reading “A journey to the sugar land part 2 – how sugar is produced”

Journey to the sugar land part 1 – getting to Antique, intro to sugar production

While a friend inviting you to visit his place is a common enough occurrence, that said “place” being a functional hacienda is not quite as common. My friends and I got to visit Mike’s home in Patnongon, Antique last March and stayed there overnight. Funny thing is that I basically invited myself along ๐Ÿ˜›

We caught Air Philippines’ first flight out to Iloilo (hurrah for seat sales!) and saw the sun rise as we were flying. In all honesty, I don’t think we were conscious enough to fully appreciate it *sheepish*

We landed at around 6:20am then waited for Nonoy’s wife Queenie, his daughter Xi, and his brother-in-law Lai to pick us up in Lai’s van. It took us around 5 hours to get to Patnongon because of our various pit stops – the church where Nonoy and Queenie got married, UP Visayas in Miag-ao, and lunch – and the not-so-nice roads.

Mike’s farm was just outside the poblacion. In order to find it, all he said was to ask people where the hacienda was and they’d give us directions. We all thought he was kidding but apparently, he wasn’t. When we thought we’d traveled far enough from the town proper and asked someone by the roadside, he promptly raised his arm and pointed to a spot about 15 meters away. We’d overshot our destination.

It was easy to see why we missed the entrance the first time around. There was no gate announcing its presence, just a small metal archway hidden by the tall trees beside it. That archway felt like a portal though time, as the first things we saw were the sugar mill and an ancient truck for hauling the sugarcane from the fields to the mill. To our left was the house that Mike’s grandfather built, still with its original wooden walls and ceilings.

The sugar mill and truck for hauling sugarcane. The brown mounds are dried sugarcane stalks that will be used as fuel for the boiling vats in the sugar mill.

Continue reading “Journey to the sugar land part 1 – getting to Antique, intro to sugar production”