I love my Mares fins!

I won the Mares Summer Selfie contest for July! While it’s not my first time to win an online contest (I’ve won a few of them by blogging), this was my first time to win one via Facebook Likes. Winning this contest was particularly fantastic because the prize was a pair of Mares fins of my choice <3

mares fins

 

And this is the photo that won me the contest:

mares selfie_small

I don’t look particularly nice in this photo – in fact, I look pretty ridiculous with my chipmunk cheeks – but hey, I was willing to sacrifice a bit of my dignity for the chance to win a new pair of fins 😛 After consulting with friends and gear reviews, I settled on the Mares Avanti Quattro+ in white. They go very nicely with my blue Avanti Tre fins 😀

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So how do they handle? I got to test them out during my most recent fieldwork in Tawi-tawi. Power-wise, the Avanti Quattro+ give a good kick. I used them while going against strong currents and managed to cover over 100 meters in relatively good time while carrying a huge tetrapod. Extra force was needed but the fins got the job done so I’m counting it as a win.

03 diving3

 

 

Maneuverability is also pretty good. I had no problems with the tight turns I needed to make while doing fish visual census. For aesthetics, the fins come in black, white, blue, green, and red. I got the white ones because 1) they look so clean and pretty, and 2) they’re easy to spot underwater. Mares says that the red fins stay red even at depth so you can get that too.

Thanks again to Mares for holding the contest! (Underwater photos were taken by Denmark Recamara)

Staple and Perk: fit for a hungry geek

My first (but certainly not last) visit to Staple and Perk Bakery came courtesy of GeekFight! Trivia Night. After a successful trip to Ludo Boardgame Bar, I finally convinced my officemates Jem and MJ to join me for a night of even more hardcore geekery. My friend Kris told me that Staple and Perk served “the best bread in Metro Manila”. As I tend to believe what Kris says when it comes to food, I looked up their restaurant details on Facebook. The photos made me even more determined to make it to September GeekFight, despite Staple being in Pasong Tamo and us starting off in Diliman (*cries*).

staple and perk - busy

We lost Geekfight but Staple and Perk more than made up for it. First off, I love their ambiance. The high ceiling, bright lighting, and glass walls made the space look and feel bigger than its floor space. I really liked their counter design too (lots of pastries and breads on display!). And giraffe customer numbers! Although we did wonder why every giraffe had the number 1 pinned to them.

staple and perk - counter

But of course, the real star is Staple and Perk’s food. We split a tomato, pesto, ham, and kesong puti sandwich with chips and it was DELICIOUS. Seriously. I’m not the biggest fan of pesto but this sandwich mixed it just right. The kesong puti added slight saltiness to the sandwich too. Plus thick slices of ham! Most ham sandwiches have sad-looking thin slices. Not this one! I wanted to order another sandwich but huhu wedding diet.

staple and perk - pesto with ham and kesong puti

We also ordered their bacon and cheese fries. Finally, fries with legitimate bacon chopped into bits! None of those tiny sprinkles that come from a bottle. And the cheese was cheesy without being overwhelming.

staple and perk - french fries

Look at those apple squares. I don’t even know how I managed to resist them but I did.

staple and perk - apple squares

Rating: 9.5/10 (I look half a star off because the food’s on the expensive side. A visit to Staple and Perk will set you back at least Php 400 to 500, especially if you order drinks. The food is worth it of course, but if you’re on a budget, Staple and Perk is a place you’ll visit once a week at the most.)

Staple and Perk Bakery
Address: Ecoplaza Bldg., 2306 Pasong Tamo Extension, Pasay City
Tel: +6329251122

Hong Kong journeys with Airbnb

Although Hong Kong is not really the cheapest place in the world to visit, there’s something about it that keeps me coming back. Whether it’s your first or fifth time, there’s always something new to do, somewhere new to eat. And while there are always ways to cut costs from your Hong Kong explorations, I’m a great believer in value-for-money rather straight-out cheapness. This is where Airbnb comes in.

Victoria Harbor shore

 

Airbnb allows locals to rent out portions of or even entire apartments, houses, boats, or even castles to travelers. Airbnb’s network stretches across more than 34,000 cities in 192 countries, connecting people to unique travel experiences at any price point. My travels with Airbnb have concentrated on the “more reasonable” end of the “at any price point” scale and I haven’t been disappointed yet.

Hong Kong is the perfect place for Airbnb, as the reasonable offerings nicely fill in the gap between the Peninsula (my dream place to stay in HK!) and hostels where you have to sit on the toilet to shower. Last August 2014, I was they very, very lucky winner of the My Airbnb Travel Bucket List (see the original entry here), where I won Php 30,000 worth of Airbnb credits and Php 15,000 in cash. Three guesses where I used the prize money 🙂

We traveled to Hong Kong last February 13-16, 2015 and stayed in Rosemary’s room in Tsim Sha Tsui. I initially considered staying in Cory and Carla’s place again (where we stayed in HK the last time), but it had a minimum booking of four nights so I decided on Rosemary’s place instead. And since it was cheaper compared to our previous accommodations, I used the remaining Airbnb credits for a weekend stay for my office team in Tagaytay in March.

Rosemary’s room did not disappoint. Although it was smaller than I thought it would be, it’s well-designed to make use of the limited space. Think of it as a spotless hotel room with lots of extras. She provided a coffee and tea station, a small refrigerator, cutlery, and plates. She also stocked practically everything: office supplies, bathroom supplies, even a Lonely Planet guidebook! The room is also near the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station, a supermarket (in the K11 mall), and places to eat. It was just right for the needs of two people and was definitely worth the asking price. I would have ended up paying the same amount for a smaller hotel room.

rosemary1

rosemary5

rosemary4

(Rosemary’s room is much brighter than my photos suggest it is. My apologies. Make sure to check her actual listing to see the prettier pictures she put up.)

However, there are potential cons that you need to consider with Rosemary’s room. First, the bathroom uses a shower pod that I found to be just the right size for 5’4″me. I don’t think it will be comfortable for someone particularly tall, wide, and/or claustrophobic, but I could be wrong.

rosemary3

The listing also accepts up to 4 people in the room but I’d only recommend it for a maximum of 3 people. The extra bed for Person #4 goes at the foot of the main bed, leaving no space to move around once it’s there.

There were also lots of loud ongoing construction works that started at 8am. Hopefully they’ll be done soon or that you’ll be out of the room during the day.

All in all, staying in Rosemary’s place was a treat. Aside from her listing, Rosemary herself was a great host, communicating well via email and WhatsApp. She gave very clear instructions on how to find her place and how to use it (gate and door codes, etc). Very attentive to our needs too. I mentioned that I couldn’t find the cutlery and the next night, her husband Kevin shows up with new sets!

This trip marks my second stay with Airbnb so far and I wasn’t disappointed. Where are you taking your next trip? 🙂

The O’Neill Superkini – the island girl’s best friend

I stumbled upon the O’Neill Superkini when I was browsing through the main R.O.X. branch in Bonifacio High Street. I knew I wanted a new swimsuit – just “wanted” because my trusty Speedo suit was still in excellent shape and didn’t need replacing – but didn’t have anything in particular in mind. There I was, walking among the racks of suits and idly pulling out the ones that caught my eye when I spotted a small sign in the O’Neill section that just said “Introducing the Superkini”. Okay, catchy name that one. Checked out the information tag. Non-slip Nanofront fabric that develops 200% more grip between your skin and the suit when wet compared to ordinary Lycra? Sold! Well, not quite that fast. I Googled and looked it up (never heard of it before!) and boom! I wanted the Superkini. I wanted it so much that I ended up getting two of them – black and striped one from the O’Neill online shop (it was on sale and my balikbayan aunt and uncle brought it home for me) and the teal one from R.O.X.

superkini flat

The verdict after more than a year of swimming, snorkeling, diving, and surfing? The O’Neill Superkini is officially the Islander Girl’s best friend.

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Loving my Superkini!

Okay, so I only had my first-ever surfing lessons last weekend in La Union (which deserves its own blog post!) but I did swim and snorkel regularly in El Nido and El Nido’s waves can get a bit rough at times. I’ve also been the unfortunate victim of a bikini top that slid up when I jumped in the water. I tested the Superkini by doing what their models did – I jumped in and the suit stayed put! Huzzah! I’ve also tested it by swimming straight into incoming waves and feeling them crash over me. The Superkini felt so comfortable and so lightweight – like a second skin even – that during its first field test, my frantic brain insisted that I peek every five minutes to check if the suit was still there. Ironic that a suit that was designed to give me piece of mind made me even more anxious because it worked too well 😛 Luckily, my brain quieted down after the first few field tests as the suit proved itself. I also wore it when I went surfing but can’t say how it fared because I covered it with a rash guard to protect against myself against scratches.

superkini hanging to dry
Hanging out to dry

The only downside I can think of is the price. It’s definitely more expensive compared to other bikinis, as it’s easily about twice what a non-branded bikini would cost. I had no guilty feelings about the black suit because I got it during the O’Neill clearance sale. In comparison, I turned away when the ROX cashier swiped my credit card to pay for the teal suit. I kept telling myself that these will be my bikinis for at least the next three years. Based on the minimal wear and tear even after sitting on a banca, there’s a good chance that this will be true.

The verdict? The O’Neill Superkini is my favorite bikini and it’s absolutely worth the price I paid for it. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to switch to a different one. Incidentally, the black design is part of the 2012 collection (hence why it was on sale) so I’m not sure if it’s still available. Call me picky, but I didn’t like the 2013 prints. The 2014 print is a nice combination of purple and pink and looks cute.

My Shopping Box versus Johnny Air Cargo – the ultimate comparison chart

Online shopping addicts in the Philippines usually have two go-to freight forwarders for their precious hauls: My Shopping Box and Johnny Air Cargo.These companies offer the same services: they accept your packages in the US then forward them to you here in the Philippines. But which company offers the better value? Let’s find out through the My Shopping Box versus Johnny Air Cargo ultimate comparison chart!

*Note: The MSB info comes from their website. The JAC info was given to me by their representative, Ms. Analyn, via email.

SERVICES AND CHARGESMy Shopping Box (MSB)
Johnny Air Cargo (JAC)
Airfreight Class 1
(Clothes, shoes, toys, books, kitchen appliances, sporting goods, etc.)
$5.99/lb$5.99/lb (Metro Manila)
$6.49/lb (Provincial)
Airfreight Class 2
(consumer electronics, costume jewelry and accessories, designer handbags, electrical spare parts, precision instruments)
$8.50/lb$6.50/lb (Metro Manila)
$7.00/lb (Provincial)
Sea freight
(all allowed products)
$2.50/lb

All fragile electrical devices packed below 30 lbs chargeable weight with additional charge of $1.25/lb based on chargeable weight.

All items >30 lbs are considered “oversized”, with extra charge of 30% of the chargeable weight
none
Minimum shipping chargenone2 lbs
Extra feesnone$50 per laptop
$25 per electronic item (tablets, e-readers, mp3 player, phone)
$25 per other item worth $500 and above
Fixed fees$25 annual subscription fee$5 per shipment
ConsolidationNone. Packages are individually tagged and tracked even if they arrive on the same dayNone, unless the packages arrive at their office on the same day
Storage15 days free of charge, $0.20/lb/day afterwardsNone. Items are shipped as soon as they arrive in their office
Door-to-door deliveryIncluded in the shipping feeAdditional charge of $5-$20. Shipping fee only includes pickup at JAC branches.
Delivery time for air freight10-12 days from their California warehouse to Manila (as per MSB)

My previous order timeline:
Oct 19: arrival at MSB California warehouse
Oct 22: scanned into MSB system, authorized shipment
Oct 31: delivery to Manila address
5 to 7 days from New York office to Manila (as per JAC)

My previous order timeline:
Jan 2: arrival at JAC New Jersey office, transfer to New York office
Jan 7: shipped from JAC NY office
Jan 15: arrival in JAC Makati branch for pickup
PaymentOnline via credit card when you authorize the shipment from their warehouseCash or credit card upon pickup at JAC branch. Charges are converted at the airline rate on the day you pick it up + 12% VAT
Ongoing promos (as of November 2013)Free annual subscription when you sign up using Globe GCash American Express Virtual Pay or BDO Credit CardThe JAC website says they offer provincial door-to-door shipping for only $5 extra but Analyn didn't mention this in her email.

Another thing to remember: the per pound shipping cost refers to chargeable shipping weight. “Chargeable shipping weight” can either be 1) the actual weight of the item or 2) the volumetric weight, whichever is larger. Volumetric weight is calculated using LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT (in inches) of the package ÷ 166. In short, a heavy book will likely be charged according to its actual weight while a stuffed toy will be charged according to the volumetric weight. If there’s a difference between the weight indicated in your package tracking information and the weight calculated by MBS and JAC, that’s because USPS, FedEx, and UPS usually display the actual weight of the package and not the volumetric weight.

Which company is for you? I’ve tried both companies and didn’t have any trouble with either of them, though it was only one shipment per company. Just take the time to calculate at least a rough figure for the shipping cost to prevent any nasty surprises when the bill comes.

Review: the OverBoard waterproof carbon messenger bag

It’s funny: after six years on the island, it only occurred to me a few months ago that I needed a waterproof laptop bag. Sure, I already had a dry tube bag for my wallet, phone, and other small stuff, but I lugged my precious laptop around in a regular nylon messenger bag. When it rained or the waves got rough, I either put a towel over the bag or stored it inside our huge dry bags meant for luggage. I finally got my precious waterproof laptop bag last September and promptly loved it. Meet the OverBoard Waterproof Carbon Messenger Bag!

 01 overboard messenger bag exterior

Continue reading “Review: the OverBoard waterproof carbon messenger bag”

The pros and cons of the GCash American Express Virtual Pay

gcash amex

The premise of the Globe GCash American Express virtual card is pretty simple: for a P250 annual subscription fee, GCash gives you a virtual United States-based American Express credit card that’s funded by your GCash Wallet. You can then use the virtual credit card and its accompanying details (credit card number, security code, and expiry date and US-based billing and shipping address and telephone number) to shop at websites that don’t ship to the Philippines. The US address is offered in partnership with My Shopping Box, a company that accepts packages on your behalf and ships them to your Philippine address for an additional fee. Now, the GCash American Express virtual card is NOT new – it was launched last October 2012 – but this was my first time to use it.

How to register and how it works:

Here are the pros and cons based on my experience so far:

The good:
1. It works! I’ve already used it twice and it really does work like a credit card. However, please note that I had the packages sent to my aunt instead of MSB so I can’t comment on MSB just yet. The peso equivalent is deducted real-time from your GCash wallet.

EDIT: I have since used My Shopping Box to deliver several orders. I would only recommend using MSB if you are shipping small, high value items via air. Their rates for sea cargo are okay but they take a very, very long time to deliver. Most sea freight forwarders take 30-40 days to deliver to Metro Manila. In comparison, MSB takes 50++ days. My last sea delivery order left the US on December 15 and I received it on February 8.

The cons:
1. The GCash dollar-peso exchange rate is hideously high. The first time I used it, their exchange rate was $1 = PhP 46 compared to the BPI MasterCard rate of PhP 44. This problem was fixed by my third transaction, when their rate was “only” 50 centavos higher than BPI MasterCard. I hope this remains the case and was not a fluke.

2. The card and your transactions may get flagged as possible fraud and canceled. This happened during my second order with the same website. My first order worth $100 went through just fine. However, my second order worth $440 was flagged and canceled. This was because the card’s US billing address did not match my IP address, which was obviously in the Philippines. I got around this by placing my order via phone (and paying international call rates) instead of ordering online. Now, I’m not sure if the card number is permanently flagged and thus unusable or if they flag on a per-order basis. Sigh.

My tip: keep the order total low. If you can afford to, break it up into several smaller orders.

3. In the event of order cancellation, the credit back to your GCash Wallet is INFURIATINGLY SLOW. MY GAWD. Remember how my $440 order got canceled? I couldn’t fault the website because they were only protecting themselves from fraud. Their customer service agent was very helpful and was the one who suggested that I place my orders via phone in the future. However, I WILL and CAN fault GCash and Globe for their fucked-up system that takes 3 FREAKING MONTHS to credit back MY MONEY. The GCash funds were deducted the second I clicked “Check Out” but Globe is going to take 3 FREAKING MONTHS to credit back the funds after my order was canceled. HOLY HELL.

So yes, take note.

Overall, the GCash American Express virtual card is definitely a nice thing to have for as long as nothing goes wrong. Once something goes south… good luck with that.