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Friday, April 29, 2011

No More Merci

She has resigned. After putting up a brave stand that she wont, well, she finally did.

I wonder what made her decide at last. Maybe she figured it's not worthy of the stress presenting her case before Leon Guerrero, err, Sen. Lito Lapid.

In fairness, Merceditas Gutierrez's resignation letter was very straightforward. No drama. What would she say anyway? That she's resigning because the trial at the Senate may possibly revive the corruption issues against her bff Gloria Arroyo?

Goodbye Aling Merci. Thank you for sparing the nation from the expenses of the trial. We all think you are guilty anyway.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bicol Escapade: CWC and Lago del Rey

The first leg of our Bicol escapade is at CamSum Watersports Complex (CWC) at Pili, Camarines Sur. Because we anticipated the exhaustion after the long drive, I put it at Day 2 of our trip after spending overnight in Naga City. I wanted the children to rest and relax first so they have all the energy to enjoy CWC the following day.

We booked a room at Moraville Hotel in Naga City as we were told CWC is only 15 minutes away from Naga. The hotel room is spacious and offers buffet meals at very reasonable prices (worthy of a separate post).

We got to CWC a little after 11am on Good Friday. My mom who grew up in Bicol had often boasted of how religious the Bicolanos are and that lent was always spent quietly in abstinence and prayers. So just imagine how shocked we were to arrive at the complex without any available parking space near the man-made lake area and even further dismayed that at that early, the waiting list for wakeboarding had gone to over 100. That means The Hubby and I would be able to wakeboard at around 6pm. No freakin' way we're waiting that long, especially when we have kids in tow and are going straight to Legazpi City in the evening.

Having Lago Del Rey right across the cable park saved our day. The aqua park is a huge obstacle course on water. The huge inflatables that float on the 15-feet deep man-made lake are the main attractions of the park.

Guests are welcome and even encouraged by the lifeguards and guides to hurdle the obstacle courses. It looked easy when we were just watching but when it was our turn to try, I didn't even get past the first obstacle while The Hubby finished after a couple of splashes, haha.

Eone wouldn't dare swim past her comfort zone despite having a life vest on, ergo, she was limited to just the area near the shore where other kids were wading too. She also refused to leave the water that we almost had to drag her out of it at lunch time. The only brilliant idea I was able to came up with to get her our of the water even for a short while was to hire a paddle boat.

For only Php100 per hour, we were able to take the little girl (and my toddler Enoe) around the lake.

Other activities to enjoy at Lago del Rey include kayaking, wakeboarding behind a motor boat, jet skiing and swimming. They also have a skate park within the complex and is currently free of charge.

Indeed, CWC is a haven for water sports fanatic. Every effort to make it attractive to tourists and sports enthusiasts is visible in the facilities they have provided. Affordable accommodations are just within the complex. I actually called Eco Village early April to book a room but they were already full. Too bad.

Tourists on a budget need not worry about the prices. Here are the fees:

Entrance - Php100 per head
Swimming at Aqua Park - Php150/hr; Php200 half day; Php380 whole day
Tent Rental - Php350 whole day
Kayak and Sailboat with paddle - Php100/hr

Guests can bring in food and drinks. There are also food stalls near the cable park complex. For those who prefer more comfortable dining, CWC Clubhouse Restaurant and Bar serves Japanese, Chinese, Korean cuisines among other international dishes.

For rates at CWC (cable park), please click here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bicol Escapade: Swimming with Whale Sharks

I never imagined I will be able to swim with whale sharks (or locally known as butanding) in my lifetime. For one, I can't swim and second to that, I am scared of the open water. But when I was planning for our family trip to Bicol, I know The Hubby would love the adventure and he deserves the little reward for the 10-hour or more drive so I inserted the Donsol leg into our itinerary despite my hesitation.

It turned out I was the one who loved it more after I realized that not everyone in this planet will have the rare chance to swim with whale sharks I used to just watch in Discovery channel.

We arrived in Donsol a little before 7am, only after less than an hour drive from Legazpi City where we were staying with the kids and my mom. We thought we came early and can get a boat assigned to us immediately. We were wrong. It was Black Saturday and the peak of the peak season. We were number 93 on the boat queue and was advised we may be able to take the tour at 11am, fingers crossed.

The good side with having so many tourists on a peak season is that the likelihood of having other people join you in the boat (and split the cost) is almost certain. The boat fee of Php3500 (with maximum of 6 swimmers per boat) can be quite hefty. Since we'll be looking for the butanding in their natural habitat and considering the vastness of the ocean, there is no guarantee our quest will be successful so better keep the expenses to a minimum, if possible.

We waited for 4 hours before we finally were able to get a boat assignment. The rule is to have only 30 boats at a time out at sea, but due to the influx of tourists during the holiday, they have already sent 45 boats off that morning.

Another couple and 2 oldies from a group of 8 who can't fit into one boat joined us. The 2 oldies are not swimming which means only 4 of us will have to be guided by the BIO (Butanding Interaction Officer). All good.

The boat crew consists of a captain (to drive the boat), 2 spotters (with amazing eyes they can see the whale sharks beneath the water surface and meters away from the boat!) and a BIO (to guide us especially the weak swimmers toward the butanding).

These BIOs and boat crew used to be fishermen who hunted the butandings to sell their fins to Chinese restaurants. In 1998, catching, killing, and selling of whale sharks in the Philippines were officially banned. As an alternative source of income for the fishermen and to deter them from killing the whale sharks, the local government started using the butanding as part of their eco-tourism. It's a win - win situation for both the fishermen and the whale sharks.

When the BIO tells you to get off the boat, you have to do it fast as if your life depends on it. I had to scramble many times to drop myself into the water regardless if the boat is still moving or in slow mo (they wont stop completely, just slow down enough for you to get your butt off the boat without spilling blood into the sea).

I was glad I did jump off the boat. It's not everyday that an opportunity to marvel and swim with the world's largest fish comes my way. It was a rare, amazing and almost magical experience.

These gentle giants of the sea can grow up to 12 meters. Their massive size makes them slow swimmers and reported speed is only at around 3 kph. Despite their size, they only feed on plankton and generally are harmless to humans.

I don't have any formal 'bucket list', but had I made one before I went to this adventure, I would have crossed it off now.

Cost for swimming with the whale sharks:

Boat hire: Php3500 (6 persons max)
Registration: Php100 for locals, Php300 for foreigners
Rental of gears: Php300 per set

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Isdaan (The Halfway to the North) Resto-Park

No, these pictures of giant bronze Buddhas were not taken in Thailand. We didn't take a three-hour plane ride to Bangkok, but instead took a road trip up north, probably with the same length of time.

This is from Isdaan, a floating restaurant and park along the highway at Gerona, Tarlac. This is hard to miss if you're going to and from Baguio. In fact, we were on our way to The Summer Capital when we spotted this restaurant and decided to stop to eat.

We didn't know it was this huge - the property's area is over a hectare and holds the floating restaurant made of nipa hut (native houses), stone sculptures, giant Buddha statues and the famous Tacsiyapo Wall.

Isdaan is short for Palaisdaan which means fishing ground. True to its name, the restaurant sits (or rather floats) on a man-made lagoon, on top of floors made of bamboo, with koi fishes swimming leisurely in the water.

After feasting our eyes on the beautiful scenery and setup, it's time to indulge our taste buds, after all this is a restaurant above everything else.

Their menu consists only of Filipino dishes, with the Tinupig na Manok as house specialty. Tinupig, a delicacy in Tarlac and Pangasinan, is made from glutinous rice and grated coconut. It is a dessert and best enjoyed with coffee.

How could they impose this dessert into a chicken main dish? Well, it didn't matter anymore at least to me the moment I tasted the chicken. The flavour of the coconut marinade and the juice of the oil from the chicken skin blended successfully. It was the best tasting roasted chicken I've had in years. We even wrapped the left overs and brought with us to Baguio.

Aside from the Tinupig na Manok, everything else seemed to be just the usual fare from any Filipino restaurant in Manila. The only difference, aside from the charming ambiance, is the price. Contrary to every first time visitors' impression, the prices are very reasonable.

Before leaving Isdaan, do not miss trying out the Tacsiyapo Wall. If you're the type who likes to vent out anger by breaking dinner wares, well, you've found a perfect venue.

Buy a bowl, mug or plate (anywhere from Php15-25 each) and throw against the wall while shouting Tacsiyapo! (an invective in a local dialect - some say it simply means 'Shame on You', but I am sure there are curse words following that, haha).

You can throw a TV to the tune of Php2000 if you're really into it. Haha. That's too much anger! Why not just bring a framed photo of that cheating ex-boyfriend?

If travelling to the north, try stopping by at Isdaan. If not for the food, the place is a great pit stop for photography.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mongolian Rice Bowl on Mom's 65th

Mommy celebrated her 65th birthday last Sunday. We didn't have the usual gathering and party at our home in QC; mom just wanted a simple lunch with the family after visiting Dad at the columbary. So off we went to Mall of Asia to find a good venue with good food, preferably something we haven't tried and could accommodate our entire barangay in one long table (we're just 3 siblings, but add our spouses, kids and nannies and our count easily went over a dozen).

Darling Sis spotted a resto called Mongolian Rice Bowl and after doing a quick survey of the spread, we decided to try the Mongolian style buffet. Buffet is hassle-free and quick especially when we're so many in the group and the kids need a quick lunch fix.

Using a variety of meat, vegetables, spices and sauces, we were able to create our own stir-fry meals. There's also an option to use noodles instead of rice and to pour soup instead of having the noodles stir-fried.

Doing Mongolian buffet is simple. Pile up your choices of meat, vegetable, noodles (or rice) on a bowl. Then pour in your desired spices before sending it off to the kitchen for stir-frying.

At Mongolian Rice Bowl, they placed a guide on how to properly flavour your meals. Seems like a lot and complicated, isn't it?

The thing with Mongolian buffet is that when your food sucks, you can't blame the cook because you chose your spices, sauces, condiments and whatnots. On a brighter side, you get to indulge on the ingredients that you really like.

Desserts were also included, although there's not much variety. The macaroons were homemade and taste really nice but I wish they could have made it a bit bigger.

Here's the celebrant with her happiness.

Mongolian buffet is at Php280 on weekdays and Php380 on weekends. Children 4 feet below are charged 50% of the buffet price.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Circle of Joy

The last time I was at Quezon City Circle was around 16 years ago. We needed a huge space to practice for Darling Sister's cotillion de honor for her 18th birthday and decided to go to there.

Back then, the place was just a plain park housing the Quezon Memorial Shrine Museum showcasing Pres. Manuel L. Quezon's memorabilia and other historical materials of Quezon City beneath the monument.

A couple of weekend ago, while The Hubby was away on a two-day excursion with his colleagues, I took the kids to Circle.

Mommy said they've already made a lot of improvements on the park, especially when it became the venue for the unity party after Pres. Noynoy Aquino's inauguration. I was quite impressed, there's no denying, after I saw how they have maximized the vast space by putting in a small theme park (or carnival), skating area, bike trail and playground.

Although quite tempted to try the theme park aptly named Circle of Fun, I was discouraged by the mere thought that the The Hubby wasn't with us. I don't want the kids taking any rides without him; I just couldn't bear the risk (and responsibility).

Of course I didn't want to disappoint the children so off we went to the opposite direction which led us to the Circle of Joy. I didn't know Quezon City (after having lived there all my teenage and single life) has a playground this huge.

Aside from the play areas, Circle of Joy have several colored picnic houses where families can spread a mat, eat their packed meals and enjoy the day. Clearly, the idea is really for an inexpensive venue for family get-togethers and relaxation.

Where there are kids, there are various lures. We all know that. These balloons were too tempting for Eone to resist. I got her Dora and a Spongebob for Enoe, but being the frisky active girl that she is, she accidentally punched a hole on her balloon the moment she laid her little fingers on them. Imagine the crying spree and poor Enoe having to share (unwillingly) his balloon with Ate.

There is absolutely no time for kids to get bored here. After exhausting themselves at the playground, they can try flying kites or rent a bike. The huge skating arena also provides perfect venue for those who brought their roller skates, skate boards or scooters.

All these amenities can be enjoyed for free, thanks to the city government. Only cars are charged an entrance of Php15 and still that's reasonable.
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