geeky birthday surprise

J celebrated his birthday recently. I wanted to give him a cake with his likeness as a topper, playing video games, but since I was working with a limited budget, I decided to go for cupcakes instead.

I found Swell Sweets through good old Google, and browsed their designs, as well as external reviews by previous customers. Gel of Swell Sweets replies promptly and is very nice. I was also able to speak to her on the phone after giving her pegs through email, and she described what she planned to do “to make it special”. (Actually, I called their phone number just to make sure the outfit actually exists before making my deposit. You’ll never know, these days.)

Their website is under construction, but the link above goes to their Instagram. Check out their cakes, cookies, and cupcakes! For cupcakes, they require a minimum order of two dozen cupcakes, for a maximum of two designs. You can email Gel through swellsweets@gmail.com if you want more details, or to ask for a quotation.

J’s pretty happy with his PS4 and D20 cupcakes! PS4 is buttercream (my favorite) and the D20 is chocolate. Everything is edible except the stick and the wrapping.

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We also had a nice overnight stay at Solaire Resort & Casino. We were given a Bay View window at no extra charge.

Look at that view.

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We had a breakfast buffet at Fresh and the staff sang J a happy birthday. Thanks!

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bulacan to bataan: visiting the shrine of valour and las casas filipinas de acuzar

The city makes you miss the idyllic pastoral life (which only ever looks idyllic when you’re looking from afar; after a while, it becomes tiresome and you miss the city again). I don’t look forward to the commute, or the lack of air-conditioning (listen to me whine), but I do look forward to the peace and quiet.

I traveled with my closest high school friends from April 27 to 28 from Bulacan to Bataan to Tarlac and back again. We met up in Malolos City early in the morning of the 27th to travel to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bataan. We stopped by the Mount Samat National Shrine, also known as the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valour), in Pilar, Bataan, since it was a special request by our designated driver. (Since he’s the driver, and he owns the car, we actually have no choice. I’m glad we went, though.)

Mount Samat National Shrine

The shrine complex and the Memorial Cross were built to honor the Filipino and American soldiers who fought during the Battle of Bataan (January to April, 1942).

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

  • Entrance is PhP 30 per person.
  • The elevator has been under repair since early this year, so we were not able to go to the top of the Memorial Cross.
  • There is a museum in the basement of the complex.
Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Manila was declared an “open city” during the Japanese occupation in order to avoid further damage.

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Gen. Edward P. King, Jr. was an American military officer who led the Bataan troops against the Japanese. This is a photo of his surrender. I can’t keep my eyes off the man on the left with his face in his hand.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Fairy lights illuminate the Death March route and the sites of struggle.

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POWs in UST wash their hair.

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“Salute to the Japanese soldiers when you meet them…Don’t be fooled by false propaganda.”

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Above: Japanese propaganda, according to the Americans. The truth, according to the Japanese. I wonder what the Philippines would have been like if they just left us the f– alone. But alas, history happened.

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar

I kept reading this as “azucar” due to the azucareras of nearby Tarlac, but this heritage resort is named after its owner: The Houses of the Philippines by Acuzar. Jose “Gerry” Acuzar & team started dismantling, transporting, and rebuilding Spanish houses and mansions in Bataan in 2003. The houses came from Manila (Tondo, Binondo and Quiapo), Quezon City, Bulacan (there were a LOT of houses from Bulacan), Pampanga, La Union, Ilocos and Cagayan.

  • We got two rooms at a discount. We paid PhP 1,800 per head. (There were eight of us.)
  • The room we got was HUGE. Taking a bath will literally tire you because of all the square meters you’ll have to cover.

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

  • I did not read up on Las Casas, so I was surprised by how large the resort was (400 hectares). There is a jeep and a tram that goes around the resort to bring guests to and from their hotel rooms.
Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

wheeeeeeeeeeee

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

  • Precisely because I did not read up on Las Casas, I didn’t know it’s near a beach or that it has a pool. Bring swimming gear, for the love of god (or you’ll end up buying overpriced swimming gear on the way to the resort).
  • They have a nice pool.

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

  • We rode a Banana Boat and I scratched my face when we fell into the water. I hate water sports. Whose idea is this? I thought we’re just here to soak up some culture???
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Look at me, so happy. Pre-gasgas sa face.

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Post-gasgas sa face but still smiling because there’s a camera. #mahapdi

  • Cafe Marivent is where you’ll have breakfast if you’re an overnight guest. We decided to have lunch here as well. A bit of a bad idea. Food is expensive and comes in small servings. If your group has a car, you’re better off driving to the Bagac Public Market. (Which was what we did for dinner. Consider: Halo-halo at Cafe Marivent costs PhP255. Halo-halo in the public market is PhP75. Sa palengke ka na lang, di ba.)
  • They serve a pretty good buffet-style breakfast.
  • Bringing food inside the resort is discouraged. Corkage fee is a whopping PhP500 per head.
  • During the tour: Wear footwear you can easily remove and slip back on again. You’ll be asked to remove footwear before entering the casas.
  • For pasalubong: They sell pearl jewelry and some good cashew butter at their panaderia. Bread is expensive. They sell cheese bread for PhP50 a pop! But I thought the sweet and creamy cashew butter at PhP265 a bottle is worth it.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Lola Basyang tells a story in front of the Lola Basyang Bridge.

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

There is a Heritage Tour that meets here (see photo above) every hour. I enjoyed the tour. I love old houses and historical tsismis.

While waiting you can check out the games in the entertainment room. (The second floor is part of the tour.)

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

According to Mica, our tour guide, Las Casas has 27 heritage homes. The hour-long tour will give you background info about the houses’ origins and previous owners, and how they ended up at Las Casas. Among the houses featured is the home of Jose Rizal’s mother, Teodora Alonzo (Casa Biñan); the house that served as the first University of the Philippines (Casa Hidalgo), and the home of the Novicio clan (Casa Luna), to which the Luna brothers’ mother belonged.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Outside Casa Hidalgo

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Inside Casa Biñan

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Mica sharing some juicy Alonzo family tsismis.

Below is a not very good shot of the exterior of Las Casas’s newest luxury casa. You can rent all three floors for PhP150,000 a night, and you’ll get a butler and unlimited cookies and coffee.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

A better shot, using my friend J’s GoPro:

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Inside:

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

A recreated Escolta.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Pastoral pee.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

We woke up early the next morning for a walk along the beach.

Look at this Venice-like view outside our room.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

My friend presenting the West Philippine Sea. Guests are allowed on the beach from 6 AM to 6 PM only, for their own safety. The pool is open until 9 PM.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

More than the place and the history, I enjoyed hanging out with my friends, whom I have known since 1999. We talked about everything from our idiotic teenage worries to amortization payments to ophthalmology appointments to maintenance meds to Wacky (don’t ask). A few years more and we’ll be talking about menopause and rheumatism.

I can’t wait.

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

singapore – day three and departure

Read about Day One here.

Read about Day Two here.

Our feet were killing us!

But we grinned and bore it as we proceeded with our last day in Singapore.

We had breakfast at the local branch of Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf inside Bugis+. I love that they gave us a huge mug.

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We checked out early so we could travel to Little India. We took the bus from St. Joseph’s Chapel to get to the Little India station.

Lunch at Apollo Banana Leaf. J remarked that the Indian food here tasted as good as the Indian food we get back home.

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Haji Lane. To get to Haji Lane from Little India, hop on a bus that will stop at Parkview Square and walk. Every bus stop has a map, so finding the right bus won’t be that hard. You can also use this link to plot your way around.

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It’s a narrow street with some cute shops.

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Hmm.

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Back to Changi Airport and then home.
We’ll be back Singapore. (Well, we’d better; thanks to my paranoia and over-budgeting I still have some Singaporean dollars left!)

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While clearing Immigration, an airport personnel read the message on my shirt, “Everything has beauty.”

“It’s true,” she said. “Here you go, beautiful.”

singapore – day two

Read about Day One here.

I woke up early the next morning and was surprised to find that most of the shops were still closed.

Huh.

We ended up having breakfast at a fast food restaurant. (We didn’t know the hawker stalls in Albert Center were nearby and were already open.)

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We checked out the National Library.

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Here’s the entrance to the Children’s Section.

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After that, the Bras Basah Complex.

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It’s like a nostalgia trip. As in “oh my god remember Childcraft?”

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Next, the Singapore Art Museum. Entrance is S$10 each.

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This is my favorite installation: “Raising Spirits and Restoring Souls” by Zulkifle Mahmod, Singapore’s national anthem “distilled to its percussive beat” through speakers placed around the room. I love the use of pipes in this installation. The sound produced by pipes in an old house is the kind of sound you can deny (“don’t worry, it’s just the pipes”).

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A note on Progress.

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Another great installation, “Every Point of View” by Matthew Ngui.

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Stand at a certain point and the message will reveal itself.

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Orchard Road.

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Laksa once again once more for lunch.

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This is a shot of the National Library at night. It’s huge! And pretty. #butipasila

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After shopping for pasalubong, we stopped at a Doner Kebab stall at Bugis Village for dinner, S$10 for three kebabs. Yum.

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Day Three!

singapore – day one

Our trip to Singapore became less an exploration of a new place than a meditation of what we’re missing in our own city. We spent a lot of time talking about home and how tired we were that we couldn’t have this. Every conversation must have ended with a sigh and a sad “Buti pa sila”. (Lucky them.) Emerging on Bugis Street from the train, we became very much aware of the nearly deserted streets, the lack of security personnel at the entrance of malls. The humidity and the sun reminded us of Manila but without the chaos of Manila. Singapore is like Manila that turned out right. (But then right is relative; as a tourist — a first-time visitor — I can only comment on Singapore’s skin but not it’s heart.) As a friend mentioned over dinner, it is the little things that will make you stay in Singapore: the fact that you can time the arrival of the bus on your way to work, the fact that you can get on the MRT wearing your backpack and not worry that a fellow passenger will grab your wallet and phone. The little things can make you stay, and it’s also the little things, like splinters, that burrow under your skin and will make you want to leave.

But first:

Ah. Speaking of things that make you want to leave.

NCR Aviation Security Unit chief sacked amid NAIA ‘laglag-bala’ scam

And so we had to do this.

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It made me feel pretty stupid but what can you do.

We flew Cebu Pacific at 5:45 AM on Friday (the plane taxied for sooo long I had to remark, “Are we going to drive all the way to Singapore?”) and arrived at Changi Airport Terminal 2 at 9:20 AM. It was an unremarkable flight, which was great. (I’m not a fan of flying. It was the longest flight I’ve ever been on — I haven’t traveled to the US or Europe — and I was bored.out.of.my.mind. But when flying, boring is good.)

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Relevant source: Changi Airport Guide

One Singapore dollar is equivalent to around 33 Philippine pesos. We had our money changed at Sanry’s Money Changer before our trip. You can check out this link about the cost of living in Singapore to help you with your budget.

This is mine. I must tell you now that I over-budgeted on nearly every line item. You’ll be comfortable with less than S$200 pocket money.

Sample Budget $15 per meal 9 meals 135
$2 per water bottle 10 water bottles? 20
tourist pass 30
$10 per meal (snacks and coffee) 3 meals 30
Shopping 50
Pasalubong 50
Wiggle room money 50
 TOTAL 365

Our kaya toast meal (kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs, coffee with condensed milk) cost S$4.30 each, to give you an idea.

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From Terminal 2, we headed to the Changi Airport MRT station to buy a 3-day Tourist Pass. The pass, which gives you unlimited access to the buses, MRT and LRT, costs S$30 with a S$10 deposit. Go crazy! Get on and off every station if you feel like it! Just surrender the card and you’ll get your 10 bucks back. Unless you’d like to keep the card as a souvenir.

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There’s no shortage of maps and brochures at the airport. It’s a pretty Type A city. I love it.

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Relevant source: MRT Map

Getting around is pretty easy. (That’s coming from a girl who gets lost all the time.) To head to the city from Changi Airport, hop on the train heading to Tanah Merah. At Tanah Merah, switch to the East West line (green on the map) on Platform B.

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We got off at Bugis station and checked out Sim Lim Square.

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Sim Lim Square has a guide. Type A, like I said.

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It reminds me of Greenhills.

The store J wanted to check out was still closed, so we had a snack. Sim Lim Square has a food court in the basement.

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After that stopover, we walked to get to Victoria Hotel, which was on Victoria Street. I’d like to pretend I own the hotel. (And the street.)

We stopped for lunch in Bugis Village.

Laksaaaa.

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Victoria Hotel has a pretty great location. I recommend it.

We rested for a bit before heading to Gardens by the Bay to meet with Victor and Patricia, who have been working and living in Singapore for 15 years.

Remember when I said just a few paragraphs ago that I get lost all the time? So yeah, I got lost here. We have been waiting at the wrong ticket counter for 30 minutes until J realized, Maaaaybe there’s another ticket counter?

Sorry for the wait, Victor.

While lost, I snapped these shots:

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Victor took us on a tour of the two domes in the Gardens — the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest (S$28 for both domes, but Victor generously paid for our entrance fees: “Ken Liu [who attended the Singapore Writers Festival] wanted to go to the hawker stalls. I spent five dollars on Ken Liu.” So now I can say I’m more expensive than Ken Liu. Hooray?).

Victor said most of his friends from Asia prefer the Flower Dome, while Europeans more often than not prefer the Cloud Forest.

He was right. We loved the Flower Dome more.

(And to think we nearly skipped this!)

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I love the color of these deep purple flowers.

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Weird cactus.

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Hello, Little Prince.

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I love the shape of this cactus.

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I forgot the name of this flower, but it smells like rot.

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Another strange flower.

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Not a very good shot of a very tall cactus.

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I wish I knew more about plants! Victor knew a great deal about flowers and vegetables, which was a pleasant surprise.

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We had dinner and fun conversation at Supertree Dining. (J is still dreaming of that plum juice.)

Thank you Victor and Patricia!

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Day Two!

things i love, summer edition

I turn my head and suddenly it’s June. I don’t write blog posts as often as I used to; I often find myself composing essays in my head but it appears that I enjoy doing that more than actually posting them. That should give me more energy for my fiction, I suppose. What’s new? I found a new old job (long story), got a new haircut, slowly melted in the heat. I hear we’ll see the end of humanity in a hundred years (the prediction was old — made circa 2010 — but the linked article is new, saying an old thing about carbon emissions, to which no one ever listens). I feel happier and more content than I’ve ever been, and I see the irony in this.

Well, since we humans are still around, here, some things I love:

Acacia Hotel Manila

J and I, for his birthday weekend, were looking for a nice place to unwind when I found Acacia Hotel‘s deal on Deal Grocer. We got two vouchers to stay for two nights in their Executive Suite, buffet breakfast included. The hotel is located in Alabang. Great location, great service, excellent amenities. Everything looks new and clean. (And they offer Aromatherapy pillows, which I like.) I recommend you check it out.

We made plans to take a dip in the hotel pool, check out the spa, use the gym, and so on and so forth, but of course we ended up just staying in the room to watch movies or heading out to eat sushi. Also, we realized that we like Alabang and wouldn’t mind living there. If only it weren’t so expensive, and so far from everybody and everything.

– Sink into your own much raved-about custom-made, memory-foam “dream bed”.
– Bathe in a sublime bathroom with separate rain shower and bathtub.
– Prepare hot meals in your own kitchenette and take advantage of suite perks such as personalized butler service.
– Then, enjoy other first-rate amenities that are deliciously part of your stay: Wi-Fi access, flat screen TV, a full-sized executive desk, an electronic DND panel and safety deposit box, among others.
– Lounge around the beautiful swimming pool and spa, bask in natural daylight or romantic moonlight at the gorgeous Samanea outdoor garden, or discover the newest in dining experiences on this side of town with the hotel’s restaurants.
– With Acacia Hotel’s sophistication, style, and signature authentic Filipino hospitality, you don’t need to go out of town to experience a luxurious getaway.

Acacia Hotel Manila

5400 East Asia Drive corner Commerce Avenue,
Filinvest Corporate City, Alabang,
Muntinlupa City 1781

Telephone: ++63 2 7202000 / ++63 2 5885888
Mobile: ++63 917 5281504 (room reservations only)
Email: enquiry@acaciahotelsmanila.com

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I love the toiletries.

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20150605_220605Butterbeer from Early Bird Breakfast Club

Also recommended: their grilled cheese and tomato soup, their Yin-Yang Champorado, their French toasts.

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20150601_190754Love Letter: Batman

J found this by chance in Hobbes & Landes in BGC. I’ve played the original Love Letter, but I enjoyed this variant more! I took this home and my siblings got obsessed with it.

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20150610_201954Page-turners

like this one

20150531_142439along with Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch (until autumn 2014) and Stjepan Šejić and Ms. Marvel by Sana Amanat, Stephen Wacker, G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona.

This speaker

that I didn’t buy but took a picture of while in the store because I thought it looked really cute.

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valentine’s day weekend at padre burgos, quezon province

Padre Burgos is a municipality in Quezon province named after Jose Burgos of the Gomburza. Such a tragic name origin, but the municipality itself is peaceful. Padre Burgos was formerly known as Laguimanok due to the shape of the coastline, which resembles a chicken’s beak. In fact, the town was getting ready for the Laguimanok festival the weekend we were there. (On the way home, we stopped to watch a group of children practicing the “chicken dance” inside a covered basketball court.)

We ended up in Padre Burgos because a colleague of mine has an uncle who owns a beach house, and the house was available for us to use for the month of February. I’ve never been to Quezon before, so I have no expectations. (All I knew was that we would be having tequila, which for me was a good enough reason to go.)

We hired a van to get to Padre Burgos, which is an hour or so away from Lucena. We visited two islands, Borawan and Dalampalitan. J and I and two other colleagues decided not to go to Puting Buhangin because it started to rain very hard and we were freezing our asses off. I did not plan for a rainy weekend at all. Philippine weather, you big weirdo!

Padre Burgos, Quezon province

Photo from V.

Padre Burgos, Quezon province

Photo from V.

Borawan: pro, impressive rock formations; con, expensive huts (PhP 700), wild beach.

Padre Burgos, Quezon province

Photo from V. Art direction by S. Haha!

Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon provinceDalampalitan: pro, quieter, more affordable huts (PhP 200), no waves; con, because there was no current, it was pretty muddy, making it hard to swim. Padre Burgos, Quezon province Look how serene the water is. Padre Burgos, Quezon province We had these for lunch. I learned how to crack these crabs open out of necessity. (I know — I grew up in a fishing town and I never learned how to properly crack crabs.)

Padre Burgos, Quezon province

Photo from V.

Padre Burgos, Quezon province

Photo from T.

Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Yung pose na parang pupunta lang ng office. Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province We saw a bunch of tiny hermit crabs and some weird tentacle plant or animal thing. I don’t know what it is. Please enlighten me. Padre Burgos, Quezon province Pine trees by the beach. Padre Burgos, Quezon province Back to the house, shower, dinner, endless conversation, Patron tequila that seemed bottomless. A brief drama as I suddenly broke out in hives. Not sure what the trigger was. More tequila.

Padre Burgos, Quezon province

Photo from V.

The next day, the sun came out and we took a walk along the shoreline. Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Starfish! Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Somewhere in that landscape is the house. Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Oysters stuck to the rocks, glowing like gold coins. Padre Burgos, Quezon province The walk back, then a bus ride home. We took a jeep (PhP 35) to Lucena Grand Terminal and got on a bus at 1 pm to Cubao (around PhP 200).

Padre Burgos, Quezon province

Photo from V.

Padre Burgos, Quezon province

Photo from T.