Tuesday, 30 June 2015

COSTA PACIFICA in Baler, Aurora, Philippines

After nearly 7 hours on the road (should be 5 to 6 says the veteran holidaymakers this neck of the woods, probably even with no stops), we reached COSTA PACIFICA, a resort on Sabang Beach in Baler, Aurora, Philippines.

Baler is credited as the surfing capital of Eastern Luzon (Luzon is one of the 3 major islands of the Philippines; that leaves you with 1,704 smaller ones to visit). Baler is also the town where scenes from the movie 'Apocalypse Now' were shot. It starred Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, and Robert Duvall, and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. After filming, some of the crew left their surfboards, and the locals taught themselves how to surf (source: BBC News Magazine via Filipiknow on Facebook). While my friends' little boys couldn't wait to get on their surfing boards, I couldn't wait to get on my sunlounger.

Us in the backseat were woken up by the sunrise, and we made a stop for the below scenery. I must admit I sometimes forget how beautiful the Philippines is, just because we don't see each other much anymore.

Welcome to Costa Pacifica

My pareo has decided to chill out on its own

This shot has a slight smoky effect as the humidity was causing my camera to sweat when taken out of an air-conditioned room to an open space. 

The Philippines is known to well-travelled tropical destinations cognoscenti as a stunning gem that rivals the coastline of her neighbours. Sabang Beach in Baler is stunning, but if you ever find yourself in Boracay, Palawan, or Bohol, among other famous resorts in the country, you'll find out why Filipinos aren't easily impressed with beach resorts anywhere in the world.

My friends' kids bonded over surfing. We bonded over food.

Love the water station by the pool. And the little guard as well. Swimmers and sun worshippers didn't have to walk far to get either a lemon or cucumber-infused glass of water.

The lobby and reception area

Question mark for information; tick mark for check out. Thought it was quirky

Costa Pacifica restaurant called The Beach House

The food in Costa Pacifica was to die for, we weren't encouraged to try out the restaurants outside. Click HERE to see the menu as featured on Appetizing Adventure.

Guests out on the lawn, sharing drinks and pulutan, a local term for appetiser or bar food or starters (or starter portion) eaten with alcohol. Filipinos are not in the habit of drinking with no food on the side.

Footpath leading to the guest rooms

Taking a dip as a form of a nightcap

The last time I was in a resort with my friends was in 2002, when we were all candidates in a beauty pageant. Okay, stop laughing. We were in our late teens and early 20s, single, child-free, with no responsibilities and emotional or even psychological baggages. It felt like we were back, at least for a day.

More on Baler, Aurora in my next post.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015


As they say, it's not the journey; it's the destination. 

Nearly seven hours away from Manila, my friends and I drove (they did, to be more accurate) to Baler, the surfing capital of Eastern Luzon, located in Aurora province. How we ended up there when there are numerous beaches and resorts closer to Manila was decided over a couple of beers and cocktails on the rooftop of my hotel. There you go. 

While waiting to check in, some of us trekked to Ditumabo Falls in the neighbouring town of San Luis, Aurora.

The trip is a challenge both to vehicles meant for offroad driving and one's offroad driving skills. On the tricycle (below photo) on the way to the falls, we saw a couple of 4x4s struggling and crawling on the very rough and rocky terrain, while a few were in a complete halt, assessing if they should proceed. For Php 400 (roughly GBP 6 or USD 9), my friend and I half-enjoyed and half-held our breath while attempting to glue ourselves to our seats while our driver negotiated the rugged road.

Considered an iconic Philippine mode of transportation whether in the city or the provinces, I used to ride tricycles a lot growing up and living in the country.  For the roughest and narrowest roads, this takes the cake over SUVs. 

Coconuts at the ready for fresh buko (coconut) juice to be served to thirsty tourists. The bamboo bridge on the right was just one among the many we had to cross to reach the falls. The hike took us around 30 minutes, which was a feat under direct sunlight and temperature hovering in the 30s centigrade. Add to that the streams and massive rocks to be navigated with running water and moss making the steps slippery.

There were a few things bothering me the past few days, and I must say the strenuous walk cleared my mind.

I'm not sure if you've noticed by now that Filipinos love to eat and would find any reason or excuse to do so. Along the way were a few pit stops just for that.

Cold drinks stored in a big container filled with ice. Take your pick.

Banana cue!! Deep fried saba bananas coated in caramelised brown sugar.

Are red hotdogs only available in the Philippines? I used to pay £20 for these at Filipino groceries in Earl's Court

You can never go wrong with corn. These babies were roasted over an open fire.

And then, finally....

Affectionately called Mother Falls, Ditumabo is the biggest of all the falls in the area. The last time I came up close with one was in Ireland a couple of years ago, but swimming wasn't allowed. Who would dare anyway in the frozen water?

After the long walk when I've profusely sweat for half an hour my annual contribution to perspiration evaporation in the UK, the cold water was such a relief. It's that cold though that not covering yourself would be like a shock to your system. Hence, most swimmers were either wearing a shirt and shorts over their swimsuits, or a surfing gear to shield themselves from the gush of water that hits the skin with a needle-prick sensation. I covered with a pareo and stayed closer to the torrent of water from the Sierra Madre highlands and felt as if I was having a hard massage.

On the way back, our guide (who was also my assistant,  toting my beach bag along) pointed at picturesque spots where we could also swim and play in the water without the throng. That called for a photo opp to which my friend indulged me.

Below are two shots I posted on Instagram which some of you may have already seen.  Memories of experiences that may take ages to happen again are more fun when not captured as selfies, especially when the person behind the camera is a lovely friend that I have not seen for 12 years prior to this trip. 

Pure bliss

Portrait of a tropical summer

It's all about sunning and lounging on my next post!

Laters x

Wednesday, 17 June 2015


My hayfever has been squatting in my brain, eyes, nose, and throat, it has taken over my capacity to think. Had I used a pen to write this, my handwriting would be illegible. 

So, for once, I'm unburdening you from reading one paragraph after another on this page. Take a look at some random snapshots of Manila and Metro Manila while I'm recovering from the hypnotic spell of Pirinase.

The Aduana or Intendencia. An abandoned Spanish colonial structure in Intramuros, Manila, which was completed in 1829. A government agency is said to have acquired it for restoration.

A Woman's Life in Six Acts by Phyllis Zaballero at The Metropolitan Museum of Manila

Proust moment by the Pasig River

Heart-to-Heart over Halo-Halo

Over G&T, for nearly 6 nights.

See you later x

Monday, 15 June 2015

Sunday Market on Holiday? Sure.

A Sunday Market is the last place I'd pop into when on holiday, but a friend has a permanent stall there, and schedule issues meant that was the only guaranteed time I can see him. 

Legazpi Sunday Market is in the heart of Makati, which is the central business district of Metro Manila and financial centre of the Philippines --at least the last time I lived in the country. I heard Bonifacio Global City (BGC) is overtaking it.

But I digress. As usual.

What's most unusual about Sunday Markets in the Philippines, compared to other markets I've been to in other countries, is there's a Sunday Mass. The country is so Roman Catholic that way that before everyone partakes in gastronomical hedonism, one must first line their digestive tract and soul with the body and blood of Christ. 

I decided not to have breakfast as I was sure that markets such as this one would be overflowing with food vendors selling all the food and delicacies I only get to try when I'm in town (which is very rare nowadays) or that even if I manage to access in Europe, the taste, consistency, and quality are not the same.

I don't recommend Takoyaki Balls (above photo) for brunch, but let me tell you: it's better than leftover cold pizza when there's not even milk for tea. For the uninitiated, Wikipedia describes Takoyaki as: "a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special takoyaki pan. It is typically filled with minced or diced octopus (tako), tempura scraps (tenkasu), pickled ginger, and green onion. Takoyaki are brushed with takoyaki sauce, similar to Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise. The takoyaki is then sprinkled with green laver (aonori) and shavings of dried bonito (katsuobushi)."

I sometimes buy the frozen version from Japan Centre in Piccadilly Circus, but nothing beats freshly made ones. 

Next stop was a stall of deep-fried varieties of street food. My friend was craving for some, but I opted to try another viand. All of these are in perfect combination with ice-cold Diet Coke or beer. But I did say it was brunch, so I didn't want to be judged. But then again, I was served beer for breakfast at The Reichstag.

See my friends next to the paper cups? They're called 'Chicharong Bulaklak' or deep fried pork mesentery. Now, I'm not going all scientific nor anatomical about mesentery, but just to correct everyone's impression, these are not pork intestines. They belong to the family of cracklings or scratchings, but in the Philippines, we go further beneath the skin, closer to the lining of the abdomen to be exact.

It's best paired with a dipping sauce of vinegar and some chili, washed down with alcoholic drinks, preferably beer.

'Chicharong Bulaklak' (bulaklak is literally translated as 'flower') is a very popular delicacy in the Philippines, lots of unaccustomed visitors may balk at the sight of it, or even the idea of trying it. One thing's for sure though, you've not truly been to Asia if your fare is limited to hotel or posh restaurant food.

Let's go and check out the familiar route: slabs of roast beef, and desserts by a British-born vendor whom I saw again in another fair in Old Manila on the evening of the same day.

The reason I didn't try this, despite the heat and humidity melting me into a puddle, was because I saw the word 'British'. I thought I'd get it here anyway. What was I thinking?

By this time, I've had my fill of most dishes I've been feeling deprived of in the last three years. There was so much to choose from though in the market, it was difficult to pick. This is why I stay away from buffets as much as possible.

I settled for the above 'Bagoong Rice', consisting of rice, red onions, very thinly sliced green mangoes, chili, scrambled egg, and pork lardon cooked in bagoong, a local condiment made from a mix of fermented fish (such as anchovies or krill) and salt.

I tried to take as much photos as possible, but the heat was unbearably stifling all I wanted to do was sit down and people-watch while sampling the various types of cold drinks from the stall next to my friend's.

And my friend himself. We met in London back in 2011, and since returning to the Philippines, he co-started 'The Dairy Farm' business. They make butter, cheese, and kefir milk using fresh products from Bukidnon, the food basket of one of the three major islands of the Philippines. 

You'll find him at his stall every Sunday, from 7:30 am till 2pm.  

 If you find yourself in Makati or Manila, I highly recommend a side trip to Legazpi Sunday Market or any similar market. Aside from the chance to sample various cuisines and pick up souvenirs and one-off decorative pieces, it's an opportunity to get a little bit more acquainted with Philippine culture outside the standard tour itinerary.

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