Saturday, July 23, 2011

Our 24-Hour Malapascua Getaway

Although I have always managed to juggle work and school and business and family with everything else, this week was particularly tough. I have just started working on my thesis and there's this huge on-going Ecosystems experiment that I need to work on several times in a week. Add that to my daily workload of articles and what you do have? A sleep-deprived, grumpy hag who throws tantrum fits like a 5-year old. So before I go mad and burn out, I decided to escape from all the work and get a little R and R to put me back on track. Destination: Malapascua.

Malapascua is a small island in the northernmost tip of Cebu. The place was just recently discovered in the 90's and is not as modernized and as touristy as Boracay or Panglao. It does not have 24 hours electricity, except for some resorts. However, do not get deceived. There are a lot of foreigners here - most of them American and European dive enthusiasts. Today, the area is known for its beautiful white sand beaches and diving spots (particularly Monad Shoal where Thresher Sharks are frequently sighted).

How to get there: From Cebu City, drive all the way to the North Bus Terminal and hop on a Ceres Bus to Maya. The trip will take you about 4-5 hours so be ready for the long drive. Bus tickets are sold at 166 PhP. The port of Maya is the bus's last stop. Once you get to there, you need to hop on an outrigger boat which will take you to the Island. Boatfare is 80 PhP per person. If you are on a hurry, you can request for a special trip @ 1200 PhP.

I've never been to Malapascua before which got me really excited - even if it was just an overnight stay. This was also a very special trip because our little Energy Ball was coming along too - her first ever backpacking trip. We were up for the challenge.

We actually woke up quite late. 7am to be exact. This put me in a real cranky mood. This meant that we would have to arrive in the island late in the afternoon and have very little time to do anything else. But still, there we were, at the side of the national highway, waiting for a bus to pass through. We stood there for about 30 minutes until a bus bound for Maya showed up. Luckily, buses are seldom packed during this time of the year so we got ourselves comfortable seats with enough space for our bags.

I was hoping to get some sleep on the bus but the Energy Ball wanted to stand up for the rest of the way. She loves the wind on her face so I had to scold her every now and then not to stick her head out of the window. She finally dozed of 2 hours into the ride and Janjan and I finally got to rest too.

We arrived at Maya at exactly 12 noon. We immediately got our tickets and hopped on the boat. The port of Maya (I would like to think) is still a work in progress. There are no formal passageways for passengers to board the boat. You literally need to walk through a plank to get on board. The ride will take you an average of 30 minutes, depending on the weather. You can actually see the island and the stretch of white sand from the port - which got me really excited.

The weather was perfect and in 30 minutes, we had the island's soft white sand between our toes. We actually booked our stay at the Hippocampus resort the night before. It was low season here so accommodations are very easy to get.  The resort was located right in the middle of Bounty Beach where most of the restos and bars were located.

We got the standard aircon room for 1500 PhP. This included a private veranda, bath and shower, free WiFi, linens, towels and some toiletries. Although it was a bit pricey for my standards, I took it because it was a stone's throw away from the beach and it had free Internet connection (I needed to work during get-away's too).

So right after we settled, Janjan and the Energy Ball went around to explore the resort while I settled down, did a few articles and rested. After this, we headed out to the beach to swim. Right after that refreshing dip, we rested some more and decided to go exploring the other side of the island. We were hoping to get a glimpse of the sunset but we were too late. Anyways, the view was just as breathtaking.

Guys, meet the Energy Ball - she loves bananas, sand, fish and chickens - live ones
We had dinner at Angelina's, a restaurant that made really good Italian food. Honestly, this is one of the main reasons why I chose to come here instead of the less distant Camotes Island. And the verdict? Dining at Angelina's made that long bus ride worth it. As much as I would have wanted to sample every single dish they offer, there were only 3 of us. So we only ordered some pizza and dessert - which we barely even finished. We had SuperAnglina (425 PhP) which was topped with everything - whole black olives, huge but thin slabs of salami and pepperoni, Mozorella cheese, one whole egg and things that I could barely pronounce. And for dessert, we had chocolate Pana Cotta which was SINFUL - velvety, smooth, bitter-sweet, creamy.

SuperAngelina @ 435 Pesos; Chocolate Pana Cotta @160 Pesos. Pricey but def worth it!
Right after dinner, we planned to have a few drinks in Sunsplash, one of the more popular bars in the island. They usually set up chairs and pillows right along the shoreline during night time, lighted up by torches lined along the shore. Unfortunately, it started to rain so they had to take all of the chairs back to the resto. Pfffft. The Energy Ball was getting quite sleepy and grumpy so we decided to finish drinking in our veranda instead.

The Pana Cotta left us smiling silly
Morning came and before Janjan and the Energy Ball could wake up, I took a stroll along Bounty Beach to take some shots of the other resorts in the area.

Clockwise: A resto along Bounty Beach (forgot the name), Ocean Vida, Cocobana and Sunset Resort

We decided to have breakfast at Ging-ging's, a local eatery a few meters away from Hippocapmpus. They serve good food but it takes quite a while to cook them. Fortunately, we were the first customers to arrive so it didn't take too long before we were served with our orders. We both got the Filipino breakfast. Tocino for Janjan and pork chop for me. Meals were at 80PhP each. We got banana pancakes for the Energy Ball, which unfortunately, she barely touched. She ended up gobbling 2 whole bananas we bought from a local fruit vendor instead.

Filipino brekkie @ 80 Pesos each
She cracks me up every time =)
Right after brekkie, we walked to the public beach area and bummed around. At 10am, we headed back to Bounty beach, took a last dip at the waters, dressed and got ready for out trip back home. But before we boarded the boat, we decided to end the trip with a BANG. How? With a repeat of Angelina's chocolate Pana Cotta, right at the beach.   Hmmmm....

Feel the love....
Our stay was quite short yes, but it was worth the looong bus ride. However, I do recommend that you stay here for more than just a night. There are a lot of things to do and places to explore around the island. We're planning to come back and finally take that dive in Monad Shoal, hopefully this coming October. Definitely more things to look forward to!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Slowly Singapore (Part IV: Homeless in Orchard Road)

For our last day in Singapore, we decided to do, well, nothing. Checkout time for our hostel was 12 noon so right after breakfast (guess where?), we packed up our things and said goodbye to the sweet Chinese guy in the reception counter one last time (we normally wave him goodbye every time we go out). Our flight back to Cebu was still at 12 midnight so we were literally homeless for the next 12 hours. 

Geylang, or at least a part of it
Roti and mutton
Our plan was to meet up with Adee and Neil at Orchard for lunch, wander around, meet up with my cousin for dinner where she'll send us off to the airport. We found Adee right on time waiting for us at Lucky Plaza. He took us to this chocolate store that sold real cheap Hershey's chocolates and bought some -okay a lot - for pasalubong. After this, he took us to this small food joint right at Lucky Plaza that sold Filipino dishes for late lunch. We ordered chicharong bulaklak (deep fried pork intestines), Bangus and Bulalo (beef stew). It was good but it was way to expensive for me. A medium sized bowl of Bulalo cost about 700++ PhP. However, if you were a Filipino away from home too long, you'd be more than willing to spend more just to get a taste of warm, home-grown food. Right?

Bulaklak, Bangus and pochero
So right after lunch, we said our final goodbyes.Neil went home while Adee got back to his office. It was still 3pm and Ate Cleo was set to meet us at 6. Our bags were already too heavy so we decided to squat in a bench along Orchard Road to pass the time. Although I would have loved to go around exploring one last time, it was nice sitting here, people watching. I have never seen so many different nationalities pass by in one single road - Indians, Chinese, Filipinos, Malaysians, Americans, Europeans.

Blank stare means "I'm really, really tired right now" and "How I wish we never checked out this early"
So we sat there, watching the world go by. And before we knew it, it was 6pm. We saw Ate Cleo coming out of a building with her usual warm smile. I haven't seen her for ages. After a few kumusta's, she took us to dinner at some mall. (there were simply too many of them that I passed by, I couldn't remember what building we were actually in).

Boys and their toys
Ate Cleo and Kuya Em planned to meet us along with the rest of their friends in the mall. And before we knew it, we were occupying the entire table, noisy and rowdy and laughing. It felt just like home. They were a FUN bunch. Fridays, it turns out was their official night out. Janjan had so much fun  that he seriously asked if we could stay another night. Which was unfortunately, too costly and impossible.

Filipinos, we have a way of finding each other when away from home.
When it was finally time to say goodbye, all of them decided to send us off at the airport. It was heartwarming really. So they braved the long train ride, stood up most of the way, and stayed with us until we were safely checked in. 

Tight buses, long queues just to send us off. Thanks guys!
So that's about it. Our Singapore adventure. I never thought it would end this way though: getting stuck in a bench in Orchard, a crowd of warm people sending us off at the airport and occasionally late flights departing in time. Beautiful surprises. Beautiful surprises indeed.

Great ending to a trip

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Sneak Peak of What You've Been Missing

It's been a hectic week and this blog as a LOT of updating to do. I'm still finishing up my last post on Singapore. Hope you guys can bear with me. But just to give you a little sneak peak, here are some posts that I will be publishing in a week (or two).
  • What's good in Cebu's Dong Juan?
  • Food Find! 10 Dove Street
  • Our 24 hour Malapascua Getaway =) 
  • Real Italian pizza, by the beach at Angelina's
  • Mid-range budget for a day in Malapascua
A few teasers if you like.....

Photo credit: Rex "snack bar-slash-party liaison-slash-candy corner" Abao Jr.

Intrigued? Keep posted then!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Slowly Singapore (Part III: What's With Sentosa?)

I once came across an online forum that warned travelers not to waste their time in Sentosa. But then again, I'm a sucker for amusement parks. I wanted to find it out for myself. So for Day 3, we planned to explore the rest of Sentosa. We already spent a whole day in Waterfront Station at Universal Studios just yesterday. So for today, we planned to go to the last two: Imbiah and Beach Station.

But before that, we had other things in our itinerary first. We wanted to go around Chinatown for some sightseeing. So at around 8am, we were on our usual route to Kallang MRT and hopped on the train bound for Chinatown. We had breakfast at McDonald's and went around. 

Chinatown ain't Chinatown without these
This is the great place to buy souvenirs by the bulk. Key chains ( universal souvenirs, I call them) are sold at a dollar. There are shirts and bags and dresses and anything and everything that you can possibly buy as souvenirs. I would love to come back here at night and see those cute ball lanterns come to life. 

Cheaper by the bulk
At around 11, we hopped on a train to Vivo City. We had a lunch date with one of my best friend's brother. He lives in Singapore and I haven't seen him in ages. We met inside the mall and he took us to this delicious restaurant, which I forgot the name. Hehe, sorry. Aside from the good food, what really struck me was the gazillion bottles of condiments (okay, there were 6 bottles or so) that I could barely pronounce found in every table. Drinks were free flowing as well. They had this dispenser right at the entrance where you can get as much soda as you want. Janjan has this affair with carbonated drinks so he was elated to find out that it was all for free. To Neil, thanks for that wonderful lunch. =)

Janjan had a blast with these
Right after lunch, we bid Neil goodbye and headed straight to Sentosa Station. If you want to buy your tickets ahead, there is also a ticketing counter at Vivo City right beside the train station. They offer a number of packages so we asked for a brochure and looked for the cheapest one that we could find. We picked the Noon Play Pass which gave us entrance to 4 different rides of our choice all for $38 each. However, we can only avail of the package at 2pm so we decided to buy the tickets at the island instead.

We're in Sentosa alright....
First stop was Imbiah Lookout where the huge Merlion was located. To kill the time, we just went around and shot some photos. At 2pm, we got the tickets (Noon Play Pass @ $38 and Songs of the Sea @ $10) and went inside our first attraction - a show called the Images of Singapore. It's actually a miniature version of the Songs of the Seas show. This time, it tells of Singapore's history and how it became such as diverse mix of culture as it is now. This is not for the adrenalin junkies. You'll just be sitting there all throughout the movie. But I liked it, it was very meaningful.

I liked this. "Family, Harmony, Peace and Community. Singapore's gift to the world."
 A little preview of the beach
After that, we hopped on the Luge - which was my favorite. It's actually a one-person sled that takes you on a downhill ride from Imbiah Lookout all the way to Siloso Beach. You can choose which trail to take. There's the 650-meter Jungle Trail and the 688-meter Dragon Trail. If you're not an expert in maneuvering, I suggest you take the former. Once at the end, you get back up by riding the cable car back to where you started. It's addicting, actually. If I had extra money, I would have gone twice or even thrice. =) The cable car however, was a bit scary. You are strapped on to your seat by a single metal rod. And that's about it. So I tried to amuse myself with the views which were quite wonderful too.

My nervous smile. 
Next in line was the 3D Cineblast, which was...err.... a blast. We watched a 3D Shrek movie (it was by the way, my first 3D experience, ever) and the Extreme Log Ride, which was a 4D Indoor Roller Coaster. 
I can sit anywhere, it's a talent =)

Sentosa also has a zip line which starts out from Imbiah Point going all the way to a man made island fronting Siloso beach. We decided to ride that as well. We took a loooong walk all the way to the top, paid $28 for the ride, walked up to the tower and strapped on. This is my first zip line ride too so I was suuper excited. You are not allowed to bring your bags during the ride. Instead, you are given a small net bag to keep your valuables and the rest of your bag will be delivered to the other end by park personnel.

Loooong arrow = loooong walk
We found a new friend!

It was wonderful zipping all across the Island. However, the winds were so strong that both Janjan and I stopped at the middle of the line. We probably dangled there for 15 minutes or so waiting for the park personnel to come and get us. My butt started to ache from waiting but I kinda liked being stuck there. I could almost see the entire island from where I was, uhm..... dangling.

I get a high riding these
We went down and finally came face to face with the infamous Siloso Beach. Siloso Beach is actually man made so I'm guessing that there's really nothing much to see underwater. The beach however was a very impressive stretch of powder white sand which were lined with small pubs. It was impressive - in an artificial way. Hehe..
Siloso Beach
We were a bit parched so we decided to buy some refreshments: New Zealand All Natural chocolate chip shake - with full cream. Expensive but delicious. A pain in the pocket but I'm glad I tried it. I have this thing for first time's. =) So after the shake, we boarded the park's free tram ride which took us all the way to Beach Station.
It was almost time for the Songs of the Seas show and we needed to eat dinner before it starts. So we grabbed a cup of noodles and some sandwiches from Seven Eleven, ate at some bench and we were good to go. Ah, the beauty of instant food and Microwaves. =)

We wanted to sit up front so we lined early and got great seats. The show was IMPRESSIVE. A beautiful play of water, fire, lights, music. Electrifying. I'm really sorry for the crappy shots. I enjoyed the show too much, I totally forgot about my cam.

Crappy shot #1
Crappy shot # 2. And that's about it. Hehe
Right after the show, we had another date. This time, it was with Janjan's friend, Adee. We planned to meet up at Lucky Plaza in Orchard Road. So right after the show, we went straight to the bus station and took the Sentosa Rider which will take us straight to Orchard. Unfortunately, we got off way too early so we had to walk a few more corners still. If there's temple overload in Cambodia, there's shopping mall overload here in Orchard. I could not understand how these people managed to  fit so many stores and malls and boutiques in a single stretch of road. Everywhere I looked, there's a different store, every time!

We RARELY have a picture together whenever we travel. 
Anyways, we met up with Adee who took us around Orchard Road. I've only seen him twice but this guy loves Hard Rock Cafe. It's the first thing that we went to. Janjan was quite excited about the store too. Maybe its a boy thing. Don't really know. 

Janjan bought a shirt and after that, we headed straight to this bar that sold really expensive beer. $100 for a single beer tower. Yes, violent reactions are completely acceptable. Adee's girlfriend caught up with us and we ended up talking about so many things. These two love to travel too so I enjoyed every bit of the conversation. Anyways, we finished 2 beer towers all c/o Adee. 

The $100 beer. Sheeeeesh..
We ended the day at 3am, sober. All four of us hopped on a taxi and Adee and Van dropped us off at our hostel. We gave Adee $20 for the fare. This was the only thing we paid for the night, thanks to these generous two. =)

Thanks Adee and Vanessa!
So was Sentosa a complete waste of our time? I really don't think so. It was expensive yes, and definitely touristy. But then again, its as much a part of Singapore as everything else in the city. Its like the 10th finger in your hand. Different - touristy and expensive (definitely), overrated (perhaps), but it's what makes the whole complete. It's part of the city's vibe. For me, real travelers should not be too concerned about staying away from touristy places or not. If it can give you a glimpse of a country's culture and makes you appreciate and understand the people and the place more, then it's definitely worth a visit. Just my two cents. Sentosa Island is a wonder, just like Singapore is in my eyes. And I'm glad I gave it a day for a visit.