Thursday, February 27, 2014

The List Only We Know

I like lists (as if that isn't obvious by now :p)

Anyway, other than pre-trip packing lists there's usually another miscellaneous list of OTHER things that need to be done before you go for that long-awaited trip.

For me, some of the items on that list are:-

1. Check-in and print boarding passes, booking forms, visa forms, insurance certs etc.
2. Pay all bills that are due or fall due within the trip
3. Call bank to inform my itinerary and enable the use of my credit card abroad.
4. Charge the camera batteries, transfer pictures from memory card (I always forget this!)
5. Put aside a book/ books for the trip. I am quite selective here.
6. Check if you have enough foreign currency. (remember to buy in advance when the rates are good!)
7. Check my food stock in the office drawer :p Don't leave chocolate lying around.
8. Prepare my little 'pharmacy' of meds, sanitiser and wet wipes.
9. Visit my doctor if needed for special meds.
10. Prepare my little notebook with my notes and 'research' stuff.
11. Check and bring passport size photos.
12. Download new music/playlist if there is time.

Hmm...I think that's generally it. I am sure everyone has their own quirky list(s).

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Bowl of Pho and then ...

Wanderlust strikes back.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Pinatubo Conquest - Done and Dusted, Literally.

Twitter won't let me post pictures right now (boo!) so I'm gonna show it all off here.

 Daybreak as we started our 4x4 jeep ride towards the volcano and to start the trek.

A very bumpy ride!

 Photo-op stop at these rock formations. They remind me of the Pinnacles. It was brrrr cold, 13-15 degrees.

And we start trekking! 

Look at that sky! This is raw - no filter, no nothing.

It was not easy walking on this 'screed'. 

Then we reached the rest huts after about an hour I think, or was it longer? I can't recall now.

I think we took 25 minutes :p Congestion on the trail.

Already excited to see what's beyond this point. 

Hey hey we're there! 

 Someone in the group helped me to take this picture :) Very nice, thank you po.

 Isn't this lovely? The colours were nice. It was peaceful. Weather, perfect!

Obligatory selfie.

Went down the steps towards the lake edge. 

View half way down. There were small avalanches on the slopes across the lake.

 Selfie again. Don't mind my hair please.

I thought these steps would help me train for Tikhedunga :) 

Celebrity spotted! Christian Bautista, Filipino actor and singer, had to endure his legions of female fans in photo-taking. I do not know who he is :p The one on the right is another Malaysian, J, who happened to be in the same group.

Okay then we needed to trek back the same way. It was high noon, the sun unforgiving, the trail dusty. The guy in green was our local guide Romero. He was kind but only knew very limited English.

At the end of the trail my feet and sandals were all white. 
After the 4x4 ride back, our hair were all white too from the dust!

Trek : Mount Pinatubo, via O'Donell trail
Elevation : 1,485 asl

This trip was booked through TRIPinas, and it cost me Php2,099 which included return transfer from Manila to Capas, 4x4 jeep and guided trek to the crater. Meals and everything else are on personal account. We were given a Certificate of Conquest upon completion of the trek. We had to meet up with the coordinator at 2:30 am for final registration and briefing at McD Pueblo at Ortigas (Mr Tee the coordinator was quietly amazing in handling this big open group on his own), and the convoy of vans left Manila at 3 am. Reached Capas early at around 5:30 am and waited for the local tourism body to register us and assign guides and jeeps. Took off just around 6am and reached starting point around 7:30 am. Trekked at normal pace and reached crater around 9:15 am. We had two hours to rest and have lunch. The return trek starts at 11:30 am. We got back to Capas at almost 3:00 pm, washed up and some changed into fresh clothes. Then it was back in the van and we were back in Manila by 5:30 pm. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Pinatubo Conquest - Whistle While You Trek

An 'oh-I'm-not-ready picture' of me somewhere mid-trek to Mt Pinatubo crater last week :)

It's admittedly the highlight of this trip to the Philippines, I thought I'd be ecstatic over Vigan.
Loved the perfect weather though it did get really hot on the way back.

Barely slept the night before so I was pretty low on energy.
Was it worth it?
Yes! I can't believe why I have not done this trek earlier.
I'd do it again if I can.

I did Taal Volcano Lake a few days later.
So that's two volcanoes in a week.
I might need a third for a volcano slam dunk this year.

I did not really plan to be in the Philippines 3 times in a period of 7 months. I hope to be back soon, and that would be dependent on you Air Asia. More cheap flights please!

Where to next in this country of 7107 islands and 80 provinces?
I am undecided. But for sure it will be either the mountains or the sea.
It has plenty of both :)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My Super Storm Usagi Experience, Basco 2013

It started on Friday, we knew there was a storm that was expected to land sometime in the afternoon. We were told it was Category 3-4. Little did we know it would later escalate to a Category 5 superstorm, on par with Katrina.

The skies began to darken in the early morning and there was an eerie feeling - I think the atmospheric pressure (?) was also low so it felt kinda strange, seriously. At some point it felt like ... we were in some kind of vacuum.

Friday lunch time. I still went out for lunch at the college canteen. Because I was hungry.
Schools were already ordered to close on the day. View across a little park in front of the Municipal Building.

It was windy too. Selfie pre-storm on the National Road.

I walked towards the sea near Shanedel. Big white waves already started crashing on the cliffs and seaside.

View from the rooftop of my hostel, after my lunch.

Then the rain came a little later. Heavy. Non stop.

Night fall. No change in stormy weather. No, actually, it got serious.
Really scary, howling wind. HOWLING AND WAILING. ALL NIGHT.

My bed got soaked. Water was puddling as the windows couldn't bear the brunt of the rain.
I could not sleep. I think no one did. It wasn't possible. Room got flooded by midnight and water seeped steadily into the corridors. 

Day break. Still at it.

The storm. Like a wrecking ball x 100.
View from my room window. That palm tree suffered severe whiplash.

Things and stuff were flying around. The wind was howling like nothing I've ever heard.
That roof just got blown off from somewhere.

When the rain got really heavy, all we could see outside was white.
By the second day, my room became the lepak place cos it had an extra bed and this big window looking out. We had snacks and coffee and tea, and our landlady was so kind in preparing delicious meals for us. Very simple, yet so flavourful. Later we taked about this and I realised that the meat, vegetables (pricier here) and fish are all organic! Never have I eaten such flavourful beef. No pictures though, it would be rude.

Sunday morning, after close to 40 hours, the storm finally moved on and left Batanes. We decided to venture outside to see how the town held up. First, to the pier. 

A ship wreck still being thrown about by strong waves.

Crashing waves - still scary post-storm.

This was an unexpectedly strong wave which sent us scrambling to safer levels. Gila.

At the same time, there was something fascinating about such fury which had us transfixed in silence watching the rough sea unleash the remnants of Usagi.

View from the pintu gerbang. Angry angry waves.

Back on the National Road, they've started to clear the debris and trees and branches. Water was still flowing like a river.

Electricity poles snapped in two - just like that. And these things were like 12-15 inches in diameter.
We had no power at all from Friday 7 pm till the day we flew out, which was .... Tuesday?

Mitch, my hostel-mate had local friends so they brought us around on the bike to survey the damage.

I wonder how it sounded like when this treetrunk snapped.

Poor bananas :( we were very sad when we realised this would mean months of no fruits from these trees.

More trees like this everywhere along the roads.

Someone's house :( Many smaller ones just ..crashed.

Like this one, a traditional-style house.

Some streets were not passable yet.

After a while, I had no words to say. While the devastation was  thankfully not on a scale of 10, it still was very painful to see. 

I bought something from this souvenir handicraft shop the day before. Told the lady I'll be back, but this happened :(

Road towards the hills. We wanted to go up to the Fundacion but the road was not passable.

Looking out from my window on Sunday mid-morning. Locals start clearing and cleaning. They don't wait for any assistance or cry for sympathy with the predicaments. 

No livestock was harmed during the storm. Amazingly, no human fatalities too.

Coconut trees, badly damaged.

Airport Control Tower. The glass panels were all shattered.

Arrival Hall.

Departure area :(

The rectory of the cathedral - the roof was badly damaged. They lost vestments and documents, books etc.

I can't think of a caption for this right now.

Documents drying out in the sun, outside the council building.

BASCO on the go trucks were working non-stop to clear fallen trees and debris as soon as it was safe to do so. Much respect for their work ethics and professionalism.

The National Road was cleared of fallen branches and trees by Sunday noon.

Er. This is the inside of the belly of a Hercules C130. 
Hopefully I will write about this dramatic exit from Basco soon.

I whole-heartedly respect and admire the resilience and faith of the Ivatans in such a catastrophe. Not one person had a sad, pitiful face. They immediately went to work cleaning up the mess and fixing things up. I went to look for my guide's house as I wanted to make sure he and his family were okay. His front porch caved in, but by the time I visited it was cleared up already, just needed a bit of rebuilding.

We outsiders had to accept the fact that there is no power supply. No charging, no lights, no TV, no wi-fi, nothing. Most of our phones were dead by the Sunday. We had to use candles and torchlights at night. There was one local telco that was working, you had to buy a local SIM and reload which was also fast running out (already limited in the first place).

All travellers got busy trying to get on to the next flight out. Flights were cancelled again and again. Thank God I had room to wiggle, unlucky for some they had to re-book outgoing international flights with hefty price tags.

I'm thankful everyone was safe after the storm. An experience I will never forget.
Nature won (it will always win).