Enthralled by El Nido

I found my paradise in the Philippines.

Spellbounding Siquijor

A brave girl's first ever solo trip was to this mystical island.

The Quiet Charm of Cagbalete Island

Outdoor serenity at its best.

The Rugged Beauty of Islas de Gigantes

The off-the-beaten rockin beauty of Northern Iloilo.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

2015: When I Turned Dreams Into Reality

Like last year, I am once again late in writing my year in review. I've been wanting to write this before the year ends but something happened that I can't get myself to write. When I woke up this morning - first day of the year, I told that feeling inside me to fuck off and went to the computer to bleed.

Without further ado, here's how my 2015 went:

Spring in Korea: The Land of Vanity and My Oppas

I am no exception to those who have been hooked to Korean dramas (Koreanovelas). I actually don't know how many I've watched already. You know those fairytale-like stories and dreamy oppas, we ladies secretly wished they'll happen to us haha! Maybe that's why it is addictive.

Gwanghwamun Gate of the Gyeongbokgung Palace
Last spring, I finally had the chance to visit Korea! Surprisingly, I loved spring so much! The chilly wind with some rays of sunshine, the blooming flowers and the excuse to always drink soju because it is cold haha! I loved everything about it.

spring is my new favorite season :)
Those things that we saw in the Korean dramas, they are true! It ain't a bore to hang out at night and drink with your buddies because hot Korean guys are around hahaha! Needless to say, I loved Korea.


Summer in Palawan: Spend Time with People that Matter the Most

For my Dad's 60th Birthday, we decided to celebrate in Puerto Princesa. It has been my siblings and I's tradition to treat our parents annually on a summer trip.

Well hello again, Underground River! 
I love taking them to places. It is now their time to relax after working hard for so many years just to provide for us and give us good education. I'm always glad seeing them happy like this. :)

Honda Bay island hopping
While doing your own thing and working towards your dreams, don't forget your parents and your family. Everyone can leave you but they won't. No matter what happens.


Autumn in Europe: Because Dreams Do Come True

On my last year's post, I mentioned about why I lessened my travels. It is because I wanted to save for something bigger and to focus on that goal. And this was it! All my sacrifices and perseverance paid off. I can't tell you how ecstatic I am the moment it started to come true! :)

Fallin' in Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
I met all the goals I set for this trip. It was amazing how everything fall into place one by one. It's like all the stars have aligned for me. It sounds cheesy I know, but that was how it really happened.

the Eiffel moment is real!
My first and last European country is France. I was able to get a good deal for a round trip ticket to Paris. I loved this city. The romance, the joie de vivre - I felt it! Oh and the joy I felt when I saw the Eiffel Tower up close, it was inexplicable. :)

I was able to try those decadent Belgian chocolates while on a 7-hour layover in Brussels en route to Prague. To-die-for!

Belgian chocolates! when in Brussels :)
I got my Schengen Visa from the Czech Embassy because that was where I stayed the longest. I spent 7 days in their country. I've always dreamt about going to Prague and the whimsical town Cesky Krumlov. I was never disappointed. They are as splendid as I imagined them to be.

The Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square, Prague
Wroclaw is not as famous as other Polish cities like Warsaw and Krakow but I found it fascinating so I added it to my itinerary. Plus, it is not that far from Prague. I enjoyed my time there so much!

the charming city of Wroclaw, Poland
Another favorite city of mine during my Euro trip is Rome. It's not as orderly and glamorous as the other European cities but I loved it! The history, the art, the food - all of it! I originally planned to stay for just 3 days then it became 5 days. :)

standing in front of the Colosseo in Rome
Having the chance to see His Holiness and being blessed by Him was one of my most memorable experience throughout the trip. I was teary-eyed. Seriously.

blessed to see and hear the Pope's blessing in St. Peter's Square, Vatican City
Just like Wroclaw, I chose a less popular city in Spain over Madrid and Barcelona. I went to Sevilla. I liked it because it is laid back, not very touristy and it gave me a glimpse on how we are similar to them. This short visit made me want to come back and explore more of Spain!

rainy stroll at Plaza de Espana in Seville, Spain
To be honest, I didn't like Lisbon that much. But when I went out of the capital, I found interesting things and places which made me fond of it. This country of discoverers and navigators has a lot to offer. Just get out of Lisbon!

appreciating the old and new in Lisbon, Portugal
Contrary to Lisbon, I loved Porto so so much! It is stunning. It is not only beautiful in the eyes but it has something in it that made it feel magical. JK Rowling got inspired to write the first chapters of Harry Potter in this city because it really has that entrancing charm.

I left my heart in Porto...
My month-long trip to Europe were the best days of my life. Going there alone and experiencing everything for the first time on your own was liberating. I wouldn't trade anything for that.


Winter in Hong Kong and Macau: Where I Started and Where Things Ended

I still have some leave credits left at the office, so why not use all of them? Before the year ended, I embarked on a week-long trip to HK and Macau.

in Harbourfront, Kowloon, Hong Kong
My first international trip was in HK 5 years ago. So I thought, why not? 5 years is already a long time. Though Nepal really was where I wanted to go. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed it for the food trip and shopping!

night stroll in Macau
If I hesitated going back to HK, all the more going back to Macau. I didn't like anything about it. But my companion wants to see it, so okay fine. It's still the same. I still didn't find anything I liked. It's just that place where rich Chinese people flock to, to spend their overflowing money at the casinos.

***

Definitely, the highlight of my 2015 was my Euro trip. I wished for it in the lantern in Chiang Mai and when I saw shooting stars in the desert of India, I whispered it to the sacred mountain of Tawi-Tawi (Bud Bongao), I earnestly prayed for it every chance I get. The universe heard my wish and the Lord answered my prayer. I'm so thankful to you, 2015!

For an ordinary girl like me, it wasn't easy to achieve so I am very grateful that it finally happened. Paulo Coelho was right. When you really want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. Thank you, Universe! :)


Lessons from 2015:

  • Just go for it. No matter how unattainable you think your goal is. Take chances. A lot of it. You will never know, if you won't try.
  • Do it now. You will thank yourself for doing the things you really wanted now. Don't delay your dreams. The future is promised to no one.
  • Don't be scared to be alone. Me-time. It is one of the best things you can give to yourself. A time for just you and only you. It may sound selfish but it will actually make you wiser, stronger and more independent. You will realize that you can be happy without attachment to anyone or anything. After all, happiness should come from within yourself. And I think loving yourself once in a while isn't selfish.
  • Give time to the people you love. 2015 also gave me the opportunity to travel with my family, friends and significant other all on different occasions. Solo travel is life enriching but sharing unique experiences with your loved-ones is also priceless.
  •  Always do a Reality Check. When everything is rosy and all your dreams are coming true, don't forget to look at everything and everyone around you. Do you still have time for them? Sometimes, we were too happy and excited we become blinded we didn't see anything else.

2015 had been amazing for me. I can't thank God enough for the blessings He showered me throughout the year. But of course it's not always rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes a part of your life will be roses, other parts will be thorns. But I am standing still. I chose to be and will always be a wildflower. ;)


Like wildflowers; you must allow yourself to grow in all places people thought you never would.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Schengen Visa Application for Filipino Tourists


As I write this post, I am still trying to absorb the fact that I already have my Schengen visa. It still seems unreal haha! ;) Not too long ago, I was so stressed trying to complete every single thing in the requirements list. I would even spend my rest days from work researching and trying to finish my itinerary. That's the most grueling part. Making a DIY Euro trip itinerary was difficult I almost gave up. I'm so glad I did not!

see you soon, Praha! photo by praguecitytourism.cz


Scheduling your Appointment:

Setting an appointment with the Czech Embassy is very easy. There are no costly phone calls unlike the other embassies.
  • You simply just have to go to their website or click here. Go to the link For lodging a visa application
  • You will receive an email to confirm your reservation. If you don't do this within an hour, your appointment will not be confirmed.
  • Print your confirmation email. This will grant you your entry at the Embassy. Now, you're good to go! ;)
Update as of October 1, 2015,  Schengen visa application times:
Tuesday and Wednesday
Requirements:

It's up to you whether you want to complete your requirements prior to setting your appointment or you want to do it after getting one. I've noticed that they always have immediate availability since they don't get as many applicants as the other European embassies. As for me, I only started taking the requirements seriously right after I set my appointment. I only had 12 days to prepare all of these.
  • Schengen Visa Application Form. You may download it from this link.  Instructions on how to fill-out the form correctly can also be accessed through that link. Also double-check additional instructions in Embassy's information board once you get there.
  • 1 piece Passport size (3.5 x 4.5 cm) picture in light background. It should be pasted/glued in the designated space in the Application Form.
  • Original Passport. It should be valid for at least 3 months after your intended date of departure from the Schengen area.
  • Accommodation Confirmation. I booked all of mine in Booking.com. All free cancellation and no pre-payment. No obligations even if you don't get a visa which is perfect.
  • Official Bank Certificate. The Official Bank Certificate must include a paragraph containing waiver of rights to release information to the Embassy of the Czech Republic - Visa Section or at least similar to that.
  •  You must also include any of the following documents to support your Bank Certificate:
    •  Bank Statements with transactions for the past 3 months
    • Copy of passbook showing transaction history
  • Roundtrip flight reservation/booking. You don't have to purchase your tickets yet. All you have to do is secure a booking at any airline of your choice.
  • Travel medical insurance. Follow this link for more details of the requirements by the Embassy. I got mine from Malayan for only for Php 2,310 for 45 days. They are the cheapest that I found. Keep in mind that your coverage should be the number of days of your stay plus 15 days.
  • Certificate of Employment
  • Leave Approval from your Employer or Direct Manager.
     Other Supporting Documents you may present:
  • Payslips for the past 3 months
  • Photocopy of ITR (Income Tax Return) or Form 2316*
  • Credit Card Statements for the past 6 months*
  • Photocopy of your previous passport visas and stamps
  • Photocopy of your Birth Certificate
They won't necessarily ask for all the other supporting documents I've mentioned. They asked me for my birth certificate which I don't have with me! So, I just offered to give them the first 3* on the list. After that, they were already satisfied. They no longer asked me for anything. They didn't even bother to ask me about my previous passport to check more of my travel history.


The Interview:
  • The guard collected our appointment confirmation email and we were asked to turn-off our phones before entering the embassy. 
  • He then told us to prepare our documents and the exact amount of the visa fee while waiting for our interview turn.
  • There is a small interview room so it'll just be you and the consul(s). Other applicants won't hear a thing.
  • When the consul(s) are already satisfied with your documents and with how your answered their questions, they will ask you for the visa fee which is PHP 3,030 during my time of application.
  • Then they will collect your biometrics (fingerprints).
  • After this, they will ask you to just wait for your receipt outside. Along with the receipt is some sort of a claim stub.

Passport Pickup:
  • Their processing of Short-term or Schengen visa usually takes 5 to 15 working days.
  • There will be no definite date as to when you will get the result. You will need to follow-up on the status of your own application via phone at least 5 working days from the date you applied.
  • Follow-up calls can be done at these times only:
    Monday through Thursday 2:00pm – 4:00pm
    Friday 9:00am – 12:00nn
  • Passports may be picked up at these times: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 12:00 nn to 1:00 pm unless otherwise stated.
5 business days after my application, my passport is already good for pickup. That fast!

weee! I am so going to Europe!!! :)


Honestly, I wasn't very sure whether I'm going to get a visa or not. Especially when I remember how shocked the Consul was when I told her I'll be traveling alone in Europe haha. I also had some doubts because my new passport currently just have Thailand stamps, India VOA and Korean Visa. I forgot to show them my old passport which has 5 years of my travel history because they didn't ask for it.

But hey, all my doubts were unfounded because I was granted a visa! Woohoo! :)

Thank you very much, Czech Embassy! DÄ›kuji! :) 


Embassy Address:

Embassy of the Czech Republic
30/F, Rufino Pacific Tower
6784 Ayala Avenue
Makati City, Philippines 
Telephone: 811-1155, 811-1156


While preparing for this trip, I always remind myself the mantra: If you can't stop thinking about it, don't stop working for it. I dreamed about going to Europe for the longest time. Now, I am one step closer to that dream. ;)




All our dreams can come true, if  we have the courage to pursue them. ~Walt Disney

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Simunul Island and Understanding Islam in the Philippines

Our first day in Tawi-Tawi was action-packed. After our visit in Bongao's Badjao Village, we were already off to visit the island of Simunul. The port is just walking distance from downtown. They call it the Chinese Pier. I was actually at lost as to why it is called that way because I never saw a single trace of Chinese here, not even a Chinese person hehe. I found out that a long time ago, this was where the Chinese merchants used to trade their goods along with the Malays and Arabs. Probably, they were the majority or they trade more frequently that's why it was named after them.

the very busy Chinese Pier

We went back to the pier just in time. The boat is already starting to get filled - both with human and goods, a lot of goods. You see, Tawi-Tawi is an island province. Municipalities are divided into different group of islands, so the islanders usually buy everything they need from the capital.

onboard with the friendly locals

As the boat began to sail away from Bongao, that was when we started to see the real beauty of Tawi-Tawi. That was when we first saw the houses and structures on stilt on a better point of view.

This is Tawi-Tawi

Everything was so photogenic. The busy pier and all the activities happening made me click non-stop. It was like the ghats in Varanasi, India wherein anywhere you look at, there's something interesting to capture.

these boats will take you wherever you like
People from this province made everything distinctly theirs. Their way of life is very much unique from the rest of the Philippines and I love it!

a typical Tawi-Tawi gas station ;)

The boat ride lasts an hour and a half. There are locals who preferred to just sleep it off. This was all new and exciting to me, so I didn't sleep at all. I just observed the locals and waited until the island slowly appears.

a family that naps together, stays together
It was low tide when we arrived. The island looked charming from afar. Part of it is verdant and the other side is adorned by the lovely stilt houses.

Well, Hello Simunul Island!

Another thing I noticed as we come close to the port is the crystal clear water! You can see through the bottom of it. I can see all the starfishes under the water. It was unbelievably clean for a place near the residential houses.

just wow :)
On the left side of the port, you will see these beautiful houses on stilt. We alighted from the boat, obviously looking like a tourist as we kept looking around in wonder haha.

the gorgeous stilt houses of Simunul
We were immediately approached by our host as we were the only tourists on board the boat. Our host happens to be a councilor here, Kagawad Ammad. After feeding us with so much food for lunch, he and his wife Auntie Taiba showed us around.


They live in Barangay Bohe-Indangan which literally translates to "water of life".  If you notice in the photos, the streets were still decorated with colorful banderitas. It just so happened that the day before we arrived, they have just celebrated the birth of Islam in the Philippines. Yes, it all started right in this very island.

Sheik Makhdum Mosque

Here arose the very first mosque in our country named after Sheik Karimul Makhdum, a Arabian trader and missionary who first introduced Islam in the Philippines. Islam reached the Philippine shores back in 1380, long before the Spaniards brought Christianity here.


Our hosts took us to the mosque and proudly told us of its history. It is a two-storey structure. The men prays in the ground floor, while women's designated praying area is at the second floor.

the interior of the mosque

The four original pillars they call "hags"of the old mosque can still be found inside. These Ipil wood pillars are so sturdy to be still standing until now! It deserves its declaration as a National Historical Landmark. We touched it and whispered some prayers.

Beau with one of the hag


This mosque is popular to our Muslim brothers and sisters. If they can, they try to attend the anniversary celebration or just simply visit the mosque when they can. This place is very sacred for them since this is where Islam started. Kagawad Ammad told us that even Robin Padilla took time to visit their island just to see this mosque.


Then they took us to where there barangay is named after. We hiked a little farther from the mosque and headed to the "land area", I mean far from the stilt villages hehe. I was a little anxious at first because we were heading to a somewhat deserted part of the barangay but knowing that we were with an official who is widely respected in the area, made me feel at ease in no time.

hiking to Bohe-Indangan

We finally reached our destination, the Tubig Indangan. It is an inland natural source of water in the barangay. It used to be their source of fresh water but now locals use this for bathing. If it wasn't that late we would probably try bathing here too.

Bohe Indangan/Tubig Indangan

The clear water was cold and I bet refreshing. Too bad we couldn't bathe anymore hehe. Of course we had to take photos here with our host family.

obligatory photo with our hosts :)

We walked back towards the stilt village and they let us explore it for the first time.


I don't know about you, but for me it is really beautiful. Those simple houses standing in the water, they were gorgeous.

a happy kid :)

One thing that amazed me was how clean the water appears to be. I mean, that's where they live. And I am pretty sure their wastes go in there too but the water doesn't look polluted at all. The children treat outside of their houses as their own swimming pool.

with the beautiful stilt houses of Simunul
Another purpose of us coming to this place is to buy ourselves some seafood freshly caught by the Badjao residents. We were able to buy some saang (spider conch or spider shell in English) for dinner.

We were also able to observe there way of life while we were there. They normally cook outside the house. Instead of rice, they were fond of cooking cassava as their staple food. They are undoubtedly curious about strangers but very friendly and welcoming.

a multi-tasking Badjao woman. she's cooking while breastfeeding her baby
Before it gets dark, we returned to our home for the day. Not all areas and houses are being supplied with electricity. Back in the house, we were once again fed by our kind hosts. It was seafood galore! No we did not complain, it was everything we wanted. ;)

seafood! yum!!!

We were only in Simunul for an overnight stay. The following day, we were once again at the port catching the boat going back to Bongao as we were heading to another island. It was rather a short stay but nevertheless, we enjoyed it so much.

one of the last photos I took from the port before leaving Simunul
Visiting this island made me have a deeper understanding of how Islam reached the Philippines and why our fellow Filipinos in this part of the country are predominantly Muslims. I also hope that one day people will erase their misconceptions about this part of Mindanao.

They are some of the most peace-loving and kindest people we've ever met. They don't judge people based on their religion. They welcomed us to their home and took care of us like a family would do. While eating, I was never asked to eat again and again but here! They look after their visitors very well. I wish I can witness their celebration of Islam anniversary next time. Until then, Simunul! ;) 

"Tolerance and celebration of individual differences is the fire that fuels lasting love." ~Tom Hannah



This is Part 4 of my Zamboanga-Tawi-Tawi travel series.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Day I Started to Fall in Love with Tawi-Tawi

I fell in love twice last year. First with Batanes, then with Tawi-Tawi. Both of these provinces were on the farthest tip of the country - one on the north, the other one on the south. Does that make me a bipolar? Haha! Let me start telling you how I learned to love this province at the southern tip of the Philippines.

Touchdown Tawi-Tawi
Cebu Pacific has one daily flight from Zamboanga City to Tawi-Tawi. Being an early morning flight,  we arrived in this island province at around 7:40 AM. It is just a one hour flight from Zambo.

provincial map at the tourism office

As soon as we arrived, we headed to the Tourism Office at the airport to ask for information and help on how we're going to execute our planned itinerary. They were very busy at that time, especially their Tourism Head (Ms Salve) because they have prominent guests that they need to attend to.

Tawi-Tawi's little airport
Ms Salve left us to the care of Ate Sidang and I will be forever thankful for that. You will find out why on the next posts. When we finalized our itinerary and game plan, Ate Sidang took us to a local restaurant for lunch.

with our super guide Ate Sidang :)
I didn't see a name outside but they serve Malaysian food. I thought it was so-so, but man, it was so good! I never thought we would find an authentic tasting Malaysian food here in this part of Pinas. They looked like regular dishes but once you tasted it, you would want to eat more and more.

our mee goreng and nasi ayam goreng

I know that Nasi Ayam Goreng looks like an ordinary omelette rice, I even thought to myself "where is the ayam (chicken) here?" But when you actually open the omelette topping, the chicken strips are with the fried rice inside and it was seasoned perfectly. Yum!

my first sight of Tawi stilt houses
We headed to the port as soon as we finished lunch to check on the boat that will take us to Simunul Island, our first island destination.

passenger boats going to the islands
Ate Sidang inquired first about the boat's departure time and informed someone from there that we'll be joining them for that ride. Next stop, wet street market!

fresh fishes and the jolly fishermen :)

We bought our food supplies especially veggies because in the islands there are rarely vegetables available.

cooked fishes and their friendly tinderas :)
Tawi-Tawi is a seafood lover paradise. All sorts of fishes, you can find here. You want it fresh, cooked or dried - they have it! We can't be any happier!

dried fishes :)
Our last stop before boarding the boat was the Badjao Village. We were not here just to sight see. We were also here to purchase the traditional colorful mats woven by the Badjao ladies. That's the most beautiful souvenir you can take home from Tawi-Tawi.

Bongao's Badjao Village

It was quite a hike from the main road and the trail was rocky and muddy. You wouldn't think you're heading to a stilt house village. Ate Sidang took us to the home of the "bagsakan" of the mats. Too bad I forgot her name! Sheez. She was the one selling them in behalf of all the ladies weaving these gorgeous mats because not all of them can converse in Tagalog.

the lovely Badjao weavers :)

To give you an idea, the biggest "fully-finished" mat ranges from Php 3000-3500. I said fully-finished because they also sell mats with unfinished edges for a cheaper price. You might think it's expensive but if you'll just imagine how long it takes for them to finish weaving one mat with all those colors and different designs, you'll get it. It was so worth it.

gorgeous, gorgeous mats!

We really enjoyed talking and haggling with them. They were all so nice and they will show you all of their works without forcing you to buy them. They are just so proud to present their labor of love. At the end, we were all happy with what we purchased from them.

yey! satisfied customers
On our way out, we noticed how this place is poverty stricken. Just seeing how they live made me realize how lucky I am that I was living a different life.

a simple and scarce life
What made it heartwarming was, no matter how hard their lives seem to be, they are still happy. They don't have much, but they can still laugh. Looking back at all of the photos in this blog post, all I can see in the people's faces were genuine smiles.

a one big happy family :)
Whether it was our tour guide who rarely gets visitors to tour around, the fishermen who came from fishing the other night, the vendors selling under the heat of the sun, the lady weavers who painstakingly create mats for weeks or months only to sell them for Php 3000 or the family who almost have a bare home. Their smiles show real happiness.

Back in the city, we complain about our commuting woes. We complain about how hot the weather is even though we have electric fans and ACs. We complain about the smallest things in our daily lives. I am not saying we shouldn't. But maybe we should learn how to be content and to count our blessings instead. They don't have all that we have. We are living a much more comfortable life. That is already enough reason to be happy. :)

"We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have." ~Frederick Keonig



This is Part 3 of my Zamboanga-Tawi-Tawi travel series.