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.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Schengen Visa Application at the Czech Embassy Manila


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! Děkuji! :) 


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.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Where to Eat in Zamboanga City: Barcode

We didn't stay that long in Zambo City so I can't recommend several restaurants there. But in our couple of days, I can say that we can vouch for this one. The first time we tried eating in Barcode was on our first night in the city.

Rizal St. branch
We went to Paseo del Mar which is a popular hangout for the locals at night. There was this one restaurant there that was packed. Almost all seats were occupied and everyone dining there seemed to be happy. That was how we picked this restaurant.

Barcode @ Paseo del Mar
We had Seafood Platter and Sizzling Squid. We didn't wait that long for our food to be served. Awesome.

seafood platter for Php 308


The seafood platter is good enough for 3 people or 2 if you eat quite a lot haha. The sizzling squid however is just good for 2.

sizzling squid for Php 118
We liked how both of our dishes were cooked. They only serve Pinoy food by the way.

Zamboanga City is known for a dessert called Knickerbocker. It is a mixture of tropical fruits, gelatin, milk and strawberry ice cream. Barcode refused to call it knickerbocker though. They call it Fruity Crumble. The rice crispies and barquillos on top were their signature add-ons.

Fruity Crumble for Php 65

The night was young when we finished our dessert, so we ordered some beer and enjoyed the band performance. Yep, they have live bands and singers there and they are pretty good. That was how our first Barcode experience went. It was a fun night.


We were very satisfied during our first dining experience with them that when we came back from Tawi-Tawi, it was also here that we had our lunch. This time, we tried their other branch in Rizal St.

restaurant interior


What we had on our second time was Lengua and Blue Marlin - both sizzling! Yum!

sizzling lengua for Php 118

I'm not a fan of animal tongue for a dish. Eeekk... I just let the boys chow the Lengua down so I can't give a comment on that. But it sure looks yummy, right?

sizzling blue marlin for Php 118
The Blue Marlin on the other hand is my thing. I love fish dishes. It was freshly cooked and the cream sauce was delish. Loved it!

it's fruity crumble time again! :)
Of course, we ended our meal with another glass of fruity crumble again hehe. It's not everyday that I can have this!

check out their menu
Their prices are really affordable. Serving size is good enough for the price. The food quality is also superb, that's why we never looked for another resto when we came back. Customer service is good as well.

If you find yourself in Zamboanga City, try dining in Barcode. They have 2 branches to serve you. One in Paseo del Mar and the other one in Rizal St.

Enjoy! ;)