Wednesday, July 31, 2013

El Nido - Part 1

Previous travel blog was about Corregidor. We saved the best for last, El Nido.

from the el nido resorts website

We booked our cottage from El Nido Resorts - Lagen and for those who might not have heard of El Nido Resorts yet, they have 4 resorts. Miniloc is the cheapest, Lagen is a little pricier and the favorite among honeymooners, they have another one in Apulit but is no longer part of El Nido (it's in Taytay) and their most expensive resort, the Pangulasian (which they just recently opened late last year, 2012).

the little plane
We're supposed to get to the ITI Manila airport really early because I booked the earliest departure. El Nido Resort - Lagen isn't what I will call cheap so of course I want to make sure we get our money's worth. Problem is, they had to move our flight to later in the day. Which means instead of getting there before noon, we'll get there in the afternoon. But they made up for it by giving us a free complimentary massage (yes, all four of us).
El Nido Lounge

El Nido Resort has a decent lounge area, and they had food and coffee and juice which pretty much what kept us busy while waiting for our flight, lol. Come boarding time we were all herded to a twin-turboprop STOL aircraft (Donier Do 228 aircraft). I was a bit scared to take that flight because I have heard a lot of horror stories from co-workers and friends who took the same flight and they told me about how rough the flight was and the nasty turbulence but I survived. We lucked out and had a smooth flight both to and from El Nido. There were several of us on the plane, some are bound to Miniloc and some same as us, to Lagen.

inside the plane
When we got to the ITI El Nido airport we were greeted by a group of women wearing a traditional Filipino costume, singing and dancing complete with a real carabao as props. By this time, my guests are so used to the sight of carabao already that the only thing they noticed are the women singing. They thought it was a nice touch. We then waited at their lounge which is simpler than the one in Manila but it has benches to sit on, it has rest rooms, it's clean and most of all has snacks! We were offered 3-in-1 coffee and some rice cakes (biko) while we wait for the jeepney that would take us to the dock where our boat to El Nido Resort is waiting for us.

Ten El-ni DOs (i thought this is cute)

welcoming us with a song

jeepney and the dock

When we got to the dock they gave each of us a life jacket then we walked towards the boat. The Miniloc guests and Lagen guests have their own separate boats. The boat ride to Lagen resort took about an hour. It was a very pleasant ride and while my guests were busy admiring the scenery I was busy watching my guests faces, there's amazement written all over their faces. I love and I'm proud of my country and I am always eager to show anyone around (both foreigner or local) and there's always a certain pride and satisfaction on my part whenever I see amazement on my guests faces whenever I get to show them scenery that they have never seen before, specially when they are foreigners. If you're a Filipino, I'm sure you know what I mean. You know how it is, when foreigners hear the word "Philippines"" the first thing that comes to their mind is trash and squatters. I want to change that association, that perception. I want all foreigners to think of turquoise waters and white sand beaches and colorful marine life and warm & friendly people whenever they hear the word Philippines. Anyway, I digress.

boat ride to El Nido Resorts - Lagen

Like I said it was almost an hour boat ride but you won't get bored. We saw different islands and limestone cliff along the way. Plus the ocean breeze and tiny splashes of water touching my skin is enough to entertain me. What can I say, I love the ocean! We also got some free island trivias from one of the boat men and he even pointed to us the island where Bourne Supremacy movie was shot. Then suddenly the boat ride is over and we were at El Nido Resorts - Lagen!


It's hard not to smile. The only word I can think of at that moment is PARADISE! It is so tempting to brag. It's so tempting to tell each one of the foreign guests on the boat: "I live here, in this country, the Philippines! Do you know that we have lots of these here?". But I kept my poise and just smiled. And smiled some more. This is the reason why inspite of "pasaway" government officials and "bobo" voters I still love my country.

Lagen Resort view

Lagen Resort swimming pool area

walkway to our over the water cottage

to our rooms

After we got off the boat, we were greeted by our Tour and Activity coordinator (which unfortunately, I forgot the name). We were also greeted by yet another singing and dancing crews but this time they were just wearing their white shirt and khaki uniform.

That wasn't the only thing that greeted us, we were greeted by this very pretty sunset as well...

sunset in Lagen, El Nido

our cottage
(all water cottages have balcony with gorgeous view of the ocean)

We booked 3 over the water cottages, even if it cost a bit more, just because the hubby was so hung-up on going to Bora-Bora, lol (we're supposed to go there for our honeymoon and book one of those over the water huts with glass flooring, but we realized that for the same money we'll spend for just the two of us in Bora Bora, we could instead take our guests to El Nido and all 4 of us can have fun!). So anyway, 3 over the water cottages, one for the hubby and I, one for the sister-in-law (her husband is supposed to come with us & this is supposedly our 2nd honeymoon gift for them but he cancelled the last minute..oh well, his loss) and one for our bestman. We spent our first day getting comfortable. Oh, did I mention I like their attention for details? Like their turn down service (see photo below). I always look forward to going to our room after a hectic day to see what's waiting for us on our bed which is sometimes a tiny bird origami-like made of pandan leaf, or a leaf with our names on it and a "sleep well" or "good night" message and! there's always the pastillas candy

turn down service
i wish i have asked them how to make this

the bag for island hopping..
the pamphlet is a check list of
all the fishes you will and can
find in the waters of El Nido
All my guests enjoyed this trip, specially the hubby. They keep saying it's paradise. The hubby have always wanted to go to Bora-bora (in Tahiti) but he said El Nido is better. He thinks Bora-bora won't have several beaches to go beach-hopping to, or there won't be any big and small lagoons. There won't be any of those amazing geological formations (limestone cliffs). For him (and my other guests) it's an amazing, amazing experience. Ofcourse ang ngiti ko hanggang tenga, nagsalubong pa nga sa batok e, lol.

My sister-in-law is still thanking me for it everytime she sees me and still can't stop talking about it to his co-workers/friends/family member. Good. I don't want her to hate me forever because of the Corregidor trip that I made her endure, lol.

Succeeding El Nido blogs would be all about the amazing islands, sand bars and lagoons in El Nido. What to do, what to bring, what to expect. I'll tell you about our private raft dinner at the big lagoon. The hidden beach, secret beach, the turtle island, just to name a few. More photos like below to follow too.

i'll tell you where this is in the next blog

where we had lunch on our day 2

note: all photos by yours truly unless otherwise specified...please do not use any photos without permission

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Corregidor and the Manila Sunset Cruise

After going to Villa Escudero and Tagaytay (my favorite get-away that's close to Manila), our next stop was Corregidor.

It was January 22, 2013, Tuesday. We got to the port at around 6:45AM because I booked the 7:30 AM departure and we're supposed to check-in at 7:00AM. I booked the earliest departure because since it's a whole day tour, I want to make sure we make it back on time for the Sunset Dinner Cruise (Php550/pax) that I booked on the same day. I booked the guided tour with lunch which is Php2,200/pax (weekday rate) thru Sun Cruises.

the sun cruises tour bus with the
lighthouse in the background
signs by the light house

 A word of caution, if your guest is not a history buff, specially if she's a female, don't take her here, most specially, don't take her inside the Malinta Tunnel Light and Sound show (Php200.00/person). That was the mistake I did. I took my sister-in-law in the Malinta Tunnel Light and Sound show and she started shaking. I had to take her out even if we just got in. She later on recounted that was the only depressing part of the trip. I just thought it would be cool to bring them there because they have heard of Corregidor and ofcourse because of of MacArthur and the famous "I shall return" and all world war 2 stories associated with it.

The hubby and our best man, on the other hand, liked it. They thought the sound effect in the Malinta Tunnel is cool. The hubby also enjoyed the lunch after the tour and he thought Corregidor island is really nice.

inside the Malinta tunnel
(photo by sister-in-law)


They saw all the memorials and battery parks and barracks and even the light house. We didn't climb the lighthouse except for our best man. It was also in Corregidor when the hubby first encountered the "makahiya" (shy plant).

makahiya from bluemarlinfish on Vimeo.

longest barracks
After the Corregidor trip, I took them to a Manila Sunset Dinner Cruise. Nothing fancy, just a table with musician and the view of the Manila Bay and the surrounding areas. It was cloudy that day and we didn't see too much of the sunset but they still enjoyed their very modest dinner cruise. The food is good and they have live music on board. It was a male guitarist with a very nice voice. My sister-in-law said that cruise was so relaxing it wiped out the depressing Corregidor trip, lol. Yeah, she really hate that trip, lol. I think she still doesn't understand why someone would bring someone to a depressing place like that, lol. But hey, to each his own. Like I said the hubby and our bestman enjoyed that trip.

the very modest Manila sunset dinner cruise

So far, they saw bits of history by touring Old Manila by riding a Segway and going to Corregidor. They saw the famous Manila sunset (they saw this also during their Old Manila Segway tour). They dined by the falls and experienced sleeping in a cottage made of bamboo overlooking a serene river in Villa Escudero. They got to watch a cultural show (which I was so proud they saw, thanks Villa Escudero) They saw the tiniest (which could very much also be the largest) volcano called Taal Volcano. They had their first Bulalo and tried my favorite restaurant in Tagaytay. Saw how the Philippines are so obssessed about their malls (lol) and how awesome we do our malls. They saw what our wet market looks like, how we haggle and got to eat at Dampa. What's left is to show them what the Philippines is really famous for... THE BEACHES!

 coming up next, El Nido.

note: all photos by yours truly unless otherwise specified...please do not use any photos without permission

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Where is Ayeen

i like this US map, because this shows what a state has to offer and i can mark which ones i've been to already (kaaliw syang tingnan)....i wish i can find the same thing for the Philippines...

click to see the whole image

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sleepless in Seattle .....and Portland - Part 2

A few days ago I blogged about the first two days of our Seattle visit. Here's the continuation.

3rd Day.


A few years ago I have chanced upon this show on the Food Network about a certain doughnut house in Portland and I remember writing it on my white board at my old apartment so I would remember it.

That place is Voodoo Doughnuts.

left: maple bacon
right: voodoo doll doughnut
notice the pink box
(click image to see the whole photo)

We decided to go to the farthest destination first, which is Portland, where the Voodoo Doughnuts is, before going to Mt. St. Helens. I figured if we do Voodoo Doughnuts last, we might get so tired from the Mt. St. Helens tour and get tempted to skip going to Portland because it's farther. I'm sure glad we did this first.

We left Seattle at 6:45 am and we got to Portland around 9:30 am but the line is long already! We had to wait for almost an hour for our turn but it's worth it. I was looking online what we should order that we can eat right there and we narrowed it down to maple bacon and voodoo doll. I'm not really expecting too much on the maple bacon, I just want to order it for, yep, the bragging rights, lol, but I was surprised that it's actually good! The hubby isn't really thrill about his voodoo doll doughnut either, the raspberry filling is turning him off, but he was surprised too when he took a bite. The raspberry filling and the chocolate frosting on doughnuts go well together.

the signature voodoo doughnut
voodoo doughnuts
waiting to be frosted

We also ordered a dozen assorted to take home with us back to Philly.  We just asked them to give us two voodoo dolls and the rest can be anything.  By the way, if you plan to bring home a box bring a bag with a wide base to make it easier to carry the box. Try to order 2 half a dozen so the box would be smaller and it would be easier to find a bag (ie: recyclable grocery bag) that you can put the boxes to. Also, it would be better if you have a cooler to store the boxes of doughnuts at least until you're flight back home. Ours got melted and the voodoo donuts looked like it has been massacred, lol.

it already melted when we came back from portland
but it didn't change the taste
(2 voodoo dolls & captain crunch not in photo)

Another tip, even if the doughnut name/flavor sounds weird (like cock and balls, dirt doughnut, tex ass, just to name a few) or the doughnut itself looks funny/disgusting you can't go wrong with any doughnuts that has chocolate, maple or cream frosting. Take the bacon maple for example, the maple frosting is sooo good and the bacon, oddly enough, added more taste to it. Reminds me of champurado and daeng (sweet and salty combination). Anyway, their frostings are really good, you're in good hands. I like the Toasted coconut and Marshall matters too. Click me for more flavors.

saw this while in line for voodoo doughnuts.
i don't know what to make of it, lol

Mt. St. Helen

Originally, we weren't planning to rent a car and we just booked a tour operator who would pick us up at our Seattle hotel and would take us to Mt. St. Helens but they cancelled on us. That tour is $225/pax and called Mt. St. Helens Small Group Tour.   The hubby was so disappointed that he went looking for alternatives and he found the Helicopter Tour of the Mt. St. Helens. I wasn't thrilled about it because it's expensive (it's $289/pax) but the hubby insisted and promised me that I would love it and he made a deal on how we can split the cost (like I will pay for the car rental while he pays for this) so I concurred, lol. The hubby booked the "Summit and Crater and Devastated Area" tour which is for 38 to 42 minutes. Here's the tour map of the flight we booked.

The helipad is located at Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center. It's also an interesting visitor center with lots of information and videos about what the place surrounding Mt. St. Helen's looks like before it erupted. They also have a restaurant called the Fire Mountaing Grill and it offers good burgers. We were there early because they want us there atleast 30 minutes before our scheduled time for the briefing and paperwork but we got there way too early.

left: approaching mt. st helen, below: flying on top of
mt. st. helen's crater

We were planning to go to the Johnston Ridge Observatory first before taking our helicopter tour but upon calculation, we realized that if we go there first we'll only have 30 minutes there and we had to drive down to Hoffstadt. From where we were (driving from Portland) we'll pass by Hoffstadt Bluffs first, then another 35 to 45-min drive to Johnston Ridge. So we said forget it and just went straight to Hoffstadt Bluffs even if we're 2 hours early. We were half wishing too that we could get an earlier tour (which we didn't). So after checking-in for our tour the receptionist told us they'll call us when they're ready for us so we just sat outside the restaurant (they have lots of tables outside, which we believe is the better place to sit) and ordered food and wine (actually, just soda for me).

Two hours and 15 minutes later we're ready to fly!

Below is the 40-minute video that we chopped off into a 10-minute video. If you just want to see the mt. st. helen crater slide your play bar to 4:17.

GoPro version: Mt St Helens' Helicopter Tour from bluemarlinfish on Vimeo.

It was a very very nice experience. It was my first helicopter ride so I was really nervous. I'm not afraid of heights as long as what I'm standing on isn't moving but the helicopter does and it has a glass floor so it took me a while before I got used to it. I think it helped too that I got distracted with the scenery. Our pilot/tour guide was amazing. We went around the crater 3x times and each time we are closer to the crater than the previous that we even saw steam coming out from the crater.

Next, it's time to finally drive up to Johnston Ridge Observatory. From what I have researched, this has the best lookout point (there are others dotting along the road to the Johnston Ridge). They are open from 10am - 6pm, 7 days a week. There's a fee of $8/pax. Don't miss the free show and try to sit at the very front. I also like the exhibit of the miniature Mt. St. Helen where they show the  flow of the landslide, pyroclastic flow, mudslide, ash flow thru tiny lights. It was pretty interesting. You just have to click a certain button to start it. You won't miss the button, it's right around the sides of the miniature helen and it's big and it blinks.

after the show, visitors flocked to the window

After the show we decided to do a little hiking on one of the available trails at the Johnston Ridge Observatory. We only hiked for almost an hour then decided to head back because it's already 6:00pm and the Johnston Ridge Observatory is already closed plus we want to hit the road early and we want to get back to Seattle before it gets dark.

that's how far we hiked and we haven't even scratched the surface

By the way, do you know you can hike to the crater of Mt. St. Helen? Not inside the crater though because they have a fine of $150 if you did.

the hikers... didn't notice them until the helicopter pilot pointed it out to us
The Mt. St. Helen is amazing but the one thing I really can't go over with and really struck me the most are the trees blown down by the eruption. The direction where all the trees are facing and how you can see them strewn over hills after hills after hills is amazing. That gives you an idea of the vastness of the eruption and the direction of the eruption.  As you can see from the photos below, while some of the trees where still standing up, albeit dead, the others are just strewn on the grounds like toothpicks.


view from the helicopter
hills after hills of tress strewn
on the ground like toothpicks

closer view
amazing how they all face the same direction (upwards/downwards no horizontals)
and yes, these are full grown trees
This reminds me of the Tunguska event in Russia. Where a meteorite exploded in mid-air and knocked over the trees because of the blast. Google for images and compare it with the photos I have above.

Anyway, enough of the nerdiness. There you have it! Seattle and Mt. St. Helen. We wish to go back again some other time and do Mt. Rainier next and maybe hop on a ferry to go to the Tukwila village  and maybe cross over to Vancouver, Canada.

Mt. St. Helen crater with
Mt. Adam (or is that Mt. Rainier)
in the background
(click for better image)
inside the crater,
the growing lava dome
of Mt. St. Helen
(click for better image)
view of Mt. St. Helen
from the helicopter
(click for better image)

all photos and videos by yours truly, please do not use without permission.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sleepless in Seattle... and Portland - Part 1

It was Memorial Day weekend and we were enjoying our dinner at a revolving restaurant called Chart House on top of the Tower of Americas in San Antonio, Texas when we decided we want to go try the restaurant at the Space Needle too. Yes, in Seattle.

So we booked our flights for the July 4th weekend.

1st day.
Our flight was (PHL) 3:54pm - (SEA) 6:48pm. Duration, 5 hours and 54 minutes. We drove to Smart Park (hubby's favorite airport parking) around past noon.

When we landed at Sea-Tac Airport and after claiming our luggage, we went straight to where the shuttle is that would take us to the car rental (Enterprise). I pestered the hubby to go to Jollibee first  because it was just 1.5 miles from the car rental. The hubby is a fan of chickenjoy and he enjoys the spaghetti so he was also looking forward to it. Unfortunately, they close early that day at 7:00pm, it's supposed to be open until 10:00pm. Maybe because it was 4th of July.

We went straight to our hotel instead and then later went out to go and check-out some of the restaurants at the Post Alley. It's very close to the Pike Place Market and Westin Seattle (our hotel) is just walking distance to Pike Place Market so it's the perfect place.

our hotel from the monorail
Most of the restaurants are closed and we ended up having dinner at a French Brasserie called Cafe Campagne. I ordered their Duck Confit and the hubby ordered Coq Au Vin. We both enjoyed our dinner.
Duck Confit
photo from their Cafe Campagne's website
There were 4th of July fireworks at the Gas Works Park but we were so tired (remember, Seattle has a 3-hour difference from Philly, ie: 11pm in Seattle is 2am in Philly) we decided to skip it and just watched the fireworks from the window at our hotel room instead.

2nd Day.

outdoor dining place

dry blood anyone?
Woke up early to have my Jollibee breakfast. I ordered beef tapa and hubby had his chicken joy and spaghetti, his favorite combination.
Then we head back to downtown Seattle to buy a ticket for the  Bill Speidel's Underground Tour.  We got there 5 minutes late for the noon tour so we had to wait another hour for the 1pm tour. We just spent the next 45 minutes in an outdoor resto called Delicatus.

Hubby ordered wine while I ordered diet coke, which they don't have and they gave me (what they claim is like a diet coke)  Dry Blood Orange Soda, instead. I just drank half of it and gave the rest to the hubby. It tastes like flavored club soda.

The Underground Tour is interesting because of it's history and lots of interesting stories and trivia but for someone who's finicky you might not enjoy this. There are some curious smell and you will feel like your trespassing into someone's abandoned very old basement. If you think you can handle that then I would suggest that you still try this for the experience.

this is supposed to be a walkway...
the hotel or store entrance is to your left.
click for better view

Then we headed to the Pike Place Market  next, just because I really want to go to the First Starbucks store (yeah, yeah, jologs alert, I don't care, lol).

piroshky bakery
I'm not really a die-hard Starbucks fan, but I want to see it for bragging rights, lol. So we went to Pike Place Market first. There are lots of artworks and some weird stuff being sold there and of course fresh fish, veggies and fruits. We really didn't stay there too long and was just passing by.

While we were on our way to Starbucks we saw this long line at Piroshky and we got curious. So hubby and I decided to divide and conquer, lol. I went in line at the Piroshky while the hubby proceeded to Starbucks. One of Piroshky's best sellers is Beef and Cheese so I ordered that and most people in line were ordering Potato and Cheese so I ordered that too.
We like the Beef and Cheese very much but not so much with the Potato and Cheese. It doesn't taste bad but I guess it was just overshadowed by the Beef and Cheese because we tasted that first. The line at the Piroshky moved fast so even if it has a long line there's really not too much waiting compared with Starbucks line that the hubby swears never moved. We made it though and we bought the famous First Starbucks Store mug and I also decided to get their vintage-design tumbler.

inside the first starbucks store

The highlight of our day 2 was our dinner inside the Space Needle. This structure has been around since December 1961. There's a revolving restaurant at the very top called Sky City, which we made sure we book in advance. Tip: try to dress nice (no jeans, no shorts) when you go there for your reservation. This would give you higher chances of getting a good table, yes, the window seat.

space needle: it's old but it never gets old

Our hotel is very close to the Monorail, so we took a monorail ($2.25 fare, one way) to the Space Needle. When we got to the Space Needle, there is a separate elevator for the restaurant. From the Monorail walk towards the Space Needle and walk to you right until you find another entrance door that has the SkyCity sign. Go to the receiving area and inform them of your reservation. They would then give you those lighting/vibrating thingie that would tell you if your table is ready. Before we went up the elevator the receptionist told us that even if our reservation is not until 30 minutes (we got there early) after we reached the view deck (it's the first stop) she suggested that we go one floor down (where the restaurant is) to request for a window seat. We were with some other Sky City diners who were dressed in capris and shorts and jeans in the elevator but they weren't given instructions like we had. So as instructed, after everyone got off the elevator to the viewing deck, the hubby and I went one flight down to the restaurant's reception area. I let the hubby do the talking and we were amused when the receptionist immediately said: "we actually have one available right now!". Which means we didn't have to wait for that vibrating thingie to vibrate/light-up, they just walk us straight to our table by the window.


view of downtown Seattle from the revolving restaurant
The awesome-ness of the night didn't stop there. The food is exceptionally good too. I ordered the Carlton Farms Pork chop and the hubby ordered the Wild King Salmon and a bottle of Beringer (my brand) White Zinfandel that the hubby and I shared. We finished our meal with a dessert called Lunar Orbiter (see video). We're supposed to just order one and share but the hubby pressed the 'stop recording' button while I was giving him the camera that we weren't able to catch the dessert "show" on video, so the hubby ordered another one, haha. Labo eh no, haha. But it's good so it's still not a waste of money.

LunarOrbiter from bluemarlinfish on Vimeo.

Oh, and they give you a complimentary professional photo at the restaurant too. There's a lady photographer going around and asking if you want your picture taken (of course we said yes!), took our photos and gave us a card that we need to scan to get our pictures. We got ours during sunset and it turned great. After dinner we just scanned the picture card at their viewing deck (one floor up from the restaurant). They would just give you an option to send it to you via email. Sorry, no prints.

After dinner we were contemplating on going to a bar and get some drinks (we want to check out a particular bar we saw in the magazine but the name slips me at the moment) but we decided to just skip it. It would be an early day for us the next day because we'll be driving to Portland and Mt. St. Helens. We called it a day at 11:30pm.

...coming up  next: 3rd day - Voodoo Doughnuts and the Hike/Helicopter ride to Mt. St. Helens...
update: done! click me

all photos and videos by yours truly, please do not use without permission.