Calauit Weekend

I’m in Coron town as I write this; at the nice Acacia Garden Inn on a quiet road parallel the noisy highway. It’s been 15 years since my last and only trip here and I barely recognize the place. The two nights I spent at Calauit with the team facilitating workshops with the Tagbanua were wonderful. I never ever did any research in Palawan so I quickly grabbed the opportunity to join the team. I never had a better field site with so much food. Never was a fan of seafood but the fish was so fresh and I never had local octopus before.

It was an experience hearing samples of tablay, a traditional Tagbanua song and the Cuyunon carol, “El Señor Tagbalay” which I only ever heard through recordings. I got all these data via an impromptu “Tagbanua Got Talent” contest.

There are still so much to learn from the locals and they promised to bring some music instruments next time.

After our delicious lunch 8f crabs, octopus, and lomi, we set-off for the other side. We took a bigger boat this time which managed to fit all of us plus our stuff back to the pier on the other side. It was still high tide thus we managed to dock at the concrete pier which had much better steps. Another 2 hour bus ride and we’re back in Coron town.

I will miss the water and the beautiful sunrise that greets me each time I get up.

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Beautiful Calauit

I arrived at the small rickety pier at Quezon, a small town at one end of Busuanga. It was a little past 3pm and the tide had gone out exposing the tangled roots of mangroves and the sand.

I was with a team of 4 people from the university, our contact from one of the NGOs based in Coron town, and a few Tagbanua from San Isidro who were joining a worskhop we were facilitating. They had all met us at the airport from where we took the 2-hour van ride to this little pier after lunch at the eatery just outside the Arrivals. I slept most of the way, oblivious to all the bumps and the curves. From across the pier, I could see the island of Calauit. Nope, not the part of the island made (in)famous by the crazy dream of a dictator to establish an African safari in the tropics. We were headed to the other side where gentle dugongs swam and feasted on sea grass.

The most challenging part of the trip was getting down the bamboo ladder with rungs that were so spaced far apart.

Because the water was so low, the boats had to be pushed by two men from the pier to deeper water. We probably could have walked all the way to the other side. A few pushes on the shallow sea bed with his long bamboo pole and the boat had enough depth to start its engines. It took a while before the engine sputtered to life. One of the boats had already gone ahead and we were in the middle of the calm sea. What if we drifted out to the open? But the engine roared to life and we were on our way.

We docked at the small pier and headed to the Dugong Research Center, a 2-storey wood and thatch house where we were to stay for the next couple of nights. Never mind the very basic amenities, I was thrilled to be sleeping with the sound of the sea.

There was nothing much to do for the rest of the day so three of us decided to take a walk around the village guided by Bornok, a Tagbanua from San Isidro who has been to Calauit a couple of times.

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Back in Jogya

Jogyakarta, Indonesia’s center of Javanese culture looks remarkably different from when I first came here more than 10 years ago. It’s much busier now and Malioboro Street is lined with a few malls and some swanky hotels like the Ibis. Nevertheless, it still retains its provincial feel with people having picnics on the sidewalk on a Saturday night and loads of bakso food carts. I arrived in this city late afternoon last Thursday after an epic 15 hour bus ride that started at 1am in Jakarta airport. It was a loong journey that included 2 toilet stops, a breakfast and late lunch stop and a tour of Borobodur.

With me are a few colleagues and a busload of student performers for the Southeast Asia Music Education Exchange (SEAMEX) at the Yogyakarta National Museum (which isn’t a museum at all but an events venue). The road trip wasn’t boring though as it was just like taking a tour of the Indonesian countryside with rice paddies and little kampung. Of course, the stop at Borobodur was the aaah moment of the day.

The magnificent 9thc temple was still a sight to behold. Even the students enjoyed themselves immensely.

Fortunately, there weren’t many people when we arrived as it was close to noon time.

It took another 2 hours to Jogyakarta where we were finally dropped at our hotel

The past few days have been spent between the SEAMEX events and walking around busy Malioboro which was bursting at its seams Saturday night.Bought some toy gamelan instruments at super crowded Hamza Batik which has a good collection of all the stuff you’ll ever want to purchase for souvenirs. For large-sized people like me, they have a rack of batik shirts that are besar enough.

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Eating in Macau

As I discovered during my time in Macau, there’s more than your usual Chinese food. The cuisine is varied and for people like me whose taste buds do most of the traveling, there are lots to discover.

Porkchop in a bun

While in Portugal, I never got to try those hefty sandwhiches filled with fried fillets of fish. I was always too full with the main meals and sweets to have room for any snacking. Apparently, these sandwiches made their way to the Macau but instead of fish, it had pork chop (which I think made it even better). Locally called zhu pa pao, a thick slice of fried chop is placed in a soft bun and they’re found everywhere. The internet recommended Sei Kee in Taipa.

The long lines were justified. The meat was thick and tasty and the bun crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Sei Kee is also famous for its clay-brewed coffee which is really good.

Porkchop with Tomato Sauce

Our go to place for something quick, cheap, and uncomplicated was this eatery along the main road that led to Senado Square. There was an English menu and the portions were hefty. I had this boneless pork chop with tomato sauce on rice. It tasted quirky but good nevertheless.

Dimsum

What’s a trip to a Chinese city without some good dimsum?

Though there are many nice restaurants with good dimsum, they can cost quite a bit. The ones above were at 25-38 pataca. Cheaper are the ones in a large eatery we stumbled on one morning. Dimsum was just at 15 pataca. The staff are glad to open the bamboo steamers so you can point out what you want.

Rice and Noodles

There’s more to fried rice than yang chow. Lei Hong Kei’s version was meaty and had none of the oiliness that one normally gets in Manila’s Chinese restos.

We also had the rice with roasted pork and poached egg.

There’s also fried rice with dried scallops which I had at a nice resto near our hotel. Sorry, I forgot to take a picture.

Roast Pork

One night, I was hankering for some good old roast pork and we stumbled on this small joint. It was cheap and good.

But the best one was at Lei Hong Kei. The pork was tender and had the right saltiness. This restaurant is one of the few that still serves old Cantonese cuisine. Judging by the number of families at the large round tables, it’s internet reputation seems justified. Indeed, the yang chow and the sweet and sour pork hit all the right points.

Sesame Soup

While having soup for dessert might sound strange, it is not so in Asian cuisine. I’m particularly fond of black sesame soup with its smoky flavor. Best eaten hot. Had this bowl at Tim Heong Yuen just across Lei Hong Kei.

While it can be quite initimidating to go in one of the many eateries with no English signs, throwing your cares away and just trying your luck in ordering can be deeply satistifying.

We simply chose any place we fancied, went in, and hoped for an English menu. Oftentimes, someone would notice us peering inside and would beckon us to come in. We were never disappointed. Service was always friendly and in the absence of any English menu, we simply pointed to pictures or to the dimsum on display. Smiles and hand gestures go a long long way.

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Making it Macau

I was utterly exhausted with the past weeks’ school activities by the time I boarded my Cebu Pacific flight for Macau along with a co-professor. We were attending the Asia Pacific Symposium on Music Education Research (APSMER) at the Macau Polytechnic Institute next week and were arriving a few days earlier for a much deserved R&R. This is only my second trip to this tiny Cantonese island and I was quite looking forward to it. The first one was more than thirty years ago with the family when I was still in elementary. It was a day trip from Hong Kong and the sea was quite rough which meant I spent the entire trip in the van, disembarking only at the Ruins of St. Paul and at Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s house. I had a really terrible time as I felt like puking all over the place.

Arriving in Macau is indeed, like being here the first time. I gazed in awe at the skyline as our taxi made its way across the bridge to the other side, away from the glitzy casinos. Our little hotel is in a quiet street just a few minutes walk to Senado Square which meant it is near everything but still far enough from the tourist crowds.

It was past 11 by the time we checked-in and the only dining place open was the Thai restaurant just a few feet away. It was khao kluk krapi (shrimp paste fried rice) rather than yang chow for the night. The servings were generous and the food tasted Thai enough.

We went to Taipa this morning for an old Macau feel, if it is at all possible with the massive tourist development and crowds of Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese on school break.

Walking around, I realized how much nicer Macau really is to Hong Kong with its narrow streets, alleyways, and shop houses.

The village of Taipei was particularly nice with its cobbled alleys.

After having just been to Portugal last April, the more I appreciated Macau’s architectural heritage.

The weather is really sticky though leaving me sweating and exhausted.

Revisited the Ruins of St. Paul but was put-off by the massive crowds.

It felt good though to be revisiting a place I had seen in childhood.

Went to Senado Square in the evening with its mosaic floors reminiscent of that of Praca de Commercio in Lisbon but the crowds and the humidity was just too much.

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Lake Sebu: Getting there and staying there

My fifth time in Lake Sebu and I still continue to love the place. Of course, I’m biased 🙂 because this continues to be my research area as an ethnomusicologist and I continue to work with its musicians and dancers. The last time I was here was in 2014 for the Helobung Festival in November and so much has changed. For one, it is so much easier to get to now for Manila-based travellers. For those who have not yet visited this wonderful gem of a place in the Soccksargen region, here’s my nifty little guide.

p.s. I only ever come to Lake Sebu from Manila so this is for folks coming from there. I know there are routes from Davao and other Mindanao hubs but I’d rather let those who have done those routes speak for them.

Getting There

GenSan Airport-Marbel-Lake Sebu

Arriving at the GenSan International Airport, the most direct route to Lake Sebu is to take the Yellow Bus from the airport to Marbel (also known as Koronadal). It only costs Php 150 and the ride is just a little over an hour. Look at their FB page for the scheds.

Artriving at the new and modern Koronadal Integrated Transport Terminal, head to the parked vans at the other end. There are blue signs hanging from the ceiling announcing the different destinations. Just look for the sign that says “Lake Sebu” and get a seat at the parked van. Take note that they pack the van to the brim with 4 people sharing a 3-seater row. Your luggage either goes under the seats or at the small space at the front row. If you have a large pack or bag with you, I suggest you pay for an extra seat. Of course the best spot is right in front with the driver.

Fare: Php 150 (GenSan Airport-Marbel)

Php 80 (Marbel-Lake Sebu)

Travel time: 1.5 hours (GenSanAirport-Marbel).

1 hour (Marbel-Lake Sebu)

Hours: All day. Leaves when full or (in my experience) at least when half full (in the case of the vans to Lake Sebu).

Surallah-Lake Sebu

With the Marbel-Lake Sebu van, there really is no reason to ride a bus from Marbel to Surallah (30 mins) just to take the van to Lake Sebu.

GenSan Bulaong Terminal-Lake Sebu

According to the conductor of the Lake Sebu-GenSan van I rode, the first trip out of GenSan is at 9am as the van originates from Lake Sebu. Honestly, I’d rather take the bus to Marbel as I wouldn’t want to be in a cramped van.

Fare: Php 150

Travel Time: 2 hours

Hours: All day starting at 9am

GenSan Bulaong Terminal-Marbel-Lake Sebu

I always take this route because I prefer buses over vans. You can take your pic of bus lines at the terminal–Yellow Bus Lines, Husky, and Mindanao Star. Preferably, ride the one that goes non-stop to Marbel. There are signs on the bus platforms and on the buses themselves. Alternatively, just ask any of the bus conductors and they’ll steer you to the right one. As always, the bus leaves when full.

Fare: Php 110

Travel Time: 1 hour

Hours: All day

The bus will drop you off at the Koronadal Integrated Transport Terminal where you take the van to Lake Sebu.

Arriving There

All vans whether coming from GenSan Bulaong Terminal, Koronadal Integrated Transport Terminal, or Surallah Terminal will drop you off at the new Lake Sebu Terminal which is located near the School of Living Traditions (more of that later) and not at the center of the poblacion (where the old terminal used to be). There are habal-habal (motorcyles) that can take you to your accomodations.

Leaving from There

Leaving Lake Sebu, the terminal you arrived at is where you’ll also ride the van back to either Surallah, Marbel or GenSan. Just turn up. The vans leave when full. The GenSan-bound van drops off passengers at the Surallah and Koronadal transport terminals and anywhere along the highway. It doesn’t wait to pick-up passengers, though which means that travel time is still 2 hours and from Koronadal to GenSan, the van will probably be nearly empty.

Transport to other places such as Tboli municipality (for Lake Holon) are also here.

Staying There

I cannot stop recommending the Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions and Homestay which is just a few meters (about a 5 minute walk) from the terminal. Yes, you can stay in one of the concrete resorts but that would be boring and so ordinary. The homestay is not only atmospheric but is an experience by itself. It’s basic and communal but you get to stay in a Tboli longhouse that’s really nice and clean. Besides, the interaction with Maria Todi, a Tboli cultural worker, and her family is priceless. This is where I always stay and I can totally guarantee how wonderful this place is. Check out the FB page of the homestay.

Tips While There

1. Be patient. Service at the local eateries are always not as quick as you want it to be.

2. Buy Tboli crafts and music instruments from the artisans themselves or at Tboli shops such as COWHED so your money goes directly to them.

3. Learn to play Tboli music instruments such as the gongs, learn to dance, or to make beads at the Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions.

4. Hire Tboli people as guides to tour you around.

5. Spread your money. Eat at different places. Shop at different shops.

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Sweet Lisbon

There’s more than pasteis de nata for a sweet snack or dessert in Lisbon. There are confeiterias everywhere with glass display cases brimming with sweetness overload.

At the Time Out Market are a number of dessert shops including Manteigra (which is a class of its own with its heavenly pasteis de nata) but my favorite was Nos e Mais Bos with its delicious cakes.

With so many cakes on array, choosing what to get without breaking my blood sugar limit was a challenge.

The slices were big and each bite made me swoon. It was worth going to the market just for this.

Another favorite sweets shop was Alcoa which we stumbled into while strolling at busy Rue de Garett after buying some books at Libreria Bertrand. We couldn’t resist the pastries on display at the large window so we stepped inside. Most of Alcoa’s pastries are egg yolk based which makes for a very rich taste and sumptuous texture. Think of smooth yema. Many have won numerous awards and rightly so.

They have a very clean, smooth, and elegant taste. Sweet but not sugary.

There are no tables and chairs, just a counter lining one side of the confeitaria’s walls.

The coffee is good and strong and the staff friendly which makes for a sweet stop after all that shopping.

I have a very sweet tooth and dessert comes at all hours of the day. Lisbon was such a pleasant surprise to me as all I ever expected was pasteis de nata but I got so much more.

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Eating in Lisbon

Unlike Spain where our familiarity with Spanish cuisine guided us in discovering what to eat, Portugal was an adventure. Other than bacalhau and pasteis de nata, we knew nothing about the country’s cuisine.Our first taste of Portugal was at Confeitaria de Nacional for the iconic pasteis de nata. We had just arrived in Lisbon after 2 flights and a connection in Dubai. The pastry helped bring our senses and floating heads back to earth. It was all that it was reported to be — not too sweet and with a flaky crust.We thought it was good until we tried the version Manteigra, famous for its long lines especially at its branch at Plaza Luis de Camoes. Luckily, there was a stall at the Time Out Market where we grabbed a pasteis each before leaving. It was heavenly. The pastry was served hot (unlike Nacional’s which was cold) and the crust was both flaky and crispy. The custard was sweeter than Nacional’s but it was soooo oozingly good. I could have had another one but the line was really long. The best pasteis de nata, though, we would soon discover, was at Pasteis de Belem just across the bus stop for the Monasterio de Jeronimos. The lines trying to get a table inside and the lines at the take home counter speak for itself. Tita Cel lined-up to get a table while Rhoda was at take-out. By the time, we got our package of 6 pastries, Tita Cel was still 5 people away from the head of the line. There were just too many people and the wait staff looked tired and harassed. She ditched the line and we just settled eating our hard-won pasteis de nata somewhere else.Considering that we were able to eat the pastries about an hour later when we were at the Time Out Market (again!), the thin crusts remained crisp. The custard had just the right balance of milky sweetness and the taste of eggs. So utterly perfect! I kept one piece to be brought back to the hotel and be eaten the next day. The crust was no longer crisp , as expected, but not soggy and it was still very good. Another two thumbs up!Speaking of Time Out Market, we really enjoyed eating there as it was a fantastic place to get a good grip on delicious and tummy-satisfying Portugues food, both in its traditional and modern forms as created by some of Lisbon’s chefs and top restaurants. Curated by the writers of travel guide, Time Out Portugal, you can’t go wrong here. Henrique Sa Pessoa is a Michelin 2-starred chef and his roast suckling pig was the best pork I’ve ever head. The large slab of meat was so tender and the skin was so crisp. It more than made up for our disappointment with the cochinillo in Seville. It definitely gave a bang for the buck at 15 €.I partnered it with a plate of couscous with ricotta cheese which perfectly complemented the saltiness of the pork and helped cut it’s fatiness.Rhoda and Tita Cel had octopus with potatoes at Marlene Veira’s which was also very nice. I really liked the idea of having chefs run stalls at a fast food setting so you can get a sampling of their culinary creations minus the intimidation and prices of fine dining. Good job, Time Out!

Buffet Livre de Leao, just a few steps from our hotel at Rue 1 Disyembre, was our go to place whenever we wanted to eat without thinking much of where to go and what to order. The 8.99€ all-you-can-eat of salads, appetizers, rice, and grilled meats and fish was definitely good value. My favorite was the grilled Portuguese sausages. The place was always packed and one time, we had to wait for a table as almost half of the restaurant was taken-up by a large Chinese tour group. Really popular place.TIP: come either early or late.Portugal is famous for its salted cod fish called bacalhau and is said there are a thousand ways of cooking it. At Peixes Lisboa we were amused when we saw bacalhau espiritual on the menu. It sounded so enigmatic. It turned out to be flaked fish with potatoes in a creamy casserole. At a small restaurant at Alfama, we ordered bacalhau paradiso (since we had tried the bacalhau espiritual, might as well go all the way to paradise!). Both dishes were similar but the paradiso didn’t have any cream. We enjoyed this more as we could really taste the fish. Being so close to the sea, Portugal is ground zero for seafood lovers. Also at Peixes Lisboa, we had seafood rice which we didn’t expect to be a Portuguese version of paella. We thought it just be rice with a little seafood thrown in which were could eat with our bacalauh. Not so! We were amused when the friendly waitress brought out small plates, a crab hammer and cracker and put on bibs on the three of us. She then brought out a large pot filled with rice cooked in seafood broth and piled with shrimps, mussels, squid, and crab. It was really good and hearty.Just like Spain, many of the eating places such as cafes and restaurants were well-appointed with uniformed wait staff which made for an excellent dining experience. Food was always good and plentiful.Beside our hotel was a branch of Pingo Doce, a grocery with a bakery and hot meals section. I always dropped by just to see what was on offer. The meal for the day at 3.99€ is the most affordable and filling meal you can ever have. You get to choose any of the 3 viands, pastas, or rice. The servings are really hefty. They also have roast chicken and roast pork. I tried the latter and a pre-chopped piece was just .86€. The meat was tender and the skin crackling. Really good value. No wonder, there’s always a crowd. Pingo Doce is also a good place to buy food stuff you want to give away back. home such as pate and sardines. Many locals shop here so there’s always a long line at the check-out around 7-9pm.We enjoyed our meals in Lisbon. From what we tried, it seemed that Portuguese cuisine is heavy with sauces and meat. There are also different kinds of tapas and our favorites was a board of different Portuguese sausages served at the restaurant we lunched at in Alfama.The hefty servings means you shouldn’t order too much. We usually order a salad and two main courses or a tapas in lieu of a second main course. It could be a problem for the solo traveler as you wouldn’t be able to sample as much. Even the servings at the stalls at the Time Out Market and at Pingo Doce were big.

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Picturesque Sintra

Only 40 minutes by train from the Rossio station, Sintra is magical. It’s as if you’re transported in some fairy tale kingdom of colorful palaces, enchanting gardens, mysterious forests. How can something so surrealy beautiful be just a skip and a hop away from the city?

We took the 9am train to Sintra along with a few hundred others. Fortunately, we were at the station by 8am thinking there would be an 8:30 trip. By the time the train rolled in at platform 3, there was a sizable crowd. We quickly got ourselves seats as the train was filling up fast resulting in a few people left standing.At the Sintra station, we paid a tuktuk 5€ each to the trip to Peña Palace. This UNESCO Heritage Site is in the highest point of Sintra so we thought it best to make it our first stop.It took about 10 minutes before we were able to take the shuttle that brought us to the palace. Many people opted to do the hike up.The palace is massive and walking along its exteriors os fun as there are awesome views. Rather than waiting for the shuttle, we opted to just walk down as it would be much faster. At the exit, a guy with an id hanging from his neck offered to drive us for the same price as a tuktuk. We asked to be brought to Quinta Regaleira. More of gardens than palace, the highlight was the Inquisition Well and the tunnels.We had so much fun taking photographs at the bottom of the well.The tunnels were fun too.

One of the tunnels led to a small area by the side of a road somewhere. So I guess you can continue your walk from there. We decided to go back up the well as Tita Cel was waiting for us on top.

From the well, we re-traced our steps down to some picture perfect towers.

Behind the towers was a path that led to the palace just a few meters down. Exiting Regaileria, we followed the sidewalk all the way down to the center stopping by Xentro for a buffet (10.90€).

It was just a few meters down to the Palacio Nacional de Sintra.This was a fun palace to explore as there were lots of interesting turns and passages that brought us to different rooms. The palace has magnificent ceilings, but this is the most amazing.It was almost 5pm by the time we left the palace. Outside, there was this group of students performing some Portuguese songs.We took a tuktuk to the train station in time to take the 4:50 trip back to Lisbon.

TIPS:

Be early. So you can see more sights. We took the 9am train and arrived at exactly 9:40 and stayed until about 4:30pm. We only managed 3 sights. The palaces are all gorgeous and you cannot simply rush just to get to more sights.

Stay a night or come back. We would definitely return as there is still so much more to see. I would probably prefer to just do day trips as it’s just 40 minutes away.

Use your Lisboa Card. We had a 48 hour card which meant free train rides and discounts on all the sights.

Choose your transpo wisely. There’s the circuit bus which is really cheap though you would need to wait for it. There are taxis and tuktuks too.

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Museo Nacional De Musica Lisboa

This wonderful museum right at the Alto dos Moinhos Metro is truly a gem. With its outstanding collection of European music instruments alongside a few from other music cultures around the world, it’s worth more than a cursory visit. Plus, it’s free with the Lisboa Card.We came just a few minutes after opening time, hence we had the place all to ourselves. I truly relished my time looking at the instruments carefully especially those from 18th-19thc such as the lutes, viols, and keyboards as it was my chance to see real specimens and not just pictures.

A hurdy-gurdy!

This is the piano that Franz Liszt brought with him to France while on concert tour which included Lisbon. After his concert, he gave it away to Queen Maria II.

I loved these small portable organs even if they were 19tjc forgeries of 16thc ones.

A pianoforte developed by Muzio Clementi.

Lutes and more lutes!

A bandurria!

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