Thursday, January 24, 2013

Charmed by Camotes Island

Some places are so beautiful, the heart longs so much to call it home.

Camotes Island was home to us for four days - which was time enough during planning, but then of course the real experience could not be quantified by hours or days. 
 The Camotes Four – my boyfriend Ramil, my sister Ana, me and my colleague and friend Dhang

We caught an early morning Saturday flight to Cebu, which meant that we were up at the wee hour of three. This was not a problem, really. We were excited for this trip. But for Coach, it was an excitement for the unknown. Poor boy did not have time to do the Google. But then it was good, too. The moment of truth came and he was the most awed!

At eight in the morning, we were in Cebu. We were met at the airport by Mang Javier, who is an extreme sports enthusiast, as we learned from an hour and a half worth of talkies all the way to Danao Port. People are so naturally interesting, and we took advantage of Manong's warm responses. He told us that he enjoyed Motocross and Airsoft. Well, taob ang hobbies namin! 

 Danao port was very organized and clean!

We arrived at Danao Port and learned that we had a couple of hours to kill before our Camotes-bound ferry leaves. Since it was too hot, too noisy and too crowded at the terminal, we headed to nearby Gaisano and chilled at Jollibee – which was very soon packed with fellow travelers who refused to wait under the heat of the sun.

As expected, the two-hour boat ride to Camotes Island was not comfortable. We traveled mid-day and the heat was stifling. We were seated at a corner where the breeze was blocked by passengers and parcels. Coach volunteered to mind our stuff and we three girls took to the deck to refresh in the sea breeze.

It was a relief to have someone waiting at the port to take us to the Santiago Bay Resort, where we will stay for the next three nights. And where late lunch were prepared for us, we were told. It would be our first real meal of the day!

Before long, we were entering a tree-lined driveway. We were shown up to an oriental-inspired reception area, where we checked in. We almost did not want to get up from the plush sofa, but Kuya Ernest, our porter, was telling us that our Ocean View room was ready. We followed him out into a maze of pathways, some leading to villas, another to a function hall and some further into a series of apartments. He told us that our room overlooks the ocean, hence the name.

This view will stop your tracks. Literally.

On our way to the room, we passed by the most ah-may-zing view of the bay! We stopped in the middle of the path, ooohed and aaaahed collectively – at which Kuya Ernest smiled in appreciation. I guess he was used to this kind of reaction.

No doubt about it, our room had the best view in the house – which was later confirmed by Ana's new-found Korean friend. Tall palm trees framing the hotel's infinity pool and the pristine blue ocean, definitely not your everyday look-to. We forgot about lunch for a while as we stood in our veranda. Just staring and taking photos.

In the afternoon, we hit the beach and took a hundred more shots. Dinner was early and we immediately went to bed. We didn't realize we were so tired.

We went around the San Francisco town the next day, courtesy of our driver-slash-tour-guide-slash-translator Kuya Ramil, who was a true-blue local. We saw that he really made an effort to speak in Filipino – it was very endearing as he sometimes sought for the right word. We encountered the same feat in the other locals, but they always would try to speak in Filipino when we say we hail from Manila.

First stop, we toured the Danao Lake via a “Sakanaw,” a motorized makeshift ferry made of steel and wood, held together at the bottom by two big logs. Rattan benches lined the interior and two tables were at the center. It can carry around twenty passengers. For P50 per person, we went around the lake, passing by the smallish Crocodile Island in the middle of the water. 

 Ang Sakanaw. Bow.

And there's Crocodile Island! (And no, we didn't see any croc) 

We went down Timubo Cave next, where we took in interesting rock formations and then swam in the cool underground pool. The downward path was lit with fluorescent bulbs and the steps were concrete, to our relief.

To cap off the trip, we had a sumptuous lunch at the Mangodlong Rock Beach Resort, where we lingered unplanned. We fell in love with the huge, huge rock formation right smack in the middle of the beach. It was a gorgeous mix of natural and man-made. We immediately took a charming corner high up the rugged side and called it our own.

 Our very own cove!

The “rock” housed several huts, viewing decks and nooks at many different levels. These were connected by stairs and pathways. Hammocks and odd chairs were also scattered invitingly around. But there's more – little white sand coves, made more accessible by concrete steps, were tucked in the most interesting corners. The “rock” was our own little world for the afternoon. Well, until the other guests started arriving. But by then, it was time we were waking up from our wind-lulled hammock-naps to catch the glorious sunset. Time has a way of slowing down in this town paradise.

We went back to Santiago Bay refreshed from our afternoon nap – and just a bit famished.

Mornings are great! We had front rows to the sunrise :)

The next two days were spent on the beach and at the resort pool, where we mastered the art of floating. Thanks to Dhang's technique, we were able to enjoy the water even more – as attested by the varying shades of tan lines we got.

Ana and Dhang's floating lessons!

We were loathe to leave, naturally. And the sun was shining so happily on our last day, that there's nothing more heavenly than to linger in the sea.

We said our goodbyes to our four-day-long friends – the ates and kuyas who cooked and served our meals and arranged our transportation. These people are real treasures. More than the great view, cool amenities and winning ambiance were the locals that made our holiday. 

 THEY made our holiday! :)

Camotes Island is beautiful, and the people even more so.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Expanding my Menu Repertoire

I make kick-ass pasta and taco sauce. I claim bragging rights because I've cooked these forever, but that about covers my kitchen expertise. Shame on me, I could not even cook rice!

That was the case -- until a couple of weeks ago.

One weekend morning, my bestfriend Cielo tagged me along on an Asian Cuisine Cooking Demo Class at the International School for Culinary Arts & Hotel Management in Makati. I gladly went! I love watching people cook on TV, that's where I get tips to further improve my kick-ass pasta. Although admittedly, I am scared to try complicated stuff for fear that I might end up wasting food.

Then again, years of tiptoeing around the stove makes you want to explore more, get creative with ingredients and just discover where your palate takes you. That morning, I opened my mind to endless possibilities. If I can make kick-ass pasta, I could probably make kick-ass ulam!

The class was held in the FEU Makati Campus, in a semi-circular cooking auditorium where the stage was a kitchen. We were about seventy attendees, some were obvious cooking experts (read: mothers).

 Notes, notes, notes! But really, I was mostly jotting down silly, funny pieces from Chef Toby  like 
"nothing is more fulfilling that having perfectly cooked rice."

Chef Toby Co and his pristine, steel and marble kitchen was a sight. And when he started cooking and throwing tips, he was inspiring. When he showed us how to properly fry tempura (let it swim in oil and then let it go), I wanted to come down to the kitchen and try for myself. 

 Jerson's (the Kitchen Assistant) perfectly cooked tempura

I finally had my moment when he asked for volunteers to do shrimps for Yang Chow. I raised my hand, thinking I would probably slice or dice. When I came down, he told me I would de-vein. My face was one big question mark. I've never held raw seafood, not even to clean fish. I bought them in the supermarket in those plastic containers – all but ready to cook. But hey, this was a day of challenge, so I did it. 

 Sige, chef, tawanan mo lang ako! I was soooo out of my comfort zone.

De-veining was difficult at first, finding the vein and then not knowing for sure the level of hand pressure the shrimp can take. Chef laughingly told me at one point that my hands were not meant for delicate work, “ang bigat ng kamay!” My mother told me as much when I was growing up. But I enjoyed de-veining so much that after the class, I went to the supermarket, bought half a kilo of prawns, de-veined and cooked them that night. My reward was the awe in my family's and friends' faces when they had their first taste of my Shrimp recipe.

We were taught to properly do sushi, shao-mai, glazed pork and a couple other dishes. I plan to try all, and to learn more recipes. 

 Cielo and moi, with Chef Toby and the Superkitchen assistants!

I think that with the techniques I learned, I can build up my confidence to try more grand cuisines!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Greening my Greens

It is true that life is infinitely more relaxing with more plants in the environment. And as it turns out, my love for the greens is well-reciprocated.  

Gorgeous flowers of Indie, my Indian Beads Plant from my best friend Cielo

Indie with new stalks, which are those with lighter green leaves and stems

From a couple of collections, my plants are now thriving and diverse. I guess word of my plant-love-affair got around and I started receiving pots of them for Christmas, New Year and , well, in general. Even my favorite “garden man”Kuya Tony gave me a couple of pretty seedlings for free. They are all living harmoniously and healthily in our apartment veranda, just like old times

Cali, my young calamansi plant, with fresh new leaves

My still unnamed bougainvillea (paper flower) plant

 E, one of my Chinese Fortune Plant collection, has grown so much. 
When I got it in September last year, it only had four leaves. I had to re-pot it twice already.
My boyfriend, glad of my “relatively safe” diversion, bought me a gardening book for my reader. I read this during morning coffee, so that I can immediately implement tips during my “gardening minutes” after I have had my caffeine fill.

My heart glows when I see them grow. Sometimes new leaves form overnight; stalks I haven't noticed before seem to have sprung – even fresh blooms seem to bloom even bigger in just hours. Every now and then I get the urge to just look. See if anything changed since I last did.

D, the oldest of my Chinese Fortune Plant collection, is now sporting a new “offspring” 
(see that small stalk between?)

Maybe it helps that I sing to them sometimes.