Sunday, April 20, 2014

Yak Pak's Summer Giveaway

Eye-catching prints. Bold colors. Oh that playful summer vibe! That's Yak Pak for you.

Founded in 1989, the New York-based lifestyle brand manufactures a full range of products including, backpacks/day packs, messenger bags, lunch totes, and casual accessories for the teen and teen-at-heart. Yak Pak's open-minded approach to product design is the foundation of Yak Pak's spirit of freedom and independence that resonates throughout the brand.

Dare to change. Shift from monochromatic bags to multicolored ones. They're easier to spot in the cabin's overhead compartment. Or on a luggage belt. And not only are Yak Pak products rad, they're sturdy too. Now that's what I call an ideal travel buddy.

Blog Giveaway

You could win one for yourself!  

Yak Pak's Summer Giveaway is open to Philippine residents. Contest duration will be from April 20 to 27, 2014 only. Announcement of winner will be on April 28, 2014 and prize must be claimed at Yak Pak, Glorietta 5.

Rafflecopter shows you the mechanics.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

But wait, there's more! If you follow Yak Pak's (http://instagram.com/yakpakph) and Pinay Travel Junkie's (http://instagram.com/pinaytraveljunkie) Instagram accounts you could also win a special Yak Pak gift. Make sure you leave your Instagram account name on the comments section below (winner will be chosen via Random.Org).

Good luck fellow travel junkies!


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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pop Talk Third Anniversary Special: Look Pa, I'm On Telly Again!

So I crawled out of my blogger cave. And it wasn't an easy path.

You could easily make me abseil or cross a one-rope bridge, but I can be a major wuss in front of the cam.

We were in Puerto Galera for the Malasimbo Music And Arts Festival when I received an invite via SMS from one of Pop Talk's production staff to be a 'reviewer' for their third anniversary episode. My immediate reply, a fat no, was held up by my sister.

"You should say yes.", she delivered it as if it's some advice that can save the world. 

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Took a while (and tons of courage), but I eventually agreed to a five-day Boracay trip for the shoot. Because I will prolly never go back to Boracay at my own initiation. And because my father, who was confined in the hospital that time told me, "I wanna see you on TV again.".

Or he just didn't want to see me weeping by his side.

My father visited the island a number of times in the 80s. It was his old photos of Boracay back when it was paradisical that inspired me to make adventures of my own when I was a youngling. So in a way, the trip was a homage.

Here are a few snippets of the episode available online.

"Basta nagets ko sailing, boarding, physics... Things I'm not good at!", and I laughed at my own confession.

When asked if I'll do the ocean walk again, I replied, "Not tomorrow!".

Had a discreet battle against co-reviewer Philipp over who gets the bigger portion of the homemade corn soup.

 "Gusto kita.", co-reviewer Philipp talking to his panang curry(?).

Pop Talk introduced me to a bunch of cool people, took me to parts of Boracay I haven't set foot on, and helped me face my fear of deep water. And oh, my guesting made ze pop truly proud.

The show's on every Saturday, 8:00 PM, GMA News TV. Hosted by Tonipet Gaba.

poptalk

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Monday, April 14, 2014

The Circle Hostel, La Union: Amidst Artists And Adventurers

I woke up next to someone new. And I wasn't sure if we were even introduced.

The scent of salty hair hung in my nostrils, and for a moment, I couldn't recall where I was. I tried to rise but a pang in my head made me plop back down the bunk. The pain disabled my brain, completely. I rolled over to my other side and came face to face with a wall made of bamboo strips. Beyond which was a figure awake and moving about —  I caught sight of between the tiny gaps.

I watched mindlessly for a while.

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There are no strangers here.

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Berths and personal spaces.
 
Was brought back to my senses minutes later when I heard a constant shuffling of feet. Lots of feet. I managed to sit up and saw the strangers I rode with, on a land journey of almost six hours the previous night. All just outta bed, and were nameless to me at that point but I greeted each with an inaudible "g'morning".

So I finally remembered where in the world I was, and how mad I was for traveling to La Union straight from Boracay. The heady concoction of eight hours on a vessel plus eight hours in vans surely was the culprit for my hammered head.

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The brekkie nook, right by the locker area.

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 The lounge/common area upstairs.

I spotted a familiar face. The figure from the other side of the wall, I soon found out, was fellow travel blogger and my homegurl Christine of JovialWanderer.com. She who managed to convince me to pursue the trip even if I already begged off days earlier. Well, she and Aldous of AldousAteTheWorld.blogspot.com who organized the weekend bloggers' shindig.

We, along with four other bloggers, were checked in The Circle Hostel, La Union. We arrived about half past three that morning. In which time I randomly chose among the bunks assigned for the group and passed out right away.

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Hammocks for rent. Such cozy cocoons.

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This lattice wall spoke to me. So I just had to try it.
 
The Circle Hostel La Union is a very affordable hostel for both surfers and non-surfers, that sits on a lot away from highway noise but just two hundred meters from the beach. Its layout is set up with the backpacker culture in mind. The open plan structure having only 2 bunk rooms, 1 hammock area and 1 lounge/common area paves way for interaction between guests. Bed in the bunk room (has privacy curtain and mosquito net) is P450 (about $10), and a hammock is P350 (about $8).

Facilities: Free WiFi (common area), lockers (bring your own padlock or rent one), toilet and bath.

A towel may be hired for P40, with a P100 deposit.

Day use of facilities is a pocket friendly P150.

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 Anyone can grab a bucket of paint and send a message through art.

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Couldn't help it.

"There are no strangers here.", says on their website.

True enough, our motley band of bloggers congregated with other guests for an uncomplicated power brekkie of pandesal all-you-want with two choices of spread. I introduced myself to the rest of our party: Samantha of greenspired.wordpress.com, RD of rdllarena.com, Rhea of rheabue.com, and Kat of katvaldez.com.

Everyone was up for surfing. Except me. 

As the sun inched higher, the crowd at the lounge thinned, group by group. Ours headed off as well, led by one of The Circle Hostel's owners Rafael Oca, to catch the early waves.

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Not exactly what we were hoping for.

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 Brief lesson from Surf Star School Of Surfing.

The waves, we were told, were too wild for us beginners. We then parked our arses on the sand, thinking we'll prolly just call it a day and start chugging beer at 8 in the morn (Okay, that was just me thinking!). But because we saw other beginners braving the shoulder-height waves, the rest said they might as well surf.

So they did, after a brief lesson from Surf Star School Of Surfing.

I watched each one attempt and stand and fall and laugh. And found myself wanting to attempt and stand and fall and laugh too. 

So I did. I was able to stand on the board on my first attempt and I was the most surprised of all. I felt so victorious that after the first ride, my thoughts went back to beer.

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First and almost last attempt.

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From left: Christine, RD, me, Aldous, Samantha, Kat and Rhea.

And beer happened during lunch at Gefseis Greek Grill. Christine and I had to bail out later that day so we took the opportunity to get to know more about the individuals in our group. Individuals from different niches. Over platters of souvlaki, we discovered common interests and frustrations. We shared stories that, although very random, entertained everybody on the table. We made friends.

There really are no strangers. Just friends we have not met yet. The Circle Hostel is out to prove that. Come spend the night, leave your inhibitions behind. And prepare to meet a new circle.


How to get to The Circle Hostel, La Union: Visit this page for info http://www.launion.thecirclehostel.com/location


The Circle Hostel La Union
Urbiztondo, San Juan
La Union,Philippines
www.launion.thecirclehostel.com


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Monday, April 7, 2014

2014 Thus Far: The First Quarter

We had the temerity to change.

Finally.

Towards the end of 2013, we moved in our little shack (okay, it's not really little and not really a shack, but it's cute to call it such) in the Philippines. It's been gobbling half of our income for a year and five months now, and has pushed me to the breaking point. Three months on since we spent our first night in it, am still not coping well with this settling down situation although the hubby and I took preparatory measures.

More on that drama some other day.

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Green Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
 
For now, let me blabber about all the jaunts and shindigs that kept me sane during the first quarter of 2014. And a heartbreak that shattered me into pieces. Here's the year thus far...

First day of the year, woke up to a sparsely furnished room. A room that hubby and I can finally call ours. The night before, we were able to celebrate New Year's Eve with my parents after missing the previous two in the Philippines.

Attended Jacob Maentz's The Forgotten Ten Photography Exhibition in Yuchengco Museum. The exhibit showcased a year and a half of Jacob’s documentary work from various indigenous communities around the Philippines.

Impromptu Baguio trip with Melo of www.outoftownblog.com and Julius of www.lakwastserongtsnelas.blogspot.com. Finally entered the Laperal White House, chanced upon the Ifugao Bamboo Carving Art Exhibit there, and luckily met Philippine Bamboo Foundation President Edgardo Manda.

Co-organized a The Linden Suites staycation which I dubbed Pajama Party Wherein We Don't Wear Pajamas for Pinoy travel bloggers. Sabrina of www.justonewayticket.com and Kate of www.adventurouskate.com also joined the Pinoy food pig-out and videoke madness.

Vacationed in Siargao for the first time and was hosted by Buddha's Surf Resort. Celebrated Melo's name day with an island hopping tour. And nope, we didn't surf cause our lazy arses would rather hammock-surf.

Blindly jumped in an exploration semi-conducted by fellow travel blogger Edgar of eazytraveler.com. Destination, Sulu. The night before my flight, my father was confined in a hospital for tests after a mass was found in his brain. I left him with a heavy heart. I left because that's what he wanted. He who passed me the travel bug would rather see me in photos exploring an unfamiliar place, than see me weeping in pain by his side.

Celebrated the hubby's birthday at White Beach, Puerto Galera over authentic Italian pizza and a stunning sunset. Day after, we partied like there's no tomorrow (and like there's no toddler in tow) with two other travel bloggers. Learned the basics of poi dancing whilst inebriated on the same night.

My sister, daughter Luna and I trooped to Mt. Malasimbo for the Malasimbo Music & Arts Fest for the first time. Went mainly for Jose Gonzalez. Mishka Adams was a plus. Eating a P40(!) balut was one of the night's highlights.

Broke out of my blogger shell and agreed to be a "reviewer" for Pop Talk's Third Anniversary Special. The show brought me to Boracay. It was my second visit on the island. Day before the trip, my father was again rushed to the hospital. Apparently, he had a silent stroke. And once again, he let me go while he was confined. He said, "I want to see you on TV again."

The Pop Talk crew encouraged me to face my fear of the deep. After much whining and yapping and almost-sobbing, I dove down a colossal aquarium for an "ocean walk".

From Boracay, went straight to The Circle Hostel in La Union with a bunch of new faces except for my homegirl Christine of www.jovialwanderer.com. Even though I was feeling under the weather, I tried surfing for the first time, and was able to stand on the board on my first attempt! I was the most surprised of all.

March ended with the beginning of our Cairns-Sydney roadtrip. Found ourselves in a paradisiacal place called The Great Barrier Reef.

Where we are now...

Just finished our 9-day Cairns-Sydney roadtrip yesterday — a journey of about 3,000 kilometers and we intend to hibernate here in my mum-in-law's house until we leave Australia late April. The season's perfect for swimming in sheets anyway. And for devising our lives for the second quarter, which may include one long haul flight, and a lot more sun-basking — wherein I expect to finally try on the swimmies and kaftans I fished from Zalora.

Huh? What house?


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Monday, March 24, 2014

Withlocals.com: Going Local With Locals

Immerse. Have we not heard this countless times from seasoned travelers? And have we not thought of this as — now let's be honest here — a gargantuan task to fulfill? 

When on the road, going local is how I usually roll. Many years of backpacking taught me how to trust in the good of humanity, in good karma and in the positive vibes of the universe. This idiosyncrasy of mine, and of fellow nomads, may be difficult for holidaymakers to comprehend. Undecipherable even, for the wary. 

So how do we introduce this so-called "immersion" to occasional vacationers who lack time, extra dough and well, credence?
 
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The Pasar (Market) Tour in Malaysia organized by local Khairun Halina.
 
Withlocals.com comes to our aid. 

TheWithLocals website is a "marketplace connecting travelers from every corner of the world with locals in Asia offering unique travel experiences and home dining opportunities...". It's an online platform that helps build personal relationships between travelers and locals, that could begin even when distant from each other, at the click of a mouse.

Locals sign up as hosts and offer services for reasonable rates, and travelers sign up to "book experiences". These experiences are sorted into three categories:  

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EAT Withlocals, wherein you get a real taste of the local culture by dining with a family in their home; 

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TOURS Withlocals, wherein you get to discover off-the-beaten-track sites under the guidance of your host

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and ACTIVITIES Withlocals wherein you don't just observe locals do their thang, you get to learn/do them yourself too!

"But it ain't for free!", I hear you say.

WithLocals.com believes that "every person is good at something and that there’s no greater way to earn a living than by doing something you are passionate about.". The site provides an opportunity for people, especially locals in developing countries, to boost their income by showcasing their skills and sharing their knowledge. You might have spent money on a travel agent before, and hey, this isn't really any different. Okay, except the middle-man's slashed. And isn't that a good thing?

Yes, the best things in life are free, but ain't it better if you're able to help out others?

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Ultimate experience. You may find it here.
 
Head over to their website and learn more about, quite possibly, the future of travel. 

Get in touch directly with the locals. Try to immerse, even for a fleeting moment.


[All photos courtesy of WithLocals.com]

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sulu Sojourn: Reconnaissance

"He'll die for you."

It wasn't a line fished out of a zombie-romance flick. Nor lyrics of some mawkish glam rock song. It was literal to the core, delivered with utmost nonchalance by a first lieutenant nicknamed Mac as he thumbed towards the officer behind me.

The words sent a chill up my spine.

Just minutes prior, fellow traveler Edgar — who convinced me to book a flight at the last minute   and I arrived at the relatively young Jolo Airport. Mac and a slew of marines escorted us to a van that was to be our service for the four-day trip. It had to be a private vehicle, I was told, because the marines' pick up trucks are sometimes assaulted with grenades. I slouched on my seat and barely said anything throughout the ride to our first stop.

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This one never left my side. Bualu Bat Sanctuary, Maimbung.
 
So in what context was Mac's statement raised then? I must have smelt of fear. No thanks to the old lady I sat next to earlier aboard the turboprop plane from Zamboanga whose uncalled welcome remarks consisted of a vague historical timeline, a list of people who got killed within a three-kilometer radius from the runway where we were taxiing, and an advice to wear the hijab.  

She rounded up with "Enjoy Sulu!". Enjoy. The verb seemed like a challenge.

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First meal on the island. They stood guard while I gobbled my tiyula itum (black soup).

I attempted to sweep away morbid thoughts as I soaked up the jolt of morning rush through my window. Jolo the capital, resembled other Southeast Asian Islamic cities. Mosques, hijabs, halal food stalls, discreet/nonexistent pubs. The streets were abuzz and locals went about their business as if the socio-political turmoil in the island province is no more than an urban legend.

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 Beautiful. Deserted.

On our day one itinerary — and when I say 'itinerary' I mean a computer-printed itinerary in a spreadsheet layout, bulleted by military time  — which Mac constructed, were sights that serve as prelude to cultural immersion. Museum, the provincial capitol, old Spanish towers. I'm usually not the itinerary kind of backpacker, but for that trip it was imperative to let go of the helm.

To follow whims. To entrust one's life. 

My distress somehow faded as the day progressed. Never felt like I was under any kind of threat, and I wondered if escorts were really necessary or we were simply babied so the marines could mark a good impression.

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 Raja Baginda (reputed first Muslim ruler of Sulu) Shrine in Camp Bud Datu.

Approaching sundown, we were rushed (they wouldn't risk joyriding in the dark) to Bud Datu where the 9th Marine Battalion was encamped. Had dinner and a few beers with the officers on a balcony overlooking the capital and a mountain territory of Islamist separatist group Abu Sayyaf, before slumbering in a room setup for visiting commanders.

That night was devoid of unease. Even though we chewed on stories of casualty, of sorrow, of boredom, of finding love in a seemingly hopeless place. I drew an early conclusion that Sulu, at least at that time, wasn't as menacing as I the outsider assumed. That the place could easily be explored by a brave few when not under fire.

In the next two days, unfortunately, my sentiments made a total turnaround.

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View atop Camp Bud Datu.

Mac began his day two prologue in the van with some random report. "Meron pa sigurong bente na andun sa bundok (There are probably twenty people left on the mountain.).", he was referring to kidnap victims. Apparently separatists and extremists are always on the prowl.

Why he shared this piece of information? I must have smelt of ridiculous courage. And he didn't want to take chances.

"He'll die for you.", the words from yesterday echoed and resonated.

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He who will die for me. He who let out a muffled snicker while I sweat under his three-kilo helmet. Oh how we killed waiting time.

I put my guard back up. And it stayed on for the remaining days of our trip that was a mishmash of island hopping with fourteen marines, armed with heavy artillery; driving through no man's lands, and sometimes trudging on them; trying out wayside cafeterias, where the marines themselves are afraid to dine in; and crossing bamboo bridges in a water village to catch weavers of pis (local woven textile) do their magic.

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A looker that can mask bedlam. "Floating Cottage", Maimbung Bay.

We were introduced to a band of government officials, more marine officers, a member of the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), civilian women who "guard" their municipality at night (against invaders), and a community rebuilding their reclaimed area. Their choice of staying in their respective hometowns amidst the on and off unrest, to me, is unfathomable. They live in anxiety. Not the I-need-dibs-to-pay-the-bills kind of anxiety that attacks every month, but the I-could-lose-a-house-or-loved-one kind of constant anxiety. My first world issues here are nothing but trivial.

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Kept pristine, perhaps by conflict. Teomabal Island.

Was I surprised with this realization? Let's just say I was caught off-guard by something else.

Reconnaissance, or simply recon, is an exploratory mission to gather information about an enemy's territory. It wasn't my objective, but I underwent a recon of sorts. My enemies: doubt, fear, and an adolescent ignorance. I studied them. Overcame them. Handed my life to strangers who would literally catch a bullet for me, and I didn't even know their names. Lent my occasionally stuck up ears to folks whose narratives are bereft of social media lingo.

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Sunrise view from Mt. Bayug Eco-Cultural Park. Depicting hope.

I tasted victory, but there was nothing to celebrate about. Similar to my first world issues, my personal victory is trivial here as well.

I left the province with a change in character. Akin to a soldier who left the battlefield... There's simply no turning back to my old self.