Archive for the ‘vacation’ Category

The first time I have been to a zoo was when I was seven years old. It was Manila Zoo and there were still lots of animals there at that time – rhinos, giraffes, hippos, antelopes of all shapes and sizes, and tons more. I went back two years ago with James and it was a pitiful site. Half of the cages were covered in feces, the animals, or whatever’s left of the number of species exhibited, were thin and sickly. The smell was intolerable. We went home sad after the experience.

Now that I am on vacation leave, James and I took the opportunity to go to the Avilon Zoo in Montalban, Rizal, with my oldest nephew, Vien. From our place in Cainta, we went to Sta Lucia East Mall for there is an FX terminal bound for Montalban. For P40, we snaked through the streets of Marikina, San Mateo and then Rodrigiuez to what seemed like a day’s travel to such unknown lands. At last we reached the landmark gas station, rode a tricycle to the zoo along a very rocky path.

The fee was P300 for adults and P200 for kids and a tour guide for P400. We no longer took a guide so we had a lunch first (yes, we went there during high noon, under the glaring sun of Rizal!) and saw three arapaimas in the large pond. Armed with Off lotion slathered on our skin, bottles of cold water and lots of face towels, we went inside the zoo to look at the animals.

We first saw the numerous geese, swans and ducks and then the pet animals and then the farm animals. The Martha-wannabe in me dreams of having my own farm taking care of silver pheasants, golden pheasants, peafowls and swans! Then we went to the arid habitat section where we saw the small fennec foxes and snobbish caracal. It was a bad timing for us for certainly these animals are taking cover from the midday sun. Then we went to see the flightless birds section where I saw ostriches and learned that there are several types of cassowary!

Off we went to the bigger mammals section where a hippo was resting under a bridge, wallabies (cousins of the kangaroos) were resting in the shade, a tree kangaroo was on a branch, small deer were grouped together, probably gossiping among themselves the arrival of a cute guy like me!

Me, my nephew and the warty pigs!

Then we went to see the big cats but before that we saw an opportunity to feed the arapaimas with chicken heads for only P20! We took the challenge and I panicked when I saw how it was like to have more than ten arapaimas jumping out of the water to get to the food! I forgot that these fish jump out of the Amazon River to catch birds and small monkeys in the canopies when the river overflows. Then we saw, or rather awakened, a lion, saw Bengal Red and White Tigers, Puma or Cougar, Clouded Leopard and a Malaysian Sun Bear. I know he is a bit out of place but do you know that Sun Bears are victimized by the traditional Chinese medicine trade which considers their bile medicinal? The poachers attach plastic tubes to the bear’s insides to draw out the bile while the bear is still living! Efforts are being made to stop this heinous crime to animals!


Then we went to see the small and big primates : lorises, marmosets, macaques (there is a white one who was alone in the cage who masturbated in front of us – oh, what sadness can do to one’s sanity!) and orang-utans! The big primate spat at the noisy onlookers and they all laughed. I wanted to tell them that the reason he spat was because he was irritated of them! So move on!

The naughty white guy!

Then off we go to the reptiles: numerous crocodiles, alligators and gharials. Gharials are smaller crocodilians with elongated snout perfect for hunting fish and small invertebrates. They are not known to attack humans but they fall prey to habitat destruction.

Next stop were the birds! Well, you know how I love big birds with beautiful behinds (and you know what I mean *wink*) and the exhibit did not disappoint me, from the ultra colorful peacocks to the lesser colored finches, to the noisy sun conures to the laughing thrushes, from the big-beaked hornbills to the scary falcons.

Can't wait to get my hands on that ass!

There was a never a pungent smell of feces in the air and we saw a lot of zoo staff cleaning cages, changing the food bowls, hosing down plants and showering the birds with water. There are also satellite snack bars inside the zoo perfect for sudden thirst. I particularly like the benches in front of the birds’ cages inviting the patrons to sit down and listen to songs of nature. The restrooms, available around the property, were also clean.

Soon the tour was over; we got home, took a quick shower (for Tessa and Sam would soon become too curious with all the animal smell we took home) and simply were very happy with our latest zoo trip!

Now, that monkey got me thinking of my family tree!


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Tuguegarao – Double Check!

I was born in San Juan and so was my mom. My dad was born in Dumaguete but since I never grew up with him, I never had the chance to go to their province. I was not allowed to join the annual vacation in my uncle’s house in Cainta when I was still a kid because I was so sickly my grandmother wanted me to be beside her all the time.

So every time there is a chance for me to go to any province in the Philippines, I’d grab it. Last weekend, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit, for the second time, the city of Tuguegarao in the Cagayan Valley. We first went there by the invitation of Manay, a former teammate from The Firm and a very good friend. It was her wedding to Attorney in 2008. We took the bus in going to and from their place up north and we spent roughly 20 hours for the trip!

This time, it was their baby’s baptismal and I am to stand as ninong (or ninang) and I was very happy to be invited.

They say that you will not see much in Cagayan as opposed to the more tourist-flocked Boracay or Palawan but I beg to disagree. I come to places not to look for what I want to see but to see what they have to show. To learn more about the place and not be a tourist in my own country (pasok si Susan Calo Medina!).

Last time we were there, we visited the world famous Callao caves. A network of chambers, the Callao caves are famous for the shrine that was built inside the first chamber where natural lighting comes from an opening in the cave’s ceiling! The caves are also famous for the archeological artifacts found there by people from The National Museum which showed that there was an early human settlement inside the caves. Sadly, it rained on that day so we were only able to see as far as the third chamber and I think there are seven.

This time, we spent our precious vacation time (after the baptismal) to visit the miraculous Our Lady of Piat Shrine. They say that people with wishes to go abroad for work or leisure would best pray to the Lady of Piat. I went there, not to pray for anything connected with going abroad but to give thanks for all the blessings I’ve been receiving. Especially, the blessing of having such wonderful friends around me. Some of us belong to different industries already but we still find time to be with each other and bond.

If my friends are worth millions (which I’m sure they more than do), I’ll be a millionaire!

But of course, my trip would not be complete without a gift from James of wooden stuff. We bought wooden bowls with woven edges, wooden fish where you can place a small glass container on its hollow portion, and hotpot placeholders made of pine needles.

We were eyeing the small bangkito made of dao but since we took the plane instead of the bus this time, I might face problems with excess baggage later on.

But what truly set the trip apart from the others was that I was not very tired when we got back to Manila. I had the most northernmost manicure in Tuguegarao and I gained several pounds from non-stop eating of Manay’s mom’s home-cooked meals!

With many places I’ve been to, should I start singing –

I’ve been to Tuguegarao,
But I’ve never been to me!

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El Nido’s Secrets

I have always been very good with assignments. As a student, I would always be very prepared for the class (because more often than not, I have already read the entire textbook even before the first quarter ends), except of course for Algebra.

But last week, if you will remember, I promised to spend that week’s worth of entries about our last summah hoorah in Palawan. But I fell short of that promise.

But as the favorite saying of tardy students goes, it is better to be late than never.

So please allow me to continue our Palawan escapade.

After spelunking in the Puerto Princesa Subterranean National Park, we immediately boarded our assigned vans for one of the longest land trips of our lifetime – from Sabang to El Nido. A good six to seven-hour travel on a very rough road!

Two reasons why it is good to do this sort of long travel at night – one, it is when you usually sleep so no vacation time wasted and second, you don’t get to see the rough terrain and scary ravines on the way. The downside – pray that your vehicle does not break down or you’ll be spending the night in the middle of nowhere!

At exactly midnight, we arrived at El Nido, in front of a bar filled with foreigners whose eyes were glued to the TV screen showing the World Cup games. I am not attracted to Caucasians so I decided to just head to our beach front pension house. After taking a refreshing shower and putting all necessary creams to ward off ageing and mosquitoes, James and I went to sleep.

Early next morning, after taking a nice breakfast, we boarded two boats to do our island hopping adventure! Just to share, I do not know how to swim and I have a big fear of water. So please imagine the self-convincing I have to do before this trip!

Our first stop was the hidden beach. Our boats anchored on what seemed like neck-deep waters with stones and corals. We were told to wear our slippers and life vests as the medium-strength currents can tumble us. I walked, they swam, to the small opening in the rocks and through that we saw a white sand beach with crystal clear waters! Wow!

After wading for a while, we went to the Matinloc Shrine where a chapel was built. The water around it was so blue our guides told us they are so deep, big ship can pass through it! After taking pictures of the site, we went back to the boat. I was eager to move on as the mosquitoes here bite as if they get human blood only once a year!

Next stop was the secret beach. Now, this was the scariest part of the trip. With only a very small opening in the rocks, one has to swim through it to get to the most beautiful beach one can ever see! Only that, the waters is very, very deep! With my lifevest firmly secured, a prayer recited, and four men in the waters (James included) waiting for me to walk down the aisle este ladder, I got into the deepest water I will ever be! And the risk was worth it! It was really a secret beach! It was like a scene in one of Leo DiCaprio’s movies. It was spectacular!

It was almost noon so we headed to Zumizu Island where lunches are served. With freshly caught fish, squids, cucumber salad and watermelon, soon we were energized to get to the rest of the trip!

Our next stop was the secret lagoon! There were just so many secrets here in El Nido! Again, you have to pass through a small opening in the rocks to get inside the lagoon. I was not much thrilled here as the waters became very cloudy with sand for there were a number of people there already. Instead, we roam around the beach and James and I met two adorable black dogs who were very sweet!

On to the lagoon experience, we went to the big lagoon. We stayed on the boat on this one as there are no beaches to land on. The next one was the small lagoon! Again, the waters were so deep, you either have to swim or rent a kayak to get inside the narrow strait. For the thrill, we rented no kayaks and had the longest human banana boat ever – all in vests, holding the feet of the person in front of you while having your feet held by the person behind you – all 21 auditors floating our way inside the small lagoon! It was fun, tiring and scary since you get to be swayed easily by the length of the ‘banana boat’!

Whew! The last stop was 7 Commando beach where the employees of an old logging company, 7 Commando, were stranded and wrote their company name on a rock by the beach years ago. Just like all the other beaches in El Nido, the sand was fine and white, only a few people around, enjoyable compared to the super-packed beaches of Boracay and Galera. We had coconut juices there straight from the shell for only P30 each!

After resting, we got back to our hotel, rested, took some small pasalubongs (I no longer did as the wooden stuff there cost as if there were made of kamagong when in fact they are not). A quick grab of dinner and we’re back on the road to get back to Puerto Princesa.

Tired bodies, cameras almost filled to the brim with shots, burned skin, our eyes just closed to one much needed sleep, and dreamed about the wonderful beaches of El Nido.

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As promised, this the second installment of my Palawan adventure with my audit family from The Firm.

We arrived in Puerto Princesa’s airport shortly after 9AM and was very happy that their airport was very clean and orderly and well ventilated. There are some tour guide companies offering their services but unlike those in other domestic airports, they did not shove their portfolios in everyone’s faces. There were very nice and polite to the arriving guests. Even the porters and drivers were very polite in offering their services. Too bad, we have already our trip planned for us by none other than Elsa Zarragoza (her character in Villa Guadalupe, a telenovela we thought of while we were all still with The Firm).

The airport’s cleanliness and orderliness are only few of the many good things about the city and its mayor, Edward Hagedorn.

After a while, our rented vans, two for the group, picked us up and we went straight to the Irawan Crocodile Farm. It was a very short drive, less than 30 minutes, and our tour would start in 15 minutes upon our arrival so James and I had a chance to scour the many small stores lined up along the walls of the farm for fabulous finds. James bought two silk scarves for her lola for only P50 each. I found myself loving the medium-sized wooden sculptures of a man and a woman holding a basket each. I got them for only P110 each. These two would be perfect as book holders in our room. Three small wooden turtles for P30 each (one was free!) are perfect for the console table with cabriole legs at the bottom of the stairs. And a turtle stuffed toy for my nephew for only P300. I just love shopping for inexpensive items.

Then we are allowed to enter the farm via its administrative building where you would be greeted by a skeleton (ain’t sure though it is real or just a cast) of a very large estuarine crocodile. According to the farm’s tour guide, this particular species ate almost half a human and they were forced to capture it. Forced because naturally, these animals would not be hunted as they are protected by the laws on their preservation, unless they pose real dangers to human. So this one victimized a human and dies after five days from being caught. We kid around saying that probably it died due to depression after it realized what it ate. But the said crocodile was so big, it measures more than 10 feet long!

Then we were showed some pictures in the gallery showing the beginnings of the farm which is a joint project of the Philippines and Japan. After that, we were shown the hatchling room where many baby crocodiles are kept inside deep tubs. Of course, we were told not to put our fingers inside the tubs unless we give them their morning snacks! We instantly remember doing our inventory counts of swine and poultry for our clients and were just thankful we wouldn’t have to do crocodiles. Hmm, I wonder, who are the farm’s auditors?

Then climbed some steel steps to the viewing platform for the adult and teen crocodiles. The Philippines has two species of crocodiles – the Philippine freshwater crocodile which is smaller, endemic to the Philippines and is protected by the law so its skin and other parts could not be sold. This is bred entirely to keep the population at a good level. The second, larger one, is the estuarine crocodile, which can be found in river delta and shallow seas. This species are often reported to have a taste for humans. Yaiks!

Nota Bene : The main difference between crocodiles and alligators is that the former has a narrower snout than the former.

So while in the platform, we saw solitary adult crocodiles bathing in shallow pools. According to our guide, they can jump for several feet if they are in deeper waters. So we are safe from where we were standing. For only P30, you can feed a quarter of a chicken to the group of teen crocodiles on the next pools. I tried it and my shrieks just filled the air. Imagine looking down, dangling a piece of meat to those predators, them biting the bait and you pulling the rope because you cannot let it go and boy, were they pulling back. Once they got the meat off the rope would they quietly let go. Whew!

After that, we were free to roam around the farm to see ostriches, bear cats, parrots and parakeets, and other animals. These were saved from poachers who tried to smuggle them out of Palawan. We tried not to disturb the animals so much that it might stress them.

Then we found this quaint souvenir shop at the middle of the trail and from there I bought my next addition to my mask collection for only P180 and a wooden boat (not those inside a bottle) for only P35. What a bargain!

Before leaving, we had a chance to take our pictures with juvenile crocodiles with mouths tape closed. Now, I would not go for this with other animals in zoos because it is stressful to them, but since I am a bit biased against crocodiles and alligators after watching those video clips of them killing and eating hapless wildebeest, I fell in line for the P30 photo op. I posed as if I was a contestant in America’s Next Top Model. And respectfully thanked both the handler and the juvy croc after the shoot.

After that, we went back to our vans for next leg of the adventure!

Next stop, Baker’s Hill and Sabang.

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My blog has rested for a few days to give way to my first ever vacation in Palawan! My audit family invited me, James and the rest of the former teammates who have already resigned to join in the two-day-and-two-night stay in the Philippines’ Last Frontier.

With Cebu Pacific tickets bought way back in February and with tired bodies from the rushed office work to justify the filed vacation leaves, our group of 22 young (yes, young pa ako!) and fun auditors met at the NAIA 3 tp start our annual get-together out-of-town adventure!

Our itinerary showed that upon landing in Puerto Princesa, we were to go straight to the Irawan Crocodile Farm where Philippine freshwater and estuarine crocodiles are bred. After the Farm, we were to head to the Baker’s Hill, famous for its hopia and then to Sabang to explore the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. It was estimated to be done in the late afternoon and our plan was to travel from then to El Nido and arrive before midnight.

The morning after, we were supposed to do an island hopping adventure in El Nido and be done before sunset. After fixing up and grabbing a hearty dinner, we were destined to endure the six-hour trip back to Puerto Princesa to catch our 10-in-the-Sunday-morning flight back to Manila but with a short side-trip to the market for pasalubong.

The next entries would show how wonderful this ‘huling hirit sa tag-init para sa auditors na makukulit’ adventure has been. Please join me, I am Susan Calo Medina, este Scott Andrada, in Palawan!

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