Saturday, April 22, 2006

A note before I go

Puerto Princessa, April 22, 2006. Weather - sunny, hot, too hot to stay outside.
We've arrived, waiting for the ship to cast off later tonight. A briefing at 6 will establish rules, regs, blah blah.
Am in room B4, Oceanic Explorer. I don't like the room much, prefer the rooms on the other side of the ship. This room is tiny, smells of gasoline (bought baking soda to absorb the smells), and I saw a roach. Bought Raid to kill roaches.
Doing email and blogging, too hot to go outside. May stop by Chowking for a halohalo before returning to the ship. Looking forward to the dives, although can't be certain that I can do all 19 dives. Will aim for a minimum of 4 dives a day though.
Received a heartfelt and passionate plea from S to meet in June. We'll see.
Won't have email for the next 5 days. Thank goodness. No cell coverage either. Must rely on my own resources and sleep. This will be a restful trip.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Will the second time be as charming?

I look at diving as one of my primary hobbies. I don't have too many vices, don't spend too much money on clothes and looking pretty. Diving is not cheap, and much of my savings gets siphoned off by paying for a trip or two. The equipment is an investment. I bought my suit, fins and other gear at the beginning and take care of them. I haven't had to replace any of them, although my short suit is languishing in the bathroom. I should sell it and use the money to pay for a trip!

One of the top ten dive sites in the country is Tubbataha. Better writers and photographers than I have written about the site/s, which is actually a set of dive sites located in the middle of the Sulu Sea. Among local and other international divers, Tubbataha is an ecological paradise, hard to reach, only dive-able for 4 months of the year. It has the blessings of many international environmental organizations, and part of the sustainable development there is covered by the WWF (not the wrestling silly-heads, but the group with the panda logo). Personally, my favorite part of the dives there is the presence of sharks and turtles.

The first Tubbataha trip I went on was in 2004. We had a small group of divers, many of them I met on the boat. We had a good divemaster who had amazing underwater vision, and could distinguish the smallest creatures and sight the big fish hundred of meters away. Our dives were punctuated by excitement over whale sharks, mantas, and lots of sharks and turtles. Each dive was unique, and it was a trip I will treasure for as long as my memory stays sharp. I can still visualize my first brush with the whale sharks, the first coming so close I could distinguish the pattern of her dappled coat and her soft eyes. The feeding manta that played by the boat for over half an hour, somersaulting till we grew dizzy watching it play. The school of barracudas parting like the Red Sea for the Israelites, closing back into their formation when we had passed. So many wonderful memories of that trip.

Tomorrow, I leave for another Tubbataha trip. Some of the fellow divers who were there in 2004 will be back. But most of the group are new to me. It will be a bigger group too. Less space to move around. I'll have a roommate this time. Won't be so easy to make a mess.

But whether this trip proves to be as memorable as 2004, I'm just happy to be going out of town. I need time away from the problems at the office, some new complications in my life, and family. I want to be where the most important part of the day is how many sharks were visible and preventing decompression sickness.

And should things go screwy, I am glad that a few of my important resolutions in life worked out this year. Good luck to me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Holy popcorn batman!

I'm addicted, I admit it. They have made something I really like and would be happy to eat everyday. It would probably kill me if I did eat it everyday though. Holy Kettle Corn. Sweet but not caramel laden. Salty but not like eating a salt lick. Popped to perfection. Few, if any, of those annoying unpopped kernels that you get if you buy cinema popcorn.
I blame Carole, my friend who brought over three bags of the stuff to our group party in February. It was her contribution, but we had so much food that it was left unopened. She told me that it would stay fresh for a few more days. So in the post-party ennui, I opened a bag, and my stomach was hooked.
It doesn't help that there are outlets so near my office. I can go to the left of the building and there's a stand. To the right, there's another.
I buy the P60 bag, and eat it all in nearly a sitting. Sometimes two sittings. Then I lose my appetite for anything else. Would it be different if I were walking around and eating it?
It's supposedly healthy. But nothing that good can be a healthy snack. There's got to be a catch. Probably the only way it is a healthy option is if you eat three kernels.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Returning to old favorites with new faces

How many meals can you inhale over a weekend before it feels like any more calories would lead to a trip to the hospital emergency room? Not that eating is a bad thing, and some of my favorite bloggers fulfill my fantasy of a non-stop feast with some of their posts. But this last weekend does raise the bar on how much I ingested, and it was good food speaking to me, not some lowlife fast-food quest.

J, who's a restauranteur (although very low key and a somewhat reluctant one), started off the weekend by inviting me over for some of the cheese he swiped at a meeting. He said that it would be a simple meal, but I knew that his definition of simple and mine are polar opposites. He didn't disappoint. We had smyrna figs, walnuts, semolina cracked bread, olives and a good red wine to go with our cheese. Then he brought out the big guns, a chocolate fondue, made with 70% dark chocolate, along with a platter of fruit. Another friend followed bearing a trip of gelato samplers. We ate and ate, heading home happy at heart around 2 in the morning. I suspect my hangover wasn't too noticeable at the presentation I organized the next morning, but I could be wrong.

Saturday night, I had organized on behalf of a visiting friend of a friend, a dinner at Galileo Enoteca. After having had the pleasure of dining several times with friends including the famous Marketman lunch last November, GE has become a good place to drag visitors. It's so hidden and part of the fun is looking for it (although by now, I could get there blindfolded). Then they start to say how nice it is, and how they'd never figure it was there. Squeezing 10 when we originally reserved for 8 was also interesting. As usual, the reservation people there do seem to have a problem keeping details straight. I've had lost reservations, and last Saturday wasn't any different. They only had us down for 4, not 8 as I had requested. Conversation never slowed, must have been a good night for everyone, eating all the cheese and meat, pasta, and devouring every speck and lick of the dessert.

Sunday we had a day trip to Sonya's garden in Tagaytay, so I saved myself for a hearty and healthy lunch there, before spending a lazy afternoon being massaged. The evening found us on the balcony of Antonio's fully satisfied with the marvelous food, wine and ambience. It made us think of how to incorporate the place into a party next year. Ideas, ideas. Of course, when we were back at Sonya's, we may have amended the idea by considering having the event there instead, sharing a cottage with 20 of our favorite people.

T and L had not visited the other Antonio's franchise, so we stopped for drinks at Breakfast at Antonio to show the view to the visitors. A bit too much sugar detracted from the overall enjoyment of the view, the sun, the shakes. Was it ironic then that we should go off in search of the Ilog Maria Bee Farm, to buy honey and all the lovely products they make from honey and bee pollen? This was the third time we had planned to visit, so it was truly charmed. No one else was there and a moment of panic set in when we saw the Mondays closed sign. However, the store was very much open and we bought a good lot of things to try including the beeswax wood balm that I've been meaning to get. The idea of waxing my new sampaloc cutting blocks is making me feel very happy right now.

The last stop before returning to Manila was to try Manos Taverna, newly reviewed by Marketman and a few other bloggers. With few other customers out on the town on a Monday afternoon, we had to try as many of the dishes and found our favorites in the tsaziki and moussaka. The baklava was not as deadly as we had expected, but flavorful and nuanced with the clove and sprinkling of calamansi. It was perfect with my muddy and dark coffee.

We really couldn't eat anymore when we got back to Manila. We sat for hours talking, playing with the cats and just sliding towards laziness. What a lovely Monday!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Roach motels

Word of warning: if you hate cockroaches like I do, this post may be offensive to the eyes. Avert now!

I stayed overnight at a local condotel in Makati. I won't go into reasons for why I needed to stay there when I have a perfectly decent apartment. However, the day before I had been canvassing the condotel offerings in Makati and found that the Prince Plaza 2 was the cheapest of the lot, and they had a room available. I also know of the Prince Plaza through it's co-ownership by the ASB group which runs the BSA Suites and Asian Mansion. I can't say that all the ASB group hotels follow the same hygiene protocol, so this "review" only affects the Prince Plaza.

The rooms are sizeable, with enough room for three people to bunk, a small kitchenette and a refrigerator. Compared to the Somerset suites, the Prince Plaza is definitely downscale. The ceiling is starting to peel, the beddings look clean, but worn, and the bathroom could have used a new lick of caulking.

However, what truly grossed me out was the invasion of roaches. If you'd ever seen the movie "Joe's Apartment" you might get a sense of the number I saw of the tiny creepy crawlies I spied with my little eye when I turned on the bathroom light. Eeek. Double Eeek. I called Housekeeping and told them to bring the biggest can of Baygon. They fobbed me off. But as I didn't have time to look for another place to stay (and my visa had been charged already), I headed off to my appointment. Later that night, I had to use the bathroom. Holding my bladder in, I peeked into the bathroom, and saw a tiny speck moving around the toilet bowl. No, can't do this. But I need to pee!!!! Let's say it was roaches - 0, me - unimaginable carnage of bodies. But I really really had to pee.

I could have lasted the night had I not seen a few more of the specks out on the "dining table" whereupon sat some cups and saucers for a possible coffee break. Eck, no thanks, the specks were wandering higgledy-piggledy over the said tableware. Waiting in a corner for the sun to come out (ie not getting a wink of sleep) I left in time to get to the gym for a long hot shower (not before I shook all my things as vigorously as I could imagine, ready to stomp on any moving objects that landed on the floor).

If you got to this point and aren't feeling that sense of ants in your pants (or on your arm and back), then please, avoid PP2. Not unless you have fantasies of battling roach hordes.

Instead for the same price, book yourself a room at the new Hyatt in Manila. Probably not roach infested yet and, look, nice bay views!

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies