Writing from Down Under

There was a time when I wanted to live in a house with a huge kitchen, a sprawling garden, and a white bathroom.  The kitchen had to have an island for chopping and kneading.  The garden had to have lemon trees. And the bathroom had to have a tub.  Those were not possible when I was still in the Philippines.  At least, they did not seem to be.

Today I woke up and I realised that I AM living in such a house.  I am staying for a while with my sister and her family in Sydney, Australia.  The story of how I got here, I wrote about already in another blog.  Read about it here.

It is not easy for me to write about things that make me happy.  They sound corny, or too good to be true.  But even if you pinch me now you will see that all these is true.

I walk most days in disbelief.  I hear the sounds of different birds and actually see them from the lounge of this house, fluttering about from tree to beautiful tree.  This is a bird-watchers’ paradise.  I am not sure if they all get here, but I tried looking up the bird list in Lane Cove and saw this link.  There are about 109 species of birds spotted in the national park! Maybe I can spend part of my year identifying those birds.

And at night, I can get to know the stars of the southern hemisphere, because they are visible from the balcony, even the garden.  Perhaps I should go to the garden before autumn fully is upon us.  Besides, winter’s coming!

I have so many plans this year, but primarily I will slow down; yes, even from the planning and executing.

There ought to be more blogging and writing as well.  I need inspiration for that.  Hopefully the birds and the trees will work their magic.



Carpe Diem!

I’m back. I was just here, reading.

I recently devoured Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin, Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, Perks of Being a Wallflower (in one sitting) by Stephen Chbosky, and I’m sure dozens of other books that I cannot recall at the moment.

I have been writing, for work.  I have been dreaming.  I have been planning.  I didn’t realize it’s been three months since my last post.

I must not slack off that long anymore.  I promise to blog more often. (A promise I tend not to keep, unfortunately.)

There are worlds within me. Words. Innumerable ideas and stories and fantasies.  I know I am meant to write them.

I will just finish this Christmas season.  There is much shopping, wrapping, and partying to be done.  My family is having its much-awaited reunion by yearend for two weeks. Then  I’m going to Disneyland with my niece! Exciting times lie ahead.

Change is in the air.  But I want to do old things, too. I need to meet the Jane Austen Book Club again, and to hold another garage sale.

It has been my experience in life that time and money are inversely proportional. What joy it would be if I were to have them both at the same time.  Like love and career.  Ice cream and cake. Bacon and cheese. Coffee and tea.

It is time to be myself again.


Bohol, According to TravElla

The discoveries one makes when digging up old files.  In another life (read: 2007), I moonlighted as a travel writer for a friend’s now-defunct online travel agency called DiscoverPH.  I found  my articles and thought of posting them here.

As Business Development Manager and travel writer, I created tour packages for Intramuros/Manila, Bohol, Banawe Rice Terraces, and Amanpulo.  I wrote under the pseudonym TravElla.  

My friend even boldly booked us to the World Travel Fair in Shanghai, where I wore t-shirts from Kultura and was the most photographed country representative, tasting my one week of fame.  I was even interviewed on Chinese TV!



I never saw a clip of this interview.  I was most likely dubbed in Chinese.  Anyway, I am posting below my first article as TravElla.

♪♬  I want to stand with you on a mountain

I want to bathe with you in the sea… ♪♬

Hi!  I’m Ella, I love to sing, but what’s of more relevance to you is that I love to travel!  You can call me “TravElla”, which, when pronounced quickly, sounds like “traveler”.  Yes, yes I know, I’m assuming you’re on vacation mode already with this initial show of perkiness.

As your online travel guide, I’ve tried to climb the mountains and swim the oceans that you would discover in our tour offerings and packages.  That turned out to be a long and complicated project to complete, so I started simply by touring the destinations, tasting the cuisines, and sampling the accommodations so that I could give you an experiential account of what to expect.  As to the places I could not reach myself, I made sure to interview people who had actually been there (or done that which you would want to do) so that I could share with you valuable discoveries that are sure to excite you into embarking in your most relaxing or adventurous (whichever appeals to you), vacation ever.  Watch out for Travella’s Tips and Must-Try’s all over DiscoverPh.com!

At DiscoverPh, we have designed tours of selected destinations in the Philippines that take into account your safety, relaxation, enjoyment, and entertainment.

Destination 1.  BOHOL

Travella’s Must-Try:  You MUST include a trip to Bohol in your visit to the Philippines, as there’s real value for money here because of the diversity of activities you and your travel companions could indulge in.  Panglao Island in Bohol has my favorite beaches in the world, covered with fine white sand, yet still unspoilt by human hands.  I hope they continue to protect and preserve Bohol’s beauty even with the growth of establishments that offer modern amenities catering to guests’ various needs and preferences.

1.  Nature’s Wonders

For you our DiscoverPh guests, Day 1 in Bohol features “Nature’s Wonders”.  First we’ll check you in at the resort of your choice.  We’ve included options in our Accommodations Center to suit your budget and preference.  Before finalizing your booking online, make sure to check out Travella’s Notes in each of the featured resorts so you could make an informed decision (it’s a simple procedure, we assure you!).

After a bit of rest and relaxation in your hotel/ resort, we’d take you straight to the natural viewing area of the famous Tarsier, the world’s smallest primate, found only in Bohol and nowhere else.  They could be still as stuffed animals by day because they’re nocturnal beings. (Update: Having their photos taken stresses out the tarsiers, so I have removed my suggestion to do so. – T.)

About the Tarsier:  Its scientific name is Tarsius syrichta.  It measures only about 12 cm in length. Its two big eyes cannot move and do not have a tapetum – or the upper protective tissue. Because of this, the Philippine tarsier has learned to turn its head 180 degrees. It has also two grooming claws on each foot and an almost bald tail extending about nine inches.

Travella’s Note:  I have a toy Dobby, a house elf which I consider to be an irritating character from the Harry Potter series, and its eyes are as huge as a tarsier’s.  No, you didn’t need to know that!  Let’s file this under useless trivia!  The tarsier is actually much cuter.

Travella’s Tip:  If they’re around, you could see flying lemurs as well, and I’ve discovered that they’re one of the most distinct creatures on Earth.  They don’t have wings but they can glide across 100 meters of space in a single leap. Like the lemurs of Asia, they move around at night. A flying lemur’s head resembles that of a dog while its body has similarities with the flying squirrel of Canada. In Mindanao, people call it “kagwang”. Around the world, it is known as colugo or the flying lemur.

Your next stop would be one of the most relaxing meals there could be, right at the floating restaurant on Loboc River.  A sumptuous buffet would be spread out for you while crossing the emerald-green waters of Loboc River.

Travella’s Notes:  The first time I experienced this treat was with my balikbayan relatives (read:  Filipino relatives residing abroad who are home for a visit/vacation) and they could not stop taking pictures of the beautiful scenery and gushing about the delectable dishes served by the friendly Boholanos.   It was all I could do to keep my eyes open after the delicious lunch, with the gentle breeze caressing my face and such soothing music played by a live musician.

I’ve discovered that the town of Loboc is famous for producing musicians, with nearly every family gifted with members who could play different instruments and/or could carry tunes from different genres.  A Philippine movie, Panaghoy sa Sugba,  was actually shot on this river featuring the famous Loboc Children’s Choir.

Travella’s Tip:  There are many waterfalls in the province of Bohol, and one such wonder is Busay waterfalls which you can view right from the floating restaurant.  Try dipping into the inviting waters of the Loboc River and swim to the waterfalls for that perfect souvenir shot of your tropical vacation.  I’ve discovered that foreign tourists cannot resist giving in to this temptation!

Airconditioned restrooms await you upon disembarking from the floating restaurant where you could change and freshen up for the next leg of your journey.  Your next destination would be the Chocolate Hills, named not because they’re edible but because of their chocolate-brown color and their uniform, almost perfect cone shape.  On the way, your guide would point out to you the Bilar Man-Made Forest, the largest man-made forest in the country.  There is serenity to this place, as mahogany trees line the road going up to the town where the Chocolate Hills could be found.

Travella’s Note:  On a recent trip, I fell asleep in the coach and missed the forest!  Such was the serenity it offered.  I’ve discovered that the trees were planted by the people of Bohol to sustain ecological balance and restore the wildlife habitat in the area, as it was threatened by forest depletion.  After 30 years, this forest has developed an ecosystem much like any natural forest. I read that tarsiers, already declared an endangered species, could now be found in the area.

About the Chocolate Hills

(Travella thanks the Official Bohol Website:  http://www.bohol.ph)

The Chocolate Hills consist of 1,268 hills, which some claim to be the exact number.  They are very uniform in shape and are mostly between 30 and 50 meters high. They are covered with grass, which, at the end of the dry season, turns chocolate brown. From this color, the hills derive their name. At other times, the hills are green, and the association may be a bit difficult to make.

Legend has it that the hills came into existence when two giants threw stones and sand at each other in a fight that lasted for days. When they were finally exhausted, they made friends and left the island, but left behind the mess they made. For the more romantically inclined is the tale of Arogo, a young and very strong giant who fell in love with an ordinary mortal girl called Aloya. After she died, the giant Arogo cried bitterly. His tears then turned into hills, as a lasting proof of his grief.

However, up to this day, even geologists have not reached a consensus on how they where formed. The most commonly-accepted theory is that they are the weathered formations of a kind of marine limestone on top of an impermeable layer of clay.  If you climb the 214 steps to the top of the observation hill near the complex, you can read this explanation on a bronze plaque.

Travella’s Must-Try:  This one’s edible:  The crisp and crunchy delicacy, Peanut or Star Kisses (these are two different brands), are shaped like miniature chocolate hills or, to the tourist’s eye, Hershey’s Kisses.  Don’t leave Bohol without them!  They are cheapest at the BQ Mall in Tagbilaran, or so I’m told.  We’ll let you have free samples.

A trip to Bohol is incomplete without going caving.  Choose from Easy, Moderate to Difficult Caves, and we’ll take you there so you could discover why Bohol also claims to be the Philippines’ Cave Country.  There are some 1400 caves that have been counted, and probably many more have escaped notice.  A well- known cave and classified by Boholanos as “easy to reach” is Hinagdanan (“laddered” in Cebuano) cave on the island of Panglao.  This cave has a large number of stalactites hanging from the ceiling, and matching stalagmites sticking out of the earth below them. The cave leads to a large underground cavern that contains a pond. Both ends of the cave are open but swimming in the pool is not advisable as the waters there are not clean.

Cap eventful and exciting Day One with dinner at your hotel, and depending on where you’re staying, you could opt to swim in infinity pools up to 10 p.m. or indulge in relaxing spa treatments.  Either activity is sure to prepare you for much-needed rest.  Dream of your day’s adventure and anticipate the coming attractions.  We’ve only just begun on our Bohol discoveries.

2.Cultural/ Historical Day

Early Risers, unite!  Welcome the sunrise in picturesque Bohol.  Take a boat and go snorkeling.  Bohol Beach Club offers free glass-bottom boat rides for its guests and this trip showcases some of the colorful marine life that Bohol is famous for.

The DiscoverPh Bohol adventure resumes after free breakfast at the hotel/resort with a tour of the historic churches that dot the province, which date back to the early years of the Spanish colonization of the island.

Travella’s Must-See:  The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon, considered as one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. It is also one of the best-preserved Jesuit-built churches in the region.  In the 19th century, the Augustinian Recollects added a modern facade and a number of stone buildings that now surround the church.

About Baclayon Church and Museum:

The first Spanish missionaries or doctrineros in the region, Fr. Juan de Torres and Fr. Gabriel Sanchez, settled in Baclayon in 1595. Shortly after their arrival, a visita was erected on the spot.  Although Baclayon was the first seat of the Spanish Jesuit missionaries, fear of Moro marauders soon forced them to move their headquarters more inland, to Loboc.  In 1717, Baclayon became a parish, and construction of a new church commenced. Some 200 native forced laborers constructed the church from coral stones, which they took from the sea, cut into square blocks, and piled on to each other. They used bamboo to move and lift the stones in position, and used the white of a million eggs to cement them together. The current building was completed in 1727. The church obtained a large bell in 1835.

Next to the church is the old convent, which also houses a small museum with centuries-old religious relics, artifacts and other antiquities, dating back to the 16th century. Included in the collection are an ivory statue of the crucified Christ looking towards heaven; a statue of the Blessed Virgin said to be presented by Queen Catherine of Aragon; relics of St. Ignatius of Loyola; old gold-embroidered ecclesiastical vestments; books with carabao skin covers, and librettos of church music written in Latin on sheep skins.  The museum also houses the cuadro paintings made by the Filipino painter Liberato Gatchalian in 1859.

The Church of San Pedro in Loboc is the second oldest church in Bohol. It was originally built in 1602, but soon reduced to ashes. In 1638, a stronger one was built.  Located near the river, it has survived a number of floods.  Inside the church are remarkable naive paintings on the ceiling. A Spanish coat of arms can be found in the stone wall near the entrance of the convent.   Attached to the building is a three-storey convent, which today houses the Museo de Loboc on the third floor.  This museum houses a few old statues of saints, and some other antique religious artifacts.

In Loboc, you can also admire a shameful witness of wasteful planning. Exactly next to the church is a partly finished bridge across the river. Hopefully, this bridge will never be completed, as, to do that, the Church will have to be destroyed.

The Church of Panglao is located on the south-western side of Panglao Island, 18 kilometers from Tagbilaran. The church is noteworthy because of its twin antique confessionals carved with grape and dove patterns. Its ceiling murals depict the sacraments.

Once the residence of the country’s fourth president, Carlos P. Garcia, the Bohol Provincial Museum in Tagbilaran is a showcase of the province’s exciting history, culture and natural resources.  The Museum also houses the personal memorabilia of the late president and his family.  On display are old relics and a collection of shells found on Bohol’s shores.  Just a few minutes away from the Museum is the Pres. Carlos P. Garcia Memorial Park where a life-sized monument of the president stands.  The statue was done by Boholanon National Artist Napoleon Abueva in marble and bronze.

All this sightseeing does wonders for one’s appetite.  Our Bohol partner, Travel Village, has prepared a menu exclusive to guests who are on this package tour at the Café Olegario and Restaurant at the Clarin Ancestral House.  The café provides fine dining to guests who step back in time as they enter the 19th century house.  Savor Boholano cuisine as traditionally prepared in the region using local ingredients such as tanglad or lemongrass and only the freshest fish and seafood.  As you take this once-in-a-lifetime meal, its unique history is explained to you, adding more flavor to the simple yet tasteful food that are regular fare for the Boholanos.

Lunch is followed by a tour around the Clarin Ancestral House, which was built in 1840.  Declared a heritage landmark by the National Historical Institute, this house is worth visiting.  Its steep trapezoidal roof made of nipa palm leaves, thick woodboard walls and floors, massive wooden posts and mother-of-pearl shell windowpanes that slide open or shut, as well as its wide array of antique pieces, have all been preserved to showcase life in Bohol during the previous era.

Travella’s Note: There are three challenges for guests in the house, involving two doors and one set of stairs.  I only failed the second door-unlocking test and succeeded in the other two.  It made me feel like I was on reality TV or something.

Our guide knew the best spots for souvenir photos and I had my own snapshots inside a beautiful bedroom with turn-of-the-century furniture.  All that was lacking was my terno or Filipino traditional dress, and I felt like I was Maria Clara, dalagang Filipina.

Tiny turtles occupied an ancient bath tub beside the quaint little restroom.  I avoided the monkey that the other guests seemed to delight in watching.  I’m just not a monkey lover.

I found amusing the dedication inside the thick Webster dictionary that was a gift to the Clarin children.  The article read:

“If you want to live to be 100 or more, keep active even after you retire, don’t move to a milder climate, maintain a healthy interest in the opposite sex, and don’t become indolent and take to your bed in the daytime.”

It was copied form an article printed on the August 2, 1954 issue of NEWSWEEK magazine. The tips are still applicable to us, half a century later.

The owners are the Clarin political family who count senators, governors, and mayors as ancestors.  This exposure to high society receptions that played host to presidents, politicians and other prominent visitors to the island province allowed the Clarin kitchen to develop a tradition of culinary excellence that combined local flavors that cater to the discriminating tastes of its visitors.

Travella’s Must-Try:  I’ve never had squid like that before – cooked in garlic to perfection, just right, and not rubbery – with all its ink placed in a tiny saucer beside the main dish.  The ink served as a condiment.  The café’s version of Camote fries is addicting.  My friend and I could not stop eating the appetizer even after the main dish had arrived.

The Church of Our Lady of Light in Loon is the biggest church in Bohol. At the spot of the current church, a chapel was constructed during the term of Fray Manuel de Elizalde in 1753. Some fifty years later, the Augustinian Recollects replaced by the current church in Ionic and Corinthian style. The building has two towers octagonal bell towers, and is fully symmetric.   From Loon Church a long stairway of 174 stone steps connect it to Napo, the former seat of the town. Forced laborers carried wood to build the church from the forest of Maitum.  They had to beat their way through uncharted trails and across rivers.

Another beautiful church in Bohol is the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Dauis, on the Island of Panglao. It is located not far from the bridge that connects Panglao to Bohol. The church was founded by the Jesuits Fr. Diego de Ayala and Joseph Gregorio. The church was built in a mixture of styles, influenced by both Byzantine and Romanesque architecture.  On the ceiling are some impressive frescoes painted Ray Francia in 1916.

The church’s patron saint, the Virgin of the Assumption, is said to possess miraculous powers.  Legend has it that once, when the town was invaded by pirates, the people of Dauis locked themselves inside the church.  However, they soon ran out of provisions and water.  Then a miracle occurred: a well appeared at the foot of the altar.  This same well is still the main source of water for the people living close to the church, and, although the well is only a few meters from the sea, the water is absolutely fresh.

Travella’s Tip:  The water from the well is said to have healing powers.  Don’t forget to bring a bottle and take some home!

Dinner will be served for you at Kamalig Restaurant, which is owned by an Italian and a Filipina.  We have heard so much about this restaurant that decided our guests simply have to visit it, and we’ll take you there before bringing you back to your resort hotel. 

3.Bohols’ Pride

After an early breakfast, we head immediately to dolphin- and whale-watching at Pamilacan Island (http://whales.bohol.ph/island.php).

About Pamilacan Island

Its name is derived from the word “pilak”, which is a large hooked implement made and used by the islanders to capture manta rays, whale sharks and bryde’s whale. The Bohol Sea is said to be a breeding ground of these mysterious but beautiful creatures. The island in previous times served as a watch station against the intrusion of pirates and enemies of the Spanish colony as evidenced by the 200-year-old Spanish fort on the northeast side of the island.

Today, 235 families live in the island. The people used to hunt dolphins, whales, whale sharks and manta rays but these animals are now fully protected by law in the Philippines.

The attractions on the island that may catch your interest include the ancient Spanish fort, the Santa Cruz at the chapel’s altar; the life within the marine sanctuary; and the white beaches around the island.  Pamilacan is a coral island and fossilized seashells can be seen on the island’s rocky hill.  At present, the jaws and bones of marine mammals and whale sharks still adorn a number of homes of the village. The blue waters surrounding the island teem with lush and colorful marinelife.

Ex-whale-hunting boats called canters have been refitted specifically for a safe and comfortable trip.  The spotters and local guides are former hunters who abandoned the centuries-old hunting tradition and participated in this alternative livelihood program. They now serve as stewards of the sea.  Bring waterproof cameras for this one!

Lunch follows at the Bohol Bee Farm, run by multi-awarded nurse-turned-farmer and Boholana Vicky Wallace.  Visit the farm at http://www.boholbeefarm.com/menu.php.

We’ll give you a guided tour of this hobby that turned into an industry.  We’ll immerse you in various farm activities. Well-informed staff will demonstrate and give inputs on the process involved in each activity. The farm activities include: farm tour, raffia-making, furniture-making, sewing/craft, paddling, vermiculture, basket-making, organic farming, and horseback riding. Marvel at the various products including home-baked bread, squash muffins, pure honey, honey spread and bee pollen.  Women would go crazy with a variety of quality handbags available, together with other pasalubong and souvenir items that are sure to delight guests of every age and background.

Vicky herself would tell you it’s all passion and hard work that helped her accomplish all these.  The highly-recommended buffet is guaranteed fresh and organic, with a breath-taking view of the water and relaxing sound of wind chimes to complete the perfect lunch.

Some guests could take advantage of this time to proceed to our 5-day/4-night package, which includes special arrangements for divers, balikbayan, or other interests, while others could opt to avail of resort recreational activities such as snorkeling, swimming, mini-golf, spa, Jacuzzi, etc.  These resort activities depend on which resort hotel you chose for your vacation.

Day Four is reserved for pasalubong shopping at Tagbilaran City before going to the airport.  All our guests have a take-home pack that contains pre-picked products that we ourselves tried, tested and/or tasted.  You are free to buy some more to bring home to your loved ones.  Then, we’ll take you back to Manila and thank you for discovering Bohol with us.

Travella’s Must-Try:  The ube (purple yam) of Bohol is simply über-licious!  Choose from two consistencies – the chunky and the creamy.  I prefer a huge tub of the former, for my dad and me to feast on.

NOTE:  Though DiscoverPH did not take off, our travel partner in Bohol, Travel Village, is still very much around.  You may email me at galadriella2007@yahoo.com if you want a referral. 🙂


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