Learnings, moving forward

I wish I could end 2012 with a high note like I did 2011.  But the last quarter of this year hasn't exactly agreed with me and left me spiraling down a hole full of self-doubt and confusion.  Normally, I'd just hold my chin up, flip my hair, and strut like I owned the world.  But the successive blows I've received didn't really leave much room for me to get up and prep myself for that catwalk.

So in a last ditch effort to find inspiration before the year ends, I popped onto one of my favorite author's blog in hopes that his usually cleverly written New Year's wish would lift my spirits.  But one day before New Year's Eve, Neil Gaiman hasn't posted anything yet.  Bummed, I checked his 2011 New Year's post and found the inspiration I've been yearning for:

"I hope that in this year to come, you make MISTAKES.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. 

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever."

And then I realized, that's exactly what I have been doing.  I have been making mistakes.  Glorious mistakes, as Gaiman puts it.  I could dwell on the pain and the frustration of those mistakes but this coming 2013, I am choosing to dwell on something much better : the LEARNINGS.

I remember always telling the younger members of our team at work that during my short stint in the corporate world, the thing that stuck in my head the most were the three words that we abide by after every glitch we encounter:


Words that, to my joy, they never forgot.

And now, it's time to practice what I preach.  2012, I am ready to move on from you, learnings in tow.  And 2013, I AM ready for you.  LET'S DO THIS, BABY!

For luck!  During our February 2012 trip to Taiwan, our tour guide made us ring this
bell in a temple in Keelung.  He said it's for luck.  While I am yet to decide if I believe in luck
or not, I am channeling every possible good vibes that I could to join me
in this new journey called 2013 :)

Oh, the holidays!

Who says Christmas is only for kids?  Definitely not me!  Sure, we don't get month-long breaks like we used to nor do we get to open as many gifts from "Santa" on Christmas Eve, but there's just something about the December breeze, the Christmas carols echoing through the night, and the smell of mom's special dish wafting through the air that keeps the Christmas spirit alive for me.

Christmas (aside from my birthday!), is the one of occasions that I refuse to be diluted by stress, worries, and all the other adult stuff.

And on this note, I hope everybody's enjoying the holiday cheers!  'Coz 'tis simply the season to be jolly :)

Christmas greetings from Kourtney the, um, pugdeer?  Ho ho ho.

In black & white

It's no secret--I love colours.  I even have an entire post dedicated to it! (Read more about it here.)  But there are times when some photographs just turn out more beautifully in black & white.  Maybe it's the drama or the nostalgia it gives the scene or the subject.  And how you end up having an entirely different story.

So I scoured through my library of photos and found some snaps that turned out better in black & white.  Here are some of them.
*Most of the photos were taken using my Nikon D60. But there are some that were taken using just my phone camera or now-kaput point-and-shoot camera.
The city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Carbin Reef

Known for its famous chicken inasal (native chicken), Masskara festival, and raving night life, people from Manila flock to Bacolod City not for the sights but for the people, the food, and, well, the parties.

I was in college when I first set foot in the City of Smiles.  Two of my close friends and I lived there for three months for a documentary we were filming for our thesis.  Years later, I would keep coming back to what became one of my favorite places in the Visayan region.

But in all those times that I visited Bacolod, never did I imagine that there would be a piece of island paradise near the city.  Until this year.

For our three-day trip, our host, April, decided to include a sidetrip to a small island called CARBIN REEF.

Fishing frenzy!

*Okay, so that's the name of a mobile game but once you see the videos below you'll get what I mean ;)

There's a feeling--an AWESOME, awesome feeling--that you get when you're underwater.  I could write about it but it's really one of those experiences where you have to be there to know what I'm talking about.

But maybe this video will give you a clue what I'm raving about:

Swarmed!  You won't miss me.  I'm the one in the neon-sleeved wetsuit ;)

October 6, 2012
The Cathedral Dive Site
Anilao, Mabini, Batangas
Video taken by : Ainna Vidad
Camera : GoPro Hero 2

And from inside those swarming fishes, this is how it looks like :

October 6, 2012
The Cathedral Dive Site
Anilao, Mabini, Batangas
Video taken by : Ainna Vidad
Camera : GoPro Hero 2

Did I say awesome? ;)

cruisin' the waters of cagraray

When you say Albay, Bicol, people automatically think, "Mayon Volcano".  While Mount Mayon is a truly awesome work of nature with its breathtakingly perfect cone, there are actually a lot of other places and things to see in the province.  Definitely, a visit to the pili nut capital of the Philippines won't be complete without dipping your feet in the waters.

I pretty much learned how to swim in the beaches surrounding my mom's hometown, Sto. Domingo.  But even though I spent almost every summer of my childhood there, there are still so many islands beyond the town that I haven't explored yet.

During our recent four-day visit, my uncle arranged for us a tour of the Cagraray group of islands in the municipality of Bacacay.  While the waters of Cagraray aren't as clear as Palawan's and its sands aren't as white as Boracay's, the island hopping proved to be a whole lotta fun for us.

Dear Mama Betty and Papa Apin...

My grandmother, Beatrice Rodriguez,
and my grandfather, Serafin Rodriguez.
This was how I would always start my letter to my grandparents when I was a kid.  Almost every summer, my parents would "deport" me, my sister, and my brother to the family compound in Sto. Domingo, Albay for at least a month.  I grew up bonding with my cousins.  During the summers my siblings and I weren't able to visit, I would write my grandparents long letters. (Although, I honestly can't remember what they were about!).

Then one vacation, my grandfather, Papa Apin, called me to his rocking chair.  He said, "You know, hija, in writing, there is a thing called protocol.  When you write to a couple, you always put the name of the man first followed by the lady's name."

That would be my first ever lesson in writing.

Years would go by and I would continue to develop my love for the craft.  My grandfather wanted us to be lawyers. (At least I remember him telling me that I should be a lawyer.  Years later, I would find out that he also told my brother that.)  For some reason, none of us felt inclined to take up law.  Nevertheless, I knew that he was proud of my writing.

And this post is all about thanking him and my grandmother not only for that encouragement but for all the love we were showered with growing up.  Last weekend, we had a family reunion in Sto. Domingo and during the lighting of the lanterns, I know we all felt a ripple of gratitude flow through us towards the two people who made sure we grew up knowing the value of family and togetherness.

The Family Legacy.

So to our dear Papa Apin and Mama Betty (I got that right!), THANK YOU.  Like my niece, Jann, said, "We're all right where we should be."



I'm attracted to bright hues like children are to candy.  From clothes to accessories to bags to notebooks--the more colorful, the better!  Heck, I even have a set of Faber-Castell Colouring Pens which I use to update my planner with.

So I decided to indulge my fancy for colorful stuff today and went around the house snapping photos of my favorite eye-candies.

Habagat Heroes

"The Filipino spirit is waterproof."

When torrential rains began lashing the country on Tuesday and several areas were submerged in gigantic floods, this tagline spread around social networking sites like wildfire countering the devastation that was sweeping the nation.

There was no typhoon.  It was only the habagat or the southwest monsoon that brought us heavy rains for over a week but it was enough to cause Filipinos to fear that this might mirror Typhoon Ondoy, the most devastating typhoon to hit the country three years ago.  My friend, Madel, even commented that it was like 2009 all over again what with netizens setting aside senseless status updates and utilizing Twitter and Facebook to spread public service announcements, emergency hotlines, and calls for help.

But in the midst of all the devastation, stories of loss and desperation, emerged tales of courage, strength, and heroism.

Ode to food

Photo taken during a food trip in Binondo, Manila.

I'm a 100% foodie.   Whenever I travel, local delicacies are always part of the itinerary.  Discovering new dishes excite me in the same way old favorites never fail to satisfy my palettes.

Recently, my friend, Sheilla, asked me to help her start a food blog.  I rarely post restaurant reviews (except when I'm really impressed with the place), but while I was constructing my friend's blog, I was inspired to post my shelved photos of one of the most pleasure-inducing things in the world--FOOD!

Some of the photos, I've already forgotten when and where I took.  But then again, details don't matter once your mouth starts to water ;)

Garlic shrimp (Cafe Romulo).

Forgotten captures

Lotte World, Seoul, South Korea.  A photo taken
during our November 2011 trip wihch I rediscovered
while browsing through my archives.
Over the years, I have learned The Art of Not Over-Posting Photos (something I learned from my photographer friend, Fritz).  I used to post 150 plus photos on Facebook in one go thinking a profile shot with my hands on my hips has a largely different effect compared to the same profile shot with my hands by my side.  (Talk about vanity oversharing haha.)

Now, I sanitize--choosing and uploading only what I think are the best shots, and keeping the rest in my archives.

But I never erase photos.  Even the badly shot ones.  Because while the raw photos are taking so much space in my external drive, sometimes, when I browse through them, I rediscover some shots that I took that's, hey, not at bad at all!

And here are some of them:

Music junkie.  (LEFT) My old iPod mini.  Photo is an outtake from the Project 365; (RIGHT) On a wall in Hard Rock Cafe in Bali, Indonesia.  

Gaga over Lotto.  Another outtake from my Project 365.  Taken during the days when everyone was going gaga over the Lotto jackpot that ballooned to several millions.

Clear waters.  Taken at Magalawa Island in Zambales.

Project Pilipinas : Coron, Palawan


(Photo by Branden Milla.)

*Photos on this post were taken from both my September 2011 trip and June 2012 trip.
*All underwater photos were taken by Conrado Vidad Jr. and Ainna Vidad. 

"Coron next month! Game?"  When I got this message from my friend, Mark, it took a while before I replied.  I've been to Coron, Palawan with my family before and it wasn't really on my list of "Place to Visit" for the year.

But I'm glad I agreed to come the second time around.  Because, really, no matter how many times you've been there, Coron's beauty will never cease to take your breath away.

The temples of Siem Reap

The road to the Angkors in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia.
"We've been in war for years.  We're tired of hatred.  We just want to be happy."

This was Mr. Kim San's reply after I remarked that all the Cambodians I've met so far were genuinely friendly and seem to be always smiling.  It's been more than a year since my friend, Ces, and I went to Siem Reap Province, Cambodia and up to now, I still keep in touch with Kim San, our tour guide.

His father was one of the hundreds of thousands killed during the genocide which spanned from the 1960's to mid-1990's.  And at age 12, Kim San was caught in a crossfire.

At one point, I stood silently and wondered how these temple cities, built during the Khmer empire, survived a very dark past.  And then as I continued to explore the Angkor region, I understood how one can be drawn to these architectural treasures whose walls echo stories of war, grief, survival, and finally, a people healing itself.

The Angkor Wat

Arguably the most popular among the temples, the Angkor Wat is mesmerizing both in daylight and sunrise.


I love photographing people.  Every person has a story to tell and sometimes the simplest movements--the twitch of an eye, the sway of the hips, a lopsided grin--can speak a thousand words.

In my line of work, I've been lucky enough to have met people from different walks of life.  It was back in the early 2000's that I was in the field or in an out of town coverage more often.  Too bad, I wasn't yet that much of a shutterbug then and digital and phone cameras were still a rarity.  Luckily, later on, I never left for a shoot without a camera in tow and was able to capture the faces of some of the most interesting people I've met.

And I would like to share some of their stories with you.

October 2011.  An old woman preparing to play the guitar for an Aeta ritual dance at the Pastolan Village in Subic.

Heart and Seoul

"Friend, let's go back here during spring!"

We haven't even left Seoul yet but my friend, Pat, and I were already planning our return.  We, along with some other friends, went there during autumn last November with the colors of yellow and orange accentuating the city.  It made me curious how South Korea would look like during spring with other colors in bloom.  Like I said in one of my previous entries about about Seoul, even before the halyu wave rose and even before I knew what "k-pop" meant, I have always been fascinated with the megacity.  And true enough, I fell in love with it during our first visit.

View from our room.

I was so awed by my experience, I realized I've never really written a detailed blog entry about it.  So while searching for promo fares that would take us again to my now-favorite city, I decided to do one based on a first-timer's experience since I've had friends asking me for travel tips.

I already wrote about all the lovely and unique cafes you'll find in Seoul (Read about them here).  So I thought I'd write about some of the must-see places in the city.

The waves of Baler

I can't believe it's almost March and I don't have a decent beach trip planned yet.

That was what I was thinking while browsing through Travelfactor.org's site a couple of months ago.  I usually plan trips DIY style but at that time, I just wanted to get away minus all the planning and researching. (We also went with Travelfactor for our Mt. Pulag trip last year.  And I can say, it was really hassle-free!)  While going through the list of their upcoming trips, the words "SURFVIVOR BALER" caught my eye.

I've done surfing in La Union several times.  And I've always been curious what it would be like to ride the waves in Baler seeing that so many people I know enjoy frequenting the province.  So without hesitation, I contacted my friends Peter and Jen and registered for a weekend of adventure.

The road to Baler
As expected, Travelfactor's service did not disappoint.  The three of us met up with the group and Aica, our designated travel coordinator for the trip, at McDonald's El Pueblo around 11:00pm.  Then around 12:00mn, we boarded the tourist bus and headed to Baler, Aurora.

For those who are planning a DIY trip, here's how you can get from Manila to Baler:
BY PRIVATE CAR.  You can get to Baler via McArthur Highway and Daang Maharlika, or thru NLEX ( EXIT at Mabalacat toll gate) and SCTEX ( ENTRY at LaPaz, Tarlac toll gate) until you get to Cabanatuan City . From Cabanatuan, take the Nueva Ecija-Aurora highway, passing thru the towns of Talavera , Rizal, and Pantabangan until you reach the Aurora border, then thru the towns of Maria Aurora, San Luis , and finally, Baler. The ride could take about five hours.
BY PUBLIC BUS.  Genesis Transport Bus provides the only direct route to Baler from Metro Manila. One way fare costs PhP404. Its terminal is located along EDSA in Cubao, Quezon City. There are three trips a day starting at 4:30 A.M. till 7:30 A.M. The bus ride could take about six hours.  (Via Beautiful Baler Tours)
I thought it was going to be a looooong ride but before I knew it, we were already in Baler, watching the sunrise. (Yes, if you must ask, I slept through the whole ride.  That's my special skill haha.)

Hello, Baler.

When in Bali

"Koryyyyyyyyn!  Good news!  I get to take two blogger friends with me on a free trip to Bali!"

It was a Monday afternoon when I received that call from my friend, Jen.  Like I said in my previous post, despite all the hype about the Indonesian island, Bali was never on my bucket list, mainly for three reasons:
1)  I've been told more than once that Bali beaches don't come close to the beauty of the Philippine beaches;
2)  Bali is a very expensive place.  Hotel and resort rates are sky high; and
3)  There are no direct flights from Manila to Bali.  Prior to Philippine Airlines's inaugural flight to the island last April 28, anyone from Manila who wants to go there would have to take a plane either to Jakarta or Singapore and then book another one to Bali.  With all the promo fares left and right, Filipinos could fly to available Asian destinations for as low as USD70.  So if you're a practical traveler like me, you'd think twice knowing you'd spend less on other countries or traveling around the Philippines.
But who would resist an all expense paid trip, right?  And, of course, the chance to finally find out if the popular beach destination will live up to its reputation.  So what ensued after were four days of exchanging details, emails, and harried packing.

And finally, come Saturday night, we found ourselves on-board the plane bound for Bali, Indonesia.

Destination paradise?  Curiosity at its peak: We left Manila eager to find out if there is some truth to all the hype about Bali, Indonesia.

Under the Bali sun (A sneak peek)

Bali, Indonesia has never been on my bucket list.  But when my friend Jen called me and said she gets to take two blogger friends to go with her on an all expense paid trip to Bali (courtesy of Philippine Airlines), it took no more than two seconds to convince me that this would be the perfect opportunity to see if the island's motto Bali Dwipa Jaya ("Glorious Bali Island") will hold true to its promise.

So did it?

I'll reserve the answer for my next post ;)  For now, I'll let you see for yourself :)

Project Pilipinas: Cagbalite Island

Just recently, a friend asked me to recommend a beach for a quick weekend getaway.  Without blinking, I said "Cagbalite Island" (or Cagbalete to some).

I discovered this island through a friend years ago.  Ever since, I've been recommending it to other friends as well.  What I like about this unspoiled beauty is the peace and quiet and the bareness of it all.  Perfect for when you want to detach from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Project Pilipinas

"You know your country is very beautiful.  The problem is, unless you're a local, you really wouldn't know how to go to all those nice places."

We were in Anilao, Batangas capping off a day of diving with some drinks with two French divers (whose names have escaped me).  They both worked at the French Embassy in Manila and were telling us how they would love to go around the Philippines only there isn't much info for them to go by.

Then it got me thinking.

When you say "Philippines", the first thing that usually comes to a foreigner's mind is "Boracay".  And, of course, Manila.  Don't get me wrong.  I love Boracay. But this archipelago is more than just that.  Unfortunately, the world is unaware that among our 7,107 islands lie so many hidden wonders.

I laud the Department of Tourism for coming up with the "It's More Fun in the Philippines" campaign, with an online hype that swept the country.  I've done my own share of internet meme and now, I've decided to go a bit further, put my wanderlust to good use, and start a personal project which I am calling "PROJECT PILIPINAS" (Project Philippines).

The project is simple.  I'll be posting about my past travels within the country along with some useful information (how to get there, how to go around, places to stay, tips, etc.).  Hopefully, when researching about the Philippines, some random Googler (be it foreigner or local) will come across my blog and be encouraged to visit all those places.

I mean, who wouldn't want to go to any of these:

Cagbalite Island in Mauban, Quezon.
The Mayon Volcano in Albay.
The Caramoan Peninsula in Camarines Sur.
The Deer Farm in Camarines Sur.

Mount Pulag in North Luzon.
Magalawa Island in Zambales.

The crater of Mount Pinatubo in Pampanga.

And these are just some of those wonders I'm talking about.  So stay tuned for more!

Sunset in Donsol

After three hours of literally chasing whalesharks in Donsol, my companions and I sat by the seaside and enjoyed the last rays of the sun while sipping our fruit daiquiris.

And then in the middle of our conversation, a figure gliding across the sea caught my attention. Without hesitation, I took out Bono, my trusty camera, and snapped several shots.  Later on, I would realize that there were at least six of us taking photos from different angles.

I've always believed that a subject can be interpreted a thousand different ways. Here's my version of that moment.

Taipei a la gastro

Four days in Taipei and I'm pretty sure I already gained several pounds! Seriously, if you're going to Taiwan, Item No. 1 on your To-Do list should be:  EAT LOCAL FOOD.  The best ones aren't those served in restos but those you can buy on the side streets.  Tried some (or should I say a lot?) of them and here are my personal recommendations:

Street food
 Would you believe that for only NTD 100 (USD 3.57), you can already have a full dinner for two? Yep.  Lined up along the streets of Gongguan are dozens of stalls that offer a wide range of street food.  During our second night, Djong and I settled for a dimsumfest.

TAIPEI 101: Taipei tips and whatnots

By this time yesterday (11:00 p.m.), our feet would already be hurting from all the walking but we would still be scouring the hundreds of stalls inside our chosen night market for the day.

This is how I usually am after I come home from a trip:  HUNG OVER.

I just got back from Taiwan and unlike my trip to Seoul, I was able to read up on Taipei weeks before our departure.  But despite that, we still hit a lot of funny snags during the four days we were there! Good thing my friend Djong and I were both good sports and just ended up laughing the whole time.

Anyway, here are a couple of tips I got throughout the trip which, hopefully, will be helpful to random "googlers" who are thinking of going to the Formosa (Translation:  Beautiful island).

The weather
During late February, the temperature in Taipei usually ranges from 15 to 18 degrees Celsius.  I asked several people who've been there and was told that it's just your usual office air-conditioning temperature.  I also read somewhere that Taipei weather is volatile--it could be cold one minute then hot the next.  So I unpacked all my thick coats and replaced them with knits, long-sleeves, and thin jackets.


When we got there, it was FREEZING!  It didn't help that the cold was accompanied by strong winds and rain.
Rainy Taipei.

Good thing, though, we both had handy umbrellas with us.  Otherwise, we'd be soaking wet the whole time!

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