Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ivan About Town is ten years old!

I still remember the scene vividly. Ten years ago in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, I sat down in front of a rented computer at Trekkers Lodge (a hostel which no longer exists), and typed my first blog entry. It was a spur of the moment thought to actually start a blog.

The blog title, something I simply came up with off the top of my head, in the few minutes I had on the rented computer, was inspired by the thought of being a man about town for travel. And so Ivan About Town became the silly title of my blog.

It was 2005. And I was among the first Filipinos to take advantage of the entry of low cost carriers in the Philippines. Seat sales and piso fares were unheard of before these airlines entered the Philippine market. I booked a "free seat" plane ticket to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia and what happened next is history. 

Ten years later, I have so many things to be thankful for. 

Indeed, this blog has brought me places, literally and figuratively.

In 2007, Ivan About Town was named Best Travel Blog at the 1st Philippine Blog Awards.

I set foot on all provinces of the Philippines in 2010. In 2012, a new province was created and I visited that as well. My lucky stars have brought me to 72 countries and territories so far. I'm crossing my fingers for more trips!

The blog has also been an effective communication tool for our heritage conservation and cultural tourism advocacy. No doubt, it is a big part of the advocacy and one of the reasons I was named one of The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) in 2012.

This month is also the 30th anniversary of my first international trip and travel journal, which I wrote when I was six. I have so many wonderful memories traveling as a kid.

Sometimes, I can't believe I was able to last this long given that the blog is something I work on during my spare time. The past few months have been extra busy, with quite a number of new responsibilities on top of the old ones, which meant a scarcity of posts as you all may have noticed. But we're still here and celebrating this milestone!

I have so many things to be thankful for. And to all of you who have been part of my journey, thank you!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Have you been to the Legazpi Sunday Market lately?

Makati on a weekend is a food lovers paradise. It's especially true on Sundays when the Legazpi Sunday Market, the biggest weekend food market in Metro Manila, serves a regular crowd of foodies, expats and curious locals who enjoy the variety of flavors available.

I explored the Legazpi Sunday Market with my Yoga Tablet 2 which was very convenient to bring. It made it easier to blog and update social media on-the-go. Very easy to use with its the 8-inch full HD 1920 x 1200 IPS display with 8MP rear camera and 1.6 MP front camera.

Imang Salud Ensaimadas are the best ensaimadas in town, topped with queso de bola. For the Kapampangans, check out the balu-balo and pindang damulag!

Finally, after looking far and wide for real Jewish bagels, I found them at the market!

Churros con chocolate anyone?

How about phad thai? Khun Caesar's is really good!

More noodles? Maybe char kuey teow perhaps? This stall serves various noodle dishes from Southeast Asia.

How about Vietnamese food? More noodles!

Takoyaki balls perhaps? I always buy from here.

Or maybe yakitori?

Talk about pork overload at this bagnet stall!

I have friends who swear by this panini stall.

The food in the market is so diverse. I like the couscous and chicken dish from Morocco.

One of the newest stalls is Rodrigo's, the best roast beef in town!

I love the oyster cake. Here's Binondo in Makati.

And it's not just the usual tablet. Aside from holding it, you can also tilt it or make it stand with a flip. And it you have a place to latch it to, you can also hang it when viewing content, freeing up your hands to do other tasks.

With a DSLR, the Lenovo Tablet 2 also works as an external HD monitor for shooting & filming people and places. You can also edit on the spot using photo editing apps. Most important is that it's there for the long ride with its epic battery life (2-cell battery, 6400 mAh lasts up to 18 hours) with Dolby Digital audio, and high performance with its Intel® Atom™ processor.

You should get one for your next adventure and discover something new!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Transitions® Signature™ lenses is great for travel!

Summer is here and it’s so hot! I want to go to the beach or somewhere cold to escape the heat. Don’t we all? I could imagine the summer sun can cause so much damage to my eyes. Which is why I’m relieved that I have Transitions® Signature™ lenses to accompany me as I travel to my favorite beach destinations, and protect my eyes from hot, sunny and glaring discomfort.

The Transitions® Signature™ lenses blocks 100 percent of UVA & UVB rays. Aside from sunblock for your skin, you need to protect your eyes too! And since the lenses fit any prescription and frame, I got one that looks good as both glasses and shades.

But what’s different from your regular sunglasses or ordinary clear lenses is the unique benefit of photochromic lenses – specifically Transitions® Signature™ lenses: they are the most responsive adaptive lenses to date! The shade of the lens tint is not fixed and changes depending on the environment. They adapt to different lighting environments and turn dark, light and every shade in between. When you move from a bright and sunny outdoor environment to an indoor one the lenses fade back to clear fast. And because of this adaptability, I get optimal protection and vision in my everyday pair of glasses.

It would seem I will be visiting beaches in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao during the summer months. So I’ll definitely be taking advantage of the protection and convenience of the Transitions® Signature™ lenses.

I’m looking forward to my trips this summer when the Transitions® Signature™ lenses will come in very handy. This is one great investment. You can get Transitions® Signature™ adaptive lenses from all major optical stores.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Transitions® Signature™ adaptive lenses for the frequent traveler

I’ve been wearing Transitions® Signature™ adaptive lenses for over a month now. And I must say, it was a great decision to get a pair. Given my extremely mobile lifestyle and the frequent traveling, multi-tasking, and unpredictable weather – hot, sunny and glaring one moment, followed by cloud cover later – it’s been so convenient for me as I move around Metro Manila’s skyscraper-filled urban landscape or explore rural areas, the beach or mountain tops.

Transitions® Signature™ adaptive lenses are available in grey or brown. I got the grey lenses. They’re fully clear indoors and at night, and can be worn indoors and outdoors, and all day. When I enter a building, its fast fade back speed helps me cope with the change of lighting. Outdoors, it blocks 100 percent of UVA & UVB rays.

The lenses fit any prescription and frame and are suitable for any age including children.

Last month, I got to use the  Transitions® Signature™ lenses during a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. It was perfect for the indoor conferences since the lenses were really clear. And very handy for the outdoor site visits as the lenses immediately adjusted to the level of sunlight. I also used it during a recent trip to Sarangani staying with indigenous communities. I didn’t need to bring sunglasses.

This is one great investment. You can get  Transitions® Signature™ adaptive lenses from all major optical stores.

Friday, March 20, 2015

That Place Called Sagada: Reminders and tips on how you can best enjoy your Sagada Trip

I’m sure most of you have watched the film “That Thing Called Tadhana” where 2 characters by the name of Mace and Anthony traveled to Sagada to find healing for her brokenness. One of the film’s most popular scenes was when Mace poured her heart out at Mt. Kiltepan by shouting and crying at the top of her lungs. Since the film became a hit, there have been a lot of Filipinos wanting to go to Sagada and do just the same or at least say that they have been to Sagada. Unfortunately, not everyone will experience the same scene especially when you’re side by side with 200 other people at Mt. Kiltepan also wanting to do what Mace did.

The current reality of Sagada as a destination for lonely hearts and soul searching wanderers is now far from being ideal. Traffic along the roads and inside the caves, long queues in restaurants, water problem in hostels are just a few realities during holidays, long weekends, and summer weekends in Sagada. With the great number of tourists going to Sagada, chances are, you will encounter your ex-lover and the new boy or girl during your trip.

Here are some facts, reminders, and tips on how you can best enjoy your first or maybe nth time Sagada trip.

1. Choose a date for your trip that doesn’t fall on a holiday or a long weekend. Sagada is best experienced with less tourists and more locals. That way, you will not be challenged reserving for a hostel and getting a place to eat. The best vacations are those spent with yourself, a few friends, or family and not with 1,000 other tourists. It may be difficult to choose a date  without including the weekend but if you really want to have that perfect vacation, you have to MAKE TIME and PLAN for it.

2. Research on Sagada’s culture and history before doing the trip. Getting to know a little about places and its people will prepare you how to act, dress, and speak in a place different from yours. There are certain rules that must be followed to avoid offensive encounters with locals. Wearing scanty clothes are offensive to locals especially the elders so dress appropriately. Caves and mountains are sacred burial places so treat it with utmost respect by not shouting or singing out loud inside. Know and be aware of Sagada’s indigenous practices and beliefs and use this to better understand the people and their culture. Learning a new culture will make you a better person.

3. Take the bus! Imagine 1,000 other tourists thinking of bringing their private vehicles or joining a van full of tourists through travel agencies in a place where there are no wide roads and parking areas. These private vehicles and vans owned by travel agencies are Sagada’s biggest problems nowadays. Sagada is just a small town that cannot accommodate so many vehicles. Sagada has been known as a walking town. Visitors used to walk and enjoy the landscapes and the different local scenes along the way. Nowadays, tourists bring their vans just to go to a restaurant that’s only 100 meters from the center of town. Walking to the caves or even to the lake is a meditation and an experience of Sagada. The walks may be long but the scenes are breathtaking with its cool pine scented breeze. Make sure you don’t miss this part of the trip. If you are disabled or with a group of senior citizens who cannot do long walks, you can hire jeepneys at the center to bring you around. If you are alone, it will be a good opportunity to join other travelers and share the ride. It will be nice to meet new friends. Hiring local jeepneys bring in money to drivers and their families. Bringing vans or joining travel packages with vans simply don’t. So in that case, where does your money go? Definitely not to the locals.

4. Ask a local guide and take the roads less traveled. Sagada is known as the mecca of cave spelunking in Luzon. Tourists visit this place to try out being adventurous and ticking items from their bucket list. The most popular site is the Sumaging Cave also known as the big cave. According to the local government of Sagada, there are 300 tourists at a time going inside the cave during peak season. So if there are 5 batches of tourists going in, that would be a total of 1,500 tourists per day and a total of 4,500 tourists during a long weekend of 3 days. Sagada offers so many places to see and explore. You can be adventurous by hiking through 3 villages and crossing through breathtaking rice paddies. If you’re lucky, you can even try out rice planting with the locals. Ask a local guide and they can give you more than a hundred ways how to enjoy Sagada. Their stories are much more interesting and accurate than those of scripted non-local guides.

5. Be a “visitor” and not a “tourist.” Being a visitor in Sagada means respecting what the locals can only offer and not demanding your own personal needs. Remember that you are a visitor and not a local resident. Ask and never demand. Sagada is a small town 5th class municipality and cannot handle the needs of people from Manila or other big cities. When you demand to have water for bathing, it also means taking some water from the villages for their daily use. Their restaurants are small kitchens and can only handle a few meals. When they say, they don’t have food anymore, it means the stock they bought during the market day have already run out. They don’t serve food frozen from weeks or months ago. To get better service, order your food at least 3 or 4 hours before your meal. That way, they have more time to prepare your food and serve it as soon as you arrive in the restaurant. Having a “visitor” mindset will allow you to learn to adjust your ways and be considerate of others and sparing yourself from being frustrated from undelivered wants and needs.

So if you’re already planning your trip to Sagada this Holy Week or other long weekend holidays, THINK AGAIN. You might just be wasting 12 hours of road trip only to experience another EDSA in the mountains. Think also of how the community feels when more than a thousand tourists are disrupting their peaceful daily lives. Put yourself in their shoes. It’s not all about the money that tourists bring in to their community but mostly it’s about having a peaceful sleep, clean water to drink, food for the family, safety of their environment, and clear roads to walk on. If this is what you’re bringing in as a visitor of Sagada, then you are most welcome to visit. If not, THINK AGAIN and ask yourself why?

Make your trips and your vacations as meaningful and memorable as it should be, both for you and the community. It’s about time you take a different kind of journey to that place called SAGADA.

This is a guest post by Tracey Santiago, Secretary of ICOMOS Philippines, who is spearheading coordination efforts for stronger measures to ensure sustainable and responsible tourism in Sagada, Mountain Province.
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