Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Safari trip to Kenya's Maasai Mara, Lake Nakuru and Amboseli

Images of highland savannas and wild animals roaming around were vivid in my mind as we landed in Nairobi, Kenya. Many have asked me what destinations I have not been to. And my ready answer always is, "A lot!" And one of the places I was about to tick off my bucket list was Kenya!

I was about to venture on an African safari in a fantastic country at the center of Africa's great migration. We spent the night in Nairobi, Kenya's capital, which sits 1600 meters above sea level. So despite its location near the equator, Nairobi can get really cold.

Despite getting up really early, we ended up leaving Nairobi late in the morning after having to go through the city's notorious rush hour traffic as we picked up other passengers. 

Our first stop was at one of the many viewpoints for the Great Rift Valley which stretches 6,000 kilometers from the Red Sea to Mozambique.

From there, we continued driving down the valley, passing through wilderness and occasional small towns and villages before we finally made it to Narok. It was several more kilometers through dirt road before we arrived at our tented camp, where we were to spend two nights, our jump-off for game drives at the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Tented camps are a cheap but comfortable way to experience Africa's parks. Note that we slept on beds and that each tent had its own toilet. Electricity is available only at certain hours in the evening and morning. But since it gets really cold at night, there's no need for air conditioning.

After tea at the camp, we proceeded to the park. We passed by several Maasai villages. And I like it how locals would wave at us as our van passed by.

At the gates of the park, we were greeted by Maasai ladies selling various souvenirs. The best buys would be shukas (woven blankets used as garments) and beaded necklaces and bracelets. They give the best prices, unlike the many curio shops that try to get as much money from you as they can.

The weather at Maasai Mara was pleasant as we spotted our first impalas, buffalos, zebras, giraffes, elephants, lions and hippos. The excitement that I felt seeing animals in the wild was worth all the hours spent trying to get here from Manila.

I'll talk more about Maasai Mara in my next post. But if you're interested to join safari trips to Kenya next year, e-mail me at ivanhenares@redvinta.com. Also check out my Kenya Safari album.

Part 2: Game drive at Kenya's Maasai Mara National Reserve

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Philippine holidays and long-weekend schedule for 2016 (Proclamation No. 1105, s. 2015)

Hunyo 12 by Claude Tayag (1989 Fiestas Serigraph Series)

Next year is one of those years when many holidays fall on a Sunday. Malacanang issued Proclamation No. 1105, s. 2015 declaring the regular holidays, special non-working days, and a special school holiday for 2016. Instead of just giving you the same list of holidays of the Republic of the Philippines for 2015, this list will help you plan your trips with confirmed and expected long-weekends:

  • January 1 (Fri) - New Year's Day 
  • January 2 (Sat) - Special Non-Working Day (five-day long weekend from December 30, 2015 to January 3)
  • February 8 (Mon) - Chinese New Year (three-day long weekend from February 6 to 8)
  • February 25 (Thu) - EDSA Revolution Anniversary
  • March 24 (Thu) - Holy Thursday
  • March 25 (Fri) - Good Friday 
  • March 26 (Sat) - Black Saturday (four-day long weekend from March 24 to 27)
  • April 9 (Sat) - Araw ng Kagitingan
  • May 1 (Sun) - Labor Day
  • June 12 (Sun) - Independence Day
  • July 5 (Tue) - Eid'l Fitr (pending proclamation when date is confirmed)
  • August 21 (Sun) - Ninoy Aquino Day
  • August 29 (Mon) - National Heroes Day (three-day long weekend from August 27 to 29)
  • September 11 (Sun) - Eid'l Adha (pending proclamation when date is confirmed)
  • October 31 (Mon) - Special Non-Working Day
  • November 1 (Tue) - All Saints Day (four-day long weekend from October 29 to November 1)
  • November 30 (Wed) - Bonifacio Day
  • December 24 (Sat) - Special Non-Working Day
  • December 25 (Sun) - Christmas Day
  • December 30 (Fri) - Rizal Day
  • December 31 (Sat) - Last Day of the Year (four-day long weekend from December 30 to January 2, 2017)

Thursday, July 02, 2015

BPI Credit Card is my travel card!

Travel is a very important part of my lifestyle. That must be the understatement of the year! I always have to plan my trip properly to make sure I make the most of my limited budget. An essential part of my travel is my credit card. Actually, I’ve had only one credit card since I got my own card nearly a decade ago, the BPI SkyMiles MasterCard, which is one of the many BPI Credit Cards available.

Like all BPI Credit Cards, it has the lowest foreign exchange conversion rate of only 1.75% among the top surveyed banks under the Credit Card Association of the Philippines (CCAP). Imagine, other banks charge as much as 3.525% for currency conversion. That’s something you have to look into especially if you are a frequent international traveler.

That’s why I prefer to swipe my BPI Credit Card instead of bringing cash for international trips. While cash has its obvious benefits, bringing too much of it also has disadvantages such as bad exchange rates, exchanging too much, or even theft.

My BPI Credit Card was very handy when I rented a car and drove around Europe in 2011. I used it to pay for the car rental, gas, accommodation, meals, souvenirs, and everything I could use the card with. I got a lot of points because of the purchases.

It was the same story for the five-week land trip I made around South America in 2013. You can imagine how many plane, train and bus tickets and hotels I booked using the card all these years, for trips in five continents. That’s because BPI Credit Cards are accepted anywhere in the world! How’s that for a travel companion?

But the biggest travel benefit that all BPI Credit Cards offer is free comprehensive travel insurance when you charge your travel fares to your BPI Credit Card. The BPI Credit Cards are so comprehensive, it covers life, health and other travel inconvenience. BPI Credit Cards give you automatic protection from travel accidents, trip delays, trip cancellations, and other inconveniences. All cards qualified for travel insurance have the following covered at different amounts: from death and permanent disablement, medical reimbursement, lost or delayed baggage, cancelled or delayed flights, personal liability, and even lost passports! It has the widest coverage compared to other credit cards.

No doubt, my BPI Credit Card has been one of my most important travel companions. I’ll never leave home without it.

I received this text a few days ago: Travel NOW on Real 0% Installment w/ your BPI Credit Card! Visit the Travel Madness Expo 4 on July 3-5 at the SMX Halls 1-4, SM MOA Complex to avail of exciting travel deals & huge discounts. Visit bit.ly/tme2015 for details.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Iloilo hosts the 117th anniversary of Philippine Independence

For the first time, Iloilo will host the Independence Day celebrations. As part of the 117th anniversary of Philippine Independence, President Benigno Aquino III will lead flag-raising ceremonies at Santa Barbara, Iloilo, where the Philippine flag was first raised outside of Luzon.

This will be followed by the traditional vin d'honneur reception which will be held at the newly-rehabilitated Iloilo Provincial Capitol in Iloilo City.

Iloilo City has become a beacon of hope for local governance, leading the way in sustainable development and heritage conservation. As it makes the drive towards progress, it continues to conserve its rich heritage.

The Iloilo River Promenade is one example of the political will of Iloilo's leaders. They were able to reclaim the river, remove all illegal settlers no matter how influential, replant mangroves, and develop a linear park that has given the community a fantastic public open space. Iloilo Mayor Jed Mabilog has done a fantastic job! Here is a video of the Promenade courtesy of Archt. Paulo Alcazaren who designed the park.

We also got to visit the Iloilo Convention Center which is being rushed in time for the APEC ministerial meetings which the city will host in September. Thank God it isn't the usual generic infrastructure which the government usually churns out. We were toured by Sen. Frank Drilon and former DOT Sec. Narzalina Lim who heads the Iloilo Economic Development Foundation.

Iloilo is a city of parks and plazas. Take note, they don't build barangay halls or covered courts in their plazas. Open spaces are respected. Here is Plaza Libertad as seen from the roofdeck of Iloilo City Hall. And there are fantastic plazas as well in Jaro, Molo and La Paz.

We were treated to a fantastic tabu-an lunch at the Iloilo City Hall! On our table was ginisa nga uhong (kabute with patola), pinindangan (dilis), talaba ukoy, scallops, diwal, Pinoy salad (okra, talong, talbos ng kamote, itlog na maalat, kamatis, sibuyas) with lato paired with fresh Banate bagoong, duck estofado sa tuba at piña, binuro na kasag (alimasag), pork adobo sa achuete, fried ubre (pork mamary gland), prawns, managat and kinilaw na tanigue by Chef Rafael Jardeleza. What a feast!

Speaking of Iloilo City Hall, the old Iloilo City Hall is now part of a campus of the University of the Philippines in the Visayas.

I really love it how Iloilo is giving incentives to heritage building owners to conserve their buildings. The heritage buildings of Calle Real are given fifty percent real estate tax discounts when they rehabilitate their buildings. No wonder Iloilo's heritage is alive and kicking. I wonder when Manila will give incentives to heritage building owners?

Note also that SM is restoring the Lacson-Yusay Mansion (which most call the Consing Mansion) to house a branch of SM Kultura. I wonder when SM will start conserving heritage in other parts of the country, especially in Manila. I hope they continue saving heritage. My fingers are crossed! But at least in Iloilo, they are on the right track.

But what I enjoy most about visits to Iloilo is the food! Oh yes the food! You have to try La Paz Batchoy at the La Paz Market. My personal favorite is Netong's which one can find inside the market.

And of course, there's also Pancit Molo. Ironically, it's difficult to find a restaurant in Molo known for Pansit Molo simply because it's usually prepared as home. Lucky for us, we got to enjoy a hot bowl of Pancit Molo plus Tsokolate Batirol at the Camiña Balay nga Bato (Avanceña Heritage House), Villa de Arevalo, Iloilo City. They get the Pancit Molo from Kapitan Ising.

There are just so many food choices in Iloilo. Here are some of my favorite must-try Ilonggo dishes.

Iloilo has so much to offer. You are missing a lot if you do not visit the original Queen City of the South!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Visit the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in Morong, Bataan

Believe it or not, the Philippines spent US$2.3 billion from 1976 to 1984 to construct the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in Morong, Bataan. It could have produced 621 megawatts of power. This was the power plant that could have averted the power crisis in the early 1990s. It was never used.

But despite it never being used, the BNPP is intact and well-maintained by the Napocor personnel stationed there. And yes, because it was never commissioned, people can visit it.

Thanks to The Plaza Hotel Balanga and Roadtrippers, a trip to the BNPP was arranged for us. It's best to visit on weekdays during office hours. Weekend visits will require overtime pay and fees for the BNPP personnel. And note that visits are by appointment. You can't just show up at their doorstep and asked to be let in. But despite all that, a visit is definitely worth the long drive to Morong.

It was an interesting walking through the massive halls and rooms of the BNPP, with its unused but well maintained equipment. I'm sure this would make a fantastic backdrop for an industrial themed prenup or fashion shoot.

We visited the nuclear reactor. Not that this will require walking up several flights of stairs in warm and humid conditions. There are no elevators. But you get to see how well-designed the BNPP was.

The other highlight of the visit was the control room, which looks like a set from an Austin Powers movie! At the center of the room is a telephone which was a direct line to Malacañang. Protocol was that every time the nuclear reaction was turned on or off, a go-signal from the president had to be secured.

It took more than 30 years for the Philippine government to completely pay off its obligations in April 2007. Too bad we didn't get to use the power it could have generated.

To arrange a tour of the BNPP, contact Lee Llamas of Roadtrippers at (0917) 7828882 or via The Plaza Hotel, the best hotel in Balanga. Book your stay there (047) 2371037 / (0917) 3105083 / (0998) 5411741.
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