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Kalanggaman Island dip

There are more than 7,000 islands in the Philippines, inhabited or not. You can’t leave without finding one that amazes you, that you’d want to go back to—at least in your mind whilst busy pounding on those keys or thinly shredding those chicken breasts for shoarwa, whatever your job is.

But be also prepared to be overwhelmed by pollution and beset by disappointment. Pictures normally are a far better representation of reality. Kalanggaman is no exemption. But I’m not saying I wasn’t swept away. Though I must say I’ve seen better—the likes pictures could not at all give justice to.

Of my Philippine trip, given the limited exposure I had with sandy and sunny locations (shame, I know), I can say Kalanggaman was the highlight, and would love to go back there in a heartbeat, and camp overnight surely.

I went there with my brother whilst in Cebu! From Cebu Northbound Bus Terminal, we took the bus to Maya (PhP300, air-conditioned) bearing in mind we should be there before 3pm—the time boats to Malapascua stop operating for the day. The ride took about 4 long hours due to two-lane roads and many road maintenances along the way. A far-cry from some of the major highways in Luzon and Mindanao—wide and free-flowing there’s hardly any traffic. A few meters away from the Maya drop-off point, boats lay in wait for passengers who wish to go to Malapascua. The boat fare was PhP100 for a 30-minute ride. Not far, in fact you could see the island from Maya.

It wasn’t long until the creamy-white sandy stretch was in plain view. Since it was high tide, a smaller boat had to fetch us to the shore—getting to the smaller boat will test your aligning/balancing skills. Greeting you would be porters offering to have your luggage carried for you to your accommodation. They’d try to also arrange for you to join the following day’s tour to Kalanggaman Island.

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The creamy-white sand stretch of Malapascua during high-tide.

Easily, Malapascua is your best option to getting to Kalanggaman Island. It’s the easiest and cheapest to get to and the most convenient stopover. Although displacement-wise, the main island of Cebu is closer, there aren’t known organized boat tours from the mainland. The relatively most-organized are those coming from Malapascua. There were tourists I later learned who got to the Kalanggaman from other islands by renting a boat for themselves and ended up paying a hefty.

Kalanggaman isn’t crowded—at least outside the summer season. Despite the fact that there are plenty tourists coming to Cebu and the neighboring big islands. Maybe Kalanggaman isn’t much of a draw. Thanks in part to non-existent development and more famous relatively nearby heavens on Earth—Coron and El Nido.

The Island of Malapascua, its sand, relatively clear waters, simply put, wasn’t bad. It’s known more to be a diving destination hence the noticeable number of resort accommodations that cater to the diving visitors. There are PADI diving schools naturally. Slicing through the island on foot, you get a taste of island life—playing cards all day, karaoke-ing easily reaching the narrow thoroughfares, the two-wheeled road killers speeding through the swampy dirt roads. We stayed SLAM’s Resort Hotel.

 

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SLAM’s Resort Hotel was a decent accommodation with a pool.

We agreed to join in the Kalanggaman Island day-tour with our porter. We paid PhP100 for the transport of our luggage and made advance payment (PhP500) for the following day’s island adventure. That was to ensure our attendance as well and just so they’d have money to buy food ahead of the tour—we’re having lunch buffet we were told.

We took the porter’s number and was reassured by the hotel’s receptionist she knew the porter—it’s a small island for any local not to know another local—and that the transaction we made with him was legit.

The following day, we ringed the porter to tell him we were ready for pick-up. Minutes later, he showed up ushering us to the assembly point—different than yesterday’s drop-off point. We had to wait a bit until all tourists—an aggregate of each of the boat crew’s draws—were all seated and had settled payments.

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One of these boats was our ride to Kalanggaman, docked at the still side of the Island.

It was a windy day, the seas were rough, but on this part of the island. And as the boat sailed past the safe, still waters, waves started pounding our little wooden makeshift of a boat, winged by bamboo, hand-painted and apparently built for functionality hardly thinking of design.

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Boat ride to Kalanggaman.

But the boat proved sturdy, resilient, fighting off beatings—slaps, slams and smashes. A lot of it had to do with the captain—yes apparently anybody manning the steering wheel here is a captain. The awe-inspiring maneuver—the stopping of the motor, the speeding up to evade big waves and the slicing through approaching waves—all while the half-traumatized tourists are holding on, proved a sight to behold.

I remember my boat ride to Sohoton Cove. We had a similar smaller transport. A boat for locals getting from the main island to Siargao that doubled as a tourist boat, was far scarier, braved the far more violent Pacific Ocean waves. One could easily separate tourists from the locals. Other than the sunblock-glazed skin and the I-saved-for-this glow of the branded sunglasses, tourists would hold on to whatever sturdy material they could and fight the movements, while the locals just went with the movement with no hint of anxiety. Like it was just some rocking chair kind of hurly-burly.

Back to my Kalanggaman trip. An hour into the ride, we came across a diver-packed boat that had some motor malfunction.  It had to be tugged to the shore.

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The boat with some engine problems being towed to the shore.

End of summer, start of rainy season, I expected some last-minute weather changes, which was the case as we neared the island. It was the last few minutes until we could get off the boat and dip our feet onto the sea. Torrential rain poured that elicited screams initiated by Japanese tourists (we later befriended staying in the same resort), like it’s some acid raid that by all means had to be avoided. People retreated to the back side of the boat, under the protection of some makeshift roofing causing the boat to tilt backwards. My initial reaction was to get to the front allowing the boat to level off. The captain quickly demanded for his crew to get to the front to join me to brave the really harmless but cold rain. Every unessential people on board marched forward, levelling the boat.

We got so near the shore, the crew went on to do the disembarking procedures when a few started jumping off. Everyone finally got off the boat and was told lunch would be prepared for us. The crew made precautionary instructions/announcements for the passengers’ safe stay on the island.

The island had a concrete structure—some communal hall where we had lunch eventually. There was another half-concrete structure selling water, ice, and what-have-you. Other structures were made out of bamboo lined across the less-rocky but this time wavy beach line. There were tents scattered everywhere of tourists who stayed or are staying overnight. There weren’t that many people either as I mentioned already so it did not feel at all hectic nor commercialized.

First order of the business was of course to check out the sandbar that supposedly stretches far to the sea. But since it was high tide, much of it was submerged. But hints of its beauty were visible and it was good enough for now, we thought. We ran around chasing and getting chased by waves until we decided for a dip.

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The still-submerged sandbar was such a tease.

We went to the still side of the island. There we dipped until our bodies got tired. We then got to the wavy side of the sea for some thumping and whipping masochism.

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Still side of the island. The other side was wavy but less rocky.

Until we checked out the hall for our much-awaited lunch. We were served grilled pork belly, grilled fish and eggplant, some sour vegetable salad, seemingly unlimited rice and watermelon, and retail soft drinks in bottles too.

We paid the island entrance fee and decided to walk to the far side of the island. We walked and found this really serene, rocky part, a beach line that wasn’t attracting any crowd. It felt like we were the only ones on the island for a second. Then we got to the tip of the island. There was a treehouse standing.

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The treehouse at the other tip of the Kalanggaman Island.

We were the only ones here. You kinda figure why. As you go deep into the sea, you feel the sharp corals or stones. Unless you enjoy a bloody bath, I discourage getting your lazy ass dipped here. So we headed back to the finer-bottomed part, getting some salt for the skin and some tan to be told our boat was leaving soon. We walked back to the boat now docked by the sandbar. As we got near the boat, we could see the sandbar slowly revealing itself. The tides were receding. Ahhh, the seeming endless elusive heaven was showing up just when we’re about to sail back.

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The elusive heaven finally showing up.

Surprisingly, the sandbar was deserted. And while the crew was sorting out the island entrance fee collections (a couple was accused of not paying, but insisted they did to some crew they could not remember who), we all had the chance to just take pictures of this piece of heaven. We saw what we came to see. Wished I could stay longer!

 

Getting There:

Get to Cebu City. There are plenty daily flights coming from Manila and other major cities. Mactan-Cebu International Airport is Cebu Pacific’s hub.

 

Take the bus from Cebu North-bound Terminal to Maya (4 hours, PhP300).

Ride a boat from Maya to Malapascua (30 minutes, PhP100).

Malapascua-Kalanggaman boat ride takes about 1.5 hours and costs PhP 800 for a day trip with lunch, plus PhP150 (PhP 500 for foreigners) Island Entrance Fee.

 

Accomodation:

We stayed at SLAM’s Resort Hotel. It doesn’t have its own beach line. But beach is walking distance. For rates and other accommodation options, check out Booking.com.

 

 

 

Europe on a budget

 

Europe is dream destination especially for an Asian backpacker like me who grew up seeing beaches. I have made numerous trips around Europe on a budget. Yes, Europe can hurt your wallet but with these tips, hacks and thrifty travel inspiration from my vast experience, you can embark on an exciting European backpacking adventure without necessarily depleting your stash of hard-earned cash.

Fly low-cost. You can book the cheapest fares around Europe from RyanAir and WizzAir. A bit more expensive alternatives are EasyJetEuroWings, Jet2, Vueling and AirBerlin. It’s important to note that many of the airports these airlines fly from and out to aren’t necessarily the major ones close to the advertised city destination. But there’s always excellent airport transfer options, public transport included. So just make sure to check them before finalizing your flight bookings.

Skyscanner meanwhile scans most of  the flight-booking websites. Results don’t sometimes show flights by low-cost carriers though.

Ride a busBuses are cheap alternatives to trains. Though they’re not as comfortable. But at a fraction of the train cost, they’re a practical choice. Also bus rides usually take longer than train rides. From Amsterdam to Paris for instance, it takes 6-8 hours with a bus while only 3-4 hours with a train.What I suggest you do; for long trips (by that I mean 6 hours or longer),  take late-night schedules. They’re sometimes the cheapest. You sleep during the entire trip (unless you have problems sleeping in buses) and wake up already at your destination well-rested (unless, you know…) and ready for some sight-seeing. You save a night’s stay at a hotel.

Two bus companies I usually take are EuroLines and FlixBus. They’ve an extensive network of destinations. There’s also OuiBus and Megabus. You can also check out local bus companies of whatever country (in Europe of course) you’re in and book through them instead. To/from and around Poland for instance, there’s PolskiBus–probably the best bus company operating in Europe. They’ve fast WIFI, cleaner toilets and they used to serve snacks.

It’s important to note as well that bus terminals are not necessarily next to train stations. What I do and what I suggest, in Poland especially where the arrival terminal isn’t always the departure terminal (Warsaw), I locate thru Google Maps the exact location of the terminal and if possible, chance it like a day before, to avoid being left behind and forfeiting your ticket.

Take the train. Trains are undeniably more comfortable and travel times are quicker. Hence rarely would train tickets be cheaper than bus tickets. But that is not the case during promotions. Dutch train operator NS for instance on its website publishes slashed prices for its destinations.

It’s important to note as well that train prices are congruent to the cost of living of a country. Austria vs Slovak Republic for instance is a perfect example. I remember looking at train tickets from Vienna to Prague, they costed a lot. I decided to get to Bratislava first and bought another ticket to Prague from there. Total cost was cheaper than taking the train from Vienna direct.

EurailPass can be a little bit on the expensive side but a hassle-free way of getting around a country or multi-countries. I don’t necessarily recommend it for the sole reason that it’s pricey. I’d rather spend that money on food.

Sleep cheap. I used to book hotel rooms through Booking.com until I finally discovered hostels. As you search for the properties in Booking.com, sort the results list to show the cheapest first. Hostels will show up on top of the list I’m sure. But sites like HostelBookers, and HostelWorld are dedicated solely to hostels.

Read through the comments/reviews first and consider the location of the hostel also before finally deciding on booking. I stick with Booking.com coz after multi-city stays, I became a genius member. With it, I get 10% discount on my bookings with participating properties.

If you’re a couple or better yet, a group travelling, it’s worth considering getting a hotel room instead. The sum of the cost of your hostel beds can amount to a hotel room with a private bath–a more comfortable stay altogether.

But then Hostels have most of the time a working kitchen–yes I cook rice noodles every time. 😉 And the coolest people stay in hostels. I’ve connected with people from all over the world and have since remained friends with them. And that couldn’t have been possible if I stayed in hotels just.  You’re exposed to different perspectives and it widens your horizon. You also get to change whatever misconception they have about your country through you.

AirBnB meanwhile offers a more personalised accommodation ranging from a room with shared bath to an entire apartment/house all to yourselves.

Sleep freeI haven’t personally tried it yet but CouchSurfing offers free accommodation from locals. You need to set up an account and your identity needs to be verified.  Accommodation requests from unverified accounts usually get ignored by hosts.

I also tried once, something I don’t necessarily recommend–sleeping at the airport. You don’t get proper sleep of course and you worry about waking up to your luggage carried off. But if you have a very early flight the next day and/or maybe the airport is hard to get to, you might want to consider coming to the airport late night. The website SleepingInAirports provides reviews of sleeping conditions in airports all over the world from actual travellers/passengers themselves. You save money on a hotel and you’re not late for your flight (unless your alarm fails to do its job).

Goede reis!

the making of modern Rotterdam

The post-war rehabilitation of the heavily-bombed Rotterdam abandoned the idea of restoring damaged buildings especially in and around the city centre. Instead, restoration took on a moving forward approach–completely taking down the old for the construction of new ones. There are a few historic buildings though that survived the bombardment. They blend in with the hypermodern buildings constructed in the recent decades that either reach for the sky, push the design envelop or both.

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Front view of Rotterdam’s Central Station.

Greeting visitors as they get off their trains in Rotterdam Centraal is the city’s iconic ultra-modern main station that easily puts many international airports in the world to shame. The complete dismantling of the old beggars/junkies-infested train station to give way to this new one is probably the most laudable decision the city has ever made. The new station sits north of Kruisplein grabbing attention despite being dwarfed by a sprawl of giant buildings surrounding it. The city centre is close easily reached on foot.

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Sleek “The Delftse Poort” standing tall next to the iconic train station.

The city centre was initially planned to be functional. Different city functions were clustered in different areas: shopping, leisure, banking, housing. This however resulted in a less lively, even deserted city centre especially outside of business hours. As a solution, available spaces were utilised for small-scale housing developments. One stand-out in terms of design are the Cube Houses–just outside of Blaak Metro Station. Designed by Piet Blom and constructed in the 70s, the Cube Houses is a must-see for its unique asymmetrical design.

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Piet Blom’s The Cube Houses. Behind it is The Pencil Tower–another residential building in the city centre.

Just steps away from the Cube Houses is the recently built Markthal–an arched tunnel-like apartment complex that assembles the best market vendors in The Netherlands. It is also home to upscale cafes and restaurants including Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian. Shops abound in the nearby Cool District.

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Markthal–an apartment complex with shops, cafes and restaurants. Outside it is an open-air market open Saturdays and Tuesdays.

Economic boom of the past decades followed a huge labor demand, which immigration helped fill. As a result, Rotterdam now is a melting pot of cultures. Multiculturalism is evident in the diversity of people you come across, tolerance to whatever religious practice and the plethora of restaurants catering to various tastes. 50% of Rotterdam population are either non-Dutch or have a Dutch parent. Aptly so, Rotterdam sees The Netherlands’ first immigrant mayor–Ahmed Aboutaleb. And Rotterdam’s multicultural aura is apparent in the July holding of Zomercarnaval (summer carnival) patterned after Rio de Janeiro’s carnival.

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Diversity on display. At Beurstraverse–a shopping street in the Cool District.

A visit to Rotterdam won’t be complete without climbing the Euromast. Its unobstructed 360-degree view of the city makes it the perfect spot for studying Rotterdam’s urban planning and development. It offers a view of the sprawling high-rises and the towering cranes further to the sea–Rotterdam is arguably the busiest port in Europe.

Spido Tours meanwhile offer views of popular attractions of greater Rotterdam onboard a ferry cruising along the River Maas. Undeniably, the most prominent attraction is Erasmusbrug–an ultra-modern minimalist 800-meter long bridge that connects the North and the South. The televised annual New Year’s Eve fireworks display is held here.

 

Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge)
View of Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge) on a beautiful, sunny day.

Rotterdam is second to Amsterdam in terms of tourist visits. Amsterdam’s biggest tourist draws are its canals, the Red Light District and unarguably, weed (and all sorts of drugs). And Rotterdam, cleverly, doesn’t wish to replicate what Amsterdam offers tourists. Rotterdam is an altogether different experience.

 

 

of Mondrian and my living room wall

I’ve recently moved in to a new place. Costs of getting a mortgage and buying furnishings left me with little cash for decors and other pump up stuff. Checked out Ikea for some wall art but the ones that stood out for me were the relatively pricey ones. I paint a bit and figured I’d make one myself.

I rummaged through my moving boxes in the basement and found my supply of acrylic I didn’t use for a while. There too were some old paintings whose themes were either gloomy or provocative. I wanted nothing like those in my living room.

I happened to be binging on Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt that featured this ridiculously-priced painting which I thought was actually a joke. It had me Google for it. I got introduced to Piet Mondrian’s works basically. I couldn’t reconcile the value people are attaching to his works with the effort he put in to make them–beyond me. I mean anybody could do it. But well that’s how it’s like with pioneers. The fact that he started this style and had people convinced it’s some legit modern art style even calling it Neoplasticism, settled it for me.

So I tried coming up with a similar one, only I didn’t limit myself to just the primary colours.

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an offshoot of a Mondrian not limited to plain and primary colours.

I was pretty satisfied with it but it was overwhelmed by the size of my wall and looked cheap and amateurish. I shopped around for the cost of some frame—I thought a decent frame would have it amp’d up and look legit. Cheapest I found was almost a hundred Euros.
I stumbled upon this second-hand shop and settled for this faded €2 painting print framed by some golden metal and planked onto some yellowish oak board. Biking home, I had ideas about what to do with it–an offshoot of a Mondrian. First, I painted the light brown border using a dishwashing sponge with black and dark brown. I painted the metal with clay-ish terracotta brown. Here it is:

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Two-Euro worth of painting print planked onto some board repainted in dark brown and black and the metal lining with terracotta.

Next I measured the height and width of the painting. I figured I could easily create 15 rows and 31 columns to make 465 of 1x1inch squares. I marked every inch of the top and bottom sides, ran a plaster from the top to bottom first-inch marks and marked every inch down to make perfect squares. I started colouring each square, each having a different shade (just mixed the colors). I pulled out the plaster as the paint dried up (acrylic dries up fast!) and did the same to the next column.

The Squares
Colouring the squares.
Nearly Finished
Almost finished.

It was rather quick. Finished it in just a couple days. And here it is hung proudly on my living room wall. For just €2 and two days of house arrest, I’ll take it over a Mondrian any day.

Color Cubes
Finished. Painting over a faded painting print.