Monday, March 1, 2010

Mambukal Resort

It’s not really my style or purpose of this blog to talk about tourist destinations in the Philippines as I do believe it is best to get out and experience the lifestyle of a culture when you visit a country and not just enjoy the amenities of the hotel and shelter yourself away from the true essence of the people, but this is an exception to my rule. Feel free to click on any of the photos to see the bigger print.

One place I had heard so much about before my trip to Bacolod in the Philippines was Mambukal Resort, located at the foot of Mt. Kanlaon which is an active volcano. Many people said that if I got the chance to go there then I should and I would not regret it. To be honest it really wasn’t in my travel plans and not because of lack of money or time but due to the fact that I really just wanted to live life like a Filipino during my time there and stay away from resorts. After I did a little research online during my trip there I started to realize that it really wasn’t a resort as I tend to think of resorts. Sure it has rooms to rent if you so choose and a swimming pool but the natural beauty of Mambukal is not to be missed if you can help it and the price is right.

Mambukal Resort is about an hour bus ride east of Bacolod towards the mountains. We had 7 people with us including me and the total cost for everyone’s bus ride was not much more than 200 pesos which is around $4.00 so the price was right for the bus ride there. The scenery was very nice on the trip there. I saw sugar cane fields, rivers, farm land with caribou grazing, open air markets, and locals going about their daily activities. The only down side was all the road construction going on, it created a bumpy ride at times and a few stops here and there due to only one lane being open. Other than that the bus ride there was comfortable and it’s a good way to see beautiful parts of Negros Occidental away from the bigger cities.

When the road ended we were there at Mambukal Resort. As I mentioned earlier there were 7 of us on this trip and the entrance fee was 30 peso per person so we paid 210 peso which is a little less than $4.00. We had to walk down a paved road quite a ways since the bus drops you off right at the entrance. The road is surrounded by forest with a few buildings popping up here and there. We decided to get a small picnic hut for 300 pesos for the day since we brought a bunch of food with us. They do have places to eat there but we were more comfortable bringing our own food. To get to the hut you get off the paved road and go onto big rock paths that are not easily navigated. Good walking shoes are important or you could sprain an ankle. After a small trek through the woods it opens up to a swimming pool and right next to it was our picnic hut. All the walking involved at first could be a little taxing on elderly people and even in the shade of the trees it is still humid in the Philippines.

The main thing I heard from other people in regards to Mambukal Resort was the many waterfalls that were there, 7 in all. Now going to all these waterfalls is not for the faint at heart. You will be required to walk through the forest at slowly increasing heights and the paths are very rough to walk on. We were given a tour guide to lead us onto the first waterfall. After about 20 minutes of hiking uphill we finally arrived at the first waterfall. It was well worth the walk to get there. There were a few other families around which at first made it hard to get any good pictures but we waited until they filtered out and we got the pictures we wanted. The waterfall looked have a drop of about 20 feet into a deep pool of water that flowed out into a small stream. Once again the terrain around the pool of water is very rocky and if the rocks get wet then you have to be very careful to keep from slipping on them. We decided that we would save the other waterfalls for another time as we weren’t prepared to go hiking all day. It truly was beautiful and really showcased the natural beauty of Mambukal.

One of the other beautiful places in Mambukal Resort is the lagoon. The walk to get to it was easier for us since there is a paved path to get there. Only authorized vehicles can travel on it as it is more for foot traffic. To get there we took the long way along the paved path. It took about 10 minutes from our picnic hut to get there, all downhill and shaded by the forest. When you get to the lagoon it opens up and it is truly a site to see. A small stream empties into it and the lagoon empties into another stream on the opposite side. You can see all this from the bridge. There are a few picnic huts surrounding the lagoon and if I would have known that in advance we would have gotten one of them instead of being near the pool as we were. As you can see from the picture it is not a sight to miss when you travel there. The lagoon holds a special place in my heart as it is where I proposed to my fiancée.

Besides the waterfalls and the lagoon there are a few other things to see while visiting Mambukal resort. The butterfly house which is located near the lagoon is not all that big but it is very cozy with many butterflies flying around all the plants in it. I saw many different species and colors. There are a few displays near the entrance showing many different types of butterflies and other types of insects. It will cost each person 20 pesos to enter it which is around $.50, well worth the price of admission. It has a large screen overhead to keep the butterflies in and a small little pond inside.

The sulfur spring was very interesting but it does stink. Sulfur smells like rotten eggs and the sulfur spring does also. It was located off the paved path on our way to the lagoon. The water there is very hot and supposedly you can boil an egg if you put it in the water for 15 minutes. We didn’t try it but I did see a few egg shells around from others that had. Getting inside it is not recommended but if you do want to enjoy getting into some hot water then there is another place for you there.

There is a hot spring located near the swimming pool right at the entrance to get to the first waterfall. The cost to enter the hot spring is 50 pesos which is around $1.00 per person. Many people talked about the healing powers of this pool. I saw a few older people enjoying the pool and maybe it had something to do with its healing powers. The water is very warm and does not smell like the sulfur spring does. It is surrounded by many trees and has many lounge chairs around the pool to relax when you are tired of the water.

Last but not least were all the fruit bats in the trees overhead. When it was calm the bats looked like leaves on the trees. When they were startled then the sky became alive with activity. There were many of them flying around and they looked like a bunch of birds. It was an experience for me to see bats being so active during daytime hours. From the picture I have included you can see what I mean.

I would recommend for everyone that is traveling to Negros Occidental, especially Bacolod to go and see Mambukal resort. Set aside one day to really enjoy the scenery. Not only do you get to see a lot of natural beauty in the Philippines on the trip there you will get to see many scenes of Filipinos going about the daily lives while riding the bus. Calling Mambukal Resort a resort is almost misleading, in my opinion it should be called Mambukal Oasis. I almost didn’t go and visit it since it was being called a resort which makes me think of tourists in nice hotel rooms hanging out in a pool not experiencing what it is really like in the Philippines. There were many Filipinos there with their families sharing one of the many beautiful places in the Philippines. Not to be missed!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why The Philippines?

I have two main reasons for creating this blog. First reason is to hopefully educate others as to what the Philippines and the Filipino culture is all about as there seems to be some misconceptions about the country as far as security and the people. My second reason is to get my thoughts out in the open about possibly moving to the Philippines. I have touched on a few of the things that attract me to the Philippines but in this post I will list ten of the main reasons (without going to deep into depth) on why I am considering the Philippines as my possible future home.

1. The weather – The Philippines has a tropical climate. The average temperature is 82 °F (27.7 °C). The highest monthly average high temperature is 93 °F (34 °C) in May. The lowest monthly average low temperature is 72 °F (22 °C) in January & February. You may want to have some sort of air conditioning during the hotter months but there won’t be a need for indoor heating.

2. Cost of living – The conversion rate of US dollars to Philippine Peso currently is $1 for 46 Pesos. That rate changes quite often. I have heard of some Americans living there on $500 - $1000 a month and are living quite comfortably. Somebody retired with only their Social Security check coming in could possibly live a lot better there than in the US.

3. The food – I mentioned this in an earlier post. Not only can you eat cheaply there but there are many families that will sell homemade food right out of their homes. Very good food I might add and also good for you.

4. The people – The people of the Philippines are very kind and hospitable. Of course this isn’t true of all Filipinos but I had great experiences with every person I talked to or met in the streets.

5. Simpler way of life – Many people cook with wood or charcoal everyday, don’t own cars, do their laundry by hand, no running water, etc. Now this type of living isn’t for everybody but what is nice is that you do have options if you don’t want to “rough it” to these extremes.

6. The scenery – If you like coconut trees, white sand beaches, beautiful waterfalls, and great ocean views then the Philippines will offer that in spades.

7. Public transportation – In America it is almost a necessity to own a car unless you live in downtown areas. In the Philippines they have many modes of affordable public transportation. Jeepneys or tricycles are the most common form but they do also offer taxis and buses. Most jeepneys will take you anywhere you need to go for 7 Pesos which is about 15 cents US money.

8. Small businesses – It seems that it is much easier to open small businesses in the Philippines versus the US. If you want to sell food or open a small convenient store also known as a sari sari store then you can do so right out of your home. If you want to open other types of businesses then you will find many hard working and highly educated Filipinos to hire.

9. Tight knit families – Maybe it is due to the poverty of the Philippines but family is one of the most important things to Filipinos. Elders are much more respected and revered there than in the US where elderly folks are put into nursing homes and in some cases just forgotten there.

10. My fiancée is from there so I have an inside track and a tour guide.

There are many more other reasons for living in the Philippines. I just wanted to focus on the ten major ones in no particular order that stick out to me. With the Philippines being a Third World country there are of course some negative aspects about living there which is something I will write about in another update. Taking into account the pros of living in the Philippines, is there anything on that list that intrigues you? Do you think that you could live there?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Connected In The Philippines

As I have mentioned before I have a Filipina fiancée that is currently still in the Philippines. Our main source of communication is the internet. We mostly use Yahoo Messenger but we also sometimes communicate through Facebook chat. She will often buy little cheap phone cards or “loads” as they are called in the Philippines so we can talk for just a few minutes on the phone. For the majority of Filipinos to get online they have to go to Internet Cafes where they pay for internet access by the hour. Most internet plans are just too expensive for most of them. As you can guess internet cafes get a lot of business. From students to people contacting loved ones. In the Philippines internet cafes are truly a way of life there.

Recently it was decided that we were going to get my Filipina fiancée internet service in her home and I would pay for it. There are a few different Internet Service Providers to choose from; Globe, PLDT, and Smart. We decided to choose Smart since they offer the type of service we are looking for and they are quite well known. The plan we have decided to go with is the Plan 999 “Unlimited” with the Plug-it modem at 2 mbps speed at a cost of 999 PHP per month. 999 PHP is a little less than $20.00 a month, less than most broadband services in America. It does come with a 2 year lock in which I am not all that happy about but even after my fiancée is here in America with me we will continue to pay for it for her family to use so that she can contact them as often as she would like.

The Plug-it modem is actually a USB device just a little bigger than a normal flash drive. You can get internet service anywhere there is a Smart signal which should be a large area in Bacolod where she is located. Smart also offers the in home set up but we decided that with a 2 year lock in contract that it would be best to be able to connect in many places in case she or her family decides to move somewhere else in Negros Occidental. The only thing we are unsure about is that there will be coverage in other areas of Negros Occidental. It is just a chance we will have to take.

My fiancée went to a Smart office located at the SM Mall in Bacolod with all the information she needed to get the plan we wanted. The employee there stated that they didn’t carry the Plug-it modems there and tried to sell her the at home setup which we do not want. She let him know that it was the Plug-it modem or nothing. She was then told she needed to go to their main office in Robinson Mall to get everything setup. One thing they mentioned to her that was not mentioned online is that she would need a pay stub from her job as part of the application process. Online it states that all that is needed is Subscriber Application Form, Proof of Identification, and an initial 999 PHP payment. She did not have a recent pay stub so she had to contact her main office of her company to get one. She went to an internet café to update me with what was happening and that she was going to go get a recent pay stub from her company.

At the moment she is still waiting to hear back from Smart if her application has been accepted. I have read some reviews online that this could take a few days, a week, and in one instance it took over 2 weeks although they stated they will contact her in 24 hours. In the instance where it took 2 weeks the customer didn’t even get the service they wanted because Smart was out of the Share-It router they wanted. I will update this blog as soon as we hear back from Smart. I will have her call the office today if they haven’t called her as it has been 3 days already. Does anybody else have any stories about Smart to share whether good or bad?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Is The Philippines Safe?

When I first mentioned to family and friends that I planned to travel to the Philippines the first responses I got from them was “It’s really dangerous there, you could get kidnapped and beheaded since you are an American” and I also heard “You are going to be a target there for pickpockets and other scams”. That really seems to be the thoughts of many Americans when it comes to the Philippines. It seems that the only things we see on the news here are the bad things. From the Maguindanao Massacre to visitors being kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf and held for ransom or beheaded. I guess I can’t blame them for their thoughts since the news really portrays the Filipino people as not liking Americans. I don’t have to tell anyone here that the news sensationalizes the violence in the Philippines and they know that news stories on the greatness of the Philippines just won’t get ratings.

These misconceptions are incorrect and could not be farther from the truth. Filipinos do like Americans and have really embraced our culture as their own. During my 2 week visit I was not the victim of any type of violence, scams, or pickpockets. I didn’t even receive an evil stare or any rude comments. I was treated great by every person I ran into there and always felt like I was welcomed. There are actually many parts of the Philippines that are safer than America; one of those places was Bacolod which is where I visited.

Mindanao is one of the most southern islands in the Philippines and gets most of the press as far as violence and kidnappings. Mindanao is the locale of the Maguindanao Massacre and there are some places there that harbor the Abu Sayyaf with supposed ties to Al Qaeda, NPA (New Peoples Army), and the M.I.L.F. (Moro Islamic Liberation Front). These places in Mindanao where these groups are active are in very small pockets and are not a true representation of the country. I know of many Americans living in Mindanao or ones that have recently visited there that feel very safe and have no worries about any of these groups. Some even say they feel safer there than they ever did in America. Don’t let the news distort your thoughts about an entire country due to a few bad incidents.

Basilan is another place that has been labeled as very violent. It is located just a little south of Maguindanao. I am sure there are places there where Americans should not travel to since the Abu Sayyaf are based there but I would not go so far as to say that the entire island is dangerous as that would be incorrect. Even some Filipinos located on other islands will say that these places located south in the Philippines are very dangerous and should not be traveled to. Unfortunately they see the same exact things in the news as we do.

There is violence all over the world and yes, the Philippines suffer from violence at times also. The 3 groups I mentioned earlier are real and are located in spots in the Philippines but mostly they are concerned with the Filipino military and are not likely to be in any place where Americans are going to visit or live. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be aware of your surroundings at all times. You should always be aware of your surroundings wherever you are in the world as bad things happen anywhere. Would you tell someone not travel to Michigan or Illinois since there are some violent places there?

So before you say that the Philippines is a really violent place where Americans are neither safe nor welcomed, do some research first. Ask people that have been there or people that currently live there to get the facts. The Filipino people are very kind and will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. It is a third world country with many poor people but the majority of Filipinos don’t use poverty as an excuse to commit crimes, it’s actually quite the opposite with them, poverty dictates their lives by them being grateful for what they do have and makes family bonds even stronger. There are many beautiful places in the Philippines to see from white sand beaches with blue seas to mountainous terrain with many waterfalls. I would recommend travelling to the Philippines to anyone. You won’t be sorry.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Street Vendors

This blog is about the Philippines, the Filipino culture, and about my thoughts of possibly relocating there one day. During a visit there I saw many things about the way Filipinos live their day to day lives that intrigued me. There are way too many things I like about the Philippines and the culture to list in one update of this blog so I will just talk about a little bit at a time. This time around I will concentrate on the food of the Philippines and one of the many ways you can get great food there. A big part of Filipino culture is eating and it is evident by the many different places you can eat. From restaurants, home style cooking served right out of somebody’s home, to street vendors.

In America if we want a quick snack we usually go to a fast food restaurant like McDonalds, Burger King, Jack-N-The Box, KFC, Subway, etc. or decide to just order pizza from many of the well known establishments. In the Philippines there are many other choices and a lot of them are much healthier than what we have in America. They do have a lot of the same fast food restaurants there in the Philippines as we have in America. I know I saw McDonalds, KFC, and Pizza Hut for example but I had no desire to frequent any of them. Instead of eating where I was familiar I decided to indulge myself at much lesser known places.

Street Vendors are everywhere you go on the streets of the Philippines and compared to the fast food restaurants they are much cheaper, and in my opinion much better tasting. You can get different chicken parts grilled on a stick. I tasted chicken feet, livers, skin, the head, and even the intestines. The chicken intestines were actually my favorite part due to the spiciness of them. Chicken feet or adidas as it is called there was one of my least favorites since there really isn’t much meat and you seem to spend more time spitting out bone than actually eating.

Another known favorite of many Filipinos is chicken inasal. It is served all over Bacolod and is my favorite dish to eat there. Chicken inasal is marinated in a vinegar mixture and grilled while being basted with a mixture of oil, margarine and calamansi juice, its color is derived from achuete seeds. The smell of it grilling will stop you in your tracks and force you to answer to your stomachs rumblings. You can partake at many of the street vendor stands or sit down at many of the open air restaurants located all over the city. One place I really enjoyed in Bacolod was Lion’s Park located across the street from the SM Mall. You are in the Philippines so enjoy it with a cup of rice and make sure you eat with your hands. Food always tastes better when you eat it with your hands.

My next example isn’t necessarily a street vendor but I believe it falls in that category and that is the small businesses that serve home style cooking right out of their home. I saw many of these in the neighborhoods (otherwise known as barangays) where I stayed during my visit. The menu will change from day to day depending on what they want to cook or what they have on hand that day. My first home style cooked food was from such a place. The portions are very large considering the small amount of money it costs. I only had to walk about 15 steps outside the door from where I was staying to find one of these places and the food was great. When you see the locals frequenting such a place all day, it’s a clear sign that the food is good.

Some visitors of the Philippines will warn against street vendor food, and in some cases they are correct due to the sanitation standards there. The key is to listen to the Filipinos you are with, if they won’t eat it then you don’t eat it. I didn't get sick during my visit and I ate everything in site. The choices you have are never ending and the price is always right. If you plan to visit the Philippines then I implore you to step out of your food comfort zone and experience foods you can’t get everyday in America. Don’t worry the hamburgers and pizza will be there when you get back home but the food of the Philippines cooked by true Filipinos may not.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Dancing Inmates Of Cebu

Filipino Inmates from Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC), a maximum security prison, did performances from This Is It with some assistance from Michael Jacksons long-time choreographer Travis Payne and dancers Daniel Celebre and Dres Reid. This is not the first time they have performed in such a way and certainly won't be the last. Don't know if this is possible in prisons in the USA but it sure would be nice.

World Of Filipinas

Wanted to share a forum about Filipino/American relationships. Lots of posts about the different types of Visas and common issues people in these types of relationships encounter. Good tight knit community where many of the Filipinas in the USA can meet other Filipinas in their city and a place where the men can come to together to better understand their significant others culture. Enjoy!

Click Here For World Of Filipinas