Japan Spring Edition: Becoming a maiko

Japan Spring Edition: Becoming a maiko
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The sakuras have fallen in Kyoto. But the bloom does not stop in flowers alone.

In a flick of a brush, the magic begins. I closed my eyes and felt the gentle hands of my make-up artist, Saki, as she painted the white foundation called Neri Shirako (oshiroi) unto the canvas—my neck and face.

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The long way to Buscalan, Kalinga

The long way to Buscalan, Kalinga
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See that unpaved road? Nope, it’s not yet the way to Buscalan, Kalinga but to Bugnay, the town before Buscalan.


I took this shot while riding on top of the jeepney. Yes, top loading was fun especially if you wanted to see breathtaking sights but it may be a nightmare for those who are acrophobic (afraid of heights).

From atop the jeepney, I saw the narrow Chico River sandwiched in between mountains. It was a sight to behold.


We left Tinglayan around 7:20 AM and arrived at Bugnay Village after an hour. Bugnay is around 13 kilometers from Tinglayan. But because of the rough road and stop-overs for passengers, the ride was a bit long.

This marker in Bugnay welcomed us. The marker is a reminder of how the people defended their land and opposed the Chico River Dam Electrification Project.

From the marker, Francis Pain, our guide, led us to a shortcut towards the road to Buscalan. It’s a hike among the bushes. I thought I was prepared but I wasn’t. It was a scary steep climb with no clear path way. It was a path that locals use. I was glad that I survived to get up to another unpaved road.

Then I learned that there’s an option to hire a habal-habal from Bugnay to an end point where only walking is the only option on the way to Buscalan. But it was too late, our guide didn’t mention it.

Under the scorching heat of the sun, we walked. Stopped for awhile. I just took the stops as photo-opportunities. I still managed to smile even if I was tired. Whew! Thank God, Francis carried my backpack for me.

We walked again and again, and again. It seemed never ending until we reached the point where we saw the “parking” lot of motorcycles (habal-habal).

“Wah, bakit di nyo po sinabi na pwede palang mag-motor? (Wah, Why didn’t you tell us that there’s a motorcycle for rent?),” I asked Francis.

“Mahal kasi ang arkila dito. Php 100.00 (USD 2.50) per tao. (The rental is expensive. It’s Php 100 per head),” he replied.

Complaining won’t get me to my destination in a snap. We’re half-way through. But yes, I won’t mind paying that Php 100/ head if it would mean skipping the “scary path that we climbed that only the locals climb”. It was death-defying. But Thank God, I’m still alive and telling this story.

It was one of those moments that I asked myself, “What did I get myself into?”

“Trouble? Adventure!” haha. And so I just let my eyes be entertained by the green sceneries as we continued our journey.


I reminded myself that there’s no turning back. Our goal was to meet the last traditional tattoo artist, the MAMBABATOK—Whang-Od (pronounced as Fang-ood).

On our way to Buscalan, we passed by a small waterfalls where kids played like they’re in paradise. It’s a problem-free world for them. Ahh, if only we’re not tired, I would like to join them and be refreshed.

We reached a point where there were narrow stairs going up the mountain. Francis pointed the houses on the edge of the mountains. Yes, that’s Buscalan Village. Waah.

One step at a time, breathe. Inhale, exhale. Water break. It was tiring indeed. But when we met this old woman who spoke to Francis in their native dialect, we were amused. She’s Kan-aw, the sister of Whang-Od, who’ll be meeting.

Then later on, we learned that she wanted the “alampay” (neck scarf) that J has on his neck. That’s what she was talking about.  J gladly gave it. After all, we’re visitors of their land and we’ll be staying at their house later.

Look how happy she was when she had the alampay. She smiled at us and went on her way to harvest some vegetables on the other mountain. Few more steps and we reached their humble abode—Buscalan Village!

It was a three-hour battle with exhaustion and heat from Bugnay to Buscalan but it was definitely worth the journey to reach Buscalan and meet the mambabatok, Whang-Od!

Will I be getting a tattoo? Stay tuned for the next post about the Mambabatok.



  • The most memorable trips are not because of the destination but the journey that you went through just to get there. The long way to Buscalan was one of them.
  • When the road seems long and your body’s weary, never give up. Go on. Continue what you’ve started.
  • There’s no turning back. To reach the top, conquer the obstacles. Survive the difficulties.
  • Don’t forget to breathe fresh air. Despite the struggle, there’s always something to smile about. It’s being alive and experiencing life.
  • Always be grateful.
  • Travel light. But when your baggage seems heavy, don’t hesitate to ask for help. “Come to me and I’ll give you rest.”–Matthew 11:28-30


  • From Bugnay, it’s better to hire a habal-habal. Fare is Php 100/head.
  • Travel time from Bugnay to Drop-off point (motorcycle parking lot)- 30 minutes
  • Travel time from Bugnay to Buscalan via habal-habal and walking- 2 hours
  • Travel time from Bugnay to Buscalan if hiking all the way- 3 hours


Southeast Asia Series: Wandering in Borobudur

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Borobudur Temple, listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage, is one of the most interesting Buddhist Temples in the world. It’s in fact, the largest Buddhist monument in the world measuring 35 meters high with a dimension of 123 meters by 123 meters.

Setting foot on Borobudur and knowing its history is one of the reasons why I visited Yogyakarta (pronounced as Jogjakarta) as part of my 57-hour backpacking in Southeast Asia. It took us an hour from Yogyakarta before we reached the Borobudur temple, which is 40 kilometers northwest of Jogja.

Our driver Andi parked the vehicle and directed us to the entrance of the Visitor Assistance Center, where we paid the entrance fee of $15 or 120,000 IDR  (~Php 567.00) per person back in 2012. UPDATE of rate this 2013, according to the official website of Borobudur, entrance fee for for foreigners is at 190,000 IDR.

Tour Guide isn’t free. So we got the services of Maki, who’s also from the office of the Borobudur National Park. I just forgot how much but we shared the fee among four of us including the Belgians, Ohelie and Junio.

After paying the fees, Maki handed out the Indonesian traditional cloth, batik  that we should wrap around our waists. It’s their way of showing their culture and also as a sign of respect since we’re entering a temple, considered as a sacred place.

Maki began telling us that the Borobudur Temple has been built in the 8th century. What’s more interesting to note, it took Indonesians 80 years to build the temple made of volcanic stones called endesite. The stones were believed to have come from Mt. Merapi, one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia. It’s just 27 kilometers from where the temple is.

We entered the temple in the east entrance. Maki said that Buddhists pray and meditate by walking in the temple in a clockwise direction.

Stone carvings of Buddha’s story of reincarnation can be seen on the walls of the temple. Imagine, he underwent 500 reincarnations?! The carvings were so intricate showing the artistry of the ancient times.

The first and second levels of the temple showed stories about desire while the last level is about reaching nirvana, the highest state. According to Maki, there are 504 buddhas in the temple but only 200 has complete heads while the others were stolen.

From the highest point in Borobudur, we saw other tourists waiting for the sunset. From that viewpoint, Mt. Merapi and Mt. Merbabu can be seen.

While waiting for the sunset, it was fun to watch and observe other people. Teenage locals were fond of the Caucasians. The Caucasians were like celebrities as the locals had their photographs taken with the Caucasian tourists. Indonesians and Filipinos were similar in this aspect. I was reminded of some teenage Filipinos back home who also act the same when they see their idols.

As the sun begins to set, I imitated the hand sign called abaya mudra. It meant, “Don’t be afraid.”


Read the Southeast Asia Series:

Video: A Soulful Journey to Lake Sebu

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Tripadora goes beyond writing and inspiring people through her stories as she organizes tours to the destinations that she has written. This is her contribution to help tourism in the Philippines.

Through Explore Eight Travel, the written stories became realities as she invites people to join her in discovering emerging destinations in the Philippines. One of them is Lake Sebu in South Cotabato.

Traveling to Lake Sebu is not just about seeing the sights and experiencing the adventure that it offers. It goes beyond the surface by immersing with the people. It’s not just saying, “I’ve been there but I became part of that place.” In this trip, Explore8’s guests immersed with the T’bolis of Lake Sebu.

Here’s a short video clip giving you a glimpse of the Soulful Socsargen Tour by Explore Eight Travel.

Foodtrip in the Metro: Binondo Food Wok in style

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Going on a trip need not be far. Sometimes, all you have to do is have an open mind and rediscover what you already have around you. Such was the case for Binondo, the home of the Tsinoys or Filipino Chinese.

I used to go to Binondo for bargain shopping and wholesale buys at Divisoria and 168 Mall. But one Tuesday afternoon, I rediscovered Binondo as one of the must-go-places to treat your taste buds to a feast.

This time, I did not commute but rode the all-new Ford Focus, which was on a test drive. Since I was “not yet” used to the roads in the metro, fellow travel writer, Kara Santos of Traveling-Up, sat on the driver’s seat while I took the passenger seat.

The Focus has the features of a luxury car but is categorized in the consumer car segment. One of these features is the Sync, where a mobile phone is sync with the car. When someone calls you, you don’t need to hold your phone but answer the phone through voice commands.You can also dial a number by just telling the number or the name of the person in your phone book. Watch this video.

Another cool feature is receiving a text message. All you have to say is “Listen” and the voice will read the message for you.

We got to experience these while driving along Roxas Boulevard on our way to Binondo. After surviving the traffic, we met Old Manila Walks’ Ivan Man Dy at the Binondo Church. Ivan enriched our minds first by telling us about the history of Binondo, which is believed to be the oldest China Town in the world. According to him, it was established in 1596. (The Spaniards came to the Philippines in 1521. Ah yes, I remember my History Class!)

My stomach (I only ate one piece of bread for breakfast knowing that I’ll be going on a food trip) was revolting. But soon enough, it became peaceful and happy when we got to our first food stop: Cafe Mezzanine in Ongpin St.

Cafe Mezzanine

Cafe Mezzanine is situated above the Eng Bee Tin shop. I didn’t know that a restaurant exist there. It was a pleasant surprise.

Firemen’s hats and photographs of fire disaster were displayed on the wall. Later on, I learned that the cafe is owned by one of the firefighter volunteers in Binondo. Ivan said that fire disasters were rampant in Binondo. Hence, the Filipino Chinese community formed a volunteer group for fire fighting and prevention.

Every food stop has its story to tell. Ivan began telling about how Tsinoys came about to the Philippines. To escape from poverty in Fujian province, the Chinese immigrants came to the Philippines to do business. Fujian province is geographically located at the southern tip of China, which is near our country. I then learned that not all Chinese food are the same. Like Filipinos, who have Kampampangan, Ilocano, Bicolano, and Tagalog dishes, they have different ways of cooking as well according to what region they came from.

In Cafe Mezzanine, they served Hokkien food (or the food cooked by Chinese who came from Fujian Province).

Dish 1: Kiampong (salted rice)

Cost: Php 75.00

Honestly, I’m not a fan of chopsticks. haha. Yep, I had a hard time picking those rice. You see, I’m proud to be Filipino even if I don’t look much of a Filipino. haha. So how was the taste? I love the peanuts but I’d still prefer YangChow over Kiampong. hehe.

Then I learned from food blogger Richard (who has Chinese blood) that kiampong is more of a “lutong bahay” or food that is for home consumption. It’s not a fancy Chinese food (which are mostly Cantonese food).

Dish 2: Special Fishball soup

Cost: Php 105.00

The soup was great to start the meal.

Dish 3: Lo Tau hu? Not sure with the spelling. (Simmered Tofu).

Cost: Php 45.00

This was what I like best in our first food stop. The tofu is covered in hot chili sauce with a kick of a little sweetness. The sourness of the atchara (slices of radish and carrots) placed on top of the tofu perfectly blends with the chili flavor.

Drink: Kundol Juice or Wintermelon Juice

It was only now that I learned that the wintermelon is kundol in Filipino. hehe. I only know of kundol in the lyrics of the folk song, “Bahay Kubo” (kundol, patola, upo’t kalabasa at saka meron pang labanos mustasa…you’re singing it right?)

The kundol juice was refreshing to the mouth. It was sweet and tasted like sago’t gulaman minus the sago and gulaman.

After a few minutes, we walked to our next stop, Dong Bei Dumpling.

Dong Bei Dumpling

Dong Bei Dumpling is a small dumpling place yet don’t be fooled with its appearance. It was another surprise. The owners of Dong Bei came from the northern part of China, hence, the dumplings that they serve are different from what were used to (e.g. siomai is a dumpling from the southern part of China like Hong Kong. It’s Cantonese style).

While the southerners/ Cantonese steam their dumplings, the northerners boil their dumplings.

Dish 1: Jiaoji- boiled dumpling northern style

Cost: Php 100

The Jiaoji is a bit slippery in the mouth. It is filled with ground pork mixed with greens (which I don’t know of). It has two dips: one is bland while the other has chili on it. It’s better to dip it in the chili sauce to give more flavor.

Dish 2: Sienbu? (Stuffed mini-pancakes)

Cost: Php 100

The stuffing is kuchay. Unlike the first one, this one is fried giving making it a lot tastier than the first one. It’s on the salty side.

Dish 3: Cumin Chicken (xinjiang)

The third dish was really surprising. The chicken along with the carrots and sayote (?) were diced and topped with sesame seeds. It has a taste of cumin which is usually associated with middle eastern or Indian food. But yes, it was Chinese food from the northern region of China.

Dish 4: Hamburger Tofu

This was an innovation to make pieces of tofu as if they were pieces of bread with a burger patty inside.

Among all the four dishes that we ate here, my choices were dish 2 (the pancakes) and the hamburger tofu!

We walked again to burn the calories to our last food stop, Awi’s at Nueva St., the street which is known for school and office supplies.

Awi’s Cafe and Restaurant

Awi’s is still owned by a Tsinoy. They renovated their restaurant with orange and apple green colors (favorite) that made it look funky. You wouldn’t think that it’s a Chinese resto. It was modernized.

Ivan said that this was one of his favorite restaurants in China Town.

Dish 1: Lobihon (noodle soup with bihon instead of lomi in it)

Cost: Php 130.00

Our group, Richard, Kara, and Dom shared a bowl of Lobihon. It was just okay for me. The black vinegar tasted like beer for me.

Dish 2: Gabi Cake

The gabi cake tasted good. The gabi is a form of extender that would make you feel full easily.

Dish 3: Coffee Spareribs

This was the winner dish for me! Tender pork coated in caramelized coffee was a feast to my taste buds. There’s a bitter and sweet taste when pork is chewed.

Drink: Dalandan Iced Tea

Cost Php 68.00

Chinese loves drinking hot tea but this modern Chinese cafe served an original concoction of dalandan in iced tea which was refreshing after eating all of the food.

It was fun to eat and learn at the same time in Binondo. Yes, everyday, there’s something new to learn and relearn even if we’re already familiar with the place.


Note: This is a sponsored trip. Special thanks to Ford and Ogilvy for inviting me to this food trip.