July 28, 2014

Monsoon in Mactan

Monsoon season is a tricky time to vacation in the Motherland. One downpour and there goes an afternoon of tanning, at best, or your transcontinental return flight connection, at worst. As most of the world now knows, the Philippines is battered by about eight tropical storms per year (not counting the other ten that just casually drop in on Philippine waters)—and there's really no way of telling when Mother Earth is going to unleash a big one on our little archipelago once typhoon season has begun.


These past few years, however, I've had to schedule a number of visits home just around this time as some of my very dearest girlfriends chose to be June brides. I reckon I'm starting to get the hang of monsoon vacationing. One workaround I've found is to always pick a vacation spot with an airport which accommodates larger planes to avoid weather-related flight cancellations (I would naturally also avoid spots entailing transfers by boat). Second, pick a resort you wouldn't mind being stuck at if the weather doesn't cooperate. Once you've got those two things down, monsoon vacationing can be quite nice actually: prices are lower, resorts are less crowded, and when you luck out on some sun, it comes with a side of refreshing sea breezes. There's a bit of weather schizophrenia going on, in which the weather can switch from bright and sunny to a straight up downpour in an instant (see photos below, taken within the same hour). But really, it's not a major sacrifice to drink your beer at the beach bar rather than the shore for a few minutes, is it?


We spent one of our little monsoon getaways at Bluewater Maribago Beach Resort in Cebu, where it's quite easy to relax and unwind, no matter which way the wind blows. Mornings tend to be nice and sunny—perfect for getting a bit of color. Afternoons were either overcast or raining—good for peeking at the resort's shark pool, taking a nap in the supremely comfortable bedroom, or indulging in a 90-minute hilot treatment at Amuma Spa.
Now that I'm back in New York where the dog days of summer are fast approaching, I find myself pining for those lazy afternoons spent cuddling and watching the tropical rain come down ... 

July 13, 2014

Bohol, Philippines

It's fascinating to see one's own country through another set of lenses. On this, my third visit to Bohol, I got to experience this enchanting part of the Philippines from the point of view of someone stepping foot in the country for the first time. A Filipino comes to Bohol and sees the highlights that we've heard about our whole lives: the sublime beaches of Panglao Island, the distinctive swathe of over 1,200 Chocolate Hills, and its famously wee marsupial resident, the tarsier


Someone new to the country sees all that but also the character of the rural towns and its townfolk. My Dutch travel buddy noted that Boholanos seemed to always be productive. As we drove through the rural streets, the people we passed were walking to school or work in freshly pressed clothes, sweeping or refurbishing their homes, constructing new buildings, or selling homemade snacks to passing cars. To him, all the activity seemed indicative of a province on its way to better things.

I sure hope he's right. Bohol was dealt a difficult hand in 2013, when an intensity 7.2 earthquake rocked the province, destroying many of its prized historic landmarks. Not long after, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the region, disrupting relief efforts and further straining an already embattled province's resources. Eight months later, Bohol seems to have bounced back, though many of its prized 18th century churches are still slowly and painstakingly being restored.

One way of helping Bohol recover is to visit and revive tourism in the area. Though a part of what makes Bohol special was destroyed by the earthquake, there is still much left to enjoy. We chose to skip the typical countryside tour of Bohol and instead saw a few key sights at a relaxed pace. We walked into the forested area inhabited by tarsiers to peek at every little sleeping nocturnal marsupial perched on tree branches and undeneath canopies of leaves. We climbed up the steep vantage point from where there were Chocolate Hills as far as they eye could see. And we capped off our morning of sight-seeing with lunch at Bohol Bee Farm, which is was perhaps my favorite spot. Underneath the trees and with stunning views of this seascape, we dined on the farm's delicious organic fare.


We spend most of our time at our home base, Bellevue Resort Bohol, a relatively new resort that melds modern luxury with plenty of lovely Filipino touches, including indigenous instruments like the kulintang and toys such as sunka in the lobby. Distinctive Filipino textures abound in the interiors: capiz shells, banig weaves and abaca tapestry. The staff are very warm and professional, starting from driver who picked us up at the airport and gave us a friendly and informative tour on the way to the resort. Bellevue's beachfront is quite lovely, though the water recedes considerably in the afternoon, so unless you are a morning person, you will likely end up swimming in the pool most of the time. Not that that's a bad thing; the Bellevue's infinity pool is one of the most stunning pools around.


While the complementary breakfast buffet at the Bellevue was brimming with choices and generally excellent, I thought the a la carte choices can still be improved upon. My go-to dish was the grilled stuffed squid, which was consistently yummy—but I reckon I can make a much better adobo than their kitchen.


Bohol was a nice little getaway from bustling and rainy Manila, particularly at this off-peak monsoon period. We got a few full days of breezy sunshine, but generally the weather was sunny early in the day with some showers in the afternoon. For those visiting the Philippines at this time of the year and seeking a bit of sun and surf, Bohol is a good bet.

June 18, 2014

Discoverue

I love travel in almost every form ... but don't you find that there's something extra satisfying about a quick getaway? Whether it's a day of hiking, a weekend escape to wine country, or a long weekend at a serene beach, being able to experience something extraordinary in such close proximity to my ordinary life brings me an added dose of pleasure.

Here to bring those experiences ever closer to your fingertips: Discoverue—a website dedicated to helping you find the quick getaway you're looking for this weekend. These mini vacations are meant to last 72 hours or less—just enough to help you decompress from your regular life without disrupting your flow drastically. Being a fervent weekend warrior myself, I penned a few articles for my friends at Discoverue, which you'll find peppered throughout the site. For a quick glimpse of what Discoverue has to offer, watch the video below and visit their website at discoverue.com

June 15, 2014

Amy Ruth's

Some days are for quinoa salads, kale smoothies and juice cleansing ... and some glorious days are for feasting at Amy Ruth's.


Amy Ruth's is a popular Harlem restaurant, flocked to by those in search of good old, down-home Southern cooking. Chef and owner Carl Redding named the joint after his grandmother in Alabama, who gave him his first lessons in the kitchen before he went on to cook at former Harlem soul food institution Wilson's and under the employ of Reverend Al Sharpton.

Thus, the signature dish here carries the reverend's moniker: juicy deep fried chicken perched atop a perfectly-crisp-on-the-outside and fluffy-on-the-inside waffle. You can ask for a tender chicken leg so large it practically covers the entire waffle or choose chicken wings piled so high you wouldn't be surprised to see your brunch take flight.

This dish is more than enough to sate your appetite ... so make sure you come with friends to be able to sample Amy Ruth's other delights. We also tried the fried catfish, covered in just enough batter to start your bite off on an enticingly crisp note before breaking apart to reveal the succulent flakes within.


I did not have the fortitude to try the deep fried porkchop smothered in gravy, but the rapt enjoyment of our friend who ordered it made it clear that it was a dish worth coming back for. Even if my caloric conscience somehow got the better of me, I would easily find bliss in having more of that addictive fried okra. That's kind of like having a kale smoothie, sort of ... right?


Amy Ruth's is located at 113 W 116th St, New York, NY 10026.

June 8, 2014

Phoenix: Xu Bing at the Cathedral


Walking into the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine this past Saturday afternoon was a surreal experience. Underneath the historic cathedral's soaring Gothic nave, Chinese artist Xu Bing's stunning Phoenix sculptures hung poised for flight while the sound of live kirtan filled the air, in preparation for the evening's Interfaith Kirtan for World Peace. It was quite a spectacular moment highlighting both the Episcopalian church's progressive views and the sheer diversity of experiences one can have in New York.

On its own, the cathedral nicknamed "Saint John the Unfinished" for its perpetual state as work-in-progress is a sight to behold. Its stylistic influences are manifold—French, Spanish and English Gothic, as well as Romanesque and Byzantine—but come together to striking effect. With the cathedral as foil to Xu's monumental art, the resulting picture is rather awe-inspiring.


A closer look at the phoenixes, dubbed Feng and Huang, makes the artwork all the more enthralling. Each soaring figure is composed of materials salvaged from a construction site in China, where Xu was struck by the poor conditions migrant workers labored under. Xu designed the phoenixes using drawings, models and software then had them constructed, assembly-line style, in a factory outside Beijing, mimicking today's methods of construction. These majestic forms created out of intricately layered pipes, shovels, pliers, saws and assorted construction detritus reflect on the inextricable connection and inherent tension between rapid commercial development and migrant labor rights.  



Phoenix: Xu Bing at the Cathedral is on view through 2014. For more information, click here.
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