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Touted as the “Venice of Japan”, this canal cruise couldn’t have been more fun if not for our singing gondolier named Nakamura-San. He reminded me of Confucius, with his long face and beard. He sang for us nearly the whole time, and his repertoire included a lullaby for the baby in our group. From time to time, he’d shout “danger, danger” as we passed the low branches of trees or under the bridges while punting along the Yanagawa river. That was our cue to duck lest we hit our heads.

We took off on 2 boats. This is Boat #1
And this is Boat #2

Yanagawa is a castle town just an hour away from Fukuoka. The centuries-old narrow waterways used to be moats surrounding the castle that does not exist anymore. Designated as a National Site for Scenic Beauty, there are plans to even expand the grid of artificial moats for a longer, more leisurely punt ride Yanagawa is famous for. I kept thinking the boat ride must be more fun towards sundown or early evenings when the lights are reflected on the river waters. But I’m glad we did it just after lunch and before the temperature dropped further.

The town’s so small it’s such a pleasure to walk along the canal ways.
One of the Boat Stations

While the highlight is the boat ride, don’t skip walking around town and along the canals. Even at low temps, it’s such a delight just walking around. On food choices, this town has a good selection of seafood options. Clams, flatfish, crabs, shrimps, eels, oysters, etc. Don’t miss that too.

Seafood galore
Our Lunch

So there. If you’re in Fukuoka, make a day trip to Yanagawa if only for your seafood fix and try a punt ride along the former moats of a now non-existent castle. Sayonara!

Not sure about what this vendor is selling 🙄
Meet Nakamura-San, our Japanese gondolier.

Takachiho Gorge is one beautiful consequence of an ugly, devastating tragedy that occurred some 90,000 years ago. This natural beauty was formed when Mount Aso erupted, leaving volcanic basalt columns lining the narrow chasm cutting across the Gokase river. The river waters eroded the lava where the rock formation resembles the scales of a dragon and from where a 17- meter high Minainotaki waterfall further enhance this beauty in the Kyushu mountains.

Takachiho Gorge
Takachiho Gorge

Mount Aso lies in the middle of the Kyushu Island in Southern Japan. It has five peaks of which Takadake is the massif’s tallest at 1,592 m (5,223 ft) in elevation. This is best viewed from the Mt. Aso National Park. Dotted with several craters, the Mount Aso caldera claims to be the largest in the world, spanning 25 kilometers in length and 18 kilometers in width. Laced with many trails, the area provides several hiking options. Interestingly, there are a few villages and towns within the caldera where one also finds Akaushi cattle and horses. Life here revolves around the Shinto Shrine where festivals are held to honor the volcano.

Aso Caldera
A Shinto Shrine

While here, we witnessed a procession of sports cars driven by car aficionados. So many Porsches in a few minutes parked side by side near the Visitors Center. Couldn’t resist having a photo taken. Don’t judge us 🤣

That Boxter!
We’re even missing a few here!

My last trip with these travel buddies was in 2020, returning back home just a mere week before a lockdown was declared. The idea of traveling together again gave us a high and by the time we were ready to go, our number has grown to 23 adults, 4 teens and 2 babies. A whole bus of happy travelers. It didn’t matter much where we were headed but Japan has always been a good idea. Besides, our last trip to Fukuoka in 2017 had a different itinerary.

Our Growing “Family”

On this trip, the abuelas fussed over the bebes while the abuelos trained the teens how to drink smartly. Cocktail hours were longer and more adventurous as the group now includes an award-winning barista who concocted cocktail drinks for the senior, middle-aged and young adults. As always, we enjoyed the company, the private jokes, the food and the onsen. The autumn colors provide good visuals but then again, Japan is good no matter which season.

Da Boys
Da Gels

The temps are dropping so we made sure to wrap ourselves good. The ryokan we are staying in now has an outdoor onsen and we made good use of that before our omakase dinner. Post dinner cocktails followed before we called it a night. It’d be a long next day with a long drive towards Takachiho Gorge plus a visit to a shrine where Shinto was born. So there. With the drop in temperature, wish us luck.

Mifuyenama Rekuen Garden
Where are the kids?

Bikini Sandbar or Island?


We signed up with Bikini Island Club for dolphin-watching, fish feeding, snorkelling and a visit to the Bikini Island which is really a sandbar right in the middle of the sea that becomes an island at low tide. At the time we visited, the tide wasn’t low enough to reveal the island but we had fun walking around and checking out the swing and hut. Our guide John Oh (yes, he’s Korean but claims to be 1/3 Chamorro) pointed out the sandbar while he tied our boat, reminding only of the slightest safety tips. Bikini Island is only a few swim laps for the pros to nearby Cocos Island, and is the highlight of this adventure trip. We saw no dolphins but found some turtles and John fed the fish as we went snorkelling around the boat.

Sailing Towards Bikini Island.
If those waters are a meter lower, you’d find us seated on a swing.

It would have been fun to see dolphins but I say driving the boat (without a license) is more fun. My niece took 2 turns to manoeuvre the boat and John was very accommodating. On our return trip, we were just so sapped of energy that we hardly noticed the bumpy ride and the sweltering heat. By the time we got back, we were eager to hit the showers and change into dry clothes. Frankly, I envy the young ones who can do another hour of jet skiing — and in that heat! The day’s clients were mostly Koreans and Japanese. The rates are pricier than what we’d find back home, but for these Japanese and Koreans, they must be cheaper.

Each one of us claimed the captain’s seat.

Guam is such a tiny island and the island life hits you in an instant as does the tropical clime. Laid back and relaxing. If you’re not out driving around to check out war memorial parks, old forts and other war monuments and shrines, you’re likely shopping or waiting for the breathtaking sunsets. The more adventurous ones will hit the beach and engage in the typical water sports. Bikini Island easily lands in any one’s list. Whatever you do, make sure you slather tons of sunblock. The heat is intense!

Snorkelling

There are several hotels lining Tumon Bay in Guam. The new ones are quite impressive but Dusit Thani Guam Resort is still tops when it comes to the beach scene. We booked a beachfront room overlooking the bay (which spills out to the Philippine Sea) and found the beach scene and sunset views spectacular! Many waited for sunset. We couldn’t get enough of it so we had dinner at the hotel’s Tasi Grill overlooking the beach. On a summer night like this, a mojito hits the spot.

View from the Balcony
View from the Hotel Pool

I love the vibe here. Young families on staycation for the weekend. Shuttling between the beach and the lovely pools is a favorite activity. The hotel bar lounge and a restaurant are top hangouts as one sips his fav brew or cocktail. Most waiters are Filipinos, as are the bands. The songs they played are no different from the typical repertoire back in Manila. I tried to cut down on calories by ordering a salad for dinner but we got a complimentary dessert of 2 slices of matcha cake. My favorite. Need I say more?

View from the balcony
The Beach At Night

Dusit Thani Guam Resort, and its sister hotel Dusit Beach Resort share the same beach. The hotel facilities include a spa which you pass each time you head out to the pool and the beach. I bet many were lured to have that massage when the spa fragrances wafted through their nostrils. Smelled soooo good! The lobby is dotted with so many nooks and crannies for a quiet drink (which you can take out and around the lobby from the bar) while not straying too far away to enjoy the music from the bar band. And I bet those entertainers are Filipinos too. Great singing.

This kid stands watch while dad & mom enjoy the beach. La vie est belle✨
Too bad the pool closes at 7pm

So next time you’re heading this way, try this beachfront hotel. I know. We’re booking this Christmas too!


Hafa Adai! As in “half a day”? But make that the whole day for a more leisurely drive. There’s really no rush but the coastal road brings you from the Philippine Sea to the Pacific Ocean coast. North to South. West to East. Just be sure to bring water or any beverage along with snack food to tide you over since the dining places are not that many. Fret not though since the distances between points are very short. Guam is a tiny island that it’s a chore to manage to get lost!

Liberty. Lone Sailor. Tollai Talaifak. Guam Seal.
The Basilica

We started rather early not so much to cover more ground but to beat the sweltering heat. It showers intermittently here but when the sun’s out, it can get uncomfortably hot. From the Liberty Statue, the Lone Sailor, Plaza de España, Two Lovers Monument, historic Tollai (bridge) Talaifak, Cetti Bay Overlook, Magellan Monument, Nuestra Señora de Soledad Fort, Fort Santa Agueda to the Dulce Nombre de Maria Basilica and the Guam Museum. We met, and in fact made friends with, some Japanese and Korean tourists. Young travelers from countries just 2-3 hours flight away. They make car rental a flourishing business here in Guam and I just love how they are partial to top down sports cars in neon colors! In case you are just as inclined, be sure to slather a generous amount of sunblock or BURN!

Nuestra Señora de Soledad Fort in Umatac Bay.

It is fascinating that Guam and the Philippines share similar war histories. Very interesting to note that while Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines on March 16, 1521, his expedition actually made a stopover in Guam 10 days prior. In both the Philippines and Guam, the unholy alliance of government and religion ruled for over 300 years. Both were likewise sold off under the Treaty of Paris to America and both were “abandoned” by US of A and suffered Japanese occupation, only to be later “liberated” by Uncle Sam after heavy bombardment to weed out the Japanese. The timelines are almost the same. And both cultural traditions and national identities heavily damaged by the foreign conquests. Same fate? For over two centuries too, the 4-month voyage of the Acapulco-Manila Galleon Trade made stopovers in Guam or the Marianas Islands on their return trips to the Philippines. A Magellan Monument stands in Umatac by the bay, a stone’s throw from the Nuestra Señora de Soledad Fort where presumably, the Spaniards kept watch against sea pirates. The sentry tower and cannons in this fort look almost identical to the fort features of their equivalents in Manila and Cebu in Philippines.

Two Lovers Point in Tamuning

Two Lovers Point is a popular seaside cliff that overlooks Tumon Bay and the Philippine Sea. There is a legend of two doomed lovers and their forbidden love that ended with both leaping — with their hair tied together in a single knot — to their deaths here. There are many versions of the story but somehow, the romanticism and tragedy are further amplified by a “heart lock wall” where young pairs write their names on heart-shaped love locks to hang here. Much like those you’d see in Paris, Seoul Tower, Brooklyn Bridge, Rome, etc. Yes, this “sells”. Some distance away and without the crowd, we found this heart-shaped photo opp. Just as romantic, but without the tragic story. 💕😍


The beach scene may not vary much but the hotel facilities and amenities may provide enough variety to make hotel-hopping a worthy pastime. Despite the pandemic, the hospitality industry seems to be thriving and it feels so much like home given that many of the hotel staff are Filipinos who’d readily interact with you in the local language. Tourism may have waned for sometime but slowly picking up as those from the mainland and Asian neighbors are coming. I met many young Koreans, many of whom are students here. The same class of Korean teens who came to study English in the Philippines. You’d find them booked for weekends in hotels, crowding the infinity pools and having a grand time. They also came ready with their Jack Daniels peeping out of their beach bags as they troop back to their hotel rooms. The balcony scene in most hotels gives a glimpse of their idea of fun.

Night view from the hotel balcony.
The Tsubaki Tower

Dining out on weekends is a grand family affair. And hotel restaurants offering buffet lunch and dinner compete for patronage. The Tsubaki Tower ups the ante with unlimited wine and champagne. How can you resist that? Sundown cocktails are another thing. And best of all, there’s a fountain show at certain hours in the evening by the poolside. Unlike other hotels, The Tsubaki’s pool is open till 11pm. Other hotel pools are closed off as early as 7pm.

The Pool scene in the evenings.
Fountain Show at Poolside

Cocktails are served either at the bar on the 27th floor or by the poolside. The La Cantina has a wide variety of bubbly spirits and offers a grand view of Tumon Bay. Watch paddlers, kayakers, jet skiers from the bar while sipping your wine and enjoying the soft sounds from the piano and the crooner. Should you opt to enjoy your beer or some other alcoholic drinks by the poolside, time your stay with the music and fountain show. It’s worth the wait.

Unlimited Wine and Champagne at Buffets
Chill Nights at the bar

But then again, you may be too tired after an afternoon of water adventures or late night swimming at the pool. Tsubaki’s well-appointed rooms are perfect for relaxing evenings. If you get an Oceanside room, you may even watch the fountain show from the comforts of your balcony. La vie est belle. Life is beautiful!


Every Wednesday, the Chamorro Village comes alive with food booths, children’s rides, curio shops and blaring music from the dance hall. The Chamorros are the indigenous people of the Marianas Islands and likely descended from the Spanish, Mexican, Japanese or Filipinos. Its language has sprinklings of Spanish, as does the Filipino language. Both Chamorro and English are spoken in this Micronesian Island. Yes, Micronesia. Quite apart from Hawaii, which is a Polynesian island. The 2 are on different regions of the Pacific, in fact nearly 4,000 miles apart with Guam resting on the West side of the vast Pacific Ocean. And no, it is NOT among USA’s 50 states. Like Puerto Rico, Guam is a US territory.

Hafa Adai is Chamorro for Hello
Pricey corn!

This Wednesday, we watched the native Guamanians and some tourists crowding a dance hall. I was surprised to see a fat carabao being paraded around for $3 rides around the village. The children are not the only riders; I found a full grown man enjoying his ride too. Must be a tourist. The booths displayed both food and souvenir items like floral clothes and curio stuff. Corn on the cob served with mayonnaise, bacon and cheese will cost you $7 (!) and other food sold were mostly grilled or barbecued.

Carabao Rides for $3 per person.
Crowded on Wednesdays

When we passed the dance hall, an elderly man invited us to enter and join the dancing crowd of mostly locals. We politely said no, and simply watched. There was a good crowd – despite the pandemic- and it’s a good sense of how island life is in this corner of the world. It’s a Wednesday, the middle of the week, but the locals are behaving like it’s the start of the weekend. Judging by how difficult it was to find a parking space, this village must be the “in” meeting place in an island where locals take to the beach by day and dance their “worries” away by night.

The Dance Hall

We left Manila past 10pm for a four-hour flight to Guam. Quite a struggle standing around the carousel waiting for our bags at 4am Guam time. The 2-hour time difference ain’t much but without a wink, we behaved like cranky zombies this Sunday early morning. There was just enough time to hear mass, take a nap, bathe and then get ready to meet a friend for lunch. Our first taste of a Guam-azing (to borrow my friend’s description of her adventures) Sunday here made for a good introduction to this island territory of Uncle Sam.

Beach View from Hotel Nikko Guam
Hotel Nikko Lobby

It would have been ideal to visit a Museum first to brush up on a little bit of history but absent that and in my sleepless state, I relied on my first impressions during our first 24 hours — no, make that first 12 hours — here. That islander vibe welcomes you soon after landing. At 2am Manila time or 4am Guam time, it’s almost excusable to be testy and ill-tempered. Not so. The immigration and customs officers look and sound laid back, like they have all the time in this world. At the hotel where we lunched, everyone seemed to be so nice and locals enjoying Sunday meals were mostly families who seem to be “regulars” in Hotel Nikko’s Toh Lee Chinese Restaurant.

Lunch at Toh Lee Chinese Restaurant
A Typical Sunday in Guam

When we moved to the beach area fronting Hotel Nikko, Tsubaki Tower, Lotte Hotel and Guam Reef Hotel, we spotted that red Lifeguard Station watching over many locals enjoying a leisurely Sunday. That island life! The nearby kiosk had barbecue pits for locals to grill an assortment of meats and seafood while loud danceable music was blaring. We found the locals very friendly with one charming lady even offering to snap a photo of us.

Red Lifeguard Station
Large Kiosk Accommodated Many Locals

This island US territory may not be economically ranked at par with the states of Uncle Sam but its simplicity has its charm. I’m not sure how long that charm will hold since I suspect there aren’t many activities here outside of the beach scene and shopping. In my first 12 hours here, we’ve only lined up trips to the beach, malls and the cinema. My curiosity isn’t at its peak in my sleep-deprived state but then again, I didn’t come here for excitement. Let’s just say we’re happy to meet up with kin and kith.


Her first solo exhibition was in 2019. That early,her fascination with empowered women spoke through her symbolic “Maria Clarasexpressed as modern Filipinas. Through the years, this theme almost always found expression in many of her art works. Somehow evolving, but the message remains and its meaning more clearly professed and manifested. Added in are the iconic abanicos (fans) and the kalachuchi flowers.

A few taking residence in her temporary art studio.
In Her Studio

Mona Clara. I remember this as the title of her first painting of a Modern Filipina. Mysterious just like Mona Lisa. “Confused” just like Maria Clara. Maria Clara in today’s language has come to mean either the country’s costume, or describe the traditional, shy, demure, noble and virginal Filipina. It is also one of the main characters in the book “Noli Me Tangere” where she is said to symbolise the state and sad plight of the motherland, our Philippines.

In this artist’s mind, her character MONA CLARA combines the qualities of mystery, tradition, confusion and some traces of humor. Perhaps one can even detect a subversive element. Through the years, the series depicted the Modern Filipina in today’s culture in a very satirical way. The approach and treatment leave the viewer to draw his/her own interpretation. Without question, the artist wittingly invites the viewer to discern a serious message.

LEÓN GALLERY
Work In Progress

This 6th solo exhibition is titled “Redefinition”, which explores, celebrates and challenges what it means to be a Modern Filipina. Using the Filipino terno as a visual device, it is a challenge to the standards set by Maria Clara — by Filipinas themselves, through the brushstrokes of Filipina artist Anna Bautista.

Emblematic of the history of Maria Clara, the Philippine terno has long stood for tradition. These were what a woman was to wear but more than that, what a Filipino woman had to be. It is a living time capsule of the culture,art, fashion, government systems, politics and societal norms that thrived in old Philippine society. Anna believes the Philippine Terno has evolved alongside Filipinas — partly in how it looks, but mainly in what it stands for.