Category: Musings & Ramblings



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!

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

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.


This Fish Market smelt soooo good. I was adamant to put oysters on the bed of my tongue as soon as I landed in Sydney and those cravings just had to be satisfied. I didn’t expect there were so many oyster choices! Good thing our food guru friend’s instructions were simple enough. Get the smallest oysters. Have the Balmain Bugs cooked with Singapore Chili. Then throw in a piece of lobster, calamari, grilled salmon and octopus on skewers, and some sashimi and Kani salad to start with.

Frankly, I couldn’t tell rock oysters from Coffin Bay oysters (yeah, what a name for a bay that yields really good oysters). Nor whether they were sourced from Sydney or Merimbula. I can only tell the Pacific Oysters are the largest, yet nowhere as large as those served to us in San Francisco, California. Enjoyed these appetizers way too much, along with the freshest tuna, salmon, scallops and other fish sashimi. I could have stopped there and gone home real happy but those bugs are still a-cooking! And the salmon and octopus a-grilling!

Balmain Bugs in Singapore Chili
Grilled Salmon and Octopus with Lobster Mornay

Heaven landed in Nicholas Seafood Bar in Sydney Fish Market in Pyrmont. Next to our table is a band of athletic men feasting on scampi and bottles of wine. They were happy to down their alcoholic delights and the scampi was just an excuse to keep their stomach linings warm and not empty. In fact, they hardly touched them as they got busy with their spirits. Not so with us 3 Oriental ladies who feasted on all these lovely seafood finds like there’s no tomorrow.

An hour and a half passed and we were bursting at the seams. Even before we capped our lunch with a cup of our favourite brew, I was already planning on setting this gastronomic treat as a Sydney tradition. Unforgettable. Each morsel a culinary delight. All that for 3 ladies with discerning tastes. Please don’t judge us 🙄


It started out as a heritage house tour and simple get-together of long time friends, then as bienvenida for visiting family members, and finally as a pseudo wedding reception for a young couple whose most significant ceremony we all missed because of the pandemic. There were 18 adults and 2 toddlers meeting for the first time who hardly warmed up and interacted with each other. Topics covered a broad range and the long table divided between the senior and younger members of the family. All’s well.

Palacio de Memoria

We nearly went overboard with the pseudo wedding reception. A bridal bouquet, a flower girl’s flower basket, the ring bearer’s pillow, the wedding cake. All in good fun. That happens when we all felt deprived missing a young couple’s wedding. The sprawling garden provided a beautiful backdrop for our group picture as well as bridal bouquet toss up between a spinster and a widow! The little girls from the past have all grown up, some with their adult children and toddlers. And the more senior members have done away with the dyes, proudly bearing their greying hair. The laughter across the long table sounded just as loud and crisp, the jokes nearly the same, and the banter seemingly endless but fun.

All In The Family
The Long Table

Here’s one unforgettable get together of family and friends. Never mind that the museum tour was cancelled and the bar housed inside one of the airplanes (spotted the 3 aircraft collections parked in the lawn) were closed. We enjoyed the antipasti and the main entrée as well as the refreshing beverages and vanilla-flavoured wedding cake. The pre-ordered al fresco lunch was seamlessly served and there was time enough to loiter around the gardens. For sure, I’d be back for the guided tour and the date at the bar. Por supuesto!

The Antipasti and the Wedding Cake
A Choice of Lamb, Beef, Salmon or Pasta

Palacio de Memoria is now an events and auction venue consisting of a historic mansion restored to its pre-war glory. Abandoned for 2 decades and now owned by the Lhuilliers to house their antique collections including the 3 aircraft, one of which has since been converted into a bar. One can just imagine how this heritage mansion cut a majestic vista right along the wide Roxas Boulevard just across the Manila Bay before parts of the Bay were reclaimed. I bet many parties were held in its sprawling lawn while the breeze gusts in from Manila Bay. At the time we visited, tents were being set up in the front lawn for what looked like a wedding event. I can also imagine what great parties one can host here to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or just about any momentous occasion. And there’s La Loggia Restaurant housed in a separate al fresco structure right beside the Mansion to provide the Italian food and refreshments. I heard one can even arrange picnics under one of the trees or just outside the airplanes with a picnic basket packed by La Loggia. Swell!


It’s been over a year now and while the lockdown has restricted us to our sacred bubbles and sanctuaries, I am particularly entertained by how productive my Nieta has been with her art. Since the pandemic changed our new normals, Nieta has had 3 solo exhibits and a spattering of group exhibits. Of her artworks, some evoke more Covid memories in my book. I’m sure the ones who purchased these art pieces would look back to these times whenever they view and hopefully appreciate the meanings behind these expressions.

Art By Anna Bautista

Her models revolved around our household staff and condominium’s maintenance and security crew. In her 3rd solo exhibit, her recurring theme of consumerism marked her artistic interpretations of the fruits, plants and flowers mostly found in the gardens. Some expressions even found its way on silk scarves. And resin trays.

Anna Bauti’s 3rd Solo Exhibit
Anna Bautista’s 3rd Solo Exhibit at MODEKA Art Gallery
Exhibited at Pintô Art Museum July 12-25, 2021

In between her 2nd and 3rd Solo Exhibits, she painted for charity projects and group exhibitions. Here, she drew inspiration from the “new normal” permeating our daily lives as well as current social issues. It was even interesting to discern that very rare but relevant political concerns in her artworks.

“Sapin-Sapin”, inspired by the ABS-CBN Shutdown

Her 4th solo exhibit dwelled on everyday chores —- seemingly “gray matters” or dull moments which are now punctuated by interpretations of how life can be made more exciting with pockets of colour to cheer us on. Truly, pandemic fatigue and lockdown depression can set in, but one’s attitude (and I say, gratitude) is what it takes to brighten our moods. Just like how many of us found joy in growing plants, herbs and flowers. Or in enhancing our kitchen skills like baking and cooking. The new norm may stick for a few more months, even years. And with such, new skills are deployed to strike a new balance in our lives.

It may be a while before the next solo exhibit next year. After all, she was on a roll since 2020. Now a college graduate and gainfully employed, Nieta has to mindfully manage her time. Good luck, apo.

Art on Scarves by Anna Bautista

The pandemic seriously restricted our social life and daily routines. Online shopping, dining in, Netflix-bingeing and virtual meet-ups have become the norm. But I’m happy to note that the art world is still very much vibrant and many artists — forced to stay home and finding more time to indulge in their art — have drawn inspiration from everyday life otherwise taken for granted.

While we stayed home much of the time, we haven’t given up on the stuff we enjoy doing. Thank God our neighbourhood is lined with deli shops, restos, bar joints, art galleries, furniture shops and not too far away, specialty home decor shops where one can spend entire afternoons. Our white walls are now adorned with newly-framed artworks which made trips to our favorite framer so very pleasurable. The art galleries are such a delight to visit and the adjacent coffee and snack bars provide interesting breaks. The alley we frequent even boast of resident cats who’ve since become attractions of the place. Now, here’s one area where feline and human creatures seem to live in true harmony amidst all the beautiful artworks. Swell.

Eating out is restricted to only a few establishments which we found to be safely observing health protocols. But eating in is no less satisfying. We even sourced some of our dinners from our favourite restos as food deliveries have become our new normal. One lovely discovery is the joy of enjoying good meals without worrying about finding a parking slot nor of having to drive home. The convenience beats worries of prepping for meals and washing the dishes. Over time, we’ve grown accustomed to serving the food in their delivered state” to do away with stuff filling our kitchen sink. No big deal, really.

While we have since started brewing our coffee and creating our cocktails at home, we didn’t miss out on sitting in outdoor cafes and bars if only to immerse ourselves in the ambiance of shooting the breeze, so to speak. Besides, it’s really nice to sit it out for some beverages after being on one’s feet in the many neighbouring art galleries. The pandemic may have reduced the visiting crowd but certainly not the interest and enthusiasm of the few who come. Online shopping for art may be the new norm but a serious collector would still want to view such creations up close and personal. There comes also this newfound respect for young artists as one observes how their art evolved through this rough period.