Tag Archive: Musings and 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!

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?

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

Anna Bay in Port Stephens


The weather forecast was gloomy but we were dead set to spend our weekend with the boys in Anna Bay. The preceding week in Kiama was an all girls (errr ladies) bonding adventure which included a visit to our favorite Benedictine Abbey in nearby Jamberoo. So for this weekend, we were hoping to join the boys on some thrilling adventures. Anna Bay belongs to the Port Stephens area in the Hunter Valley region and is one major entry point to the beach and sand dunes of Birubi Point. Here, there’s an assortment of things to do. Whale-watching, fishing, surfing may sound exciting but many find more thrills with the camel and horse rides along the shore, sand boarding and 4 wheel-drives across the sand dunes.

We weren’t in luck with the thrilling rides. But we sure got extremely lucky spotting pods of whales. The downpour was put on hold to allow us some time at the Gangan Lookout, the beach and sand dunes at Birubi Point and lovely walks by the shore just right behind our crib here in Anna Bay. We could have waited for sunset (before 5pm!) but it grew cold and the looming downpour dampened our spirits. The waters were so calm and so soothing to frayed nerves. Many residents and guests like us spilled out of the apartment buildings to idle away the hours at the beach, playing with their dogs or even letting their toddlers play around the huge “sandbox”.

Back in Kiama, I missed the pods of whales. I saw more than enough here in Birubi point. The beach behind our serviced apartment here is another whale-spotting area but after putting on a show for us in Birubi, these aquatic mammals must have thought we’ve seen enough. Evenings here are so pleasant, if not wonderful. The waves crashing to shore lull you to sleep and early morns are marked by visits of different birds perched on your balcony. Imagine having your morning coffee while these birds chirp in chorus and while watching dogs frolic by the beach. Happiness!

Our Crib

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!


The last 2 years were marked by non-activity and a much-limited social life. My last trip was just a few weeks before the lockdown and meet-ups with family and friends were restricted to zoom meetings and Viber chats. Finally, this.

Boracay

Flying into this island south of Manila was a thrill by itself. After all, it’s been 2 years since my last flight. Travel today involved many health protocols, but seeing this slice of Shangrila is worth all the “trouble”. The hotel was fully booked and it’s good that people are spending their holidays and traveling again. Overcast skies and intermittent rain didn’t deflate our excitement. In the four days we were in the island, we had 2 days of sun. Not bad.

Sunset Watch

Unlike our previous trips, this one tops the list in the leisure and R&R department. Most activities centered around the beach and the hotel pool. We even managed to put to good use the excellent hotel facilities for kids such as the entertainment center, fish feeding ponds and playground. There were shuttles to take us to the more crowded and busier boat stations and Resto/shopping spots, but the hotel has been our little corner of paradise we truly enjoyed staying in. A perfect way to enjoy this break from our pandemic confinement.

Happy thoughts. Happy memories. May this pandemic finally blow over so we can spend more holidays under the sun with sand between our toes, sipping our piña coladas, mango daiquiris and margaritas or cold beers. As the wind slaps our salty faces and ruffles our sandy hair, we feel grateful to enjoy these slices of paradise. A real Shangrila.


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.


Life under quarantine. The new normal. Covid times. Social Distancing. These describe our present situation. No one was prepared for it. As the situation unfolded, acceptance of such reality took time. Unless and until lockdowns were put in place, flights may have gone on, dine-outs and parties pursued, get-togethers and meet-ups going non-stop. After 9 months, people have adapted to the more restrictive lifestyle. Zoom meetings replaced physical meet-ups. Online masses rather than actual trips to the church. Even weddings are via zoom. It’s a chore to go to the salon for haircuts and beauty treatments. Online shopping is doing brisk business. Same goes with food deliveries. So, how are we surviving?

We’re saving a lot of money making our own coffee. And it’s an adventure to try different beans and pods. Three coffee machines occupy space in my tiny studio and the first decision for the day is which machine to run. Our “Manang” regularly checks YouTube for baking lessons and her repertoire now includes bread, cakes and pies. More savings! The fragrant aroma wafting from the kitchen may have inspired the resident artist to paint for her 2 solo exhibits last April and October, and a couple more group exhibits she joined. Though few and far between, the light traffic encouraged me to drive again — just short trips to the tiny, boutique art galleries in the neighbourhood before or after meals in some outdoor cafe. At home, we have also grown experimental with our cocktails. And Netflix has become a way of life for us.

We’ve adapted reasonably well, but I do miss meeting my friends for lunch or coffee. More than that, I miss my travels and trips to the beauty and massage parlours. I get by with drive-thru bloodworks and medical consultations via Zoom but I do miss my regular visits to my dentist! And because of the restrictions, day-outs are very infrequent but absolutely treasured. My smiles come really cheap whenever I step out of the house with either family or with friends. We’ve also rediscovered the joy in joyrides! Yet again, a new routine has emerged and my daily life is truly nothing to complain about. Our only anxieties are health-related but our paranoia has dwindled down without being reckless. A few more months, maybe. Or perhaps a year or so. We’d all manage. We can overcome this!