Tag Archive: Travel



I came to Sydney for 2 major reasons. To attend my sister’s and brother-in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary on October 27 and to celebrate my birthday with my “OZ family”. My visits are rather regular, but this comes more special for those 2 reasons. Not every couple is blessed to celebrate a golden wedding anniversary. And another year tucked under one’s belt is always a good reason to celebrate. My birthdays were always spent in Manila except for 3 celebrated in India, Madrid and Peru in recent years. While travel adventures provided novelty and excitement, nothing beats being with family on such a special day.

I still have a long wish list and trust there is no limit to God’s mercy and generosity. Like a child, I unashamedly ask that God grants my heart’s desires. I’ve asked for much — for myself, as well as for others. Mostly “little things”. And just as much if not more, thank Him for answered prayers. I honour Him with much joy in my heart, and celebrate His gift of life.

To my family and friends, I have you all in my prayers. Praying for good health, safety wherever and with whomever we are, harmony and precious joy in our hearts. Most of all, we humbly thank You Lord for the time to celebrate with our loved ones as well as for the lessons learned from our poor decisions and ill-thought choices.


Last Tuesday October 16 was World Food Day. It’s also the anniversary of the founding day of the Food and Agriculture Organization in 1945. Sydney’s Noodles Market is held around this time when Hyde Park transforms itself into an Oriental food event — not necessarily limited to noodles but any Asian dish oozing with aromatic spices from the East. It’s been raining in Sydney for a week but we picked Tuesday to go to the city on a cloudy but rain-free day.

The little boy with us had so much energy in him, and that was even before his teriyaki noodle dish and creamy allo-allo mixed fruit dessert. Some parts of the park were muddy from the previous day’s rain. Luckily, Citi has a fenced-in area complete with more comfortable chairs, tables and even faux grass-carpeting. Swell! I flashed my card and claimed a table for us. We got drinks from within the reserved space but bought our food from the stalls outside.

Good thing we were early. The crowd started to build up after 5:30pm. The office crowd spilling out of the surrounding buildings and creating queues at the more popular food stalls. It’s like a hawker market but with pricier tags, and overhyped food choices. We couldn’t resist trying out the Pinoy offerings like the lechon (roasted pork @$18 and it was not even crunchy), the desserts like the allo-allo aka halo-halo which is really nothing like the popular local dessert. One dessert is even named “Thrilla in Manila” and I swear we don’t even have that kind of stuff back home.

Even the pork barbeque doesn’t remind me of home. The marinade is more Western than Asian, for sure. Oh well. The event organisers do this annually and from the looks of it, it draws a regular crowd. Next time, maybe I’d try the ramen.

Nonetheless we had a good time especially when a Lion Dance (not Dragon?) cheered up the place. The little boy perked up like crazy and we all felt the excitement! The kid jumped up and down and followed the “lion” across the park. The senior grandma struggled to follow …..

Floriade 2018 (Canberra)


I have visited Sydney many times since my sister and her family migrated here but not once have I visited the Floriade in Canberra, the nation’s capital. The visits were always off-timed and I only contented myself with photos of beautiful spring blooms from the Commonwealth Park where it’s annually held. This 2018, it was staged from September 15 to October 14, a full month, and we managed to visit on the 2nd to the last day!

Just 2.5 hours south of Sydney, the Commonwealth Park in Canberra was truly a celebration of spring blooms. Carpeted in many colours of tulips and other blooms, the lake and the Ferris wheel simply added to the park’s charm. We hardly paid attention to the market stalls and playing bands, and just took in all the splendour of Nature’s floral cheer. There was a good crowd beating the deadline (like us) but we were early. Beating the traffic and the crowds, we enjoyed the Park before it drizzled early afternoon.

The place reminded me of Keukenhof Gardens in Dutchland. There must have been a million bulbs for this year’s Floriade. I felt it’d be a waste to end the flower show while the flowers are still in full bloom! But I’ve read in today’s papers that many folks have volunteered to cut the flowers and dig up the bulbs to distribute among the community. About a hundred bucketloads have found their way to hospitals and nursing homes to cheer up the old and sick. Such a happy ending to this flower exhibit, don’t you think?

My Safari Woes


No big deal, really. But if I were to do this again, I’d likely do this just a little differently. Like I’d concentrate on just Maasai Mara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Lake Manyara to save on those lonnnng, bumpy rides. In my book, the first 2 are what Safari dreams are made of. Bite the dust and enjoy the game drives! The last 2 is like “safari the easier way” because Ngorongoro area is such a vast expanse the animals are in plain view! Hide and seek kept to a minimum. The animals happily co-exist here. Well, for sure, there are predators but there are nearly no tall grasses where they can hide. Manyara on the other hand “completes” the deal, in a lush vegetation way. It’s good for tired nerves and limbs. No regrets waking up early for these animal sightings. Except that the tree-climbing lions went into hiding. Such a glorious experience. But a safari holiday can surely benefit from more time spent in the camp and lodges we’ve stayed in in the last 3 places. These are my woes. Would have relished more time spent here.

Ole Serai Luxury Camp

(Turner Springs, Tanzania)

This is clearly our favorite. Newly-opened actually, part of the Wellworth Collection, a chain of luxury camps and hotels. It is a luxury camp with all amenities except a bath tub. Acacia trees all around, an impressive bar lounge and perfectly-designed semi-permanent luxury tents with both sunrise and sunset views. Beautiful during the day, even more beautiful when the African sky bursts into starry nights and the walkways to the lounge are dimly lit. I only wish they had steak or veal or venison for dinner 🥩 to go with my cab sav on those cool nights. For more details and photos, check out this link to my earlier blog.

Ngorongoro Oldeani Lodge

Tented cabins, is that what it’s called? Not really roughing it, considering the opulently-designed main hall where breakfasts and dinners were served. Plus the bar lounge and pool area overlooking the crater rim. Fabulous view. If you’re lucky, you’d even enjoy a cultural performance by young Maasai adults — get ready to be floored by a la Cirque du Soleil acrobatics! Not to be outdone, our cabin has a huge balcony with magnificent views too. The sunsets viewed from here are particularly enchanting and relaxing. There’s a tub, again with a view, and an outdoor shower for those brave enough.

Lake Manyara Kilimamoja Lodge (Tanzania)

Another Wellworth Collection Hotel. Another tented cabin. The room’s layout can be a bit confusing but just like the previous hotel, there’s the tub, an outside shower and a huge balcony to enjoy. On a clear day, you can spot Mt. Kilimanjaro beyond the gorge. If not, you won’t feel cheated enjoying a stunning view of Lake Manyara or Mt. Meru, nestled right on the rim of the Great Rift Valley. The best balcony views we found here. Such a pretty sight to wake up to. I can get used to this 😊

So there. Three great hotels/camp but not much time to enjoy them. The itinerary can be tweaked to skip the lesser attractions, save on long road trips and spend more time in luxurious environs after a game drive. Or, if you’re a smaller group and you’ve got money to burn, take the small planes to shuttle you from camp to camp! And yeah, spend more time in those balconies. Front seats to stunning views. Have a flute of champagne, enjoy late breakfasts, go use the outside shower or just soak in the tub. The dinners in this part of the world can be improved but they’re not bad. Maybe I was looking forward to more African dishes, or better carvings, but they’d do. If only for the view 😉 Make time to do NOTHING!


It was a very lonnnng day. We reached the Maasai Village near our hotel (Maasai Mara Sopa Lodge) high on the slopes of Oloolaimutia Hills. It was a good hour before sunset. The Chief’s son welcomed us along with the red-garbed Maasai men who regaled us with the traditional Maasai jump dance. Maasai men are known to be tall and fierce. Their high jumps (on straight legs in a narrow pose) speak of their stamina. But there’s really more to these rituals than meets the eye.

First off, there’s Emuratta. Upon reaching their teens, the Maasai boys are inducted to the first ritual of manhood. Unlike regular circumcisions, these young men aged 14 upwards go through the primitive circumcision ritual without flinching, without showing any pain. They graduate into being young warriors called morani after this ritualised ceremony. These morani then move to a manyatta, another stage of “manhood” where they are divorced from the tribe, and literally live by themselves garbed in black/dark clothing and wearing chalk marks on their faces. This encampment may last up to 10 years, during which time they should have slayed a lion before they finally graduate to full manhood. Tough, huh?

📸 by Ernie Albano. (What a shot!)[[[[[[[[

It’s easy to simply visit a Maasai Village, watch these men perform the adumu or jumping dance, have a picture taken with these men garbed mostly in red (they think red scares off the lions), and fail to understand these important manhood rituals of Maasai men. The Maasai culture compels these morani or young warriors to kill a lion before coming home to the tribe and being eligible for marriage. They bring home with them the lion’s mane and perform the “final” manhood ritual of adumu as part of the Eunoto ceremony which can last for more than 10 days. The Eunoto includes the jump dance or adumu (the higher, the better, to impress the watching “would be brides”) and their first sip of alcohol. After the Eunoto, these young men proceed to shave off their heads as a sign that they’ve fully graduated as full-fledged Maasai warriors. They can then return to the tribe, pick their brides and start their families.

Another great photo by Ernie Albano.

Peals of laughter echoed when I tried jumping with these lion-slayers. On weaker knees, I joined a travel buddy visit one of the Maasai houses made of straw, sticks, grass, mud, cow dung and urine. The Maasai women build these loaf-shaped houses which we found dark inside with smoke billowing from a tiny kitchen. Moses, one of the Maasai men, led us inside and briefed us on Maasai life and culture. He tried teaching us some Maasai words by writing with a stick on his dark thigh. Then he proceeded to sell us some trinkets crafted by the Maasai women. 😉

We trooped back to our hotel with a few trinkets and other souvenirs. On our way out of the village, I spotted one Maasai lad and imagined how he’d “suffer” through the emuratta and the manyatta. Would he kill another lion just so he can do the jump dance, marry and raise his own family? Days after this visit, we met a young lad – no facial paint – alone with a sad, forlorn face. I wonder too what was in his mind. 😔


On clear days, the soft, pillowy clouds dot the blue horizon. Grass turn golden on certain hours of the day while the few trees left standing (and uneaten by ellies) in the savannah provide shade to some of the most beautiful animals. Safari drives early morn, packed lunch boxes midday, more game drives, before calling it a day. All these can drain you of whatever energy is left. The thrill of animal sightings in their own habitat pumps your adrenaline, leaving you wasted by day’s end. Mercifully, our accommodations in the Ole Serai Luxury Camp make for glorious evenings. The camp’s only 7 months old but it’s so well-run (thanks, Rashid!) and well-appointed. The tents are more permanent structures, roped down tight and “zipped up” every night by able staff. Nighttime melodies include “scratchings” of cape buffaloes’ backs on the ropes supporting the tents, followed by squeals of delight after a good scratch, the occasional rawrrrrr of a lion, leaves crunching while an unknown beast passes and birds chirping early morns. If you’re lucky, a giraffe may walk by oh so elegantly while you’re seated on the porch.

I’ve heard of and read about luxury camps, yet I was still floored by how luxurious this camp is. The soft pillows, the dresser, the escritoire, the sturdy but comfy granny armchairs, the lookout porch, the modern sinks and bath appointments. It broke my heart to leave this camp after 2 nights! Internet may be weak in the rooms but that’s a good reason to head for the Reception Lounge or the Serengeti Cocktail Lounge. My only complaint is how they price their wine. A bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon costs US$40, but a glass of the same wine costs US$15. If there’s 2 of you, you’re better off getting a bottle and bringing what’s left over (if any!) to your tent. Well, it’s a “young” camp and they can always review their price listings for cocktails. But they sure have a good crew — in the dining lounge, I remember the very efficient Ezekiel who’d happily take our breakfast and dinner orders. There are always choices, and it’s a chore to decide which from among the good stuff.

If there’s a word I’d use to describe the lounges and our rooms, I need to choose between luxurious and opulent. I mean, even many 5 star hotels don’t have escritoire as good looking as what we had in our room. I felt a longing to write down a thank you letter on some fancy stationery and feel those Karen Blixen vibes 😂 The bathroom and toilet may not be as luxurious as those found in regular hotels but hey, we’re in the middle of a savannah! No tubs too but I’m impressed with the attention to details — the coffee and tea set in the room, the soft towels and robes, the dresser, chandeliers and night lamps.

I just love how the camp looks at night. From our tent, the pathway leads up to the Serengeti Lounge (for cocktails) and right beside it, the Acacia Lounge where breakfasts and dinners are served. I noticed there’s an area for Boma dinners too but I guess one needs to make prior arrangements to set it up 😉 We enjoyed our meals here, and found the selections adequate. It’s just too bad we can’t linger in the porch with our feet up, nursing a drink, enjoying African starry nights. The camp staff will gently nudge you in and remind you to use the radio for help, if need be, before they leave you all “zipped in” inside. Mornings are ok since the roving guards and crew are up and around. But there was one morning they found a loitering lion at the camp’s periphery. Soooo….. early morning jogs may not really be a good idea.

(This is NOT a paid review. Just ramblings from a happy, satisfied guest )


Here you are, way too giddy with excitement in the vastness of the Savannah plains. Then your camera jammed, wasted after all that zooming in for close up shots. Must be dust in the lens. What do you do? You fish out your iPhone and try your best not to lose your calm. These animal sightings have been your Safari dreams and NO ONE, and NOTHING can ruin this holiday for moí. Seriously. Then, I found a solution. It was my good fortune to be traveling with a hobby photographer. And I did push my luck by unashamedly asking if I could grab some of his photos. Master Photographer Ernie Albano, you saved the day for me! Even if my camera didn’t conk out on me, I couldn’t have taken these lovely, stunning closeups of the safari animals we met and experienced. And just so you know, your dear wife takes pretty neat photos too with her tablet! 😊

Simba and his Queen both make good profiles but admittedly, the Lion King looks more impressive with his royal mane. Ernie caught him with his mane blown by the wind in the vastness of the golden savannah. And don’t you agree he snapped a good impression of the lioness with keen hunter’s eyes? Or have a look at the Mommy and Baby Ellie out on a stroll, or this cheetah with spots so clear you’d want to run your fingers on its fur…..until it sticks out its tongue! Those zoom lens are good but obviously, Ernie has mastered these shots. I’d be afraid to have him take my closeup — warts, wrinkles and all. 😱

Some animals really look lovely. Like the swans of the Savannah — the giraffes, looking so demure with soulful eyes generously endowed with thick, long lashes. So with the regal lions, exotic cheetahs, graceful gazelles and impalas, majestic elephants, tough looking rhinos, smart baboons, sexy zebras, serious-looking wildebeests. But I couldn’t find an adjective to describe the hippos. We found more of them in Lake Naivasha and in Ngorongoro, but the stinky ones we encountered in Maasai Mara look just the same. Non-descript smelly mammals who look fearsome and aggressive? I’m trying here. Or maybe I’m just biased against them after the mauling incidents and attacks in Lake Naivasha.

Ernie took very good photos of the birds too. The yellow weavers responsible for those nests we found in many trees grace many of Ernie’s frames. My favourite. And there were others — kingfishers, herons, egrets, vultures, cranes and many more species we couldn’t name. We stopped to let him take these impressive shots every so often until we grew tired and connived to refrain from alerting him of our spottings. My bad! 🤐

Thank you, Manong Ernie, for sharing all these Safari photos with me. So crisp and clear, and such depth. Very generous of you. And ohhhh, the last 2 photos I took. Not as crisp nor clear, but just so the readers see you “in action”. Hakuna Matata!😊

And here’s one for the birders. Photo Credits to Ernie Albano, of course.

https://youtu.be/0hHx6IOJscU


I’ve had Safari dreams. The Big 5, witnessing a “kill”, perhaps a mating, or even just watching the Great Migration. Every year, some 2 million wildebeests travel from the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. This annual spectacle in these animals’ search for grass , lasts from July through October covering nearly 3,000 kilometers. To see all these wildebeests with zebras as their likely travel companions from a hot air balloon sounds mind blowing. And for good measure, a champagne breakfast in the bush after that awesome ride won’t hurt. 😊

https://youtu.be/Pc07D7si6ts

📸 by Ernie Albano

We were a party of 12 pax. The 12-seater basket held all of us comfortably, 6 to each side, with Captain Peter right in the middle. Peter is a most amiable man who just happened to love his job taking tourists up in the air over the Maasai Mara National Park. He gently reminds us about the rules while acting as captain, spotter, narrator and even photographer. Every now and then, he’d point to the balloon shadow on the vast Savannah and the Safari cruisers following our flight on the ground as we drifted quietly over the plains. He navigated the balloon right up to the Tanzanian border and pointed out the animal tracks for the migrating animals, the rivers and even joined us briefly for the post-ride breakfast in the bush. He was gone before 9 am. He did warn us while up in the air that he’d make a quick, quiet leave in keeping with his “5 to 9 job” 👌

Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley is contiguous with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Wildlife viewing during the dry months when the wildebeests and zebras migrate from Serengeti to Maasai Mara starting in July is simply magical. Named after the Maasai tribe who lived in the region and using the Maasai word “Mara” which means “spotted”, this reserve is home to the Safari Big 5 as well as to many other wildlife animals. Up in the balloon, Capt. Peter spotted some zebras and wildebeests seemingly playing “follow the leader” as they either moved in a line or as a pack or herd. He likewise spotted a lion but only one of us saw it. I wasn’t quick enough. He lent us his binoculars but I just knew I couldn’t build a career as a spotter. Amazing how these animals expertly camouflage themselves on trees or in the vast wilderness of the Savannah fields. Zebras make a breathtaking sight too when spotted from the air — white animals with brown or black stripes. Yes Virginia, brown. We’re told young zebras have brown stripes which turn black as they mature. I know. I didn’t know that too before coming here. What a spectacle seeing these striped animals run along with their wildebeest buddies!

This experience is absolutely worth waking up to at 3 am. Cold and sleepless, we left our hotel like zombies by 4am for a bumpy one-hour ride towards the “take off” spot where several other balloons lay on their sides before being inflated. It was very cold. And very dark. I went back to the Safari van to keep myself warm while the sun began to peek out before rising. Then the hot air balloon was readied for flight. Take off and landing were smooth. And I do like the pilot’s calm demeanour and modulated voice as he gently prepped us for minor bumps upon landing. The excitement made us forget we’ve been without nourishment since we woke up at 3am. Bush breakfast came with flutes of champagne. We can’t complain. Even the loo with a view was literally “with a view” because there is a huge gap between the flaps so that one sees the vast fields while doing his/her business.

Hot air balloon rides don’t come cheap. But I’m glad I did this. Would have wished to see zebras or wildebeests running and crossing the Mara river while predator lions and crocs lurk, eyeing the weakest among them. But the Great Migration is all there, running or not. Truly G.R.E.A.T. This natural phenomenon is just magical. Fantastic memories stored forever in my heart and mind ❤️


It was not planned and it wasn’t exactly a detour. Lake Naivasha was right along the way and it was a no-brainer to go for it. Some do this as a day trip from Nairobi. After all, this 2nd largest freshwater lake in Kenya is only 100 kilometers northwest from Nairobi and is along the way to Nakuru. Of course we didn’t know at the time that there have been hippo attacks in this area. Hippos being extremely territorial have attacked humans, with the latest incident just 2 days after our visit.

Blue skies and blue waters, with dead trees reaching up, and many water birds resting on a branch or twig. We took the boat safari and motored up to an island where we found a community of hippos lazing around. Most of them looked like they’re sleeping but every now and then, one or 2 would stand up snorting and grunting to stray a bit from the group. It’s hard (and scary) to imagine one of them biting into one Chinese tourist’s chest a couple of days after our visit. Read the tragic news after the wonderful morning spent here where we actually felt safe. A couple of hippos we found wallowing in the waters, peeking out, but our boat carefully observed a distance.

The water birds are another thing. The lake was teeming with trees sprouting out of the lake, providing resting branches for the pelicans, ibises, storks, and many more we couldn’t name. The trees by the lake shore bore many nests, mostly from yellow weavers. The entire place looks so serene and relaxing. The one hour boat safari was enough to see the resident hippos and birds. No wonder this place was chosen as one of the movie locations for “Out of Africa”. Remember that Redford-Streep starrer? I know, you must be humming the movie title’s song now. 🎵🎶

📸 by Ernie Albano
📸 by Ernie Albano

Some Hippo Trivia:

Hippos are 3rd largest land mammals after elephants and rhinos.

Hippos can run at 30 kms per hour.

Hippopotamus is a Greek term for “water horse”.

Hippos need to stay near the water to remain moist. If skin turns dry, it can crack.

Stay away from a “yawning”, honking, snorting and grunting hippo — such are signs that they’re marking their territories.

Life span is up to 40 years.

Closest relatives are whales and porpoises.

One of dangerous animals in Africa because they are highly aggressive especially when you get between them and the water.

Although they largely wallow in water and come out 4-5 hours only to graze, hippos can’t swim nor float. They can however hold their breath for up to 7 minutes.

Even while sleeping, hippos can resurface from the water without waking up.

Hippos secrete an oily red substance that acts as moisturiser and sunblock, but gives the appearance that they’re bleeding.


I have been to Africa before, but never in Kenya. The Great Migration and River (Mara) Crossing is top of mind, but we were eager to see those long pink legs in Kenya. Lake Nakuru was first on the list. Never mind that the flamingos have moved to Lake Bogoria where pink flamingos found a more abundant feeding ground. Algae forming in the lake bed attracts these flamingos with thin, long, pink legs and just as thin, long necks. Still, the few who remained in the area of Lake Nakuru managed to present quite a spectacle amidst cape buffaloes frolicking by the fringe of this soda lake. An iconic image of both Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria is a swathe of these birds feeding as a flock thus carpeting and turning the lake pink or taking flight thus turning the sky pink. To say such scenery is breathtaking would be an understatement. But the numbers have dwindled and the lake in Nakuru is hardly pink.

Still, not all is lost in Lake Nakuru in the Great Rift Valley some 150 kilometers northwest of Nairobi. It is the first rhino sanctuary in Kenya, home to both white and the more elusive black rhino with hooked snouts. The threatened Black rhinos number 25 here, the biggest concentration in Kenya. It also abounds in game animals like leopards and prides of lions who’ve decided not to make an appearance during our visit. 😔 But we were rewarded with sightings of zebras, giraffes, waterbucks, impalas, gazelles, elands, baboons and many species of birds we couldn’t even name. Birdwatchers will have a heyday here.

By the time we’ve reached Lake Bogoria, it was late afternoon. The “kill” we’ve been praying for happened here. Nothing as grand as a “wait, chase and kill” of hunter beasts seen in NatGeo videos but rather, an unexpected predator bird patiently waiting by the edge of the lake. The whole drama unfolded before our eyes. A Marabou stork threateningly flapping its wings, scaring them pink flamingos to take flight. Flying as a tight flock can be disastrous as these birds may accidentally break their wings as they collide into one another especially in a sudden flight. And a pink flamingo with a broken wing is this stork’s easy next meal. How tragic. The marabou stork lost its charm with our group as we witnessed this lone stork feast on this lovely bird, still moving and flapping its better wing while its predator pulled out what looked like its intestines. Ouch!

(Trivia: Pink Flamingos have pink eggs (inside) and pink milk. Would their intestines be pink too? Must be their diet of brine shrimps, Blue green algae and crustaceans.)

📸 by Master Photographer & good friend Ernie Albano

📸 Ernie Albano

We can only watch with mixed emotions as the “kill” provided excitement and the slow death made us cringe with disgust as the stork delighted on its meal. We tried as best as we could to soak in the whole African credo that such is the “nature of Nature” — an acceptance of the circle of life. Survival of the fittest may sound harsh, even cruel, but Nature is a universal law of life here without question. We share this same acceptance but seeing Marabou storks the next few days on this trip reminded us of the sad plight of one pink flamingo with a broken wing that lay dying in front of the entire flock, seemingly indifferent to the whole drama. Sad. But such is Nature.

https://youtu.be/Jb-bgXIbxA8