A Walk Through History With the Ilocos Empanada

When visiting the Ilocos region, 500 kilometers north of Manila, the Philippines’ capital, you cannot help but notice these large hand-held orange pastries being sold along the streets of Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte. This “pastry” is called Ilocos empanada, one of the region’s most popular snacks, and one of the many icons from which the region has long been known.


Empanadas from Ilocos Norte with their signature orange rice flour base

You will also quickly notice that there is a slight difference between the empanadas sold in Ilocos Sur (south) and Ilocos Norte (north). The reason for this may be the availability of resources in both districts. Ilocos Norte has a sizeable source for the achuete (atsuete/ annatto), extracted from the seed of the achiote tree (scientific name: Bixa orellana). Ilocos Sur, however, does not have much access to this natural resource.

Reflecting the colonial past

The Ilocos empanada reflects history itself, since it is inspired by the Spanish empanada. Empanada is a typical snack that originated from Spain and its former Latin American colonies. An empanada is made with wheat flour and stuffed with meat, carrots, corn, cheese, and/or peppers. There’s a lot of variation with the stuffings, depending on the ingredients available in the area.

Taking the empanada as Ilocos’ own

As is often the case with any cultural exchange, the Spanish empanada has been modified to fit the local area’s culture and traditions. Since rice, longanisa (ground pork and molded into sausage links), papaya, mung beans, and eggs are abundant in Ilocos, these ingredients are used for the local empanada. And since baking is not a traditional way of cooking in Ilocos, the empanadas are deep-fried rather than baked.

Making the Ilocos empanada is both an art and science, with many attesting to how difficult it is to make. It is such a sight to behold to see the Ilocos empanada artisans creating each empanada by hand, and producing every piece into precision.

The Ilocos empanada is indeed a jewel of the region. The making of an empanada is a craft on its own that must be passed from generation to generation to stay alive. When visiting Ilocos, be sure to give the empanada a try. And don’t forget to say “Dios ti agngina” (“Thank you” in the Ilokano language) to the manang (a respectful Ilokano way of addressing an old lady), manong (a respectful Ilokano way of addressing an old man), or ading (a respectful Ilokano way of addressing someone of the same age bracket) who made the empanada for you.

Where to try the Ilocos empanada 

The best places to try the Ilocos empanada are in Dap-ayan in Laoag, Ilocos Norte; Food Hall along Batac River, Ilocos Norte; and the Heritage District in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Dap-ayan is open 24 hours, 7 days a week; while for Batac and Vigan, it’s open every day up to 10 PM, depending on the stall.


Visiting Pamulaklakin Forest Trail in Subic

R and I decided to go for a nature trip on our fourth anniversary, and with some help from our friend Google, we ended up giving the Pamulaklakin Forest Trail a try.

What is the Pamulaklakin Forest Trail?

Named after the Pamulaklakin vine that grows in abundance in the area, the Pamulaklakin Forest Trail is one of the many routes that have been used for training by the US Army during the American Colonial Period, with the aetas as their teachers. The aetas taught them valuable lessons on how to survive in the jungle, and shared their vast knowledge of flora and fauna in the area. Up until today, the aetas take the lead in protecting the site and are sharing their expertise through tours organized in partnership with the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.


This is what you call organic shampoo!

We had a GREAT time doing the two-hour ecology tour, with our guide, Menmen, showing us a glimpse of the richness of the forest.

Here are some tips to help you organize your trip:

Official name: Pamulaklakin Forest Trail


How to get there: Via private vehicle, navigate towards Pamulaklakin Forest. There’s a large sign at the entrance with the name of the place, so it’s difficult to miss.

Before starting with your trail tour: You need to register at the jump-off point with the guide on duty. There is no mark that says “registration,” but it is pretty straightforward to find since there is just one table in front of the stores with a lady with a notebook.

Fees are as follows (as of March 2018):

  • PHP 100/person (entrance fee for sightseeing or picnic)
  • PHP 100/person (mini-jungle tour: goes for 30 minutes, inclusive of a local guide)
  • PHP 250/person (ecology tour: goes for 2-3 hours, inclusive of a local guide)

Important reminders:

  1. The trail is family and beginner-friendly, so do not worry about boulders and slippery slopes along the trail.
  2. Although there is a rich water source along the trail, it is still best to bring water that you know you are comfortable to drink.
  3. There is a small local store at the jump-off point where you can purchase water, sports drinks, soft drinks, chips, candies, and cookies.
  4. Toilets are not available along the trail. They are only available at the jump-off point.
  5. Please bring a plastic bag for your own trash. It’s unfortunate that many visitors leave their trash along the trails. As any responsible hiker would know, what you bring to the trail, you must also bring with you when you get back.
  6. Please don’t haggle with the local guides’ prices. Many guides have this as their sole source of income. If you’re doing budget travel, save on other areas of your trip, not on the guides’ fees.

Why you must consider a trip to Pamulaklakin Forest: The forest offers the best of all worlds: trails and the fresh stream that offer a sense of comfort, young and old trees that protect you from the heat, and humbling insights on how the aetas utilize and preserve what nature has to offer.

P.S. The keys to sustainable hikes are universal (lifted from The Leave No Trace Behind program):  plan ahead and prepare | travel and camp on durable surfaces | dispose of waste properly | leave what you find | minimize campfire impacts | respect wildlife | be considerate of other visitors | listen to your gut ❤

If you have other questions about this trip, do not hesitate to contact me 🙂


Hiking Mt. Arayat in Pampanga

A little reflection…

I had the opportunity to hike Mt. Arayat for the first time last January 20, 2018. Since then, I’ve hiked it three more times (January 26, 31, and February 16). My brothers always ask me, “Why do you keep on going back?”

The answer to this question is simple: Because there is always something new to see, feel, taste, hear, and smell every time I visit.

Mt Arayat.jpg

Wish I had this view for lunch every time.

I haven’t climbed many mountains (landform, not on a personal level, because if we talk about the latter I’ve come across so many of that haha!) in my 28 years of existence, and I’m glad I’ve discovered this connection this year. Before Mt. Arayat, I got to hike for a fair bit, yet because of my outlook back then, I didn’t get to appreciate these trips as I do now.

Interestingly, I find it more difficult to climb mountains these days compared to when I first started doing it in 2012. I still run regularly, but I guess it is gravity and poor nutrition taking over. However, even with this internal challenge, I look forward than ever before on taking these hikes. I guess in life if something clicks at the right time and space, then it will stick, no matter how much you want to push it against the puzzle.

Now, enough of me.

Let’s get down to business on how you can plan your trip! 🙂

Official name of mountain: Mt. Arayat

Address: Barangay Baño, Arayat, Pampanga

How to get there: Via private vehicle, navigate towards Mt. Arayat National Park, then go past the park’s entrance towards “Treetop.”

Before starting with your hike: You need to register at the jump-off point with the guides on duty.

Fees are as follows (as of March 2018):

  • PHP 30/person (environmental fee)
  • PHP 700 for up to 5 people for South Peak (local guide fee)
  • PHP 1,500 for up to 5 people for Pinnacle (local guide fee)
  • PHP 1,750 for up to 5 people for North Peak (local guide fee)

Important reminders:

  1. There is no water source at Mt. Arayat. You have to bring enough water to sustain your entire hike.
  2. It is going to be hot on the first hour of the hike because of Mt. Arayat’s open areas, so wearing a cap or hat, and light long sleeves or arm sleeves is a must.
  3. Toilets are not available along the trail. They are only available at the jump-off point.
  4. There is a small local store at the jump-off point where you can purchase water, Gatorade, chips, and candies.
  5. Please bring a plastic bag for your own trash. It’s unfortunate that many hikers leave their trash along the trails. As any responsible hiker would know, what you bring to the summit, you must also bring with you when you get back.
  6. Please don’t haggle with the local guides’ prices. Many guides have this as their sole source of income. If you’re doing budget travel, save on other areas of your trip, not on the guides’ fees.

Why you must consider a trip to Mt. Arayat: Mt. Arayat, a protected virgin forest, is home to thousands of flora and fauna species. If you are lucky, you will come across monkeys wading on the sides of the trail, or the Philippine Eagle’s majestic songs. What an experience!

P.S. The keys to sustainable hikes are universal (lifted from The Leave No Trace Behind program):  plan ahead and prepare | travel and camp on durable surfaces | dispose of waste properly | leave what you find | minimize campfire impacts | respect wildlife | be considerate of other visitors | listen to your gut ❤

If you have other questions about this trip, do not hesitate to contact me 🙂


Why It’s OK to Leave Your Camera Behind

Early this year, my friends and I went to Tingloy Island, Batangas for a two-day-one-night trip. We had the chance to catch up on our lives and to talk about our plans. And more than anything, we also spent time basking in the serenity of being away from the mainland.

It was quite a long trip, with a one-hour bus ride to Batangas Grand Terminal, a one-hour drive to Mabini Port, and a one-hour boat ride to Tingloy Island. It was quite a spur-of-the-moment trip where we planned our entire trip just one week before.

The unexpected hike

My friend J and I decided to walk around the area after lunch, while my friend M stayed along the beach to read a book.

From a view of a calm and waveless sea, we were greeted with rows of lush rice fields, freshly made bamboo huts, and Eurasian tree sparrows ready to dive for grains. It was such an awesome feeling to be caught in between the sea and these beautiful rice fields without having to compromise on which path to choose. We were there, in the middle of it all, allowing ourselves to enjoy the best of both worlds.

As we walked around the area, we decided to explore further afield and set our eyes on this gentle peak, Mt. Mag-asawang Bato (The Couple Rock Mountain). My friend J was wearing a dress and flip-flops, and I was wearing my swimwear and flip-flops, too.

I was a bit wary at first since we didn’t have a guide, having left all our things behind including our money and– gasp!– mobile phones. At this point, I have never experienced hiking without being ready, so this is a first. But then I thought, I am with my friend anyway…

Hiking without a working camera in tow

So, we hiked without anything else other than the clothes and flip-flops hugging our bodies, our water bottles, and my friend’s defective camera. At first, I felt incomplete without a camera in tow. It would have been nice to document our little adventure. How I wish I could take pictures of these views, and replayed these thoughts in my head over and over again.

But as we continued with our hike, I did my best to simply let go: to let go of my needless wants and self-doubts. Although it wasn’t easy, I chose to take a closer look at the views I see. I never thought it would be THAT difficult to remember something so beautiful. It was way easier to just let a camera capture things, rather than me making an effort to make sense of the moment.

Savoring the view

As we reached the first peak, I learned, for the very first time, to try to remember everything I’m seeing. I don’t have a pen and paper to guide me, nor a camera to capture the moment. I only have my sense of sight, smell, hearing, feeling, and taste to guide me.

Weeks after that camera-less hike, I could still picture in my head many memories of that hike, to that moment that we reached the first peak, and up until the time we reached our friend M back to the shore. Surprisingly, what initially felt like “nothing” now turned into “everything.”

Mt Magasawang Bundok_Anthroonfoot.jpg

Mt. Mag-asawang Bato, one of Tingloy Island’s many iconic peaks

Looking back, I’m glad for that off-the-grid experience. Albeit short, it gave me an idea as to how liberating it feels to get face-to-face with nature. Although I cheated with bringing my water bottle, it was my first time to hike without a mobile phone and camera, and I intend to do it again.


Why Work Gives Me a Sense of Purpose– And I Think It’s Kinda Wrong

Imagine a world without work.

Can you take it?

Can you see yourself being in one?

What do you do (for a living)?

On any party that I go to, the first thing that people ask after asking my name is, “What do you do?” It is not like a question of “What do you do?” but, in fact, of “What do you do for a living?” So, imagine people’s surprise when I told them I was unemployed a month after graduating from university.

Of course, there is this “saving face” sort of attitude ingrained in Filipino (and Asian) cultures; so, instead of asking me the question of “Why,” people would go to my parents instead. These inquisitive souls would then bugger my parents, and my mom and dad, unfortunately, had the sore role of wanting to be in my defense. “She is still job hunting,” was their usual answer. And I was being blatant with saying, “Yeah, I’m unemployed.” I did not want to explain myself because, really, what was there to explain about? I just got out of university, and it is unfortunate that I did not think of applying for jobs before I graduated.

Thankfully, after that one month of unemployment, I got a job– as a freelance writer. So, here we go again, people asking me the same question of “What do you do?” When I tell them I am a “freelance writer,” the reaction I get is even worse than telling them I am unemployed. Going freelance always has its share of misconceptions, and one of them is this being another way of saying that, indeed, you are unemployed.

Anyway, after five months of doing writing gigs on Upwork, from writing theses, online articles, and e-books, I got my first legit office-based job at IRRI. IRRI, with all its standards and good name, pulled me into its fame, too. All of a sudden, people stopped probing me and bugging my parents on the question of “What do you do?”

(Side note: But to be honest, I had the least stressful life during my time at IRRI. I had a lot of free time to go to the library, with permission and encouragement from my boss since there was not much work to do. In fact, I was more agitated during my freelance days.)

Impostors galore

I used to be so agitated when I have free days on a weekday, or when I have short work days. I used to feel useless to be sitting and reading when I know I should be working. Even though I usually finish my work before 5 pm, I will not go out, afraid that people will think of me as “unemployed.” I used to bother because I cared so much about others’ opinion. I didn’t want to be probed any longer, so I would rather wait until 5 pm when all working people are out so I can join in the pack. I thought I will not stand out so much.

Utterly stupid as I look at it in retrospect.

Work? What Work?

After all the hustle and bustle in finding flexible work, I am now happy to say that I got what I’ve always wanted: work that will not control my time, and the opportunity to choose what I want to do with my time. I only achieved this recently (to be exact, this January 22), when I got a better post in my current jobs. All my work is now deliverables-based, so I am not constrained by time to accomplish what I have to do.

Surprisingly, I now work even harder. I don’t want anything like this to pass my way, so the more I treasure and enjoy it while it lasts.

This schedule is still taking me a bit of getting used to since I never before had the chance to be in full control of my day. I would occasionally rummage through my list of tasks and do my work in advance. To be honest, I felt a bit iffy at the start to be having this much time in my hands. But the more I live my every day based on my own terms, the more I choose to let go of my fears and to just embrace everything in my way.

And what has this new schedule brought me? Weekday hikes, weekday birdwatching sessions, weekday running sessions, time to clean the house every day, and time to learn new skills. I haven’t felt this time-strapped than I’ve ever been, but now, it’s the sort of “busy” that I choose to be in. I put “busy” in open and close parentheses because I’ve always hated the word; but now, I want to use it because, well, I want people to leave me alone 😛

Superblood moon-min

Enjoying the sight of the super blue blood moon with a glass of wine. Thanks to R for the photo.

… So this is what it feels like when you feel like a kid again enjoying this new-found freedom!


Why I Deleted My LinkedIn Profile

I used to check my LinkedIn profile at least once a week, scanning for updates and looking into connecting with people I might have good partnerships with. It was like an “adulting Facebook” sort of platform where people did not post their recent vacation photos, but their updated work status, certifications, training, awards, and projects.

What headline?

It’s all good until I realized I missed putting a headline on my profile. The headline is what people see first when they view my profile. I can put in anything that I want, but usually, since this is a “professional” site, it is in my best interest to put my current position.

I thought long and hard about what to put here. Am I an anthropologist? Of course, no. I haven’t spent at least one decade on one field site to proudly say that I am. Am I a researcher? Sort of, but not really, because I also do writing and editing, and the term “researcher” usually connotes someone stuck in the office doing online research. Am I a writer? An absolute no. Everyone is a writer in their own way, and to say that I am one means I can assert that I could write for a living which, unfortunately, is not the case. I’m not good and if anything, I am only most comfortable with journal writing. Am I an editor? Sometimes, but I can only edit specific articles, and I absolutely do not have the confidence to proofread academic journal submissions.

Where am I good at, really?

I’m not very good with labels, and it’s hard for me to assert that “I am this and that.” Although I do apply anthropological, writing, editing, research, and entrepreneurial techniques on my work, I cannot say that I am this “-ist” or “-or” that can be that sort of authority in these fields. In reality, just like any of us is, I am forever a learner of this world who is constantly on the lookout for what, where, when, and from whom I can learn from. Therefore, I find it uncomfortable to force upon a single title when I know there is no appropriate title to write in the first place.

My solution

So, what did I place instead? Simple: Human Being. This is the most appropriate title that I could think of and sums up everything that I want to say about myself. I am no anthropology practitioner, writer, editor, or researcher. I know I am more than these titles, and to say that I am a “Human Being” was the most comfortable thing that I did on this platform.

But why did I delete my profile?

As straightforward as my headline sounds, I deleted my profile because, simply, I find no use for my account any longer. Sure, I have contacts that I’ve built over the years, and I’ve put in a substantial amount of time and effort in completing my profile. But why must I insist on pushing my way into something that does not make sense anymore?

In the past, I used to feel bad about saying goodbye to things that I have started. It makes me feel worthless knowing that I haven’t followed through with my decisions. But I’ve realized that the reason why today is different from yesterday, and tomorrow is different from today and yesterday, is because the world allows us to think and feel as human beings. This opportunity to grow is what makes us evolve in a way that is full of resilience and free of hang-ups that can be hard to say goodbye to.

So, today, I don’t doubt myself anymore if I want to turn my back. I have found a different meaning to the word “closure,” and with my LinkedIn profile down, I again feel another baggage coming off my shoulders.

Plant growing

What a relief to now watch this grow instead of my LinkedIn contacts. (Thanks to my friend G. for the photo)


Why Are You Studying in the First Place?

Every so often I find myself looking for freelance writing jobs that I can add to my day job, especially for when I need to save up for an upcoming splurge. I never like the idea of purchasing something when I cannot afford it, so instead of using a credit card (which I’ve given up in late 2015, thank God!), I find ways to earn more when I need a bit extra.

As I was searching on Onlinejobs.ph, my go-to for when I’m on an online gig hunt, I came across this job ad which to me was disturbing at best:

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 20.30.14.png

Screenshot of a thesis writing gig post

For one, this person is offering a mere $50 for this job. I’m not sure if there is anyone THAT desperate to want to accept this lengthy and challenging job for a few pesos. Secondly, I’m not sure, too, if this person has any idea of the task he/she requires from the contractor. To research + write an entire thesis for $50? If he/she made the fee more acceptable, I’m sure more people would have wanted to take the job.

But I don’t take these kinds of jobs. I don’t like it when the client doesn’t give at least a 5% effort on what is required on an academic requirement. I don’t like it when all the client does is to take a photo of the assignment, to have you, as the contractor, figure out everything that he/she might want you to do, and for you to negotiate with the fee suggested. Based on experience, these super lazy clients never negotiate their prices and would be the first to ghost you out when you start asking for their data input. They simply go to school to get others do the stuff for them, something that I don’t want to support.

When I started out taking online jobs in 2011, the market was dominated by clients who wanted to pay a cheaper fee to do technical and blog writing for them. It is disturbing that these days, more students are willing to shell out a chunk of their allowances to pay people to do the job for them.

Back in 2013 I had a client who was a Ph.D. candidate at– gasp!– The University of Chicago and she hired me to help her out with her thesis. I was happy to accept it because she did all the data gathering and analysis; all I had to do was to weave together the information since her notes were all over the place. She was very hands-on throughout the entire process. And although I have no way of verifying if she indeed was busy with her full-time job that’s why she needed help, she knew the ins and outs of her entire research. Working with this client was a great feeling because it felt like I was graduating, too, from one of the world’s top universities– too bad I’m still stuck with being a Philippine graduate which translates to less pay 😛

Sadly, I never come across a client like this anymore. From typing their assignments, lazy students are now just taking photos of their homework, sometimes even straight from the whiteboard! I’m not sure if this trend is due to school being increasingly passé with now self-learning made easier by the internet; or, if it is because of students getting more distracted. Whatever it is, I hope these students don’t make a habit out of it. If they think they can get through life by paying someone, then we, contractors, also have a role to play by choosing not to accept these kinds of writing gigs.

“Why are you studying in the first place?” You may get into moderators’ and clients’ nerves but asking this question to a potential client goes a long, long way.


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