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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Address:

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 🙂

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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.

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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 🙂

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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.”

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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.

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Why I Started Unfollowing My Favorite Travel Bloggers

I used to look up to travel bloggers. How can they amass such a large following, given that all that they do is travel, eat, drink coffee, and take photos of their adventures? I would scour page after page of travel blogs, drooling over the places that these lucky few get to visit. How I wish I were like them, I thought to myself. Who wouldn’t want to travel the world for work, right?

Where it went downhill

But as time went by, I noticed the trend of brand hashtagging, wherein as the blogger is soaking under the sun (with sandy toes in tow!), he/she will thank the sponsor with the brand’s hashtag at the end of the post. I noticed this trend on almost all social media influencers, and then I realized how mainstream this strategy is.

Turns out, as I read this article, partnership with influencers is now a new marketing tactic that many companies have started exploring. It works in many ways, although how to determine its reach is still being fine-tuned, so companies do not end up losing their investment.

Travel bloggers, therefore, had to upsell themselves to companies for an exchange in the form of products, services, or a fee. It can work both ways: (1) If you have already established your brand online and you’ve gained lots of followers, companies will approach you; or, (2) You will approach companies and market your brand.

Going into this partnership takes a lot of responsibility from the blogger. Can you really stand up for the brand? And do you agree with how the company operates? Some influencers may take ambassadorship lightly, but there’s a whole lot of responsibility that goes with this role.

I used to look up to these travel bloggers, and how I envied the lifestyle that they had. However, many bloggers these days do not offer anything of value any longer. Many simply talk about the things that they did for the weekend, thanks to XYZ company; or how they celebrated their birthday, thanks to their hundreds of sponsors.

I used to love reading these bloggers work, but advertising has increasingly taken over. Not only do brands overpopulate their blogs, but more so their social media platforms.

I don’t mean to judge bloggers for being at the mercy of brands. We all have to make money somehow, right? I respect the fact that it takes a lot of courage for these bloggers to do the things that they do. I can never in a million years flaunt my body and pose in front of a camera. So, the level of confidence that they exude is just incredible.

However, I still believe in the value of a blog, which is, simply, a journal. Anyone can put up a blog these days and share whatever they feel like. If the blog gets too staged, though, I unfollow immediately because I’m so overfed with advertisements online, on TV, on the radio, and along Philippine highways. I see a blog as an extension of the blogger’s self, so to get even more ads on blogs I follow is something like irony when all I want is to detoxify my online life.

Why I choose to keep my blog the way it is

I have been keeping a blog since 2011, but it is mostly for personal use. I don’t do for-profit brand ambassadorships and marketing. I simply write, edit, and hit publish. Thanks to WordPress’ auto-post feature, I also get to automatically publish my posts on my social media pages. I don’t have a wide readership, and it’s in my wildest dreams for companies to even consider approaching me.

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The perk of blogging for myself: I don’t have to pose for a brand. I can simply choose to be me. (Taken while traveling around Badoc, Ilocos Norte)

I admit I’m also guilty of this brand partnership trend when I accepted affiliations from Booking.com, Languages 101, Onlinejobs.ph, and Zalora and started blogging about them. At that point, I wanted to get brownie points from these brands so I can reach the point of where I can get invited to their events, or I can start receiving more other than from commission links. But it didn’t feel right, and I stopped doing this immediately.

I see this blog as an extension of myself. I only wish to share what I see, smell, hear, taste, and feel. Even though I don’t receive as much compared to other bloggers, I don’t get the pressure of doing this and that post for a company that I am not sure I would want to speak for.

I foresee this blog staying as a personal one for a long time. And in the end, my only readers may only be my family, friends, and their friends. But that’s fine. In this online world full of BS and false advertising, at least I know I can still speak from the heart.

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Angeles City Historic District Walking Tour

Anthroonfoot is now an audio tour provider for Izi.Travel and Freetour.com! Yayyy, dream come true ❤

Our first walking tour focuses on the Santo Rosario Historic District, the oldest square in Angeles City, Pampanga, Philippines.

Access the tour here: Angeles City Historic Walking Tour. It’s best viewed on a smartphone through the Izi.Travel app. The tour is free for the first 50 downloads!

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Special thanks to Santo Rosario’s residents, local officials, and library and museum staff who have made our work easier 🙂

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Itogon, Benguet in the 21st Century

This is an excerpt from my research conducted from 2014-2015 on the Ibaloi, Kalanguya, and Kankana-ey communities of Itogon, Benguet.

To say “Benguet,” many would think of a land far away, secluded in the mountains, with people having to resort to walking for hours along the trails just to get to the nearest town. One is left with the impression that people still use g-strings, bury their dead in their homes, and have pristinely preserved their traditions because of little or no contact with those from outside their community.

But as I arrived in Itogon, the largest municipality in Benguet, I was greeted with a 4×4 that will bring me to my host family’s gathering for a house blessing. Then I met the grandchildren who were busy with their iPads and iPods; the elderly men enjoying some San Miguel Beer; and some teenage girls putting on some make-up and taking pictures of each other with their smartphones. I was blown away. Every bit of “Benguet” that was all along pictured in my mind just didn’t fit in. It was like living in the suburbs of Baguio but with more trees, a way smaller population, fresher air, wider, open roads, and a skyline where the stars give way to one’s imagination.

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A view from the barangay hall: The hazy mountain at the distance is Mt. Ugo

There are three major indigenous groups in Itogon— Ibaloi, Kalanguya, and Kankana-ey—with each group comprising the largest population for Barangay* Tinongdan, Ampucao, and Tuding respectively. The field notes below are excerpts from my research** funded and published by the United Nations Development Programme.

The Ibalois of Tinongdan

Barangay Tinongdan, the farthest from Baguio among all research areas, is reached in two hours by jeepney from the terminal at Lakandula Street, just across the City Market. There is only one ride for Tinongdan-Baguio which is at 7-8am; and the same ride for Baguio-Tinongdan which is at 1-2pm (or until the jeep is filled up). This makes it a challenge for the community to purchase their necessities, that’s why it’s common to ask for favors when a relative or a friend makes a trip to Baguio City.

Tinongdan, comprising mostly of Ibalois, is still largely agricultural. The area is suitable for agriculture because of the wide rice fields, hillsides, plateaus; and the presence of the Agno River which makes water available throughout the year. Rice is the main crop here, with coffee following suit. Other crops include camote (sweet potato), gabi (taro), cassava, ginger, potatoes, celery, tomatoes, pechay (Chinese cabbage), saluyot (jute leaves), kintsay (Chinese celery), pako (fern), saksakdong (rice weeds), avocados, bananas, pineapples, oranges, mangoes and papayas. These crops are also grown through uma or kaingin, otherwise known as swidden farming, which makes planting available for previously cleared areas.

Households also engage in raising pigs, cows, carabaos, goats and chickens. Native black pigs and cows are particularly important because of their necessity in rituals. On smaller rituals, chickens are also used as sacrificial animals. This upkeep of pigs, cows and chickens goes to show the still-central role of rituals in the Ibalois’ lives.

Other activities include fishing, but this is usually supplemental and mostly for home consumption. The native rice wine (tapey), the important part of every ritual especially for cañao, is still manufactured usually by elderly women. Among the wealthy Ibalois, ranching is still present with cows set loose in their privately fenced ranches (estancia).

The Kalanguyas of Ampucao

One hour from the jeepney terminal at Lakandula Street, Ampucao is the most challenging to reach because of its high altitude and sharp zigzag roads. The largest barangay in Itogon, it is home to Philex Mines, the largest and most established large-scale mine in the municipality. Though the roads are zigzagging and an endless set of uphills, these are wide and thickly cemented because of the investment of Philex Mines on revitalizing Ampucao’s highways. It is not uncommon to see, every few minutes, large Philex trucks carrying unprocessed ore with signs of “No Riders” in front. This is for security of the Philex employees carrying the ores, the ores itself, and the riders. A recent incident point out to the immediate disallowing of riders in these trucks, with a rider being accidentally hit while stepping up for the truck. This, of course, had to be settled by the company.

The main industry in Ampucao is mining, both large-scale and small-scale. Mostly settled by Kankana-eys who have always been, traditionally, expert miners, and by Kalanguyas who eventually learned from the trade; and with a mineral-rich soil, it is no wonder that this barangay grew up as a mining community.

Though the people also engage in farming coffee, sayote (pear squash), camote (sweet potato), gabi (taro), beans, bananas, ginger, and a few fruit trees mostly on swidden farms (inum-an), and selling fishes from the Ambuklao Dam, these activities pale in scope with mining. With Kalanguyas residing in high altitude areas, the water is also too cold for irrigation, making it almost impossible to engage in wet rice agriculture.

The area is large, the people are few, the houses are far apart, and the weather and winds are quite

unforgiving. As anyone would choose to agree or disagree on, the environment plays a big part in molding the community’s culture. This kind of environment could explain why households are, generally, more detached from their neighbors than the other research areas, Tinongdan and Tuding. Another possible contributing factor to this is the history of the Kalanguyas, originally living in scattered settlements and moving from place to place to avoid persecution from the Spaniards. Thus, families depend on each other; and seldom do they ask for favors from outside their circle. They had to learn to be as self-sufficient as they could be.

The Kankana-eys of Tuding

Tuding can be considered, distance-wise, a suburb of Baguio City as it is only five minutes away from Wright Park and the Mansion House. There is a feeling of being in Baguio but with smaller establishments, narrower roads, a crisper and cooler air, more trees, and a horizon that extends to the other parts of Benguet. It is also not uncommon to see mine tailings on the mountainsides, with small-scale mining as the main source of livelihood in this barangay.

Settled mostly by Kankana-eys who are, traditionally, expert miners, it is admirable to think how they can extract so much gold, silver and copper from such a small land. Small-scale mining is always a gamble: financiers provide food, shelter and the resources for the miners, and the miners continuously work to extract whatever they can on an usok (mining tunnel) which is in itself, also a gamble. The financiers and miners continuously work until they find something immensely valuable, but other times this is until all resources have been used up and nothing was mined other than soil and rocks.

The Kankana-eys also engage in swidden, and on a smaller scale, wet-rice farming. What used to be a chief means of livelihood, hunting and foraging are now more of past time activities. Many households keep pigs, chickens, dogs, carabaos and cattle as additional sources of food and income, and for ritual purposes.

These days, many people also venture into businesses like putting up sari-sari (convenience) stores and small eateries, but these are but sources for financing mines, or as alternatives when mine revenues run dry. Kankana-eys are traditional miners, and there is no question as to why generations after generations are into mining.

What’s in It for the Future?

I have laid out first-hand observations when I did my field work in Itogon back in 2014-2015. It is such a rewarding assignment, being given the opportunity to live in these communities for six months, and six more months of going back and forth to and from the main office in Manila. I have never experienced until then picking coffee fruits for consumption the following week, eating meat as a rather rare luxury, or not feeling in any way that I need money to survive. Everything that I needed was uprooted on land, the sea, and sky.

With nature as a central theme for survival among the Ibalois, Kalanguyas and Kankana-eys, what future does it hold for the present and future generations amidst the threats of capitalist-driven modernizations? Will they be forced to give in to the demands of local and foreign invaders who present themselves as benevolent assimilators? Only time will tell; but hopefully, I get to go back to Itogon with happy memories as I had on my first visit.

*Barangay is the smallest political unit in the Philippines.

** Title of research: “A Study on the Customary Laws and Indigenous Political Structures of the Ibaloi, Kalanguya and Kankana-ey Communities of Itogon, Benguet.”