Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Amazing Race - Davao

During our last trip to the Philippines, we planned for an overnight trip to Davao. We knew it was rushed, but we were determined to accomplish and make the most out of it. Our plan was to take the earliest flight from Manila to Davao on the day one, and then take the last flight from Davao back to Manila on day two.

Day One - Dencia's and Eden

We ended up not taking the first flight because it was too early so we settled for the second flight departing Manila at 6:40 AM (PR2811). We figured we would arrive in Davao at 8:30 AM just in time for breakfast.

Our Tita picked us up at the airport and as requested by my wife, we went straight to Dencia's for breakfast. Almost everybody who knew we were flying to Davao recommended that we go there and order arroz caldo with tokwa't baboy. They were right. It was really good, and a perfect way to start our Davao experience.

We then drove south on our way to Eden Nature Park, dropping by several places to meet up with some relatives along the way. The city center was not as congested as Manila and it was still relatively easy to drive around, at least during the time we were there. I heard that during peak hours, the traffic situation can also get bad.

The speed limit in the city center is 30 kph. It increases to 40 kph, and then to 60 kph as you go farther from the center. Looks like these speed limits are strictly enforced,  and the traffic officers are adequately equipped with radar guns to detect offenders. Manila drivers, you have been warned.

The Park was about 30 minutes from the city center, and was a welcome respite from the hot summer at the lowlands. This place reminded me a lot of Baguio with its lush greenery and pine trees. It felt cooler here compared to Tagaytay and there was no need for air conditioning even if it was the peak of summer.

Looks like our tour guide knows how to take pictures

The park offers buffet lunches, flower parks, cultural sites (recreations of houses of indigenous tribes), farms, hiking, mountain bike trails, etc. I would recommend taking the tour as it was the best way to explore the place. The guides were informative, attentive, and were more than willing to help you get that perfect profile pic.

Across the road from the gates of Eden Nature Park is the Skycycle. For just 200 pesos, you can get to experience probably the most memorable bicycle ride you'll ever have.

Skycycle - probably the most memorable bicycle ride you'll ever have

Just leave your camera with the guy manning the bikes and it looks like he already has lots of experience on how to best take pictures. If you can, have someone take your picture from below as well - that angle would also look good with the sky as your only background. I know it looks scary but it seems like they have a clean record (we asked), and if you do lose your balance, you do have your helmet and your harness.

After this amazing bicycle ride, we drove to our Tita's place where we were to stay for the night. Relatives came over to join us for dinner. Nothing beats home-cooked food and great company at a very refreshing location.

Day Two - Pearl Farm

We woke up at 5:00 AM to make sure that we had enough time to reach the port where we will take the boat to Pearl Farm Beach Resort. After a 45-minute boat ride from the port to the resort, this is what greeted us.

Blue skies. Blue waters.

The beaches of Pearl Farm are not to be compared with Boracay... not even near, but you have to give them points for at least importing the white sand so they could compete. What they lack in beach sand quality, they did make up for the infinity pool, the facilities, the service, and the amazing buffet lunch. We also enjoyed renting the kayak and paddling to and from the nearby Malipano Island, around half a kilometer from the resort.

A day trip including buffet lunch, and the boat ride to and from Davao city would cost 2,200 pesos. I heard it's cheaper from Mondays to Thursdays. The kayak rent cost 400 pesos.

This was where we spent the rest of our Friday. Well, at least until our 4:00 PM boat ride back to the port. 

Back to the airport.

Back to reality.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The iJeepney

Spotted roaming the streets of the Philippines ... the iJeepney!

The iJeepney (Photo shot by my wife while I was driving)

There are three possibilities.
[1] Apple actually payed this jeepney to show the Apple logo.
[2] The driver of this jeepney really likes Apple.
[3] This jeepney is really designed in California, assembled in the Philippines.

As always, you decide.

If it were [2], kudos to the driver for having such exquisite tastes. :D

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

OEC, Privacy and MTEC

Today, I went to the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo to get the OEC for my wife and myself. This process is straightforward, and is much much preferred than getting my OEC while in the Philippines, as any OFW can confirm.

Getting the OEC
I arrived there at 9:50 AM, signed my name and phone number at the entrance, and walked straight to the POLO office. There was no line, so they were able to attend to me as soon as I arrive. I gave them the passports, and the fully filled application form, which we already filled up at home. They also checked if my OWWA was still valid, which it was so no need to renew.

I was then requested to sign another sheet asking for the following information. I don't remember having to write on this sheet before, and looks like it's a new requirement from May, 2014.
  1. Full name
  2. Address while in the Philippines
  3. Phone number while in the Philippines
  4. Departure date and flight number
  5. Arrival date and flight number
  6. Passport number
Unfortunately, I didn't have a copy of our tickets so I had to search the internet for the flight number (salamat iPhone). I can see the other people in the list also do not have their flight numbers so obviously, I'm not the only one. When I asked why the others didn't write their flight numbers, the lady mentioned it was because they didn't know so they would just have to call back to give the flight number.

So reminder to everybody applying for OEC, make sure to have a copy of your flight number when you visit the POLO office.

I didn't mind writing this sheet although I couldn't help but ask why I need to write down all those information. I also remembered all the personal information privacy trainings I attended as requirement for work. Is it really all right that I can see all the names, addresses, phone numbers, flight numbers, and passport numbers of all the people who applied before me?

Anyways, my OEC was ready and I just had to pay 250 yen (approximately 110 pesos) each for both my wife and myself.

Before I left, I also asked the lady how I could apply for Multiple Travel Exit Clearance (MTEC). Looks like we can only apply in the Philippines, and we need to present our employment contract when we apply. Once approved, we can fly multiple times to the Philippines, without needing to apply for OEC each time, for as long as the MTEC is valid (one year).

I only fly once or twice a year to the Philippines, so I thought I didn't need it.

For now.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Blue Flowers of Ibaraki

While having lunch with friends from the office, one mentioned Hitachi Seaside Park (ひたち海浜公園) and how popular it is during spring time when the flowers are all blue. My wife and I have seen this place before during autumn, but considering how much she loves flowers, I figured it would also be good to take her there during spring.

Luckily one weekend, the weather was good, so my wife and I took Joban line north to Ibaraki Prefecture. It was a long train ride across several prefectures. The train even had to stop for about an hour in Kita-Senju, because of a "human accident", as how the train officials would describe it. We were not in a hurry, so we just waited inside until the service was resumed.

When we did arrive at the park, we were tired and hungry. We lined up for lunch but there was so many people, we had to wait another thirty minutes just to get our spam burger and coke. It wasn't looking good for this trip, until we walked towards the hill and saw this.

Blue skies. Blue hills. Blue flowers.

Blue skies and blue hills

This is when we realized the trip was worth it. The hills were covered with this blue flower they call "nemophila", not to be confused with similar sounding not so pleasant "-philias". This place is definitely a treat for both flower lovers and photographers.

Worm eye view of the blue flower (nemophila)

There were many visitors that day and you'll have to share the pathways with all of them but it was fine. The people were polite and were generally flowing in the same direction, stopping intermittently to take pictures, as you can see from the video below.

While it's true the blue flowers were pretty and photographers would definitely have their feast day, I think Hitachi Seaside Park is better during autumn. Since the autumn flowers and plants are red and pink, photographers get a better contrast with the blue skies. Then again, maybe it's also because I've been losing photography skills these last four years. Need to practice again.

Here's a comparison between a picture I took earlier this month, and a picture I took during autumn (2010).

Hitachi Kaihin Park during Spring 2014
Hitachi Kaihin Park during Autumn 2010

For those who love flowers and photography, it's a no brainer. Check out their website and visit during spring, and autumn. Bring your best camera with you, and my recommendation is to come in early. During peak season, they open early at 7:30 AM.