Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thoughts on Solo Travel

Last November, I traveled alone for the very first time. When I let others in on my solo travel, they were shocked, amazed, curious but most of the time, incredulous. I was met with various reactions from “Why didn’t you ask me to go with you?” Or, “May pinagdadaanan ka ba?” or the usual jeer, “Naks, soul searching!”, yes I heard it all.

At that time, traveling alone was a foreign a word to me as say, exploratory laparotomy. But I embarked on it, partly because yes, I was soul searching and yes, “May pinagdadaanan" But it is only recently that I realized that even if I were not undergoing a major event in my life, I have come to love the feeling of setting out on a journey alone.

After my solo travel in Iloilo and Guimaras, what followed were: a solo venture in Tagaytay and a solitary roadtrip up north. And it looks like I won't be stopping anytime soon. I still travel with friends and family because I want to see the world with people I care about,  but traveling alone is special in its own way.

So, why did I choose to travel alone? It is just like why dogs lick their balls, it's because they can.

I used to think that traveling alone is selfish. It screams independence in many aspects -  emotionally, financially, socially. Traveling alone is also snobbish - “Finally I can to go where ever I want, companions just drag me down!”

Ok I thought, I can be selfish. Sure I want to be independent and to travel anywhere in my own terms. Before my first solo travel I thought, maybe it’s similar to watching a movie alone. The only difference is with travel, is that a person is placed in a testier situation and milieu.

I realized that that comparison is a stretch! If traveling alone meant independence, then being independent comes with a price! First, I had no one to share my expenses with. Second, the pre-travel research is exhausting! It brought out the OC organizer in me! Prior to my first solo travel I was this lazy leisure traveler who wants things laid in front of me.I hated researching (past tense of course, haha). I don’t want to stress myself. Or maybe I am just scared shit of sitting alone as the bus whirrs by. I cannot sit still with a book because I am paranoid something bad might happen. Or I feel I just had to talk to a friend to share my boredom.

But, I discovered that traveling alone leaves this sweet, lasting satisfaction, this certain achievement that I can figure things out for myself.

Traveling alone also taught me to talk to locals. Without judgment. I didn't just talk, I listened. And I discovered first hand, how they perceive their world. Learning becomes a natural thing.

Looking back, I wished I embarked on solo travel early on. And having tried it, I can say that solo travel is everything it is cracked up to be. It can be scary at first because of the expenses, the boredom, the lonesome...

Traveling alone forced me to brave the unknown but moreover,  traveling alone made me confront myself. You discover who you are and what you are made of. Traveling alone forces you to face the truth about yourself and about life, and the truth is often hard to accept. But as always, truth always sets you free.

The Pinoy Travel Bloggers group holds a monthly Blog Carnival, wherein participating bloggers write about a singular theme. Mechanics and archives are found in Sir Estan's Langyaw page here. For the month of April, we write about solo travel as hosted by Nina Fuentes of Just Wandering. This month's entries go here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Food: The Empanada Battle

In Ilocos, there is a strong yet hush hush battle of the best kind of empanada - the orange and thicker crust one from Batac versus the pale yellow and thinner crusted one from Vigan.  And last December, I had the opportunity to taste both! Before I give out my verdict...let me describe these two empanadas thoroughly based on my taste.

The Ilocos empanadas are not like the usual empanada we see and buy here in the metro. The chicken empanadas and others here are made of flour/bread like crust which are often baked instead of fried. The filling are a weird yet flavorful combination of papayas, cabbage or mongo sprouts, one whole egg and longganisa. Instead of comparing it to the usual empadanas, I think I could actually compare it to a fried spring roll or lumpia.

Vigan Empanada

Since my first stop was in San Vicente near Vigan, Ilocos Sur, I happened to sample the thinner, paler empanada first from the city center of Vigan. It was my second day exploring the Heritage Village - a name given to the historical Crisologo street  and various surrounding streets- a UNESCO world heritage site. Walking around the old street felt magical as my adrenaline and excitement is on an all time high. There are various souvenirs to ogle and buy.

But one thing I am interested in apart from the semi-obligatory ref magnets and keychains is to take home and sample the food of the place. After buying one too many chichacorns and Vigan longanisa, it is time to chill, hang out and sample the empanada.

There is a certain area in the town plaza called the Vigan Empanada center where many different stalls are selling the yellow empanada.The Vigan empanada has a thin crust and is yellow in color. What's inside the crust are shredded cabbage, sliced green papayas, one whole egg and Ilocos longganisa.

It was crisp, hot because it was freshly cooked. You need to douse it with sukang Iloko to be able to get the right melange of tastes right. I,m salivating right now!

Batac Empanada

En route to Pagudpud from Vigan, I made it a point to make a pit stop at Batac to try their version of empanada.

Before I took the roadtrip to Ilocandia, a lot of people have been telling me to actually try this empanada - it's Batac empanada or nothing at all! Imagine how some passionate foodies defend their choice, what more to actual people who hailed from such places. With no intention in fueling the fire...I actually stopped at Batac in  to sample these orange wonders with the intention of comparing it to the Vigan empanada I tried days before.
Papa and Mommy

My first impression, it looks a lot like the orange quail eggs sold back in Manila. You can see them everywhere. But Batac empanada was colored with natural coloring - atsuete. The dough is also thicker compared to Vigan empanada. What's interesting is that you get to choose between Sukang Iloko or Banana ketchup to go with your empanada. Hmmm.

The filling: instead of shredded cabbage, the Batac empanada uses generous amounts of mongo sprouts or togue, sliced green papaya, one whole egg and longganisa.

The verdict? 

Though Vigan empanada is thinner, I found Batac empanada tastier. It's probably because of the dough. My first impression was that Batac empanada would be a letdown but despite the thick crust I can actually taste a whole lot of MSG in it. Haha. Seriously, the serving was actually quite bigger with generous filling.

However, I hated to pair it with ketchup at first but when I did, it tasted quite better.
Vigan empanada is best enjoyed sitting down and dousing the entire thing with Sukang Iloco for a minute before diving in.
Did I actually cast my vote? Haha. For me Batac empanada is tastier. Of course my father from Vigan would say otherwise! haha. But it is better to try comparing the two when you get to Ilocandia!

To those who already did, which is the best empanada in all of Ilocandia for you?

some photos sourced from here, here, and here

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bangui Bay

This is not about the One Epic Trip I posted prior, but I just want to take a minute and reminisce about Bangui Bay in Ilocos Norte. 

I was with family when I went here. We took a right from the main road and into the dirt. The sky was blue and limitless. It was bright and the rays were glaring to our direction.

The car inched towards the bay. But it wasn't until a few more prodding to the driver, my father when we finally reached these huge ass big windmills. I got out of the car and immediately ran near it. Faster and faster until I'm at the bottom of one of the twenty windmills. I looked up and used my hands as a shade. I couldn't see what's on top. These machines. They are so big I feel like it'll move and crush me.

How many moments like this in my life when I feel so small vis a vis a natural or man-made mammoth. I have lost count. But in these moments when you feel that you are so small...  You sometime feel a tiny sense of courage to face it,  your monster. Your fear. Of getting crushed and trampled upon.

And it's not just the windmills, it was the whole thing the whole scenario...the whole experience of being dwarfed by the bigness of the world.

These huge powerful waves are so strong and unbending, that if you dare come near, these waves will swallow you whole.

If the wind can swallow me whole, I probably would've let it. It was like a lure, calling me to to mesh with its core.

Excuse me if I went all literary on you.End of flashback and cut to the present time.

Inside my rented pad near my workplace I sometimes cry to avoid these extreme sensations. I sometimes fear to be swallowed whole by the big waves, the unstoppable wind. The dizzying fast spinning of the windmills. They seem to never stop. They gain more power as they spin.

But even as I let it conquer me, leaving me spinning, feeling dizzy. Haunted by the wind, taunted by the waves. I know in my heart that it is I who have emerged.

Bangui Bay is where the famous Bangui windmills are found. From Manila, you can take the bus going up to Laoag and Cagayan route going to Burgos. Upon arriving in Burgos, watch out for the signage which indicate where Bangui windmills can be found and seen upclose. However traversing the route to Burgos, you can already see the huge windmills from afar.
What distinguishes Bangui windmills is that this is actually the first power-generating windmill in Southeast asia.
Wind turbines are facing the South China sea where the powerful wind triggers the turbines to spin and then generate power.

Friday, April 1, 2011