First Bicol trip high

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View of Mt. Mayon from the Cagsawa Ruins

One of my wishes for my 34th birthday is to finally set foot on the Bicol Region. Over the years my plan for a Bicol trip sat reluctantly at the backseat, it was already becoming both funny and pathetic.

So last August 19-21, I took the chance to go to Sorsogon with friends. We took advantage of the Ninoy Aquino Day break and explored the province. It was about a 12-hour road trip, longer if you’re lucky enough to have interesting stopovers.

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Coco-sili shake 

A visit to Bicol will not be complete without a look at the majestic Mt. Mayon, of course. Pro tip from the Sili Shake vendors: throw in a free key chain, it works. In case you’re wondering, as I did wonder, a sili shake is usually made with a base fruit (mango, lychee, etc.) and chili pepper. There’s pure sili shake without the base fruit for the hardcore, I was told.

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Fried baluko

I love laing, kinunot and pinangat. Out of respect, I never declare myself a fan of any regional cuisine without investing enough time and effort on getting to know the variety of food. Our weekend stay in Sorsogon proved that my knowledge of Bicolano food is way below fan level.

My favorite for this trip is fried baluko (pen shell or Pinnidae). It’s mussel and scallop rolled into one. Three of us consumed about two plates of the seafood at the ancestral home of the Jimenezes of Talisay, Sorsogon City, who generously hosted our stay and made sure we were always full.

Fish sanctuary, cave and Subic beach

There was a low pressure area forecast that Sunday. We still took the risk of visiting Matnog in Sorsogon for the fish sanctuary, Subic beach and a quick swim inside a cave which houses a zen garden. Since the weather report wasn’t so good, we had the beach almost to ourselves.

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Island lunch

The crew cooked the fresh seafood and meat we bought from the market before our boatride to Subic Beach. We had lunch boodlefight-style, where I was the last woman standing and eating.

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Beehive at Balay Buhay sa Uma

Just before dinner, we drove to the Balay Buhay sa Uma Bee Farm in Bulusan. Balay Buhay also has accommodation for those who are planning for a retreat. They offered two types of honey when we visited: the sweet floral one made by Apis dorsata bees and the sweet and sour type made by stingless Tetragonula biroi bees. I neglected the stingless bee lessons in my organic agriculture course, but this lovely garden made me want to try out the enterprise.

After that quick stop, we went to the San Benon Hot Springs in Irosin. It was my first time to try dipping into a hot spring. I used to think this was an activity that’s too touristy for me. The experience melted this misconception and my tiredness away.

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Santa Clara Park Hotel

We stayed at the Santa Clara Park Hotel in Sorsogon City for two nights. The deluxe room we chose had the rate of only PhP1,500 per night, plus PhP200/night for the extra bed. This option has aircon, fan, hot and cold shower, free WiFi and cable TV. There’s a pool but we didn’t have the time to enjoy it. The staff and Tiger (the reception dog) are friendly. I suggest confirming reservation through both phone and e-mail.

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The pink beach of Subic Island, Sorsogon

I went back to Manila with happy first-timer memories, a bag of pasalubong (conserva, molido, pili crunch and tablea from Aling Nimfa’s), and an urge to go back whenever possible. Where’s your suggested next Bicol destination?

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Where goodness grows

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Tito Tony likes dropping big numbers in his talks.

As the brochures and press releases show, Gawad Kalinga (GK) aims to end poverty for five million families by the end of 2024. To help reach this goal, GK targets producing 500,000 social entrepreneurs.

These numbers are hard to imagine if our eyes are glued to Facebook newsfeed on what’s going on around the country.

Last weekend, the Ateneo Graduate School of Business Chamber of Commerce (AGSB COC) had its first Startup Business Camp at the GK Enchanted Farm.

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Raf Dionisio of MAD Travel

This gave us the chance to meet and discuss with the people behind the social enterprises Bayani Brew, Calaboo, First Harvest, Free Birds, Friendchips, Golden Duck Eggs, MAD Travel, Oh GK!, Plush & Play, and The Make Peace Bakery. The initial tour around the farm on Saturday was thoughtfully scheduled before our lunch with the GK titas, which had us eating inside the village houses and chatting with the families about their previous and present lives.

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Lunch and feedback session after a walk on the muddy fields

During our entire stay, we were guided by interns and volunteers from France. These include Fabien Courtielle of Plush & Play and Louis Faure, who traded the usual route of HEC Paris students to raise Free Birds’ chickens.

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Tony Meloto with SEED alumni, Danilo and Mice, during the last session 

We chanced upon Tony Meloto (or Tito Tony), father and founder of GK, talking to the scholars of School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED). He remembers the name and background of each scholar.

After all the bad things the students went through before their life in GK, you’d expect them to be angry and vindictive. When asked if he’s angry at his father who abandoned their family, a student said “no, because what he did taught me that I should be a good provider and protector of my family.”

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Oh GK!, a favorite at the taste test night

Forget about charity and your pity purchases, the SEED students are trained to believe that the world doesn’t owe them dole-outs. They know that a good business requires them to improve both their product and their attitude. I talked to Danilo Ablen, the SEED alumnus behind the refreshing and healthy drink, Oh GK!, and he was honest and humble enough to tell me about the needs of his startup endeavor. The brew will soon hit the market and I hope you get to try it.

The scholars of SEED told us this mantra, always sounding like a peptalk to self: “having small pockets does not mean that we have small brains.” Big dreams and big numbers require big efforts. And these students know that.

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AGSB Chamber of Commerce at the field tour

After our stay at the GK Enchanted Farm, I don’t look at five million families out of poverty and 500,000 social entrepreneurs as impossible goals anymore.

***

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A private room at the GK Enchanted Farm

The GK Enchanted farm is open Mondays to Sundays, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If you have the time, book one of their business camps or join the Social Good Summit in January 2018. There are also tour packages available. A package with buffet lunch, farm hope tour, and two social enterprise demonstrations costs PhP995. Dorm-type accommodation, private rooms and pool villas may also be rented. You may e-mail info@gkenchantedfarm.com for more information.

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Glad you’re here, 2017.

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One of the acacia seedlings I planted last year, now five feet tall

In 2016, I wrote a list of things-to-do here. Thanks to family and friends, old and new, who helped me tick off the items one by one.

For 2017, I’ll finish off the leftover items from last year. Aside from family, work and school matters, I’m also looking at this list:

  1. Learn how to make the best baguette for Railroad Vine Brews.
  2. Finish three subjects in graduate school.
  3. Start selling Railroad Vine Brews products in the province.
  4. Join an art exhibit.
  5. Learn about social entrepreneurship.
  6. Visit Bicol.
  7. Register in a trail race outside the Philippines.

Wishing everyone a better year!

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Books, banh mi & brews

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At the Ateneo Bazaar in Rockwell, Makati

This month, I finally launched Railroad Vine Books, Banh mi & Brews. The online bookshop has been up since July and just in time for the holiday season, we also sold coffee, tea and bahn mi at bazaars.

For those asking, railroad vine is a plant that grows on sandy shores. I spent a lot of time at our beach lot in Morong, Bataan and this vine always looked so lovely for me. For most of my childhood friends, this brings back memories of days when we improvised jumping ropes using this vine. Like the railroad vine, I want to start something that blooms even in hard conditions and at unexpected settings.

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At the Pawikan Festival in Morong, Bataan

The bazaars can be tiring for a newbie like me, but these gave me better knowledge of the market and helped me figure out ways to develop both the products and processes. I had to step away from my comfort zones and it was all worth it. Thanks a lot to supportive friends and staff. Next year will be more exciting as we will offer more brews. Hopefully, you’ll get to sit and enjoy a meal at Railroad Vine’s first brick-and-mortar, too.

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Learning Vietnamese dishes at an organic farm in Ho Chi Minh (2014)

Close friends know this project has been brewing for some time. For the past two years I’ve been planting a few ingredients at an organic garden, traveling around Southeast Asia for quick cooking lessons, finishing a short agriculture course in UP and researching about things I need for business. This is a slow process, because my main focus right now is my lawyering career, but hopefully I’ll reach my target in the years to come.

For inquiries, please shoot an e-mail to railroadvinebooks@gmail.com. Please follow us at Instagram: @railroadvinebooks.

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Imprint: an art exhibit

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Two groups that I’m advising have successfully launched IMPRINT, an art exhibit at the Pawikan Festival in Bataan last weekend. ARMAS (Artists of Morong Association) and TaTAK Morong are composed mostly of young people who contribute their talent to advocate good causes and to make our hometown a better place.

The exhibit will be at the main hall of the Pawikan Conservation Center in Nagbalayong, Morong, Bataan until December 3, 2016.

Some of the paintings may be viewed here.

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August

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For my birthday, I requested friends to donate children’s storybooks for the students of F. Angeles Memorial School in Bataan. The books are all written or translated by Filipino authors and tackle Philippine culture.

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My Tatay delivered the storybooks to FAMES last week. I hope the kids there enjoy reading.

Thanks to the following for helping me gather more than 70 books: Marichu Angeles, Cat Drilon, Thea Jimenez, Sidon Family (Australia), Grace Tan and other friends who requested to remain anonymous. Some of the titles were also donated through Railroad Vine Books, a little bookshop I’m setting up.

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Running, dreaming

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Here we go. I’m about to start training for my first full marathon. Because as one of my favorite shoes ad says: “I am made of sweat, not swagger.”

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