Back on the isla

12 noon. Habagat is here, blowing its winds while the June sun bore down really hard.

We are back on the island, back on one of our favorite haunts, waiting for one of our favorite comfort food — a bowl of agedashi tofu, which unfortunately is prone to inflation, as is everything else in this place.

Exactly a year ago we were probably doing exactly the same thing, seated on the same table, famished but happy. We’ve come twice more between then and now, and Owen and I would always find ourselves in this spot.

Everything looks as I remember it from a year ago: the umbrella tree in front and the plastic lounge chairs surrounding it; foreign families just off the beach coming in — spattering water all over the floor in the process — to order fresh fruit shake to be delivered later to their spot under the tree; somebody kitesurfing on the beach; the beach’s sundry hues of blue.

But this year, there was something else.

There were giggles and laughter as the surf crashed into shore and the wind blew harder.

On the beach were kids — tiny specks of brown against the blanket of blue — swimming naked without a care in the world.

It was a perfect day in Boracay.

White Beach, Boracay

Words by Nikka, Photos by Owen
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The Center Suites: No-fuss, good-value hotel in Cebu City

Whenever we find ourselves in Cebu, we either hie away to its far ends for the beaches, sardines, or sharks, or else stay in the city to pig out. The last time we were here, we couldn’t find time, however hard we tried, to go back to Moalboal, so the inevitable happened: we were stuck in the city’s humidity and heavy traffic, but, BUT we were also within easy reach of our favorite food haunts.

And we have The Center Suites to thank for this: its location—along Escario Street—meant we were a couple of minutes’ walk from the nearest branch of Cebu’s Original Spicy Lechon Belly (yes, that’s the name!), our favorite lechon house. It’s also one ride from almost everything else, including IT Park, Ayala, and Fuente, all of which have branches of another favorite, Casa Verde.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

And although staying in this hotel did indirectly fatten us up, that’s not the only thing it does well. For one, we found the staff very accommodating and courteous, even when we arrived at the ungodly hour of 4 AM from a lechon-booze-siomai night out with friends. We were also asked to fill out a form for our breakfast choice that (same) morning, which we thought was quite a nice touch (especially for those who wouldn’t suffer a fried egg for a scrambled one). I also think it’s a prudent way to manage resources (we are not fans of hotels who waste food just because their guests can pay/have already paid for it).

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

Our twin room was also very comfortable, with its own toilet + hot and cold shower, air conditioning, and television. Towels were also provided.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

Those who are looking for luxe accommodations won’t find it here though. There was just enough space for two people, and thankfully the room had a separate area for stowing luggage, which helped maximize the remaining floor space.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

There’s also free (and fast!) WiFi, an advantage that most smaller hotels have since there are less people fighting over it at any given time. The table was also a nice touch—something that not all budget hotels are keen to add, which is a shame because it is still very useful for those who want to work and/or have a decent space to put their stuff that isn’t the mattress.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

The Center Suites Bistro is also in-house, and serves a la carte Filipino breakfast for guests (each booking comes with free breakfast, which is always welcome, thank you very much) as well as an assortment of Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino dishes, available even for non-hotel guests.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

At an average price of P700 per person, it’s definitely a good deal considering its central location, AC rooms, and free breakfast. It’s also not directly along the main road (you have to walk just a few meters inland), so the city’s fumes and noise do not get as far as your room window. So when you’re traveling to Cebu and would like to be in the thick of things, The Center Suites will make a great base. Trust us, that lechon belly is worth staying nearby for.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

For more info:
(63 32) 416 8881
(63 32) 266 8885
+63 932 440 6950
+63 905 251 8212
N. Gonzales Compound, Brgy Camputhaw,
Escario Street, Cebu City
If you’re booking via Agoda, you may use this link
Overnight room rates start at P855.

Our overnight stay at The Center Suites was complimentary. Our opinions of the hotel’s services & facilities are based on firsthand experience and are completely our own.

On happiness

To be happy—that’s too complex to stereotype. We can perhaps agree though that it is quite easy to spot a happy moment when it’s staring back at you, difficult even to resist taking part in it.

Browsing through this year’s photos, we see beautiful sunsets and sunrises; we see turquoise seas and brown earth—for all these, we are thankful. But we also see people looking unequivocally happy doing everyday things—getting food, sitting under a tree, doing a day’s work. No uncomplicated I’m-going-on-an-adventure-today shiz.

This has been one of the best things about traveling to new places—it reminds us, time and again, that happiness comes in the simplest, most uncomplicated, and sometimes unexpected packages. To meet complete strangers and have them teach us this lesson on gratitude has been among the most incredible things about going out there, where, as Cesar Pavese said—

Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky

2013, it has been an amazingly happy journey.

Portraits from Malapascua, Cebu

Portraits from Malapascua, Cebu

Portraits from Malapascua, Cebu

Sunset - Malapascua, Cebu - Photo by Nikka Corsino

Malapascua, Cebu

Malapascua, Cebu

All photos taken August 2013 in Malapascua, an island in northern Cebu province, Philippines, devastated by typhoon Haiyan.

Where to stay in Boracay: MNL Beach Hostel

When Owen and I learned that MNL Boutique Hostel in Makati is branching out to—wait for it—Boracay Island, we couldn’t wait to visit. First of all, their growth was very impressive—Maica, Celina, and Gonz are opening hostel no. 2 less than a year after the first one. We know next to nothing about the hospitality business, but that is undoubtedly a big feat. We love their hostel concept too, and pulling it off in Boracay was something we wanted to see. We think it’s working really well, especially for young backpackers and, well, young backpacking couples.

TWO2TRAVEL: Boracay - MNL Beach Hostel
Living area — and an awesome artwork by Gonz. And that’s Yolanda in the news.

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Boracay on the cheap

During Happy Hour, beer in Boracay averages P70 for two, which makes it P35—or less than a dollar—a bottle. We don’t know about you, but that’s cheap, especially if you factor in the ambiance—beautiful sunset, fine sand on your toes, cushy chairs under coconut trees. Meanwhile, a tricycle ride is P10, a filling meal P50, a liter of water P5, a bed for the night P400—that is, if you’re not picky. And, not to forget, four kilometers of white sand—one of the best in the world—costs absolutely nothing.

Diniwid Beach, Boracay, Philippines - by
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Kalanggaman Island, Leyte: Beauty in the middle of nowhere

We could taste the saltwater on our lips.

In fact, saltwater was all over our face.

Our eyeglasses—yes, both of them—were pockmarked with beads of water. We could barely see ahead of us, and besides, there seemed nothing else to see except the rough open seas ahead.

Our boat carried around 20 tourists—brown-skinned, pale-skinned, black-haired, golden-haired, big-eyed, chinky-eyed. And it was big, just as any good dive boat should.

But the waves were bigger.

Kalanggaman Island, Palompon, Leyte -

It was a sunny day, yes, but for some reason the waves weren’t friendly.

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Video: Moalboal’s amazing sardine run

We’ve told you: Moalboal is one of our absolute favorites in the country.

We had one reason for visiting the town: to see the sardine run. At the end of two dives—one at Pescador Island and one at the reefs just off Panagsama Beach—we were left awestruck. It was, by far, one of the best dives we’ve ever had. It’s right up there with seeing such trophy creatures as the thresher shark in Malapascua, and lots and lots of sea turtles in Apo Island.

School of jacks at Pescador Island -
School of jacks at Pescador Island

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Why Moalboal is one of our favorite places in the Philippines

No, Moalboal was not part of any plan.

We would be spending three weeks in Cebu, yes, so we knew we would be visiting the town eventually. We just did not plan on doing it that soon.

We were inside a bus approaching Cebu City, having just come from a week-long stay in ATM-less thresher-shark-filled Malapascua Island. We only had P20 left in our pockets, which could carry us only as far as the nearest mall to replenish our funds. It was nearing dark, we had already been traveling for more than five hours, and we had psyched ourselves to collapse into sleep as soon as we arrived—which, until that moment, was supposed to be less than an hour away.

Apparently, that did not happen.

Somewhere along Mandaue before the bus could even reach the terminal, we decided that, yes, we would be going to Moalboal that same day. This meant another three hours on the road. But what the heck! We wanted to see the sardine run!

Panagsama Beach underwater | Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines |
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Tips for your trips: Oslob, Cebu

The town of Oslob straddles the open sea and the mountains of Cebu. The way to this seaside town is photogenic, especially in the early morning.

Whalesharks of Oslob, Cebu | Photos by
Apart from the whalesharks of Tan-awan, the Tumalog Falls and the Heritage Park are also usual stops. These three can be done in a single day, putting the whaleshark watching first, which takes just 30 minutes unless you give it another go and pay again, before the inland tour, which may take up another two or three hours of your time.

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