Bone-chilling cold, 14% beers, and the 9-hour trek to Pulag

So here we are, after 10 years of living in Baguio — our first time in this part of the Cordillera.

So like everyone else in our group — two from Manila, one who’s just come home from two years in Saudi Arabia — Owen and I didn’t know a thing about what was waiting for us. Part of us was counting on a decade’s worth of living in the Baguio cold to withstand whatever awaited in the mountains of Pulag, but as the day wore on, as thick fog descended on our candy-colored tents and as darkness crept in, so did a kind of chill that was strange even to us.

Pulag, Benguet

We love the occasional serious adventure, and this — our year’s first trip — was as serious as any can get. We had everything every self-respecting tourist would have in serious times like this: emergency blankets (the flashy, noisy ones that will probably save you from the cold but not from the guilt of sleeping very noisily), sleeping bags, headlamps, a hundred layers of clothing, and the thickest damn jacket the ukay-ukay at Harrison can give.

Of course, apart from our stash of Andok’s chicken and Jollibee burgers, we also had beer to ward the cold off. Owen brought these canned Royal Dutch beers with 14% alcohol content in them — which turned out to be quite the perfect choice: very potent at a far less baggage. It was enough to give us a few hours of shut-eye (could have been more had one group of pesky tourists not decided to go shouting at midnight).

Pulag, Benguet

Pulag, Benguet

We were to start our trek at 1 AM directly from the Ranger Station where we were camped (the usual camping grounds halfway up the summit having been closed earlier due to heavy rains). Yep, we were going all the way to Pulag in one go. And back.

The reality of what we were doing dawned with every step we took in the darkness, with every layer of clothing that we slowly peeled away as we began to feel the brunt of the steady climb. For four hours, we walked seeing nothing but patches of mud in front of our feet — the only view that our headlamp could afford us. There was no sightseeing, no picture-taking.

Up we climbed, along endless grassy paths and slopes that steadily went from manageable to miserable. The last few minutes passed by in a fit of feverish climbing, all muscle pain forgotten as we pushed farther and faster, because the first of the morning was breaking in a gigantic sliver of orange. We didn’t go through all that trek only to reach the peak late.

And yet, we did not see the sea of clouds of Pulag.

We did see the sun rise, yes. But this sunrise was borne out of a clear day, its rays bathing us all gold — the grass, the slopes, the countless groups of people who had climbed with us that Tuesday morning. Its warmth was welcoming, glorious even. We sat there, looking over the vast mountains of the Cordillera as they slowly took shape.

And then it was all over in a few minutes. We sat there, pink-faced from the cold and sore from the climb. We devoured stone-cold fried chicken shortly after, trying not to think too much of the very long way back.

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Mt Pulag National Park, Philippines / Nikka Corsino - Two2Travel

Mt Pulag, Philippines / Owen Ballesteros - Two2Travel

Mt Pulag, Philippines / Owen Ballesteros - Two2Travel

Mt Pulag, Philippines / Owen Ballesteros - Two2Travel

Mt Pulag, Philippines / Owen Ballesteros - Two2Travel



Photos by Owen and Nikka / Last photo by Ed Catapia
Check out our recommended Airbnb in Baguio HERE.

13 Mouthwatering Dishes at the Baguio Country Club

Dining at the Baguio Country Club is always a treat. As anyone who lives in Baguio knows well, food at the club is just superb and is in fact one of the best in the entire city. You can never go wrong with their classic, perfectly-baked-each-time raisin bread and brewed coffee — a combination so simple yet done so well that it is very hard to replicate.

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros
As it turns out, there were many new developments at the club introduced over the 2014 holidays, particularly in its already-ginormous kitchen: the club’s kitchen has a new head, the incredibly down-to-earth Executive Chef Kiko Tugnao, who has cooked up a storm during our stay. They also opened up a new wing just off the lobby for themed buffets.

Over at the Veranda, that classic all-wood semi-alfresco dining area overlooking the golf course, there is a formidable lineup of Chef’s Specials and classic favorites tweaked to perfection. We sampled some of these menu classics and newcomers and were blown away! We didn’t think food that’s already good can get a lot better, but that’s exactly what happened.

If you’re coming over for Panagbenga, do try these fantastic dishes!

French Onion Soup Au Gratin

Rich beef broth enhanced by caramelized onions and sherry wine, covered with puff pastry and mozzarella cheese.


Hands down one of our favorites in the lineup. We had this twice during our stay and it was perfect every time: the crisp puff pastry and the light but savory onion soup. This is the first thing we’d order on our next visit.

Cinnamon Apple Pumpkin Soup

Creamy puree of apple and pumpkin with a sprinkling of cinnamon for a twist on a classic recipe served in a bread bowl.


Rich and creamy with a hint of sweetness, this is not your ordinary soup.

Grilled Cordillera Vegetables

Healthy starter of locally sourced vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, mushroom, and bell peppers) fire-roasted to enhance flavor


Another of our favorites, this dish is a refreshing take on the way highland vegetables are cooked. We also love the presentation!

Moringa Pasta Gamberetti

Pasta with creamy malunggay pesto sauce, with grilled prawns.


Whoever said the humble malunggay can’t be in the same plate as pasta and prawns? This dish is such a winner you’d want to eat it over and over again.

Pata de Paella

Boneless crispy pata roulade stuffed with flavorful seafood paella.


Description says it all. The Pata de Paella—Chef Kiko’s signature dish—is not for the faint-hearted. You have been warned.

Salmon Belly Roulade with Hoisin Sauce

Grilled parcels of salmon belly, aromatic hoisin glaze, and Hainanese rice


Salmon served with Hainanese rice? Now that’s something new! Light and savory, this fusion dish tastes as good as it looks.

Laing Espesyal

Crispy lechon kawali slices topped in gabi leaves in spicy coconut cream sauce and sautéed prawns accompanied by steamed rice.

Baguio Country Club - Laing Espesyal

Laing and prawns are not exactly the most common of pairings, but this dish justified it quite well. Another winner!

Bagnet, Sayote, and Cordillera Wild Rice

Crispy pork belly slices paired with highland staples

Baguio Country Club

The pork belly was cooked perfectly — a tasty pairing with the light and fresh sayote and Cordillera rice. Pork belly serving is good enough for sharing too.

Beef Rendang with Biryani Rice

Fork-tender beef simmered in a variety of aromatic spices, lemongrass, and coconut milk; served with Biryani rice.


The beef was tender and packed with flavor, and the fragrant Biryani rice takes you straight to the Indian subcontinent where it came from. More Asian classics in Baguio please!

Oriental-style Fried Chicken

Fried chicken seasoned in a special blend of oriental spices, with fried camote and gravy.


Light and crisp, this fried chicken dish is something you probably won’t want to share with anyone else.

Bacon Cheeseburger


Hardly what you can call a shortcut to a full meal, the bacon cheeseburger, with its succulent beef patty and generous serving of the very well-loved bacon, is every meat lover’s dream-come-true. And it does have ample greens to cut off all the juicy fat, in case you were worried.

Lechon Wrap

Baguio Country Club Lechon Wrap

Anything with lechon in it does not need any more introductions! The serving on this one is good enough for sharing. Something new and something tasty always wins in our books!

Dessert: My Sweet Indulgence

Baked cheesecake topped with vanilla and chocolate ice cream, accompanied by berry compote and streusel bits.


The cheesecake is to-die-for, and the serving is so big three people can share in one. Another absolute favorite!

The man behind all the delicious plates,
Executive Chef Kiko Tugnao

The Cotterman


The club also offers buffets at the Cotterman. We love the careful selection of dishes on their spreads (we tried their breakfast and dinner buffets). Each dish we sampled was really good — something not all buffet-offering restaurants in Baguio can rightfully claim.

Duck and melt-in-your-mouth steak at the carving station!



Great wine selection at Par 7, right next to the Veranda:




And some other photos from our stay:

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros
Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros


Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros
The club has an aviary, in case you’re wondering

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros






The new area for themed buffets


What can we say — good food, fantastic Cordillera coffee, and that cozy mountain ambiance — the Baguio Country Club is everything we love about Baguio, in one roof.
BCC on Facebook

Check out our recommended Airbnb in Baguio HERE. :)

Book flights to Barbados for romance and fun

I’d had high hopes before embarking on my trip to Barbados, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. One of the things that struck me most about this small but perfectly formed island in the east of the Caribbean was the sense of romance that seemed to pervade virtually every street, beach and bar. Benefiting from superb weather, stunning beaches, sumptuous cuisine and welcoming locals, it makes the ideal vacation spot for loved up couples.

Follow my Footstep to the Sunset. Barbados
Image by Berit Watkin , used under the Creative Commons license

Where to stay

I’d received mixed advice about where to stay on this sun kissed island. If it’s surf you’re after, head to the east coast. There, you’ll find stunning scenery and plenty of waves. However, like many of the people who venture to Barbados, my partner and I opted for one of the relaxing resorts on the west coast. This sheltered stretch benefits from beautiful sandy spots, calm seas and plenty of luxurious hotels and restaurants.

Take a picnic tn the beach

Turtles !
Image by Shayan (USA), used under the Creative Commons license.

It’s easy to spend day after day simply sunbathing and swimming while in Barbados, but if you really want to make the most of your time there, it’s a good idea to organize the occasional special date. You certainly won’t be short of options. One of my favourite holiday memories involved taking a simple picnic to Gibbes Beach. This 300-meter stretch of sand has to be one of the most scenic on the entire island and it lacks the commercial look and feel of many of the other coastal spots. The beach is bordered by tall trees, adding to the sense of seclusion. This also means there’s plenty of shade if you want to escape the sun. Take along a picnic and taste the island’s famous rum.

Dine in style

No trip to this destination is complete without at least one high-end meal. You’ll be spoiled for choice when perusing the array of eateries on offer. Wherever you end up, look out for local delicacies like flying fish. Another unique flavour comes in the form of sea urchins, known in Barbados as ‘sea eggs’. Around 17 different species of these creatures can be found around the coastline and they are usually steamed, but if you’re feeling brave, you can eat them raw.

Head inland

Another top date tip is to head inland to the island’s lush interior. Boasting fields of sugar cane and beautiful botanic gardens, this rolling terrain is superb for a romantic stroll. It’s also well worth checking out one of the island’s plantation houses. For example, right at the heart of the island lies the 350-year-old Fisherpond Plantation House. Set in immaculate grounds, this fascinating building lets you step back in time to the island’s colonial past. We missed it, but if you’re there on a Sunday, you can also sample a planter’s buffet lunch while listening to live piano music.

Time your trip

To get the most from your holiday, it’s a good idea to book your flights to Barbados and time the trip carefully. Travelling in the winter, we enjoyed virtually unbroken sunshine. January through to April is generally considered to be the best time to visit the island as these months are the coolest and least humid. Of course, you don’t have to restrict yourself to this window, but if you don’t want to get wet, avoid the official hurricane season. This runs from June to November.

With a little planning, you can enjoy a romantic break like no other in this corner of the Caribbean.

Japanese feast at Baguio Country Club’s Hamada

Who does NOT love ramen? (If you’re one of them, then you have a very big problem.)

This classic Japanese dish consists of noodles swimming in a rich stock, topped with an assortment of meat and vegetable ingredients that create a medley of flavors, making ramen such a well-loved dish all over the world.

And here in Baguio, the best bowl of ramen we’ve tasted yet is found, unsurprisingly, at Baguio Country Club’s acclaimed Japanese restaurant, Hamada.

Hamada revamped its ramen offerings late 2014 and began serving this new lineup only over the holidays. We have not tried their old ramen recipes so we cannot compare, but those we had recently were amazing.

two2travel baguio country club ramen hamada japanese

The all-new Tonkotsu Ramen at Hamada Restaurant — named by the Philippine Tatler as one of Baguio’s (and the country’s) best restaurants

Tonkotsu Ramen (pork bone broth)

Rich, savory, and extremely satisfying, Hamada’s Tonkotsu Ramen is definitely something to beat in Baguio. The stock alone takes three days to prepare, and the thin pork belly slices were tender and flavorful. A bowl of this—especially in this chilly Baguio weather—is perfect.

Hamada’s other ramen recipes include Tonkotsu Miso Ramen, Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen, Tonkotsu Shio Ramen, and the Chef’s Special Ramen. Also worth noting for all the ramen lovers out there: Hamada also lets you put your own ramen together with its Make-Your-Own-Ramen option. We’re guessing a weekend visit is not enough to try all these (which is why we’re very thankful we live here!).

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros

Hamada’s warm and inviting interiors

Tonkotsu Ramen, Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros

Tonkotsu Ramen, Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros

Big bowl of flavor—and happiness—right there

Tonkotsu Ramen, Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros

Hamada is also quite known for its teppanyaki. Its teppanyaki chefs are extremely well trained and are very entertaining (although you may not want to get too close when it’s time for flambé). We saw all types of diners—from groups of adults to families with young kids—all looking impressed with their own teppanyaki show.

We tried their Yamamori Special, which consists of US Angus beef, prawns, chicken, salmon, grilled vegetables, and Japanese fried rice.

The course started with miso soup, a rather filling piece of cream dory, and salad before our teppanyaki chef, Caesar, started sending vegetables and eggs and butter flying around. The entire performance took around 40 minutes, and we ended the course with a refreshing fruit salad.

The entire course left us full to bursting with good, tasty food. We especially loved the salmon, beef, and salad. Another teppanyaki worth trying is the one with a US Angus beef ribeye. Alternatively, you can choose which ingredients go into your teppanyaki course.

two2travel baguio country club teppanyaki hamada japanese
Your chef doesn’t cook this way: Our teppanyaki chef Caesar serving us Japanese fried rice, which moments previously had been a beating heart. You have to see it to believe it.

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros


Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros

We loved everything we had at Hamada and we can’t wait to go back! Do try any of their ramen or teppanyaki dishes—they offer value for money and are really delicious!

Hamada Restaurant
Baguio Country Club
Country Club Road, Baguio City
Opening Hours: 10 AM – 2 PM; 6 PM – 10 PM

Check out our recommended Airbnb in Baguio HERE. :)

Baguio Resto Roundup: Canto

Baguio Resto Roundup: Canto

Welcome to our Resto Roundup features! We love good food and we’re always on the lookout for great places to have them. But we are not gourmands, so we’ll keep things here nice and simple. Enjoy!

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but thank God for ketchup.
Continue reading “Baguio Resto Roundup: Canto”

Baguio Resto Roundup: Chaya

Welcome to our Resto Roundup features! We love good food and we’re always on the lookout for great places to have them. But we are not gourmands, so we’ll keep things here nice and simple. Enjoy!

Baguio Resto Roundup: Chaya

Chaya, Baguio

There are only a handful of restaurants serving Asian food in Baguio, and Chaya is one of them. It’s rather pricey by Baguio standards, so it’s not something we can go to on a whim, but the food has always been good each time we did. We didn’t get to try a lot of their dishes since we tend to order whatever’s good the last time (because it’s so pricey and we didn’t want to risk spending for something we wouldn’t like).

We’d say it’s perfect for special days. If you live in Manila and are in Baguio only once in a while, dining here each time is a good idea.

It is actually a house converted to a dining area, adding to the cozy Baguio ambience. It can get full fast on weekends, so making a reservation may be a good idea (the place is not exactly near other restaurants to save grumbling stomachs from too much trouble if it’s full-house). It’s not a big place, so it’s perfect for couples and small groups.

Some of our picks from the menu:

Cream Anmitsu (P130)
Sweetened red mongo and ice cream on top of cherry fruits
One of our favorite desserts ever. The homemade green tea ice cream is divine. Whoever said you cannot enjoy ice cream at such cold weather?

Chaya, Baguio City

By the way, the tiny scoop of green tea ice cream on the right (of both photos) come in complimentary at the end of each meal. But you have to try the anmitsu. Really.

Agedashi Tofu (P120)
Fried Japanese silk tofu served in Dashi Soup base
We’ve had better agedashi tofu elsewhere, but this one is not bad.

Chaya, Baguio City

Chaya, Baguio City

Chaya, Baguio City

Left: Beef Yakiniku (P250) – Thinly sliced sauteed beef served with salad and Ponzu sauce
Right: Gyoza (P160)

Chaya, Baguio City

Chaya, Baguio City

Chaya, Baguio

Chaya, Baguio

Mixed Tempura (P300)
tempura variety of shrimp, seafood and vegetables with green tea salt or Dashi sauce
The mixed tempura was definitely one of the best dishes we’ve tried at the restaurant. It looks a bit pathetic in photo but it is actually bigger and a lot more filling than it looks here.

Chaya, Baguio
Beef Sukiyaki (P300) – generous serving. We were able to share in this one, but if you’re hungry it wouldn’t stand.

72 Legarda Road, Baguio City
074 424 4726

Expect to spend: ~P1,000 for 2
Do not miss: Homemade Green Tea Ice Cream
Reservations: You can call if you absolutely have to dine on that day and it’s a weekend. Necessary if it’s a long weekend. Accompany with a prayer if it’s a weekend in December, because it’s almost always full.

You add P50 for rice and soup if you order from their a la carte menu;
Beers at P60;
San Miguel Draft Beer at P70;
Pot of hot tea at P100 (lemongrass, mint, lady gray, green);
Juices at P65, shakes at P90.

Sashimi starts at P250, variety good for 3-4 at P480;
Sushi good for 3-4 at P550;
Salads at ~P250, appetizers at ~P120, a la carte dishes at ~P250;


Life Extraordinary: The Butbut of Kalinga

The village of Buscalan is 17 hours from Manila. Although our journey was considerably shorter — 10 hours in all from Baguio via Bontoc, Mountain Province — this did not make the last leg of the ascent, which we trod by foot, any less difficult. On our first trip, this climb took two hours. Subsequent trips cut the travel time by at least half, but we still found ourselves out of breath by the end of it. That is what visiting the village means.

But imagine sacks of rice — two 25-kilogram pieces, to be exact — being hoisted up the same unforgiving slope on a person’s back. Or an LPG tank. Or hollow blocks and sacks of cement.

That is what living in the village means for the members of the Butbut tribe.

Buscalan’s isolation — it is two mountains from the nearest concrete road — means supplies have to be either produced right there or procured manually from the lower-lying areas of the town of Tinglayan, to which Buscalan belongs, and manually carried, piece by piece, up to the village. And just like so many people in communities we have visited in the Philippines, the Butbuts’ adaptability was such that even women could carry an LPG tank on their heads, up the mountain, and into their respective homes.

For them, this walk seems negligible.

Without any cellular reception, Buscalan has little in the way of instant communication with the outside. Post is claimed once a week from the Post Office downhill by a villager, who takes the mail up and distributes them to recipients. Cable TV seems available, but in the numerous times we have stayed in the village, we have yet to see a single TV turned on. Even with the kids, TV didn’t seem too appealing, although we noticed that they do like their candies.

Life is unhurried but not idle; in fact, we would always marvel at how long a single day here can last, how much everybody else seemed to accomplish while having more than enough time for siesta.

Buscalan also has some of the oldest – and most agile — people we have ever met. Some of them are so old nobody—even their family members—seemed to know the exact age anymore. And this is not surprising. The Butbut people grow their own food; there is no pollution to grapple with everyday; their daily activities allow them ample exercise. What else, really, do you need to enjoy a good long life?

Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino Photography / Two2Travel
A Butbut woman walks to her home in Buscalan, Kalinga. Buscalan is surrounded by the Cordillera mountains and rice terraces.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Nikka Corsino
Whang-od, the tribe’s 95-year-old tattoo artist, wields a scythe as she weeds out a portion of her farm land to plant beans. It is common for old people like Whang-od to still attend to their farms, located a good distance from their huts.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /
A Butbut woman tends to her rice crops just before the harvest season.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Nikka Corsino
Bundles of rice are dried outside following the harvest in July.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /
A Butbut woman sifts through rice before cooking.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /
Whang-od cooks rice over wood fire on a crude stove in her kitchen. Although the kitchen is equipped with a gas stove, Whang-od prefers cooking this way.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Nikka Corsino

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /
A Butbut woman manually weeds out bad beans for the day’s lunch.

Hands of Kalinga / © Nikka Corsino
Whang-od bundles corn from this season’s harvest. An agricultural community, Buscalan is surrounded by farm lands terraced from mountain slopes, where villagers plant rice, root crops, and vegetables.

Buscalan, Kalinga
Whang-od peels yam for boiling. Unable to chew because all her teeth have fallen off, she resorts to soft, boiled food instead.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Nikka Corsino
Butbut kids in elementary level slice vegetables for a school competition to end the Nutrition Month. Diet in the village usually comprises vegetables and rice, and kids are taught from a young age how to cook.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Nikka Corsino

Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino Photography / Two2Travel
A family shares a meal on the floor of their kitchen.

Kids of Buscalan munch on sugar cane, their equivalent of candy.
Local kids nibble on strips of sugar cane, their equivalent of candy.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /
Whang-od feeds her pigs outside her home in Buscalan. Pigs play a central role in village life. Families grow and then sell them to other villagers, who may need it for special ceremonies or gatherings.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /
A Butbut woman starts the ascent to her village while balancing her load on top of her head. Local people can get to the village in as little as 15 minutes.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /
Apo Baydon, foreground, is believed to be over a century old and is Buscalan’s oldest living person. He still makes brooms and small scythes, and does not look over 80.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Nikka Corsino
A Butbut tribeswoman carries newly laundered clothes from downstream — where she did her laundry — all the way up to the village, which takes about 20 minutes along very steep slopes.

Photos by Owen and Nikka

Coffee and Community: Photos from Buscalan, Kalinga

Coffee is free in Buscalan.

It is served about three times a day, sometimes more. When there’s nothing else to do, when there’s just too much going on, when there are visitors to welcome, early in the morning, before going to bed — there are never too many excuses to have a steaming vat of Kalinga brew, served black and piping hot.

And if its coffee is any indication, Buscalan is a place for strangers to feel right at home.

Kalinga Coffee
Kalinga is a coffee producer. Ground to a talcum consistency, coffee is cooked with brown sugar and is served black.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /
Kids gather around a man playing a local song on the guitar. There is only one guitar in the entire village, and its sound usually draws children to wherever it is played.

Buscalan, Kalinga /
Locals simply call this game chess, although it is played with dice.

Village children wash dishes at communal washing areas placed in between houses. Households do not have individual water systems.
Kids wash dirty dishes at communal water sources scattered throughout the village. Households in Buscalan do not have individual water pipe lines, but supply is plentiful as it comes from a nearby waterfall.

Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /
Villagers haul food and cooking implements along rice terraces for a picnic.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /
Men butcher a small pig by the river. In so-called picnics such as this, everyone who participates makes a contribution, either in kind or through labor.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /
Men cleave the pig’s body for cooking. Some parts are grilled, others boiled. The head was especially reserved for Whang-od, the tribe’s tattoo artist many tourists come to Buscalan for.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /
Portions of the cooked pig are evenly distributed to everyone who is present.

Buscalan, Kalinga /

Buscalan, Kalinga /
Students line up for a prayer at the start of a school program. The village has school buildings for elementary kids, but these are in dire need of instructional materials.

Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino Photography / Two2Travel
Small kids race to the top of a small wall in the village. Playtime often looks like this in Buscalan.

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /

Buscalan, Kalinga / © Owen Ballesteros /
Kids play the flute in front of a guest house while other kids look on. Impromptu performances like this draw the attention of villagers.

Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino Photography / Two2Travel
Villagers gather around after dinner, like they usually do with or without electricity.

Buscalan, Kalinga /

Buscalan, Kalinga /

Buscalan, Kalinga /

Buscalan, Kalinga /

Photos by Owen and Nikka

Hong Kong, Day Zero to One

I received word that I will be sent to Hong Kong just two days before flying out. This freaked me out so bad for a couple of reasons: first, I had to be there the night before the flight—meaning, the following day—for an editorial briefing and a client-hosted dinner afterward. This meant only one thing: clothes. Proper clothes.

That, and the fact that I had seven hours’ worth of winding roads and expressways between me and my destination. I racked my closet (aka dump of unused clothing, mercifully on a pile that’s different from those waiting in vain to get to the laundry) and packed like a maniac, stuffing the nicest, most decent pieces my slipper-wearing self can afford.

“Please bring formalwear for dinner,” said a text message. I was ready to cry and whimper like a little kid right there. But no, I was an adult, and nobody needed to know the ruckus my brain — and my apartment — was going through that day.

I made it through all the pretentiousness of cleaning up — I wore shoes and pants! — and even got a compliment from our well-heeled publisher when he spotted me sitting by the office’s waiting area with my luggage: “Hey, you look like a jetsetter!”

He didn’t see me roll my eyes.

I had nursed another expected headache that night, and for a time I cursed the additional baggage I’ve had to fit into my already-crammed luggage — folders and discs and a ridiculously thick hoodie given to me (“You’re going to need that”).

The next day came, and with me alone and having to attempt to mingle with other people who spoke better English than I did, I was overwhelmed. I only had time to savour the fact that I flew business class for the first time and had silver cutlery onboard instead of disposables.

The day whizzed past in a blur of airport gates, forlorn-looking spaces, grey skies, and buildings in sundry shapes and sizes. Before I knew it, we were boarding the cruise ship we were about to stay on for the rest of the trip. I started working the moment I stepped in, and continued well into the night. By 11 PM, I was reeling from exhaustion and seasickness despite having taken medication earlier. I literally stumbled to my cabin after long agonizing minutes of trying to locate it and then collapsed to sleep (are ship carpets really supposed to have big wavy prints on them in ridiculous neon color combinations that will make you barf faster than you can hold?). If the ship sank in the middle of the South China Sea that night, I would not have cared.

In those final moments of quiet, just before my brain shut down, I realized that hey, I’m in a new country!

And then everything just went blank.

Hong Kong

Words and photos by Nikka

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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