My happy place at home: El Nido, Palawan

It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.”

Charles Spurgeon

My happy place at home number 2 is El Nido.

I’ve been to El Nido several times and whenever I land in this island paradise, it’s as if Joy envelops me. It’s enchanting limestone formations and the secret beaches are simply magical and the endless blue seas confirm the fact that it is the Philippines’ last frontier.

Staying in those high-end resorts in the islands offers packages that include full board and tours. Imagine opening your balcony and you see the limestone formations that look like little islands in the vast ocean that is so quiet and blue. You can choose to stay in the resort and enjoy the amenities including a guided mountain trek (do this early morning or late in the afternoon) or go island hopping (which is a must).

The big lagoon is simply breathtaking and kayaking in the small lagoon is surely an unforgettable treat.

I do not know how to swim so I dread being in the deep but with such a persuasive and reassuring guide, I ventured into my very first snorkelling experience in the deep and I can confirm that indeed, you’re in another world when you see what’s under the sea.

I brought my family to El Nido a couple of years ago to celebrate my birthday and we opted to stay in a main island resort with a beachfront. We all loved it! I realise there is more adventures to explore in the main island. We did the canopy walk to see 360 degree-view of El Nido. It was a thrilling experience!

Nacpan Beach is another discovery for us during that trip. It’s long stretch of white sand with beautiful bars by the beach gives you the front view of the magnificent sunset as you sip your mojito and bite the slice of pizza in your hand…oh my…you want time to stop to savour the moment!

A trip is never complete for me if there is no shopping. I am a self-confessed shopaholic and a must visit for those who love artistic souvenirs like me is Kalye Artisano. The items there are so lovely and unique you will never leave it empty-handed.

A beautiful hand-painted memento from Kalye Artisano in Lio.

Indeed, El Nido is my happy place number 2. Definitely, one of the places I will visit with my family again…very soon.

How I discovered running

I can say I had always lived an active lifestyle that includes visits to the gym and when it became boring, I moved to boxing and Muay Thai and then yoga. So, I juggled these work-outs and even did a combination at some point but never got into running. I got interested from the sharing of my office mate and close colleague, Div, after he participated in the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon 2015 where our company is a major sponsor of. He related the gala night before the run held inside Angkor Wat with one of the temples as the back drop. It seemed so interesting and it was affirmed by two of my team members, Bimbo and Nicole, who participated in 2017.

The pre-run gala dinner with a temple as a backdrop lit by a thousand candles.

So on July of 2018 at age 52, I started training to run 10K in the same event that is held annually in the 1st week of December. I downloaded a training app and began my training. I realised running 5 minutes straight is challenging even if I was relatively physically fit. Indeed, one cannot join a marathon at whim as it requires months or even years of building endurance lest you either faint or get injured.

To keep me motivated, I encouraged my teenage daughter, my sister and her son and even our househelp to run too and I would register everyone in fun runs. I started with 5K then progressed to 10K just in time for the Angkor Wat run. I also encouraged a couple of my team members to participate so we can travel together. That’s how my “destination runs” started.

That’s how my “destination runs” started.

As a UNESCO world heritage site, what draws tourists to Siem Reap, Cambodia is Angkor Wat – the largest religious monument in the world! Events held in the complex are limited and running with those amazing temples of almost a thousand years old is just so surreal. The run route is so amazing passing through a beautiful lake while the sun rises colouring the sky red orange is magical! You run through arches and bridges that are attractions in themselves which speak of so much history; you run surrounded by several centuries-old trees that grew on walls and structures like nature conquering what men made. There’s no wonder it is such a popular event with over 10,000 runners that year, over 5,000 are foreigners from 76 countries (www.runsociety.com).

Training for 10K requires at least 3 times a week of run days building endurance to be able to run at a good pace and after doing it for almost 5 months, I got hooked into it. I went back to run half marathon (21K) in 2019 with my husband and sister, Ging (in orange in the photo) and another officemate and team member, June, running 10K and would love to do it again! 

From the time I discovered running and started training in July 2018, I have never stopped. I continue to run at least three times a week and my husband has joined me in this passion which we have incorporated in our family travels. Oh yes, I am looking forward to run my first full marathon and I hope it will be soon.

My Happy Places at home – Dumaguete, my second home

As I start my travel series, I’d like to begin with my happy places in my home country, the Philippines. Home to over 7,600 islands, there is so much to discover.

The charm of this City of Gentle people is felt as soon as you step into the city. You’re welcomed by century-old acacia trees surrounding the Silliman University campus, the university beside the sea, touted as one of the 50 most beautiful Christian College and University campuses in the world and the only one from the Philippines and only 2 in Asia that entered the list  (http://www.christianuniversitiesonline.org). I call it my second home because it was from this esteemed university that I finished my Psychology degree and it is in this beautiful campus that I spent my wonderful four years as a dormitory resident for 2 years and in a boarding house (in the next 2) which is also considered part of the campus because of its proximity to it.

The Silliman Church at the heart of the University with century-old acacia trees surrounding it speaks of what the Christian Values the university stands for.

Whenever I visit the city (which I do a couple of times a year both for work purposes and for personal reasons; my sister and her family live here), I always ask the driver to pass through the highway by the seaside. It just gives me such a warm feeling. In most of my visits, I always choose to stay in hotels by the boulevard which is also lined-up by century-old acacia trees. An early morning run that starts and ends at the boulevard is my regular routine and I would always cap my run with the best hydration treat – fresh buko (young coconut) juice from a regular peddler who goes to the same spot at the boulevard. Rizal Boulevard is one of the busiest in the country both in the morning with joggers, walkers, Zumba work-out all happening at the same time and in late afternoons when the boulevard converts into a street food park selling squid balls, balut, tocino and tempura (that’s why it’s called “tempurahan”).

The Rizal Boulevard is a beauty to behold.

There is so much this beautiful city can offer with so many options of good food that are at student price. My friends who visit with me from Manila are always amazed whenever they see the bill after a hearty meal. My favourites are Bistro Sansrival, Kri, Esturya, Tinto’s, Lantaw and Mamia. Their food are so good at very fair prices. Get a glass of wine to complete your fine dining experience! But for sure, it’s the company of friends and the stories of everyday life plus the endless laughter that make every meal a beautiful moment to cherish.

What is most exciting with Dumaguete is the fact that you do not need to travel long to see more beautiful places. Just 30 minutes away is Twin Lakes Balinsasayao Natural Park – a picture of serenity with exotic plant-life surrounding it. Driving to this natural park always leaves me awed with breathtaking views of the ocean, the mountains and plant-life that Mother Nature endowed it with.  I am so fortunate that I can visit this place anytime as my best friend built their retirement home in the area. Their home will be a subject of another story but it is one place that truly inspires me. Whenever I feel I need to get-away from the stresses of daily life, I could retreat to her beautiful place and be renewed! The unencumbered view of Tañon Strait and watching the sunrise and sunsets are simply magical they take my tensions away!

Just another hour drive is the Manjuyod Sandbar which is referred to as the Maldives of the Philippines. The short boat ride to the sandbar in the middle of the sea is a treat in itself as the boatman brings you to where the dolphins are. The times we went there, throngs of them showed up to the thrill of my teenage daughter and her cousins! We brought marinated fish and chicken which our boatmen cooked for us while docked at the sandbar. Locals also offer various seafoods like prawns, squid and sea urchins to add to our lunch table. Just writing about this experience makes me want to go back again…soon!

On the other side of Dumaguete are various tourist spots as well. Just less than an hour away is Valencia with equally beautiful sceneries. Pulangbato (red stone) Falls is known for its healing  waters due to sulfur deposits. Casaroro Waterfalls is another place for the adventurous. There are many resorts in the area and for those who want to commune with nature, Forest Camp will surely be a delight. Its cool pools with water flowing from the mountains (there’s even a river with a hanging bridge) and lush greenery make it perfect as a get-away place. There are other activities for those who want some adrenaline rush or get a massage in one of their well-appointed massage rooms.

Oh I can go on and on with so much more this happy place offers and since I cannot get enough of it, I have started to make plans to build my retirement home there too. And you guessed it right…not too far from my best friend’s place so we can exchange food creations and I can teach her simple yoga routines while I devour her most-sought after Negrense fare. 

Make sure you bring home some sansrival and budbud kabog this city is famous for.