Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Old Houses and My Slice of Heaven

I've always been drawn to old houses, perhaps because I have fond memories living in one as a young boy (home of my paternal grandparents at Villa Caridad along Broadway Street, New Manila) and visiting another every Saturday until my teenage years (home of my maternal grandparents along Silencio Street, Sta. Mesa). I am especially intrigued by those old houses in the provinces, which are far and few in between and mostly in a state of disrepair--yet provide a glimpse of a more gracious era in our history.

There are three good examples of such old houses in the vicinity of Nampicuan.

One is (I should say was) the house of Dona Marta Martinez near the defunct railroad in Nampicuan. Like the railway tracks that have long since ceased operations and have been stolen for its weight in steel, the home of Dona Marta is a long lost memory from several of my visits in my youth. Each time I visited over the years, the house crumbled one portion at a time until it was gone--yet I cannot forget the grand staircase that led to what appeared to be a vast living room with a ceiling designed to accommodate opulent chandeliers. I was told that my Lola Caridad used to play majhong in this house with Dona Marta, among other landlords in the area.

Another is the house built by my Lolo Ramon, the brother of my Lola Caridad, in Barangay Ambassador Alzate, Nampicuan. Recently, my Tita Carmencita Ongsiaco Reyes (daughter of Lolo Ramon and currently the incumbent Governor of the Province of Marinduque) explained to me that when the Ongsiaco siblings of her father's generation divided the  hacienda of their father (Lucio Ongsiaco), the portion in which the house was built went to Lola Meling (sister of Lolo Ramon and Lola Caridad), who married Alzate. It was inherited by my late Tito Tony Alzate, who donated the same to the Roman Catholic Church. The house still stands today and, upon close scrutiny, reveals bespoked and riveted (welding was not readily available at that time) wrought iron grills depicting local scenes.

The old Morales house along MacArthur Highway, Moncada, Tarlac

 I would drop by Cafe Americana to have a cheeseburger, avocado shake and a cup of brewed coffee (usually followed by a free refill, thanks to the gracious proprietors) . . . and shoot the breeze (gossip really) with Tito Arthur Morales

The last but not the least is the Morales house in Moncada, Tarlac, which brings me to Armand's delightful bistro--a simple affair that serves delicious meals prepared by Armand himself, whose local dishes are borne out of his father's tradition of delicious home cooking and his not-so-secret source of blue marlin from Zamboanga. Apart from a variety of traditional Filipino breakfast viands like tapa, longanisa, danggit and pusit, Armand serves a number of local mutton dishes, including kilawin, pinapaitan, adobado, sinampalukan, kaldereta and, by special order, the best rogan josh this side of town. Yes, Armand prepares a hearty bulalo, sisig that would make your heart stop, flavorful pancit and truly crispy dinakdakan but you will be impressed by his blue marlin renditions, including blue marlin curry, blue marlin in black bean sauce, blue marlin sinigang and, my slice of heaven, blue marlin kilawin--the best I've had hands down.

Armand's vintage VW Beetle in front of his resto

Blue Marlin Kilawin--My Slice of Heaven

Armand is about to complete his griller. So, watch out for some serious delectable barbecues with Armand's special touch of flavoring. All this good food is complemented by Armand's easygoing old-school hospitality that makes you feel at home at the old Morales house in Moncada, Tarlac.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My Milking Carabaos

Maria and her newborn calf (almost 3 weeks old here), Mario

Note the white tip of the tail in contrast with the pitch black hair and complexion--good Murrah genes

With Mang Ben stroking Mario's body to get the animal used to human contact

I don't care to remember exactly when I purchased my three female milking carabaos, also known as Murrah Carabaos, imported from Bulgaria, Brazil, among other places, by the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC, a Philippine government entity). I was referred by a trusted friend to an allegedly trusted agent and so I did not bother with any due diligence review (big mistake). I eventually discovered that I paid nearly twice the amount I should have for the animals, which were not exactly in the best of health. Two of the three (Maria and Juana) were, in fact, pregnant, as represented by the seller. Long story short, both offsprings died. The third (Petra) had a defective ovary and was unlikely to conceive. It was a traumatic experience that taught me to be a better livestock purchaser in the future.

Later, I successfully secured a young carabao bull or stud from the PCC, under their bull loan program to impregnate my female carabaos as well as those in the surrounding communities. We named him Juan but he was not yet ready to "go at it" with my three gals. I had Juan for a little over six months and just when I thought he was ready to start humpin', disaster struck. Juan got bitten on the snout by a snake (probably a Philippine cobra, which is endemic in the area) and died in a period of about an hour.

I was now on the shit list of PCC, so I decided to acquire my own carabao bull. We named him Angelo, because of his mild (almost angelic) temperament, in spite of his reported age of 5 years. At this age of maturity, this particular breed of carabao bull, which is related to the African Cape Buffalo, tends to revert to its inherent wild and violent behavior. Not so with Angelo, who remains as gentle as he is an effective stud.

At long last, Maria gave birth to a healthy baby male Murrah Carabao--a future stud we have named Mario, born on Sunday, November 17, 2013. Juana is expected to give birth soon--any day now I hope. Petra, who has not conceived until now, will be traded for a young female Murrah Carabao just short of mating maturity and therefore much lighter (in weight) than Petra, who will eventually be slaughtered for her meat.


As expected, Juana gave birth to a healthy baby male Murrah Carabao--another future stud we have named Juan, born on Thursday, December 5, 2013. The following pictures of Juan barely three (3) days old.


Angelo, the gentle stud responsible for Mario and Juan

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Scuba Diving at Balicasag Island

At a pier in the vicinity of Panglao before crossing to Balicasag Island
Our morning flight from Manila to Tagbilaran, Bohol was almost diverted to Mactan, Cebu

The calm before the storm . . .
Typhoon Zoraida just entered Surigao del Sur and forecasted to be over Balicasag the following morning.

Typhoon Zoraida weakened into a low pressure area (LPA), so all was well at Balicasag Island the following day.

I am relatively new at scuba diving and have dived a number of places in the Philippines, including Anilao (Batangas), Mansalay (Oriental Mindoro), Poctoy Beach (Marinduque), Gato Island (Cebu), Malapasqua (Cebu), Oslob (Cebu) and, most recently, Balicasag Island (Bohol). I must say, Balicasag tops them all in terms of overall condition of the coral reef and marine life.

I dove 6 times over a period of 3 days at various locations around Balicasag Island and I saw mature Pacific green turtles (an endangered species) at least once in 5 out of the 6 dives. I thought that was impressive. There are at least two schools of jackfish around Balicasag, which I saw at two distinct locations during a single dive. In addition, I was fortunate to also see the school of baracuda (each about a meter long), which I understand is not as generous in presenting itself to divers at the Island. Unlike most places that manifest severe devastation or partial recovery from severe devastation (due to unsustainable and irresponsible fishing practices like dynamite fishing, cyanide fishing, compressor fishing and the like), the coral reefs surrounding the Island are visibly in good condition (apparently not having been subjected to the usual human abuse typically experienced by most of the coral reefs throughout the Philippines), except for those at the Black Forest (Balicasag) that were reportedly devastated by Typhoon Pablo last year (November 2012).

Kudos to the Boholanos for preserving this priceless resource! If you want to see coral reefs and marine life in good condition (this is probably as good as it gets anywhere in the world!), visit Balicasag Island, Bohol.

Below are a couple of film clips of my dives and snorkeling at Balicasag:

Highlights of Balicasag Dives
Snorkeling at Balicasag

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Northern Luzon on my Vulcan

Nearly 1,200 kilometers of solo riding on my Vulcan with the following itinerary:

Sunday          Oct 27     from my home in San Juan City to Casa Carag in Tugegarao City;
                                   over 500 km spanning 11 hours from 6:30 am to 5:30 pm

Monday         Oct 28     kayaking in Cagayan River (stage 2 rapids)

Tuesday        Oct 29     white water rafting in Chico River (stage 3 rapids)

Wednesday    Oct 30    from Casa Carag to Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

Thursday       Oct 31    from Pagudpud to Vigan, Ilocos Sur

Friday           Nov 1      from Vigan to Poro Point, San Fernando, La Union

Saturday        Nov 2     from Poro Point to Rancho Caridad, Nampicuan

Sunday          Nov 3     from Rancho Caridad to San Juan, Metro Manila

Awesome ride! The above itinerary is more or less called the Northern Luzon Loop, which my Dad did with my sister (Betta) and me over 30 years ago. As far as I can remember, at that time, the roads from Central Luzon to Tugegarao were awful; whereas, it's nearly ideal for motorcycle touring today!

The highlight of the trip was our stay at Casa Carag in Tugegarao, with our host and river master, Anton Carag. Here was our base for nature tripping in the area, including some spelunking (Callao Cave and another one that is not usually open to tourists--you'll have to hook-up with Anton), kayaking at one of the tributaries of Cagayan River (day 1) and white water rafting at one of the tributaries of Chico River, Kalinga Province (day 2). You will be famished after these outdoor activities and Anton's got all the comfort-food to satisfy that hunger! Let the pictures below speak for themselves--a must in your bucket list.

The natural skylight above the chapel in Callao Cave, along the Cagayan River
Spelunking 101
Singapore Lion lost in Callao Cave
Near our kayaking base in Cagayan River
Potential paragliding site
Kayaking 101 on Stage 2 (baby) rapids

Where the bats come out at dusk . . .
. . . and they're out!
Thousands of bats like a swarm of bees from afar
White water rafting 101 on Stage 3 rapids
Notice the oars. We're actually coordinated!
Our white water rafting team in the middle of our journey along Chico River, Kalinga Province
Interested in capsizing?
Yeah Baby Yeah!!!
High Five Baby!
Claveria, before reaching Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte
Another potential paragliding site during the summer . . . will be filled with wind turbines in a few years
Lam-Ang, boy hero in Ilocano mythology, slays a crocodile
Probably the last bahay-na-bato in San Nicolas, the next town south of Laoag City, Ilocos Norte
My trusty Vulcan on the right.
The following is a random selection of houses in the old part of Vigan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site: