The Islands of Batanes, Day 1 (Updated with Maps)

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This gallery contains 29 photos.

The propeller-driven plane descended slowly. I looked out from the window and was greeted by the sight of a small group of islands surrounded by a vast sea. As the ground slowly came up, I prayed for a smooth landing. … Continue reading

The Last Week of Last Year and The First Week of This Year

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This gallery contains 22 photos.

I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I’d like to say first off that the last 2 weeks have been the most eventful time of the last year and the new year. There was the first weekend where everything was … Continue reading

A Morning Hike In Ubud

Rice fields under a cloudy morning sky

In February 2011 we found ourselves having a vacation in Bali, me and the cook. We stayed in this hotel called Ubud Hanging Garden. Saying the place was really something is very much an understatement. It was probably one of the best hotels we’ve ever stayed at so far in our life. Perhaps also one of the most expensive ones that we paid for ourselves. But the money was well spent. Each villa in the hotel has its own private infinity swimming pool (they even regulate the water temperature!). It overlooks the beautiful vista of the valley below the hillside where the hotel is located. The green rainforest around the hotel is well preserved. Monkeys still can be seen jumping around from trees to trees and occasionally paying visit to some of the villas early in the morning. The fresh air, the sound of the flowing Ayung river at the bottom of the hill, and the secluded location makes it a perfect little getaway. And if you still crave a little bit of noise and action, the popular town of Ubud is just a half-hour car ride away (the hotel provides free shuttle service, the last time I checked at least).

Into the woods

The cook and I are both mountain person. We prefer going to mountains more than going to the beach (though I still love the beach on a sunny day more than she does, but more on that later, in a different blog perhaps). We also appreciate nature. Finding out that the hotel provided various guided outdoor activities was a pleasant surprise. Looking at the list of activities and checking our timing, we decided to go for the morning botanical walk. The guided walking tour would take us around the surrounding hill-and-valley. We’d be going through the rice fields, following along a foot trail used by the nearby villagers; all the while the tour guide would offer abundant explanations regarding the plants we’d come across, the temples we’d see, and also the local traditions.

So on the morning of our last day at the hotel (we’d be checking out on the next day) we set out on our morning hike with our guide and another couple. It was a slightly cloudy morning. It drizzled a bit when we started our hike, which worried us a bit since none of the group brought umbrella. Thankfully, it slowly receded and stopped as we started going further. To tell you the truth, I didn’t listen much to the guide about the vegetation native to the area, or about that first temple we walked pass, or about the local culture. I was blissfully busy taking pictures with my camera. But I did enjoyed the hike.

The open sky and the cook in the distance

To me, the walk was all about the fresh mountain air and the beautiful scenery that I saw. We walked through the thick vegetation of the nearby rainforest, following the beaten path made by the local villagers; came across rice fields with mountains in the background; all the while our friendly guide provides lengthy explanations about the characteristics and benefits of the local vegetation (which I, again ashamed to admit, ignored most of the time).  We also walked through the nearby villages and were greeted by the friendly locals. The school children were especially nice and welcoming (my wife and the other lady in our group took a group shot with them). I saw a big, pink pig inside one of the villagers house, squealing (happily, it seemed) while taking a bath. And I saw dogs. Lots of dogs. One of them even tried to assert his territorial rights by chasing me whenever I was not looking. But you know how barking dogs are: they’re just all bark and no bite. When I didn’t run and actually approached it, it turned tail and ran away scared.

The school children

Our small group of two couples (one of them us) and the tour guide started out a bit quiet, with only the tour guide doing most of the talking. But after a short time, the scenery and the fresh air really helped the group warmed up and we started talking to each other. There were some interesting tidbits I learned from the guide: he had been an athletic runner; that he lived in the nearby village; and that he came to the hotel jogging, through the route that we were going through in that morning walk. We also found out that hotels in Ubud really helped the locals by hiring them to work there, some for modest positions and some even for important ones as well. It was good to know that such commercial facilities empowers the local people. Aside from our guide, it was also a pleasant surprise to find out that the other couple turned out to be good friends with an old friend of mine whose blog you can visit here.

This mutt hated my guts

Overall, it was a good morning walk. If by chance you find yourself staying in Ubud Hanging Garden, and you’re the type that likes to go on a hike and enjoy nature, we highly recommend this activity. If you’re even more adventurous you can try going out on your own, but I don’t recommend this if you don’t know the area or if you’re really bad in finding your ways. Ubud Hanging Garden also has several other more attractive outdoor activity options.

There will be more stories of our visit to Bali in subsequent posts. But for the meantime, do enjoy the photo gallery below.

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The One About Cheeseburgers (Warning: Content May Induce Daydreams of Delicious and Sinful Food)

The Cheeseburger

I like burgers.

Nay, scratch that. I LOVE burgers. I’ve been loving burgers ever since Burger King opened up in Indonesia. And I don’t mean their recent franchise revisit. I mean the one from way back, when I was still in elementary school. Whenever we’re out and about, if my wife asked me where I want to have dinner the first thing that would come up in my head is either Burger King, or Carl’s Jr (and during desperate times, even McDonald’s pop into mind). Too bad A&W doesn’t have stores here in Singapore, else that would probably pop up in my head as well. I love their so-called Chicken ‘Sandwich’ (which is actually a chicken ‘burger’, but I guess if it’s not beef it’s not a ‘burger’).

Earlier, the cook has this strong opinion that suggesting her a fast food outlet as a destination to have a meal could be considered a cardinal sin that would make me end up in hell. I would be rewarded with one raised eyebrow and a bit of telling on how bad fast food can be. Thankfully, she would relent from time to time. After a bit of time and especially after tying out Carl’s Jr she’s become a convert and we can now confirm to you that both of us will be a permanent occupants of hell and probably even open up a burger franchise there. We would probably meet up with Adam Richman from the show ‘Man vs Food’ (in TLC channel) and asked him to try and defeat our large-portioned and sinfully delicious burger as our soul burn in hell. Along with all those sinful, tasty, and crispy burgers. Ha ha, crispy burgers, get it? Like, it’s hell, things are burning, the burgers are burning, burnt stuff are crispy… no? No comprende? You know what? Whatever.

Anyways, that’s a nice thought, isn’t it?

Daydreaming aside, the cook, knowing that I love burger, tried to surprise me as I was coming home from work one night by making a burger for our dinner. It was a pleasant surprise indeed. I shall ask her to come up with the recipe for a later blog post, but it’s simple really. I mean, it’s a damn burger. You just need burger buns, some lettuce, couple of slices of tomatoes, cheese slices, and of course, some beef patties. Now, the burger my wife made had a surprise named bacon in it. Now, now, I know what you’re saying: it’s been done before. You see Burger King offering burgers with slices of bacon tucked between the beef and the buns. Not this one. The bacon is chopped to bits, and they are IN the beef patty. You’re saying, like, what’s the difference, right? Bacon, inside the beef patty, outside the beef patty, what’s so different, they’re bacon. Well my friend, WRONG. It makes a whole world of difference. Trust me.

And I must add that bacon (be it pork, turkey, or beef) makes everything tastes better. Period.

Suffice to say that that night we were inching closer and closer to hell. And we loved every damn sinful minute of it. The recipe’s coming later, by the way. Also, if you’re interested about cheeseburgers (who doesn’t?), check out this article on cheeseburgers by Waldo Jaquith. I came across it as I was enjoying my daily dose of daringfireball this morning. This prompted, nay, INSPIRED me to write this entry. Just like Adam Richman inspired the cook and I to occasionally pig out. I don’t know how that guy does it, but he’s great!

Bonus (sort of): check out ‘How I Met Your Mother’ season 4 episode 2 about ‘The Best Burger in New York’.