Respite at Grand Sierra Pines

All week Luzon has been affected by typhoon Gorio, which has been making its way north along the coast of the Philippines and is expected to hit Taiwan today.

Here in La Trinidad, it has been stormy, wet, and cold. My companion was unfortunate enough to get caught in a few downpours while riding 270 kilometers from Manila to Baguio on Thursday.

To celebrate his birthday, which had passed two days earlier while he was away, I booked a room for us at Grand Sierra Pines Hotel and left my daughter with friends. After having been on the motorcycle since 4 AM, my companion met me here for lunch and a much-needed 24-hour break

I booked the room on, which is what I’ve used to book most of our hotel staycations and beach resort holidays in the Philippines. I quickly found a room at Sierra Pines, a 4-star hotel with high ratings, for about $65 including the service charge.

The hotel’s main attraction is that it is surrounded by a beautiful forest of pine trees.


Although it was far too rainy to take a walk in the forest, we did enjoy a misty view of the pines from our balcony window.

After our rendezvous in a superior room on the fourth floor, we took one look at The Outlook Steak & Grill menu and picked up the phone to order food. However, that delicious-looking food was not available for room service.


Instead of a delicious pot of clam chowder, the room service menu featured a single cup of instant soup at the same price so we put our wet shoes back on, braved the wind and rain, and made our way downstairs and across the courtyard to The Outlook.



We had a nice hot clam chowder split into two bowls, plus chicken taco salad and a Philly cheesesteak sandwich for my companion on some interesting black bread. After that, we were still a little hungry so we ordered the tasty looking mac-and-cheese bites in the upper right corner.

Our check-in and check-out were fast and efficient.

What I liked about Grand Sierra Pines: the room was nice and big, the beds were ridiculously comfortable, and the view was wonderful. I enjoyed our meal at The Outlook, as well as the breakfast buffet, which featured a nice variety of fruits, vegetables, and pastries, plus an omelet station, bacon, and a few other meat dishes.



The coffee at breakfast was a bit disappointing, however; especially considering that we are in Benguet–coffee capital of the Philippines.

Additionally, our room was supposed to include a coffee maker but, instead, we found only a water heater and two packets of instant coffee. Ugh!

Oh, another big flaw in the room was the barely lukewarm shower water. That was tough, considering how cold we were after making our respective ways to the hotel in torrential rains.

Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed our rainy stay at Sierra Pines. It’s only 10 minutes away from SM Baguio, so it’s easy to go and get your own snacks and alcohol to enjoy in the room. Wink.


My MMA Journey · Philippines

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 3: Getting Serious

After getting quite literally crushed on Saturday, Sunday’s rest was much needed. It also gave me the chance to prepare for a demo class with an online English teaching company. You can read my evaluation of this and other such opportunities to earn an income from teaching online in my previous post.


Ready to go!


I returned to the gym Monday evening to get punched in the face, something I was starting to miss after all the grappling.

In fact, the training was an excellent opportunity to focus on offense and defense, respectively, and I learned a few valuable things about my skills.

Fun fact number 1: I do not know how to defend myself.

Honestly, this doesn’t really come as a surprise. In every gym I’ve trained at, I wore gloves and the coach wore mitts. When we did practice defensive moves I was almost always too slow and instead of making this a focus we mostly just ignored it.

At Elorde I occasionally paid for a session of throwing punches at my trainer in the ring, but again he hardly threw any at me.

At Team Lakay, on the other hand, there was no taking it easy on me and I love that. A serious-looking fighter stepped up to spar with me on Monday and after one round of defending myself from his punches it was my turn.

Fun fact number 2: I’m pretty good at boxing. Hurray!

I held my punches back, but there were a number of clean open straights to the face and hooks to the head, along with one beautiful upper cut right on the jaw line. That’s a potential knock-out punch right there, hey.

Next up, one round of getting kicked. Here’s where I started learning about defense. For the punches, I believe the point is to slap them out of the way before they land in your face; this I will have to work on.

For the kicks, I learned a few defensive moves in Muay Thai classes at Elorde and The Den but while sparring I found either stepping into the kick and ideally grabbing your opponent’s leg or stepping out of reach to be more effective.

Fun fact number 3: Footwork is a big part of defense, and it’s another area that needs a lot of my attention.

Fortunately, it is the foundation of every class at Team Lakay–something to which the open blisters on the balls of my feet can certainly attest.

With the bruised rib and the blisters and a bit of a cough, I decided to rest on Tuesday and returned to the gym Wednesday morning with my daughter who refused to stay home.

Luckily, the morning class was made of a smaller group and they were mostly I’d say high school or elementary kids. It appears to be where beginners go and I was more than happy to jump right in. This was the first time sparring mitts were used in the training since I started at Layak, and I also got a chance to hold kicking pads for the other students.

Once again, footwork: no matter what you’re doing, you’re never standing still.

I got to do a bit of mitt-and-kick work with coach John, as well as mitts with the famous coach Mark. During the breaks I practiced with my four-year-old daughter; she kicks hard!

I returned to train Wednesday evening, got punched and kicked in my bruised rib a couple times, and continued working on upping my defense game.

On Thursday morning I grappled with the beginner’s class and that was wonderfully helpful. I learned some basics, including the guillotine and rear-naked choke and I got to practice my arm bar and the rib crusher. I managed to get full mount, side control, and back control and got a good few submissions out of each position. I didn’t even tap out once!


Study time: watching Anastasia Yankovic fight an 18-year-old.


I did attempt to work on toughening my throat while practicing chokes but ended up coughing and making my grappling partner feel bad; haha. The cough is left over from being run down, but nothing a Strepsil can’t fix.

With sore ribs, bruised shins, and blistered feet, I’m ready for a quick respite.

Next on the travel agenda is a trip to Sierra Pines Baguio for a nice little 24-break from life.

After that, I’m considering a short trip back to Manila on the bike next week for some errands but mostly I want to finish my free trial at B.A.M.F. with some Brazilian jiu-jitsu lessons. I hope to return to the grappling group class the Saturday after next and show those girls that I’ve learned something.

For the rest of this week, my goal is to finish up my initial ten sessions at Lakay (6 down, 4 to go), which means going twice a day whenever I can. With the possibility of a gym back in Manila that might want to sponsor me, there’s more and more of a chance that I might fight after all so I need to start training like it. I’ll get right back to it after this little break, and maybe a good massage.

Walking home from the gym: life is good.
International · Travel Tips

Teaching English Online: Worth it or Not?

The other day we got wifi set up at my current location and it was just in time for an interview with an online English company called DaDa ABC.

All you need to travel the world these days (besides a passport) is online employment and there’s always work in language teaching, especially if you’re a native English speaker. That’s exactly what I’ll be covering today: the best online teaching opportunities!

Over the past few months I’ve been looking into and applying at various online English teaching companies to get an idea of what’s worth it and what’s not and see if I can’t garner a decent income from part-time teaching that will give me time and money to travel and do other things I love, things like writing, sports, music, and art.

In total, I will be covering eight different companies here on a variety of platforms, from online to mobile, with everything from self-managed to fixed-schedule work. I will give my evaluation of each company, along with a brief overview of the application process and time investment.


Here they are, in alphabetical order:


51Talk – depends

Students: Chinese kids

Rates: You should be able to make at least $15 per hour.

Schedule: Their peak hours are from 6-9pm (Beijing time), with additional hours on the weekend.

Pro: They offer fairly good pay and good hours (although DaDaABC has similar hours and better pay).

Con: 51Talk is probably the largest English teaching company in China and as such, they receive a lot of applicants, especially during the summer holidays. For this reason, recruiters are a little tougher on their candidates and even if you’re a good teacher, you won’t get the job without a bachelor’s degree.

Conclusion: I do not have a bachelor’s degree and therefore was not selected by 51Talk. However, better opportunities have come my way and I am happier for it. Never give up!

Apply: if you live in the Philippines, click here.


Antoree – NOT worth it

Students: Vietnamese adults

Rates: too low

Schedule: no fixed schedule; you are expected to arrange your own classes with students

Pros: Everything sounds great when you begin the application process, but as soon as you realize how little you’re going to get paid none of it is worth it anymore.

Cons: you are expected to create your own material and essentially manage your own classes with access to a few poorly organized folders of most unhelpful teaching resources. For the amount of work you would have to do to manage, prepare, and teach classes, the pay Antoree offers is way too low.

Conclusion: Unless you’re really desperate, don’t bother!


Best Teacher – NOT worth it

Students: Japanese adults

Rates: your total monthly payment is calculated based on the number of messages you have replied to and corrected as well as the number of Skype lessons you have conducted

Schedule: no fixed hours for lessons; reply to and edit messages during free time

Pros: Skype lessons can be taught from anywhere; similarly to Antoree, Best Teacher sounds like a great platform for online English teachers; however, as soon as they tell you the rates you’ll wish you hadn’t wasted all that time applying.

Con: In order to apply, you provide some basic information and take a test. The test is quite tricky to pass because it’s so riddled with errors that it’s nearly impossible to figure out which answer they intended to be correct. This, in itself, should be a sure sign that this is not the best company for teachers.

Conclusion: Don’t waste your time!


DaDa ABC – Worth it!

Students: Chinese kids

Rates: start at $13-16 with the potential to earn up to $25 per hour plus bonuses

Schedule: Class hours are 18:00-21:10 every day plus 10:04-12:10 and 14:00-16:06 on Saturday and Sunday; to get a contract you must commit to at least 2 fixed hours for two days a week and you are asked to keep a regular schedule.

Pros: DaDaACB offers competitive rates and an easy-to-use platform with materials; once you set your fixed hours you will still get paid at least half your hourly rate even if you don’t have any scheduled classes.

Cons: Depending on where you are in the world, the time difference may be an issue. This is also a tricky job to keep if you travel a lot, as you must meet Internet speed requirements and your computer must be always be hard-lined. You’ll also need a proper headset and a classroom set up with some posters, props, and teaching aids to keep the kids engaged. Finally, tardiness and absence will result in deductions to your salary; if you’re late or request leave more than twice a month–for any reason–penalties will apply.

Conclusion: if you meet the requirements and can commit to the schedule, DaDa is a great platform on which to build your teaching career. After your first six months, they will help you get a TESOL certificate and if you continue working with them for a least another year they won’t charge you for it.

Apply: To get more information or apply right away, click here.


iTutor (or TutorABC) – NOT worth it

Students: Taiwanese and Chinese, all ages (kids and adults)

Rates: regular 45-minutes classes have a fixed rate of $6, with an additional dollar or two per positive rating from each student. Classes can have between one and six students. However, many don’t rate the lesson. I was told I could expect up to $18-23 per hour, but because only one or two students attended per class and less than half of them rated the lesson, I ended up averaging only $6-7.

Schedule: You can select any hours you are available to teach on a weekly or even daily basis; you’re typically guaranteed to get classes scheduled during peak hours in the morning, evening, and on weekends (Beijing time).

Pros: You can easily fill up your schedule if you’re willing to work peak hours. You can set your schedule day by day and you don’t have to commit to any fixed hours.

Cons: Unfortunately, the pay is frustratingly low. It also takes a bit of time to get set up on the platform. For starters, you have to schedule a 2-hour training session that is unpaid. Additionally, this is not a great option for travelers as you are required to be hard-lined and wear a headset and dress shirt in front of a clean white background for every class. Finally, their platform is not great and there is always an audio lag which slows down the class.

Conclusion: Perhaps, if you were willing to stick it out with iTutor and put in the hours of low-paying classes and unpaid training, you might eventually qualify for higher-paying classes. After a month or two of teaching here and there, however, I decided it was not worth my time anymore. Did I mention that if you earn less than $500 a month they deduct a $35 banking fee from your payment? That’s basically five hours of work!


The Online Teacher – Worth it!

Students: from multiple companies; all ages and nationalities
Rates: They will work with you; for example, if you’re willing to work for $15-25 per hour, they will only offer contracts with hourly rates in that range.
Schedule: You will set your hours and they will commit to filling your schedule over time.

Pros: The Online Teacher promises to fill your schedule

Cons: You may need to be patient. You will also be charged a one-time fee of $25 per offer, which you will be expected to pay upon successfully receiving an offer. In my case, I got my first offer but I ended up not getting the job and I still had to pay this fee. However, since I didn’t get the first job I was not charged for my second offer.

Conclusion: The Online Teacher is a service to help teachers get a full schedule and stable income from online English teaching. Once you set up a profile, they will connect you will companies that are looking for teachers. All you have to do is select the hours you would like to work and wait for offers from companies interested in you as a teacher. You will have to be patient though. It took nearly two months for me to get my second offer, but it was worth it!

Apply: Send me a message and I will refer you!


Tandem – depends

Students: all nationalities; ages 16 and above

Rates: set your own

Schedule: set available times for students to book

Pros: Tandem is an app, so all you need to teach is your smartphone. If you’re already into language exchange, this may be a good opportunity to earn a little here and there.

Cons: Most people join Tandem for free language exchange and not many are willing to pay for classes, so you’re not likely to get too many classes.

Conclusion: I became a tutor on Tandem, set some available times, and chose to give a few free demo classes. However, none of the potential students who booked trial classes ended up enrolling in lessons. Again, most of them were using the platform for free language exchange and simply took advantage of the free trial option. For now, I have stopped using Tandem as I already have a schedule to manage with a few other companies that are more worthwhile.

Apply: download the app, sign up, and apply to be a tutor.

Verbling – Worth it!

Students: all nationalities; ages 14 and above

Rates: set your own; teacher rates range from $5-50 per hour, with an average of $17

Schedule: set your own hours and wait for students to book classes

Pros: It’s very easy to get set up on Vebling. You can set your own rates and schedule, create your own lessons, manage your own students, and be your own boss.Cons: 15% cut; filling up your schedule is tough; many prospective students and messages and some book free trials, but a much smaller percentage invest in purchasing regular classes. For example, I currently have 17 students but only one has purchased regular classes. At least five booked a trial class but never showed up.

Cons: 15% cut; filling up your schedule is tough; many prospective students and messages and some book free trials, but a much smaller percentage invest in purchasing regular classes. For example, I currently have 17 students but only one has purchased regular classes. At least five booked a trial class but never showed up.Conclusion: You will get a lot of messages, including spam and invitations from recruiters for other teaching companies. In fact, I got invited to The Online Teacher (see below) through Verbling. If nothing else, Verbling is a great place to set up your teaching profile and introduce yourself to the language-learning world. Of all the platforms I have tried, it is the easiest and most straightforward to set up and use.

Conclusion: You will get a lot of messages, including spam and invitations from recruiters for other teaching companies. In fact, I got invited to The Online Teacher (see below) through Verbling. If nothing else, Verbling is a great place to set up your teaching profile and introduce yourself to the language-learning world. Of all the platforms I have tried, it is the easiest and most straightforward to set up and use. Additionally, you can market yourself by creating and selling packages or five or ten lessons, you can post articles on their blog, and there are some other ways to attract students to book lessons with you.

Apply: right here.


YoliChat – Worth it!

Students: Chinese adults

Rates: 27 RMB for a 15-minute class; 54 RMB for a 25-minute class

Schedule: none; classes pop up at random, often in the morning and evening (Beijing time)

Pros: You can teach the 15 or 25-minute classes from anywhere by sending audio and text messages back and forth. All you need is a smartphone with wifi or mobile data. Furthermore, when you become a Yoli teacher you are invited into a wonderful community of teachers, travelers, and all sorts of interesting people who will become your support group!

Cons: You won’t typically get more than a few classes a day so don’t count on Yoli for a full or even part-time income. You’ll also have to grab classes on the spot before someone else gets them.

Conclusion: Although you have to go through quite a process to apply at Yoli, I would actually consider that a pro. They do a great job preparing you to teach and if you’re interested in improving your overall skills as a language teacher you will be sure to learn a thing or two from their method. Moreover, the recruiters and support staff are friendly and helpful.

Apply: Sign up here and give them my name–Florence Alcasas.


Requirements to teach differ from company to company, but if you are good at teaching and you have at least some experience of note, and you’re a native speaker you stand a good chance. It helps if you have a college degree; in some cases a Bachelor’s degree but often an Associate’s will do.

You don’t necessarily need to have a TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate; in fact, some of the companies listed below will help you get one once you start working for them. On the other hand, if you’re not a native speaker, you can get still get great offers with a degree in teaching and a TESOL certificate.

On a final note, you don’t only have to teach English! On some platforms, such as Verbling and Tandem, you can teach any language and on Yolichat you can also teach Mandarin.

Go ahead and send me a message if you want more information on any of these teaching opportunities and I will gladly help you out.

My MMA Journey · Philippines

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 2: Getting Schooled

I arrive early at Team Lakay La Trinidad gym but today the training starts half an hour late. Coach John tells me that students are coming from the central gym in Baguio as well as from The Gridlock Fitness Center for Saturday’s group training, which is why the training is delayed.

While waiting, I have the chance to meet Dave “The Scarecrow” Galera, URCC Bantamweight Champion, former UFC fighter, and owner of The Gridlock. He no longer fights professionally but trains students in Submission Grappling at his own gym. This is considered “a new sport with a long history” and closely resembles Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

I am introduced to his students from Team Gridlock, as well as those from Team Lakay, by way of half-a-dozen intense rounds of grappling after learning and practicing two new techniques: the rib crusher and the crucifix.

The thing is, every technique is new to me; I have never before grappled, rolled, or wrestled in any fashion. My partner during practice, Ziana, is patient with me as I try to keep up with the “basic stuff” Dave assumes all are well-versed in and I feel like I’m getting the hang of at least these two moves.

Well, I’m getting the hang of executing them; getting used to having my ribs crushed and/or simultaneously being choked out is going to take a lot more conditioning. We take turns practicing each move ten times and as soon as we finish my ribs, abs, and back are feeling thoroughly squeezed and quite compressed.

It’s time to roll.

In my previous class, which focused on striking, there were only two girls; now there are seven and I get to grapple with almost all of them.

I’m about a head taller than most of the girls, but my goodness they are strong! Immediately I’m getting tossed about and choked out and I have to think fast if I don’t want to spend the rest of the class getting whupped.

Eventually, I got a little better at keeping my opponent at bay and managed to get into a few dominant positions. Unfortunately, I had no clue what to do with these achievements and mostly fumbled around while trying to put pressure on their neck.

I had no luck setting up a rib crusher but did manage the crucifix once. I wasn’t positioned quite right, however, and didn’t have enough strength in my arms to pull it together–quite literally–so the girl eventually broke my hold.

I must have tapped out at least a dozen times in all, probably more, but I was supremely satisfied with the three or four submissions I managed to squeeze out of my opponents.

Finally, towards the end of the sparring, the girls realized I knew absolutely nothing and I suppose they took some pity on me. Up until then, they seemed to be enjoying the chance to come at me with their best moves. Did I mention that these are 14-year-olds I’m getting schooled by? Two of them, Zen and Regina, take some time to help me out.

Two of them, Zen and Regina, take some time to help me out. They show me side control, the arm bar, and a sweep. They tell me to keep my chin down and show me how to defend myself from an RNC (rear naked choke).

I get to practice the arm bar; the rest I’ll have to work on later. Then coach Dave shows us a few ways to get past guard: very helpful. I did this once as an exercise at The Den in Manila but didn’t receive any actual instruction or learn techniques to do it properly.

Dave noted that many of us were using explosive energy to pass guard–I was certainly guilty of this–where clean techniques do the job just fine. He explained that while Lakay’s mountain fighters have greater strength, their opponents training in Manila are technically advanced.

I can certainly see the truth in this statement, based on what I’ve seen from the rollers at B.A.M.F. and the strength I’ve just felt from the kids up here in the mountains. The coach, drawing from personal experience, astutely encourages his students to keep improving their technique so as not to be outsmarted during competitions.

Overall, I am impressed by the impact MMA is having on these kids, and I’m not just referring to how strong it’s made them. MMA teaches focus and toughness, both physical and mental, but also respect. It provides an outlet for those who have trouble at home or at school and steers them away from substance abuse, self-abuse, and fighting on the street.

These kids are part of something greater than themselves now: they are part of a team, and everything they do outside of the gym reflects on that team.

When it comes to students’ behavior, both in and outside of the gym, nothing makes Dave’s blood boil more than bullying. He shares with us a deeply personal story of how bullying resulted in an unspeakable tragedy and made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that any such behavior would trigger a severe reaction.

At the end of class, both coach Dave and coach John implore their students to take good care of themselves: get enough sleep, eat healthy food, don’t play in the rain, conserve energy and testosterone for next Saturday’s competition.

Earlier in the training, Dave took the time to mentally prepare those looking to compete and one day make a career in MMA: there will be bruises; there will be blood; there may be dislocated joints. Condition yourself; toughen your mind and your body will follow.

At the same time, he cautions against arrogance. There are fighters out there who will break your arm if you don’t tap out, so don’t be stubborn: submit.

I wish all of Team Lakay and Team Gridlock best of luck next week when they compete in Tarlac. I have lots to learn in the meantime, but first, a bruised rib to nurse.

My MMA Journey · Philippines

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 1: Getting Started

Earlier this month I went to B.A.M.F., almost exactly one year after I put on gloves for the first time and started casually boxing at Elorde. At the beginning of the year I transitioned to Muay Thai, and just last month I did some MMA training at The Den.

Now I’m in La Trinidad, only two kilometers away from Team Lakay’s gym: home of some of the Philippines’ (and Asia’s) very best MMA fighters. What a perfect opportunity, then, to continue my amateur MMA journey.

At the moment I’m sitting on the mats in the Team Lakay La Trinidad gym. I just came from downtown and since I’m an hour early I’m going to take some time to write about my experiences at a few gyms back in Manila and retrace the steps that lead me here to train with the best.


Going back to the beginning, there has always been a part of me that wanted to box. Punching bags always had a special appeal, but I had never acted on this interest by, say, signing up for a class.

When I turned 25 last year, I decided to give myself the gift of boxing. With Elorde Boxing Gym a stone’s throw away from our house in BF Homes and regular hours teaching from home, I had no more excuses. More than anything, I needed to get out of the house.

So after a trial class, I bought gloves and wraps and signed up for my first month of training. I was surprised at how good of a work out throwing punches is. Before long I had developed quite a bit of muscle definition, not only in my arms but also in my abs and core.

That’s one of the things I love the most about fighting: it doesn’t feel at all like working out and yet, personally, I have seen far more positive changes to my physique through boxing and kickboxing than from any other kind of exercise program I have tried. We’re talking tennis, basketball, volleyball, jogging, yoga, Tae-Bo, P90X, and countless oworkout programs: nothing whips you in shape quite like whooping ass.

After six months of boxing at Elorde, I switched to Muay Thai and did that for about two months before taking a break for a trip to Australia. Once we got back to Manila, our friends invited us to train at The Den. The MMA classes offered there was a step up from what I had done at Elorde they not only offered “exercise” classes but trained fighters as well. In fact, the trainers themselves were fighters.

At The Den, with the expertise of one of the head coaches, I learned to–in his words–punch like a guy and made significant progress with my kicking form as well. They also taught me to capitalize on my reach, which is longer than most Filipinos I’d be likely to go up against. What I still feel are my weakest points, however, are balanced footwork and defensive moves. I learned early on with boxing that, while I may be quick to punch, I’m slow to block.

Fortunately, at my next gym, I had the chance to work on one of these weaknesses.

B.A.M.F., which stands for Bass-Ass Mother–you get it–and is located on Sucat Avenue in Paranaque, might be the Philippines’ best jiu-jitsu gym. They’ll also train you in MMA, Muay Thai, boxing, and wrestling. Two good friends from BF Homes, who run a business selling Ikiro gis and kimonos, had long ago told me about B.A.M.F. and invited me to join in on a jiu-jitsu class, but with lots going on in my very normal life I never had the chance to take them up on their offer.

Now that I’ve quit my job, closed the business, sold my things, and moved out of my house, on the other hand, I have plenty of time to pursue such golden opportunities. Although our gi-selling friends are currently out of the country, actor/MMA fighter Kiko Matos, and his girlfriend, actress/model/vlogger Maria Martinez, had offered to take us to the gym–a massive warehouse just down the road from SM BF Homes–to sign up for the 30-day free trial.

For my first three sessions, I focused on Muay Thai, and I immediately appreciated and benefited from the coach’s focus on footwork.

At every gym I’ve trained, my coaches have asked me if I’m interested in competing and recently I’ve decided that I am. Upon starting my free trial at B.A.M.F., I got some information from Muay Thai coach Oliver on upcoming competitions and started to seriously consider training and signing up for a fight.

I am now attending sessions at Lakay, an MMA gym, but their fighters are known for standing and striking. Even if I stick to Muay Thai, then, I’ll be certain to gain a lot from being here.


Back to the present: after dropping in to inquire about their training schedule and rates, I returned to Lakay yesterday to join in my first session. Lucky for me, Friday is sparring day, because when it comes to Muay Thai/kickboxing/MMA I hadn’t actually had a chance to spar yet at all.

Most of the people training in yesterday evening’s group were students from the nearby campus, but some were obvious professionals. Unlike B.A.M.F., where training sessions tend to start late and go on even later, this gym is punctual as a clock: the warm-up started at exactly 5 PM and class finished at 6:30 on the dot, which is when the pros begin their training.

I am in fact not allowed to take pictures or videos during the training, nor can I disclose any trade secrets regarding how exactly champions are made; however, I can say that it was great fun to spar. Nothing makes you learn from your mistakes quickly quite like getting hit in the face or kicked in the stomach.

Not to worry: students are instructed to spar at only 20% of their full strength. Although, I did land a hook or two on my opponent’s temple at say 30-40% after taking a few heavier hits to the gut. But that’s how it goes, isn’t it?

I’ve still got time before the training starts so I’m watching one of the fighters go at it with one of the main trainers who helped me out a bit yesterday. Since there are time and space a plenty, I might even squeeze in some yoga before class starts. You need a lot of flexibility to kick people in the face, you know.


Philippines · Travel Tips

Staying Healthy on the Road

Ours, at the moment, is Bontoc Road in La Trinidad, and we’ll be here for at least a week or two. Once we had secured our most basic necessity–the internet–we were ready to cover a few other bases: healthy food and a gym.

After yesterday’s walk up and down the road, we ended up at a cafe across the street from where we’re staying with 50mbps instead of speeds of one to one-and-a-half you’ll typically find in this area. I’m more than relieved to have found this place because I usually need at least 10mbps to teach my online classes.

Health 101 was actually our first stop in yesterday’s search for solid wifi, as recommended by a friend, and the fact that they served good food was a welcome bonus.


It’s a Restaurant and a Store.


Since we’d already had lunch at the farm, we tried the whole-wheat veggie-meat siopaos and the kids got a slice of Orea cheesecake, plus coffee (for us, not the kids). All of the above cost us only 215 pesos or just over 4 US dollars. The wifi was decent but we did only get about 1.5mbps.

coffee and cake

Our merienda (a Filipino word for an afternoon snack that is usually an entire meal) was certainly healthy and quite tasty as well.

arabica brew

A cup of coffee will set you back 35 pesos and a siopao costs the same. That’s about 70 cents in US dollars.

vegetarian siopao
Oreo cheesecake

The slice of cheesecake for 75 pesos was not at all sweet, which some may love and others may not. It all depends on what you’re used to, I suppose.



The menu includes all kinds of healthy and tasty looking meals, and they also serve fresh juices with ingredients like carrot, apple, ginger, and beet (or all of the above); no sugar, no cream, no ice. I had hoped to grab one on my way out today, but unfortunately, they don’t have take-out cups. I do intend to go back for lunch.

Next up for healthy living on the road: a gym.

Follow the signs!

The closest one to where we’re staying is Builders Fitness & Wellness.

They take their body building seriously.

You can get a walk-in session for 80 pesos, or 120 with a trainer. Personally, I’m looking for advanced MMA training and for that, I’ll be heading to Team Lakay just two kilometers down the road.

This gym is perfect for my companion though, as he recently started a weight training and mass building regimen in Manila and wants to keep that up. We’ve even portioned and packed his protein shake for travel.


a quick peek at the gym’s facilities


The gym has equipment for weight training and cardio, as well as an area for boxing, kicking boxing, and basic MMA training. A session of fight training will cost you 160 pesos–less than half of what you’d pay at most gyms in Manila.

My companion tells me that they would like me to teach them Muay Thai; he tends to forget that I’m just a beginner when he tells people that I fight. But hey, the gym is nearby and sometimes the best way to learn is by teaching.

For now, I need to get over this annoying head cold and get my strength back.

Forgetting about health for a moment, I have taken my daughter to McDonald’s for a happy meal, the play place, and the wifi. She’s collecting little ponies; I couldn’t help it.


Now she has Sparkles and Rainbow Dash.


I let her eat the fries and burger even though I won’t touch it–and don’t even get me started on the “orange drink”–but only because I don’t see how it will do me any good right now.

I’m one of those parents who believes you can’t deprive kids (or any humans for that matter) of junk food entirely. I’ll let her have it about once a month so she grows up healthy and not hating me for the deprivation of such a basic childhood experience as the happy meal. Seems like a win-win to me.

Update: lunch time!

I’ve ordered the Seize of the Day, which is salmon served with spinach and brown rice, and that carrot-beet-apple-ginger juice. This crazy concoction is actually quite good. The spicy ginger is something I personally enjoy, but if you didn’t I imagine you would simply leave that ingredient out.


Looking around, I see people being served generous salads on large bowl-like plates with all kinds of colorful goodies: bright purple juliennes of beet, crispy orange camote (sweet potato) wedges, dark green broccoli and light, crispy lettuce.

I wasn’t sure a salad would fill me up as this is quite a late lunch and I’ll be needing a bit of energy, but now I’m thinking a serving like that absolutely could have cut it.

No regrets though: I’ve got my “seize of the day” fish to look forward to.

The server must have been misinformed because the fish is not salmon (I know that because salmon is pink and this fish is white), at least not today, but it is delicious.


The soup that came with my meal was full of healthy bits and my spinach was supremely fresh and cooked in a white sauce–my all-time childhood favorite way on the planet to eat spinach.

Oh, mushrooms too. There’s something new to process.

If we’re being completely honest, finding healthy food in the Philippines can be quite a challenge. Unless you’re eating freshly caught seafood grilled on the beach, you’ll find that most local dishes are very sweet, very fatty, very salty, or in some cases all of the above.

I do have my healthy Filipino favorites, such as sinigang, a sour vegetable soup served with fish or another kind of meat, or the classic chop suey. However, maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet on the road in the Philippines would be a lot more difficult without places like Health 101.

I am truly impressed by their wonderfully healthy menu and the generous servings of fresh vegetables included in just about every meal. That may be another one of the perks of being in Baguio: it is the vegetable capital of the Philippines.

Permaculture · Philippines

Permaculture at Lily of the Valley Organic Farm, Part 1

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the reasons for our extended stay in La Trinidad is that my husband Andrew has been called upon by his hybrid-farming friend Patrick Taylor to bring a permaculture perspective to Lily of the Valley Organic Farm.


So we’ve got permaculture, organic farming, hybrid agriculture empowerment, and all sorts of words and word-combos such as aquaponics (something we practiced extensively with our previous corporation, get with d’ ACT Philippines), hydroponics, eco farming, sustainable agriculture, and on it goes. Some of these practices are or can be sustainable, and others are not, but to understand why we must examine sustainability through the lens of permaculture.

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture, as a word, combines “permanent” and “agriculture”. If we consider conventional agriculture, it is far from permanent. Anything you grow requires work and if you stop working, nothing grows. With heavy machinery and equipment, the soil is prepared, seeds are planted and doused in fertilizers and pesticides, and mono-crops are mass harvested.

Where conventional agriculture is endless tidy rows of machine-fed-and-bred mono-crops, permanent agriculture is a beautiful chaos of innumerable plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi helping each other grow in clusters or guilds. Typical farms plant food in rows; permaculture creates food forests.

Sustainability is key, but with words like this buzzing in all kinds of industries, permaculturists have crafted a simple and yet unforgiving definition of it.

A system is sustainable if, over its lifetime, it produces more energy than it consumes.

If you define sustainability by any less, you’ve missed the mark.

Beyond sustainability, permaculture as I understand it is also about minimal human intervention.

Because we as a species have done so much damage to the planet, intervention is critical: if nature were to fix itself it would take a long time and probably involve wiping out most or all of the creatures causing all the destruction in the first place. With permaculture, however, we humans can help nature speed up the process of fixing itself (instead of a natural process that would take thousands of years, we can assist and make it happen in only a few years–example?)

While we must then intervene, it remains just as necessary to keep it to a minimum. That means, for example, not tilling the soil, not adding synthetic fertilizers and chemical-based pesticides. Instead, the soil is built and left alone, natural fertilizers are added by nature, and guilds are assembled with nature’s pest deterrents.

Moreover, permaculture plays the long game. According to , the world’s most fertile soil–found in Europe–only has about 20 years left in its production life before it’s entirely depleted. Conventional agriculture takes until there’s nothing left; permaculture restores with the benefit of taking what is needed and nothing more (which is what makes it sustainable, if you recall).

When a permie makes a design, he or she thinks not only about what this land can produce in the next few years and how it can benefit its immediate owner and occupants, but how this land can benefit generations to come and, most urgently, take care of itself. In fact, for many, this is the main reason they practice permaculture in the first place. The many benefits are considered a byproduct and are used to convince landowners to choose a permaculture design for their site; permaculture is about humans taking care of the land, not the land taking care of humans. The fact that the land will return the favor is a bonus.

One cannot conclude a summary of permaculture without discussing permaculture ethics: Earth care, people care, fair share. As you can see, we must care for the Earth first before we can expect it to care for us. With fair share comes the return of surplus to the Earth and people; there is no place for hoarding or greed in permaculture.

Permaculture Design for Organic Farms

On to Lily of the Valley Organic Farm, let’s discuss the difference between permaculture, organic farming, and other agricultural practices dubbed as sustainable.


More often than not, organic farming is not sustainable. Furthermore, organic farming is a technique while permaculture is better seen as the strategy. Permaculture is an ideology and a way of life that extends far beyond agriculture. Although it is officially classified as a design science, its founder, Bill Mollison, would have preferred to define it as sedition.

As a side note, practices such as hydroponics are inherently unsustainable, whereas aquaponics creates an ecosystem that can, in fact, be entirely sustainable if properly designed. Check out the system we designed here.

If we take a look at Lily of the Valley, a beautiful organic farm with a bed-and-breakfast and small campsite, we can see some areas where it is sustainable, and others where it is not.





For example, upon surveying the contours of the land, my husband identifies runoff of rainwater and erosion of topsoil. Once these commodities are lost, they must be brought in and that is not sustainable.

Additionally, while this farm does not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, they do pump their water from a river which is downstream from a number of conventional farms. The diesel-fueled pump runs around the clock: another tick in the unsustainable box.

When my husband comes to a farm like this to do a permaculture design, these are some of the first the things he identifies and finds solutions for. On top of that, he pinpoints such critical issues as clear-cut hillside across the river that, within a few years, will inevitably end in a landslide. This will clog the river and inhibit the water supply while damaging the farm’s crops and structures. This too will be solved in his permaculture design.





As we walk the site from end to end, we scout optimal locations for digging swales and building dams to ensure long-term water accessibility. We also spot groups of plants growing together, such as passion fruit vines growing on nitrogen-fixing trees. With the addition of sweet potatoes as a ground cover, you have the beginnings of a food forest.






After a long hike in the sun with our daughter and her friend, we are served a delicious lunch. Andy continues to develop the design on his laptop, the kids draw and sip lemonade outside, and I enjoy some more of that mountain coffee.