Philippines · travel guide

Breakfast at Antonio’s (and the Commute to Tagaytay)

And I said what about breakfast-at-Antonio’s…

This is quite a late post but here we are, regardless. Life has been life; it catches you up short sometimes.

Recently my mother visited the Philippines and during her stay, we had a wonderful family vacation at Coco Beach along with my daughter and her father.

Before her return to the Netherlands last week, I took her down to the cool and breezy Tagaytay for a break from the city’s smog and heat. We enjoyed the mother-daughter time without the constant demands of a wonderfully active handful of a toddler.

Tagaytay is a city in Cavite, south of Metro Manila. It’s about 60 kilometers from the airport and it can take one, to two, to three or more hours to get there.

It is a popular destination for day trips and weekend getaways because it’s close to the city and boasts a temperature drop of a good five degrees Celsius, at least. It’s not as cool as Baguio but it is a lot closer.

The small and temperate city of Tagaytay overlooks a beautiful lake, featuring Taal, which is–according to Google–“probably” the world’s smallest volcano.

Commuting to Tagaytay

Let’s start with the commute, which was quite an adventure for two Dutch girls.

Granted, I’ve been here eight years, but I’ve always taken either a car or a motorcycle to Tagaytay so the commute was, in fact, a new venture for me.

From an inquiry or two and a quick Google search, it seemed we would be able to get a bus to Tagaytay from Starmall, which is close to where we’ve been staying.

Instead, I was told there was no bus from here and that we would take a van first and then catch the bus on Emilio Aguilardo highway at Pala Pala. This is the road that goes straight down to Tagaytay from the coastal side of Manila.

So, the van. Expect to fit less comfortably into this vehicle than “Antonio’s” dubs into the song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.

Let the van driver know you want to catch the bus to Tagaytay and he might pull one over on the highway for you to hop right onto. If not, you’ll get out at Pala Pala and catch the first one that comes along.

If you’re going to Breakfast at Antonio’s, be sure to get a bus with Tagaytay and Nasugbu on the sign because that’s the highway you’ll want to go down. Tell the driver you’re going to “Breakfast” and he’ll let you off right in front of the restaurant.

For the way back, catch a jeep along Nasugbu Highway heading back to Emilio Aguinaldo. Walk to where the busses are pulling over and catch one heading back up to Manila. If you live in the Alabang area, you’ll get off the bus at SM Molino and get a little jeepney-cab up Daang Hari.

Incidentally, you can get the same ride down from the corner of Alabang Zapote Road and Investment drive heading down to Tagaytay, meaning you’ll catch the bus at SM Molino instead of Pala Pala.

Brunch at Antonio’s

It was noon by the time we got to the restaurant but let’s not call it lunch.

We started our meal with some delicious pancakes, followed that with quiches, and ended with pour-over iced Sumiyaki coffee and their signature bread basket with jams.

What can I say? I’m not a food blogger but everything was delicious.

I found the coffee exceptionally enjoyable: every sip was bursting with that intense coffee-bean essence and I found that it hardly needed any sweetener. I thought it was great that a syrup was given on the side as an option for those who find the bitterness too overpowering and that the iced drink hadn’t already been sweetened far beyond my personal preference, as most tend to be.

That is that. If you’re in the mood for some good food and a great cup of coffee, venture out to Tagaytay: it’s worth it.

Philippines · travel guide

A Coco Family Vacation in Puerto Galera

After a few hectic weeks of increasing work demands and a moderately intense diet and training regimen to prepare for my first jiu-jitsu competition, I was nothing if not ready for a vacation.

Last year, around this time, my husband and I had taken our daughter to Coco Beach for a wonderful family vacation and she loved it so much that, despite our separation earlier this year, we decided to go back for her.

My mother has been visiting us here in the Philippines as well and I hoped she would enjoy this beautiful resort.

The trip was booked: my mother, my daughter, my daughter’s father, and I would be sharing a family deluxe room at the paradisiacal Coco Beach in Puerto Galera.

Booking Your Vacation

A room like this–big enough for four adults and up to two children–will cost you about $120 dollars per night and it includes quite a nice breakfast buffet with lots of fresh fruit, a salad and omelet station, some bread and cereal, and hot dishes.

Hold up; let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

October marks the beginning of their regular season, which is when we booked this year, whereas September is still considered low season. Expect peak prices in December and January when the holidays are in full swing and the weather in the Philippines is at its best.

Last year we got a great deal on a regular room for two adults and one child for less than $50 a night and we lucked out with amazing weather in the middle of September.

I booked our trip using Agoda.com, which is what I’ve used to book most of the hotels and resorts we’ve stayed at in the Philippines. I typically find the best prices there and have never had any problems with a booking.

Getting to Puerto Galera

Since we live in the south, the Starmall bus terminal is only a short Uber ride away. Starmall is located along the SLEX in Muntinlupa just before it exits Metro Manila and becomes the Star tollway (and then another tollway).

From here, buses leave every hour to Batangas Port and usually make it there in two hours. In our case, it was a two-and-a-half-hour trip because the driver got off the highway early and made a lot of stops to pick up and drop off passengers.

When the bus isn’t full–which is often the case on weekdays–the driver will stop more frequently to get more passengers. On the way home we had a full bus and made it back within two hours.

Once you get to Batangas City, the bus will stop at a large terminal but you won’t get off yet. After this stop, it will take you straight to the port and if you’re going to Puerto Galera you should head to the far left of the pier.

You’ll liked get swarmed by guys offering to help you carry your luggage and book your tickets for you but it’s typically best to politely refuse.

They’ll often grab your bags without asking and expect you to pay them for helping you later.

Similarly, they will “offer” to take your money to purchase your tickets and pay the terminal fee but before they give back your change they’ll have taken quite a cut for themselves.

Carry your luggage to the smaller terminal on the left side of the pier and purchase tickets to Muelle in Puerto Galera from Father & Son Shipping lines (schedule available online).

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Having caught the 7 AM bus, we arrived in Batangas at 9:30 and were just in time to board the 9:35 boat to Muelle–although it didn’t leave until closer to 10 AM.

The seas were smooth and it was a fairly comfortable hour-and-a-half boat ride to Muelle, where we arrived in time for a quick lunch on the pier before heading to Coco Beach for our noon check-in.

Well, quick.

We sat at a bar dubbed “the place to be” because that’s where the people were but had to wait some time for our food. The power went out once or twice while we waited to be served and my mother had time to check out the souvenir shops.

The food was nice, the beer was cold, and after lunch we got a private boat to Coco Beach for 250 pesos ($5).

Travel Expenses

Here’s a breakdown of what this trip will cost you:
Bus to Batangas: P137 (<$3) per seat
Boat to Muelle, Puerto Galera: P230 (<$5) per adult; P200 ($4) per child
Terminal fee in Batangas: P30 (<$1) per adult
Boat to Coco Beach: P250 ($5)
Environmental fee in Puerto Galera: P50 ($1) per adult

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Conversely, you can have the resort arrange an airport transfer for you with a private van from Batangas directly to NAIA for P5,000 ($100).

Arriving at Coco Beach

When you step off the boat onto the shore of Coco Beach, you may allow the staff to carry your bags–they won’t ask you for money.

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You’ll receive a warm welcome and once checked in you’ll meet your service family, who will take care of you during your stay. They’ll carry your things to your room, bring you a complimentary early-morning pot of coffee if you so desire, and drop off little snacks in the afternoon.

The regular and family deluxe rooms are made of bamboo. They don’t have air-conditioning or hot showers but they’re nice and breezy and who needs a hot shower in the tropics anyway?

Check out this gorgeous view of the ocean from our bamboo porch.

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Food, Beverages, and Activities

Anticipating four days at the beach and thinking I would have lots of time to kill, I brought my Mandarin study book and downloaded the audio of my favorite yoga video from Do Yoga With Me on my phone.

Turns out I never did catch a peaceful moment to do yoga on the beach and I barely kept up with my one Chinese character a day.

Mornings were spent swimming in the ocean when the tide is high and you can float above the coral. After a good hour at the breakfast buffet, that is.

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Breakfast of champions

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When we got tired of the ocean, my daughter and I would transfer to the swimming pool for the following activities:

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1. Hurl into the water at the diving practice area

2. Play on the slide (no pictures; too wet)

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3. Have a drink at the pool bar
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4. Carry on with water fun

Afternoons are good for naps in hammocks, kayaking into the open ocean, and happy hour, heralded every day from 4 to 5 PM: two for one cocktails. Come one, come all, get drunk on our signature Weng Weng!

You can swim in the pool until 8 PM and in the ocean whenever you please.

For lunch or dinner, there’s pizza and pasta at the Trattoria on the beach, a varied menu at the main Carabao restaurant by the pool, and charcoal-grilled specialities up the hillside at the Coco Grill, located just in front of the silent pool only 200 steps up from the shoreline.

Coco Beach also has a dive shop, free diving lessons in the pool, snorkeling activities, free boat rides to a different beach every morning, island hopping trips with packed lunches, a basketball court, a spa, and a whole list of things to do if you get bored of the beach and the pool.

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On our way back to Coco Beach after taking the 9:30 boat to another cove

Thank you, Coco Beach, for giving us a beautiful escape from our crazy lives and a place to be nothing but happy. Thank you, also, for singing our daughter her favorite coconut song on our last night.

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🎵 It’s a coconut, from the coco tree, but it’s not a nut 🎵

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My MMA Journey

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 10: Participation Gold

Yes, finally: my first competition!

Some time ago I consulted an MMA veteran who teaches grappling and no-gi jiu-jitsu every Friday night at Fitness Unlimited. I told him I wanted to compete in MMA and he gave me some very useful advice: when you’re learning how to drive, you don’t start in a race car.

He recommended competing in jiu-jitsu first, a great entry-level fighting sport, then boxing, then Muay Thai, and finally, MMA.

Yesterday I took the first step down that path by competing in the BJJFP Friendship Games for gi and no gi jiu-jitsu and since I’m just a beginner and don’t own my own properly sized gi, I went with no gi.

These are gis, by the way, and my gi buddies:

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As you can see, mine is far too large.

Let’s see, I joined jiu-jitsu and fight form classes at Fitness Unlimited in the third week of August which means I’ve had about six weeks of training two-to-four nights a week.

We do gi training on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday and no gi on Friday, which is what I began to focus on in the last week or two leading up to the competition.

A month or so before joining this gym, I did two sessions of submission grappling at Team Lakay in Baguio and two Brazilian jiu-jitsu lessons at B.A.M.F. in Paranaque and that was for my foundation in the sport.

Fortunately, we have some great coaches here at Fitness Unlimited and a supportive, seriously fun group of training partners. We have two purple belts from Atos teaching gi jiu-jitsu and, as I mentioned earlier, a former pro MMA fighter teaching no gi.

I’m truly pleased I joined Team FU and signed up for this competition. Even though I hardly felt I knew enough to be competing in a sport I’d just taken up, I was eager to face a fight and this experience certainly lived up to my expectations.

The competition I joined was hosted by BJJFP, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation of the Philippines, in Mall of Asia. It was a two-day event, with the National Championships on Saturday and the Friendship Games on Sunday.

The BJJ Friendship Games are for novices–white belts who haven’t won any medals yet–so it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me test my rolling skills on the competition mats.

I got there at noon, in time to watch the last of the gi matches while waiting for the no gi competition to start.

I was handed a gold medal upon arrival.

Thanks, I guess.

Either no one else signed up in my weight division or they fled the scene upon my arrival.

That moment when you realize you played the intimidation game so well nobody shows up to fight you.

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Oh, for some reason I decided to wear my mouth guard in the fight even though I haven’t been training or sparring with it and I forgot that it affects my breathing.

When the gi competition wraps up there’s a short break and the no gi rollers start popping up in their rash guards.

I watch a few of the girls in the other weight divisions compete and then I start my warm up. My team mates, who had all been there since early in the morning, stuck around to wait for my fight and help me with takedown and submission drills.

As winners emerge from the other divisions, some sign up to compete in the absolute category where I had been waiting as the only name on the list with my “participation gold” medal.

My name was called and on went my game face. I was pretty nervous but at that point adrenaline more or less took over and helped me focus.

If there was one thing I wanted out of the fight, it was to get a good takedown. I had been practicing takedowns with a wrestler at the gym and was hoping to get a good slam but alas, my opponent fell into guard every time I attempted one.

If I keep practicing, go for it, and commit, next time around I know can get it. There will have to be a next time then.

Here we go, play by play:

I get in and out of her guard; we stand up again; she falls back into guard, flips over me, and gets side control. I bridge out and attempt side control but we end up back on our feet.

She tries once more to pull me into guard but I pass and get side control, only my base isn’t right so she gets one of my legs and uses that to flip me.

When she gets on top I lock her into guard and hold that for a good minute and a half while attempting a kimura submission. I can’t get it so I eventually go for an arm bar instead but my technique is sloppy and now that I’ve broken my guard she flips around and attempts side control.

I don’t let her get it but now I end up in her guard. She tries the kimura on me but I don’t give her my arm.

I get out of her guard eventually but it takes a lot of energy and as I stand up she kicks me onto my back. I have the energy to keep her from passing my open guard for maybe fifteen second but once she gets side control and puts her weight on me I’m spent.

I try to bridge out like I did the first time but I have neither the strength nor the energy to do so and my futile attempts result in her getting full mount.

With less than thirty seconds on the clock, I don’t give her a submission but it does take everything I have left to focus on breathing and counting down the seconds until the end of the round.

One five minute round and my arms and legs were jelly. The walk back to the bleachers gave me as much resistance as swimming against the tide and when I sat down my limbs were shaking.

What can I say? More than anything, I’m glad I had this experience. Also, I stayed to watch my opponent for up against another girl for the finals of the absolute division and she got her in an arm bar within thirty seconds. That made me feel quite proud of surviving that round with her.

I certainly know what to work on. I didn’t expect much, honestly. I know I haven’t been training long enough to have mastered even the basic submission techniques and I don’t know the points game either but I do see potential and I’m going to keep training.

Let’s see, I need to improve my technique, my base, my breathing, and my energy expenditure, and I need to do more five-minute sparring rounds at the gym.

I’ll happily sign up to compete again in the next month or two before leaving the Philippines but first I’m going to pack my bag and take off to the beach for a couple of days.

I’ll hit the mats again as soon as I get back and I’m also going to seriously consider getting back into boxing. I wouldn’t mind getting back into the ring for an amateur boxing match, since that is the next step in my amateur MMA journey.

Thanks for following!