My MMA Journey · Philippines

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 12: Best of the Arts in Manila

It’s been almost a year and a half since I first stepped into a boxing gym for my first lesson.

After about six months of that, I tried my hand (and foot, knee, elbow) at Muay Thai for a few months, before taking a break for a trip to Australia.

Upon returning to the Philippines, I trained for a few weeks at Lakay, an MMA gym in the mountains of Baguio City. While there, I was introduced to grappling and–seeing how terrible I was at it–I took up Brazilian jiu-jitsu back here in Manila.

Now I’m packing my bags for the skies again and wrapping up my third month of jiu-jitsu at Fitness Unlimited.

Here are my favorite things about each art I’ve had the pleasure of trying in Manila (and Baguio).


Elorde was my boxing home for some time and I had a number of good trainers but I must say that it was at The Den where I, shall we say perfected, my punches with the help of one of their head trainers.


The Den Fitness and Athletics; get great apparel from Pinay Fitness


Here’s what I love about boxing: It’s fun to hit things, and in Manila, there are gyms on every street corner where you can do just that. If you want the real deal, though, I hear you have to train with the national boxing team and they have relocated to Baguio–another reason to head north for your training.

Bonus: nothing gives you tight abs like boxing. Jiu-jitsu comes close, though.

Muay Thai

I’ve done a bit of Muay Thai at Elorde, The Den, B.A.M.F., Team Lakay,  iGym Yaw-Yan Fervilleon, and Fitness Unlimited.

Why I love Muay Thai: it challenged my balance and improved my footwork, which was a weakness of mine when boxing. It also forces you to master your breathing–I nearly hyperventilated the first time I did 50 kicks–and builds serious leg muscle.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

With a 30-day trial at B.A.M.F. and then three months at Fitness Unlimited, I’ve enjoyed a fairly solid introduction to the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

What I love about jiu-jitsu: it’s a struggle from the bottom up, but–comparable to say, rock climbing–nothing is more satisfying than getting past the point where you almost give up and making it to the top, in this case, of your opponent.

Jiu-jitsu is, in my opinion, humbler than boxing or kickboxing, or perhaps it would be better to say that it’s more humbling–and that’s exactly what I love about it.

Also, you can join amateur competitions after only a month of training, whereas competing in boxing or Muay Thai can be a little more daunting.


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Brazilian jiu-jitsu class at Fitness Unlimited Submission Sport Paranaque



MMA is a violent sport. To be honest, I’ve never watched UFC and, excepting names like Rousey and MacGregor that buzz around, I don’t know any of its fighters.

As a hobby, a workout routine, and a competitive challenge, however, I find it quite fantastic. It’s an excellent way to build physical, mental, and practical strength, fitness, balance, speed, and coordination and it never gets boring.

Plus, it feels good to know that you could sweep someone twice your size off of you and incapacitate them if necessary.

Hands down, my favorite place to practice MMA is Team Lakay in Baguio. There’s nothing quite like it.


Philippines · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

A Backpacker’s Guide to the Complete Baler Surf Experience

Destination: Baler, Aurora
Objective: learn how to surf in four days


Planning and Budgeting for Your Surf Trip

Travel & Transportation

The bus from Cubao to Baler and back is 650 pesos each way if you take the Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe. It’s a faster and more comfortable trip than the regular air-conditioned Genesis buses and doesn’t cost much more.

Bus schedule:
Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe leaves Cubao at 1:00 AM and arrives in Baler around 6:00 AM
Deluxe buses also leave at 12:30, 1:30, and 2:30 AM, with another Semi-Deluxe at 3:30 AM. The Deluxe bus costs 730 pesos, while the Semi-Deluxe is only 650.

Two Semi-Deluxe buses leave Baler bound for Cubao, one at 4:00 AM and one at noon. Three Deluxe buses are scheduled at 1:00, 2:00, and 3:30 PM.

When you arrive in Cubao depends on traffic; in my case, I left on the noon bus and got to Cubao after 6:00 PM, meaning the trip back was a good hour longer than the night-ride to Baler.


From the bus terminal in Baler, a trike to the Sabang Beach area will only cost you 15 pesos.


If you’re looking for something simple but nice, affordable and still close to the beach, I highly recommend Go Surfari House on T. Molina Street. You can book in advance on Airbnb for about 500 pesos per night. You’ll get a bed with a fan in a shared room and a tasty breakfast.


I’ve been going for an omelet with pandesals, which they get fresh every morning from a bakery across the street and I have to agree with everyone else in this town and say these may very well be the best pandesals I’ve had in my eight pandesal-eating years in the Philippines.

Other breakfast options include tapsilog, longsilog, and bangsilog–a silog for everyone

The guest house is clean and cozy, with a few rooms and one bathroom upstairs and downstairs, a comfortable lounge, a workspace/dining area, a small kitchen, and a bit of a backyard where you can hang out and hang up your wet swimming gear.

Initially, I booked three nights here via Airbnb and with the booking and cleaning fee it cost me just under 2k. Later I decided to stay one more night so I could catch the first day of the Aliya Wahine Cup, for which the host instructed me to simply pay the housekeeper an additional 500 pesos.

I should mention that when a group of guests decides to hold a little house party it can get a little noisy.

One evening, sometime after midnight, I asked the host if there was a cut-off time when guests are supposed to keep quiet and while that didn’t seem to be the case, she did offer to move me to a quieter room farther from the noise.

I passed because I didn’t feel like moving all my stuff in the middle of the night; however, I can draw the conclusion that, while the accommodations may not be perfect, the hosts are perfectly accommodating.

Surfing Budget

The next item in your budget is, of course, surfing lessons and board rentals. From GoSurfari, it’s a five-minute walk to the beach and the nearest surf school is at Nalu Surf Camp.

While there are countless spots along the beach where you can take lessons and rent a board, I chose Nalu for two reasons: firstly, they have lockers for your valuables. Secondly, the going rate for a one-hour surf lesson is 350 pesos but at Nalu, you get a free beer and photo op with that.


That’s a done deal.

In my case, I took two one-hour lessons before renting a board to try surfing on my own. Board rentals are 200 pesos per hour, 400 for a half day (from 7AM to noon or noon to 5PM/sunset), and 800 for the whole day.

My surfing budget was as follows:

  • Day 1: 350 pesos for one lesson
  • Day 2: 350 pesos for one lesson, plus 400 pesos for half-day board rental
  • Day 3: 400 pesos for half-day board rental
  • Day 4: 400 pesos for half-day board rental

That’s an average of fewer than 500 pesos per day and with that, I got in a good 16 hours on the waves.


Food & Beverages

Since breakfast and (instant) coffee are included if you stay at Go Surfari, you only need to budget lunch, dinner, beer, and snacks.

You can sit down for a good meal for 100 to 200 pesos at Maple Inn Seafood Restaurant, which is right before Nalu Surf Camp on your way to the beach.

Alternatively, you can get those delicious pandesals at 2 pesos a piece, or other tasty pastries at Dialyn’s Bake Shop (also on the way to the beach). Moreover, Dialyn’s has the best-brewed coffee for on 45 pesos.

Another nice spot to eat is the Hungry Surfer, which is a little out of the way but easy to get to if you follow the signs. You’ll spend more like 200 to 300 pesos on a single meal here but they do feature some of the best wifi around.


At most restaurants and bars, you’ll pay 50 pesos for a beer, while you can get them at a sari-sari store for 30 to 37 pesos a bottle. A bag of chips might cost you 12 pesos and you can get some tasty mani (roasted peanuts) for just a couple of pesos as well.

Altogether, you can get some nice food, tasty snacks, and a couple of cold ones for about 500 pesos a day.

Budget Summary
  • PHP 1,300 Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe, round trip
  • PHP 500 per night at GoSurfari House
  • PHP <500 per day for surfing (average)
  • PHP <500 per day for food and drinks (average)

Note: 500 pesos is about $10.

Stay for two days and one night, the trip will cost 3,800 pesos; stay for five days and four nights, as I did, and we’re talking 7,000-8,000. That’s about $150 for a five-day surfing trip–not bad.

The Surfing Experience

Learning to surf

Well, for starters, take a lesson. That’ll get you going with the basics but after that, you’ve got to rent a board and head out on your own to learn from the waves and from the local surfers.

Watch and learn, my friend.


When you take your 350-peso one-hour surfing lesson, the instructor will make everything superbly easy: you simply lie on your board, he pushes you out to a good spot, watches the waves for you, gives you a push when the right one comes along, and tells you when to stand up.

All you need to do is perfect your getup and stay on the board.

When you go out on your own, for one, you’ll have to learn how to get through the waves without being tossed about and pushed two steps back for every one you take forward.

My advice: watch how the other surfers do it. When it’s a small wave, paddle into it and coast over with your board. When it’s big, turtle–as in, flip your board upside-down with you under it. I do recommend caution when trying this, especially with regards to the board and your face.

Once you reach a good spot to start catching the waves, you have to face out at least somewhat in order to watch them and turn around fast enough to catch one. Once again, watch the surfers and do as they do: use both arms to paddle in an s-shape–one moving down and one moving up–to turn faster.


What I did, after a few hours of trying to figure things out all on my own was paddle near-ish to surfers who looked like they knew what they were doing.

I would watch them watch the waves, see which ones they caught and how they caught them, and try to imitate. That worked alright for me.

When I ended up in the area where I had taken my lessons, the instructors would yell at me to paddle harder when they saw me not quite getting the waves.

On my third day, I met a chill dude with dreads who let me tag along with him and his crew and took me to some nice waves.

On my fourth and final day on the waves, I met a group of local surfer boys down on the other side of the beach. They not only helped me catch my last good rides after what had been a tough day at sea for me but later, over beers and 2-by-2 while watching the sun set over the beach, they taught me some great Tagalog (Filipino) surfing lingo.


Essential Tagalog Surfing Phrasebook
  • Lusong! – when you see a beautiful wave;
  • Wapang! – when you’re slashing that wave;
  • Langisin – when you spend enough time in the ocean and you get that sleek surfer skin;
  • Kamatis! – I’ve come up with this one myself, applicable if you’re like me the sea and sun get you tomatoed
  • Palong palo – when you’re a wild surfer
  • Kasung – as far as I’ve gathered this is the Tagalog equivalent of Tubular, bruh.

After the waves, we have buhay surf, or the surfer life, which includes such essential vocabulary as:

  • Katuga – a combination of kain, tulog, and gala, meaning eat, sleep, and wander around–which is an excellent way to spend your days in Baler (besides surfing, of course).
  • Sabog – getting high (not on the waves)
  • Manginginom – being a strong drinker (or an alcoholic, depending on who you ask)
  • Yosi – to offer or ask for a cigarette
  • 2-by-2 – the locals’ drink of choice, made as follows: buy a bottle of Ginebra (local gin) and C2 (a juice); open both bottles and place to C2 upside down on the Ginebra bottle; wait for it to slowly seep into the gin, and drink by the shot: old school.


There you have it: an affordable trip and an unforgettable experience in the very chill and beautiful Baler, a place to still your mind, reflect on life, lose yourself in the waves, and wash away that city stress with an invigorating salt-water cleanse.


My MMA Journey

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 11: This One is Personal

So my MMA journey has been more than a journey about MMA.

My life as I knew it ended quite definitively a few months ago and here I am, on the path of rediscovery. So far, I can say that it has without a doubt been the most difficult one I’ve walked yet.

Today, I would like to say, to friends, to family, to strangers:

I’d like to think I’m good at being strong and I don’t exactly like receiving attention (Why am I blogging again?) but that makes me good at pretending to be OK and sometimes I’m not. When life falls apart it’s an opportunity to rebuild and that, truthfully, is fairly exciting. It still hurts, though.

When I’m not OK, please don’t worry about me; don’t look at me with pity. Do nothing but acknowledge and carry on with me as usual; neither seek me out nor ignore me. I want neither more attention nor less. I still want to smile and enjoy everything that’s good but I also want to be able to cry and not ignore everything that’s bad and I can do that only with people who are comfortable with me not being alright all the time.

To those in my life with whom I’ve been out of touch: chances are the things I’m going through are not about you and you can’t do anything with or about it anyway. If you are concerned you’ll acknowledge that and give me space and freedom to make the decisions I need to make without having to worry about you worrying about me. I need to trust that you know I still love and care for you even though I don’t have much time or emotional space for you right now.

To those in my life who are trying to understand my situation and draw conclusions: don’t. Let it be.

Don’t ask me to tell you the story of what happened like it’s an interesting piece of news and don’t make me justify what is happening in my life to you. Don’t ask me why or why not. Don’t tell me it’s awkward.

To my new family at the gym: you guys have been amazing and have kept me sane in ways you’ll never know. I will always have gratitude in my heart for you.

To the good Christians who I thought were, dare I not say family but let’s settle on friends when I first moved to Manila: please remove yourself from my life so that we can stop pretending you have any concern for me or mine.

How odd that sometimes the angels among us are not the pastors or the missionaries who say they are here to preach God’s love.

Instead, I’ve found angelic folk in unexpected places.

Take those sweaty people at the gym, for example. The ones who teach you how to fight your way up from the bottom, how to cope when you’re being crushed, how to get hurt and never give up, how to show respect and compassion, how to come out on top, win or lose, broken and bruised, laughing and smiling and giving glory to God.


International · Travel Tips

5 Reasons to Love Traveling with a Toddler


I’m hard-pressed to find a more exhausting word in the English language, yet I love traveling with mine.

To be fair, she’s not a baby anymore–she’s a big girl–and she makes that clear to everyone.

She’s only just turned four and as much as she insists that she’s all grown up, it hasn’t stopped her from losing the ability to walk or talk like a human being on a whim.

Instead, she resorts to whiny puppy, clingy koala, clawing kitten, or worse.

What’s not to love?

No, seriously. There is a lot to love.


1. Everything is an adventure

Even the stressful things become adventures.

Running to catch the bus that’s about to leave without us: adventure. She will talk about it for days to come.


2. They make friends with everyone and force you to be friendly too

So I wasn’t in the mood to strike up a conversation with every stranger we encounter? Too bad.

The kid has already roped me into a dozen conversations with her adorable charm, fantastic sense of humor, and outgoing nature.


3. You’re making memories that will shape them as people

Every time we travel, she’s collecting memories and experiences that will build up her future self.

Having traveled around the world with my mother when I was a child, I cannot put enough emphasis on how life-shaping it is and I want my daughter to have that as well.


4. You get to experience things as a kid again

Everyone wants to be a kid again. At least sometimes.

Along those lines, I can recreate amazing memories from my childhood with her and, in a special kind of way, they live on.


5. You get priority treatment

This is a really cheap one, but yes, you will get some priority treatment when you travel with little kids–or a little kid.

You’ll board airplanes first, readily receive assistance when needed, and in general having a cheeky little toddler as a company will bring out the good-humored side of just about anyone you encounter.


That’s all I have for now. Unlike a day with a toddler, let’s keep this one short and simple.

What do you love about traveling with little kids? Let me know in the comments!

Philippines · Travel Tips

Day Trip to Lakes Pandin and Yambo

It’s the morning of All Saint’s Day; as Halloween revelers are stumbling home in a stupor at the break of dawn, I’m having a quick breakfast and getting ready to head out.

I’ll reference this article on day tours at Pandin Lake as that’s where we got some basic information for the trip, plus give my own account of the day’s adventures.

Getting to the Lakes in San Pablo

From where I’m staying in Alabang all I have to do is get a jeep to South Station, where I’m meeting my friend and catching a bus headed to San Pablo–the City of Seven Lakes.

At South Station, you’ll walk down to the provincial bus terminal and catch a bus heading to Lucena. Before you get on, make sure it stops in San Pablo.

There’s a 7-Eleven at South Station where you can grab snacks and coffee for the ride, which is only about two hours depending on traffic and how many stops the bus makes.

San Pablo is the city in the south of Laguna province and it features seven lakes in its vicinity.

Lakes Pandin and Yambo are about 10 to 15 kilometers away from the city proper so you’ll have to get a jeep and a trike there.

This was a little complicated for us because we got bad directions and ended up at the wrong tricycle terminal, so instead of the 80-100 pesos we expected to pay for a ride the driver was going to charge us 300.

If you find yourself here at the “Grand Terminal” you’re in the wrong place.

Unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of useful information about trike rides to the lakes, so that’s something you’ll have to figure out when you get to San Pablo by asking for directions or consulting a map.

In our case, we ended up getting on another jeep to a different terminal-like area closer to the lake and getting a cheaper ride from there. However, the path to Lake Pandin–where we got dropped off–turned out to be closed as some rocks were blocking it.

A tricycle driver offered to take us around to another pathway but he did charge us a bit for it. Later, on our way back into town, we ended up walking that blocked path anyway and climbing over the rocks.

The path was quite scenic.

The same driver was there waiting for us and took us to SM San Pablo where we had a late lunch after working up quite an appetite.


Lakes Pandin and Yambo


Yambo is a small lake surrounded by heavy foliage and it’s one short hike away from the slightly smaller and equally scenic lake Pandin.

We were ferried across both lakes on simple bamboo rafts with covered benches and a picnic table and taken to a relaxing waterfall where we could dive in.

The only day open for an out-of-town trip was rainy and overcast so it was a bit chilly but not enough to stop us from swimming in the beautiful, clear water.


The average depth of Pandin Lake, where we took a swim, is 63 meters and because many people can’t swim here they will make you wear a life jacket before getting in.


The jackets were pretty annoying so I mostly kept mine nearby; one cannot go underwater with a vest on after all. Granted it made the ferry guys a little uneasy at first but who jumps into a lake with a life jacket on?


The water was wonderfully refreshing and just a few hours at the lakes was enough to wash away weeks of city stress.


Eventually, we got cold and hungry enough that we were ready to leave. After lunch and a coffee, we waited outside of SM San Pablo for a bus heading back to Alabang and two hours or so later we were back at South Station.

Because it was late afternoon, the bus we caught back to the city was pretty packed and we ended up standing most of the way home. Not to worry: the day was so relaxing that we couldn’t be bothered by a thing so slight as an over-crowded bus.


Trip Budget

Bus to San Pablo – 97.50 pesos per person, one way
Jeep – 8 pesos per person, per ride
Trike – more or less whatever you can negotiate depending on where you get the trike
Raft tour (without food) – 600 pesos
Fresh buko juice (water out of a coconut) – 25 pesos per coconut

For two people, you can budget about 1,000 pesos for the travel and lake tour and add some for food. There are plenty of cheap lunch option in town, including Inasal at SM San Pablo where you can get tasty grilled chicken and unlimited rice for just over 100 pesos per meal.

There you have it: that’s all you need to get out of the city and dunk your head in some fresh water to clear away the stress.