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).

Boxing

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.

 

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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

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 guide

A Backpacker’s Guide to the Complete Baler Surf Experience

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

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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.

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

Accommodations

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Philippines · travel guide

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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

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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.

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 · Philippines

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 8: Yaw-Yan, Jiu-Jitsu, and My New Gym

In all honesty, I’ve been a bit slow in picking up my MMA journey since returning to Manila. Maybe I miss the training at Lakay or the fresh mountain air. Perhaps the inferior Manila diet is what’s been leaving my body feeling drained, or perhaps it’s purely emotional. A lot has happened in the past week or two.

Today, however, I am happy to announce that the search for a new gym–and with it my training slump–has ended.

Not long after returning to the metro, a friend invited me to iGym Yaw-Yan Fervilleon at a wellness facility offering everything from yoga and meditation with an in-house guru to tai chi and aikido to the full MMA experience of boxing, Muay Thai, and jiu-jitsu.

Since I had never heard of or tried yaw-yan–a Filipino style of kickboxing–before, I took a session with their expert trainer for only 300 pesos (less than $6).

I enjoyed training at this gym, even though it was a bit far away. It’s hidden deep in a dirty side street off of Sucat Avenue but once you step inside the gate you’ll find a hidden sanctuary with a grassy lawn, a pergola for yoga and meditation, and a semi-open-air training area.

I definitely enjoyed the fresh air coming through the screen–a nice alternative to training in a walled-in space. What was unfortunate, however, was the strong smell of sewage in the air. This might have been a temporary issue in that part of the city but, along with the distance, it was enough to make me hesitant to sign up for regular classes here.

And it’s a good thing I didn’t because it wasn’t long before I met a jiu-jitsu purple belt who teaches at a gym right down the road from where I live. Score! He invited me to take a free trial class at Fitness Unlimited Submission Sport Parañaque and join his class there, which I did.

They were expecting me when I got to the gym and I received a warm welcome. The owner, John, gave me the lowdown on the types of training they offer and gave me an excellent deal on enrollment.

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For the monthly fee of 2,500 pesos (barely $50) for jiu-jitsu classes, I get the registration, plus an additional month of jiu-jitsu, plus one month of circuit training for free. Sold!

Of course, when it comes to jiu-jitsu in the south B.A.M.F. is great but let’s be honest, it’s a bit pricey. Unless you commit to a six month training period or longer, you’ll pay 4,500 pesos (almost $90) per month for two sessions a week and I don’t even think that includes the membership fee.

As much as I enjoyed the jiu-jitsu classes there, I’ll only be in the Philippines for three more months so it’s not worth it for me. How fortunate, then, that I found Fitness Unlimited.

Our purple-belted instructor in fact trains at Atos Jiu-Jitsu Greenhills, one of the best teams in Asia and a fast-growing worldwide jiu-jitsu community. That’s a whole ‘nother part of town though, and with Manila traffic, it would take me forever to get there and back.

I am a beginner anyway and I quite enjoy the intimacy of smaller classes at the gym in my part of town.

In my first class at Fitness Unlimited, I impressed myself by pulling off a complicated flip-your-opponent-over-your-head-then-roll-over-your-own-head-and-end-up-on-top move that I never thought I would get thanks to the coach’s straightforward method: “Do it 10 times.” “Ok, good. Do it 10 more times.”

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Yes, jiu-jitsu is all kinds of fun.

So far the circuit training has been great too and I have lots of sore muscles to attest to that. I’ve been meaning to build up my core strength in particular–you really do need that for MMA–and the circuits have been great for that already.

I’m looking forward to my second jiu-jitsu class this evening. We’ll have a new coach today but hopefully my sparring buddies from last time will be there again. Those girls were fierce. They will be competing in Quezon City next Saturday and if I can I will definitely watch.

One last reason to come to Fitness Unlimited Submission Sport Paranaque (as if that promo isn’t reason enough) is that they have a proper, functioning speed bag.

I haven’t had one of those to train with since my first boxing gym. Now I bring my wraps every day for speed bag drills before the circuits and jiu-jitsu classes.

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By the way, you can also do Muay Thai (or boxing) instead of jiu-jitsu for the same price.

Lots of reasons to come and find these guys in on 118 Armstrong Avenue, Moonwalk Parañaque, Metro Manila.

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P.S. They have a water cooler, bathrooms with toilet paper, and nice clean showers.

Philippines

Eight Years in the Philippines

Today it’s official: I’ve been living in Metropolitan Manila for eight years. It’s significant because that’s actually the longest I’ve ever stayed in one city and the most consecutive years spent in any country.

Yes, I’m 26 and I came here eight years ago; that means I moved here at 18. I suppose my “gap year” out of high school to volunteer abroad turned into a bit more than that.

 

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First descent upon Metropolitan Manila

 

So much has happened in the past eight years and so much of who I am now has been shaped in the Philippines that it’s a bit of a challenge to wrap my head around it.

From volunteering to becoming a teacher to studying and starting a family to founding a corporation and running a nonprofit, I’ve had quite the life here.

Leaving, however, will be bittersweet. I met my husband here, eight years ago. He proposed to me here; we moved into a cute little house and I gave birth to our daughter in it.

First, it was just the two of us on a motorbike; then we had a car and a baby, then a dog, then a cat. We had a garden and we planted trees in it. We had an aquaponics system full of fish and they were part of the family too, even though we ate them.

 

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“Huisje, beestje, boompje.”

Little house, little animal, little tree.

I will leave my husband here at the end of this year. He will continue practicing permaculture but for the time being, he will do so alone; something we have come to realize is necessary for both of us.

As people, as parents, we must have the courage to make choices that will tear our hearts out, turn our lives upside-down, and force us to move beyond our comfort zone into the place where we become who we are meant to be.

I do find comfort in the knowledge that a part of my heart will remain here, living, breathing, and doing amazing things to make the Philippines a better place–a dream we have shared for years but can no longer pursue together.

Truthfully I cannot imagine it will be long before I return to these islands, if only for a visit, although we never do know what the future will hold.

Nonetheless, the memories will always be there.

Stepping out of the airport into the heavy heat and looking out the window of my ride transported me back to my family’s arrival in the tropical Ivory Coast from the cold, gray Netherlands when I was seven.

Making my way around Manila, I sat many a time in the front of open-air buses on the congested highways, riding alongside daily commuters and truckloads of pigs, getting ear-to-ear smiles from the boys behind me.

I laughed in shock at “KKK” monuments, the “MILF” rebels down south, and “Let’s Talk Dirty” laundromats and tried to keep a straight face when addressing formal acquaintances by their frankly ludicrous nicknames.

I bought a motorcycle that I didn’t know how to ride because I was jealous of watching how easily they zipped around in this potholed maze of a city. On the ride home, I learned how to shift while my then-boyfriend-then-husband-now-no-longer-husband sat behind me and tried to direct me through traffic.

Only in the Philippines, indeed.

We spent our first new years eve together on the beaches of Puerto Galera, talking and dancing, laughing and crying.

We traveled to mountains and waterfalls, desert islands and white-sand beaches.

We sat at the breakfast table and shared our biggest, boldest dreams. We wrote two business plans together.

We took shifts pacing the living room all through the night and into the early hours of the morning with our newborn baby who refused to sleep.

My little girl and I, we leave the Philippines in good hands and I look forward to bringing her back here to see her father and the world-changing work he has begun.

To continue this moment of nostalgic indulgence, then, here are a few more of the most memorable pictures from my first year in the Philippines.

From wonderful experiences volunteering in Manila and Cebu to enjoying affairs more unique to the Philippines, there has always been lots to see and do.

 

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The Farmer’s Market in Cubao
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A Flooded Mall after Typhoon Ondoy
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Live performance of “Under the Sea” in Mall of Asia

 

Ah Manila, my stomping grounds. Such a terrible and fascinating city you are. Your days may be unbearably hot but your nights are cool and long, with the lawlessness of the road and the wind in my hair, the fear and the rush, the terrors and the beauty. I will miss you, wretched beast. Your stench, by God, and the fumes you belch out, but the smiles you produce, there’s nothing quite like it, no, no doubt. Oh, what the sweat, the tears, the blood on your cracked pavement, and all those years tearing through you and circumventing the grave meant. Accept these, our last hurrahs, as we escape from the belly of the beast and wrestle through your jowls. I came to you all on my own, braved you independent and strong, but I leave having been broken to pieces and reassembled as part of a much greater thesis. I’m not just me anymore, I’m a part of my daughter and her father, and together we three have fought through the slaughter and we’ve done it with laughter in the face of disaster. Indeed, Manila, you are no longer our master.