Australia · My MMA Journey

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 13: Rolling in The Hills

Or: Kicking, Punching, and Rolling in The Hills District of Sydney

Or: Tryouts at the MMA Gyms of Castle Hill, NSW

Back in July of last year when I was backpacking in Baguio, I wrote about staying healthy on the road and I consider this a bit of a sequel to that.

Now that I’m in Sydney for a few months enjoying the summer and holiday season with family, I’ve been looking for ways to keep up with my training and fitness.

Before my departure from Manila at the end of November, I was doing two to three hours of training, typically four nights a week. I didn’t want to lose that entirely when switching to holiday feeding and beach lounging mode, so I looked up a couple of MMA gyms on Google Maps, found their websites and Facebook pages, and got in touch for some free trial classes.


I’m often asked how long I’ve been doing MMA.

In truth, there are two stories of where it began. One is in high school when I put on boxing gloves for the first time and gave a large soccer player an accidental bloody nose with a left hook he apparently didn’t see coming. You can see how love for the sport was spontaneously born.

The other is many years later, at the turn of my quarter century, when I finally decided to put the gloves back on.

In the week following my 25th birthday, I started classes at Elorde Boxing Gym, moved on to Muay Thai after six months, and throughout the year 2017 began experimenting with MMA at various gyms in Manila and notably at Team Lakay in Baguio.

I ended my time in Manila with three months of circuit training and Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes at Fitness Unlimited, a gym that quickly became my second home.

The year came to a close in Sydney, where, as we were getting to earlier, I took a peek at the MMA scene by visiting various Castle Hill gyms for some free trial sessions.

Free Trial #1: A Day at Pollet’s Martial Arts Center

An instant favorite, (certainly as far as my daughter was concerned) Pollet’s Martial Arts is a franchise with a number of dojos across Sydney and Australia.

You can come here to learn karate, jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, and MMA, or to improve self-defense and fitness.

While Gracie gyms (coming up) teach the Brazilian style of jiu-jitsu (BJJ), Pollet’s is home to a Master Instructor with an 8th-degree black belt in Kempo jiu-jitsu. This more traditional Japanese style tends to put ground-based BJJ back on its feet as it incorporates judo throws and wrestling takedowns in addition to grappling.

Grant Miller, the owner of the Castle Hill franchise, is a friendly and accommodating trainer from whom I learned a great deal in only one lesson.

Since I was the only student to show up in the middle of the day, we had a one-on-one session of MMA grappling, sparring, and Muay Thai drills.

At the end of the class, we reviewed grappling techniques and Grant helped me up my submission game with a handy variety of rear-naked chokes–one of my go-to’s.

Grant also gave me a lot of information about the dojo’s various martial arts styles and was helpful in giving tips and instructions for improving areas of personal weakness.

Let’s take a look at the gym.

There is a large training area on the ground floor with mats, a boxing ring, and a cage, weight training corner, and another matted area upstairs as well. The dojo also sells fight wear and essential gear.


Pollet’s is wonderfully respectful and at the same time child-friendly environment. There is a small collection of toys for kids to play with and the owner himself has a friendly daughter just a year older than my own.


Children are of course expected to keep food and shoes off the mats at all times.

I’ve been eager to return to Pollet’s, not only because my girl keeps begging me to, but because of how much I learned in less than two hours time. I’d love to train here more because I’ve seen how much I have yet to grasp and I can see myself picking up a lot of it here.

Check out their website for classes in Castle Hill and elsewhere or get in touch on Facebook.

Free Trial #2: A Week at Bulldog Muay Thai

Right off the bat, I appreciated the generosity of the 7-day free trial period here at Bulldog in Castle Hill.

This gym is run by the McKinnon brothers, a great bunch of people, fighters, and trainers.


Because of my schedule, the only class I was able to show up for on my first day was the sparring, which on Wednesday’s at 11 AM, Stuart said, was for fighters.

He wasn’t lying, Among those in gloves and shin guards was none other than Tyson Pedro, one of Australia’s very own in the UFC.

Stu, head of the gym, recommended watching from the bleachers but welcomed me to use the facilities for personal training. Tyson–friendly guy–invited me for a spar but unfortunately got a knee to his already-injured elbow and had to call it a day before I had the chance to take him up on his offer.


We had a nice chat nonetheless and he told me about his next fight in Perth, for which he’d soon be traveling to the US to train.

Tyson, ranking 12 out of 35 in the light-heavyweight division, is currently training for the upcoming fight on home soil against Saparbek Safarov on February 11.

The classes I was able to participate in, however, were physically challenging and a lot of fun.

First, there was a regular Muay Thai training session lead by Stuart’s younger brother Steve at 12:15 PM that same Wednesday. In addition to an excellent warmup and a set of combination drills practiced with training partners, I enjoyed the ab exercises at the end of the class.

Steve, who was taking over for his brother that day, told me I was welcome to come back the next day for the Fighter’s class but did mention that Stuart calls the shots when it comes to the lessons.

When I returned Thursday evening, since I couldn’t make it on time for the 6 PM Muay Thai class, I had hopes of joining the Fighters class at 7. However, Stu explained that his students had to work their way up to this level through regular attendance of regular classes–in some cases for many years. He didn’t consider it fair to let me jump in and again welcomed me to use the facilities for my own drills.

Following the class, Stu invited me to join the Stretch & Roll session, which was stellar.

After I busy beach weekend, I returned to the gym on Monday for Muay Thai and sparring. I immensely enjoyed sparring with a partner and later with the trainer–something I hadn’t had the opportunity to do since I was up in the mountains of Baguio with Team Lakay. And this time I even got to wear shin guards.

It’s difficult to compare my training at Bulldog Muay Thai with Pollet’s as it was a completely different experience. Where I learned a great variety of MMA techniques at Pollet’s, I had the pure pleasure of intense fighting and physical exercise at Bulldog.

I can say, however, that Bulldog was equally child-friendly. It’s basically a playground and my daughter loved it here too.


They sell Muay Thai gear at the counter and you can visit their website to check out the trainers, fighters, classes, and timetable. Go ahead and send them a message on Facebook if you’re interested in training; they are very responsive.


Free Trial #3: A Day at Gracie BJJ

This time, I dragged my own sparring partner along, entirely new to martial arts and with whom I was hoping to have some fun.

At this point, we were right in the middle of Christmas and the New Year so the gym was operating on a slightly more relaxed holiday schedule–luckily for us because we had a hard time finding the place and showed up late.

I should note that at some gyms, arriving late at a jiu-jitsu class is considered highly disrespectful and in some cases flat-out unacceptable.

However, I called the gym a few times as we were trying to make our way there and they assured me that it was OK to arrive a little late this time.

We found Gracie’s a little after 6 PM on a Thursday and, because of the holidays, the Fundamentals and Advanced classes were combined into a two-hour session from 6 to 8.

After suiting up, my partner and I stepped in a little late but that instructor was kind enough to take some time introducing us to the gym and getting us caught up with the lesson.

Because my partner was entirely new to jiu-jitsu, the instructor ran did a quick run-through of the basic positions for him and we enjoyed rolling through those in the sparring rounds.

For programs, timetables, and more information visit their website. If you have questions and want to get in contact first, it’s best to give them a call.

Note: As of the now, I have no pictures of this gym. I jumped in late and was immediately engaged in the class, so I honestly didn’t think to take any. I might be back for a follow-up on my free trial, however, now that the training schedule is back to normal. It’s a nice place though; you can take my word for it.


Jiu-Jitsu Styles

It wasn’t until I tried jiu-jitsu in Sydney that I was properly introduced to the various styles, from Barra and Humaita to Kempo. Let’s get this sorted out, shall we?

Starting from the beginning, we have jujutsu–a traditional Japanese martial art form–giving birth to judo, BJJ, aikido, and other such popular fight sports.

The name jujutsu can be translated to “gentle art” or “flexible technique” and it is one that is used to defeat an armed opponent without a weapon (or with a small one).

When judo was brought to Brazil around the time of the first world war it was picked up by the Gracie family, who shifted the emphasis to ground grappling.

Judo, at the time, was still known as Kano Jiu-Jitsu, for its founder, which is why its Brazilian variation became known as BJJ and not “Brazilian judo”. (Probably a good thing.)

One jiu-jitsu association, Gracie Barra, is more traditional and focuses on self-defense. Conversely, the association of Gracie Humaita teaches a form of the sport that has evolved for competition.

Gracie Barra and Humaita Jiu-Jitsu gyms can be found all throughout Sydney and its suburbs.

Beyond that, I’ve heard talk of many noteworthy MMA gyms in and around the city as well and I look forward to visiting as many as I can.

However, racing into the first month of the new year, I have not yet been able to make regular classes work with my schedule.

With the nearest gyms over in Castle Hill still a good 40-minutes away, my 4-year-old with me most of the time, and English classes that conflict with most of the training sessions, it appears I will have to forego training for the remainder of January.

When the summer holidays come to an end for my family here in The Hills of Sydney and I escort my daughter to Manila to spend the Philippine summer with her father, I will be returning to Sydney for a stay in the city and a chance to dive deeper into the MMA scene.

To make the most of the interim, I’ve taken up a 24-day yoga challenge. More on that later.



Australia · Day Trips · Travel Tips

4 Sydney Beaches to hit this Summer

With hardly a day left to 2017, I’m ready to breathe a sigh of relief that this crazy ride of a year is coming to an end.

I can look forward, with hope, to a new one of excitement but to look back with gratitude, I find it best to single in on three simple things: sun, sand, and waves.

If there is one thing I can say about 2017, it’s that it’s taken me to many a beautiful beach–possibly more than in any other year of my life. Goals!

From a relaxing vacation in Puerto Galera and a surf trip to Baler in the Philippines to camping in Port Macquarie and road tripping to Byron Bay in Australia and of course all the day trips to beaches in and around Sydney, it’s been one sunny year.

I can’t think of a better way to wrap up this (half) year of blogging than with a write-up of four beautiful beaches I’ve visited this month, all of which have some standout features that make them excellent spots to bask in the hot, hot glow of summer as you start the new year right.

Here’s a quick look at our four beaches.


1. Manly Beach

Manly, the first beach I visited in Australia, is still a favorite.

It’s a scenic 30-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay and the walk from the wharf to the main beach takes you through warm streets graced with park benches, fountains, sandwich shops, bookstores, cafes, surfboards, and the occasional talented musician.

While it can get crowded in summer, it appears to be an excellent surf spot and one I look forward to trying out in the new year.


When the sun starts to dip behind the trees and cast shade on the beach, you can chase it back to a nice little bit of sand just beside the wharf.


2. Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach is a 15-minute walk along the coast from Manly but you can also drive there directly, park just up the path, and have a nice barbecue in the shade. The waves that hit Manly don’t reach this little spot so it’s great for little kids and snorkeling.


From the parking lot, and before heading down to the beach, catch this gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean.


3. Whale Beach

Whale Beach, north of Sydney, features a pool and fun rocky area for adventure play and exploration. On the opposite end of the beach, there is a surf rescue and, coincidentally, a gnarly surf spot. Those seen slashing the waves over here certainly had a seasoned appearance.


This beach has also got tables and grills for barbecues and a little playground in the shade for the kids.


4. Wattamolla Beach

Wattamolla is south of Sydney and tucked away in a beautiful nature reserve. You’ll have to drive here and once you get off the main road you’ll lose signal on your phone–a beautiful thing, really.


This stretch of cool ocean water is perfect for a swim because the waves are very mild. If the open sea is a little too chilly for you, however, you can hang out in the warmer pool of water on the other side. There is plenty of shallow water here for little kids to wade in and rocks off of which the older ones can jump.


There you have it, just a small taste of Sydney beaches but I dare say it’s a good start.

Here’s to a beautiful evening and a blessed 2018!

Australia · Day Trips · Travel Tips

A Day to Wander Sydney

Sunday is a perfect day to wander around Sydney because you can take unlimited bus, train, and ferry rides for only $2 with your Opal card. (That’s Australian dollars, so about 1.50 USD)

Start at Circular Quay and mosey to the Opera House

From wherever you are, catch a bus and/or train to Circular Quay. Make sure you say “key” and not “kway”.

For routes and schedules, Google Maps is all you need and it will give you real-time updates on changes and delays.

From the train, you will emerge at the ferry terminal and we’ll get back to that. First, walk along the harbor, past the Harbor Bridge, and head toward the Opera House.

Take your time and definitely stop to enjoy the street artists and performances.

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There are plenty of spots to grab a coffee to go or a bottle of water, both of which will cost you $4-5.

Get your photos of and with the Opera House and the bridge and go down the steps to the lower level of the Opera House for bathrooms and the cafe.

Stroll the Royal Botanic Garden

Get lost here for a while; it’s already one of my favorite places in the city and a beautiful place to kill however many hours you’d like.

Have a picnic, have a nap, read a book, eat a snack, and enjoy the view.

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Catch a ferry to Manly Beach

When it gets too hot in the gardens and the water starts to look quite inviting, walk back to the ferries and catch one to Manly Beach. They leave Circular Quay every 30 minutes and it’s roughly a 30-minute trip across the harbor.

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Cool down in the Pacific Ocean

Walk through the pleasant shopping street, grab a bite, and find a spot in the sand. Watch the surfers and the waves or maybe even take them on.

Eventually, the sun will start to set behind the trees and they will cast shade on the beach but if you want to, you can walk back toward the ferry and catch a bit more of the sun on the beach beside the wharf before it sinks into the harbor.

Without any waves, the water on this beach is beautifully translucent and, once it touches your toes, its cool clarity will pull you right in.

Have a drink to the setting sun

Find a pub with a view and sip on a cold one to the last of the day’s light.

International · Travel Tips

10 Pros and Cons of Expat Life

The best and worst of living outside the borders of your citizenship.

Having recently joined a variety of groups and communities of traveling teachers, world schoolers, and expats in general, I’ve had a number of interesting conversations on the pros and cons of the expatriate-slash-globetrotter lifestyle.

I’ve been living in the Philippines, a country far from my own, for eight years now and the process of preparing to leave–whether or not for good I can’t say–was an interesting time to reflect on the good and bad elements of my life as an “expat” or, in plain English, an immigrant.

Since I’ve also lived in a few countries in Africa and many of my online coworkers live in China and otherwise all over the world, I’ll avoid centering this post on any one country or continent and try instead to include not only my own experiences but also what I’ve gathered from fellow expats along the way.

Having been raised as a third-culture kid and now being a mother myself, I will, of course, be discussing how the expat life impacts children. However, that’s not what this list is centered on.

Instead, I’m looking at the bare-boned questions of what makes an expat leave their home and what makes them miss it.


1. The Freedom

This, more than anything, is my personal number one. It’s why I will–if it’s entirely up to me–likely always live outside of my country of citizenship. It’s hard to say home because I’m not sure anymore which country I would identify as such.

When I say freedom, I’m not talking exclusively about that feeling of heading to the airport with a suitcase, walking away from what had been your life and excess belongings, feeling light as a feather and ready to explore the world.

I’m also talking about the freedom to do more or less whatever you want without the constraints of an often rigidly organized and restrictive western world.

Life in most non-western countries can be considerably less orderly, but far less restrictive as well.

(Although I should point out that some countries offer us the best of both worlds. I’m thinking of places like Taiwan, a country with excellent infrastructure where you can drink beer in public. No wonder it consistently tops the expatriation charts.)

However, excepting such examples as Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, and Japan, many less-developed countries in Asia, Africa and the Central and South Americas tell quite a different story.

Whether it’s the lack of modern infrastructure, prevalent and multilateral corruption, or perhaps that people simply don’t care about such trivial issues as whether or not one should be allowed to harvest rainwater, the tradeoff for a somewhat messy and unstructured life in a third-world country is that there are far fewer restrictions on what you can and cannot do.

When I bought a motorcycle and, having never ridden and with no lessons or license to my name, rode it home on Manila roads I basked in that freedom.

Granted, it isn’t always a good thing but it is what draws me to the expat life nonetheless–to the point, in fact, that I will likely never be able to (re)assimilate into either the Netherlands or–God forbid–the US.

Call it the travel bug if you will but for some, once we see the world, the place we had called home–no matter its size–will always be too small to contain us. Being contained, after all, is quite unbearable once you’ve had a taste of freedom.

2. The Learning Experience

This goes for you, your kids if you have them, and in some ways even your friends and family back home because the things you learn living abroad will change you as a person.

For one, your view of the world will widen as you begin to understand and grow close to people born and raised in a country and culture different from your own.

Additionally, you will pick up new languages and as you reach fluency in a new tongue you will awaken new areas of your brain and start to think in new ways.

If you travel with kids, they will pick up new languages faster than they can put away their toys and if they start speaking at a young age they will achieve near native-speaker fluency the way adults never quite can. This will give them a huge advantage and increase their options in any career path.

Finally, you will learn a lot about life in general, especially by seeing how simple and enjoyable it can be.

The things we find to stress out over and the first-world problems we create are laughable when you realize how little you need to live a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. You don’t need many things (the less you have to pack, the better), or even much money, which leads right to a third advantage.

3. The Cost of Living

This ties right in with freedom and is another thing I’ve loved about living in the Philippines: cost of living is low. That means I didn’t have to work fulltime to make a decent living and that gave me the freedom to spend more of my time doing whatever I want.

4. The People & The Stories

The most interesting people I’ve met are travelers–ever since I was a child I’ve loved their stories–and there’s no better way to meet them than by traveling.

I’ll have to write a post one day on some of the fascinating people I’ve met and the insane stories they’ve told.

5. Being a Stranger (or feeling like a celebrity and a zoo animal at the same time)

This is at the bottom of my list of pros because in some ways it can definitely become a bit of a con. However, though we like to complain about it, I think deep down most of us expats secretly enjoy it.

The simple truth is that in most cases, being different from everyone else allows you to do things most people won’t or can’t.

For example–as a Brit living in China pointed out–because you’re already an oddball, you can go ahead and do all the odd things your heart desires. Since you’re attracting attention anyway, you might as well make the most of it.

Once you get used to constantly being stared at and talked about, it stops mattering. Well, either that or you become really good at ignoring it.

For me personally, this is a tough one because it’s a feeling I have almost everywhere, including at home in Holland. When I’m in Holland I’m not really Dutch; somehow I still tend to stand out, especially in the small village where I went to high school.

When I visited America, I did not at all feel American and found it difficult to identify with the culture. Visiting Australia earlier this year was uniquely enjoyable, on the other hand, because I felt significantly less odd than I do in most countries–probably because it’s such a melting pot of immigrants from Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world and people are generally laid back.


1. The Mess (infrastructure, bureaucracy, trash)

Whether it’s the mess of infrastructure, the bureaucracy, or the literal trash, messy is often a part of expat life, and again I put this in the first place because it’s what I find the most difficult to deal with.

By nature, I’m a fairly organized and efficient person: I don’t like messes, especially ones that result in wasted time. I also despise bad smells and stay as far away as I can from the Pasig River.

Sydney, where I am now, is such a welcome contrast from Manila because it’s so fresh and so clean. On the other hand, it is a lot more expensive.

2. Lack of Access to Specialty Items, Your Favorite Things from Home, Your Friends & Your Family

Whether it’s English tea and meat pie, any good European cheese or sausages, Canadian cheese curds, or salty Dutch haring and licorice, there will be things you miss from home that may be near-impossible to find.

But, if visiting friends and family isn’t enough, at least it’s a reason to make that trip back home every now and then.

Right. I haven’t talked about family yet.

Yes, being away from them is tough but honestly, the most difficult part is saying goodbye. After that, you go on building your life and with social media, there are a million ways to stay in touch.

I will say that when you have kids, not having family around to help you take care of them is especially difficult. Beyond that, family is important to kids: my daughter cherishes any opportunity to see her grandmother, uncles, aunts, and cousins.

However, I see missing home or family and friends in other parts of the world as just another wonderful reason to travel.

3. Health & Safety

Honestly, based on personal experience, it hardly seems appropriate to list this as a con. I have been asked over and over if living in Ivory Coast, or Nigeria, or the Philippines, was dangerous, and I’ve honestly never felt that it was. I visited Baltimore once though; there’s a city with some spots to avoid.

However, just because I’ve never experienced what I would consider a serious threat to my safety in a third world country doesn’t mean that I don’t know people who have. For some, safety is a primary reason not to travel or relocate to a third-world country. To that, I can only say: danger is everywhere.

I ride a motorcycle to get through Manila traffic and people tell me it’s dangerous. Yes, maybe it is; so is driving a car; so is crossing the street. You can either live your life in fear of danger or–with a few reasonable precautions–you can live your life.

If you’re going somewhere that might be considered dangerous for foreigners, take some reasonable precaution.

For example, if you want to shop at Divisoria–Manila’s massive and crowded commercial center–dress plainly, don’t wear expensive jewelry or accessories, and keep your valuables and/or your bag in front of you and not on your back or in your pockets.

Another safety-related concern includes health care: there’s a good chance that it won’t be on the level of what you’re used to back home.

Conversely, some forms of healthcare can be available at a high standard and more affordable prices than in western countries. Dental and optical procedures in the Philippines are an example of that.

4. The Discomfort

Whether it’s extreme weather conditions, uncomfortable transportation, or socially awkward situations, travelers and expats alike have to be comfortable with discomfort.

More so than the sticky heat and heavy humidity of Metro Manila, what tends to make me most uncomfortable is the blatant staring.

5. A Different Kind of Etiquette

Finally, the people in your new home may be intolerably polite or outrageously rude but either way, you’ll have to adjust to new social norms and a different kind of etiquette.

You may very well find after living somewhere for years that you still struggle to relate to the culture.

Conversely, you may find that you have adopted so many elements of this new culture that you experience reverse culture shock when visiting home or repatriating.

At the end of the day, I feel that the reasons to leave home and live a different kind of life–if only for a while–decisively outweigh the cons.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!


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.