Saturday, February 28, 2015

Personal Notes from the North

This is not your typical Sunday read with the normal post card pictures, but rather photographs that are very personal to me, photographs which left me mental notes like ink on a white shirt.  

After traveling back and forth to the north in the past 10 years like it was only a jeepney ride away, I was still surprised and thankful I am seeing Ilocos again like it was my first time.  

A person suffering depression does not see the big picture anymore and magnifies the smallest of things. During our low times, take this opportunity to see what's for you in a church just by looking into it's keyhole.  Shot through the keyhole, or the holes found in the capiz windows of Sta. Maria Church, Ilocos Sur.

"5am, I'll Be Gone"
It gets cold & lonely in Calle Crisologo in the months of February.  But we like it just like that.  Jojo's invitation for the 5am walk was never a doubt my vacation within the vacation because it's minus the crowd, minus the noise, plus I get to sit in the 16th century cold cobbled stones of the streets.

Scientists continue to find preserved animals in Antarctica kept in its cryogenic goodness.  Inside Vigan's UNESCO World Heritage City, I am sure there are still hundreds of preserved artifacts waiting to be discovered.  If we can only put all the houses in giant nets to control souvenir shops and cafes from sprouting, I'll be very happy to find them in their fossilized state again.

"Textured & Rusty"
The doors of the 16th century colonial houses in Calle Crisologo show braving all the elements that passed the region and welcomed all the memories that enveloped the houses.  Them being rusty & textured only tells us that getting old shouldn't be a worry at all.

Vigan lies in the river delta, where the great Abra river meets the China Sea.  During the 15th century, Spanish and Chinese traders use this as trading channels thereby putting influence on the Ilocano's food preparations, just to name a few examples.  The Lumpianada is one of the greatest examples of the evolution of the Chinese Lumpia and Vigan Empanada.  Best eaten with vinegar, Ilocano garlic, and that thick caramelized brown sauce.  

"Hidden Kitchen"
If Hong Kong has hole in the walls and Singapore has hawkers, Bantay, Ilocos Sur has hidden kitchens only accessible by bike or tricycle.  Manang Marichu's Php 22 Lumpianada is deep fried to perfection, minus the invasion of oil, to seal it's ingredients (carrots, turnip, garlic, eggs, and ground pork).  

"Bricks & Banisters"
The church of Sta. Monica in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte is my favorite church.  It's bricks and banisters have been around since 1779, or when it was tastefully built.  Though with webs found in its cold corners, I say those things still add to the church's appeal.

"Shaken, not stirred"
A 5.7 magnitude earthquake shook Sta. Monica Chruch in 1983.  Her brick walls remained standing and her floors stayed intact.  When our life is visited by an earthquake, are we only stirred or are we completely shaken?

"Stop the Imitation"
They say we cannot give what we don't have.  Our lands are very rich and can produce bad ass garlic and onions.  Let's stop acting like westerners because we are not, and concentrate on developing the produce of our local farmers.  Stop the imitation, and start the imagination.  Shot in Burgos, Ilocos Norte.

"Ilocano Anting-Anting"
Not to dodge bullets, but to lure you with taste.  Every Ilocano dish might have Garlic.  Small but tasty and locally grown in the deep soil and warm climate of Ilocos.

What do you see?  These are offered prayers in a church.  The church of Paoay in Ilocos Norte has lots of spaces where you can light candles.  Imagine one per person saved just by lighting a candle.  Can you count how many persons were saved in this picture?

"Coral Facade"
Paoay Church is popular for it's facade made of coral.  When hit by the afternoon sun, it provides a great contrast from the blue and cloudless skies of the North.

"Life Jackets"
Conveniently found in Paoay Church like life vests conveniently located in planes and ships.  

"Ginisang Ipon"
Gulash or Dulong in some parts of the Philippines.  Sometimes cooked with eggs or in omelette.  I like mine carefully sauteed and not overcooked.  Only Mang Nanie Pasimio of Cafe Uno in Vigan knows what I am talking about.  Best matched with a cold bottle of San Miguel Beer Pale Pilsen after long and hot days in Ilocos Sur.

On our way back to Manila, I asked my two circa 1980 "activista" friends Jojo and Gladys Ledina about what's the difference between the activists now and the activists then?  Their answer was simple.  Activists before take the streets, or the infamous Feb 25 Edsa Revolution.  The activists now have options to be heard or take advantage of different forms of media.  

After the road trip, I decided to take advantage of my willingness to share with you my thoughts on supporting the Philippines' local growers and protecting our UNESCO world heritage sites.  We have to believe in our local farmers again and do not desecrate our world heritage sites.  

You know what I am talking about, and this is my personal note, like ink on a white shirt.  

Saturday, February 7, 2015

What did I Really See in Cambodia?

Somebody asked me, what is your favorite place to photograph?  Tough question.  For me, it's not the photographs I take home, but the experience while taking them, especially the ones that move me, or led me to see things differently. 
Our recent trip to Cambodia and the boat ride to Tonle Sap Lake changed my perspective.  The people you'll find in this collection are gems because of the smiles they reflect back form the murky waters of the lake, because of how they appreciate their resources, and most especially they don't approach the boats for money from touriss.  Maybe because, they feel happier than us, or more contented than us.
I hope this will change your perspective too. 
It's no Gondola of Venice, but his stripes put a striking resemblance to a Venetian boat man.  Maybe to them, it feels like Venice, or even better. 

 "Crayola Boats" 
No fancy cars in the next 10 kms, but endless rows of Crayola boats.  These colorful boats have amazing handling capabilities even in choppy waters. 

I don't speak Khmer (Cambodian language) but from the way our boatman moves his boat in the lake while he looks at the horizon, pride is louder than the boat's roaring engine. 

 "Long Legged Ladies"
These stilt houses are ready for the rising of the tide when seasons rapidly change in Cambodia.  They also provide great ventilation from beneath the house and wise storage for firewood.  Just like a long-legged lady, in a red gown, yes?

  "Giant Playground" 
Kids in the lake make the most of what they have.  With no monkey bars to use, the lake is like a giant playground to them.

"Refreshingly Murky"
Though very mysterious, the waters of Tonle Sap Lake does not leave even a stint of bad smell in my shirt; and when the afternoon sun directly hits the water, it glitters like the fresh waters of Coron. 
 "Blame the Mangroves"
I am no biologist but mangroves taught us a lesson in Baler. If we don't take care of them, they don't take care of us.  The steady and fish breeding waters of Tonle Sap Lake is because of it's abundant mangrove covers while entering and exiting the lake. 
"Row before you run"
Learning to row before learning to walk.  Just like I learned how to ride a bike first before learning how to walk. 

"Himalayan Replenishment"
Tonle Sap Lake shares the same water flow with the Mekong River of Vietnam.  They are continuously replenished by the melting snow from the Himalayas. 
"Bus to School"
They ride the boat everyday just to go to school.  Some kids I know who have all means of transportation to get to school but still don't get the idea.
"Just Roll w/ the Punches"
There's no complaining, just rolling with the punches.  Even when bigger boats create wake that toss the boat of a fish vendor, she still proceeds to the market.

Fish paste from Tonle Sap Lake grilled in wrapped banana leaves are found in the streets of Cambodia as soon as the sun sets.  Matched with Khmer fish sauce, greens, noodles, and chili, it's one of the best and freshest rolls in Asia.

So, what are you complaining about lately? If you still think you don't deserve where you are now, think again.  Perhaps it's time to change your perspective, or the way you see things.

Like taking photographs, always look for a different perspective.  I am pretty sure you don't want to go home with identical photographs similar to other tourists.  Stop looking for the picture perfect and postcard like photographs.  Go for the ones that will change your perspective and change the way you see things. 

This is what I really saw in Cambodia.

Monday, December 1, 2014

My Love Affair in Cambodia

My search for the pure and uninterrupted dawn lighting is a love affair, it doesn't last forever and is very unforgettable.

Images found here are captured during an early trip to Angkor Wat Temple and Bayon Temple in Siem Reap.  Catching the drama of dawn lighting is not easy especially when few bottles of beer and European foreigners dancing in Pub Street dangle in my memory like a strange after taste.

Check 'em out and let me know what you think.

"Murky Mirror"
The ground where I chose to stand that morning was very soft and only inches away from a murky pond in the temple grounds of Angkor Wat.  However, when you change perspective, the dark water reflecting the five towers of the temple with water lilies adding foliage was an unforgettable shot.

"Legs & Pillars" 
Human legs carry the weight of a human body like these pillars carry the weight of Angkor Wat.  I like low key photographs that emphasize darkness and the soft introduction of light that blends well in this frame.
The sunrise in Angkor Wat does not only provide popular silhouettes of the temple's towers, but also provide great natural light for kids playing in the pond.  I remember taking this shot while the tourists around me were very busy taking pictures of the temple.  

"Window for the Soul"
When taking photographs inside a temple, I'd like to use frames that capture a patch of green paradise outside.  Since Angkor Wat is a really big temple, her structure provide frames that soothe the eye when all you get to see inside are gray stones and solid heavy structure.  
"Not Even A Nod"
Buddhist nuns when reaching old age shave their heads, use a simple white uniform, and volunteer to watch over temples.  To them, this is the purest form of happiness and service.  The light on the right side of the frame is from the morning sun on the eastern side of Bayon Temple.  

"Breathing Towers"
From total darkness, the sun slowly went up at around 5:30am.  I felt the towers move and wanted to document it.  The old "zoom-in-zoom-out" trick in slow shutter did the story.  This old trick in the bag never fail to add flavor to my photographs.

"Early Monks"
It was almost noon when these Buddhist kid monks showed up.  They were too willing for a quick photograph while I take advantage of the rim lighting in their head, shoulders, and emphasizing their saffron robes.

"Late Sunrise"
According to traveler's stories, the sunrise of Angkor Wat is one of the most epic sunrises in the world.  Hundreds visited the temple that day but when the sun blinded us, only a few stayed to photograph the sun directly.  An under exposed setting to emphasize the shapes of Angkor Wat, the color of the sky, and the reflection in the pond is an eccentric shot but a damn good unique shot.  

On your next trip why not go out of the usual shelf itineraries and veer away from groups itching to take one and the same pictures; because chances are you'll have identical photos.  Look for the unique ones.

I've always believed in finding treasures in thinking the opposite.  Maybe it's time to change your perspective too.  Because like a love affair, dawn lighting is hard to catch but can be very unforgettable.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

One Shot of Sake, and I’m Good.

“Are you still drunk?  Call me when you are sober.” 

Maria, my editor replied after she read my article about a drink called Lambanong.  It’s almost four years ago and the aftertaste of that clear drink from the mountains of Quezon still haunts me like a bottle was just emptied.

A fine drink is never about hangovers, and certainly never about unleashing your reckless self.  A fine drink should be able to take you places or take you in a journey within a journey. 

Coming back from a recent trip to Kyoto, Japan and when friends ask me what is my unforgettable moment in Japan; without even thinking about it, I still say it’s how, where, and why I fell in love with another clear drink called Sake. 


Kyoto is one of the regularly visited cities in Japan because of its gardens and temples.  In fact, most of the Zen gardens found in landscaping books are most likely found in Kyoto.

However, four train stations away from the center of Kyoto is a characteristic town called Fushimi.  While describing Fushimi, as clean & quiet town is an understatement since most of the towns in Kyoto are, what’s unique is when coming down from Tanbabashi Station are the bricked sidewalks, pebble-washed streets, and the maple-walled 16th century Sake breweries. 

Maple wood is a deluxe commodity because of its quality and scarcity; and what I fancy about the Maple wood is its texture and grain.  Seeing most of the houses in Fushimi clad in Maple wood that blend so well with its streets, and when touched by the sun creates the most beautiful contrast of colors, I can’t help but be intrigued what’s behind these maple-walled Japanese Sake breweries.

Indeed, “Nothing Beats Brewed”

Notice a Japanese chocolates’ beautiful packaging and a Bento box’s purposeful arrangement. Not only they are aesthetically served, but they also contain so much character, flavor, and history in every bite or shot; and not on missing quality, that’s why in Japan, quality does not come cheap.  I also remember a sign in one of the Sushi restaurants in Tokyo that says “no picture please and be quiet.”  Definitely not an anti-social note, but because Japanese chefs take things seriously and does not want to be disturbed. 

All the details inside a Sake brewery count.  During my visit to Fushimi, we got the chance to visit an old Sake brewery called Gekkeikan.  Gekkeikan Brewery has a long relationship with the town of Fushimi and has pretty much dictated the Maple walls of the town.   

Inside the Gekkeikan Brewery, visitors unconsciously lower their voices, and will naturally walk slowly.  Here people won’t mind your glacial pace, not like in some parts of Japan, walking as fast as a bicycle is highly advisable.  

Once inside and after opening that solid maple door, there’s a strange comfort of feeling calm, especially when entering the pocket gardens of the brewery.  Maybe because of the natural aura of the brewery that tells you that it has been here for more than 400 years already.  The sound the wooden flooring makes, the whistling of the 5-degree Kyoto wind when romancing the pine trees, the sound of the pebbles grappling with each other when walked upon, just simply blends together.

Inside you’ll only hear a Japanese chant they use when brewing Sake.  These chants do not only entertain the Japanese brewers, since they work in long hours, but to make better Sake.  According to some stories, songs in those days were nothing great, but to keep the rhythm and natural flow of Sake brewing in tact.

Sake brewers were not to be disturbed.  During the production months, women were not even allowed to loiter and socialize with the men inside the brewery.  Simply because they don’t want to be distracted.  I guess this is the only place in the world when sometimes women and drink don’t mix.

The brewing and fermenting is complex as well.  Trying to write it down here might not only spill the secrets too much but may also produce errors that are so much unworthy of the drink.  Simply put, after mixing mineral-free water (only from a well or natural source) with rice, it has to be drained, transferred to a steamer called “koshiki”, then put on a pot filled with boiling water.  

During it’s boiling, steam is separated and enters a hole in the “koshiki.”  The rice is now steamed for one hour.  Then this should be ready for fermentation.

Not only the brewing was sacred and pure, but also the choices of the paramount ingredients come to play when brewing.  From the select rice, to the mineral-free water used to mix with yeast during the fermentation, to the kind of baskets the brewers use when storing the Sake; all these are important ingredients when combined with the sacred and old process of brewing Sake, makes the Sake another clear drink to remember. 


I prefer to stay indoors this time.  Cafes and pubs, when in a different country, sometimes is a must to explore as much as you can.  After our time in Fushimi, inside the Gekkeikan brewery, and after buying several bottles of Sake to try, who wants to go out the heated hotel room to put on layers of jackets because of the 4-degree-ish cold temperature in Kyoto?

If steak is best with wine, and beer with pizza, I say Sake is definitely a match with Sushi and Sashimi.  My favorite is the Bizan Super; because of its 25% alcohol content (most Sakes have 18-20%, wine has 10-12%, and beer has 4-9%), it’s smoothness, warmth, and an insanely good match with our choice of Sushi.  Only few and uncounted shots, has left me in talking spree while having to enjoy the cold Japan gust sipping and whistling into the window of our hotel room that night. 

You see, Sake, to my personal experience, did not give me a hangover to ruin the rest of my stay in Kyoto.  Maybe because of the way we socially consumed it; but also finding out how it was made, the environment where it was made, and the great amount of respect for the people who made it.

Now I can say, just one shot, just one shot of Sake, and I’m good.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Discovery Adams"

Tired of the usual Ilocos road trip and taking photos similar to other tourists?

If you want a more personal experience of Ilocos and make a difference, "Discovery Adams" should be your backpacking itinerary. It is a real off the beaten path adventure and photo safari trip in a rarely visited destination up North.

Our journey to Adams starts by leaving the cemented roads the national highway of Pagudpud to use an off-road track, cross free flowing rivers and hanging bridges, via a 45-minute motorbike ride traversing the mountains of Ilocos and Cagayan Valley.

Because of its high elevation, clean mountain air, and rich soil, the valley of Adams is home to some of the most flavorful and rare fruit wines of the Philippines made from different exotic berries, passion fruit, just to name a few.

Meeting the different indigenous tribes of Adams while they give us a personalized tour of their wine cellars and wineries, is one of the highlights of this trip. An afternoon wine buzz in the cool climate of Adams wouldn't hurt at all!

If we are not tasting exotic wines and having endless chats, we are hiking w/ a local mountain guide to visit one of Adam's hidden water falls.

After the hike, refresh yourself by water-tubing on pristine main river, then a tribal show matched with local food specialities paired w/ a bottle of wine over a sulu-lit dinner by the river.

Saying good bye to your favorite hotel room is easy while staying in one of Adams' home stays. Each home stay comes with breakfast and hot chocolate grown in their backyards to start your morning right.

"Discovery Adams" supports travel volunteerism and community based tourism endeavors. During our stay, we can share ideas on how to improve tourism, donate our pictures, or lend extra hands (depending on the season) in making their chocolates and wines. This will surely go a long way.

Check out other details below -

Duration: 3 days, 2 nights

  • Trip to Adams
  • Wine tasting while visiting cellars and wineries
  • Sulu-lit dinner and tribal show by the river
  • Stay in a cozy home stay
  • Hike to Anuplig Water Falls and Lover's Peak
  • Water tubing
  • Use of Panzian Resort, Pagudpud
Great For:
  • Backpacking away from the crowded tourist spots of Ilocos
  • Travel writing and photography enthusiasts
  • Travel volunteerism
Group Size: Minimum of 5 and maximum of 10 travelers

Required Fitness Level: 1-2

Levels based on frequency of exercise per week:
  • 1: Once
  • 2: Twice
  • 3: Thrice a week
  • 4: Four times a week
  • 5: Daily
Meals Included:
  • 3 breakfast meals
  • 3 lunch meals
  • 2 dinner meals and 1 outdoor dinner
Transportation Included:
  • Overnight bus to Pagudpud and back to Manila
  • Motorbike from Pagudpud to Adams
*Coaster or van from Manila to Pagudpud can be arranged upon request.

Accommodation Included: Home Stay

  • Thursday night, for a weekend trip.
*Any day of the week upon request.

Important Notes:
  • It's a backpacking trip so packing light is wise.
  • We are not staying in a hotel. Concierge, etc., can be waived off for now while trying the unforgettable Adams home stay hospitality.
  • Trip is good for all kinds of camera types, point and shoot or DSLR.
  • Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.
  • It's time to experience Filipino culture, have a free flowing travel vibe.
Price: Php 8,700.00/traveler
* tax included

"Discovery Adams" is one of photographer & writer Jeck Simbulan's favorite destinations he explored when completing the story "Wine Tasting in Adams" found on Issue 2/Volume 2 of "Republic of 7107 Island Travel Magazine."

Jeck developed a special relationship with the wine makers of Adams that enabled him to discover details that can make another traveler's experience personal and unique.

Call Jeck at 09178402439 or email at if you want to book now or customize an itinerary according to your group's needs.