Hello First-time Travelers!

Are you going on a trip to a particular place for the first-time? Will you be setting foot in a foreign and unfamiliar soil? Rest assured that you have fellow travelers on the road who are embarking on new journeys.

I have been to many places, and the first time I stepped into unfamiliar territory I had to feel my way and rely on what I have on-hand especially when all I had were travel books, maps and print-outs from the web. My friends and I make our own itinerary. It is truly advisable to check out anything about the place before going on a trip.

Yet, you need not necessarily hire a travel agent or tour guide to get you around every time you visit a place for the first time. A little help from locals can add spice to your first-time travels. It can give you the freedom to explore the place and enjoy the feeling of not spending much, based on my own travel experiences.

You can take my word on some tips and information on the places I visited but feel free to be creative and be adventurous. I may offer some advice here and there but, as they say, “experience is the best teacher”. So, read on and find out more about my first-time travel adventures.

I want to make things easy for you. If you want to view the articles I wrote in this site, click the Table of Contents tab.

Photos used in this site are taken by the author, unless otherwise indicated.

And since I’m from the Philippines, I invite you to travel to my country as well.

Video taken from the Best Destination Travel TV site.

The best of Negros at the SMX launch

SMX Convention Center finally had its formal opening to set the stage for a more vibrant MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibition) sector in the province of Negros Occidental, particularly in the city of Bacolod. It was a launch like no other as locals and visitors from other cities and abroad had an experience showcasing the best of Negros.

The train represented Negros Occidental of long ago.

The train represented Negros Occidental of long ago.

As we entered its Function Hall 3, we were treated to an exhibition of Negros in the past, present and future. Right near the entrance was a huge train replica. At the middle part were religious displays, ternos or native Filipino gowns, and furniture made by talented Negrenses. At the far end was a painting exhibit of young and upcoming artists in the province.

The exhibit included religious icons, furniture, paintings and Filipino gowns.

The exhibit included religious icons, furniture, paintings and Filipino gowns.

I wandered around the hall, familiarizing myself to the essence of my home province, which I have missed for so long after living in the capital for more than half of my life.

Bacolod Mayor Monico Fuentebella (2nd from left) with (L-R) SMX Convention Center senior assistant vice president Dexter Deyto, SM Hotels and Conventions Corp. president Elizabeth Sy and senior vice president for operations Peggy Angeles, and SMX Bacolod manager JB Ongsingco.

Bacolod Mayor Monico Fuentebella (2nd from left) with (L-R) SMX Convention Center senior assistant vice president Dexter Deyto, SM Hotels and Conventions Corp. president Elizabeth Sy and senior vice president for operations Peggy Angeles, and SMX Bacolod manager JB Ongsingco.

A short program took place at a small platform at one corner of the hall, with Bacolod City Mayor Monico Fuentebella and SM executives giving a toast to the opening of this new convention center in the city. Oh, by the way, Mayor Fuentebella mentioned that Bacolod will be the host in 2016 of the National MICE Convention in the country. That’s good. I have something to write about in micenet Asia, the trade publication and website where I contribute regularly.

A beautiful set up at Function Hall 2 surprised us.

A beautiful set up at Function Hall 2 surprised us.

And as we thought everything was done, the divider opened and we were ushered to the Function Hall 2 were a water fountain was installed in the center and a group of musicians were playing with The Ruins in Talisay as the backdrop. We were lucky to get seats right at the front row. Anticipation was apparent among the audience as we had no clue as to what was in store for us.

Design by John C. Rondain.

Design by John C. Rondain.

John John Ditching with his muses.

John John Ditching with his muses.

Models in beautiful Filipino dresses glided in our midst. The works of local designers John C. Rondain, Steve Genzola, and John John Ditching took the spotlight. But the bigger wow factor was when the voice over announced that the ext set of designs were that of acclaimed fashion designer Renee Salud and Miss International 2013 Bea Rose Santiago entered on a purple handwoven silk dress with a flowing train and shawl.

Miss International 2013 Bea Rose Santiago in a Renee Salud creation.

Miss International 2013 Bea Rose Santiago in a Renee Salud creation.

Wedding dress with Filipino architectural elements.

Wedding dress with Filipino architectural elements.

The train of the wedding gown.

The train of the wedding gown.

More dresses followed and the show capped with a series of long gowns, where Santiago wore a beautiful wedding gown that seemed to be inspired by a capiz shell window, that were common in most Filipino homes in the olden days. Renee Salud took a bow and everyone applauded.

Fashion designer Renee Salud.

Fashion designer Renee Salud.

As the show ended, we were again ushered towards Function Hall 1. Cocktail tables were set and a modern looking stage took the middle end of the room, where a DJ could be seen on the elevated portion. Sounds boomed as drummers beat on their respective instruments, incorporating the elements of “Stomp” with a huge drum as part of their ensemble.

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Masked dancers took the stage area, house lights were dimmed, and flashing lights flickered on their costumes and masks — electric Masskara! What a way to truly end the night.

First-time in Fresh Start Organic Farm

In some malls in Bacolod City you will find this store or area with neatly packed greens bearing the name Fresh Start filling a portion of the shelves. They even have organic soaps and personal care products, too! So, who would have thought that I’d be stepping on the very land where their fresh produce and raw materials are grown?

The landscape to the Fresh Start Organic Farm.

The landscape en route to the Fresh Start Organic Farm.

There were six of us bloggers and forum administrators — online partners of the 9th Negros Island Organic Farmers Festival – who joined one of the organizers in this farm tour. We drove through the landscape of sugarcane plantations, a common sight in the Negros island of the Philippines. Suddenly, we made a quick turn towards a tiny street that was filled with trainloads of sugar cane. Then the Fresh Start signage greeted us at the gate, followed by the colorful rows of vegetables.

All organic and natural at the Fresh Start farm.

All organic and natural at the Fresh Start farm.

Colorful rows of leafy veggies.

Colorful rows of leafy veggies.

Our guide brought us to their facility where they do their vermi composting area. Fresh Start boasts that they do not use chemicals in their products but, instead, uses the natural process of growing their produce. They do careful research and testing as to which is good for the environment and the human body.

The area where they do vermi composting.

The area where they do vermi composting.

These worms are used for the vermi composting process.

These worms are used for the vermi composting process.

Then we proceeded to their nursery, where cute baby lettuces are cultivated. A mud house (yes, a house that is literally built with mud) is used as a facility where they wash the lettuces. It was interesting that as soon as we entered its door the temperature inside the mud house felt cooler.

The mud house.

The mud house.

Outside, beds of aloe vera plants, basil, stevia, kale, cilantro, and other vegetables were carefully laid out. Olive trees and cinnamon trees provide shade to other plants. We picked an asparagus shoot and took a bite at the crunchy, delicious, freshly-picked veggie.

The farm is free of any chemicals or pesticide.

The farm is free of any chemicals or pesticide.

The nursery where the plants are cultivated.

The nursery where the plants are cultivated.

Ramon Uy, Jr. met us at the festival grounds.

Ramon Uy, Jr. met us at the festival grounds.

Too bad we had to leave and return to the festival grounds, but we were happy to be afforded this opportunity to see the very source — the “fresh start” — of all these healthy, organic products. Fresh Start owner Ramon Uy, Jr.met us at the Capitol Road and treated us to a sumptuous lunch and a rich serving of stories and insights on organic farming.

For more information, visit:

http://freshstartorganic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/freshstartorganic

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First-time in Peñalosa Farms

It was a bright sunny morning when we drove from Bacolod City in Negros Occidental, Philippines to nearby Victorias City. There were six of us online media partners of the 9th Negros Organic Farmers Festival that were given this exciting farm tour sponsored by Peñalosa Farms, Fresh Start Organic Farm, Negros Occidental Tourism Center, and the Negros Occidental Provincial Government.

Assembly place: the Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol.

Assembly place: the Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol.

From the highway, our companion pointed to our destination – the Peñalosa Farms. The architecture of the building looked weird from afar. As we entered the red gate, columns and layers of plants were displayed on steel structures and the walls. Then the house came into view.

The Peñalosa Farms house, an identifiable landmark in Victorias City.

The Peñalosa Farms house, an identifiable landmark in Victorias City.

It looked like a burrow cottage set in a wonderland. Not your typical house, the lower portion seemed narrow and the middle part a bit wide while the top has a small tower. Up close, you’ll find that the design is that of a native Filipino house, with its capiz shell sliding windows and carved wooden elements. It looked like a fusion of a bahay-na-bato and a tribal hut in the uplands in northern Philippines.

The house up close.

The house up close.

Hanging gardens?

Hanging gardens?

Beds of vegetable gardens could be found in front of the house. On one side was a steel structure with plants hanging under it. We entered the house and we were given our welcome drink – a five-leaf hot tea composed of pandan, lemon grass (tanglad), taheebo, gotokula, and gynura leaves with a touch of spearmint and calamansi. With one sip of the drink, I already anticipated a different kind of experience in this farm, one that would be full of healthy learnings, discovery and fun.

The five-leaf tea as welcome drink.

The five-leaf tea as welcome drink.

A Negrense by choice, Mr. Ramon Peñalosa, Jr., is the man behind the Peñalosa Farms.

A Negrense by choice, Mr. Ramon Peñalosa, Jr., is the man behind the Peñalosa Farms.

The owner, Quezon-born Ramon Peñalosa, Jr., walked in the house and had us sit down. We chatted for hours, learning about the state of farming in the country and the province and his advocacies: to introduce farming as a way to becoming an agripreneur; to shift the idea of conventional farming into organic farming; to promote an integrated farming system where there is zero-wastage in a self-contained ecosystem; and to let people experience all these through farm tourism.

The vegetable garden in front of the house.

The vegetable garden in front of the house.

Chatting with the insightful Peñalosa, with his wit and humor, was a good foundation on how our almost half a day of visit would unfold. He divided us into two groups and gave us different assignments. Our team, focused on crops, would be to look for various plant species in his 4,000-square meter micro-model farm according to the usage and function that he gave us. But before “unleashing” us to roam freely inside his property, he first led us to the multi-purpose hall where Filipino folk music are played, then to Cafe Organic.

One of the private dining areas in Cafe Organic.

One of the private dining areas in Cafe Organic.

The cafe was like a floating structure, surrounded by water where different fishes were cultivated. In the cafe, Peñalosa’s wife, Grace, was waiting for us with our snacks – a vegetable salad, where we had a choice between a red onion vinegrette or honey mustard dressing, and a suman (a rice delicacy) with mango bits and caramel sauce. With it was a drink with blue flowers. Hmmm… interesting.

Our snack. Everything there is edible, including the flower.

Our snack. Everything there is edible, including the flower.

At first bite of the salad, “interesting” was suddenly replaced with “delicious”, “impeccable”, “heavenly” and so much more. Grace added us some bits of wisdom about their philosophy in the farm. I liked it that the couple even shared with us some bible verses that have become their guide as they grow their business and run their farms.

Outside Cafe Organic.

Outside Cafe Organic.

The open-air multi-purpose hall.

The open-air multi-purpose hall.

A canopied garden set.

A canopied garden set.

Then, the activity began. We looked for Intal, who was to be our guide around the farm and help us with our assignments. She was very knowledgeable of every plant that we pass by along the way. There were several familiar plants that could be found in our backyard but I only learned of their uses through Manang (or big sister in Hiligaynon) Intal.

The piggery.

The piggery.

Chicken coop.

Chicken coop.

After listing all the plants for our assignment, we also visited the piggery and the chicken coops. It was amazing how they kept the animals healthy and clean, without a stench that are common in most animal farms.

Twin bed room.

Twin bed room.

 

As soon as we scoured the entire lot, we were invited to see the interiors of the house. There were rooms for guests. There was a twin bed room and a dormitory. All in all, the house could accommodate 60 people to stay for the night. I climbed three sets of steps and at the fourth-level, the topmost, was a tower that offered a 360-degree bird’s eye view of the entire property. Plus, there was a tiny chapel there, which is very ideal for meditation.

View from the tower.

View from the tower.

The chapel at the tower.

The chapel at the tower.

View from the second floor.

View from the second floor.

I felt the wind gushed through my face as I looked at the colorful windmill and the vegetable gardens below. I would like to experience spending the night in this place. I hope to bring my friends here someday and encourage my readers to visit Peñalosa Farms. I’m sure, you would be delighted to experience farm tourism, the Peñalosa way, and bring home not just loads of fresh, organic produce but also loads of insights that will inspire you to be an agripreneur like them.

P.S. By the way, Mr. Peñalosa will show you how to earn seven to eight figures (in Philippine pesos) in net income per hectare.

To know more about the place and make appointments, check the signage on the gate.

To know more about the place and to make appointments, check the signage on the gate.

An Encounter with a Cannes Film Best Director

Every October, some friends and I would troop to Greenbelt 3 Mall to watch as many movies as we could in Pelikula, the Spanish Film Festival that happens each year in Manila. And, of course, I also watch local independent films during the Cinemalaya Film Festival.

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Movies are a reflection of society and the culture where the films are situated. As a traveler and an avid learner of various cultures, it is one of my dreams to go abroad to take part in internationally-acclaimed film festivals. There’s the Toronto Film Festival, the Cannes Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival… and so much more. The closest I ever got to have a bit of any of these prestigious festivals was to personally meet the award-winning director Brillante Mendoza.

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Recently, he was in the City of Smiles to promote the movies that are part of the Brillante Mendoza Film Festival – Dukit and Lola. It was such an honor to have him in our midst. I learned that it was the third time that SM Bacolod has brought him to our city.

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As he stood in front of us and talked about his various inspirations, I couldn’t help but imagine myself in some other country, seeing the likes of Mendoza, and watching different films from all parts of the world. Someday, I hope I’d be able to do it and write about it here in my blog.

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#FTTpostcardlottery on Twitter

Have you been to the Philippines? How about getting a card from my country, for a start? I’ve been into postcard exchange and collection for several years now. It is my way to let people know about my beautiful country, the Philippines.

So, I decided to come up with an #FTTpostcardlottery. It’s so easy to take part in this, if you have a Twitter, that is. Simply follow the steps below. Get your entries coming and I’ll let you know who’s the lucky person on November 23.

If this becomes a success, I hope to keep sending more postcards.

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Organic produce at the Negros First-Army Wellness Farm

I recently went to Camp Nelson Gerona in Brgy. Minoyan, Murcia, a few meters from Mambukal Resort, to help organize a medical mission. After our activity, I heard from my companions that papaya and other vegetables are available for sale inside the camp. I immediately headed to the officer whom they said was in-charge of the products.

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When I arrived, he told me that he’ll have someone harvest first the vegetables which I would be purchasing. As we chatted with him waiting for my purchase, we asked him where they would be getting the vegetables. He pointed us towards a slope behind the building where we were waiting.

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He offered to show us the gardens and we enthusiastically agreed. Imagine our delight when we saw the vegetables and how they were growing healthily. When I heard that they were preparing for the upcoming 9th Negros Island Organic Farmers Festival on November 19-23, 2014, I immediately told the officer that I am a social media partner.

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He proudly told us that as they are using an integrated organic farming system, the vegetables we are buying are chemical-free. I was happy to bring home a whole papaya, and freshly picked eggplant, okra, alogbati, kangkong, string beans, and bitter gourd. I also bought some cooked corn, too!

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Today, my mother cooked laswa, a trademark Ilonggo soup. It felt healthy eating those vegetables. I will be heading to the Capitol Grounds in Bacolod City this week to get more organic products. See the schedule below:

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Facebook Pages:
Negros Island Organic Farmers Festival
https://www.facebook.com/organicfarmersfestival/

Organic na Negros! Organic Producers and Retalers Association (ONOPRA)
https://www.facebook.com/organicnanegros/

9th Negros Island Organic Farmers Festival Event Page
https://www.facebook.com/events/695679293851156/

Twitter
https://twitter.com/OrganicNegros/

Google+
https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/115181550702850959106/115181550702850959106/

YouTube Channels
Negros Island Organic Farmers Festival YouTube Channel
https://www.youtube.com/user/negrosorganicfarmers

OrganicNaNegros YouTube Channel
https://www.youtube.com/user/OrganicNaNegros