TRAVEL: Ski Holiday in AVORIAZ


Have you ever had one of those snow globes, perhaps given by relatives or friends as ‘pasalubong’ or souvenir from their trips abroad? Well, I never had one but I have always thought them pretty, and I often wondered what it must be like to be inside one. Two weeks ago, my snow globe fantasy just got real with our trip to Avoriaz in the French Alps.

Avoriaz is a ski resort in the heart of the Portes du Soleil, just inside the French side of the Franco-Swiss border. Built on a sunny plateau of land, the resort was the brainchild of the Olympic skier Jean Vuarnet, who wanted to link the pistes of Morzine to those over the border in Switzerland, covering a network of slopes that spans 13 resorts. Avoriaz is France’s first car-free resort which makes it a safe place for children to walk around the centre.

Avoriaz 1800, for those who want to ski hard and play hard.

Avoriaz 1800, for those who want to ski hard and play hard.

When Hubby and I were plotting our travel calendar for 2015 a few months back, I intimated that I would like to travel some place exciting during winter and preferably with snow. Being a stickler for details, my husband carefully worked out a 2-week itinerary for us which involved a rendezvous with his best friend (and his best friend’s family) in Switzerland before driving up  as a group to Avoriaz for a week-long ski holiday; a trip down to Bordeaux to visit the family; and finally, a rendezvous with more family members in Paris before flying back to Singapore. How can I possibly not adore my husband’s OC tendencies?!

Picturesque Avoriaz.

Picturesque Avoriaz.

You see, I have never seen snow in my 30-odd years of existence. I have experienced winter in Australia but never in Europe or any other four-season region, so you can imagine how excited I was. Way. too. much. The days leading up to the actual trip saw me mainly obsessing about how many layers I should put on, how much cheese and wine I can consume without combusting into a fiery ball of dairy and alcohol,  how many kilometres and landmarks we can cover in two weeks, and if I will learn how to ski in mere five hours. Schengen visa secured, vacation leave filed and approved, bags packed, Pinky the traveling pig bathed and prepped for the big trip, soon we were on our way to Changi airport to catch our flight to Zurich. 

After a quick stopover at Fribourg for aperitif and lunch with the Vimards, we were finally on the road to Avoriaz where we would spend the next six days basking in air so pure and snow so white. We were very lucky to have had the most perfect sunny weather in Avoriaz, without which, our stay would not have been as magical.

So. One week in Avoriaz and about a million snippets of only the fondest experiences gathered. But in the interest of brevity (although my intro is already far from being short and sweet), I will narrow it all to just six highlights, which are…

With our ski instructor, Sylvain.

With our ski instructor, Sylvain.

Never  too old to learn how to ski.

Never too old to learn how to ski.

Skiing

Nothing beats skiing in the Alps, they say, and I’m overjoyed that my first ski experience happened right in Avoriaz. We stayed in a fully-furnished family apartment at Pierre et Vacances which is just a few meters away from the resort centre. The men of the house, Christophe and Guillaume, enrolled the wives (FayFay and I) to a three-day exclusive ski class with Evolution 2 ski and snowboarding school, lasting 1.5 hours each day.  Frankly, I didn’t expect that I would be able to ski in mere five hours but thanks to our très gentil ski instructor Sylvain, I found myself going down a relatively steep slope and even managing some left and right turns on our final class!

Team VimTaie on a raquette adventure

Team VimTaie on a raquette adventure.

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Walking in winter wonderland.

Raquette à neige or snowshoeing

Simply means walking on thick layers of soft snow in snowshoes/rackets. We did this on our last day in Avoriaz and had a great time descending about 400 meters from Avoriaz to Les Lindarets, alternatingly walking or sliding on our bottoms. From there, we took the télésiège back to the resort. We were only a small group of six on that day, including our raquette guide Camille, who told us plenty of stories about the area. We even saw a few chamois scurrying away from us as we traversed through their territory.

Sledding with le petit Victor

Sledding with le petit Victor.

Luge

Although you see mostly kids sledding in the designated luge area, it didn’t stop us from borrowing little Victor’s sled and having a bit of fun with it.

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Lunch at Les Fontaines Blanches.

Charcuterie.

Charcuterie and cheese fondue.

Gastronomy

Although Avoriaz does not have the same gastronomic reputation as Morzine, it does have a few dual-purpose (lunch and dinner) restaurants that serve great food and some lively bars for drinks and light bites open until late at night. If you have a big appetite, you definitely must try the lunch buffet at Les Fontaines Blanches. They have a wide selection of all-you-can-eat aperitifs, mains and desserts for a reasonable price of about 25 euros per person. If you happen to ski around the Lindarets, you can check out the restaurants there with their delectable plat du jour. They seem to be very popular with locals and visitors.

Le vin chaud meets la Pinky.

Le vin chaud meets la Pinky.

Vin Chaud

Vin chaud, or hot wine, is a beverage typically enjoyed on special occasions in cold places. It is mildly spicy and warming, with just a little splash of Cognac. I first heard about it from a friend who recommended that we try it when in Avoriaz. First sip and I knew it won’t be missed but it does give you that warm-fuzzy sensation. It’s good to have tried it though.

Sunset in Avoriaz.

Sunset in Avoriaz.

Sunset

There are only a few things more evocative than watching the dazzling colours of the sunset descend over the snowy plateau and the snow-capped chalets in Avoriaz. I had tears just looking at the sunset view.

Grocery shopping at Carrefour

This may sound ridiculous to your ears but I do love being inside the supermarket. To me, walking up and down aisles lined on both sides with all sorts of goodies arranged in specific manner begging for you to come pick them up and bring them home is almost akin to a fulfilling sexual experience. Okay, maybe not to that extreme, but yes, a trip to the supermarket is always a happy endeavour for me. We purchased our week-long food supply from Carrefour and had most of our meals in the apartment. Thanks to FayFay’s dexterity in the kitchen, we enjoyed great-tasting dishes right in the warm comfort of our cabin.

Meet the VimTaies.

Meet the VimTaies.

Our Avoriaz trip is definitely one for the books and none of it would have been possible without the exceptional planning of Christophe and Guillaume, all done over a series of Skype calls between Switzerland and Singapore. Having said that, you really ought to be planning the next VimTaie holiday, guys!

TRAVEL: Marvelous MALDIVES (Part IV)


It was a bittersweet moment, leaving Thulusdhoo atoll and the unhurried pace we have grown accustomed to (at least for a few days) in favor of the more urbanized city capital, Malé, where we will be staying for one night before flying back to Singapore in the afternoon.

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Thulusdhoo jetty. ‘Til we meet again!

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City of Malé as seen from the ferry.

I started the day still feeling out of sorts, but when Chris and I started our city tour, I began to warm up, little by little. Also, he was kinda clever, first, by offering to take my picture on the public artificial beach; then, buying me that irresistible chocolate smoothie; and just as my angry countenance started to melt away bit by bit, he maneuvered me into a conversation about Malé and some of the touristy sites he had marked on the travel map. And just like that, I was très heureux wifey again! Whew.

A bit of trivia: Malé is 1.7 km long and 1.0 km wide (shorter even than UP loop, can you believe that?!) and is home to over 100,000 making it the world’s densest city. Recognizing the serious lack of space to accommodate the growing population, as well as the tourists and visitors that flock to the island, the government of Maldives has started work on a new reclaimed island called Hulhumalé, just between Male and Hulhule.

The artificial beach, as the locals call it, is actually a small enclave of turquoise sea water adjacent to the jetty. It’s where the city dwellers swim and it being a public beach, wearing of swimsuits is strictly prohibited. That day, we saw some small children happily playing in the water as the parents look on and it was such a lovely sight to behold!

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Blue on blue.

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The artificial beach. Isn’t it gorgeous?

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Here’s the public beach again from another vantage point.

From the beach, we walked the narrow streets of Malé in search of other famous landmarks. The city streets are congested with people, the ubiquitous motorcycles, and a few cars. You have to be careful when walking these narrow alleys to avoid getting side-swiped by the speeding vehicles. At this time of national elections, the whole of Malé is decked out with political banners, posters, and buntings. Pink symbolizes the Ruling Party and the Yellow color represents the Opposition. It’s interesting to note that the campaign posters are all of the same size and it has a uniform template – usually just a photo of the candidate, very few words, and the party affiliation. So unlike the complete state of disarray and pandemonium that Philippines is thrown into during national elections.

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Official color of the Ruling Party.

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Official color of the Opposition Party.

First, we went to Jumhooree Maidhaan or the Independence Square. It’s just a tiny park close to the market and it is marked by the giant Maldivian flag mounted on a towering flagpole. This is where political campaigns and demonstrations are held and it’s adjacent to the Police Headquarters and the Shaheed Hussain Administration Building.

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The Independence Square.

Close to the Independence Square is perhaps Malé’s most famous landmark, the Islamic Centre which has the largest mosque in the Maldives, with its eye-catching giant golden dome. The mosque is open to visitors outside of prayer hours of course but photography is not allowed inside. Plus, you have to be wearing proper clothes and absolutely no wearing of shoes and slippers inside.

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The famous Islamic Center.

The Fish Market is also an interesting place to visit. Here, you will see the day’s catch being sold or dried out in the sun. There’s a small lighthouse at the end of a narrow walk-path where you can have an unobstructed view of the Independence Square right across. It was rather off-putting seeing men relieving their bladder right on the sea next to the market. It reminded me so much of my home country where men can be quite imprudent (with) where they shoot their pee. LOL. But never mind that, the view, like I said is quite pleasant from this side of the island.

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View from the lighthouse. Behind Chris, you can see the Maldivian flag on the left and the golden dome of the Islamic Centre on the right.

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Catch of the day.

From the fish market, we went back to traversing the narrow alleys to look for the venerated tomb of the man said to have been responsible for bringing Islam to the Maldives, a Sunni Muslim visitor from Morocco named Abu al Barakat. According to the legend, young virgin girls in Malé were chosen from the community and left alone in a temple as a sacrifice to Rannamaari, a sea jinni. One night Barakat took the place of a prospective sacrificial virgin and drove the demon away by reading from the Islamic holy book, the Quran. The Maldivian king at the time was sold on Islam, and ordered that the whole country convert.

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The tomb of Abu Al Bakarat

Meanwhile, next to the mausoleum of Abu al Bakarat is the stately home of the President of Maldives. It’s gated, of course, but we didn’t see armed guards patrolling the area, however, there are CCTV cameras aplenty.

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Presidential House.

At 12:30, the three of us regrouped to have lunch at a local restaurant nearby. Chris and Eric ordered chicken and fish biryani and I got this ‘devil fish’ with roti. If the word ‘devil’ isn’t indication enough of just how spicy it was, the first few bites certainly set my tongue on fire. Eric, too, was unable to finish his biryani because it was on the spicy side as well. After lunch, we took the ferry to Hulhumalé, the reclaimed island close to the airport where we will be spending the night.

Thanks to Shaheem who made the arrangement for our last day in Hulhumalé, we found ourselves in this homey little beach house called COCO GILLI (contact numbers: +960 3350633 and +960 7 90633) which sits literally next to the beach! The hotel staff picked us up from the jetty (from Malé to Hulhumalé is about 20-30 minutes ferry ride) and took us straight to the beach house. Naturally, the three of us wasted no time in catching our last whiff of the Maldives sea. We dumped our luggage, changed into swimsuits, and ran to the beach all in under ten minutes! The island itself is fairly new, having been reclaimed only a few years, but the development is on fast track mode. Already the government has built several rows of housing blocks and are building more. The beachfront is also busy with a lot of beach house construction which, when completed, will certainly draw more tourists into Hulhumalé.

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There’s a lot of construction going on in the island so the beach here is not as well-kept as Thulusdhoo.

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I saw these children playing on the beach and I thought they were cute, so i asked if i can take their photo. Et voila!

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Playtime pour moi!

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…and ze Hubby!

Team Altaie.

Team Altaie.

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Christophe and Vicky. Maldives 2014.

And with that, we have officially concluded our first holiday in 2014 and indisputably one of the best trips ever! Maldives is such a beautiful country but don’t just take the travel junkies/bloggers/journalists’ words and photos for it. If you can, find a way to visit and no, you don’t (even) need to pawn off your home because there are now cheaper ways of enjoying the country and everything it has to offer. You just have to do your research well and make sure that you pack your adventurous spirit along with your sunscreen, after-sun cream (for both, I highly recommend La Roche Posay. It is the best product to protect your skin from the harsh elements of the sun and the beach. Of late, the combination of sun and the beach easily gives me painful rash attack but using La Roche Posay sun cream and after-sun cream prevents me from getting a massive rash breakout), and other swimming essentials. And in the event that you get all psychotic like me, hahaha, try to find your way back because Maldives is hardly any place for you to mope or get all worked up. I loved this trip for a lot of very obvious reasons but especially for the wonderful company. So to Emperor Eric and my hotsie-patootsie hubby Christophe whom I absolutely adore beyond words, here’s to us and the many more travel adventures we will hopefully have together! Ika nga ni Buzz Lightyear, ‘To inFIJI and beyond!’ Uuuuyyy, nagbabadya!  🙂

xoxox

TRAVEL: Marvelous MALDIVES (Part II)


We were up early on our second day, brimming with excitement for our trip to ClubMed Kani in another nearby atoll – organised for us by the lovely staff of Dream Inn. After a quick breakfast, we made our way to Thulusdhoo jetty where our small speedboat is waiting to take us on the 20-minute trip to Kani atoll. The speedboat rate was US $125 roundtrip (if i’m not mistaken). On the boat, all three of us were ooohing and aaahing nonstop and almost in cadence while looking at the impossibly gorgeous blue waters. There’s the turquoise shade which reminded Chris and I so much of our Bali wedding theme color; there’s the pale blue color; and then, the dark royal blue tone which (probably) indicates the deeper side of the ocean compared with the other two.
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Endless blue.

ClubMed Kani

ClubMed’s very own private atoll featuring suites on stilts perched right on the turquoise waters, a garden path, swimming pool, beautiful white sand beach and of course, the French resort group’s all-inclusive travel package. Though we were only there on a day pass (usually until 5pm), we thought the US $108 per person fee is so worth it! Imagine this: Open bar for most cocktail drinks (the Mojito I got was bland to the taste but the mocktails were pretty good), beer, and house wine (I opted for the white variety and had about 4 or 5 glasses), an amazing buffet selection at lunch with a gourmet menu especially prepared by the Chef-on-duty, snorkeling, use of the pool and fun sports activities. They even had pool Zumba and yoga in the afternoon which we could have joined but didn’t because we were in our element taking photos (lots and lots of ’em!), tanning on the beach, swimming, checking out hotties (or ‘Tibets’ as Eric would call them), and getting deliciously wined up (in my case, that is).

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No-filter beauty.

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Suites on stilts at ClubMed Kani.

Swimming in the turquoise water of ClubMed Kani is as out-of-this-world as you probably imagined it would be – if not more. The water is pleasantly cool on the skin and it’s just the perfect backdrop for nearly all obligatory Maldives photos you could think of. Chris and I swam a bit before finding our sunbathing spots, fronting the beach – because, really, you don’t waste a fabulous view like that by being somewhere else. Meanwhile, Eric got busy doing his photowalk and taking hundreds of selfies before going into the water as well.

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Happy campers at ClubMed.

Spending a day in ClubMed Kani was one of the best calls we’ve made during this trip. It was the closest we could have gone to a five-star treatment close to Thulusdhoo without selling one of our kidneys in the black market. haha. Maldives was the cover story of this month’s Tiger Air inflight magazine and according to the article, some top-grade luxurious resorts in Maldives would charge around US $15,000 a nightC’est incroyable! But when you’re there and you see what Maldives is all about, a part of you would probably understand why incredibly rich people are willing to blow that kind of money for a few days of pure, unadulterated pleasure in one of God’s greatest island creations.

As for Eric, Chris, and I, we got all the fun and exhilaration we set out to achieve with our short trip to ClubMed Kani. Though it pained us to leave the island shortly before nightfall, we consoled ourselves with the thought of returning to Maldives someday. I have a feeling that Chris and I will be back, but probably not so soon as we still have more destinations to tick-off on our travel bucket list which seems to be getting longer and longer. And longer still. So here’s to us, mon amour, and the many adventures and wonderful memories we still have to make. Je t’adore!

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Mon amour.

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Yoga anywhere.

End of Part II.

TRAVEL: Marvelous MALDIVES (Part I)


The idea of Maldives came to me one morning in November last year while I was checking my personal email and got an alert from Tiger Air announcing its maiden voyage to Maldives from Singapore beginning January 2014. Not too long before that, I remember asking the Emperor if he had already plotted his 2014 travel schedules, in case I would be able to join him in one of (possibly) many trips this year. As you know, the Emperor and I have been to a few international and local travels together and knowing how he can be very flexible with his schedule (if he wants to!), I thought I’d mention Maldives when I saw him go online on FB. Et voila, in less than an hour, I had already booked Chris and I on a flight and Eric had done the same!

Knowing that Maldives requires no visa application (it’s VOA for a lot of countries, including Philippines!) made decision-making a no-brainer. Of course, the impossibly turquoise water surrounding the atolls and the promise of earthbound paradise go without saying. I mean, we would’ve gone still even if there was visa required. Maldives is just something you never say no to. What followed after that was a fun hotel hunting/booking. We had a reasonable budget to work with which, the three of us agreed, need not require us to smash our piggybanks open or you know, rob a bank.

After going through a long list of hotels and reading a lot of reviews on Trip Advisor, we opted to book our stay at Dream Inn Thulusdhoo for 3 nights and then spend our last night in Malé so we can explore the city and not be worried about missing our flight the following day (it takes an hour and a half from Thulusdhoo to Malé on the public ferry).

Finally, Maldives!

And so on the 12th of March, the three of us boarded Tiger Air bound for Malé, the urbanized capital city of Maldives. The flight was about 4 hours and 20 minutes long and by the way, Maldives is three hours behind Singapore. Soon as we exited the arrival hall, the first thing we saw was the exquisite turquoise waters dotted only by a few speed boats loading and unloading tourists. We had to physically restrain ourselves from jumping right into the water given the scorching heat outside. Gorgeous (easily three shades of) blue ocean water everywhere you look – and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen before! It took a while for our airport pick-up to reach us and we were starving so Eric and my husband decided to get us some takeout meals from Burger King. An idea which we all would come to regret IMMEDIATELY as one meal costs a minimum of US $10! (The chicken sandwich meal Chris got me was $15!) Definitely one of the most expensive junk food we have ever ingested and I wouldn’t recommend that you try it. Unless you’re even more famished than we were at that time, or just plain addicted to junk. Ewww.

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Welcome to Thulusdhoo

It takes an hour and a half to get to Thulusdhoo atoll from Malé. I will not give you the wikipedia description of this charming little atoll but instead, I will try to paint a picture of Thulusdhoo based on what we have seen, heard, and tasted of the island. First of all, Thulusdhoo is also known as the Coca Cola island because of the presence of a Coke plant which is supposedly the only one in the world that uses aerated water to manufacture the carbonated drink for Maldivian consumption (Please feel free to verify that as I am rather lazy to Google it up). It is no surprise then that there is a hostel called ‘Cokes Surf’ in the island that specifically caters to surfers and backpackers. And in case you’re wondering why, it’s because Thulusdhoo is said to have the best waves in all of Maldives during surf season. Tim, the-hot-Aussie-surfing-instructor-with-six-pack- abs-that-won’t-quit at Cokes Surf, confirmed that when we all had dinner on our last night on the island.

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The cozy little inn we called ‘home’ for three days, Dream Inn Thulusdhoo, is such a great find! At first, we were disappointed when Shaheem (awesome travel organiser!) told us two days before we were to depart SG for Maldives that he had to transfer the three of us to Askani Villa because they have about 20 youngsters from Denmark arriving the same day. But Askani proved to be just what we needed because it only had four very spacious rooms and we only had to share the whole place with a nice Russian couple. We had good wifi connection in our villa – at least for my iPhone but my Samsung phone totally crapped out on me during this trip so I was struggling a bit doing some work while traveling. 100 points for iPhone, negative 100 points for Samsung S4! – which made it quite convenient for the social media junkies in us to post occasional updates on FB and Instagram. The hotel staff were very amiable and always ready to help make arrangements for our island hopping adventures. And I love how their English is almost impeccable – and how beautifully they enunciate words!

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Thulusdhoo residents take pride in their ‘Sunrise Beach’ and ‘Sunset Beach’ and by right, they should, because these two places certainly give you an awesome sunrise and sunset views. Look!

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Sunrise at 5:50am.

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Sunrise Beach at 6am.

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Sunset Beach at 6pm.

But if you ask me, the real treasure Thulusdhoo has is its charming people. Easily among the friendliest, accommodating, and well-mannered people you will ever meet, the residents of Thulusdhoo will make you feel welcome at any time of the day. Always smiling and often ready to greet you ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’, some will even inquire about your day/health. On our first night at Dream Inn, we were lucky to have been treated to a lively cultural song and dance production by the young men of Thulusdhoo and we were impressed by the passion and energy they put into their craft. The Danish group, as well as the young lady from Kosovo, had a great time jumping around and gyrating to the infectious beat of the drums. Being an old boring fart, I just sat and watched the revelry. Kidding! We had to turn in early that night because we were off to ClubMed Kani the following morning and didn’t want to be sporting eyebags to go with our lovehandles. Not at all great for selfies, haha.

Oh, one more thing that we noticed in Thulusdhoo are the colorful doors and walls in every home which truly fascinated us. But apparently, this love for bold colors is typically Maldivian as we would see more and more of these colorful doors around Malé.

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One great thing about living literally next to the ocean is that you get to enjoy fresh catch for your daily meals. Being just a tiny dot of an island (with only a little above 1,000++ inhabitants), Thulusdhoo does not have restaurants (though we saw one or two bars near the jetty) so we were only eating mostly at our resort and on our last night, at Cokes Surf Villas. There’s not much of variety here but the grilled fish we were served a few times was truly divine! It’s so fresh and tasty you don’t even need condiments to enjoy it!

If you are looking for some sun, surf and sand adventure with a little splash of culture, you can’t go wrong with a trip to this charming North Malé atoll called Thulusdhoo. And oh, good news to the ladies who might be wondering if swimsuit is allowed in the beaches of Thulusdhoo at all – the answer is yes, my sweetpea, you can wear your swimsuit on the beach! But please don’t go around the village in those tiny stringy cloths as you are definitely bound to offend the residents’ sensibilities and conservative ideals. Keep in mind that Maldives is an Islamic nation and all tourists must respect that.

End of Part One

I Do.


I Do.

Christophe, I promise to love and care for you and I will try in every way to be worthy of your love, trust, and respect. I will always be honest with you, kind, patient, supportive, understanding and forgiving. Yes, even when sometimes being all of that is in itself a challenge. But most of all, I promise to be a true and loyal friend to you. I will love you through good and the bad, through joy and the sorrow, the ugly and the beautiful. Maybe not so much the ugly…kidding! I want to face all of life’s experiences and share beautiful dreams and goals with you. I promise to be your equal partner in a loving, honest, and nurturing marriage, for as long as we both shall live. Je t’aime enormement, mon mari.

P.S.: I will even learn to speak your native language to save you the trouble of translating each time we are in the company of French people.:)

***

Venue: Alila Villas Uluwatu

Photo by: Noel Abelardo
Gown by: Nikolai Jude Hernandez
Suit by: Cho Vittorio Iago Orlanes
HMU: Bali Makeup and Hair
Videography: Point One Designs

TRAVEL: SEOUL Asylum (Part I)


15 October 2012 — So, after months of waiting, Emperor Eric and I finally arrived in Seoul, South Korea for our third international (budget) travel together.  From Incheon Airport, we took the airport taxi to take us to our hostel somewhere in the heart of Seoul. When we got to the area, our airport cab driver could not point us to the exact location of our very posh and very expensive hostel (it was on stealth mode, apparently) – so he called for Police assistance. There we were by the side of the main road, looking every inch the turistas that we were, trying to figure out how to dial in on Eric’s phone so we can ask the hostel staff to give us clearer instructions on how to get to Elm Tree Guest House. The Police came and took us in for questioning, errr, I meant, helped us find the hostel which turned out to be on the corner right next to where we were standing.

Help, we’re lost!

We went to a lot of places in Seoul starting with Seoul City Hall and Seoul National Library which were both VERY IMPRESSIVE, architecture-wise! The City Hall ground was where PSY had the concert the night before and when we passed it, they were still dismantling the stage.

Seoul City Hall on my right; National Library on my left

Then we went to Gyeongbokgung Palace which was quite similar to the Forbidden City in Beijing, except that Gyeonbokgung looks ‘refurbished to perfection’ it no longer has that truly ancient feel to it, you know? The paint was all very fresh, but I guess keeping the whole palace well-maintained will guarantee longevity for more tourists to enjoy and appreciate in time.

Gyeongbuk Palace

You can actually borrow these traditional costumes for free! Eric and I wanted to but the waiting time that afternoon was 120 minutes. uh-oh.

One of the palaces of Gyeongbuk

At night, we quickly freshened up and had a quick dinner at this quaint lil’ noodle place just outside our hostel street and I enjoyed my dimsum to bits but Eric wasn’t too pleased with his very cold noodles. From there, we went to Myung Dong for some shopping and I walked away with some nice stuff from Uniqlo and H&M. It was a beautiful night for walking around and appreciating the sights, sounds, and taste of that part of Seoul.

‘Sale’ shopper!

Follow the sign.

On Day Two, we found ourselves in standing in awe of EVERLAND! Not much of a theme park person myself (only because I am absolutely terrified of rides that go over 3ft above the ground – I’m lame like that), I had only ever been to Enchanted Kingdom (Phils.) and Universal Studios in Singapore in all 33 years of my life. So when Eric mentioned that we will be checking out EVERLAND on our second day in South Korea, I must admit I had my own reservations. I know for certain there’s no way I’m going to do any of the rides there but if there’s enough sights and people to take photos of, then surely it can’t be that bad.We took the train to Gangnam (Oppa Gangnam style!) where bus 5002 bound for Everland picks up passengers/tourists.

Allow me to digress a little here: Gangnam, apparently, is their version of Paris’ Champs Elysses where high-end brands are lined up on either side of the avenue. People here are visibly more fashionable and I suppose, affluent, than in some parts of Seoul.

Welcome to Gangnam!

So anyway, there we were, still nursing residual exhaustion from the activities of the previous day, sleeping soundly during the entire one-hour journey to Everland Theme Park at Yongin. Everland is HUGE! It’s a sprawling property featuring rides for both kids and adults, food parks, zoo, lush gardens with flowers which were almost blinding in their vibrance! What more, entrance fee of 40,000 KRW (one day pass) is a lot cheaper than that of Universal Studios or Disneyland.

PORORO in 3D!

Food is also reasonably priced at an average of 10,000 KRW which is about 370 pesos for a full meal.My favorite, aside from taking photos and gushing about how nice and sweet the Koreans are, was the 3D show of PORORO, this cute animated character who’s all the rage among Korean kids as we were wont to learn within a few seconds of the pre-show.

And yes, I love, love, love the gardens with all the October flora in full bloom!

Autumn flowers a-bloomin’!

Who’s up for some Columbus’ Adventure?

Colors of autumn!

Aesop’s Village

To be continued…

IMMUVIT Fearless Challenge: I think, therefore, I AM fearless.


I haven’t done that many trail races (as of writing, I have only done five trail adventure races: the 2009 Men’s Health All-Terrain Race at Sta. Elena, the first Merrell Trail Adventure in 2010, Mt. Pinatubo 50k Trail Ultramarathon in 2010, 65k Frontrunner Valley Trail Challenge in which I DNF’d much to my chagrin, and the 3rd Merrell Adventure Run last June) but there is no denying that I love trail running more than I could ever love road races mainly because of the amount of air and noise pollution I get exposed to when running in the Metro. Besides that, I don’t think road races can and will ever be able to give me the peace and, at the same time, the exhilaration I feel out there in the woods. Make that a muddy, slippery trail and I have just gone way above the happiest mark in the happy-o-meter!

I like filth. No, not that kind of filth but the mud-caking-on-my-face-and-body-oh-my-god-I-look-like-a-homeless-person-with-my-lifeless-hair-plastered-all-over-my-face-like-that kind. Never mind if I get bruises and scrapes, too, as bonus. I like my scars. I think they give me some sort of character. I have accumulated tons of them over the years – from falling down mango trees; falling off bikes; getting scratched by cats or getting bitten by dogs (I was bitten twice when I was a kid) and all sorts of accidents I always seem to conveniently get into.

It’s no wonder then that I fell mighty in love with yesterday’s IMMUVIT Fearless Challenge where I got to do all sorts of stunts including but, of course, not limited to getting sticky and squishy mud on my person.

Before this, I was pretty convinced Merrell Trail Adventure held at Timberland last June would be tough to beat in my all-time favorite races category. But now, I am sorry to say that IMMUVIT Fearless Challenge has officially taken over the top spot.

Without Limits certainly pulled all the stops in bringing 500 runners (number of runners was only kept at a maximum of 500, by the way) all the obstacle fun their adventurous hearts can handle. If you ask me, they had me at the first obstacle – the fire wall.

Fight fire with fire…

Obstacle course no. 1: Check!

From there, it was soaring, muddy hills challenging my legs, until I reached the second obstacle – the mud pit, where I had to crawl real low before hitting the trail running, again. By this time, I was already on fire – totally unperturbed by my state of disarray (hair ugly, face muddy, etc)!

Then came the log walls where I had to leap over logs of varying height – some of them as high as my chest, making it almost impossible for my short legs to jump over! For this, I had to step on the proffered hand by the marshall, haul my body off the ground, hug the log like a friggin’ monkey and jump over to the other side. That, too, was a lot of fun!

After covering more ground – or mud – I finally reached the military wall where I caught up with a few more runners from Wave 5, of which I was part of. It was here that my gloves first found its purpose because I had to climb up the nylon rope to get to the platform on top before sliding on my backside down to the other side of the wall. I could not have been more G.I. Jane-ish than this!

Slip sliding away… Also, I don’t think G.I. Jane ever looked this ugly!

In which my flat backside got flattened on impact again, they might as well be called pancakes! LOL.

From there, it was all running again until I reached the next obstacle course which involved  running across tire set – supposed to be good in testing one’s balance and agility – and it scared me a little bit because I’m usually very clumsy and uncoordinated with these things! Thankfully, I didn’t misstep and fall flat on my face or that would have been extremely painful and embarrassing.

Trees and mud — what’s not to love?

And then came my most favorite part of the obstacle series, the mud wall! To get to the mud wall, I had to go down the stream and wade in knee-deep waters. But alas, I slipped on the rocks and I ended up getting submerged chest-deep! Have I mentioned I’m clumsy?! At the foot of the wall, there were already a few men standing in line, waiting for the helmets to be passed to them and for the nylon ropes to be lowered so they can start with their ascent. Finally it was my turn and surprisingly, I kind of just breezed through it!

There was one more log crossing – and again, I looked like a drenched monkey clinging on to the highest of the logs – and one more fire wall before I finally crossed the finish line with the broadest smile ever seen on my face!

Sometimes I fancy myself a superhero.

I wonder how much fun I will have in the next leg of the IMMUVIT Fearless Challenge series? Can’t wait!

Thank you Benj Termulo for my compression sleeves! Finally got to wear them!

Here are more photos post-race. Enjoy!

Fearless Team REEBOK

With WITHOUT LIMITS PHILS. Race Director Ian Alacar

Team REEBOK With Jay Em of Pro Active Sports

Fearless, fierce, and all-female.

Thirty Three.


There comes a time in your life when you stop thinking about your birthday and I think I ceased obsessing about mine a long time ago. In fact, my birthday is the last occasion I would look forward to with excitement – not even a speck of it. Last year, though, was different. It was romantic and special because at one point after our dinner, C got down on one knee and with tears glistening in his eyes, asked me to be his wife…and I said yes!

Before that, my birthdays have all just been a haze of billowing cigarette smoke, fun, sidestitch-inducing moments of hilarity, and fifty shades of drunkenness – but there was no singular moment that really stood out. I think, perhaps, age has a lot to do with it: this mellowing out. The wanting to just be with a few people you feel most comfortable with. People who allow you to just be.

And that’s how I celebrated my 33rd, cruising Palawan’s famous subterranean river national park (aka Palawan Underground River), named as one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of Nature early this year, with Atche Noel, Jay, and C. We had to wait for hours on end to get on the boat that would take us on a 1.2 kilometer river ride inside the cavernous cave, but it was well worth it! I told C that in a way, we’re truly blessed to have traveled to a few places together despite living miles apart and having individual careers to manage. C and I may be poles apart in a lot of ways (and I’m obviously not just talking about our complexion, accent, and passports), but if there’s one thing we both love to do, traveling would be it.

After our Underground River adventure, we wanted to see more of Puerto Princesa and so the four of us decided to go to Isla Pandan and just chill before boarding the 5:30pm flight back to Manila on Sunday. At this point, we were ever so glad that the sun actually came out after a gloomy Saturday on account of tropical depression Ferdie that submerged some parts of the country in floodwaters, so we happily sunbathed until it started drizzling again shortly after noon. I had wanted to try stand-up paddling but there were only two boards and they were unavailable at the time of my asking.

Once back in Manila, I immediately threw myself into work as there are about a million and one things to be done still before  we fly to Jakarta for our biggest annual event on September.

Palawan for my birthday wasn’t such a bad idea. I wish I were more relaxed, though, but it was quite tough because my mind was just running at top-speed, almost nonstop, thinking about work and projects still sitting on my plate. In any case, that doesn’t take away from the fact that I had great Palawan memories – Kalui’ being one of them. Food and ambience are top-notch in this famous Puerto Princesa restaurant, you’d be crazy not to pay a visit when you’re in town. Meanwhile, those looking for fun live band entertainment can opt to hie off to Tiki Bar, where incidentally I spent the eve of my birthday sipping red wine and trying to make sense of one of the showband girl’s bad singing.

So this is it. I’m 33, all-woman, and soon-to-be bride/wife to the most loving, patient, understanding, (and a few more things) man I have ever known. And oh, incidentally, with zits the size of Jupiter I would put any acne-sporting 13-year-old to shame. I’m surprised that C can still look at me adoringly and call me mon amour even with these unsightly marks on my face. This really must be love.

Happy birthday, psychogirl.:)

UNILAB Run United 2012


I haven’t been around road races lately but UNILAB Run United 2 has, more than anything, shown me just how huge the running community has grown since I became part of it in 2009. Until Sunday, five thousand half-marathon runners were unheard of in the Philippines. In a way, it’s nice to see more runners taking more risks when it comes to pushing their capabilities. That most of them don’t just look at 5k or 10 and stop there is, I think, a very good thing – not only for physical fitness but also for general wellbeing. There most certainly is a good deal of pleasure to be had in besting one’s personal record and moving on to longer distance categories.  Trust me, I know, because I haven’t been able to shake-off the urge to keep doing better in whatever race I join – even when the odds are stacked high against me.

Run United 2 Expo

Just like this Sunday. I woke up around 3am to aching joints and that all too-familiar abdominal cramps. Yep, it was day one and what do you know, it was raining too! I briefly contemplated ditching the race and continue with my dreamy slumber – bed weather and all.  But after consuming six heaping spoonfuls of Nutella the day before, along with a few other unhealthy nibbles, I was too guilt-stricken I couldn’t possibly pass up the chance to burn some calories – even when in period-related discomfort and pain.

We reached BGC twenty-five minutes before gun start and I was pleasantly surprised to see the starting line crawling with runners; all of them oblivious to the steady drizzle drenching everything on sight. After dumping our bags at the luggage area, we made our way to the barricaded starting line, where the marshals were no longer allowing anyone to check-in until the first two waves of 21k runners have been released. We wound up on wave 3 – Bave, Cris, and I – and we snaked our way just a few layers behind the lead pack.  You see, I am not a fast runner but I kind of resent getting stuck behind runners much slower than I am. When this happens, first, I get exceedingly bored and then gradually, my temper starts to bubble up at the surface. I suppose it’s called aging, this ‘getting annoyed so fast’ syndrome.

Team Reebok with Eric Caramay and Sir Rene ‘Jazzrunner’ Villarta at the Unilab Media and Bloggers area (Thank you, Unilab!)

I have always enjoyed running in the rain so I started skipping happily past the starting line, momentarily forgetting about the painful spasms. Now I must say that Run United 2 has done very well with hydration. I’m not much of a hydrabelt-sporting runner but it was clearly unnecessary for me to worry about that in this case because hydration did not leave anything to be desired. There were piles of banana and sponge in some water stations, too, much to the runners’ delight. At least, I thought it was delightful! I had half a banana at one of the stations and chewing on it helped get my mind off the cramps I’ve been battling since I woke up.

Now the fun thing about starting at wave three is that you get to pass by so many runners from the first two waves who have slowed down. Not that I got any faster but I suppose they were more tired than I was, so I managed to squeak past a number of them.

Team Reebok

And then there was the finish line, with the digital timer blinking away beautifully. It was just the respite I needed. The pain in my abdomen did not recede one bit and in my drenched state, I was exceedingly uncomfortable too. One of those days when being a woman is not much fun.

After crossing the tape, I immediately went in search of my luggage so I can take my digicam and snap photos of the post-race revelry while waiting for my teammates to arrive. I visited the Reebok booth and was glad to see Ms. Yoya and Villy, both of whom have been very supportive of the team for a year now. We saw some of the latest designs in running shoes and apparel and they all look pretty ingenious! Too bad, most of them are for men.

Reebok Phils. family

Polecats Manila was also there and I stood there in awe of the grace and athleticism of the pole athletes led by Ms. CD. I really shouldn’t have stopped at just three lessons. I had been busy with work and travel that I wasn’t able to make time for it but now that I’m here and actually have a few days before I leave again and again, I’m definitely enrolling for some pole fun! My dream to become a pole athlete is still very much on.

Now that’s pure athleticism – with a sexy twist!

Now I have heard so much hype on the 3-piece RU2 medal, each piece of which you will have to collect for every RU2 race you join, and I can totally understand how so many runners have bought into it. The idea itself is nifty and it creates some form of loyalty from the audience. Since I wasn’t around when RU2 Leg 1 happened – at that time I was fighting for BDM 102 recognition with blood, sweat, and tears – I don’t have the first piece of the medal puzzle. So if there’s anyone out there who wants the second piece of the puzzle (I dunno. Maybe you were ill or incapacitated last Sunday and couldn’t run), I’m willing to donate mine. Kidding. Or not.

Thank you Mr. Photographer!

All in all, I thought UNILAB and Run Rio did an amazing job with Run United 2, which turned out to be a mega success despite the inclement weather the night before and on race day itself. The celebrity sightings and mini concert also added flavor to the show and even though I did not stay long enough to check out the booths and other activities at the Expo, the runners all seemed to have enjoyed themselves immensely that day.

By the way, here’s my 21k race results and analysis. I wasn’t fast enough, it seems. Oh well, let’s hope I do even better on my next full-mary: the 36th MILO Marathon.

***

Race outfit: Reebok top, Reebok RealFlex shoes (since it was raining, I wanted to go lightweight with my kicks), pink Newton socks, Smith Optics Pivlock shades, and a bright smile.:)

MERRELL Adventure Run 2012


Between a trail and a road race, I would go for trail – in a heartbeat. That I have always known since I had the opportunity to try out trail running at the first Merrell Adventure Run held at the Wawa Dam in Montalban, Rizal back in 2010. I only did 5k at that time and even though we got lost and ended up wandering aimlessly for a good hour before we would be able to find our way back, it did not diminish the exhilaration one bit. It sure was fun taking photos of the ducks, rocks, and the dam itself.

So when I was invited by Agatep Associates (Thank you Agatep!) to be part of the third Merrell Adventure Run last 2 June, this time at Timberland Heights in San Mateo, Rizal, not only did I say ‘hell, yeah!’, I also signed up for 21k for maximum mountainside adventure experience!

The night before the race, it started to rain and the downpour came cold and steady I struggled mightily to get out of bed at 3am – enough time to shower and get prepped-up for the 4am pick-up. In the car, Lai and I were speculating whether or not the race will happen given that it still hasn’t stopped drizzling. We passed by Philcoa to pick-up runner bloggers Running Atom and Allan of Run Free Manila, both of whom I know and have run several races with in the Metro.

It was still dark and chilly by the time we reached Timberland Heights, but there were already a lot of cars parked and runners milling around, some doing stretching exercises and others are happily playing catch-up with fellow runners.

With Running Atom (in black) and Allan aka RFM (red)

Ten minutes before gun start, Running Atom and I made our way to the starting line to join the rest of the 21k runners. Looking around, everyone seems to me is in great trail running shape. Extreme adventure athlete Thumbie Remigio, the brains and brawn behind this year’s more physically and emotionally demanding Merrell Adventure Run course, gave a few reminders to the runners before sending us off to what awaits us at Timberland Heights — a dunk in a mud pit, a few kilometers of slick uneven rocky pathways, and was punctuated with an endless string of uphill climbs.

The downpour had turned the already rigorous uphill off-road course into a slippery path.  We found ourselves sliding down muddied inclines, groping for handholds at slippery slopes, and splashing across natural streams.  I slipped twice while trying to cross the boulders that dotted the stream. One particular ‘vertical split’ (imagine one foot slipping fast down the side of the rock while my other foot was still lodged above) gave my inner thighs/crotch a nasty stretch, I would feel the tingle for a few more hours after the race. I also collected a number of cuts and scratches on my thighs, legs, and arms, from coming into contact with blades of tall grass and tree branches.

I didn’t have my watch with me so I couldn’t tell how long I had been running out there for but I was having so much fun  I was practically oblivious to anything but. I passed Reebok teammate Beep Beep at some point and would not see him and our other friends after that. Most of the time I would be on my own, occasionally overtaking a few runners, but would also be overtaken by a good number of runners as well.

There was enough water and Pocari sweat in all the well-placed hydration stations (Pocari was, of course, limited) to keep me hydrated all throughout the race. Before the race, I had planned on bringing my hydration belt with me but decided against it when I learned about the mud pit. A wise decision as I would not have been able to save it from getting dunked into a pool of mud.

Thankfully, I did not suffer cramps or knee injuries that would have made running uphill and downhill such a painful task. Before I knew it, I was already approaching the finish line and Running Atom (boy was he fast in this one!) and Alan (RFM) were already there waiting to snap some photos of me crossing it. Chip time says I finished 21k of the challenging Merrell Adventure course in 4 hours, 19 minutes, and 27 seconds.

Merrell Adventure Run 2012 certainly ranks high on my list of all-time favorite races!  A fantastic upgrade from its maiden attempt in 2010. I enjoyed the race so much I am now on the lookout for more trail runs I could join. Thank you Merrell and Agatep!