Dragonfruit Heaven in Bulacan

Have you ever tasted a dragonfruit?

First time I was asked this was the when I was in Sydney for a business trip. I said “dragon what?” I thought it was a metaphorical question, but then the person who asked me was my boss who was definitely not into Game of Thrones. I watched him eat the unique-looking spikey colorful fruit for breakfast as I settled for kiwi.

Fast forward three years later and I read that the Three Lucky Mountains Dragonfruit Farm was walking distance away from the Numana Farm where we were staying for the weekend. And because we were already in the area, I pedalled away to the dragonfruit farm that fine Saturday afternoon.

We got there half past four, and the farm was not something to miss. At the entrance we saw rowa of dragonfruit plants, a huge warehouse where flags of different countries were posted. Luckily the farm manager, Nel, was able to accommodate our last minute visit. He gave us a quick tour and answered all our questions, which was very nice of him as we truly learned a lot that afternoon.

The Three Lucky Mountains Dragonfruit Farm started operations in 2015. It started when his uncle transplanted a dragonfruit cutting that he got from the northern province of Ilocos. To date, this farm boasts of having the most number of dragonfruit varieties in the world – 156 varieties to be exact. And it has become the go to farm of different countries who import varieties of cuttings from Three Lucky Mountains. Thus the world flags posted on the facade of their warehouse.

There are several colors of the dragonfruit in the farm: like violet, pink and orange. The most marketable dragonfruit are the red ones, and the high end ones are the yellow ones. We bought a kilo each of the red and yellow dragonfruits. Dragonfruit is loaded with fiber and is good to the gut, a rich source of magnesium, boosts the immune system, and helps prevent chronic diseases. I asked Nel why some people describe the taste as bland, and he said the trick is to make sure to pluck the fruit when it is ripe. The bland taste happens when the fruit is harvested semi-ripe and the ripening happens while it is stored.

There are two ways that the farm plants the dragonfruit. The first is Vietnames style where there are four plants per post. Then there is the Israel trellis type which is easier to maintain and manage as there are 20 plants per post. The Three Lucky Mountains is an organic farm, so they take extra care so that the fruits do not get infested with fungi and virus (notice the fruits are enclosed in plastic).

Fun facts:

  1. The flower of the dragonfruit opens at 8PM and closes at 3AM.
  1. The dragonfruit plants need luminence, and the lean months for harvest are the Ber months where sunlight tends to be shortest.
  2. They need little water as they are like cactus. Hence the sloping terrain in the farm helps wash out the water quickly during rainy season.
  3. Like the cactus they also have thorns. I cut my finger twice while opening a couple of fruit. They can be opened by slicing them in the middle, or peeling them like a banana. But carefully do it or end up with cuts like me.

So here’s the verdict on how we found the first dragonfruits we have eaten from this farm: we loved it! It tasted like a hint of kiwi, but not too sweet. D liked it so much he almost ate them all. Would we buy this again? Definitely!

Farmstay at Numana

Kubo at Numana Farm

I have always been keen on spending a weekend in a farm, so when I found the opportunity for a farmstay through Numana Farm in Facebook, I reached out to them right away. The farm is in Angat, Bulacan – close to where I grew up when I was a kid. It’s the Angat Dam and about an half an hour away (with traffic) from La Mesa Dam – so it’s pretty much located in a place filled with trees. Coordination with the owners of the farm was smooth and fast, and they even helped me reach out to the manager of the Hound Haven Philippines, a non-government organization whose advocacy is caring for and looking for forever homes for retired K9 dogs from the Philippine Army. Hound Haven is located in the same compound as Numana Farm.

After a bit of an impromptu adventure (in other words, we got lost), we finally found the farm. I got all excited as soon as I saw the kubo we were going to stay at for the weekend. Kubo is the traditional Filipino hut mostly made of bamboo and cogon, a tall tropical grass which is dried to create the kubo’s roof. You see, when I was young, my dad had a kubo built next to our house, and I have a lot of good fun momories of playing with my siblings and friends in our kubo.

Numana Farm’s Kubo experience
Numana Farm’s Kubo experience

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Here’s our room in the kubo – check out the kulambo, the net enclosing the bed. The kulambo used to be widely used especially in the province, as it protects people in the bed from mosquitos and bugs. I remember when I was a child, I felt suffocated sleeping in the kulambo when we visited relatives in the province. Now I find it dream-like to sleep in a kulambo, as if I am in a princess’ bed.

Numana Farm, home for the weekend
Numana Farm, home for the weekend

A rustic retreat a couple hours away from the city
A rustic retreat a couple hours away from the city

And here’s the view from the kubo’s balcony, overlooking the farm. In the farm there are various animals like hens and chicks walking around, rabbits, turtles and fish in the koi.

Weekend farm feels
Weekend farm feels

View from the kubo porchKubo stairsWhat I like most about Numana is the relaxing vibe, being close to nature, and the childhood memories it brought me. I was able to use one of their bicycles which I drove to get to the nearby Three Lucky Mountains Dragonfruit Farm. I also enjoyed the swing and the duyan. I remember back in my hometown, my lola had a playground built for me and my cousins, and everyday we would ride the swing.Farm directionsThis bunny at Numana reminds me of little OliveKoi at Numana Farm

At night, I heard the sound of geckos and crickets. In the morning, I woke up to not just the sound of chirping, but literally a symphony of birds. My attention was also caught by the hoard of butterflies flying from one flower to another of a tree – it was mesmerizing!

And that, my dear friends, is a recap of a restful, laidback weekend at Numana Farm. It’s truly a hidden gem, a breath of fresh air, a couple of hours away from Makati City. I’d do this again in a heartbeat.

Numana Farm is located at Pulang Yatok, 3012 Angat Bulacan. To book a stay with Numana, you can send them a message in Facebook, or you can find them in AirBnB to book a casita or a kubo room.

 

 

 

Lost Somewhere in Bulacan

Have you ever found yourself in an offbeaten path, phone batteries low and with no signal, and to top it all Google Maps was also acting up?

I have. This weekend en route to a farmstay in the province of Bulacan. We got off course when the bridge leading to our destination was closed off for repair. In desperate haste we took a detour, and found ourselves traveling through half-paved roads in the beginning, to dirt road and then eventually nowhere. Google Maps said the road was unnamed. There were no other cars, lamp posts, no one. For a minute I remembered horror movies I watched back in the 90s like Jeepers Creepers.

Luckily there was a bit of great scenery.

And then a few minutes later farmers coming from the opposite direction rode by – our chance to ask for directions. Turned out we missed the right turn a few miles back.

We lived through it. It was a bit of an adventure, really. Looking back now we could always turn around (and probably argue along the way back). It was quite a relief to finally get to Numana Farm where we would be staying for the weekend. All turned out just fine.

No road trip would be complete without a few navigational hiccups, after all. That’s always part of the fun!

Favorite Things to Do in Matsumoto

I was going through my photos and realized I have not yet written about Matsumoto, the quaint city in the Nagano Prefecture in Japan. It was actually out of the way coming from Kamikochi to Nagoya, but after a few searches in the internet we decided to spend a night in this lovely city, and boy did we make the right decision! In fact, from our last holiday in Japan, D commented he found Matsumoto as one of his personal favorites, and would not hesitate to go back. So here are the favorite things from our trip to Matsumoto: 

Cycling-friendly

With a pretty much flat terrain, it’s quite easy to cycle around Matsumoto. It was not part of the initial plan, but when we were walking to the hotel we saw these green-colored line of bicycles and discovered they were rented for free, compliments of Sui Sui Town. All we had to do was register our IDs at any of the allocated parking slots (we got ours from the Matsumoto City Museum next to the Matsumoto Castle). From thereon we were able to get to several of the destinations indicated in the city map that we got. It was quite fun!Free bike rental in Matsumoto

Matsumoto City’s Sui Sui Town free rental bikes
Matsumoto City’s Sui Sui Town free rental bikes

Matsumoto Timepiece Museum

The Matsumoto Timepiece Museum was a nice find for me, and I was glad that D brought me here. It’s a small museum showcasing well preserved clocks, sundials, and they also even have phonographs. I watched in awe as the mechanical clocks operated. There was a big pendulum clock outside the museum, and I was told it was the biggest in Japan.Largest pendulum clock in JapanInside the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum

Matsumoto Castle

The one word I wrote to describe the Matsumoto Castle was magnificentIt is one of the top 3 most beautiful original castles in Japan, a black castle also known as Crow Castle. We were able to get inside the castle and climbed our way up through its wooden floors. I liked how it is surrounded by the Japan Alps in the distance, and I imagined it would be very pretty especially around winter. Matsumoto Castle

Nawate Dori 

This is a quirky frog-themed shopping street a few minutes away by foot (or closer by bike) from the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum and the Matsumoto Castle. Every shop had a frog statue, and I read from its history that these frogs brought good luck. Souvenirs and snacks fill the shops, and I guess D’s favorite shop would be the vintage shop at the street’s entrance. He was able to buy a vintage Seiko business man’s watch here for a very good deal.Nawate Dori, Matsumoto

Other things that added to the city’s charm

Well, for starters, there were the pretty manhole covers.

And then there’s the Town Sneakers, red-spotted buses following four inner city loops for easier sight-seeing.

And then there’s the Former Kaichi school built in 1876.

Lastly we also saw Genchi Well, a natural spring water source of the city.Sneaker bus, MatsumotoColorful flower themed manhole cover, MatsumotoColorful manhole cover showing two girls in kimonos, MatsumotoFormer Kaichi School

Genchi WellIt was also in that recent Japan trip that I discovered how awesome Japanese curry dishes are. When we were about to leave Matsumoto via bus, a man greeted us near the bus station, saying “Arigato Gozaimasu”. We greeted him an “Ohayo Gozaimasu” and smiled back, and then it was a bit later on realized he was the man from the Japanese curry restaurant we ate at the previous day. It was quite touching he remembered our faces, and even said thank you for visiting his city. We were thankful for having had the opportunity as well. It was a truly remarkable vacation.

 

A Daytour at Masungi Georeserve

Masungi Georeserve bridge

Masungi GeoreseveYesterday we were finally able to trek the Masungi Georeserve, a conservation protected area in Baras, Rizal. Situated in the southern part of the Sierra Madre mountain range, the Masungi Georeserve project aims to heal the forest and serve as a wildlife sanctuary. The drive to Masungi takes about a couple of hours from Makati City, and the highlights of the trip includes communing with nature, walking through caves and limestone trails, rope courses and hanging bridges, while learning about the different tropical trees, potentially encountering tropical wildlife, and learning about how to contribute to the conservation of the environment. It took us a long time to book a trip to Masungi, as they require reservation and a minimum number of participants per trip. Slots were easily filled especially on weekends, so we had to book three weeks in advance through Klook, paying PhP2,600 per person. My friend from previous work joined D and me in this adventure as she was likewise keen on seeing the place up close.

Tanlines RoofdeckTanlines menuAt 7AM we headed off to Tanlines PH’s roofdeck meeting place along Makati Avenue. Tanlines offered breakfast (choice of Filipino and Continental) for a fee of 150 pesos. We skipped that as we already had a hearty breakfast, but we were able to enjoy their free coffee and ice cold water. Tanlines limits the group from 7 to up to 14 people only. We were only 10 people yesterday, which I think is a good enough size for the trek. After a briefing at the Tanlines roofdeck we loaded the minibus and drove off to Baras, Rizal. Luckily traffic was not bad, and we arrived at Masungi about half past nine.

En route to the Masungi GeoreserveLeaf imprintBeautiful landscaped gardenAt the onset I was already impressed by the colorful flowers, the mountain backdrop, and the sound of chirping birds. We were welcomed by the Masungi staff who gave an introduction and history of Masungi and their efforts, as well as what to expect for the day. Masungi was derived from the Filipino word “masungki” which is a word used to describe crooked, spikey teeth — because that’s how the limestones of Masungi look like. The limestone formations of the Masungi Georeserve are estimated to be 60 million years old, when they emerged from the ocean following movements of the earth’s crust post the dinosaur age. It was in 1996 when the conservation efforts were started for the area, and today, the payments made by each visitor goes into planting trees. The Masungi staff told us that at the end of the trek we were to be given a certificate and hopefully in ten years we can get an invitation to see the trees that have been planted as a result of our visit.

Our guide, JackieGreenery - a feast to the eyesWe were reminded to always wear our helmets as there would be instances of walking through caves and climbing ropes; the leave no trace policy; sticking close to the group at all times and not wandering far; not petting or feeding any wildlife we encounter; and maintaining silence so as not to disturb other visitors and the nocturnal animals who are sleeping during the daytime. There were to be 9 destinations for the trail, and we were to walk around the conservation area, not going back to where we would pass through. Before heading off, our guide, Jackie, reminded us to load up on water and use the restrooms if we had to, as there were no sources of drinking water nor restrooms along the way. The trek was to take 3 to 4 hours.

As we walked through the trail, Jackie showed us different trees and their uses. I remember she showed us the 4 different species of bamboo in Masungi, as well as the morning glory, tibig, baletetangisang bayawak trees. Boy was it hot and humid that day, and I was thankful for the canopy provided by the trees, and welcomed every breeze of the wind. And then we had the “practice” climb on a sapot (a rope-woven spider web). I felt like I was a kid once again, climbing my way up a playground. And then we made it to the first stop – Rick’s Sapot I think is what it’s called. It’s like a big spiderweb overlooking the Sierra Madre range to the left, and the Laguna Bay to the right. Spent about 15 minutes here to take in the view, and of course to wait for everyone to take their selfies.

Group phot at Sapot
Group phot at Sapot

The first way downWe had several rest stops (thank goodness for that). One that struck me was this old logger’s saw that was left behind by illegal loggers, and then beside it was the remnants of a tree that they cut. It was heartbreaking, but I got a sense of hope as I saw a seedling of a baby tree that was growing halfway between the old saw and the cut down tree – it was planted in 2016 as part of the conservation. As I gazed at the seedling, I thought of how fast it is for man to just cut down a tree that takes years, maybe decades, to grow, and how long it is for one to be able to repair that damage driven by need for money.

Remains of an illegal logger’s sawThe one stop that I liked the most was the Yungib ni Ruben because the moment we got to its mouth, I smelled the fragrant scent of Ylang Ylang oil. Jackie said they diffused the fragrant oil to mask the smell of bat urine. I liked the dramatic shadows and their effect in the cave. At first it was so dark I had to grope my way around, but then the staff placed candles to illuminate the corners of the cave and it was magical.

Through cavewaysYungib ni RubenBalancing on the hanging bridgeAn encounter with a bubuliClimbing downOther stops we passed through were the Tatay (highest peak of the limestone rock formation), the Nanay which was the second highest peak. There was also a meditation trail where Jackie asked us to hide away our gadgets and listen to the sounds and look around us for about ten minutes. And then we walked through hanging bridges and climbed down the Bayawak which was actually kind of scary because I literally had to hang on for dear life.

Climbing down the Bayawak
Climbing down the Bayawak

The carrot on the stick was knowing as I reach the bottom of the climb down the snacks prepared for by the Masungi staff was going to be just a few meters away. And boy, did I quite enjoy the snacks – boiled banana, tuna sandwich, calamansi juice and ice cold water. The staff also handed out frozen towels. And then as we got back to the bus, Tanlines rewarded us with free fresh coconut juice. Yum!

Fresh coconut juice
Fresh coconut juice

As we drove back to Makati, I reflected on how great it was to do this type of walk – good for the body, the mind and the heart. My heart went out to the earth, as I saw mountains eroded and converted to subdivisions. We do not have much of these nature trails, let alone parks, in Metro Manila – something good to do also with family and friends. We need more of these protected areas, where trees grow abundantly serving as homes for birds and wildlife.

 Masungi Georeserve bridge

 

 

 

A Blast from the Past

Sunset view from the b&b

Summer has ended and before the full force of the monsoon season kicks in, my family went out of town over the weekend – a couple of hours’ drive- to Cavite, south of Metro Manila. For the first time D was the one who booked the place we were staying at AirBnB. When he said it was within the area of Puerto Azul, I readied myself to going back to memory lane.Entrance to Puerto Azul

You see, Puerto Azul used to be well known back in the 80s. Before Boracay, El Nido, Coron even became popular, this place was THE beach to go to. The last time I went to Puerto Azul was about 35 years ago – one summer weekend with my lola and the whole extended family from my mom’s side. Every year, when I was a child, lola would bring the whole gang out for a trip to the beach. I don’t know why Puerto Azul eventually lost its fame. I didn’t realize it still existed, until D brought it up.

Anyway, I was surprised the way to Puerto Azul was not at all congested. We drove uphill through a valley and for some minutes we were the only cars in a long stretch of a drive.

When we got there, security was tight. The guards had to call the owner of the b&b we were staying at to confirm our booking. As we drove to the villas, I noticed some patches of the road that needed repair, surrounded by overgrown grass. It was a bit charming, actually. Very natural, non-commercialized. And then we saw the rows of villas, and I thought they looked pretty.Home for the weekend

Our b&b was quite a spacious place. Three floors, a terrace overlooking the sea. Birds of different breeds were chirping (almost screaming) happily. My eyes feasted on the variety of  colors and sizes of the birds.Sunset view from the b&b

And because school had already started and the rains were becoming more frequent, we had the beach all to ourselves. The beach was not white sand, and not as fine as the sands of Boracay, but the waters were clear and that was enough. As I floated on my back and steadied my breathing, my eyes gazed at the moon (yes, it was there even though the sun had not even set yet), and I tried to make a connection with the present moment. The water felt so good, and for the brief moment I felt at peace. “When was the last time I swam in the ocean”, I recalled. “Shocking how time flies, was it really almost a year ago in El Nido? I should do this more often… I told myself last year I’d do it more often – why did I hold off?Rain, in the distancePlaying on the beach

That weekend trip was so refreshing, it was a good reminder to myself to stop and focus on what’s more important: family, nature, peace of mind. I made a deal with my cousin last weekend as we wrapped up our trip over lunch – We have to go to Caramoan, or Calaguas – any of the beaches in Bicol, that’s been in my bucket list forever. He smiled as he said Yes. It was fantastic.Almost sunset

 

 

 

Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine

We stumbled upon the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine one sunny Saturday morning as D and I walked further along Miyagawa River and past a grand Shinto shrine. What I liked about the road leading up to Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine were the well-preserved and neatly lined up of wooden houses. Even the wooden lamp posts were rustic.

Shinto Shrine and old private houses

Walk to Sakurayama Hachimangu ShrineWell preserved housesEn route to Sakurayama Hachimangu ShrineKnown as  Takayama’s oldest shrine, Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine was built sometime during the 4th century when writing down history was not yet widely done in Japan. Today, this garners at least a million visitors per year during the Takayama Autumn Festival in October, where large floats with mechanical dolls are lit up by lanterns and paraded through Takayama.

Way to Sakurayama Hachimangu shrineWooden gate to the shrineThe atmosphere in the shrine’s grounds was pristine. The sound of crows echoed in the background as I contemplated on the simplistic beauty of the wooden structure, surrounded by tall, strong trees.

A canopy of grand treesMore steps up

Why Japan’s convenience stores are literally, well, convenient

Rustic themed 711 across the old town

In Japan’s big cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, one wouldn’t have to look far to get to a convenience store, or what the locals call the konbini. Popular chains like 711, Family Mart and Lawson are located in every block, some even facing each other across the streets.

So what makes these convenience stores awesome?Rustic themed 711 across the old town

Availability and Reliability

Because they can be found almost everywhere (at least in the big cities), and they’re open 24×7, it surely is a relief that there’s always the konbini as a backup for a snack or a hot meal, especially late at night or early in the morning. They also accept credit card payments.

Drinks of different kinds

One time I arrived in Tokyo past midnight and was really craving for a good bowl of hot soba, and I simply had no more energy exploring the neighborhood after hours in transit. Luckily there was a Lawson store next to the hotel and they sell the ready to heat soba noodles with vegetable fritters (kakeage I think is what it’s called) – not the instant noodles one. The man at the cashier popped it in the microwave for me, and I enjoyed slurping on my hot tasty soba meal back at the hotel. It was the first time I had a ‘real meal’ from the konbini, and because I loved it, I had at least one in every trip thereafter.

Quick and easy meals

Variety of Goods

I can find almost anything in the konbini – from drinks of various kinds like juice, alcohol, brewed coffee, matcha latte, and soda; to food like ice cream, chips, hot meals, rice snacks, pasta, fruit and so much more!

Quick and easy meals

Aside from food, these stores also sell stationery, shirts, cell phone accessories, IQOS, and souvenirs.

Personally, I have bought items such as umbrellas, Muji shirts, stockings, pens, makeup, and a phone charger.

Night snack and sparkling wine from 711

Other Services

I haven’t tried it for myself but have seen customers send and receive items through the konbini.

These stores also have wifi and ATM.

Now ain’t that quite convenient? My fave fruity drink from Family Mart

Tsukiji Honganji Temple

Tsukiji Hongan-ji Temple

he first time I saw the Tsukiji Honganji Temple,  I had to research what kind of a temple it was. Though a Buddhist temple, its architecture is a fusion of different styles – now I’m no expert but at first glance there’s a hint of Hindu style in its facade too.

It’s a few minutes by foot from the Kabuki Theatre in Ginza, and where Tsukiji Market used to be at.

In my recent trips to Tokyo I always missed it during the day. I would go there after sunset to contemplate. It sure is lovely to behold at night.

Tsukiji Hongan-ji Temple
Tsukiji Hongan-ji Temple

 

 

Safe Travels!

Efficient Subway System

I got this souvenir from the AirBnB we stayed at in Hirayu Onsen in Japan. I like these sweet mementos we get from various places like hotels, museums, Tourist Information Centers – it adds a personal touch enhancing the cultural experience.

Honestly I don’t know what this simple gift is, or what it says. Google Translate says words like “travel safely…circle of life…shrine”. I reckon it’s a charm to keep one safe, as Hirayu  Onsen was, after all, our jumping point to Japan’s Alps, Kamikochi.

Speaking of traveling safely, I’ve put together this list of things I keep in mind whenever D and I are out for our adventures.

Research and Be Alert.

It’s worth checking out forums for Do’s and Don’ts; routes and paths to take; helpful phone numbers that may come in handy in case of an emergency; nearest convenience stores, ATM machines, bus stops or train stations.

I remember before smart phones, D and I almost got in trouble getting into the wrong side of town one night while we went out looking for a 711 so I could withdraw from an ATM. It’s a good thing a concerned local told us not to wander farther and head back to the hotel.

Pack up wisely.

One of my many lessons I learned is choosing comfort over fashion. I’ve had one too many instances of chucking my “stylish” shoes and buying comfortable sneakers because my feet were killing me.

If the trip will entail long walks, it’s best to pack comfortable shoes. If I’ll be out mostly under the sun, I would pack on the sunblock, a hat, sunglasses. Or a foldable umbrella, and refillable water bottle. A first aid kit in my  suitcase is something I won’t hopefully have to use, but good to have as it might come handy.

Stretch and Hydrate

Before and after long walks, I give these muscles a good stretch – they love it! When seated for a long time in the plane, I walk around to stretch my legs. Drinking up on water is also quite refreshing, that’s why I keep my water bottle in my bag all the time. I also look for sources of drinkable water for a potential refill. I know I’d thank myself later for this supply of water when I start hitting five thousand steps and up.

Don’t be Reckless

We always let someone else, usually family, know our whereabouts and our itinerary. We also register when we are trekking, and hire services of a local certified guide. When there is a spot that looks too tempting to have that ‘daredevil’ shot of, I’d most probably skip it. Aside from my fear of heights, I know that a small wrong step can bring me a long term pain, so call it boring but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

I hope you find my little list useful. If you have something planned to go to soon – I hope you have an awesome time. Safe travels!

Efficient Subway System
Efficient Subway System

 

 

Japan Cycling Guidelines

Free bike rental in Matsumoto

Traveling is such a bliss when I get to ride a bicycle. Much as I like to walk, cycling makes me get to explore faster, and I find it quite exhilarating feeling the wind blow on my face.

The first time I rented a bicycle while exploring a new place was in Munich, Germany, as we only had less than a full day to explore before hopping back on the train en route to Austria. There were too many things to do at the time, as it was also right smack in the middle of Oktoberfest. So I was quite relieved to discover the perks of cycling.

And then this trip to the Japan Alps happened. I prepared my feet for thousands of steps trekking, and so when we got to Takayama, I looked for the nearest bike rental place so I won’t have to walk too much yet. Afterwards when we got to Matsumoto, I was thrilled to find that there were free bike rentals all around the tourist destinations of the city. Oh, happy days!

Matsumoto City’s Sui Sui Town free rental bikes
Matsumoto City’s Sui Sui Town free rental bikes

When I am biking in a new place, the first thing I look for other than a map, is a quick guide on safety rules to follow. Let me share with you what I’ve read on the safety guidelines for cyclists in Japan:

1. Ride on the left side of the street.

In Japan, cyclists only use the left side of the street (same direction as to what cars and other vehicles use). In most places there are bike paths, and when there is none, then cyclists can use the sidewalks or roads. When the street is too narrow, cyclists can ride on the sidewalks.

2. Helmets for children.

I know in some countries wearing helmets is required by law for people riding bicycles. In Japan, all children under the age of 13 must wear a bicycle helmet. Children under the age of 6 should also wear helmets if they are riding in the children’s seat of their parent’s or guardian’s bicycle.

3. Reduce speed on sidewalks and give pedestrians the right of way.

Pedestrians are given priority on sidewalks. Cyclists must not obstruct pedestrians if riding inside lines marking pedestrian paths, and if there is a risk of obstructing pedestrians on sidewalks, cyclists must stop riding and dismount their bicycles.

It is also discouraged to ringing bicycle bells at pedestrians on sidewalks.

4. Cycling Safety Rules

    Cyclists must obey traffic lights and intersections, like coming to a full stop on a stop sign.
    Just like driving a car, cyclists are prohibited to drinking and cycling – violators can either face fines or face up to several years in jail.
    Cyclists must use bicycle lights at night, or also at daytime when riding through tunnels or during foggy weather.
    Riding double or side by side is prohibited.
    Lastly, cyclists must also not use an umbrella or talk on their mobile phones while riding their bicycles. Personally, I think this last one’s a no-brainer. But then again, people can be creative. Thankfully there are these rules.

Monjayaki and Takoyaki Night

Monjayaki

Have you ever had takoyaki? It’s a ball of flour batter enveloping chopped pieces of octopus. It’s garnished with nori and bonito flakes, takoyaki sauce, and sometimes a dash of mayonnaise.

It’s one of my favorite snacks, something my grandma introduced to me when I was young, one Saturday when I accompanied her to Rustan’s Cubao. We bought it from this kiosk called Samurai. Nowadays I’m glad I don’t have to travel far whenever I crave for takoyaki, as it has become popular in Metro Manila.

Have you ever had monjayaki? First time I heard it I said “what-yaki?”. My Japanese companions had to spell it out for me, as they began preparing the ingredients on the grill. It’s a local Tokyo dish that resembles the okonimiyaki (Japanese pancake). It’s batter though is more watery.

Okonimayki and takoyaki
Okonimayki and takoyaki

See, on my last night in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago, we went to Dekunobou, an okonomiyaki restaurant near Tokyo’s Kanda station. It was a cookout – and our little group took turns grilling different yummy dishes. When it came to what was to be the highlight of the dinner, the making of the monjayaki, little spatulas were passed around for everyone in the group. A heap of chopped vegetables, fish roe, cheese and the batter were mixed together, and when they were almost cooked, the middle part was pushed outward, so the food became shaped like a donut. A new mix of batter was then incorporated into the “donut-hole”, making the dish more liquidy. I could smell the cheese as it melted, and as the monjayaki turned brown, that’s when I was told to cut a piece for myself using my little spatula. Wow, it was so good! I didn’t know there was such a thing as a monjayaki – I don’t recall ever seeing it in menus.

Monjayaki is best served and eaten with a group. The method of making it is also a good way to bond.

I’d say that moment was pretty special, as I learned something only locals are familiar with.

Monjayaki
Monjayaki

 

 

Kamikochi: Japan Alps

Clear waters of the Japan Alps

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience. ” — Paulo Coelho

The month of May went by so quickly, was travelling back and forth to my top country of destination, Japan.  There were times I would wake up in the middle of the night wondering where I was. I know it’s strange, but I kind of like that feeling:  the gradual realization of knowing where I am, followed by the relief that I still have a few hours to go until my alarm sets off in the morning.

Where do I even begin describing to you the best part of my trips to Japan this month? Before I ramble on, let me just put it out there: Kamikochi is by far the most beautiful place I have been to in Japan as of yet. I tried to capture it with my phone camera, but the pics don’t do it justice.

Clear waters of the Japan Alps
Clear waters of the Azusa River at the Northern Japan Alps

I wanted to spend more time at the off beaten places of Japan in our recent trip. So for the first time we flew to Nagoya and rode off for a couple of nights at Takayama.

Afterwards we took the bus to Hirayu Onsen, where we stayed for a night. From Hirayu Onsen we took another bus for a 25 minute drive to Kamikochi.

As the bus neared Kamikochi, my eyes started to feast on trees and snow capped mountains. The bus’ first stop was at the Taisho Pond, where I had a glimpse of lovely serene lake surrounded by mountains. This pond was formed when Mt. Yakedake erupted in 1915. We would have gotten off here and walked all the way up to the last stop, but since it was already afternoon, we were pressed for time (and we were told that the last bus back to Hirayu Onsen leaves at 5 o’clock). So I just admired Taisho Pond from a distance.

When we got off at the bus terminal at Kamikochi, I was even more impressed. The air was cool and fresh, the mountains were astounding, and the sound of birds chirping was icing on the cake. At the bus terminal was an information center where we got a walking map for 100 yen. We were showed different routes to take, and we decided to take the route from Kappa Bridge to Myojin-bashi Bridge which takes about two hours to complete.

I saw this sign showing the different birds that can be seen in Kamikochi and was determined to see several of them up close.

Birds of Kamikochi
A sign showing birds of Kamikochi. As soon as I saw this, I was pumped with excitement!

Kappa Bridge was just a few minutes’ walk from the bus terminal. We were greeted by the clear waters of the Azusa River. There was a lot of people on the Kappa Bridge, but as we started trekking our route, we lost the flock of tourists.

The path that we we took was pretty much next to the river. We passed through a campsite, and as we stopped there briefly, I imagined how surreal it must be to wake up to this scenery. I made a mental note to check out the accommodations in Kamikochi as I intend to go back.

Campsite in Kamikochi, the Japan Alps as a backdrop
Campsite in Kamikochi, with the Japan Alps as a backdrop

As we walked, we greeted people we met with “konnichiwa”. This is what I like about trekking: people actually greeting one another.

We stopped several times along the way to just take in the beauty of the surroundings. The two hours we had planned clearly was not enough! All my previous trips to Japan were mostly in the big cities, and this time I thought I have been missing out. Just as Japan’s cities are awesome and memorable, the countryside and its outdoors have more to offer to one’s senses. I realized I have more to explore in Japan. And this trip was a grand way to start wandering the unbeaten path. As these thoughts went through my mind, the birds seemed to agree as I heard a beautiful melody of chirps of different kinds (and got to record them too!).

Myojin-bashi Bridge, Kamikochi
Myojin-bashi Bridge, Kamikochi, about a couple of hours’ away from Kappa Bridge

When we neared the Myojin-bashi Bridge, we had a few close encounters with the furry Japan Macaques, or the Japan monkeys. They just freely walked about, minding their own business as did we (with a few stolen photo shots of course). I was glad that the tourists were all respectful of the monkeys’ privacy, and no one fed them or called out to them.

Monkey, deep in thought
A monkey, deep in thought. Probably thinking “who are these people in my backyard?”

Walking back, I whispered prayers of thanks for letting me see this amazing place. I looked at D and felt a joy in my heart for having embarked this this wonderful trip with him. I thought of my loved ones and hope I could share the beauty of Kamikochi to them. So for now, I am doing it through this blog. I know it’s not as close as to the real deal, but hopefully, one way or another, they could see.

A walk through the woods of Kamikochi
A walk through the woods of Kamikochi

Kamikochi is open from mid-April through November. For more information about this beautiful place in the Nagano Prefecture, visit their website at www.kamikochi.org.

Matsumoto Timepiece Museum

Largest pendulum clock in Japan

Matsumoto is a lovely city, and is the 2nd largest in the Nagano Prefecture in Japan. Coming from Hirayu Onsen, we arrived at Matsumoto through bus. It’s tourist destinations are pretty much walkable. We were off to the hotel when D spotted the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum on his Google Maps. Being a watch enthusiast that he is, I immediately agreed to check it out.

From the outside, we right away caught sight of a pendulum clock in Japan, which we later found is the biggest in Japan.

Largest pendulum clock in Japan
Largest pendulum clock in Japan

I was pretty touched when the lady at the reception gave me an origami souvenir. I honestly don’t know much about watches or clocks, so I came to the museum with an open mind.

On the first floor I saw how time was determined in ancient times like through sundials. There were also wall clocks stemming from medieval to modern times on display.

On the second floor, I saw several Japanese and Western timepieces, and mechanical and swinging clocks. I also saw a statue and photo of Mr. Chikazo Honda (1896-1985) who collected clocks since he was young and donated them to the city in 1974. Being an engineer, he fixed the clock collections and even produced a rolling ball clock.

Also on the second floor was an area where gramophones were displayed. A sign says they are scheduled to play three times a day.

I enjoyed browsing through the items exhibited in the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum. It’s amazing how most of the timepieces on display in the museum are still in good working condition up to this day!