Coffee Grounds and Flowers From My Childhood

Gumamela flower

I love lazy sunny weekends! I guess my body clock’s used to waking up early that I’m up and about at 7AM after ‘sleeping in’.

With no plans til after lunch, D and I figured we could go out for coffee and pick up the boys’ dogfood on the way. We headed to the neighborhood starbucks for a Java Chip frap, and I kindly asked the friendly barista if she could spare me some coffee grounds for our compost. She smiled at me and said “Sure!” I was more excited about this than my cold drink.

Free coffee grounds from Starbucks

Reusing coffee grounds for the backyard garden helps reduce landfill waste – my own way of saving the earth. As the coffee’s acidity is lost during the brewing process, what it leaves behind in the material of the coffee grounds helps promote plant growth, repels slugs and ants and entices earthworms which help the soil become richer. At home, we mix the coffee grounds with brown compost (dried leaves and twigs, or brown paper bag cuttings) for balance.

Oh, and to add to the excitement, we happened to pass by these flowers on our way to the car. They remind me of my gradeschool days, when I would make bubbles from the gumamela flowers. I saw that done in Batibot, the Philippines’ version of Sesame Street.

Gumamela flower

And the lovely bougainvillea which remind me of the colorful flowers that grew on my lola’s garden wall. Bougainvillea flower

Oh happy days!

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.

All the Chickens in the Yard

dog and hens

We’be been raising hens for about seven years now. I got inspired after watching the movie “Flipped” where the main character was taught by her dad that hens do not necessarily need roosters to lay eggs. I wanted to have an organic source of fresh eggs, and so after building a coop at the yard, I headed to the market one afternoon after work, and bought our first hen, Henny from the market. A couple of days later, my dad came over to give us a companion for Henny, Henna. At first they did not get along, and kept us awake all night with their bantering. But eventually they became best friends and were quite inseparable. In fact, a few years later, when Henny passed away, Henna followed suit shortly after. Since then, we did not have to buy our hens – dad managed to raise a few of his own and shared with us four.

We now have 2 coops – each one housing a pair. They’re all good girls, and they make me giggle with their antics every once in a while.

I am no expert, so what I wanted to share with you today are what I’ve learned from raising our hens. These are based purely from observation and personal experience:

  1. They lay eggs around noon or when the sun is high – and we could easily tell they’re laying eggs because they’re quite vocal and announce it. Sometimes they go to the same spot in their coop, or at times, when they’re out frolicking in the backyard, we find the eggs neatly tucked within the shrubs.
  2. They do not lay eggs daily. There’s a certain period when they molt (or lose their feathers) – they do not lay eggs during this time.
  3. There are times the hens would peck on the eggs. My dad said it indicates they are low on calcium. So what we do is we include crushed egg shells in the hens’ food.
  4. Speaking of food – we give them kitchen scraps like peelings from fruit and vegetables. One of the antics that our hens have been proudly showing me is whenever I give treats to our dogs, they would also line up for theirs. I’m amazed at how peaceful our animal companions are because even though my boys are so focused on getting treats, when they see that I am sending some to the hens, they wouldn’t bully them into getting the hens’ shares. The hens, though, at times try to sneak some treats off Pedro (the bulldog) who is a slower in catching them. But good old Pedro doesn’t seem to mind.
  5. So we send them out of their coops daily so they have an excursion around the backyard. They do not fly out nor go to the garage – it’s like they know which area they’re should stay in. One time when strong rain came out of nowhere, I rushed to let Pedro in from the yard. I realized the hens were also out because I saw them lined up outside their own coops’ doors (which closed because of the wind). They love to drink lots of water, but clearly they did not want rain on their feathers. As soon as I opened their coops’ doors, in they hopped.
  6. We use the hens’ poop to add on to our compost.

These four ladies have been with us for a couple of years now, and I have to admit I still couldn’t tell them apart. Do you know if chickens respond to names?

I think my hens are quite smart, and I’m glad they are quite comfortable with me, D and the boys. We are, after all, one small happy family.

Quiet Solace

I came across the May calendar from actionforhappiness.com and today’s action is to share photos of things that I find meaningful or memorable.

I surprised myself having to think twice about this – too many memorable and meaningful things/events/people/places to choose from. So I figured I’d not go far and just look at what’s in front of me. Well, technically I’m imagining I am home right now since I’m literally located in another city.

Pedro, our adopted senior bulldog, had been very lethargic lately – may be because he is ten years old going eleven, and maybe because the scorching heat of summer makes it harder for my sweetie to frolic about in the yard. Cuddled next to me

Rex is also a senior dog – a bit older by months than Pedro. He’s been with us since he was three months old, and we’ve had a share of destroyed furniture when he was young. I’ve trained him, and dog training wasn’t easy but quite rewarding. It was Rex that bonded us with other dog-loving families. For some time our neighbors knew him more than they knew D and me. It’s funny how people would associate us with the folks ‘from the white house where the labrador lives”. If I was asked what my period in Rex’s life I’m more fond of, I’d say now that he’s older. He’s my ever quiet shadow in the house – my gentle giant. I like to rub it in on D at times as I know Rex loves his mum more than his dad. Dad is someone he ‘plays’ with, but when it comes to serious stuff, mum has the final word.Through the years, my sweet boy

When I am at home Pedro and Rex would take turns (mostly subtly kicking each other out – for some reason they don’t mingle together for long) sitting next to me. Nothing beats the soft touch of their fur on my hand, the quiet comfort they give as they sleep beside me. When they are awake they often look at me and their soulful gaze seem to say so many things. And I don’t care if anyone sees me talking to them all the time – I believe they understand what I feel, without any judgment. Sometimes for kicks, D and I would dance, with Rex and Pedro as our audience. Yep, they do not judge indeed.

I know that the time our dogs live is not as long as we would want them to, and though this makes me sad at times I shift my thoughts to what I am grateful for instead. Rex and Pedro are part of the family – all memories that D and I have about home almost always involve our dogs. Their loyalty and love for us have no limit, and we are fortunate and blessed to have them in our lives.

4.22.19 Earth Day

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” – Native American Proverb

In truth, Earth Day should be celebrated everyday. We only have one planet, after all.

Here are some of the little ways I contribute in the preservation of Mother Earth:

Daily Reusables

I try to pack lunch as much as I can, storing them in my washable lunchboxes. If I end up buying food, I have these lunchboxes ready so I won’t end up getting the single-use plastic containers.

I also have my handy water bottle and coffee cup with me as much as I can.

For tea, I’ve started keeping my teapot in the office so I can brew my loose leaf tea whenever I feel like it. I take home the loose leaf for my compost.

As much as possible, I stick to my grocery shopping schedule. But it doesn’t hurt having my ecobag neatly folded in my purse just in case I have the impromptu need to grab something from the supermarket.

Turning it Off

When washing dishes, brushing my teeth or washing my face, I don’t let the faucet run. I am very particular with turning the faucet off. I imagine the places where water is scarce, or when there is draught and people, animals and plants suffer, and what they’d give to have water. This thought prompts me to be more conscious of my water usage.

Same is true with turning off tv, lights, airconditioning when not in use.

Planting Trees and Backyard Gardening

Backyard farming is quite therapeutic. It’s a joy seeing the seeds grow into edible plants – and it helps save on costs for organic produce too! When we plant our own food, we become more conscious consuming them instead of letting them go to waste. It saddens me to see a lot of market produce being unsconsumed and just going to waste.

There is only about 2% of rainforest area left in the Philippines now, and so I try to join at least 2 treeplanting volunteering activities every year. It may not be as impactful as restoring hectares of rainforest all at once, but I’d like to think that the trees I plant would grow tall and strong and eventually serve as homes for birds and other creatures in the rainforest.

What other daily routines can you think of that can help save our planet?

To wrap up this blog, I’m sharing a wonderful rendition of this song that I found in YouTube.

Bunny Love

Bunny

Why are bunnies and eggs associated with Easter? I’ve read something somewhere that it’s a pagan tradition mixed with Christian practices. And because I am no expert, this blog is not in any way associated with Easter. It does talk about a bunny though. My sister’s bunny named Olive.

I’ve always loved pets, but when my sister called me up from Australia with the news that she got a bunny, I was not more curious than excited. So she got Olive from a pet shop back when she was not yet aware of the animals that needed furever homes, and are waiting to be adopted.

I asked her what the perks of having a bunny at home was and she said that it was always a joy getting home to the warm, cuddly rabbit who loves her and always hops next to her and is up for a lick and a snuggle. Olive is also good with my sister’s two dogs – the three girls get along just fine.

I’ve had a chance to bond with Olive last year when I visited Victoria, and for sure, she was a cheeky but charming little girl. Once she warmed up to me, I had to be careful to look at my feet before taking a step because almost always there’s a black fur ball next to me.

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Caring for a bunny has its loads of perks, but it entails time, resource and commitment as they can also be quite high maintenance. For starters, one has to bunny-proof the home, neuter or spay, bring them to the vet for regular and annual checks and shots. On a daily basis, they need oaten hay, fresh veggies and fruit pieces, water, and a cleanup of their litter box. Bunnies also need grooming and trimming of nails at least once a month.0b1a1e8e-7f15-4edc-a396-f238bab78fcc

Once, my sister panicked as Olive could not be found when she was set free to roam the yard – and they found her inside the drain, also panic-stricken. db3443dd-ab49-4aa1-b882-802aad3bf9de

Bunnies have many ways to communicate through their body language. Olive would do the binky when she’s happy, stomps when she senses threat or danger, and flops when she’s relaxed and feeling chill. This is Olive doing the flop.

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Check out Lennon the Bunny’s video below for a quick tutorial on understanding rabbit body language.

A Forest Trek to Remember

Forest

A couple of weeks ago, we got up at 4AM on a Sunday morning and drove 188 kilometers (a little over 3 hours) to Subic, Zambales. We have enlisted in MadTravel‘s trek at the Bataan forest of Subic Bay – one of the last thriving rain forests in the Philippines. It was their first official trek with guests on this route and we were quite excited being part of this adventure.

After a quick Jollibee breakfast (we didn’t want to miss the call time), we drove from the Lighthouse Resort Hotel to El Kabayo, where we were welcomed by the elders of the Aetas of Pastolan with homemade Bataan coffee and sweet bananaQ. The aetas, the indigenous people who were the first race who inhabited the Philippines, were awarded ancestral land in Zambales. Five percent of the income of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) goes to the aetas. They use this funding for education, health, and providing allowances for their seniors.

As we began to walk through the forest trail, the aeta elders showed us the different trees and plants they use for medicinal and housekeeping purposes. The trees that stood out for me most were the cupang, tangisang bayawak and the lauan trees. These native tropical trees stood tallest among the rest of the trees and filled the path with their shade – hiding birds of different species and beautiful sounds in their canopies.Bamboo forest

We were told that the cupang tree’s parts had medicinal properties: from its bark, seeds and fruit. The leaves are small and clustered, and when they fall off the trees are quick to decompose, fertilizing the soil around the trees easily.

The tangisang bayawak (Ficus variegata Blume), is called such because of its bark’s smooth texture that lizards are unable to climb the trees at all. The base of the tree are huge, and they remind me of the trees that grew in the temples of Siem Reap.

The lauan, my new favorite tropical tree, produces flowers that are so fragrant. It was a breeze walking under the lauan trees as the scent was very good – it reminds of me potpourri that are sold in shopping malls.Forest

After about an hour, we reached the river and a small falls. Some of the folks in the group took the time to dip into the cool, clear waters. My small group walked up the stream and met some locals and their friendly dog, Lasing. Doggie

Sitting on the rocks on the stream and gazing up to the green foliage, I saw different colorful birds fly above us. It was at this moment that I said a little prayer of thanks for having been able to see this little piece of heave on earth, and being given the chance to be one with nature.NatureWater

Later on, the elders told stories under mahogany trees that were planted by the army. Mahogany trees are not really friendly to the tropical rain-forest as they consume the nutrients of the soil around them. Notice how there are no plants growing directly under the mahogany trees. I think this is one of the things that environmental organizations like Haribon have been communicating more on during tree-planting volunteering activities to increase the public’s awareness, as most of the trees in Metro Manila urban areas are not native tropical trees and do not really help in propagating rain-forests.Hearing stories from an Elder

The aetas make their own honey, and D and I had a taste of different sweet varieties: mango, lauan, and pamulaklakin. Because the latter two were so new to us, and to support the local livelihood, we got bottles of lauan and pamulaklakin. Now we are able to enjoy our tea with these sweet varieties of honey.

As we got back to where we started, I reflected on what our generation now can do to be able to preserve these rain forests.  I remember when I was a child, whenever I go to our backyard, I can see the mountains of Sierra Madre from afar, and I used to think that if i was able to cross those mountains, at the other side I will get to see my family in the United States (well, that was my then perspective on distance). Now, I am told that the mountains can hardly be seen because of the houses and concrete that block the view.

When we got back to the parking site, we spent another hour planting seeds of tropical trees like rambutan, marang, durian. When these seeds turn into seedlings, the aetas will replant them into the rain-forest so that the biodiversity can be enriched. To date, there is only two percent of rain forests left in the Philippines. The number is shocking, but I believe there is hope – if people become more aware and appreciate the importance of saving our earth – not just for ourselves but for the generations, of different creatures, yet to come.

 

 

 

 

My Love for Elephants

I have always loved animals, and if you were to ask me what wild animal is closest to my heart, my first answer would be the Elephant. I see them often on TV, from Dumbo when I was a child, to Animal Planet as I got older. I faintly remember a trip to Manila Zoo when I was young, and seeing an elephant in the flesh for the first and only time. Decades later, during my first ever volunteering night with an animal welfare NGO, I would be sending letters to government officials and influential people to seek their support in setting Mali, the same lone elderly elephant that I have met decades ago in Manila Zoo, free. So she may live the rest of her days comfortably.

Elephants are the largest land mammals that currently roam the earth. There are 2 species – the African elephant, and like Mali – the Asian elephant. African elephants, whose ears are wider and floppy and resemble the African continent, are larger than the Asian elephants, who have round ears.

Elephants use their tusks to lift, dig for food and water, and strip out tree barks. They use their long, versatile trunks to smell, caress their young, drink, and hold objects. Baby elephants use their trunks to hold on to their moms’ tails. Did you know that young elephants hide in the shadow of their moms so their skin won’t get burned by the sun?

There’s also something about the eyes of these magnificent creatures – so tender, almost shy, innocent, and somehow sad. The first time I noticed this was when I was in Bangkok and there was a baby elephant being paraded by a man – he adorned the baby elephant with colors and a costume – yet I felt for the baby – it was confused of the city chaos happening around it, and it did not belong there. It belonged with its mom, in an herd.

Elephants are herd animals, where their matriarch is the oldest and strongest female. There are lots of videos in YouTube showing the herds protecting one another, especially the young.

I came across the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust page in 2015 and read stories about the elephant orphans. They were left behind because their mothers were killed by poachers or during human-wildlife conflict, or they fell in wells and their herds had no choice but to leave them behind. Some orphan stories really tugged my heart, and then and there I adopted them to support the conservation and rescue efforts of DSWT.

My first adopted orphan was Roi. She was seen with her mom, alive and healthy, by a safari tourist. The next day, when the tourist came back to the same spot, they found Roi confused at the side of her dying mom. Though her herd later on whisked little Roi away, there was no other lactating elephant who could give her sufficient milk, as moms can only provide milk to one calf at a time. Roi, was later on rescued by DSWT where she was given the milk and love she needed. Now, Roi is happily integrated with the rest of her new herd, and is seen most of the time next to her bestfriend, Tusuja, another orphan elephant.

Suffice to say, Kenya is my ultimate dream destination. I hope one day to be able to visit the sanctuary and see the babies up close. For now, I do what I can to support the cause for conservation and rescue. I am writing this to spread the word and hopefully increase awareness and appreciation for the elephants. And hopefully we can serve as the voice of these peace-loving animals.

Summer in the Tropics

Sta Fe Bantayan

Summer has kicked in – and though it’s generally warm all year round in the Philippines, it’s especially more hot and humid from the end of March through May. Today, it’s 32 degrees celsius (90 degrees fahrenheit) – not too bad. Yet. It’s in May when it gets to be the hottest.Secret Beach

So as we prepare to keep cool during the next couple of months, let me share with you some of the sustainable activities in our itinerary:

Iced Refreshments

One of the things I crave for on hot days is a cold drink – and because I’m temporarily cutting off coffee from my diet, I’ve switched to tea. I brew tea, using either a loose leaf tea infuser, or reusable organic cotton teabags. I try to steer away from teabags unless they’re made of compostable material. After brewing, the used loose leaves are good addition to our compost too.

There’s always a pitcher of iced sweet tea in the fridge these days – and sometimes to add a bit of a kick I would add mint or kalamansi from our garden.

Solar Power

One of the perks of summer is we get to maximize the use and benefits of our solar panels. Drying of our clothes is also so much faster, as we hang them at the backyard to let the sun and wind do their thing.

Coral-safe sunscreens

While it’s good for the skin to use sunscreen, most of the products out in the market are not safe for the corals. Some ingredients are harmful to marine life and the oceans, and cause coral bleaching. We must do our research and check the ingredients before making a purchase. Ingredients like paraben, oxybenzone and octinoxate are not reef and marine friendly, so these definitely do not pass my ‘sunscreen screening’. First thing I look for in sunscreens are words saying ‘reef safe‘ or if they contain non nano zinc oxide.

Hydrate

During this time of the year I would hear news about people and animals who get dehydrated. So we put up some water-filled basins around the yard that can serve as birdbaths, or simply just aid the birds when they’re thirsty. We also placed some drinking bins outside at the street so that they can aid stray cats or dogs beat the heat.

When we go out for walks, I also bring my personal water tumbler so I don’t have to but bottled water. For out of town trips we bring our refillable water jugs and first thing we look for is a water refilling station.

Savor Fruits of the Season

Now’s the best time to drink up to this season’s fruits – and no trip to the beach would be complete without a taste of coconut juice, mango shake or watermelon shake. Yum!!

What’s your favorite summer activity? Let me know what sustainable practices I can also try out!

Sustainable Living: Recycled Plant Pots

composting

I’m all about planting our own crops in our backyard. It’s fun, therapeutic, fulfilling, and also promotes well-being for my family. More importantly, it is our way of helping save the planet.

Since we have started planting more herbs and vegetables in our backyard, we resorted to using recycled containers so that we could be able to organize the plants in a more space-efficient way. Recycled plant potRecycled

One thing I love about our community is that neighbors support one another by sharing seeds, compost, seedlings, and even recycled containers for pots. I have also recently became a regular customer at Starbucks because they support backyard farming through sharing of their coffee grounds and empty milk gallons that we use at home as herb pots.

Lastly I want to share with you this wonderful find from the roadsides of Luisiana, Laguna. This box is handwoven and made of coconut leaves. It was used to wrap three pieces of bibingka that we bought for snacks on our way back to Manila. These plastic-free boxes are so simple and innovative, and they last long. I intend to use them as pots for my next batch of basils and mint.

Handwoven

Sustainable Living: Treasures From My Backyard Part 8

Bellpepper

Today I will show you the very first fruit bearing tree that we planted in our yard: the calamansi. A little over a decade ago, D collected some calamansi seeds and planted them, carefully barricading the seedling that grew thereafter so that Rex, our labrador who was then a pup, wouldn’t destroy it. It has since then grown tall and strong, about two meters high. We trim it so that it will remain that way as it’s a bit harder to harvest the fruits if it’s taller – as the branches are filled with thorns. Other than its infrequent need for pruning, the tree is quite easy to maintain.

Calamansi

The calamansi is native citrus fruit widely used in the Philippines. It is small, green on the outside and yellow in the inside. On a hot day we would squeeze a bunch of fruits, add honey and water to make refreshing calamansi juice. It can also be used with soy sauce and chili pepper as condiments to dumplings and barbecued meat. For marinade, we use calamansi in the absence of lime or lemon. Of course, the skin of the fruit is added to our compost. Lastly, some people use the juice of calamansi as skin toner.

Calamansi

Chili Pepper

Next is the chili pepper. Now this one we planted from collected seeds. It sprouted within 15 days and in less than a month we already saw it flowering. It is also a low maintenance plant. The picture below shows our first harvest from this shrub. We would add it with the calamansi and soy sauce as condiment.

Bellpepper

There you have it, fruit bearing trees from our backyard. 100 percent pesticide free.

Watch out for the next parts of this series, coming soon (just waiting for my new seedlings to grow bigger).

A Hike to Hulugan Falls

Waterfall. Nothing can harm me at all. My worries seem so very small. With my waterfall. — Jimi Hendrix, May This Be Love

One of the places I would go to in a heartbeat is the waterfalls. There’s something about the flow and sound of the water falling that fascinates me, and the trip to get to the falls is always an opportunity for me to be at one with nature. Trekking to a falls is always a reward in itself. I could never get enough of it.

So last Sunday, we set out to explore Hulugan Falls at Luisiana. I’ve read about it in a blog and was immediately intrigued, as I loved the rugged outdoors and was in need of exercise.

D, my brother, cousin and I set off from Alabang at 530 in the morning and drove off to the south towards Luisiana – a municipality in Laguna also known as ‘the little Baguio’ because of the winding roads and the cooler temperature – averaging 26 degrees celsius througout the year. It’s about 110 kilometers from Manila, and approximately 2.5 hours away by car.

To get to Luisiana we took the South Superhighway through through Santo Tomas, Batangas so we would skip the traffic-proned Calamba and Los Banos. Then we drove past Pagsanjan, Laguna – which looked quite interesting because of the old houses that lined up the main road. I’m thinking of setting off to Pagsanjan sometime in the near future to explore these heritage houses. Pagsanjan is also known for its waterfalls, and I remember seeing photos of it in my elementary school textbooks decades ago.

Then we drove up to Cavinti where the winding roads began. We could see the Laguna Lake as we got higher up. Before we reached the Luisiana town center, we took a right turn following the road sign saying “Hulugan Falls”. We parked next to the registration center (for a fee of 30 pesos per vehicle). Each of us paid 30 pesos for the registration fee and our assigned tour guide conducted a brief orientation about Hulugan. I was pleased to see that Filipino was the language used for the orientation form, and the guide was readily able to answer questions and comments. There are about 120 local guides affiliated with the tour group in Luisiana, and it was good they all are given equal opportunity to be able to guide guests. Our guide, Joy, said that she usually gets, on an aversge, at least one guest per week. Her peak months are from April to May, the summer months, where she can have as many as 2 rounds per day on weekends. When she shared this information, I reflected on the simplicity of life at Luisiana, and how the people seemed happy and contented.

Some the things I remembered from the orientation are:

1. The trek would take 30 minutes one way, and we were to trek 95 meters downhill. The path is not cemented and the handrails are made of bamboo. It could get quite difficult during the rainy season when the soil is soft and muddy.

2. For safety purposes, children below 8 years old, and adults more than 60 years old are not permitted to trek to and from the falls. People with cardiovascular ailments are also not allowed to trek to the falls.

3. While there was no bathroom at the site of the falls, there was paid toilet and bath at the registration center.

After the orientation, we took a tricyle to the trek’s starting point, which was about 5 minutes’ drive. The cost of the tricycle ride was 50 pesos one way. I like how the local folks coordinated this type of transportation setup, because it regulates the flow of traffic, which is efficient because the roads were pretty narrow and I imagine could be hard to control if all guests were allowed to bring their cars to park near the dropoff. Plus, it also boosts the livelihood of the tricycle drivers of the municipality.

Ok so The Trek. Boy, was it intense. Going down is harder than climbing up. My thighs were literally shaking and begging me to rest. I realized that my 10,000 steps per day was not enough and clearly not all muscles were being worked out daily. This is the first time in a long time that I felt my thigh muscles sore. And until today, they’re still sore. Trekking

But the trek was all worth it. The Hulugan Falls was beautiful. There was a lot of trees and plants surrounding it and the area was clean. Flocks of swallows were flying about, and Joy said that in the summer months, families of monkeys would be seen playing up the trees. I was, once again, awestruck by the beauty of nature and its rawness. I felt blessed to have been able to see this beauty up close.Hulugan Falls

Next to the falls is an ancient tree that has withstood typhoons and flash floods. Nearby is a formation of rocks and caves. It was truly spectacular!Rock formations at the Hulugan Falls

The water was cold and clear. Joy said that the community spends two days a week – Mondays and I cannot remember what the other day was – to clean the area. I like how the locals purposely decided not to put up rubbish bins in the area so as to make guests accountable in bringing their trash with them. I really wish the cleanliness and simplicity of the place can be maintained for the benefit of the generations yet to come.Before and After

On the way back, we made the mandatory stop on the bibingka kiosks along the highway to get ourselves not just the freshly-made warm tasty bibingka, but also the unlimited coconut water that the sellers give for free. The coconut water was sweet and refreshing, and this was the icing on the cake for this daytrip. I also appreciated the friendliness and happy smiles that our bibingka sellers gave us. These gestures simply warm the heart, and will definitely bring me back to Luisiana soon.

Sustainable Living: Treasures From My Backyard Part 7

Onions

Hello and welcome back to my sustainable living series!

Today I will show you two plants that blossomed from our kitchen scraps: the onion and mint.

Before I became a concerned citizen of the earth, I always thought that all plants came from seeds, therefore before they even grow, a load of effort is required from the ‘planter’. Imagine my delight when I found that the onion and mint that we set aside from our kitchen staples sprouted into seedlings.

MintOnions

The mint took about two weeks to start growing, while the onion took about ten days to propagate. We had to move the onion to out enclosed pot garden though, because one of the four hens started digging through it.

The perks of having these two herbs home grown include saving on trips to the supermarket, and running into possibilities of not being able to consume all that we end up buying (hence waste). More importantly we are sure we are getting fresh and organic produce.

 

Sustainable Living: Treasures From My Backyard Part 6

Sprouts

I was able to stay away from rice for about the whole year of 2017 and started slipping back into the habit in 2018. So, this year I am mustering all my will power I try to cut off rice from my diet and replace it with greens.

Lettuce

It’s a good thing we are still in the cooler months, and I am quite pleased we are still able to grow lettuce at home. Here’s how the new sprouts look like. We cover them with screen because we found out that along with our mulberries, the lettuce are a source of joy by the birds that frequent our yard in the mornings. No wonder they sound so happy when I wake up. I’m happy to let them have a blast with the mulberries, but I need the lettuce for later…

Other than tossing them into salad, I also use the lettuce as a substitute for pita wrap. Sprouts

Gynura Procumbens

Another salad ingredient that we use are the leaves of the gynura procumbens. Now unlike the rest of the crops at home, I bought this baby from the local garden store. I thought they were ashitaba, only to find out months after that they’re not. I read that the gynura procumbens have medicinal benefits like treatment for cardiovascular and kidney diseases, constipation, diabetes, etc. While I am not sure if these claims are scientifically proven, all I know is that the leaves go well with salad – or soup. Gynura Procumbens

That’s all for now! See you again same time next week for the next part of this series.

Happy Tuesday!