Monday, 29 December 2008

Hotel and Inn Review: Hotel Vida Clark (Pampanga)


Date of Stay: December 29 - 30, 2008

RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: *******
Rooms: ********
Condition and Cleanliness: *********
Staff Performance: ********
Room Comfort: ********
Food and Beverage: *********
Other Amenities: *********
Value for Money: ********
The junior suite

Salt Coffee Shop
Hotel Vida’s modern but Southeast Asian-inspired façade, conveying both comfort and luxury, is a contrast of structure and nature.  Contrast is achieved through the combination of smooth walls against rough wood slate cladding. 
Aside from its abundant water features and lush vegetation, the unique, modern tropical theme is further emphasized by the exterior’s use of earth tone colors such as beige, brown and gray. Indigenous materials are used to enhance the tropical theme, through modern and innovative means. The interiors also mirror the same tropical and Asian influences of the façade, with its contrast of wall texture (smooth walls complimented by the roughness and hardness of natural stone).
Swimming pool area
Posing at the hotel lobby
This hotel's suites are equipped with state-of the-art amenities such as electronic entry lock; IDD/NDD phone; in-room safety box; a king size bed; a spacious living room area with trundle bed, a kitchen and bar with 6 cu. ft. refrigerator, coffee-making facility and a microwave oven; a balcony, toilet & bath with bathtub and 8” ceiling-mounted shower head; and a 32” LCD cable TV.  
Rooms here either offer a view of the adjacent golf course, the beautiful, free-form swimming pool and, much better, a verdant and well-manicured landscape crowned with palms and a plethora of majestic, century-old acacia trees. Water elements, in the form of artistically-designed fountains, compliment the existing landscape and soften, together with indoor plants, the hardness of stone and concrete within the lobby and coffee shop. 
Hotel Vida facade
The hotel was planned and laid out in such a way that natural ventilation, access to visually-stunning and picture-perfect views and use of space is optimized, thus providing a light and airy environment that exudes total relaxation and comfort, qualities which every guest will always look forward to.  The lobby is naturally lit by a skylight and huge fixed glass windows.  Similar windows provide an open and light feeling to the 110-pax restaurant and the 45-pax, open-air veranda pool view area, with its expansive views of the hotel pool and the lush, green surroundings.   

Note: Hotel Vida Clark is now renamed as Widus Hotel Clark
Hotel Vida Clark: 5414 M.A. Roxas Highway, Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga 2023.  Tel: (045) 499-1000.  Fax: (045) 499-0979.  Manila Office: UG-9 Cityland Herrera Tower, 98 V.A. Rufino corner Valero St., Salcedo Village, Makati City. Tel: (632) 840-1430.  Fax: (632) 840-3589.  Website: www.hotelvidaclark.com.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Restaurant Feature: Fresh Catch Isdaan (Gerona, Tarlac)


Fresh Catch Isdaan

Koi-filled fishpond
The open Fresh Catch Isdaan, along the highway in Gerona, has one huge koi-filled fishpond with "floating" (actually on stilts) cabanas with tables for diners, all connected by bamboo walkways.  

All over the place are huge, eye-catching statues of Buddhas, mermaids, monkeys, dinosaurs and crocodiles; Disney characters; noted Filipinos (Corazon Aquino, Joseph Estrada, Jaime Cardinal Sin, Ninoy Aquino, etc.)  as well as Marvel comic characters such as Batman, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk. 
Food served here was mostly Filipino, the restaurant being part of the Barrio Fiesta Restaurant Group.  Its signature dishes include chicken tinupig, sisig, adobong pusit, bulalo, manok sa gata, kare-karesinampalukan, sizzling tanigue, hototai (mixed vegetable soup), Bicol Express, pinakbetinihaw na liempo, buko pandan, binagoongang baboysinigang na hiponlumpiang shanghai, fried chicken or porkchop, lechon kawali, among others.  There were subli dancers as well as roaming singers with guitars serenading guests, all dressed in appropriate Filipiniana attire.  
Tacsiyapo Wall


A big surprise was the Tacsiyapo Wall, a cool and neat though not original idea which is bound to bring tourists, looking for stress relief, to this place.  Here, you can release your anger by throwing crockery such as cups (PhP15), bowls (PhP18), plates (PhP35), pitchers (PhP100), vases or even a broken TV (PhP2,000) at a wall.   

According to the attendant, to get the feel of it, you need to shout "tacsiyapo!" (A Kapampangan word meaning, at best, "shame on you" or, at worst, similar to the Tagalog P...I....).  Before throwing, you can choose at a  selection of targets on the wall such as "Taksil!," "Sip-sip!," "Bolero!," "Bolera!,""Ingitera!," "Tsismosa!," etc.  
Fresh Catch Isdaan: MacArthur Highway, Brgy. Salapungan, Gerona, 2302 Tarlac.  Tel: (045) 931-2196.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Concert Review: Bobby Kimball of Toto (Manila)


Bobby Kimball

I’ve always been a big, big fan of 1980s rock band Toto.  However, for the past 16 years, I’ve never watched their Philippine concerts though, the last held April 2-3 at the Cebu Waterfront Hotel and Araneta Coliseum respectively.  Naturally, I felt bad when Toto split up again a few months after the fact.  

But imagine my surprise when Toto founder and lead vocalist Bobby Kimball blew into town to do a series of solo Philippine concerts.  I and my son Jandy, another Toto fan, decided we won’t miss out on this one especially with the Mirror as one of its media sponsors.  It seems others had the same thing in mind as the 2,750-seat Aliw Theater, the new (opened October 2007) centerpiece of the Star City carnival complex and the country’s hottest new concert venue, was filled to the rafters with a sell-out crowd consisting mostly of the post-Baby Boomer generation (the young once) but also with a sizable group of young ones, all wanting to stroll down the rock music memory lane.    
Kimball sang as a vocalist in various area bands in New Orleans throughout the 1970s before he moved to Los Angeles in 1977and founded Toto with accomplished session musicians Steve Lukather (vocals/guitar), David Paich (keyboards), Jeff Porcaro (drums), David Hungate (bass guitar) and Steve Porcaro (keyboards).  The band’s September 1977 debut album immediately broke into the charts with the hit single, “Hold The Line,” as well as “Georgy Porgy,” “I’ll Supply The Love” and Bobby’s self-penned audition song “You Are The One.” 

Toto ultimately won international acclaim and went on to garner nine Grammy nominations (winning seven including “Best New Artist”).  However, Kimball left Toto in 1984, relocated to Germany and South America and resumed work as a session singer, performing background vocals for various artists, and played in Sao Paulo (Brazil), Los Angeles and Moscow.  

He rejoined the group in 1989, recording songs for Past to Present 1977-1990, its landmark greatest hits album. In 1990, Kimball left the band again, released a live album (Classic Toto Hits) in late 1990 and followed it up in 1994 with Rise Up, his debut solo album featuring the single “Woodstock.”  In 1998, he rejoined Toto and actively participated in the band’s numerous studio recording sessions and concert tours.  Toto officially disbanded on June 5, 2008.
The author with Bruce Conte, Bobby Kimball and Joe Lamont
Presented by Steve O’Neal Productions and BDS All Hits Productions, this first major solo Philippine concert of Bobby Kimball, the centerpiece of the Philippine leg (including stints in Bacolod City and Cebu City in the Visayas and Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City and General Santos City, Tagum City in Mindanao) of the 14-date, 13-city 2008 Grand Asian Tour ,was opened by the good looking Joe Lamont who sang his signature song "Victims of Love" (which also hit the airwaves and karaoke joints in the 1980s) plus “Can’t Live” and “Broken Dreams.” 

Besides writing songs and producing artists, Joe also promotes concerts worldwide. This 30-minute icebreaker heralded the arrival of Bobby with Bruce Conte’s (original guitarist of Tower of Power) band as backup. This hour-long performance met all expectations as Bobby sang my favorites “Rosanna,” “99” and “Hold the Line,” plus the other classic Toto hits “I Won’t Hold You Back,” “I’ll Be Over You,” “Anna,” “Georgy Porgy” (with Wowowee host Willie Revillame at drums) as well as the original Led Zeppelin hit “Stairway to Heaven”  plus guitar solos by Bruce.  

The show ended with the encore songs “Africa” and “Lucille.” To cap it all, Jandy had a personally autographed Bobby Kimball CD (with Bruce’s autograph thrown in for good measure).  I, for my part, couldn’t resist a photo op with Bobby, Bruce and Joe Lamont which the guys gladly provided.  What an evening!


Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Flavors of Spain in Clark (Pampanga)


Chef Mikel Arruiz and Juan Roca
The“Flavors of Spain,” a yearly culinary event, was now to be held at the new Hotel Vida at the Clark Economic Zone in Pampanga.  I was joined, together with Ms. Mitch Garcia, Fuego Hotels Marketing and Communications Manager, and her assistant Ms. Victoria “Tori” Teves-Vicente, by a media group which included fellow Business Mirror contributor Ms. Ethel S. Timbol (Dean of Philippine Lifestyle Editors) and Ms. Norma O. Chikiamco (“Filipino Homestyle Dishes” author).  
The trip from Ayala Center to the hotel took all of 2 hrs. and, upon arrival, we were welcomed by Korean hotel owner Mr. Daesik Han and Gen. Manager Mr. Juan Roca. A lunch featuring Spanish cuisine and wine, hosted by the Economic and Commercial Office (headed by Mr. Javier Alvarez Casanova) of the Embassy of Spain and prepared by Club Punta Fuego Resident Chef Mikel Arriet Arruiz (again the star of this running fiesta) and his culinary team, awaited us at the SALT Coffee Shop.
Clara Ole paella
The set menu included fardelito de berenjena relleno dequeso cremosogranizado de remolacha y aceite de pistachio (eggplant stuffed with cream cheese, beet root crush and pistachio oil), consome de txipriones, flotante de manchego, esfereas de pimiento verde y crujiente oscuro (squids consome, idiazabal flotins & black crackers), marmi-tako (tuna & potatoes stew), magret de pato con peras al romero (duck breast with pears & rosemary) and, for dessert, esferas de chocolate con limon (dark chocolate balls with lemon).  Also served was Clara Ole paella and country-style pasta.

Claude, Norma and Maryann
Come dinnertime, we were joined at the coffee shop by fellow travel writer, artist, culinary expert and Angeles resident Claude Tayag and his wife Maryann Tayag.  After a sumptuous buffet, it was chitchat time, with yours truly and Ethel regaling (or scaring) the others with our ghost stories.  The equally scared Norma also joined in with her signature Makati Medical Center elevator ghost.  Our stories must have had their desired effect as Mitch and Norma switched from separate rooms to adjoining rooms.  They wouldn’t even let me go until I accompanied them in the elevator (Norma is to blame here). Even so, they were so scared to go to their respective toilets.  I suggested catheters. 
Come breakfast (Filipino this time) at the coffee shop, it was the same group all over again minus Ethel who woke up with a fever (possibly “possessed” or sinapian by a ghost?).  She later joined us and the talk turned culinary with Claude at the helm.  Claude is the author of “Food Tour” and co-author of “Kulinarya.” Our breakfast talk soon extended into lunch and we decided to go Asian and indulge in Korean fare which included the signature bulgogi.   As with all things in life, the good times never last forever and it was time to pack up and go back to our respective homes, families and jobs in Manila. However, to soften the blow of leaving, Claude did not let us go without an early Christmas pasalubong of his signature Claude 9 inasal barbecue marinade, Oriental sauce and pure crab fat.  Now that’s la vida!      
Hotel Vida Clark: 5414 M.A. Highway, Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga 2023.  Tel: (045) 499-1000.  Fax: (045) 499-0979.  Manila Office: UG-9 Cityland Herrera Tower, 98 V.A. Rufino corner Valero St., Salcedo Village, Makati City. Tel: (632) 840-1430.  Fax: (632) 840-3589.  Website: www.hotelvidaclark.com.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Hotel and Inn Review: Taal Vista Hotel (Tagaytay City, Cavite)

Date of Stay: May 30 - June 1, 2008

RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: ********
Rooms: *********
Condition and Cleanliness: ********
Staff Performance: *********
Room Comfort: *********
Food and Beverage: ********
Other Amenities: ********
Value for Money: *******
Taal Vista Hotel

De luxe room
Taal Vista Hotel,  Taal Volcano original grand viewdeck, has 88 interconnected superior rooms, 32 exquisitely designed deluxe rooms and 6 suites, all offering spectacular views of verdant gardens or of Taal Lake and Volcano. 

All are fully-equipped with electronic entry lock, cable television, IDD/NDD telephone , mini-bar, coffee and tea making equipment and in-room safe. The original building now houses the hotel’s front desk, business center, shops, ball room and meeting rooms. 
Seasons


Swimming pool
The building also has three food and beverage outlets: Cafe-on-the-Ridge, Season’s, and the Lobby Lounge.  

Cafe-on-the-Ridge offers a la carte & buffet service, Spanish and Asian cuisine and live entertainment at night. Seasons is a perfect place for intimate dinners and cozy get-togethers.  The Lobby Lounge's well-stocked bar offers light meals, coffee or cocktails. 

At the view deck

Taal Volcano and Lake
The hotel also has a free-form swimming pool, the 700-seater Sampaguita Ballroom, the Bougainvillea Tent, 7 smaller but well-designed and flexible function rooms, muscle-stretching gym, game room and children’s play area and the tropical style Ylang-Ylang Spa

Horseback-riding is a popular activity and, for the more glitzy ones, the Casino Filipinos a stone’s throw-away. A more popular itinerary for guests though includes lake tours and a visit to the Taal Volcano.  




Cultural show

Taal Vista Hotel: Tagaytay City, Cavite.  Tel: (046) 886-4325 and (046) 413-1000.  Fax: (046) 413-1225.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Resort Review: Ivy's Vine Resort (San Jose, Romblon)

Date of Stay: April 23 -24, 2008

RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: ******
Rooms: ******
Condition and Cleanliness: ******
Staff Performance: *******
Room Comfort: ******
Food and Beverage: *******
Other Amenities: *****
Value for Money: ******

Ivy's Vine Resort

Fan-cooled room
Ivy's Vine Resort, on Carabao Island (locally called Hambil), is situated close to the heart of San Jose and within walking distance from the docking area for boats from Caticlan (Malay, Aklan).  The island is also a 30-min. boat ride from Puka Beach in nearby Boracay island.  It has 7 spacious, fan-cooled rooms with private bath and a 3-4 pax dorm-type rooms with common bath.
It also has an open-air, on site thatched roofed restaurant, a 2-storey bar, a dive center (the only one on the island) and a lovely private beach.
The resort's bar and restaurant


Since January 2014, the resort has a new owner and has been renamed White Beach Dive & Kite Resort. It has, aside from the other amenities, airconditioned as well as fan-cooled rooms, 2 billiard tables and a beauty center. The resort also offers child and babysitting services, massage, room service and bicycle rental.
White Beach Dive & Kite Resort: Brgy. Lanas, San Jose 5510, Romblon. Tel: (037) 961-0244.  Mobile number: (0916) 124-6288.  E-mail: juergen.sturm@me.com.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Interview: Kaya ng Pinay Mt. Everest Team

The author with 3 gutsy ladies
Janet Belarmino
During a visit to Club Balai Isabel (Talisay, Batangas) I met, in person, 3 women who exemplify the Pinay spirit at its best: the Kaya ng Pinay Mt. Everest Team composed of Janet Belarmino-Serdenia, Carina Dayondon and Noelle Wenceslao.  
These 3 Filipinas, all members of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), made history by becoming the first Southeast Asian women to reach the summit of 8,848-m. (29,028-ft.) high Mt. Everest (also called Mt. Qomolangma), the world’s tallest mountain (literally the top of the world) and the ultimate challenge to human endurance (it has now been summitted 3,067 times). 
Carina Dayondon
Everest sits on the border of Nepal and the Tibetan region of China. In 2006, Filipinos Leo Oracion, Erwin “Pastour” Emata and Romy Garduce successfully climbed from Nepal on the shorter but arguably the more dangerous, so-called South-East route. 
The 3 women are the first women in the world to traverse or cross Everest from the less treacherous North side (with its earlier summit window) to the South side, crossing the mountain from Tibet to Nepal, a feat done by a handful of mountaineers – all of them men. The traverse poses a bigger challenge for the women as they will be passing an unfamiliar route to come down the mountain.
Janet, from Nueva Vizcaya, is a member of the University of the Philippines Mountaineers, a fitness instructor for the Moro Lorenzo Fitness Gym in Ateneo and an excellent sport climber, lawn tennis coach and champion triathlete.  Noelle, a prized member of the Dragonboat team, is also an expert biker, extreme adventure athlete and mountaineer.  
Both women were consistent winners in the Philippine and Hong Kong legs of the AXN adventure races. Carina, a formidable sport climber and the youngest member of the team, has been scaling mountains in her native Bukidnon since she was 17 when she was studying at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City.  She climbed 7,548-m. (24,758-ft.) high Muztagh Ata in China-Pakistan, the highest peak ever reached by any Filipino, man or woman, before Everest.  
Noelle Wenceslao
Carina and Noelle, plus team doctor Ted Esguerra, documenter Fred B. Jamili, Emata and team leader Arturo Valdez, were to leave on May 19 to participate at the 42-km. 6th Hillary-Tenzing Mt. Everest Marathon, the highest marathon in the world (commemorates the 55th anniversary of the Edmund Hillary-Tenzing Norgay climb), from the 17-149-ft. level Mt. Everest Base Camp at Nepal (South side) to the town of Namche Bazar in Nepal (11,300 ft.), over rough and treacherous trails with two steep uphill sections. Ten days later, on May 29, Carina finished first, among foreign female climbers and behind 7 Nepali women, in the aforementioned marathon, with a time of 6 hours and 45 minutes. 
At a presscon held at the resort’s function room, all 3 recounted their hardships and sacrifices in the face of what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles. Janet had to battle personal problems prior to the climb, giving birth, in December 2006, to a healthy baby boy named Himalaya, just one month before their training for the Everest climb started (she was thus, the first woman to summit Everest just months after giving birth). She said it was emotionally a very difficult thing to leave her small son at home with her husband Ricky and join the expedition, putting her life at great risk at the mercy of the mountain. 
Noelle, on the other hand, lost her mom to a stroke as she was on her way to the airport to pick up Noelle who successfully climbed 20,320-ft. Mt. McKinley (also called Mt. Denali) in Alaska, the highest in North America.  Carina, on the other hand, was the family’s breadwinner.  During the climb, they also missed their families in the Philippines – something that proved to be an additional burden for them. At the Himalayas, Noelle also suffered from acute mountain sickness (AMS) and pulmonary edema while climbing (she had to descend to 5,000 m. to recover).
Their skin, especially on the face, was damaged due to the extreme cold and heat. All came down with blotches and sunburn on their faces. Theoretically, the 3 women’s route was longer and the journey much more difficult. During their climb, the weather was not too cooperative. They carried backpacks weighing 50 lbs, an ice axe that is at least 2 lbs. and wore high altitude boots and down suit that acted like thermal blankets. 
The Filipinas also had to negotiate the dreaded Khumbu Icefall (where 3 Sherpas recently lost their lives), a large slab of ice that covers the lower part of the mountain's south face. Ice seracs (pointed masses of ice), deep crevasses and ever-shifting masses of ice make for a dangerous trek. Climbers usually use metal ladders to cross crevasses, making sure that the anchors on their ropes are secure.  Down the mountain, at Camp 2 (which has a reputation as the "Death Zone" where extreme cold can sap a climber's strength), the Filipinas will encounter the Lhotse Face, a steep and narrow ice-laden ledge. 
Janet and her Mt. Everest outfit
Combining hard work, dogged determination and a positive attitude, they all conquered these obstacles by training to be tough mentally as well as physically. They went to New Zealand to train for alpine climbing.  On the Himalayan range in Nepal, they climbed the lower, 5,500-m. high Gokyo Ri (which had a full view of Everest) so that their body could adjust to the lower oxygen level (50% compared to sea level) at higher altitudes.   
In spite of strong support from sponsors and a solid team behind their backs, they still worked on a tight budget.  Their route, aside from being relatively safer, was also cheaper as the permit for climbing, per person, from Tibet is about $4,000 compared to $10,000 on the Nepalese side. They did their laundry in very cold rivers and, to save on shower expenses, they did not take a bath for more than 60 days.   
A small window of good weather (very clear with winds in between 20-30 kms./hr.), a little good luck, prayers back home and a lot of determination, they reached the top of Everest to once again plant the Philippine flag on the highest point in the world. Noelle (with Sherpa Lakpa Gyalzen) was the first to reach the summit at 6:10 am Nepal time (8:10 am in Manila) followed by Carina (with Pemba Choti) 10 minutes later.  They stayed on the summit for 20 minutes.   Janet, who reportedly initially lost radio contact with the Philippine team at the Everest’s base camp, was delayed because she had to wait her turn among the climbers wanting to reach the summit. She arrived at around 7:45 am, Nepal time, with Pasang Norbu. 

All three Sherpas guided Leo Oracion and Pastor Emata in their historic climb to Everest.  This was no small feat for three tough-as-nails ladies whose childhood exposure to ice, until three years before (in India), was limited to ice cubes, sorbetes and halo-halo.  Again, they proved that if we set our minds to it and unite in a common cause, we can climb whatever heights and reach whatever distance we imagine. They didn’t just do it for themselves, but for all the Filipinas around the world struggling to conquer their own mountains.  In doing so, they have again made the country proud and left a legacy of hope, faith and triumph of the human spirit.  The real victory is conquering, not Mt. Everest, but ourselves, our fears, our insecurities and our differences.