Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Star Trek 2009

Just finished watching Star Trek 2009 (yeah, it appeared in cinemas half a year ago). Although I don't consider myself a Trekkie, I enjoyed this movie. I did not really start watching Star Trek until Jean-Luc Picard's (Patrick Stewart) Star Trek The New Generation (ST:TNG). I did not find the old James Kirk (William Shatner) series that interesting because, well, as an older series, the special effects were pretty lame back then.

Star Trek 2009 is actually a prelude to the original Star Trek series. But since it was done 2009, computer-generated imagery has greatly improved. The story started with the birth of James Tiberius Kirk amidst a battle. It also explained how he got his name -- "James" from his maternal grandfather and "Tiberius" from his paternal grandfather. It also showed the early years of all the other casts of the Enterprise bridge -- notably the young versions of Spock, Scotty, Chekhov, Sulu and Uhura.

Zachary Quinto played a great Spock. He does have some semblance with Leonard Nimoy (the original Spock), who was also in the film as the older/original Spock, now an Ambassador, who got sucked back through time because of a wormhole. Zachary is better known to sci-fi afficionados as Sylar, the baddie at the hit TV Series Heroes. I admit it still takes me some effort to see him as anyone other than playing the bad guy. And at first, his young Spock character was the antagonist of the young Kirk.

Eric Bana as the Romulan bad guy Nero was unrecognizable under the heavy make-up. Zoe Saldana as the young Uhura was pretty hot. The romantic twist between Uhura and Spock felt odd though as there were no hints in the "future" Star Trek of any relationship between them.

The film's action and special effects were pretty good. The plot is a bit far-fetched and I'm not too sold on the idea of the person meeting his own future self (ie. young Spock meeting old Spock at the ending). I guess I've always subscribed to the Back to the Future concept where ones present self cannot meet his future or past self without causing a major rift in the space-time continuum. :) But overall, I give the film a two thumbs up.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Busuanga Day 3

With still a whole morning to kill, we had early breakfast and went hiking up to Eagle's Point. Eagle's Point is the highest point in Club Paradise. The hike itself was rather short (maybe 2 kms at most?). Certain portions were steep, but the walking path is quite simple to follow.
On the way to the top, one would pass by the way to "Hidden Beach". There's also a nipa hut middle of the way for weary travelers who want to catch some breath. At the very top is a concrete structure which allows the hiker to get a 360-degree view of Dimakya Island and its surrounding. It was mid-day and getting hot so Cols wanted to get down as quickly as possible.
The rest of the morning was spent resting lazily. We had pizza for lunch (after a couple of lunches and dinners at the same buffet restaurant, we figured we've had enough and wanted something simpler). We left the resort by 1:30pm along with some other foreign guests. We took the boat ride back to the ferry station; then the dusty jeepney ride to the airpot.

Busuanga airport was jointly built with funding from South Korea. Its very simple and had no aircon or souvenir stores. Our PAL Express flight left promptly at 4:30pm and Caitlin fetched us from NAIA 3 back in Manila.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Day 2 at Club Paradise in Busuanga

After a hearty breakfast, we waited for our 9am island hopping tour. We were supposed to take the resort's regular transport boat, but because it was sent out to pick up supplies, they had to let us use the speedboat instead. Cols was a bit apprehensive about the speedboat. I was also a bit concerned, but not because of safety reasons. Rather, I was concerned that it can get very hot during the morning and the speedboat did not have any roof.
As it turned out, our concerns were largely unfounded. In fact, it may have been a blessing-in-disguise as the speedboat probably traveled twice faster than the regular boat, allowing us to spend less time on the travel and more on swimming. Also, the heat was not as intense as one would expect from, say, Boracay. I'm not sure why considering it was not really that cloudy either.

The first stop of our half-day, 3-hour island hopping package was a privately-owned island. There was a concrete picnic table setup there. The beach itself was not that fantastic, but I guess the guide brought us there more because of the marine life. There was certainly a lot more fishes here as compared to the house reef. The guide brought some bread to draw in the fishes. Unfortunately, I was not fast enough to react and was not able to quickly take photos with my "underwater camera".
Next stop was Rock Island. The aptly named island was, well, "rocky". There was not much beach to speak of. From the shore, its all rocks and corals. But this place, by far, had the best undersea marine life ranging from all sorts of colorful fishes to giant corals and blue starfishes.

On a side note, I finally figured out how to dive with a snorkel in my mouth! Yeah, I know its pretty lame for divers. Although I've used snorkels countless of times, I've always swallowed water when I try submerging. Now I know the technique of how to keep air in the tube without sucking in water!
Our 3rd island stop was Isla Walang Lang-aw (translated "Island Without Trees"). Its a very small island just across Dimakya island. I don't know why they called it island "without trees" considering there were a couple of trees right in the middle of the island.
By this time, Cols and I had a bit too much swimming and snorkeling already. So we just mainly took photos at this island, which is the most picturesque among the 3 we visited this morning. Strange rock protrusions and a small cave provided background for some great photos.

We got back to Club Paradise by noon time. Today was the much-awaited Pacquiao vs. Cotto boxing match. The resort's Jungle Bar had a satellite TV setup which aired the fight live. The dining hall was practically empty as everyone squeezed into the bar to watch the fight. Pacquiao won a record 7th title in 7 weight divisions which brought the house down. Even though most of the guests at the resort were foreigners, they all seem to be rooting for the local hero.

We were too tired from the morning excursion. So we slept the entire afternoon off. The sole of my Reebok rubber sandals also got detached so I had housekeeping put rugby on it to make it usable again since I did not bring any backup footwear.
The evening dinner was held on the beach. It was Filipiniana night with cultural dancing show. I guess this is a "must-have" for all local resorts who cater largely to foreign guests. The usual medley of local folk dances ranging from pandango sa ilaw to tinikling were highlighted. The foreign guests were invited to join the number and many of them gamely joined adding to the fun.

It was a very starry night. Its rare to see so much stars up in the sky living in the city with lots of pollution. I wish I had the necessary photo equipment to capture the sky.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Our Palawan Anniversary Honeymoon

We woke up 6am and had the driver bring us to Valle. Although its a Saturday, Caitlin had make-up class due to the long holidays brought about by Typhoon Ondoy. Dad's driver drove us to the airport so our driver can go back to LGV and bring Caitlin to school. This is my second surprise trip to Cols, and by far, the longest-kept secret. I booked this trip back two months ago and have kept her in suspense. Up to this morning, she doesn't know where exactly we're going!

We got off at NAIA Terminal 3. Senator Kiko Pangilinan (Sharon Cuneta's husband) entered the terminal same time we did. Some of the airport personnel took photos with him. We went straight to the PAL Express counter. There were 2 open counters at that time -- one to Busuanga and the other to Surigao. I was teasing Cols that we're going to Surigao then shifted to the Busuanga lane much to her surprise since she has never heard of the place Busuanga before.

We noticed at the airport terminal that most people headed off to Busuanga are foreigners. As always, foreigners seem to know how to go to exotic places, whereas locals tend to frequent the more popular off-the-mill destinations. Since the PAL Express plane was small, we had to take a transit bus to get to the plane. Inside the bus, I felt that we were the tourist in our own country since almost everyone else was Caucasian.

We took the 8:45am flight and arrived Busuanga 9:50am. The plane was propeller-based and had a seat configuration of two seats on each side of the aisle. Busuanga is not that far from Manila but I guess the propeller-based planes still took an hour because they're slower compared to jet. I mean, jet planes can take you to Visayas in an hour and that's actually farther.

Busuanga is located at the northernmost tip of Palawan, and is not too far from Mindoro already. Its part of a group of islands called the Calamian Group of Islands, which is geologically detached from the rest of the Palawan land mass. Busuanga is the biggest of the islands and is considered the gateway to Coron, the province that is getting popular for tourists looking for something off-the-beaten-track. This area is especially popular to divers as there are several World War II sunken shipwrecks under its waters.

The rugged mountainous terrain of Busuanga is awesome to behold. The airplane landed in an airstrip surrounded by really tall mountains. The airport of Gen San is also nestled between mountains, but not as striking as this one. As soon as the passengers/tourists disembarked from the plane, everyone started taking pictures of the plane, the airport and its surroundings.

The airport is nothing fancy. Very simple; no airconditioning; clean (except for the toilets which elicited some negative remarks from the foreigners). We were giving arrival cards to fill-up -- that's something new for a local airport! I brought my 2 phones, however, I could not get any signal on my Globe Handyphone whereas my Smart picked up a strong 3G signal.

As we got out of the terminal, we were greeted by the hotel staff. Together with 3 other groups, we boarded a jeepney to take us to the boat. The 15-min jeepney ride was a very bumpy and dusty one. The tourists seem to be enjoying their "first jeepney ride". The color of the soil/dust is reddish and not your typical brown dust.
We arrived at a small pier where a white boat was waiting for us. The ship crew served sandwiches and juices to the guests as the boat waded through a very calm river bordered on both sides by mangroves. The scenery was gorgeous and this must be what its like to ride a boat through the Amazon river. I was waiting for a giant anaconda to bring out from one of the mangroves just like in the movies!
The boat ride took about 45 min. We passed by a small fishing village along the way. We had a stopover at El Rio y Mar, a sister resort of Club Paradise to pickup/drop-off some passengers; drove further to open waters, and finally arrived at Club Paradise by around noon just in time for lunch.
Club Paradise is in Dimakya Island, or rather, Club Paradise IS Dimakya Island. The German owners, leased the entire island and built Club Paradise on it. As our boat approached its shores, the dark blue waters turned into a verdant turquoise color. The beach was powdery white and can go head-to-head with the sands of Boracay. The place is a whole lot more peaceful though as it does not have the typical party crowd of Boracay or Puerto Gallera.

The in-house band greeted us with their Club Paradise jingle while the resort staff provided us with cold towels and welcome drinks. We dropped off our things at our beachfront cottage #3 and went for buffet lunch. Club Paradise stay packages all include meals on board. After all, there's really no place else to eat unless you take the boat off the island.
We rested a bit after lunch then went snorkeling at house reef. All snorkeling gears -- masks, fins, life vests, etc. can be borrowed for free. We tested our Dicapac underwater camera casing and got some shots. It was pretty difficult to use but at least we were able to take some underwater shots with our Canon EOS DSLR. The house reef did not have that much marine life though so the shots were not really fantastic.
After snorkeling, we lazily lounged around the swimming pool area. The pool's water was very hot so it wasn't really refreshing. I also realized that I lost our room key. It most likely got washed off at the beach when we went snorkeling. So I had to request for a key to be duplicated and paid the fee. I tried to go online using the Globe Tattoo USB modem but the connection was really spotty. I can only get a GPRS signal, and not 3G. Smart's signal in Busuanga is definitely much better than Globe's.

Dinner was buffet again at the main dining hall. There's not much activities at night on the island. So after dinner we headed back to our cottage. I also don't know why but it wasn't windy at all in our cottage. I suspect the wind must be on the eastern side of the island. We're at the western side facing the sunset. So it was quite hot to stay out on our porch even at night.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Underwater Casing for Canon EOS 400 Digital SLR

I passed by V-Mall after work to buy the underwater DICAPAC (Digital Camera Pack?) casing. Its a generic plastic casing that uses ziploc-style seals combined with velcro to prevent water from seeping in. It can fit pretty much any time of digital SLR camera with regular lenses. I guess those really long-range, fancy zoom lenses would not fit. But since I'm still using the good-ol' kit lens, its not really an issue.

The pack costs PHP3,500 and is sold by Abacus Computer. I saw it a few months ago and have been planning on getting one. Since we're off to Busuanga tomorrow, I decided its finally time to get it. Just think of it as my advance birthday gift to myself.

Everytime we go to the beach, we always think of buying a disposable underwater camera. I figure the one-time cost of this pack should be cheaper than buying disposable cameras in the future. Its certainly cheaper than buying those new underwater point-and-shoot cameras by Canon, Olympus, etc.

Upon getting home, I performed the waterproof test suggested by the store. Put tissue inside and submerge the casing under water. If the tissue shows wetness afterwards, there must be a hole in the casing so return it for warranty. But then, since we're already leaving tomorrow for our trip, I just have to hope that nothing goes wrong with this unit. Will be posting my underwater photos from Busuanga soon!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Subic Day Trip

We were planning to go to Subic today to break-in our (still relatively new) Montero. However, our driver, Ado, pointed out that its too risky since we still do not have a plate. So we decided last minute to just take the old Honda CRV. So there's Driver Ado, me, Cols, the kids, Yaya Rose, and the two maids, Marlyn and Gina -- all squeezed into the CRV.

We left house past 9am because we were waiting for Cols' Punchdrunk Panda laptop sleeve to arrive. Since the courier was running late, we decided to just leave. While along North Ave., Ado decided to try a newly opened highway that is supposed to connect to NLEX. As it turned out, portions of the road is still not completed so we ended up driving through narrow streets along a row of factories until we eventually connected to NLEX. That wasted a bit of time, but we made up for it once we got onto NLEX and then to SCTEX.

We reached Subic around lunch time. So our first task was to look for a restaurant. Not finding any Filipino restaurant, we ended up in some Chinese dimsum place. Not wasting time after a quick lunch, we headed to the Royal Subic Duty Free shopping area. I went to the different Nike outlets but they are all selling broken sizes -- none for my size 8-1/2" foot. Bummer.

While waiting for Cols at Royal Subic, I got a phone call from my brother-in-law Leslie. He just called to let me know that Nikki has been hospitalized due to something in her colon (diverticulitis?). They did not want to call Dad directly as he might panic. So it was passed on to me to tell him the news and try to explain it as clearly as possible. But still, as expected, Dad panicked a bit when I called. Les assured us though that Nikki is fine and that we can call him the next day (their time) to find out more.

After shopping, we drove a bit further towards Ocean Adventure. The kids wanted to see the wild monkeys along the roadside. Sure enough, I spotted a couple along the road. We stopped so that our driver can give some bananas. And the entire monkey clan quickly appeared to share on the bounty.

On the way back, I instructed the driver to detour to Tree Top Adventures. Its one of the newer attractions that I've been thinking of seeing for some time. I think it replaces the Jungle Survival Training (JEST) camp as it incorporates some of its activities. In fact, its situated just right next to it.
Tree Top Adventure attractions include walking between the trees; rappelling down one of the trees; and ziplining between trees. After taking a quick overview of the activities available from one of the guides, I decided to try out the rappelling.

There were three types of rappelling available -- the "standard" (butt first); the "Australian" (face first ala Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible); and the "reverse lizard" (where you go down head first like Spiderman). The "standard" was too plain for me; while the "lizard" was too extreme. So I opted for the "Australian" style.

The hardest part was actually stepping off the ramp. From there, it wasn't really that scary. The guy controlling the rope tried to give me (and the crowd) a scare by giving a short jerk on the rope. From there, I was dropped by about 60 to 70 feet to a few feet before hitting the ground. The fall was not really that fast. I think the rappel rope had a natural effect of slowing down the fall with its resistance.

Below is a video of my fall. Cols took it with the Canon IXUS in portrait mode. So you have to watch it sideways with your head tilted 90-degrees to the left!

From Treetop Adventure, it was back to Manila. We had dinner at Katips in Katipunan first before going home.

Friday, November 6, 2009

How Many Internet and Phone Users In The Philippines

I attended a Frost & Sullivan Telecom conference at the Hotel Intercon. These conferences are normally expensive, but I got a free invitation. I guess the organizers must have met their sponsorship quota already and just wanted to fill up the space. :)

There were several interesting stats revealed during the various presentations. In 2008, the Philippines had 7.4M fixed line users and 68.1M mobile users. Internet penetration has reached 15%, or about 20M users. Of these, the PLDT group accounted for 1.2M -- that's for Broadband DSL + SmartBro. Globe had 379,000.

Even though mobile penetration is high, 3G usage is very low at 4%. Traditional 2.5G accounts for 12%, and good ol' 2G still has the lion share at 84%. Philippines is still predominantly a prepaid country with 97% using this mode of subscription.