Summer Dreams 2014

coming soon

Granada Nicaragua

In Search or the Perfect Ceviche and other adventures out soon in my TravelOkcity column, Leisure+Adventure Magazine, and here.

Marshall Islands

Got Wasabi? (A deep sea fishing adventure in the Marshall Islands)

Prairie Dog Town

Adventures in the city of Oklahoma and beyond in my travel column, TravelOkcity.

Hefner Lake Park

Adventures in the city of Oklahoma and beyond in my travel column, TravelOkcity.

Huahin, Thailand

The warm hospitality of a boutique hotel in the beach resort town of royalty in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Can You Get Any Whiter? (on the Whitening Craze in the Philippines)

Published by Planet Philippines Magazine distributed in London, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Melbourne Toronto, Edmonton

Reveling in the blessings of the sun. (Bintan, Indonesia)

This was a whitening product’s commercial tagline a few years back. The ad shows a girl’s face magically being peeled, layer after layer until she turns deathly white. The TV ad ends with the statement: “Your whitest skin ever.” 

Ana Viajera on the cover!

“Why?” I yelled back at the TV, forgetting for a moment that it was called an idiot box for a reason. But I couldn’t help it. The commercial made my brown skin bristle. I wonder why ads like these would presume that I would like a pasty pallor. It baffles me and at the same time insults me. Why don’t we ever get commercials on bronzers that enhance the morena glow?

While Pinoys hide under whitening creams, halfway across the planet people bask under the sun (Waikiki).

A similar TV campaign caught the attention of the media in India, calling the ad, where a man replaces his former love with someone who had lighter skin, racist. The broadcast journalists were outraged, saying “she’s unbelievably beautiful, but if you want to get the guy, you have to get whiter.”

My husband getting his tan on. (Coco Loco, Palawan)

I was just as incensed, but as if to appease me, the clip was suddenly followed by a commercial showing a fair-skinned model surrounded by her bronze-skinned friends. She is questioned as to why she’s so pale. Has she been using whitening lotion? 

The secret? “Hindi siya nakasama sa beach”.

Milk or coffee? Either sounds good to me! (Marshall Islands)

Few commercials like this actually challenge the idea of what consumerism wants to capitalize on. White is not necessarily beautiful. Boldly, the commercial states that being white can equate to inactivity, being strapped for cash, and maybe even poor health.

The London edition of Planet Philippines. Ana Viajera is going global!

So while the sun worshipers in the commercial are showing off their tans, the pasty-skinned lead is left cooped up in her office.  The commercial suggests that she is missing out on the blessings of the sun and a much needed R&R. Although she was pale, she didn’t look ghastly, but the advertisement implies that if she did have a choice, she’d rather be out getting her tan on. 

Many women are lovely with their China doll complexion. Kris Aquino looks like a pretty kabuki doll in her porcelain skin. Gwen Stefani is the quintessential modern Snow White with her pouty red lips set against flawless ivory skin.

From the Planet Philippines website.

Then there are people who no matter what they do, just can’t get a tan. My husband is Caucasian and tanning for him is a futile and frustrating exercise. After baking under the sun for hours, he’d end up with angry red splotches on his cheeks that burn and itch. Like him, some people are naturally fair skinned and they’re beautiful that way.

What can I say? I worship the sun! (Bintan, Indonesia)

In the same way, morenas are beautiful in their own skin, but many choose to go lighter, believing that beauty is in the light. For instance, my morena friend, Summer: if not for her sunny personality, her name would have been an irony because she shies away from the sun for fear of skin darkening. Teasing her, I told her that bronze skin is very cosmopolitan and fashionable. Promptly, she answered, “pangit na nga ako, magpapaitim pa?” Correct me if I’m wrong but, is she saying that being dark makes one even ugly or uglier? Many kayumanggis like her cover themselves in globs of sun block, not because they want to be protected from photoaging or skin cancer, but because they abhor getting darker. 

I once took a friend to the pool a day before her wedding. People pointed accusing fingers at me on the day of the wedding.  “She dragged the bride to go swimming before the wedding! Lahat ng nagpapakasal, nagpapaputi.” The horror! The horror! Never mind that she looked radiant in her tan and white dress.

Read the full article at Planet Philippines.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Banner 2012

My web developer Cherie Del Rio taught me the magic of photo enhancing.

Like a butterfly, spring descended upon us gingerly this year. It hovered over us teasingly through the last breaths of winter. Every day I watch as it unfolds its colorful wings before me through my office window – the grass is getting greener and thicker like carpet, the crepe myrtle trees that we thought wouldn’t make it through the summer drought and the harsh winter are blooming timidly with bright little leaves, and the Valentine flowers from my husband last year has resurrected in bright purples and yellows. He had wanted to throw them out, thinking they were dead. I thought we should give them a chance and asked him to plant the withered potted bouquet in our backyard where it now blooms like  the delicate winged creatures. 

    The one that didn't make it to the final cut.

So of course, I have to have a butterfly on my desk. They after all come out in the early parts of spring. Butterflies also have a special meaning to me, but I will reveal more on that later on. The butterfly notebook is my journal for 2012. I have kept a daily journal since 1987. So yes, I can tell you what I did and with whom and probably how I felt exactly 20 years ago from today. 

The first flowers of spring that bloomed in our backyard...
One of the books featured on the desk is Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt. What does it have to do with travel? It took me to Ireland, a different kind of Ireland that I’ve known – the land of rolling lush hills and lilting accents, and of course, the home of the greatest rock and roll band in the world, one of my favorite constants in my life: U2.

was from last year's Valentine's bouquet from my boys.

The Ireland that McCourt showed me was not quite as romantic. It was wet and dreary. I’ve known poverty most of my life, living in the Philippines. I’ve seen it up close, touched it, smelled it, and heard it. But Angela’s Ashes showed me a different face of dearth where children go to school in the dead of winter with no shoes on. Many children in the Philippines have to contend with hunger but I cannot imagine how it must be like to be hungry AND freezing.  And now that I have a little one of my own,  the impact on me is even more powerful.

  They bloomed even brighter this year, although the bugs got to them first.
Another thing about the book that made a great impression on me is the author’s voice. He wrote it using the voice of a 10-year-old. I could hardly remember much of my childhood, at least not with the kind of vividness that he expressed it with. How he managed to retell his days of youth with much clarity, honesty, and authority and still bring out the innocence and humor only a young mind could muster is a brilliant feat.

The flowers on the banner are from this year's Valentine's bouquet.

And yes, Ireland is in our future Itinerary. A few years back, my husband had planned a trip to Ireland but a twist of fate led him to the farthest eastern part of Europe.  While my husband wants to trace his roots, being part Irish, I’d like to look for The Kitchen in Dublin and hopefully find Paul Hewson and hear his thoughts about the apartheid in South Africa with Guinness as our company. Incidentally, while I’m writing this, my in-laws are in Ireland, roaming the damp streets. I heard it’s the rainy season there right now. I trust that the rain will wash away the country’s sad history, and that they will find beauty in the water’s sheen.

The Valentine that Finn and I made for his daddy that traces my son's footprints.

And how can you miss the book on Nicaragua? The tickets have been bought  and reservations have been made. We will be having our summer adventure in spring. It would be so darn nice to feel the sun on my bare shoulders again after walking around in several layers for months.

The little boy from which I stole the toy jeepney from is no longer a little one.

Then there’s the little orange jeepney, a quintessential Manila icon. I stole the toy from my younger brother Perry. Of course he’s not so young anymore, so I doubt if he even noticed that it’s gone. My son pushes it around on our hard wood floors now. I like how something is passed down from one generation to the other. Maybe he’ll hand it down to his son someday.   Assuming of course that he won’t chew the tires off first.

Anyway, another reason why I included this toy in my banner is because I’ve recently joined another publication represented by the jeepney. Thanks to the referral of my web master, Cherie Del Rio. I’m now one of the contributors for Planet Philippines, a global publication that is seeing circulationin London, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Melbourne Toronto, Edmonton. Yes, Ana Viajera is going global! Aptly, my first article is titled Romancing Manila (from A to Zzzz).

Meet my newest travel companion.

And finally, the newest addition to my travel tools: the Canon DSLR. I’ve always loved taking pictures as far as I can remember. Somebody once said that my life is so well documented in pictures and in words (the journals, remember?).  For many years as a travel writer, I have explored in the company of professional photographers. Now that I’ve relocated, I have to rely on my own pictures. The newest addition in my life, my son, has also encouraged me to taking photographs more seriously, because I would like to capture  every smile and every quirk that brings so much joy to our life.

I hope to capture his every quirk with my new camera.

But let me make this clear- especially to the photographers who scoff at those who think they’re photographers just because they have a DSLR and lenses that are inversely proportional to the length of their …well…you can fill in the blank here – I have no illusions about being a photographer. I know little about the poetry of light, shape, shadow, color,  and texture. I merely  love to take pictures and hope to tell my story better not in words alone but as Cherie would put it , through “poetry in four edges”. I’ve never been any good in poetry anyway, at least not the kind that is measured in quatrains and such. You won’t find me prattling about f/stops and shutter speeds here. No, there won’t be numbers here or technical jargon. I promise. Only my attempts of showing my footprints in more dimensions.

            I never travel without my sunglasses. The pair featured on the desk is my favorite Steve Maddens.
Photo by Cherie Del Rio.


Why the disclaimer? In my line of work, I have had the privilege of collaborating with numerous professional photographers. When I say professional, I mean those who are actually published by reputable publications, get paid for their pictures, get assigned to go somewhere, or even conduct classes. And I understand how they regard the wannabes who so highly think of themselves just because they have a 70-200mm f/2.8L telephoto zoom lens  and friends who don’t know any better but are generous with their praises.   I do however have great respect for the humble hobbyists who love to take pictures and come out with moving and inspiring images and don’t make a lot of noise claiming themselves to be  a “photographer” and neither do they go on with technical jargon and instead allow their photographs to speak for themselves.

I guess you can say I had good times with the Canon in Guam.

I also want to thank my husband, who got me the camera as one of his Christmas presents,  for choosing well, I think. About 75% of the photographers  I’ve worked with prefer the Canon and the rest, Nikon, over the other brands. My point-and-shoot is also a Canon (before that I had a long history with the Pentax). So yes, I am partial to Canon.   Years back, a friend of mine, also a brilliant shutterbug, bought a Sony, and I jokingly told him, “why Sony? Pang TV lang sila?” Weeks later, he returned his unit saying that “it sucks!”

More good times with the Canon in Hanoi.

But then again my eldest brother and Cherie (who had also recently shifted to a Canon) had taken arresting pictures with their Sony, so I guess it really is the photographer and not the equipment. I remember being invited to a press junket in Batanes, mainly for photographers. With Batanes being a great setting for stunning pictures, Epson sponsored a photo contest. A girl won second place, beating photographers with lenses so long that it’s impossible to be around them without being poked. Her humble equipment didn’t even have a wide angle lens. She used a point-and-shoot –proof once again that it’s not the camera but the eyes behind it.  

Rod Lim took this panoramic shot of me at the San Agustin Church with a low MP Sony Ericsson phone. Sheer talent.

 And so here begins another adventure for Ana Viajera, venturing through the avenues of shapes and shadows, attempting to record stories through light, and hoping to be at the right place when according to Ansel Adams “God's ready to have somebody click the shutter.” 

Let the flowers bloom in our head.


As the seasons change, so will my desktop banner. I will be adding little touches to it, moving the items around, and customizing it for the season. I will archive its transformation on My Desk. 

Read more about how I put the banner together and how my real writer's desk looks like at My Desk. And tell me how your desk looks like, and I will tell you who you are.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Romancing Manila (from A to Zzz..)

Published by Planet Philippines Magazine distributed in London, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Melbourne Toronto, Edmonton
Photos by Ray Soberano

Ang mga babae mong naggagandahan

You’ve fallen in love with her beautiful chaos, drowned in her swirl of colors. There is no one quite like her. You’ve been away for so long, yet you still hear the echo of her voice. It’s a cacophony of sounds- the honking of colourful jeepneys, the cry of the ballot vendor, calling for your return. And so you go back, seeking out her smells, the intoxicating scent of sampaguita, the mouth watering aroma of street food fare. On your reunion, go on a full day date with her and re experience her splendour. An hour or two is not enough. Rekindle the spark with Manila with this sunrise to sunset itinerary:

Ang mga jeepney mong nagliliparan

 7:00 breakfast

You’ve lived on cereal for so long; it’s time to enjoy breakfast the way you used to with large helpings of fried rice, eggs, and chorizo. Dulcinea has some of the best Filipino breakfast favourites including chorizo bilbao, chorizo Pamplona and jamon serrano sprinkled with a generous helping of tradition. Their famous Spanish style Churros Con Chocolate will give you the sugar buzz that you need to start off your Manila tour.

Rule of the king of the road: Barya lang po sa umaga

Dulcinea has ten branches all over the city, but it’s best to have your breakfast at Greenbelt 1 in Makati where you’ll be close to your next stop. If you have the craving for freshly baked puto bumbong or bibingka, head over to Via Mare or to the Manila Peninsula.

Simply no shopping like t here is in Manila

9:00 Historical Tour

Start your day quietly at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, a sprawling green 152 acre plateau at the Global City Taguig, a short scenic ride from Makati.  The cemetery contains the largest number of graves of American heroes from World War II. White washed headstones stand in a uniform circular pattern, reminiscent of how these soldiers used to stand in attention. Around these sentinels are a lush variety of tropical trees and shrubberies that offer a quiet sanctuary in the middle of a concrete jungle. Outside is a spectacular view of the Laguna de Bay and neighbouring mountains. Close by is the Cemetery of Heroes where our own heroes and martyrs are laid to rest.

10:30 Shopping

It won’t be a tour without the shopping, and Pinoys are known for cheap retailing. From Taguig, take the C5 road to Tiendesitas in Pasig City. Tiendesitas offers a new shopping experience, showcasing the best Philippine products from art, antiques, furniture, pets, plants, to novelty items, souvenirs, native delicacies, and fashion. More than 450 traders sell their wares under Maranao inspired pavilions adorned with cogon grass, old kalesa wheels, and duyans.

Manila's many massive malls
1200 Lunch

Before you blow all your hard earned dollars on antique jars, head back to Taguig for lunch at Serendra Piazza. Serendra at Bonifacio Global City is a two level indoor and outdoor diner’s paradise. If you’re missing lola’s dishes, Conti’s or Abe’s is a great choice.

2:00 Spanish colonial stop

Head over to old Manila, to trace your roots in Intramuros. Within the walled city are numerous places of interest that harks back to the 16th century Spanish colonial period. The San Agustin Church is the oldest church in the country. The Trompe-l'œil painted ceiling, the ornately carved massive door, the choir loft with 17th century molave seats, and the courtyard make the San Agustin Church a worthy stop. Beside the Church is the museum, home to countless church artifacts, statues, paintings with gold niches from the 17th century, and tombs of Spanish conquistadors like Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Juan de Salcedo.  

Beauty within the walls

3:00 Merienda

Barbara’s across the museum has a little courtyard where you can cool off and share a slice of decadent chocolate cake with caramel sauce. Upstairs is the dining hall that takes you back to the 17th century with its lavish chandeliers and ornately bordered mirrors, and traditional Filipino and Spanish cuisine.

The best of Manila sound: hopia, mani, popcorn...

If you prefer the oriental delicacies, head to Binondo for some Chinese buns and hopia. Be careful because you can get lost in Chinatown, allured by the good luck charms, exotic ingredients, and jewelry in shops and stalls along the streets.

View the complete article at  Planet Philippines.