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.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Postcards from Nirwana (Bintan, Indonesia)

Published by Asian Traveler, 2008

12 May 2008

Dear Editor,

Salamat Datang! After three hours of waiting in the airport, another three hours on the plane, two hours  on the Singapore ferry terminal, and 55 minutes on a high speed catamaran, we are finally here. The weather is scorching hot, and the people’s greeting is just as warm. I’m sipping on a cold glass of sweet red tea that cooled my dry lips and refreshed my weary spirit. I have a feeling that  this is just a taste of what I will experience in the next few days. I will be writing you postcards constantly to update you  and more importantly, make you envious.

Can’t wait to get my feet wet.


Wish I had brought home this gorgeous Indonesian woodcarving.

3:30 pm, Day 1

I’ve barely unpacked, and  I haven’t even had the time to get used to the dim coolness of my room when the Nirwana staff ushered us excitedly out for the initial tour. I’m writing this right now in a buggy as it cruises through the smooth roads of the Nirwana Gardens resort compound. Driving the golf cart is Ady, the communications manager of the resort. As she drives us through the well manicured lawns and the generous trees, revealing the ponds and fountains, I am beginning  to see why the resort is called paradise. I was told that Nirwana is Sanskrit for paradise.

We’re getting off at the resort’s Thai restaurant. Check with you later.



4:25 pm, Day 1

I hope you’re not working too hard. Summer is eager and waiting. I can feel it as the sun bites on my skin, hungry for a burn. I’ve found a perfect spot here by the spice garden at the foot of Baan Aarya, Nirwana’s Thai restaurant. It has a spacious veranda with wooden floors overlooking the beach. Inside, the feel is warm, elegant, and eclectic.  Rich tones of greens and reds complement the dark hardwood furnishings made even more alive by the golden tinged tableware.  The generous glass windows reveal  coconut trees dancing with the wind outside, looking like live portraits.

From where I am seated, on the grass, by the herb garden where the chefs harvest spices for their Siamese delicacies,  I can see the dark blue waters go on forever until it meets with the open friendly sky. I am surrounded by the smell of chilli, lemongrass, and pandan leaves.

I am getting hungry.

6:30 pm, Day 1

Hello Editor! Dust is starting to settle. I’m  seated by the pond at the entrance of the Nirwana Resort hotel. Large koi fishes  are cavorting in the water. The underwater lights are bouncing off  their colourful bodies, making them look like mystical creatures,  moving around in graceful circles as if participating in a strange ritual.

Nirwana is a sprawling 240 resort.

A gong sounded nearby, perhaps announcing the arrival of more tourists. I’m weary to the bone, but my heart overflows with gratitude and anticipation. Before heading back to our place, the Nirwana Resort hotel, we passed by the resort zoo which features several exotic wildlife. The first one to greet us were several albino alligators tanning their white skin. There were also a couple of pythons lazing in the afternoon heat, and a huge vulture watching us warily.

8:00 am, Day 2

It’s day two in paradise. if you’re wondering why I’m writing this on the hotel stationery instead of a postcard, it’s because I got a feeling that this is going to be long one. Through my window, I can see the garden fountain gurgle endlessly. Early this morning, I explored Nirwana by foot, a place “where variety comes to life.” At least that’s  what the resort’s tagline says.

Nirwana Gardens is a sprawling 340 hectare property characterized by five resorts and hotels to cater to every type of guest. “Variety after all is the spice of life,” Nirwana’s general manager proudly explains.  Last night, I had a nice chat with the resort’s general manager, Abdul Wahab, and he told me more about this place over a tall glass of fresh watermelon shake. He had friendly eyes that brought light to his dark face. Smiling, he claimed he was Filipino. However, his thick Singaporean accent easily gave him away.

“Nirwana is a beach holiday resort for families. We are a family resort,” says Abdul. The Nirwana Resort Hotel, where I am staying for a few days, is a 245 room hotel that caters to every budget. Most of the rooms overlook the beach and the infinity pool where the chlorinated water overflows out to the sea (at least that was how it looked from my room). When guests tire of lazing by pool where frog statues spitting water watch over the sun worshippers, they can simply walk to the beach and wash off the chlorine in their hair with the salt water. 

I walked farther, on my bare feet to feel the powdery sand under my feet, and cut through the jungle. After about five minutes, I found myself at the Mayang Sari Beach Resort. The name alludes to the fragrance and essence of natural beauty. Beauty must smell like the sun and the sea and the promises of a ripe summer.

This part of paradise features fifty single-storey air-conditioned chalets with thatched roofs and private verandas. Each chalet has its own unique design, complimented by aromatic scents from lighted  incense to match the mood and theme of the place. Farther ahead is the Indira Maya, the paradise of romance. The exclusive villas boasts of extravagance fit for gods. Overlooking the north-western coast of Bintan, the villas include a private swimming pool, an individual courtyard, an outdoor sunken bath, luxurious furnishings of teak and antique and countless other amenities. 
Heading back, I found myself at the Nirwana Beach Club. This resort is situated on the water’s edge of Bintan.  The club offers accommodations in very reasonable prices, but the rustic huts are in no way cheap. They’re quaint colourful cabanas, complete with amenities, including wireless internet access.

Getting coz with a new friend.

The club is also near the Seasports Centre where windsurfing  and dinghy sailing lessons are offered regularly. Day fishing, kayaking, boogie boarding, snorkelling, waterskiing and wake boarding are also available. As I sat on the hot sand, cooling my toes in the salty water, I watched as the tranquil sea was occasionally disturbed by Banana boats and  jet ski hydrocrosses speeding by.

I was informed that if I got tired of sunbathing (as if that is ever possible), I can go jungle trekking, coastal rock trekking, cycling, rifle shooting or try archery. I thought of how heavy the bow must feel on my sun kissed shoulders and politely declined. They were eager to keep me occupied and persisted with the Sri Bintan Kampong Tour, the Traditional Fishing Tour, the Gunung Bintan Adventure Trek, the South Bintan Heritage Tour, and the Tanjung Uban Explorer. I thought of the mosquito bites versus the feel of the sun biting my shoulder and smiled coyly, shaking my head. “How about Go-Karting, Elephant park, mangrove tour.....” Wait a minute, elephants you say? The thought of Dumbo and his flapping pink ears did it for me. It’s set. Our elephant park tour is scheduled for tomorrow. Those sweet sneaky Indonesians....
I have to go. I can smell the Thai noodles from here. They always serve that on the buffet line for breakfast. Will write to you soon.

1145 pm, Day 3

part of the joys of traveling is making new friends.

Hello Editor,

I gained some new friends today, Emma and Rollie. Rollie likes to dance and play soccer. He’s an attacking midfielder with a powerful kick. He also stinks a little bit, but everybody seems to love him. Emma on the other hand is regal and graceful. She sat quietly, raising her trunk as I sat on her strong leg. Stretching out lazily, she sat on one of her hind legs like a giant walrus lounging on the beach and raised her head high, allowing me to hold on to her one short tusk. Her master said female elephants have short tusks while males have long ones.

 We’ll be doing the mangrove tour after lunch. I’ll write to you again.

Lunch was fantastic. We had crispy baby squid, sprinkled with sesame seeds, laden with barbeque sauce, and nestled on fried spaghetti noodles  shaped like a basket. We also had Gong-gong, sea snails considered to be an aphrodisiac. I didn’t really need to awaken my desires, but I thought I’d try out Bintan’s delicacy. It was tough fishing it out of its shell with a toothpick, but my hard work was rewarded by a soft chewy treat spiked with a dip of chilli and garlic sauce with a splash of lime juice and tomato sauce.

Fish on! fish on!

I am happy to report that I literally fished for lunch. I used this heavy fishnet to catch a feisty black garupa while balancing on a swaying plank by the side of Kelong, the floating restaurant. It was worth risking a cold dip in the water as the steamed dish melted like cream in my mouth. It was cooked in Cantonese sauce, not too salty or spicy as the shy chef, Ken Ow explained.
The crab dish was a sharp contrast to the strong flavours brought about by the black pepper sauce. The tangy flavour was washed down by the fresh watermelon smoothie which wasn’t too sweet. According to the chef, most of the dishes are prepared Cantonese style. This means that the flavours are subtle, not too sweet, spicy or salty. Even their fruit shakes are not dripping with sugar, which was perfect for me.

530pm, Day 3

We set out to the Sungei Sebung Mangrove at exactly 2pm. Apparently everyone is always on time here. Even the shuttle buses and the buggies that drive us around.  

The Bintan Mangrove is not only a popular tourist destination, it’s also a unique ecosystem that serves as coastal protection and provider of   countless raw materials. On our tour, our small but efficient boat sliced through the mercury like brackish water. After two days of sun, sand and sea, the line of endless mangroves on both sides was an interesting break. The sound of the jetty’s motor drowned out the noise of the wild. We sat back relaxed by the droning sound and the still waters.  Occasionally, we would be treated to little surprises like a tree snake coiled around a branch, its yellow striped body standing out in a sea of green leaves.
It was a full day. I’m ready for my spa treatment.

1030pm, Day 4

Like an oasis in the middle of a tropical jungle.

It was drizzling when we headed off to Kedaton Tropical Spa. The light patter of rain blessed our warm skin as we made our way into the spa on a checkered patterned path, where grassy green squares alternated with concrete.
Kedaton is a Javanese term that refers to the dwelling of a queen. How fitting, considering we were treated like no less than royalty. The word Kedaton also suggests “haven” or “new heaven on earth.” The Nirwana Gardens spa is hidden in the heart of a tranquil tropical garden where white blooms hang from a trellis ceiling and  delicate colourful flowers litter the floor.

I was treated to the south seas massage. I drifted into a half sleep, taking in the intoxicating and oddly relaxing scents of oils and flowers, as firm but gentle hands worked through my body, stimulating the circulation of my blood and lymphatic system. 

I am so relaxed. I’ll cut this report short before I doze off. I loathe the packing that I have to do tomorrow.
2:30pM Day 5

Nothing ever good lasts. My brief Sojourn this part of paradise has come to a close. Alas, I have to bid the quiet swaying palm trees farewell. The white plumeria blooms nodded goodbye, but their intoxicating perfume will always haunt me. The hot Bintan breeze will always keep my soul warm. Its heat will constantly remind me, on my cold and dreary days, that there really is such a thing as nirvana, not a fantasy heavenly world, but a paradise of powdery sands, sparkling waters, and welcoming people.

I’ll be seeing you in the next few days. In the meantime, I hope you will start to consider sending me to somewhere colder next time for a change, somewhere where I can wear my trench coat, perhaps?
Warm regards,

Ana Viajera

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Remains of Summer (A Farewell to our First Home)

A farewell to our first home.

Where did the summer go? Mother Nature must be punishing us for having our summer vacation in advance, idling on the beach under the tropical sun, while the rest of the country froze in the middle of winter. When we returned spring had sprung. 40 plus one winks later, summer came, and just a couple of days ago, my husband said we only have a few more weeks before the first golden leaf starts to fall.

The lazy warm days are escaping me too quickly, although lazy isn’t the word that I would use to describe the past few weeks. More like crazy. This is the reason why I am posting my summer banner blog just a few days shy of autumn, and I apologize. Summer is usually packed with family affairs and events around the city, but it has gotten even more hectic while we prepare for another major adventure in our life.

I really thought this is where we would grow old in.

We are moving to Texas. My husband got an incredible job offer from a multinational company, a top tier management position with a compensation package that we couldn’t refuse, a post that will soon see my son riding the most advanced helicopters (if he’s lucky, he’ll get to test ride the President’s chopper!). So the last few weeks have seen us preparing for the move – house hunting and getting our first home ready to be sold.

Thank you for the love, beautiful home.
Aside from the highly attractive compensation and benefits, we were given a relocation package that many people say aren't offered anymore. So the move won’t be as stressful. There will be professionals coming in to do the packing.  I won’t even have to lift a finger to pack my toothbrush….well, maybe my underwear. As easy as they are making everything for us, the move will still be painful as we love our first house.

My best friend from high school came to kick off our summer.
This house has filled our days with love and joy. Every guest that has come to see our first home always comment on how lovely it is. They probably are just being polite, but even all the realtors that have come to appraise the property are confident that we will be able to sell the house quickly not only because it is in a prime location (one of the best neighborhoods in the city), but also because it has so much character to it and has been so well maintained. True enough, less than a week after it was listed, we had several offers. After we made a verbal agreement, somebody called asking to for a chance to overbid. Needless to say, we got more than we asked for the house.

This summer has been kind, blessing us with lots of rain. And our backyard bloomed!
I had planned to include a sprig of Crape Myrtle blooms from our trees in honor of our beautiful backyard and front yard, but I have so much in my mind lately that I forgot.  In its place instead is an old fashioned key that hangs from the doorknob of my bathroom. I think it best represents the house’s old world charm.

The bathroom where the key belongs to.
Anyway, my husband had hired landscapers to plant Crape Myrtles over a year ago, and I wasn’t pleased about it because it had not been cheap. But it all paid off as they now bring more color to our yards. Although not much grows in the back (thanks to the dogs), my husband works hard to keep the backyard somewhat looking decent as we love to hang out there on warmer days to entertain or enjoy a glass of wine (or two). His front yard is also his pride and joy. He has received numerous praises for it and the big joke in the neighborhood is that people are making bets on whether the grass is real or not.

Dining in our backyard is joy.
During sunny days, I also allow our child to roam free in the back to make mud pies in his fort or chase after our terrier while I watch from my office window. This is one of the many reasons why a good backyard is a non-negotiable when looking for a house. This means absolutely no townhouses or condominiums not only because there is something to be said about owning your own plot of land, but also because we want our own private backyard.

Travel white: shawl from Hanoi, Fugitive Poems by John Keats, Salvatore Ferragamo  
white bucks, and Calvin Klein leather tote.
You might notice that this banner is predominantly white, my ode to this white hot season.  It was taken in my home office, the last banner that will be shot in one of my favorite places in the house. Yahoo recently wrote about the white purse trend for the season of the sun, and of course I have my own white tote from Calvin Klein, one of my summer must-haves. When my son was a newborn, I made do without a purse for the longest time, simply because it was a hassle to tote around a baby bag, a purse, and on most times, a camera bag. Not counting the baby carrier of course, and the stroller, and the Baby Bjorn and on and on and on. Then I discovered the magic of the big tote – a mommy purse and a baby bag in one and a camera bag too! My white leather Calvin Klein tote does it all for me.

My place of worship overlooks the backyard.

If you’ve been traveling with me for a while now, you would know that I have little love for all things frou-frou, including baby bags.  For my baby shower, my sister-in-law had gifted me the JJ Cole Swag Bag, a little too expensive for my taste, at least for a baby bag that I know I won’t be using for long, but I like it because it is not too obvious and still stylish, I think. And while we’re on the topic of stylish baby stuff, I gotta rave about our stroller – the Quinny Maxi Cosi. I love it not only because it’s lightweight and easy to maneuver (unlike the common clunky ones) but also because it’s like a modern version of the traditional baby carriage (btw if you’re looking for a stroller the JJ Cole Broadway 360 is similar to the Quinny one. Really cute!). People have stopped me several times, complimenting the stroller and the baby of course (I love how people here are generous with their compliments. Even strangers come up to you and say, “I love your dress”, or “cute shoes, where did you get it?”, or “gorgeous baby!”)!

Love this stroller. Love this house. Love this life!

Now that all that baby stuff is out of the way – after all, my baby is now a big boy – let’s move on to the other items on the desk. The handmade bracelet is one of the gifts my husband had brought home from a business trip in the Bahamas. And I got the camera pendant from a little boutique during my last trip to Bacolod. It’s one of those cheap kitschy products from Korea, but I think it’s cute.   

The book for this summer is the Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I’ve always known her as the tragic poet, and I’ve never found the taste for poetry except for a few moving lines from Rumi. But recently, a friend had mentioned that Plath did write a novel, and I thought fiction from a Pulitzer Prize winner would be worth the time, tragic or not. Besides, it is an American classic.

Another little milestone for Ana Viajera.

A number of people had asked me how I choose my reading list. Aside from the classics and the literary canon, I usually go with the suggestions of writer friends. The New York Times can also be a good guide but then they’ve also been known to give a thumbs-up to the likes of Paris Hilton. I have been guilty of wasting my time reading a few NY Times bestselling potboilers and shallow reads like Daniel Steel, Sidney Sheldon and the like back in the summers of my high school years, but I guess as a writer, it is something that I had to go through. One of my mentors had said once that you have to know what is out there – the good and the bad - to know what to avoid or emulate.

One of my summer shoots.
With Plath being a poet, I had expected her prose to be more lyrical, but she surprised me. She did not bother to impress with lyricism. In fact her language was straight forward, oftentimes blunt, but not to say that her work is less than remarkable.  

Love shooting at Bricktown because of all the interesting elements.
Esther Greenwood, the disturbed main character, is somebody that I can’t identify with, yet she made me laugh and cry. I can’t understand why she wants to end her life in spite of how the universe has been so generous. She also despises the picket fence kind of life, the kind that I think I live although my fence posts are rainbow colored.

The JJ Cole diaper bag I used, before I discovered the practicality
of the big tote (photo from
“The last thing I wanted to get married. The Last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots from,” says the heroine. Esther is my complete opposite. I DO want infinite security and it gives me joy to be somebody’s place where an arrow shoots from.  I am one of the characters she loathes, the ones who would have reveled in that glamorous internship in a top fashion publication in NY. She would probably think of me as shallow and vapid the same way I would have found her exasperating and tedious.  This is one of the reasons why I found her novel fascinating as it offered a different perspective to life, because what may be exciting to one can be dull to another.

Just because we were crazy busy didn't mean
we weren't able to squeeze in some sun worship!
And although Esther and I are complete opposites, there is one thing that I agree with her. Like her, “I wanted change and excitement and to shoot in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”

I wasn't able to take pics of a lot of fireworks, but I think this small one
outshines the big guns. Surely you can tell why.


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.