Thursday, December 23, 2010

Kare-kare and a travel wishlist for 2011

It began suddenly and simply as an inspired moment to have a pre-Christmas lunch, after realizing we both had a couple of spare hours in between the mad rush to finish office paperwork; and in my case to continue magazine production and squeeze in any last-minute Christmas shopping. First we were going to do Thai, as I was particularly craving for green chicken curry and pad thai. But in between about a dozen back and forth texts, we settled for Cafe Juanita at Burgos Circle at the Fort, for a proper kare-kare lunch.

Having a million things to do at the office, I was running late, and when I arrived, X was already sitting at an outside table and kare-kare, sisig with tofu, and lapu-lapu with tamarind sauce had already been ordered. "Hope you're hungry," he said. I certainly was. I'd had pizza for dinner and no breakfast, so I was raring for some real food with rice.

The best kare-kare

Being a kare-kare person, I was really looking forward to this lunch after re-programming my expectations of a green chicken curry lunch. And Cafe Juanita, in my opinion, has one of the best restaurant kare-kare around, along with Abe in Serendra and Milky Way. Cafe Juanita's kare-kare is great because it has a generous serving of oxtail and really chunky sauce that doesn't seem to be made from peanut butter. I also like the kare-kare in the Peninsula's Escolta, simply because it's so non-traditional. It comes with virtually no sauce, and you eat it with papaya atchara.

Over lunch, the talk as usual turned to travel and we animatedly exchanged stories and opinions about places we'd been to and things we'd experienced.

The best place for stargazing

"Where's the best place you've ever seen the stars?" X asked, out of the blue. Without hesitation, I answered "Amanpulo." On my last visit, I'd sat on top of a hill called Eagle's Nest and I'd marveled at the amazing symphony of stars above. Thinking about it now, I guess it was so clear and beautiful because my surroundings were pitch-dark. It also helped that the quietness of the little island induced focus and heightened one's sensitivity to the skies.

Meanwhile, X's best stargazing place so far was on a boat to Puerto Princesa. One day, X
he'd just decided to take a boat to Palawan from Manila, without thinking much about what to do or where to stay upon arrival. About three hours to arrival, at about 8 in the evening, X was sitting on the deck gazing at the stars and this had been simply beautiful -- especially because it was a view from the middle of the sea. It was so beautiful in fact that he almost didn't want to land in Palawan.

Lack of tourism infrastructure

The Philippines, we both agreed, has such amazing beauty that it's a pity there isn't adequate infrastructure to encourage more local tourism. It's usually so difficult to get to many beautiful spots, and once you're there, there's a dearth of suitable accommodations especially in the higher-end of the market. The hotels don't even have to be of the luxury standard, but they ought to be clean and comfortable enough for the squeamish.

Travel bucket list for 2011

"What's on your travel bucket list for 2011?" I asked X. Being the adventurous type, X had been to far more places than I in the Philippines, and not too long ago, he'd spent a month going all over the southern part of the country, and had also traveled all over the country for surfing. But still, the Philippines was happily on top of the 2011 wishlist.

"I'd love to go to Ilocos," X said. "It seems like a fascinating place."

I'm usually more on a plane out of the Philippines than on a plane around the Philippines; but all X's talk about the Philippines encouraged me to see more of it next year. I didn't have a particular place in mind this afternoon, but I decided that I would pick a place I'd never been to in the Philippines for a trip in the first quarter of the year.

Meanwhile, X became excited about my talk of travels overseas and all the wondrous places I'd been to all over the world, this year alone. "I think I'm going to get myself a globe for Christmas," he said, "so I can plan my next trips abroad properly."

That was around the time we both stopped daydreaming about travel and we finally looked at our watches and noticed the sky above. The sky was darkening and it was hitting 530 pm -- just a little bit longer than I had budgeted for lunch, and I still had to get back to work while X had to buy the globe for Christmas. Time certainly flies when you're having too much fun.


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