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Lack of Internet and Electricity Destroyed Bad Habits

Several hundreds of this kind of damage was seen all over the city.

As if the pandemic’s Omicron wave was not enough, Cebu was struck with the strongest typhoon in 30 years. Right after the typhoon last December 16, 2021, the whole city was in devastation and “apocalyptic” was the word that was often used to described the situation. The first few days I was forced into this state of “survival” that made no room for other emotions. The drive to just survive made sure our household and our staff in our office had resources to survive the coming weeks. This was not the first time such a devastating typhoon hit Metro Cebu. Typhoon Ruping wreaked havoc 31 years ago and back then there were lesser electric lines and much simpler water lines. Typhoon Odette left hundreds of thousands of households affected. There was no mobile signal in our home in the mountains. You could only get online and with very slow data, when you are in the city proper.

But I am not going to write the details of the typhoon’s devastation now. What I would like to write about is what happened in the four weeks of very limited electricity at home (we only used the generator for 2 hours a day).

First Week of Survival

The first week, I was sleeping only a few hours at night and woke up very early because I can only go online with data at around 3-5am in the morning when mobile data seemed to work well. My parents decided to stay at the hotel in the city where they had WiFi, electricity, and access to running water. I had to stay home and manage the household. With this responsibility given to me my motivation and routine began to form.

Lines at the gas stations quickly grew long and sometimes they would run out of gas

Normally, obtaining resources like fuel for the generator, food and drinking water for our consumption would have been simple. But in a devastated city, limited resources, challenging communications, and growing queues for essential goods really tested my ability to overcome difficulties. Like I said, surviving was the prime mover for my daily  routine. Then as the week stretched to two weeks, I noticed a change in my overall wellness and activities.

Prior to the typhoon I was going through this whole state of decline. I lost my purpose and drive or one could say, I got tired of living. A few weeks of this new routine I began to sleep well, eat better, and even feel better. What changed?

Discomfort Brings Out Opportunity

Moving around for errands was difficult at first. Trancentral Highway Ma. Luisa Busay Gate.

PT Barnum once said: “Comfort is the enemy of progress!” Our lack of electricity was inconvenient but opportune. It opened a door for a routine change in my life.

The house had limited time for when the generator was turned on so I had to schedule my activities accordingly. Doing laundry, cooking, cleaning up, and other household chores were given specific time slots to match the generator schedule. Because I still needed to go down to the city for work and mobile data, I needed to coordinate with my sister for her schedule as well. Car fuel was another rationed resource because gas station lines were impossibly long and we were running out of fuel while uncertain of how fast the city will recover.

While in the city, I stuck to doing only work stuff online and limited only an hour to read, watch or play online games. When I got back home I cooked dinner, did my evening meditation, and with all the lights out, I slept.

Shot using only my phone. When the subdivision got electricity back, I could no longer replicate this shot again.

If there is one thing I missed about the lack of electricity in our subdivision was that this sense of peace in the area. No light pollution, no noise. Just the moon light shining down. My eyes adjusted so well to this natural darkness that I could somehow see the surroundings and hear small sounds from faraway. When I went to bed, I no longer struggled with going to sleep. I slept early and woke up early.

Dopamine Detox and The Social Media Fasting

Even when the electricity came back a little over thirty days after the typhoon, I still maintained my good habits and I still felt motivated. It became clearer to me that what was slowly destroying me was my over-consumption of Social Media.

Found more time to experiment on new dishes

There are several videos in YouTube that will tell you about Dopamine Detox. Among the things they talk about is how Social Media is designed to trigger a dopamine secretion so that this happy hormone will get you feeling good every time you scroll through a feed. That was what I was experiencing when I was actively watching Tiktok Videos, scrolling through Facebook, or even just skimming around online news sites. Being in a forced offline lifestyle, I got that dopamine detox and I was able to do more things in life than just swallow social media content every hour.

When you do the dopamine detox you will be delightfully surprised just how much time you have in your hands. You might even find yourself rediscovering old hobbies or past passions.

Yesterday our internet at home was back online. Just an hour into it I found myself conveniently going through my phone and running through these social media apps. Even with my awareness of how this was bad for me, I found myself holding on to my phone a lot. That was why I decided to write this. Not just so I can tell people about my realization but also to write a written reminder to myself how I had it good when I cut off from Social Media more.

Cold Turkey Helped Me but Redirection Also Helped

Fasting from social media was not a choice I made. It was the circumstance. I had no internet at home and I only had limited time to access the internet when I was in the city. Because of this, I got more disconnected from the online world but more connected to my life at the present moment.

Finally found time to clean my room, particularly productive at 4am so I used solar lights

When you live in a life where you seem trapped or going in circles, it is easy to seek comfort and short bursts of pleasure in social media. That is why it is a problem millions of people experience everyday. Though I had the opportunity to go cold turkey, I believe what also helped was redirecting my need for social media into other things such as reading and writing. Several successful people will tell you the impact of reading in their lives and I can go on and on about all these big names telling you to read, but really, reading changes you: reading books to be specific.

Books VS Short form Social Media

Reading became a thing again.

There is no specific topic of category that I will insist that you read on provided that the books you read are well-written and stimulates thinking. You can read non-fiction or fiction and they will both have a certain impact on your mind that leads to progression in creativity and thought. One could argue that you are reading in social media platforms but the problem is that social media is designed for that dopamine fix and less for thinking. A lot of the writing are hurriedly done and emotion-based rather than carefully curated or created information for the reader. Social media allows for instant publication. Books require time, effort, and verification before they are even published.

Social Media Is Not All Bad

All I have written is not to suggest completely cutting off from Social Media. If we take away the aspect of over-consumption, then we can see the good that it can bring. YouTube is a vast library of teaching material. Because I had limited time to access the internet, I narrowed down on topics I wanted to watch and downloaded them for offline viewing. My YouTube use became more objective-focused. This was different from my usual YouTube consumption where I let the suggested video feed dictate what I should watch, often triggered by the right kind of thumbnail or title. Tiktok is entertaining and can even spark creative inspiration. However, like the TV it is easy to get sucked into the unending flow of entertainment. Now, I still watch Tiktok videos but I only do so for a few minutes, hoping to see something new or inspiring. Facebook was the most difficult one to cut down on. I know I like to read updates on people I care about but I was also consuming a lot of negative things. So same with Tiktok, I limited my time going through the timelines and I have also learned to unfollow people and pages that were not healthy for my mind.

To bring out the best in social media, the user must have awareness and control. Social media addiction is real. You do not need to fight it on your own. You might need help to deal with it.

 Get Help

Though I would not wish the suffering from the typhoon on anyone, I am grateful for the change it has brought upon me. You do not need to wait for a typhoon to shake up your life so that you will be coerced into change. Maybe you can ask help from people who have experienced great difficulty. I find that people who have lived easy lives do not have much to contribute in terms of growth and success.

If you feel like you are down and hopeless, remember the words of Avatar Aang: “When we reach our lowest point,  we are open to the greatest change.”

The Underwater Sto. Niño of Bien Unido Bohol

There were some videos of scuba divers and a priest that showed a giant statue of the Holy Child and also a statue of the Blessed Mother, being installed underwater. With a lot of gullible people believing these to be miraculous and defying rules of nature, I knew better because I have been to the site myself and know the real story behind it.

An hour or more away from the shores of Bien Unido, is a portion of the Danajon Bank, one of the six only double barrier reefs in the world. Sad to say this area of Bohol used to be plagued with Dynamite fishing and so the mayor then decided that in order to discourage fishermen from destroying the reef, a placement of  religious symbols was to be done. This was back in 2010.

Sad to say in the time I was able to go there around 2016 the local boatmen shared: though dynamite fishermen did avoid the areas where Sto. Niño and Mother Mary, these destructive fishermen still pursued nearby reefs with their destructive equipment.

An Underwater Pilgrimage

The Dive ta Bai – Bohol Chapter, led by Ian Uy back then, organised a pilgrimage dive to venerate the holy images.Truth be told going to Bien Unido requires a day dedicated to the dive. Early morning we take a hired coaster to take the group to Bien Unido, which approximately 3 hours from Tagbilaran City. When we got to the spot we have a briefing to prepare everyone for the dive. We were around 18 freedivers that time.

We took a motor boat that ran for a little over an hour to finally get to the spot. What amazes me is how the boatmen were even able to identify the dive spot.  Honestly I’m used to boat trips where I see distinct landmarks like islands, shifts in depth or other visually obvious markers. When we got to the dive site, I looked around and it almost seemed like there were just stretches of seawater and no land in sight save for one small island.

Diving In

Though there are two images: Sto. Niño and Mama Mary, only the Holy Child could easily be reached while the Blessed Mother’s grotto proving more difficult to reach. The Holy Child was only within 18feet of depth (estimate) while the Blessed Mother was around 90-100feet. Not to mention that there was a strong current that made it difficult to swim to the Blessed Mother’s statue.

Slowly the group took turns diving down to the Sto. Niño statue while safety divers/buddies were looking from the surface. Visibility wasn’t at its best but still clear enough that we could see and take photos of the Holy Child’s image. It wasn’t too difficult to dive this at all and we spent a good 2 hours just swimming in this spot and enjoying the reef. Sad to say I cannot say the reef is in its healthiest conditions. Though you could seee the diversity of corals and some invertebrates that thrived, I could not see too many fish that would make me feel that the reef is healthy. Thankfully I did not witness any bleaching as well but I could see some broken corals which I’m afraid might be from invasive visitors/divers/fishermen.

Just a few more minutes away from the Sto. Niño is the Blessed Mother’s statue which some of us tried to dive down to. AJ,one of our more talented Freedivers, easily reached Her statue. I had the chance to dive down and fight the current but I only had the short moment to see Her face, make  a simple bow as a gesture, then swim quickly back up to surface. Though short a moment, it truly was unforgettable.

Struck a pose over the very flat waters of Bien Unido!

On The Way Home

The fun did not stop for  the Dive ta Bai freedivers despite the boat failing mid-way through the trip going home. They took the opportunity to jump into the water and continue swimming while the sun set across the horizon. That’s just the thing with our freedivers, they just can’t get enough of the water. There was a time when the sight of water so deep it looked black, actually scared us but now it has become a site for fun and exploration. Some even did a few jumps in the eerily calm water.

When the sun finally set, darkness slowly crept over the sea and mist crawled around us. It actually looked like something from a horror movie! It did not help that the boatmen were no speaking in whispers and urged us not to disturb the water now that the sun has set.

After almost 2 hours of being stranded, our rescue boat finally arrives and tugs our boat until we arrive at the shore!


Truly a pilgrimage dive to remember, I definitely will try to head back there someday. Summer is the best time to go there.


Hole in the Wall: Dong Bei Dumpling Manila 东北水饺

Seldom do I travel to a certain destination JUST FOR FOOD but when I do fall in love with a certain dish or delicacy, I go the extra mile (or in this case, the extra miles) just to get a bite of that dish. When I was still frequently flying to Manila, this became my number one favourite in the big city: Dong Bei Dumplings (东北水饺)Located at the end of Yuchengco Street which is just a few minutes walk away from the Binondo Church, Dong Bei (Pronounced as “Tong Pei”) Dumplings was a delightful discovery when they were mere mentions from friends when I asked “what to eat in Binondo?” Now Binondo is quite far from the usual cities I go to like Makati and Taguig but since I’m very critical about authentic Chinese food, I decided to give this a go.

Off to Dong Bei

One LRT ride, one MRT ride, and 30 minutes walk later I finally arrive at what seems to be a very small eatery that can only accept 10 customers a time. My hotel room was probably larger than this restaurant. The signs were faded which might mean they have been running operations for several years. I did not see any bright flashy signs which is usual for Chinese restaurants wanting to get the word across. I also did not see any fixed branding. Everything was, simply put, quaint.

At that time there was already a line building up and it was already way past lunch time! Thankfully it was the -Ber months and the sun wasn’t particularly glaring that time. Even without an umbrella I could stay outside and observe through a clear glass as the busy cooks skillfully handled the dumpling dough as if years of practice has automated their hands.

The Dumplings of Dong Bei/North East

I got to ask the cooks working there about a little history and I found out that they were actually from the Visayas and came to Manila to look for a job. In a day they make around 8000 dumplings a day. If my math is right, each of them makes around 200 dumplings an hour 0___0 All the dumplings are handmade from scratch and there is no machinery involved in the creation.

What I like even more is the price. True to being hole-in-the-wall and consistently good (I had around four more visits after), Dong Bei boasts deliciously authentic Boiled Dumpings at a price of 150php (roughly 3$) for 12 pcs of freshly cooked dumplings! If you buy them frozen they’re at 200php for 27 pcs! TWENTY-SEVEN PIECES OF DUMPLINGS for only 200php / 4usd

During my food trip visit, they even ran out of the frozen dumplings and it wasn’t even 3pm yet! Gosh! It’s not like this place just newly opened, this has been going on for several years and they still run out!

Finally after almost 2 hours we get our table and have our seat. A single bite into the freshly cooked dumpling–PERFECT. I know I will keep coming back for more. Four visits later and it never got old. Heck, I long for the day I come back again to have my Dong Bei-fix.

Preserving the Tradition through Simplicity

Back in Cebu I have seen hole-in-the-wall brands become big and suddenly lose their magic. I see them eaten up the system only to have something that seems far off from the classical story that they use to tell. I see that Dong Bei has managed to keep their story consistently original and preserved by disallowing greed and unnecessary ambition to take over.

Their goal is to create authentic dumplings following an ancient North-eastern recipe from China. Though the words did not come from the owners themselves, I believe that each dumpling’s perfection comes from the thousands of hours that the cooks put into the mastery of the skill of rolling the dumpling skin, a balanced proportioning of the filling and perfect timing of the cooking.

When in Manila, it’s worth the extra mile to come to this humble eatery called Dong Bei Dumplings.

bought me 27 pieces to cook at home. Shelf-life is only 2 hours so bring a cooler/container

The Venice Grand Canal in the Philippines

As a country, the Philippines is known for its own unique natural wonders such as mountains, rivers, waterfalls, beaches and even caves. But when it comes to malls and physical structures I tend to see a pattern of building designs aspiring to be similar to structures found in other famous cities of the world. In this particular trendy mall in the metro, we get a taste of Italy through The Venice Grand Canal Mall.

I’ve seen some friends not too happy about being another “copycat” of something that already exists but I personally wanted to check it out myself when it was still quite new. Fortunately I had the opportunity to go around when there were not yet too many people. So for this post I want to share what I observed and what I felt about the whole mall itself.

Walking around you do give a feeling that we commonly refer to as “parang wala ka sa Pilipinas” (as if you’re not in the Philippines) which is a big check mark on the objective of the developers: Megaworld, on making a facade that mimics ambiance of a place “abroad”. Knowing from my experience in Cebu’s La Vie Parisienne, the general Filipino population are fond of places that seemingly transport them “abroad”. Mahilig ang Pinoy sa abroad. (Filipinos are fond of things that are from abroad)

Personally I actually liked the mall because of the effort they went into detail with the lamps, colorful tiles, the building’s fun designs and even with an actual canal and gondolas that go around! I mean if I won’t be too critical about it and just see it as it is, it’s a nice looking place where you can do shopping, groceries, and food trips.

For food I won’t forget Ramen Kuroda which makes for a good ramen fix, then Peri-peri chicken which also is a delicious choice for some soft and juicy grilled chicken. For shopping I prefer going to Fully Booked because I am a bookworm. If you just want to stroll around then this place isn’t too bad at all.

Fast forward several months later and I find myself back there. This time to meet with my siblings and some friends. They even have more restaurants opening now! The mall is still not really filled up and I still see some shop slots that are still open for lease and I think that will open doors to more diverse choices for the mall. I also got to experience their cinema which I believe is quite superb.

Do I think I will visit this mall again someday? Perhaps I will. It really isn’t that bad. A nice photo to feel like you’re in a different country, the parking may be difficult but hey, it’s not like you’re paying to get inside the mall. Only the gondola ride actually comes with a charge. Best of all I also get to do my groceries while I’m enjoying a different scene from the usual SM or Ayala Malls.


Cluster B, McKinley Hill Garden Villas, Upper McKinley Rd, Taguig, Metro Manila
Tel: 624-1971
Mall Hours:
11:00 AM to 11:00 PM


When in Cagayan de Oro, Go Somewhere Else

When in CDO and you’re looking for a fun evening, go Somewhere Else.

I had several opportunities to go around Cagayan de Oro on my own and the city has become a special city to me as its tagline “City of Golden Friendship” manifested in the many times I visited Mindanao.

Normally an evening in CDO would be spent in an al fresco setting with a band playing pop music or something soothing. Drinks on the tables would either be a bucket of cooled beer bottles or a whole bottle of Captain Morgan. Like most cities, CDO has their own signature nightlife.

Above is what I describe to be a usual night out in CDO but two young entrepreneurs with a vision for a classier and more intimate nightlife experience decided to explore a new nightlife in the city.

Somewhere Else opened back in 2015 and is home to the best club music events that Cagayan de Oro has to offer. Every now and then top DJ’s from all over the Philippines, play in this very cozy 2-floor bar/club that is in the center of a commercial building just a few meters away from Lifestyle District.

Filipinos are known to enjoy puns and local jokes so the name “Somewhere Else” was coined by the owners in order to answer the ever so difficult question asked by friends when inquiring about plans for the evening.

“Asa ta mangadto?” (Where shall we go?)

“Sa lain napud.” (This time Somewhere Else!)
The name stuck and is such a fun ice breaker for visitors who are checking out the city. You can ask any of the “in-crowd” folks in the country, Somewhere Else is the place to be. Only the coolest folks in Mindanao hang out in the club and it’s really intimate because the space is somewhere 80 sq. meters in floor area.

Interior design of the place feels industrial and minimalist relying on geometric shapes and crude elements to give a rebellious yet delightfully classy appeal. Very efficient use of construction materials if I may say.
Though they serve mainly alcoholic beverages, they also got some finger food. One that I tried and I recommend is the “animal fries”.

VIP tables are only 3k and can seat 6-8 people. You can also opt to book the whole place for certain hours of the day but you can’t block the place (unless you’ve got an event and for the right price) during their busy hours which I assume are the usual club hours. Reservations are made through: JM ‭+63 956 413 7474

This was shot around 3am already and I think I had a lil too much to drink

In the many times that I’ve visited Somewhere Else, I have never had a dull moment here and I owe it to Marian and Mikoy who are the most awesome hosts. It’s never usually a complete CDO trip if I don’t get to visit this cozy place called Somewhere Else.

If you’re looking to meet cool people, have good clean fun and listen to nice music then Go Somewhere Else, literally.

One more thing: post-drinking nomnom at some near batchoy place:

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: a House of Peace and Diversity

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Inside the square of the Grand Mosque of Sheikh Zayed

Back in 2015 my family booked a group tour to Dubai so that we could experience this part of the globe. This would be our first time going to the middle east since most of our travels have been confined in the US, Europe and Asia. One of our destinations for the tour is a city just 140 kilometres away from Dubai: Abu Dhabi. We were off to visit the largest mosque in the UAE: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque!

Truth be told, it is only when I started to travel on my own did I build interest and curiosity about religious structures and the stories behind them. During my teenage years I would pay no attention to the part of the tours where temples, churches, or other centres for worship were involved. My interest was devoted to natural sciences.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

This time I came prepared with a more open mind and now more curious about going to the little details that go beyond the aesthetics of the structure. Why did they build this? Who built it and what was his significance? What was the origin of the design choices? What story lies behind the creation of such a massive structure? Questions run through my mind, frankly more concerned of the why’s than the how’s of this creation.

Entering the Grand Mosque’s Compound

If there’s one tip I’d like to offer in this blog that I wasn’t able to see in other blog posts: DO NOT BRING A LAPTOP. The security here is very tight and apparently my laptop was not allowed into the compound so I was delayed in the security check. The end of it was that I had to leave my laptop and I’ll get to pick it up right after the tour inside the Grand Mosque.  Their security is quite professional and as with the practices in UAE, there was a separate line for male and female security check. This is actually not uncommon in the Philippines and is actually an existing practice in traditional Catholic parishes where men and women are separated.

Grand Mosque Entrance

Finally I entered in the Grand Mosque compound and fortunately since it’s December, it wasn’t as hot as it would be in most times of the year but still hot enough for me to squint under the glaring sun. Bring sunglasses when you can.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The Grand Mosque’s outdoor setting reminds me strongly of Agrabah from Disney’s Aladdin. You have the beautiful gardens, wide open spaces, magnificent minarets, calming blue pools of water and the view of the whole Mosque which resembles the palace of the Sheikh of Agrabah: a house worthy of God’s residence.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Sheikh Zayed and the Culture of Tolerance

There happens to be a sad stereotyping of Muslims in the western world because of certain fanatic and extremist groups that have largely tainted the image of Islam in popular media. However in the UAE, the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918-2004) believed in a culture of tolerance and respect towards all mankind.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

“To stereotype a fellow human being is to deprive him of his humanity.”, -Sheikh Zayed

He lived as a pious and pure leader holding close to his heart the teachings of Islam while setting an example this culture of respect. This really reminds me of how close Catholicism and Islam are in the context of what is required of a good man: purity. Sheikh Zayed worked on reconciling the human race amidst the hostile dialogues. To celebrate diversity as a continued and habitual procedure sanctioned by God, he personified these attributes into what we know today as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque:  Personifying Peace

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

A living reference in modern Islamic architecture, the Grand Mosque links the past elements and present elements in harmonious unity thus building a bridge in time. It also carries several schools of Islamic Architecture within its detailed designs and choices of materials. After you have gone through the whole Mosque you will realise how well the mix of the diverse Islamic cultures were put into a single mosque. Complementing  the symphony of Islamic architectural schools of design are also post-modern designs which ultimately complete the connection between the past and present.

“And among His signs are the creation of the heavens and the earth and the difference of your language and colors. Verily, in that are indeed signs for man of sound knowledge” (Surah 30, Ar-Rum, “The Roman Empire “, the Holy Quran).”

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Just a Couple of Reminders

If you’re not used to visiting a place considered Holy, then please be reminded that these are places deemed to be worthy of God’s presence so even if you don’t share the beliefs of the individuals who made this place possible, please treat the place as though Royalty were among your presence.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

That being said please wear clothes which are considered appropriate to the culture (e.g. women wear head covers and long dresses that cover your entirely, women should not wear pants, men should not wear sleeveless shirts and shorts).

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Please maintain silence because this is primarily a place of worship. The Grand Mosque being a tourist destination, is only secondary. Turn-off your cellphones or keep them in silent mode. Lastly, be respectful in doing your poses in the camera. They are already gracious enough to allow photography but don’t make any poses which may be deemed as mockery.

A Symbol of Hope

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

World peace, understanding, unity, compassion, and universal love across nations and races.

The Grand Mosque has provided hope throughout the world through its constant presence and reminder of the culture of respect and tolerance left to us through the Father of UAE: Sheikh Zayed. In my own country, a battle against extremist Muslims build a sense of fear among non-Muslim Filipinos. However, I hope this message of unity in Abu Dhabi  continues to inspire me to help Muslim Filipinos remind other Filipinos that Islam is not a religion of War.

Islam is a religion of Love and Love is universal.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

La Castellana Conference Center

A Retreat at La Castellana Conference Center in Negros

La Castellana Conference Center

La Castellana Conference Center

Every year it is in our religious practice and norms to attend a retreat where one will experience detachment from the usual activities of our worldly lives and just spend the time in silence and in prayer. Normally I have the retreats in the local center for Opus Dei in our city but this time I opted to go for a closed retreat far away from home. To date this had to be my best retreat experience ever.

Coming from Cebu we had rode on an L300 and braved the highways, rode the waves on a barge, and finally wrestled the damaged roads of La Castellana. The total trip was roughly around 8 hours.

It wasn’t too hard to find the place as the conference center was distinctively surrounded by tall walls of rocks cemented together. Beside the structure were trucks, a basketball court and what I believe was a welfare center.

La Castellana Conference Center

La Castellana Conference Center

The car drove in and we were all impressed by the natural beauty just surrounding us! The house in itself had a quaint beauty to it while the garden was filled with an abundance of shrubs, bushes, flowers and towering trees that clearly have seen life before this land was developed.

La Castellana Conference Center was recently renovated and was originally an ancestral home, much like those mansions you find in Bacolod. This old-fashion Spanish-era house belonged to the Vargas family and was situated just near the plantation’s compound gate. The family, being followers of Opus Dei, decided to offer the home to become a conference center (a venue for retreat, recollection and other activities of The Work).

La Castellana Conference Center

Though the house was facing the beauty of Mt. Kanlaon/Canlaon, we could only make out the outline of this highest point of Negros because of the clouds shrouding the massive active stratovolcano. (stratovolcano n. a volcano built up of alternate layers of lava and ash.)

3 Days of Silence of Prayer, Spiritual Reading, Reflection, and Meditation

Each of us were to stay in our own rooms while proper venues for each activities were available for the six of us to use. Along with us was our mentor and our chaplain to guide us throughout the entire retreat. Now before I continue any further, I will openly confess that I was the worst attendee when it came to the part on maintaining silence. Anyone who knows me knows that my garrulous nature often gets the best of me.


Normally a chapel in a conference center would have the image of our Blessed Mother or with Jesus Christ. However in their chapel they had a cleverly relevant theme of the Holy Family with the scene depicting that of the family in the local sugar farm. Come to think of it, we were surrounded by several thousands of kilometers stretch of sugar plantations. Seems apt to visualize the Holy Family in such a setting.

And because the alter set-up was in such that the altar was closely placed along the front wall, we celebrated the mass with our priest’s back facing us. This is very reminiscent of what traditional masses were like almost a century ago.

During our spiritual reading sessions and our talks, we would proceed to the common area which carry some distinctive “center” elements:

  1. Ducks – because they represent how ducklings, when entering this world, already know how to go about on their own but follow a mother duck for direction
  2. Donkeys – because of their hardworking, humble and persevering nature
  3. Lack of cellphone signal – because stop looking at that cellphone while you’re praying

We had our meals in the dining room that had a some very old furniture which I had a feeling, were worthy enough to be placed in a heritage museum. Food was delicious and that had our chaplain saying: “Ilongga women really know how to cook, noh?” And because we were in the middle of a sugar plantation, our desserts were very sweet. We even got to chew on actual sugar cane!


Our CR’s felt vintage with their basic tile design and the hallways still had their wooden floors from when the house was originally built. Elements of the house like the stairs, large wooden windows, beautiful uncommon tile patterns on the ground floor, and even some metalworks like the huge metal patio door, all showed aspects of the house that carried the past with it even today.

With how beautiful the house remains to be after all these years and with how clean and well-managed the garden is, one cannot help but affirm that the people who take care of this house has done it with love in their hearts. One can also say that they abide with the teachings of St. Jose Maria Escriva: “Bene omnia facere” which is “Do all things well.”

Just when we were preparing to leave for Cebu on our last day, God blessed us with a view of the famed Mt. Canlaon! What a wonderful way to end the retreat!

If you want to go on a retreat I highly recommend going to one of your closest Opus Dei centers and ask about when they will have a closed retreat. Totally worth my time and this retreat goes in my books as one of the most memorable and significant moments in my life.

Pax in Bello! Nunc coepi!

Tinago Falls – The Hidden Falls of Iligan

Tinago Falls

When I got to Iligan City I had absolutely no other plan than the agenda (conduct a safety seminar) I have already set for the next day. So I contacted one of my friends @wanderingteddybear who is from around here and told him: “surprise me!” Initially he started with a quick city tour to get me a feel of the local city vibes and how to get around and then he decided to take me to one place that would quickly give me the iconic idea of what Iligan City is known for: waterfalls!

True enough, Iligan is known as the City of Waterfalls due to the numerous accessible and inaccessible waterfalls in the city!  In Cebu, if you want to reach one of the waterfalls (referring to Mantayupan and Kawasan), it’s a couple of hours drive or trek to even get to one that you could enjoy. Here, it’s just less than an hour away and it’s not very expensive to get there!

Just one thing though, this particular waterfall we visited actually requires some endurance because it takes 500 steps to get down there and another 500 steps to get back up! I’m not talking about simple steps that are standard and like that of the mall or other buildings. I’m talking about irregularly placed steps with different levels of steepness but also with a beautiful view of Mother Nature!

Fees paid, steps conquered and breath recovered, we finally arrive at the base of Tinago Falls!

Legend has it that Tinago Falls was actually a child that was cursed to be ugly because her parents were greedy and cruel to an enchantress who was disguised as a better. Yes I know it sounds like a Philippine version of Beauty and the Beast. The child’s name was Tin-ag, which means “hidden face” and she was kept in a cave due to the embarrassment of the shallow-minded, face-shaming royal couple. When the child grew up and saw the beautiful world outside the cave, the enchantress offered Tin-ag the chance to be splendid and beautiful. And so she became the Tinago Falls!

The name seems only apt as this waterfall is actually hidden from plain sight in a thick forage of trees and rock formations. The only way to see its beauty is to walk down the steep array of man-made steps. In good days where it hasn’t rained much, the water can turn into a beautiful turquoise. But during rainy season the water tends to be anywhere from greenish to brown.

Its pool is wide and spacious enough to accommodate a lot of people but they have “lifeguards” or watchers who reprimand those who swim in the restricted areas. You can find some people climbing up the rigid wall and then jumping down to what looks like a 25-30feet jump.

Two young men hang out at the cliff before taking a plunge back into the water

Though Maria Cristina is more massive and this does not compare to the towering “Maria” and “Cristina” falls, the Ma. Cristina falls is mainly used for hydropower and is not swimmable as opposed to Tinago falls which provides a cool pool for wading around. Since the falls has enough distance from the shore of the pool, you can actually stay dry while taking photos of the scenery. That’s exactly what I did, I did not swim.

The steps leading to the base of the falls

Eventually Ted and I leave the vicinity and slowly made our way back up. If you’re fond of mountain scenery and beautiful views, I suggest taking the new road in Linamon which is very spacious and fun to run through.

one last look at Tinago’s beauty before we stark walking up the steps again

Tinago falls is around 30-40 minutes from the city proper in Iligan City. If you want to get a glimpse of at least one thing in Iligan and you have around 3 hours to spare, this is your place!

The First Freediving Convention in the Philippines

Attendance Photo of the first Freediving Convention in the Philippines!

For the first time in the Philippines, a Freediving Convention was organised.

We from Dive ta Bai did not aim for it to be big or grandiose. Our only objective was to get it happening to cause a ripple effect. Initially expecting at least 100 attendees, it was saddening to hear that several backed-out because of Typhoon Paulo which was causing some major cancellations for boat trips and some flight cancellations.

However, some freedivers from DTB Cebu, DTB Bohol, SAWUM Freedivers, The Dive Channel, and Freedive HQ attended the event despite the weather and became part of history!

I won’t lie, I was nervous about pursuing this event because there have been several things piling up on my plate for work and then this typhoon Paolo/Lan suddenly comes in and changes a whole lot of things. Truth is, I was half my mind to cancel the event and it really was eating me up inside.

Then came for me to face the music. At 1:30pm there were still less than 10 people who arrived and I told Edwin that we were going to start with or without the attendees. So with my hair tied back, microphone on hand, and a McDonalds burger-fueled smile, I opened the first Freediving convention in the Philippines.

At first it felt awkward and weird that there were only a few attendees but I started to forget about that and focus on getting the job done. For most of the event I was focused on broadcasting the talks through FB LIVE so I was no longer looking at the audience area.

Near end of the event I noticed the number started increasing as more latecomers arrived! It also really touched me how they were really interested with the topics when they asked some very relevant questions.

Finally the talk ended and the group got a group photo.

There was nothing lavish or luxurious about the event. It wasn’t as perfect as I pictured it in my head. But despite the problems, limitations and challenges, it warmed my heart when active DTB members worked hard to make this event work and the speakers made the effort to be present and share their knowledge with advocacy as the core of their purpose for being part of this convention.

Primarily the freediving convention was created as a celebration of the fifth year anniversary of Dive ta Bai. It was to be an event to gather freedivers and discuss important matters relevant to the sport. But after today this convention reminds me of what Dive ta Bai stands for: community. This event would not have been successful if not for the support of the speakers, the attending freedivers and the other freedivers who threw in resources to support this event.

This is the marking of the beginning of a great future for Freediving in the Philippines. Simple beginnings, but meaningful ones.

Dive more, Dive safe, Dive ta Bai!

Martin, Edwin, Thibault, Dr. Michael, Alana

Our Speakers were
Edwin Castillon, co-founder of Dive ta Bai and SSI Instructor candidate – COMMUNITY AND ADVOCACY
Dr. Michael Lazaro, ENT Freediving Doctor – THE FREEDIVER’S BODY
Alana Caskey, 6-time Australian Womens National Record holder and RAID Examiner- FREEDIVING SAFETY
Thibault Guignes, French FIM National Record Holder (105m)- COMPETITIVE FREEDIVING
Martin Zapanta, Sony Partner and Philippine National Record Holder for CNF and FIM – FREEDIVING PHOTOGRAPHY


Dive Ta Bai! – A Freediving Community in the Philippines

Me and Doi during the first ever Dive ta Bai freedive session

Five years ago on the 14th of October, it was a fine Sunday when three bloggers namely Edwin, Doi, and Johnn decided to try “freediving” in the reefs of what then was Tambuli Beach Club. The three were curious about the sport of freediving and did not know much except for what they have tried to experience for themselves.

After almost 4 hours in the water, they were quite spent but extremely stoked about the whole experience. With smiles on their faces, they vowed to discover more reefs and take their dives to further depths.

Back on dry land, one of them decided to create a Facebook group to invite more friends who might be interested in the group: “Dive ta Bai!”. The group wanted to connect with like-minded individuals who wanted to explore freediving in Cebu.

Five years later, the Dive ta Bai community has now over 1000 members with chapters in Bohol, Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, Diplog,  Iligan, and even Dubai!

Dive ta Bai! “Let’s Dive!”

Official Dive ta Bai Logo

The group was informally created as a community to connect fellow freedivers so nobody had to dive alone. The activities were fun dives and social activities that involved freediving. As the years went by a good number of the freedivers began to grow with the sport and pursued certifications for freediving.

Freediving was not as popular around five years back. Back then it wasn’t easily understood what we were doing and many people would actually mistaken our activities for scuba diving. Nowadays with digital media easily sharing videos of freedivers, it’s not too difficult to explain what we do for fun.

Advocacy and Community

While we were focused on building the community, different chapters around the Visayas and Mindanao pursued their advocacies. Ian Uy, Dive ta Bai- Bohol, lead a great example in adopting reefs and also advocating the development of reef protection programs. Edwin Castillion, co-founder of Dive ta Bai, also lead the protection of the sardine school in Panglao as they face heavy fishing. Dive ta Bai-Davao, Ritche Abgragan also lead clean-up activities with the freedivers in Davao.

Dive ta Bai BOHOL Freedivers

Beyond just freediving and having fun, the community has now become a gateway to exploring collaborative efforts to help conserve marine life while promoting the beauty of the Philippine waters.

Welcoming Every Freediver in the World

Dive ta Bai DAVAO Freedivers

As part of the spirit of community of freedivers, every chapter of Dive ta Bai will act as an ambassador to freedivers who are visiting the Philippines, helping them discover the beauty of the Philippines in a proper and safe manner.

Dive ta Bai Today

We do know that initially that Dive ta Bai was built on the purpose of fun and community however after half a decade of community growth and development, the leaders of Dive ta Bai have been called to a purpose of responsibility and example. The communities that carry the brand “Dive ta Bai!” all follow a universal set of standards that are based on the standards set by agencies like SSI, RAID, and AIDA.

Dive ta Bai Freedivers get featured in the Media during their Dive Pilgrimage at Bien Unido Bohol

It is the community’s focus and advocacy to help the safe growth of freediving in the Philippines in line with the Department of Tourism’s objective to develop the Archipelago as the Freediving Capital of Asia.

One A Personal Note

Edwin, Dive ta Bai co-founder, venerates the underwater Sto. Nino, photo by Martin Zapanta

I miss the days of how Dive ta Bai used to be. The simple times where we just gathered for freediving simply just for fun and discovery, the innocence and simplicity was delightful. There is now a more serious note on how we approach the community’s objectives because we are now even more cautious when dealing with newcomers because we are now responsible for how we cultivate growth around the sport.

Though I miss the old Dive ta Bai, I am excited for what the community has to offer. 5 years has been a long time and quite enough experiences to help shape the direction of Dive ta Bai as a family of freedivers, athletes and instructors.

How to Join Dive ta Bai?

Carlo Navaro and Martin Zapanta, both National Record Holders in Freediving in the Philippines

Simply join the group: Dive ta Bai!   and if you don’t get approved drop a message at Dive ta Bai! Page to express your interest to join in the group in order to participate in the activities.

If you are not a freediver it is okay, the group will be able to guide you through everything from equipment to certification.

If you can’t swim, we can also help you get connected with swimming coaches who can help you with your needs.

I’m excited to see more and more Filipinos get involved with Freediving and hopefully our athletes will make their mark in the World Record logs.

Our Spearo Dive ta Bai members enjoying a nice meal after a dive

Dive more, Dive safe, Dive ta Bai!