Holidaying at Fuerteventura

Posted by Analyse at 2:57 PM

Saturday, January 29, 2011

.. was fab! The weather was perfect. The nightlife was great. Nature was a-bounty. What more could we ask for?

It was a deal. I told L that we try to save for Christmas gifts which pile up in closets and drawers and generally left unused. With the gift money, we could probably offer ourselves a Christmas getaway and escape from the cold weather. Not to my surprise, L agreed at once.

From there, I've checked for travel deals which are not far from France, with day temperature >20°C, leaving preferably from Nantes (to be close to L's family) and destinations that won't require me any visa. Fuerteventura responded to all categories so off we went just after the Christmas eve.

Fuerteventura was just 3.5 hour-plane ride away from Nantes. We left at 2 pm and arrived there around 5pm (one hour difference from France). Our hotel, situated at Corralejo was just 45-min taxi-ride from the airport.

We started our first night barhopping with the kids (it was the night of December 25th afterall!). Yes, with the kids! Bars were all around town and like almost every country in Europe, smoking inside public areas were prohibited (or was it because the crowd was mostly from countries where smoking inside bars were prohibited?). You could count the number of strollers going in and out of bars! Amazing! The crowd was of course multinational - but the majority were from north of Europe. Live bands were setting an upbeat ambiance and the girls were dancing even after bedtime. In fact, barhopping became our nightly routine in Fuerteventura ;). Cervesa San Miguel Bar became our favorite!
Beaches of course was our favorite daytime destination. The girls busied themselves building sand castles while the parents busied themselves sunbathing and reading. It was a relaxing retreat from the busy daily routine we have in Dijon.
We once rented a 4x4 to visit the countryside to get closer to the volcanic (and the volcano too!) lanscape of Fuerteventura. And the posted pictures could resume what Fuerteventura is all about.
It was an untouched nature. Far from pollution. Far from the stressful feel of any city. It was simply heaven.

Note: Corralejo is a small town of Fuerteventura situated at the northernmost part of the island. Tourism is there but not as exploited as the cities at the southern part of the island. If you hate bunches of tourists, Corralejo is your place.

A Not-So-Ordinary EB in Athens

Posted by Analyse at 3:34 PM

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Yes, I finally set an EB with a longtime online friend Shalimar Orlanes. But what's extraordinary about our EB is that - we didn't personally met! Go figure! She was basking under the sun of Florida when I visited Athens - but that didn't keep her from welcoming us in her appartment. Bonnie, a family friend welcomed us and made us feel like we already knew each other for years!

Frenchguy still couldn't digest how Filipinos open their doors to strangers. And how strangers could be considered friends just after reading their blogs, after chatting and after being friends through Facebook. Well, I really can't find the right words to explain to him when here in Dijon, befriending someone is not an easy task. He's still culture-shocked!

Ate Bonnie and Shasha, thanks for the experience. I think our meeting is the highlight of this getaway - more than the visit of Athens itself. You showed Frenchguy another bright side of true Filipino hospitality and I thank you for that.

The Getaway

Did I tell you our favorite motto at home? When the kids are away, the parents will play.

We had a 3-day weekend to spend without the kids, Frenchguy and I looked at each other and *ding* (lightbulb ON), quick getaway starting to materialize in our head. I started to eye on great travel deals - I hesitated between Marrakech (Morocco), Istanbul (Turkey) and Athens (Greece) - but my resident card limited me inside the Schengen zone.

I started to check what flight could suit best our schedule and Olympic Air was just perfect. Leaving Paris at 7:30pm and leaving Athens at 4:30pm. That would give us ample time to enjoy Greek capital to the max.

Since Ate Bonnie was at that time on a short getaway in London and arriving 2 hours after our arrival in Athens, we decided we'd stay in a hotel for a night. Since it was just for a night, I decided I would try the hotel top secret promotion from and yes, we stayed in a 5-star hotel situated at the heart of Athens at 50% off.

Couch Surfing - My Way

Have you heard about this concept? If not, then google it, lol. The first time I've heard about this idea, I thought it was for me. I love the idea. Tourism for me is not only visiting tourist spots and taking my pictures infront of them. I want to go beyond that. I want to penetrate one's culture. I want to observe the way locals spend their daily lives. Curious-me wants to get a closer look.

But since couch surfing isn't ideal for a family of four, I content myself with different solutions like when we spent 3 days in an Agriturismo in the Tuscany Region of Italy or when we visited the Nubian Village in Egypt.

Staying at Shasha's place is my way of penetrating to how Filipinos live their lives outside of the Philippines. Dijon's Filipino community is limited to probably 10 members that you could hardly call it a community. Athens count thousands of Filipinos apparently, and their Filipinoness is still there. Ate Bonnie has spent more than 20 years in Athens but according to Frenchguy - she's still Filipino. Why? Because she prepares more than one type of breakfast everyday! For Frenchguy, a cup of coffee, a slice of bread and butter should be enough.And kulit ni Frenchguy, ganun talaga Pinoy. Kandaugaga palagi to please our visitors, right?

Athens - The Visit

I was expecting an old city, not like France or Italy - but older than that. Not that I was expecting columns and sculptures on each building - that's too much asking - but, well, I don't really know. I was probably expecting to see something different but disappointed to realize that yes, I was still in Europe!

I would describe Athens as an old city with distinct monuments here and there, surrounded by new and modern buildings and decorated by bitter orange trees everywhere. Though stray dogs were quite everywhere (which was not common in Europe), I was agreably surprised to see how clean the city was.

We started the visit by walking through the Plaka District then continued through Anafiotika District (which I found more exotic than the rest of Athens). From there we saw this sign going up the Acropolis so we followed suit (for info, all monuments of Athens open their doors to public free of charge every Sunday).

For future visitors, I would recommend to visit the Acropolis Museum first before visiting the monuments, especially if you already forgot the history of Athens.
We spent the whole afternoon roaming around the city and waited for sunset at the Lycabettus Hill. From there, we had a spectacular view of Athens - changing color as the sun sets. We then dined at the Exarchia District which by the way offered better Tavernas (restaurants) compared to the touristic Plaka District.

After an intensive Athens overload, we decided to take the bus the next day which took a scenic route by the sea. Direction - Sounion. There, another monument dedicated to Poseidon was dominating the area.
After that quick escapade, we again took the bus which took us back to Athens. We continued our visit in different districts of Athens and decided we needed to wait to see the Acropolis at night.
It was worth the wait. It was a Saturday night and Athens was all the more lively. We whiled away our time on top of a hill nearby the Acropolis Rock then continued our walk to find ourselves in a cozy restaurant near the cathedral. Did I say that Greek food is great?

Our last day was spent re-visiting the Acropolis. Yes, we're never tired. In fact, we visited the museum and we realized that we didn't see anything, lol. So up we went again to check the details that we missed from our first visit.

To sum up, it was a great weekend getaway. I'll probably go back when the girls are bigger.. or probably earlier, but to visit the islands this time.

Day 5-8: Bohol

Posted by Analyse at 3:11 PM

Saturday, March 27, 2010

We've exchanged numbers and email addresses before we bid goodbye. The other frenchies continued their adventure in Puerto Princesa while we continued ours in Bohol.

We took the Cebu Pacific flight direct from Legaspi to Cebu, then the SuperCat ferry from Cebu to Tagbilaran. Transportation was A-OK! Efficient and on time.

Arriving in Tagbilaran, we took a tricycle to our hotel in Panglao Island. I've actually chosen a place which goes out of the ordinary - a sort of Bahay Kubo and the effect was great. We haven't thought about our work yet since we started our island hopping tour, lol. Since it was already late in the evening when we arrived in Bohol, we only had time to leave our backpacks in the hotel then we hurried out to scout for a good restaurant.

The next day was declared as scooter day. We rented one to be able to explore the island without any hassle - without being dependent to public transportation. We didn't want to rent a car either because we wanted to escape from the comfort of our everyday lives. And since we had no kids, it was feasible and highly recommendable!

We headed first to - where else - the Chocolate Hills. Then took again our scooter to have our lunch at one of the Loboc River's floating restaurant. Though the concept was more of an 'industrial scale' type of tourism and it lacked a local and natural feel to it, it was nevertheless fun. There was a group of musicians who serenaded us during a sumptous buffet lunch - who by the way sang not only Filipino songs but also Korean and Chinese songs! There were groups of folkdancers in different points of the river who incited visitors to try Tinikling and other local dances.

We again took our scooter to hunt for tarsiers.. then to check the Hanging Bridge.. then to different remote areas of the island just to enjoy countryside driving before we decided we had enough for the day and it was time to enjoy the seaside.

The next day was dedicated to dolphin watching, snorkeling and island hopping. We saw quite a lot of groups of dolphins in the area, but honestly, after swimming with the Butanding, the impact was much less.
I then asked the boatman to bring us to Balicasag Island to see the Fish Sanctuary and to snorkel a bit. I was very disappointed though because tourists and guides alike were standing on the corals to feed the fishes. I was snorkeling but all I could see were legs, legs and legs. These people were actually killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Too sad.

Last stop was at the Virgin Island. It was a tiny island boasting with a very white fine sand. The sand was immaculately white. It was really inviting but tourists were just all over the island, there were no space to swim!

It was easy to get bored when there's nothing to do so I asked the boatman to head us back to Panglao for lunch. We stayed along Alona Beach the whole afternoon - beach bummers! We walked along the beach with one objective in mind, check the hotels and see where we could stay the next time we go there - with kids!

The next day was spent at Bohol Beach Club. It was just to kill time before our flight back to Manila. 8 days without the kids was relaxing, refreshing.. 8 days which were sufficient enough for us to miss the kids. We were walking hand in hand along the beach, both impatient to hear our noisy girls - Louna with her endless stories and Kyla with her dirty diapers.

Day 4 - Mount Mayon Trek

Posted by Analyse at 3:05 PM

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Drrriiinggggg! 4:20 am. Frenchguy and I jumped off the bed and quickly dressed up and brushed our teeth. Our rendez-vous with the guide was at 4:30 am, there was no time to lose. We hurriedly took the stairs and met the other Frenchies at the reception area.

4:35 am. Byron, the guide was still not there (Filipino time?). He promised he would arrive earlier. The Frenchies started to ask me questions on how sure it was that we paid 50% of the fee the night before.

4:40 am. I started to call him up but nobody was answering. Ok, alright. Keep cool, Ana. He must still be cooking our chicken adobo for lunch.

4:45 am. Byron called me up to inform me that he'll arrive in 3 minutes.

He arrived after 5 minutes. It's been almost 9 years that I live here in France. I almost forgot what Filipino time is, lol.

Well enough with the rant. The 4 Frenchies and I cramped ourselves inside the tricycle with the driver and our beloved guide. The joyride up to the jump off point was around 15 minutes. It was drizzling when we arrived there, must be the morning dew. 2 other guys met us on our way to Camp 1 - Byron's brother who is a guide himself and a younger one who carried our food.

It was still dark when we started the trek so head lamps and flashlights were more than necessary. I was wearing a short and it was actually a bad idea since the trail was quite narrow and dense with tall weeds, I had a lot of wounds and cuts after the trek.

Byron explained that the trek to Camp 1 should take us around 2 hours, but it would all depend on our pace. From there, we would then decide on whether we continue the hike or not to Camp 2. Few minutes after the start of the trek, the morning dew started to get higher intensity - it somewhat reminds me of rain. A what? A RAIN?

No. That's not the Hunchback of Notre Dame. That's me trying to protect my camera in my backpack.

Yes. It was rain. We hiked Mayon Volcano under the rain! But that didn't stop us from tracing the trail and arrive at Camp 1 an hour and 20 minutes after the start. It was even too early to take our morning coffee but since it was raining and we had nothing else to do, we decided to take our coffee in this half-finished shelter in Camp 1 while waiting for our shirts to dry.

The youngest guy carrying a big backpack was actually carrying everything! Even a thermos full of hot water for our breakfast!
The carpenters who apparently stayed there for the night told us that it won't be prudent to hike up to Camp 2 since it had been raining up there for 2 consecutive nights. The trail was slippery. And anyway, with a weather like that, we won't be able to appreciate the beauty of Mount Mayon.

I explained to the Frenchies and hardheaded as they were, we decided to wait a bit for the rain to cease. The rain of course continued and even increased its intensity (sino kaya sa mga to ang may balat sa p*wet?).

Byron, concerned about satisfying our quest for adventure asked us if it would be appreciated if instead of hiking up to Camp 2, we would rather take another route and approach the lava from the last eruption barely 2 months ago (December 2009!). The answer was of course unanimous.
It looks so close but it was in fact far and almost inaccessible. Byron said that they couldn't go that close just a month ago since it was still hot and fuming.

The trail going in that direction wasn't really a "trail". At some point, it was us who did the trail with the help of a bolo knife.
That's me and our guide on top of the lava. Nakukulitan na sa kin, lol. As you can see, the weather wasn't at all cooperating!But we patiently waited.. (we had our lunch up there!)
And the wait was all worth it! The tip of the cone.. at last!

The group was of course happy and satisfied with the hike. We stayed more than an hour on top of the lava to get a closer look of the tip. We never looked at the clouds that close all our life, lol.

We started our descent around 1pm. We decided that the day wasn't over yet so a quick shower at the hotel and off we went to the Cagsawa Ruins. Again, clouds were there to hide Mt Mayon but no worries, we're patient ;).
There were some kids in the area advicing picture tricks to tourists and even explaining to us the history of Mt Mayon.. and even what type of rocks Cagsawa Church was built! Wow! Saludo po ako sa inyo.

Even if we haven't had enough of Mt Mayon yet, it was already time to take the jeepney back to Legazpi. And since it was our last day together with the Frenchies, it has been decided that we all take the ultimate challenge - eat BALUT !

After 4 bottles each of Red Horse beer and a bit of local delicacies here and there, the Frenchies were still hesitant to take the challenge. But a challenge is a challenge. So on our way back to the hotel, we stopped a balut vendor and ta-dan.. yes people, Frenchguy ate his first balut of his life, lol. After that experience, all agreed it was good to rinse off that irky taste (for them only of course) with another bottle of Red Horse beer.

We agreed to take breakfast together the next day.. I could already feel the mighty Red Horse kicking me off to bed...ZZzzzzzzzzz.

Next: Day 5-8 Bohol

Day 2-3: Donsol, Sorsogon

Posted by Analyse at 3:08 PM

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Day 2 : Catanduanes to Donsol, Sorsogon

We had to wake up early that morning to catch the first jeepney going from Virac to San Andres. Then the ferry from San Andres to Tabaco, Albay at 8:30am. We had our coffee at one of the carinderias at the pier while waiting for boarding. It was actually my first time to ride a ferry in the Philippines and I was quite curious how it would be like. The 3-hour ride must be fun.

It was a fine day, the sky was blue, but the beautiful Mount Mayon was teasing us, hiding behind the clouds. I was contemplating on a picture format - clear blue water with Mt Mayon at the background. But all I got was this - a big ship and a hardly recognizable Mt Mayon at the background.
Frenchguy was equally impatient to see the cone. He was insisting that Mt Fuji is more perfect than Mt Mayon (he by the way saw Mt Fuji behind the clouds - may balat yata to sa p*wet!) and though I never saw Mt Fuji, I was trying to defend Mt Mayon's reputation, lol.

From Tabaco to Legaspi, Frenchguy was focusing on the volcano but the clouds were really thick at that time, we can hardly get a glimpse of the tip. But once he saw the tip, he suddenly fell in love, he forgot how uncomfortable it was inside the van. He never quitted it with his eyes so I started to remind him that the volcano erupted barely two months ago and alert level was probably still up. I think he wasn't listening to me. He was there, admiring the beauty of Mt Mayon.

It was lunch time when we arrived at the van terminal so we reserved our place in the van going to Donsol and hurried at the nearest carinderia. Legaspi to Donsol was around 45 minutes ride at P65/person.

Arriving in Donsol, we headed at once at the Tourist Information Center for the registration. Registration fee was P100 for locals and P300 for foreigners. Snorkel and fins rental was p300/day. Boat rental with guide for the Butanding encounter was P3500, generally shared by 6 visitors. And at that time, there were no problem searching for other visitors to share the fee. I was quite surprised by the number of tourist in that area. I thought it was low season.. but then, it was also Chinese New Year and winter vacation in Europe.

After gathering all necessary information about the Butanding encounter, it was time to find a resting place for us. Most of the resorts near the Tourist Information Center had no available rooms anymore but we were still lucky to find one in Casa Bianca. The rooms were not really extraordinary but I don't intend to stay inside the room during my stay there so i didn't really care.

After a quick shower, we continued walking along the beach to wait for sunset. The beach wasn't really inviting so we contented ourselves with a glass of halo-halo in a nearby resort.

At 7pm, we decided we'd end the day with a firefly watch at the river. Frenchguy and I were engaged in an uncensored close-to-horny conversation while waiting for the start of the visit when we realized that the Filipino family near us could understand French! Yay! And since the youngest was currently learning French, we finally decided it would be great if we share the same bangka with them.

The firefly watch wasn't really spectacular but it was a good way to while away our time before dinner. We had our dinner at Baracuda Bar and it was G R E A T (must try!) - ambiance, food and of course it's infront of the beach!

Day 3 - Butanding Encounter - Back to Legaspi

We arrived at 7am at the Tourist Information Center. There were already a lot of people waiting to be registered but luckily (that's the advantage of being a Filipina), a guide approached me to propose his boat because he lacked 2 more people to complete it. He then did all the registration in no time and off we went before the other tourists were even registered.

The guide explained to us all that was needed to know while we were on our way to the whaleshark watchpoint. There were already few boats roaming around the area when we arrived. We started to clean our snorkel, fit the fins and prepare the camera when suddenly, the guide asked us to get ready. When he shouted GO, we got off the boat one after the other. I couldn't find Frenchguy anymore, selfish little b*stard. He knew that swimming was not my strongest point. When I submerged my head under the water, the Butanding was there just infront of me, swimming on my direction. I swear, I was there, paralyzed, not knowing how to react (I even forgot how to use my cam!). We were warned to keep at least a 2-meter distance but the Butanding seemed to be too close I could almost touch it.

Frenchguy with the Butanding. Until now, I still don't know how to express how I felt when I first saw this harmless whaleshark. It was surreal!

When it finally passed my way, I started to swim in its direction (with I don't know how much pair of snorkels and fins around!). It was approximately 5 minutes of overwhelming experience before the Butanding decided to swim deeper.

The experience was awesome. We did 6 encounters in 3 hours and saw 4 different Butandings ranging from 6-10 meters long.

We met 3 other Frenchies staying in the same hotel as us. Conversation was of course focused on Butanding and what activity should we do next. Everybody voted for a cockfight session but unfortunately, it was quite too late so we finally packed our stuffs and agreed to start heading back to Legaspi.

Arriving at the terminal, we learned that there was no more van travelling to Legaspi so we were obliged to take the jeepney instead. Countryside viewing is much more fun of course if you travel up the jeepney!

Since Frenchguy and I, the adventurous and well-organized backpackers, had no hotel reservation, we just followed the 3 Frenchies with their Lonely Planet guide. Arriving at the hotel, I asked the receptionist if they're organizing a trek to Mount Mayon the next day (it was Sunday, Tourist Information Center was closed). She called up an accredited guide and in no time, the fees were fixed and we were told to sleep early as the climb would start at 4:30am!

We haven't even digested the aftershock of the whaleshark encounter and here we are again, getting excited to the idea of hiking Mount Mayon.

Next: Day 4 - Mount Mayon Trek

3 Destinations In 8 Days - Day 1 - Virac, Catanduanes

Posted by Analyse at 10:02 PM

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

I had always been reticent about visiting my own country. Probably because I kept a bad picture of my old experiences, probably because we were hot baits for policemen and probably because I always paid higher prices because I was with “Joe”. Personally, I would rather visit Thailand or other countries than my own country - because I feel safer elsewhere and I don’t need to justify our culture, our poverty, our corruption, everything. In other countries, I’m the one criticizing and not the one criticized. But that's just me.

But our last getaway changed my view about travelling in the Philippines. I was agreably surprised. Hang in there as I recount our backpacking adventure around the Philippines with my Frenchguy.

Day 1 - Virac, Catanduanes

Our plane was scheduled early that morning and though it was quite hard to wake up after a hectic sched including our youngest daughter's Christening, it was an exciting perspective knowing that we're travelling without the kids. Frenchguy was curious to know where I was taking him but I just told him to relax, don't think about the planning as I'd take care of everything.

The one hour ride finally went fast, I wasn't even able to finish reading the onboard magazine. Drizzly weather was announced outside.

Why Virac? Honestly, it was not our main destination. It was just a jump-off point. Initial plan was to do island hopping in the Caramoan peninsula but the weather wasn't that cooperative so I decided to stay in the island.

We visited the century-old Bato Church instead then whiled away our time in the hidden Maribina Falls in Brgy Cabugao. We then satisfied our hungry stomach at Sea Breeze restaurant which serves rock lobsters at a very affordable price (P700/kg!).

The afternoon was spent in Puraran Beach, known as a surfing haven in that area. It was surely low season since we didn't bump to any surfer in the area. We met Jay though, an amateur photographer who gave me tips and tricks on how to use my camera! Yes people, until now, I still don't know how to use my cam, lol.

Jay offered to take us back near Virac onboard a truck which we accepted at once. Frenchguy stayed at the back with the other guys while I was seated comfortably near the driver, lol. Arriving at the truck's destination, we were obliged to wait for a tricycle to take us at downtown Virac. Believe it or not but I never saw a tricycle as productive as in Virac. We were 9 inside one tricycle!

Our new found friend asked if we're interested to stay in the same hotel as his. Not seeing any inconvenience, we finally stayed together and continued chatting around a bottle of beer and a lot more of tips on how to use my cam. Yipeee! I feel bad though as I lost the paper where I wrote Jay's contact info :(

To sum up, our stay in Virac was full of fun rides and great encounter of great people. I don't normally trust strangers but people there were warm and accomodating.

Next: Day 2-3. Donsol, Sorsogon

Naturalization: First Interview at the Prefecture

Posted by Analyse at 6:51 PM

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Patience is a virtue. If you want to be French, then be patient.

For the record, 14 months had passed between the moment I applied for naturalization and the moment I was interviewed at the Prefecture. I'm not surprised tho. I was told that they're already submerged of 10 months equivalent of files to process when I submitted my documents. Good thing, I wasn't in a hurry.

When I received the appointment at home, I asked my Filipino friends living in France for some typical questions asked during this much-awaited interview. I prefer attacking a battle armed! Each of them of course had their own experiences so here's mine:

I had my appointment at 11am but that didn't mean I was received at exactly that time. There were 2 girls before me so I waited like around 30 long minutes before the interview.

When my turn came, I was asked first for some additional papers:

- Kyla's proof of French nationality
- Louna's proof of scolarity
- my pay slip for the last 3 months
- my pay slip for December 2008
- latest CAF certificate
- tax revenue declaration for 2007 and 2008
- frenchguy's pay slip for the last 3 months

And then the questions. I was practically asked the same questions already asked on the documents I furnished. Like when did I arrive? When did I start working? etc. Other questions were: What language is used at home? Am I part of any association? Do I frequent French communities or rather foreign communities? Why do I want to be French? Why didn't I apply earlier? etc.

The questionning part was rather cool and stress-free. But the announced waiting time wasn't cool at all. Apparently, the police department will do their investigation thing, then after their official report, my file will be forwarded to the Ministère des Affaires Etrangères before the countdown begins. Count 15 months, I was told.