Gore-Tex Noselift

When I think of Gore-Tex I think of hiking boots and waterproof jackets. Until my recent trip to the Philippines I was unaware that the brand is also associated with implants used in rhinoplasty and other cosmetic surgery procedures.

Gore-tex Nose Lift
A waterproof nose could be useful for those heavy colds.

There are a lot of good looking people in the Philippines but some feel dissatisfied with their cute, God-given flat noses, wishing instead to have long, pointed noses. For this reason, plastic surgeons seem to be doing a good business in Manila although lagging far behind Thailand and even further behind South Korea, said to be the plastic surgery capital of the world.

According to Dr. Shimmian’s website, a primary Gore-Tex noselift with septal cartilage graft will cost you Peso 100,000, or around US$2,000. That’s quite a lot of money in a country where the average family income is only Peso 22,000 per month*. It seems a Gore-Tex nose is only affordable to the better off. Perhaps I could sell a bit of my nose, which seems to get longer every year!

*2015 figures: Philippines Statistics Authority

Enrique, Magellan & Lapu Lapu


While in Cebu recently I took the opportunity to visit the Mactan Shrine, the spot where the explorer Ferdinand Magellan was killed in 1521 during a skirmish with the local chieftain, Lapu Lapu.


There are two monuments at this site.  The oldest is the Magellan Monument which was erected by the Spaniards in 1866 to commemorate their hero.


The newer one, erected after the Philippines achieved independence, is a bronze statue of Lapu Lapu, who is regarded as a national hero for resisting Spanish aggression.

death of magellan 2

Lapu Lapu may have won the battle but he lost the war because the Spanish were soon back in force heralding over 300 years of Spanish colonisation and spreading Christianity to much of the archipelago.


Ferdinand Magellan (or Fernao de Magalhaes in his native Portuguese) is often thought of as the first person to sail around the world and he was leading that circumnavigation expedition at the time of  his death. He had earlier made another journey eastwards as far as Sabah, Borneo so it could be argued that he had been around the world, apart from the relatively small gap between Cebu and Borneo.

However another person can be credited with being the first to achieve a full circumnavigation and that was Magellan’s servant/slave and interpreter, known as Enrique.

According to Antonio Pigafetta, who chronicled Magellan’s voyage, Enrique was a Malay slave, originally from Sumatra, who was acquired by Magellan during the conquest of Malacca in 1511. Perhaps he was one of the slaves from the Sultan of Melaka’s household. Magellan had him baptised with the name Enrique and he was taken back to Portugal and accompanied Magellan on all his subsequent trips and took part in the Mactan battle where Magellan met his fate.

Three days after Magellan’s death, Enrique went ashore as interpreter with a party of Spaniards to meet another chieftain but they were attacked and only one survivor made it back to ship, witnessing that all were killed except the interpreter. Some have claimed that Enrique helped plan this attack as he was bitter that the Spaniards were not going to grant him his liberty as Magellan had intended and specified in his will. It is not known what happened to Enrique after the attack but, if he did survive, it is quite possible that he made it back to Malacca, or even Sumatra, thus completing his circumnavigation, and that this took place long before Magellan’s surviving crew made it back to Spain.


I have a light-hearted children’s book at home called First Around the Globe – The Story of Enrique, which claims that Enrique was in fact a Filipino from Cebu and that the reason he was found by Magellan in Malacca was because he was kidnapped by a band of pirates while out fishing. They took him to Jolo where he was sold to the slave trade in Malacca. The authors argue that Enrique could speak Cebuano which is how he was able to interpret for Magellan when he reached Cebu. Filipinos add that it is appropriate that the first person to have been around the world should have been Filipino because modern day balikbayan are such great travellers. 

Malaysians and Indonesians however would argue that Enrique was a Malay from Sumatra as evidenced by Pigafetta and he was able to communicate with the Cebu chiefs because Malay was the lingua franca among the ruling classes in the Visayas at that time. And Malays are famed for their seamanship skills.

Well, I don’t think I want to take sides in that argument but the possibility that this former Malaccan slave might have been the first person ever to sail around the world is certainly intriguing but I guess we will never know for sure.

Temple of Leah, Cebu

I was in Cebu, Philippines last week for a short family holiday (yes, even travel bloggers need holidays).


One of the more recent tourist attractions on the island is The Temple of Leah located in the cool, green hills of Busay overlooking Cebu City.


This extraordinary building in classical Greco-Roman style looks totally out of place in tropical Philippines but that is what makes it unique.


Like the Taj Mahal, this temple is one man’s extravagant expression of love for his late wife. The owner is wealthy businessman Mr. Teodorico Soriano Adarna and he explains his reason for building the temple as follows:

“Constructed as a symbol of my undying love for and ceaseless devotion to Leah Villa Albino-Adarna, my wife of 53 years.  All her lifetime collections are showcased in the 24 chambers of the Temple.”



According to the roman numerals, construction started in 2011 but it is still a work in progress and the 24 chambers are not yet finished and visitors are confined to the marbled entrance lobby and the massive outdoor terrace enjoying fine views of the city.


Though still a construction site, it is open to the public and the entrance fee of P 50 per person no doubt assists with defraying some of the ongoing building costs.


This place may not be to everyone’s taste but it is worth going for the view alone and to experience the cooler mountain air.


With a thunderstorm approaching we adjourned to the nearby Lantaw Native Restaurant for some tasty dishes while waiting for the rain to ease. It was a good trip.


Back to Boracay

Sunset in Boracay, August 2014

We’ve just returned from a beach holiday in Boracay in the Philippines. For me and my wife it was our second visit, the first time having been way back in 1986.

In those days Boracay was still undeveloped and not well known outside of the Philippines. We were curious to see how things have changed over the past three decades.

Getting There

Caticlan Airport 1986

In 1986 we landed on Caticlan airport’s grass runway in a small propeller aircraft. In those laid-back days departing passengers could relax on the runway while waiting for their flight to board. The check-in/baggage hall was just a small nipa hut. A tricycle transported us to a nearby beach from where we hired a motorised banca to ferry us across to Boracay Island. We were dropped off on the beach directly in front of our hotel room.

Caticlan Airport Baggage Hall in 1986 

These days international flights land at Kalibo Airport which is a couple of hours’ drive away from Caticlan. Kalibo is better equipped to handle large aircraft but they need to employ more Immigration officials to check the passports of the high volume of passengers.


In 1986 there were only a handful of places to stay on the island. We stayed at Fridays which is still operating today and is located at the best end of Boracay’s magnificent White Beach. Our room was directly facing the ocean but was fairly basic with no air-conditioning or fan, in fact there was no electricity at all on the island at that time. They also ran out of drinking water and the only liquids available were San Miguel Beer and Fanta, neither of which was great for breakfast.

Friday's Hotel, Boracay in 1986

Today Boracay has 289 resorts with 7907 rooms (source of statistics: Boracay Sun Community Newspaper). They all have electricity and some are very smart indeed.


All these hotels and restaurants require a small army of workers to man them. Boracay’s population has mushroomed from around 3,000 inhabitants in 1986 to over 30,000 today. A tarmac road runs down the spine of the island with various lanes running off it lined with some fairly scruffy buildings where lower income employees and their families live and shop. I don’t remember any vehicles or tarmac roads in 1986 but now there are 2195 motorbikes, 660 motor tricycles, 419 vans and 84 trucks vying for space on the main road. 

Boracay Main Road - 2014

Positive Changes

While all the above changes might seem negative, it is not all bad news and in some ways Boracay has improved over the years. Shopping for example. There were no shops at all in 1986 apart from a basic food market. Now there are pedestrianized precincts like D’Mall which are lined with shops selling everything that a visitor might need such as food, souvenirs, clothing, pharmacies, designer fashions and so on.

Frog Bags in D'Talipapa MarketNothing But H2O

There are also 260 restaurants to choose from with cuisines ranging from Filipino to Italian to Korean. (There are hordes of Korean tourists on the island by the way with Taiwanese probably being the next most numerous). Boracay has 70 spas so there is no excuse for feeling stressed (we didn’t try any). Nightlife is active with lots of live singing going on in bars and restaurants but they seem to have avoided most of the sleazy type of nightlife found in some other Asian beach resorts.

Things To Do

In 1986 there was little to do on Boracay apart from relaxing on the beach with a good book but that was its charm. Nowadays they have all kinds of water activities imaginable, such as parasailing, jet skiing, helmet dive, banana boat, wake boarding, kite boarding, mermaid lessons,  sailing, island hopping and glass bottom boat. On land there is quad biking, horseback riding, go-karting, zorbing, zip lining, mountain biking and trekking.

Sailing Off White Beach - 2014

Paradise Lost?

Boracay might not be the pristine, unspoilt paradise it once was but the authorities and local residents have done a good job at least in maintaining White Beach as beautiful as ever and it continues to be rated as one of the world’s best beaches.

To avoid putting more strain on the island’s stretched infrastructure, they should cap future developments and concentrate instead on upgrading what they already have. There are plenty of other beautiful islands in the Philippines still to be exploited for tourism and resources should be diverted there.

Boracay White Beach 2014

Malunggay–Miracle Plant

Malunggay Leaves

We have a miracle tree growing in our garden. In our household we know it by its Filipino name, malunggay but its scientific name is Moringa oleifera.

Malunggay Tree

It is miraculous for two reasons:

  1. It is so easy to grow and it produces vast amounts of edible leaves. If you start with a seed or a small cutting you will soon have a tall slender tree. When it gets too tall for easy harvesting, you just saw off the top,  stick the top in the ground and in no time you have another tree.
  2. The leaves (and the seed pods) are said to have amazing health benefits. According to a Philippine newspaper, the Sun.Star Baguio, these are some of the supposed benefits:

• Gram for gram malunggay contains four times more Vitamin A or beta-carotene than carrots.

• It is also a rich source of vitamin C, many times more than oranges.

• Normally milk is said to be a rich source of calcium but the amount of calcium present in malunggay leaves is way higher than in milk.

• Malunggay leaves are said to contain two times the protein present in milk.

• Bananas are a rich source of potassium. But malunggay leaves contain several times more potassium than bananas.

• Along with potassium, zinc is also found in large quantities in malunggay leaves.

• If malunggay leaves were to be eaten by one and all, the world will be free of anaemia as it contains three times more iron than spinach.

• With all the junk food eaten these days, many people face problems of high cholesterol. Malunggay helps in balancing the cholesterol levels in the body.

• Essential Amino acids are also found in malunggay leaves.

• It is also said to balance sugar levels, hence it is helpful in the fight against diabetes.

• The body’s natural defence mechanism increases with the consumption of malunggay in the daily diet pattern. Since it is an immunity-stimulant, it is prescribed for AIDS afflicted patients.

• Its leaves can be consumed to stimulate metabolism.

• It is also said to have digestive powers.

• It is a nutrition booster and is known to promote a feeling of well-being in people.

• If you are looking for non-sugar based energy, then its leaves is the answer. Thus, it will also help in the weight loss process.

• The cell structure in the body is stimulated by the leaves.

• It is especially useful for lactating mothers. The consumption of the leaves has shown dramatic increase in the quantity of breast milk.

• It is also famous for its anti-bacterial properties.

• The paste of the Leaves is said to beautify the skin and is hence applied by women regularly to their faces as a facial. Leave it on till it dries then wash it off. You will feel your skin to be soft and smooth.

• It protects the liver and kidneys.

• It can also be used as a water purifier.

Studies have shown that malunggay can be used to treat a number of illnesses. Malunggay leaves are good for headache, bleeding from a shallow cut, bacterial and fungal skin complaints, anti-inflammatory gastric ulcers, diarrhoea, and malnutrition. This is one reason why the government has used malunggay in its feeding and nutrition programs.

Internal organs are said to benefit from the vegetable. Malunggay pods are dewormers, good for treating liver and spleen problems, pain of the joints, and malnutrition. Likewise, malunggay seeds treat arthritis, rheumatism, gout, cramp, STD, boils and urinary problems, and is a relaxant for epilepsy.

There have been claims that malunggay can be used to lower blood pressure as well as its being an anti-tumour plant.

Malunggay Leaves

Sounds like we should all be eating it, but what is the best way?

Like many vegetables, nutritional value is highest when consumed raw. The taste is not wonderful, something like grass mixed with raw peas. The best way to consume malunggay raw is probably to liquidize it and mix with a fruit juice, like this guyabano/malunggay concoction:

Guyabano/Malunggay Juice

Most people cook the leaves and use them like spinach. A filipino classic dish is tinola, a chicken stew made with green papaya, ginger and malunggay leaves.

They can be used in western cuisine too. They make a tasty addition to leek and potato soup for example.  They can also be added to pesto sauce.

Our tree does not have any of the long thin seed pods yet but, when it does, there are various spicy Asian curry dishes we can try out.

In the time taken to write this article I have finished the guyabano/malunggay juice and now my stomach is rumbling angrily so I may discovered one of the side-effects!

Orient Bound President Lines

I was browsing through some of my old National Geographic Magazines the other day and came across one dated September 1956, when I would have been just a baby.

I find that the adverts in these old magazines are as interesting as the articles. Here is an advert for American President Lines and their Trans-Pacific Cruises aboard S.S.President Cleveland and S.S. President Wilson.


The advert talks about gay shipboard parties from a time when ‘gay’ just meant joyful.

The church behind the balloons is the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Manila which I visited last year.

Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene

This was the golden era for ocean liners. These ships could hold 379 first class passengers and 200 in economy. They were looked after by a crew of 352.

SS President Cleveland

The service ended in 1973 and both vessels were sold to Mr. C.Y.Tung of Orient Overseas Line (now OOCL), Hong Kong. C.Y Tung was the father of C.H. Tung, the first Chief Executive of Hong Kong after the handover to China.

S.S. President Cleveland was briefly renamed Oriental President before being scrapped in 1974 in Kaoshiung, Taiwan.

SS President Wilson

The S.S.President Wilson was renamed Oriental Empress and spent most of her remaining years laid up in Hong Kong where she was run aground by Typhoon Ellen in 1983. She was sold for scrap in 1984.

She is featured on this 1970 Qatari stamp but it is doubtful if she ever visited Qatar which was a bit of a backwater in those days.

The Wonders of Taglish

In all my years of connections with the Philippines I have never made much progress in learning Tagalog, the national language.

This is because:

  • I am too lazy to put in the effort.
  • It is too difficult for me, especially the takadakatak tongue-twisters.
  • I haven’t needed to. Nearly all Filipinos speak some English and many are completely fluent.

Even when Filipinos speak among themselves in Tagalog, I can often follow the gist of what is being said thanks to their habit of inserting English words in the middle of a Tagalog sentence. This hybrid way of speaking is known as Taglish.

Here is  a great example:

Taglish Even without knowing that hari means king and reyna means queen we can understand that if we use Goldilocks’ office catering service we can relieve the office party food committee of stress.

Catering for office parties seems like a clever business idea, especially in the Philippines where every office manager knows that the key to maintaining a happy and productive work force is to ensure that everyone is well fed. And with the Philippines having one of the world’s longest Christmas seasons there must be plenty of parties to cater for.

Controversial Banknote Designs – Philippines and Elsewhere

The people responsible for selecting the designs of a nation’s banknotes have a tough job. It is impossible to please everybody.

For example, when the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (the central bank of the Philippines) released a new set of banknotes in 2010, people complained that the new designs featured five famous landmarks from Luzon but only one from the Visayas and none at all from Mindanao. While some were pleased that the US flag no longer appears on the new Peso 100 bill, others were upset that US General Douglas McArthur’s famous (and stage managed) Leyte landing scene is depicted in the new Peso 50 bill and queried why reminders of foreign domination should still appear on Philippine currency.

 Dropped - the US flag design.

The new Peso50 bill - that's General McArthur in the background.

The Philippines is not the only country to face such problems. The United Arab Emirates is made up of 7 Emirates but only 3 of them (Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah) get the honour of having their landmarks appearing on the nation’s banknotes.

The Bank of England’s choice in 2006 of a new design for the £20 note featuring Scottish economist Adam Smith was controversial because it was apparently the first English banknote to feature a Scottish figure (who had already been portrayed on a Scottish banknote) and because it was replacing a note featuring the composer Sir Edward Elgar in the year of the 150th anniversary of his birth.

 Adam Smith and his interesting paper on pin manufacturing.

A £10 note issued in 2000 featuring Charles Darwin and a hummingbird attracted criticism from pedantic types because his research was actually based around finches and mockingbirds, not hummingbirds.

This hummingbird was mocked.

At least the Bank of England does not have to worry about whose portrait to put on the face of the banknote as the practice is to use the reigning monarch whereas in the Philippines they will only portray a President on a banknote after his or her death which opens a can of worms about whom to pick. 

English banknotes are signed by The Chief Cashier which, in the banking world, sounds like a very junior job title but at the Bank of England is no doubt a position with an annual  salary of £250,000 plus. In the Philippines the banknotes are signed by the President (the President of the Republic that is, not the bank president). How does he ever find the time?

When Euro banknotes were introduced the designers had no hope of keeping all the member countries happy so they copped-out by using bland, generic designs which could not be identified with any specific country. Still, despite their drab appearance, it is worth hanging on to your Euro banknotes as they might become collectable when the Euro is scrapped in the not too distant future.

Bland? Moi?

I think countries like Hong Kong and Scotland have the right idea when it comes to banknote design – they delegate the task to the commercial banks. In Hong Kong, the 3 note issuing banks (Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, Standard Chartered and Bank of China) decorate their notes with images of their local head office buildings together with some local landmarks and logos. They wisely steer clear of political and historical personalities. In Scotland, by having a number of  banks’ designs  in circulation at the same time they can cover a larger number of famous figures and keep more of the public happy. And if the public does complain about a design  the Scottish Government can say it is nothing to do with them.

Daranak Falls & Batlag Falls, Tanay, Philippines

Daranak Falls are located on government-owned land in Tanay municipality, a couple of hours drive east of Manila. The main waterfalls are about 14m high and there are a number of smaller cascades nearby. Batlag Falls are privately owned and are located slightly upstream from Daranak.

Looking for a quiet nature escape away from the crowds of Manila? If so, do not go to Daranak Falls on Good Friday like we did!   Good Friday is one of most important holidays of the year so we didn’t expect to get the place to ourselves but as you can see from the photo it was really crowded.

Daranak Falls

An additional entrance charge is payable to access Batlag which makes them somewhat less busy.

Batlag Falls

The unusual straw huts make the whole place look like a film set from a Robin Hood movie.

Where's Robin Hood?

This looks like Fred Flintstone’s roller coaster.

Stone age roller coaster?

Away from the busy pools it was possible to find some peaceful spots and even a private mini-waterfall or two.

Far from the madding crowd.

The only way to reach some of the upper cascades and pools was by scrambling over jumbled and slippery rocks. Luckily it was the dry season and there was no danger of flash floods that day.

Careful not to slip!

This place is not the unspoilt paradise it might once have been and there was a lot of litter around. But overall it was worth the visit and everybody seemed to enjoy themselves.

philippines Apr 2011 186

Walking Tour of Old Manila – Part 2, Intramuros

This is a continuation of my walking tour of old Manila which took about 5 hours in total.

From Binondo we walked across Jones Bridge over the Pasig River from where there is a fine view of the imposing Post Office building.

Post Office Building

The original building dates from 1926 but it was heavily damaged during the war and had to be rebuilt in 1946. As you can see from this pre-war postcard they faithfully followed the original design.

Jones Bridge and Post Office, Manila

Close to the Post Office is the Manila Metropolitan Theater building. Completed in 1931, this interesting art-deco beauty only had a working life of 10 years before World War Two intervened during which the building was severely damaged. Since then it has undergone a number of renovations and half-completed restorations interspersed with long periods of disuse and decay. At one time it served as a boxing arena but it is currently abandoned again and its fate is uncertain.

Metropolitan Theater

Filipino influences were incorporated into the stain glass windows and the capiz shell lamps flanking the entrance to the theater.

Metropolitan Theater

Let’s hope the building can find a new occupant to maintain and preserve it for the future (perhaps as a venue for Filipino Idol or similar).

Five minutes walk away is one of the entrances to the walled city of Intramuros where Spain built its first fortifications over 400 years ago. The quiet narrow streets within its thick stone walls contain a number of restored heritage buildings and points of historic interest.

Streets of Intramuros

San Agustin Church (below) was one of the first stone built churches in the Philippines being completed in 1606 and renovated in 1854. Shortly afterwards, the earthquakes of 1863 and 1880 demolished the left hand bell tower which accounts for its lob-sided appearance. It was the only building left standing in Intramuros after the US liberation of Manila. For that reason alone it deserves its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

philippines Apr 2011 115

I have an old postcard in my collection depicting the same church. It looks in better shape today.


By this time on our walk it was time for refreshment and the elegant Ristorante delle Mitre, immediately facing the church, served an excellent meal. Many of the dishes are named after bishops who are said to dine there regularly.

Ristorante delle Mitre, Intramuros Ristorante delle Mitre

Next we passed Manila Cathedral. This building, completed in 1958, is the 6th cathedral on this site, its five predecessors having been destroyed by typhoon/fire, earthquake, earthquake again, earthquake yet again and WWII respectively. It does not seem to be a lucky site – will it survive the next earthquake?

Manila Cathedral

The banner on the cathedral says “Do we need the RH Bill? No!” which presumably refers to the Reproductive Health Bill. I do not know all the details but I believe this is a brave and, frankly, long-overdue effort on the part of recently installed President Aquino to stem the Philippines’ exploding population growth. Brave because any measures concerning birth control are routinely opposed by the Catholic Church which remains highly influential in the Philippines.

At the northern tip of Intramuros sits the bastion of Fort Santiago which overlooks Pasig River and once controlled all approaches to the city. It has a long and bloodthirsty history.  Until 1570 it consisted of a wooden stockade occupied by Rajah Sulaiman who ran the Muslim kingdom of Manila on behalf of his relative, the Sultan of Brunei. Then the Spanish arrived and a great deal of negotiating, skirmishing and treachery on both sides took place but the outcome was that in 1571 King Philippe of Spain ordered Adelantado Miguel Lopez de Legazpi (great name!) to colonize the country. “What shall we call the colony your Majesty?” said Legazpi. “How about naming it after me” replied King Philippe. “Jolly good idea sir.”

Fort Santiago

The fort was strengthened, damaged, destroyed and rebuilt numerous times over the next couple of centuries by the Spanish and even the British who occupied it for two years from 1762. It later became headquarters for the US army during their administration of the Philippines. During WWII the Japanese military committed a great number of tortures and executions in the fort’s dungeons which are now mostly closed off to the public. The Fort also contains a museum commemorating Jose Rizal, the national hero who led the country to independence from the Spanish (only to see the Americans take over).

Fort Santiago and Rizal Shrine

The Manila authorities have done a good job in smartening up Fort Santiago which was much cleaner than I remember from an earlier visit many years ago. There is talk of redeveloping Intramuros to improve its tourism potential and to provide quality residential housing. Provided it can be done tastefully that seems a good idea. Ayala Group has expressed an interest in the project and they would probably do a good job if selected.

Plaza Moriones inside Fort Santiago

From the ramparts of Fort Santiago we had a good view of Pasig River (perhaps slightly cleaner than it used to be?) looking back over Binondo.

Pasig River looking almost blue?

Despite the progress, slum areas remain in the Tondo district where life may not have improved much since the old postcard below was issued.

Squatter area in Tondo.

 Loading a rice barge in Tondo.

To round off the walking tour we exited Intramuros and took a quick look round the neighbouring Rizal/Luneta Park area.

The grand Manila Hotel, built in 1909, is still there and little changed from the view in this vintage postcard (except the stars and stripes no longer flies above it and nowadays there is a high rise extension).

Manila Hotel

You can stay in the 3 bedroom MacArthur suite, which was the residence of General MacArthur from 1935-1941, if your pockets are deep enough.

Next to the hotel is the Quirino Grandstand, scene of  recent dramatic events when a disgruntled ex-cop hijacked a bus load of Hong Kong tourists and a number of them were killed in a bungled police rescue attempt.

Alongside  Rizal Park are two impressive looking classical buildings, The National Museum (which was closed for the holiday) and the Department of Tourism.

National Museum Department of Tourism

The walking tour ended here. It was an interesting day and showed a side of Manila that I had not seen before.