Now that the holidays are over (do I hear, “Wait! Happy Three Kings still to come!”?) and we’re back to the usual daily grind and routine, I couldn’t help but think of those kababayans of ours who are stationed thousands of miles away from home and while wanting very much to be with family and loved ones during the holidays were unfortunate not to be able to come home, either due to work or financial constraints or other personal reasons.

Lost in the holiday rush, the endless parties, reunions  and other get-togethers was the otherwise mute and un-Christmassy regular scenes in the suburbs around Tacloban City.

To those missing home, let me share then some photos taken the day before Christmas – and imagine getting a whiff of the tiniest melody being sang in the background, that of “Silent Night”…

Cheers!!! Happy New Year, everyone!!!

View slideshow: http://gerryruiz.callezaragosa.com/p852577099/slideshow

View more photos: http://gerryruiz.callezaragosa.com/p852577099

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It’s not everyday that one gets to meet and be friends on a first-name basis with a genuine VIP from another country.

A real, genuine one.

And it’s certainly a rare one when you get to travel with His Excellency and a small group of friends for 6 consecutive days (yes, sir six – count ‘em!) – enjoying a full load of fun and banter the whole stretch, having meals, drinks and cigarettes together, and enjoying  a not-so-common recreational activity under heavy rain and scorching sun on unholy hours in some of the most remote areas of the country!

How many times in a man’s lifetime can one experience something like that?

Unless, of course, you were born to royalty. Or your job entailed socializing with the high and almighty.

And so when I was invited by a cousin, Nestor Dolina to join a small group of bird watchers for a birding tour he was organizing – a small group which included a  VIP (a fact which was mentioned as an aside before the trip) – it would have been crazy to turn down such an invite.

His Excellency, Ambassador Robert Brinks, the Ambassador from Netherlands, however, had to emphasize time and again that, no, he was traveling not on official business, not as a diplomat representing his country; he was here as a private individual.

A private citizen.

Here to enjoy one recreational activity, which became apparent as the days wore one as high in the list of his personal pastimes he truly enjoys doing most – bird watching.

Private citizen Robert Brinks’ last assignment was just a stint in Baghdad (no mean feat!), where he confessed he felt more like a virtual prisoner amidst the constant bombings left and right.

And coming to the Philippines, he must have felt what being “free as a bird” truly meant!

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We were privileged to have been invited to experience first-hand what promises to be the newest and most exciting tourism activity in Eastern Visayas – the Ulot Watershed Ecotourism Loop at Paranas, Samar!

In a pre-launching run of the Ulot Watershed Ecotourism Loop held yesterday, November 24, 2010, officials from the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) and local Dept. of Tourism headed by Director Karen Tiopes together with tour operators and members of the media got to experience the loop’s torpedo boat adventure ride into the rapids of the Ulot River – the longest river in the whole island of Samar.

One rides the rapids downstream using the “torpedo” boats – canoes with no outriggers – over a distance of 10.5 kilometers and back again (upstream) for a total of 21 kilometers.

The whole exhilarating trip took about 2.5 hours.

We had lunch-break at the route’s end point amidst the natural beauty of the cascading cool waters of the river rapids with thick virgin rainforest surrounding us. Naturally, we jumped into the cool waters for a refreshing swim. Whew!

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An Waray Party-list once again produced this year’s tuba festival, aptly billed as the “3rd Oktubafest” last October 23 at the Leyte Park Convention Center, Tacloban City.

Hatched as part of the continuing efforts to promote the region’s cultural heritage and the coconut and the tuba industry in Eastern Visayas, the Octubafest showcased the local coconut wine, tuba.

The day-long affair also featured a photo essay contest, the on-the-spot kawit (tuba container) painting contest,  a tuba wine tasting contest, a cooking contest featuring tuba-infused dish and kotil and several other entertainment numbers.

The festival saw the participation of several municipalities from all over Eastern Visayas with their respective tuba exhibit booths.

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