Model Portfolio: Marie
This has been sitting in my HD for awhile. Had an awesome time shooting fashion in Bohol. This was all done with natural light.. and when you’re blessed with good weather, having a reflector is more than enough to come up with stunning images.
- Make-up: Jet Babas
- Styling: Sancho Bernardo
- Production: Raffy Tesoro / Carlo Ocampo
- Model: Marie Mand
- Special Thanks: Tonypet Sarmiento / Manny Nepomuceno / Wolf Bacareza
- Location: Ocean Suites / Bikini Beach House
For those interested in my commercial work, check out pointblankstudios.net and follow us at @pointblankmnl in IG.
Travel Bug: Hanoi and Halong Bay (Vietnam)
Getting Out of the Airport
Our flight arrived at the airport a bit past midnight. We managed get out of the arrival gate by 1AM, and nothing was open, except for a few foreign exchange places. We quickly changed our money into Vietnamese Dong. Now due to hyperinflation in the country some years ago, the denomination asides from taking out the decimal places, had extra zeros. Which was quite confusing if you’re encountering this kind of money for the first time personally. Expect having bills as high as 500,000. But despite the seemingly millionaire-ish feeling, don’t take it at face value as most commodities would be priced relative to those. But don’t worry, everything in Vietnam is cheap, if not cheaper than the Philippines. You can get away with as much as P 10,000.00 equivalent of pocket money living like a king for a week more or less.
At this time of night (or morning), don’t expect the usual metered taxis to be coming out from arrival hall. Instead they have been replaced with shady looking dudes offering you “taxis” into the city. Out of our desperation to get to the hotel, we bit what they had to offer. The driver and his barker ended up riding in front for the entire trip. Several red flags were already raising themselves the during the ride
- No taxi meter
- Never mentions how much the ride is, despite asking them
- Suddenly asks us to fork out money to pay of the toll high way they decided to pass through
Now that last item was quite the hair raiser. It was dark in the car and the barker dude (for the lack of a better term), asked us to fan out the money we had and he would pick out the bill to pay for the toll. At this point we started to semi panic in the car, but the guy did just get one bill and paid for it. We spent the rest of the ride, thinking of desperate measures just in case we got robbed or something. The mere fact I’m writing this meant we did make it out in one piece. Moral of the story (for this leg): try to get an earlier flight if you can.
Day 1: Hanoi
We didn’t do much of our homework this time around and just winged it the moment we got into town. We stayed in the better part of the Old Quarter near Hoam Kiem Lake, so we’re assured of walking distance to some attractions at least. Alot this part of the city reminds you of Binondo and Divisoria all rolled in one. Peppered between high end establishments are sidewalk pho eateries. You really sit on the sidewalk and enjoy your bowl of Pho. Now the foodie in you would certainly enjoy the numerous cafes and Pho bowls (ranging from sit down places to sidewalk vendors). The walk around town would help you burn the calories for the next meal.
For a city of roughly 7 million, there are 5 million mopeds going about. What that means for traffic is having to avoid zig-zaging motorbikes as you cross each road (with hardly any stoplights insight). But you quickly learn the art of not giving a fuck as you cross. They have this uncanny skill of avoiding pedestrians no matter what the road conditions are. The more you’re scared, the more chaos you would ensue. In terms of variety outside of the branded establishments, there’s nothing
Day 2: Halong Bay
Now, picking the right tour operator who would bring you around Halong Bay is a crucial factor. Since we arrived in Hanoi with no definite plans, we were pretty much up for anything. So going around town on Day 1, we stumbled upon a tour operator in some small hotel. There is something that subliminally associates small dingy alleyways to shady businesses, so the stereotype stuck as our first impression. We were at that YOLO moment, so we decided to take a last-minute cruise to Halong Bay. Word of advice (and/or caution), don’t get enamored by the beauty of the brochure. It borderlines false advertising. We would find that one out the hard way later.
Anyhow, the wife and I decided since we don’t really know where else to go in Hanoi, we jumped on any opportunity at any open cabin. We left the tour office that afternoon excited for our upcoming cruise all thanks to that brochure. We left for Halong Bay on time the following morning. The trip it pretty much uneventful except for a brief bathroom break in some tourist center halfway. They were selling textiles, gemstones and snacks in this nondescript building. The place reminded me of those old (but well kept malls) of 80s yore.
We got into the port area by lunch time. After passing by several shuttered buildings and half-empty shopping arcades, we were greeted with an armada of cruise ships peppered about this U-shaped port / cove. My thoughts of this romantic getaway was already put into heavy doubt upon seeing the movement of humanity coming on and off the transport boats. Our tour guide quickly accosted us off the bus and endorsed logistics to another colleague of his, who never bothered looking at the guest list. “I cannot remember how you guys look like, so just remember how I look like!” he blurted out in broken English.
After checking in the boat, we cruised to Sung Sot Cave.
We were crammed with the rest of the other tourists coming up the cave. After the sardines of an entrance, the attraction proved to be quite enjoyable to say the least. After that was a 30-minute kayaking ride around the some of the coves. That was fun.
There was also a cultural show in the evening, but we didn’t bother leaving our cabin for that anymore. That night it was hard getting some sleep since our cabin was right beside the engine room. The shower’s handle didn’t work at first, and the door’s lock was already too old.. it didn’t lock at all! I was already considering jamming my luggage against the door. Good thing one of the crew managed to make both things work for us after calling for our guide / translator.
Before we left the following morning, I just had to take a shot of the “made up” room. It wasn’t even a mile close to the one they had on the website.
We had that notion that this could be like a romantic getaway to sit and chill on the boat. Much to our surprise (and dismay), it was one tourist trap after another. I guess this is what you get from joining the bandwagon. Any hope of relaxing on the boat was out of the question. If you wanted some peace and quiet, you had to opt out of the side trips. We checked out of our cabins in the morning, and made it back to shore around lunch time. The journey back to the city was quite tiring and uneventful. For some slight side adventure, due to the traffic and supposed road closures (which hasn’t happened at the time), we were dropped off several blocks from our original hotel. We didn’t mind walking, though one would expect to be brought up in front of the hotel at least.
Every weekend, the main circular road of Hoan Kiem Lake (and some adjacent roads) are closed to vehicular traffic. The general public would fill up the streets until late night, giving you a glimpse of contemporary Hanoi culture. Bands would play in the corner, and kids would ride these remote-controlled cars. Prenup shoots were at every corner. It felt like Luneta, except it had a large lake and it was Vietnamese. This was the best part of the trip for me: enjoying and soaking up the local scene.
Our Hanoi trip did end in a good note that day. Here’s my full gallery below the rest of my Hanoi shots.
For those interested in my commercial work, check out pointblankstudios.net and follow us at @pointblankmnl in IG.
Travel Bug: Tokyo 2016 Visual Diary
Going to Japan has always been a creative pilgrimage for me every year and I never get tired taking pictures of this city. So this is a visual diary of my latest trip to Tokyo last March. We did the Nakasendo Highway in Kisu Valley as a highlight of this trip, but those images came before this entry. Of course this was all shot with my trusty Canon M3.
What I thought was the start of spring, turned out to be the tail end of winter. We weren’t prepared for the weather. Ended up having to buy the end-of-season sales from Uniqlo since it was already entering Spring. But coming from a tropical country, even spring would come off as cold.
We went back to Sarashina Horii, a heritage restaurant sandwiched between the Azabujuban and Roppongi Hills stations. A “Heritage Restaurant” is a title the Japanese government awards if you’ve been in business for more than 100 years. Apparently, this place has been around for more than two centuries. I found out about this restaurant after Anthony Bourdain visited it in an episode of No Reservations.
The usual soba I get to experience in Manila are the brown pre-packed ones like pasta. What makes this soba different asides that it’s freshly made every morning, is the texture and color. It’s whiter than usual even if it’s labeled as the “brown” variant.
We spent the rest of the trip going back to the usual places we visited in Tokyo like Omoide Yokocho and Akihabara. There is just so much to soak up doing street photography in Japan. Next time around, I should take the Yamanote line and go down every station and shoot for an hour and hop back.
Travel Tip: Between the two (2) airport servicing Tokyo, it would be best to land in Haneda which is closer to the city. Not only is the train ride shorter to Shinjuku, but the fare is cheaper as well (Y 650 vs. Y 4,000.00 on a reserved seat on the NEX). The number of transfer is just the same, though the ride isn’t a comfy as NEX.
Travel Bug: Nakasendo Highway (Japan 2016)
Nakasendo is one of the old foot highways that connected Kyoto to Tokyo during the Edo Period (Tokugawa). While the rest of the known highways modernized into Shinkansen and/or highway routes, certain parts of Nakasendo was preserved and became a popular walking trail for locals and tourists. The notable section is between Magome and Tsumago, which is the bulk of this blog post. I would touch on others sections of the trail (e.g. Nagiso, Ochiai, and Nakatsugawa), but it would be best to research them outside of this.
Given my knack of anything Japanese (from history to anime), it was quite a shame that I’ve never heard of Magome until I came across this article in Philippine Star published some time ago. It recounts the adventures of the author backpacking in Japan (with their schedules wrecked because of a typhoon), and then arriving in Magome only to find the town closed early for the night. Bottomline, they were saved by Ate Cheng, a pinay running a local ryokan with her Japanese husband. Now as much as it was an interesting anecdote to read, I quickly dismissed it as one would skim through several of these stories along your Facebook feed.
My decision to visit the Nakasendo Highway came from a totally unrelated source. In all of the things it (FB feed) has been spewing out, articles ranging from what kind of person you are based how to tie your shoes to cats going crazy over cucumber placed on their side, a gem comes up every now and then. I got fascinated by his photos and told myself that my next trip to Japan should cover this route. Since the Holy Week break was coming up, it was an opportune time to travel with the wife again. When I started booking for accommodations, one of the postal towns we’re slated to stay in was Magome. A booking website described languages spoken by the host, alongside English and Japanese was Filipino. That piqued my curiosity, since it was quite a rarity having Filpino as a spoken language in the middle of rural Japan. That’s how I eventually made the connection between Ate Cheng’s place and the Nakasendo Highway.
Travel Tip: We arrived via Tokyo, and took the Shinkansen to Nagoya. In hindsight, we could’ve just taken a straight flight to Nagoya, but we have plans to see stuff in Tokyo after this hike anyways. So if you’re just going for Nakasendo (or other parts in Nagoya), it would be best to land in Nagoya to save yourself of the Shinkansen costs.
- First things you purchase off the airport are the following:
- An IC card (Toica for Nagoya / Suica for Narita) and round-trip tickets to the express trains servicing the airports (SKY Limited Express for Nagoya / NEX for Narita).
- A disposable data SIM. It’s quite a chore to configure at first, but it’s convenient since you wouldn’t rely on another powered device for your internet needs.
- Portable Wi-Fi router. We got this as a back-up just in case the SIM option didn’t work. Both worked.
- When buying the Shinkansen tickets, make sure to present your IC card or your ticket. It negates the entrance swipe when you first enter the train system, since the Shinkansen is on a different platform than regular trains.
Our adventure began after leaving Nagoya for Nakatsugawa station. You can take either JR Shinano (more expensive but faster) or the Chuo Line (longer, but cheaper). We ended up using the Chuo line out of an impulsive decision seeing Nakatsugawa as the stated terminal station on the overhead display. It was a pleasant ride nonetheless, and the seats were configured for longer trips. We arrived at Nakatsugawa station a bit before 10AM, and hung around the nearby convenience store for the next bus to Magome to arrive. A local bus leaving off Curb #3) would take you up along a winding mountain-side road, past several stops to the terminal station at lower entrance of Magome town proper.
Magome (as compared to Tsumago) seems to be the more receiving point for tourists, as souvenir shops and a convenience store are lined up near the parking lot the moment you get down. A steep incline bending twice is the first thing greeting you past the initial tourist trappy shops. This is probably the best preview of what the trail is going to be like. Since we were searching for our inn, we wasted no time dashing up the pavement along the with the luggage. The hotel was right smack in the middle of the main road, which was about 400m up the hill from where we were. We were soon catching our breath and wondered why we had to do that in the first place.
After checking in, the first order of the day was lunch and supplies for the following day’s hike. The convenience store at the bottom entrance is standard issue, but at least they got fresh produce you wouldn’t find in city konbini. Make sure you buy things before 5PM, as everything else closes down for the night. The town gets eerie quiet after that. Hence, dinner has to be reserved with the ryokan if you do want to eat there.
Photo Gallery (Magome Chaya)
Magome is 43rd of the several postal towns that dot along the Nakasendo Highway. There are sixty nine (69) in all according to history, but some towns have gone to disrepair and sections of the highway are now lost to time and modernity. Among the popular ones remaining is this stretch in Kiso Valley from Nakatsugawa to Nagiso. The most common hiking trail is the 7.7km span between Magome and Tsumago. The restored paved road is the same path used for centuries as regular citizens and nobility alike went through the Magome Mountain pass towards Nagiso and eventually the capital. There are several rest points along the trail which have automated toilets and free wifi.
We took the afternoon slow and walked around town just to get ourselves familiarized with the place. Most of the shops in Magome were already slanted for the tourists, but you would encounter local wooden crafts and delicacies stores occasionally in between.
We left Magome around 10AM after sorting out our food and supplies. It was mostly a down hill path with some ups as you cross the Magome Mountain pass.
Oh yeah, not sure how cautious you would want to be, but there are warning signs for bear encounters along the trail. To ward them off, you can borrow a bear bell from the local tourist office for a deposit of Y 1,200.00. You’d get your money back once you return the bell.
Alternatively, you can start your hike from Nakatsugawa and end up in Nagiso if you have more time in your hands. There are several baggage forwarding services that bring your luggage to the next town you’re visiting. I’m not sure if works on the Nakatsugawa-Ochiai legs, but I’ve seen posters about it on the Magome-Tsumago route. You leave your bags with the tourist information center in the morning until 11AM, and expect it to be in the next town by 1PM. Either way, you can also use a door-to-door luggage delivery service, Takuhaibin.
We reached Tsumago roughly around 1PM and walked around town. It’s like traveling back in time, but looked a bit too picturesque for my taste. Where were the people? Apparently most of the townsfolk travel to the city for work and go back by the afternoon. The ones left were mostly shop keepers with tourist-trappy wares. This side of town only had tourists walking by, and hardly any of the residents.
After a snack break, we didn’t stay that long in Tsumago and decided to walk it back to Magome. Having seen most of the features on the way, we already powered back knowing the 5PM deadline. It was mostly uphill going back so the ante the raised a bit. You would work up a good sweat despite the cold weather as long as you kept on walking. If you do stop, the cold would immediately get to you.
Since we didn’t stop for pictures on the return trip, we made it back within reasonable time. Reasonable meaning before the shops closed for the day. We rewarded ourselves with some soba and anmitsu at the shops nearby the ryokan.
The hike left us exhausted and we were knocked out early in the evening. We left the following morning to catch an early train back to Nagoya. Luckily we caught Ate Jeng on the way out.
If you’re planning to do this same walk, we highly suggest staying at Magomechaya. They
Travel Bug: Pico de Loro Cruise
When you say you went on a cruise, most would imagine riding this big ocean liner for weeks around the Caribbean. This trip may not be feeding to the grandeur of the stereotyped imagination, but this beats out such trips out of the poignant charm and sheer novelty. It came as a random idea from a good friend, who just wanted sail on a yacht out of the blue. After some research over the net, we found a fluke listing in AirBnB. The wife decided to get in touch with the boat owner (whom we fondly call Tito by the time the trip ended). I would say fluke since he was the only sailboat listed so far in Manila, but I think this would grow given the popularity of his sailing trips as other boat owners might follow suit.
Our basic itinerary was Manila to Pico de Loro, use the beach and sleep in the boat, then back to Manila the following morning. It was pretty straight forward, but the journey there made for good natural entertainment. We left Manila Yacht Club around 630AM. The sailing time to Hamilo Coast took about six (6) hours, and we were just along the coast most of the time. There was a brief lesson as we passed this fortified rock, Fort Drum. From afar it looked like a cement battleship. The American forces during the colonial period (1909) thought of putting cannons and guns around this tiny piece of land thinking that along with Corregidor, this would serve as a line of defense for any invaders coming from the sea. This proved quite futile come World War 2 though, when the Japanese attacked by air, which left both fortified islands like sitting ducks.
Funny how you could notice the demarcation line of Manila Bay’s polluted water from the odor to the color. By the time we passed Corregidor island, the welcoming smell of the open sea started to take over. It was just fresh air and blue water from that point on. I would suggest sitting on the deck instead of going below the cabin for most of the trip. Not only for the relaxing view but it also helps with sea sickness. Seeing a horizon gives you a reference point from all the bouncing happening on the boat. We had a couple of hitches along the way like sea plants getting stuck in the propeller (it still has a motor even though it runs mostly on sails), which was normal. It was quite entertaining seeing the crew go about their jobs too raising the main sails, and even diving behind the boat during those seaweed encounters.
Side note: As it turns out, his boat has been popular for quick night cruises around Manila Bay, usually for engagement announcements and fireworks viewing.
Hospitality was more than what we expected. We were prepared to rough it out given the circumstances, but the service we got was veering towards subtle luxury. They have a set menu for the entire trip, but they ask for your preferences too. We also brought snacks to nibble on, and board games to pass the time while anchored in Pico de Loro for the night. Just imagine playing Jenga here. But Boggle, Exploding Kittens and Werewolf were the blockbuster hits until we got too sleepy to play.
Bring a jacket for the evening as the sea breeze can get chilly. We tried sleeping on the upper deck but since the wind got too cold for us, the beds were more than welcome. The following morning was spent with breakfast and freshening up back at the beach before leaving for Manila. The trip going back took longer because of the head wind, so we had to rely on the motor more. The waves were choppier too, so our trip wasn’t complete without getting wet from the ocean spray.
We arrived back at the Manila Yacht Club around 4PM, which was more than enough time to settle back to normalcy when we got home.
Highly recommended and a great way to spend the long weekends instead of the clogging the usual vacation spots. Check out Victor Roman’s AirBNB listing if you want to take your own personal cruise around nearby beaches and coves.
Tokyo: Inspiration City
Tokyo never ceases to inspire me. It’s a city that has both feet planted in reality and fantasy. For most Japanese, Tokyo may be a normal place in their daily lives, but for most of us gaijin (foreigner in Japanese), exploring the city is like dreaming while wide awake. Theirs is a culture that has both the structures of a 1st-world city, and yet you get pockets of the outrageous peppered all around. The old is juxtaposed with the new in such a harmonious way, you could feel how they embrace their past at the same time build for a future.
This is my second trip (of perhaps more) to the city. Whatever we missed out during the 1st round, we more or less covered on this one in a more relaxed pace. We were pretty much done with the tourist mandatories, and so a bit more time could be devoted to enjoying the fine details of what the city could offer. Even as simple as hanging out in a Starbucks in Ueno Park proved to be quite a treat.
Since the train system was already familiar to us, it was pretty much easy going to most parts. Day 1 was devoted to all the anime places I didn’t get to go the last time.
|Yes, I have to take a picture in front of the Gundam RX-78 in Diver City.|
|Yoshinoya beef bowls won’t taste the same after you’ve had the one in Japan.|
|Even the wall decor in some anime shop looks awesome.|
|They have entire bookstore chains dedicated to anime and manga.|
One of the trip high lights is dining out in Omoide Yokocho in the Shinjuku district. It’s made up of several alleyways cramped with eateries (with seating capacities of less than 10 for some of the stalls). Most yuppies and working types end up having drinks after work in this area. Food is mostly beef bowls, noodles, yakitori and the quick service type. And there is something with Japanese food, no matter how “cheaply” bought, still way better than eating in the most expensive restaurants back in Manila.
For a cultural experience, we checked out Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. As it turned out, there was some design exhibition / awards going on that week.
From one park to another, we checked out Ueno Park. They have a zoo and several museums and art galleries in the area.
|Yes, you can ride Pikachu.|
|Thanks to the wife for indulging me in this rare occasion of vanity.|
We spent our last day getting out of the Tokyo area, and discovering Kamakura. It was an hour out, and you could actually sleep most of the way through without the fear of missing out on your station. From Kamakura, we had to transfer to the Enoden line which is not listed within the Tokyo train map.
The walk to the giant Buddha was about 500m from the station. We were given heads up that since it’s out of Tokyo, conveniences of restaurants, stores, etc… were a bit sparse. So we gladly stocked up, only to discover there are numerous food places every other step going to the shrine. This was the place where I saw more Caucasians than Japanese walking about the streets.
|Cute coffee truck, complete with manga to read while you wait for your brew.|
|From the other side of the Hase (Enoden Line) station, there was a wind surfer’s beach.|
|Pancake-ish desert filled with red mung beans.|
|Their local version of the pedicab.|
Tokyo would see more of my fat ass this year for sure.Check out my youtube channel for your regular glimpse behind the scenes! While you’re at it, drop buy the online store and get goodies from your favorite models!