Monday, March 13, 2006


I finally got around to renewing my license last week. Line in Makati LTO wasn't too long (definitely not like QC LTO), and since it was just license renewal, it didn't take that long (one hour only, including the drug test and the physical). It's the first time, too, that my license picture is pretty decent. So yeah, that's one thing to cross out of my to do list. Stress level slightly lower now. Thank God.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Food that fights back

Several years ago, I had a horrible allergy that left me with a nasty rash all over my body. So nasty in fact that even a day after I still had the rash, so I figured I would go consult an allergologist. She told me I had to go on an elimination diet to 'eliminate' any possible allergens from my body. A week (and five less pounds) later, I went back to my allergologist so that she could administer a skin test to see what I am allergic to. During the skin test, the doc exposes a portion of your skin to a variety of allergens. You are then instructed to wait for about 15 minutes and to NOT touch your arm at all.

As I sat outside her office while she talked to another patient, I started that section of my arm turn red. Not a good sign. Even worse, when I went back into my doc's office and showed her my arm, she had a look of concern and asked me if I scratched my arm. Of course I did not, but upon hearing her say that I knew I was in trouble.

Turns out I am allergic to the following: most non-fish seafood (like shrimps, crabs, lobsters, squid, clams, and mussels), anchovies, another type of fish, chicken, eggs, mangoes, mango trees, acacia trees, and talahib, among a lot of others. The doctor then gave me a list of all my allergies and for the next several weeks, I stayed away from all those.

However, I wasn't always allergic (I don't ever recall reacting negatively to mangoes for instance). So after a while I started trying out small amounts of each of those items, and at some point I realized I 'lost' my allergies. So at that point I no longer stayed away from anything. I did notice, however, that since then, I would always end up having rashes if I ingested shrimp heads (yeah I know, only the head, weird), crabs, and bagoong.

Now recently, I think that for some reason my allergy to seafood has come back. I was in Singapore recently and had some chili and white pepper crab, and that night, I had a bit of a rash, and the next day I had a small rash on my upper lip that stayed on for a couple of days til it caused my lip to get busted. Shortly after that, I had some kare-kare with bagoong, and almost as soon as I ate the bagoong I could feel my lips starting to swell. And just yesterday, I had some seafood pasta and a clam from seafood chowder, and I got the same reaction I got from the bagoong.

I recall my allergologist telling me that it is possible to have allergies that only appear during certain times of your life, and it may be brought about by a variety of things. Now over the last several months, my stress level has been higher than I have ever recalled it to be, due to so many things happening on so many areas of my life. I am guessing that the stress may be partly to blame for the return of my allergies.

So not only do the tough exoskeletons of these seafoods coz some level of grief when eating them, but now they even leave a rash and even some swelling. Great. Oh well, I guess maybe when I am no longer as stressed as I am now, my allergy may decide to go on another indefinitely long hibernation period. Just hope that happens sooner rather than later.

Oh and yeah, I never ever thought I would use the word 'exoskeleton' in a blog post.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A memorable encounter with a giant jellyfish!

(This blog post is a waaaay overdue but [1] it is still worth writing about and [2] I did promise to write about it. To refresh your memory, see the following related posts: going around the country and rafting in Cagayan de Oro.)

Last August 2 2005, my friend Ben and I headed over to Coron. I had never been to Coron and I thought that a stop in Palawan would be make Ben’s tour of the country more complete.

Even before Ben got to the Philippines, I had already warned him that it was rainy season and that a lot of his plans may end up getting washed out by rain but he didn’t seem too concerned. So when we arrived at Divelink in Coron at 11am that Tuesday and it was raining, his mood didn’t seem to dampen.

There were two other groups there with us – a Filipino family of three and a Spanish couple. We all arrived at the same time and welcomed by the Divelink folks. They told us that the plan for Tuesday was that at 2pm we would go snorkeling in one of the Siete Picados islands (not sure if I remember the name correctly) then hanging out in the Maquinit hot springs. We were served an early lunch before we all headed out to our respective cottages.

By 2pm it was still raining quite hard and I was ready to just lie in bed and rest (I had zero sleep the night before since I worked in the office until 430am to complete everything I needed to get done that week before taking a few days off). But at 2pm Ben was raring to head out. I am quite easy to convince, and I just came to the realization that I had never had a holiday that was completely rained out. So I figured it would be a cool experience to be snorkeling and island hopping with bad weather. The interesting thing was that the rest of the people there all headed out shortly after we did (I’m not sure if it had anything to do with the fact that they saw me and Ben head out excitedly toward the pier despite the rain; maybe they all figured they were there for just a few days so they might as well try and experience as much of Coron as possible, awful weather be damned).

So we got to the first snorkeling spot. Visibility wasn’t very good but we could still see enough of the marine life (the most interesting thing I saw was a seahorse which I would otherwise have missed had Ben not pointed it out to me).

We were then brought over to the hot springs. Our boat actually had to drop anchor a couple hundred meters away from the shore because the tide was low. We had to get on kayaks and navigate our way through rocks that almost jutted out of the water for us to get to the hot springs. It was quite an experience though – the water was quite hot, almost too hot, in fact, the moment you first sit down in it. But you quickly get accustomed to the heat and all of a sudden it feels absolutely calming and therapeutic, especially considering that it was cool what with the rain falling on you while most of your body was submerged under the hot water. We hung out there for quite a while before heading back to Divelink.

We had dinner before heading back to our room (no nightlife on Divelink itself, I figure if you stay in another resort in the town itself I would think you can find some local hangout). Earlier that day, Ben spotted a mahjong set and he asked me if I could teach him to play it. So after dinner, we borrowed the mahjong set and I taught Ben how to play. We didn’t really get to play proper mahjong as that requires four players, but I managed to teach him the basics and we played several rounds of modified mahjong i.e. for two players only.

Ben also told me that he wanted to teach me this card game that his family played every Christmas. It’s called crib and it’s a bit too complicated for me to explain it here. Anyway, we went through a test run before delving into the actual game. We had one set (i.e. race to 120 points) where I managed to score something like 24 points from my ‘box’. (Yeah, I know, you don’t know what that means exactly, but suffice it to say that Ben told me he couldn’t recall ever seeing a score like that from the ‘box’. Chalk it up to beginner’s luck.)

The next day was jam-packed. We headed out at around 9am to what is called the Skeleton wreck. There are a lot of wreck sites in Coron, but this was the only one that you can see without having to scuba dive. It was a bit surreal, almost creepy, the moment you pick it out in the water (it was still raining so visibility wasn’t as good which meant spotting the wreck in the water wasn’t all that easy).

But the most frightening experience I had was when this huge (and I really do mean HUGE) jellyfish ran, er, swam after me! It was so big that it was larger than my head! The guide said that those jellyfish don’t really have painful stings (it only causes itching apparently), and so I got into the water and looked at it closely in utter awe (seriously, it must’ve been like a foot and a half in diameter). I was tremendously calm up until I realized that it had come to within a couple of feet of me and I couldn’t get back into the boat. When it hit me, I freaked out then started scrambling in the water and headed to the boat balancer thingie. I don’t think I have ever panicked like that in the water! The funny thing was that the jellyfish seemed to change direction and started moving to where I had gone! (And please note that it wasn’t just my paranoia, even Ben told me later on that it did seem that the jellyfish was actually moving after me). In any case I got back into the boat and waited ‘til the jellyfish had gone before heading back into the water, and even then I kept looking around making sure that it wasn’t back.

We then headed to a small island where we had lunch while on the boat. I had never had lunch on a small banca before, so that was another first. I then got on a kayak and started paddling around before Ben joined me. We checked out the island where there wasn’t really anything to see apart from a kitten (I have no idea how that got there).

After lunch, we went to the hidden lagoon. I am not really sure what that place is called, but essentially you have to go there only at a certain time of the day to get the full experience. What happens is that there is a, hmm, “tunnel” that leads to the lagoon. At the time that we got there, the water level was nearly hitting the top of this tunnel. So to get to the lagoon, you have to swim underneath this tunnel. As I have mentioned before, I don’t know to swim, but I had a life vest, a snorkel, and fins on so I was had no issues being in the water. Again, the experience was quite unique. As you swim along, you keep hitting patches of the water with different temperatures – from cool to warm to cool again. And whenever you are passing through these changes in temperature, the water gets so incredibly murky that you almost can’t see where you are going, and you just blindly swim forward and wait ‘til the temperature evens out and you can see again.

The lagoon was quite deep, I reckon maybe 40-60 feet. And since I don’t move well in the water, I was several meters behind everyone else who had gone into the lagoon (there was another group of folks there at the same time). So I am unable to confirm whether I really did see what I think I saw through the murky water – some kind of brown ray (sting ray maybe? Definitely not a manta). Our guide said there weren’t any rays inside that lagoon, so I can’t be sure of what I saw. But if you ask me to put money on it, I would say that it really was a brown ray. Ah, if only the other folks weren’t much faster than me in the water, I could’ve pointed it out to them.

Our next stop that day was a trip to Barracuda Lake. To get here, you have to walk carefully over some craggy rock formations. Once you head into the water, you move a few feet and all of a sudden you see a sheer drop – from wading depth to several meters deep. And it gets even deeper than that. It feels freaky! I have snorkeled in really deep waters before and never felt my heart race, but here, I didn’t want to move away from the edge of the water (Barracuda Lake is completely surrounded by tall rock formations that start from under water and jut straight out of the water to the heavens, and I stayed close to this “rock wall”) I think what makes it freaky is the fact that the water is so murky that you actually can’t see the ocean floor. We stayed in the lake for a bit, mainly because the freakiness of it all made it interesting to remain in the water. But I guess not seeing anything gets a bit boring after some time, so when the novelty of the whole thing wore off, we decided to head back out (or well actually I think the novelty didn’t wear off, but we were running out of time and there was still another lake to visit).

Our last stop that day was Cayangan Lake. This time, no crags to climb over but a long, fairly steep dirt path from the shore to the lake. The lake itself I think is not all that interesting (I mean you do see some interesting fish but you can see a lot more of t hem when you are snorkeling in the sea), but the journey you take to get there, plus the stark contrast between this and the previous lake, make the whole experience pretty darn cool. A vacation to Coron (in better weather of course) is definitely something I would recommend to anyone.