Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Narita-san Shinsōji Temple

Niōmon Gate (1830)

An unplanned layover at Narita Airport yielded a pleasant surprise. With a whole morning free before returning to Narita Airport for an early evening flight, we took the shuttle bus from our hotel to Narita City. We walked to Narita-san Shinshō-ji Buddhist temple from the drop off point. The temple is located at the end of a busy, shop-lined street called Omotesando. It was the Setsubun Festival (in late January) and the streets in and around the temple were packed with visitors and pilgrims who, like us, were distracted by the many food stalls and enticing curio shops along the way. Setsubun is the celebration of the beginning of spring (according to the lunisolar calendar).

Three Storied Pagoda

Narita-san was founded in the year 940. It is a lead temple of the Chisan branch of the New Shingon sect of Buddhism. Some of the buildings in the complex are designated National Important Cultural Properties including the Three Storied Pagoda that dates back to 1712 and the Niōmon Gate which was built in 1830. The huge lantern hanging above the gate has been traditionally contributed by the fish market.


Inside Issaikyo-do Hall, this octagonal, rotating rinzō  holds an inventory of old sutras called Issaikyo-zo. Worhippers could spin this rinzō  three times to ask for their wishes to be granted in the past. This isn't allowed today in order to preserve this unique treasure. 


Ema are wooden plaques where the worshipper writes his or her prayers and wishes to the Kami spirit. They are found around the temple grounds. Visitors who wish to make an offering may also buy these plaques in the temple store

It's easy to get to Narita-san from Narita airport. The JR and Keisei lines pass through Narita City and drop off passengers at the JR East Narita Station or Keisei Narita Station. It's a short walk to the temple from these stations.

We stayed at the Nikko Hotel near the airport and there is a free shuttle that passes by the hotel to Narita City. The Nikko's rate was quite reasonable.

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Images by TravelswithCharie

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Balay ni Charie Foundation

Garcia Elementary School students in Tapaz, Capiz

Balay ni Charie Foundation is a grassroots organization I created in 2006 that provides school supplies to children in Capiz, Philippines. On its first year, 20 children from Conrado Barrios Elementary School in Roxas City received school supplies. With the support of family, friends, and another charitable group, Balay ni Charie now distributes school provisions to several hundred grade school children in various towns in Capiz.

Students at San Antonio Elementary School in Cuartero, Capiz

This year, we visited the schools of Garcia Elementary in Tapaz, Capiz where 146 children received notebooks, pens and pencils. We also gave school supplies to 220 students at San Antonio Elementary School in Cuartero, Capiz.

 The road to San Antonio Elementary School

It is not easy to get to some of these schools. We needed a 4 x 4 to take us to the hinterlands of Cuartero because the roads were deeply potholed and impassable from recent rains. Two years ago, we had to wait several days before we could distribute at a school in Dao because the roads were flooded. These are some of the conditions we face when going to these schools but the big smile on a child’s face when he or she receives the school supplies is the most satisfying reward.

Thank you Esther and Bing Arceño for lending me your car and Bing for driving me to these schools so I can reach out to the children in Capiz. And many thanks to Fr. Boy Distura for rescuing us from the rut and mud and for feeding us.  In Tapaz, I wish to thank Kitty Gadian who arranged our visit to Garcia Elementary and to Jacque Conlu who made me aware of the great need for school materials at Garcia.

Balay ni Charie is planning more school supply distributions in 2013.

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Images by Charie

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Palina Greenbelt Ecotour

Touring can be both fun and educational. And so it is with the Palina Greenbelt Ecotour that takes students and visitors out into the waters off of Barangay Cagay in Roxas City to appreciate the reclamation of the Palina River after it was silted up from the excessive number of fish pens in the area. This tour is conducted by the fisherfolk who sacrificed their own fish pens and livelihood in order to save the river. And now they are our guides on this barge trip as they unravel the story of the rehabilitation of this river and the rich mangroves that were planted to stem floodwaters and nurture fish, bird and plant life.

Bamboo Raft

We were towed by an outrigger to the open waters while two able bodied men navigated our bamboo barge with their bamboo poles, steering us forward or sideways with their muscles and then turning the barge into the narrow passage leading to the Panay River where a huge surambaw commandeered a big slice of the corridor and we had to gingerly edge our way around it.


There are more surambaws undulating up and down the mouth of the Panay River, trapping sea creatures for commercial consumption. A big fish pen looms by the shoreline. Not all fish pen operators willingly give up their business even though they are aware of the harm and damage their fish pens may cause to the river and even when they have lost substantial revenues from a dried up riverbed.

Fish pens in the river
We had pre-ordered a simple lunch onboard and everything was fresh and flavorful. We ate lapulapu fish caught from a fish cage nearby, laswa mixed vegetable soup with shrimps and steamed rice served in simple plates lined with banana leaves. We also had a bowlful of dayok (shrimp paste) which was so good. It complemented all the dishes. We drank coconut juice from the source and had a selection of fruits for dessert. All for P400.00 for 3 people. What a steal!

Rice, lapulapu and laswa

Here’s the recipe for laswa:
There’s more to be done to save the waterways but this tour teaches the youth and visitors alike to be more aware of their environment and the consequences of their actions. It is a big step forward.

The Palina Greenbelt Ecopark is managed by the Palina River Development Association Inc. (PARIDA). It's located in Sitio Cablatan, Cagay. In addition to the floating raft, the association has paddle boats, a function house and a couple of huts to rent. And they also offer a footspa and manicure/pedicure on these tours. To make reservations and inquire about prices, please call 0922-352-4479 or 0923-828-8091 or 0948-131-4147.

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Images by Charie

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Anot's Restaurant

New to the beachside restaurant scene is Anot's with its fresh and innovative menu. When we had lunch there recently, my friend, Clay, requested the chef to serve us his top favorite dishes from the menu. Here's what we got.

For starters, we had fried, crispy kangkong which was a complete surprise. Never knew kangkong could be this good. It wasn't oily at all and every delicious leaf was crispy. I didn't even need the extra mayonnaise dip to add flavor. This is an appetizer you can't put down.

Prawns are a personal favorite especially the sweet variety only found in the seafood capital of the Philippines. But this dish was a little too spicy for my palate.

Eating squid is an acquired taste, I think. It's meat is thick and chewy. Didn't score highly with me but I'm not an adventurous eater either.

Mangagat fish is in a neck to neck race with bangus (milkfish) on many local menus. This mangagat is prepared with tiny scallops and a special secret sauce. A very flavorful dish. We ordered it again along with the kangkong when we had dinner there the following week.

I love both banana turon and ube ice cream. The turon is a little sweeter with the icing on top. But It makes for a pretty picture.

Anot's is located across from Baybay Beach on restaurant row in Roxas City. About PHP1200.00 for 4 people (beverage included).

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Images by Charie