Saturday, February 14, 2015

Almarai Dairy Farm and Factory Visit

Whenever I chat with my friend based in Abu Dhabi, I always ask her what she will cook for an upcoming occasion, and she would promptly send snapshots of dishes I only dream of cooking. And when I posted this photo on my Facebook account, with a short "A trip to Almarai Dairy Farm" caption, she later on commented that she and her partner like Almarai products especially the yoghurt and fresh milk. That's when I realized that although we're miles apart, my friend and I still have something in common: we enjoy the same brand of milk and juice drinks.

Almarai products are also my family's favorite. My kids like Almarai Fresh Milk so much that they can finish a liter in less than three hours. Fred gulps down an Almarai yoghurt before he eats breakfast everyday. I like the skimmed milk and the orange-carrot juice drink. I'm loyal to its cheese product line. So when I heard the Almarai Dairy Farm and Factory visit from friends who have been there several years ago, I secretly hoped that I could visit it, too. And maybe when you like something so much, it begins to like you, too. Before I knew it, we were already in a bus bound to Almarai Dairy Farm on the first day of February last year.

Almarai Farm is located in Al-Kharj, a city that's a two-hour ride away and more than seventy kilometers south of Riyadh. We came there as a big group on an appointed visit. We boarded the air-conditioned bus provided by Almarai which was big, has comfortable seats and tall windows which were perfect for taking pictures while you're inside.

Upon our arrival, the bus passed through a decontamination shower which partially blurred our view of the Holstein cows and the farm. How these cows last the desert heat and produce thousands of liters of milk per year with no grass to feed on is simply mind-boggling. We saw a farmer enter a corral to feed calves and we were so amazed at how quickly the young beasts got up and fell in line! They're like people patiently falling in line in a cafeteria. Wow. We also passed by stacks of shredded alfalfa, more corrals with healthy cows and some with sick ones.

We thought the milking process was over when we arrived but didn't I tell you also that when you like something so much, it may even sync with your thoughts - and your schedule, too? Though we were a little late, the last batch of cows found their way to the milking parlor and proudly showed us their full udders. Now, I can go home, I thought.

But we didn't yet. The bus left the farm, and headed to the factory where the collected liters of milk are processed, packed and readied for delivery. We also viewed the production of sliced breads and some pastries, and watched a short presentation in their mini-theater. And like most field trips, we got to bring home bags filled with Almarai products!

Visiting Almarai Dairy Farm and Factory is one eye-opener yet enjoyable experience for me. I've seen the laborious task of maintaining a dairy farm in a desert - which I wouldn't have known had we not come here. While there, we've passed through several decontamination processes - which was way too impressive for a mom like me who uses Clorox to the bottle's content. I marveled at the state-of-the-art technology that's used to process Almarai's products, and admired its system of product dating, labeling and storage which you really have to see for yourselves. I was blown right there and then.

What Almarai achieved from the 70's until now inspired me to dream a little bigger. I left the farm with one goal in mind: to hone my culinary skills so I can have something to take pictures of when it's my friend turn to ask me, "What are you cooking?"

To book a farm visit, click here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wadi Hanifah in Winter

If only I could freeze moments, I would freeze Sunday's 11th birthday celebration on the first Friday of this month and Gabby's 13th this coming Sunday. But I couldn't. Time seems to pass me by so quickly that I didn't even notice that just ten more days, it's already February.

Speaking of something chilly, I presume that the 3°C last two Sundays ago would be this winter season's coldest. I really thought winter was over after that. So a few days ago, I didn't believe Fred when he advised me to still bring my jacket to work. I didn't follow him and even bragged of my layered outfit to protect me from the cold: an abaya over my usual office clothes and a tarha to cover my head. I was so wrong. Not only did the temperature dropped, it also rained! Being laughed at by our driver who donned an almost complete winter gear - a bonnet, a jacket, a pair of gloves, high socks and thick shoes, I walked to the parking lot shivering. What's worse than that? Well, we had to wait for a few minutes more inside the car because the frigid weather took its toll on the car battery. Brrrr to the 10th power!

Almost the same week last year, we took advantage of the cool temperature and headed to Wadi Hanifah on an early morning. Weeks before our first visit there, Fred and I were wondering why there were too many Wadi Hanifah signs in Riyadh. We wondered where the park is actually located. We later knew that Wadi Hanifah is a wadi or a valley that runs for a length of 120 km from north to south of Riyadh. Because it covers a wide area, you can still see that sign (featured above), even when you are somewhere near Diplomatic Quarter or in King Fahd Road.

We went there with three friends who wanted to experience winter at the park. It was a great morning to bond with friends. The sun shone brightly and the crisp air gently blew. We thought we were the first to stroll Wadi Hanifah but we chanced upon families already on their way out.

I think it's convenient to go there when the temperature ranges from 15°C to 20°C. The park is best for a barbecue picnic and walking those fats off after eating. First tip: if you plan to explore this part of Wadi Hanifah, wear walking or running shoes. Your feet will thank you. And I am so sure you will be tempted to go down the lower part of the park where it's a little rocky (see below).

I've searched for blogs and travel websites that featured Wadi Hanifah and I've read mixed reviews. Most write-ups tell that it is an oasis amidst a vast dessert. Some revealed that they didn't see any drop of water there. So, before we came there, I set the bar a little lower and didn't expect too much.

And that's the good thing about not expecting too much. I realized - from the moment we left the main road and headed to that narrow road that lead to Wadi Hanifah Dam - that a place like Wadi Hanifah is there not to amuse us, or to give us something to rave about. It's just there to serve its sole purpose: a place for recreation. I fell in love with it. I could stay there the whole Saturday. I could just stroll, take pictures, have a good time with my family, barbecue chicken and hotdogs, and eat under a shady tree. When you're a working mom like me - who shuffles around the house doing chores after spending hours in front of the computer designing corporate materials for clients - you need something to revive your senses. You need something to get you out of the humdrum of everyday life, even for just a while. And that's what Wadi Hanifah offers. It is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of city life.

That day, I wanted to just sit, relax and while away the time. But my kids decided to do otherwise and set off to check out what lies beyond what their eyes can see. Fearing that they might get lost, we followed them and were sidetracked by those little streams of water along the trail. Such beauty.

Second tip: when you feel like using the hamam or the toilet, don't put it off. The restrooms are few and far between. But that day, we must have been too early because the toilets were still closed and the park's maintenance staff didn't have the keys.

Because we really enjoyed our stroll in Wadi Hanifah, we decided to return there the following day but at a much later time. We got disappointed to know that the park was closed for public at 6PM. But we understood why. The few street lights did little in illuminating a park that big. We can still have a picnic near the road as what some families we saw did, but I presumed it's unsafe. And the police at the gate would probably approach us and tell us it's time to go home. 

And that's what we did. We haven't been there since. We might go back on a chilly morning. Again.

Wadi Hanifah Park and Dam 
Coordinates: 24°39'27.8"N 46°36'31.7"E

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hannah's Beach Resort, Pagudpud

Happy and blessed New Year to all!

I was on the verge of ending this blog last year because my life as a working mom hinders me from posting as often as I want to but then I remember why I started Pixels for Four. I wanted to chronicle our stay here in Saudi Arabia as a family and someday look back on those moments with pride. So here I am. I don't have the almost mandatory year-ender post for bloggers because it would be unfair to post pictures of places I haven't fully told you about. Believe me, they are a handful. But what I have is still the desire to have our experiences archived like our trip to Baher Villas in Al Khobar which is the most popular post here.

So let's add one to that archive. I know I already ended my Ilocos provinces posts. But I would deprive this blog another worthy post by excluding our stay in Hannah's Beach Resort. Though our stay was short and the rate we paid was too much for a night till afternoon the following day stay -  we had a good time. But as usual, I wouldn't post only the good ones about it. I would just tell you the truth, which I always do here.

We checked in past 7PM and because we were tired, sleepy and hungry, we wanted to get rooms as quickly as we can. When the male front desk clerk presented the room rates, we agreed that they were way too expensive for a night stay. Or even if you add another three hours or so which we did, it was still expensive. The clerk, though he heard that we were having a hard time deciding which rooms to take, didn't even give suggestions. We ended up taking the family suite which we shared with another family of three.

The room was big enough that we didn't bump into each other. The designer in me wanted to rebel against the bedsheets' designs that do not complement with the curtains' but the tourist in me decided to just let it be. Aside from the two beds, there was a long sofa which Fred insisted on sleeping in but later on changed his mind because the other bed can fit all four of us.

I suggest you check the rooms first before you pay. Do not choose the adjoining family suite/s. We could hear our friends from the other room because the only things that separated our rooms were the wall and a locked door which was blocked by a refrigerator. If you would try your best to peek and get a good glimpse of what's on the other side, you wouldn't be disappointed. It didn't matter that we overheard each other because we're friends, but if you're traveling as a family and are not in a group, and you value privacy, go check out the other room options.

I didn't expect that there would be two boxes of toiletries for guests because since this is a beach resort, guests usually bring their own. But I'm glad it was provided. Each box contains a toothbrush, a small tube of toothpaste, a small soap, shampoo and conditioner in cute dispensers and a face towel. The toilet is big enough to accommodate two people, one taking a shower and the other, washing the clothes in the sink. Yes, we washed our clothes because we were confident enough that they would be dry by the time we woke up. We asked the staff in charge of our rooms for clothes hangers and this is what I really liked: they were handed to us in less than three minutes!

We didn't eat at the resort's restaurant because it looked expensive. We already spent way above our budget for the accommodation so we had to scrimp on food. But it was the wisest decision we've made during our stay. The food at a nearby restaurant was affordable and the dishes were so appetizing that I ate too much. Again.

There was no internet connection in our room. But we didn't mind it, again. We were too tired from all our commute from Ilocos Sur to Ilocos Norte, the walking we did the whole day, and the night swimming which relaxed our bodies a bit. But if you really want a wifi connection, you would have to go to the reception area, ask for the password, and stay there. The internet connection only works there. Sad.

As I've told you here, if you like to have your pictures taken with life-size or oversized movie character cast figures, you would enjoy Hannah's Beach Resort's Theme Park.

We enjoyed our stay there in Hannah's Beach Resort. The staff was nice and they greeted us whenever they meet us - but the front desk clerk assigned on the night we checked in wasn't too accommodating. The place was clean. We didn't check the convention center because we came there to rest and swim so I can't tell you how it looks like. The beach was perfect, although the waves were too strong for kids to wallow.

Would we recommend it to friends? Yes! Would we check in there again? No. We might try homestays or the other resorts next time.

Entrance: Adult - P100
Children - P50
Use of Swimming Pool - P200
For room rates and location, visit their website.