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 you and tell you 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 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 didn't 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.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Top Things to Do in Ilocos Provinces (when you're in a hurry!)

Did you know that I'm so fond of Top 10 lists? I always enjoy reading them on trivia sections of magazines and watching them on YouTube. To finalize my Ilocos provinces vacation posts, I wrote this Top 10 List so I can someday remember what we did while there, and what we've missed and would try to do should we come back again. Take note, these are the things we tried to squeeze in just two days.

1. Walk through Calle Crisologo.

You haven't been to Ilocos Sur if you haven't walked through this cobblestone street lined with centuries-old Spanish houses. We checked it out past 3PM and left after about an hour.

What we will do next time: Visit in the morning and come back later at 5PM. They said Calle Crisologo is more picturesque at night. Let's see some other time.

2. Savor Ilocandia's famous cuisine.

We ate bagnet. I did just at least once in my whole life. Or while I'm in Ilocos Sur. This sinfully (to the health) delicious, crispy deep fried pork made me forget the promise I made to myself that I won't eat (too much) pork again.

Also, I've drank way too much rice coffee every morning I was there - and several more weeks after because I brought bottles of it here in Riyadh. Fred, on the other hand, enjoyed the empanada from Vigan and easily finished three in one sitting! On our way to Manila, we bought Vigan longaniza and a vinegar from Ilocos - such perfect combination!

What we will do next time: When we reached Vigan on our first day there, we were so hungry that we forgot to check out Cafe Leona. Our friends who have eaten there highly recommended their food. Next time, promise!

Also, although I know how to make rice coffee, we still want to see for ourselves how Ilocos Norte's Banna Blend's Rice Coffee is produced. 

3. Book yourselves in a well-known beach resort.

That's what we did because we didn't search online and book in advance for accommodations. We found Hannah's Beach Resort, tried to haggle with the front desk clerk because of their exorbitant peak rates but to no avail, and ended up splurging and staying in the family suite because it's near the swimming pool and beach area.

But if you love to have your pictures taken with giant movie character cast figures such as Jack Sully and Neytiri of Avatar or Shrek and his family, then you will love staying in Hannah.

What we will do next time: Opt for a homestay! On our way to the resort, I've seen houses with For Rent or Home Stay signs. I do not know yet how the houses look inside but if staying there spells adventure and more savings, then why not?

4. Enjoy Pagudpud beaches.

If you're like us who work abroad and who has a host city that is hundreds of kilometers from the beaches, then by all means enjoy the sea while you're in your home country. If Fred didn't tell me a couple of weeks after, I wouldn't know that Pagudpud is located at the northernmost tip of the Luzon Island and the sea we were facing then was connected to South China Sea.

Did you know that we were nearer K'en-ting, the southernmost part of Taiwan which is just 399 kilometers by sea than we were from Manila which is more than 400 kilometers away by land?*

What we will do next time: Because Pagudpud beaches are so inviting, we would enjoy what nature has to offer to our hearts' content. I would swim, walk along the beach and feel the communion of sand and the sea on my feet, eat seafood at the restaurants with the sun setting at the back of the mountains as our backdrop. How I wish we lingered longer, and maybe stayed from morning to the following day. Maybe, next time.

5. Pet animals in Baluarte!

Had it not for the sweltering weather, we would have stayed a little longer in Baluarte. It was an experience seeing the animals roaming freely. The ostrich walked faster when it noticed that Fred was walking beside him. The llama approached and almost licked us! The perched colorful parrots didn't mind the numerous camera shots.

What we will do next time: Check out how to get inside the mansion of Ilocos Sur's former governor, Chavit Singson. And while there, gape at its grandeur.

6. Glow with Kapurpurawan Rock Formation!

Kapurpurawan Rock Formation is one of the tourist spots Ilocos Norte is known for. Our Ilocano friend told us that kapurpurawan means white in their dialect. Some locals told us that because of some graffiti on the vicinity and even on the rock itself, the local government may cordon off the rock formation. I hope they won't. And I hope tourists would be responsible enough to just enjoy the beauty of nature and leave it as it is.

What we will do next time: Touch the rock!

7. Visit the Ferdinand Marcos Museum and Mausoleum!

It was never in my my travel itineraries. I didn't dream of visiting it. I only know Ilocos provinces for its famous Spanish houses in Vigan and white sand beaches in Pagudpud. So when the chance of visiting the Ferdinand Marcos Museum and Mausoleum presented itself (thanks to our Ilocano friend's wife who made the itinerary), we grabbed it and enjoyed history mounted on a well-curated museum.

What we will do next time: Linger for just a little longer.

8. Check out the old Syquia Mansion.

View from the veranda of the Syquia Mansion

One of the stunning Spanish mansions in Vigan

We learned a bit of history from the tour guide of the Syquia Mansion. History we wouldn't have known and read from textbooks. We're glad we chose to explore it first over the other mansions.

What we will do next time: Check out other mansions!

9. Feel wind power in Bangui Windmills!

Contrary to the museum in #7, the Bangui Windmills has been in my must-visit Ilocos tourists spots. And I dreamed of seeing it for years. I'm so glad I finally did, thanks to our friends in Riyadh who invited us to join them and also to our host family in Ilocos Sur.

What we will do next time: Again, linger a little longer and explore the place. If I have more time, I would walk that beach from the entrance to the farthest windmill then back. Really, why not?

10. Drop by Burnayan Pottery!

We wouldn't have found the Burnayan Pottery hadn't the calesa driver pointed it to us. It is secluded in a dark, aluminum-roofed frontyard and you would have to pass by stalls of Ilocos products to reach it. When most of the tourists were distracted by the colorful keychains, hats and bags and the appetizing Ilocos delicacies sold by the enterprising locals, we weren't. We were there for the culture and the potter gladly answered questions some of the curious tourists threw at him.

What we will do next time: Ask the potter for a trial!

There's just too many things to do and too many places to visit in Ilocos provinces. Next time, after trying to do those What We Will Do Next Time items, we also would like to check out other tourist destinations we've missed like the Paoay Church (and marvel at its architecture), the Bojeador Lighthouse or the MalacaƱang of the North.

Two days are just not enough when you're having fun! And in Ilocos, we just had that.