Hikes | Travels | Food

Mt. Pulag's Akiki-Ambangeg Trai

A day hike to Luzon island's highest peak

Friday, November 27, 2015

Review : Asus ZenFone 2 Laser (ZE500KL)

4 weeks ago, I received a ZE500 KL Zenfone 2 Laser, a smartphone from  Asus, a leading technology company from Taiwan. Here's my experience with the phone, written from a perspective of an ordinary user who doesn't really give a fuss on all the technical details. :P
Unboxing the sleek Asus ZenFone 2 Laser
When looking for a new phone, I'm mainly after its durability, sound quality (I'm an active Spotify user), design, camera features and of course, its price. I don't even call or text much and unless I got really bored and could not find anything else to do, I won't even pay attention to the apps installed in my phone. :P I am heavily reliant on my tech savvy friends (ehem, Ian!) to help me out. 

ZenFone 2 Laser looks sophisticated. Its screen features a 5.0-inch HD  (720px1280p) display and Corning Gorilla Glass 4, a brand of glass known for its durability.  I appreciate how vibrant the colors appear on screen. Its slim size is a plus. It's 3.5 mm thin on its edges, yet it does not feel like it's going to slide off my hands easily, with its curved back and metallic finish. Having an excellent grip  is important to me because I have jelly fingers and I often drop things, especially when I'm distracted over something. 

Here's an entertaining and powerful video showcasing Zenfone's salient features. The location for some of the scenes is beautiful too :).

Sound Quality
I listen to music a lot on my phone and the earphones that came with it allows me to enjoy music more.  I don't hear background noises and my  colleagues find it a challenge to grab my attention when I have my Asus earphones on. They usually have to tap me, then I have to remove the earphones for me to hear them out and I don't even have the volume on full blast. :p. As for its speakers, the sound quality is just okay. I rarely use it anyway. Worth mentioning is that sound output can be customized with its  Audio Wizard 2.0, an app on the phone where you can adjust the volume, treble and bass according to your preference. 
Here's what the back looks like. The volume controls are on top of the Asus logo.
Camera Features 
Since most of my travels involve a lot of walking around, I pack very lightly without leaving out the important stuff. As part of saving luggage space, I use a smartphone in taking souvenir shots instead of bringing a camera which is the major reason why picture quality is vital to me. 

ZenFone 2 ZE500KL has an 8MP back camera  guided with a laser auto-focus, f/2.0 aperture Toshiba lens  and a 5MP front camera.  Simply put, it focuses on the subject so quickly and delivers photos with excellent detail. I love that it saves me time from having to take multiple shots. If you're into food porn and taking pictures of flowers and insects, you will be able to appreciate its camera. 

It also comes with a Photo Collage app and a MiniMovie maker for creating videos. 

Here are some of the unedited shots :
This one's my favorite. Like something out of an Amorsolo painting, this bucolic scenery of farmers working in the field is always a refreshing sight. This was taken while traveling inside a van along SCTEX. :)  

I love how it takes good photos under low light environments :
Photo below is from The Plaza Hotel in Balanga, Bataan. 

Dancing fountain and light show at Plaza Mayor de Ciudad de Balanga
Close-up shot

Food Porn, because food is love! 

Built-in Apps 
It's got several installed apps which initially, I found a little too many. I've uninstalled some and kept the ones that I find useful such as :
-  AsusWeather  which provides  UV Level, sunrise and sunset time, an hourly and extended weather forecast in collaboration with weather forecast provider, Accuweather.  - Flashlight
- Amazon Kindle for reading ebooks
- TripAdvisor 

Bonus : For those who need storage space for their files that can be accessed at any time, the ZenFone  2 Laser comes with  a100GB of FREE Google Drive Storage free for 2 years which you need to redeem in the Google Drive app by April 1, 2018. "After two years of activation, your files restored on storage will not be removed. Only, you can not put new files on your 100 GB storage."  Other Asus devices comes with this useful freebie are 

ZenFone 2, ZenFone Selfie or ZenPad. 
More info here.

If I'm going to nitpick, the only thing that irks me about it is that the back case is so challenging to open.  I feel pain on my fingers when I tried to put a sim in it. On the other hand, it's not much of a big deal because you won't even have to open it frequently. I also find that an advantage in case I drop the phone - oops, I've actually dropped it thrice already on hard surfaces (I was in a hazy state on all three occassions :P) and the phone has not shown any noticeable damages. 

Model :  ZE500KL Zenfone 2 Laser (Dual SIM)
Android Version : 5.0.2
Memory : 2GB
Processor : Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 (quad-core) 1.2 GHX
Price : Retails at PHP 7,295 

For more details on its technical specifications, go to this link ZE500KL | Asus website
If you're looking for a smartphone with a  bigger screen and  a camera with higher mega pixels, consider  Asus Zenfone 2 Laser ZE550KL

With its affordable price and  remarkable features, Asus Zenfone 2 Laser ZE500KL makes an excellent budget smartphone. I'm very happy I got the chance to try this out. :)  

Related Post :
Here's another review of ZenFone 2 Laser ZE500KL from Ferdz Decena

Hiking Log : Sunset at Mt. Apayang

One of the nicest things about having long time, reliable hiker friends  is that you can just drop your original plans and go on a spontaneous trip somewhere else! :P 
Our view as we approached the summit of Mt. Apayang which is just around the bend
To cut a long story short, Tristan, one of my oldest friends got held up at work and by the time he arrived at our meeting place, I already had reservations about our original plan, which is to hike Mt. Sembrano in Rizal as it was already late and there might not be enough time to get back home on the same day. 

After agreeing to change plans, we got his car in Paranaque and headed off to Mt. Batulao, a mountain in Nasugbu, Batangas, which we often hike. We were already on the road towards SLEX, when I remembered Mt. Apayang, a neighbor peak of Mt. Talamitam, also located in Nasugbu. This new hiking destination opened in August 2015 and features a thick forest trail. Prior to its opening, some hikers would combine a hike to Mt. Batulao and Talamitam in a day. I find it nice that there's now an option to do 3 to maximize your travel to Batangas.  :) 

I found a very helpful blog post on the web that had all the information we needed and quickly got in touch with our guide, JP Dimapilis. 

Normally, hikers do a traverse, starting from Apayang, then to Talamitam since these mountains are less than 30 minutes away from each other.  But, as it was past 3:00 PM already, we decided to start from Talamitam's jump-off at KM 83 in Sitio Bayabasan, Brgy. Aga. From here, there is also a  trail  up Apayang. This is also where we met up with JP. I noticed, the registration area has moved to a closer spot, just along Nasugbu-Tagaytay highway where public buses pass by. After registering and paying the fees (20 Pesos each for Mt. Apayang and another 20 Pesos for Mt. Talamitam), we started off our hike at 3:40 PM. 

I haven't visited Mt. Talamitam in years and it was great to see that the bamboo bridge is fixed. It moved up and down as we walked on it, making the cross very exciting. 
The wooden bridge is fixed! 
After this bridge, trail becomes a little steep. There is some forest cover on this side, but past this is an enormous area of grassland that's a nightmare to walk  under the heat of the sun. 

Since it was late in the afternoon, the heat was easier to bear and I actually had a great time especially since we saw several horses and cows along the way. It felt awesome to be hiking in the mountains again after a 3-month hiatus. :) 

Our guide is commendable. He is not only friendly and chatty, he  is very considerate, often checks up on us if we're fine with the pace and also shares information about the mountains.
Our guide, JP Dimapilis, he just came straight from a training at the town proper just to help us out.
You can see Mt. Talamitam  on the right side. :)
It was getting close to sunset so we headed to the summit of Mt. Apayang  first while there was natural light so we can see the view. Facing Mt. Talamitam, we took an denser trail on the left. The  grasses were taller than all 4'11 of me and I ended with a lot of grass cuts but I was enjoying too much from seeing a lot of green everywhere, the pain was negligible. :P 

Nearly two hours after starting our trek, we finally reached the summit of Mt. Apayang, silhouette view of nearby peaks welcomed us. I read that when sky is clearer,  you can also see the peaks of Maragondon mountain range in Cavite. 
Summit of Mt. Apayang
There is an open hut at the summit, a very good spot to sit and enjoy the breeze.  

After resting, we headed over to Mt. Talamitam which is less than 30 minutes away. It was very dark when to got to the summit so instead of stopping, we headed back down right away. By 7;00 PM, we were back at the jump-off. 

Mt. Apayang Hiking Info : 
Contact Info for Guides  
09057849830/09304840925 - John Paul (if you're traversing from Talamitam to Apayang)
09169336608 - Sir Juancho (if you're starting from Mataas na Pulo, Apayang's jump-off)
09065763787 - Sir Isagani Botabora (for tree planting activities)
Guide Fee : 500 Pesos (if doing the traverse), 300-400 (one mountain); Guides are required in Talamitam but you can negotiate. :) 
Registration Fee : 20 Pesos per mountain
*Parking fee is free
Where to wash up after the climb? There is a clean restroom near the registration area where you have to pay a small fee (I forgot how much but it's no more than 20 Pesos)
For bigger groups, just check with the locals. 
Where to eat after a climb? Tagaytay, which you will pass on your way to Talamitam has a lot of options. My favorites are Bag of Beans (there's 3 along Tagaytay-Nasugbu highway), Mahogany Market, Green Ats (where there's a very good view of Taal volcano) and Kenny Rogers at Sky Ranch (they have super friendly staff!). 
 For other information that's not on this blog, please visit this very helpful post from Dencio Travel
Notes : 
- as of last visit (October 2015), camping is not allowed in Mt. Apayang. Please verify with the numbers posted above before making plans.

Related Posts : Mt. Talamitam Traverse to Mt. Apayang | Pinoy Mountaineer

Monday, November 23, 2015

Gears : Osprey Packs Nova

If you're on the haunt for a new backpack or a gift for someone who travels or hikes a lot, consider getting an Osprey, a  reputable brand from the US, known for its bags and travel gears. In 2014, it celebrated its 40th year in the industry, a deserving feat for a business that puts in much thought to its customers, offering high quality products, designed to help its users enjoy their outdoor, travel and biking experience. 
At the entrance of the Mangrove Trail of Balanga Wetland.
Photo taken by Kara Santos of traveling-up.com
I have been a happy and satisfied  Osprey  user since last year when Osprey Packs Philippines offered me to try Quantum, a model under the 24/Seven series made for everyday use(Post here). The collaboration couldn't have come at a better time as my old backpack had just been stolen and I was looking for a replacement.  I've used it for work, on backpacking trips and once on a three day hike in Mt. Halcon, one of the longest trails in the Philippines. (Post about our hike here).  Most of my travels involve a lot of walking and hiking so it's important for me to have a backpack that's comfortable to use, spacious and durable (imagine breaking a pack when you're out hiking, gah!). 

Just recently, I was provided with another model. This time, it's  a Nova (photo above).  Similar to Quantum, Nova is also an everyday pack and I've been using almost everyday for almost 4 weeks now. I love that there's so much space inside and a compartment for practically everything : 
- blinker light attachment tab 
- front organization pocket for things you need to access quickly like pens, keys
- a front panel stretch mesh pocket where I usually put fruits or snacks (again for easy access :P)  
- heat embossed stash pocket which keeps items like mobile phones and sunglasses scratch free
- padded tablet sleeve and a TSA approved padded laptop sleeve
- slide stretch mesh pockets, where I put cold water bottles

Its gazillion pockets is both an advantage and disadvantage because it sometimes takes time for me to find something I put in but I consider it as a good practice on being mindful on what you do,not "mind full". :P 

Another cool feature of this bag is that it's thoughtfully women-specific.  It's designed according to a woman's body (more details below), making the pack more comfortable when carrying a heavy load. It's like having someone help you carry your stuff, which is nice especially for users like me who pack their hoouse. :)  Unlike Quantum which  has a wider frame and takes up the entire space of my upper torso making me feel like a turtle, Nova fits my back perfectly. 
At Las Casas de Acuzar. Photo from Osprey Packs Philippines
As an everyday pack, I am very satisfied with it especially since I don't have to struggle to put  everything in. :) I also love its material. It doesn't feel and look like it's going to rip off easily. 
Specs : 
Color : This model comes in three colors, Jam Purple, Moody Blue and Black (mine's Jam Purple)
Weight : 2.05 lb
Dimensions : 19 x 11 x 10 (inches)
Capacity : 33 Liters
Price : Osprey Nova retails at 4,990 Pesos.
Where to buy Osprey Packs?  In the Philippines, it's exclusively distributed by the Primer Group and sold in R.O.X.(List of branches)
Facebook Page Osprey Packs Philippines 

Tips on Choosing an Osprey Pack
- If you are buying from R.O.X., talk to an Osprey Sales Assistant for a recommendation on which packs suits your needs. Alternatively, get the model and check it out on Osprey's website
- Not all Osprey packs have a raincover. If you plan to bring it to hiking, it's advisable to choose a model that comes with a raincover to protect your stuff from rain and thorny bushes (if the model you want doesn't have one, you can purchase a raincover separately)
- For ladies, go for the women-specific packs 
What makes Osprey women’s - specific packs unique?
"Our women’s packs come in torso lengths that best fit women’s bodies. All packs come standard with women’s - specific harness and hipbelt. The women’s harness is narrow at its entry point in the backpanel, and tapers slightly outward below the collarbone to offer more comfort and freedom for the chest area. The women’s hipbelt is canted slightly upward to best cup the hips and is patterned with a narrower profile. Our women’s packs also come in women’s specific colors."

Want a smaller pack? Watch this  interesting overview of an Osprey Momentum commuter pack which is ideal for those who bike. I just found this on You Tube and the cool lady in the video was so convincing, now I want one. :P  Haaay!

With so many brands out there, it is both a blessing and a curse to see so many options when you're in a store. To get the best value for money, research and ask users. If you're looking for an outdoor pack, ask those who hike regularly for tips.  There's also a group on Facebook where you can ask these questions, check out CLIMBER Philippines.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

We walked EDSA, an advocacy for a walkable Metro Manila

Welcoming sunrise at Magallanes, Makati
I love walking. Since you're moving at a slower pace, I'm able to look around and discover small cafes, street art, interesting graffiti and plant boxes, things that would normally be a blur when you're inside a vehicle - and to me,that's just as exciting as doing a mountain hike. :)

Imagine my delight when I met other individuals who are willing to spend a Sunday morning to walk along one of the Philippines' major highways!  On October 25, I joined fellow advocates in walking a significant length of EDSA, starting from the giant globe at SM Mall of Asia in Pasay to North EDSA in Quezon City.The goal of the activity, dubbed as #WalkEDSA, was to initiate a discussion on how to make Metro Manila a walkable city. Our group, comprised of 13 individuals from various fields,was led by hiker friend Gideon Lasco of *Global Shapers Community – Manila Hub

Though it was a Sunday, a not so busy day in the city, the activity gave us a glimpse of the challenges fellow pedestrians face. We started walking at 5:00 AM and very early on, I had to take out a towel to protect myself from smoke emitted by the vehicles that passed us. Aside from pollution, we walked on areas that were dirty - trash on sidewalks showing some people's lack of discipline, who treat the road as one big garbage bin. There's also this interesting sidewalk in a section of Makati where only one person can pass which would be challenging for those in a wheelchair;  an overpass that turned into a little market and lastly,  drivers who show no regard for pedestrians, perhaps they're from the same specie of drivers that irks me - those who floor the gas  pedal when they see white lines on a pedestrian crossing. 

The experience was not all negative. Aside from burning 1,500 calories (according to a friend's gadget), it was fun walking areas that had murals (Camp Aguinaldo side), street art along Pasay and portions of EDSA planted with trees and shrubs (Makati and Quezon City,nearing Corinthian Gardens).  It was also fascinating seeing Mary Queen of Peace from the overpass. It's massive! :) Aside from structures, meeting people who make a living in the streets was an awesome experience. 
A very jolly sisig vendor doing the famous "pabebe wave"
(in case you haven't heard about it, it's an #AlDub thing :P Check it on Twitter!)

Philippine National Railways track in Makati
The 21.3 KM route  took us 5 hours, 30 minutes to complete, including our breaks. Gaaah, it was a lot of walking on concrete and as tiring as it was, the amount of time we spent walking gave us plenty of insights about pedestrian welfare.  
street art along EDSA-Pasay side.
After freshening up, we reconvened at Capitol Commons in Pasig for a post event discussion. Each one was given the chance to speak about what they've observed and their ideas on how we can move forward. Gideon provided a well-written summary on Pinoy Mountaineer. Another friend, Ferdz Decena, also shared about his experience on his blog, FerdzDecena.com
The group at SM North EDSA (after we wiped our faces :P, photo from Ferdz Decena)
We've got a long and exciting journey to help make things better for us pedestrians, if you are interested to take part, please "Like" the Walk Manila Facebook Page to get updates on future activities. :) 

The Global Shapers Community is a network of young leaders based in cities all over the world, and #WalkEDSA is the Manila Hubʼs activity for the Communityʼs “Shape
Sustainability” - an initiative that challenges every hub to think of what they can do tomake their cities more sustainable. Walking, with its documented benefits to individual health, urban mobility, social solidarity, and the environment, is certaintly a (literal) steptowards this direction. 

Related Articles on #WalkEDSA:  
CNN - Making Metro Manila "pedestrian friendly"
TopGear Philippines - Pedestrian-safety advocates walks 20KM length of EDSA
Rappler - #WalkEDSA: 9 things I learned from walking the length of EDSA
Philippine Daily Inquirer - To Make Metro Manila Walkable 
Manila Coconuts - This guy walked EDSA on a Sunday. These are 5 of the things they learned.

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