Tokyo Spring, Day 1

I joined my friends on their adventure to Tokyo April of last year because it would be their first time to travel DIY, and I tried getting a ticket for the 25th L’Anniversary, the weekend of which fell right smack in the middle of the schedule. I figured too that it would be my last chance to join them since I would migrate late last year. So, joining the party last, I made our itinerary and became the unofficial guide.

We landed at Narita Airport around lunch time so we had a meal first and then checked in to our house.

I had my friends go through an ordeal, and I really felt bad about it–the station we alighted from only had stairs on the exit we were supposed to take. We eventually made it to the house and after getting some much-needed rest, we headed to Ueno Park.

We didn’t really sit on the park and have a picnic; we couldn’t even if we wanted to; but the brief time there was fun nonetheless.

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A Day in Macau

For Filipinos, the most popular overseas tourist destination is arguably HK or HK-Macau because these destinations are easily accessible to us. In my case though, I finally got to cross Macau and spend a day there just last year.
Macau isn’t really high on my must-see destinations, but hey, what’s the harm in exploring the place when you have the chance, right?
Well, I almost didn’t. I bought a ticket in advance since I was travelling on a Sunday and was anticipating huge passenger volume. I had trouble locating the China Ferry Terminal in HK’s Canton Road because (1) Canton Road is freaking long, (2) I’m terrible with directions and (3) when I finally got to the entrance, the signage was barely readable. But I made it just in time and an hour later, I was already at Macau’s Taipa Ferry Terminal.
Multi-storeys, plenty of stores, free wi-fi and with plenty of transportation options, I found Taipa Ferry Terminal very convenient and tourist-friendly. I took advantage of the free wi-fi to plan my route, especially since I just had an afternoon–a rainy afternoon–to go around.
Here are some shots of my quick stroll:

One thing I was really happy about my experience was that I didn’t spend a single centavo on transportation. There were plenty of hotel shuttles and you do not have to be a patron to board their bus. Most had free wifi, too. Transport being free was one less stress unloaded from me because like I said earlier, directions and I don’t really get along well haha^^;
Macau is not as accessible for me anymore, but when I do get the chance to go back, I would probably stay a couple of days to try the food and explore their world heritage sites to have a better feel of their culture.

Hiking in Hong Kong: MacLehose Trail Stages 1 & 2

Apart from all the food and shopping, Hong Kong does have beaches, mountains and greens so for my trip last year, I thought I’d try hiking there for a change. This trip would also be the first time for me going to HK without seeing a concert^^;;

I allotted a day to hike a portion of the MacLehose Trail. It’s 100 km long and traverses various territories of Hong Kong, but it’s generally well marked and cut in stages (emphasis on “generally” intended). There are longer and more challenging stages, but this one I tried is manageable for a total amateur like me. The views are rewarding though.

About half an hour or so from Stage 1’s starting point is the High Island Reservoir East Dam. The road is paved and there are markers so the trail is easy to follow. The view is very easy on the eyes, too.

Further down the trail is the entrance to Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark. There are taxis parked nearby so if you feel like turning back after this stop, grab this chance. (I kind of beat myself mentally a few times down the trail for not doing so, but then I digress.)

Walking along, there will be several climbs but there are coves you’ll see on the way, too. In a couple of beaches, there were hikers who pitched tents. I didn’t have the luxury of time though so I had to keep moving.

There are a few beaches along the way, and six hours into the hike, I was already looking for the Chui Tung Au exit point. It was tricky figuring out where the exit to Sai Wan Pavilion is and I almost didn’t make it, but in any case, the pavilion is a small gazebo where minibus NR29 passes by a few times every hour to take you to the Sai Kung town center.

So, how to get to the starting point? Get to MTR Diamond Hill, and at exit C2, take bus 92 going to Sai Kung Town. The starting point is marked so you can alight there.

Here are some of my other tips (more like lessons learned ahaha):

  1. Start early. A large portion of the trail is not lit at all.
  2. Bring plenty of water and make sure your gadgets are fully charged. The only store I remember encountering was in Sai Wan, and that was after more than five hours of walking.
  3. Take advantage of the many rest points. In the rough trails, I just looked for a place flat enough to sit on.
  4. Breathe and enjoy the scenery.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask fellow hikers for directions. I needed to do so when I was trying to locate Sai Wan Pavilion.
  6. There are portions with no signal and there are no other hikers in sight. Just keep walking.

If you want to read more about the trail and other recommended hiking spots in HK, this is a good place to start.

 

Renewing Philippine Passports in the US

Hello there! It’s been a while since I last wrote.

I would like to resume on a public service note and share my experience in renewing my passport. For us Filipinos, getting appointments in the Philippines has been a nightmare, especially since starting January of this year, passport validity has been extended to ten years so there’s an unusual volume of applicants. I was one of those who waited for the ten year validity (but also because my passport expires later this year), but thankfully, I didn’t go through the ordeal of booking a slot.

Before it gets more confusing, let me clarify that I’m based on the West Coast and the nearest consulate to me is the one based in Los Angeles. In any other day, you have to personally show up at the consulate to have your picture and biometrics taken. The Philippine consulate though has a mobile outreach program you can take advantage of; you just have to watch their website for schedules and instructions. Their mobile outreach program is held on weekends so it’s really convenient.

What are the services available in their mobile outreach program? You can have your passport renewed, sign up for overseas voting, have documents notarized (red ribbon) and they swear in dual citizens. Slots are limited so what they do is they have a pre-screening before they give an applicant a slot. They publish the list of names on their website a good week or two before the schedule.

I grabbed the opportunity to go to the mobile outreach program and to do so, I had to make sure I follow the instructions. Here’s what I did:
1. Read the requirements posted on their website. Since I want my passport renewed, I needed to fill out the passport renewal application form and photocopy the bio page of my passport.
2. Sent an email requesting a slot. I received a reply the next business day acknowledging my email. I also received another email shortly confirming that they have allotted me a slot.
3. On the day of my appointment, I brought my about-to-expire passport, filled out renewal form, photocopy of my bio page (you can never have enough copies!), my own self-addressed envelope and 65 usd for the processing fee. They sell stamps on site so if you don’t have enough postage, just buy from them. There’s no need to bring a photo, but make sure to dress properly and quite needless to say, look such that you wouldn’t regret your would-be passport photo for the next ten years^^;;

The processing was on schedule. I was already being attended to at the time allotted to me. I also signed up for overseas voting so that I can have the ballot mailed to me when it’s time for the next Philippine elections.
There were walk-ins on the day I went but what the staff did was tentatively schedule them on the 4 pm window, so it really pays to secure an appointment slot in advance.

The processing of my passport including the waiting time took just about 15 minutes and the staff were really nice. My old and renewed passports will be mailed to me, and usually it takes two months.

I’m not sure if the process is the same for other embassies or consulates, but do check out the consulate nearest you. Hope this helped!