Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Cruise in the Fragrant Harbour

Hong Kong Day 1

For the Holy Week I joined Arvy and his family on a trip to Hong Kong. Though it my third trip to HK, it's been five years since I've been to the former British colony (the last time was with my mom, in 2010). We flew via Philippine Airlines, on a morning flight on an Airbus A330-300. The flight was pleasant enough; it left on time, and the aircraft is spacious. 

The bus ride from the airport to Causeway Bay, where the hotel is, was a bit of a doozy. We were all standing for most of the 1-hour trip, and the driver was a bit of a speed demon, zigzagging along the freeway like he's racing to the john or something. It was rainy (and cold) when we reached Causeway Bay, and after a bit of navigation, reached the Park Lane Hotel (it was swanky!).

After resting for a bit and having a late lunch we took a cab to the Central Pier to take a cruise around Victoria Harbour. The historic harbor was instrumental for Hong Kong becoming a trading center, and it offers the best place to see the city from a different point.  

The cruise started around five in the afternoon and it lasted for about an hour, making a circuit around the harbor and stopping in three piers, in Central, Wan Chai and Tsim Tsa Tsui. It was rainy at times so the sky was overcast and there are times we stayed inside the boat, but most of the time we were on the deck taking pictures and admiring the view.

I was able to pick out the interesting buildings and structures that frame the Hong Kong skyline as the cruise progressed, and I noticed there are a lot of changes from since I last visited. I also saw several Chinese junks lumbering along, as well as large cruise ships bringing in tourists, aside from the hulking container ships laden with goods.

As dusk approaches the skyscrapers started lighting up, the neon lights of the buildings giving color to an otherwise gloomy sky. The cruise completed the circuit as the boat docked in Central Pier, and we disembarked and made our way One Financial Ceter, to stop by the Apple Store, then to Central Station to catch the MRT to Causeway Bay and back to the hotel. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Rock and a Hard Place

This is still painful to write.

I spent my Saturday exploring the Tinipak River in Tanay, Rizal, which is about 2 hours or so from Metro Manila. Tinipak River, which is located at the foot of Mt. Darait, a popular climbing spot near the metropolis. I woke up early to get a van from Starmall and the trip to the town was uneventful. I then got a motorcycle to go to the village of Daraitan - about 22 kilometers over paved and unpaved, rocky two-lane roads. 

During the rainy season this bridge will be unpassable
The driver told me that it was his first time to bring a passenger to Daraitan, and I think he was regretting it when we drove over the rough road. We have to stop a few time to ask for directions too. After a while we crossed a wooden bridge to get to the village. After I then paid the driver, and registered in the barangay hall. I got a guide, Michael, who will accompany me on the hike.

Looks like an alien landscape

The from village the hike to the rock formations is about 45 minutes to one hour, depending on the stops you're making. There were a number of people, mostly in groups, at some point on the trail. We stopped several times for me to unpack and assemble the drone. I managed to fly it with no issues on the first two instances, although it has a bit of difficulty acquiring GPS signals, we being in a deep gorge. It is something that I should have taken as a foreboding for something later on. 

Drone selfie

Michael made some small talk and commentaries about the place and the visitors while we were trudging along the trail. The sun was almost high up, washing the landscape with a harsh light and making it look like a setting for a sci-fi movie set on an alien land. I can feel the sunburn coming as we continue. White boulders are everywhere, as if strewn by an ill-tempered giant done playing with his toys. The surfaces are almost smooth, the products of millions of years of water flowing through, carving the the deep gorge where we are passing now.  

The magnificent Tinipak River

At last we reached the end of the trail, and the formations here are more impressive than the ones we so far passed. The gorge is very deep too (about 80 meters, according to the drone's data). I survey the place, admiring the magnificent view and surveying for a spot to launch the drop. I took some photos with my ActionCam and phone too. I assembled the drone after finding a suitable area. I turned it on and and waited for it to acquire its GPS fix, which it did after a long time. I launched it and it's kind of difficult to control, it drifting from side to side. I managed to take many great dramatic pictures. 

The selfie before everything turns to disaster

The real drama was when I was trying to land it. The plan was to let it hover a meter from the ground and then catch it, as there wasn't a lot of even surface in the area. We almost succeeded but then this idiot of a girl suddenly barged in while taking a selfie. She was almost hit by the drone; I was able to pull it just in time to avoid her face. The drone continued up, drifting on the side for a bit. I was struggling to control it, as it continued to ascend and drift. It veered to the right and clipped a branch of the tree growing at the top of the gorge. 

The drone fell right around the whirling waters near the campers

My heart sank as I see it fall, tumbling down and hitting the side of the cliff, then splashing into the water. Michael and I clambered over the rock to reach the other side. He also called another guide, who dove into the water to search for the drone. We managed to recover the body, which was immersed in the whirling waters. The gimbal was smashed to smithereens, and the battery was lost. The camera module, miraculously, did not fall into the water, and still intact with the memory card (and the priceless photos) inside it. It was a cosmic consuelo de bobo, if there was ever was one. 

Surveying the damage

I had to sit to gather my faculties while trying to dry the smashed drone with my shirt. I felt like crying, replaying the final moments before the crash and going over what should and shouldn't have happened. After a while I signaled to Michael that we should be going back. On the way we made a detour to a camping area with a clump of balete providing shade to rest. I took a dip in the river while I was there, hopefully to wash the regrets I had.When we reach the village I hired a habal-habal to take me to town, then took a van back to the metro.

This was a sad day.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Hoverboard Part Deux

Soon after the flyboard session I did another round of hoverboard riding at Networx Jetsports. Hoverboards are a new-ish invention of Zapata Sports as well (not the silly-looking land version that seems to have an inkling for starting fires). This is more looks like what happens when a snowboard and a vacuum cleaner gets freaky on a Friday night - a contraption the size of a snowboard, attached to a ginormous hose connected to a jetski. 

Like the hoverboard the jets of water propel you and the contraption. It is also more difficult to ride than the other, and so far I have only mastered the basics. I was able to let it jump out of the water too, and let it stay aloft for  second or two. This was my second time to ride it, and I think I am more confident this time. I didn't fall as much, and I was able to control the board more and make turns without much difficulty. It rode it for 11 minutes straight without falling once, as the video shows (I created it into a timelapse to shorten and make it faster). 

Flyboarding in Subic

I went flyboarding in Subic today. Flyboarding is the new-ish extreme sport invented by Zapata Racing. It involves a board, similar in size to a snowboard, a long and large hose connected to a jetski, and some contraption with nozzles attached to your feet. I 

Arvy and I drove yesterday to the freeport but we arrived late in the evening (we stayed overnight in Venezia hotel), so all activities were pushed back to Sunday. I was able to do flyboarding twice already, always in Network Jetsports, which is located in Waterfront Road in the Subic Freeport. I was gonna do flyboarding and hoverboard (no, not the silly contraption that has the tendency to burst into flames, but the one you use in the water; I will cover that in the next post).

I did the flyboard first, and this time I was more confident and I did not fall on my face as much as I did the last two times. I think I was able to balance it now more often than not, and I avoided tipping over that could cause me to fall into the water. I still can't do tricks, like the 360 maneuver, I think I have to have more practice to be able to do that (and I really have to workout my core, too).

The other difference now is that we have the drone this time, so while I was in the water, Arvy was piloting the drone to take some photos and videos. I liked them very much, they looked cool, and they give a new perspective of the action. Arvy was a bit tentative to lower the drone, because the water jets from the other passing jetskis might get it wet. Still it was a great opportunity to use the drone and get some awesome footage.

More about my previous experience in flyboarding here.