Travel down Subic Memories

Travel down Subic Memories

To many American G.I.’s who traveled the world this will be a trip down memory lane. Destination: Subic Bay, Zambales, Philippines. About three (3) hours drive North of Manila.

departing Subic Bay

The old Subic Bay US Naval Base.

For decades, the largest U.S. Navy installations outside of the United States, the former Subic Naval Base has been successfully transformed into a busy free port and a tourist destination.

Said to be one of the training grounds of the secretive Navy Seals (until that highly trained covert group was popularized in the movie “Navy Seals”) gone are the days when a tour of the facility was strictly “guided.”

No more MP vehicles with blinking lights leading the way of a convoy of cars of visitors with special passes and no more mean-looking soldier boys with automatic rifles guarding the gates. They were replaced by local policemen riding their prowl cars and Subic Bay Free Port Authority guards.

The area where they used to sell PX goods has been turned into a commercial district complete with Jollibee restaurants (a local version of U.S.’s Mc Donald’s chain of restaurants) and many other fast-food joints.

Very few people thought that the City of Olongapo, where the naval base used to be, would survive economically when the Americans left. It definitely suffered some kind of a loss, and the number of night clubs catering to the carnal needs of thousands of those sex-starved sailors (while at sea), have greatly diminished, but the place is back on its feet again.

A commercial shipyard has replaced the dry-docking facilities of the former naval base and Fedex planes and cargo vehicles are teeming on the tarmac of the airport that up until they left was accessible only to US Naval aviators, their airborne assets and whatever secrets they were flying to and from their floating fighting monsters stationed anywhere in the world’s oceans.

Some of the vacated billeting houses were turned into hotels especially at the Crown Peak,


View from Crown Peak, US Subic Bay Naval facility


and a zoo is now occupying a forested portion of the site.

Yes, if you talk to the proper authorities, you can still get your Jungle Survival lessons here. That is, if you still want to take that course despite the fact that much of the jungles in the world are now giving way to encroaching upscale subdivisions.

A beach resort renting diving gears with diving instructors has opened up somewhere close by, and just beside it rose a structure that features trained aquatic animals that show more intelligence than some pea-brained local officials who allowed further degradation of the area (oops, sorry, that’s intended for another post).


Yes, it’s kissing the girl. Well, need I say more?

And of course, the asphalted roads crisscrossing the forested sections that lead to more yet undiscovered naval military secrets (I presume) are still there. Except this time (not sure if it has been there since) an access road to the neighboring Province of Bataan has already been opened at the southwestern end.

And… right, scenes like this one are still occasionally found.

A few days of respite here might be good for Aimzter in one of the upcoming holidays, until she (I am presuming Aimzter is of the female gender) is able to decide what will be her next destination – outside of Luzon.


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An Island GET AWAY

An Island GET AWAY

The Philippines is a country of some 7107 islands (depending on what time of the day you asked and whether it is low tide or high tide) and surely, there are quite a number of those islands that present themselves as a perfect island get away. One of the world’s famous islands frequented by tourists in this part of the globe is the Boracay Island in the Province of Aklan. But that is not what this post is all about.

This is about another island with pristine white beaches in the northernmost tip of the Province of Cebu. It is called Bantayan Island. It is in the Province of Cebu but not in the same island as Cebu City. Just like the way Mactan (where Cebu International Airport is located) is in another island.

bantayan island stocks

Island in the northernmost tip of Cebu Province

The word “Bantayan” came from the root word “bantay” which in Filipino means “guard” or “to guard“. Local folks said their small island was named Bantayan Island as it was the place where the brave Cebuano fighters used to station their first line of defense against their seaborne invaders or enemies. The town of Madridejos, the second biggest town in the island, still has the old guard and observations posts used by their ancestors.

By the way, for the clueless, Cebu is the second biggest city in the Philippines. It is located in the Central Visayas about an hour away by commercial plane from Manila.

Money may not be able to buy everything but, it certainly can buy comforts and, if money is of no object to you, a chartered plane may prove to be the most convenient way of getting you directly to Bantayan Island. Just don’t bring your big war machines the size of C-130s (or bigger) as the island only has a small strip that can accommodate very light planes.

Ordinary mortals, like many of us, can take a little comfort by renting an air-conditioned car or van from Cebu City to bring us to Hagnaya Port in the town of San Remegio some 60 kilomenters away to the north. A forty five minute boat ride from Hagnaya, San Remegio will bring us to Sta. Fe where those pristine white beaches are located.

Idyllic island get away

Idyllic island get away

The place is far enough from the hustle and bustle of the city life (and perfect for those who would like to get away from it all) but not too far away that one is totally cut off from civilization.

You can choose to ignore unwanted calls but competing mobile phone service providers have good coverage in the area and even surfing the internet is a breeze using your mobile phone as a modem.

There is cable television and you have access even to TV channels that you do not want or do not understand. In fact, it has more TV channels than a polyglot would be happy to have.

They have jet skis and kayaks and diving equipment and almost practically anything that you can find in any other popular resorts – but with lesser crowd and definitely, a lot lesser pollution.

Here, you can have all the sun that you want (just don’t forget your sun block lotion as the tropical sun can be harsh to anyone who lives in the temperate zones), but if you are not crazy about getting that tan, you can still have a dip in the crystal clear saline water of the island by going into their own version of a river underground.


Down here, you can forget about your sun block lotion!



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Could this be the 7th Wonder?

Could this be the 7th Wonder?

If only because of the combination of the wonders of natural creation and man’s ingenuity, I would say this place, the Banaue Rice Terraces, should have a very good chance in becoming the 7th wonder of the World.

benahue rice terraces wikipedia

Part of the Banaue Rice Terraces. Original pic source: Wikipedia which has a link to this site

As can be seen in the pictures, the Banaue Rice Terraces are rice paddies carved out of the mountain sides. They have their own irrigation system which do not use any form of modern technology. And they date back 6000 years ago.

Banaue (the town) is in the Province of Ifugao, some 350 kilometers North of Manila. It is accessible by bus or any land based vehicles except by train. It will take you about 8 to 9 hours to get there from Manila depending on which route you take.

You can travel via the Province of Nueva Ecija using the road leading to the Provinces of Isabela and Cagayan Valley, or you can go straight to Baguio (which is another tourist destination), take the Halsema Highway in the Province of Benguet and then on to Bontoc, Mountain Province.

If you have chosen to pass this way, don’t forget to remind yourself, or your driver, once in a while that there is a reason why they called it the “Mountain Province.” You may actually want to start vocalizing that reminder as soon as you reach the Province of Benguet as the whole place (including the Provinces of: Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, Apayao and Mountain Province) are actually called the Mountain Provinces.

At times, visibility on the road leading to these areas goes all the way down to zero. It would best serve the traveler to remember not to be so careless as to accelerate too much in a concreted road when the other portion is not totally visible. This is not only because winding roads normally characterize the thoroughfares in mountainous areas.

It is more because the original Halsema Highway has given way to landslides and natural erosions – which plunged portions of the road several thousands feet below. There are very deep ravines here and (while repairs are continuous) there are still portions of the paved road that may lead you to an abyss.

native igorots


The last time I went there, my local contact (in his own humorous, if unique, way of reminding me of the dangers) told me to bring lots of food and drinking water as he said he’d hate to hear that I starved on my down to the bottom of one of those gorges. That is, if ever I committed the mistake of hitting the gas when I should be frantically thumping on the brakes. “Might take you the best of the day before you hit anything below, ya know?” he said.

But if you have the resources and you prefer traveling in one of those winged machines, why experiment on “flying” the car into these narrow valleys? There’s an airstrip in the town of Bagabag near the junction of the National Highway that leads you to Isabela and what your Google Earth would tell you as “Mountain Polis Highway.” (I didn’t know it was named that way).

If you have an efficient assistant, he or she might be able to get you a landing right, and what would remain would be just an hour drive.

Of course, I realize that not many of us can charter a plane, or bring a small private jet, so let’s revert back to land based machines.

Following our earlier route from Nueva Ecija Province, you will only leave the national road when you reached that Bagabag Junction. From there, you’ll begin your ascend to Banaue. Again, please remember (especially if you have chosen to take a rented car) this place is part of the Mountain Provinces and no one has taken the task of flattening it. Which is just as well.

Banaue, the town where all these Rice Terraces are believed to have started, is the only place that I know of where wild boars freely roam the streets with the residents. No, they don’t attack humans. They have been tamed, domesticated, bred and their piglets are everywhere.

There’s a decent hotel and a number of scattered inns and the place is just… well, serene. You’ll hear the river flowing several hundred feet below at all times of the day (especially at night) and you’ll just love the smell of fresh air that gets thinner as the sunlight bids you goodbye.

Stores in this town are well stocked, but you may want to buy personal effects in the city before taking the trip.

They ferment their own fruit wine in these parts called “Lang-ay” (but you can find imported ones if you so desire) and they have their own version of rice wine too. The dried meat of wild boar gives me gastronomic delights when fried to perfection and the vegetables are all fresh from the farms. Please try their colored rice (it is with shades of red or violet) if you are into this stuff. The aroma alone is just so heavenly.

A fact that is not really very surprising, because up there in the mountains, it feels like it would only cost you just a few more cents to get to heaven.

If we have not yet confused the weather patterns so much (due to climate change) and you have decided to visit the Rice Terraces, make sure you go there during the summer months. You don’t want those landslides spoiling the fun.


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Why Suffer on a Good year?

Why Suffer on a Good year?

Why indeed? (suffer on a good year) First, let’s put things into perspective. Here, we always talk about investing and the suffering we are talking about has to do with ailments that we get if we are a chronic worrier. If you read my post in this channel prior to this one…well, yes, this is a continuation of that.

sad stock market punk

Sad, sometimes, we cannot appreciate what we have until we lose it!

This is still about Fear and Greed but set in the good times. You are not really thinking that nobody is making money right now (although to the detriment of almost all of us), are you?

Let us take the case of oil. The price of oil has never climbed so fast as it has in the last two years. (By the way, we are only using the movement of the price of oil here as an example of the market movements.) If you have invested in oil since, let say, the middle of 2006 and continued to do so until today, your money must have already doubled – at the very least. That is if, by some stroke of luck or genius, you have decided to keep your money growing with oil as the vehicle of choice.

Notice how the speed of appreciation of the price of oil seems to have coincided with the subprime mess and its resulting financial catastrophe? (But that is an aside, sorry. Besides, someone else have already touched on that subject)

The simplest way of looking at how your money have grown is by getting the price of oil today and deducting it with the price in 2006 which was around US$70/ barrel. Had you sold at the exact time that the price touched US$140 the other day, your money would have actually doubled!

Well, of course, you still have to remove taxes, commissions, etc., from that amount, but hey, it is not everyday that you see your money multiplying that fast! And not when everyone else’s investments are crumbling.

Now, I said that was the simplest way of looking at it. As the experts would tell you, “it is always clearer to look at the rearview mirror” and we just looked at the “rearview mirror.”

Let’s try looking at it now from a different vantage point. Let’s say, your money has already earned you US$25 for every barrel of oil that you own. That’s about 35.71% of your US$70 capital per barrel. If you knew that the price will continue to go up, I am almost certain you will hold on to your purchase and allow your profit to go up some more.

But if the upward surge has already stopped for quite sometime and the price is beginning to inch down, what will you do?

beauty pattern stock market punk

Quit looking for the patterns buddy, just appreciate its beauty.


If you are a chartist (somebody who believes in technical analysis) and you are no longer seeing the right combinations of candle sticks, and the volume has dissipated, and the stochastic is showing you an overbought signal, etc., etc., you will probably sell.

The problem is, barely 2 seconds after your order has been matched, while you were beginning to feel good about your decision and the profit that you made, a news bulletin came out of the wires saying that a major oil field has been attacked by some armed militias and millions of barrels of oil cannot be delivered to the refineries.

That’s a major story that spells an even higher price of oil! So, now, you are no longer computing the money that you earned by selling your oil inventories. You are instead computing the money that you lost by selling too early!

You came rushing back to the game and tried to buy everything that you can find, but the “smarter” fellows have already taken over. You cannot get a match for your bids as the price keeps getting higher. You naturally adjusted you bid accordingly and… finally, after a number of attempts, out of some miracles, somebody sold you his inventories. You grabbed the opportunity and bought everything that you can find within your means…

This news, after, all has just developed!

But wait a minute! How come there seem to be a lot of people who are selling now rather than buying? Ha! You said. Not this time. You took a breather and get your bearing in the scheme of things. And you were right, it was just a correction. The price is consolidating because it just went up very fast indeed. But you also noticed that you were not able to buy the commodity at the same amount you sold it.

In fact, you were able to buy your present inventories at US$10/ barrel higher than when you sold it. Thus, instead of making a profit, you actually incurred even more losses.

Now, are you ready to trade again? Because you see, the price is still sliding!

Of course, with the benefit of knowing the future (as in now – as the future) you would have probably kept everything you bought that day because you know that in the future (meaning, today) the price of oil would be US$30 or US$40 USD higher.

But without the benefit of “hindsight,” what do you think you would have done next?

As you very well know, these past few weeks have seen the price of oil pierce some new record highs but the price have also gone down and up again and down again and up again etc., according to what the “market” perceived to be happening at any given moment…

When you are in the middle of it all and (and you have actually lost rather than made money) and you were hearing a very good rationale why the price will continue to go up while you are already thinking of selling because of once again depressed prices (when compared to your buying price)…

And then you hear a very compelling reason again why the rally has already definitely ended while you have just bought more shares and so on and so forth, try to get a grip of yourself and figure out a way on how you can make (or recover) all of that money without hurting yourself – or suffering a cardiac arrest.

swimming underwater

Maybe a vacation and a dip in the pool will help?


Sometimes the answer can be found by tempering your fear and greed.



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7th Wonder of the world?

7th Wonder of the world?

I read somewhere that there’s an on going search for the 7th Wonder of the World and the papers recently reported that three (3) of the Philippines tourist destinations are up there in the Top ten list of candidates.

These are the Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao, the Chocolate Hills in Bohol and Mayon Volcano, which is the only volcano in the world which has an almost perfect cone.

Well, even paranoid stock market investors drive cars, travel and go on vacations. So, if that travel bug has bitten you and you decided to visit any of the above mentioned places and you don’t know your way around in this country, please allow this “punk” to show you the way get to some of your destinations.

Let’s start off with Mayon Volcano.


This majestic mountain is located in Legazpi City, about 550 kilometers south of Manila. That will take you roughly around 10 hours travel by air-conditioned bus from Manila (longer if you take the ordinary buses without air-conditioning as they tend to pick up passengers along the way and therefore travel much slower), but less than an hour by plane.

If you don’t like the 10 hour drive but want to see more of the countryside, a rented car can cut that travel time by about 2 hours. Aside from some repairs that you’ll encounter along the way, the road is generally in good condition.

If you check with the travel agencies, you will note that there are regular flights going to and from Legazpi City.

There are plenty of hotels in the area, but don’t look for the services you are accustomed to, if your usual digs are the likes of Ritz Carlton Hotel or any of those that don’t go lower than $2000 USD/night.

Rates are cheap, though the price, as anywhere else, changes a bit to the upside if you are a foreigner.

People are amiable and courteous and even the volcano itself spared the lives of some foreigners when it erupted sometime in the 90’s. And those guys where right on top of the volcano! We are talking ridge of caldera here or somewhere very close to it.

No exaggeration here. I arrived in that city some 15 hours after it happened and the place was abuzz with that story.

But don’t be so dumb as to climb that fiery mountain while it is erupting. Those guys were just lucky that the volcano spewed its lava on one side while they are on the other side. But yes, you can find guides that can bring you right at the mouth of the volcano when it is not acting crazy.

If you are not that adventurous and you still want to go really up close, there’s a rest house etched almost halfway up at one side of the mountain where you get a really good view of the surrounding areas. The air is a bit crisp there too, because of elevation.

There used to be a historical site close to the city and I would have loved to point you to it as it could be just minutes away from the hotel that you would be staying. It is called the “Cagsawa Ruins”, it was the last remaining structure of a church that was buried by lava in one of the volcano’s early eruptions. But the place was further ruined by a huge flood that inundated the city just recently.

The place is just no longer there last time I was in the area – like it was erased from the face of the earth (or maybe, I just couldn’t figure out the altered terrain too soon after the rains).

The most famous local delicacies in the area include “Laing” which is some kind of viand cooked with coconut milk, and sweetened “Pili nuts” which are available in varying preparations. Pili nuts can be eaten raw and it is said to be tastier than Macadamia nuts. Prepared well, the skin of the Pili nut (excluding the nut shell, of course) that has already turned violet in color (from green) is claimed to make a delicious viand as well.

Oh, and don’t forget the ever spicy “Bicol Express!” I cannot eat the meanest preparation of that one without the members of the entire city fire department standing ready with their fire trucks and hoses at my side.

Of course, I am exaggerating! But eat a lot of that and you might just feel like you (not the volcano) are about ready to spew lava.

Time now for one of those sweetened “Pili” bars.



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A deficient market?

A deficient market?

One of the things that a stock market novice would inevitably encounter in his search for knowledge is the discussion about the “efficient market hypothesis” or EMH.

The EMH which was developed by Professor Eugene Fama of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in his Ph.D. thesis in the early 1960’s argues that the financial markets are efficient. It maintains that the prices of stocks reflect all known information and that it is impossible to consistently outperform the market by using the information that the market already knows.

To better understand the EMH which actually has three variations, it would be nice to dive into those books again – which I always recommend. At any rate, the hypotheses basically states that practically every single information that anyone can use in determining the proper valuation of the stocks are already reflected in the prices of the stocks at any given moment.

It is one of those contentious issues that I would have loved to leave to the experts to resolve, except, there is something about this discussion that didn’t really sit well with me.

As our regular readers would know by now, I am not one who pretends to be an expert. And I am not. But anybody who deals with information would know that despite all the available channels of communication (print, broadcast and electronics) information is not something that is readily available to everyone at exactly the same time.

watching-tv-before-sleep-is-bad-for-you-300x225Just look at the major broadcast networks, news wire services and dailies whose people are equipped with the latest communication equipment, all of them still get out-scooped every once and a while. These people are not in the habit of keeping information to themselves. It is in their best interest to disseminate to the public whatever relevant information they have.

Yet, the distribution of information is still lopsided at best – favoring those who are tuned-in to the right source at the right time. Now, consider a situation wherein the people who has the information will benefit more by keeping them close to their chest, even for just a little while…

The people with easy access to material information will always have the advantage. Of course, those information will eventually reach the market and those information will be factored in, and the stock prices will reflect them and the stock market can be considered efficient again, but the lag between the time the knowledge first became available to the time that it is finally reflected into the stock prices could spell the difference between money lost and money gained.

This is one of the reasons why “insider trading” is considered illegal. The regulators do not want the people who have access to material information to have undue advantage over other investors who do not have the same information.

And we have not even talked yet about information limited to people who went over the “Chinese Wall”. We are talking about information that are supposed to be in the open, the ones not being kept under the lid.

“Going over the Chinese Wall” is an aphorism that simply means that one is made privy to a confidential negotiation that may lead to a windfall that could affect the price of certain stocks should the confidential information becomes common knowledge. Normally, the negotiation involves mergers and acquisitions.

Remember how the prices of Yahoo! and Microsoft fluctuated at the time when there were stories about the latter taking over the former? Well, imagine if you are the guy whose ears are practically attached to the lips of the person who knows practically every single positive and negative story that will come out of the “deal” and you have tons of money at your disposal…

If insider trading isn’t illegal (not that it stops even some of the supposedly respectable professionals) I would imagine you would be buying like crazy before the positive story comes out in the open, and you would be selling like mad before a negative story goes out to the public. Now, how efficient can a market be with that?

Let’s get out of the “Chinese Wall” and try that theory in the outside world. Without going into the real facts, let us presume that a terrorist group somewhere has decided to disrupt the supply of oil in some godforsaken area. A big supply line is bombed and millions of liters of the, oh so precious, oil are being lost every minute.

When that story comes out, there will be pandemonium in the oil commodities market. People will be buying like there is no heaven or hell, and the price of oil will go up like it is the only thing we need to buy to live. And then, the following day, when it becomes clear that the bombed portion of that supply line has been repaired in less than a second by “Superman” there will be another pandemonium as the price of oil begins to drop.

Now, how efficient do you think can the financial markets be, if even the most dependable sources of information are so inept they cannot provide the same piece of information to every living soul in this planet at the very same instant?

Of course, not every single living soul is an investor, but do you really think every single market player gets his information just as fast as everyone else?

Nope. From where I sit, blessed will be the Indians whose ears are always tuned to the ground – and pity are those who are always hearing a different sound.




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