The (absence of the) road to Kaparkan

It’s the monsoon season and the country’s absolutely closed for tourism. Wrong. There was a typhoon 2 days before I traveled to Bangued, so I expected lots of rain when I arrived.  It’s the perfect time to go rugged in the northern part of Luzon called Tineg, Abra. Read on and you’ll find out what’s out there.

69603078_894572494246397_4488167053961723904_n (1)What’s out there are rain-doused mountains which in the summer are brown-ish because the place becomes arid fast after the monsoon weather blows over. But the first leg of the journey is a nine-hour bus journey from Manila to Bangued, the capital.

Bangued is a small town which has been recently “equipped” with city amenities: The fastfood stores, the grocer, the cinema, and the mall. You’ll need to be able to kick back and rest after the long road trip here. And rest up for the body-shaking trip to Tineg which is at the border for the “Abramazing tour”.

It’s gonna make you exhausted and hungry so from Bangued take a rest, food, water, insect repellant, waterproof gear, toiletries and all the courage you can muster. The Abramazing tour operator has partnered with the government environmental department which facilitates the entire briefing, and they make you sign a waiver. If you ask them, the trip to takes six hours and the trip back more or less or… more in case of road delays.

69409587_359979218224815_5686619640017453056_n69326469_431592347707370_4439822141868736512_nBy the way, my family hails from Bangued. I’ve spent many vacations there, but this “outing” was not to happen for me until this year. I feel it’s because of the fact that I lost two dearly loved people who lived there a few years back, yes, maybe it was that. I couldn’t equate the place with anything but overwhelming grief til recently. And I went with my aunt and her friend and my cousin for this adventure.

The rugged terrain began when the paved road ended two hours into our 6 x 6 truck ride. All in all, they sent off three trucks with each truck loaded with 45 or so of us. The truck we were on had no tarpaulin above our head unlike the first two. So the sun beat down on us.  And the trees and branches of the jungle.

69704788_2619281814763015_1788364999836565504_nThe jungle had deep pools of slippery mud, jagged rocks and boulders. It had ravines which make you scream as you realize there are only tree branches  and no cemented nor heavy metal barriers anywhere. You can just imagine how rough this jungle ride is. You can’t? Check these out.

69154418_543580143047281_2347816427517378560_n69600750_429979677871185_7074184961875509248_nYou can’t take a selfie cos you need to hold on tight depending on where you’re seated. My back and arms were colliding with the wood and metal slim backrest but I dared not let go of it , or nod off. We had to move away from possible allergens and whacks from plants whipping our backs and heads.

Mud slicks and jutting stones could break the 6 x 6 truck, what more the bones of the passengers? Sometimes, we were welded downwards or upwards with our co-passengers. Several times, I had to speak to the person seated across me to ease off on stepping on my feet.

After two hours on the moon, or the rocky mountain, we saw the two trucks and parked alongside these. There was a 30-40 minute trek from there. At the end of the trek is a clearing with wooden tables for eating your meals and there’s a comfort room area (very basic).

69349749_712423525889991_7887227115731419136_nBeyond this area you can’t eat or bring drinks and food because it is annexed to the special destination which Abramazing has opened to tourists who aren’t faint of heart. If you are willing and open-minded to the idea of splashing in a rare terrace-formation falls, you are rewarded with an encounter with Kaparkan Falls.

 

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Considering there was a very recent typhoon, the water was not muddy at all. The surroundings were pristine. It was an eternally-cascading bath which momentarily took away the exhaustion. After the exploration, I changed into dry clothes in preparation for the upward trek and another “interesting” ride into the jungle.

Heading back was a rainy affair, during which I could not take coffee out of my head. Then we passed one of the trucks that they said had bogged down, its radiator taken down and the passengers mulling the possibility of waiting for hours for the substi truck.

We went ahead and we saw the mountainside clear of overgrown trees. There were short grass amongst black rocks on the right and the steep ravines on the left. But seeing lesser jungle trees meant we were near the paved road again.

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70136131_2435183889894315_325580073182691328_nReaching the paved road, I struggled to keep awake and had to succumb to sleep. It was the most uncomfortable seat to nap on for sure, but I just had to pull my hoodie low on my face and voila, I dozed off. I woke up when we were back in the town center. I couldn’t wait to wash off the mud and drink a cuppa.

My cousin invited us to have some birthday grub, spaghetti and fried spring rolls at their home. Who was I to decline? That evening, it rained hard. The rain poured overnight as I waited for my adrenaline to peter out. Something in me demanded to know why I had to do the tour.

Who was I to decline? We live life on the edge and sleep knowing what’s out there. The day before, I really had no idea what that journey was like. The day after, I had a bruise on my arm, but today, it’s hardly there. What stays on is the knowledge that I went on this adventure and got the chance to write this blog for you about what you can do during the monsoon season in the Philippines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hill tribe Baguio

Uplands, even in the peak of summer I needed to crawl under a quilt at night (the average temperature, 18 degrees Celsius). Summer capital of the Philippines, it’s always been called. But this university town is home to over 200 thousand students and a thousand more tourists, so yeah navigating the Baguio traffic, compounded by the hilly terrain and narrow streets can be tricky. But when you’re already wilting in the summer heat (averaging 38 degrees Celsius), I always think of riding a 5 hour bus to Baguio. Which I did for Easter weekend this year. Best summer decision ever. The pine trees are awesome.

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Ooops, wrong photo.

First photos of Baguio this year, below.

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P_20190419_163706Arriving in Baguio, you instantly feel that you could breathe, which is difficult in the lowlands when it’s so humid, dusty and dry.  I was surprised that away from the most visited place in Baguio, which is Burnham Park, the traffic wasn’t bad. The traffic marshals were doing an exemplary job. Waze app helped, too.

P_20190420_101728What to see? Well, if you check out Lonely Planet, Mines View Park is listed as a must-see. But if you must, do it at the earliest time you can, say 6:30? We went around 9:30 am and the lines of cars waiting to find their way into Mines View were slow. And then, when we got to the actual spot overlooking mountains and pine trees, I couldn’t see much, there were way too many photo bombers.  On the way there, cringe at the maltreatment of ponies and some dogs forced to pose with the tourists for a fee. Hey, just telling it the way we witnessed it folks.

P_20190420_102957However, the yummy climate encourages flora and sprouts. I couldn’t haul that much sprouts nor proper plants, so I just bought seeds. They sell a complete array of the herbs and the floral seeds in Mines View. A packet costs 1 US$ minimum. I could vouch for the germination success of Baguio seeds, cos I immediately planted the spinach seeds and as of this writing, they’ve sprouted to a height of over an inch.

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I mentioned Burnham Park earlier, here it is at 6 am, which is the time I chose to photograph it because the only people there are those who do morning cardio (zumba, jog) and the boatsmen prepping their little boats on the man-made lake. Tourists descend to Burnham Park in the hundreds around 9am. It’s a default picnic site. It’s also on the way to the Baguio Public Market.

P_20190421_071338P_20190421_062417P_20190421_062813P_20190421_062528The Baguio Public Market sells cheaper (than lowland prices), higher quality vegetables, fruits, fruit jams, fresh berries and pastries and if you want to be able to buy in peace, hit the market at 6-7 am.  I took my sweet time, talking to the sellers in the local tongue (here it’s Ilocano, and I never miss opportunities to sharpen my Ilocano . But most Ilocanos speak fluent English and Tagalog too)  while buying strawberries and vegetables, everything sold here is grown in nearby upland farms, and the price difference for goods bought here, versus goods bought in the grocery is evident. The Baguio Public Market also has a nook selling local weaves made into blankets, table runners, coasters and home decorations. Like I said, if you trek to the market early, you save up on cost, as well as time, since you don’t run into tourist foot traffic. Traveler tip: If you’re the first to buy from a seller, like I was, it’s customary for some sellers to give you a bit of extra. I got a bit more french beans and broccoli for being that sweet lady’s first customer. Yey!

There’s an equally popular market also near Burnham Park which is the Night Market (opens at 9pm, closes at 2-4 am) selling clothes, bags and all sorts of food).

P_20190419_221641There are so many good food choices in Baguio. So much food, so little time. I recommend trying the street food. Normally warm taho (made of soy with sugar syrup and tapioca balls) is just beige and brown, but in Baguio, they’ve revolutionized this simple breakfast street food by introducing strawberry taho. This year, they have it in ube (purple yam), gasp!

There’s a restaurant called Rose Bowl that’s been around since 1945. So we went, and it’s not my first time to eat in this home-grown Chinese old-timer. I still like their crispy fried chicken.

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And here I thought Cholo’s Gastro Park was a recent thing in Baguio. It’s like those al fresco eateries with many choices where your order is cooked inside re-purposed container vans. It turns out that in the 70s, Cholo’s was already serving grilled chow from container vans! It stopped after some time. And it’s now all the rage again. I loved the Shawarma Angus rice toppings there, it’s a flavorful take on the Turkish staple.

P_20190419_131426At the Good Shepherd property, my mom and sister bought tempting sweets and healthy herbal tea homemade by the Good Shepherd crew. The proceeds from the sweets have paid for many of its scholars’ college education. It has one of the best mountain views in Baguio City. And there’s a serene little garden– The statue is of the nun who founded Good Shepherd. In the parking area, there are tall rainbow trees. It does feel like the pot of gold lies in the shade of a rainbow tree, especially for the kids who get to finish college from the local sweets and health teas and pastries sold here.

P_20190420_113639P_20190420_113143P_20190420_113203P_20190420_112318P_20190420_112253The highlight for me of this journey was visiting the Bencab Museum, owned by Philippine National Artist Benedicto Cabrera. It was a golden opportunity for me to share this art experience with my family and treat them to lunch (my extended birthday celebration, which I officially spent in Boracay. Check out the previous blog).

P_20190420_124057Bencab lives here and has a massive art collection on display. His collection of bulols (Cordillera wooden figures of home and rice gods) and wooden carvings are representative of the hill tribe culture and arts.

IMG_20190420_183024_219P_20190420_124821P_20190420_124933P_20190420_142341P_20190420_142400I wanna go back and show you again this pair below, which are also bulols (they sometimes come in pairs), just more intricate in detail, because we’ve had a similar pair at our house since we were little. My father was born somewhere in this mountainous region in the Philippines and I also am able to speak the local language which is Ilocano. So this is also a part of who I am, my family’s roots too.

P_20190420_142341The Bencab museum occupies a massive hillside area, with the low-rise art gallery building in the front and its Sabel restaurant and the pond and garden behind.

P_20190420_143932P_20190420_143152Then further near the forest, it even has an eco-trail with traditional Igorot huts transplanted, a bridge to cross to the other side of the mountain, the strawberry field and the greenhouse. We just had time for the art exhibit and the restaurant.

Most of Bencab’s artworks are in the collections of various art patrons. Some of Bencab’s own art displayed at his museum:

P_20190420_141637P_20190420_124129He also exhibits other notable artists’ art. I’m posting a few here:

Araceli Dans

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Baguio artist Kawayan De Guia

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Julie Lluch Dalena

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His fellow National Artist Arturo Luz

P_20190420_140025Equally popular among the museum’s galleries is its cheeky Erotica gallery.

Those Erotica gallery artworks I think fit into the Easter weekend motif too. Closer inspection of the wooden bulols as well as the wooden carvings also depict human genitalia. Think about such fertility symbols associated with the goddess Eostre of the ancient spring festival of England.

 

 

 

 

 

Boracay after the re-opening

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I really ought to have written my requiem to Boracay blog last year (before the island was closed) after all. You see, there was a media blackout immediately after it was closed to tourists and upon my return to Boracay after a year, it was obvious to see that during the blackout, they let Chinese businesses sneakily set up shop on the island. When I was there middle of April this year, I saw many new shops run by and set up for Chinese only. Then on one fine day I saw throngs of Chinese from a docked giant cruise ship descend upon this little island called Boracay at magic hour and they obscured the sunset, obscured the opened up beach front walkway, and as I was seated at a favorite eatery, Smoke Resto, they descended upon it and a rude woman kept pointing out my food to the waitress (I’m like get your filthy finger away from my birthday noodles!). While watching the sunset, one of them suddenly ran into the sea, then when he was waist deep in it, removed his swim shorts and squirmed until he was finished with whatever business, and then walked out of the water shamelessly.  No Boracay police called him out for polluting. In short, they closed the island, “cleaned it up” only to allow the nastiest, messiest tourists to pee, poo and obscure the entire view. It’s just not right to call it New Boracay, because it’s not as pristine as I saw it the first time. No one was missing boxer PacMan’s hotel which has been demolished.This ain’t a rant blog written to burn Boracay, but it’s rather raw.

Good thing, I chose to stay at a spot away from all that crass.  Stayed in an area where the beachfront was significantly shorter but just as pretty and I never had to bear with overpopulation obscuring the sunsets there. Also, after a few tours on station 1 to 3, I decided to ditch them entirely and wear my earplugs to not be bothered by the noise pollution brought onto Boracay by these unpleasant tourists, they who didn’t even pay for island accommodations,  unlike me and the rest of the tourists. Theirs was a cruise drop-off. The island didn’t make much from so many people (them) overdressed for a humid afternoon at the beach, I mean why use umbrellas, why even go there and cover the sunset with too much beach inappropriate clothes, parkas and umbrellas? Why? Why? Why? I’m just pretending I don’t know, but this isn’t meant to be a political blog so moving on.

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If you arrive on Boracay before 9am, like I did this time, it’s relatively okay. The beach is already busy but with families and their kids under the watchful eyes of so many police out to enforce Boracay’s new rules and high fines. Supposedly. I expected fewer beachmongers at this time of the day as the adult tourists sleep in until lunch comes around. My first instinct was to sit on my handy dandy sarong on the white, sugary sand and read my book under the shade of a coconut tree. I instantly fell asleep. I don’t know for how long, but the shade had moved and I also stirred. Check in time at my hostel was at a searing hour–3 o’clock, so what to do? Seek the shade and the AC of McDonald’s. I’m only human.

I don’t want to do anything tiresome, so I go in search of the trusted food joints. And scout for a buffet for a special celebration (my birthday). I’m ecstatic to see that Jasper’s eatery, Bombom Bar (for happy hour and a positive rasta vibe), and Smoke Restaurant (it was closed last summer for renovation) survived the invasion (delete that, it should be closure).

Bombom Bar and I don’t need to bar-hop.

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Jasper’s has every comfort food you can think of, stews and soups, vegetables, fish, pork, beef, noodles, pizza, burgers and fries, and ice cream and won’t cost you much, fastfood tends to cost more than Jasper’s food (all under 3 US$)! They open very early for brekkie, the lunch crowds and dinner crowds are both busy but the turnover of diners is quick.

For the dinner buffet, Hennan Resort had a very decent buffet spread and the highlight was Angus beef.  It cost more than other Boracay buffet spreads, I’d say US$16, but the quality was high as well.

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Smoke Restaurant at D’ Mall area was open and I got a table, finally! Last year, I was sad that it was closed for renovation. It’s still a small hole in the wall, as you can see, the menu stuff is still awesome, and you pay (6-8 US$) for a really filling, tasteful grub as you ,yes, inhale the smoke, sit super close to other diners and eat beneath electric fans.

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Of course you must always be on a  search for other food on the beach and not limit yourself to comfort food zones. I found a quaint little eatery which served super affordable (all under 3 US$), unpretentious and filling food like pork sinigang and rice, burgers, fries and legit batchoy soup and a halo-halo stand for a fruit-filled snow ice cooler (under 1 US$) down by the bend of City Mall.

So to the backpacker, yes, you can say bon appetit on Boracay (touted as one of the most expensive islands of the Philippines) and not go bust. My accommodation came with free brekkie of fruit, toast and butter, eggs however you want it and coffee (or juice, tea). It is always the one thing I made sure to look for when booking my stay.

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No guilt eating and drinking for me. I got to burn whatever I ate leaving and returning to my bunk.

The highlight is always the sunset. In spite of everything, nature has a way of soothing my soul with such beautiful displays. I’m always at a loss for words to describe the event. See for yourself.

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The party noises seem to have truly been muted, because after it reopened, the partying has been relegated indoors (many of the open-air bars like Summer Place are now “enclosed”). And no more nighttime beach-side thumping sounds while watching fire dancers and slouching on chairs, tables and hookah sessions under the moonlight, I observed. I’ve read some tourists describe the new Boracay as boring.  Obviously referring to the absence of rowdy beach parties til mornin’ light and that environmental threat of an annual  event called La Boracay (gone, hopefully forever). The dinners on the beach are gone, it carries a huge fine for establishments that dare set up tables outside the limits of the walking path on Station 1-3. It’s more subdued, yes, but still noisy because all the tourists are out at night after all. Well, they have no choice but troop back to their rooms earlier this time, since the partying ends pretty much after midnight, with very very few exceptions. For sure, this will be short-lived. The island, as I know it, pretty much serves the whims of tourists. So we’ll see how long the peaceful evenings will last.

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I spent my birthday without fuss on Boracay. On my terms (this was my birthday goal, which was always tough to achieve in the city). I just ate at the simple eatery by the bend, watched the day go by as I sat still, and sat comfortably waiting for the sunset while sipping beer at Mama’s Fish House.

I was able to push out the bits and parts that drained me day in and day out and allow a new Onnah year to come in, which was very important and my gift, my happy. Still, even with unpleasant side shows, it was a well-spent 5-day retreat on what used to be the world’s best beach. I guess, thank you Boracay for this time. Having seen Camiguin island in Mindanao a mere week prior to this trip, I reckon many of the Philippines’ islands now have a fighting chance at stealing the title from you.

It’s  time for Boracay to share the limelight with other beach destinations.

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Oh, and my birthday trails didn’t end on Boracay.  My next travel blog, when I finish it, will be 15 degrees Celsius cooler, in terms of temperature, than Boracay. As a bit of trivia my late March to April trails looked like this: I was in Mindanao (where Camiguin is located), then I was in Visayas (where Boracay is) and then Baguio completed my south to north Philippines tour of the major islands or my LuzViMinda trip in a month. It’s always good to be reminded that you can travel the Philippines and never get enough, the learning about my heritage is always ongoing. The bad may be inevitable, but you always aim to be better at traveling. Which is my wish for yours as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

C’mon to Camiguin Pt3

So, it’s normal to get traveler’s fatigue right? You squeeze in a lot of things in a day during the journey to your destination in Mindanao and the things to do when you get there. Well, my arm was aching when I woke up (possibly from snorkeling) and made myself a cup of coffee and packed up the fluffy cheese puto (3 pcs), along with the rest of the contents of my dry bag to take with us. We had a precious island to get to! We could actually see White Island from our room’s terrace and it was exciting to finally get there!

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It may not have trees to shade us from the sun, but we woke up early and since it was Monday, we expected to immediately get a motorella. Crickets. We got this idea to walk some 2 km. to the bend leading to the wharf. Which we did as the sun was rising. Felt safe to do it. I mean the presence of dogs on the road in the morning was manageable compared to a pack of dogs at night, huge difference. As we were walking (got a good 15 min. workout done), an empty motorella picked us up on the highway and in a few minutes delivered us to the White Island wharf for environmental fees and boat rental which Sarah took charge of doing. I found a little hut that sold food and bought us some breakfast-hard boiled eggs and more water. The motor boats were made for just 4 people and the driver of the boat. And since it was very early, the waves were very choppy and we got splashed with very cold water. Wokt! The clouds were cumulus and we felt that maybe even without trees on White Island, we could manage.

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But, as our boat parked, the crescent White Island was lit by sunrise amidst Camiguin island’s shadowy outline across the sea.

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Our boatman immediately offered a huge beach umbrella to rent! And they dug it into the sand as it was very windy on White Island.

In a matter of minutes, it would fill up with tourists, so I actually hiked from one end to another to get my photos of this beguiling little thing.

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When I returned to our beach umbrella, Sarah was enticed by the sea urchin man to buy fresh sea urchins. He opened one up and handed her a white plastic spoon to scoop the contents from the urchin he’s cracked open. Then we had our eggs, such a simple breakfast item that tasted more delicious as we sat on the soft white sand. The place was now full of tourists and children were playing in the shallow cove in the center of the island. Then some of the kids were jumping out of the water and pointing to their folks about something long and rather transparent in the water. I ran to look. Since it’s transparent and seemed to be creeping in the water, it’s like this:

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I Googled it back at the inn and it’s called a sea cucumber or a polyplectana. I’ve never ever seen one, so I guess this is my Blue Planet nature moment of the day. I was researching it while a nature program about scorpions was airing on cable in our room.

So much for emptying one’s mind to recharge and everything.  It was many minutes of zen on White Island, digging into the softness of white sand, observing the sun, the sea, the island where we came from that early morning, the freshness of sea urchins, the lightness of sunlight lifting the heaviness of the dark clouds. The emptiness getting filled, the discoveries-a polyplectana just nearby you could be swimming beside it, your dry bag not being waterproof enough to protect your devices (thankfully, my mobile phone and powerbank are still working) from a huge splash at sea, it’s not always hard to jog barefoot on the sand so go for it, hard boiled eggs are more delicious when there’s a magical ambience. And two hours on this little island feels like a lifetime… how quantum physics is that?

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Ok, we got back on our teeny boat at 9am. We rode a motorella and were quite sure where we’d have a proper breakfast. But the three places we passed they were all closed. On a Monday. So we headed to the inn, washed up and decided to head back into Mambajao to eat. There we found small eateries where the locals ate and the food was clean and delicious.

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I had a plate of squid and rice. Then we decided to shop for our return to Manila. Shop local. I got boxes of Pastel at the main bakeshop (these are also sold at Samuel’s, see C’mon to Camiguin Pt1), a pack of coco sugar from Bee Hive cafe (see C’mon Camiguin Pt1) and packs of Squid chips at the wharf of Mantigue Island (see C’mon Camiguin Pt2) to share with my family when I reach home. Coco sugar is akin to stevia, it’s an organic sweetener.  Aside from these original Pastel I was looking for cheese Pastel or the other dozen variants, but there were none (what’s with Mondays on Camiguin? Restos were closed, motorellas weren’t available early in the day, Pastel sold us only one variant? Are these all merely coincidences? I’m curious).

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We needed a place to chill, and found a very quaint one on a cliff. Walking into Casa Roca Inn was like entering a secret garden and then sipping warm coffee and eating blueberry cheesecake overlooking the sea. Camiguin, a small island has seven volcanoes and its pyroclastic-enriched soil yields plants on steroids.

However, the mobile phone signal we were trying to catch wasn’t in that secret garden. We found it after we left the place, as we were walking down the road leading back to our inn (no signal either at our inn).  By the roadside, we were able to reserve seats for 5am on a commuter van (RRG Van) that unlike the 9-vehicle ride to Camiguin, should cut it down to half returning to Manila and it’s a relief. We returned to the inn and viewed another awesome sunset before we called it a night.

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And enjoyed a sumptuous Checkpoint dinner (garlic chicken, chopsuey, pork sisig) courtesy of Sarah as we recalled all our adventures over the last few blissful days (of no cell signal in Barangay Naasag which truly contributed to the bliss and to last day arrangement panic). I love our Team Dimples!

Well, what do you know,  sun was always out during our adventure in Camiguin days and on the night before we leave, there’s a downpour, which causes 2 quick blackouts and so we woke up to a wet, chilly dawn, waited for our van to pick us (and all the rest of its passengers) up and deposit us to Benoni Pier where we got off while the driver parked the van into the ferry.

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We sailed off at a little past 6am. While the ferry was on its way to Balingoan Port, we had front row seats to a school of dolphins swimming alongside the ferry! The trip just kept getting better and getting filled with adventures. My first time seeing dolphins in the wild.  I was grateful to be reassured of some 2 hours this time till boarding (well just as my flight to Cagayan de Oro Laguindingan airport was late, my flight back to Manila was also delayed) and fewer stops and transfers. We all got off the van at the Gaisano Mall parking lot where a commuter van took us to Laguindingan Airport . I got to the airport just in time for lunchtime. And I needed to relax more, because I knew after we land in Manila, we’d have to hit the ground running. I arrived at NAIA Terminal 3 at 5:30 and it was already rush hour by then. So I was on the road for another 3 hours. If you ask me would I return to Camiguin? I might come again, forgive the pun. We have 7 plus thousand islands so that’s a huge list I can think of. And so many hues of blues surrounding our islands (which also accounts for why transfers are inevitable when going to many destinations here).  This is the last part of my C’mon to Camiguin blog. And I’ll end it with two words.

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^ – ^

 

 

C’mon to Camiguin Pt2

Woke up at  5am (my companions). I woke up at 2am making wheezing sounds, which could’ve been triggered by either the grillery at dinnertime or the neighbors’ burning dried leaves and the smoke permeating the terrace of our inn. Just telling it as it happened. Well, I fixed my breathing by drinking warm coffee and so I packed my inhaler with the rest of the stuff in my dry bag before we all headed out of the inn to wait for a motorella.  It took us to the Mambajao Terminal where we road a jeepney headed for the wharf leading to Mantigue island.

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The boat took us to the island in less than an hour. The agreement was we’d get back to the boat at 1pm.  Mantigue has mangrove cover, dressing rooms, comfort rooms, picnic spots in the shade. You could pay for an island lunch, or bring your own picnic, we just had water, boiled sweet potatoes, chips with us. And we all brought our own goggles. I was super sleepy, wanted to just swim in the shallows, explore the island, get my mandatory pictures, and watch over all our valuables while sitting in the shade. My breathing at this point was still shallow and my breathing issues at dawn made me feel less energetic. I was buoyed up by inhaling fresh sea breeze already. We swam in the shallows and saw a fat brown starfish. You could see the bottom as the water was so clear.

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Good there were no jellyfish in sight, only the salty water stung my eyes. The sea turned many hues of dazzling blue before our eyes, as the white sand reflected the light onto our skin (making us twice sunkissed). I found myself then negotiating with my companions about snorkeling. I simply said, I don’t think so because my breathing is still shallow. But I couldn’t quite issue forth a rebuttal to Phoenix’s wisdom: “Swimming is good for your asthma.” I decided not to be shallow and take the plunge, my first time in Camiguin so might as well. So we found ourselves fixing our belongings for storage. And renting snorkeling life vests and putting them on, and following our snorkeling tour guide/fisherman who wore wooden foot paddles instead of fins on his feet and strung our flipflops and aqua shoes to the rope with the buoy at the end of the rope onto which we began to cling onto as he pulled us far from the shallows. At the beach he told us to wear our goggles and duck into the water whenever he said so. He had a mental map of where the fan corals, the chunky corals, urchins and the giant clams were to be seen and we even saw blue starfish, clownfish act all territorial about their perches, and the giant clams open and close. I could hold my breath long enough to see what he told us we’d be seeing. But I realized all of us had to help him move forward in the water and expended more energy by moving my feet as well. Our tour guide was pretty engaging! Plus, he’d tell us to watch out and not get our feet tangled by the rope of moored boats nearby. He told us he’s seen giant turtles in the area, but it’s the nature of pawikans to be shy when tourists are in the water, they dive into the deep. Good to know, right?

It was over after 30 minutes, but we all agreed it felt longer. I think it was immensely amazing to discover Camiguin’s clean and robust marine scenery. The healthy mangrove plants were all over the island. Great work done by the locals.

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We got our packs back and realized the cooler brought by a peddler that rode with us on the boat held delicious flavors of these P15-peso ice lollies made with fresh cow’s milk. I had the durian flavor and it was so creamy and cold. At 1pm, we were aboard the boat on our way to lunch. We rode a motorella to Mambajao Terminal and then another motorella to a restaurant. We sat for lunch at La Luna Restaurant and ate our lunch al fresco. Mine was carbonara pasta (huge serving).

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The rest of the afternoon was a chillax one. Well, after washing ourselves and our clothes, we just watched TV, I read my book seated on the bamboo sofa on the terrace facing the sea.

As a fitting ending to another adventure-filled day on Camiguin, we waited for the sunset.

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The beauty of nature is just incredibly breathtaking. And Camiguin, on day 2 of our adventure there, made the length of the trip getting there worth it! It exceeded all of my expectations and made me ever so grateful for the opportunity to experience it. Unforgettable.

But I’m not done sharing the adventures there yet. Catch our next day’s adventure on Part 3 of C’mon to Camiguin.

^ – ^

 

 

 

 

C’mon to Camiguin Pt1

First time ever in Camiguin. So, for the win, I was so glad to be invited by my favorite co-Team Dimples squad, mom and son friends for life Sarah and Phoenix. Last year, we did an awesome pre-island-closure trip to Boracay. Around Christmas, they were booked for Camiguin, which we would be accessing via Cagayan de Oro’s Laguindingan Airport. Which means yes, of course I booked my flight which would arrive some  hours after theirs. Traveler tip:When you’ve never been, and your friend has been there, you instantly get a tour guide (just kidding, Sarah).

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Here’s the real talk about the deal, step 1-the trip takes more than 9 hours from Manila starting at the airport. Traveler tip: Take the dawn flights to Camiguin to make it to the last ferry trip (4 pm) going to Camiguin island. My flight got delayed an hour. At 2:10 pm the vans waiting outside the Laguindingan airport (see map the red line starts at the airport on the lower left side) do not go directly to Camiguin. Step 2- Outside the arrival lounge, ride the white vans going into Cagayan de Oro City. Sans traffic, it’s an hour, mine during Friday afternoon took 2. Then you go to Step3: If you make it into town before the 1pm (last trip out of CDO) head to the carpark of Gaisano to ride the RRG Vans which are better than the AC buses at Agora market’s Bus depot (the bus waits to fill up meaning longer wait, and the bus drops off and allows people to get on along the route) because the same van rides the ferry where you also get on and takes you all the way into Mambajao or near your hotel on Camiguin Island. I rode a bus bound for Butuan (you could ride Balingoan-bound ones as well) at Agora after the airport van dropped me off right at the depot’s gate, waited for a bit till it left the depot and  was certain I’d miss the last ferry trip to Camiguin already. Sarah and son were at the port at 2:30, but she messaged that they wont be allowed to get aboard til an hour later. I said I’ll probably tweak my IT, eat dinner on the bus, get a bed near the port and catch the earliest ferry out at 4:15am. Always buy food for your next meal before getting onto the bus.

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I watched the sunset all across the long coastline by the highway. The bus rolled into the Balingoan bus depot at 7:30pm. I crossed the highway, turned left on the road to the port which was closed til 3am (you had to buy the ferry tickets at the ferry kiosk found in the bus depot). A man approached to ask if I was a ferry passenger looking for a bed for the night because his aunt runs a transient dormitory right outside the port. I asked how much for a fan room and he said P250. My body was super tired from the 11-hour trip I wanted to sleep early to have energy for the early ferry trip. I charged my power bank and got some sleep.

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Step 4- Woke up at around 2:50 am to fix myself up a bit and then back to the bus depot to line up for ferry tickets. The surroundings were dark but the starfield was amazing. We promptly left for Camiguin Island at 4:15am.

 

Step 5-Arrived as the sun was coming up and before I knew it, I was again waiting for the vehicle to fill up, this time a jeepney. The jeepney dropped me off at the Mambajao Terminal in the center of town. Step 6-Either you ride an orange motorella (like a tuktuk that seats 7 max) into barangay Naasag where our inn, C-Side was, or ride in tandem on a motorbike with a habal habal driver which costs more than sharing the motorella with passengers. I wanted to keep moving, so I rode the habal habal after a few minutes waiting for an orange motorella. When we hit Barangay Naasag, where our inn was, there was no mobile signal. I had to find a way to the inn because it wan’t that well known, as it turned out. While riding at the back of the motorbike, I looked into facebook and found it was on Barangay Naasag.

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I checked into our room, it was so homey, at around 7:20am. Check out our view of the ocean! We all got ready for breakfast because my habal habal driver it turns out can drive us for 8 hours around the island and we all agreed to his price and he left to get his pick up truck with AC. He’d pick us up at where we had breakfast, Samuel’s. Perfect spot, since on Samuel’s wall, there was a Camiguin map that more or less helped us with the logistics of the land. Mt.Hibok Hibok is the island’s active volcano.

P_20190330_082606That volcano is the reason for the hot spring which I’ll show you later on.

Needed to fill our tummies. Mine’s the sausage, egg, rice and a cuppa hot Milo.

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This day tour is for 8 hours and we’ve got lotsa ground to cover:

I’d call this place a pilgrim’s walkway/starway through the stations of the cross. The plants here and the trees exhibit the rich soil fed by pyroclastic flow from the volcanoes. It’s a great place to get exercise as well as indulge in forest bathing.

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Then we drove over to a seaside place overlooking the Sunken Cemetery. The huge white Cross marked the spot. You could also ride this boat across to stand on the cross.

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In Barangay Bonbon, we walked around a huge place beside the ocean where an old churches’ ruins reminded me for a fleeting moment of the Angkor temples in Cambodia. Both look ancient. It also transported one to what looked like a set for Game of Thrones. But seriously, the only things that remain of a grand church, its convent and bell tower are its walls. The snack shack outside the place sells this crispy round health snack made from sweet potato and doused with chocolate syrup called kiping.  I liked the kiping by itself better, to tell you honestly.

Since we saw the kiping and had begun snacking, might as well head off to Bee Hive Cafe for coffee right? Aside from coffee, which we shared outdoors by the sea (best seat in the house), we bought coco sugar here to bring home. They sell turmeric as well. And they have a few exotic flavors of ice cream (we sampled three and my taste buds liked the guyabano variant) and food.

On the Camiguin map, there’re mountains named Tres Marias, here they are!

P_20190330_112613The road leads to Tuasan Falls. It’s a pretty easy falls to locate. From the parking area, you just paid the environmental fee then about 5 minutes walk, you could already see the basin where the water falls. It’s like a fairy’s domain. Cool shade of trees and sunlight filtering through rocks and leaves.

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We drove to the highest point nearby, where the Department of Science and Technology has a Mt. Hibok Hibok Volcano Observatory operated by the PHIVOLCS. Check out the view of Camiguin from there! So serene.

Then we drove and stopped on the highway to appreciate the active Mt. Hibok Hibok itself, the youngest volcano and the only active one on Camiguin island. This baby last erupted in 1951. On its slopes grow the famed sweet lanzones fruits of Camiguin which may be sampled in September. The string of seven volcanoes on Camiguin are a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

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Then we arrived at Katibawasan Falls. We paid for the environmental fee and walked down cemented flights of stairs down to the lip of a pool fed with freezing water by the falls. It’s super cold, but perfect to take a dip in at noontime. You will be closely watched by a ranger guard from the top.

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I mentioned we arrived at Katibawasan Falls at noon time, so our lunch was delayed by a few hours as we soaked in the cold water and ate a light snack of corn on the cob and chips. We parked at La Dolce Vita for authentic pasta and pizza late lunch.

Then we went to the hot spring whose waters were heated directly by Mt.Hibok Hibok. The Ardent Hot Springs are also the jump off point of hikers going to the summit of Mt. Hibok Hibok. There are picnic tables all around the springs and the springs vary in temperature. We dipped first into the mildly hot pool and then transferred to the one below- it was the warmest and children were there hahaha. We joked among ourselves that they might have done something to heat that pool up several notches more! Sorry, don’t mind that last bit.

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P_20190330_151625That was it for the day tour. The hot springs were very near our inn.  Needed to relax. Sarah and I finished a cold San Miguel Pilsen Grande bottle purchased for us by the kind inn caretaker. The room didn’t have a fridge, but the store beside the inn had cold beverages.

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We hired a motorella to go to nearby Checkpoint Resto. I had dinner of rice and blue marlin there which I enjoyed very much cos it was really healthy, delicious and cheap. The grills below blew heavy smoke upwards onto the second floor where we were seated though.

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Catch our next day’s adventure on Part 2 of C’mon to Camiguin.

^ – ^

 

Iloilo’s old meets the new

 

 

The Heritage area of Iloilo is spread throughout the area with a concentration of turn-of-the-century architecture in downtown Iloilo City, the site of the annual Dinagyang Festival. I took a mini-heritage walk (though you can bike there too, they guarantee it’s safe) into downtown Iloilo to return to Roberto’s for its famous siopao. It’s also got rice and noodle meals galore aside from siopao, and their pork meatballs are perfect with plain rice and are my fave. Roberto’s food cannot be called Ilonggo delicacy per se (as opposed to batchoy), but quaint eateries which have become a landmark such as Roberto’s truly satisfy the stomach for less.

P_20180901_090858There are many batchoy places to choose from anyway like Ted’s All Timer, Deco’s,  and Casa Ilongga. But for an authentic encounter with the batchoy noodle dish, head to La Paz Market (if you’re looking for coffee also head over to La Paz Market for the cozy Madge Cafe.) Ted’s, Deco’s, Casa Ilongga, those places also serve another Ilonggo delicacy called molo soup.

 

And pastry shops such as Biscocho Haus and JD’s bakeshop are where people stuff themselves with carb-laden delights like biscocho (which is basically like garlic toast), mango bars (made with Guimaras mangoes) piaya (like a massive flat sweet cookie) and butterscotch squares. I highly encourage the fresh seafood, go to Breakthrough or Samurai Talabahan for the steamed oysters and fish. Also get some lechon!

That’s the old quarters segment of my travel blog. This time on my nth visit to Iloilo, I want to note how the city has levelled up with the times. First off, the Iloilo airport is already an International airport. And the supporting amenities of its convention centers and upscale hotels cater to global and local tourists.

P_20180901_165945The Riverwalk is always being improved and this time I am pleased to see that both sides of the clean river have landscaped and newly-cobblestoned walk lanes on both sides of the river. Pretty at nighttime.

 

The Megaworld district is a surprising development, because apart from the new humongous Festive Mall (touted to be over a kilometer in length), it has opened its Casa Emperador Bldg to art buffs.

 

Inside Casa Emperador are three floors dedicated to art, curating works of many Filipino artists and then I was surprised to see originals of Joan Miro, Chagall and Pablo Picasso! Paintings and sculptures delight the eyes on every wall and alley. However, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Iloilo now has its Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Arts or ILOMOCA at Casa Emperador. The annual Dinagyang Festival is a centerpiece of arts in the region after all.

 

To the uninitiated, Iloilo has more than 5 malls already and Festive Mall is the latest mall in its cap. To be honest, daytime tends to be humid outdoors. So malls have become the “Plaza” to the new generation. But it’d be a shame for a first time visitor not to take in as many of the natural sights of Iloilo. Because apart from the Iloilo River, there’s always a beach one can hie off to.

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