The Ruins of Talisay

SAM_0462   SAM_0465 SAM_0467   Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson built a mansion for his first Portuguese wife named Maria Braga, back in the 1900s in the middle of his sugarcane hacienda, only to be burned by the  American forces in fear that the Japanese would use it as their headquarters. What used to be an imposing beautiful mansion, characterized by Italian and Neo-Romanesque design built as a testament for love, is now but ruins – yet with its unique scintillating charm.

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It took several days and drums of oil to burn the mansion down. What is left of it are the floor, the columns and its facade – a total skeleton standing on wide green lawn in the heart of a huge farmland. The ruins of the two-storey mansion has its own story to tell, and being there leaves a feeling of its bitter-sweet past and the experience of an aristocratic status. Like a rose with thorns, the Ruins of Talisay is a monument of love and war, of passion and conflict, of comfort and suffering, of wealth and poverty, in the past and the present. It’s a monument of love like how Taj Mahal was built.

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Getting there:

There are regular flights from Manila to Talisay. From Bacolod, the way to Talisay Ruins is via Bata, which is near the North Bus Terminal. From the highway, you can take a multicab or a trike to get you to the another terminal. Then you take another tricycle that goes inside a subdivision to take you to the Ruins. Regular fare is 8.00 pesos from the highway, then 10-15 pesos going to the Ruins. Entrance fee is at 60 pesos for adults, students pay only 50 pesos.

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Backpacking Adventure: Gear up for the Fun!

I got so excited with Cebu Pacific Air’s “Juan for Fun – Backpacker Challenge“. In this sponsored competition 5 teams with three members each are to enjoy 5 days of fun and adventure in six destinations in the Philippines, with a pocket money of 30,000 pesos, and loaned point and shoot camera and video. Sadly, I can’t qualify due to my age, though I could qualify as I am an enrolled postgraduate student.

Nevertheless, I am excited for those who are going to get in the competition, and I’d follow the online threads and updates of their adventure. I’m a newbie on backpacking adventure, but so far, I’ve dotted places in Luzon and Visayas in my short leave from work. It is fun, specially if you are with people who share the same spirit of adventure and excitement to explore a place you’ve never been.

Planning your Adventure

Every place is beautiful if you have the eyes to appreciate beauty in nature, culture, people, language, food, architecture, language and the challenge of getting lost and finding your way. For backpackers the challenge begins in the planning stage where the itinerary is set. Here, you ask where to go, but consider why you want to go there, and then mapping the route so you could maximize your time before you retire your tired body.

A little travel book, a map or the Internet should be able to help you in planning your trip. You must include three things in your plan: where to go, where to stay, where to eat. A jump off point is crucial, this is where you begin your adventure, and this must be accessible to public transportation, stores and lodging.

Another way to go ahead with your trip, if you get there by morning is to immediately go places. Instead of getting first to a jump off point, make that one the airport or pier where you begin your adventure. In this you need to have packed food and water ready in your bag. Your last destination then, should be a place nearer your next commute or transfer. This should be hotel or a lodge near the airport or bus terminal, where you have to get to your next destination.

Backpacking Basics

Every spot has a story as each has its unique attraction to offer. My personal reason for backpacking is to wander and wonder in places I’ve never been to, or in places I’ve seen in pictures but I’ve never set my feet on.

In each place, there are natural attractions, bodies of water like lakes, waterfalls and beaches, geological formations like caves, hills and mountains, and some flora and fauna. Most people are up for this adventure, but it is tediously tiring because it requires, hiking, trekking, long walks, climbing and even sliding. But it sure is fun.

Each place has history and that is the story of its people. Museums are must for visit and so are the architectural structures. To go from one place to another, it is more fun to try what ordinary people are taking, and go with them instead of hiring the vehicle. This is more budget friendly. Churches, town halls, capitols, plazas, bridges, old houses and monuments are real icons of a place’s historical and cultural wealth. They are memoirs of the past and symbols of the place’s future.

To find your way, you have to interact with the locals and ask them politely. There are a plenty of people who are willing to help strangers. But ask different people several times before you make your decision. Not everyone really knows their own place. In a new place, don’t make yourself really a stranger and instead be immersed to it like how the locals would. Try to learn a few phrases – the most important ones to get you by.

There are many ways to go to a place, but given a tight backpack budget, you need to find the fastest and most cost-efficient way to get to where you want to go. In every place I visited, I learned that there are tricksters everywhere. Getting off the plane, the boat or the bus, there are many people who will offer their best. But, their best are not really good enough for the tight backpacker’s budget. It is better that you stay calm, walk around, eat first and find your way to the nearest public commute terminal. There you will find the real price for your transportation need.

So if you want to try authentic cuisine and the special delicacies in that destination, you have to stay away from the malls. You can go to the public market, or eat at a small turo-turo or carinderia and lavish on the street food locals would have. This cuts your expenses more than half as compared to what you would spend in posh restaurants or fastfood in the malls. Actually, malling is not for backpackers, lest you really have a need.

Take pictures, take a lot of them and try to capture the things from various angles and not ignoring details. Take shots of the places where you’d go, how you were to able to go there, and the actions taking place over there. Your pictures will retell your stories and your experiences to the envy of everyone never been there. After the hype of your travel is gone,  when you look at those pictures again, memories of your adventure come to life which makes you more eager to go out again and take the trip.

Travel light and always be mindful of your belongings. Don’t trust anyone to keep your things and look after them for you. You don’t really need a new set of clothing for every day of your travel. You don’t need accessories nor jewelries when backpacking. Only the basic necessities and hygiene are to be met. Just mix and match your clothes or add a different accessory for your pictures.

Just make sure you have wetsuits, underwear, towel cum blanket, jacket in case it gets cold and rainy, and some basic light clothing. But all these depends on where you are going. Basic first aid kit and some medicines should also be in your backpack along with the wires and gadgets you basically need. Bring ziplock bags for your gadgets too. Should you feel like reading bring just one book fit to a small pocket, but I don’t think you’ll have time to read when you lie your body tired from an adventure pack day.

With a tight budget in hand, try to exchange your big bills to smaller bills. Separate your coins from paper bills. With smaller bills in hand, it will psyche you up that you don’t have enough money to splurge with, so you’ll be more conscious of spending what you have wisely. Paying with smaller bills will also psyche up the other person to trick or lure you.

Buy in the market area and not the nearby store, turn away from stores near resorts because they charge more. Make sure you place your money where it is safe, and never put them in your clothes’ pocket, so you don’t face the hassle of trying to find where you placed your money or when accounting them.

Enjoy your Backpacking Adventure

Solo backpacking is different from backpacking with someone else. With a group, you have to forgo some of your personal agenda, like a specific place you want to go, unless they agree with you. With just another person, you will have to attend to his or her needs to and always be considerate of his or her feelings. With your own, nobody cares of what you do or where you want to go, or how you’d like to go there, but no one else will take your picture but you.

The fun and adventure are different to when you travel alone or you travel with a group. For several times I went solo backpacking, all I had mostly were pictures of the place without me. Only those when I had guide had I several pictures of me and the place in the background. When in group, the joy is different too. You have someone to share your excitement, someone to cling on to when you slip, someone to call for help or help you when you’re in danger. With a group you have someone with you in any case.

If you want solitude, try solo backpacking. If you want more fun, bring your friends, your family or your special someone with you. But, do remember when you are with someone else, the adventure is not all yours and you are not alone. Every decision, every move, every action and everything you will do, you have others with you to consider. With a group, the goal is to have everybody enjoy the a variety of adventure, so better avoid any conflict with anyone.

I’ve done back packing alone, with others I don’t know, with friends, with colleagues, with my family — all ended fun and left us with good memories. I traveled for the fun of traveling to get to places, and enjoy life in there. That’s the most important thing with backpack traveling – enjoying life in its best, as is where is.

Dropping by Danao Lake in Camotes Islands

Danao lake in Cebu’s Camotes Islands has a story which Filipino married couples can learn from. The curse of a couple’s fight brought the heavens to turn them into islets turning each others faces away in two ends at the middle of the lake. Aside from this story, Danao lake is a serene natural beauty where you can spend some time in your visit to Cebu.

The small mountains, of San Francisco in Camotes Islands found off the northwest seas of Cebu, form the walls that hide the lake. In the middle of the lake are two islets which folklore refers to Isyong and Isyang. Our short stop to Danao like gave us time to rest in our short inland roadtrip in Camotes, before we head back to Cebu City.

Like the lakewater, the place was calm with only us and a couple visiting. I find it conducive for reading if alone or just simple romancing with a partner. Except for the two vendors, and the boat attendants, no one else were there in our visit during off-peak season. We were lucky that there was not much a crowd when we got there, that it gave us complete solitude.

Aside from taking pictures at the park, you can rent a boat for 500, for ten people and sail around the islets and the other side of the lake. The lake has a coral bed, and some areas in the lake’s bed are just white, that in the mid-afternoon sun, there are instances that the lake’s shallow areas appear green. The water is fresh and sweet and is an ideal place for a swim. There is also a park in the area where you can hold crocodiles by their mouth.

You won’t find a restaurant in the park. I guess, this is good so as not to spoil the lake’s water with the sewage. The best thing you can do in your outdoor escape to Danao lake is to have a picnic. Pack your lunch and snacks and just lay back. The wide lawned space is also ideal for some outdoor sports like volleyball or badminton. But above this, do not forget to try their fried cassava wrap with latik. Oh! It was really yummy.

The road is good for your convenient access to Danao, ask the locals for some direction. There are no means for public commute, though. So, if you are travelling without a private car, you can rent a motorcycle for a day near the resorts or hire a mutlicab. The price for a multicab day tour of San Francisco is P1,500, but you can haggle for P1,000, ask for a lower price, but there are just a handful of tricycles plying the island (only 2, according to Mang Lito).

Don’t expect so much adventure when your in Danao, that is not the place for it. It is a place to relax, enjoy the lakewater and the fresh air in its green sorroundings. We’ll you can maybe with volleyball, badminton or some snorkling gears. Serenity is that moment of calm, peace and solitude, you’ll find it there a plenty in Danao Lake in the island of San Francisco, Camotes Cebu.

Over the flood the Filipino Spirit Rises

Baha ka lang Pilipino ako” (You are just flood, I am a Filipino). Again, flood devastes Northern Luzon, but as with what the tagline shares, taken from a post in a popular online social network, I get to realize deeper constructs about the Filipino Spirit and what lies in our mindset. I can not generalize though, but these are but my impressions based from what we could read and see online.

Filipinos are a happy people.  We could make fun of even the worst things, just like this flood brought about by the inclement weather. No wonder, even if the water is up to the neck, we still pose and smile in front of a camera. This does not mean we don’t take things seriously, we are just not so affected emotionally because our positive outlook in life is that strong. If this situation is a problem, we would just laugh at it. There is popular belief in the Filipino that says “tawanan mo ang iyong problema“, so we don’t get terribly devastated emotianally and we rise with grace and smile over what life brings on.

Filipinos think bigger than the worst situation. The modifier “lang” suggests how we put things into their proper perspectives in relation to the nature of our spirit. It’s flooded all over Metro Manila and the threat over Luzon is still high, yet we are able to reduce both the threat and the devastation into a simple thing. Likewise, this reflects our individual construct of the self in relation to the objective world, thinking we are bigger than any worst situation. This mindset also reinforces our confidence which should also explain why we can laugh and smile amidst the worst situation in life.

Filipinos are heroes for their kapwa. In this situation, we find over the news and see in pictures posted online that there are those Filipinos standing by on the streets for nothing or wading in the waters even if the flood risks are high.To others, this is just being an “uzzisero”, but not so. This is the way we want to know the situation first hand and to check how we could help others in our neighborhood.  In the same way, we see there are volunteers all over, rescuing, packaging goods to be distributed and many others posting how to help and seeking help for others. The bayani in the individual collaborates with the community in the spirit of bayanihan. Because our concept of self or sarili is intertwined to our “kapwa”, we don’t stay idle in our own island, we reserve ourself to help others, even if that is to risk our own life.

Filipinos find courage in faith.”Pilipino ako” This is a definitive statement of both the individual and national character. Adjunct to how we see our situation, we take pride in our character with confidence, believing that we can not be defeated. Our faith in the self or what we can do in our own is often carried out with a risky behavior and saying “bahala na”. This is not all about our attitude towards risk, it is about our self confidence coming from deeply rooted faith in God. Online, calls for prayer, and special prayers are being posted. It is also obvious that the intent is not just for the individual but for national interest. This describes how we cling to our religious faith in times of worst situation, and how that faith transcends to the self and with our fellow countrymen.

Filipinos are resilent people. Ingrained in the Filipino character is that resilent attitude. It is easier for us to take the situation lightly and to rise above the storm, because we know that this kind of situation will come to pass, that there are people we can count on as we go through the storm, that we know we can as we are adaptive and flexible, and that we believe the heavens hear us when we come together in prayer. Our positive mindset, our light-heartedness and the comfort we get from having strong family bonds and social ties, all make up as resilient people. The flood is just a flood and historically, of all the storms we have passed through, we know we can get this one through also.

At the moment, the media is comparing the situation with that of Ondoy to at least keep the citizenry more mindful and the government to remain more responsive. The memories of Ondoy’s devastation is still clear, but in our hearts and minds as Filipino is that belief that we made it through Ondoy and every disaster in our history, so we will surely rise from this again. See this disaster will not wash away the Filipino spirit, instead it will bring it on like a storm.

There too are the negative traits of of the Filipino emerging in situations like this, but I just find them like the trash that we’ve thrown on the streets, now coming back to us with the flood which I want to get rid off responsively.

Timubo Cave: Camotes’ Gem Underground

Several caves in San Francisco await tourists to visit. The one we visited was an underground cave called Timubo. Thinking of caves, most people would imagine the foot of a mountain with wide crevices that open like huge mouths. I was actually thinking that way when we were driving to Timubo from Lake Danao.

Instead, we stopped in the middle of rocky farmland where the hills are like half a kilometer away. I thought we would be walking through the dry farmland, and head to the foot of the hills. But, we were just right there. There’s a small hole just beside the registration table, and steep stairs go down up to 70 meters.

The attendant switched the power on to light the cave. We did not have any guide, as there is just one entrance and exit and the stairs going down are well-paved and stable, with railings that one can hold to since, the the stairs could be slippery as always wet. From being exposed to the light above ground, our eyes needed to adjust, and we could not see anything except rocks.

My sister was a bit afraid, as she was ahead of me. So we waited for the other group to go ahead of us. We went down, amused with the stalactites and stalagmites in the chambers of the cave. It was 70 meter descent, very short and devoid of adventure. The only thing you have to fight here is your fear for closed space and darkness.There’s no eerie bat noise to scare you further.

When we got to the bottom, there’s a crystal clear underground spring water. It’s fresh and cold. A small hole, fit for one person to pass through, serves as the doorway to the main chamber of Timubo cave. The hole is half sunk in water that is waist deep. I peeked through the hole and saw the chamber to be bigger. I could hear then the group ahead of us to be so amazed with what they so.

I pulled my shorts off, and dunk in the water and passed through the hole. Behold, my eyes were aghast to what nature has blessed Timubo cave. A lagoon of clear, fresh and cold water. The lagoon’s bed is of white limestone, that with the ample lighting inside, it paints a dull blue sky. That was blue lagoon to me. Boy, I wanted to try the waters and swim in the lagoon from wall to wall.

The cold spring water inside Timubo was reall inviting. It is vast from wall to wall, and the chambers go farther. The pool of water is large enough to take long swim strides. It appears deep in its calmness, in the middle it could be more than 10 feet. The water reflects the light that brightens the chambers even more.

I could not bathe though, as my sister was waiting for me outside, and that I was in my underwear. I was conscious that she might get scared being alone where I left here. Nevertheless, Timubo cave is one of Camotes’ a gem underground. On our way to San Francisco Baywalk, our driver dodged that if I liked Timubo, I should also see Bukilat Cave and then I could compare.

According to the folks in the area, Timubo was disovered in their search for a source of water. The ground above must have caved in and so they discovered that the cave is rich source of fresh water. If this is the keepers of the cave should advise tourists to preserve the pristine beauty of the cave and its waters.

I was asked by our driver, how much I liked Timubo. I could only reply with a big smile saying it was really awesome. He informed me that I would like Bukilat cave even more, which is also found in San Francisco. However, Bukilat cave has a lagoon with a little salty water coming from the sea, but the openning in its ceiling gives it a grander scenery to behold. Next time around, when I visit Camotes, this will be in my travel itinerary.

Dipping in an underground lagoon in Hinagdanan Cave

It is true, there’s a pungent smell inside Hinagdanan’s cave and this is what will greet you as you go down its paved stairs. From its entrance, you will go down a steep stair (10 feet or so) and find the cave grounds. In here and until the rails of the lagoon, the odour from bird’s feces is really strong. It only dissipates at the far corner where two opennings from the cave’s roof provide ventilation. So endure, for your own pleasure.

With a few steps down the steep stairs (10 feet or so) my sister and I found ourselves swallowed by the dark mouth of Hinagdanan Cave. This site is near Panglao Island Nature Resort and Spa which has another underground cave with lagoon within its property. It is a single-chambered cave, walled by coral limestones that are formed millions of years ago. Its roof is still dotted with stalactites, but since the flooring has been paved, the stalagmites are just on the sides, but they are rare and polluted.

The cave’s interior is mostly coral stone. The island arose from the sea and not a product of any volcanic eruption. The lagoon is the result of the water pressure from the sea getting through the soil. The centerpiece of this single-chambered cave is its lagoon, which holds filtered-water from the sea so the water is a little salty. The lagoon’s deepest part measures 16 feet to the bottom. Water level changes according to the tides. Coming from a ride under the sun that afternoon, I opted to take a short dip.

No ebbs or waves. Hinagdanan’s pool is calm, relaxing and refreshing. Dipping in its waters made me forget the odour in the cave, or I was just near the roof’s two opennings. That dip allowed me to come out fresh from the cave and so ready for our next stop in our island tour of Panglao. I could have swam for a longer time, but the darkness of the cave made me feel uncomfortable of where I was wading.

Hinagdanan, like any other cave is a natural beauty, an attraction that should be preserved for the next generations to come. But, what is beauty when your eyes could not gaze upon it in deep darkness? The birds which has found habitat in it is part of its attraction. Swimming in sync to their chirps is an experience you won’t find anywhere at all times. I have to admit, that Hinagdanan did not amaze me that much, and I have several things to say about it too. Or is this because my benchmark of a beautfiul cave is Sumaguing in Sagada?

Outside Hinagdanan are a number of souvenir shops. If you don’t have much time to spend in the Island or in Bohol, you need to take that chance to grab some goods for your pasalubong. The prices a little lower compared to the souvenir shops in Tagbilaran city or inside the private resorts, since there is strong competetion among vendors. Try your haggling skills to score for the least price. Just imagine, I bought the same Ukelele for P100 which was priced at 190 in Tagbilaran, and 250 in one resort.

Commentary: The lighting inside the cave is poor. It’s really dark in there , so you don’t get to see the lagoon immediately. The guide explained they can not make it any brighter to protect the stalactites and stalagmites because the rocks are continuously forming. From my experience of spelunking in Sagada, kerosene lamp are used which gives off better lighting effect inside a cave.

Lighting could be improved with the use of xenon-bulbs rather than the standard flourescent bulbs. Xenon produces the same effect of the tungsten-halogen light at lower temperature. This should make the cave a little brighter to reflect the crystal formations. But sadly, the cave is not well maintained. Men can help in cleaning it up by brushing the rock formations. I don’t think the birds’ droppings are helpful to make the rocks grow, it just gives off an odor that drives away visitors.

We paid 15 pesos for the entrance, and this amount is collected for the maintenance of the cave. As a natural attraction, it is expected that there could be birds and bats inside, but with fees being collected it is also expected that the place should be cleaned up of those birds’ mess. Let the birds remain there, that must be their sanctuary. There must be commitment though for the maintenance of the cave’s interior.

From one corner, I noticed that the water in the lagoon is not really that clean. There are smudge of oil floating. This would not be from the birds. It is from people. With poeple going inside and getting near the water, wearing their slippers, it is possible that they bring the dirt which pollutes the water.

There was nothing I heard from the guide about the cave, or its rock formation. He merely answered the questions I was interested to ask. He merely guided us through a path that anyone could take, and just took our pictures. When I climbed over the rocks, he could not even assist me, because he was just there near the lagoon. But, thanks for the shots anyway.

Strolling the Long White Sand Beach of Casapsapan

Further north of Aurora, Casapsapan lies hidden to the exploits of tourists and travellers in the town of Casiguran. The rough roads and underconstruction highway far outside Baler makes the way to Casiguran difficult and slow, but it keeps the beauty of Casapsapan beach unspoiled. I’d speak like I am anti-growth if I’d say, let it be this way to preserve this natural wonder from tourists’ wreckage.But its true, you’ll find a kilometer of highway paved, and another three kilometer rough, on your way up to the last town of Aurora which is Dilasag.

From a smooth drive along the coastal highway of Aurora, the bus climbs to the mountains and snakes between them, then go down in the middle of farmlands. Commuting to Casiguran is not easy, as there are few minibuses going there, and when they arrive in Baler from Catanduanes they are almost full. There are no airconditioned buses and the vans don’t have too. Casapsapan lies in the boundaries of Dilasag and Casiguran, while Dilasag serves as the wayfarers’ entry point to Palanan Isabela.

Excited, we squeezed ourselves in one of the minibus to Casiguran. I got a frontview of the road, as I sat on top of the bus engine. I got to sit on my slippers for some butt insulation. Really, that 5-hour trip cooked my balls, but I endured as I enjoyed what my eyes could behold on the road. Mountains, trees, skies, beaches, rice fields, coconut farms, and a lot of ravines.

It was still summer and it was humid, that morning trip would have really been infuriating to the impatient tourist. But, I knew I was a traveller, and I must endure like the locals do. We got to Casiguran at past two in the afternoon, and after some asking around, we took a tricycle to go to Casapsapan. The place is indeed isolated from the town, roughly 45 minutes to one-hour of drive over rough roads, fields, muds and thickly forested hills.

The only beach resort with rooms to stay, electricity at night, videoke, sari-sari store and place-your-order-earlier restuarant is Casapsapan Beach Resort, which was owned by the town’s mayor. The resort keeper was really accommodating, when he came he immediately talked to me as to what we need and informed me of the conditions in the resort.

Two nights in Casapsapan was worth it. There were only two groups of visitors when we came to the resort, the Mayor’s guest checked out that morning, so it was just us and the family from Leyte, whom we did not have much interaction with. From the resort, we had open access to all the Casiguran peninsula has to offer. More than five kilometers of white sand beach were there for us to stroll.

The resort has a vantage view of Casiguran Peninsula, mountains drape the south, while hills rumble to the north. They form like arms embracing the Pacific ocean. The western side of the resort is a thick forest, nearby just across a stream, is a fishing village in the outskirts of Dilasag. The water is calm at low tide and gets rough at high tide. From the beach, the sand stretches to the rocky side of the water.

A wide coral bed spans the beach front, from afar I imagine it to be a pearl sitting on half shell filled with clear blue water. For the beach bum, swimming and sitting there will be a great complement to a good read. For me and my friends, we could not just sit there as we explored Casapsapan to its edges. We trekked towards the river and sea meets. You have the option there to swim in the river’s deep and calm waters or nearer the beach where you could find yourself in whirlpool like being in washing machine.

We crossed the river and wandered the forested foot of the mountain. To our surprise there is an existing trail. We followed the trail and saw a handful of houses separated by patches of farmlands far from one another. We met this Austrian guy in his beautiful hacienda by the beach. We got to one side of the peninsula where mangroves grow naturally, and then stumbled into the rocky beach beside a cliff.

We wanted to see the waterfalls, the locals were so proud about. We were told of a shortcut through the forest, but that needed a local guide. Instead, we trekked the beach side. In between, I would dip in the water, in the stream, in the river and in the beach. Unfortunately, it was nearing dusk when we got to the rocky beach, and we had walked for two and half hours already. We decided to go back. The tide ebbed to a low and the powdery white sand of Casiguran sprawls up to where my eyes could lay upon.

Dinner was served to us, after a few hours. For the first time I feasted on adobong Octopus. It was a chewy jawbreaker one. We had the same for our pulutan as we drank the night away with Casapsapan’s Lambanog.  After two nights of stay, we left for Quirino province, trying the road going to Dilasag where we waited for the bus from 8:00 AM which left at 12:00 noon.

Casapsapan is a gorgeous place. Its waters bend in alluring curves, and meets the skies from an unendless bounds. Its isolation whispers solitude and its winds chimes like the charming chirps of birds flying its forests. Its food is the rich catch from the sea, as fresh as its breeze.

Boracay in Off Season

I’ve heard about it, and I saw it in pictures, from both locals and foreigners. I thought then that it could just be like any other beaches in the Philippines, closest to the beautiful white beaches and pristine blue waters of Panglao, Pagudpod, Casapsapan and Guimaras. But, Boracay is indeed incomparable and it truly deserves its proud title of being a world-famous beach.

Boracay was my first stop in my Panay-Negros Island itinerary. Thankfully, I got a flight from Clark to Kalibo for P1.00++. In this trip, I tagged along a highschool classmate with me, so someone else can take my picture. Perhaps, it was the flight and road drive that took away my collected images of Boracay, which were not from a personal enounter. I wasn’t that excited as I was also upset with the excessive terminal fees and fastcraft fare.

Sitting off the northern sea of Panay Island, Boracay has outdone the other sights and attractions of Aklan Province, attracting tourists, travellers or just plain beach bums as a summer and week-end getaway. The island,seen from Caticlan, seems to be like any other island, as its long white chalk beaches lie hidden from the jetty port.

After taking our late lunch in a turo-turo at jetty port, we took a tricycle which was supposed to drop us off at a street corner going to Bulabog. However, the unmindful driver took more than half a kilometer, so Wally and I needed to walk back to D’Mall. Both of us were strangers in the place, but it’s alright to get lost when you know you got a company with you. We just walked back and find our way around the place.

The splashing waves could be heard from the road where the wind blowing from the sea could also be felt. At the nearest alley, I grabbed my friend to head to the beach area. It was off-season, it is the rainy month July. School has past a month started and summer is over. Yet, the stretch of white beach was so vibrant that day.

It was teeming with life – there are a lot of people at all sides. I thought, people must just be scrambling to watch the sun set. Yet, later on I learned it is at low tides in the afternoon that Boracay beach becomes full of life. As to how far the beaches would stretch, along it are the numbering resorts, hotels, inns, stores and restaurants.

Sabang and Puerto Gallera flashed in my mind. But, Boracay is far better in terms of its beaches and its waters than those. I may have felt like it as a paradise, but it isn’t because of the structures built close to the beach front. Boracay is indeed breathtaking, that suffices for me as a description.

Like those kites flying and the sailboats swinging with the wind, I was blown away in awe. I was surprised with the volume of visitors it has at that time. I was amazed with how fine its sands were. I was extremely filled with its shouting pristine blue water. So far, from where I have been, Boracay is the best, I wondered though how it is like in the summer specially during the Holy Week.

We waited for the sun to set, and basked in its dimming lights before we headed to Boracay Kite Resort where we stayed for a night. A little rest, then were off to our feet to find some food. We did not splurge in expensive dining.

The barbecue at a nearby turo-turo was enough for the two us, and I liked, the ginataang tulingan the most for that night. The pure coconut milk drenched the fish meat and the siling labuyo simply gives the right kick of spice. That’s part of the travel adventure, and the truth is, you don’t get to taste the authentic cusine of a place in the restaurants. It is there served in the platter that the local folks would eat with.

Dining and lodging are not a problem in Boracay. The island has everthing that tourists would desire, from the low-end to the high-end. Life does not end at sunset, but begins from there. At night, you can stroll down the beach area where the restaurants and bars are. There, you can grab some good buys from the little mementos such as keychains, bracelets and necklaces, to shirts and other accessories. The price ranges depending on where you are buying. Food and beverages near the beach area are a little expensive than in the small stores at inner streets.

The night was still young when we finished our dinner. Then we went down the beach for a stroll and picture taking. When we were done walking from end of stations 1-2-3, we had our backs on our comfy bed. Lucky for us though, that the guard on duty that night extended service to call the resort’s manager to accept us, since we did not make any reservation and we got there at night.

We came for Boracay’s beaches, we did not have any plans as our budget was limited to splurge on kiteboarding, sailing, island hopping, snorkling, diving or jetskying. All these watersports are available for a price, and they are really pricey. So we headed to Yapak for its famous Puka Beach.

Unlike the white chalk sand of stations 1-2-3, Puka beach boasts of white coarse sand from corals and crushed puka shells. Fewer people go here. The water is a little deeper because of the sand slopes. What is wonderful in Puka aside from its beach is the view of Carabao Island that seemed to be just a hand reach.

Its clear blue water is cold even at noon. There are no restaurants, bars, hotels and stores that spoil the lush and verdant sides of the hills that border the area. Except for a boat or two, there are no other sail boats that blocks one’s vista of the bounds where the sky and sea meet. This place I’d say is like a paradise.There are still other places to see in Boracay aside from Puka and the White Beach.

MY REGRETS

However, we just had one day and a night for Boracay. That was one of my regrets. The other two are: Bulabog beach is unmaintained and it looks like a parking area though it really is a docking place for fishermen and a jump off point for divers; another which I find it really worst to my despise, is that the terminal fee is highly excessive, even higher than the boat fare.

It is just unreasonable, to really turn me off. I will never understand, why I should pay a hundred bucks and even more, while I would only stay at the terminal for not even five minutes. I’d rather pay higher on environmental fee, when I see that the whole ecology of the island is well-kept. I’d rather pay more for the boatmen to earn more, than for the maintainance of a port which the government should be paying for. Of all the ports and domestic airports outside Manila, this is insofar the highest to extort from local tourists and travellers. I am really dismayed of this money making.

PIECE OF ADVICE: For Boracay travellers from Kalibo. Be still and don’t get too excited when you arrive at the airport. This is the best opportunity for tourist tricksters to trap you and rip your budget. In Kalibo, there are a plenty of tricycles waiting outside to take you to the bus terminal going to Caticlan, or you can walk outside the mainroad and just call any passing tricycle. The ordinary bus ride is less than P100.00, the aircon bus which is faster than the vans costs only P107.00. There are motorized boats ferrying travellers from Caticlan to Boracay at P25, much lower than the charge of Oysterferries which is P150. Stick to the tariff or ride a tricycle which has a passenger already, and don’t get into contracts, to keep you in your budget. Make a reservation if you can so you’re sure you’ll have a place to stay.

Mt. Pinatubo: Tarlac’s Prime Point of Adventure

In 1991, after more than four hundred years of dormancy Mt. Pinatubo expelled fumes, ash and pyroclastic materials that later on inundated Pampanga and Tarlac with lahar. It was called the second most powerful volcanic eruption of the century for its ash has swirled the earth for years and its explosion beat that of St. Helens. The drop of temperature in the earth is said to be the result of the ash from Pinatubo that covered the skies for years. Sometime after, the treacherous volcano became a prime point of destination for tourists, hikers and climbers or simply the nature lovers to explore.

The lahar-stricken fields of Capaz in Tarlac is your access point to Mt. Pinatubo. Lahar is made of pyroclastic materials, of ash, rocks and sand. When dry you can drive over it, but it doesn’t get so sludgy like mud even when it is wet. The first part of this adventure is a rocky road to the parking area near the foot of the volcano. Here, you drive 2 to 3 kilometers from the nearest village over lahar and streams of water, and then walk 4-6 kilometers to the crater. In your river crossings, for several times you will have to remove rocks and pebbles from your sandals. From Baranggay Sta. Juliana where the tourism base camp is located, the trail stretches to 25 kilomenters to the crater of the volcano.

Rochelle, a classmate from high school invited me to go with her and Sally, our classmate who came for a vacation from Dubai. She just needed more company to save from expenses for the tour package. I just got home from a trip to Aurora and Quirino province. The travel bug must have bitten me really worst, that its sting could not get my butt still in the house. I called in another classmate, Wally and brought him to join the trip. I suggested that we extend our trip somewhere in else in Tarlac and they agreed, so Pinatubo was just our first destination in our Tarlac exploration.

 

So who’s picking us up?

We had silog breakfast while waiting for the driver who will take us to the agent for some briefing. We had no idea who’s going to pick us up, except for his name. In front of McDonalds, a driver is waiting with his jeepney. A group of students were waiting inside Mc.Donalds, and when they came out I heard they were looking for the same driver who is supposed to pick us up. Rochelle asked if the driver’s name was Joy, and he said yes. So we thought of joining the same group.

Suddenly, the group of young people got off the waiting jeepney and I could hear the driver was in argument with someone over the student’s phone. It was one of tourist trap that is intended to trick unknowing visitors. We learned of this when we got to our agent’s house. She explained that there are those people claiming to be someone else who will take the tourist to the base and ask for fees (outside of what is agreed in the package). This happens and is outside the control of the agent. Joy, our tricycle driver was just at the corner. Nobody called him though, but when we approached we knew it was him as confirmed by our agent. We drove around 20 minutes.

Finding our driver, we got on the tricycle. Sitting at the back of the motorcycle, I felt the cold morning breeze so chilling to the bones. I got to see how bayanihan works in this place. Capaz is a clean town, and its people religiously clean up their yards at around 6:00 in the morning. They come in groups and sweep the streets voluntarily.

 

Enduring the Tiresome Trail

We were briefed about the tour and then took the 4WD. After signing the waiver at the tourism base, we drove the rough lahar-covered fields of Capaz to the parking area. That was a brief 45 minutes to one hour drive. The dessert is vast and sporadically cogon grass grows by the waters. The dessert is walled by shrub-filled hills of lahar. From this dessert junction, the river water rises and the 4WD were riding traverses rough and rocky rivers. I felt tinier as the walls of lahar stood majestically gigantic.

From the parking area, we took our backpacks and the porter went ahead with our lunch. We just followed and he walked faster and unmindful of the sun. While we covered our skins with as much sunblock lotion, the porter we had just kept on walking under the scourging sun. If we didn’t suggest that we walk on the other side where there was shade, he would not really mind. We started the trek at half past nine, and got to the crater at past eleven.

Lahar-formed canyons hide the trail to the thrills of Pinatubo’s adventurers. My eyes could only sweep on the various natural formations of lahar, some cascading, others cracking, some others bore with holes like caverns. For a picture, my friend stood by one side of the elevated lahar, and when he tried to step off that ground, the sand just slipped him down.

It was a six-kilometer stretch of river crossings, rock jumping, and sand hills assaulting. The initial trail really scourges the skin especially when the sun is up there blazing. A quick break under the shade of the lahar mountain gave me a chance to wash up and wet my head and arms with cold river water. I took that opportunity as well to eat the egg-ham and cheese sandwich I prepared the night before. The water from the river is cold but in some parts it has high sulfuric content which makes some banks yellow and orange.

When we got to the cottages, we took a 15-minute break. From here, the signage says the crater is just 15 minutes for the young trekkers, and 30 minutes for the elderly. Such an estimate surprised us after we assaulted the crater in 40 minutes. From there the trail is refreshing as you will traverse a mossy area of ferns and shrubs that grow by the stream of cold water. Some rocks can be slippery so be very careful and make sure you stand on stable rock. This is where the climb begins.

Marvelling at Nature’s Wonder

At a curve, once you have seen the paved stairs, you will know that the crater is just somewhere up there waiting. Upon hitting the last step to that stairs, the turquoise blue and green waters of the crater is a wonderful invitation for a swim. Rain has filled the crater to form its freshwater lake. No streams or rivers caused this body of water to form. Thanks to the efforts of a Korean businessman that an outlet was bored for the water level to be maintained and so as not to keep it stagnant.

From the craters viewpoint, we excitedly went down the crater bank. The stair is steep and the steps are uneven. The excitement and exhilaration can be really exhausting as you go down, so better take it leisurely. There are no cottages, but you can camp with your own tents or just find a place under shrubs or cogon grass, if you don’t want to put up your own camping shelter.

We spent lunch time down the lakeside and swam in the cold water of the Pinatubo crater. At some spots the water is cold and it could be really colder in its deep. In other areas, the water is warm to hot. There’s also an area where you can have a mud bath, but that requires you to hire a boat. When we came, the boats are not allowed because of the changing weather. Though we wanted to ride the boat, we were deprived of that pleasure.

We left the Pinatubo crater, awed with its natural wonder. That afternoon, at around 1:OO PM, we braved the descent and headed again to cross the rivers. It was hot. To refresh us from the trek, we would stop several times to dip in the cascading waters of the river. That made me felt like I was a free-willing child again, unmindful of time, lost in the wild natural wonder. We were the last group to go down, and an Aeta security officer even had to check our situation.

It started drizzling as we got nearer the parking area, but that was still a kilometer away. My fear was if the rains get stronger, the river water will also be stronger. A rise in the water level can be a great difficulty for its not just water. Rock debris flow with the water, and the mountains of lahar may just fall over us like an avalanche. That’s part of the thrill to this adventure, but it is really risky.

We got to the parking area at past two in the afternoon. Then another hour of rough ride over the wet rocky sands of the trail brought us to the house of our tour agent, where he washed up. Our agent was really accommodating and amiable. She could not stop but talk to us throughout the course of our transfer from her house to Capaz Town proper.

Exhausted, Rochelle could sleep through the bumpy ride and the rest of us are awake. In the dessert, Aetas pick some metals from the bombs tried by the PNP camping nearby. Cows and caritelas, goats and grass and the mountains almost leveled by lahar comprise the scenery through the drive in out of Pinatubo. Part of that drive is having the jeep glide up hills, pass through boulders of rocks and dive in a meter-deep water.

Awesome! Getting to this prime adventure destination is an experience to remember. The exhaustion can be traumatic but it is a memorable experience. Even once of a climb to Pinatubo is an experience to be remembered for a lifetime. Coming from here, you would be asking about what’s next for you to conquer?

Getting There: We took the 2:00 AM bus going to Capaz and arrived there at 4:20 AM. Any north-bound bus plying the MacArthur Highway going to La Union, Baguio or Ilocos can take you to Capaz Tarlac. Tricycles are just waiting to take you to the Tourism Center in Capaz, where you can hire a 4WD and a porter cum guide to take you to Pinatubo. Haggling is one skill you should have to get the best price for these, if you do not have a booking or reservation with a DOT certified agent. With an agent the package costs 1,000 to 2,000 depending on how many you are in the group. This includes snacks, lunch, 4WD, pick-up and transfer from the tourism center to Capaz town proper. The 4WD from the center can be haggled to 2,000 pesos for a maximum of 5 passengers. You can take a porter and tip him for 200 pesos.

Panglao Escapades

One afternoon, I sat on the open terrace with three friends waiting for our lunch to be served. My eyes were gazing at Bohol’s clear blue sea.The wind freely blowing seems to push the sea to the white powdery beach and the coconut trees dance with its invisible rhyme. I touted, “I’ll be back here and do some writing“.

I was thinking then of writing my dissertation. But, I found myself escaping to Panglao with my mama and my eldest sister, as tourists once again. Too bad, we came when the tide was high and we were in the wrong resort for a swim. They could have at least set their foot on the white sands of the island and dip in its pristine clear waters.

The waters of the Bohol sea in Panglao reminds me of a dream I had once. It is like the exact copy of the backdrop in that colorful dream of mine: Blue waters romancing the clear sky where their boundaries are indescernible. That was the place where I saw myself dressed in white flowing long-sleeved shirt and trousers, on board a small boat without sail, moving towards the sun and shaded by a single white cottony cloud.

Panglao is a diver’s and swimmer’s fantasy, if I’d associate it to the dream I had years back before I got there. Coves, cliffs, long and wide beaches dot the island. It is but a few minutes drive off Tagbilaran. The island which is composed of 80% coral and 20%soil is richly covered by trees of all sorts and some farm fields. This island in the southern tip of Bohol is a fitting escape from the city. Dolphin watching, snorkling, diving and island hopping are some of the things you should try in Panglao.

In my first escape to the island, we spent the day in Bohol Diver’s Club Resort. It offers a more budget-friendly accomodation for local travellers. From Tagbilaran town proper we hired a tricycle to take us to the resort and pick us up in the afternoon. If you are coming for some real luxury you can book at its several high-end resorts such as Ananyana, Alona Palm Beach Resort, Eskaya, Panglao Island Nature’s Resort and Spa, Panglao Blue Waters Resorts.

We escaped to Panglao for a swim and we did enjoy its clear waters, the sun and its powdery white sand. Our day was worth spent: we waded and swam in the sea in the morning, dipped in the resorts pool for an hour before lunch, had our lunch at a restaurant’s terrace feasting on seafood and grilled meat, and played UNO the rest of the afternoon. What we missed though was to visit it other must see places and seeing the sun set from the island. But that doesn’t mean we did not enjoy the scenery along the road.

This year, after some searches in online resources, I was able to take my mom and sister for a half-day tour of the island. On a tricycle we hired for P500 we got to see almost half of it, except for enjoying Panglao waters and meeting Boyoyoy. Our first stop was at Hinagdanan Cave. Then we crossed a rough road in Bgy. Tinago going to Bohol Bee Farm. I thought of swimming here, but the tide is really high and the waves are raging. We had the tour of the farm instead, and had pizza for supper (I love their cheesy seafood pizza!), which was super filling that we didn’t even have dinner anymore. Our last stop was at Dauis Church, because by the time we left the resort, Bayoyoy, Bohol’s dwarfed 72 year old man is retiring for the day at 5:00 PM.

Tagbilaran City does not have much to offer tourists and travellers, except that it has a number of malls for your shopping splurge, and dining areas to try Boholono cuisuine. So, an escape to Panglao is a must once you’re done with your visit to St. Joseph Church, the town plaza, the old municipal hall and the museum beside it., but you can do these also coming from Panglao. It is advised by some travellers for backpackers and those in tight-budget, to stay in Tagbilaran and just a spend a day in Panglao.

Other Must See Places in Panglao: