My birth month is one that is full of anticipation and excitement. It is usually a time where I plan out a personal travel to discover a new destination as part of my celebration. This year turned to be more exciting as I got to discover Ilocandia and re-discover an all-around weekend destination - Tagaytay City!
Tagaytay City is probably the undisputed favorite weekend destination of Manilenos. Its proximity, cool climate, and varied offerings make it a spot for those searching for a quick escape from the city.
Located along a ridge, Tagaytay City sits at a height of 620 meters above sea level overlooking Taal Volcano. The city itself sits along the edge of the volcano's caldera that stretches from Mount Batulao to Mount Sungay. Apart from the panoramic view of the world's smallest volcano, the cool climate of Tagaytay is a huge come on for Metro Manila residents who want to escape the city heat even for just a couple of hours.
Day 1: A Hot Meal and Discovering the New
Arriving at Tagaytay just right before the lunch hour, we really did not have any planned itinerary for our first day. We were lucky to have found a quick way of commuting to Tagaytay although a bit pricier than the usual route but travel time was reduced to only about an hour.
Food Stop: Mahogany Market
There is a strong association between Bulalo, Tawilis, and Tagaytay. A trip to Tagaytay is never complete without having a meal that includes the Bulalo and Tawilis. Bulalo is a broth of tenderized beef and bone marrow seasoned with salt, ginger, and pepper while Tawilis is crunchy deep-fried small fish sourced from Taal Lake. Both viands go well together and the best place to enjoy it is in Mahogany Market.
Mahogany Market is the usual Filipino public market where you can find the home stuff that you need at a relatively cheaper price compared to supermarkets. One thing that makes Mahogany popular in Tagaytay are the "eateries" on its second floor where you can treat yourself with a hot bowl of Bulalo. They say that it is the best place to have a taste of this yummy beef broth in this city. Again, you can partner it up with deep-fried Tawilis for a complete Tagaytay gastronomic experience.
If are still craving for more of the beef broth soup, Mahogany Market is also a good place to buy beef meat products in Tagaytay. The first floor of the public market is lined with market stalls that has a wide offering of beef products to choose from. And while you are at it, you can also bring home other Tagaytay products like coffee, dried Tawilis, and other goodies being offered by ambulant vendors or from the stalls around the market.
Getting There: You can take a jeep from the Olivarez Plaza heading to Mahogany Market. Fare is at Php8. You can ask the driver to drop you off at the Mahogany Market. Landmark is the Tagaytay Hall of Justice.
Tagaytay City prides itself as a "City of Character" and the values are imbedded in their faith. The "Praying Hands" is a symbolic artwork that reflects Tagaytay's core value. The sculpture of two hands folded in prayer is a profession of the deep faith that locals would like to impart to its future generations.
I have seen the evolution of the artwork from its red-hued industrial design to its current folded hand sculpture. Its new design is more appealing and straightforward with its message of a hand in prayer, reaching out to the heavens.
Getting there: You take a jeep from Mahogany Market bound for Olivarez. You can ask the driver to drop you off at Sky Ranch. The sculpture stands across Sky Ranch. Fare is at Php8.
The theme park, developed by SM, sits on a ridge that has an amazing view of Taal Volcano. The theme park has a collection of fun and thrilling rides that will definitely catch the fancy of the kids and kids at heart. For those looking for a quick adrenaline rush, you can try the zipline where you get to experience flying with Taal Volcano in the background.
The main attraction of Sky Ranch is the "Tagaytay Eye". The ferris wheel is one of the tallest in the country standing at 63 meters above the ground. It can give its riders a panoramic view of Tagaytay and the surrounding areas at its apex.
Getting there: Sky Ranch is just right across Tagaytay's Praying Hands
41st USAFFE Memorial Shrine
We stumbled upon the memorial shrine by accident as we were headed back to Destination Hotel, our home in Tagaytay. A statue of a soldier caught my attention that I quickly crossed the street to further investigate on my latest "discovery".
The 41st USAFFE Memorial Shrine was built in honor of the brave men who mobilized along the Tagaytay ridge in 1941 to fight off the Japanese Imperial Forces. Etched on its walls are the names of 6000 soldiers who took this brave stand prior to the battle in Bataan.
It was interesting to find a part of Philippine and world history in this charming city. It was also interesting to note that Tagaytay City was also a strategic location during the war.
Getting there: The memorial is just a few meters from the Tagaytay's Praying Hands, towards the direction of the Rotunda.
Our Lady of Lourdes Church
The Our Lady of Lourdes is the center of faith of Tagaytay City and it is one of the churches frequently visited by the faithful especially during the Lenten season. The massive church is hard to miss because it sits along the main highway going to Batangas.
The church is a picture of serenity with its wide courtyard with trellis walkways adorned by flowering plants. A fountain is the centerpiece of the courtyard.
The exterior of the church is simple and elegant with a balcony atop its main door. The image of the Our Lady of Lourdes by the balcony is the focal point of the facade.
One thing that really struck me was the massive interior of the church. The altar was divided into three area. The central area is highlighted by the image of the Crucified Christ placed in a simple and elegant pulpit. Two adjacent altars were installed in both sides with one bearing the image of the Our Lady of Lourdes.
Getting there: You can take a jeep to Olivarez from the previous jeepney stop where we disembarked previously. Ask the driver to drop you off at the Our Lady of Lourdes Church. Jeepney Fare is at Php8.
Day 2: Re-discovering the Old Tagaytay
Prior to the urban development of Tagaytay, the city was a quaint destination that offered public parks, that overlooked Taal Volcano, for picnics and a place frequented by the faithful and the religious. It was a place that offered physical and spiritual rejuvenation. While most of the urban development is on the western side of the ridge, the east side has maintained the old feel of Tagaytay. Our second day was all about breathing in the old charm of this city.
People's Park of Tagaytay
The story of this park started out with the construction of a mansion by the Marcos administration in 1981 but was later abandoned after the administration was overthrown. This left an unfinished structure in Mount Sungay, Cavite's highest peak. The unfinished mansion became a popular destination in no time with its abandoned structure that offered a commanding view of Taal Volcano and the surrounding lowland areas.
I have seen through the years how the park was developed. From a simple abandoned structure, we can now see a more tourist feel of the place with its outdoor theater, picnic huts, a prayer chapel, and its line of souvenir shops. People visit the place to enjoy the amazing views that it offers and, if you are lucky, you will also get to enjoy the nippy Tagaytay weather while exploring the PAGASA weather station that sits adjacent to the structural remains of the mansion.
It was referred to in different names previously, Palace in the Sky, People's Park in the Sky, etc., and at the heart of this attraction is the abandoned and unfinished mansion. It was probably designed to showcase an architectural beauty but it cannot be denied that what remains of it now was seen as a reflection of a lavish lifestyle.
Getting there: You can take a trike and ask the driver to bring you to the jeepney station headed for People's Park. Trike fare is at Php30 and Jeepney fare per head is at Php18. Drop off is right at the gates of the park. Park Fee is at Php30.
Tagaytay Picnic Grove
Another old and famous attraction in the city is the Tagaytay Picnic Grove. Before the opening of Sky Ranch, this picnic area was the "it" place for both kids and the kids-at-heart. The 13.5-hectare park is located along a steep incline of the Tagaytay Ridge and boasts of having the most awesome view of Taal Volcano. In fact, most of the postcard pictures that you see in bookstores is from the vantage point of the park.
Interestingly, a marker was installed in the park that outlines the geological details of Taal Volcano and the surrounding ridge.
The park has been developed and has more activities to offer for its guests. At Php350 per hour, one can already enjoy horseback riding, the oldest leisure activity in the park. One can also try out the park's zipline or its cable ride that will give you a commanding view of Taal Volcano and the greens along the ridge.
For those who simply want to relax, you can try exploring the park through its nature trail complete with a hanging bridge where you get to enjoy nature and the cool weather.
You can then cap off your visit by lounging around its view decks or having a picnic while enjoying the view of Taal Volcano.
Getting there: You can hitch a jeepney ride from the gates of Palace in the Sky to the jeepney station headed to Olivarez. Fare is at Php5. You then transfer to another jeep with the sign board "Olivarez". You can ask the driver to drop you off at the Picnic Grove. Fare is at Php8. Park Fees is at Php50.
Our Lady of Manaoag
Walking about 500 meters from the Picnic Grove towards the direction of the Tagaytay Rotunda, a towering 50-meter red image of the Virgin Mary will catch your attention. The shrine is a replica of Pangasinan's Our Lady of Manaoag.
Behind the huge image is a small chapel where devotees can offer their prayers and supplications. You can also climb up to the shrine's top floors and offer distinct prayers to the different saints that line the walls of the shrine.
You can also climb up to the roof deck of the shrine to get a closer look of the image of the Our Lady of Manaoag or enjoy the surrounding areas of the shrine.
From the roof deck of the Our Lady of Manaoag Shrine, one can get a top view of a garden that once bloomed there known as the Japanese Garden. The manicured lawns of the garden was a symbol of freedom, peace, and international unity.
Unfortunately, the garden was already neglected and much of its manicured lawn has been overran by weeds.
Ina ng Laging Saklolo Church
Tagaytay is one destination that has a lot of churches and retreat houses. Ina ng Laging Saklolo Church is one of the popular church stops in the city.
The quaint church boasts a simple facade that is bordered by a pillar on both sides - one serving as a belfry and the other one bearing the cross. The simplicity of the church design extends to its interior. The altar has an image of the Crucified Christ as its highlight.
The stained glass windows of the church is hard to miss and gives the church an elegant touch.
Food Stop: Bag-o-Beans
Tagaytay City is one of the places where you get to enjoy chilling out with a hot cup of coffee. I guess the cool climate of the city make it a complete experience. Rather than going for the usual cafes that you find in the metro, we strongly recommend that you check out Tagaytay's home grown café, Bag-o-Beans.
Bag-o-Beans have a number of cafes in the city. One of their old shops relocated within walking distance of the Our Lady of Lourdes Church. The cozy café now has a bed and breakfast facility who wants to enjoy an overnight experience of the homey and rustic atmosphere of Tagaytay. They serve good old Tagaytay coffee that also go well with their pastries. They also have a shop where you can buy their products as “pasalubong” for your friends and family members.
Make sure to swing by Bag-o-Beans before heading back to Manila to complete your Tagaytay experience.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Tagaytay City has gone through a lot of changes over the years. From a simple and rustic community to a bustling metropolis, the city has more to offer now that would delight your senses and palate. It has slowly grown to be more than just a weekend destination but to a quick escape from the city at any given time.
It was nice to discover the new and re-discover the old of Tagaytay. Despite the changes towards urbanization, the city has maintained its old charm. It has managed to keep its old attractions interesting despite the introduction of new ones. However, there is a strong need to put focus on the upkeep and re-vitalization of Tagaytay’s old attractions as these spots helps the newer generations connect to Tagaytay’s rich history.
Getting There: Getting to Tagaytay by commute is now easier. You can take a van bound for Nasugbu from their station located beside Kabayan Hotel in Pasay City. Fares are more expensive at Php180 per head but travel time is faster (about 1.5 to 2 hours depending on traffic) compared to taking the bus.
Destination Hotel is a good hotel to stay in. They have good rooms and offer great service. Its location is also close to Olivarez which makes all spots featured in this blog accessible. You can get good rates through Travel Book here.
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The beat was inviting and, at one point, had us dancing to the rhythm that has spanned decades of prayers and celebration. The long procession had us walking under the sun while enjoying the smiles and the hospitality of locals and pilgrims who came to enjoy the festivities and, with some, seeking to be blessed with a child. This is Obando’s Fertility Dance – a celebration of life in Obando and a prayerful dance for life.
Bordered by Valenzuela, Malabon, Navotas, Bulacan, and Manila Bay, Obando was first recognized as an independent town of Bulacan in 1907. The area was once an enclosed body of water that through the years accumulated sand forming land masses that later on will be converted into commercial and residential districts.
Saliw ng Ritmo
What started out as a fiesta lunch out turned into a festive celebration with a flick of a finger. We found ourselves in the middle of a long procession and sandwiched by a brass band playing out the tune "Santa Clara Pinung Pino" behind us and a group of devotees dancing to the tune with so much energy. The rhythm and the simple steps were intoxicating that we found ourselves springing into the dance every now and then.
The "Fertility Dance of Obando" takes its roots from a pagan celebration that was later on adapted by the Catholic faith honoring Santa Clara, San Pascual, and the Nuestra Senyora de Salambao. The celebration kicks off on the 17th of May and runs until the 19th. Each day honors one of the patron saints with a mass followed by a procession filled with music and dancing.
The dance celebration is one of the popular festivities often mentioned in our history and culture classes. In fact, the celebration was even mentioned in the book, Noli Me Tangere, penned by our own National Hero Jose Rizal.
Sayaw ng Pasasalamat
Despite its popularity, the "Fertility Dance of Obando" stands for its own down to earth street dancing, steering away from the usual grand fiesta presentations with lavish costumes and, for some, even backdrops. It is an honest-to-goodness dancing on the street where locals and guests can comfortably join in, amidst the smiles of Obando residents.
The merrymaking is a mix of both the old and the new. There are families and groups who dress up in the usual fandango attire and straw hats as they dance to the beat of the brass band. And there are the younger generation who dance with their regular daily attire. There is no competition on who dances better or who has the better costumes. It is simply everyone dancing during the procession.
Interestingly, the fiesta is a venue for Obando to profess their faith and thanksgiving to their patron saints. It is not just mere merrymaking by the community, it is a dance of thanksgiving for a good year and a prayer seeking for better years ahead. It is an opportunity for families from Obando to gather in their hometown and share their stories and blessings. And mind you, there is a lot to share that it overflows to the streets in the form of drinks and light snacks that anyone can partake during the procession.
Padyak ng Panalangin
Beyond the festivities and merrymaking, the "Sayaw sa Obando" holds a culturally significant and historical belief among Filipinos. It is believed that couples who are having a hard time having a baby are encouraged to join the procession and the dancing to honor the patron saints. Local customs in Obando state that in doing so the couple will be granted the gift of life in the form of a newborn baby. In fact some of the devotees who join the procession, dance with babies in their arms saying that their dancing is no longer for seeking a blessing but a dance of thanksgiving for a granted prayer.
At the heart of the celebration is the Obando Church where the celebration starts and ends. The first church was established in 1754 and was destroyed during World War 2. It was rebuilt in 1947 and it was only in 1972 when the "Sayaw sa Obando" celebration was revived.
The simple facade of the church stands in complete contrast to the colorful fiesta decorations around it. Throngs of people flock to the church as the last group of dancers enters the church grounds. The inside of the church is filled to the brim with devotees that I found it hard to appreciate the church's interiors.
As we took a break from the street dancing, we found ourselves wandering inside the small plaza of Obando. It had monuments installed within its ground honoring the brave Filipinos who fought for our independence.
It was great to see that in a small town like Obando, locals put value, not only on our heritage, but also with the heroism of the Filipinos who came before us in their own little way.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
The music and the rythm of Obando's Fertility Dance was inviting. It was hard to resist the tempo. But unlike the grander streetdance celebrations that has been popularized mainstream, Obando has kept their celebration focused at its core - devotion and thanksgiving. It has managed to keep their street dancing a mirror of the simple and yet fun life of a small Philippine town. The festivity is the old-fashioned way of a Philippine fiesta where anyone is welcomed in the community with open arms.
The colorful fiesta celebrations of the Philippines is not only confined to the lavish and grand festivities that we are familiar with. There are the small town celebrations that are equally fun and interesting. The "Fertility Dance of Obando" is one celebration that highlights the rich heritage of our Filipino tradition. It is great to see that they have managed to keep it simple and appealing despite the temptation to make it "eye-catching". One cannot deny that "Sayaw sa Obando" is a thanksgiving celebration and prayer to life and for life.
Getting There: One can take a bus or the MRT/LRT to Monumento. You can then take a jeep (Jeep station is behind Victory Mall) with the signboard “Paco”. You can ask the driver to drop you off at the Obando Church. The “Fertility Dance of Obando is celebrated every 17th to the 19th of May.
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Cape Bojeador watched our bus intently as we entered the north. The lighthouse has been the guardian of the far north since it started operation in 1892. The watchtower has ensured the safe passage in the territory to those who offer their respects. We have been traveling by land for over three hours, from Narvacan, and the sight of Cape Bojeador gave me a sigh of relief that we have finally reached the far north of Ilocandia. But on this side of the north, winter is not coming.
The tri-municipality of Burgos, Bangui, and Pagudpud are the homes of the tourism icons of Ilocos Norte. Located along the western shores of the Ilocandia, the three municipalities receive a steady stream of guests both for its natural and man-made wonders. These spots have earned a page in our “Araling Panlipunan” books but nothing beats a face-to-face encounter with these icons that we have seen and heard via our school teachers and social media.
As we found ourselves working on a tight schedule, we quickly hopped onto a tricycle for a quick tour of Burgos, Bangui, and Pagudpud.
Playing With The Gods of the Wind in Bangui
Our hired tricycle roared along the highway with the wind. On this part of the north, the wind seem to play the game of the gods as they electrify most of the region, literally, with its wind turbines. You get accustomed by the sight of windmills along its rugged coast that stretches from Burgos to Pagudpud.
But the picture-perfect spot for playing with the wind is Bangui. This sleepy municipality made its mark in the tourism map of the Philippines for being the home of the first power-generating windfarm in Southeast Asia - the Bangui Wind Farm.
The completion of the initial phase of the project in 2008 gave way to the installation of 20 wind turbines along the shores of Bangui facing the West Philippine Sea. These wind turbines gracefully form an arc that make the Bangui Wind Farm a perfect spot for photos with these mighty giant fans.
The perfectly lined windmills against the seascape and landscape of Ilocos was definitely impressive. It was not surprising that the Bangui Wind Farm is a hit among travelers because of its story and aesthetic beauty.
It is good to see that not only did it bring environmentally clean electricity in the area but it also gave birth to the tourism economy that Bangui locals can definitely benefit from.
The Rock Dragon of Burgos
Burgos was the home of fierce Ilocanos who took arms against the Spaniards as soon as they stepped onto its soil. Prior to being named after the Ilocano priest, Padre Burgos, it was called "Nagpartian", meaning a place of slaughter, in reference to the brutal killing of a Spanish priest. Presently, Burgos receives a steady stream of tourists that admire its natural and man-made beauties.
The crowd was overwhelming when we got to the jump off point of the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation. Judging from the influx of tourists, Kapurpurawan is the municipality's crowd drawer.
Carefully sculpted by nature, the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation is a product of years and years of craftmanship of the elements. This rock formation stands out with its white color against its rugged and dark landscape. Its name is derived from the Ilocano word "puraw" which means white.
From afar, the formation looks like a seated dragon facing the sea. The rock formation radiates as the rays of the sun hits its white surface. One can opt to take a horse, for a minimal fee, to get to the formation faster or take a leisurely walk along the trail.
We opted for the latter to enjoy the scenery and the breeze. There are viewing decks along the trail where you get to see the amazing white rock formation and the surrounding seascape and landscape of Burgos. You will also get acquainted with the Ilocano hero "Lam-ang" with his own spot bearing a sculpture of him defeating a crocodile.
You can get up close and personal with the rock formation but trying to get a good spot for a photo without a photobomber can be a challenge. The white surface of the rock formation is unique for its color but its form lacks the "awe" element compared to other rock formations that I have seen in my travels. One of the locals mentioned that the side facing the sea have a whiter shade.
With a lot of tourist getting close to the Kapurpurawan, I have concerns that these "interactions" may damage the rock formation.
The Tame and Fierce Waters of Pagudpud
Pagudpud is the northernmost municipality of the Ilocos Region. Most Ilocandia trips would conclude their tours with Pagudpud for its resorts and white sand beaches.
If Burgos and Bagui are marveled for their earth and air elements respectively, it is safe to say that Pagudpud's strength lies in its water elements.
As the sea water crashed onto the shores of the north, it seemed that the waters of Saud Beach was not in the mood to play during our stay. The waves rolled higher than usual that those intending to swim opted to just quit the idea or walked further down the shoreline for tamer waters. I guess, Saud Beach woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day.
Often referred to as the “Boracay of the North”, Saud Beach is a popular destination known for its long stretch of white powdery sand beach. Its proximity to the town center of Pagudpud and its wide selection of resorts that cater to all types of travellers make it a popular stop for guests of this municipality.
The long stretch of powdery white sand will definitely catch your attention when you find yourself in Saud. Although it is not as white as that of the one’s that you find in Boracay, the seascape will definitely hold your breath. It is a beach spot that offers you the excitement of the crowd and the serenity for those who are soul searching.
From the sea to the mountains, water seemed to be in abundance in Pagudpud. Our journey further up north brought us to another natural wonder – the Kabigan Falls.
The 30-minute trek to Kabigan Falls gives you a scenic view of the Ilocos landscape complete with lush greens, a clean flowing river, and rice fields being prepared for planting. It is a scene that is surreal and serene that is simply relaxing for the mind.
And if that scene is not yet enough to relax you, wait until you see water cascading from a height of 87 meters into a shallow pool in the midst of the forest. Kabigan Falls exudes a relaxing atmosphere. You hear the waters cascade, but it does not roar, as you enjoy water mists touching your skin. The best part of our experience was we got to enjoy Kabigan Falls without the crowd.
We enjoyed the beauty of nature with our feet dipped into the icy cold waters of Kabigan Falls. The cold waterwas enough to relax our tired soles from the trek while our eyes enjoyed the greens that surround the waterfalls. The sweet sound of the cascading waters was a complete contrast to the rolling waters of Saud Beach. It was simply relaxing.
Here is a quick tip – the best time to enjoy Kabigan Falls is in the early morning. There is a huge chance that you will get to enjoy it without the crowd. Take note that there are designated areas for smoking that guests ought to follow.
Guide Fee: Php100 / Entrance Fee per Person: Php20
The Patapat Viaduct snakes along the edge of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. This is where the mountains meet the sea. We have reached the northernmost tip of the Ilocandia and the view of this man-made structure blending with the rugged landscape made the trip an unlocked achievement.
Elevated at 31 meters above sea level, the Patapat Viaduct was built to minimize traffic interruptions caused by landslides. It was opened in 1986 and spans a length of 1.3 kilometers, connecting Ilocos Norte and Cagayan, making it the fourth longest bridge in the country.
The viaduct gives its guests a panoramic view of the Pasaleng Bay.
Bantay Abot Cave
The geological attraction was a product of an earthquake that hit the area and carved a hole into a rock formation that sits along the shores of Baloi. It was named Bantay Abot Cave with reference to the Ilocano words “bantay”, which means mountain, and “abot”, meaning hole.
This rock formation can be accessed from the main road and is a popular stop for those heading to the Blue Lagoon. One needs to traverse through slippery rocks on shore to get to the actual “cave”. One also needs to prepare to get their feet wet with an occasional wave hitting its trail.
Bantay Abot Cave is Ilocandia’s window that faces the sea. You get a panoramic view of the West Philippine Sea on one side and the rugged Sierra Madre mountain ranges on the other. You can stand right under the arc to get a full view of both sides.
Blue Lagoon and Dos Hermanos Islands
From the vantage point, the Blue Lagoon looked like a peaceful sojourn bustling with activities. The view deck offers guests a panoramic view of the lagoon, also known as Maira-Ira Point. It is a popular beach spot in the north for its blue-colored waters and hosts one of the more upscale resorts in the Ilocos.
The Dos Hermanos Islands can be seen from the view deck. The two islands jut out from its blue waters and seemed to stand as guardians of the Blue Lagoon.
As an individual soared above us, you could actually hear his nervous shriek as he zipped down on one of the country’s longest zip lines.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
The far north of Ilocos is characterized by its rugged landscape that serves as a playground of the elements. The attractions, both natural and man-made, has its own charm that will leave an impression on its guests. The rugged feel of these spots make it more appealing to travellers especially those who are willing to rough it up during their travels.
Cape Bojeador watched us closely as we headed back to the south. With a heavy heart, I looked back and felt bad about not being able to visit the famed lighthouse because we didn’t have time to spare to have a personal encounter with this guardian of the north. I promised myself that the next time that I travel up north, I will make time to honor the famed guardian of the north.
Getting There: There are direct trips to Pagudpud from the Sampaloc station of Florida Bus Line. Another option is to take a bus for Laoag City. There are more trips that ply the Manila-Laoag route. You can check out pinoytravel.com.ph for bus schedules and ticket reservations.
From Laoag, you can take another 2 hour bus ride to Pagudpud. Buses bound for Pagudpud are located along Governor Agcaoili Street, behind the Ilocos Norte Capitol Building.
You can then hire a tricycle at Pagudpud to tour you around the tri-municipality of Bangui, Burgos, and Pagudpud. You can contact Kuya BJ at (0909) 7668584 for these tour arrangements.
If you plan to spend the night in Pagudpud, you can check out Polaris Beach Resort at Saud Beach.
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When the beach beckons, the heart keeps yearning and the only way to temper it down is to just give in. Unlike our provincial counterparts who can hit the beach in less than an hour, Manila-based people are not that privileged. We can easily pack our bags but the road to relief will take us another 2 to 4 hours depending on your driver's skills.
Calatagan is one of the preferred beach spots because of its proximity to Manila and the selection of accommodations that it has to offer which ranges from the upscale to affordable camping sites. For those who are tight on the budget, the closure of Burot Beach for development was not the end of the camping stories of Calatagan. Another beach spot, Manuel Uy, quickly got attention because of the same offering that Burot once had. As a consequence, it draws the weekend crowd to the brim.
But there is a lesser known spot in Calatagan that offers the same and a foot better and without the crowd - Nano Beach Resort. The no-frills beach resort sits a few hundred meters below the Calatagan Lighthouse and stands between private lots owned by some of Manila's prominent personalities. The beach spot has “bahay-kubo” type of accommodation complete with beddings and electric fans and decent restroom and shower facilities.
Nano Beach Resort is a perfect beach spot in Calatagan without the crowd.
Nano is a perfect spot to beach bum!
If you are searching for a quick beach escape, Nano is a perfect spot. I guess chilling by the beach is best defined by this beach because there is nothing much to do except laze around its cream-colored sand and just bask in the sun. The place is simply laid back that with a couple of banana beds under the tree, some cool music playing in the background, and a round of drinks, our group was already enjoying the chill vibe of the beachfront resort.
Just like Burot Beach, the waters of Nano Beach is not a swim spot. The water level gets a little higher than your knee and that is just it, unless you walk further where the water level drops to the deep-blue kind. So do not expect to swim a lot although kids would definitely enjoy wading into its waters. Just make sure that you wear beach shoes or slippers as a precaution because its seafloor is covered with sea grass.
Nano and Its Amazing Sunset
By late afternoon, most of us already opted to take a stroll by the beach. Asher (IG: @payatnalaskwatero) was already enjoying the warm waters of Calatagan. We opted to head towards the part of the beach, opposite the direction of the lighthouse.
The shoreline of Calatagan is rugged and photogenic. There are a couple of trees that had taken its roots at the sea bed making the seascape more dramatic. In one spot, a hammock was installed between two trees by the waters and it is a favorite spot of most guests for their photos because of its creative atmosphere. Even our group spent a lot of time in the area.
Further down the beach are small privately owned coves that are still to be developed. There is a wharf that was constructed there but the sea already reclaimed the area where it once stood.
One thing that really stood out for me was the amazing sunset view of Nano Beach. The seascape and landscape, with the lighthouse on view, add drama to the fiery orange sun as it sets along the horizon of Calatagan. The view is just simply magical and allows you to play around with your creativity.
After giving myself a fill of sunset shots, I simply sat down to enjoy the breath-taking moment of watching one of nature’s amazing free shows.
Ang Nano at ang Parola
One can actually see the light beacon of the Cape Santiago or the Calatagan Lighthouse from Nano Beach. The century-old lighthouse is perched on an elevated parcel of land that overlooks the coastline of Calatagan. The lighthouse is just a 20-minute walk along the shoreline from Nano Beach Resort.
This is our second time to have come face-to-face with the Calatagan Lighthouse. The first was when we camped out at Burot Beach in 2016.
The Faro de Punta Santiago is a Spanish period lighthouse that started operations in 1890. The land on which the 51-feet round tower stands was donated by Don Santiago de Zobel hence the name of the lighthouse. The lighthouse, complete with its annexed building and fenced courtyard, is still operational to this day and guides sea vessels along the Verde Island Passage.
Apart from appreciating the historical structure, climbing up its old winding stairs to its light beacon is a thrilling and dizzying activity, especially for those who have fear of heights. You get to see the whole coastline of Calatagan from that vantage point. It gives you a bird’s eye view of Calatagan, the properties of prominent Filipinos, and its surrounding waters.
A visit to this historical landmark is a must when you find yourself in Calatagan. Just make sure that you coordinate with Kuya Junior, the lighthouse caretaker, on the best time to visit so you can maximize the Cape Santiago experience.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
When the beach beckons and you got to give in, Nano Beach is Calatagan is definitely a good option to camp out and experience that beach chill atmosphere. The place is laid back and a perfect weekend spot for that quick thrill of lounging around the sand, under the sun. And when boredom strikes, one can easily enjoy a stroll by the beach or a quick trek to Cape Santiago to enjoy history and scenery of Calatagan.
I guess the best part of the stay was that Nano Beach did not have the deluge of weekenders so we got to enjoy the place without the crowd and photo bombers. While everyone were trying to find their spot at the nearby beach, we were already settled and enjoying a crisp weekend in Nano.
O Nano pang hinihintay ninyo?
Getting There: The fastest and easiest way is to take a van to Calatagan. The terminal is at the back of Kabayan Hotel in Pasay City. Fare is at Php180. You can ask to be dropped off at the Calatagan Public Market. You can then take a tricycle from the public market to Nano Beach Resort.
Our tricycle and resort contact in Calatagan is Dominick Velilia who can arrange everything for you in Calatagan including a side trip to the Calatagan Lighthouse. You can reach him at (0926) 5457371.
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The weather in the metro has been bipolar lately. You get all the sun and the heat in morning and then, in just one big flash, heavy rains start pouring in as if there is no tomorrow. For some, the rainy season marks their break from all the traveling as it becomes their “ipon-ipon muna” season where they save up for the next summer escape.
When some of my friends ask for my travel advice on where to go during the rainy season, I always tell them that this is the best time to explore the beautiful cities of the Philippines. This is the time when majority of our mornings are hot and dry and the afternoons are cold and wet and most of our Philippine cities have destinations and activities that are well-suited for this kind of weather.
Vigan is one city destination that can be enjoyed either hot or cold. This city located north of Manila is a popular destination known for its well-preserved Spanish-era mansions that gives you a glimpse of the country’s rich cultural and historical background. Interestingly, Vigan was once an island detached from mainland Luzon but because of the heavy siltation of the rivers that surround it, it was connected to mainland Ilocos Sur.
At present, the city is the economic and government hub of the province and is a popular destination for its rich history and appetizing gastronomic delights. Join us as we take a day trip to Vigan to experience the great Ilocano hospitality.
VIGAN’S MEZTIZO DISTRICT
The best way to experience Vigan’s historical core is by taking an early morning walk around the city. This gives you the opportunity to enjoy a leisurely stroll at a time of the day when the chances of rain is relatively lower.
Padre Burgos’ Birthplace
Built in 1788, the two-storey “bahay-na-bato” is one of the prominent heritage structures in Vigan. It is in this house where Padre Jose Burgos was born in 1837. He is one of the three martyred priests, known as GomBurZa, who were executed at Bagong Bayan (now Luneta) for mutiny.
The ancestral house is now a museum under the management of the National Museum. On display are the artifacts from the Iloco-Kankanay-Itneg culture, records and dioramas of historical events, Basi Revolt paintings of Don Villanueva, and the personal memorabilia of Padre Burgos.
Unfortunately, we were not able to check out the exhibits as it was still too early and we were also pressed for time. But checking out the exhibits in the afternoon is ideal especially when the weather gets a little wet.
Old Ilocos Sur Provincial Jail
Behind the Ilocos Provincial Capitol Building and just a few meters from the ancestral home of Padre Burgos is the old provincial jail. The former jailhouse now forms part of the museum complex as an art center of the city.
The jailhouse was built in 1657 and is a mute witness to the lives behind bars of prominent Ilocano personalities. Interestingly, the place was also the birthplace of former President Elpidio Quirino who was born on the second floor of the building in 1890 when Mariano Quirino was serving as a jail warden.
Ilocos Sur Capitol Building
Standing majestically at the city center is the Ilocos Sur Provincial Capitol Building. It is the seat of power in the region and it is one of the oldest provincial capital after it was established in 1576.
The building stands out among all structures in the area because of its American Colonial architecture and its massive size dominates the skyline of Vigan.
At the heart of the city is the famous Plaza Salcedo. It is a central piece of Vigan from the past to the present. It is also a mute witness to the city’s rich and bloody history since it was established in 1576 as Villa Fernandina.
It is historically significant as the plaza was the site where Ilocana heroine, Gabriel Silang, was publicly executed by Spanish officials as a warning to Filipinos about dissent. Apart from its rich history, the plaza also has memoriam installed around its hallowed grounds in honor of great Filipinos like President Quirino and Jose Rizal.
Salcedo Plaza is popular as an evening spot with its colourful light and water fountain show. Unfortunately, we were not able to catch the show as we opted to spend the night in Narvacan.
Arzobispado Nueva Segovia
Within the city center is an 18th century Archbishop’s residence – the Arzobispado Nueva Segovia. The residence is the only surviving Archbishop’s residence of its age. I had the chance to explore its receiving area with its massive pillars and staircases leading to the second floor. On display on its walls are historical records which also show the area that was under their jurisdiction during the Spanish times.
Apart from its religious significance, the Arzobispado also has historical significance. It once served as Emilio Aguinaldo’s headquarters in 1898 and an American Garrison in 1899.
Within its premises is a museum that houses eccelesiastical artifacts from the region.
Just right across the Arzobispado is the city’s center of Catholic faith – the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle or the Vigan Cathedral. The present church was built in 1790 to 1800 by the Agustinians.
The cathedral has an earthquake baroque architecture with large buttresses on its sides. The cream-colored façade of the church is highlighted by the image of St. Paul. Its perimeter fence are adorned by image of different saints as if guarding the hallowed structure.
The simple interior of the church complements its exterior. The church has a single nave with two side aisles flanking it. The church is highlighted by a two-tiered retablo with the Virgin Mary as its central image.
Vigan Bell Tower
Just right across the street stands the Vigan Bell Tower. This 25 meter bell tower has a weather rooster installed on its top that symbolizes St. Peter.
It is one of the bell towers in the country that stands separately from the church’s structure.
Plaza Burgos is one of the two major plazas that you will find in Vigan. The plaza is adjacent to the Vigan Bell Tower and was named in honor of the martyred priest, Padre Burgos. At the center of the plaza is a memorial in honor of Vigan’s favorite son with an image of him installed at the heart of the plaza.
Apart from the spot being a favorite afternoon spot for locals, this is where you can also find horse-drawn carriages, known as Kalesa, lined up along the side. They offer a quick tour of the Meztizo District in a more authentic feel.
Plaza Burgos is also a great place to start your food adventure with local food stalls that offer authentic Ilocano cuisines. Don’t forget to try out their empanada which is a favorite afternoon snack in Vigan.
I have been to Vigan a couple of times and a trip to this city is never complete without walking the streets of Calle Crisologo. It is the tourism icon of Vigan and it is the one responsible in putting Vigan in the country’s tourism map.
Named after a prominent Ilocano, Mena Pecson Crisologo, the street is a repository of well-preserved Spanish-era “bahay-na-bato” mansions of affluent Ilocanos. These heritage houses, complete with the street’s cobblestone floors, give you a glimpse and the feel of how it was like to walk this famed street during the Spanish colonial period.
Every now and then, a kalesa would stride by and you can close your eyes and hear the “klippity klop” sound of the horse’s shoes on the cobblestone street to get a complete Spanish-era sensory feel of Calle Crisologo.
It is a photographer’s playground. I have taken so many shots of Calle Crisologo and the place seem to not run out of angles that you can play around with. Calle Crisologo is very photogenic. It is a timeless place where you can tinker around with your creativity and imagination.
One setback though is that with the flood of tourists that swing by the street, you can expect the usual photobomber every now and then. Getting a clean shot of Calle Crisologo can be a challenge.
Here is a tip that I discovered on this trip, you can head off to the farthest end of Calle Crisologo, near Liberation Boulevard, way ahead of the other tourists. While most guests are on the starting block and flocking along the rows of souvenir shop, you will get better chances of getting a “clean” shot without the flock from this vantage point.
Another popular heritage house turned museum in Vigan is the Crisologo Museum along Liberation Boulevard. The modest “bahay-na-bato” was turned into a museum to honor the heritage of the Crisologo clan of Ilocos as it showcases the personal memorabilia of the family.
Interestingly, the man behind the conversion of the heritage house to a museum, Floro Crisologo, was a local political figure who was assassinated inside the Vigan Cathedral. His death and legacy are now immortalized in one of the corners of the house where he grew up in.
Simbaan A Bassit
Overshadowed by the Vigan Cathedral, the Simbaan a Bassit, along Liberation Boulevard, is a small church that also stands as a mute witness to Vigan’s colorful history.
Built in the 1850s, the small church was probably built as a Campo Santo where the final mass is held before the remains of the dead are interred in its final resting place. This is a common structure in century-old cemeteries similar to the ones that you find in San Joaquin in Iloilo, Roxas City, and Taguig City. So do not be surprised that the small church is surrounded by tombstones.
The church was dedicated to Apo Lakay whose image is the centrepiece of the altar. The image was saved from a Spanish Galleon that sunk near the waters of the city. It is believed that the image of the Black Nazarene saved the city from the plagues of 1756 and 1882.
One thing that stood out for me are the wall and ceiling artworks of the church – the one in the altar to be exact. I am amazed by the intricate details of the painting. It really reflects the painstaking work by the artist behind the paintings.
Beyond the Meztizo District of the city, there are a number of attractions that you can check out when you find yourself in Vigan. These notable attractions are close to the city center but one would need to hop on a tricycle to get to these destinations. With a few hours left before we headed off to nearby Narvacan, we opted to check out two familiar tourist spots around Vigan.
Some 10 to 15 minutes from the city by tricycle is a sprawling land owned by former Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson where you can enjoy close encounters with wildlife. The zoo has a variety of animals, both real and unreal, that appeals to all ages. The best part of it is that entrance to the place is free.
Guests can enjoy observing animals from different parts of the world up close. Tigers, ostrich, deer, peacock, camels, and even life-size dinosaur statues are just some of the animals under their care. Baluarte is further expanding with its Marina Point that will feature marine animal shows. It is definitely something to look forward to in the future.
Hidden Garden of Vigan
Far from the city’s buzz is a garden that has slowly claimed a spot in the tourism map of Vigan. In the past years, the Hidden Garden evolved from being hidden to a not-so-hidden tourist destination in Vigan.
Hidden Garden started out as a personal venture that later on bloomed to open its gate to tourists in 1991. From then on, the place welcomed thousands of tourists, both popular and the not-so-popular. The place will definitely appeal to those who have a green thumb as it is teeming with varieties of plants that you can’t help but admire as you walk along the garden path and under the green canopies.
Landscaped into the garden is a restaurant that has a homey atmosphere with its native Filipino design surrounded by the greens. Their menu offerings are Ilocano favorites and one thing that you should not miss out is their empanada.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
A wedding invitation gave us the opportunity to wander around Vigan, mostly on foot. Unlike my previous visits, I had more time to “read” through the colorful history of the city despite the limited time. Vigan stays true to its tourism brand promise of giving its guests a glimpse of Philippine history in the most interesting way. The city’s historical core is a delight to all the senses. It teaches the lessons of the past and the importance of understanding the value of what makes us Filipinos, through our colourful history.
A day is not enough to experience the whole of Vigan but it is enough to imbibe in one’s heart the pride of being Filipino. Vigan gives you an interesting brief of our story as Filipinos which, in the end, will make you yearn for more.
So is anyone up to head up to Vigan on a weekend?
Getting There: Heading up to Vigan is relatively easy as most bus lines to the north make a stop in Vigan. The fastest way to get a roundtrip bus ticket is through pinoytravel.com.ph. Bus fare ranges from Php580 to Php806 depending on the type of bus service that you prefer. I suggest that one takes the De Luxe buses for a more comfortable 10 hour trip. I also suggest that one takes the evening trips.
Once in Vigan, you can walk around the historical core of the city. You can take the tricycle to head up to Baluarte and Hidden Garden.
For cheaper accommodations, you can call Casa Virginia Romana at (0927) 4903895 or (0935) 2006757.
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The beautiful sunrise, as we approached the island of Romblon, was enough assurance of the good things to look forward to with the “organized” Romblon trip that I joined. It was a welcome relief after a very uncomfortable evening boat travel that left me sweaty up to my underwear and with only a few hours of sleep. The trip was my second attempt to join an organized tour but unlike the first one, the supposed “organized tour” was not at all rosy as they painted it to be. It was a good thing that Romblon’s raw beauty simply blew me away.
Romblon is an archipelagic province that consists of the islands of Tablas, Sibuyan, Corcuera, Banton, Concepcion, San Jose, and the provincial capitol of Romblon. It has earned the monicker of the “Marble Capital of the Philippines” because of the abundance of these quality stone resource in the province. One would be amused with the rows of stores offering marble crafts.
The rustic beauty and ambiance of the province is now catching up with a lot of travellers. Its natural wonders from the mountains to its waters is slowly taking traction on the tourism front. Although getting to and around Romblon requires patience, it will definitely charm its way to your heart… the way it did to mine.
The initial plan when we get to Romblon was to take another ferry to Tablas but things changed pretty quickly as soon as we disembarked onto the port. One thing that you need to consider when exploring Romblon is the inter-island ferry schedule because it requires efficient time management and quick responses. If you missed out on it, expect to make a day’s worth of changes in your itinerary.
Cobrador Island, also known as Nogoso Island among locals, is an island situated along Romblon Bay that is popular for its white sand beach and clear blue waters. It was not part of the itinerary but it was a great choice to spend our mornings after the tiring evening boat trip.
As we stepped onto its white sand shores, we were eagerly greeted by locals and a huge “I Love Cobrador” which gives you that feel that the place is a popular spot in the area. The beach is lined with nipa huts and a makeshift shower area for its guests. I have to say that the community has adjusted fairly well with the attention being accorded by travelers to their place.
The serene atmosphere of Cobrador Island was a welcome relief. As we lounged along its shores, I had the chance of admiring Tablas Island from a distance. We stayed by the beach and the sea breeze was enough to lull me to sleep. I decided not to swim at that time but it was a welcome respite for weary travelers.
Visiting Cobrador Island will not be complete without exploring its rugged landscape so we hopped on an outrigger boat to explore and get impressed.
Interestingly, the island is not only blessed with a rugged landscape but it also played a part in Philippine history. Sitting within its rugged cliffs is a tunnel that the Japanese used as a hiding place during World War 2. According to locals, American and Filipino freedom fighters flushed out the Japanese by fire, resulting to death.
We had to be content with admiring the historical site from afar as it was not safe to explore the place because of its unstable ground.
Tucked secretly in one of the nooks of Cobrador Island is a hidden gem – Tinagong Dagat. Rock formations serve as an enclosed perimeter creating a hollow crevice forming a pool. A pass thru cave sits adjacent the rock formation which opens up to a small beach cove on the other side. Salt water passes through the cave filling the pool. From the sea, it only looks like a huge rock formation concealing the pool hence the name.
I did not pass up the chance to take a quick dip. I had a good time traversing the pool to the beach cove and back. Adjacent to the rock formation are two beach coves where one can simply chill under the sun.
As the name implies, the Guard House is a small rock islet by the entrance of Cobrador Island that serves as its security station. A guard house stands at the top of this rock formation.
But bravery does play a huge part when you step on the island. The depth of the waters surrounding it is ideal for cliff jumping. We caught a few young locals enjoying the thrill of jumping off the cliff into the green-blue waters below. Some of these young boys were so accustomed to it that they do not just jump, they have a few tricks to show off.
A newly constructed platform is already in place for guests who are brave enough to face their fear of heights.
As our boat docked along the shores of Romblon, we got ready to explore the town on foot. Romblon is a very small town and the best way to get acquainted with it is by taking a leisurely walk around town.
Romblon is one of the three major islands of the province. It also serves as the province’s seat of governance. The town is a major entry point with its seaport being serviced by inter-island ferry lines.
It was once called “Doblon” that meant a bird warming an egg on its nest, in Visayan. It was in 1685 that the Spanish Recollects stepped onto its soil paving the way to the evangelization of the island. This rich part of local history is preserved and incorporated in their present community.
Fort San Andres
Our first stop was Fort San Andres, one of the two Spanish-era fortresses located in town. The fort sits atop a hill that overlooks the town. It was built in the 15th century to protect the town from raiders.
The fort had undergone restorations in the past years giving the fort a well-deserved recognition for its historical value. You can find a visual narrative about Fort San Andres within its confines that gives guests a look on its history and its current restoration works.
Fort San Andres offers a commanding view of the town of Romblon and its surrounding areas. It is a must-see destination when you find yourself in Romblon. I realized, now that I am writing this blog, that the fort is actually a good spot to watch the sunset. Had I figured this one out when we got stranded in Romblon, I could have spent a lazy extra afternoon just watching the sun set on the horizon.
A second fortress is also in ruins at the adjacent hill behind the church. Unfortunately, we were unable to explore Fort Santiago at the time that we were there. I just hope that it also gets the same attention and restoration efforts from the community.
Fort San Andres Walkway
From Fort San Andres, we easily got to the town center via the Fort San Andres Walkway. The steps is the fastest and shortest way to get to the fort from town. You can enjoy overlooking views on certain decks along the walkway making your walk an interesting one.
Just how many steps does it have? Hmm… I failed to count the steps as I was enjoying the views that it offered. I realized it too late as we were already halfway down. I will try to check when I find myself back in the town or, if anyone knows the answer, please feel free to comment down below.
Romblon Freedom Park
Romblon is one town where you get to experience that small-town feel. The town gets busy during the mornings when ferries dock on its ports bringing family members, friends, and guests to town while locals go through their daily routines. As the day progresses, the energy slows down until the last ferry leaves its port and the whole town reverts back to its laid-back atmosphere.
At the heart of all the excitement and activities is the Romblon Freedom Park. The plaza is the first to greet you as you exit the gates of its seaport with its “I love ROMBLON” marble sign. The plaza is adorned with a huge marble monument as its centrepiece, marble carved animals, and marble benches that affirms that you are definitely in Romblon.
Most locals and guests, if not all, will definitely come face to face with the park. It is a good spot to just simply relax and watch the daily grind of the town. Be forewarned, though, to practice discipline and follow simple rules like using the pedestrian lane or risk being called out by the town’s avid announcer over his speakers. And when he does, expect all eyes to look towards your direction.
Marble Craft Stores
Romblon will not be Romblon without its famed marbles. Marble sculpting is one of the cottage industries in the province because of the abundance of this quality marbles so it is safe to expect a dose of artistry and creativity using this valued stone.
Luckily, a small arcade lined with marble craft shops sits adjacent to the Freedom Park. Marble artisans showcase their handcrafted souvenirs that range from housewares to key chains. You can request to have your name engraved on the items that you purchased. The best part of the trade are the reasonable prices of these items. Your only concern would be the extra weight that you need to carry when you head home.
Saint Joseph Cathedral
Declared as a National Cultural Treasure in 2001, the Saint Joseph Cathedral is the oldest church in the province. The church and its belfry was built in the 15th century and serves as the center of the Catholic faith in the province. The church honors the Santo Nino as its patron saint.
The dome of the church and the belfry dominates the skyline of Romblon. The simple façade of the church evokes the simplicity of the community where it belongs. The stained-glass windows and the image of Saint Joseph at the front add elegance to the simple design of the structure. The four-storey belfry sits alongside the church and one can really admire the age of both structures as seen in the elements that it was made of – coral stones. On one corner of the church compound is a bell forged in 1888 prominently displayed.
The simplicity of the church extends to the interior of the church. Prominent elements in the design are the coral stones and marble stones that adorn its inside walls. A three-tiered retablo is the focal point of the church with the image of Saint Joseph at the center. Two adjacent marble retablos on the side of the altar have the images of the Santo Nino and the Blessed Virgin Mary installed as its central piece.
Bonbon Beach and Sandbar
We had to brisk walk, close to running, over sand and rock formations of Tambianan Beach to get to Bonbon Beach. The walk took us close to 15 minutes as we were so eager to catch the sunset at this popular beach destination in Romblon.
Bonbon Beach is popular to both locals and tourists for its powdery white sand that nicely slopes down to the sea. The beach is untouched by commercialism so you get to enjoy the sandy shores in its pristine state.
The main feature is a sandbar that connects Bonbon Beach to the nearby Bangug Island. Timing is very important to be able to successfully traverse the sandbar to the island. Luckily, we came in at the right time. I was the only one from our group to successfully cross the sandbar to Bangug Island.
What I enjoyed the most is the relaxing stroll along the sandbar while getting awed by the changing color hues of the sky as dusk was settling in. It was simply an amazing feeling to experience nature’s beauty.
Sibuyan Island is often referred to as the “Galapagos Island of Asia” because it was always surrounded water ever since the island was created. It has one the unspoiled ecosystems in the country and the world with 33% of its land area covered by primary forest. These forest covers is home to a diverse collection of flora and fauna.
Considered to be the cleanest river in the country, Cantingas River sits along the base of Mount Guiting-Guiting and is a popular attraction among locals and tourists. A medium scale resort was established to cater to the growing crowd. The resort is complete with high level platforms, the highest being 3 floors high, where one can jump into its cool waters. The platforms alone can tell you that the river is deep.
Cantingan River's headwaters also supplies electricity to the island via its hydro-electric power plant located upstream.
Cresta de Gallo
Cresta de Gallo is a 5-hectare kidney shaped island comfortably nestled along Sibuyan Bay. Untouched by commercialism, the island teaches its guests to enjoy what it has to offer with a “back-to-basics” theme. Staying overnight is a challenge because the island does not have fresh water source hence no showers or even a restroom. Everything that you need must be brought in. It is the best place to go where you can pre-test your “Survivor” dreams.
The raw and untouched beauty of Cresta de Gallo will captivate its guests. We docked on the southern end of the island and walked its length to the northern end where we were to set up camp. We got to enjoy the island has to offer – white powdery sand, rocks beds, and clear waters.
Watching the sunset and the sunrise is a real treat that Cresta de Gallo could offer. The island is narrow enough that you can set-up your tent where you can view the sunset on your right, in the late afternoon, and the sunrise on your left, in the early morning.
I enjoyed walking the sandbars of Cresta de Gallo while watching the sunset. Wear slippers when you stroll around as there are areas where sand gets mixed with crushed sea shells and corals. The sunset in Cresta de Gallo is melodramatic where it treats you with a mirage of baby blue, baby pink, and orange hues on its skyline. It was nice to just sit still and enjoy the calm atmosphere of the island as you watch the shifting of sky’s colors.
Our evening was also filled with laughter as we had the island all for ourselves and sharing stories over wine and beer. We also had the chance to explore its shallow waters revealing interesting sea creatures that live in its waters.
As always, the sunrise was glorious with less of the drama. It charged up to the sky and energized everyone as we got ready for the long journey home.
Post Travel Notes
As we sat by the roadside canteen, sipping coffee, and trying to figure out alternative plans on how to get back to Manila after getting stranded, I enjoyed the laidback atmosphere of Romblon. The place reminded me of Siquijor. This was a place where I would love to retire because it is very close to nature, the beach in particular, and I loved its community feel. In fact had the trip organizers handled our “situation” properly with a more concrete solution, I would not mind staying another day or two in Romblon.
Romblon is now going beyond its marble industry. It has a lot of tourism potential owing to the fact that a lot of its premiere spots remain raw and untouched. It is an off-beat destination that is slowly getting traction among travellers which could resonate to the creation of sustainable livelihood tourism programs for the community.
Romblon is a destination that is not for the faint-hearted. It requires thorough planning and precision. The main consideration is the inter-island ferry schedules that can adversely affect your itinerary. I guess, one of my pick-up points from this trip, apart from discovering the raw beauty of Romblon and Sibuyan, is that it doesn’t hurt to book your tickets in advance.
Getting There: From Manila, you take a Batangas-bound bus for Batangas Pier. Romblon is serviced by major inter-ferry island ferries like 2Go Lines and Montenegro Lines that ply the route Batangas Pier to Romblon. You can check out their websites for the schedules and for details on how you can purchase roundtrips tickets in advance.
You can rent an outrigger boat to Cobrador Island or, as per our friendly siopao vendor, you can also hitch with boats that bring supplies to the island for only Php50. You can also go around Romblon and Bonbon Beach using the ever-dependable tricycles.
You need to take a ferry to Ambulong Port in Sibuyan Island. Again, it is best to check the schedules in advance. From the port, you can take a jeep to San Fernando where you can hire a tricycle to Cantingas River. You can also hire an outrigger boat here to bring you to Cresta de Gallo.
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Saan na nga ba si Emilio Aguinaldo?
Whether it is reference to the first Philippine president or a missing Naga personality, the question had a chiling effect on us that our duo on Instagram, @thetravelingdada, decided to goo on an exploration to search for Emilio Aguinaldo. We had nothing to do one Sunday morning so we decided to pack our bags, head off to Baclaran, and board a bus to Kawit, Cavite - the last known location of Aguinaldo.
The town of Kawit in Cavite will forever be etched in Philippine history as the place where our nation's independence was declared in 1898. The town was a thriving community prior to the arrival of the Spaniards and was originally composed of Kawit, Cavite City, Noveleta, and Imus known as "Cavite El Viejo". It was in Cavite El Viejo where Spanish influences took its roots to later on spread through the corners of Cavite.
Less than two hours after our search party launched our operations, Asher and I found ourselves staring at the iconic white washed mansion of Kawit. The grand shrine was the first in our itinerary.
The Aguinaldo Shrine is probably one of, if not, the most popular mansions in the country. It is on the balcony of this mansion where Filipino freedom fighters proudly declared the country’s sovereignty by raising the Philippine flag led by the country’s first President, Emilio Aguinaldo. The mansion has become a symbol of freedom and Filipino nationalism.
The mansion is the birthplace of Emilio Aguinaldo. It was first completed in 1845 and has undergone a number of renovations, some of which had Aguinaldo as the architect. The 5-storey ancestral house is a maze of hidden passageways and secret doors for the security of the Katipunero’s highest leader. The mansion was probably the grandest during its time with a swimming pool and a bowling lane INSIDE the house.
We started our search on the first floor of the house where the first thing that caught my attention was the two-alley bowling lane. I mean, you rarely see a house with its own bowling lanes and an old house at that, right?
Anyway, the first floor of the house had been turned into a gallery of history where you get to see the life of Emilio Aguinaldo through historical records and memorabilia. An old chess board, an old car plate, clothes, and even eating utensils used by the former President are all displayed in the museum. It gives you a glimpse of how life was during his time.
The second floor of the house gives you a glimpse of Aguinaldo as a family man and the role that the house played in the fight for independence.
Located on the east side of the mansion are the three rooms of Aguinaldo’s daughters where they have displayed some of the daughter’s personal effects. At the end of the hallway is the “azotea” where the family took afternoon rests. This is also where the daughters received their suitors who would later become their husbands. It was also referred to as the “Galeria de los Pecadores” or Gallery of Sinners because the Filipino military used the covered balcony as a venue for their tactical meetings.
The main hall is the most interesting part of the house because the way it’s design spoke volumes of the house’s history and the country’s struggle for independence. The interior design had the touch of nationalism from the relief map of the Philippines to the seals of the revolution that outlined the provinces that are going against the oppressors. On display on the main hall are antique furniture used by our brave Katipuneros during their meetings.
The main hall is also adjacent to the historical balcony where the Philippine flag was raised as a sign of our sovereignty.
Interestingly, the main hall has a lot of secret doors for document safekeeping and passageways that lead one from one point to another in the house. With an influential person as resident in the house, these hidden doors make it easier for Aguinaldo to easily leave the house when his security is compromised.
Unfortunately the upper floors of the mansion and the tower is not accessible unless you enlist on a “guided” tour and I will leave it at that.
The mansion sits on a sprawling land with manicured lawns. War memorabilia are also on display within the compound. The huge “washing machine” structure is still standing today and is an interesting piece to discover. Did you know that it was a man’s job to do the laundry during Aguinaldo’s time?
In the midst of the sprawling garden is the tomb where the remains of the first Philippine President lie. The Aguinaldo Shrine is not only a symbol of independence but it is also a place where a leader was born and, eventually, where his remains were finally laid to rest.
As you step outside the Aguinaldo Shrine, you will be welcomed to a huge open park that is now known as the Aguinaldo Park. I remember when I was younger having seen the shrine and it sits along a major vein of Kawit’s road system. However, it is no longer the case with the creation of the park in 1998 in line with the Philippine Centennial Celebration.
The park is highlighted by a bronze statue of Emilio Aguinaldo mounted on a horse and ready for battle. A flagpole sits right behind the monument where the Philippine flag proudly flutters. The base of the flagpole bears the National Historical Commission’s memoriam to a man who lead the country to its freedom.
Old Kawit Town Hall
As we continued on with our search by walking along Kawit’s major road, we stumbled upon the Kawit Town Hall. The 2-storey pink building, situated along Tirona Highway, had its part in Philippine history. The site was where the original town hall once stood that Aguinaldo and Tirona seized in August 1896 that marked the beginning of the revolution in the province of Cavite.
The only memory of the fateful event is the National Historical Commission’s marker installed on its façade.
Heneral Dandido Tria Tirona Monument
A silent monument for a war hero stands beside the Kawit Church. Interestingly, the monument also bears the marker from the National Historical Commission honouring Heneral Dandido Tirona. Who is General Tirona?
General Tirona was one of the leaders who helped grow the ranks of the Katipunan in the province of Cavite. Aguinaldo and Tirona started the revolution in Cavite when they seized the Kawit Town Hall. He died a hero in the Battle of Binakayan.
Simbahan ng Kawit
The Simbahan ng Kawit was first established in 1624 and marked the entry of the Catholic faith in the province of Cavite. Also known as the St. Mary Magdalene Church of Kawit, the church is one of the oldest in the country and was declared as a historical structure of the National Historical Commission in 1990.
The church structural design, made of bricks, stone, and wood, is void of any extravagance. It is evokes simplicity and devotion. The only highlight of its façade is the enshrined statue of the St. Mary Magdalene placed on a niche on the third level of its exterior. The four-level church belfry on the right side of the church, with its dome shaped top, dominates the skyline of Kawit.
The church had a homey feel with the mix of brick and wood structures. The main highlight of the church is its three-tiered golden “retablo” adorned with images of saints and intricate wood carving designs. Interestingly, the church has 14 windows depicting the 14 Stations of the Cross.
General Emilio Aguinaldo was baptized in St. Mary Magdalene Church of Kawit.
Battle of Binakayan Monument
In November of 1896, valiant Katipuneros fought a significant battle against the Spaniards along the shores of Binakayan in Kawit. It was a significant battle for the revolutionaries because it was the first major win of Filipinos against the Spaniards under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo.
The Battle of Binakayan Monument along Governor’s Road is the silent reminder of this decisive battle between Filipinos and its Spanish oppressors that would eventually lead to the liberation of the country from the hands of Spanish rulers.
Gen. Baldomero Aguinaldo Shrine
Tucked comfortably in a district in Kawit is another historical “bahay-na-bato” owned by another Aguinaldo – the General Baldomero Aguinaldo Shrine.
The two-storey house is now a museum that has the personal effects of General Baldomero and his family on display. The general is the cousin of the General Emilio Aguinaldo. Similarly, Baldomero played a crucial role in the revolution as the head of the Kawit Chapter of the Katipunan. He also became the Secretary of War and Public Works of the First Philippine Republic.
The shrine is also the final resting place of the honoured general as his tomb lies at the garden area of the compound.
Food Stop: Hidden Tapsi
Hidden Taps is a popular food joint in Kawit. Located along Mascardo Street and some three blocks away from the Simbahan ng Kawit, this restaurant is “hidden” because you have to enter a small side street to get to the food joint and enjoy their famous tapsilog.
Food Stop: Betoy’s Burger and Milkshake
After all the walking under the sun, Betoy’s is a must-try treat. The café is located just right across the Kawit Town Hall. Their yummy milkshakes is highly recommended to quench your thirst.
Post Travel Notes
As we look forward to the celebration of Philippine Independence on June 12, Kawit will definitely be on the limelight again. It is a place worth visiting, with your kids, to get that sense of nationalism and pride as Filipinos. It will give you a glimpse on how our nation was born from the blood and courage of Filipinos who had gone before us. The freedom that we value so much now was earned from the sacrifices and bravery of Pinoys who ought it out until the end.
Although we never really saw Emilio Aguinaldo during the trip, tracing back his footsteps in his hometown gave us a glimpse of the life that he lived. From the house where he was born to the glorious fights that he led, he understood the dangerous life that he was living. He fought for and with Filipinos. He was a man who did not face fear and death head on for the fight for sovereignty but he was a man who also struggled to keep a young nation at its feet.
Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!
Getting There: From Baclaran in Pasay, you can take a bus headed for Cavite City or Noveleta via CAVITEX along Roxas Boulevard. You can ask the drier to drop you off at the Aguinaldo Shrine which is just along the highway. Trip is about 30-40 minutes.
Journals of the Traveling DaDa is the travel journal of the daddy and daughter tandem of Marc and Asher to document their trips with the objective to encourage Filipinos to travel and explore the Philippines. Please follow them on Instagram - @marc7del, @payatnalaskwatero, and @thetravelingdada and check out their travel visual stories.
I am in love with Manila!
It is quite easy to fall in love for a city that has a healthy mix of modernity, history, and culture. I love its raw and tough atmosphere, an aspect that I have initially feared but I have learned to love now that I get to have a weekly personal encounter with one of the country's premiere cities.
At the center of Manila's rugged atmosphere is Binondo, Manila's Chinatown. Established in 1594, Binondo is the oldest Chinatown in the world and was once the country's center for finance and business. Manila's initial pomp and pageantry slowly faded after World War 2 and the gradual shift also affected Binondo. But despite of these changes, Binondo remains to be the center for business for our Filipino-Chinese community and was able to keep its rich culture and heritage through the years.
There are a lot of interesting fact in Binondo that were uncovered when we joined the fray of the Chinese New Year's celebration. Join me as we uncover the history, the culture, and trying to find a touch of our luck as we explore Binondo!
Did you know that the country's first center for finance and commerce was in Binondo?
There are three popular streets in Binondo and one of them is Escolta - the "Makati" of the earlier years of the country. The street was the first home of the country's biggest players in finance and commerce. Although its glamour has faded through the years, a lot of efforts are being put in to revive the popularity of Escolta.
You can walk along its cobblestone street to explore the historical structures that line Escolta. Start by enjoying the neo-classical building of the Don Roman Santos Building that now serves as the home of Bank of the Philippine Islands. Walk down the street to enjoy the neo-classical design of Regina Building and the beaux art style. of Natividad Building and Calvo Building - the first home of GMA Network. You can also check out Burke Building where the first elevator in Manila was installed and the First United Building which was once the tallest building in the country.
While you are at it, do check out the Capitol Theater. The theater was designed by Juan Nakpil with a rare design of having 2 balconies. You can walk the whole length to admire the neo-classical El Hogar Building that was built as a wedding gift. If Taal has the Wedding House, Escolta has the Wedding Building.
Calle de la Escolta is a treasure trove for history buffs and there are a lot to explore that is worthy of a separate blog entry. The renewed attention on Escolta paved the way for the drive to reconstruct and preserve these old structures. A move that can clearly state that modernity can mix with history when we give it proper attention.
Anyone up for walk at Calle de Escolta?
Did you know that the new Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arc at the foot of Jones Bridge is the largest in the world?
Standing at the height of 63.8 feet and the width of 74 feet, the new Filipino Chinese Friendship Arc is the largest in the world overshadowing the arc in Washington, USA. The arc was unveiled in 2015 and featured a more modernized look highlighted by three Chinese pagodas. Its current location stands at the foot of Jones Bridge to now include Escolta.
Just a few meters away is the smaller and original friendship arc that for years greeted locals and visitors to this district of Manila.
Although the new arc may have raised some questions from local historians, the arc is very appealing and exudes the vibrance of the culture and heritage of Binondo.
Did you know that you can find a small replica of the Statue of Liberty in Binondo?
Tucked along Juan Luna Street is an old building that was once one of the biggest malls in the country. The Aguinaldo Mall was a 6-story building that was inaugurated in 1931 under the ownership of Leopoldo R. Aguinaldo & Co. It was involved in the trading of footwear supplies, women accessories, and hair products.
The mall had already ceased operations but the current structure remains standing along the busy street of Juan Luna. Except for some business on the ground floor, the building shows its age.
However, the building facade still has its iconic human sculptures although it is camouflaged within electric wires. The building has a small replica of the Statue of Liberty, one of the few that you can find in the country. It stands side by side with the image of Andres Bonifacio, which is an irony since the the mall is called Aguinaldo. The two images show the fusion of two cultures in one venue.
Did you know that the first Filipino Saint was born in Binondo?
Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz is at the heart of Binondo's bustling community. The public square was originally called Plaza de Binondo and served as an economic hub for the locals. It was later renamed to Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz to honor the first Filipino saint who was born in Binondo.
The public plaza is one of the few open parks in Manila. It is highlighted by a sculpture of Lorenzo Ruiz at the center. Interestingly the plaza has two fountains on both ends which are part of the original strructural installations during its earlier years.
Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz was once considered to be one of the "most impressive open spaces in Manila" because of its aesthetics. Although the park has evolved from greens to a concrete park, it was able to retain the trees that are peppered in the area. It still remains a center for activities where major activities for the communities are staged here.
Did you know that the octagonal belltower of the Binondo Church is the only original structure from the 16th century church?
The massive Binondo Church has gone through a lot of reconstruction after being damaged by natural calamities and the only original structure from the 16th Century is its belltower. The church is huge with its high ceiling interior. One of its highlights are its painted ceilings that depict the life of Jesus Christ.
The altar is also a point of interest as it was loosely designed to look like Vatican's Saint Peter's Basiica.
Enshrined in one corner of the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz is the Sto. Cristo de Longos - a blackened image of the crucified Christ. The image was said to have been found in the 16th century by a deaf-mute Chinese. The image is said to be miraculous that the deaf-mute was able to speak right after his discovery.
Did you know that you can enjoy a feel of Hong Kong’s side market in Carvajal Street in Binondo?
Carvajal Street may look like an unassuming street that connect Quintin Paredes and Yuchengco. But when you walk along Carvajal, it will transport you to a different place. The look and feel of the street is very similar to the market side streets that you see in Hong Kong.
Carvajal Street is a street of all market trades. The street is lined up with fruit and vegetable vendors, meat and fish vendors, small eateries, snack houses, and small businesses. Interestingly, there are stores near the Yuchengco end that also sell Chinese products from the popular ones to the “exotic” ones.
So do not miss out on Carvajal Street to get that authentic Chinese street feel when you are in Binondo.
Did you know that Ongpin Street is a melting pot of all trades?
Name it and Ongpin Street has it. From food establishments to jewelry shops, Ongpin Street is probably the most iconic among the three popular streets in Binondo. I mean, Binondo is always equated to Ongpin, right?
The street stretches from Binondo Church to the Santa Cruz Church and it is lined with all kinds of trade – hotel, food establishments, Chinese Drugstores, Chinese Charm Stores, groceries, and jewelries. It is a major artery of the district and has always been the center of Filipino-Chinese commerce in Manila.
The best time to visit Ongpin Street is during the Chinese New Year celebration where you get to see the whole street burst out in revelry, not to mention the crowd. The whole stretch of the street is colored red and with activities happening left and right. You get to enjoy watching Dragon Dances, both the authentic and the innovative ones. You can also enjoy checking out Chinese Charm stores to get a dose of charms that will give you good luck.
But one thing that you will enjoy in Ongpin Street is trying out the authentic Chinese dishes from the restaurants located along Ongpin Street and its side streets. The gastronomic delights of Ongpin Street is worthy of an independent blog entry soon. And just before you head home, drop by Eng Bee Tin to buy your favorite take home treats – hopia and tikoy!
On a side note, you can also check out the largest tikoy in the Philippines on display at Eng Bee Tin during the Chinese New Year Celebration.
Did you know that there is a temple in Binondo where you can seek advice for your future?
This was my second time to visit Kuang Kong Temple along Kipuja Street. This temple dedicated to Chinese deity Kuang Kong is one of the few Buddhist Temples that are open to the public. Kuang Kong is known as the Goddess of Mercy and is also the Patron of Scholars and Martial Arts.
As from my previous visit, the temple had a lot of visitors offering their prayers and requests while burning incense. There were even devotees who offered fruits as their offerings. For those who want to seek advice for their future, you can approach the elders of the church who can give you insights of it. They can also advice you on what to do to attract the positives in your life.
Post Travel Notes:
Binondo is a district in Manila that simply brims with pride when it comes to their unique heritage and culture. It is amazing that despite the urban decay that happened in Manila, Binondo is one district that has managed to sustain its urban charm. It is one of the most vibrant district of Manila with its eclectic atmosphere making it one of the preferred tourist destinations in Manila.
There are still a lot of nooks and crannies to discover in Binondo. There are food spots to check out and, with the renewed attention on Escolta, discover its development that attracted the younger crowd. All these things are worthy of another shot to walk and explore Binondo again.
Getting There: One can take the LRT 1 train and go down Carriedo Station. From the station, you can walk towards the Plaza Lacson. You can start your walking tour from the Roman Santos Building and Escolta.
“Explore Manila!” is a personal project to go around the cities and the lone municipality of Metro Manila to discover its tourist destinations and what it has to offer. I plan to continue the project on the second half of 2017 to discover what the cities, located down south, have to offer. If you are up for a city exploration, leave a message or shoot me an email so I can update you of the schedules.
With 44 islands to choose from, we never ran out of places to discover and explore. We had our complete fill of white sand beaches the whole time. Whilst some places were blessed with a couple of white sand shorelines, I think that probably Balabac got the most share of it. But the Balabac Group of Island is more than just a collection of islands. It is a vacation buffet of sorts where you can also enjoy rock formations, sandbars, natural infinity pools, and a very rich marine ecosystem underneath its waters.
Balabac is the westernmost point of the Philippines. It sits close to Sabah, Malaysia with the Balabac Strait as it natural boundary. Despite its natural beauty, Balabac has trailed behind its northern counterparts like Coron and El Nido in terms of its tourism economy probably because of some safety concerns and perception.
This is the second of my two-part #BalabacAsyon travel blog. Again, the words and captures that I used on this blog is an injustice to the real beauty of the place. I do encourage you that if you have the means and the time to visit Balabac, do it with a reputable travel agency, better yet… sign up with FB travel group Kilometer Zero Ph so you can definitely enjoy the real beauty of this paradise on this side of Palawan.
You probably noticed that my earlier blog featured the white sand beach destinations of Balabac but do not be deceived because these group of islands have a variety of interesting spots to offer. Balabac can also be a toughie with its amazing rock formations and these rock features will simply make your jaw drop.
Remember this beach spot from the first blog?
Kabkabun Island sits right across the sandy shores of Silom-Silom Beach. This rocky island is in fact connected by a natural bridge that one can cross during low tide and forms part of the property of Kuya Helvin. The island whose main feature is a solid rock formation at the center of the island. Its coastline is mostly rocks formations with a small patch of white sand where our boats docked.
The island is the smallest that we visited and you can easily explore the whole island by foot. Far from the usual beach stops that we had, Kabkabun Island had the most dramatic backdrop because of its rock formations. I guess its rocky landscape is a great playground to play around with our cameras and subject.
Kuya Helvin shared with us that pineapples used to grow on top of the island's main rock formation. Unfortunately, the plants were destroyed during the last typhoon that hit the area. I am hoping that on our next visit, we will be able to cross the natural bridge to Silom-Silom Beach.
Coming from the sea, I found Timbayan Island's rock formation odd. I could not figure out what it was whether it was an overhanging rock or a dried coconut tree. But the real beauty of Timbayan Island can be seen, not on the shore, but by viewing it from the top.
I dubbed Timbayan's rock formation as "God's Unfinished Natural Runway".
Viewing the formation atop an overhanging rock, the natural rock formation looked like an unfinished airport runway extending towards the sea. The view will simply keep you in awe. I realized that Balabac was indeed blessed with so much beauty, polished and rugged. I think that to better appreciate the beauty of Timbayan, one has gotta to see it first from the same vantage point where we started.
Coming face-to-face with Timbayan's rock formation, one could see the actual crevices of the "abandoned runway". You can actually find small saltwater pools long the crevices with schools of small fish. I did not want to miss out on walking the length of the "runway" until I reached its tip where I was given a different view of Timbayan's beauty.
Timbayan Island is not all rock formations. On one side of the island is a small white sand cove where our boats docked while the other side had a longer stretch of white sand shores to enjoy. But Timbayan Island stands out because of "God's runway" and it is the same feature that makes it stand out.
Ramos Island: The Beauty Underneath
Throughout our trip, our group was simply mesmerized by the beauty of Balabac with its beaches, sandbars, etc. Everytime we head back to our campsite, we would always talk about attempting to check out the beauty that lies beneath the waters of Balabac. The boat crew would share with us stories about sightings of dolphins and sea turtles. We were hoping to have the same encounter but I guess we were not that lucky. And besides, poaching was probably driving these marine animals away from the area.
We did get a chance to experience the underwater beauty of Balabac when we stopped over a snorkeling site off the coast of Ramos Island. The beauty of Balabac radiates even under its waters. The reef area where we anchored was teeming with marine life and we were all like kids enjoying a new toy.
Here is a funny anecdote... Nemo seems to be enjoying his spot here in Balabac. Nemo was never lost. Nemo was simply shunning away from his newfound popularity and opted to stay in the peaceful waters of Balabac.
Natural Infinity Pools
Pool palaces is probably one of the most talked about party venues in the metro. It is a cool idea partying with friends by the poolside. But long before humans ever thought about this amazing idea, God has already molded the very same concept with nature and Balabac was His party venue. These pool palaces beat the city one's out with a natural infinity pool and a wave pool rolled into one. And with Kap's boat crew, it was a party like no other.
Unnamed Infinity Pool, Matanguli Island
This still unnamed "infinity pool" off the coast of Matanguli Island was our very first taste of a narural infinity pool. Imagine a huge area of about a hectare or two with turquoise waters glistening under the summer sun. From our boat, you could see the white sand bottom of the pool that extends to where the water turns deep blue. You know that the color transition was because of the drop on the sea floor.
As our boat anchored on its white sand seafloor, I noticed that the waves were quite huge that our boat was bobbing up and down. This made me queasy so I simply jumped out of the boat into the cool waters. The water was just about 4 feet deep. In no time, everyone was already out and about enjoying its clear waters and enjoying the soft feel of the sand under our feet. It was like being in a wave pool with soft white sand under. The only difference was all of these were naturally made with a great view of the surrounding islands to boot.
KMZ Sandbar / Stingray Sandbar
Remember Candaraman Island from the previous post?
Candaraman Island is a gem from almost all sides. It is probably one of the islands blessed with so much beauty both under and above its waters. Our #BalabacAsyon ended with a blast when he headed to another natural infinity pool located north of Candaraman Island. The Stingray Sandbar, also known as KMZ sandbar, is another perfect place to throw a pool party.
Unlike the first natural infinity pool that we visited, the KMZ sandbar has tamer waves that allowed us to enjoy our send-off party. The clear waters was so inviting that after the crew drove out possible stingray occupants in the area, everyone simply jumped into the pool. Yes, stingrays frequent the area but we were not that lucky to catch a glimpse of the sea creature.
Interestingly, the deeper waters in the area yielded unique sea creatures. I was especially drawn to a different kind of starfish. While we are all familiar with the usual shape of a starfish, the one that we saw is a rounded green one. It was as if Balabac was saying that it is different and that it stands out from the rest. It was definitely a fitting send off for us.
If 2016 gave bar hopping a different definition, Balabac’s version of bar hopping elevates the activity to a different ball game. It was simply a fight of beauty and experience. If you are fascinated by sandbars, this part of Palawan will not only give you quantity but with a sure dose of quality sandbars to hop on.
Angela Sandbar / Mansalangan Sandbar
Let me share with you the story behind the name of Angela’s sandbar. Often referred to as Mansalangan by locals, it is funny that the sandbar does not pop out on google maps when you type in “Mansalangan”. This sandbar is a popular stop in Balabac and did not go by a popular name. But the frequent visits of Kilometer Zero PH had their team jokingly refer to it as Angela’s sandbar, in reference to one of Km0’s founders. In due time, the name did pick up until it was geo tagged as Angela’s sandbar.
The sandbar glistened in the noontime sun in all its splendour. I guess that the lunch hour is the best time to visit as the tides are lower revealing the whole length of the sandbar. Angela’s sandbar is a beauty that gets you excited as you approach it because you could watch the white sandbar grow in front of you like it was rising from the sea.
Not willing to endure the noontime sun, we opted to proceed with the tour and to just drop by the sandbar in the afternoon on our way back to camp. Our second visit had the tides flowing in so part of the sandbar was already submerged in saltwater. The waves and the sun was friendlier and the best part of it was that we had the whole sandbar to ourselves. It was quite an experience to watch the parts of the sandbar slowly going underwater while we strolled down its powdery white sand.
Talking about naming sandbars, Balabac is still an uncharted territory and there are still a lot of sandbars that remains unnamed. Take the case of an unnamed sandbar located on the southern tip of Candaraman Island that we visited before heading back to camp.
It was a thrill strolling along the short strip of sand in the middle of the waters that separate Candaraman and Balabac Island. The 300-meter sandbar was a great place to enjoy another round of swimming or simply to run the length of the sandbar.
Interestingly, we were all lobbying Kap to name the sandbar under our name. It would be cool to have a sandbar named after you. But if I were to name the sandbar, I would name it the “Great Divide Sandbar”.
Simply because an interesting feature of this unnamed sandbar was that it stands to divide the black sea urchins and the starfish. On one side of the sandbar is where you dare not swim because of the presence of a lot of sea urchins while the other side makes you feel like a star as you swim with a lot starfish.
A few meters from the unnamed sandbar is the sandbar of the stars. Starfish Sandbar and the Unnamed Sandbar are just two of the five sandbars located south of Candaraman Island. As the name implies, the sand bar is the home of hundreds of starfish and you would be amazed to see these creatures spread out underwater as you approach the sandbar.
We enjoyed counting them until we can no longer do so because there was just plain too many. The sandbar seemed to be a place where all these starfish could get together to discuss issues that affect them. If you are lucky enough, you can try to find the six-legged starfish in the area.
Punta Sebaring, Bugsuk Island
The sandbar of all the sandbars that I have been so far in the country. Punta Sebaring is already an eye candy even as you approach Bugsuk Island. The white sand that stretches far into the sea can be seen even if you are still quite a distance from the docking area. Punta Sebaring is one of the popular stops here in Balabac, not only for its beauty, but it is also where you can find one of the finest white sand in the country, if not the finest.
Stepping onto the wet white sand of Punta Sebaring was like stepping onto a big marshmallow where your feet actually sinks in a few inches. That is how fine the sand in Punta Sebaring. The stretch of white sand rippled by water was a great element for photos, and we all tried to artistically put traces of foot steps towards the forested area of Bugsuk. The rustic scene and the soft feel of its white powdery sand on our soles was enough to make Punta Sebaring my favorite Balabac spot. I would not mind visiting it over and over again.
I have to agree to those who also visited Punta Sebaring that it is where you will find the finest white sand in the Philippines. But to visit the place requires the right timing because the tides can make it difficult for boats to traverse the waters leading to it like how ours did when we left the place. But it is definitely a piece of paradise here on earth for every beach lover. Just make sure that you protect yourself from beach tick bites before hitting the sandbar or exploring further inland.
Post Travel Notes:
Balabac is just beyond comparisons. Its beauty further solidifies Palawan’s spot as a tourist destination that is like no other. It is a league of its own. Our #BalabacAsyon was like going to a buffet of sorts where you have a fill of everything on the menu and you simply come out full and more than satisfied. Balabac levels up expectations on white sand beaches, sandbars, underwater wonders, and rock formations. The variety that Balabac offers is simply jaw-dropping and that you simply look forward to what it can still offer.
Balabac is an off-beat destination that is ready to score big, now that it is starting to catch the interest of travelers. I am glad that I was able to enjoy it in its early stages of tourism development. The whole #BalabacAsyon was an encounter that simply caught us breathless that we came out of the experience wanting to discover more.
And yes, we will.
For those who are interested to discover more of what Balabac can offer, our IG travel group, @viajerongpinoy, teamed up with @kilometerzeroph for a 6 days 5 nights exploration of the Balabac Group of Islands on March 24 – 30, 2018. For more details about this instaviaje, follow us on Instagram and Facebook.
Getting there: Going to Balabac is a total of 10 hours of travel by air, land, and sea from Manila. In our case, we opted to join one of the organized trips of Kilometer Zero PH. I highly recommend their group as the trip was very fun, organized, and extremely safe. And with Kap Andong at the helm of the trip, you are sure to get a lot of great sites and insights. You need not worry about anything once you step inside their van. The flights to Puerto Princesa and your pre and post-trip accommodations are the only things that you need to work on.
If you want a full and satisfying #BalabacAsyon experience, you can reach Kilometer Zero PH here.
Shout-outs: Huge shout-out to Hull and Stern for keeping the Viajerong Pinoy’s stuff dry during our island hopping activities with our personalized Hull and Stern dry bags.
Huge shoutout to IG: @igramer for some of the shots featured on this blog.
You can also follow us on Instagram: @marc7del, @payatnalaskwatero, and @thetravelingdada for more of our travel visual stories.
You can also follow @viajerongpinoy on Instagram and on Facebook to discover the beauty of the Philippines from the eyes of our fellow Pinoy travelers.
As I was on my way to BGC yesterday for a meeting, I stumbled upon another horror travel story that was posted in one of the FB travel groups that I follow. It warned its members about getting the services of a Facebook travel organizing group sharing the horrors of her experience. She shared that the way it was handled by the organizers were so bad that it completely spoiled her whole travel experience.
The incident made me smile because I, myself, had a slightly similar experience over Labor Day weekend but not as horrific as the one shared by the FB user.
Just to give you a brief, I decided to be “joiner” to an organized backpacking trip to Romblon last weekend. My decision to join this organized travel by this FB group was that I wanted to visit Cresta de Gallo in Sibuyan Island without the hassle of arranging the transportation on a very long weekend. In short, it was more of the convenience over a DIY trip. Now, this was my first time to be a joiner of a trip.
Everything was going smoothly. There were some bumps along the way but that was understandable. I mean no trip is close to perfection and, as an advocate of local travel, I have understood that through years of traveling in the Philippines. These “bumps” add flavor to the travel experience. But a major mishap towards the end of our Romblon trip created a stir to most of the joiners.
The trip organizers failed to secure our return tickets to Batangas City ahead of the long weekend so their purchase went head-to-head with the deluge of ticket demand from the Labor Day weekend crowd. And for those who have been traveling in the Philippines, you know what that means, right? So to cut the story short, we got stranded for a day in Romblon and we were all “lucky” as chance passengers on our second day. We arrived in Batangas City a day later than what was mentioned in the group’s committed itinerary.
Honestly, the “mishap” was an incident that could have easily been recovered had the organizers properly handled the situation. It was a simple case of managing the expectations of everyone on board. I think that if the organizers approached the situation tactically, the tour would have ended on a high rather than on a sour note.
Let me share with you my pick-up points from the incident and I hope that for those who are involve in organizing these kinds of trips or for those who intend to go into one, you could learn a thing or two from this piece.
Commitments are commitments. Stop giving “backpacking” a bad name.
For FB groups who organize trips, please drop the “backpacking” excuse to cover up for your mistakes.
Backpacking is a travel concept where the idea is you only have a backpack for your stuff and for mobility purposes. It also involves the flexibility of time and destination depending on the whims of the traveler or travelers. Everyone is involved in the planning and execution. The uncertainty and unpredictability card for this kind of trips are high and this is usually applied to DIY trips.
But when a group offers a package for an organized tour, the trip’s level of uncertainty and unpredictability for its participants diminishes at a very low rate. The understanding is that the organizer has already studied the itinerary that he or she is presenting hereby giving the participants the leverage to manage their schedule around the itinerary. In short, you do not ask the participants if they are okay with the itinerary but you tell them that this is our committed itinerary to the traveling group and the participants’ work around it.
With this itinerary, you also work on the arrangements for everything because the organizer offered a package where he or she commits to take charge of all these arrangements – from transportation, food, and accommodations. It is the reason why participants join in. They want the convenience of a person or a group to organize everything. In most cases, organizers are not commissioned to draft it and he or she offers these packages to followers which makes their commitment stronger to participants.
In short, an organizer’s commitment is a commitment. If changes should occur along the way, the organizer takes on the responsibility for it. You do not turn the tables around and make it look that it was the participants’ fault because it was a backpacking trip. You offered an organized tour where participants work around it and it is the organizer’s responsibility to deliver. It diminishes the right of an organizer to pull out the “backpacking” card when things go wrong.
When things go wrong, it is a mistake of the organizer and not the concept of backpacking.
Apologize, Resolve, and Offer Concrete Solutions
Every trip will always entail some minor bumps along the way and to minimize those “bumps” is part and parcel of being a travel organizer. It is the organizers responsibility to manage these bumps and expectations. In fact, some of these bumps, if managed properly, will actually be swept under the rug in no time.
But there are those really nasty travel “bumps” that could have been avoided with proper planning and foresight. In our case, having no return tickets back to Batangas could have been avoided if it was addressed weeks ahead considering that organizers knew it was a Labor Day Weekend. But as they say, shit happens and it did. Unfortunately, that crucial mistake caused a domino effect during the latter part of the trip.
I think another crucial lapse on the part of most travel organizers is their inability to sufficiently address such “travel crisis”. Travel organizers should take heed that no amount of explanation will justify the organizer’s mistake of not handling a basic expectation from them. It is like a student coming into an examination room with a calculator but without a pen. That is how important the basics are.
But there will always be situations where basics are being missed out and these situations would differentiate the mature ones from the rest. The mature ones will simply apologize, recognize their lapse, and offer no other explanations. Again, you can give a hundred of explanations but it will not diminish that it was the organizer’s fault.
Sabi nga nila, kayo nagkamali, sino ang dapat mag-aadjust?
Mature tour organizers will always find a concrete solution and will not work on chance. Organizers need to address the uncertainty that the participants are feeling. Whether they admit it or not, a feeling of disappointment will run among the participants and organizers should be ready to face that. But if you give them a concrete plan where the feeling of uncertainty is addressed, most of the participants would understand.
In our case in Romblon, all of the participants knew that we were already stranded and we were all trying to just go on with the day. However, the feeling of uncertainty with everyone later on took a toll because the organizers failed to give us a specific date on when we could return back to our normal lives. It was like getting stuck without knowing when we will get out. As I have mentioned to a friend, it would have been better if the organizers told us that we have sure RoRo tickets for everyone on May 4 but we will still try our chances on May 2 and May 3 to get on a boat for Batangas. If this was the case, I could have easily adjusted my schedules to May 5, planned where to go on the next two days, and I would have been one person off their back.
Again, it was a simple case of providing us with a concrete solution rather than simply playing with chance and uncertainty.
What you say matters. Watch your words.
I have always believed that in whatever “crisis” that you are into, less is more. I have always practiced to only provide details on what is necessary to those affected rather than giving them a whole gamut of explanations to which they would then start rationalizing. I stick to the facts, share the action plan, and just give you the status. This way it also shows that I am on top of the situation because I can explain the situation and action plan simply.
The wrong words can get a whole fire running.
Travel organizers should have a strong presence of mind during these “travel crisis” and the first impulse should be to work on the welfare of their participants. They should ensure that proper assistance is of high priority. Most of your participants know that you are not a legal business entity so they are aware of your limitations but that should not stop you from providing assistance, at the least.
Due prudence with your words and actions will give organizers an added advantage. Remember that it is the primary responsibility of the organizer to make their participants understand the situation, and not the other way around. It was the organizers’ negligence that caused the inconvenience so do not expect paying participants to understand especially if the lapse was a basic expectation that the organizer promised from the start.
On the side note, travel organizers should also refrain from sneaky side comments because it just adds fuel to the fire and it does not help the situation. Remember how the situation is handled is a reflection of the tour organizer and not its participants.
As I look back at the situation, it was one of those opportunities where the coordinators could have easily worked the situation to their advantage if they only stopped for a brief moment and coordinated themselves first. Having done DIYs and organized group trips previously, I understand that there was a lapse on their part but they could have easily recovered if they managed expectations early among the participants.
As I have said earlier on I will practice due prudence by intentionally not naming the FB travel organizer’s name on this blog. I would like to give them the space to further improve their services through this feedback and hopefully help the start-ups, as well. Feedback is best way to make people see how they can move from good to great but the first step is to accept the feedback with an open mind.
So how was the Romblon experience?
It was a great experience.
There were some lapses and bumps but I would not let those bumps spoil a weekend that could rival the events happening in Boracay. No one can definitely beat that King’s cup game in Cresta de Gallo. No worries, I will be blogging about the trip soon but probably without endorsements or recommendations, at this time.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.