Traveling the Philippines is like going through a room full of surprises. There are places where you have a fairly good idea of what to expect and there are those that you simply do not know what’s there but it simply leaves you captivated. The province of Abra probably qualifies under the latter where you expect less and yet you gain more.
Landlocked and rugged, Abra does not come off as the usual tourist destination in the north. It often falls under the shadows of the Ilocandia where it was once under its administrative jurisdiction. It does not help either that the province has gained the notoriety of a place where communist rebels seek refuge in its mountain ranges. These notions created a barrier for travelers to bring their itch for travels somewhere else rather than exploring Abra. I guess the rise in the interest towards the province was driven by social media. Thanks to a viral photo of Kaparkan Falls, the province’s secret gem, that became its key to opening Abra and its natural beauty to the Philippine travelers.
So when the opportunity to join an organized trip, by Yam Travels, to Abra came about, I felt that it was a “safer” option for me to explore Abra’s historical and natural wonders. I was going to be with a group and that I do not have to worry about the itinerary.
Rolling It Out in Abra!
The green farmlands and hillsides of Abra was a welcome sight after enduring an 8 hour land trip from Manila. We arrived just a little before 6am and, after our group registered with the local DPWH office, we boarded a jeep headed to our first stop - the Apao Rolling Hills.
Apao Rolling Hills, from its view deck, is a series of mountain ranges surrounding Abra. It gives you a beautiful panoramic view of the province’s rugged terrain. The green rolling hills will captivate you with its serene and relaxing view complemented by its cool mountain breeze. The view is like a set straight out of a movie that our group simply had fun with our creativity to get a perfect shot of the view.
Getting to Apao can be quite taxing especially for some of us who just came from the 8-hour land trip from Manila. It is another 2-hour jeepney ride with half of the trip on rough roads so make sure that you have a firm grip on the hand rails. But the amazing view of its rolling hills is definitely a worthy reward.
Out and About in Abra
After the early morning trip to Apao, we geared ourselves to enjoy what Bangued and its surrounding towns have to offer. Abra has an interesting mix of natural beauty and rich history that is worth discovering. So after a quick lunch, we boarded our jeeps to make the rounds around town.
Don Mariano Marcos Bridge
Imagine dozing off to sleep when all of a sudden one of your companions starts yelling at the jeepney driver to stop and that she wants to go down. At that brief moment, I got a bit confused at what was happening. Only to realize that we stopped in the middle of the country’s third longest bridge - the Don Mariano Marcos Bridge.
Spanning the length of close to 887 meters, the Don Mariano Marcos bridge is the third longest bridge in the country. It spans across the Abra River and connects the municipalities of Tayum and Dolores of Abra.
Our companion’s “outburst” was all worth it because we did have a grand time taking creative shots on the bridge, with much amusement from the oldies who joined the tour.
Tayum Church, Tayum
Declared as a National Cultural Treasure, the Tayum Church or the Santa Catalina de Alejandria Parish is a Spanish-era church that was completed in 1803.
The simple and pre-dominantly Baroque style facade stands out in this sleepy town. The style used in the church is similar to that of the Manila Cathedral and Quiapo Church. A four-tierred bell tower stands adjacent to the church.
The inside of the church complements its simple exteriors. Its main highlight is a three-tierred retablo with the image of the Crucified Christ as its centerpiece. Two side altars sits on both sides of the pulpit.
Interestingly, a miniature of the church design was also installed along the convent grounds beside the image of Santa Catalina de Alejandria.
Gabriela Silang Gallery of Fine Arts, Tayum
Talk about an ancestral home of a Filipino heroine that is filled with artworks and memorabilias to the brim. It was definitely an overdose of history and creativity. That was the case of the Gabriela Silang Gallery of Fine Arts.
Just a few meters from the Tayum Church is the ancestral home of Nicolas Carino. It was in this home where Gabriela Silang sought refuge after the death of her husband in the hands of the Spaniards. It was in this house where she made the decision to continue the fight that her husband started. The home where she stayed is under renovation so the personal memorabilias of the Ilocano heroine is now temporarily housed in the main house within the compound.
The house/museum is a repository of the family's collection of artifacts, paintings, and brass.
The main house is a repository of artworks and memorabilias of the Carinos. The museum is filled with the family’s collections of paintings by Amorsolo, Juan Luna, and Picasso. It also houses the personal collection of retired Philippine Ambassador Carino of chinawares, ceramics, brass, furnitures and books that the ambassador acquired during his trips or gifts given by foreign dignitaries.
The house is full of collections and artworks. It is personally managed by the Carino family.
The museum is being managed by the ambassador’s son and it is a place that will overwhelm you with their wide array of collections. It is a must to visit the gallery when you find yourself in Abra.
San Lorenzo Ruiz Shrine, Bangued
Local legends tell a story of a tradeswoman who got rich after purchasing textile from a Chinese merchant in Vigan. Unknowingly, the Chinese merchant accodentally sold the textile, that contained money that was suppose to be sent to his family in China, to the tradeswoman. After the woman discovered the money, she denied that her purchase contained money but her conscience bothered her that she confessed her discovery to a priest. The priest said that it was a blessing and to manifest her thanksgiving had the church built near a cemetery. The story said that it is in the same church where the tradeswoman was killed.
But then again, this is a story that locals share.
Bangued is a town that pre-dates to the Spanish period and you can actually see a lot of these Spanish influences when you walk around town. I guess, we could probably say that the shrine takes its roots from being a camposanto - a small chapel built inside cemeteries where the final rites are held before the body is buried in the cemetery. Through the years, a number of these small chapels are converted into actual churches just like the one in Vigan. In this case, the San Lorenzo Ruiz Shrine stands out in the afternoon sun with its brick facade and its two belfries. It probably has gone a facelift from what it was originally intended to be used.
Whether the San Lorenzo Ruiz Shrine is a thanksgiving offer or a camposanto, it is a beauty to visit that will give you a glimpse of the town’s history.
I have always been fascinated by the beauty of the sunrise and sunset. It is probably one of those moments that I look forward to during trips. I see great beauty in watching the sun’s drama by the sea. Interestingly, Abra allowed me to view the sunset unconventionally - on a bridge above the Abra River.
The modular bridge connects Bangued and La Paz. It offers an amazing view of the Abra River and it is also a great place to enjoy the view of the sunset in Abra.
Abel Loom Weaving, La Paz
Abel Iloko is a popular hand-woven fabric from the Ilocos Region. It is one of the cottage industries in Ilocandia that visitors are interested to check out. We had the chance to visit an abel weaving facility in the municipality of La Paz.
It is important to note that the Abel Iloko is handwoven using a loom. Our group was treated to a sneak peek on how the fabric is made by one of the community’s weavers.
The Abel Iloko is a labor of love that entails hours, even days, to make depending on the design. The fabric is then turned into bags, scarves, and coin pouches. The industry provides additional income for its local residents and provides guests with a great product to bring home.
Victoria Park, Bangued
Nestled along the slopes of the Cassamata Hill National Park is a viewing deck that overlooks the town of Bangued. The Victoria Park is where you will find the “I love Abra” sign and it gives you a panoramic view of the city. The park also hosts the image of the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus and both images seem to be watching over the province.
We capped off our day with a quick stop at Victoria Park to enjoy the lights of Bangued while enjoying the cool mountain breeze. A relaxing way to end a tiring day.
Kaparkan Falls - Abra’s Secret Wonder
Let me put it out there... the road to Kaparkan Falls is not for the weak of heart. Expect to be thrown around or to hold on to the monster jeep’s railings to prevent you from being thrown off the ride. The ride, in itself, is an adventure to reckon with.
When we made a brief stop at the jump off point and watched in amazement as the jeepney crew installed chains AROUND the tires, you get that hollow feeling inside that we were going to get one hell of a ride. And we did. We had to endure 2-hours of getting lugged around, coupled by the fact that we had to hold on to the railings because our group opted to ride “top load” style. By “top load”, I meant that we were on the roof of the vehicle. I opted to take my chances “up there” rather than endure the litanies of the elderly ones who joined us on the trip and, besides, we were occasionally treated with great views of the mountain sides along the way.
Kaparkan Falls is a unique waterfall because its waters cascades in multi-tierred terraces. It gained popularity this year after a couple of pictures went viral on social media creating interest among travelers. But let me state the fact that the pictures of Kaparkan, even mine, do not give justice to the real beauty of the place. You got to visit and experience it yourself because what you see on the internet is just a small piece of the pie.
Kaparkan Falls is popular for its waterfall terraces that run down the length of one side of the mountain. It is humongous. The top level terraces of the falls are a beauty but it is just a small fraction and the views get better as you trek down its terraces.
It takes another 15 minute of downhill trek from the jump off point before you get treated with Kaparkan Falls’ beauty. I got stunned as soon as I caught a glimpse of the fall’s top level terraces. It was a beauty and it was the first time that I have experienced such natural wonder. The sound of the water cascading, the sunlight breaking through the trees, and the feel of the cool water on my feet made the bumpy and thrilling ride all worth it.
But wait there is more...
There are two things that you should not miss out doing when you find yourself in Kaparkan Falls - find your own pool and walk your way down along its numerous cascades to find the “Blue Lagoon”. The first part was easy but the latter can be quite a challenge physically.
We did head down to the bottom of Kaparkan Falls. We navigated our way through its water terraces and we were treated with amazing views of the terraces. It is true that the best views of Kaparkan Falls are further down its terraces. Our final stop was what locals call the “Blue Lagoon”. This is where you will find a final cascade into a blue pool before the waters empties itself into the Abra River.
I never thought that Kaparkan Falls covers one side of a mountain and in a manner where water cascades down terraces. It was amazing to walk along these terraces as water cascades on it. What is more surprising was how nature managed to keep this beauty a secret through the years. Watching its beauty made the whole trip worth taking.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Abra is one of the destinations where you do not expect much but you come home happy that you got more than what you bargained for. It has an interesting mix of history and culture that you would love to immerse into and understand. Kaparkan Falls totally blew me away! It was majestic and it tops my list as the most beautiful waterfall that I have seen so far in the country. Too bad though that I was not able to leisurely walk around and explore Bangued. I guess that would be a good reason to come back to Abra soon.
Abra was simply amazing!
With that said, let me rephrase my previous paragraph when I started this blog to a more appropriate one.
Landlocked and ruggedly beautiful, Abra is a great off-beat destination up north. Although the province is often feared as a rebel hotspot, Abra has an array of amazing destinations that will definitely leave you breathless.
Getting There: Partas, Dominion, and Viron Bus Lines offer regular bus trips to Bangued and the trip takes 8 hours from Manila. For those who are planning to do a DIY trip, you need to register with the local DPWH office for trips to Kaparkan Falls. Tricycles are the mode of transportation within and in the surrounding areas of Bangued.
For our trip, it was organized by Yam 795 Travel. It handled everything for us and everything went very smoothly. You can check out their FB page here for their upcoming trips.
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As I have done my travels from north to south and then east to west of the Philippines, I have encountered a couple of iconic labels and hashtag of different Philippine destinations. Most of these labels are embraced as its own and yet there are quite a few who try to ride on another destination's popularity. Let me put it straight out there, there are benefits when you associate destinations to the more popular one as it increases awareness. However the more often that you refer to the association, the bigger chance that your destination loses its own personality and kick. In the end, your spot plays only second best to the original because there can only be one.
Dingalan has been on my radar for almost a year now. Its rise in the tourism front came about because of its association to the more popular destination of Batanes. If my memory serves me right, its popularity rose around this time of last year and its discovery gave way to a new kind of adventure and a source of livelihood for its locals.
Dingalan is a municipality popular for its rugged terrain south of Aurora Province. It was once under the jurisdiction of Baler and became an independent municipality in 1962. The municipality is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre mountains exposing the municipality to the hands of nature’s creativity. As a result, its coastline was crafted to a rugged beauty that has attracted off-beat travelers.
Welcome to Dingalan
We arrived at Dingalan Feeder Port at around 6am from Manila with fellow travelers. Our trip was organized by the FB travel group, Just Go and Travel, who prepared an itinerary that was good for a day. The port was our jump-off point to Dingalan’s coastal attractions.
The port was busy when we arrived because of the regular daily load of public sea transport apart from the tourism load that they have for the day. Today, a boat was leaving for Calayan, a destination up north. I asked around and found out that the trip to Calauyapn would take 24 hours from Dingalan.
Apart from the usual activity at the port, you could really feel the more laidback atmosphere on this part of town. If it was not for the chatter of excited tourists, it would have been the usual day in Dingalan.
Dingalan’s coastline is peppered with rock formations but there are pockets of sandy shores that break through its rugged coastal terrain. Our first stop is a cove popularly referred to as White Beach by locals because of its light colored shorelines. Again, it is not as white as that of the more popular white sand shoreline but it is a good break from its rugged coastline.
White Beach is where most Dingalan guests stay as it has beach resort huts that accomodate tourists for daytrips and overnight. It is a no frills kind of resort with a small local store to cater to its guests. It is a good place for a weekend relaxation if you are up for a laidback and back-to-the-basics kind of chill.
White Beach is also the jump-off point of one of Dingalan’s main attraction - the Mountain View and Dingalan Lighthouse.
Mountain View and Dingalan Lighthouse
Mountain View and it’s nearby lighthouse catapulted Dingalan into the tourism front late last year. A number of photos that circulated on social media was enough to make travelers gravitate towards discovering Dingalan.
A 20-minute uphill trek from White Beach will bring you to a viewing deck atop a hill that offers you an amazing view of Dingalan’s rugged coastline. The vantage point gives you a panoramic picture of the mountains meeting the blue waters of the Pacific on this side of the Philippines. The view is often associated to the landscape of Batanes that, at one point, Dingalan earned the monicker “Batanes of the East”. Eventually, it was able to shy away from the dire comparison and was able to stand on its own.
The view from deck was simply amazing. We came in at around 7am and the sun was giving us the heat. Too bad though that we missed out on the sunrise because I reckon that it is a great place to watch the morning sun rising from the waters of the Pacific.
You can also catch a glimpse of Dingalan’s Lighthouse from the viewing deck. The trail to the lighthouse is different and I opted to no longer check it out since it was no longer accessible and the sun was really hiving us a beating.
Dingalan’s coastline is dotted with cliffs and rock formations. We made a quick stop in one of these coves to have a closer look of nature’s artwork.
One would be amazed with how nature crafted these formations. Natural elements designed it with years and years of battering onto these solid rocks. The end result is an amazing natural artwork which you can admire from afar and closely.
Another iconic tourist destination in Dingalan are the Lamao Caves. It is a series of caves located along the rocky coasts of Dingalan. These caves are half submerged in sea water and faces the Pacific Ocean so you can expect that the waves can sometimes be a little rough.
To experience Lamao Caves, you need to board a motorized banca. If you are lucky enough, the waves will allow your boat to get inside one of the caves as such with our case. But don’t expect the stop to be smooth. I opted to take a dip when we were inside the cave because I was starting to get dizzy with our boat bobbing up and down with the waves.
I enjoyed exploring the walls of the cave. I think that the particular cave that we were in was created when one the rock formations eroded onto the other one. It created the cavity that we were in.
We did not stay too long as some of our companions were getting nauseous already. But visiting the cave was worth it for the experience of swimming inside a coastal cave with the Pacific waters surrounding you.
Suha Rock Formation
As we headed back to White Beach, our boat guide made a brief stop at the Suha Rock Formation. Exploring Suha was a challenge because of its “dock” have sharp rocks and shellfish. Make sure that you wear protective footwear when exploring this point.
Suha gives its guests a commanding view of the Pacific Ocean. I was also mesmerized by the rushing of the seawaters in its own version of a death pool. Watching the wave crash onto the rocks had a relaxing effect on me. On one side of the formation is a mini saltwater lagoon where the water is calm. You get to enjoy a calm dip in its cool and clear waters.
Our companions explored the farther side of the Suha Rock Formation which they say was more dramatic compared to where we stayed. I was not able to check it out because I enjoyed the relaxing dip in the mini-lagoon.
From the sea waters to the sloping mountains of Dingalan, our group went on to another hike to explore Tanawan Falls - one of the hidden gems of the municipality. The trek can be a challenge especially if you have been out exploring the place the whole morning but the overlooking view along the trail is enough to motivate you to keep going.
The slopes leading to Tanawan Falls offers an amazing panoramic view of Dingalan’s coast. You get to see the eastern coast of the country meet the deep blue waters of the Pacific. At one point, a local have set-up a view deck where you get to enjoy the breeze while enjoying a relaxing view of a mix of blue and green.
Taking a dip into the cool waters of Tanawan Falls was a reward worth taking after the 30-minute trek. I took my time admiring the strong cascade of the falls. The catch basin is deep that one can cliff jump from the side of the cascade into the basin. In no time, our group was enjoying and cheering those who were brave enough to take the leap.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
I must say that Dingalan is a good fix for those looking for a quick out-of-towner for a day or two. It has an interesting selection of spots that allow you to enjoy the views of the mountains and the sea, not to mention the cheap adrenaline thrills along the way like taking a dip inside a cave being smashed by waves of the Pacific Ocean, right? Dingalan stood up for what it offered and I am happy that it did not fail my expectations. Not too much promises but simply surprises along the way.
With more than 7000 islands, it is no longer a surprise that the Philippines is blessed with a thousand of amazing destinations. We should not be surprised that two, three, and even more local spots will find something common among their features hence we often encounter associations between them. The challenge really for these local spots is to find the one thing that makes them unique and make use of that to make its own mark in Philippine tourism.
Dingalan’s claim to fame was being tagged as “Batanes of the East” and the association clearly gave them an advantage as it started to attract travelers. However, unlike others who simply banked on associations or added more associations, it was able to steer away from that trap to simply stand on its unique proposition. Let me get this straight, Dingalan remains to be an off-beat destination. Though it may have similarities to Batanes, I think most travelers and the locals have long understood that it can never be Batanes. Dingalan is unique in its own - a place where the mountains meet the sea.
Getting There: Dingalan is about five to six hours away from Manila. You can take a bus bound for Cabanatuan where you can catch a van headed for Dingalan. Once in Dingalan, you can take a tricycle to Feeder Port where you can charter a boat to White Beach and Lamao Cave. You can then hire a trike to take you to the jump-off point of Tanawan Falls.
For a hassle free day trip to Dingalan that will cover the local spots featured on this blog, I highly recommend joining the organized trips of Just go and learn. We opted to join their organized trip to save us the hassle, money, and time and they were able to deliver very good service for the package price that they offer. You can visit the FB page of Just go and learn for your inquiries. (By the way, this is not a paid ad. I sincerely recommend travel organizers when good service is delivered.😁)
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My love for travel had given me a fairly good fitness level that allowed me to hike and walk long distances at one go. Yes, I grow tired after the trip but I never really struggled with the physical activities during the actual trip. I guess it is safe to say that I am able to maintain a fairly good "travel fitness level" - a fitness level that gives me the endurance on exploration activities during my trips.
So when the opportunity to share my passion for travel with my Anytime Fitness team, I agreed to head off to a Laguna destination that would give us a quick fitness thrill - Bukal Falls.
Located at the foot of Mount Banahaw, Bukal Falls is a good destination for those looking for a quick respite from the city's hustle and bustle. The waterfall is in the midst of lush greeneries of Majayjay, Laguna which is both relaxing to the mind and soul. It is often referred to as Laguna's version of Hinatuan's Enchanted River because of its clear emerald green and sapphire blue waters.
The Road to Majayjay
Our trip kicked off with the scenic view of Rizal's landscape from the vantage point of Antipolo as we took the backdoor route to Laguna via Pililia. We caugt a glimpse of the flatlands of Morong waking up to the early morning sun . It was a refreshing view for the most of us who got used to the usual city landscape.
The leisure ride through Rizal was refreshing as it gave us a visual treat of farmlands and the mountain ranges of the Sierra Madre. With the close proximity of the province to the metro and the serene beauty it offers , it is not a surprise that it is a favorite destination of bikers and travelers for their daytrips or their weekends.
Food Stop: Rambull's Bakahan, Tanay, Rizal
Rambull's Bakahan is one food stop discovery during our road trip. Conveniently located along the main highway, it can easily be identified because of the cow skulls displayed along the facade and parking areas. It has a wide selection of food items to enjoy and their specialty is their "bulalo" or bone marrow soup. Getting a taste of their specialty was definitely a good way to start our adventure... with a full tummy.
Right outside the restaurant is a stall where you can buy fresh cattle meat that you can bring home. The stall is usually open only in the morning.
Quick Stop: Pililia Wind Farm
Pililia has gathered tourism traction in the past year when its wind farm opened in 2016. This energy farm, standing at 300 meters above sea level, harvests energy from the wind coming from Laguna de Bay. The 27 turbines along the slopes of Baranggay Halayhayin can generate 150 Gi of natural and eco-friendly energy, annually.
The opening of the wind farm also paved the way for the sleepy town of Pililia to become a tourist spot in Rizal. The farm is a great place to make a quick stopover because it offers a panoramic view of Laguna de Bay and the flatlands of Rizal. The view up there is perfect and you also get to enjoy the cool lake breeze in the morning.
This was my second time to visit the windfarm of Pililia and watching the landscape was very relaxing. This is the place to go when you need a quick escape because the views will simply clear your mind.
Challenging Bukal Falls
After an hour of snaking through the main highway and small streets of Laguna, we finally found our way to the baranggay hall of Bukal in Majayjay. This is where we registered with the local officials who oversee this natural wonder. For everyone's safety, guides were assigned to our group and they also took charge of the lunch arrangements we made prior to our visit. When everything was already set, we took a quick tricycle ride to the trek jump off point.
The 45-minute uphill trek was uneventful. Relatively, the team found the hike manageable because the ascent was gradual and we were all treated with amazing views of Majayjay's rural agricultural fields. The refreshing views, the cool damp weather, and the shared stories was enough to keep my AF team energized until we reached the "rest spot" of the trail.
The final part of the trek is the steep descent from the "rest spot" to the foot of Bukal Falls. The traverse was the challenge because the trail was slippery and steep. It was good that locals were able to establish the trail for the safety and convenience of their guests.
The view of Bukal Falls was a great reward after our trek. The team was excited as we crossed the wooden bridge to get to our chosen picnic spot. Our spot gave us a good view of Bukal Falls' second level falls and basin.
A short traverse over boulders will give you a view of its first level cascade and pool of Bukal Falls. From the vantage point, one can view enclave's rock wall where water drips from the top. Our guide shared that a stronger cascade can be seen when it rains creating a curtain of water along its rock walls. The clear turquoise blue water of the first level basin was deep that one can try jumping off on one side of its wall.
Our group decided to enjoy the cold waters of the Bukal's second level basin where the cascade was stronger and the water was just right for wading. The ice cold water was not enough to stop the guys from taking a quick dip. There were some who were even brave enough to go under the fall's cascade. The second basin was also a good vantage point where you can catch the beauty of Bukal Fall's two levels. I liked the way the sunlight struck its rock walls.
I guess the most challenging part of traversing the trails of Bukal Falls was the trek back to the top of the steep ravine. To say that it caught most of us off-guard is an understatement. It did not help that the trail was a bit slippery. We huffed and puffed but none of us stopped. It was great to see the team working together until everyone reached the top.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
As we took our late afternoon snack at Liliw, it was nice to see that everyone enjoyed our Bukal Falls' exploration despite the physically challenging trek back from the falls. The activity was an eye opener for the team and the work space that we live and breathe in. A greater challenge is ahead of us - to influence others to start a healthier lifestyle through our own #fitspiration stories.
It is my love for the outdoors that keep me at a certain fitness level. For some who find the gym boring, having an outside physical activity will compliment your gym workout. You can try doing trail running, hiking, or simply exploring the city by foot and it can bring a new dimension to your story of #fitspiration in finding your #healthierplace.
Getting There: If you are going to Bukal Falls using a private vehicle, you can take the scenic route through Antipolo-Pililia-Lumban-Pagsanjan-Magdalena route. I suggest that you start early. If you are taking this route, you can make the same stops that we had during the trip. It will take you about 4 hours to get to Baranggay Bukal.
If you are commuting, you can take a bus from Cubao or Pasay headed to Sta. Cruz. You can then take a tricycle to the public market where you can take a jeep headed for Majayjay. From Majayjay, you can hire a trike to bring you to the Baranggay Hall of Bukal.
You can coordinate with Konsehala Nelia of Baranggay Bukal through (0928) 216 8279.
For food arrangements, you can call Ate Elen Garcia at (0910) 452 5537.
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Journals Of The Traveling DaDa: Kung Nagkita Si Lea At Tonyo Sa Crystal Beach Sa San Narciso, Zambales
Ito ang kauna-unahang pagkakataon na ako'y susulat ng isang blag sa wikang Tagalog sa buong kalahatan nito. Ito ang naisip kong paraan para maipakita ang aking pakikiisa sa pagpapahalaga sa wikang Filipino ngayong Buwan ng Wika. Marahil, ito na din ang sanaysay na sadyang pinag-isipan kong husto, hindi lamang dahil sa gamit ko ang Filipino, sapagkat pinag-isipan ko ng husto ang konsepto na gamit ko.
Ilang linggo na din akong walang gala kaya't nung may biglaang nagyaya sa San Narciso sa Zambales ay hindi ko pinalagpas ang pagkakataon. Kilala ang Zambales sa kanyang mga baybayin ngunit iba pa din ang hatak ng Crystal Beach sa mga nakapunta na dito. Kilala ito bilang isang pook pasyalan kung saan maaring kang magsurfing o tumambay lamang sa kanyang baybayin. Pero mas nakilala ito sa mga magagandang pasilidad na talaga nga naman sumikat sa "Instagram".
Ang Crystal Beach ay isang resort na matatagpuan sa baybayin ng San Narciso. Ito ay nakaharap sa West Philippine Sea at nakilala bilang isang "surfing spot" dahil sa katamtaman at malalaking alon na humahampas sa dalampasigan nito. Ngunit mas lalong nakilala ang lugar dahil sa magagandang lugar na tumatak dahil sa pagiging "instagrammable" nito. Ito na marahil ang naging dahilan kung bakit marami ang dumadayo dito.
Ano nga ba ang maaaring magawa kung ikaw ay dadayo sa Crystal Beach Resort? Samahan ninyo ako magbilang, tulad ni Alessandra at Empoy sa kanilang pelikulang "Kita Kita", kung bakit kakaiba ang ganda ng Crystal Beach sa San Narciso.
Isang puting bisikleta ang agad bumungad sa amin ng patungo na kami sa aming "surf shack". Ito ang unang babati sa inyo na talaga nga naman "Instagrammable". Sa likod nito ang isang "board" na puno ng mga hugot patungkol sa pag-ibig. Saan ka pa... may panglitrato ka na at makakapili ka pa ng hugot na pang-caption.
Dalawang gadget ang gamit ko para makuhanan ko ng litrato at bidyo ang tanyag na "beach trellis" ng Crystal Beach. Ang daanang ito ay isa sa mga kilala sa bansa dala ng angking nitong ganda na nakilala sa Instagram dahil sa mga malikhaing pagkakalitrato nito. Higit-kumulang 500 metro ang haba nito sa aking pagtantya at ang dulo nito ay bumubukas sa kagandahan ng dalampasigan ng San Narciso. Lahat ng mga panauhin ay nagdaraan sa "beach trellis" na ito patungo sa kanilang mga silid o "tents".
Tatlo ang duyan na pandalawahan ang madadaanan mo habang binabaybay mo ang "beach trellis". Ang mga duyan na ito ay pedeng gamitin ng mga panauhin para magmuni-muni, pampalipas oras, o panlitrato. Ito rin ay maari rin gamitin upang magmasid sa malawak at tahimik na lugar ng Crystal Beach. May mga lugar sila para sa mga malalaking grupo na nais mag-team building sa lugar.
Apat ang taong humarang sa akin habang kinukunan ko ang Kampsite 1. Tulad ng "beach trellis", ang Kampsite 1 ay isa sa mga lugar na "instagrammable" sa Crystal Beach. Dito mo makikita ang naglalakihang puno ng Agoho na sadyang pinatubo sa dalawang magkabilang linya na talaga nga naman ikinaganda ng lugar. Magandang magpakuha ng malikhaing litrato sa gitna ng mga punong ito na mistulang ikaw ay nasa isang daanan na ang mga puno ang gabay ng iyong paglalakaran.
May limang paraan para ma-enjoy mo ang Crystal Beach. Nariyan ang magdaytrip para sa mga naghahanap ng panandaliang pagliliwaliw. May mga kubo naman sa may dalampasigan na pedeng tambayan ng inyong barkada.
Nariyan din ang magpalipas ng gabi doon. Pede sa "airconditioned cottages" ang mga malalaking grupo o para doon sa maseselan. Karamihan sa mga dumadayo doon ay nagka-camping sa Crystal Beach. May mga lugar sila kung saan pede kayo magtayo ng dala ninyong "tent" o di kaya pede rin kayo umarkila nito sa kanila. Nakilala rin ang Crystal Beach dahil isa ito sa mga lugar kung saan pede kayo mag-glamping. Ang glamping ay isang uri ng "camping" kung saan ang mga "tents" ay kumpleto sa kutson, kuryente, at electric fan. Ika nga nila... "camping in style and comfort".
At ang pinakahuli ay ang mga "surf shacks" nito sa may dalampasigan. Ito ay mga kubong maliliit na may tabing at pinalibutan ng punong Agoho. Nagmistulang nasa gitna ka ng gubat at malapit sa dalampasigan.
Sa ika-anim na "surf shack" kami tumuloy na tinawag nilang Ezekiel. Ang maliit na kubo ay pinalibutan ng mga maliliit na punong Agoho. Ito ay may kurtinang puti na tabing sa apat nitong sulok. May kutson at unan, may bentilador, at may kuryente. Ilang hakbang lang ay nasa dalampasigan ka na kung saan maaring kang maupo sa buhanginan at magmasid.
May sampung "surf shack" na nilagay nila sa may dalampasigan. Tinawag nila itong "Jungle Hostel" dahil sa mga maliliit na puno na nakapaligid dito. Hindi mo nga aakalain na may mga maliliit na matutuluyan dito. Mahangin ang lugar dala ng hangin mula sa dagat at dinig dito ang hampas ng alon sa dalampasigan na parang hinehele ka sa iyong pagtulog.
Ika-pito na ng umaga ng kami'y bumangon para mag-almusal. May kasama ng agahan ang binabayaran para sa mga magpapalipas ng gabi dito. Kung swertehin ka tulad namin, "buffet breakfast" ang maabutan mo.
May malaking restawran sa loob ng Crystal Beach. Pede kayo mananghalian at maghapunan dito. Medyo may kamahalan ang kanilang mga pagkain ngunit sulit naman kung grupo kayo. Para sa mga nagtitipid, meron mga lugar kung saan pede kayo mag-ihaw at may mga kainan din sa labas ng resort. Hindi na lang namin nasubukan dala ng pabugso-bugso ang ulan nung kami ay naroon.
Walong tao ang nakausap ko habang nakatambay ako sa pinaka-"lobby" ng Jungle Hostel ng Crystal Beach. Habang si Asher ay naliligo sa pool (oo, may pool sila na maliit), ako naman ay nag-charge ng aking mga gadgets sa tambayang iyon sa gitna ng hostel. At gaya ng sabi ng kanilang paalala doon na "Mingle in the jungle", nakipagkwentuhan kami sa mga bisita at mga tauhan ng resort na dumadaan at tumatambay din doon. Karamihan sa mga bisita tulad namin ay mga taga-Maynila na nandoon dahil sa "long weekend".
Sa pakikisalamuha kong iyon batid ko na mababait at maasikaso ang mga tauhan ng Crystal Beach. Sinisigurado nila na maayos ang kalagayan at seguridad ng kanilang mga bisita.
Siyam na aktibidad ang naiisip kong maaring gawin kung maligaw kayo sa Crystal Beach. Maaring kayong magsurfing na isa sa pinakakilalang aktibidad nila dito o di kaya ay magswimming sa dagat o kaya sa pool. Kung trip ninyong mamasyal, pede din mag-island hopping sa karatig isla ng Capones na matatanaw mula sa dalampasigan ng San Narciso.
Pede din naman magpalitrato sa mga nagagandahang lugar ng resort na maari ninyong samahan ng mga OOTD ninyo. Tulad ng nabanggit kanina, napaka-instagrammable ng lugar. Kelangan dala lang ninyo ang malikhaing imahinasyon ninyo.
Pedeng matulog ka lang sa loob ng tirahan ninyo o di kaya ay kumain. Sa Crystal Beach, hindi masamang maging batugan ng isang araw. Basta siguraduhin lang na handa kang makipag-jamming sa gabi kasama ang kanilang banda at makipagkaibigan sa iba pang mga bisita.
Higit sa lahat, ang pinakapaborito kong ginawa sa Crystal Beach ay ang tumambay sa dalampasigan habang nagmamasid sa araw ng dumaraan.
Sampung bituin ang inilalaan ko para sa Ten Toes On The Nose Jungle Hostel ng Crystal Beach. Nakakatuwa ang aming karanasan dito. Bagama't may nakapagsabi na hindi daw ganun kagandahan ang lugar, kami ay natuwa sa aming pagbisita dito. Nagustuhan namin ang "laid-back vibe" ng lugar na nakakatanggal ng pagod at stress.
Isa na ito sa naging paborito kong lugar na pasyalan na malapit sa Maynila. Yung mga tipong lugar na kung kelangan mo ng mabilis na puntahan para makapag-relax, dito ka maaring tumungo.
Bagama't hanggang ngayon sinusubukan ko pa rin intindihin kung bakit mo ipapatong ang sampung daliri ng iyong paa sa iyong ilong.
Pahabol na Byahe: Simbahan ng San Narciso
Itinalaga and Simbahan ng San Narciso, kilala rin sa tawag ng Simbahan ng Sebastian, sa taong 1849 makaraang mabuo ang bayan ng San Narciso. Ang kasalakuyang simbahan, maliban sa harapan nito, ay mula sa unang gusali na itinayo noong 1849.
Nakakamangha ang ganda ng harapan ng simbahan. May dalawa itong kampanaryo sa dalawang gilid ng simbahan na may “mosaic art” ni San Sebastian at ng Ina Poon Bato na siyang nagpaganda sa harapan ng simbahan. Ang loob ng simbahan ay malawak at simple ang pagkakadisenyo. Kapansin-pansin din ang pinintang imahe ni Hesus sa kisame sa altar ng simbahan.
Makikita rin na ang “Centennial Bells” ng San Narciso sa patyo ng simbahan. Ang maliit na kampana ay hinubog noong 1846 matapos mabuo ang bayan ng San Narciso. Ang mga kampanang ito ang unang naging kampana ng unang simbahan na itinayo sa pook na ito.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Gaya ng unang kong naisulat, natutuwa ako sa byahe naming ito sa Crystal Beach Resort sa San Narciso sa Zambales. Ito ay isang lugar kung saan maari kang makapagpahinga mula sa karaniwang mundo sa syudad. Tahimik at talaga nga naming nakaka-relaks ang lugar na ito. Sabi ko nga… pang-beach chill ang lugar na ito. Yung tipong darating ka dito na wala kang iisipin gawin kung hindi magpahinga at makapag-enjoy. Hindi naman din salat ang lugar sa mga maari mong gawin kapag napagod ka na magpaka-batugan sa magandang paraan.
Sa aming pagbalik sa Maynila, naisip ko na maraming ganitong lugar sa Pilipinas na simpleng maganda ngunit hindi napapansin dahil ang hanap ng iba ay yung mga baybayin na mapuputi ang buhangin. Hindi nila alintana na ang tunay na gandang lugar ay hindi lamang nasusukat sa ganda ng paligid kundi sa karanasan at kahalagahan na maibibigay ng mga taong namamahala ng mga lugar na ito.
Getting There: Ang Victory Liner sa Cubao ay may mga byaheng pa-Sta. Cruz at Iba, Zambales na dumadaan sa San Narciso. Sabihin lang ninyo sa konduktor na ibaba kayo sa Simbahan ng San Narciso. Mula sa simbahan, pede kayong sumakay ng traysikel papunta sa Crystal Beach Resort.
Maari din kayong sumakay ng bus papuntang Olongapo kung saan makakasakay kayo ng bus o van na papuntang Sta. Cruz. Mas mainam na sumakay kayo ng rutang dadaan sa SCTEX para mabilis ang byahe.
Maari ninyong tawagan ang Crystal Beach Resort sa numerong (0930) 732 6015 para magbook sa Ten Toes On The Nose Jungle Hostel. Maari din ninyong kausapin sa kanilang Facebook account na Ten Toes In The Nose.
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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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Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.