“Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage. Isauli naman ninyo. Masakit 'yan sa amin.”
- Former President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (07.24.2017) -
I have been wanting to see the bells since its return in 2018. More than the history that I read and the movie that I saw, the bells symbolize how the sheer political will of a nation’s leader brought back a heritage artifact that redeemed a small town’s pride and honor. That town is Balangiga in Eastern Samar and this is their story and place in our history.
Balangiga is a town of more than 14,000 people on the southern coast of Eastern Samar. It is a typical rural “in-between” spot in the country that most people would pass through during travels. It may not have the usual “touristy sites” for a lot of travelers but this small town played a huge role in Philippine history that, to this day, remains subject to different interpretations. And, it all started with the tolling of the Balangiga Bells.
Balanginga Town Plaza: The Story Unfolds
Like any other Philippine town, the town plaza sits at the heart of Balangiga. The plaza serves as a venue for local events and activities. It has been a silent witness to the town’s joys and pains from the recent to its distant past.
Beyond its daily buzz, the Balangiga Town Plaza is home to a monument that tells the story that placed the sleepy town in the annals of Philippine history. On the morning of September 28, 1901, villagers made a surprise attack on the Company C of the 9th US Infantry Regiment. The ringing of the bells marked the start of tge attack against the American troops. The attack caused 44 deaths, 22 wounded, and 4 missing in action on the American regiment. The Americans retaliated with General Smith ordering to shoot any Filipino aged 10 years and above and turn Samar into a “howling wilderness”. The church bells of Balangiga were later seized as war trophies.
The Balangiga Monument depicts the scene of the attack by the Filipinos on that fateful day. On the side of the monument is a list of names of the Americans and Filipinos who were present during the attack engraved on the wall. Another monument featuring Valeriano Abanador, the police chief during that time and who led the attack, stands adjacent to the monument. The historical marker of the event was also installed on Abanador’s monument. The Balangiga Encounter/Massacre is commemorated every year in Eastern Samar and is considered as the “worst defeat of US Army soldiers since the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876”.
Balangiga Church: In Memoriam
At the center of the Balangiga Encounter is the Spanish-period Balangiga Church. The church is also known as the Church of San Lorenzo de Martir as it was dedicated to the Roman martyr in 1854. The church played a significant role in the attack as the tolling of its bells signaled the start of the attack by the irregular Filipino forces against the Americans.
The Church of San Lorenzo de Martir stands out as an imposing structure against the rustic vibe of the town. The church facade is like a fortress that exudes strength and built. The wave design on the top stands out and it was my first time to notice such design on a Spanish-period church. The belfry stands adjacent to the church and dominates the skyline of the town.
Unlike most Spanish-period churches in the country, the interior of the church has a modern touch. Solid rock walls were replaced with concrete pillars and grilled side walls giving the church a more airy and refreshing feel. The simple altar is complements the whole ambiance of the church.
The side of the church, behind the church’s belfry, is a memorial for those who died during the Balangiga Encounter. A small plot where small white crosses were installed to remember those who died on that fateful day. A common grave where human bone fragments are interred and displayed was also installed. These bones were unearthed on the churchyard and is believed to be the bones of unnamed individuals who died on that day.
Balangiga Bells: The Long Way Home
The Balangiga Church had 3 bells that were minted in different years. The oldest bell was casted in 1853 and bears the Franciscan Coat of Arms. The second bell was casted in 1889 while the smallest bell was casted in 1895. The tolling of the smallest bell that signaled the start of the attack and all three bells were later on, in retaliation by the Americans, were confiscated as war trophies.
On the hands of the Americans, one of the church bells was in South Korea and the other two were in Wyoming. The bells were finally repatriated to the Philippines in December 11, 2018. Finally in December 15 of that same year, the bells were finally installed in Balangiga and was rung at dawn the next day to signal the start of the Simbang Gabi. It took decades of lobbying and a Duterte presidency to finally bring back the bells to its rightful place bringing back the pride and glory of the town of Balangiga.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
I have been wanting to see the Balangiga Bells since its return to Philippine soil. It is a legacy that it was during the time of the PRRD’s administration that it was repatriated as we took a stand to return what is rightfully ours. The bells are more than just a century-old artifact. It is a symbol of the bravery of Balangiga townsfolk as they fought for their freedom against the Americans. It embodies the pride and glory of a town that took a stand against oppression.
The town of Balangiga is not the usual tourist destination that draws visitors because of its natural beauty or attractions. In fact, it is the opposite. It is a simple town that exudes the rustic and provincial ambiance. But beyond the attractions that we often look for, Balangiga offers a narrative that evokes a sense of pride and courage as a Filipino. As you hear the bells of Balangiga tolling, always remember the story by Filipinos for Filipinos.
Getting there: To get to the town of Balangiga, you can take a plane to Tacloban City from any major hub in the Philippines. You can then take a jeep or a trike from the airport to Van-vans Downtown Tacloban Teminal where you can take a van to Guiuan. You can ask the driver to drop you off at Balangiga. Travel time from Tacloban to Balangiga is around 3 hours.
A family weekend had us going for a daytrip to join in the festivities in Batangas. I haven’t attended a Filipino fiesta for a long time that it really got me excited to enjoy one, not to mention the opportunity to get to explore the town where my wife’s family had its roots. It was going to be a day of laughter and exploration in the small town of Bauan.
Established as a visita in 1590, the town of Bauan was originally situated on the southern shorelines of Taal lake. The present location, along Batangas Bay, was established in 1690 and is the fourth site of relocation of the town. Bauan had a bigger land area during earlier times but parts of its jurisdiction later on were granted municipal status. It has been identified as part of Metro Batangas which is largely why it is continually developing in terms of commerce.
Immaculate Conception Parish (Bauan Church)
The Bauan Church, located at the center of town, is a focal point of locals from the town’s humble beginnings to the present. It is one of the century-old churches in the province. The first church was built along the slopes of Mount Macolod but an eruption of Taal Volcano prompted the first resettlement of the community and the church. The present church is the 7th structure to be built after the previous ones were destroyed by natural calamaties and the Philippine Revolution.
The church structure that was completed in 1881 was said to be the most artistically built in the whole of Batangas. It was also a repository of rare books collected by the then parish priest, Father Felipe Bravo. In fact, the church had a museum for natural history. Unfortunately, all these books and collections were destroyed when the church was razed down during the 1898 Philippine Revolution.
The present church structure was a restoration done in 1938. The church and the belfry stands as an attraction at the town center. An image of the wooden cross or what locals respectfully call “Poon” stands at the center of the courtyard and atop the church’s facade. The simple facade is a complete contrast to the grand interior of the church. The beautifully painted high-ceilings, the dome, and the gold-colored altar is a grand interpretation of the local’s faith through the years. Again, an image of a cross stands on a secondary altar adjacent to the main altar.
The cross or the “Mahal na Poong Santa Krus” is a revered image in Bauan. As the story goes, the cross was said to be made in 1595 as a protection from ghosts. However, the cross is often associated to other miracles that happened in the area. The cross is also believed to have protected Bauan from both natural and man-made calamities. This has been the main reason for the devout faith on the miraculous image of the crucifix.
Plaza Orense is a small town plaza located just right in front of the church. Like other Philippine towns, the plaza is the main venue for events and celebrations. A stage is located on one side of the plaza and the rest, within its vicinity, are open spaces. It is relatively small compared to the other plazas that I have seen and I could imagine how the crowd spills over along the provincial road and Kap Ponso Street when there are events being held.
Apart from being an events place, the plaza also serves as a reminder on the bravery of local Filipino heroes. At the corner facing the church stands a monument dedicated to Andres Bonifacio, the man behind the Katipunan. The other corner holds another monument that aptly recognizes Bauan as the “town that refuses to die”. The monument is dedicated to the local heroes who fought during World War 2.
Bauan Municipal Hall
On the other end of the provincial highway, infront of the church, stands the Bauan Municipal Hall. The compound holds the offices that cater to the public welfare of Bauan residents. It is the seat of power of local governance of the municipality. What stands out when you visit the hall is the architecture that has a good fusion of the new and the old.
The original art deco facade of the munisipyo was preserved during the renovations. The facade features elaborate and stylized designs of agricultural products and was designed by Juan Arellano. Behind the culturally significant facade stands a more modern designed building that is home to the local government offices. It was great to see how culture and history is valued despite the onset of development in Bauan.
Despite the economic development in Bauan, the public market has maintained its strong business relations with the locals. Located a few blocks from the church, it is the go-to-place of locals for affordable supplies. It is the center economic activity in Bauan as seen by more popular “city” brands in the vicinity.
The public market is undergoing renovations when we visited. Too bad that we also visited late in the afternoon as most of the stalls were either closed or was wrapping up the business day. There were market activities still but it was not as vibrant as the usual Sunday market vibe.
As already mentioned, the present location of Bauan is the fourth site of relocation since the founding of the municipality. This time the poblacion lies along the shores of Batangas Bay. Like any other by the shore towns, Bauan has its own version of a bay boulevard - the Boulevard Aplaya.
The Boulevard Aplaya is a road strip that lies along the coast of the bay. It is a largely a residential area and the road leading to the aplaya can be a bit of a challenge. The strip gives you a nice view of the bay and the surrounding mountains. Unfortunately, the place needs to be developed further and regularly maintained so that more locals and guests can enjoy afternoons in the boulevard.
One pasalubong that is a must when you find yourself in Bauan is Londres. This soft bread coated in sugar is a popular snack among locals, mine too. It goes best with coffee and tablea in the morning and breaks. Make sure that you get one before exploring the town because it is so good that it easily gets sold out.
There are other snacks that you can bring home from Bauan. Some of our favorites are suman, the round cookies called pasensya, and merengue. Coffee lovers will have a hey day with Batangas Barako while chocolate lovers get a treat with their tablea.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Bauan is often referred to as the “gateway to Mabini” but there is more to the place than just passing through it. More than its history, culture, and pockets of attractions, the people of Bauan make the experience. Their warm hospitality and, at times, their curiosity gives you the warmth and nostalgia of an old Philippine town. An hour or two of exploring the town of Bauan will give you that natural transition to a laidback day or weekend.
More often than not, we always look forward to exploring the popular spots and the places that we pass through are overshadowed by the main destination. Here’s a tip… the next time that you go on a roadtrip, start early and take it slowly. Stop along the route and explore. Trust me, you will be surprised with what you will discover along the way. It will also make the day or weekend trip experience more memorable.
Getting there: You can take a bus headed to Lipa City or Batangas City where you can take a jeep for Mabini. Ask the driver to drop you off at Bauan.
I have got to admit that this city was crucial in making me realize that Filipinos deserve more. The events that happened after it was hit by Super-typhoon Yolanda became a turning point in my politics. I saw, as an outsider, how the city and the region was forced to its knees and slowly recovered from the ruins of a disaster despite the mismanagement of the national government. This is Tacloban City - ang lugar na noon pa man ay nag-iwan ng tatak sa akin.
First called as Kankabatok, Tacloban City is the center of governance and commerce in Leyte. It is believed that the city was installed in 1770s with its name derived from the local word “tarakluban”, which means using a bamboo contraption called “taklub” to catch crabs, fish, and shrimps. The area of Leyte was crucial during the liberation of the Philippines in World War 2. It was in Leyte where Douglas McArthur fulfilled his promise “I shall return” to the Philippines. The city served as the country’s capital from October 1944 to February 1945.
The highly urbanized city is now home to 250,000 residents making it the most populous area in the region. It serves as the main gateway to Eastern Visayas and to the many tourist attractions in the region. Let us go around the city and learn more about its history and its urban beauty. Taralet…
San Juanico Bridge
The San Juanico Bridge is THE tourism icon of Tacloban City. The 2.16km bridge, a project under the administration of former President Marcos Sr, connected the provinces of Samar and Leyte. Prior to the opening of the Cebu-Cordova Bridge, the San Juanico Bridge was the longest bridge that spanned a body of water in the country.
The bridge is part of the Pan-Philippines Highway or more commonly known as Maharlika Highway. Completed in 1973, the bridge spans the San Juanico Strait, connecting Tacloban City in Leyte and Sta. Rita in Samar. It serves as a vital road network that helped spark economic development in both provinces. The bridge serves more than just a vital infrastructure but also as a symbol of unity. The marker, located at the foot of the bridge, shares the symbolism that the San Juanico Bridge carries. It stands for the unity of the north and the south as one nation.
Of course, I couldn’t miss on the opportunity for a quick joyride on the bridge. I rode a tricycle to get me across to Sta. Rita and then back to Tacloban. We made a few stops along the way to get panoramic pictures of the bridge. Take extra precaution when doing so as it is still a highway over the San Juanico Strait. It was a thrill to finally get to see in person an amazing infrastructure project that has left a legacy to Filipinos.
MV Eva Jocelyn Shrine
If the San Juanico Bridge was legacy from former President Marcos Sr., the MV Eva Jocelyn Shrine is a reminder of nature’s fury and an administration’s idiocy. The city was hit in full force by Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013. The super-typhoon flattened the city with its brute force and storm surges that left thousands dead. The force was so strong that the cargo vessel MV Eva Jocelyn was washed ashore. It was one of the 10 vessels that were swept ashore.
The bow of the ship now stands on the site where the vessel settled after the storm. It is one of the three memorials in the city that were set up in remembrance of the locals who died that fateful day. It also stands as a firm reminder that we are bound to lose more when we put idiots in power.
Overlooking Tacloban City, Calvary Hill offers a perfect view of the city and its surrounding areas. Locals flock to the hill during the Lenten Season as part of their penance as they climb the concrete steps to visit the 14 life-size Stations of the Cross that were installed here. At the top of the hill, is an image of the Risen Christ extending his hands towards the city.
Calvary Hill is more than just a pilgrimage site. It is also a perfect location for a quick hike in the city. You will be treated with an amazing panoramic view of Tacloban and the San Juanico Strait. From the vantage point, you can clearly see the iconic structures of the city. You also get to enjoy the serene vibe while enjoying the breeze as you cool you down.
Leyte Provincial Capitol and Plaza Libertad
Did you know that Tacloban City served as the country’s capital during the liberation in WW2? Yes, the city served as the country’s capital from October 1944 to February of 1945. It was in the Capitol Building where former President Sergio Osmena was installed as President of the country.
Today the Leyte Provincial Capitol serves as the center of governance for the province. Its historical significance is marked by a historical marker that outlines its historical value in WW2. There are two tableau that flanks the “Kapitolyo”. Both artworks highlight two significant events in the region - the arrival of the Spaniards in the country and the arrival
of liberation forces in Palo, Leyte.
Plaza Libertad is an open-space park in front of the Leyte Provincial Capitol. An image of a lady carrying a knife is the central point of the park. It is a good afternoon spot to chill down and relax after a long day in Tacloban.
Tacloban City Hall / Philippine-Japan Commemorative Peace / Madonna of Japan
The Tacloban City Hall is the center of city governance. Located atop a small hill along Magsaysay Boulevard, the building houses the local government offices that handles the needs
of the city folks. This is where you will also find the “I love Tacloban” sign that would be perfect for your socmed posts.
There are two important installations in the city hall compound. The first is the Philippine-Japan Commemorative Peace - a memorial to the soldiers who died in the area. The second is the Maria Canon Madonna of Peace Shrine. The shrine, that sits adjacent to the city hall, features the image of Madonna carved out from Miyagi rock by Japanese sculptor, Shinichi Tani.
Archdiocesan Shrine of Santo Nino
At the heart of the Catholic faith in Tacloban City is the Santo Nino Church. The church is the most important religious site in the province because it is home to the revered image of the patron saint of the city, the Senor Santo Nino. It was the Agustinians from Cebu that introduced the devotion to the Holy Child when they took over the Jesuits in 1770.
The church structure dominates the skyline of the city. In fact, you can see the three belfries of the church jut out from the urban landscape from Calvary Hill. The simple facade of the church is highlighted by the three belfries and the stained-glass window image of the Santo Nino, flanked by the images of the saints.
The inside of the church maintains the simplicity of the church. The altar is void of the usual grand design that old churches usually have. A simple gold-colored altar highlighted by the image of the Santo Nino serves as the main centerpiece of the church. The church was also damaged during the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda and was rebuilt with the financial assistance a foundation.
Tacloban City was vital location during the liberation of the Philippines in World War 2. Because of this, it was not unusual to find structures that remind you of its place in Philippine history. The Price Mansion (CAP Building) in Sto. Nino Street in downtown Tacloban is an example of these structures in the city.
The Price Mansion served as the official residence of General Douglas MacArthur for three months when they landed in Palo, Leyte. It is easy to find because of its grand design that stands out. The capiz-shell windows give it that old house heritage vibe. A monument of Gen MacArthur and Pres. Osmena depicting the turnover of the country to Filipinos was installed on the lawn of the compound.
People’s Center Library
When I first saw the structure when we touched down in the city, I thought that it was an NFA office/warehouse. The massive structure reminded me of huge storage areas of rice in the provinces. Little did I know that it was a storage area of sorts. It was the People’s Center Library that houses volumes of books from here and around the world.
The Greek-inspired structure is the believed to be the oldest library in Eastern Visayas. It has a wide collection of books from all over the world that it is often visited by students and researchers. It was already late in the afternoon when I visited it so I only took a peek inside and found the first floor empty. It was like an auditorium. My guess is that they moved the books on the second floor as an after effect of Typhoon Yolanda.
Sto. Nino Shrine and Heritage Museum
The Santo Nino Shrine and Heritage Museum is a structure that was sequestered by the PCGG from the Marcos family in 1986. The mansion is believed to be one of the alleged 20 Presidential Houses built during that administration. The rest-house has a chapel honoring the Santo Nino, 21 bedrooms, a museum, 2 dining areas, 2 receiving areas, and a grand ballroom. Interestingly despite the association as an alleged Marcos property, the Marcoses never stayed in the “resthouse” and was only used 2 or 3 times since its completion in 1981.
The mansion is said to stand on the ground where the family house of Imelda Marcos once stood. You can find a historical marker on the side of the compound honoring Imelda’s father. The mansion has a 13 themed guest rooms on the first floor and 7 rooms (one for each family member) on the second floor. A chapel on the first floor honors the Santo Nino however official masses are not done there.
A museum tour will have a guide walk you through the mansion starting at the chapel. You then walk through the themed guest rooms. The rooms have specific motifs depicting Philippine culture and attractions - Ifugao, Muslim, Ilokandia, Coconuts, Shell, and Capiz, just to name a few. Each room has a diorama of the projects of the First lady and the Marcos Sr. administration. The first floor has its own receiving area and a state dining room.
The second floor houses the family rooms. Ferdinand Sr. and BongBong are on one wing complete with its own bathroom and offices while the ladies are on the other wing. The room of Imelda is the grandest having its own jacuzzi. The second floor has its own receiving area and a bigger state dining room. It is also where you will find the ballroom that is said to be a replica of the one in Malacanang. A huge painting of Imelda as a sea goddess holding her kids as pearls is mounted on one of the walls in the ballroom area.
The museum also is a repository of artifacts, art works, and antiques. The fixtures of the house are collections in itself as these came from different parts of the world. There are also collections of intricate religious art pieces displayed on the first floor. Ivory pieces and a jade stone are also on display, as well as, gifts given by foreign dignitaries to the Marcos family.
The mansion is now a shrine and a heritage museum that showcases Filipino creativity and culture. It also serves as a repository of valuable collections of artifacts from around the world. The discussion as to whether the mansion was a display of the Marcos’ excessive spending is yet to be cast on stone. We had more than 30 years to prove such allegations and yet we still have nothing to date. Unfortunately in that 3 decades, this mansion in Tacloban is slowly decaying when we could have bagged it, kept its grand beauty, and earned more for its proper upkeep.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Tacloban City is a city that speaks of resiliency. Going around the city, you could see the unique fusion of its grand place in history and its hardest and harshest moments. You could see how legacy and lessons from different presidents stand alongside with each other. Interestingly, you can also see the contradictions. The city once came down on its knees by nature and further beaten by an administration’s poor crisis management but it managed to stand up on its feet without forgetting the lessons that went with it.
If there was one destination that opened my eyes, Tacloban City is that destination. It opened my eyes that Filipinos deserve more than just “pogi points”. We need better leaders in action to be a better nation. This city was one that I was excited to visit because it already had a place in my heart long before setting foot on it. Walking its street gave me that assurance that I stood my ground well.
And that, my friends, is one benefit of traveling, you see, hear, and learn beyond your bounds.
Getting there: Tacloban City is an hour away by plane from Metro Manila. All major airlines fly to Tacloban from the major airline hubs of the country. Going around the city economically can be done by jeeps or tricycle.
Exploring the eastern side of Visayas was a long-delayed pre-pandemic plan. It was an easy pick when restrictions were relaxed, coupled by the pressure to use flight tickets that were due to expire. The planning was quick so there were a lot of blind turns along the way. In the end, it was a trip that got me going back to the basics and getting drenched in the rain just to bring #BiliranToYou.
The island of Biliran was once known as Isla de Panamao where the first large-scale shipyard was established in the 17th century to support the Galleon Trade between Manila and Acapulco. It later adopted the name Biliran in the turn of the 18th century, in reference to the native grass, “borobiliran”, which grew in abundance on the island. It was once a sub-province of Leyte and it was only in 1992 that it was granted its provincial status making it one of the newest provinces in the country.
With a total land area of 536 square kilometers, the province of Biliran is the fourth smallest province in the country. It is composed of two major volcanic islands - Biliran and Maripipi. Its rustic feature remains off radar among mainstream travelers largely because it is often overshadowed by the more “popular” beach attractions in Leyte. But don’t be deceived by its rustic vibe because Biliran has its own attractions that will impress you and would make you want to explore the island more.
The Biliran Bridge is the first attraction to greet you when you find yourself in Biliran. The steel bridge connects the province to Leyte via Poro Island. The bridge spans the channel that connects Biliran Strait and Coalargo Bay.
Complete in 1975 under the Marcos Sr. Administration, the Biliran Bridge spans about 150 meters across the channel. It gives you a good view of the waters that sandwich the province. It serves as the only bridge that connects the province to the rest of the country. It has become an attraction in the province with tourists taking photos of the structure that welcomes you to the province.
Ulan-Ulan Falls is one of the popular tourist destinations in Biliran. The name was derived from the local dialect that means “rain” because of the mist created from its cascade is similar to rain droplets. It is easily accessible via a habal-habal ride if you are doing DIY.
Located in the hinterlands, guests would need to hike for 5 minutes through a dirt trail from the jump off point. The slippery trail leads down to the base of Ulan Ulan Falls where you get to enjoy its beauty. The water cascades from a height of 25 meters creating a mist as it reaches the base. You can get refreshed from the exploring by taking a cold dip in its catch basin. I enjoyed the feel of the cold spring waters on my skin while I enjoyed and connected with nature.
Ulan-Ulan Falls is surrounded by the Biliran’s tropical forest giving it a more ethereal and relaxing vibe. It was very relaxing to close eyes and feel the cold water on my skin while enjoying the sound of water cascading. I guess the cascade was not in full force during my visit as the mist by its base was not as how the guide described it to us. But it was nice to have all my senses connect with nature at Ulan-Ulan Falls.
Sampao Rice Terraces
If you think that rice terraces are only found in the Cordilleras, you are wrong. Biliran has its own version. The Sampao Rice Terraces is just one of the terraces that you can find in the province. It is also a traditional way of planting that has been passed on from generation to generation.
The Sampao Rice Terraces is a terrace field along the hillside of Almeria. The man-made agricultural wonders were hand crafted by early settlers that has been handed down to the present generation. The rugged terrains of this volcanic island paved the way to the construction of these terraces to get better yields in agricultural production. The terraces may not be as breathtaking as those found in the Cordilleras but it has more than just an efficient way of farming for locals. The terraces are now attractions in Biliran.
Pundol Falls is a waterfalls attraction that will make you go up against your fear. Located within the hinterlands, the falls can be accessed after scrambling over boulders from the jump-off point. I didn’t have a guide when I started out as my guide had to watch over my bag when we got to the jump-off. I just followed the sound of the cascade to get to the base of the falls.
Unlike Ulan-Ulan Falls, Pundol Falls has a single cascade and a very deep basin. The water cascades stronger before flowing downstream. It is also surrounded by tropical forests giving guests a good shade from the sun. Locals were enjoying a swim in the cold waters of the Pundol Falls. A group of brave young boys were clambering up the adjacent rock walls of the walls. I was wondering what they were up to when one of the boys jumped into the basin. He jumped from a height of almost 3 or 4 floors of a building!!! I was amazed by the bravery of these kids jumping from that height. The basin must be really deep to safely do a jump from that height.
As I was heading back to the jump-off point, I was humbled by the warm reception of the locals. They were smiling and they greeted back when I greeted them. It was a Saturday and the locals were enjoying the natural beauty of Pundol Falls. Ahhh… these are the simple perks that we all miss out in the city.
Sambawan Island is THE tourism icon of the province of Biliran. Most travelers who get curious with the province target this string of islets located off the coast of Maripipi Island. It is one of the most photogenic and dramatic spots in the country especially during the sunset.
An hour by boat from Kawayan Port in Biliran Island, Sambawan Island was able to keep its pristine beauty. A small dive resort on the island provides guests with the basic amenities for a day or overnight trip to the island. The best view of the island is on its highest point, a 10-minute trek along a concrete pathway, where you can see the string of islets with Maripipi Island on the background. The view on the other side is the “tail” of the main island and another island with the sea as its backdrop. The sunset gave us a good view on both sides.
Sambawan Island is a perfect spot to unwind or reset from our busy, sometimes toxic, life in the city. It offers an escape that allows you to slow down and connect with nature. You get to enjoy basic island living and gives you the appreciation on the simple things in life. You get to enjoy a perfect combination of sand, sea, and sun while keeping you grounded with nature.
You can check out my separate blog on my Sambawan here: Wow Sambawan! (An Election Request)
POST TRAVEL NOTES
I enjoyed the sun, sand, the cold spring water, and getting drenched by the rain in Biliran. My short stay in the island got me excited that I want to go back and explore more of its beauty. It deserves more than a day to explore what it has to offer to travelers like me. Biliran is my kind of destination where its rustic vibe and pristine beauty is worthy of more time and exposure. It is a gem waiting for its turn for the spotlight.
I am excited as we start seeing the pick-up in the tourism sector with a more relaxed community quarantine. This is the time to explore beyond the usual destinations and help in building or re-building local businesses. I am looking forward to exploring more off-beat destinations. Destinations that give me rustic and pristine views of nature.
Getting there: Biliran can be reached by taking a flight to Tacloban from any local airline hub in the Philippines like Manila and Cebu. You can then take a trike from the airport to Savemore in Tacloban City. A van terminal is located behind Savemore where you can take a van to Naval in Biliran.
For ease of travel, you can contact Sambawan Island at (0965) 427 9035. For local tours in Biliran, you can contact Kuya Jovy at (0905) 462 5753.
I needed to reset after this very divisive National Elections. Like most people, I am jubilant with the outcome but I cannot deny that I have been served some toxicity and judgement from other people because of my candidate preference. I needed a break to release the tension that I have kept for so long and traveling is my primary outlet. I had to get wowed and then there was Sambawan.
Sambawan Island is a group of islets off the coast of Maripipi in the province of Biliran. It is largely uninhabited except for a small diving resort that offer basic amenities. It is the tourism icon of the province, owing it to having one of the most photogenic spots in the country.
Back To Basics
The road to Sambawan was not a walk in the park. The longer route would entail taking an hour flight from to Tacloban, a four hour land trip to Kawayan in Biliran, and, finally an hour of boat ride to the island. It was physically tiring but it was the kind that excites me because it gives you that feeling as if you are a contestant in an amazing race game.
The east side of the island is where you could find the sandy coves where the diving resort is located. However, do not expect much from the resort apart from the very basic amenities and, by basic, I mean sleeping on papag. I did not expect this as I had no prior contact with them. I came in unprepared except for the usual malong that I had with me. Sleeping on a hard bamboo flooring wasn’t really the most comfortable experience but it was humbling.
The caretaker shared with me that they had just acquired the island from the original hosts. Most of the basic amenities were stripped off. Fresh water can be bought for Php40 per small drum. Electricity only run until 10pm. There’s only a small “canteen” but supplies are limited. You need to either buy food from the Kawayan or bring food to cook in the island.
A Perfect View From The Top
After settling down and getting over the initial shock, I prepped to head up the highest peak of Sambawan Island. This is the spot that you would often see from those who have already been to the island. A three-minute of huffing and puffing along the cemented trails will bring you to this famous spot in the island.
The view from the top was just jaw-dropping. The view deck gives you two amazing views of two sides of the islets. The north side gives you a scenic trail of islets with Maripipi looming on the background. The south side gives you a relaxing view of two large islets with the sea as it background. The north view is the most photographed view of Sambawan. The vantage point also gives you the ruggedness of Sambawan’s landscape and the turquoise waters surrounding it.
The view gets even better as the sun sets on the horizon as the golden rays hits the island. The glowing yellow-orange color give the landscape a dramatic glow that stands out against the blue waters and sky. It was just magical that had me getting another round of pictures. The island has a good view of the sunrise and the sunset. Unfortunately, the sunrise was not as good as the sunset as rainclouds covered the mountain top of Maripipi the next morning.
A small elevated kubo was installed atop the hill where you can rest while enjoying the views and the feel of the sea breeze on your skin. I enjoyed getting a much-needed summer tan while getting immersed with nature. The breeze was just refreshing. The views and the fresh air was a welcome break from all the toxicity of the city and the recently concluded national elections.
Back On The Ground
You can access two sandy coves on the island. The bigger cove has the basic camping facilities. You can find a cozy spot by the beach where you can enjoy enjoy the sun, sand, and sea. You can enjoy the view while sipping hot coffee in the morning or go for a drink with friends in the afternoon or evening.
If you are up for a more quiet spot, a wooden bridge snakes through the rock edge of the island that leads to the smaller cover. Take extra precaution when you climb down from the bridge onto its rocks. An even smaller cove is found adjacent to it. I was not able to explore the area since it was already getting pretty dark when I attempted to explore it.
You also get to enjoy a cool dip under the sun in the turquoise waters of Sambawan. The sand is a combination of white sand, shells, and corals so walking barefoot can be quite uncomfortable. Take extra precaution when swimming as water gets deep a few meters from the shoreline. I enjoyed just floating and letting the salt water energize me.
You can still see traces of how the island was damaged by the typhoon - a destroyed hut needing repairs and a destroyed cemented docking station (I think). The owners of the island is still re-building from what was left. It was good that tourists are starting to explore the island which helps them in their efforts.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Sambawan Island gave me my much-needed reset from all the toxicity of the current events. It made me stop and breathe. It energized me by grounding me back through nature’s beauty and getting me back to the basics. The trip was not a comfortable one and, neither, was the overnight stay. There were blind curve balls through the experience. But it did remind me that whatever the circumstances that we face, we should always choose to accept, adjust, and move on. That is how we live and enjoy life.
Find time to go for a reset. We all need one to break the monotony of our daily lives or to break the pandemic stress or to shut off the toxicity of the national elections. Go to your favorite corner and just shut down. Get yourself connected and grounded with nature. Release the stress and let the earth recharge you. Exploring is my form of reset. Go and find your reset.
Getting there: If you are planning to go to Sambawan Island, you need to take a flight to Tacloban City from any major hub in the country. You then take a van from Tacloban City to Naval in Biliran. You then take a public jeep/bus or hire a tricycle or habal-habal to Kawayan Port. You then need to hire a boat 9 (round trip) for the hour-long trip to Sambawan Island. Make sure that you make the pick-up arrangement with your bangkero.
For ease of travel, you can contact Sambawan Island at (0965) 427 9035.
A deadline to use my stored flight funds and flight vouchers, or else lose it, had me scampering to book flights for me and my family. We haven’t boarded a plane in two years so this was an exciting activity for me. There were a number of options to choose from but family vacations, when I plan it, needs to have a pinch of adventure. So, I booked us a flight to Cebu to enjoy our first family vacation since the start of the pandemic.
Badian is a municipality on the southwest side of Cebu province that is popular for its canyoneering activity. The tourism icon of the area is the beautiful Kawasan Falls with its teal-colored spring water. Unfortunately, the province of Cebu was brought down to its knees by supertyphoon Odette, and that included Badian. Our visit was good start to re-introduce the place as it recovers from the pandemic and calamity.
5.17am. Touchdown Cebu.
Our one-hour flight went very smoothly from Manila. As we landed in Cebu, I quickly fell in love with the new airport. It evoked a tropical upbeat vibe that excites you. It was early morning so we breezed through the arrival area of the airport. We worked our way from the airport to the city’s South Bus Terminal to catch a bus to Badian.
The three-hour trip to Badian was uneventful. The trip treated us with urban and rural views of Cebu. I enjoyed the mix of urban and rural vibe of the cities and the relaxing rustic views of Cebu’s hills and coastal areas. It was a bit gloomy but the trip was relaxing and, since it was my first travel out of Luzon, I was in my element.
Cuestas Beach Resort was our home in Badian. It was good that I decided to just stay in Badian for this family trip because Cuestas made our three day vacation a relaxing and memorable one. The resort is a peaceful sanctuary along the coast of Badian with its own beach strip. It has a pool, a jacuzzi, and a couple of huts where you can just chill down and enjoy the calm and peaceful surrounding. They have two kinds of accommodation - the aircon deluxe rooms and the nipa fan rooms. All rooms have a beautiful overlooking view of the resort and the beach.
One thing that we really loved and enjoyed at Cuesta’s was the food!!! Everything we ordered and, even, the breakfast that they served were all good. It was so good that we never tried any restaurant in the area. Highly recommended is their squash soup, sizzling bangus, gambas, burger, and their home-made bread that go with their continental breakfast. Everything that we tried was good and what made it better was the homey vibe of the place. It was our home in Badian.
Sardines On The Run and An Unbothered Turtle
The weather was still gloomy as we headed out for a full day of adventure on our second day. First on our list was a visit to nearby Moalboal to explore the beauty underneath its waters. Moalboal is a popular destination for divers because of its beautiful and diverse underwater scenes. It is a sanctuary for sea creatures which makes water activities more diverse and exciting.
Our first stop was Pescador Island where we got the chance to enjoy its underwater scene. Initially, the waters scared me a bit after seeing the drop on the side of the island. The initial scare subsided after we started enjoying the beautiful corals, teeming with different kind of fish. We got excited after our guide pulled out a puffer fish from underneath one of the corals. It was a perfect opener for our summer escape.
After about 45 minutes of relaxing and floating around, we then sailed off closer to shore to watch one of the most spectacular nature show underwater - the sardine run. I initially thought that we would be able to watch the spectacle in the middle of the sea and I was surprised that it was closer to the shores of Moalboal. Nevertheless, it was mesmerizing to watch the school of sardines swim in a rhythmic motion, shifting from one direction to another in one choreographed movement. The way I described it was hypnotic. It was a nature shown that I want to see again but I would like to learn to free dive first for a better viewing experience.
From the graceful movement of the sardines, we then moved closer to shore to relaxingly swim with an unbothered sea turtle. This was, by far, the closest and longest encounter that I have had with a sea turtle. My previous encounters had me huffing and puffing as we try to get catch up with this gentle sea creature. This was not the case for this unbothered turtle. It was gently munching on sea grass and, occasionally, go up for air like he doesn’t have a care in the world. It was unbothered by the attention and the excitement of the people around it. It was just doing its thing… well… unbothered.
The quick glimpse of Moalboal was for the books. It was beautiful and enchanting that the place is worthy for a comeback. I will be ready the second time around.
The Highs of Canyoneering
It was the canyoneering that we came here for in Badian and we were lucky that we were able to do it despite the gloomy weather because of a weather system near the island of Cebu. Canyoneering along Canloab River is the main tourist draw in the area. This high adrenaline activity gets you trekking, clambering on rocks, jumping into the river, and floating in the cold river waters.
Our adventure started with flying down the zipline over the mountain side and forest covers of Badian from the jump off point. The one minute flight saved us around 20-30 minutes of hike to the river trail. Asher initially wasn’t particularly happy about zip-lining but halfway through, she got the hang of it. The “in-flight” rustic views were amazing and it did give us our intial dose of adrenaline.
They say that it only takes one jump to take away the initial fear of jumping into a raging river. It does. We conquered the Canlaob River as we scrambled on its rocks, swam in its turquoise waters, and leaped alongside its raging cascades. It was an experience that gave us different doses of adrenaline high. Yes, one jump made everything a breeze after.
We saw how much damage Typhoon Odette brought upon Badian. Fallen and uprooted trees lie along the canyoneering trail. Our guide shared that the flooding changed the landscape of the riverbed. Some pre-typhoon canyoneering highlights were no longer in place because of the changed landscape. The damage on tourism facilities became more evident as we approached the famous three-tiered Kawasan Falls. The cliff jump area looked barren and the Badian Dam is missing its ethereal vibe, that I often see in pictures, because of the damaged forest covers around it. The ruins of tourist facilities greeted us as we walked down the trail to view its three cascade. It was disheartening to see the damage but the falls managed to keep the beauty of its turquoise waters that it was known for.
It took us more than 4 hours to traverse the “canyons” of Badian. It was already dark, with a little drizzle, when we finally made our way to the main highway. It was a tiring but fulfilling day for us enjoying both nature’s beauty and the aftermath of its wrath. It is slowly recovering and I do plan to go back when the place has fully recovered to again witness its old beauty. Despite the changes, canyoneering in Badian still offers the same thrill and rush amidst a changed landscape.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Cebu will always be my happy place and I’m glad it was our first family trip, out of Luzon, after two years of limited mobility. I realized how much I missed riding planes, the thrill of experiencing a new adventure, and making a different kind of memory with the family. As parents, we should make sure that we get to do these kind of adventures with our kids while they are young and, most especially, while we can. The memories that we create, with these adventures, will last as our kids grow old.
It was also good that we also get to share the adventure with you as Badian re-builds itself. The stories that I am sharing with you now is aimed at encouraging you to go out and explore beyond the usual. Encouraging you to visit destinations that are re-building help speed up the recovery process for the locals. It is a different kind of adventure that go a long way to the community. Go beyond the usual.
It was also good that we also get to share the adventure with you as Badian re-builds itself. The stories that I am sharing with you now is aimed at encouraging you to go out and explore beyond the usual. Encouraging you to visit destinations that are re-building help speed up the recovery process for the locals. It is a different kind of adventure that go a long way to the community. Go beyond the usual.
Check out our Badian travel adventure on my Youtube travel channel: #ByahengOffTheGrid Badian
Getting there: Cebu is a major hub in the country and one can take a flight, or take a ferry, to Cebu City. From the airport, you take a taxi to the Cebu City South Bus Terminal where you take a bus to Bato via Barili. You can ask the driver to drop you off at Badian where you can take a tricycle to your resort.
If you are staying at Cuesta’s Beach Resort and Restaurant, you can ask the driver to drop you off at the resort. From the highway, it is just a short walk to the resort. You can book your accommodations through the Facebook page of Cuesta’s Beach Resort and Restaurant.
You can arrange your Sardine Run and Chasing Turtles and Kawasan Canyoneering Adventures with Kawasan Canyoneering. You can reach them at (0905) 333 2623 or (0918) 654 4111.
In the midst of a hot day in March, I decided to make a quick city exploration in the metro. I haven’t really done any urban hike recently and the heat of the dry season wasn’t exactly giving me the eagerness to explore. This time I had to push myself to explore the city dubbed as the “Gateway to Metro Manila”.
Pasay City was once part of a confederation known as Namayan. Its name “Pasay” was believed to be from the name of the child to whom the former ruler bequeathed the territory. The territory was renamed twice - the first was “Pineda” during the Spanish period and the second was in 1947 where it was renamed as “Rizal City”. In both cases, locals moved to revert it back to its old name.
The city blossomed from being a rustic beachside barangay to a progressive city in the metro. It is the city that welcomes you if you are arriving Manila by air. It is also home to one of the biggest malls and the biggest cultural venue in the country. It is a destination that has fused history, culture, and urban vibe in one progressive city. Join me as we go out and explore Pasay!
Sta. Clara de Montefalco de Pasay Church
Founded in 1864, the Sta. Clara de Montefalco de Pasay Church is the oldest church in Pasay City. It was dedicated to the St. Clare of Montefalco, a saint under the Augustinian order. The city’s dedication to St. Clare started as early as 1611 when Pasay was still under the jurisdiction of the parish of Malate. It was only in 1863 that the parish of Pasay became independent from Malate.
The church stands majestically sandwiched by the urban architecture of Pasay. Its facade stands out with its stained-glass windows and its three arched doors. The belfry stands adjacent on the left side of the church bearing six bells. Its interesting how the church perfectly blends with the structures around it.
The impressive doors of the church opens up to the elegant interior of the church. Its high-ceilings gives the church a fresh and peaceful vibe like a sanctuary. A crucified Christ stands as the altar’s main centerpiece and adjacent are the two saint honored by the parish. The church strictly follow health protocols. It only allows a limited number of church attendees inside the church so make sure that you come early when you plan to hear mass.
Pasay City Sports Complex / Derham Park
The Pasay City Sports Complex is a sports facility located along the FB Harrison St. The rundown facility has a swimming pool and basketball courts that locals can access. It is also home to some of the local government offices. During the pandemic, it was converted into an isolation facility for COVID patients.
At the front of the facility is the Derham Park. A monument, complete with a historical marker, honoring Manuel Colayco. He was born in Pasay, served the country during World War 2. He died after being fatally wounded during the liberation operations at UST. The monument gives honor to Pasay’s local hero.
Bulwagan ng Lungsod ng Pasay
The Bulwagan ng Lungsod ng Pasay is the center of local governance of the city. This is where the local officials hold office. The city is governed by a Mayor, with a Vice Mayor who heads the legislative council. The council is composed of 12 councilors and barangay and youth representatives.
The city hall stands along the busy FB Harrison Street and most local government offices are within the same area. The modern design of the city hall complements the urban landscape of the city. Although, do not be fooled because the city has a number of historical sites under its wing.
School for the Deaf
Tucked along the Harrison Street, the School for the Deaf is the only government institution for the deaf in the country. The idea to establish a school to cater to our visual and hearing impaired Filipinos started in 1907 by Dr. Barrows and a deaf teacher Miss Rice. It would become the pioneer in handicap education in the country and in Asia.
The present location of the school was a lot donated to the program. The school was later re-aligned as a separate school for the deaf and was renamed as the School for the Deaf. The school later evolved as a resource and research institution for the deaf.
The Henry Hotel Manila
Amidst the buzz of the city, there is a unique and serene hotel that was once a post-war mansion. The vintage hotel is popular for its vintage style houses with a touch of art-deco. The sprawling compound is a relaxing sanctuary right smack in the middle of a busy city network.
You would be surprised with how big the property is when you enter its gates. A driveway leads to the main receiving area and the first thing that caught my attention were the plants and trees that surrounded the area. The greens complemented the wooden structures and it gave that homey and peaceful vibe.
The Henry Hotel has a restaurant, a pool, and a sprawling garden that its guests can enjoy. It does not give off that hotel vibe but it seems more like a home where you can enjoy a quiet afternoon reading a book or taking a dip in the pool. I think that it is a good place to take a break and detach without living the city.
Cartimar Shopping Center
The Cartimar Shopping Center is popular among pet lovers because of its pet shop alleys. I have heard about Cartimar but it was only when I heard about a coffee shop that I got interested with checking it out. From FB Harrison, I took a trike to this old-time shopping center in Pasay.
Long before the emergence of big malls, Cartimar was the place to go in the 70’s and 80’s for PX goods and clothes. It was the go-to place of Makati residents for fresh produce. It was once home to 1000 stall tenants with some of these shops getting the lift on their start-up businesses here.
The shopping center has lost its vibe after having to compete with the emergence bigger malls in the metro. It still remains to be the preferred area to shop for pets and supplies if one is willing to travel all the way to Pasay. The stalls are still lined with different merchants offering clothes, shoes, and other merchandise. The pet stores, though, have a lot more activity. Some would probably feel nostalgic walking along its alleys but a lot needs to be done to keep Cartimar within the radar of consumers.
Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex
Initially conceived in 1966, the CCP Complex is one of the legacies left by the former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. It is an 88-hectare reclaimed land along Roxas Boulevard that was developed as a tourism and cultural hub in Metro Manila. Post-Marcos development saw its expansion linking it to the Bay City project, a 1500-hectare reclaimed land in Manila Bay.
The complex has a collection of 60’s and 70’s structures designed by National Artist Leandro Locsin. At the forefront is the Tanghalang Pambansa that houses the main offices of the CCP and three performing arts theaters - the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo, the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, and the Tanghalang Huseng Batute. This is the most iconic among all the structures as it serves as the “face” of the CCP Complex.
At the far end of the CCP Complex is the Tanghalang Francisco Balagtas or more popularly known as the Folk Arts Theater. The theater is a covered amphitheater that can accommodate 8500 spectators. Again, it was designed by National Artist Leandro Locsin and was built in only 77 days just in time to host the Miss Universe pageant in 1974. The concert venue, since then, has hosted various events and concerts of Menudo, Janet Jackson, and local artists.
The Philippine International Convention Center or PICC is another Leandro Locsin-designed building in the complex. It was the first international convention center in Asia to be inaugurated in 1976. It has hosted both national and international business conferences, meetings, and social events.
Other pertinent structures in the area is the Manila Film Center, the Sofitel Manila, the Coconut Palace, and the metro’s amusement park Star City. The plan for the area would see the development of 6 areas/clusters that was supposed to be built by phases in 10 years. As of this writing, the project has still to be started or completed.
Mall of Asia
A trip to Pasay City is not complete without visiting the Mall of Asia. The mall is the largest in the Philippines and the third largest in the world. Located along Bay City, it is home to a total 663 tenants. It also has a sunset promenade, an amusement park, and the MOA Arena.
I am really not a fam of malls but one thing that I love about the SM MOA is its sunset promenade where you get to enjoy the breeze and the views of the famous Manila Bay sunset. The promenade is perfect to catch the sunset after a full day of going around the mall or before catching up with friends over dinner. One thing that I would like to try though is watching the sunset while aboard the MOA eye. Anyone willing to join me?
POST TRAVEL NOTES
From a seaside barangay to a progressive city, Pasay City has grown leaps and bounds through the centuries. I guess it is one of those cities who have lost its old town charm as it embraced development and progress. Don’t get me wrong, the city still has pockets of history but the vibe that managed to get fused with its development is from the 70’s and 80’s. One thing that is distinct though was how Pasay has managed to fuse history, artistry, and urban vibe in one city.
Exploring the metro has given me a glimpse of how cities embraced progress. While some managed to keep the old town charm, there are those that managed to completely embrace development that it gave the city a different personality. It’s these changes and fusion that make each destination unique and it is that unique trait that attracts more travelers to visit. What makes your place different?
Getting there: You can take the LRT 1 and go down at the Libertad Station in Pasay City.
PAGASA already declared the start of the dry season so we are now expecting hotter days ahead. This is the time when most of us have started planning out our beach trips or has probably been to the beach to enjoy a nice cool down. I mean… with 7641 islands (not 1700), hitting the beach is the first thing that comes to mind when we start feeling the heat, literally and figuratively. Every corner of the country, with our long coast line, has a beach spot for every kind of traveler.
BUT… the Philippines is not just about beaches. There are destinations in the country where you can find a nice and cozy spot to cool down. Here are 5 “summer” destinations near the metro to help you beat the metro heat!
13 Waterfalls, Dona Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan
Head up to the rustic side of Bulacan and enjoy the cold spring waters of Dona Remedios Trinidad. This part of the province remains largely unexplored and, thanks to the pandemic, its natural attractions are starting to get the attention of local travelers. DRT is the largest municipality of Bulacan and lies along the Sierra Madre mountain range. Its rugged terrain is a treasure trove of natural wonders that is waiting to be explored.
13 Waterfalls is just one of the many waterfalls that you can find in DRT. It also happens to be my favorite because it gives you a complete adventure of having to clamber through rocks and hike on trails to get to see the 13 “waterfalls”. The “waterfalls” are actually a series of water cascades that flow along Sapang Adarna. The falls located higher up
the trail are more noticeable compared to those found downstream. The great thing about trekking through 13 Waterfalls is that you can always take a quick dip in its cold waters to cool you down along the trail.
The adventure is tiring but totally fun. Be forewarned though that the trek can be a bit of a challenge. Don’t expect to see grand cascades because only certain waterfalls will give you that amazing view. Some of it go unnoticed and that makes the whole experience exciting because you all end up counting less or more than 13 Falls.
Check out the full blog here: Dona Remedios Na Yan!
You can also checkout my travel video blog of 13 Waterfalls here: #ByahengOffTheGrid Done Remedios Trinidad
Tinipak River, Tanay, Rizal
Here is another adventure that will have you huffing and puffing before you get to enjoy the cold waters of one of the cleanest rivers in the country. Just two hours east of the metro, Tanay has become a favorite day and weekend destination with its diverse tourism activities.
Tinipak River was the first to catch travelers’ interest on this side of Rizal. The white limestone formations of Tinipak was a natural wonder that got everyone amazed. The view and a dip in its cold waters was a perfect way to cool down after the hour trek from the jump off point or after climbing up the adjacent Mount Daraitan. There is also a cave that you can explore where its spring waters flow into Tinipak River.
Tanay’s tourism has developed from off-beat spots to a destination that offers diverse activities that cater to any kind of traveler. It has become an all-year round destination that will surely quench your thirst for adventure. But nothing really beats enjoying the summer views and the cold spring waters of Tinipak River.
Check out the full blog here: Wow Tinipak!
Buruwisan Falls, Siniloan, Laguna
Situated along the Sierra Madre mountain range , Siniloan is another destination that will cool you down from the summer heat. Its waterfalls and green covers cools you down, the natural way. Of course, part of the process is getting you all muddied up first.
The Buruwisan Falls experience allows you to enjoy walking through the forest covers of Siniloan and giving you that refreshing dip in its cold waters. There are, at least, three waterfalls that you will get to enjoy along the trail. The most majestic is Buruwisan Falls that cascades at a height of 180 feet. The view of its drop while getting refreshed by its cold water is the perfect way to end the hike before heading back to its muddy trail.
The eastern side of Laguna is perfect for chasing waterfalls. It is tiring but exciting because it gets you all muddied up first before enjoying a cool wash down. If you are the type who loves the gentle flow of cold water on your skin, Buruwisan Falls is a perfect spot for you. It warms you up before cooling you down.
Check out the full blog here: Mount Romelo: A Peak and Chasing Waterfalls
You can also checkout my travel video blog of Siniloan here: #ByahengOffTheGrid Siniloan
Isla Maria, Cavinti, Laguna
Isla Maria re-defines the phrase “stranded on an island”. Located along the waters of Lumot Lake, Isla Maria is a private island that you can enjoy for the weekend. It is just one of the many island lakes in the area where you can enjoy the rustic vibe.
Isla Maria gives you that unique experience of getting marooned on an island. You get to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature throughout your stay - from the morning sounds of the gentle slushing of lake waters to the rustling sounds of leaves in the afternoon to the cricket sounds at night. You also get front seats as you watch the sun setting down the horizon. You can also enjoy a cool dip in the lake or enjoy canoeing down its still waters.
Lake Lumot is a perfect spot to unwind. You get to enjoy cooling down while enjoying the sun. You get to experience the rural vibe by boating around and/or fishing out tilapias for your next meal. It is great place to beat the heat while it slows you down. It is simply perfect.
Check out the full blog here: Isla Maria: Re-defining Island Living
Pandin Lake, San Pablo, Laguna
The City of San Pablo in Laguna is a destination where you can cool down during the summer. Apart from its cooler weather, the city is also blessed with 7 lakes. Pandin Lake was developed into a tourist attraction where you can enjoy a day adventure enjoying the views and its waters.
The whole adventure starts with lunch aboard a balsa as local women maneuvers it across the lake. You get to enjoy a hearty meal as you enjoy the bucolic scene and the fresh air. The balsa is then anchored onto the side of the lake where you can choose to just relax on the balsa or jump into its cool waters. The still waters of the lake provides a good escape from the heat. A perfect way to end a roadtrip in Laguna before heading back to the metro.
San Pablo is a perfect getaway to escape the heat. Its location, along the foothills of Mount Banahaw give it a cooler weather. You can choose to explore the 7 lakes of the city or to simply enjoy a slow and laidback vibe that the city has to offer.
Check out the full blog here: Road Tripping Majayjay-Liliw-San Pablo
POST TRAVEL NOTES
The dry season spells out beach plans for most Filipinos especially for those in Metro Manila. This is the time when most people would complain about the metro heat but would not mind the heat while on the beach. But beyond our coastlines, we also have inland destinations, like these 5 destinations, that can help us beat the heat and it ain’t the beach.
Philippine tourism is starting to pick up after the lowering down of the alert level across the country. People are now itching to travel and it was nice to see that we are seeing the influx in popular destinations. But let us also remember that there are also other lesser known destinations that is worth exploring and discovering. Let us explore beyond the usual, byaheroes!
This pandemic made the world stop on its tracks. It caught us all off-guard when it literally reduced our mobility. We suddenly found ourselves being confined in our small spaces, both literally and figuratively. I suddenly found myself not being able to do one of my passion and hobbies - traveling locally. I struggled to maintain this travel blog that I had to re-package previous blogs and I had to search old travels that I have not featured. As of this writing, we are back on the road to #GOT81 and we are exploring Nueva Vizcaya.
Nueva Vizcaya is a landlocked province under the Cagayan Valley Region. It is bordered by three mountain ranges, the Sierra Madre, the Cordillera, and the Caraballo, that gives the province its rugged terrain features. Apart from being the gateway of Cagayan Valley, Nueva Vizcaya is a budding eco-tourism destination where you get to enjoy the peaks of its hills and mountains and what’s underneath it.
Dupax Watershed Forest Reserve (Dupax del Sur)
Our first stop for the day is a protected area tucked within the municipality of Dupax del Sur. The Dupax Watershed Forest Reserve is a 425-hectare forest protected under Presidential Proclamation No. 720 that was signed in August 1934. The reserve is under the management of the DENR and access to the park needs to be coordinated with them. The park remains closed to tourist since the lockdown and our group was lucky enough to be the first visitors since it was closed.
The reserve redefines early morning exercise with its hike trail. It was refreshing to breathe in the cold morning air and hear the rustling sound of fallen leaves as you hike down the main artery of the forest. Our guides from the tourism and DENR local office, Jill An and Maricel, gladly walked us through the trail. The reserve has a Japanese Tunnel along the foothills of Mount San Vicente. The tunnel is believed to have an exit point at the St. Vincent Ferrer Church located at the town center.
The peak of Mount Vicente can be accessed easily by a concrete stairway from it base. “Climbing” the 360 steps to get to the top caught me off-guard as it was really steep. I had to pause along the way to catch my breath while enjoying the view of its forest cover below. They have pine trees in the area that gave that familiar pine scent. It reminded me of my childhood in Baguio.
Mount San Vicente or Mount Isnai stands at 600 meters above sea level and offers an amazing 360-panoramic view of the flatlands and rolling hills of Dupax del Sur and its surrounding areas. You get a full view of its forest covers, the town center, the rugged mountain ranges that borders Nueva Vizcaya, and its valleys. The low-lying clouds did not give us the opportunity to catch the sunrise but it did give us a dramatic and sober early morning vibe for our photos.
The view atop Mount Isnai was a great reward after the challenging climb. The hike was a complete package to the senses from the views to the sounds of nature to the whiff of the pine tree. It was enough to give us that extra charge for a day of exploring.
Dupax del Sur Town Center
Dupax del Sur has a rich history. Its name is derived from the Isnai word “dopaj” which means “to lie down in complete relaxation”. The current site of the town was previously a campsite by hunters where they relax after days of hunting before heading home. Dupax was once the biggest municipality in Nueva Vizcaya before it was politically divided in 1974 creating Dupax del Sur and Dupax del Norte.
The poblacion of Dupax del Sur is encrypted with its history. You will find small monuments honoring the humble beginnings of Dupax from a camp site to its first Capitan del Pueblo. You will also find a Spanish-period flagpole made out of bricks. The flagpole was erected in 1873.
San Vicente Ferrer Parish Church and Century Tree (Dupax del Sur)
The San Vicente Ferrer Parish Church is an 18th century church that is located at the heart of Dupax del Sur. Completed in 1776, the church is one of the oldest in the country and its design is similar to that of the Tugegarao Cathedral. The church is one of two Spanish-period structures in the town of Dupax del Sur recognized as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum.
The church follows a baroque design with semi-arched door (first level) and windows (2nd level). The first level has two blind windows flanking the main door that features an image of the Holy Eucharist while the a niche honoring San Vicente is located right above the door. The top level of the facade features seven finials, with the middle featuring a crucifix. The three-story brick belfry sits on the right of the church. Each level bearing the year that it was completed - 1776, 1786, and 1788.
The interior of the church remains simple just like the church’s facade. The two level retablo has the image of the Crucified Christ as its central figure. Interestingly, there are two whitewashed columns at the entrance that supports the choir loft. Both columns feature reliefs of cherubims, floral designs, and shells. These are the same designs found in the church’s baptistry.
The church has a sprawling courtyard. A huge century-old Acacia Tree can be found adjacent to the church convent. The tree is believed to be the only surviving tree planted during the Spanish-period and it is believed to be around 142 years old. The century tree is also believed to be on of the oldest in the northern regions of the country.
Dampol Bridge (Dupax del Sur)
A short walk from the church complex is another heritage structure in Dupax del Sur - the Dampol Bridge. Built in 1818 by the locals, the bridge is a single-arched unreinforced bridge that crosses over the Abanatan Creek. You can view the red-colored bricks from the side of the bridge that is similar to bricks used in the church. It was recognized as a National Cultural Treasure in 2015.
The whole area is now collectively known as the “San Vicente Ferrer Church Complex and Dampol Bridge of Dupax del Sur”. The church and the bridge remains to be the only duly-recognized cultural treasure in the province of Nueva Vizcaya. The rich heritage value of Dupax del Sur is now being pushed to be included in the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites in the country.
Capisaan Cave System (Kasibu)
From the peak of Mount Isnai, we went up for a challenge to explore what’s underneath the mountains of Nueva Vizcaya. The municipality of Kasibu, an hour away from Dupax del Sur, is home to the 5th Longest Cave System in the country - the Capisaan Cave System. This cave network spans a total traverse length of 4.2 kilometers from end to end. It takes an average of 4 hours to navigate through the network that will get you crawling and squeezing through small holes and, of course, getting wet and muddied.
Our caving adventure started out at the Alayan Entrance where we were grouped into 4. The ratio of guide per visitor is 1:5 to allow guests to enjoy the beauty of the cave system safely. Although the cave system is not as challenging as that of Sagada’s, with its cliffs and drops, take all instructions by heart because the traverse has lot of river crossing of varying depths and can be physically challenging.
The Capisaan Cave System is said to be a “geologist’s paradise” because of its amazing stalagmite and stalactite collections and rock formations. This is where you will also find rare calcite formations. There is an abundance of flow stones, soda straws, and calcite rafts. I was really amazed by the soda straws because it was my first time to actually encounter this cool formation that is also hollow inside. It was a full 4 hours of just enjoying the art work that nature sculpted in thousand of years.
The through-and-through adventure is physically demanding. The first half of the spelunking will have you walking through cavernous “halls” while the latter part will have you crawling and duck walking. You get a full adventure of river crossing, rappelling up and down stone faces, squeezing yourself into a tiny hole, and crawling through crevices. At certain points, it requires a little flexibility to get through. Expect to get the usual cool down with its cold spring water because 70% of the cave has water.
As we made our exit at the Lion Entrance, we were relieved that we survived the 4-hour spelunking. It was exhausting, coupled by the fact that we had an early morning surprise hike, but seeing all the beauty inside the cave made the whole adventure worth it. I seldom get myself to do this kind of travel but this one is definitely for the books. You get to be physically active while connecting with nature through its artistry. Definitely something worth doing when you find yourself in Nueva Vizcaya.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Nueva Vizcaya is not your typical tourist destination, not because it lacks beauty, but because the adventure that it offers caters to adventurous spirits. Most of its destinations are still not within the radar of the usual travelers, some are still up to be discovered. The province is off-beat and is ruggedly beautiful and it takes a keen eye to see and appreciate its raw and natural beauty.
Finally… we are back on the #GOT81 travel trail after almost 2 years of hiatus. I still remember that fateful day when the lockdown was announced. I was in Hinatuan doing my usual province run when I had to rush back to Manila. We are slowly getting back to our usual run. We still have a few restrictions but let us not compromise health and safety. Together we can slowly rebuild our country. I have already started and it was good to finally have Nueva Vizcaya… unlocked!
Getting there: This trip to Nueva Vizcaya was organized by Tara Akyatan Na Adventure. I joined the organized tour for ease of travel to Nueva Vizcaya. Going DIY can be quite a challenge because of limitations on public transport. You can follow the FB page of the group for future trips to Nueva Vizcaya.
A lazy Saturday had me planning for a quick day escape. The city was starting to choke me so I was looking for a place where I can just enjoy the provincial feels and breathe in the fresh air. The province of Rizal was a good choice for this kind of quick and easy trip and I remembered on how much I wanted to visit again a Spanish-period church that was one of the most beautiful that I have seen in the country. Little did I know that the quaint town of Morong would spell out a different kind of fun.
Morong is the precursor of the present-day province of Rizal. This riverside town, along the shores of Manila de Bay, was first discovered in 1572 and was converted into a pueblo in 1578 by Franciscan missionaries. The towns of Baras, Tanay, Pililia, and Binangonan was under its jurisdiction. It was later re-structured in 1853 to become the Distrito de Morong with the towns of Jala-Jala, Angono, Cardona, Antipolo, Boso-Boso, Cainta, and Taytay added to its political jurisdiction. The present-day Morong remains to be a quaint and relaxing town. Except for a historical marker in town, it is void of any reminders that it was once a “kabisera”. It has managed to attract visitors by keeping its laidback and provincial vibe.
St. Jerome Parish Church (Morong Church)
The St. Jerome Parish Church, more popularly known as Morong Church, is a Spanish-period Catholic church completed in 1620. It sits on an elevated portion of the town that keeps it safe from flooding along the banks of the Morong River. The church is dedicated to St. Jerome and is home to two of the saint’s relics.
The bell tower and facade of the church is the most striking feature of the Morong Church. The baroque revival-style features intricate stone carvings that gives the facade an elegant and dynamic look. The belfry dominates the town skyline and an illuminated cross serves as a guide for fishermen on Laguna de Bay. Interestingly, the three-story facade was only built from 1850 to 1853 by Bartolome Palatino of Paete, Laguna and Chinese craftsmen.
The simple interior of the church stands out with its simple retablo. The dome of the church is both adorned by glass-stained windows and the paintings of the 4 evangelist - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A side door leads to a prayer chamber adorned by images of saints and the image of a dead Christ. I took notice of an artwork of Jesus Christ with a farm scene as a backdrop, however, there were no available information about the painting. The church’s altar is also home to two relics of St. Jerome. One is buried beneath the altar while the other relic sits adjacent to the image of St. Jerome on the left side of the altar.
Apart from its religious and aesthetic value, the church also played a role in history during the Filipino-Spanish War. The church became the last fortress of the Spaniards stationed in Morong after they were attacked by Filipino civil guards. It became the fort of the Spaniards before they surrendered to Katipuneros on August 19, 1898.
Not far from the church is a bridge where the original Morong bridge once stood. The Punta de San Geronimo was built from 1696 to 1701 under forced labor. The bridge, that arched over the Morong River, was made of adobe stones and cemented with sand, lime, molasses, and the juice of the puso-puso leaves.
The bridge was intentionally destroyed by Filipino guerrillas at the start of World War 2. The act only delayed the occupation of Morong by the Japanese. A steel and concrete bridge now stands on the site where the old bridge once stood.
Morong Old Municipal Hall (Comandancia) and Tanghalang Francisco Feliciano
I had no knowledge that Morong was once the capital of the precursor of the present Rizal Province. At the heart of the town stands the re-constructed Comandancia. The building, that was once made from adobe, served as the seat of power of the Distrito Politico-Militar de Morong. It was later used as a school building before it was torn down and re-built to serve as municipal hall of the town.
The Comandancia now serves as Morong’s town museum with the transfer of the government offices to the new municipal hall. It also bears the historical marker of the town of Morong. The marker outlines that Morong was once the capital of the province.
Adjacent to the Comandancia is an open space park that is known as the Tanghalang Francisco Feliciano. The town plaza, complete with an open space and a stage, serves as the a venue of town activities. It was named after the National Artist for Music Francisco Feliciano who hails from this town.
On one side of the plaza is a monument honoring the first Filipino to die overseas during an international conflict - Tomas Claudio. He also hails from the town of Morong and fought during World War 1. He met his demise while fighting in France and his remains are now buried at the Manila North Cemetery.
Duckling Society Park and Puking Bato
Located closer to the shores of Laguna de Bay, the Duck Society Park is a park located in the midst of the Morong’s rice field. The park is also popularly known as “Boulevard” and it is a favorite early morning and/or late afternoon spot for a quick run and stroll. The park gives you a panoramic and relaxing view of the town’s rice fields and the town.
The park also has an interesting rock formation called “Puking Bato”. A local shared with us that the rock formation, when cleared of grass, is shaped like a female genitalia hence the name. The rock formation also sits in the middle of the rice field and was covered with grass so I was not able to see the actual formation.
I still have to figure out why it was called the Duckling Society Park. My guess is that it is a location where you also get to enjoy bird watching because the fields are good locations for birds to swarm in. I think migratory birds, and ducklings, frequent the surrounding rice fields of the park. The park, located at the center of the fields, is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the views.
Cavalier Statue (Titing Kabayo)
Further away from the town center is another statue that locals refer to as the “Cavalier Statue”. The statue sits on the fork of the road that features an armored knight with a battle axe mounted on a horse and on attack mode. It has become the symbol of the Barangay Maybancal. Locals celebrate the Cavalier’s Day every October 25.
Bikers refer to it as “Titing Kabayo”. As to why they call it as such, I will leave it up to you to discover. Zooming in on the picture may provide you the answers.
Coffee Stop: Bukid Cafe
Rizal is a hotspot for coffee lovers with its wide selection of coffee spots and an addition to this growing list is Bukid Cafe in Morong. While most of the cafes in area boasts of overlooking views, Bukid Cafe provides a relaxing place that perfectly combines a cup of coffee and the beauty of Morong’s countryside. The cafe was a perfect way to cap a day of exploring the town.
Tucked within the fields of Brgy. Bombongan, Bukid Cafe offers a laidback place to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee complete with the “probinsya” vibe. Think of it as an afternoon coffee session like you are at home in the province in the midst of the rice fields. You get to enjoy the rustic views of the Morong rice fields against the backdrop of Antipolo and Teresa’s mountainside. Definitely, a great place to wrap up a fun day of walking around Morong.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
If you are looking for a quick escape from the city that would give you that laidback vibe, Morong is a perfect roadtrip destination. Its old town charm and verdant rice fields views could easily snap you out of the city buzz and re-energize you. It slows you down and gives you that much-needed jumpstart especially when city life starts to choke you.
One good thing on this roadtrip was getting re-acquainted with one of the most beautiful church in the country and finding out that Morong was the original Rizal province. Well, you always learn something new on every trip. These tidbits of new information never fails to impress me and makes an old destination become more interesting. I guess, I found me a new “charging” spot that is close to Manila.
Getting there: You can take a jeep or an FX for Baras or Tanay at EDSA Crossing. This is a faster option rather than taking a Morong jeep that will pass by the towns of Taytay, Angono, Binangonan, ad Cardona. Ask the driver to drop you off at the junction of Morong where you can take a trike to the town center. Tricycle is the way to go around when you are in Morong.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.