Travel Bug Philippines (Part 2)

Ilocos

The good thing about package tours is they’re hassle free. Yes, tour operators normally add up to the usual price if you’re in a do-it-yourself trip but prices can also be reasonable especially if you’re in a big group. So for three days, we were able to go to Ilocos for a price of around P40,000 for ten people so that’s P4,000 each. (Look up 8 Wonders Travel and Tours if you’re interested.)

We squeezed in a 10-seater van and were off for an 8-hour trip from Manila to Ilocos. First stop, Marcos Museum. We weren’t able to get in though because the place was under maintenance which was a bummer. I would have wanted to see Ferdinand’s mummified body, or is it just wax?

Along the way, we gorge ourselves with Ilocos-famous longanisa, bagnet, and empanada. One of our mates’ sole intention of coming with us was to hunt for the best longanisa and he ended up buying an ice box load of it back to Manila. Hello, constricted veins, high blood, and heart attack!

Next stop, photo-ops at the Paoay Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Malacañang of the North, the official residence of the late President Marcos; and the Bangui Windmills, these amazing giant turbines which mind you, are not simply there for aesthetics but they actually generate a lot of renewable energy.   

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Also for an additional fee of P500, we got to try a 4×4 ride and sand boarding at the Sand Dunes. The 4×4 ride was like a rollercoaster and would be a sure hit for adventure junkies.

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All exhausted, we spent the night at the far end part of Ilocos, Pagudpud beach.

The following morning, true Filipinos as we are, for the sake of taking a gazillion of photos, we went to the Patapat Viaduct (a bridge leading to Cagayan), Blue Lagoon, and Kapurpurawan Rock Formation.

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After that, we visited Singson’s Baluarte Zoo which houses these exotic animals. This Singson guy must be really rich. We then witnessed the manual way of pot making at Burnayan, had dinner (more longanisa, bagnet, and empanada!) at “Hidden Garden,” and a leisure night walk at Calle Crisologo in Vigan. Vigan is now recognized as one of the 7 Wonder Cities in the world.

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All in all, it was an awesome trip with old friends, new friends, and meaningful and crazy conversations in between. This escapade is definitely one for the books!

Banaue, Ifugao

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We are so fond of coming up with travel plans. And they end up just that, plans. And probably longing that they would soon materialize someday but life happens and it gets pushed back and forgotten.

Well that didn’t happen to us. We just decided one day to travel to Banaue and we did. We rode an overnight bus and got there early in the morning.

It was refreshing to be with nature at that moment. To feel the solid soil under your feet, feel it sort of pressing against you, supporting you. And when you breathe, you actually smell the air’s freshness. And everywhere I look, I see green which sure does relax the eyes. Compared to being stuck in an urban jungle filled with concrete and smoke, this is paradise.

After about an hour of “top load” jeepney ride and another hour of hiking, we finally see the Batad Rice Terraces. Honestly, it was underwhelming at first because I was expecting to see what I see in pictures and ads about this commonly referred to as 8th Wonder of the World. Our guide told us that the best times to be here would be the planting season in April or June where you see the terraces in verdant green and the harvest season in August or December where it’s golden brown. We were there in October and it was just bare. But soon I realized how amazing it was to see an ancient structure built by hands or maybe aliens? If the steps are all connected, they are supposed to encircle half of the earth.

A long hike brought us to and from Tappiya Falls which was excruciating and invigorating at the same time. The water was icy cold that made it almost impossible to swim in aside from the fact that the water could just about drag me with it.

The stillness of the night was a refuge for our aching body. And we wake up to an unbelievable view of the terraces from our window. How awesome it is to wake up every day to that.

Another jeepney ride plus more walking brought us to the Hapao Rice Terraces. We were also able to take a dip at the hot spring and a quick wash at the river.

Our journey ended at Hiwang Village where we saw more of the terraces and we also got to see antiques, and skulls, and all kinds of artifacts from World War II.

I’m glad I was able to see this cultural treasure and as much as a lot of efforts are put into preserving it, modernization and the younger generation preferring to live in the cities make the terraces vulnerable. I sure hope the future generation would still get to see them.

Mount Pinatubo

A certificate of conquest was awarded to me for successfully conquering Mount Pinatubo via O’Donell at Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac. For a price of around P2,000, a very organized day trip of TriPinas would be perfect for a one-day getaway.

We traveled at 3:00 AM from Manila and arrived in Tarlac at 6:00. From there, an hour 4×4 ride brought us to the hiking spot where we trekked for two hours. The horizontal walk on sand and gravel wasn’t much of a workout and the cold gray environment almost made it depressing but it was made entertaining with those random stuff you talk about while walking.

And once we got to the water filled crater – breathtaking. And captivating. You can’t help but pause and marvel at the sight considering that tragedy brought about this beauty.

Mount Pinatubo has an elevation of 1,485 meters above sea level. Its eruption in 1991 paired with a typhoon brought about lahar which was what mostly caused heavy damage. The Aetas, the indigenous group living in the mountain, believed that their god, angered by illegal loggers, caused the eruption.

Nature, exercise, history all in one day. How about that for a quick getaway!

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Travel Bug Philippines (Part 1)

I’ve been wanting, craving, to travel overseas. But all throughout 2014, I’ve been having local trips which is not a bad thing.

“Huwag maging turista sa sariling bansa,” was once a tagline of the Department of Tourism. So staying true to that, I traveled and explored the many wonderful islands of the Philippines.

Naga, Bicol

Early last year, my friends from an international exchange program and I went for a trip to Naga. It’s not just the food with gata or coconut milk that made the trip memorable. We were able to hike our way under the rain to the Mt. Isarog falls, took a dip in the Panicuason Hot Spring, and tried wakeboarding (well, my friends did), and had a great time at the Caramoan Island.

Caramoan has been a filming sight for my favorite reality TV show “Survivor” so I was psyched to be there. We got to stay at Gota Village in these beautifully made rustic cabin houses.

There was a typhoon that time so the boat ride going to the island was wavy and a bit scary as we felt like the vessel would tip over or capsize. We would have been real life castaways!

It took us three days to do all these so the next time you have a long weekend, Bicol would be a worth it destination.

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Visayas

Normally, if you think of backpacking, Europe and Southeast Asia would come to mind. Who would have thought backpacking across Visayas would be possible. I’m glad my travel buddy, Brian planned for the trip and dragged me along.

The adventure started with a two-hour bus ride from Manila to Batangas then an overnight ferry trip to Caticlan. After paying all kinds of fees and going through boat transfers, I finally set foot on this island which gets a lot of publicity from foreign and local tourists alike. Thanks to its fine white sand, a choice of different activities (island hopping, snorkeling, scuba diving, etc.) and its lively party scene, especially at night.

We were hosted by a couch surfer. Wikipedia defines couch surfing as a hospitality exchange and social networking website. The website provides a platform for members to “surf” on couches by staying as a guest at a host’s home, host travelers, or join an event. A cool way to have free accommodation!

Most of our time in Boracay, we just spent at the beach and swam in its crystal clear waters. And we sadly wonder how the displaced Atis, the island’s indigenous people, ended up begging in a land that used to be their own.

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From Boracay, we traveled to the “Seafood Capital of the Philippines” – Capiz, Roxas. We did try their seafood but sadly our stomachs weren’t ready for their “kinilaw na shrimp.” And nope, no aswangs in Capiz. I was curious as to what got the place this kind of reputation and found out from the article of Estrella Torres, “The ‘Real Capiz’ Unveiled,” that the Catholic Church wanted to discredit the Babaylans or female healers in Capiz and demonized them as witches and called them aswang.

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Our wandering feet brought us next to the “City of Love,” Iloilo. We were fortunate to have an Ilonggo friend who toured us around the city and the churches while giving historical remarks of these places. It was such a delight to visit the Miagao Church, have a night walk at the Esplanade, and constantly hear the unique accent of the Ilonggos. Don’t ask me why, but I just find the way they speak amusing. They sound so gentle. Now, my favorite dish is sinigang and I have to say Iloilo’s version with batwan fruit gave me just the right kick of kilig-to-the bones sourness.

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Iloilo also became our gateway to Guimaras, the place which claims to have the sweetest mango in the world. And I think I would have to agree! Apparently, they got the 1995 Guinness Book of World Record for “The World’s Sweetest Fruit.”

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A RORO (roll-on/roll-off) ship led us next to Bacolod where we were hosted by another couch surfer, Julius. He opened his house to total strangers and I just couldn’t believe his hospitality and trust. There are still kind people in the world.

We visited The Ruins (of a mansion), went to the Mambukal Hot Spring, and enjoyed Bacolod’s famous chicken inasal.

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Hip Dumaguete was our next destination where we got a taste of their puto and hot cocoa breakfast. That was a treat! From here, we briefly traveled to Siquijor. Spanish colonizers called it “Isla de Fuego” or “Island of Fire” because of fireflies at night. Like Capiz, Siquijor is also famous for stories of the paranormal. I’m not really superstitious but the place gave that weird, eerie feel. Mystic aside though, I enjoyed the fish spa experience under giant balete trees.

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And for the final leg, we traveled to Cebu, to Ormoc, and then to Tacloban. It is saddening to see how the typhoon Yolanda ravaged the place. With that, the 39th Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Programme Philippine Contingent (Bugkos Lahi), a group I belong to, decided to do an outreach here. We donated monoblock chairs and computer tables for a school, conducted hygiene session with kids, and participated in a magic show in Child Friendly Space areas. Way to end such an amazing trip!

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