Yolanda

My dear beloved Leyte, it breaks my heart to see you so devastated this way.  I still can’t stomach taking pictures until now.

The evacuation on that fateful morning when the angry winds of Yolanda started blowing as mightily as she could was in itself a heart-pounding real-life drama. We yelled, we cried, we ran for our lives, my mother repeatedly telling us not to let go of my 5-month old niece no matter what. I thought that surviving supertyphoon Yolanda was enough. But I should have known better, dealing with its aftermath is another story of survival. Seeing wounded and dead people just about anywhere is heart-wrenching. The relief goods came 4 or 5 days after the typhoon, I thought we were already abandoned by our government. We were isolated for there is still no electricity (I’m typing this into my mobile phone now) nor any means of communication. It is a relief that Tacloban’s cellphone signal, though weak, has already been restored now.

I still feel blessed that my family is intact despite the wrecked house. Little by little we’ve repaired it. Most have totally lost their homes and their families. I have already met some of my officemates and their survival stories are even more heartbreaking than mine. I wanna cry. I hate to think what might have happened to many of my friends in Tacloban and in other parts of Eastern Visayas. I hope they’re safe now.

But then, the outpour of help is overwhelming The roar of helicopters is a sign of hope. The sight of military men makes us feel secured from the looters and other threats of crimes. I just hope that the government officials who are delaying the distribution of relief goods will be enlightened.

No, I don’t want to leave you, my beloved home for more than twenty years. You have taught me to be strong, and optimistic somehow.  Aren’t Warays known to be easygoing but tough people? It may be hard to fathom God’s reasons, but the trademark resilience of your people may probably have something to do in being chosen to be the bearer of the strongest cyclone to ever hit the world. We’ll get by, we’ll rise again, I know we can. We must, my dear beloved Leyte.

Climbing the Sacred Mountain

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Bud Bongao with its altitude of 300 meters stands prominently in Bongao town like a stationary honor guard geared up to protect the whole Tawi-tawi territory.

“If you are kind-hearted you won’t have trouble climbing,” Kuya Ladz of the tourism office told me – an indication that what we’re about to climb is not just an ordinary mountain. It is actually regarded to be sacred and revered by many Muslims who often come here to pray and make wishes.

The mountain has also been enfolded with tales of mysticism. One of the legends is that of white monkeys who were believed to be its guardians before.  Now,  instead of them,  grey-colored macaque monkeys also considered sacred inhabit the place which is the reason why we were carrying a bunch of ripe bananas with us.

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Amidst the scorching heat of the afternoon sun, the steep climb made me really thirsty but tiredness was soon forgotten. After all I was with a fun bunch of hiking buddies – Kuya Ladz and his three nephews who are students from Mindanao State University.

It was perhaps almost halfway through the climb when the friendly macaque monkeys  started appearing and swaying through the trees.  They seemed to be following us all the way and I was so amused while we fed them with bananas.

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one of the three tampats

Nearing the summit, we got to the part which they consider to be a holy shrine. In it were three tampats or holy graves.  This is where the Muslims pray and make wishes.

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Now I probably know why they say that you really haven’t been to Tawi-tawi  if you haven’t climbed Bud Bongao.  Its summit will give you a commanding view of the vast Sulu Sea and the Tawi-tawi landscape.  Kuya Ladz pointed to me the islands of Sibutu, Simunul and Sangay-Siapo.  On a clear day, one can even see the outline of  Borneo atop this mountain. It was kind of a bizarre feeling, I was at the southernmost tip of the Philippines and what I behold before me was already an international border.

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What better way to chill out after a hike than with barbecue and fresh buko by the beach? The al fresco setting of the barbecue place beside the Beach Side Inn where most locals flock to for beer, barbecue, and videoke is certainly a perfect spot to mingle with the locals, watch the sun set gold over the Sulu Sea and view the mystical Bud Bongao from a distance.

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The Panampangan Paradise

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Tawi-tawi’s hidden gem

Of the 7,107 isles and islets that comprise the Philippine archipelago, 307 belong to its last frontier – the province of Tawi-tawi.  I consider myself lucky for being able to set foot on at least four of them. One of them truly a paradise on earth – the virgin island of Panampangan.

JourneyingJames, the surfer and the blogger who had backpacked around the Philippines for 100 days and been to practically every beautiful beach in the whole country wrote in his blog, “Ask me what’s the finest white sand beach I ever saw and hands down I will say aloud- Panampangan Island, off the coast of Tawi-Tawi.”

For somebody who had always fantasized of the white shores of Maldives, reading it made me long to see Panampangan for myself.

So I booked a flight for Tawi-tawi,  with four things in mind – the local breakfast in kahawans, Bud Bongao, Simunul Island, and Panampangan Island.

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Panampangan islet on the map

On my third day in the province, after an overnight stay with a hospitable Sa’ma family in Simunul Island and a tour around the capital town of Bongao the following day, I was about to give up my hopes of seeing Panampangan.  From Bongao, one has to charter a speed boat for P6,000 to reach the uninhabited islet. My three round trip plane fares from Tacloban-Cebu, Cebu-Zamboanga, and Zamboanga-Tawi-tawi when summed up would not even amount to such a hefty price for my poor pocket.

But fate favored with me. Mindanao State University just concluded the Tawi-tawi Jobs Fair the day before.  ARMM Assemblywoman Ma’am Samira Gutoc who initiated the event would be visiting the island for the first time. I rejoiced upon hearing the good news  from two tourism staff, Kuya Ladz and Ate Cdang that Ma’am Salve Pescadera, the Tawi-tawi Provincial Tourism Officer invited me to come along. The planned hike to Bongao Peak could wait until the afternoon.

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The boat moved at a speed that took our breaths away. But it was even more breathtaking when we finally arrived. The long stretch of immaculate white sand lay impressively on turquoise waters so pristine I could clearly see the creatures beneath. Dappled with coconut trees, and the picture of a tropical paradise was perfectly complete.

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calm and clear waters surrounding the Panampangan sand bar

I’m afraid that my photographs, let alone my bad writing, can’t give enough justice to the splendor of this place. It’s as if the Creator had fashioned something out of some precious white crystals and threw it somewhere between the Sulu and Celebes seas. I was instantly charmed. It was idyllic as I took off my flip-flops and sauntered on its fine powdery white sand. They were so soft and white they reminded me of something. Goldilocks milk polvoron. Yes, that’s it! And who would not be tempted to take a plunge into its inviting waters? As the sacred mountain of Bongao awaited for my ascent, I was frolicking in the resfreshing waters of Panampangan.

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“Lalong sumasarap ang sardinas kapag sa ganitong napakagandang  lugar ka kumakain.” I must have heard some of them say.  A picnic of sardines, biscuits, chips, and Tawi-tawi native delicacies by the beach with Ma’am Samira Gutoc (in blue hijab) and Ma’am Salve Pescadera (in red blouse) together with the Tawi-Tawi Provincial Tourism Office Staff.

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Blessed with unspoiled beauty yet its image marred by the conflicts of its neighboring places and the sensationalized media coverage, the province of Tawi-tawi is like an exotic food.  If you don’t have the guts to try one, you wouldn’t know that you missed one of the greatest wonders nature has to offer.  Dare, give it a shot and you’ll soon discover its flavors bursting throughout your tastebuds, surprising you even more, making you crave for more,  and you’ll ask yourself, why haven’t I tried this before?

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For assistance contact the Tawi-tawi Provincial Tourism Staff
Ate Cdang – 09476395011
Ka Queen- 09288300581
Kuya Ladz – 09108532442
Kuya Ben – 09126425593/09075932907
or check out the Tawi-tawi Provincial Tourism Facebook Page

I went to Basilan – alone and without a guide.

My bad. I decided to contact the local tourism office only a week before my planned trip. No response from them.

I tried to look for blog posts of solo female travelers going there without a guide nor a local contact.  Just an assurance that I could do the same. But I couldn’t find any.

A couple of days to go,  I incidentally met sir Jamju on facebook who is from Basilan. I bugged him with my travel plans. He seemed enthusiastic about it and assured me that it was safe to go alone as long as I took the usual safety precautions. I was overjoyed.

And so in Zamboanga- still fatigued from my practically sleepless overnight stay at the Mactan-Cebu Airport and my early morning flight to the Latin city, I checked in at the Atillano Pension House, rode a jeep to the pueblo, alighted at the Universidad de Zamboanga and found my way into the port, albeit lost for a few moments in the bustling Zamboanga City Public Market.

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I paid P150 for the 9:30 am trip and walked nonchalantly into the Isabela City-bound Weesam ferry as if I had done this many times before.

The waves were raging violently and my stomach was churning, or so I thought. Bumpy rides have always thrilled me. My main concern was how to start my city tour that day. My seatmate, a middle-aged woman, spoke to me in Bisaya and exclaimed that the waves were terrifying that day. I was about to speak but she closed her eyes and soon fell asleep.

From my window seat, I enjoyed the misty landscape while figuring out what to do upon arrival.  The clouds were threatening to rain but it was a sunny Basilan that greeted me when we finally docked after an hour.

Once outside the port , I instantly eyed the Sta. Isabel Cathedral. A relief.  The cathedral would have to be my starting point.

And so in Basilan, using the guide sir Jamju made for me, I inconspicuously wandered on the streets of Isabela City like I had been living there most of my life. Nonchalant but still vigilant.  The presence of military men was at first a bit unsettling but I eventually became used to it.  It was peaceful,  just like any other ordinary day back in my hometown in Leyte.

I saw a group of students in the park who appeared to be working on a group project.  I sat on a vinta-inspired bench near to them and I could hear their cheerful chatter. A father and his little kid taking a stroll, a pair of lovers seated at a corner, women in their colorful hijab gathered around a table. The scenario looked very much different from the chaotic Basilan often portrayed in the news.

… basta, don’t go off the beaten track lang, I’m sure you’ll be ok. Tricycle fare should not cost you more than P10.00 anywhere within the downtown area. Sofia Hotel is right smack in the middle of town if u will stay overnight. Casa Rosario is right next to the wharf, but a much cheaper (and more basic) accommodation..

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Some easily accessible places of interest:

Sta. Isabel Cathedral, Downtown (Mosaic mural entablature from Italy which accordingly costs something like P25,000/sq foot?)

The Twin Plazas (i.e. 1. Isabela City Plaza – right beside Sta. Isabel Cathedral; and 2. Plaza Rizal de Basilan – right in front of the Provincial Capitol – the layout is typical Spanish 17th century – plaza at the center, church and government bldg in the same axis, and all the prominent families – their houses converted into commercial bldgs now – around the plazas)

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Provincial Capitol – site of the old La Fuerte dela Reina Isabela Segunda (Fort Isabela II), to whom the City (Isabela) is named. The Fort was occupied by the Japanese in WW2, bombed by the Americans, demolished after the war, replaced by the old Basilan City Hall bldg., burned to the ground in 1992, and replaced by the present structure.

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Alano Zenith Bldg. – right behind Sta. Isabel Cathedral, first floor… you will find the YAKAN CRAFT store, selling trinkets and souvenirs of Basilan…(for pasalubong purposes)

Women’s Weaving Center – (ride a Tricycle, direct the driver to “Tabuk, Palar” near the NAPOCOR Barge – when ur there, walk directly to the guard of the huge Napocor power barge berthed at the end of the road, ask the guard where the Women’s Center is (its entrance is surrounded by a bushy, flowery wall enclosure so you might not be able to see the entrance from the road! hehe)… more souvenir items, plus weaving looms of authentic Yakan cloth…

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Jollibee Basilan – the exterior is under renovation but the inside is business as usual. the 500th Jollibee Branch of the Philippines and (you may or may not put this in your diary)… “the most bombed” Jollibee branch anywhere in the Philippines! Hehe

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If ur not into the usual burgers, try “Miss Inasal” (asawa daw ni Mang Inasal kaya may unli rice din. Hehe) its right in front of Claret College of Isabela (Sta. Cruz Brgy., Roxas Ave.)

For traditional “Muslim cuisine” try any of those Kitchenettes and carinderias along Ulbert Tugung Road, right beside Isabela City Police Station and the Public Market. Order a cup of “KAHAWA” … you will not regret it.

If you have extra time, you could also get a tricycle and ask to be brought to Begang (7-kms from the city center)… we call this our “Little Cebu” as most of the people there come from Cebu (my mom included! hehe)… a little bit farther in Baluno, you will find the first Rubber Plantation in the Philippines (used to be owned by Sime Darby/BF Goodrich – now operated by a coop)…

On the other side of town (you will cross the Aguada Bridge), you could ask the tricycle to bring you either to Calle Posporo (San Rafael Brgy). Residents are mostly Chavacanos, and then go to Calle Bisaya (Aguada Brgy) most of the people there used to be Bisaya (Cebuanos), now its a much more ethnically mixed…

Barangays and place names in Isabela are pretty easy to remember and easy to get your bearings from: There is a Sunrise Village (eastern part – rich people mostly, this is where all the Mayors of Isabela build their big houses, just a stone’s throw away from the present City Hall) and a Sunset Village (west – populated mostly by indigenous Samal/Bajao). Other Barangays are typically named: Eastside, Westside (Dona Ramona Alano), Seaside, Port Area, Isabela Proper, Marketsite – all within the poblacion…”

But I knew that my Basilan trip would be incomplete without seeing the white beach of Malamawi Island- just a nearby barangay of  the capital city.   So I walked back to the port, asked a man in uniform, and found the small bancas near the fish vendors.

For a short 5-minute ride and 5-peso fare, we reached the island. I spoke to the habal-habal driver in Bisaya, told him to bring me to the white beach and either fetch or wait for me. He agreed for P100 since I was the only passenger and said he’d wait for me.

The road was winding, narrow, and uphill. The driver, whom later I would know as Roland, asked if I had friends waiting for me over there. I nodded, thinking of one safety precaution when travelling solo. Don’t let them know that you’re really alone.

But he would soon find out the truth.

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It took us around 25 minutes to reach the beach. My expectations of a desolate place proved otherwise. There was small group of teenagers having a picnic. But just them. And an old man clad in a camouflage jacket sitting on a distant cottage. I saw Roland walk towards him.

By the shade of some trees, I found a spot to sit on and breathed the fresh air. If only I had a hammock with me, it would be a perfect spot to set up one. I could stay there for hours in solitude and indulge in the serenity and the beauty of the place.  Malamawi, with its fine white sand, and pristine waters will definitely give the best beaches in the country a run for their money.

I’ve heard that this is not the best beach in Basilan though. Further in the province are still more unspoiled beaches, often elusive to tourists and travelers. I can never imagine how delighted would I be, if I get to see them as well.

I left my small backpack behind and started taking a stroll. My daydreaming was soon shortlived when the old man I just saw earlier approached me.

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I was caught off-guard when he shot me a series of questions. Who are you? Where are you from? Why are you here? Why are you alone? My heart started to pound.

I told him I was from Zamboanga and was supposed to be with a friend who didn’t show up. He eventually found out I was lying.  In a concerned fatherly tone, he scolded me for going there alone. He seemed doubtful of my name and said it sounded Chinese to him, so I took off my glasses and showed him my big round eyes.

I asked for his name but he insisted on being called “Lolo Police.”  In the end we were already laughing with Roland joining us. We shared a few stories and a few laughs.  It felt good to finally have somebody to talk to.

I was surprised to learn from Lolo Police that sir Jamju owns the place. I would later know from sir Jamju who really Lolo Police is. Manong Maang, the caretaker of the beach, was one of the best boxers during his youth.

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Manong Maang and Roland

I wish I stayed longer but I had to leave for the 4:30 pm last trip back to Zamboanga. So I bade goodbye and thanked him. He assured me that I was safe with Roland and even invited me to come back. “Bring at least five people with you!” he smiled.

I unexpectedly met some good souls in Basilan and if given the chance, yes, I’d love to go back, even without a guide. Definitely, there’s a lot more to discover.

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It is still highly recommended to contact the local tourism office when planning a trip to Basilan. For those who plan to visit Malamawi Island, you may contact my kind habal-habal driver Roland Enriquez at 09261260019.

Chasing the Pacific Sun

One of life’s greatest rewards is perhaps witnessing nature’s greatest phenomenons. Like the rising of the sun, when God makes a natural canvass out of the wide majestic sky.

It’s amazing to see how at daybreak the sky can change in just a matter of minutes, even seconds.

From deep disturbing shades of black and red…

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To peaceful lilac…

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To jovial yellow…

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And before you realize it the sun is up.

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A sign of new hope and new tomorrows.

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Just like the cycle of life.

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04.13.2013 Rizal Bay,
Dulag, Leyte Philippines

Black Saturdays in Burauen

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Black Saturdays in the quiet, predominantly Catholic town of Burauen is heralded a couple of hours before dawn by a procession around the town of a multitude of barefoot parishioners.

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Nobody is being genuinely nailed to the cross. A tableau vivant is staged for each of the procession’s fourteen stops in designated areas of the town depicting the fourteen stations of the cross – from the Last Supper, to Jesus’ scourging, crucifixion, death and to his resurrection. It’s commonly known among Roman Catholics as the Stations of the Cross.

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Passages from the bible concerning the portrayed station is read for each stop. As the devotees kneel down and fall silent, they begin to reflect and meditate. The cycle goes on until the fourteenth station.  The crowd walks on during intervals while the rosary is prayed and songs about the passion of Christ are sung.

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By 7 in the morning, the procession reaches almost every corner of the poblacion and goes back to the church for the final station.

Sacrifice? Perhaps. But it’s more of a rejuvenating activity for me. Walking barefooted early in the morning before the sun is up, and then eventually being kissed by the gentle rays of the rising sun, is naturally favorable for the physical health.  To such an extent is kneeling down for several times during the procession. Add the reflections  which I think are good for the emotional and spiritual health, the procession leaves you hopeful, thinking somehow, that after that 3-hour long barefoot journey, something positive will come out of it.

Happy Easter!

The Streets of Sitio Palanas

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Palanas is a small sitio lying between the border of the municipalities of Leyte and Tabango.  Where every household in my town Burauen has at least a motorcycle and in the cities, a car, every house on bamboo stilts here own at least a small single-outrigger canoe.

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The streets of Palanas are not the usual paved or cemented roads.  When children go to school, run errands, or play street games it would mean paddling the canoe on the brackish waters and occasionally, having to take a swim.

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These streets are also bountiful of crabs, prawns, milkfish,etc. which my seafood-loving-palate much to my delight had feasted on that day. This is where the majority of the community’s livelihood is sourced from.

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As dusk approaches, these streets transform into one of the most picturesque phenomena in this humble village. Watching the beautiful sunset in Palanas was probably the highlight of my stay there.

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The sun’s hues mirrored on the brackish waters dramatically changed almost every second, I wanted to savor every moment of it, and I did (ignoring the stubborn mosquitoes biting my knees as I sat on a boat, hehe).

Greeting twilight on the streets of Palanas? It’s one spectacular and lovely moment.

Prison Break

DSC_0033 a parol shines as a symbol of hope for the inmates of Burauen Municipal Jail

The refrain of a Tagalog Christmas song accompanied by the strumming of a guitar wafted through the prison bars at around 8 in the evening. We would usually sing a song for them in the last three Christmas eves that we had been here.  But it surprised us this time as we were about to leave that these forty inmates would be singing for us.

We had just finished distributing some Noche Buena meals to them that night. This had been a Singles for Christ Burauen tradition since 2009 – cooking Noche Buena meals for inmates of Burauen Municipal Jail using the funds we collected from singing  Christmas carols around the town.

 

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handing out the Noche Buena packs to the inmates

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SFC Burauen brothers preparing the Noche Buena meals

PRISON BREAK

 

 

Backpacking Solo in South Cotabato

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“Here, take this, it can get really cold here.”

Maria Todi , a T’boli cultural worker, hands  me a woven abaca shawl as she realize I am starting to get shivers. Timid as I am, I hesitate but she insists.

“It’s Andi’s and she won’t be using it since she’s got a blanket,”  she says referring to her 10-year old daughter who is reassuringly smiling at me.

I wrap the shawl around my back. It feels warm, like the warmth of their welcome. My reserved self soon melts away, I just find myself being embraced by T’boli hospitality.

DSC_0847Maria Todi’s SLT (School of Living Tradition) which also serves as a homestay  still undergoing reconstruction as it had been destroyed by the heavy rains

I had been invited to dinner by Ms. Maria Todi earlier that night. Seated on a large woven bamboo mat while dining with this hospitable T’boli family, it was probably my most memorable moment in Lake Sebu.

She recounted to me how a travel blogger wanted so much to immerse in their culture he stayed with them for weeks. When the heavy rains last May destroyed the school and the homestay, he created a fund-raising campaign for its reconstruction.  It had been big help, funds came, Solar TV even donated a substantial amount.

DSC_0705 - CopyThe T’boli School

She told me of the values she instilled on her children and I could see it on their behavior.  We talked of T’boli culture, education, family values, and so on.  We shared a lot of stories and I somehow regret that I would be leaving the day after.

DSC_0666 Dogdog, one of Maria Todi’s nephews

I’ve scoured her name on the web when I was researching for that trip. Thus, I knew beforehand of the NGOs she founded to preserve and promote the T’boli culture and to uplift the education and livelihood of her people.

Conversing with Ate Mayang  over a cup of native coffee on that cold night, I silently admired this goodhearted and unassuming woman.

Thereafter, I had a great time laughing and playing with the kids – Andi, Tamtam, and Dogdog. They taught me a few T’boli words, play the t’nonggong, and a few magic tricks. They tried to teach me one of their native dances- a dance they would be teaching to Korean tourists the following week.

DSC_0860 - Copythe T’nonggong- a T’boli drum made from deer skin

Adventure awaited me on the morrow. I would wake up to a beautiful sunrise and get enchanted by the vastness and the stillness of the lake. I would sigh at the foggy mountains and feel the mist envelop me. I would be riding the exhilarating 600-feet high zipline  to marvel at the magnificence of the 7 waterfalls and the verdant canopy.  I would trek the 700-step stairs that would get me near to Falls#2 or “Hikong Bente”.  And when I get tired, I would scour the souvenir kiosks and chat with the friendly locals.

 

Then I would be going home to Leyte smitten by Lake Sebu not only by its beautiful sights but even more by its people and its culture.

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Falls #3 “Hikong B’lebed” coil or zigzag falls as shot from the zipline

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mesmerized by Hikong B’lebed (photo taken by standby photographers – you pay Php 100 for the soft copies)

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Falls # 2 “Hikong Bente” or immeasurable falls as shot from the zipline. You can get to it by riding a habal-habal, taking the 700-step stairs, or riding the zipline. 

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Getting there:

1. From Gensan Airport, take the multicab. For Php 50, it’s the cheapest way you can get out of the airport. You can also opt for a taxi which has a flat rate of Php 300.  Downtown Gensan will be reached in about 20-30 minutes.

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2. Alight at the Bulaong Terminal where there are buses bound for Koronadal City, the administrative capital of South Cotabato. Koronadal is still more known to the locals with its old name Marbel, the buses you will likely find have Marbel labels. Fare for nonstop aircon bus is Php 85 and Php 65 for non-aircon. A bus leaves every 15 minutes. The ride is approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Try to choose a seat on the right side (the rows opposite the driver) as you will be able to view the majestic Mt. Matutum from a distance on a clear day.

3. The bus will stop at the Marbel Terminal. There you will find buses bound for Surallah. Fare is Php 24, the ride is around 30 minutes. 

4.  When you reach the Surallah Rotunda, your attention will be stolen by its cultural landmark, a massive sculpture  masterpiece called “Strings of Life” and created by the acclaimed Mindanao artist Kublai Ponce Millan

  At the Surallah Integrated Terminal, take a jeep or a van bound for Lake Sebu. It would take you  around 30-45 minutes to reach the poblacion. Fare is Php 35.  Anticipate a winding and hilly ride with panoramic sceneries.

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5. If you’re going to stay at Maria Todi’s homestay, tell the driver to stop you at the T’boli School.   It’s located at Brgy. Lambanig, a few kilometers before you reach the poblacion. Maria’s homestay, located beside the T’boli school,  sits on top of a hill overlooking the lake. 

I wasn’t able to stay at the tribal hut since it was still under construction. Maria Todi booked me at a nearby lodge called Greenbox which charges Php 500 per night  (hearty) tilapia breakfast included.

As of this moment, the homestay can already accommodate guests. You may contact her at +639066345367.

Habal-habal/single motorcyles would be the means of getting around the town. They charge from Php 10- Php 20.

Zipline rate is Php 250 on weekdays and Php 300 on weekends . 

DSC_1181 - Copywith T’boli kids, Ria, Potpot, Andi, & Dogdog  when I went there again last October 29 

DSC_1183 - Copynewly reconstructed –  when I went back there after a week

*My 2-day stay at Lake Sebu, South Cotabato was a part of my 4-day solo backpacking trip to South Cotabato and Sarangani Province last October 19-22, 2012.

Boracay: The Beach That Never Sleeps

If there’s such a thing as a beach that never sleeps, then undoubtedly Boracay is. All along I’ve been thinking of this Boracay hype that I’ve had second thoughts of visiting the country’s most popular beach. But I’ve been wrong, Boracay, still somehow, deserve its glory.

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at the number of tourists flocking the island year-round, you’d still get to wonder how a pristine beach like this is maintained in Boracay

If you’re the solitary type, Boracay is probably not for you. You can meander by the beach at midnight and realize that the place tends to get noisier as time gets late. Loud music, chatter, booze, you seem to find them everywhere. All kinds of shops and stores, you can find them just about anywhere. You’ll hear different  languages being spoken  and realize that it’s filled with utterly every kind of race – from Americans, African, Asians, Europeans, they even perhaps outnumber the Filipinos.

But what made me appreciate Boracay? Vivacity.

Riding on that speed boat as the waves got higher and the splatter of the rain got stronger, we were completely drenched and were literally shouting for joy. We were then transferred to a banana boat and got dragged this time by the speed boat at breakneck speed. The excitement started to escalate. The adrenaline rush was just too overwhelming.

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But we were just starting. Helmet diving, island hopping, cove exploring,  and snorkelling followed. At the end of the day, after an eat-all-you-can dinner buffet by the beach for only Php 250, we continued with our beach saunter then window shopping and bar-hopping until the wee hours. I wouldn’t call it the beach that never sleeps for nothing… (Kalanggaman Island is still my favorite beach, though. hehe)

601623_541286629221329_947528794_nthe 15 feet deep helmet dive

DSC_0204we wanted to try parasailing but lacked time and yeah, funds :-)

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How did we get there:

1. At the Kalibo Airport, we rented a car and paid Php 2000 divided by the 8 of us = Php 250 each for an almost 2-hour ride to the Caticlan Port. There’s a cheaper alternative though. Php 200 fare for a van which already includes boat transfer from Caticlan Port to Boracay Island.

2. At the Caticlan Port, we paid an environmental fee of Php 100 and boat fare of P 20. It took around 5 minutes to get to the island.

3. Upon reaching the island, we rode a tricycle and paid Php 20 (it’s the minimum trike fare) to get us to Central Boracay. Central Boracay is divided into three stations – Station 1 for the high-end hotels and resorts, Station 2 for most of the commercial establishments and the famous fire dancers, and Station 3 where the cheaper accommodations and less crowded beachfront can be found.

Read here for more info.

Ilocandia Weekend Trip Itinerary

August  9, 2012 Thursday  

10:25AM at Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport, Tacloban City bound for Manila (flight delayed courtesy of Airphil :-D)

11:00AM arrive at Mactan International Airport in Cebu for refuelling

1:00PM bound for Manila

2:00PM NAIA Terminal 3

4:30PM at Fariñas Bus Terminal bound for Laog City, Ilocos Norte

DSC_1510overlooking Laoag City

August 10, 2012 Friday

4:00AM arrive Fariñas Bus Terminal in Laoag

4:30AM breakfast at a nearby 24-hour McDonald’s, freshen up, check itinerary and maps.

6:00AM Sinking Bell Tower, Ilocos Norte Capitol, Laoag Plaza, Marcos Justice Building

7:30AM Inquire for Pagudpud bus trip schedule

8:00AM depart for Paoay

8:30AM Paoay Church and nearby sceneries – souvenirs

DSC_1210San Agustin Church, Paoay, Ilocos Norte

9:00AM depart for Malacañang of the North

10:00AM Malacañang of the North which overlooks Paoay Lake

DSC_1280Malacañang of the North, Paoay, Ilocos Norte

11:00AM Paoay Sand Dunes

12:00NN Marcos Museum

12:15PM empanada lunch at Batac City

1:30PM depart for Laoag

2:30PM Laoag City – depart for Bangui (bus bound for Pagudpud)

3:30PM arrive at Bangui Windmills- souvenirs,take photographs

DSC_1537Bangui Windmills, Bangui, Ilocos Norte

4:30PM depart for Pagudpud

5:30PM arrive at Pagudpud, explore the place

6:00PM check in at Villa del Mar Resort, rest, freshen up

8:00PM dinner

9:00PM prepare for the next day

10:00PM sleep, t’was a long day after all

August 11, Saturday

7:00AM swimming

9:00AM breakfast, souvenirs

DSC_0007souvenirs

 

11:30AM check out at Villa del Mar

12:30PM arrive at Hanna’s Beach Resort, Blue Lagoon

DSC_0053Hanna’s Beach Resort, Blue Lagoon, Brgy. Balaoi, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

1:30PM lunch

2:00PM swimming

4:00PM shower

6:00PM depart for Vigan (bus bound for Manila)

11:00PM arrive at Vigan, explore Calle Crisologo

DSC_0157Calle Crisologo, Vigan, Ilocos Sur

August 12, 2012 Sunday

12:00AM dinner

2:00AM bus bound for Manila

I suggest to skip either Villa del Mar Resort or  Hanna’s Beach Resort so that you can proceed to Vigan earlier, explore the world heritage site more, get to ride a kalesa, and perhaps include Baluarte in your itinerary.

The Ilocano bibingka, by the way, is a must try.

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What I Did Today

307051_10150879867716309_804394850_nWandered aimlessly on the streets of Alang-alang early morning.. alone.

527195_10150879868651309_604281143_nCrossed a stream.

539995_10150879880441309_624442993_nClimbed these hills.

550661_10150879891046309_1403646995_nPlanted a tree.

382436_10150879894176309_427172752_nChased a child who was a little bit shy.

579963_10150879894371309_65922119_nTried to find some ripe guava fruits. (and wished I’d climbed this tree, too.) :-)

601691_10150879894706309_1913348032_nAnd finally – drank this refreshing buko juice. :-)

Mahagnao Volcano National Park

DSC_0184croppedLake Mahagnao, the freshwater lake where some villagers get most of their livelihood 

A dormant volcano, an acidic lake and a freshwater lake, hot springs, waterfalls, a diversity of flora and fauna, and  a fresh and cool atmosphere – these are the wonders that abound the 635-hectare Mahagnao Volcano Natural Park. With its potential for ecotourism, the area  had been established in 1937 as a national park and proclaimed protected under the National Integrated Protected Areas System/(NIPAS) in 1997.

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I cringed over the fact that in my entire life in Burauen, I’d never set foot on this town’s famous tourist destination.

“You are not really a Burawanon if you haven’t been to Mahagnao.” I  hear some folks  say. And so when my Singles for Christ brothers and sisters were planning for our yearly Krayola Project (basic-school-supplies-giving to barrio school kids we started in 2010) and chose Brgy. Mahagnao, the opportunity came. It was like hitting two birds with one stone.

We set off from Burauen as early as 6 in the morning of May 26 on a rented dump truck. We  traversed a seemingly unending series of bumpy roads and uphill climbs for an hour- the steep snaking path often sent us gasping. These obstacles, however, were all worth it as we rolled along a lush panorama which we feasted on with our eyes. The canopy was getting more breathtaking as we climbed higher. An occasional holler of some wild birds could be heard from a distance.

SAM_0409-daycare kids of Brgy. Mahagnao with their new school supplies

The volcano trek started right after lunch and we were accompanied by two locals as our guides. (Un)luckily, rain began to pour at the foot of the volcano. Clad in flip-flops sans raincoats, we somehow tried to savor the raindrops.  But the climbed proved to be more difficult and slippery. Each had their turn of doing a somersault as we tried to chose between the thorny bushes, the muddy ground or the mossy rocks for our grip.

Ga slippery climb- I had to crawl and take off my flip-flops 

Gwe were already drenched as the rain kept pouring

Gthe rain finally halted as we were nearing the summit 

Get easy on the sulfur, our guide would say. At one point, I almost mistook the sulfur for rocks. Sulfur is soft and if I had clung to it, I could have found myself rolling down the mountain.

Nearly an hour had passed and we finally reached the summit.  Then went the  traditional rubbing of the sulfur all over our arms and faces. And then this …

Gthe ultimate reward of the climb – the breathtaking view of Lake Malagsom (named as such for its green acidic water) from the Mahagnao Volcano summit

I forgot that I was tired and damp. I just stood there, silenced by awe.

Kalanggaman Islet

SAM_0154the eastern sandbar

“Langgam” in Bisaya means bird. The small island situated across Palompon, Leyte  is shaped like a bird, with the eastern and the western sandbars stretching like wings, thus the name, Kalanggaman.

It’s an islet – with an area of mere two hectares, you can actually stroll through the whole island in an hour or two.

The turquoise sea is so inviting the moment we landed on the island and finished setting up our tents, we immediately found ourselves taking a plunge into its pristine waters until the setting of the sun.

SAM_0188 the eastern sandbar stretches far more than the island itself

Getting there:

1. At least a week or two before your scheduled trip, contact the Palompon Tourism Office for your trip schedule and boat reservation. They don’t accommodate guests without reservation which is a way of controlling the flock of tourists to the island.

2. There are vans bound for Palompon in the Tacloban City Bus Terminal which is a three-hour drive away.

3. The island has no electricity and water, has no hotels, restaurants nor stores so you have to bring your own food and utilities. There’s a designated cooking and grilling spot though and some staff will obligingly climb a coconut tree for you for some buko juice for only Php 30. They have only a few huts for rent so better bring your own tents,mats and/or hammocks if you’re planning an overnight stay. They have restrooms but they only use saltwater.

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4. Environmental fee for local tourists is P225. They charge higher for foreigners and at a much lower rate for Palompon locals. Boat fare is Php 3500 two-way which has a capacity of up to 25 passengers.  Look out for the sea because on a lucky day which rarely happens, you’ll get to see dolphins swimming with your boat. The ride is approximately 45 minutes to an hour.

SAM_0145 - Copythe calm sea makes it ideal for kayaks which you can rent for Php 150 an hour

5. Upon riding the boat, an orientation on waste segregation and island safety is given by a tourism officer. You will be given two trash bags – one for biodegradable and another for non-biodegradable which you need to bring back to the tourism office after leaving the island. As the officer told us, whatever you bring with you to the island, you take it back when you leave. The island is also monitored by its own police station. They make rounds every now and then (which is not a bother anyway). By 10 pm, loud noise and music is not allowed anymore. Island serenity at its best!

6. The best time of the year to go there is from the months between January to April when the sea is calmer.

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535074_10150838854911309_1724982944_nKalanggaman Reef is a marine sanctuary thus a great spot for snorkeling and scuba-diving

Gsunset at the other side of the island  leaves you in awe at the spectacular fusion of the four elements on the horizon – the sky, the sun, the mountains, and the sea  

Canigao Island

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SAM_0040 - Copy (2)sunrise at Canigao Island

 

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