Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas! I just want to say "Thank You" to all of you who've been sharing with me this small space in the world wide web. You are all awesome! May you and your family have a wonderful time today! 

And of course, 2013 is just around the corner! Have a happy new year, too! 


Che Gurrobat l www.backpackingpilipinas.com

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Apo Reef Series: A DIY Guide to and around Sablayan

I was caught off-guard when my friend told me that we’ll go camping at Apo Reef.  I was unprepared for a tent accommodation since I thought we would just go snorkeling and beach bumming there. Who goes beach camping late November, anyway?  But since I didn't do my own research about our destination, I conceded. The night before our scheduled flight to Occidental Mindoro, I had to crazily leave out some stuff in my backpack that does not qualify as a “camping essential.”

Little did I know that despite joining in a bit unprepared, this trip with my fellow kaladkarins Janet, Ciel, Muy, Lira, Marvs and Angel would rank high among my favorite travels this year.   

Break of dawn at Sablayan Sea Port

The early morning sun was beating down lightly as we arrived at San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. Since it was just in time for breakfast, we managed to snag a quick fix of good-old coffee and tapsi meals in a carenderia near the terminal. We all know that it was going to be a long day so we had to prepare ourselves up well. After breakfast, we hailed a trike to drive us to the nearest bus terminal going to Sablayan. The bus we got into was Manila-bound but we were told that we would be dropped off at Sablayan. After about an hour waiting for the bus to fill up passengers, we started rolling along the dirt rough road of Occidental Mindoro.  

The bus ride from San Jose to Sablayan was almost agonizingly painful. I find it very appalling to see a major thoroughfare left in such destitute state. I hope the LGU takes an immediate action to make better of the impoverished road system in the province. 

After two hours, we safely made it to Sablayan. We headed straight to the town tourism office to register and pay dues for boat rental and guides. It was decided that the trip to Apo Reef will have to be put off for the next day so that we could prepare and buy all the provisions we would need in the island, and to give some more time to see what this small town has to offer.

The infectious smiles of the children of Mindoro

Monday, December 17, 2012

PHOTO BLOG: Apo Reef is God's Magnificent Underwater Garden

I’m having a serious case of writer’s block today. I'm eternally stuck in the first paragraph that I've been so achingly composing for about an hour now. I want to scold myself because I shouldn't be having this dilemma especially that I’m writing about one of my best and favorite travels this year – trip to Apo Reef.

How could I not write about my first 50 feet dive experience? How could I not weave words to describe how it was to chase sea turtles and a manta ray, or to spot a shark, or to swim alongside colorful and overly cute fishes, or to see a beautiful underwater garden?

Maybe I’m not in the mood to write, but I’m definitely not in the mood to be selfish. :) And because there are some things that are better seen than read, I’ll share here some of the pictures I took while exploring the magnificent Apo Reef. These wealth of still photos are but snap shots of the massive underwater wonder of the entire reef. Believe me, there's a lot more down there! For now, I hope the pictures could somehow suffice your curiosity. 

I’ll share my prose in the coming days!

Special thanks to my friend Muy for allowing me to borrow her camera during my dive and to Angel for capturing some of the most adorable underwater photos. I wish I'm a marine biologist or scientist so I could properly identify -- well at least scientifically -- all the species I saw down under. :)

This school of fish does not follow any traffic rules
Nemo's lair

They get rowdy down there sometimes

Shark spotted!!!

Underwater garden


A sea turtle at Pandan Island
A rare and beautiful capture of a sea turtle swimming with a yellow fish in an almost subliminal way
The manta ray

My first dive documented. :)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Because change is good... go backpacking Pilipinas!

"Life is like the surf, so give yourself away like the sea." - Y Tu Mamá También

I feel an unbearable lightness these days. Changes are unfolding. Brilliant ideas are pouring in. Backpacking Pilipinas is evolving. 

With the prodding of some of my closest friends, I caved in to giving this blog its own rightful place in the world wide web. From www.backpackingpilipinas.blogspot.com, it's finally www.backpackingpilipinas.com! Yey!

There are also so many exciting ideas brewing on my mind right now. From completing the challenge to travel to 80 provinces before I turn 30 (almost close), to doing more volunteer works (yehey!), to taking some roles that I have yet accepted (yehehey!), to writing more often for this blog (fingers crossed). I can't wait to share these to you all in the coming days. 

I want to thank  you all for dropping by (reading my posts during your lunch break), staying with me (reading my emo and personal entries), and backpacking with me (on the road, under the sea and anywhere!). Thank you!

Special thank you to all those who liked this page at least three times this year! It just hit me that Facebook likes are wiped each time I change my domain. hehe Thank you! :))

Happy Backpacking Pilipinas, everyone! Enjoy your holidays! ;)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Zamboanga City: Vintas, Knickerbockers and Fort Pilar

I caught myself gasping for air as the small boat wades through the calm sea. It must have been excitement or nostalgia, I couldn't tell exactly. In front of me, I see patterns of hues fluttering and dancing with the gentle sea breeze. And as the afternoon sunlight slightly touches my skin, the great feeling of riding a vinta never escaped me.

You know that feeling when you come face to face with one of your childhood dreams? You relive the sensation of wanting that to happen? That's how it has been for me since I started traveling around the Philippines. The feeling of excitement never gets old whenever I come close to a scenic spot that I have so raved for and seen straight from the pages of my Sibika and Kultura books back in grade school.

And experiencing the vintas of Zamboanga was definitely not an exception. The sight of the sail with assorted vertical color which is in the center stage of Zamboanga seascape lingered. So in my recent visit to Mindanao, riding one of the vintas was on top of my must-do list.

Aboard one of the vintas

Along with my perpetual travel buddies, Cha and Janet, we arrived in Zamboanga on a humid August afternoon. Upon touchdown, first thing I noticed was the unique design of the airport which deviates from the usual terminal buildings I saw around the country. It's one of the airport terminals where you would want to be photographed in because of the design of the facade.

Zamboanga International Airport Terminal

Zamboanga City is known as Asia's Latin City. Nowhere in the Philippines have the imprints left by Spain after its three-century rule ever more felt. From the local language to unique heritages to its many quaint structures, there's always this Hispanic influence comfortably blending in. As the only city in the Philippines and in Asia that speaks the Spanish-derivative Chavacano (60 percent Espanol and 40 percent native words), this old city is what they call "a place plucked from the very heart of Spain."

Zamboanga City Hall

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

10 Must-Visit Places in Siquijor

I have a confession and a stupid one... just before I went to Siquijor, my limited knowledge of that place had been nothing more than an island where "barang," shamans, and love potions are everywhere.

It was no surprise that when I told my friends about my trip, I got a few rolling eyes and brows raised, as if asking me "Why Siquijor, of all places?" 

I was wrong, my friends were wrong, way too wrong. True to what I always say, one of the perks of traveling is learning -- age-old stereotypes and unfounded notions get to be corrected.

Having spent an amazing weekend there, exploring all its six municipalities, I was left baffled with how this small island could offer infinite fun and adventure. From white sand beaches, to charming seaside cliffs, to historical churches and bell towers, to clear and gentle cascades, and to eco-tourism destinations and enchanting trees.  They have it all. 

More than these beautiful sights, though, the thing that struck me was the warmth and kind smiles the people there. It would be ridiculous to avoid their gaze and smiles (having been warned not to look straight in the eyes of strangers to avoid trouble). I thought, those genuine kindness need to be reciprocated.

This one thing is true: Siquijor is as mystical as it is already known. It is raw, remote, and quite a revelation. An unspoiled and perfect destination for those gunning for some peace and quiet. 

This island is located in Central Visayas Region, about one hour ferry ride from Dumaguete. The most common means of transportation within the province are jeepneys and trikes. For those wanting to explore the whole island, trikes are available for hire. My friend and I, however, chose to rent a  motorcycle to drive around to our desired destinations. 

Here are my top 10 must-visit places in Siquijor:

1. Siquijor Port/Beach - I've seen a lot of ports but nothing compares to the panoramic view at Siquijor Port. Just adjacent to it is a wide stretch of white sand beach with clear blue water which is a perfect visual treat to visitors coming in to the island. 

2. Kagusuan Beach (Maria) - After passing through a thick forest, it was a pleasant surprise to see a beach securely hidden  to most tourists. Taking into consideration the seascape, fine sands and nice rock formations, Kagusuan made it to my favorite beaches in the country. I enjoyed swimming  there!

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Surreal Weekend with a Stranger

Their story goes along the line “A boy with a broken soul meets a girl with a broken heart.”  A kitsch and sentimental theme torn straight from the script of a local teleserye.

But it happened for real. To her, to him. In the mystical island of Siquijor.

And here’s their story:

Breaking a nine-year relationship with her ex was far from difficult... it was devastating, and to cope with the occasional bites of sadness, she had to do what she loves doing most -- traveling. As one of her post break-up trips, she planned a weekend trip to Siquijor and Dumaguete City. 

She was prepared to pushing through with the trip alone until she got a message from this person saying that he's impressed with her blog, and that he’s interested tagging along to some of her future trips. Casually, she told him about her upcoming Visayas getaway. And much to her surprise, he did book a round trip ticket to Dumaguete -- with the dates same as hers. 

“Where would he sleep?”, “What are we going to talk about?” were the first two questions that popped the minute she learned about him joining the trip. Yes, she knows him by name, but technically, he’s a stranger.

Then after giving it some thought, she realized that she needed a travel buddy to share financial damages with, and someone to break bread in the breakfast table with.

They had a couple of pre-trip meet-ups to discuss the "itinerary." She learned that he's the kind who likes to stick with outlined itineraries, while she’s the type who enjoys a good dose of spontaneity. 

She learned that he is also going through a difficult Saturn Return akin to hers. The past months were beating down on him, having to face huge endings and limping through small beginnings. And just like her, he is also working his way to recovery one day at a time. 

Despite the odds, they both felt that they needed this getaway. They needed a short break from their spiraling downhill lives. So they looked forward to the trip with so much gusto. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

My 2012 Playlist

This year became a pendulum of blissful highs and extreme lows in my life. For the most part, it was shaped by fortuitous events and irrevocable choices. And the one thing that had kept me company through the difficult times is music.

Music is a beautiful art that heals. Its dynamics - the beats, harmony, the lyrics, and melody -became my daily source of happiness. Music wakes me up in the morning, teaches me to push forward, allows me to let go, makes me appreciate the tiny beautiful things around, and more than anything, it allows me to breathe through life's challenges and promises.  It urges me to just live, and to live no matter how life sucks sometimes.

Music is everywhere -- inside my room, in my workplace, while waiting in the airport, while aboard a fast craft in the middle of a wild sea, in a bus while on long night trip, and while catching a magnificent sunset beside a beach. Music needs no space and time. It travels with me. 

I know it's a little too early to list my 2012 favorites but this one can't wait.  Here are some of my personal picks straight from my own playlist. Enjoy!

1. M. Ward - Here Comes The Sun Again

"The leaves on the trees they all call out your name,
Chrome on the freight line shines the same
And the stars in their cars roll their tops down for you singing,
Here comes the sun again."

2. Jason Mraz - Living in the Moment

"Living in the moment
Living my life
Easy and breezy
With peace in my mind
I got peace in my heart
Got peace in my soul
Wherever I'm going, I'm already home
I'm living in the moment."

Monday, October 29, 2012

Braving Basilan

Hello from Basilan!

My mother didn't know that I went to Basilan. In fact, she wasn't aware that her two curious daughters went to this island which is widely known for its volatile security situation. She would have definitely opposed the idea that we would step in this island that has been so notoriously portrayed in the local and international media.  And to spare her unnecessary headaches, we deliberately chose not to let her know about our trip.

But we did survive Basilan. Well, at least Isabela City, its capital.

Basilan, which is a part of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), is a 4th class province in terms of gross provincial income. It is home to three ethnic groups – the Yakans and Tausugs who are predominantly Muslims and the Zamboanguenos who are mostly Christians.  

The daring trio -- Ja, Che and Cha
Along with our friend Janet, Cha and I did a quick side trip to Basilan during our recent backpacking Mindanao adventure. For security reasons, we sought the help of Kuya Daniel, an ex- military man who accompanied us while roaming the streets of Isabela.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Chasing Waterfalls

I'm the type who'd go around chasing waterfalls. Quite literally, though. 

I think there's nothing more exciting than hiking down a ravine, hearing the wild surging water descending from an upstream river, and seeing for the first time a rough flow  of water plunging straight down a deep catch basin. There's always that moment of awe knowing that that beautiful scene is tucked and hidden in the middle of a thick green forest, and there's always that invitation to jump right into the turquoise-colored water.

I have seen some of the most vibrant cascades here in the Philippines. Most of these waterfalls share the same character as the others. Just like   the graceful flow of Kabigan, Batlag, Daranak and katibawasan Falls; or the rogue vertical drop of Tapiyah and Bomod-ok Falls; or the tiered and delicate cascade of Merloquet Falls; or the gentle and segmented flow of Cambugahay Falls. 

I know there are still a lot around that I have yet seen. And I'm so looking forward to updating the list I have below as soon as I get to explore the others. But for now, bask in the beauty of these waterfalls. :)

Note: The next time you visit a waterfall, please make sure not to leave any trash within the area. Bring your own trash bag, and if possible bring home your spoils. Please keep it clean. Thank you. 

Merloquet Falls
 Sitio Merloquet, Zamboanga City

Katibawasan Falls

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Freedom to Blog

photo credit: aselpunzalan.wordpress.com

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Children on the Road

I've met quite a bunch of interesting people while going around the Philippines  –  people I've become friends with, people I've learned lessons from, people who had left an impact in my life. But my favorite will always be my encounters with children while on the road. The fleeting moment when I see them in their most natural demeanor,  the time I start engaging then on a small talk, the time they start romancing my camera,  and finally the sad and quick goodbyes. From these short meet ups, they would usually leave behind profound and very heart-warming photos – the kind of travel photos that never fail to make me smile whenever I do a trip down memory lane.  

Here are some of my personal favorite raw and unedited photos. Go on, look,  read, and smile (or weep) with me. 

Palumbanes Island, Catanduanes, 2010. This photo was taken while I was doing a volunteer work in  Palumbanes Island, a small island  located in the northernmost part of Catanduanes. We were distributing school supplies and seedlings for the children at the school when I noticed these bunch of beautiful kids pensively looking on at the goods we were giving away. I later on learned that they were not in school yet so they could not have what we were distributing that day. But their hearts could not be easily downed. They still showed me the most gracious smiles I have ever seen.

Masbate City, 2012. Saw these school children practicing what appeared to me as a dance prod. They reminded me so much of my grade school days -- the easy-breezy-eight-to-five  life.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

August Deluge Thoughts

I've been thinking of a kick-ass post for my return to blogging, but for the past weeks, I've been getting nothing more than a blank stare from my computer screen. 

Then it rained. It rained relentlessly and I realized that I will not wait for that kick-ass moment to come. I must go back to blogging.

Pouring, drenching, hammering, and pounding deluge hit Manila and its neighboring provinces for the past two weeks. As a result, images of flooded roads started figuring in the internet. Soon after, stories about heroic rescues made it to prime time news cast, and celebrities and celebrity-wanna-be politicians started making cameo roles in the relief operations. 

For three days now, many areas in Manila became a waterworld. 

The Filipino Spirit is Waterproof
Photo courtesy :design by Katria Alampay and tagline by Ayala Museum  

In the middle of all this, memes and some netizens started blaming the "abusive, irresponsible and undisiplined Filipinos" for how much they have contributed to this disaster. Why have we not learned from the past, they asked. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Calaguas: My Best Beach Experience Ever

I had high expectations before I went to Calaguas. Sometime in 2009, a fellow traveler mentioned this "virgin" white beach in a far away island in Camarines Norte. She made it appear like I'm no good if I wouldn't be able to set foot in that "happy beach." Ever since then I started reading Calaguas-related blogs, drafted my own itinerary, reseached DIY and budget trips, mapped out possible vacation leaves, thought of the people I would want to be included in my trip, and day-dreamed of its powdery white sand and clear blue-turquoise waters. 

After more than three years, I can finally cross out this place from my must-visit list. And thanks to the invitation of my dear friend Lala, I made it to Calaguas!

My thoughts about the place? Let's just say I was beach-struck! Calaguas delivered, more than enough for me to choose it as the best beach that I've been to. It has the fine sand of Panglao Island, the gorgeous sunset of Boracay Island, the remoteness of Caramoan, Palaui Island and Malcapuya Island, the rawness of Palumbanes Island, the vast shoreline of Pagudpud, the  blue waters of White Island in Camiguin and the idyllic beauty of Nagsasa Cove.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Majestic Mayon

I literally grew up with Mayon always on a distant sight. I remember how our family used to spend some of our Sundays at a beach fronting the sea that separates Albay from my home province Catanduanes. On a clear and cloudless day, we would be treated to a beautiful sight of Mayon, and it would   show off its world-famous symmetrical conical shape. Even from afar, we would see that it's not called "the perfect cone" for no reason, it's "magayon!"

My fascination of Mayon continued when I lived in Legazpi City for four years. Waking up every morning and seeing it lurking silently from outside my dormitory window made me want to thank God for putting me on earth on a spot near such a majestic sight. Seeing a World Wonder in our backyard is a blessing that could hardly be ignored. 

All shades of Blue. Mayon seen from Catanduanes (May 2010)

Bird's eye view of Mayon, taken during our flight from Legazpi to Manila (March 2012)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rizal Series: Casa Ibiza Resort

When my sister Cielo texted me about the online deal she got from Ensogo for a 10-person (P5,500) overnight stay at Casa Ibiza Resort in Antipolo, I got really hyped up and excited. For sometime I had been thinking of a place near Manila where we can spend our family summer outing, and her message came just in time for our parents and Eena's visit in Manila. 

I immediately googled information about the resort. The photos on their website are absolutely enticing. But when I searched for more details, my excitement waned and easily shifted to disappointment. There's just too many negative and bashing comments from some bloggers who have been to there , and they wrote lengthily about the poor sanitation and bad customer service they experienced in the resort.

Despite my qualms about the trip, I was left with no other option but to pursue the trip as planned since the voucher was already paid. So we called Casa Ibiza for our reservation, hoping that we will be treated well and kindly during our stay. 

Along with my parents and siblings, we trooped to Antipolo on a hot Friday afternoon.  Antipolo City has always been an option for weekend getaways for people residing in Manila. Aside from the fact that it's just an hour drive from the city, it also has resorts and restaurants offering a good view of the metropolis, especially during night time.

Antipolo is also home to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Voyage, a church visited by thousands of devout Catholics yearly. Before heading to the resort, we stopped by this church to say our quick prayers. Cielo ushered us to the rear side where a room full of church memorabilia and photos is set. From there, I had the chance to see closer to the image of Our Lady of Voyage.

National Shrine of Our Lady of Voyage

interior of the church

From the church, we headed straight to the resort. We reached Casa Ibiza  a little after two p.m. At first sight, I was impressed with the mexican-themed and multi-colored villas and cabanas. The whole place offers a very refreshing sight. The amenities inside include two pools, spa room, gazebo, bridgeway and a restaurant. After settling our reservation, we were led to our villa. The one assigned to us is a 3-floor grand villa which has three rooms, a private balcony, 2 bathrooms, parking garage, dining and a living area with lcd tv. 

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