Thursday, December 19, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 16. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

As our boat was wading through the dark and chilly Underground River, I remember the cranky bat sounds and the hilarious jokes of our tour guide, Kuya Roger. He kept us entertained with his snappy comments about the major formations of stalactites and stalagmites inside the chambers of this world wonder. He was too funny! Overall, it was a quick tour, but definitely a fun and wonderful experience for me. 

Besides visiting the Underground River, some of the things I recommend doing in Puerto Princesa City are:  foodtrip (Badjao Seafront, Ka Lui, Bilao at Palayok, try  the local dish tamilok); city tour -  Butterfly Garden, Crocodile Farm, Mitra’s Ranch, Baker’s Hill, Tiange, Tiange (buy goodies like cashew nuts and some souvenirs), Baywalk, Immaculate Conception Cathedral and Plaza Cuartel; Ugong Rock adventure; and Honda Bay Tour. 

More stories about my Puerto Princesa adventures here.

Tourists at Puerto Princesa Underground River

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 15. Boracay Island

Named as one of the best island getaways in the world, Boracay Island is arguably the tourism capital of the Philippines. It draws in a year-round flux of visitors from around the world -- tourists out to bask in the glorious sun and sand of this famous island. 

What to look forward to in Boracay? Don't miss the spectacular sunset, gastronomic adventures (best food trip), morning walks and people-watching along the beach, and well, of course, swimming. 

Despite the dangers of massive developments, Boracay is still one of my personal favorites (I visited it six times and still hopes to go back). I really believe that Boracay deserves all the accolades and recognition it's been getting. I only hope that the local government will have more authority to contain over-development so as to stop the gradual demise of our own beautiful paradise Boracay. NOTE: tIf you can, take back home your trash next time you visit Boracay. 

More of my Boracay Island stories here

View of the famous White Beach

Friday, December 13, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 14. Catanduanes

There's a lot to love about Catanduanes -- time grinds slow, friends are everywhere, Sundays are about family and churches, mornings are crisp and cold, and beaches are within close radius. Growing up in this island was about things that matter most and these make me look forward to going back again and again and again - like family, friends and nature. 

Our province has not been in the radar of many seasoned travelers I know, which I find both fortunate and unfortunate. Fortunate because many of our beaches remain unspoiled and a strong sense of provincial life is retained. But unfortunately because I see a lot of potential for it to be the next BIG adventure destination. 

So what's in Catanduanes, really? Well, for one we have one of the country's best surfing spots, the majestic Puraran (the mighty swell!!); we have  pretty beaches with pretty sunsets and sunrises; we have old and historic churches, we have beautiful cascades; we have rugged and contoured mountains (if you're up for adventure climbs); and yes, of course, the people, the warm and gentle Catandunganons. 

See it for yourself. Visit Catanduanes! :)

Check my posts about Catanduanes here

Locals cruising the Bato River

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 13. Biri Island

Biri Island was once the best-kept secret of Northern Samar, a place out of the tourist trail because of its remote location. But apparently now, it is fast becoming the face of tourism in this province and is attracting many local and foreign visitors.

Along with my adventurous friends, we road-tripped Eastern Visayas last year and had Biri Island included in our itinerary. From Tacloban City, we stopped at Catbalogan City, passed by Calbayog City, and slept overnight in Catarman. The following day, we took a long drive to the small town of Lavazares which is the jump-off point to Biri, and after a rough banca ride, we reached our final destination.

The challenge of getting there paid off when I saw the magnificent Magasang Rock Formations. I was left in awe with these incredible gift from nature, many thanks to the ferocious waves of the Pacific Ocean. I can only imagine how many million years it took to be formed to how we see it today!

If you want to deviate from the usual tourist destinations and opt for more off-the-beaten paths, Biri Island in Northern Samar is definitely a perfect choice. Just make sure to bring comfortable footwear and sunnies, and be there in time for the sunset or sunrise for postcard-perfect photos!

My full story about Biri Island here.

The rocky beach of Biri

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 12. UP Diliman Campus

University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD), the main campus of the country's premier university, is definitely my most favorite spot within Manila. Not only it is called the cradle to many of the country's great minds and thinkers, it is also home to many cultural icons like the Oblation and the ikot jeepneys. 

Called a "microcosm of the Philippines" because of the many things going on around there, UP is not just your regular university campus. I personally visit it for a myriad of reasons: to eat (and have coffee), to attend mass, to meet friends, to walk (or jog or bike), and to sit still (and breath). And a true Diliman experience for me is never without spending a good deal of time people-watching at the Sunken Garden, digging on Mang Larry's famous isaw, and a hearty tapsilog meal at Rodic's. 

Especially during sunsets, the green canopy of the acacia trees providing shades to the joggers and students along the Academic Oval is quite a beautiful sight. It is like a refuge, a step away from the hustle and bustle of the city crowd that surrounds it.  

Visit UP Diliman whenever you can, and just take time to commune with trees and nature (without leaving the city). 

At UP Diliman during my interview with GMA7's 24 Oras. Check the story here.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 11. Enchanted River

Another reason to visit Mindanao is this river that looks a lot like a sea in the middle of a forest. Hinatuan Enchanted River has the stunning blue hues and clear water enough to gaze fishes even from above the water.

After an agonizing (and depressing) travel along the bumpy roads of Surigao del Sur (the logging in this province is of large scale leaving a vast area denuded), seeing this hidden treasure at the end was definitely a treat.  The place was packed with tourists when I went there, but the river hasn't lost its charm on me.  I was awed by the sight of it, just the way I've imagined before actually getting there.

I hope that cleanliness is maintained  in the area despite the heavy influx of tourists recently eager to get a share of the enchanted river experience.

For more details. here's my blog about Enchanted River.

Enchanted River and its stunning hues

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 10.Palaui Island

CNN's 10th on its list of World 100 Best Beaches is also my personal 10th favorite spot in the Philippines, the sensational Palaui Island.

Nothing quite matches up to the solo adventure I had to this tiny island located in the northernmost part of Cagayan Valley. I had to brave a difficult terrain (cross three hills, pass by a long beach,  thick forest, streams, a mangrove park and a rice field) so I could get to Faro de Cabo Engano or Cape Engano Lighthouse, a centuries-old lighthouse standing atop a hill covered with verdant grass. A spectacular sight awaited me to my final destination which is worth the pain of actually getting there. 

Ok, so don't think that this place is that remote and unreachable. There are boats that directly docks to the beach near the lighthouse, saving you a good 5-hour painful hike. But here's the thing, the hike isn't bad at all! The terrain is full of interesting local flora and fauna you'd actually enjoy! It is also declared a National Marine Reserve and home to a vast variety of fishes and undisturbed corals, a perfect spot for snorkeling and swimming. 

There are no commercial establishments (just one or two sari-sari stores, as far as I can remember) in the entire island so be prepared for a rural island life. But, I'm telling you, more than the wonderful site, one of the things that stands out to my Palaui adventure was the genuine kindness of the people I met there. 

To get there and other stories about Palaui Island, please check my blog here.

A panoramic view from Cape Engano

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 9.Lake Sebu

Tucked in the mountains of South Cotabato, the town of  Lake Sebu has all that it takes to be called the ultimate travel destination -- cold breeze, fresh foods, majestic waterfalls, glassy lake water, warm people, and well-preserved traditions . It is a one-stop place for those in search for a relaxing, cultural, and an adventure-filled travel.

I immensely enjoyed my stay and profoundly learned to appreciate the quiet and laid-back life of the people there. The trip was highlighted by our lunch overlooking the placid lake, meeting Lang Dulay (a National Living Treasure and dreamweaver of T'boli's famous cloth T'nalak), and the thrilling zip line ride to the Seven Waterfalls (saved us an arduous trek without missing the breathtaking view).

About two hours away from General Santos City, Lake Sebu is a destination worth-visiting. You may brush off your fears regarding security issues as this is one of the most peaceful places in Mindanao that I've been to. The local people are friendly and accustomed to visitors, thus going around is not a problem.

Visit my posts about Lake Sebu here.

One of the Seven Waterfalls at Lake Sebu

Friday, December 6, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 8.Mayon Volcano

Whenever I think about it now, I feel privileged to have once lived in place close to a world wonder -- the majestic Mayon Volcano. I had the best vantage point back then to see Mayon right outside my window every single day! Very often, she'd flaunt her naked beauty with a flair of smoke billowing from her crater. It's her visual treat to her regular audience -- the people of Albay and some frequent travelers to the province. But sometimes, she hides in the comfort of the clouds tightly hugging her symmetrical conical shape. For unlucky tourists, it's an automatic bad Mayon day. 

Make no mistake despite her irresistible charm, Mayon is considered one of the most active volcanoes in the country. Every now and then, she'd show her might which could be extremely dangerous, but some "tourists" still take it as yet another magical display of power of this famous natural landmark in Bicol. 

Mayon is one of those destinations many get to see in books or online, but nothing beats the joy of actually seeing her for the very first time from the misty window of a speeding bus or while aboard a plane that hovers close to it. She's a real Magayon! 

Visit Mayon whenever you can. For more photos and stories about Mayon, check out my posts here.

Beautiful Mayon during sunset

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 7.Batad Rice Terraces

Batad Rice Terraces are part of the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These 2,000 year-old impressive terraces carved into the mountains of Ifugao are priceless contributions of our ancestors to the world.  Each year, it welcomes local and foreign travelers who are eager to get a piece of the quiet mountain life. 

Although there are threats posed by nature (landslides) and modernity (structures and houses built near the terraces and the new generation choosing to find greener pastures in the lowland instead of cultivating the rice fields), Batad (a GMO-free site), as I saw it, still stands proud of its incredible heritage. It was truly a humbling experience to be in the same spot where our ancestors once stood to carve this masterful and cultural treasure. 

It's not everyday that I get to sleep in an authentic Ifugao hut and wake up to the awesome view of dramatic contoured mountains and verdant rice terraces. The picture-perfect background, mist-covered rice fields basking in the morning sunlight, and the sight of the local people going about their early routines made the waking up part very special. It was a tough call for me to get there since we had to hike for hours under the biting midday sun, but the experience was every bit rewarding. Batad roads are less traveled, but definitely worth-taking.  

Taking into consideration the preserved culture and traditions, breathtaking sites, and the unforgettable trek on the rice paddies, Batad Rice Terraces rank high among my favorite spots in the Philippines.

Follow my Batad stories here.

Batad Rice Terraces

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 6.Calaguas Island

This is Calaguas Island for me: it has the fine sand of Panglao Island, the gorgeous sunset of Boracay Island, the remoteness of Caramoan and Palaui Island, the rawness of Palumbanes Island, the vast shoreline of Pagudpud, the  blue waters of White Island in Camiguin and the idyllic setting of Nagsasa Cove. Enough said, Calaguas is a beauty which rightfully deserves all the accolades it's been getting lately. A must-visit destination for everyone. 

Calaguas is not only a great beach for camping and swimming, close to it is a site for bird watching and hiking, a lure for adventurers. If you're up for a good break from your mobile phone, Facebook (yes, that too) and TV, and if you're gunning for a relaxing weekend by the beach (and commune with nature), head to this happy island in Camarines Norte. You'll in for a treat! Reminder though, be prepared for a primitive tent accommodation. :)

With the growing flux of tourists visiting the island, I fervently hope that Calaguas will keep its slow pace sans the pervasive clout and threat of excessive commercialism. 

Here's my blog about my amazing weekend in Calaguas. :)

Mahabang Buhangin Beach, Calaguas

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 5.APO Reef Natural Park

A 50 ft scuba dive (my first ^_^), swimming with a shark (oh yeah!), green sea turtles (eeeee!! the best!) , barracuda (yeahaha!) and diverse bright-colored fish and corals in God's beautiful underwater garden (rrawwwr!), an overnight "accommodation" in a hammock, great company of friends (kaladkarins!!!) letting off colorful sky lanterns on a clear starry night, splendid sunset atop a lighthouse, and waking up to a magnificent sunrise with the sound of the waves humming melodies into my ears -- these memories spark happy thoughts whenever I think of APO Reef.  Considered as the largest atoll like reef in the Philippines and nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, APO Reef Natural Park (Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro) deserves to be included in your list of top places to visit in the country. 

For more details about my super weekend in Apo Reef, please check out my stories here

The view from Apo Reef Lighthouse

Monday, December 2, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 4.Mt. Pinatubo Crater Lake

Twenty two years after the climactic eruption that shocked the world, it is still unimaginable and surreal to see a magnificent view right where the disaster happened -- the now famous turquoise-colored crater lake of  Mt. Pinatubo.

I visited it back in 2009 and found the trip as "magical." I still recall that clear February morning, my friends and I jumped to a rugged 4x4 ride before we took the "relatively easy" trail leading to the crater. It was a day well-spent as we enjoyed the beauty around while in the company of great friends. To cap our delightful experience, we stopped by to say hello to an Aeta community on our way back to the base camp.  

I was wowed by the sight and the experience that I promised myself to bring more people to see this wonderful spot. In 2011, along with my sister and two friends, I revisited Mt. Pinatubo. And although the weather was not on our side that day, my legs were wobbly after hours and hours of trek, and some apparent changes like the infrastructures (the newly built concrete viewing deck and recreational buildings were not there when I first visited the area) that now stands near the lake, I still found the trip as enjoyable as the first time Pinatubo and I met.  

Hopefully the future visitors will take care of the lake and avoid littering within its premises. For itinerary going to Mt. Pinatubo, pls check my blog here. :)

Mt. Pinatubo's turquoise-colored crater lake 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 3.Siquijor Island

I was thinking of a particular spot in Siquijor that stood out for me, and I couldn't think of any. It's just that I simply love this tiny island province.

Also known as the Island of Fire, Siquijor is often associated with mystical traditions like "barang" and love potions. It is not usually in the tourist trail because of its "reputation." But after spending a beautiful weekend there last year, I must say that Siquijor was love at first sight... literally! I knew the moment I stepped into the port and gazed into the view of the beach... then and there, I fell in love. I've seen a lot of ports around the country, but nothing compares to the panoramic view of Siquijor Port. Just adjacent to it is a wide stretch of white and fine sand beach with clear blue water which is a perfect visual treat to visitors coming in to the island.

I also loved the beaches at San Juan, the waterfalls, the churches, the people and of course the sunsets!!!  My Siquijor adventure is one for the books... enough said... it is my absolute favorite!

Visit my stories about Siquijor here.

Sunset at San Juan

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 2.Kayangan Lake, Coron, Palawan

Known for its lovely limestone cliffs, clear and tranquil lake waters, pristine white sand beaches, amazing snorkeling spots, green mountains, and great seafood, enough said... Coron, Palawan is absolutely a must-visit destination.

But among the many wonderful spots I have visited in Coron, Kayangan Lake stands out for me. I fell enchantingly in love to this lake, also dubbed as the "cleanest lake in the country," all for the peace and quiet I found in that perfect spot under the sky.

To get there, we had to take a motorized boat from Coron proper going to the jump-off point before we hiked enroute to the lake.  We passed by the stunning view from the mountain (near a cave),  which is also one of the most photographed spots in Palawan. From that point, we took a downhill path before finally seeing the beautiful and hidden Kayangan Lake. The difficulty going to the area will wane as soon as you plunge into the refreshing blue waters of the lake.

When in Coron, make sure to include Kayangan Lake in your itinerary! To know more about Coron, visit my post here. :)

*30Before30: 30 days before my 30th- a recap of my favorite spots in the Philippines*

Clear waters of Kayangan Lake

Friday, November 29, 2013

Top 30 Favorite Spots in the Philippines: 1. Batanes

Thirty days before my 30th birthday, I'm going to let myself down the memory lane and recount my top 30 favorite spots around our country. I'm sharing random photos of places I've visited while I was completing my 80 Before 30 challengeThis is my 30Before30 Project.

The first of this 30-day series will be from one of my favorite provinces-- Batanes, an amazing province located in the northernmost part of the Philippines. Known for its splendid landscape and seascape, Batanes is definitely a dream destination for many. During my visit in 2011, I enjoyed many of its unique attractions. I specially liked my falowa ride from Batan Island to Sabtang, the one-of-a-kind shopping experience at the Honesty Coffee Shop, tried donning the native Vakul (Ivatan protected headgear), walked along the UNESCO Heritage nominated site stone houses at Chavayan, and was amazed by the sunset at Naidi Hill or the Basco Lighthouse. 

There's quite a lot to love about Batanes, but the one that stood out for me was the experience I had when I first saw the gentle rolling hills that this province is famous for. The grazing cows and the carpet-like verdant grass! It was a dreamy April afternoon that stayed with me for a long time. One crazy thing I did while I was there was...hmmm... well... roll down the hill. Yes, literally! haha :)

Check out more of my Batanes stories here.

Rolling Hills of Batanes

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A lot to be grateful for

A "Religion of Gratitude," as what my friend calls it, is what we probably need nowadays in this totally imperfect world. Our mantra would bear no more than two powerful words recited in the most precise and passionate patterns... thank you, thank you, and thank you. 

And if words are not enough, allow yourself to send a warm and sincere smile to whoever needs it.

Yes, despite of life unfolding in some ways that we sometimes find less amusing, we can still have more and more reasons to be thankful for. And I am grateful, too. For a lot of reasons.

Sending out a big thank you from the top of Bud Bongao in Tawi Tawi!

Just recently, I have completed what I consider a big milestone in my life, that of having seen 80 of the 81 provinces of the Philippines before I turn 30 years old. It was a three-year challenge that I've pursued and that has ended last weekend, November 23. A month before my 30th birthday, I set foot on to my 80th province, in the southernmost province of the country, Tawi Tawi. It was one of the most thrilling and fulfilling adventures I had, which I'll blog the full details very soon.

I know I wouldn't have accomplished this goal if not for the many people who had been with me throughout this crazy journey.

To my parents, who despite not being totally permissive of my notorious escapes, still supports me and constantly texts me "ingat ka " and to my sisters and brother who have been my default cheerers and "supporters"... thank you!

To old friends and the new ones I've made while on the road, who had continuously inspired me to search for new and challenging paths... thank you!

To Anchi, who have been my sole partner in exploring more than 30 beautiful destinations around the country, for the massive love, support and understanding, beyond words... thank you.

To the hardworking tour guides, boatmen, bus/cab/jeepney drivers, souvenir vendors, and the many people I met while traveling... and to the kind universe... thank you.

To God... for the blessed opportunity you had given to be able to experience the many wonders of our country... thank you.

For everything, to everyone, I am grateful. Always.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

#LUVisayas: How to help the victims of Typhoon Yolanda

I'll keep this short. Please read: URGENT! 

Our kababayans in many parts of Visayas are in desperate need of our help, and in response to this grave extraordinary situation, my friends from BookSail and I are collecting donations of  food and supplies. 

Since children and women are the most vulnerable in situations like this, we would like to prioritize their needs. 

Children's special needs
biscuits (not too sweet)
vitamin C (generics also accepted)

Women's special needs 
disposable panties
vitamin C

canned goods
bottles water


Hygiene kits:

For cash donations, please forward the money to Philippine Red Cross. Once deposited, please let me know so I can document and acknowledge your donation here in my blog. Thanks!

A boy survived the wrath of Yolanda in Tacloban, Leyte. Photo credit:

How to help:

Please contact us so we can arrange meet ups to collect your donations:

Che Gurrobat (Pasig) 0917-745-4538
Eph Aguilar (Quezon City) 0929-785-9633
Jha Bobis (Makati/Muntinlupa) 0919-982-7908

All donations that will be gathered from this relief effort will be forwarded on Sunday, November 17, to GMA Kapuso Foundation for distribution to the affected areas. 

How to Support:

Follow our Facebook page #LUVisayas, and your post UNSELFISH SELFIE with the sign #LUVisayas which will be our statement of love and support for everyone affected by this massive devastation. 

They need us now, not tomorrow, now. Please help!

Thank you very much,

Che Gurrobat
blogger l

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ilocos Sur Heritage Tour: Vigan and Beyond

A Mang Inasal in Calle Crisologo doesn't seem to fit right in. That was my first impression as I was strolling along this famous cobblestone street in Vigan during my visit last January. Don't get me wrong, I devour Mang Inasal's tasty chicken often too, but I would have wanted this modern fast food chain to have stepped back a bit from this site, or at least should have followed the existing old and vintage architectural theme rather than taking a pervasive modern look. In its stead, I would have wanted a local shop selling burnay jars or other native products in that spot. 

A UNESCO Heritage Site, Calle Crisologo is among my favorite spots in the country, but I'm a bit concerned seeing how this old-charm city seemed to have caught up with the modern time. 

The thing I have with visiting Vigan is that each time we meet, something new is added and something old is lost. As I look at the old photos I took back when I first visited it in high school, I can see how this historic city have changed -- the commercial establishments around and the number of visitors strolling by obviously increased. 

While I understand that nothing stands still and that change and development are inevitable, I feel that some of our cultural heritages are at risk of a slow demise, and Vigan, a so-called "living museum," should not succumb to this kind of fate. The key lies in the active pursuit to preservation and conservation. 

Vigan is one of the cities that inherited a beautiful heritage by default. In the 18th and 19th centuries,  Vigan or Ciudad Fernandina de Vigan is said to be the third most important city after Manila and Cebu. The sights we see there today -- the museums, cathedrals, plazas, and the food that are depicting Hispanic influences --  are the treasures left of the bygone days of Spanish colonial power in the north.

Although Vigan changed through time, I still feel that it's one of the places in the country that has retained much of its history and a place definitely worth visiting! I've noted here some of the places I recommend while in Vigan and other parts of Ilocos Sur.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Vigan City is among the 'New 7 Wonders' finalists

Our very own Vigan City has been shortlisted as one of the 28 finalists in the campaign for the 'New 7 Wonders Cities' of the world.

Vigan, a vibrant city located in northern Philippines, is a prime tourist destination and home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Heritage Village. A gem of Ilocos Sur, Vigan showcases the rich Spanish heritage through its many well-preserved architectures and ancestral homes. It's also home to old museums, tasty local dishes, and a heritage church. A true world- class heritage city, indeed.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Heading North: A Guide to Ilocos Norte's Top Spots

The Ilocos provinces are two of my favorites in the country. Both are like one-stop destinations for tourists who are hunting for historical landmarks and heritage churches, or looking for beaches with amazing sunsets, or those chasing waterfalls, and beautiful natural and man-made structures.

Ilocos is a wonderland that had consistently amazed me during my last four visits. I feel almost apologetic that I've overlooked blogging about it in the past years. Given its many notable attractions, Ilocos rightfully deserves a spot in Backpacking Pilipinas.

This post will focus on the gems of Ilocos Norte, the other half of the Ilocos provinces. I'll be sharing some of my personal favorite attractions to give you an idea of what to see and expect on your next trip to the north.

Here are the top spots you may check out while in Ilocos Norte:

Bangui Windmills - Also known as the Bangui Wind Farm, these 20 giant wind turbines that stretch along the coastal town of Bangui is worth a visit. The first in the Philippines and considered the biggest in Southeast Asia, I like how this renewable energy wind farm provides electricity to Bangui. These turbines are visible even in the coasts of Pagudpud, but nothing beats getting near them up close. 

I highly recommend going there during the sunset as the sea breeze gets colder and the windmills provide a perfect backdrop that's great for photography. 

How to get there:

Take the Laoag to Cagayan route, then ask the bus driver to drop you off at Burgos. Check the marker on the left side of the road that leading to the Bangui Bay. From there you could already see the windmills. Follow the road leading to the bay which leads straight to the windmills.

Travel time from Laoag to Bangui is approximately 1.5 hours.

Laoag – Bangui BUS: P50.00
Tricycle within Bangui: P20.00 – P30.00

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Backpacking Pilipinas 101:Travel Tips for Every Juan

We all want to travel once in a while, right? Whether we choose to scale a mountain, or go to the beach or learn history, there's always something that seduces us to traveling. For some it has become a way to escape a chaotic daily grind; some find pleasure in exploring the off-beat paths; some for the simple reason of spending some precious downtime moments with love ones; some want adventure; some wants to challenge their capacities; some want to experience the culture and bring home lessons and experiences they will live by forever. For whatever reason you have, I think our innate desire to be mobile is the root of this bug called traveling.

When I started backpacking Pilipinas in 2009, my reasons were to simply run away from the city life every once in a while. But over time, when my travels increased from rarely to  monthly, this whole backpacking trip has become more of a passion, something that I want to share to many who reads this blog.

After visiting 80 of the 81 provinces in the Philippines, I learned some practicalities that I feel worth sharing. I hope this list will help or inspire those who want to travel but haven't started yet, and those who are already on the road. :)

1. Travel within your means. You should not rely on your credit cards that promise the "travel now, pay later" mentality. It is best if you have available funds that would actually finance your trips. Relying heavily on your plastics would cause more headache long after the trip is over. Lesson: Save up!

2. Be a poorpacker. I consider myself a poor tourist not really because I'm financially depleted but because I find some work-around in my budget to accommodate my micro-vacations. I wait for budget airlines seat sales, I sleep in cheap accommodations, I do DIYs instead of hiring a tour guide, and I walk a lot. I prefer to go low on accommodation and allot most of my funds on food and tour.

3. Visit a museum. I notice that not so many people I know are fond of museums, and I think they are missing out on a wealth of information because of this. My museum visits around the country taught me a lot about our rich history, culture, and traditions that are often not seen in our textbooks or taught inside our classrooms. Some of my favorite museums are in Batanes, Zamboanga City, Dumaguete City, Marinduque, Dapitan City, Marawi City and Manila.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mindanao Roundup (Lake Sebu, South Cotabato): T'nalak Weaving and Lang Dulay's Legacy

It was a day before her 89th birthday, but the mood in that sunlit and simple hut where we met her was far from festive. There were only faint conversations in the vernacular T'boli being translated to us by her granddaughters because she could not speak Tagalog. Sitting comfortably in that old rattan chair, she looked every inch a master. Donned in a beautiful T'boli costume, which is by the way her usual attire with or without visitors, I felt very honored to be in the presence of this amazing woman, the legendary dream weaver, Lang Dulay.

Me with Lang Dulay at her weaving school in Lake Sebu

A recipient of Gawad sa Manlilikha sa Bayan Award and declared a National Living Treasure by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in 1998, Lang Dulay was recognized for her excellent craftsmanship in weaving the prized T'nalak or the traditional T'boli cloth.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mindanao Roundup (South Cotabato): Placid and Picturesque Lake Sebu

The wisp of the cold breeze did not escape me the moment the non-airconditioned van trailed the well-paved and uphill road dotted with nipa houses, corn plantation and  forested hills. I was enjoying the green scenery outside my window, and as soon as the sight of the lake came to view, my excitement started to swell. I instantly knew we have finally reached our destination -- the dreamy town of Lake Sebu.

The verdant mountains mirrored in the calm waters of Lake Sebu

We were dropped off at the poblacion where a number of habal-habal drivers wait for passengers. In that early Friday morning of August, it seemed like Anchi and I were the only tourists amidst the busy mass of people going about with their daily grind-- children in their school uniform, brimming commuters and some busy vendors.

As we were taking the roads from the town proper to Punta Isla Lake Resort, we passed by some stands selling tilapia, a common agricultural product from the lake. There are also a number of guesthouses and resorts near the lake and most serve food, mainly fried fish.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Kindness of Auntie Cubic

Kindness on the Road. Auntie Rose and Auntie Cubic opened their home to a solo traveler

I was already feeling sore after missing the boat going to San Jose in Dinagat Islands. At 11:30 a.m., I haven't had my breakfast yet and my body was a bit tired after a painful van ride from Butuan City to Surigao City. The scorching heat that day was taking its toll on me and I was growing impatient walking in that crowded boulevard while asking random people for the next boat going to Dinagat. I was on a solo trip, and I was feeling all the more alone at that very moment.

I got a tip that a boat is leaving at 12 noon. I rushed to the docking area, and sure enough people were crowding up to the ticket line. I saw a rainbow somewhere, such a relief to be in that boat!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Romblon, Romblon: Beaches as White as Marbles

White sand beach at Tiamban Beach Resort

I vividly recall decades ago, my sister, Cha, brought home some marble wares like dolphin, mortar and pestle and ashtray from Romblon. She had nothing much to say about her trip, but she made it quite known to us that true to what we learned from our Sibika At Kultura books in grade school, indeed, Romblon is the marble capital of the Philippines. I have imagined most of the houses there, at least, have marble fixtures in them.  Since then— brought by too much curiosity about the place—Romblon had been on my list of “Places to Visit” in Luzon.

Maybe because it holds a special spot in my consciousness that I decided to make it the last province I’d visit in Luzon for my 80before30challenge. I wanted to hang on to the excitement of seeing what’s in there. Is there more to Romblon than just its vast marble reserves? I wondered.

Friday, August 9, 2013

I'm Writing Something Tonight

I could put blame to a lot of things. The grey sky. Too much caffeine. Heavy downpour. Cold nights. Depleted savings. Tired bones. Growing back blogs.  Dusting books. Unwashed laundry. Blue August. Yeah maybe, I could put blame to a lot of things.

I'm introspective tonight so I'm letting out a very spontaneous blog quipped with my usual travel-life-is-good-oh-but-wait-haha ramblings. Pardon me, please.

Monday, July 29, 2013

BookSail - Braving Philippine Seas for Literacy: The Road to and from Palumbanes Island

FACE of BOOKSAIL. Ralph Christian Delvalle Zape, 1st place winner in the Division Kindergarten Festival of Talents held last December 16, 2012 in Catanduanes. He bested 17 other contestants! And he's from Palumbanes Elementary School, the recipient of the first book drive of BookSail. Photo by: Ezra Efondo

Ralph Christian, 6, held the book tightly in his hand. In that cramped and poorly ventilated room filled with excited bunch of grade 1 pupils, his tiny voice, reading in rhythmic patterns, was going through the pages of "Ang Alamat ng Lansones." He was unmindful of the tiny other voices trying to rival that of his. He was pensively reading,  that with a total youthful intent.

I was also in that classroom with Ralph Christian along with seven other volunteers who came mostly from Manila. We were all ears at his reading.

It was a special day for him and the rest of the kids and teachers in Palumbanes Island Elementary School. The books they have been waiting for months has finally arrived. Although it was a Saturday, the attendance in the school was swell. We could see the eagerness in the eyes of the kids. And the whole BookSail volunteers were as enthusiastic as they were.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Top 5 Favorite Travel Souvenirs

When I started with backpacking Pilipinas three years ago, collecting travel souvenirs was not in my must-do list. I'd randomly buy some keepsakes - like trinkets for my office mates or t-shirt for my siblings - but I wasn't too obsessed hoarding something for myself. I'm not overjoyed by the idea of having to haggle to find budget-friendly shirts or having to wade through flock of tourists going on a madness sale over tiny cute souvenirs (like the busy shops in Baguio and Boracay). Oh well, I guess I was a bit impatient back then. 

It was only two years ago when I thought of how it would be nice to bring home small memento of each place I go to. I realized how privileged I am to have actually been to those off- the-beaten roads and that it may take a long time for me to return. It thought it would be necessary to find something to remember the place by. 

Being that I keep myself light when on the road, I decided to just limit my collection to some tiny and useful treasures. When buying a souvenir, I also factor in the advocacy to promote local and indigenous products. So that being said, let's keep on supporting local products! 

Here are some of my favorites:

1. Ref Magnet

I once brought home a souvenir magnet and put it on my clean and clear ref door. It looked proud to have finally found a place in my home. As I stared on it, I decided on something that I'll do for the rest of my travel years. I'll fill that empty space with the beautiful ref magnets from the Philippines and beyond. Those pretty pictures will help me remember the experiences from each spot I've been too. 

The happy crowd on my ref

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