Basilan 2018: A Path of the Adventurous

img_7780As our ferry left the port of Zamboanga at half past six in the morning, the excitement with me grew stronger. Perhaps a little scared, but I was more curious of the experience I would encounter. I was about to reach a place only few travelers consider to venture – only for the brave, as others may think; but just for the truly adventurous, as for me.

Some thirty kilometers offshore of Mindanao situated is the island province of Basilan. A part of the country’s Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), it is actually a breathtaking place but only tainted by media with coverage of violence and terrorism. With its beautiful memories with me, I definitely recommend visiting this place for its natural and cultural treasures. I went home completely safe and devoid of any harm people may think of.

Its main component city, the former capital Isabela City, welcomed me with a view of a community built from stilt houses located beside the island. It was diverse from what Manila exhibits that makes it more interesting for me. As I arrive at the city port, I went directly to another terminal to take a short boat trip to my first destination, Malamawi Island. Only costing PhP 5 for a few minutes’ ride, I sat inside with a group of locals and Zamboangueño tourists. At the other side of the port, waiting are plethora of motorcycle (habal-habal) drivers looking for passengers to take. I asked one to take me to the White Beach, and he became my tour guide for half of the day.

Kuya Billy is amazingly friendly to recognize almost all of the people that we passed by during the long ride from the port to the White Beach. He is a product of a Catholic-and-Muslim couple. Just like in Zamboanga, these people of different religions coexist in the same place. When we arrived at the White Beach, we first hiked the path to the terrace overlooking the beach itself and the other nearby places as well.

At our descent, I went straight to the waters and was captivated with the beautiful view of the dock. The rain showered for a while but went away shortly.

After the swim, I went back to town finding the bus departing for the adjacent City of Lamitan where I would meet my tour guide, Ms. Jarma. She is a staff from the LGU Tourism Office who I contacted prior to my trip to Mindanao. It is most recommended to get in touch with the local government to ensure the safety of the tourists on their trip, and also to find ease in navigating the area. She, along with a habal-habal driver, picked me up at the bus terminal to bring me to the LGU hostel to check in at first.

Our primary destination was Bulingan Falls. Hidden in a forest, this charming waterfalls boasts its natural rock formations where raging waters cascade. Lots of locals frequent this wonder and there exist nipa huts, free for use of anyone. After this second swim, we made a detour for a while to send calesas to the port for an ARMM exhibition at Cotabato City.

Our next activity was discovering the local Yakan culture, where I had a glance of their weaving livelihood and had the taste of the sweet delicacies. Ja (or Lokot Lokot), is a triangular crispy food made of rice flour, while Panyam (or Panyalam) is a chewy one. Both are delectable snacks.

While finishing to eat, we took a ride and stopped at one of the numerous rubber plantations found in the province. Not to mention that rubber is the main product of Basilan. To make the product like we used to see, these trees are wounded and its sap are collected to be processed as rubber.

To end the day, we went to the Mayor’s resort in Calugusan Beach. Used to be exclusive, it was opened to the public recently. It has huts for rent and also has fishponds where freshwater fishes and crabs are raised. Based on Ms. Jarma, their Mayor usually arranges a courtesy call with the tourists visiting Lamitan City to personally thank them for having the courage to discover their place, sometimes even offering a free night stay at the resort being mentioned. At the time of my visit, I wasn’t able to meet her as she was in vacation for her birthday.

The final moments of the day was so great that I was mesmerized with the vista of the sun following its way down the horizon. I think it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. It exhibited a perfect combination of the reddish color of the rays scattered in the sky and the calming sound of the waves in the ocean.

We went back to town to have a supper at a local eatery, but we ended up dining at my tour guide’s home as we came back late. After a while, I was sent back to my hostel room to finally take a rest. I was going back to Zamboanga the following day through the same route I took.

Overall, this trip was a great experience. As a traveler, I enjoy discovering new places, and I was glad that I had the chance to visit Basilan. For another time, I would like to emphasize that this place is not exactly what common people think of. It is a hidden gem in the South, a jewel yet to be explored. I encourage everyone to come see and experience the pristine natural wonders it possesses.

I want to send special thanks to LGU Tourism Office of Lamitan for appointing Ms. Jarma as my tour guide. She was very professional as a tour guide and hospitable as a local. I would like to join the Lami-Lamihan Festival at my next visit!

A Tour around Zamboanga City, Asia’s Latin City

Waking up after a deep sleep in a cold, comfortable bed in my AirBnB-rented room, I realized I was up for an adventure in another Philippine province. What made it more interesting is the fact that it was the first time for me to set my foot in the lands of Mindanao, at the Western part of it called Zamboanga City.

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Officially the City of Zamboanga, it is a bustling port area home to a variety of ethnic groups, religions, and cultures with Chavacano as the lingua franca, a Spanish-based creole that made the place a unique Latin City located in an Asian country. The region’s name originated from the word Jambangan, which means Land of the Flowers, as called by the early Malay settlers.

That day, I had the entire time to wander around the city. As I arrived at the city center after a few minutes’ jeepney ride from my neighborhood, I started to explore the area. Came into my sight was a small, simple park called Plaza Pershing, which serves as a venue for different events and a hangout place for families and students of the nearby Universidad de Zamboanga. Crossing the road past it led me to Rizal Park, where the national hero’s statue stands tall among others that represent different subjects in history and culture related to his works. In front of it is Zamboanga City Hall, a beautiful building that exhibits a colonial architecture, standing since the early 20th century. Looking back at its history, it was already the seat of government when Zamboanga City was still the capital of the whole Department of Mindanao and Sulu. While I was taking pictures of it, three kindhearted tourists from Laguna helped me take a photo of mine with the stunning building as the background. They recently came back from Tawi-Tawi trip and were satisfied to visit the faraway province. I gave thanks to them and continued my stroll.

After a while, I arrived at Fort Pilar and saw the closed gates to the regional branch of National Museum. However, the structure itself was worth visiting. It looks like one of the same forts that can be found in Manila’s walled city, Intramuros.

Going further leads to the entrance of the Roman Catholic Marian Shrine of the city’s patron saint, Nuestra Señora del Pilar. Lining in front of it are stalls where candles in variety of colors are sold, each with different symbols. I bought a bundle of it and lighted in one of the shrine’s designated area. A short distance away lies Paseo del Mar, an esplanade home to a number of restaurants and a big park. I passed by here and enjoyed the ambiance of the seaside for few moments. In this place, the islands of Sta Cruz and the province of Basilan can be seen from afar.

I took a ride to the Canelar Barter Trade Center to buy souvenirs before I run out of time. Sold here are imported products from the neighboring countries of Indonesia and Malaysia. Carrying a few bags of coffee and Malaysian milk tea powder, I went then to Zamboanga Cathedral and attended a short mass. It was held in the smaller prayer room in the ground floor, as the bigger one on the second level was closed. When the devotion ends, I went to the mall to eat my late lunch. Before I go back to my rented room, I visited Pasonanca Park, the so-called “Little Baguio” in Zamboanga because of its high elevation and cool temperature. Constructed in 1912, this park has swimming pools, a butterfly garden, the boy scout grounds, and the famous tree house.

I took a nap on my bed after a full day of tour and went back to Paseo del Mar in late afternoon to watch the sunset. As I walked towards it from the jeepney terminal, I noticed that most locals were also heading to the same direction. I was welcomed by a flock of them inside, celebrating the Muslim holiday Eidul Fitr. I somewhat felt like I was in Indonesia at that time since I also encountered the same number of tourists when I went to Borobudur Temple at the same festivity in 2016, with people mostly Muslims. As the sun goes down, I bought a cup of Knicker Bocker, a signature Zamboangueño delicacy similar to Halo-Halo, only the ingredients are fruits. The rays of sunshine gradually bade goodbye and hid below the horizon. It was a fantastic day for me. I ended the night watching the fountain show in the esplanade grounds along with the children and adults alike.

One day isn’t enough to see the sights in Zamboanga City. There are still a lot of places it offers that need a whole day to enjoy, including the Pink Sand Beach of the Great Sta. Cruz Island, and the Merloquet Falls on the Northern part. The next time I will be in this city again, I will make sure that I will not miss these two.

A Heritage Stroll in Vigan

March 17, 2018, thirty minutes past five o’clock in the morning: I found myself walking in the quiet, cobblestoned street of a city in the North called Vigan. The old houses lining up the Calle Crisologo were still illuminated by golden lights, making the sight specially glimmer together with the developing sunshine of the breaking dawn.

I brought out my phone and captured the moment. The sight was new to me. As it was narrated by the previous visitors, it exhibited the ambiance of the Spanish period more than a hundred years ago. As the daylight started to scatter around the place, the men in kalesas started to drive their horse carriages.

It is indeed a living museum. The heritage houses are not only for display but also serve as different establishments – be it a small souvenir shop, a restaurant, or a hotel. As I walked through each of them, my thirst for historical knowledge grew stronger and stronger; I appreciated more my country’s past.

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I went to the accommodation I have reserved just the night before I arrived. Check-in wasn’t still available, but I opted to leave my baggage first to have an ease of stroll. My hunger pushed me to one of the public canteens to eat my breakfast before proceeding to the tour. When I went back to the old street, the shops have already opened their doors to the customers. Boutiques of different pasalubong items such as keychains and shirts were dominant, which transformed the street into a more colorful one.

In the morning, I visited adjacent sights on my personal list. My first stop was Plaza Burgos, where a monument dedicated for the martyr Father Jose Burgos lies. It is a simple park where people may hang out and organize group activities. At the moment, there were still no people at the area. I continued to walk towards St. Paul’s Cathedral, commonly known as Vigan Cathedral. As I entered the solemn structure, I noticed the resemblance of it from the grand one in Manila. It was beautiful. I could see the old Archbishop’s Palace at the side of the cathedral once I exited from one of its doors. Located in between the cathedral and the nearby Ilocos Sur Provincial Capitol is Plaza Salcedo, where a spectacular dancing fountain is presented at night. There also located are the giant letters bearing the name of Ilocos Sur, where tourists are most likely seen taking photos with.

The municipality of Bantay, with its accessibility from Vigan, boasts its church and the bell tower by its side. With the aid of the map in my phone, I went ahead to these spots. The historical sight doesn’t require entrance fees but accepts donations for its maintenance. I climbed the top of the tower, leading me to a vantage point of entire Vigan and Bantay. I stayed there for a while, enjoying the beautiful sight of the life below. After my descent, I attended the mass though I could not understand the Ilocano language. Once it concluded, I walked back to Vigan and had an early lunch.

In the afternoon, I strolled around the streets of the city. Heritage-houses-turned-into-museums are found everywhere. I started with the ancestral house and birthplace of Father Burgos, which is now a branch of the National Museum. The rooms inside were open and I was awed by things which already last about a century as of the present. Almost everything inside the house were made of wood – from furniture, to its floors, and to the stairs. After it, I walked further and entered Crisologo Museum, which is home to memorabilia of a Congressman of the same name who was assassinated at the cathedral by a still unidentified gunman. Not to mention he is the man behind the establishment of Social Security System in the country. Last of the antique houses I visited during the trip was Syquia Mansion, which is the ancestral house of President Elpidio Quirino’s wife. Her ancestor, Sy Kia, was a Chinese trader who made his fortune in Vigan. The descendants later adopted the Hispanized name, Syquia, which is still used until now.

After visiting the antique residences, I proceeded to Ruby’s Pottery which is located in the famous Pagburnayan place in the city. I was able to see the actual process of making pottery jars, which seemed interesting, as well as the finished products stored inside the establishment. After it, I hailed a trike to lead me to Baluarte to be entertained by the live animals and collections by the politician Chavit Singson. I took a shuttle inside the premises which brought me to the different parts of the zoo. Finished the self-guided tour, I sat at one of the huts by the museum and enjoyed the view of the sea from afar. Finally, I went back to the hotel early in the afternoon and took a rest.

As the evening came, I went to Plaza Salcedo to wait for the show at night. By the time I arrived there, people in numbers were already sitting beside the fountains. I was excited to see the spectacle. When the clock struck half past seven, the lights dimmed, and it finally started.

Of all the similar dancing fountains I’ve seen, I repeatedly said that this is by far my favorite. The show was excellent, the lights were colorful, the demonstration lasted long, and the songs used were mixed modern and classical.

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The most interesting thing I’ve done at the event was joining some of the people to experience the excitement standing between the fountains on the ground, where there is also the Philippine map, illuminated, synchronised to the song.

The day was concluded meeting my college classmate which happened to be there too as part of his work, and we watched the second show of the dancing fountains that night. Walking along Calle Crisologo, we had a chitchat and took photos before we finally bade goodbye.

Things in the history should not always be forgotten; some of them are better preserved which may present information to the future generations. Vigan has proved that in this modern world, the old memories still has the capability to catch the new people’s interests.  To sum up, my trip to this city was memorable despite of traveling solo. If ever I have a chance in the future, I will return to this place.

Benguet 2018: An Escape, A Greeting, An Adventure

Sometimes, we just need a break after we have gone through a lot of things to make ourselves peaceful and calm. It is through a quick pause in our life where we can temporarily forget our problems and just appreciate the beautiful things around us. As for me, the first two months of the year have been tough in some aspects, so I wanted to take a retreat somewhere far from my city where I can see new faces and new places. After moments of finding an escape, I finally decided to visit The City of Pines.

93B00626-77A3-49B2-9951-2C3351FB10E6Baguio City is a highland destination in Northern Luzon that boasts a cool temperature, scenic panoramas, a colorful flower festival, and countless pine trees, thus its nickname. One of the most visited places in the country, it is a neighborhood full of local and foreign tourists, as well as a number of students including East Asians pursuing to learn English through a number of educational institutes around.

Ever since childhood, I’ve never been to the Summer Capital of the Philippines. Only in 2018 I thought about going to this place. I spent one of my weekends there last February and it was a memorable trip for me, and here my story goes.

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February 16 – Cubao, Quezon City: I took a Victory Liner bus from Cubao Station straight to Baguio City. My trip was scheduled at 11:45 pm and it costed me PhP 450 for a 6-hour journey.

February 17 – Baguio City: As I woke up to the sunrise which could be seen at the bus window, I peeked at the mountains of Benguet shined upon by the scattering rays of sun. It looked like a warm welcome to me.

I alighted at the terminal station and started walking towards Burnham Park. No one goes to Baguio without visiting this area, where the central lake is flocked with romantic swan boats available for renting. I thought I wouldn’t be able to ride one, but later in the trip I joyfully did.

As I strolled the park, I grabbed the chance to try the unique Strawberry Taho which delighted my taste buds. I was then enticed to put on the traditional costume offered for a selfie pictorial worth PhP 10 each. Typical tourist traps. After it, I bought souvenirs from the local shops and headed to Baguio Cathedral. I took a rest there for a while, admiring the colorful designs of the window mosaics.

I ate my lunch at one of the fast food chains along the ever-crowded Session Road before checking in at my AirBnB room to take a nap. I only brought the essentials with me as I went out again, and continued my trip in the afternoon.

My first stop was SM City Baguio where I’ve seen most of the foreigners in the city, mostly Koreans and Chinese. It is the only mall I saw uncovered with glass, mainly because of the cool temperature there all-year round. I walked further, reaching the sights on the road such as the solemn Pink Sisters’ Convent, the haunted Laperal White House, the Botanical Garden, The Mansion, which is the official summer house of the President, the horse riders-filled Wright Park, Good Shepherd Convent, and finally the breathtaking Mines View Park.

I spent most of my time at the latter in the afternoon until sunset where I saw the most beautiful sight in the city. I adored the sky as it exhibited a reddish color when the sun finally bade goodbye to the daytime. I then took my supper and went back to my dorm to have a good night’s sleep.

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Mines View Park

February 18 – Baguio City: I woke up at 6 o’clock in the morning as I planned to visit the Strawberry Farm in the nearby town of La Trinidad, which is about an hour away from Baguio. Discovering that my fellow AirBnB guests are headed to the same direction, I made friends with them during our discussion on the breakfast table then I asked to join. They didn’t hesitate.

My second day for the weekend trip was not spent alone. I was merry about it. We went together to see the actual strawberry fruits ready to be picked by customers, as well as the green and leafy lettuce plants at the further side of the field. It is also where I bought freshly-picked strawberries for my family and friends back home.

We tried the specialty ice cream before going to the next destination, the chromatic Colors of Stobosa – a village painted with different colors which appeared especially pleasing to the eyes. Passing back to the border of La Trinidad and Baguio, we visited the Chinese-designed Bell Church before going back to Session Road to have lunch.

In the afternoon, I led my three new friends to the same destinations where I went on the previous day. I was finally able to ride the boats at Burnham Park with them, before going from Mines View Park downwards to The Mansion, Wright Park, and Botanical Garden. Our last destination was the infamous Heritage and Nature Park, which is commonly known as the old Diplomat Hotel. We actually arrived there few minutes past 6 pm, which is the closing time. Lucky enough, we were allowed by the security guard to enter the premises to take a look at the interior. As we walked towards the structure we already felt the spooky atmosphere it withholds, highlighted by the orange-colored lights used inside. We took photos for a while before immediately running outwards after one of us claimed to see apparitions on the second floor window. After observation of the park, we then went back to the dorm room to get our baggage and go back to the bus station. We had dinner there before catching the night bus to Manila.

In these two days I spent in the city, I was thankful for having so much experiences. Not only I was able to see spectacular sights, enjoyed a different city vibe, tasted local delicacies, and felt a colder weather but also I was able to meet new people which instantly became dear to me. As I conclude the trip, I was surely happier than I first went. Truly, traveling makes me glad.

Special mention to my new friends: Rye, Cris, Maica, let’s have another trip together soon. See you again!

Binurong Point: A Gem in the Island of Catanduanes

I was in a four-bunk bed hostel room in Albay when I suddenly woke up in the middle of the night after falling asleep, browsing the map on my phone. At that moment, I was finding a new place to see in close proximity of the said province as a one-day trip for the weekend before I go back to Manila, after my passport renewal appointment at DFA Legazpi.

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Lignon Hill, Albay

After continuing to imagine so much intrepid thoughts in my mind, I finally came up visiting the island of Catanduanes where a vista I loved at first sight is located. This is actually the only place I experienced when I was there due to my limited time. It is called the Binurong Point. The name came from the local word “buro” which means to preserve foods using salt – that’s what the people do to the fishes they harvest on the pond located somewhere on that place.

A short 20-30 minutes’ trek through rough and sometimes muddy trail in the woods leads to a paradise at the edge of the island facing the Pacific Ocean, perfect for watching the horizon as the sun rises and shines through the green grasses and blue waters which continuously strike the gigantic rocks on the side.

Getting there is not so easy, but the trip is already considered a part of the adventure. Being an island located off the coast of Luzon, Catanduanes is accessible either by air or sea travel.

Flights to and from Manila or Clark airports are welcomed through Virac Airport, while RORO and Fastcraft ferry passengers are received through either Virac or San Andres Port. From the latter, one can ride a jeepney going to Virac for PhP20, and once in Virac another jeep or van going to Baras or Gigmoto can be hailed. The fare costs PhP35 to get off at the town proper of Baras. Finally, a tricycle from there can be negotiated as a transport to the base of the trek for PhP300-500, roundtrip, depending on  haggling skills. Upon arrival, the registration site should be sought for the payment of PhP20 registration fee and PhP200 (minimum) for the tour guide, which is mandatory for all groups to hire.

Once at the point, the view will not disappoint.

 

How I Spent PhP 3000 ($60) for a One-Day Trip to Boracay

I’ve been to Boracay with my friends once, which was last 2015. Back then, we tried some water activities, including a flying fish ride, helmet diving, and island hopping. I enjoyed that trip and didn’t expect that I would be back to the paradise island this year.

Some two or three months ago, I saw a Facebook advertisement of a large passenger ferry company, 2GO Travel, that revealed a 5-Peso (base fare) sale. I was interested with it because aside from the fact that it was a good deal, I never tried boarding on a local ferry here in my own country. So I grabbed it. The total cost was Continue reading

How to Catch the Lowest Airfare Deals

Traveling becomes more and more affordable nowadays due to variety of promo fares. With the presence of a number of low-cost carriers, finding a cheap airfare to your next destination is never difficult, if and only if, you book it some weeks (or months) ahead of the actual flight, especially if you’re planning to fly at a peak season. As a regular promo fare abangers, the cheapest flight I got was from Manila to Taipei and Manila to Kuala Lumpur at PhP121 each! (This was the time when the PhP550 terminal fee was still payable at the airport). Nowadays, all-in fares advertised by most LCCs will cost you for as low as PhP1299 for a one-way international flight. Take note that these seats are very limited and you should grab it at the earliest time possible. Here are some tips for particular airlines: Continue reading