Philippines’ Independence Day

Philippine flag

Today, the Philippines celebrates its 121th Independence Day.

On the 12th of June, 1898, General Emilio Aguinaldo declared the Philippines’ Independence from Spanish rule. Technically, Spain did not recognize this and managed to grant the Philippines to the United States after the Spanish-American war, but that’s beside the point. It’s only recently when I started re-educating myself on my Filipino history and heritage that I started commemorating these significant events that molded the country to what it is today. Philippine flag

And because it’s Independence Day, I am dedicating this blog in appreciation of the Philippine Flag.

The original flag that was waived on Independence Day was sewn by Marcela Agoncillo. It was designed based on the Cuban flag. The colors were inspired by the US flag, and the sun was derived from the mythological sun on the flags of Latin American countries like Argentina.

Today’s Philippine flag has 3 stars symbolizing the 3 biggest islands: Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao. The sun symbolizes liberty, and its 8 rays stand for the first eight provinces that revolted against the Spanish rule. The colors represent equality (white), valor (red), and peace (royal blue). In times of war, the flag is turned over so that the red color of the flag is the one on top.

“Now, after ten years, let us look back over the road we have traveled. Let us take stock of ourselves. What have we done with that independence for which we waited so long? Let us look clearly and honestly at the record. I can tell you how I feel about it. I can tell you that I am proud of my race, that I am proud of the nation we created in so short a time and in the face of such tremendous odds.”

— Former President Ramon Magsaysay, 1956

A Hike to Hulugan Falls

Waterfall. Nothing can harm me at all. My worries seem so very small. With my waterfall. — Jimi Hendrix, May This Be Love

One of the places I would go to in a heartbeat is the waterfalls. There’s something about the flow and sound of the water falling that fascinates me, and the trip to get to the falls is always an opportunity for me to be at one with nature. Trekking to a falls is always a reward in itself. I could never get enough of it.

So last Sunday, we set out to explore Hulugan Falls at Luisiana. I’ve read about it in a blog and was immediately intrigued, as I loved the rugged outdoors and was in need of exercise.

D, my brother, cousin and I set off from Alabang at 530 in the morning and drove off to the south towards Luisiana – a municipality in Laguna also known as ‘the little Baguio’ because of the winding roads and the cooler temperature – averaging 26 degrees celsius througout the year. It’s about 110 kilometers from Manila, and approximately 2.5 hours away by car.

To get to Luisiana we took the South Superhighway through through Santo Tomas, Batangas so we would skip the traffic-proned Calamba and Los Banos. Then we drove past Pagsanjan, Laguna – which looked quite interesting because of the old houses that lined up the main road. I’m thinking of setting off to Pagsanjan sometime in the near future to explore these heritage houses. Pagsanjan is also known for its waterfalls, and I remember seeing photos of it in my elementary school textbooks decades ago.

Then we drove up to Cavinti where the winding roads began. We could see the Laguna Lake as we got higher up. Before we reached the Luisiana town center, we took a right turn following the road sign saying “Hulugan Falls”. We parked next to the registration center (for a fee of 30 pesos per vehicle). Each of us paid 30 pesos for the registration fee and our assigned tour guide conducted a brief orientation about Hulugan. I was pleased to see that Filipino was the language used for the orientation form, and the guide was readily able to answer questions and comments. There are about 120 local guides affiliated with the tour group in Luisiana, and it was good they all are given equal opportunity to be able to guide guests. Our guide, Joy, said that she usually gets, on an aversge, at least one guest per week. Her peak months are from April to May, the summer months, where she can have as many as 2 rounds per day on weekends. When she shared this information, I reflected on the simplicity of life at Luisiana, and how the people seemed happy and contented.

Some the things I remembered from the orientation are:

1. The trek would take 30 minutes one way, and we were to trek 95 meters downhill. The path is not cemented and the handrails are made of bamboo. It could get quite difficult during the rainy season when the soil is soft and muddy.

2. For safety purposes, children below 8 years old, and adults more than 60 years old are not permitted to trek to and from the falls. People with cardiovascular ailments are also not allowed to trek to the falls.

3. While there was no bathroom at the site of the falls, there was paid toilet and bath at the registration center.

After the orientation, we took a tricyle to the trek’s starting point, which was about 5 minutes’ drive. The cost of the tricycle ride was 50 pesos one way. I like how the local folks coordinated this type of transportation setup, because it regulates the flow of traffic, which is efficient because the roads were pretty narrow and I imagine could be hard to control if all guests were allowed to bring their cars to park near the dropoff. Plus, it also boosts the livelihood of the tricycle drivers of the municipality.

Ok so The Trek. Boy, was it intense. Going down is harder than climbing up. My thighs were literally shaking and begging me to rest. I realized that my 10,000 steps per day was not enough and clearly not all muscles were being worked out daily. This is the first time in a long time that I felt my thigh muscles sore. And until today, they’re still sore. Trekking

But the trek was all worth it. The Hulugan Falls was beautiful. There was a lot of trees and plants surrounding it and the area was clean. Flocks of swallows were flying about, and Joy said that in the summer months, families of monkeys would be seen playing up the trees. I was, once again, awestruck by the beauty of nature and its rawness. I felt blessed to have been able to see this beauty up close.Hulugan Falls

Next to the falls is an ancient tree that has withstood typhoons and flash floods. Nearby is a formation of rocks and caves. It was truly spectacular!Rock formations at the Hulugan Falls

The water was cold and clear. Joy said that the community spends two days a week – Mondays and I cannot remember what the other day was – to clean the area. I like how the locals purposely decided not to put up rubbish bins in the area so as to make guests accountable in bringing their trash with them. I really wish the cleanliness and simplicity of the place can be maintained for the benefit of the generations yet to come.Before and After

On the way back, we made the mandatory stop on the bibingka kiosks along the highway to get ourselves not just the freshly-made warm tasty bibingka, but also the unlimited coconut water that the sellers give for free. The coconut water was sweet and refreshing, and this was the icing on the cake for this daytrip. I also appreciated the friendliness and happy smiles that our bibingka sellers gave us. These gestures simply warm the heart, and will definitely bring me back to Luisiana soon.

Weekend Market: Street Meet, Makati

Sunday market

Have always been curious about Makati’s Street Meet, a weekend night market at Paseo De Roxas. I kept seeing the teasers posted around Ayala Triangle whenever I walked from and to the hotel during an long staycation a month ago. For some reason the plan on dropping by kept being put on the back burner.

Finally last Sunday D and I were able to check it out. Street Meet Makati was set up right beside the Ayala Triangle park, in front of Paseo Center. A part of the street was closed off to traffic to allow for the different stalls. The mood was quite festive: Christmas songs were being played and the Christmas lights show was happening at the same time at the Ayala Triangle which added to the fun. Luckily most of the crowd was at the lights show. It was just us foodies hopping from one stall to another at the Street Meet.

Sunday market

There were various stalls to choose from, most of them offering free taste or samples. The first food that we bought was the Korean fish cake with soup – reminded me of the street food in Seoul. D got isaw, a local barbecue delicacy made of fish intestines. We also had takoyaki and coconut juice. For takeaway we bought frozen vegetarian gyoza and dimsums, and chili sauce. I wanted to buy bibingka, a local baked rice and coconut milk cake that is abundantly sold during the month of December. I ended up dropping the idea when the seller gave me a tired look and asked me to fall in line (when there was no one else). Oh well, that means I have to be on the hunt for a good platter of bibingka from elsewhere. Will let you know when I find em!

Street Meet items

A Week in Bantayan

Sta Fe Bantayan

I’m not really a beach person, and I’d prefer to go to the mountains at any given time. However, this year, I had my fair share of the beach life: from learning how to surf in Baler, Quezon; to biking and discovering hidden beaches in El Nido, Palawan.

I was blessed with an opportunity to volunteer for a week in Bantayan, an island known for its white sand and crystal blue waters north of Cebu City. I was to support the preparation for the reopening of the SEACAMP.

So I packed light and flew from Manila to Cebu on a Monday morning. From Cebu, I commuted almost three hours by bus to Hagnaya port, passing along seaside towns and letting my mind wander and imagine how it would have felt like waking up each morning to the sound of waves and seagulls. The three hour ride almost felt like forever – I got off one town away from Hagnaya port because I shouldn’t have drank too much water before embarking a long ride (I realized that too late). I  took a tricycle to get to the port and hopped on a ferry to Sta. Fe, Bantayan. I got to the white house where I was to stay for a week at around 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Yes, I spent my first day commuting.

LTE signal was weak, so I braced myself for a week without internet – I took it as a sign that I should just be one with nature. After dinner, we would have a short quiet stroll at the beach, and later on I would get to sleep early because it would be lights out at around 9 o’clock. For the first two days it was daunting but I eventually got the hang of it.

Before I get carried away with my memories, do you know what this shell is? My friend, Nadine and I saw heaps of this while we were walking along the shore. They have a star shape embossed on them, and they’re pretty delicate, really. They easily break, like eggshells. I think they’re so pretty.

Delicate little shell
Very delicate thin coated shell

What I loved about Bantayan are: the white sand, the singing and gliding birds, halo-halo, fresh air, clear waters, and the colorful picturesque sunsets.

hammock view
View from the hammock, Bantayan, Cebu

One night, just after sundown, we went to the beach to see the ‘dancing fish’. One of our hosts lit his flashlight and let the skim over the water. Lo and behold, hundreds of fish jumped up towards the light as the beam passed them – they looked like they were dancing indeed! Our host told us that it was a way the fish communicates back to them, as the stretch of sea in front of the SEACAMP is a marine-protected area. The fish were dancing to say thank you for protecting our home. While I watched that phenomenon, I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Who would have thought something so simple could be so powerful as to touch my stoic heart.

At the SEACAMP, I was able to learn and practice composting, which I later on applied at home. We planted malunggay trees, experienced fetching water from a well, fed fish in the kois, and prepared the newly built school. We also recycled plastic waste by grinding them. Later on they would be mixed with cement and be converted into what would become fish homes (I forget what they’re called). We saw the marine protected area up close when we got on a glass-bottomed boat. I am truly inspired by SEACAMP’s efforts to protect the environment.

I got to know some of the locals and my heart leaps knowing that they love Bantayan so much and would do all that they can to preserve it.

Church in Bantayan
Catholic church in Bantayan – Took me about 40 minutes (and 30 pesos) to get to the town by commute. The church is right smack in the middle of the plaza of Bantayan. 

Sagada: Take Two

Sagada in the morning

Second time in Sagada, and I’m still struck with awe.

My first visit was with my brother and we joined a group tour for an overnighter in this beautiful, distant place nestled on the mountains up north from Manila. Back then, I was asleep throughout most of the journey. I remember highlights of that trip included having a taste of the famous lemon pie, a very delicious strawberry cake, trekking the Echo Valley to the hanging coffins, and walking the stream leading to an underground river. It was a whirlwind of fun packing everything that needed to be done in those 2 days (side trip to Baguio and Banaue included).

This time was different: D agreed to drive, so we had the car just to ourselves and managed to do quick photo stops along the way whenever we came upon something spectacular. Plus I was awake throughout the duration of the trip (well, except for the first four hours because we left at 2:30 in the morning). We took the route that Google Maps recommended. It said 9 hours’ total travel time, and we were to skip the roads to Baguio or Banaue, and take the Cervantes, Ilocos Sur route. I’ve never heard of Cervantes. We drove near the sea at La Union and took the road less traveled.HaystacksClear streams

I played navigator while D bravely drove through the long winding roads that connected Ilocos Sur to Mountain Province. It turned out to be a scenic route – breathtaking view of the mountains and valleys, clear streams, waterfalls, and rice terraces. The view kept getting better and better once we got to the Bessang Pass Natural Monument in Sigay, Ilocos Sur. It is a protected area and memorial commemorating the victory of Philippine soldiers over the Imperial Japanese army on 14 June 1945. The mountains were so beautiful, we saw birds of different kinds, the air was cool and fresh. It reminded us of Batanes and Switzerland. D was definitely impressed (yay!). Except when passing towns, we rarely saw other cars through that route. I wonder how the locals managed commuting…Mountain

So the route was very scenic, but it was also a bit scary. Several times I held my breath and asked D to speed up because we would pass signages that say ‘beware of falling rocks’. And those rocks that we saw on the road were boulders. We also passed by roads next to landslides. Some stretches were dirtroads as the lanes were being repaired from erosions from a recent typhoon (Ompong) that hit the province.Landslide

Landslide

The 9 hours estimate by Google Maps was short by 3 hours. We reached our hotel, Labanet Lodge, at 2:30 in the afternoon. Our room was facing the town, and the hotel was walking distance to the restaurants and market. When we checked in I saw some ‘Sagada Do’s and Don’ts’ posted on the frontdesk. I also saw this list when we registered for a tour at the Municipal Information Center. These rules are:

1. Register at the Municipal Information Center and present the receipt when going to tourist sites like the caves, falls, Echo Valley.

2. Engage the services of local guides. Not children.

3. Respect all sacred grounds and sites.

4. Do not take photos of local rituals. Ask permission first.

5. No scanty clothing. No necking in public.

6. Use only designated parking areas.

7. No littering.

8. Bring your own bag (preferably eco bag) when shopping.

9. Minimize use of plastic bottles. Refill at water stations.

10. Inform the hotel of whereabouts past 10 PM.

I am all for these rules. I don’t recall seeing these during my first trip. Kudos to the municipality of Sagada for reinforcing these basics to tourists.

After the twelve hour drive I rewarded D lemon pie and tea at the Lemon Pie House. I rekindled my relationship with Sagada’s mountain tea. During my first trip I bought a bag of the leaves thinking I could brew it at home – but my version did not turn out good at all. So this time, I asked the staff at the restaurants as to how they brew their mountain tea because it was so good I just have to make it work at this time.

Around 4 in the afternoon we walked less than a kilometer from the hotel to Gaia Arts and Crafts Cafe, a quaint little restaurant that was featured in a local hit film ‘That Thing Called Tadhana’. Along the way we met a cute, friendly labrador. (I made a mental note to say hi to her again on our way back to the hotel). We also saw a couple of hanging coffins – these were different from the ones I saw at the Echo Valley. Just as a background, people who die past the age of 100 are buried in the hanging coffins. We were told by a local that the hanging coffins could be seen at different places coming from the Echo Valley to the Sumaging Caves. Our destination, Gaia, was near the caves.Gaia

Gaia serves vegetarian food and offers a nice view of rice terraces and fields. This is where we had our early dinner. I got the vegetarian adobo and D had the fried breaded tofu. I was giddy with excitement because I was looking forward to the side salad and the red rice. You see, only in Sagada do I get to eat red rice. I have to learn how to cook it properly, so it won’t end up too dry.The Wayfarers

When we got back to the hotel it was almost dark. For the first time in a long time we went to bed very early – 6 o’clock in the evening. Boy, did we have a long good night sleep.

Day 2 was a big day: we had a healthy, filling breakfast at the Strawberry Cafe. Afterwards, D and I registered for a tour and did a 3 hour trek to the Bomod-Ok Falls. It was a good cardio workout and a sight to behold. Our guide was also engaging and she provided a lot of educational information about the culture and traditions of the local community.Bomod-Ok

After the tiring trek we had lunch at the Sagada Brew. I’ve raved about this restaurant in TripAdvisor because I loved their breakfast. Lunch was good, but I didn’t enjoy their lava cake this time. It just looked good, but it was stale and dry.

In the afternoon we checked out the market and the Sagada Weaving store. Was able to get my stash of fresh greens for salad, and the award-winning Sagada Bana coffee from the market. At Sagada Weaving we got to watch the weavers in action. Got myself a belt bag as a souvenir.Sagada Weaving

That night there was a bit of a drizzle but the cold air was quite nice. We had dinner at the Yoghurt House. And then for the second night in a row we slept early.

On the third day we had an early breakfast at Bana Cafe. Their coffee was indeed a hit! It’s a good thing we were able to buy the coffee from the market because there we were able to negotiate for a discounted price.Bana Coffee

On our way back we were able to see the sea of clouds. We tried to deviate from Google’s recommended route because we planned to pass through Baguio. It was a mistake! Thirty minutes in to the new route we came upon a dead end because the roads were closed due to a landslide during Typhoon Ompong. Needless to say, we retraced our steps and heeded what Maps told us to take. So we passed by the long scenic road again. Come to think of it, it wasn’t so bad.Sagada in the morning

I asked D what he thought of Sagada and he loved it. It can now compete with Batanes, his favorite destination in the Philippines. I doubt he would want to drive back though. The way to and from Sagada was an adventure on its own. It was just too long – longer than a plane ride from the Philippines to another country. I’ll try to convince him again maybe in a couple of years.Scenic

Sagada – it was nice to be back! Hope to see you again soon. Maybe next time I will bring my folks and relatives so they can also get to appreciate you. It definitely is more fun in the Philippines!

Sunset and homeward bound

Bomod-Ok Falls, Sagada

Bomod-Ok

This is my second trip to Sagada – I like it so much that I hope to do it a regular trip. Thing is, it’s just so far away. I was so happy when D finally agreed to drive with me during the Thanksgiving weekend. We booked 2 nights to make the most of our time in Sagada.

During my first trip to Sagada with my brother, we were so pressed for time and we didn’t have the energy anymore to trek to the waterfalls. It was an overnighter anyway, and we covered a lot of things in 24 hours: the market, the highly rated restaurants by TripAdvisor, Echo Valley Hanging Coffins, Sagada Underground river entrance. We skipped the Sumaging Cave (short course caving) and swapped it with the market and the restos.

I’d skip Day 1 and will write about it more in detail in a separate blog. In this trip, Day 2 was the highlight.

After breakfast, D and I went to the Municipal Information Center to register and book a tour to the Bomod-Ok waterfalls. I was told it was the highest falls in Sagada, and it would be a 3-hour hike (back and forth) from Banga-an, which was 5 kilometers away from the Information Center.Wayfarers

We hopped on rented van and our driver, Jong, drove us from Aguid to Banga-an where we paid the guide fee. We were welcomed by Fritz who would be our guide for the trek. Fritz provided D and me each a wooden walking stick. She advised us to wear our caps as it might be hot. D and I left our caps at the hotel, and luckily it was a cloudy day so it was not scorching hot. Plus the air was cool and it was windy – I had my hoodie ready. Fritz gave reminders on bringing our trash with us (I assured her we won’t have any) and to have our water bottles ready. Guide

Off we went begin our downward trek. We were to walk downhill for 2 kilometers until we reach the falls.

The view from the top was breathtaking. We feasted our eyes on a lush of green. There were mountains, rice terraces, and some clusters of homes to see. We had to stop every once in a while to take photos. Topscene

Fritz was very engaging and she shared a lot of information about the lifestyle, culture and traditions in Sagada. She said that the main livelihood of the people (herself included) is agriculture. Some days she would be planting vegetables like chayote in the fields. While tourism is also a source of income, planting crops is still what she enjoys doing. The terraces used to be filled with rice, but now they have diverse plantations of vegetable crops. Arabica was also widely grown by the locals, and alongside the coffee shrubs they plant a certain type of tree (I failed to note it down, but it had small pines as non-edible fruit), which grows faster and provides the shade for the coffee trees, and the leaves that fall on the ground provide the nitrogen that will benefit the coffee trees. Fruit-bearing trees that are widely planted are the persimons, oranges, mulberries, and blueberries. Coffee

I asked Fritz why it was so quiet even as we passed through the Barangay Fidelisan where we paid the barangay fee. She said the children were at school, and most of the people were tending to the fields. Come lunch time the community will be livelier when the folks from the fields go home for a meal.

At the community, Fritz showed us a hut where the elders hold their meetings. This is called ‘dap-ay’. Adjacent to it is a house where teenage men reside in as they are trained to become future elders. In their community, the elders facilitate wedding ceremonies first before the newly-weds hold the church weddings.Dap-ay

As we passed through the rice terraces I was amazed by the irrigation system that the people built. The water comes from a natural spring (it does not dry out) and flows down to the bottom of the valley. From that spring people could also get water to drink. Near the terraces are rice granaries (wooden houses used to store grains) called ‘agamang’ by the locals. But these are now seldomly filled. That’s because rice is not as widely grown anymore and there are also field mice to look out for. Rice terraces

At last we were able to reach the Bomod-Ok falls. It was a spectacular sight to behold! D went close to it and took a lot of pictures. I dipped my feet in the cold water (and envied a couple of visitors swimming in the shallow pool). Fritz showed me where she replenished her water bottle with mineral water. We spent about 30 minutes walking through the rocks. Falls

Bridge

Going back we took a different route going to Pide where Jong would be waiting for us. I felt exhaustion kicking in halfway through and begged for several rest stops. D and I finished our big water bottle. Needless to say, going back was quieter as I opted to stay mum and catch my breath. Thoughts of where we would have our big lunch occupied my mind. I was so happy to see Jong’s van (Jong fell asleep waiting for us LOL).

I’m so glad I trekked to the falls with D. It was a good long walk (and climb) and we were fortunate to have a good guide. If you are in Sagada and up for a cardio adventure, the Bomod-Ok falls is highly recommended.

In total, we paid P1,170 (about US$23) plus tip for our trip to Bomod-Ok falls. Here’s a breakdown of the cost:

Guide Fee: P500 (approx. US$10) for 1-7 visitors

Barangay Fee: P10 (approx. US$2) per visitor

Transportation Fee: P650 (approx. US$13) two way vehicle hire from the Information Center

Five Faves in Baguio

Camp John Hay

Back in the day, Baguio was considered a summer destination. Because it is located at a higher elevation, it is cooler there than in Metro Manila. But then, a trip to Baguio took a longer time of planning and preparation – because the drive was about 8 hours. Now, thanks to the new highways connecting Manila to the northern part of Luzon, driving to Baguio takes normally just about a little over 4 hours.

D was always hesitant to go because he had been hearing horror stories about the bad traffic and the pollution. After months of convincing he finally agreed to drive with me to Baguio provided we go on a Sunday (with the hopes that tourists coming up for a weekend getaway would be going home to Manila by then) and I have to book a hotel away from the city center. I reserved our rooms right away before he could even change his mind.

So very early Sunday morning we drove northbound, enjoyed the views of rice paddies, took a couple of stops for breakfast and took photos of Mt. Arayat and some bridges.

We checked in at Forest House Bed and Breakfast, which was a close drive to Camp John Hay. Our room was cozy with an overlooking view of their backyard garden.

Bencab Museum

This was our first stop, because I cannot get enough of museums. And pretty much because it was also the farthest from the city so we drove there first. Bencab Musuem exhibits the works and collections of Ben Cabrera, a National Artist, renowned for his Philippine contemporary art. If not for D, I would have spent a whole day admiring the different paintings and artwork. We also spent time appreciating the view of their garden and koi, and the adjacent hills.

The Bell House

Walking inside Camp John Hay was reminiscent of what I saw Baguio as when I was a child. Though there are new establishments, it was not crowded and I am glad the place is still filled with hundreds of pine trees.

Inside Camp John Hay is The Bell House. My understanding is that it used to be a residence when the Philippines was still a colony of the USA. Nowadays it stands as a museum. It has an amphitheater next to it, which was beautifully lined with flowering plants. I had fun taking photos of the amphitheater.

The Bell House is big and the atmosphere inside was light and airy. D and I began exploring the house going separate ways. I was amazed at how the furniture was maintained and preserved. As I walked out the patio I pretended I was living in the 50s and wondered how I could have made each day productive without my gadgets back then.

There was also a secret garden next to The Bell House. I can’t recall if it was called ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’. We were just told by the museum staff to check it out so we did. It felt almost magical as I walked through the garden, with trees and mist enveloping us.

Baguio Market

A visit to Baguio will not be complete without going to the market at the city center. Sure, it was crowded, but it wasn’t as crowded as, say, Mall of Asia or Megamall on a payday weekend sale. We could still walk comfortably around, though we had to be careful of our belongings because we had to, as signs around the market would say, Beware of Pickpockets.

We bought vegetables and fruit, which sell much cheaper in Baguio compared to Manila. I was able to get all my salad ingredients here. For fruit we got strawberries and native berries. We also bought jam and ube (purple yam). We took a Grabcar on our way from and back to the b&b because this is one part of the trip that D would not have the patience driving to. Traffic wasn’t bad but parking would have been.

Diplomat Hotel

Now going here entailed use of our car. Atop Dominican Hill is the old and abandoned Diplomat Hotel. The spooky facade and the mist surrounding the place makes it a popular go to by tourists seeking some ‘scary’ thrills. Its history is narrated next to the entrance. It was built by the Dominicans as a vacation house on 1913. It was then converted to a school and named Colegio Del Santissimo Rosario from 1915-1918. During WWII it served as a refuge for families and Dominican priests from 1942-1945. In 1945, the Japanese used it as their last stand until it was bombed by the Americans. After reconstruction, it became the Diplomat Hotel which operated from 1973-1987.

Laperal White House

Since we were in the mood for scares we also went to the Laperal Guest House. We passed this anyway as we headed to the Pink Sisters’ Convent and Chapel. One wouldn’t miss this mysterious-looking old white house. I heard ghost stories about this place, even saw some documentaries about it many Halloweens ago. Unfortunately they were closed at that time so we weren’t able to get in. Pink Sisters’ Convent

So those are my five favorite spots in Baguio. I’d say it was worth driving to, and though it wasn’t as secluded and pristine it was decades ago, I was still able to enjoy the sights, the food and the cool temperature with my D.

Lulu, in Search of a Fur-Ever Home

Lulu

She looks at me and I attempt to see what her eyes are trying to say

Does she trust me at all, I wonder, is she silently asking me to stay?

You see, I’ve never gotten close to a cat before, so this is all so new to me

All I know is she’s sweet and gentle, and she’d give her love for free.

My earnest wish for Lulu this Christmas, is that she won’t have to roam

For a kind-hearted soul to take her in, and give her a forever home.

Lulu
Lulu is an adult indoor-only cat. She is about 5 years old, spayed, vaccinated and litter-trained.

I met Lulu at PETA, and she is the first cat who has ever warmed up to me (and vice versa). She is very sweet and loves sitting (or napping) next to us in the office, as we work all day on our computers. I like how observant she is. At least once a day, when she thinks I need to get up and stretch, she would ceremoniously march on top of my keyboard, which I find very adorable.

If you are interested in adopting Lulu, please contact Info@PETAAsiaPacific.com, or call +63-2-8175292. Or contact +63-999-888-7382.

Take Me Back to El Nido

Secret Beach

“I’m moving, I’m coming. Can you hear what I hear? It’s calling you, my dear, out of reach. Take me to my beach. I can hear it calling you. I’m coming, not drowning swimming closer to you.” – All Saints, Pure Shores

Yes, the beaches of El Nido had been calling me for years. I have always been keen on going, but I was just waiting for the right time – in other words, a seat sale. You see, direct flights between Manila and El Nido are usually expensive, and as far as I know there is only 1 airline (AirSwift) that flies direct. A cheaper alternative is flying to Puerto Princesa in Palawan, which is 230 kilometers away from El Nido. From Puerto Princesa, it would be another 5 to 9 hours’ land travel to El Nido.  So when earlier this year AirSwift announced a limited offer seat sale, I immediately booked tickets.

Sunblock, shades, and swimsuits in my backpack, I excitedly went to NAIA Terminal 4 for our weekend getaway. The flight to El Nido was smooth and took less than an hour. El Nido airport was a charm on its own. It was simple, clean and had a modern Asian architecture.

Airswift
AirSwift airlines at El Nido airport

Day 1: Getting around by motorbike

Public transportation in El Nido can be quite expensive, especially if one wants to roam the different beaches. For us to get to our Corong Corong beachfront bungalow from the airport, we paid 300 pesos (US$6) for a 30 minute ride. When I was doing my research, I read that daily rental of tricycles to be able to get around El Nido can cost up to P1,500 (US$30).

It’s good that my husband is an adventurer, and whenever we go to beaches in the Philippines the first item on his list is to rent a motorbike. We have done this in Batanes and Baler and he is comfortable getting lost and finding our way (so as long as we have enough gas left in the tank!). We rented a motorbike for 500 pesos for a day, and headed off to our 3 main beach destinations.

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The bike we rented to explore El Nido, Day 1

Nacpan Beach

Nacpan is 20 kilometers north of El Nido town proper. It is a beautiful 4 km long white sand beach that has a “twin” called Calitang Beach. Prior to our trip, I have read several raves from tourists citing Nacpan as the most beautiful beach in the world for them.

The beach was almost empty that afternoon. There are several restaurants next to the parking space. We had lunch at the Mad Monkey hostel and bar, where we had a nice view of the beach and the coconut trees. Everyone in the restaurant was friendly and relaxed. At the bar, there was a ‘Pacquiao Punch (Do It For Your Country) contest’ that looked like fun – they had a running tally of which guests from what country had the most number of shots. I wish we could drop by at night and join in on the party, if only Nacpan just wasn’t so far away. At that time, the country leading the ‘contest’ was Canada….

Duli Beach

Next stop was Duli Beach, considered to be a surfer’s destination in El Nido because of the huge waves. This is by far, the most beautiful and secluded beach for me in El Nido, and we had the long stretch of white sand lined with coconut trees all to ourselves.

It is northeast of Nacpan, 14 kilometers away. It was not easy to access. We stopped several times to ask for directions, and the dirt road was narrow. Because we drove through rough roads, it took us 30 minutes by motorbike.  Driving to this paradise alone was an adventure, and I’m happy we braved through almost crashing through the mud because this beach was just awesome!

Duli
We had the beach all to ourselves!

We hung out inside a ‘kubo’ (Filipino word for ‘hut) and drank juice from a freshly picked coconut.  We got to chat with a regular surfer and he said that the best months to surf are from November to April.  I hope that Duli Beach will not be commercialized – its raw beauty is astounding as it is.

Marimegmeg Beach

After heading back to our B&B in Corong Corong and resting for an hour, we headed out again for late afternoon drinks and dinner. The locals referred us to go to Las Cabanas for a perfect view of the sunset. We learned that Las Cabanas is also called Marimegmeg Beach, just a few hundred meters away from where we were staying. It was a downhill hike from where we were parked. There were many bars and restaurants in the area, and the Sun Bar caught our interest because of the lively vibe and good music. Everyone secured a spot facing the sea while enjoying their drinks. The sunset, I must say, was spectacular. Vibrant colors of pink, violet, orange, and yellow filled the sky – it’s the picture perfect sunset, like the ones I try hard to paint (but have never succeeded in completing yet).

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Sunset at the Las Cabanas beach

Day 2: Island Tour – Tour C

Island tours are popular in El Nido. Below are the most popular tours, along with the price per person at the time I was there:

Tour A (P1,200 or US$22) – a 7-hour tour with the following destinations: Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island , and 7 Commando Beach

Tour B: (P1,300 or US$24) – a 7-hour tour with the following destinations: Snake Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Entalula Beach, Cudugnon Cave and a snorkeling activity

Tour C: (P1,400 or US$26) – a 7-hour tour with the following destinations: Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Star Beach, and Hidden Beach

The tours include buffet lunch, snorkeling equipment and bottled water for drinking. I asked the locals what tour they recommend, and most of them answered Tour C. So, yep, that’s what I signed up for.

On Day 2, my husband and I were picked up from our B&B and we headed to Bacuit Bay at the El Nido town. This is where our tour commenced from. There were several boats filled with tourists like us, and most of them were headed out for Tours A and B. Our boat for Tour C only had 4 pairs of guests – which was good because we were not crowded. For safety, were all required to wear our life vests at all times.

Helicopter Island got its name because the island was shaped like a helicopter. Its real name is Dilumacad Island. We spent about 20 minutes snorkeling here. The water was clear and I saw a lot of fish. After snorkeling, I had fresh coconut juice. It was so refreshing!

All 8 of us in the boat opted to skip Matinloc shrine as it required a bit of a hike and additional payment. So we hung out on the Star Beach, and snorkeled some more while our tour guide and captain cooked lunch. We had a sumptuous meal on the boat (and I had another fresh coconut juice, because I just couldn’t get enough of it).

For the Secret Beach and Hidden Beach, we swam in deep water about a hundred meters to get to the beach. The beach could have been beautiful if not for the big crowd – turned out they’re not so secret after all. It pained me to see some of the tourists step on the corals of the Hidden Beach. I wish this part of the tour could be skipped altogether to preserve the corals.

Boodle Fight Restaurant (and B&B)

After the 7 hour trip, we headed to our new B&B at the Boodle Fight Resto & Bar. They offered a simple room with private bath and WIFI, and their food options from the restaurant were yummy. The owners of this B&B were very helpful and friendly. They are located along the main road of Corong Corong and was close to other restaurants and establishments. I found my kombucha drink at an organic store close to the B&B. What I liked about the store is they promoted recycling, and asked for me to return my bottle after I finished my drink.

Day 3: Lio Beach

On our last day, we rented a tricycle to get to the El Nido airport. Our driver was kind enough to let us stop over at the Lio Beach which was close to the airport, while he waited at the parking lot. Lio was more commercialized, but was empty at that time. There were several restaurants in the resort, and this is so far only place I have been to in El Nido that accepted credit card payments for our quick lunch.

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Lio Beach and pier

Everything I’ve written so far are the good things about El Nido, right? If I’m asked what are the cons of going to El Nido, I can only think of 2: sand flies and the looming commercialization. First, the sand flies, which I realized only on Day 3 (via the signs at Lio Beach). I noticed bug bites at the end of Days 1 and 2 and thought all along they were mosquito bites and they were soooo itchy. As for the looming commercialization, I say this because I saw some ongoing construction on the island. In Nacpan and Duli Beach, we were asked for parking fee and ‘entrance’ fee by locals. The price was not the issue, it was just fishy for me because they did not issue any receipts at all. I don’t know what those ‘fees’ were for, really.

As for the majority of our El Nido trip, I can say, hand on my heart, that it truly is more fun in the Philippines. I can’t wait to go back to this beautiful place, and I wish that its beauty and simplicity will be preserved. It would break my heart if it becomes another Boracay. I hope not.

To book with AirSwift, check out their website at https://air-swift.com/. To book a room with Boodle Fight Resto & Bar, check out their Facebook page here. And lastly, for more information on Duli Beach, check out their Facebook page here.