Palawan: Exploring the Last Frontier Bummin’ in El Nido’s Off-Beaten Tracks

On the third day of the adventure, we were supposed to take Tour B.  After Tour C, my body is aching all over, my voice is hoarse….and Tour E seems enticing….

MD and I pondered over our options a bit. We decided that it would do our aching bodies some good if we just engage in some serious beach bumming. While El Nido is famous for tours to the islands dotting the Bacuit Bay and its hidden lagoons, white sand beaches and magnificent karst landscape, I’ve read about previously hard-to-access inland beaches that are getting their fair share of the spotlight lately.

It was raining in the town proper that morning.  I think we made a wise decision. I am crossing my fingers that it is not raining where we are going. We bought some blueberry muffins and breads for breakfast and snacks.

We waited for our ride at the travel office of Joaquin BnB.  Soon, our trike will arrive and we will get going…..

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Palawan: Exploring the Last Frontier Last Stop: Island Hoppin’ in El Nido

When we reached the PP city proper, we were brought back to Marianne Home Inn.  Gladly, MD and I were allowed to use a vacant room to clean up.  We quickly showered and changed taking extra care not to mess up the room.  Once done, we went to the lobby to wait for the van arranged by Joaquin’s BnB… to take us to our final destination.

We still have some time and decided to go to the nearby stalls and buy bibingka and puto bungbong that will tide us through our travel.

The van picked us up around 5:00 pm.  A couple and a mother and daughter team would be joining us.  I started to feel feverish in the van.  I had to ward off the feeling of weakness.

When we reached El Nido way past midnight, I was running a fever and just wanted to flop on a bed.

Spanish for ‘the nest’, El Nido is sandwiched between towering limestone karst cliffs and Bacuit Bay.  It’s known for its white-sand beaches, coral reefs and as the gateway to the Bacuit archipelago, a group of islands with steep karst cliffs.  Miniloc Island is famed for the clear waters of its Small and Big lagoons. Nearby Shimizu Island has fish-filled waters. The area has many dive sites, including Dilumacad Island’s long tunnel leading to an underwater cavern.

Where did We Stay?

Most hotels and inns in El Nido can provide for all your needs, even tours for Underground River, Puerto Princesa.  Same thing with hotels or tour operators in Puerto Princesa, they can provide everything you need.  There will be differences in the price points and the offerings.  If you are on a budget, you can do a comparison.  Doing DIY might save you some money if you have the time to research and compare.  I didn’t realized earlier that we can have it all in one place until I finalized our bookings.  I ended up booking with three providers for our Palawan tour.  It might have its advantages like having the best of all options and disadvantages like different prices.  By having all activities and needs handled by one service provider, you can haggle prices and providers are more flexible if they can get bigger business.  However, you are stuck with their services and offerings come what may.

We had different bookings for accommodation because of my indecisiveness while making our itinerary for El Nido.  As I was choosing options for accommodation, I came across Organic Spa BnB which was relative new.  The rooms and the view look fantastic from the pictures.  At that time, it has no review so I was hesitant to book it.  Yet,t I kept thinking about the place.  I also kept delaying my decision until I noticed people started booking it and available rooms became scarce.  When I finally booked it, only two nights were available during our travel dates.  Compared with other accommodation options I was looking at, Organic Spa BnB is more expensive considering it doesn’t provide breakfast.  However, the one who manages the place, Ms. Janette, as well as her staff, are very nice.

I booked a 2-night stay at Organic Spa BnB for P2,500 per night (without breakfast).  I booked a tour package priced at P12,000  that includes 2 night-stay with breakfast (P2,000 per night), our island tours (Tour A – P1,000, Tour C- P1,100, striped Tour E – P900 per pax) and RT van transfer (P1000 per pax) with Joaquin BnB.

I checked the reviews of Organic BnB and Joaquin BnB as I was writing this and there are both negative and positive reviews.  I guess this is true for most low and mid-range accommodation options in El Nido .  Different staff serve each guest at particular times so the experience may vary…..

Let me share my own with the two accommodation options we chose for this trip …..

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Palawan, Exploring the Last Frontier Second Stop: The Mystical Underground River

I’ve been to Palawan, maybe twice or thrice, and had not taken advantage of the opportunity to explore this mystical place until now.  Even if our Palawan adventure was really about El Nido, we would not miss going to the Underground River, for anything.  I put that in my itinerary way ahead of the island tours in El Nido.  Glad that I did.

Tour package vs DIY?

The question foremost in any tourist mind.

I was trying to make an itinerary that includes an overnight stay in Sabang before our El Nido tour.  Unfortunately, our original travel time did not allow me to make such arrangement because of the uncertainty of transportation to Sabang from Puerto Princesa at night time when we were supposed to arrive.

We ended up booking a tour courtesy of Marianne Home Inn, our host in Puerto Princesa.  Their tour package is priced at P1,685 per pax, discounted because we are guests.  The standard rate is around P1,800 which includes RT air-conditioned van transfer, RT motorized boat transfer, buffet lunch, fees and permits, an audio device, and licensed tour guide/s. Although a bit expensive, working with travel agencies is the most convenient way to enjoy the underground river tour.

Others may opt for a DIY.  You have to secure a permit first at the Puerto Princesa Underground River  (PPUR) Office located located at the City Coliseum.  You have to present a valid ID and pay the fee to get your permit.   The PPUR Office is open on weekdays from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm and 8:00 am to 12:00 noon on weekends.  Once you reach Sabang port, you go to the Tourism Office, present your permit, and then pay the environmental (P40) and boat fees.  At the cave entrance, you’ll also need to pay for the audio device/guide.  You may check this post if you intend to DIY.

The cost of a UR tour is summarized below:

  1. Permit/Entrance fee that includes the paddle boat going inside the Underground River.(Filipino Adult – P175, Filipino Minors (13-20yo) – P100,  Foreigner Adult – P250, International Minor (13-20yo) – P150)
  2. Motorized boat from Sabang to the Underground River cost P1,100 which is good for 6 persons.  If your going to share the boat with other tourists you’re just going to pay about P184 per pax.
  3. An Audio Device that provides all necessary information during the tour costs P85.
  4. If you’re coming from city proper, the van ride going to Sabang costs P140 for Filipinos and P200 for foreign tourists.
  5. If you’re planning to do the Jungle Trail, the Entrance Fee is P200 per pax that includes your “Trail Guide” (optional)

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Palawan, Exploring the Last Frontier: First and Last Stops: Food Tripping in Puerto Princesa

I got an email from Cebu Pacific informing me that our flight going to Puerto Princesa in December was reset… I would call them for our final sked moving an evening flight to a morning flight.  A welcome change actually as it will give us more time to explore the city.

The preparations for this trip had been long.  Starting from the time when I was scouting promo airfares to arranging a 6D5N itinerary.  I booked our flight in September.  There was enough time to save up for the trip and do my research.  I did a lot of blog walking to ensure that my middle daughter (MD) and I would have the best deal in what might be our last island hopping together for a quite a while.  She would be in her last two years in her medical study and she would surely be busy having more hospital-based tasks.  That is sad for me as among my children she is the one who takes after me in being a lakwatsera (wanderer).  I had to make sure that the experience would be something she would cherish during the time she can’t go places.

I got a lot of information for this trip.  I was weighing the pros and cons of doing a DIY and having the trip arranged by tour operators.  In the end, the best arrangement for us, being first timers, was a combination of both.  I made a lot of calls to tour providers, hotels, transport service.  I scrounge travel reviews, must visit places and restos, to-dos and a lot more.

My sources are:  The Pinay Solo BackpackerCORON VS. EL NIDO? WHICH ONE IS REALLY BETTER?, Palawan: Untouched Beauty In The Philippines , Palawan Travel Guide 

After looking at my options; considering sked and budget, our itinerary  would be as follows:

  1. Day 1:  Arrive in Puerto Princesa, Overnight Stay at Marianne Home Inn, Food Trip
  2. Day 2: Underground River Tour, Travel to El Nido in the evening, Overnight stay at Joaquin’s BnB
  3. Day 3:  Check out at Joaquin’s, Check in at Organic Spa BnB, Island Tour A, Dinner
  4. Day 4:  Island Tour C, Dinner at Art Cafe
  5. Day 5:  Check out at Organic Spa BnB, Check In at Joaquin’s,  Chill at Nakpan Beach, Dinner
  6. Day 6:  Check out at Joaquin’s, Travel to Puerto Princesa, Lunch at Ka Inato

In the morning of our flight, two wanderers set out early.  We made sure that outfits and apparatus were complete when we packed the night before.  It was easy getting a Grab car thankfully.   I made sure there will be no unpleasant surprises and told the driver to go through SLEX.  Traffic to the airport was pleasantly light.

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Revisiting History in Butuan

The trip to Butuan in November 2016 would be the last official trip for the year.  I am not one to go to a place and not explore and enjoy it, however short the stay.  It’s my first time too in this city.  What is in it that we can relish and be part of our good memories of the city?  I did a little research and found that there are few tourist spots to go to in Butuan.  If we want the kind of enjoyment I always look for, we have to travel some more….. to another province actually, Dinagat Island… yes, the conclave of the Eleos, the ruling clan of the province.   One of the scions of its ruling clan is the controversial   Representative Ruben Ecleo Jr., the “supreme master” of cult group Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA)  who has been a fugitive for graft and parricide.  Time wouldn’t permit travel to that elusive paradise though.  Maybe, next time…. For now, we will contend ourselves with what Butuan has to offer ….

Butuan has seen over 1,683 years of recorded history. It was the original site of the first Easter mass in Philippine soil. It was the site of the first formal hoisting of the Philippine flag in Mindanao. And it was the home of the “Balanghais“ or Butuan Boats, famous pre-historic native boats in Southeast Asia.

Butuan is situated in the northwestern part of the Caraga Region (Region 13). It is the seat of government of the region and serves as its trading center as well. The city’s strategic location makes it a natural gateway to the different prime destinations in the region.

It’s a three-day trip, an average length of stay for an official trip.  Our schedule was constrained because of flight schedules.  I told my colleague who made the arrangements for the trip that  I do not want an early morning since from past experience I couldn’t sleep the night before the trip.  However, there are limited flights to Butuan daily.  Our activity is schedule on the second day.    We had to book our flight going there a day before and back a day after.  And so there was nothing that can be done but book the earliest flight at 5:10 am… sleepness night again 😦

On the day of our flight, I was up and about around 3:30 am and thankfully I was able to book a Grab car fast.  After the more than an hour flight, we landed in their airport and were met by our regional office’s welcoming party.  We boarded the vehicle bringing us to the resort.

The one thing going for this trip was the accommodation which is a resort, the Almont Inland Resort.   On its website, the resort looks nice with all the amenities.  I had mixed feelings because based on past experience, some hotels/resort use their best looking pictures in their promotional materials.  Once you get there, the real deal is unmasked.  So please don’t blame me.

When we got there,we saw that the place actually looks good.  The architectural design is a mix of modern and rustic.  The receptionist had to check if we can already check in.  While waiting, we were ushered to the resto together with one of the big bosses of our office who was in the same flight as us.  The breakfast buffet was spread out since it was around 7:00 am already.  We were starving and so we had breakfast …. The food is, well, edible.  It doesn’t actually look appetizing.  I had scrambled eggs, some dried fish and other viands….. I like the puto maya and thick cocoa drink together.  The rest of the fare are so so….

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Sweet Escape to Guimaras

With just few hours of shut eye coming from Zamboanga last night, I was headed to Iloilo.  I couldn’t believe this is my first time to visit this province.

Reaching Iloilo, I find its airport to be modern and clean.  From the airport to the hotel , I was amazed at the infrastructure.  I actually think it looks better that most urban centers I’ve been to…. including Cebu and Davao.  The roads are wide and clean.  The old structures like the town hall have been preserved and fuses nicely with new structures.

I did my research of places to go to in Iloilo.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Guimaras is a mere 15-minute boat ride.  I wasted no time in researching where to go to and chanced upon this blog which has the contact number of the highly recommended trike driver named Cherald who gave the lady blogger and her friends a tour.  I wasted no time contacting Cherald and he responded.  I told him that I would be in Iloilo in October and thinking of making a side trip to Guimaras.  He gave me an itinerary for a land tour and quoted a price.  He told me that aside from him, four of his brothers are also providing tours and that if he is not available, one of his brothers will tour us giving assurance that they are also trust-worthy.  The blog spoke highly of him so I can just trust his word.

img_4086On the first night, we had dinner at Tatoy’s Manokan and Seafoods.  When we got there, a lot of our colleagues are already gathered.  Some more would come later.  It was a buffet affair.  The feast consisted of their specialty, native chicken inasal, grilled bangus,  tuna kinilaw  na tuna, oysters and pancit molo soup.

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Experiencing Warmth and Hospitality in Zamboanga

I was like a tourist guide to my colleague who hasn’t travel wide and I felt the urge to show him around even if  I had been to Zamboanga only once in the 1990s.  I don’t even have a recollection of that trip.  My companion was a bit apprehensive about this trip given the reputation of the place.  Let’s see…..  There were the Basilan siege carried out by members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 2013 and the bloody Lamitan siege when members of the Abu Sayyaf took over a church and a hospital and held priests, medical staff and patients hostage and using them as human shield to escape the government forces surrounding the rebels in 2001.   These and other skirmishes of various Muslim rebel groups would be forever etched in our minds.  I am not surprised about my colleague’s reaction.

However, we came to Zamboanga on business and there was no choice but to conduct our business.   It was a short trip, just a day.  We arrived in the evening of October 7 and would be leaving the following day.  Be that as it may, I would not let a trip pass by without creating memories.  It helped that one knows some people from the place and I do.

As soon as we arrived, I got a text message from a new friend I met in my assessment work.  I told her I am meeting her after we checked in at Garden Orchid Hotel, a stone throw away from the airport.  It’s only advantage.  More in my review in Use it or Ditch it.

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Some R & R in Samal Island

That was one quite stressful trip to the bustling presidential city on a midweek in the last week of September 2016…. been to Davao many times, mostly on business, I lost count.  It is one packed schedule as my event has been moved a number of times and we were lucky that we decided to leave early morning of Wednesday as the event was finally scheduled in the afternoon.  Originally it was set on Thursday.  I am heading home Thursday evening.

My departure for Davao was scheduled at 6:40 am alone was a big back story.  I asked the taxi driver I contacted to fetch me at 4:30 am.  I woke out around 3:35 am to check time and go back to sleep to wake up at 4:00 am.  We checked in online and we just need to be in the airport an hour prior to the flight.  As I turned to sleep, I was alerted by a text message from the taxi driver saying he was in front of our house… and everything turned topsy turvy.  I called him to ask why so early and he said it’s really like that.  So I awoke finally and begrudgingly prepared to go.  In less than 30 minutes, I was ready and called our helper to let me out.  I was so early in the airport with a big headache.

We arrived in Davao, went straight to our hotel, settled down a bit and went to Park Inn by Radisson where the event was held.  After the event, we went back to our hotel and decided to have dinner.

img_3611I revisited the iconic Luz Kinilaw resto which got a facelift as it was razed by a fire.  My companion has not eaten there so I asked a friend from Davao to bring us there.  We had the usual grilled panga, grilled squid, bihod (fish eggs), kinilaw na tuna and their rice is not your usual white rice.  It’s rice that is not well-milled so it should be healthier.  Just realized, we didn’t even have soupy dish and eating all grilled food can be too satiating.

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Binondo Staycation

The best way to spend a grand time with friends we haven’t seen for a looooong time is a staycation.

stay·ca·tion (stāˈkāSHn)
noun, informal
a vacation spent in one’s home country rather than abroad, or one spent at home and involving day trips to local attractions.
That’s what a couple of friends and I did when a friend for life, S, came home in July 2015 after a life-altering stay in the US where she is now based.  Like most Filipinos based abroad, there is hardly time to do everything on those times that they visit.  In the case of S, this is her first visit after, maybe, 15 years.  One can imagine the number of friends and family members who’d like to catch up with her.
We are HS classmates who has remained friends through sick or sin 🙂  Originally, there were nine of us but some have been so out of touch after school life.  I remained in touch with S and three of our other friends.  After our homecoming, two more have been reconnected.
I had the task of arranging a get together that considers everyone’s availability and other time constraints.  An out-of-town trip would definitely be worthwhile but after considering all options, I narrowed down the choice to a PJ party in one of our homes or a staycation which I used to think was no fun.  When it seems the PJ party would entail too much preparation for the host, staycation sounded like a good idea.  The next thing is where to stay.  Again, I thought about hotels and nearby resorts until the idea of a Binondo staycation came about recalling from a previous blog post.  So I searched and presented the idea to S and our other friends.  Guess what……. they loved it  Happy Feet

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Softly, Bantayan

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Like the earlier trip, choosing our island for this trip went through a process after I booked the flight to Cebu.

The choice boiled down to Camotes, Malapascua and Bantayan.  I would pit one with another when looking at the most recent reviews I can find (learning from the last trip).  All things considered, I settled on Bantayan….. and this early, I will spoil the fun of discovering for yourself why you should too and tell straight out it was a heck of an island hop.  Bantayan is a soft breeze that lifts listless souls and tames frayed nerves…..

Departure Blues

Even on the day of the trip, everything came to be in sync even if our Grab car driver had to squeeze through tight traffic and a sudden downpour which felt more like a hailstorm.  I think the heavy downpour was heaven-sent to delay the flight and buy MD, OS and me more time before the gates open. My friend V who joined us on this trip was giving a blow-by-blow account as we wove through flooded streets brought by the sudden downpour.  There was a point I thought we’d miss the flight. When we arrived at the airport, there was just enough time before the plane left.

The flight was the last flight to Cebu giving enough time (even with the delay) to catch the bus at Hagnaya Port leaving at 12:00 midnight.  Once we reached Cebu, we took an Uber car to Northern Bus Station and got into the Ceres bus.  Bus fare is P200.

We all tried to catch sleep during the more than 3 hour bus ride alighting during pitstops for toilet breaks and leg stretching especially for the driver.  We know it was a straight to Bantayan ride.  Reaching Hagnaya Port, all passengers had to alight and pay barge fare P170 and terminal fee P10.  We would be boarding soon.  It took some time to leave due to wrong estimation of the space requirements for the vehicles to be loaded.  After reconfiguration of the right combination, we cruise for a little more than an hour.

Dawn would give way to the morning light.  The sun would be taking a peek as we near our destination and the quaint island will come into view….. Soon, I would see for myself why Bantayan makes it to the top 10 to 20 best island destinations.

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