First and Last Stops in Exploring Palawan, the Last Frontier: 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.

Checking in, we were dealt with our first setback.  I wasn’t aware that Cebu Pacific has become more strict with weight limitations for hand-carried baggage and the baggage handlers wouldn’t overlook our 4 kgs excess weight even if I used all my charm in getting through.  I was made to pay a whooping P500 plus and I had to check in again.  I begrudgingly complied as I didn’t want to spoil our vacation this early.

Having surpassed our first hurdle, we got in the departure area.  Luck came back as there was no delay in the flight.  We boarded the plane and in about an hour we were in Puerto Princesa.

The van driver dispatched by the Marianne Home Inn had a placard bearing the hotel’s name.  We approached him and he led us to the van.  He immediately brought us to the hotel.  We checked in.  We were led to a room on the ground floor which doesn’t have a window.  I requested to be transferred and the receptionist readily acceded since there is also a vacant room on the fourth floor.  Unfortunately, the hotel has no elevator.  Well, it served as some sort of a work out for us but MD wasn’t happy….

We were assisted with our luggage going to our room which is not exactly how I pictured it to be.  In their website, the rooms look so sparkingly clean.  The air-conditioner is not working well as it couldn’t get to the desired temperature whatever adjustment was made. The bathroom is disappointing.  Renovation is long overdue.  The hotel management shouldn’t scrimped on maintenance because the returns from satisfied customers are multiplied manyfolds.  With the hotel’s booking rate,  it wouldn’t hurt to improve their facilities.  It’s a good thing we are staying only overnight.

Well, we cannot have it all.  There are things going for this bed and breakfast inn anyway… like the free airport transfer, the kind and helpful staff like Jonalyn, the assistance in our UR tour.  The hostel is also near tourist spots like the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral and the PPC Baywalk Park.

A bit of history ….

Puerto Princesa is a coastal city on Palawan Island in the western Philippines. It’s a base for boat trips through the massive limestone caves and underground river of the biodiverse Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.  Dive sites dot Puerto Princesa Bay, home to long-nosed dolphins, turtles and rays. Close to the port is the 19th-century Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral.

Legend attributes the name Puerto Princesa to a princess-like maiden who is said to have roamed the place on certain nights.  Others attribute the name to the geographical advantages of the place as a seaport naturally protected the whole year round and endowed with a depth that can accommodate any size of shipping, a haven for vessels or a virtual princess of ports as indicated by Spanish Colonizers on the country’s map.

Historically, the place was named after Princess Eulalia of Spain, born in 1864 to Queen Isabel II and her consort, Dr. Francisco de Asis. When the princess suffered an untimely death, the Queen changed the name to Puerto de la Princesa. Eventually, the name was reduced to Puerto Princesa as it is known today.

Spanish Colonizers founded the settlement on March 4, 1872 in the course of their exploration of the province. As they scanned the Palawan shoreline for a capital site, they came upon a hill with steep declivity. Rowing to shore, they surveyed the hill and discovered an extensive plateau which they decided as ideal for settlement.

Soon after, Fr. Antonio Muro levelled a portion of the hill to make way for a chapel. (That section is now occupied by the Catholic Cathedral, the P.C. Barracks and the Rizal Park. The Old Municipal Building used to be there, as well as an Elementary School). The first mass celebrated in Puerto Princesa took place at a site where a marker now stands.

In May 1872, the port became the center of Spanish Naval Operations in the area because the few natives were peaceful and the Bay met all the Navy’s requirements. Royal Decrees later provided incentives to settlers, such that by 1883 settlement had flourished into a town of twelve roads, a hospital and well built port.

In 1894, Puerto Princesa was recognized by government authorities as one of the most beautiful towns in the country by virtue of the orderly distribution of streets, buildings and houses as well as the cleanliness of the community.

In 1911, the New American Administration made Puerto Princesa the seat of the Palawan Provincial Government with Major John Brown as Lieutenant Governor.

The town was converted into a city on January 1, 1970 under R.A. 5906 as amended by P.D. 437, through the effort of then Congressman Ramon V. Mitra, Jr. Feliberto R. Oliveros, Jr. became the first City Mayor.

Since its foundation, Puerto Princesa has been the nerve center of activities in Palawan. Aside from being the seat of public administration, it is the heart of trade, commerce, service, and industry in the province.

Under the leadership of then Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn, the City has gained the distinction of being a model city  in cleanliness, environmental protection and conservation, and local governance in general.

And so, with a responsive leadership and an inspired citizenry, the tradition of Puerto Princesa being a beautiful and clean city lives on.

Here our foodie adventure ….

Day 1

After resting a bit, we set out for a very late lunch.  I had already set my sight on Rene Saigon’s Vietnamese Specialty.  This is a lesser known Vietnamese resto in PP, yet some bloggers swears by the goodness of its dishes.  There were trikes waiting outside the hotel.  We hopped into one.  When I told him the destination, the trike driver suggested Bona’s Chaolong which is the more popular Vietnamese resto.  I told him that I read that Rene Saigon is better.

It was past 2:00pm and there were no patrons when we arrived.  The trike driver suggested that he waits for us because trikes are not readily available in that area.

There was no one around and I called out anybody who was inside.  A lady would soon emerge and gave us the menu.  We asked for suggestions.  She suggested their best sellers, the beef stew noodles and the beef noodles and banh mi (French bread).  We ordered as recommended and also ordered iced Vietnamese coffee.  I had beef stew noodles while MD opted for the simpler beef noodles.  The difference between the two is that more flavors are added to the beef stew variant.  It wasn’t long when our order would be served.  Immediately,the aroma of the noodles sifted in the air and we knew we got it right.  The first scoop of the soup confirmed what our senses already knew.  The noodles were heavenly… specially to starving souls out on a limb.  We ordered the plain banh mi although the recommendation of the lady was the one with pork barbeque.  We thought that we’d be too full afterwards and we still have a much awaited dinner a little later. I couldn’t exactly tell what’s special with the bread.  Maybe, it would taste much better with filling.  MD and I exchanged bowls to see the difference.  We both leaned towards the simpler beef noodles as the taste appears more full-bodied.  The beef stew noodle which is actually their best seller is still a good choice.  For me, however, there is too much flavor which can be a bit of work-out for the palate when one just wants the real flavors of meat and basic ingredients to stay true to its the original concoction.  Well, what can be expected.  We scooped up to the last drop.

Phở or pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles called bánh phở, a few herbs, and meat, primarily made with either beef or chicken.

When we were done with our meal, we turned our attention to the Vietnamese iced coffee.  The lady told us they no longer serve their coffee in a dripper because it takes a long time for all of the coffee to drip and the ice would be melted by the time dripping is done.  MD actually ordered the coffee.  I sipped some just to taste.  It’s really good.

After paying for our meals which costs less than P500, we took some more photos.  As we were snapping shots, our trike driver appeared.  The driver was suggesting that we go to the nearby WWII Memorial Museum.  Both MD and I, however, were not in the mood for museum visit.  We were also budgeting our time as we intend to go to mass at 6:00 pm.  Such a pity because it was a few steps away from the resto.

We need to be within the city center and decided to try halo-halo at Noki Nocs where our trike driver brought us.  We were still full from our Vietnamese feast and I was just curious why the halo halo and palabok in this place are best sellers.  We met an winsome old lady selling hand towels.  We didn’t buy hand towels but we offered her refreshments which she gladly accepted.  MD and I shared one halo halo which costs P85.   We fell in love with the flavorful and colorful halo halo on the first scoop.  It wasn’t much what was in it but the ice which taste like ice cream.  Even with full tummy, we savor the halo halo till the last scoop.  When we finished, we said goodbye to the old lady who thanked and blest us.

Puerto Princesa Baywalk

The next destination is within walking distance from Marianne Pension Inn.  It used to be a squatters’ area but after a fire gutted the houses of the residents, they were no longer allowed to built houses. The city turned it to a tourist and local destination to unwind and relax and developed it to a Baywalk.  There are numerous food stalls and souvenir shops.

We walked around the area and took shots.  A nice lady offered to take a shot of MD and me and we returned the favor.  We posed beside the big imposing Christmas tree that seems like a permanent structure.

Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral

We walked back to our hotel.  We rested first before going to the nearby  Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral for the 6:00 pm mass.

This blue-colored cathedral church is a century-old historical landmark which was built as a small church during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines and was only reconstructed into a cathedral in the year 1961.  It is an eye-catching structure due to its unique architectural design. The pointed arches of the church will remind you of the structures built during Medieval Europe.

After mass, we boarded a tricycle going back to the hotel as we were tired from all the walking.  We freshened up and rested more before our going to dinner at Kalui Restaurant set at 8:00 pm.  Our contracted driver is bringing us there.  On the way, MD and my attention was caught by the festive lights at the municipal hall and requested to take a look and get some shots and Kuya driver obliged just reminding us to make it a short stop because of our reservation at Kalui.  We made a dash for it and enjoyed the blinking lights and took pictures.

We were finally on our way to Kalui.  When we got there, we approached the staff at the reception and told him we have a reservation.  He asked us to take our seats at the waiting area while waiting for a table.  The place looks awesome and we couldn’t resist taking pictures while waiting.

Soon, we were ushered to our table…. more pictures 🙂

We ordered what everyone else recommends… the Special of the day which consists of Fish Steak, Prawns, Veggies of the Day, Chili Crabs, rice, starters and dessert priced at P495.00.  It’s good for two.  The food styling is picture-perfect much like the place.  My review of the meal would be mixed.  I like the fish steak, the veggies and the prawns.  The rest are so so.  Maybe, I expected so much.  Still, the experience of dining barefoot in a tropical, idyllic setting is a must.  The meal is reasonably priced.

More pics of the awesome place…

We went back to the hotel for a much-needed shut eye since we are going to our Underground River tour the following day.

Day 2

After the enthralling, mystical Underground River tour which will be talked about in another post, we went back to the hotel to clean up and wait for the van arranged by Joaquin BnB, our tour agency for the remainder of the trip, to head for  El Nido which is the main event of our Palawan adventure.

I remembered the Felicidad Espesyal Puto Bungbong and Bibingka stall we passed by after coming from the PP Baywalk and Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral.  MD and I decided to buy 1 bibingka and 1 puto bungbong to tide us during the five-hour trip to El Nido.

We ate the bibingka a few minutes after we started our travel.  It was so good.  I regretted not buying more.  MD and I took turns biting into the bibingka.  The puto bungbong is supposed to be dessert after dinner which was in a roadside eatery.  When we opened it, it doesn’t look appetizing anymore and it actually turned bad that we had to discard it.  It probably tastes good.  But after a few hours, it can spoil.

Last day

With time to spare before our flight back home, we asked the van driver to bring us to Ka Inato for our final foodie adventure.  There are two branches in Puerto Princesa, one is the main and the bigger branch in Barangay Bancao Bancao which we passed by on our way back to the city.  There is the smaller branch along Rizal Avenue which is near the airport.  We decided to go the the Rizal Avenue branch as it is more convenient.

We were serve by someone using sign language and we realized that they employ PWDs.  It was indicated in their menu.  It was interesting but at some point there was difficulty in the server understanding what we needed and another waiter intervened.  No hassle though.  It’s a small thing.  I admire the management of the resto for doing their share in making a marginalized sector of society productive.

We ordered their signature Inasal Chix and the exotic Crocodile sisig.  The chicken is good and the crocodile sisig is ok.  The crocodile sisig is available in portion for sharing only.  We brought home our leftover.  There is nothing outstanding about the sisig except that it is crocodile meat.  It taste much like pork with slight difference in the texture.  Again, I would recommend that one visits this place when in Puerto Princesa for the experience.

A food trip can turn out to be punishing if one is not allowed to savor the food long enough.  There is so many food havens in Puerto Princesa that one day may not be enough to satisfy one’s palate with all the food it offers.  Next time I visit, I would be trying  other much raved about restos like Kinabuch Bar and Grill, La Terrasse, Badjao Seafood Restaurant, Balinsasayaw Restaurant, Baker’s Hill ….. maybe, I will be brave enough to try a tamilok 🙂

Other posts:

  1. PUERTO PRINCESA TRAVEL DIARY: KUYBA ALMONECA, YOUR ALTERNATIVE TO THE PALAWAN UNDERGROUND RIVER
  2. PUERTO PRINCESA TRAVEL DIARY: RENE SAIGON VIETNAMESE SPECIALTIES
  3. Kalui Restaurant: Excitement for the Eater
  4. PALAWAN TRIP PART 4: KA INATO RESTAURANT,DEAF MUTE FOOD SERVERS AT PUERTO PRINCESA

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 fkight, 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….

Here is a look into the resort’s architectural design and amenities …

After breakfast, we were told we can check in.  We rode a golf cart going to the room.  We 20161107_080219passed their sprawling swimming pool area.  A man-made lagoon full of water lilies was a sight to behold as we made our way to the room.  To my chagrin, our room is located at the far end of the resort.  And we would be led into this dingy-looking shack, I meant room.  Well, it must be one of their old rooms that they give to ‘select’guest like us.  We passed several new or probably renovated rooms around the lagoon area.  I was told that had I stuck with the original accommodation arrangement of having 3 pax in a room, I would be given one of the new rooms.  However, I requested for a double occupancy room. Too late to complain.  The hotel is fully-booked as most of our events will be held in this hotel.

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The Lagoon

After settling in our barracks room for about an hour, we went to the venue to join the elaborate opening ceremonies.  After which, we would be tagging with the big boss to her 20161107_090919programmed activities fr0m trade fairs to company visits around Butuan City.  We were not really part of her party but since it is still technically a free day for us, might as well go around and see what the city has to offer.  We were fed well during these trips.  We also discovered and bought some pasalubong items from Create Foods, one of the companies we visited.  Their newly cooked mini egg tart was so heavenly.  We ordered some to bring home.  The owner was so nice to give it at a bargain price.  To top it all, she would deliver freshly-cooked tarts to our hotel tomorrow.  3We also tasted some flavors of their ice cream.  We were so full after this visit.  While we are thankful for their hospitality and generosity, we observed some food safety issues that the company need to address if it wants to be competitive.

We went to some more companies.  As we continue traveling, I felt sick.  I was feverish and had dry cough.  The stress of my frequent travels must have caught up with me.  In one particular safety-conscious company, sick persons are restricted to enter its premises  I was actually thankful to just stay in the van.

The last destination was 9CARAGA State University, a would-be recipient of an equipment grant, which prepared for a program to welcome the big boss.  By this time, I can feel the chills and I was in pain.  I wanted to just go back to the hotel.  After the program, we still had to bring the big boss to the airport who will go back to Manila.  On the way to the resort, I asked my colleague to buy some meds for me.

Reaching the hotel, I skipped dinner as I wanted to just flop on my bed.  My roommate went to the dinner arranged by our colleagues.  I would learn that what was served for lunch which was really unappealing, unappetizing food was the same fare.  Good decision on my part.

I needed to freshen up to somehow feel better.  I suddenly realized that I forgot to bring sleepwear… wahhhhh.  I brought some swimwear though because I was thinking of going for a dip in the pool in our free time.  Thinking fast, I knew that my swimwear would somehow make a good substitute for sleepwear on times like this.  So I changed into one of my rashguards which felt cold and grainy (some of the sand from previous travels got stuck)nd the shortest shorts.  I had to bitch around  (needed to do this as asking nicely the first time didn’t work) in this get-up later to switch rooms as I would discover that air-conditioning doesn’t work and the toilet is not functioning properly. Still the same dingy-looking room but the amenities are working right.

Following day was when we are part of the program.  I felt some relief, probably because of the meds but my voice was hoarse.  Since the audience have not heard me speak before, I figured it may not be noticeable that my voice is not my normal voice.

Before proceeding to the venue, we have some time to spare to take pics around the resort….

 

And so we did our thing… after which we were free 🙂  My colleague and I decided to go to the Robinson’s Mall as I needed to make some money transfer.  On the way to Robinson’s Mall, we were talking about where to have a nice seafoods meal.  A helpful woman passenger in the jeepney we were riding recommended Baron’s.  She said it is a car wash by day and a grill and bar at night.  It was also recommended by our office staff.  This should be in our itinerary today.  I’m really tired of the hotel food 😦

After finishing our bank transaction, we went to Robinson’s Mall.  We looked around the booths participating in the trade fair which is part of the region-wide event conducted by our regional office.  We bought some food items and herbal oils.  I also bought organic fertilizer.  We kept bargaining with the shopkeeper when we really shouldn’t 🙂  I had to remind myself that these small entrepreneurs do not earn as much as mall owners.. duh to myself.

We went back to the resort afterwards, unloaded our stuff in the room and got back to the venue.  When the program ended, the regional staff arranged for us, Manila-based staff, to visit their museum.

Butuan National Museum is a famous landmark in the city that one would see it in 20161108_164655most blogs on this city.  I think that renovation of the museum has not been fully completed and only some sections in the ground floor are available for viewing.  It’s a sad reality considering that the excavation sites in the city would bear some of the most important archeological finds in the country.

It didn’t disappoint us though as it appears to be the only landmark, aside from their Municipal Hall, that we would be visiting for this trip.  For one, a nice and knowledgeable

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Our kind, helpful and knowledgeable tour guide 🙂

elderly man (whose name I forgot unfortunate)  guided us through our exploration of the old world.  He isn’t exactly the curator but he works for the National Museum.  Well, his picture is in this blog.  So if you visit the museum and would be fortunate to be guided by him, please send my regards.  He also made my day during our visit as he told me I’m beautiful and was particularly attentive to me… ehem, ehem ;D

 

Here are some of the interesting historic and cultural finds in the museum:

The mobile museum boxes are the latest innovation.  In the boxes are models and posters of their topography, life forms, minerals and resources.

More geological finds are found inside.

The most significant of these relics are the Balanghai boats.  Balanghai boats are massive wooden boats that are bruited to provide clues to our ancestry.  The boats are said to be like a social unit much like a barangay as it houses group of families during that time.  At least 9 of these boats are known to exist.  The first of these discovered boats was restored, preserved and displayed at the Balanghai Shrine in Libertad, Butuan City.   These archaeological finds are testament to a flourishing activity in Butuan hundreds of years even before the Spaniards came.  These boat parts were carbon-dated and had been traced as far as 320 AD.  If one thinks about it, these boats could in all likelihood carried the forebears of the Filipino race.

On July 1976, Antique hunters hit on and discovered the remain of a large wooden boat. It was the first relics of the Balanghai Boat discovered. C-14 carbon dating established that the relics is 1630 years old. Then there were more Balanghai Boats discovered. These were also subjected to C-14 radio carbon tests. The second boat dated back in 1250 A.D. and the third to 900 A.D. These relics were the first wooden watercrafts excavated in South East Asia, similar to the Viking Ship of the North Eastern Europe. At present there are 6 boats still buried in deep silt to the east of Pinamanculan.

These relics were discovered at the eastern edge of swampy flat land surrounding the Pinamanculan Island. Pinamanculan was once an island surrounded by sea water. The area is presently dominated on the abandoned channels and remnants of the Masao River and the remnant of the main branch of the Agusan River.

As to its construction, the Balanghai (Balangay, Butuan) Boat is made of a wooden plank adjoined by a carved-out-plank edge through pins and dowels. Planks were fastened to each other by pegs, and these in turn were counter-pegged through each planks to keep them from slipping out when the hull was under stress. When it was unearth, the relics contained large volumes of Ceramic Ware and Gold items under the Muck. It is known as the oldest pre-hispanic watercraft found in the Philippines.

The construction of the finely built boat was taught from one generation to another. It uses techniques still being used by boat makers of Sibutu Island in Southern Philippines. Made 15 meters long and 3 to 4 meters wide, the Balangay is propelled by sail of Buri or Nipa fiber of padding and is large enought to hold 60 to 90 people. As for the boat of the King, rowers were sometimes seated on both sides of the outrigger to provide speed during some of his journeys.

The Butuan people were people of the sea, living in coastal villages and near rivers. Boats were used for fishing trade, warfare, “piracy” (trade-riding for goods and slaves), travel, communications, and dwelling. With the Balangay’s size, it was also used for cargo and raiding purposes, giving proof that Butuan played a central role in trade in the ancient times.

More finds …

Because these Balanghai boats are said to have traveled to China and other nearby countries for trading activities, some of these ceramic wares and pottery could have originated from the Ming Dynasty….

 

Even then, gold was a valued commodity… They have gold panning tools …

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Accessories of royalty … A gold-laden mask …

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There sure had merry-making of some sorts as evidenced by ….

their wine-making vessel ….

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and musical instruments…

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Our tour guide explained that the skull shapes can tell social status.  He explained that the skull with the flat top belongs to someone from an upper class.

Wooden coffin and the remains …  I felt my hair raising while I was here and I offered a prayer for the departed….

Alas, it was time to say goodbye to our kind and knowledgeable tour guide….  Thank you for guiding us through a most informative tour …..

After passing by the Municipal Hall for the egress of another event held there, we were dropped off at the resort close to dinner time.  A dinner invitation was actually open to all.  My colleague, roommate and I, however, begged off as our sights are set on Baron’s.

I couldn’t resist getting into their calesa on the way to our room 🙂

We dropped off some stuff we purchased in our room and headed to Baron’s which is just a few steps from Almont Inland Resort.  We ordered sinuglaw, tinola, grilled tanigue and adobong pusit.  The adobong pusit was really good.  We devoured everything like hungry wolves.  The food was yummy and filling.  Quite honestly, I am not sure if this is the best seafoods meal I’ve had in my life but it certainly felt like that after having unappetizing hotel meals for two days.   After a hard day’s work, we ought to reward ourselves with the best meal for this trip.

After dinner, my colleague went to his hotel while my roommate went to the mall to shop for pasalubong.  Another Manila-based colleague who also had dinner with her relative at Baron’s offered me a ride back to the hotel.  Once inside the car, her relative suggested we go to Margie’s Kitchen to buy cakes and pastries which she said are really good and reasonably priced.  I bought 2 loaves of different variants of banana cakes.  7 OD and my girls will surely love these.  I also bought some egg tarts just to taste and compare with those from Create Foods which I remembered will be delivered tonight.  The verdict is I couldn’t tell the difference.  They are both good.  The only difference is the one we ate at Create Foods was just off the oven.  Perhaps, I love sweets too much:)  Once done with our shopping, we were brought to the resort.

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I thanked my colleague and said goodbye since we have different flight skeds.  I went back to my room.  In a while, I would get a call from the reception telling me that my order arrived.  I went out and met with the owner of Create Foods who personally delivered the egg tarts.  After a brief conversation, I went back to my room and started packing my stuff.  My roommate will arrived shortly.  After packing, I changed into what’s left of my clothes and went to sleep.

I woke up early the following day. We had an early morning flight and will be picked up at 6:30am.  My colleague would soon arrived. We checked out and had breakfast.  Shortly, the car would be at the reception area.  We boarded and went to the airport.  Our flight was just right on time.  We would be boarding almost as soon as we arrived at the airport.  After more than an hour, we were back where we belong.  I went to the Grab booth and grabbed my ride.  In time, I’ll be home eagerly awaited by OS and my pooches 🙂

Back to the present ;D

You might also want to read: 10 Things to Do in ButuanAng Byahe ni Drew, Top 5 Things to Keep You Busy in Butuan, Where the Early Settlers Lived

Sweet Escape to Guimaras

With just few hours of shut eye coming from the 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 neat.  Travelling 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 fuse 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_4087On 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.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel.  We booked at Circle Inn, a nice hostel with a homey feel.  The room is small with just enough space for two comfortable beds.  It is neat and clean.  There is no cabinet but there is an open shelving system to put one’s stuff.  The bathroom is spotless and has the usual toiletries and towels.  The view of the seas and nearby Guimaras island is a spectacle.  Just do not draw your gaze downward where a busy street with a sprinkling of the usual dwellers’ hanging around and some not so pleasant sight.  The hostel is located in a residential area but is walking distance to the port where the ferries going to Guimaras are stationed.

The following day is the day devoted to what we ought to do in Iloilo.  When we were done with our part, we hang out in the venue, the state-of-the-art Iloilo Convention Center, also the site of the APEC meetings in 2015.

In the evening, our gracious hosts brought us to Punot for dinner.  It’s a modern resto that sits in Iloilo’s sassy Riverside Esplanade.  They pre-ordered Binakol (tinola in buko juice instead of water), lechon kawali, grilled fish and other dishes.  I was not feeling well and the Binakol was healing to my sagging spirit.  I ordered margarita since alcoholic beverage would tend to make me feel better on times like this.

When we got back to the hotel, I contacted Charlie, the brother of Cherald, who called me earlier.  We agreed on the arrangements.  My colleague and I went to bed earlier to prepare ourselves for a long day.

Following day is the day!  We prepared to go by packing our stuff and having breakfast.  Then, we set out for the Ortiz Wharf…. paid our fare (P14.00/pax), signed our names in the manifest and rode the boat.  As soon as it was filled, it was on its way to the other side, the Jordan Wharf.   I was texting Charlie as the ferry moved to its destination.

Reaching Jordan Wharf, we registered in the Tourism Office.  Soon enough, Charlie appeared and led us to his trike.

Guimaras Island, located in the Philippines, is famous for producing the sweetest mangoes in the world; its mangoes reportedly earned its reputation after being served at the White House and Buckingham Palace. Among the smallest provinces, its capital is Jordan.  Located in the Panay Gulf, between the islands of Panay and Negros, there are over 50,000 mango trees on the island.

For the day tour, our agreed itinerary goes like this……

  1. Smallest Plaza
  2. Pasalubong Center
  3. Windmill farm
  4. Mango plantation
  5. Trappist Monastery
  6. Guisi Lighthouse ruins
  7. Beach resort – lunch – tolong omelet, tinolang manok and grilled fish
  8. Raymen Beach Resort
  9. Mango Pizza

Off to our first destination…… For being such, this plaza earned a spot in the Guinness Book of Records.   With that, it gets tourist like me curious enough to go there.  There was not much to do in the smallest plaza except to have our pictures taken with the statue of Dr. Jose Rizal. We spent a few minutes doing this and went to our next destination.

I wasn’t so keen on the Pasalubong Center, near the Provincial Capitol, as our second destination because I was thinking to myself why would we go there now when we can do it later before going home.  But Charlie seems to know what he was doing so we let it be.  True enough, he has got something planned.  We checked out what’s inside and saw the usual pasalubong… pastries, juice concentrate, handicrafts.  Nothing caught our fancy as we are more interested in seeing places.  We asked if there was mango.  They have but it would cost us a fortune.  I think P250 to P300 per kg if I remember it right.  We can probably just try eating at The Pitstop later.

We went out and Charlie led us to the huge GUIMARAS signage where he showed us his prowess as a photographer.  He is adept in the use of smartphone cams and the many tricks to do with it.  From then on, he won our trust 🙂

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The next destination is the newest tourist attraction,  Windmill Farm in San Lorenzo.  The San Lorenzo wind farm, which consists of 27 wind turbines generating 2 MW of power each, started operating in December 2014.  We made few stops to take before going near one of the windmills, one that is being repaired.  The guard admonished us to stay away from the path of the oil spillage.  It was a lovely sight to me as I have not seen a windmill farm up close.  Trans-Asia Renewable Energy Corp. (TAREC) of the Phinma Group is operating the 54-MW San Lorenzo wind farm iwith plans for expansion.  Well, we heard from one of the locals that BBM had been to this place a number of time for sight-seeing apparently ;D  It is no coincidence that the biggest windmill farm is in Bangui, Ilocos Norte.  Probably, explains his penchant for this Guimaras attraction.

We proceeded to the Mango plantation.  Again, another spot I wasn’t so keen about.  But  Charlie said it’s a good place for jump shots.  Like I said we trust him and he delivered.  On hindsight, I had to brush aside my initial hesitation because Guimaras mangoes count among the sweetest and the best ( certified pest-free by the U.S. Department of Agriculture) in the world.  As we were led in the plantation, I felt a sense of calm just looking at the verdant landscape around us.  I trained my eyes on hectares of mango trees as far as I can see.  Then, we wasted no time and with Charlie’s help, our more adventurous side has been exposed ;D  Our jump shots cannot be perfected so we did something better, climbed those decade-old mango trees and get those perfect shots.  Later, I would realize that climbing was rather easy but going down posed some problems for me…. I managed to jump when I reached the lowest point I can step on.

Then, we’re off to the Trappist Monastery, the only trappist monastery in the country.  I was thinking this could be the last destination because it also is a place to buy good food and crafts for pasalubong from their shop.  But our tour guide knows best.  The monastery grounds is a peaceful and sacred enclave run by monks of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance.  These monks follow the rule of St. Benedict and are best known for the extreme austerity or strictness that characterizes their discipline.  We went inside the Church and said our prayers.  After our moment of contemplation, my attention was caught by a monk among dogs inside an open elevated structure.  I couldn’t resist heading there.   Bro. Peter and the dogs welcomed us.  One dog was so playful while another one just lying quietly.  Bro. peter said that the dog was sick probably because of fleas.  I gave him some tips for removing fleas and told him about my big happy brood.  He blessed us before we said goodbye.  We will be back here to do some shopping at their shop before we go back to Iloilo.

The next destination is a real challenge as we traversed the meandering and punishing path to the Guisi Lighthouse.  Imagine we had to alight at some point near the lighthouse because the trike could not navigate the sloping path.  Arriving there, we had to walk some more amid lush greenery to reach the the object of our suffering, errr, desire……. We were greeted by the gatekeeper who doubles as a collector of the P20 entrance fee who was occupying one of the structures.  He has a rundown wooden bed in there and benches to welcome guest.  Please relieve yourselves before going here because the toilet is located far.   My companion had to go so she went.  I didn’t even dare ask what is its state.

Located at the southwestern coast of Guimaras, in Barangay Dolores, Nueva Valencia, Guisi lighthouse is one of the remarkable historical sites of the Province of Guimaras and is also among the oldest lighthouses in Philippines. Guisi Lighthouse was built by the Spanish government in 1894-1896 as a part of the Master Plan of installing the lighting of the maritime coasts of the Philippines. Guisi lighthose was formerly known as Faro de Punta Luzaran and functioned as a navigational aid to the fisherman and sailors passing the Panay Gulf.

So it’s time to see what’s in store for us.  At first, one is drawn to a piece of metal scrap of a lighthouse amid weathered structures.  This place is not called ruins because it has been preserved.  Rather, it is left to rot wonderfully… as the greens attached itself to the concrete walls.   The place grows on you like the simplicity of a beautiful woman.  No trappings… just nature taking its course on a man-made structure that becomes more enchanting with the passage of time.  Of course, pictorials, the kind that encourage adventurism and a sense of fun, had to happen in this once in a lifetime chance specially one that may not happen again soon.  Well, I have more places to explore, not because, I don’t want to come back.  if you have a chance to visit Guimaras, make sure to include Guisi Lighthouse in your itinerary no matter how tumultuous the trip is.  It is worth the trip.

While the original lighthouse is no longer operational, a new one has been built by the Philippine Coast Guard. It is a white, hourglass-shaped metal tower, built after 1920, standing right beside the remains of the old lighthouse.  If you ask me this new lighthouse stand out like a sore thumb amid the beautiful ruins.

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Our tour guide’s experience must have tided him though so many of these tours that he img_4465invited us to the top of the lighthouse even if a sign says it’s not allowed.  My companion went in first but half-through lost heart and descended.  I had to do what I got to do and climb the rusty winding stairs.  I went in and went for it.  Reaching the top.  I gasped at the spectacular 360° view .  I am not particularly fond of heights specially the open kind so I had to hold on to the mid post all the time as Charlie and I took turns snapping shots.  The sun was directly on top of us as it was past noon.  Sooner, it took its toll on me and I had to go down.

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When life treats you bad, this is where to stay 🙂

Several more shots of the ruins of the structure and the wishing well and we left….

On the way out, we enjoyed the view of the picturesque Guisi Beach., a long strip of cream sand with lush green palm trees in the background and some rock formations on the sides. The water here shines in beautiful blue and green shades from light turquoise color to dark blue green color.  A beach gal like me really wanted to jump in but Charlie is not so keen about the Guisi beach because the sand is not as fine as those other beaches like those in Boracay, Cebu or Palawan.  There are also rock formation which can be What is there is an untouched beach.  In another time, I wouldn’t miss taking a dip.  We have to take lunch so I had to let go of my desire to go for a dip and there are no restos in sight where we are.  We continued our trek… till we reach our limo, err, trike 🙂

We headed to Raymen Beach where we would spend time at the beach and have our lunch.  Once we got there, we paid an entrance fee of P25/pax.   I’m suited in rashguard so I need not change.  My companion did.  We stayed in one of the cabanas by the beach.  I went for the beach while she ordered our lunch at the resto.  As I dipped in the beach which I have long doing after the tiring yet rewarding trip to Guisi Lighthouse, I was instantly refreshed.  The beach is not the best, not the clearest that I’ve been to but it’s clean.  There is also some crowds.  If one has been in secluded islands, this may not be your best bet.  But if you only got a day like us, we can appreciate what it offers in terms of amenities and rates.  Some parts of the beach are also picture worthy.  It’s unfortunate that we don’t have enough time for island hopping which might be the better alternative if one wants to swim and go snorkling.

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My companion didn’t swim but just enjoyed the view and took some pictures.  In a while, I would get off the water to join my companion and Charlie for lunch at the resto.  I haven’t changed and wet suits are not allowed inside the resto.  There are tables outside the resto if one still intends to go back swimming.  We had lunch on one of those tables.  Lunch consisted of daing na bangus, eggplant omelette and sinigang na hipon.  We had to ask for condiments to enjoy our meal.

We decided not to clean up in the resort and just do this back at the hotel.  We left after lunch and went back to the Trappist Monastery gift shop.   There are food products like jellies, jams, candies, pastries, others and crafts.  I wasn’t so keen on buying but I spotted their guava jelly which I just have to try.  I bought rosaries, wooden back scratcher and a hat I can use in my coming adventure.  My companion bought a lot, I mean a lot:) with my kids all grown up and not at home most time, gifting after a trip has become optional.  I buy only really interesting stuff or food items likely to be consumed.  Besides, during official trips we often are given tokens of local products as tokens.  That makes the trip all the more memorable 🙂

After shopping, we thought about going to The Pitstop to take-out their famous mango pizza.  We are thinking if we can still go to the Holy Mountain  or Balaan Bukid, the site  of big white cross at the peak of Guimaras Island where one can have an overlooking view of Iloilo City and Guimaras Straitwhere which can be seen from our hotel room.   On the way to the cross that can only be reached by walking 30 minutes to an hour, one gets to pass by the 14 Stations of the Cross, which starts in Brgy. Hoskyn and ends at the top of the mountain’s chapel, Ave Maria Shrine.

The skies were already overcast while we were still at the trappist monastery grounds.  On the way to The Pitstop, it drizzled, then it poured …. Charlie had to stop to cover his trike and protect us from the rains.  He was drenched with rainwater…  I was hoping the rains ease up…..

20161012_153107We managed to reach The Pitstop and by this time the rains showed no signs of letting up. We went inside and saw a sign that says no Mango Pizza 😦  We tried asking the staff to confirm and indeed there is none 😦   Missing out on this must try delicacy, I sulked like a kid and went back to the trike.  We can no longer go to the Balaan Bukid and headed directly to the Jordan Wharf to go back to the other side.  We had to catch our flight in the evening.

At the port, we gave Charlie his just due promising him that we will contact him again if we get the chance to go back to Guimaras.  He seemed pleased.  I also promise to give him the same recommendation as that given to his brother, Cherald.  We said our goodbyes, bought our tickets and road the ferry.

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That is Charlie in the middle

I took one last longing look at the island.  Perhaps, I will be back…..

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Reaching Ortiz Wharf, we walked to our hotel.  We cleaned up and waited at the hotel for our transportation to the airport.  The route to the airport felt like a lull after a long tiring day.  Reaching the airport, we checked in.  And surprise, surprise….. we got upgraded and can make use of The Lounge and have anything and everything we want…. Yay!

After an uneventful flight, we are home bringing with us good memories of our quick getaway to the picturesque Guimaras.

Below is a breakdown of the cost of exploring Guimaras.

  • Boat Ride – P14/pax one way
  • Land tour by tricycle – P1,200 or P600 per pax because there were 2 of us, maybe max of 4 or 5 pax
  • Entrance to Guisi Lighthouse ruins – P20/pax
  • Entrance fee to Raymen Beach – P25/pax
  • Lunch – P600

Here are more places to explore while in Guimaras:

Balaan Bukid                                                                                                                                                       Roca Encantada                                                                                                                                                 Guisi Beach                                                                                                                                                           Holy Family                                                                                                                                                         Taklong Island National Marine Reserve                                                                                      Tatlong Pulo Island                                                                                                                                          Turtle Island                                                                                                                                                 Sad-Sad Falls

Maybe, one day is not enough for a sweet escape 😉

In case you’ll be needing a tour guide, you can get in touch with either Charlie +639461966887 or Cherald +639084748122 or +639179647934.  I learned from Charlie that Cherald is doing well as a tour guide and now offers guided tour from Iloilo to Guimaras.   He also offers tours by multicab, van and trike.  With Cherald’s success, there’s been a bit of an intrigue as a result.  Other trike drivers are complaining that Cherald and his brothers are getting all the tours.  That is one happy problem if you ask me.  Cherald, Charlie and their brothers wouldn’t be able to handle all the tourists.  if these other drivers would be as trust-worthy as they are, they will get their fair share.  In fact, the idea of a tour transportation cooperative would seem viable and would boost the tourism industry there.

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.

After we checked in the hotel, I met up with Doc M and her friend.  She drove us throughimg_20161008_224052 the city as she narrates about the places we passed by.   Doc M told us that the means of transportation in going around the city are the tricycles with back to back seats which charge a horrendous P100.00 per trip to anywhere.  If you are a local, you can speak in the dialect and they will probably give you a lower rate.  Doc M said that the city is small and as we circled the rotunda, she said that is about it.

She brought us to Hacienda de Palmera Hotel and Restaurant, also known as Palmera, one of the famous restaurant in the city.    It is a hotel with a restaurant and it was packed.  Doc M who is an old family in this city had to look for the owner to make sure we get a table.  I regret not asking her for accommodation option because she and her friend, Ms. A, were telling us that the rooms in Palmera are nice.  I was quite disappointed with our hotel which is supposed to be a 4-star hotel.  They ordered the Special Platter consisting of prawns, calamares and baked clams plus chicken adobo and lechon kawali, veggies and rice.   This week happened to be the fiesta or something there which explained why hotels and restaurants were overflowing.  They told us that locals everywhere go home to Zamboanga city on this occassion.  Over dinner, our new friends regaled us with their tales of coping with the terror of a city under siege on a regular basis.  These are courageous ladies who stick it out here to share their talents and try to make a difference.  Doc M is a medical doctor while Ms. A is a professor in one of the colleges there.

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Special Platter

 

Palmeras is also famous for a dessert called the Knicker Bocker, inspired by a similar dessert in Spain.  They have recreated it to fit the Filipino palette. It is similar to halo-halo and is  made of chilled fruits (mango, banana, watermelon) and jello swimming in cream topped with a scoop of ice cream.  Our friends took the initiative of ordering this dessert for us as a nice conclusion to a sumptuous dinner.  Food is one of the reasons to remember a place and I sure would be remembering this place and the stories we shared here.

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Knicker Bocker

After dinner, they brought us back to the hotel.  After a long day, all I want to do is to sleep.  Getting in my room, I realized I couldn’t accept that I would have to get stuck in a crappy hotel room after I discovered that the shower in the bathroom was damaged and the faucet was just my knee level.  I hurriedly finished freshening up and made a call to the front desk.  When we got back from dinner, we were told that there was no available room when we requested for new rooms.  This time, I demanded that they give us new rooms or we would check out and ask for refund.  Guess what?  They transferred us to other rooms, still not good but not as bad as the ones we left.  We finally called it a night.

img_20161009_090122Following morning, we had breakfast in the hotel cafe; checked out and headed to the Palacio del Sur, Marcian Garden Hotel, where our event was held.  This hotel is ostentatiously lavish from ceiling to floor.  My talk will be before lunch.  Since we were early, we decided to roam around the Trade Expo in the main building.  We looked around and found some interesting buys and took pictures of their local weavers from among the indigenous people in Zamboanga City known as Yakans scattered in the venue.  Among the local residents who are particularly renowned for their colorful vintas, the Yakans are exquisitely known because of the vibrancy of color in their cloth and exceptional weaving techniques of their people.  Each pattern of the garment woven by the Yakans is as unique as a snowflake and each one being infused with that of the weaver’s character and pride in their work. The patterns on the garment also reflects that of the time period it was woven in, a testament to the adaptability of Yakan weavers.  It is such a painstaking craft and it is heartbreaking to learn that their woven products command only very low prices.

We bought some products and tried on some…..

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We had some laugh after we were told that this huge hat is actually a food cover ;D

An hour before my talk, we went back to the venue.  We met a staff from my former officevinta_2_2015_10_21_21_10_16 who told us about the colorful vinta race dubbed Regatta de Zamboanga that happened early that morning.  Sadly, we missed that because we did not properly coordinate our trip with her.  We didn’t know about the interesting events we can go to.. That could have been our chance to see what a real Zamboanga festivity is like.  Next time, we know better.

Well, I did my talk for about an hour…. answered some questions…. We had lunch and stayed a little to hear the next speaker.

We went back to the trade expo and continued looking around to while our time as we wait for our flight in the evening.  We went to a booth selling herbal oil for massage.  A small bottle costs P75.00 and you can have a free 10-minute massage per purchase.  Of course, we couldn’t pass up such a good deal   We shopped a little for pasalubong.   After having our fill of goodies, we decided to go back to the hotel to get our bags and check in early and probably tour the city some more.

On the way out, I saw our host, the highest official of our office in Zamboanga.  We approached her to say goodbye.  Being the gracious host, she  invited us for dinner.  We readily accepted the invitation since we will have time after checking in.  I told her we’d check in first and go back to the hotel where we would be fetched.

We went back to the hotel, got our bags and walked to the airport.  Yes, walk to the airport.  First time, I was billeted in a hotel so close to the airport.

The check in counters were still closed when we got to the airport.  We waited till it opened and checked in.  Then, we left and decided to wander aimlessly looking for lanzones which Doc M said sells for P20.00 per kilo.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see a fruit stand and the one we saw the previous night is far.  We decided to go back to the hotel and settled there.  It was around 5:30 pm when we were fetched by the staff of our office.  The staff we met earlier, M, was with them.  They were estimating the time as our flight is at 7:55 pm.  Since we were already checked in, my colleague and I had enough time.  However, M who was in the same flight, hadn’t checked in.  The ride to the resto would be around 30 minutes.  One of the staff decided to be left behind and go to the airport to steal some time for us🙂

We didn’t know where we would be taken.  I was delighted that we were brought to the famous, Alavar Seafood Restaurant.  Who could resist that?  To finally eat the very popular curacha crabs in alavar sauce…..  even if we miss our flight😉.

Curacha also known as spanner crab or red frog crab is a local Chavacano name given to Ranina ranina, commonly found in the waters of Sulu and Zaboanga. It is known as Kagang Pamah in Tausug. It is a hybrid crustacean, with crossbreed characteristics of a large sea crab and a big spiny lobster. It is a large crab with a red color, which stays the same in color even when cooked. The crab is usually steamed or boiled so its flavor is preserved. Unlike most crabs whose majority of meat can be found in their claws, the mother-load of the curacha’s meat is found in its body.

When we came in, the official with other guests were already there.  The table was set and alavarthe food were being served.  It was quite a feast.  Of course, there was curacha in alavar sauce….. crab soup, baked clams in garlic and butter (marisco en la horno), calamares, grilled fish, prawns in alavar sauce completed the buffet.  Imagine the punishment of being told to eat all of these appetizing dishes in 30 minutes or less so we can make it to the airport in time.  My mind and tummy were revolting.  but we had to do what we got to do.

The curacha did not fail as expected.  Everything was delicious.  The only downside is it has lesser meat than a crab, which probably makes it more expensive.  I especially liked the baked clams which was heavenly.  Given the limited time, I got as much fill of this as I could.

Alas, it was time to say goodbye.  Our official, probably sensing our disgusto with the harried dinner, over-extended her hospitality by asking the servers to pack the two untouched servings of curacha and gave one pack to me and the other to M.  OMG,  I can enjoy eating curacha unhurried….. However, I realized soon enough, not really.  I had to leave late morning for a flight to Iloilo and will be back in Manila after 3 days.  Going back to Manila was some sort of layover…. The curacha cannot wait till I get back! Anyway, I’ll find a way.

After goodbyes, we were on our way to the airport.  The driver weaving through rush hour traffic was such a sight.  I thought I’d only see that in Manila.  Give the guy a break, he has a mission order …. to ensure that we will catch our plane.  We made it, a few minutes to boarding time.  M checked in…. We had to help her checked in because she had some excess baggage and we had some to spare.

We boarded the plane soon after…. and a little past an hour we are back in Manila.  MD had to get me a Grab car because Manong H couldn’t fetch me for some reason.  Now, as to the curacha …… I am so having a feast at breakfast tomorrow ;D

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.

On this trip which is actually business in nature, I thought of sneaking to nearby Samal Island for some R & R while waiting for my flight in the evening.  It is a mere 15-minute boat ride to go to the nearest resort which is Paradise Island Park and Beach Resort or Costa Marina Beach Resort.  I read there are better resorts and beaches at various parts of the island but it would take so much time and I couldn’t be late for my flight back.

I noted that Davao isn’t really a touristy spot.  I guess it is more geared for business and investment.  Why?  Let me count the ways🙂

  1. Those driving public utility vehicles going to Sasa Wharf where we will catch the boat going to Samal are not helpful.
  2. Our co-passengers in the jeepney we rode going to Sasa Wharf were not helpful also compared to strangers in other tourist spots we went to.
  3. Signages are missing.
  4. Tourism information desk is barely visible in its airport.
  5. Even residents of the area do not seem very familiar with how to get to their tourist spots

I researched on how to get to these resorts:  where to get the boat ride, schedules, fees, etc.  Even if I’ve been to Samal Island in the past, I am still a stranger to the place, I still need guidance which cannot be found adequately in Davao.

We asked the front desk people of El Bajada Hotel where we stayed, (review in Use it or Ditch it),  how to get there and we were told to ride the jeepney going to Sasa which passes in front of the hotel.  We did that and told the driver our destination is Sasa Wharf.  Some passengers would point to the general location.  So we sat comfortably knowing we are in the right direction and the driver and some passengers would be helpful in guiding us.

Wrong…. not only did the driver brought us farther from our destination but the lady passenger who has been with us since we rode did not seem to be concerned that we are already way past our destination even if we kept on asking her a number of times if we are near Sasa Wharf and she always replied no.  After what seems a long time we called the driver’s attention.  He halted and realized he went too far ahead where we were going and just as quickly said we can also take our boat ride in another area, Km 11, where we alighted.  We walk to the road leading the port and there was a large boat which doesn’t seem like a passenger boat.  But the crew said that they are going to the other side.  We asked if they can drop us at Paradise Island Beach Resort or Costa Marina and they said we can take a tricycle ride to go there.  I know there is a direct route because I’ve taken that boat ride when my friends and I went to the same place many years back.  So I asked about that.  We were told, it was in Km 10 or something, and it was the straight path, directly to Paradise Island Resort or Costa Marina.

We went back the main road, flagged a jeepney and told the driver we want to go to where we can catch the boat going to Paradise Island and he nodded.  Feeling hopeful, we again went through a similar road leading to the sea.  Reaching the end, there were no boats but some factories, I think.  We asked the tricycle drivers waiting for passengers and they told us that the boat terminal has been transferred to another km something.  We were getting impatient as we asked where it is.  The tricycle driver said about 2 or 3 blocks and we need to take a ride.  We asked if he can bring us there and he said yes for P50.00.  So we rode again and told him to be sure we will get our boat ride.  He assured us.  The ride is not too far, only about a block away but it was ok as long as we can take that boat ride.

Approaching the port, it seems we’re in the right direction as there was a signage of Paradise Beach Resort.  We asked the man at the docking station where the boat with a single passenger is headed.  He said Paradise Island Beach Resort and if we want to go to Costa Marina, we have to wait for their boat.  So we decided to just go to Paradise Island Beach Resort and take a special trip so we can get going.

Finally, we’re on our way…. and in around 15 minutes we reached the other side.  The img_3618resort looked clean and there was huge development from the last time I was there.  The water is clean but not comparable to those of remote islands.  But it is good enough.  However, our timing is bad because of the low tide at the time we were there.  After paying the entrance, we went to the beach area and settled on the tables under a big shade.  We tried to enjoyed our stay even with just ankle-deep water.  After a few hours of soaking, we had lunch of steamed fish, lechon kawali and veggies.  Th food was good and reasonably priced.  After lunch, we explored their facilities a bit.  Then we cleaned up.  We took another special boat trip to go back to the city.

And that is our little R & R in a not so touristy city.  Not so bad.  I’ll probably not do it in a long time.  Cost of which can be seen below:

  • Fare to Sasa Wharf from Quezon Blvd:  P14.00
  • Boat Ride one way: P15.00/pax  or P150.00 (special)
  • Entrance fee:  P200/pax
  • Lunch:  P250.00/pax 

Binondo Staycation

The best way to spend a grand time with friends we haven’t seen for a looong 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 stayed on to be 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 availability of everyone 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
So S arrived ….. met up with friends and family……. while I made the Binondo Staycation itinerary for a 2D1N stay.  The activities would revolve around the must-visit restos or food kiosks where we would meet up with friends who couldn’t join us for the overnight stay.  I was also thinking of spa treatment.  There were so many places to go to… I initially wanted to book our stay at Ramada.  Then I thought of a friend I met in an online recycling group who used to live in Binondo and asked for recommendation for a reasonably priced accommodation that is clean.  I figured we would be out most of the time and spending much on accommodation may not be practical.  She recommended  Peace Hotel where they stay when their family goes to Manila (They are now based in Aklan).  I searched for the hotel and checked what can be found there.  Guess what… it has a foodie recommended resto, Golden Fortune, and a spa Image result for relaxation emoji …… How is that for starters.  The best part is we didn’t have to pay a lot for accommodation that we are likely to see only when we check in and when we retire for the night.  I told my friends about my find and they were ok with it …. the consideration being safety and cleanliness…. which my Binondo friend already assured me about.
So the itinerary looked something like a foodie’s trip which is what Binondo staycation is all about anyway.
Getting started…..

We set out in the morning.  N and I were fetched by S and CC.  S’s son drove us to the bus terminal going to Sta. Cruz.  Getting off at Sta. Cruz, we started our first foodie adventure by going to Kim Chong Tin Hopia Factory, home to the best hopia in town, made by hand and baked in pugon.  After filling in our mouths and bags, we went to the house of ham, Excelente Cooked Ham, located right beside the hopia factory.  Again, we fill in our bags with scrap ham and some more processed meat like there is no tomorrow.

On the way to the hotel….
We wanted to be authentic and thought that riding a calesa would be as authentic as we can get, so we did…. Only, four of us, plus the cochero, made the poor horse almost give up.  I asked the cochero not to whip the horse.  I fitted myself in the middle of S & N at the back.  My legs were too numb to feel after getting out of the calesa.  I felt guilty and sorry for the horse after that ride.
So we checked in the hotel.  It’s a budget hotel…. no frills, no fancy lobby.  We were ushered to our rooms.  It’s clean with the usual amenities and good enough to sleep in.  We couldn’t ask for more for the price we paid.  Only cash, btw, and visitors are to pay an additional one night deposit which will be reimbursed upon check out.
In the room, we ate some of the hopia which S immensely enjoyed as it is one of her fave 20150724_112313delicacy.  After getting settled, we set out for our food adventure……  We did not have breakfast.  Our first destination is the popular Tasty Dumpling, which is known for its crispy pork chop dish.   Of course, we had to try their signature dishes, pork chop with rice and Hongma (sweet and salty braised pork)  and their soya milk.  I don’t know if the hopia filled our tummies but I did not find their much raved about dishes that good.  The price is right and my curiosity is at least satisfied but the expectation wasn’t met.  The company and the banter more than made up for the lack of appeal of the food to our palates.
We finished brunch around 11:00 am and by lunch time we are meeting friends in another resto.  It’s a workday so their time is limited and they would be coming in at different times.  This would turn out to be one-fully packed food trip.  We made a quick trip back to the hotel to freshen up again🙂
Our friend C texted that she is near Lucky China Mall….  So off we go…. We met up with C at the mall and went to King Chef Seafood which serve classic Chinese dishes and a variety of dimsums… We were still full from brunch so we just ordered dimsum, a lot of it…. which added up to the tummy bulk each bite.  Another friend T would join us.  The meal was liven with old friends  catching up as laughter filled the air.  The dimsum are tasty.  I just found out  that 50% discounts for dimsums are given from 2-5pm and 9-12mn.  We ate around 2:00pm….not sure if we got that discount …..
 After our very late lunch, we decided to walk to shake off some of the weight instantly gained.  We aimlessly explored the mall without any goal in mind.  C would have to depart soon…. Around 4:00pm, still reeling from too tasty food, we decided dessert would do some good to wash off that tastiness🙂  Much as we want an authentic Chinese experience, we didn’t have so many ideas for Chinese desserts, so we went to J Co for their donuts, of course, and coffee.  MD, coming from school, would also be joining us.
 T left shortly and we had some time to wander and go shopping before our dinner date with another friend, V, and her hubby.  We would eventually lose ourselves in looking for bargains and bargaining for interesting stuff and not noticed that dinner time is fast approaching.  V would soon be texting that they are in the vicinity.  So we had to wrap up shopping and go to the hotel to freshen up and leave our loot before meeting them.  I asked N and C to go ahead… while S, MD and I made our final purchases.  Thereafter, we headed back to the hotel and met with the rest.
Dinner will be at Golden Fortune at the ground floor of the hotel.  Some posts include this resto among the must-eat places.  So we did… With us still full and V on a healthy diet showing off a much slimmed figure, we did not order much.  We had shrimps that looked forlorn, pata tim and cua pao; some veggies; dimsum and dessert of almond jelly.  Verdict is neutral.  Maybe, we did not order their signature dishes.  We can’t really eat more at this point.  I wasn’t paying much attention to the food too and was engaged with the good- natured bantering.  I was also monitoring H’s location who was supposed to join us but cancelled when she was caught in really tight traffic.
After dinner, it’s time for relaxation.  I’ve booked a massage for us in the spa within the hotel and we were looking forward to it at the end of a rather packed day.
It was one heck of a massage…. must be the vaunted Chinese way.  It was both relaxing and invigorating the way the therapist kneaded on my body, concentrating on the right spots.  The bamboo treatment to our feet was a bonus treat.  The spa treatment ended with a hot towel compress as the therapist wipe off the oil from our body.  I hate that it was over.  We went back to our room to finally sleep….. not immediately …. we chit-chatted to sleep was more like it  🙂
Following day, S, MD and I woke up early and dressed up.  We knocked at N and CC’s room to check if they are awake.  N woke up.  We told them to follow but N wanted to join us.  CC remained in bed…. so we told her to follow us when she is ready.
For breakfast, we went to the food court of 168 and ordered our meal at McDo.  This is our last day.  S was emotional as we said our grace.  She also had to leave early as she and her family are headed to Apalit, Pampanga, their hometown.  We shared our meal reliving old times and sharing laughs.
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With the little time that we had, we went around 168 to do some last minute shopping.
Soon S would be leaving and fetched by her family.   CC would be meeting us in Lucky China Mall and having her breakfast in a nearby McDo.
In a while, we would all be headed home….. leaving a place rich in culture and history.  Funny how I had never appreciated this place in my youth when I could have easily enjoyed what it offers since my family live a short distance to this place.
Maybe, a one day staycation in a food haven like Binondo is not enough.  We ended up with full tummy throughout our stay with hardly enough time to digest in between meals.  I learned better and would probably make it a 3D/2N stay to really enjoy all the hidden treasures of Binondo.
The following must try restos would be in our next itinerary:
 I also read a good post on Orion Hotel…… maybe, our next home in Binondo Image result for naughty emoji

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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Stepping Foot in Bantayan

Upon reaching Santa Fe Port, we were welcomed by the driver of Anika Beach Resort and brought to the resort.  The room wasn’t ready yet when we go there so after checking in we were led to their waiting area where OS immediately commandered the sofa to sleep.  We were still feeling the place and thinking about our day’s itinerary.  We decided to have breakfast to clear our heads and fill our tummies and perhaps think better.  I had their dried fish (can’t  recall the name) , V and MD had chorizo and OS chose a continental breakfast of pancakes with a face, bacon.  All meals go with eggs which look so fresh.  We would learn that Bantayan is a producer of eggs because of its many poultry farms.  We returned to the waiting room after our hearty breakfast.

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Not wanting to waste time, I urged V to change and go with me to the beach.  MD and OS were not yet in their element and went back to the couches to catch up on sleep.  V and I left shortly and enjoyed the beach.  In the morning, Anika’s beach front would reveal  seaweeds on its banks.  By the time, V and I returned to the beach, high tide was beginning to cover the once exposed shorelines.  As I get a first taste of their beach, I got excited.  I thought about Calaguas and I think it has a better beach than Anika’s which is near the port.  Anika’s is white and somewhat creamy.  It is still a far cry from most beaches.  It’s clean and not crowded.  I texted MD to follow but she didn’t.  V and I cut our frolicking and went back to the front desk to follow up our room….. then, returned to the waiting area and tried to have a conversation with what seems like drunken kids…. not productive.  We made plans to eat lunch somewhere and explore the area.

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V, MD and I returned to the beach to while our time while waiting for our room to be ready.  OS remained unperturbed in his sanctuary.  When the room was ready, we got our stuff, settled a bit as we check out our nice, clean ocean view room and prepared to go out.

Setting out

At resort’s entrance, tricycles lined up to service Anika’s guests.  We rode the next tricycle available.  As we traverse the road leading to the city center where most restos and resorts are located, our tricycle driver named Glen asked if we want to go to some spots.  I was listening intently as he mentioned Ogtong Cave Resort, Paradise Island, Obo-ob Mangrove Eco Park and Bantayan Island Nature Park.  I asked how much and he said P800.  I bargained a bit and after some haggling, he agreed on P700.

When we got to the city center, he brought us to a number of restos to choose from and we settled on Coucou Bar Hotel and Restaurant.  We exchanged numbers and he went home to have lunch.  We chose their Japanese style dining table sitting on cushion seats on a wooden flooring under a gazebo adorn with white drapes… so tropical.  It seems a nice choice for four weary and hungry tourists.  We ordered fish tinola, grilled squid, spicy shrimp, grilled fish and buko juice, perfect for a hot summer day.

Well, let’s just say that in the next few minutes, my initial assessment made a detour….let me count the ways…looooong waiting time, worst service, swarm of flies wanting to partake of our not so appetizing food.  A lady food server even refused our request to apportion the fish tinola in serving bowls telling us she is serving other customers.  What are we then!!??  How is that for customer service…. One or two lady servers (not sure if the one who served us was one of them) would later be heard laughing as some foreigners engaged them in conversation at the bar.  All the time we were following up our orders.  Then, what seemed like a nice dining place felt too hot, unsanitary and a bad choice for our first lunch.

Glen, our tricycle driver/tour guide would soon be fetching us…. we are thankful to finally leave the place.  After travelling some distance, OS told me he left his phone in the resto.  We hurriedly return to the place and OS and MD went inside and were luckily able to retrieve the phone.  Btw, nobody cared that we got back.  So I cannot credit their staff for honesty as it was simply that the table was still in the state we left it, untouched.  We went our way and reached Ogtong Cave Resort.  Glen admonished that we should be back in the city proper by 5:00pm…. don’t know why.  Entrance fee is P100.

As we seemed pressed for time, we went straight to the Ogtong Cave.  Its bushy entrance cannot be missed as it is within its pool area.  There were a number of people at that time.  We descended through its winding, rocky stairway and tried its cool, clear water which is refreshing on a hot day.  I have not been inside a cave so I cannot tell if this one is for the books.  I love the cool water and that’s about it.  It’s a small cave.  We were not too keen going further as we don’t know what lurks beneath🙂  After cooling ourselves enough, we got out and explored the rest of the resort.  OS decided to dip in their pool.  MD, V and I went to see their beach.  The water is way more clear and the view of the sea unobstructed than where we were staying…. sigh.  Of course, we couldn’t resist not wading.  As the tour was unplanned, V was not in proper gear and MD did not get sun protection and we didn’t bring any.  I had the good sense of being in proper gear through the day since we are in an island.  After getting enough visual pleasure, we left the place.

 

Next destination is Paradise Beach.  We went through paved, rough, rocky, potholed roads to reach this place.  After Glen stopped at some point, we were all clueless as to how a beach can exist through this forested area he referred to as the route to the beach.  There was no signage saying that is the way.  One can easily miss it.  As he led us, MD and V would tell me later, they felt uncomfortable as we walked through the long trail with nothing or no one on both sides but shrubs and some trees.  Glen said it is 400 meters away but it seems like eternity to us…… until we saw a clearing…..making us pace our steps faster.  Upon reaching it, our jaws would literally dropped seeing an almost empty paradise except for the man collecting the fee and two foreign tourists sitting under one of the parasols.  I don’t have words to describe the vast and wide postcard-perfect beach where the sea and the sky meet in perfect harmony.  The clouds appears to hang so low like I could just touch them.  Sans sunblock protection, we took to the beach like little kids let out after being held for mischief. We did not waste time enjoying the water as we are headed to two more destinations until we begrudgingly dragged ourselves to leave this paradise …… trailing after Glen …..  The P50 entrance fee is an injustice to this place…. However since there is limited facilities, visitors have to bring their food.  There is also no area to take a shower.

With the bar set higher, we expected no less from the next destination.  Obo-ob Mangrove Eco Park.  I curiously asked Glen what we will see there.  He said mangroves…. How would we reach the mangroves…. He said there is a long hanging bridge….hmmmmm.  He said, we can check it out and if we don’t like it, we can just skip it.  He said it is better to go there when there is high tide.  With that, we were bound to skip this place and maybe take some snap shots… exactly what we did when we got there as it was already low tide.  OS wanted to go down to the waters because he was drawn to the crawling crabs ….. We were in a hurry so I told him to just go up…. We bid goodbye to the caretakers making a vague promise to return.

We headed to Bantayan Island Nature Park and Resort, which was a great distance from Obo-ob.  Along the way, Glen suddenly turned pensive and disclosed that he has another job as a security guard back at Santa Fe and his duty starts at 6:00 pm, the reason why he said we should be back at 5:00 pm.  Knowing this, we had to really be concious of time once we get to the place.  Entrance fee is P200 which covers use of pool, access to the Sto. Nino cave and fish spa.  To get our money’s worth, we had to try everything.  We got down to the cave which look a bit creepy upon entering  it.  A Sto. Nino statue would be perched on a rocky formation in the middle of the cave.  Is this some kind of a sacred place?  The Sto. Nino actually looks forlorn inside the cave.  Glen descended first to show us the way…. Reaching the bottom, the water once again looked inviting but I was apprehensive about the depth as it was dark.  Glen went first, diving into the cool water… and we all followed him.  I was careful not to stray too far as the water would be uneven, deep in some portions.  While wading in, Glen enthralls us with more interesting facets of his life.  He told us he used to be a singer and would join contests and was close to being famous.  He did not say why it did not happen…  He also has one kid and a stay-in wife.

In a while, we got out the cave and tried the infinity pool.  I immediately scampered to safety realizing it is deep specially for a non swimmer like me. MD would do a lap while OS took to the kiddie pool as V and I watched.  We would check out its beach from the edge of the pool.  There is no one there and it does not look appealing.

MD got out of the pool and joined V and me in going to the fish spa while OS stayed in the pool.  We sat and soaked our legs in the water and the fishes would soon be feasting on our dead cells🙂 It felt weird being eaten.  Nevertheless, it was enjoyable.  Concerned with Glen’s sked, we soon finished feeding the fishes with our legs’ debris, fetched OS from the pool and left.

It was few minutes after 5:00 pm when we headed back to Anika.  Glen was in too much hurry, he ran over potholes and rocky paths without decelerating.  He would apologize when admonished by V and MD as our butts suffered the tortuous route.  We arrived at Anika around 6:00pm and paid Glen the full price, not the haggled one🙂  He seemed happy and was so thankful.

Choosing Anika

We ordered dinner before going to our room to clean up.  We all stayed in the ocean view room on our first day and would be transferring to 2 courtyard rooms on our second day.  I wasn’t able to book 2 consecutive days in the same room because we were supposed to be booked at Kandugyap House by the Sea on our first day.  When I was finalizing my booking, the place was suddenly fully booked…..  which turned out to be a good thing as I would relate later in this post.  I was already booked at Anika for our 2nd day when I called them again to inquire for a room for our 1st day….. the ocean view room was available.  Lucky us.  Anika is a beautiful resort… clean, gives good service and serves good food.  They even açcept credit cards which was a good thing for us as we had limited cash at this time and the only ATM in is in Bantayan town proper which is 10 kms away.

After cleaning up, we went back to the resto and dinner was served. For dinner, we tried their pancit canton, a good choice because it was yummy.  We also decided that it is best that we take our meals here because they serve good food and price is reasonable or comparable with those at the Santa Fe center where most of the restos are located…. We didn’t want more surprises like that we got from Cou Cou.

We talked about our plan for the next day as we assess our finances.  It was a wrong move that we paid off our rooms in cash right after we checked in since they accept credit card.  We tried to retrieve our payment offering to pay using a credit card but it’s too late as the payment has been credited.  In an island with only one ATM that is miles away, limited cash means limited options.  We wanted to go to Virgin Island which will cost us at least P2,200 to include boat ride and entrance fee.  Our pooled cash can cover that but there might be other unexpected expenses and we also want to buy some pasalubong.  We heard that danggit are aplenty in Bantayan.

After dinner, we headed back to our room.  We brought hot water to drink hot choco and enjoy some goodies and the full moon in our balcony.  OS retreated to the room after finishing his hot choco while the three of us lingered for awhile.  Soon, we would also be getting inside the room to retire for the night.

Rise and Shine

I was the first to wake up to capture the sunrise.  I went out and there were already people converging in front with the same intention.  Since we got a beachfront room, there is no need to go further.  V would also go out in a while.  A woman on bicycle selling scallops would pass.  I bought 3 packs of scallops for P100

Soon everyone was up and we would have our breakfast at the resto.  Over breakfast, we firmed up our day’s itinerary.  Given our financial condition, we decided to forego island hopping and just go back to Paradise Beach… yahoo…. and Obo-ob Mangrove Eco Park where we would have lunch.  As we are comfortable already with Glen, I called him if he can drive us.  After we made arrangements, it’s time to enjoy our hearty breakfast.  We had danggit which tastes good, not salty  …

When we were done, we set out to order danggit and dilis from the dried fish producer .   Luckily it was just a few steps from the resort.  Being a fishing  area, it’s the livelihood for most residents.  We placed our orders of danggit and dilis and went back to the resort.   We prepared and packed food items including the scallops bought earlier and beach stuff and went our way.

Second Chance at Paradise

Our steps were light as we head to paradise once again …..

We were glad to go back to this nature sanctuary, Oboob Mangrove Eco Park known as OMAGIECA which stands for Obo-ob Mangrove Garden Integrated Ecotourism and Conservation Association, a community-based eco-tourism initiative by the local government. It is one of the most famous tourist spot in the island of Bantayan.  The day before it didn’t seem so appealing.  As soon as we got back to the place, the people managing the place charmed us with their warmth and hospitality as we were welcomed into a hidden and mystic treasure.  Entrance fee is P50/pax.

The eco park is a protected area and gets assistance from Oxfam and maybe other NGOs.  We met missionaries and other visitors.  Glen knew some of the missionaries.  He said his brother who caught polio gets assistance from these missionaries.

We went to the resto first to order lunch and leave some of our stuff.  Then, we walked through the bamboo bridge on stilts which spans kilometers through the mangrove forested area….. leading to a clearing that opens to the sea….. It was lovely, never seen anything like this.  Debris from the mangrove float on the peaceful water.  A confessed OC, OS did not want to wade in the water at first. Glen led the way as I was unsure of the depth.  Then, one by one we descended through the stilt steps.  The water felt nice ….. surrounded by mangroves, the place seemed to cast a spell as we are enveloped in its serenity.  We saw lots of fishes and solid school of fishes which looked like a moving black mass under water.  We did not tread through the mangroves so as not to disturb the fishes.  Glen caught a crab and gave it to OS and MD.  We took some pics of Mr. Crabby but had to leave him behind as it is best he stays with his family and friends🙂

As high tide raised the water level, we ascended one by one ….. took more shots and walked back to the resto.  Lunch is ready when we got there.  Everyone had a hearty lunch as we and the staff engaged in a nice conversation  They told us that the cast of Camp Sawi also had lunch there and autographed some plates hanging on their wall.  I offered to do the same and was met with laughter…. I wonder why…. I can also sign😉  Our lunch of native chicken tinola, pancit, grilled fish and the scallops was simply delish and it was a steal.   As we are preparing to leave, V’s interest would be caught by their centerpiece, a fruit of the mangrove which makes for an interesting table piece.  The staff gave us some to bring home.

After saying goodbye and promising we’d promote the eco park, off we went to Paradise Beach.  Reaching its entrance, we went ahead of Glen since we already know the place.  There was company this time, some cows and their shepherd.  Upon reaching the beach, there was a couple enjoying paradise too.  Their boatman said that they came from Virgin Island and there were a lot of people so the couple asked him to bring them in this secluded paradise.

So here we are again…. Glen certain that we’d take a long time enjoying the beach lie on the bench and slept the entire time.  We explored the surrounding areas including the rocky formation…. enjoying every minute of being in paradise.

Playing with Ebony

We met a friendly black Jelly Fish whom I fondly call Ebony who seemed to relish playing with us that he was swimming around us….

After we got our fill, we left.  I asked Glen to drop by Kandugyap House by the Sea to check it out.   When we got there a wedding entourage was leaving … so this was the reason that suddenly they were fully booked.  We were allowed to check the place and went to their beach which was rocky and small as described in some reviews.  We couldn’t check out the rooms as these were occupied.  There was also an ongoing construction of a swimming pool and I wasn’t informed about this when I initially inquired from the owner…. it’s a good thing we booked at Anika.  Perhaps, we would try booking at this place too when we go back.  It is near Paradise Beach and with the ongoing development, it might be worth going back to.  After thanking the staff, we went back to Anika.  We cleaned up and got ready to go to Bantayan proper primarily to withdraw money and check out the town a bit.

As suggested by Glen, we took the tricycle headed for Bantayan proper.  Fare is P25/pax.  Tricycles ply specific routes but they can also be contracted for special trips.  On the way, we would talked about where to go… like the St. Peter and Paul Church built in the 1500s. The church is called a fortress church due to its extremely thick walls made of corrals, egg white, limestone and sap of local trees. .. and maybe some other places.

A co-ride, a kind stranger named Lita, would respond to some of our questions and would also tell us that the last trip to Santa Fe is at 6:00pm.  It was past 5:00 pm and we were still traveling.  She would negotiate  with the driver of the tricycle to wait for us and drive us back to Santa Fe.  A few haggling and the driver who was with his family and originally wasn’t going back to Santa Fe, agreed… Problem solved…. we can spend some time meandering….The driver’s family transferred to another tricycle.  Lita would volunteer to be our guide since she would be waiting for her daughter attending college in a school in the town proper…. We find Bantayan locals really nice people… There isn’t much effort exerted (even without asking) in getting help they readily give in abundance.

Lita did just that as she served as our guide from the time we got off at the bank, to visiting St. Peter and Paul Church and even more… There was a wedding at the church … and you guess it…. the same couple and wedding entourage booked at the Kandugyap House by the Sea🙂  They, who got our rooms😉  Lita showed us the town plaza, the public market …. and best of all Bantayan hospitality.  We would learn that she is a widower and was married to a British.  Their only daughter is the one she would be waiting for.  She would also share that her husband’s family and their friends are regular visitors of Bantayan.  In fact, she went to Santa Fe to book a resort for friends of her husband’s kids.

We exchanged numbers before she dropped us off at the designated waiting area.  Soon, we would be going back to Anika.  Upon arriving, we proceeded to the resto and ordered dinner and went to the room to drop off our stuff.  Then, we returned to the restaurant and had dinner.  We lingered for a while to use their wifi which is strong in the resto but doesn’t function in the rooms.  We were also transfixed in the Maalala mo Kaya episode starring Joey Marquez, Alma Moreno and Coleen Garcia that was on the resto’s tv that we continued watching back at our room:)

Like the first night, we had hot chocolate drink before retiring for the night.

Savoring Bantayan

It’s our last day and I had to have my early sunrise fix… I wasn’t quite satisfied with yesterday’s shots because the sun was way up.  This time, it was still dark.  We transferred to the courtyard rooms which weren’t ocean view anymore so I had to walk to the shore.  I texted V to follow.  I positioned myself on the bench…  I was just snapping shots as the sun slowly rises…. until a group of kids with a pack of dogs pass by….. I began snapping simultaneous shots …. and got very beautiful silhouette pics🙂  Soon, V joined me and took some pics as well.  Then, we got back to the room to wake MD and OS.

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We had breakfast trying out their dried pusit, tapa while OS and MD ordered waffles and pancakes.  After breakfast, I told MD and OS to prepare while V and I head to the dried fish supplier to get our order…. When we got there, our orders weren’t ready yet even if we pre-ordered the day before with packing instructions.  The lady would emerged from the house lugging a bag of dried fish and pack it before our eyes.  Meantime, her laborers composed of local kids and elders would dutifully debone the fishes or spread them out on specially designed drying trays.  A cat would be feeding on fish insides gathered near the fishes being deboned.  Flies swarm as they work.  I can’t help myself not telling the lady to construct a screened  area for their processing.  She said it’s additional expense.  I said that it will make their business better.  I comforted my self with the thought that the fish have been thoroughly dried.  We paid and left.

Back at the rooms, we prepared and did our final packing, rearranging stuff to fit our newly bought pasalubong.  V went to the front desk to settle our bills.  A van would be bringing us to Santa Fe port.  We paid our fare and terminal fee and would soon be cruising.  As the boat sailed, I would looked longingly at a beautiful island.

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After about an hour, we would reach Hagnaya port.  With luggage in tow, we headed out to get transpo to go back to the city.  Our flight back home is in the evening so we still have time to see a bit of Cebu since it was MD’s and OS’s first visit to the province.  We planned to go to SM Cebu and if time still allows to Sutokil.  As soon as we got out, barkers swarm like flies asking us where we are headed.  When we said SM, we were told there is no straight routeand offered van rentals for P2,500.  We passed on that and headed to the bus terminal.  One of them ran after us and offer to bring the four of us to SM for P1,000 together with other passengers.  Since there would be no more transfers, we thought it was good enough.  However, when we got to the van, some passengers were already inside leaving us the back and middle seats.  We had second thoughts because the legroom is small and for a 3-hour drive it would be uncomfortable.  The barkers would be very persistent, taking our luggages and putting them at the back, leaving us no choice.  When we were seated, a Ceres bus would pass by…. I wanted to run after it😦  Well, you guess it, the ride was not comfortable especially at the back where MD and V were seated).  It was a bumpy and windy ride.  We would also learn that the we were charged differently.  We paid P250/pax while those who got inside ahead of us were charged P170/pax.

The driver picked up a couple of passengers and when someone asked why.  He said he was paid only P1,600 by the barkers … that is why he needed to add more passengers.  He was ripped off and I think most of us pitied him that we just allowed him to pick up 2 more passengers..

Finally, we reached SM and V noticed a traveller’s lounge.  We needed to deposit our bags so we can roam.  Way cool.  I’m not sure if we have something similar in Manila.  I noticed a MyBus terminal right in front of the traveller’s lounge.  So we went there and deposited our bags and I checked the bus routes and there was a route to the airport…. even better.  I’d say Cebu is traveller- friendly.  Imagine all these great facilities for travellers in a mall.

Let’s check out the staff of the traveller’s lounge.  The baggage receiver and handler are ok.  I approached the girl in their frontline to ask about the bus, she told me to go to the terminal to inquire.  Thinking there isn’t any problem availing of the bus service, I answered, ok.  We went our way…. had lunch of lechon in their fastfood, bought pastries in Leona’s (verdict in another post), killed time in CBTL……then, we went back to the TL to get our bags… no sweat.  V approached the frontline lady to ask something.  We decided we’d try MyBus in going to the airport.  Lugging our luggages, we crossed the busy streets leading to the bus terminal.  We approached the the ticket sellers and we were asked if we have an e-card.  We said none.  We were told to buy the e-card first valued at P200 before they can sell us ticket.  After a few seconds mentally calculating our fare via Uber, the bus fare will turn our more expensive.  So we left and arranged for an Uber ride…. The issue is that the traveller’s lounge can give compleat service by having trained staff who can readily give those information instead of just sitting there and conversing with her co-frontline staff.  V likewise wasn’t able to get the information she was requesting.  Are they some kind of decors because they don’t fit the requirements of the job.  I will turn a blind eye on this and move on as I immensely enjoyed this vacation.

Soon we will be at the airport…. would be engrossed in social media, OS on a book or people watching while waiting for our flight which was delayed by more than 3 hours.  In time, we would be boarding, would land so smoothly at NAIA….. and would be getting a Grab car for our ride home since Uber has a 1.6 surge when we were booking a ride.  I sure am glad for this new mode of transpo and will make a separate post on this.

Finally, we were all home sweet home…… and the dogs are only too happy to wake up and welcome us😉

Some afterthought….

On the whole, it was one wonderful getaway…… the sights and sounds of Bantayan are simply amazing..  There was one unpleasant experience like the service we got at Cou Cou Bar and Resto which can use some customer care orientation.  But this should not ruin our impression of this beautiful island.

A few words on the rudiments of going places…..

Middlemen can be pesky and irritating and are hurting tourism and the transport business (like the experience of the van driver) by their different charging of fares, unprofessional conduct and appearance and actually raises the cost of transport or reduce the earnings of those in the transport business because of the added cost.

The most efficient, safe and acceptable transportation system is one that is standardized and managed by recognized or certified personnel, preferably identifiable through an I.D card they are wearing.  A queuing system would make haggling and scrambling passe.  Variety in the preferred mode of transportation can still be offered depending on the tourist’s budget and privacy preference.

As for the traveller’s lounge, I hope more areas especially Metro Manila will follow the lead of Cebu in being traveller-friendly if we want tourism to flourish.  However, operators of these traveller’s lounge should ensure that they have properly-trained staff to handle different types of tourists and their needs.

There you have it…. enjoy Bantayan🙂

If you need a fun, reliable trike driver cum tour guide in Bantayan, contact Glen at 09154110754.

Calaguas on my Mind

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I am not exactly a late bloomer in the island adventure department as I have been to a number of islands.  Lately, I find myself browsing articles and bucket lists on nice places, beaches,  islands to go but kept my island fantasies tucked in my mind. I ticked off in my mental list the places I would like to go to but it remained just that, an imagined picture of me in rash guard rushing towards the waves….. until the wanderlust in me can no longer be silenced…..

Some of my references are:

In a rare show of my adventurous side, I shared the post on the best islands to visit with an open invite to friends who might want to join my adventure.  Some got excited but few responded.  We began making plans, choosing the place, fixing the date and budgeting.  As I was organizing the travel, my potential travel buddies began losing steam… budget, uncertain if they can deal with the lack of amenities, got busy … with life🙂

Then, the family began thinking about our annual summer outing and I tried to squeeze in my island plan.  There were oppositions and same misgivings… too far, budget, time… I got fed up and decided to go on my own bringing only willing adventurers.

Originally, I wanted to try some nearby island and Cagbalete fitted the requirement.  I began my research as soon as the cast was complete…. that would be me, MD, OS and my nephew (MN).  On the dates we chose, accommodation was not available for chosen resorts.  Then, the thought of Calaguas came over me and I pondered over the 8 to 9 hour land trip, the 2 hour boat ride, staying in a tent, non-flush toilets. My thought was interrupted by the lure of sugary white sand, azure water, unspoilt beauty…. and soon I sent an email to Hullabaloo.  A couple of email exchanges more and we were booked for our first island adventure.

We didn’t have to make too much preparation as everything’s taken cared of by the tour operator… transpo, transfer, boat ride, food (excluding Day 1 breakfast and Day 3 dinner) and accommodation.  All these can be had at a package price of P3,500 per pax plus P1k RT bus fare.  There was only one guideline… pack light to fit a regular backpack.

The day came…. We were all looking forward to it since Calaguas appears to be in a no nonsense  backpacker’s list.  I read some reviews, mostly positive and some that tend to border on OFIs.  With some admonition on toilet facilities, scheduled electricity supply and tent living, we set out to experience our island adventure.

First stop: BLTB Bus Terminal in Alabang.  It was a night trip and we slept mostly through the night interrupted by some stops for toilet breaks, sharp turns on winding roads and a blockage somewhere in Quezon stalling us for about 30 minutes.  By the last stop before we reached our destination, OS, MN and I were motion sick as Kuya Driver twisted, turned and swerved at every bend  and we had to take bonamine.

We arrived in Daet around 6:00am and had breakfast in Jollibee.  After getting our tummies filled, we went back to the bus to bring us to Vinzons.  From there we were ushered to 2 jeepneys for a short ride to the port.  We got in the boat.   While MD and I relaxed and enjoyed the 2 hour ride, OS and MN tried to get some shuteye.

Some islands came into view after 1.5 hours of no land in sight.  So much unexploited beauty all around us and some enterprising individuals might some day turn these into tourist spots and I wish that would be me.