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A Dip at Malangaan Spring

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The bluish-green water of Malangaan Spring. This also serves as the starting and end point of Malangaan Cave adventure.

          It’s pretty much impossible not to see Malangaan Cave without Malangaan Spring. To start, let it be known that the spring, more than a tourist destination, is a spring in its truest sense. It provides water for the locals of San Rafael, Bulacan for several beneficial purposes. I’m  not sure if it’s potable but water here is colorless and odorless.

           People do their daily errands here like washing their clothes and their vehicles – mostly motorbikes and tricycles. Their domestic animals also benefit from the spring and recently, the spring also provides another source of income to the locals through tourism.

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Malangaan Spring is an essential part of the every day lives of Bulakenyos in San Rafael.

           I literally just took a dip to Malangaan Spring. I brought a spare set of clothes with me but Patrick just cannot have a cold bath. He’s a baby standing 5’11” tall! Anyway, two men were enjoying their baths at the spring and from the looks of it, water level can be as deep as 6 feet or more. It was low tide when we got there.

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Best visited during summer, the spring is a tad too cool for the weak during colder months.

          Maybe because we were the only visitors that time and the locals were actually doing their own things with the spring, taking a bath was a bit intimidating. We had our quick lunch on one of the cottages by the spring free of charge. In preparation for the summer, more new cottages are being built when we went there.

           Bring your packed lunch if you want to make sure you won’t get hungry. But just in case, there’s a small sari-sari store in one of the cottages beside the spring. You can buy canned goods, bottled water, alcoholic drinks and chips here.

            Depending on the situation, you can park as near to the spring as shown below for free.

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Basic toiletries and food for survival are available in a cottage just beside the spring.

            If you would be driving to Malangaan, you might find your car out or low on gas. Don’t fret, as this mini gasoline station can be found just a few kilometers from the spring.

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Mini-gasoline station to pacify that blinking fuel alarm.

There are more places and things to explore in San Rafael. Maybe by our third or fourth trip here, we may not be lost anymore. Hopefully. Our first trip here was back in December, 2016 at San Rafael River Adventure.

In case you missed it, our Malangaan Cave is featured on my previous post. Please check it out.

 

Malangaan Cave: Spelunking in Bulacan

          Let’s start by saying we wasted too much gas trailing the wrong highways. We started our trip from Tabang Guiguinto Bulacan. I knew in the beginning that Plaridel Bypass Road is the fastest route but since we had to grab breakfast and packed lunch at a fastfood in Sta. Cruz, Guiguinto, we took the highway passing through SM Baliuag instead. As a result, travel time going to the cave took additional 1 hour. Going home, we purposely took this route again as we intended to watch Matt Damon’s “The Great Wall” at SM Cinema. Good movie, by the way.

           One good advice when lost is to might as well enjoy the view of your own path. Bulacan is a probinsya but these parts of San Rafael offers really luscious views of greens with all its mango farms, rice and vegetable fields. I am a promdi by heart and our own house in Malolos has a vast yard of forest-like tableau but I couldn’t help but be amazed by San Rafael’s distinctive charm.

I even saw old houses like that of my Lola’s before it was renovated. So the view going to Malangaan offers a free trip down memory lane of some things cheery about my childhood. Let’s stop at that as I could get more sentimental and corny than necessary. There is a resort named Mango Farm along the way and that got me curious. Maybe one of these days we could side trip there.

Here we go…

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After 2-3 minutes of trek from the spring, we already reached this prominent rock formation of Malangaan. This spells and smells spelunking already.

           We went to Malangaan Cave and Spring in San Rafael, Bulacan on a Tuesday. I just felt like January, though really productive and rewarding at work, was too darn long (because it had 31 days perhaps?). So I took this weekday on a vacation leave then set Patrick, though unwillingly, and I for an adventure. I was researching blogs on this. Some of the blogs I found helpful were that of Pusang Gala and Justin Vawter.

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Cave has water and mud in it but nothing that a good sturdy rubber shoes can’t handle. By its physical appearance, the rock formations are sedimentary. Please comment below if I’m wrong. What I’m sure of are the vandals on the cave walls.

From blogs, I found out there’s no need to actually look for a guide as any local would be willing to serve the purpose. There is no registration nor entrance fee on the cave and spring. Even the cave guide fee isn’t fixed. In our case, before we could even park near Malangaan spring (parking fee was also free that time, we were the only visitors), a local guy already approached us and asked us if we would be going to the cave. We said yes and right and about he ordered his around 10-year old niece whom we later known as Mylene to get his flashlight. Both he and Mylene, who uses the cave as her everyday playground, accompanied us during spelunking. We paid them Php300 plus food (just an extra burger from our packed lunch) for less than an hour of their service.

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Just look at how easily Mylene ascend the rocks like their actual stairs and how a weakling like me was able to do it as well.

           Yup, that’s just how much time it takes to explore the cave, maybe even faster since I’m a relatively slow hiker plus I wanted to document each adventure through pictures. I’m a proud social media mountaineer, by the way. I have no qualms to prove anything else or otherwise.

           This is a very easy spelunking I should say. I was wearing a trek shoes and Patrick was just on his slippers but we both successfully managed to get by without injury nor scratches, just a little mud on my bum and that was all.

           Before you know it, you’re already descending to some wildflowers and tall grass to be greeted by this unexpected panorama.

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There isn’t much to see inside the cave to be blatantly honest. But I thought these rocks are amazing! Malangaan is surely one chill adventure.

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On a bright day, the white rocks are magnificent on a dark blue sky contrast.

            The sad part is, while we were spelunking, we kept on hearing loud fireworks-like sounds and you guessed it right, the noise was coming from the area’s quarrying activities.

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Nothing is truly black and white but these rocks rock!

            A few more minutes of walking and we’re back on our starting point, Malangaan Spring.

Mt. Pinatubo: Nature’s Beautiful Disaster

 

What   : Mt. Pinatubo Trek (daytour joiner through a tour organizer)

When   : Sunday (12MN – 11PM), January 22, 2017

Who    : Nath (my favorite sister) and Len (my post-college friend as she endearingly terms it)    img_6672

        This was a hike I long wanted to do and thanks to these two I was able to tick off this one particular item on my bucket list. Here’s to sharing with you our experiences so you can minimize the avoidable blunders and appreciate the gift of nature on this side of the planet.

     Call time was 2AM in Ortigas. If you’re not familiar with being a “joiner” of an organized tour, as a start you should know that all joiners shall be pooled or fetched from a single point. In most cases as in our case, we met at a 24-hour Mcdonald store. Because we had to prepare food, double check our packed bags and shower, we woke up at 12 midnight. My travel buddies did not sleep at all anymore.

     We paid the fee in full upon meeting our tour coordinator, grabbed super early breakfast, then load one of the 4 vans assigned to us. Here we had the chance to catch forty winks.

2:16AM-6AM

     Travel from Ortigas to our base camp in Botolan, Zambales took roughly four hours. There is another base camp in Capaz, Tarlac where you can also ride 4×4 rides but to where your base camp would be depends on which tour organizer you’ll get. The trek – its difficulty and view – of course varies with each base camp.

View from the 4x4

Sun was barely up when we started our adventure from Zambales base camp.

     A short briefing was done by our coordinator then we loaded our assigned 4×4 trucks. Put on your sunblock, leave things you won’t use during the trek inside the van to lighten your load. Do not bring backpacks which are much heavier than you could actually carry then punish your poor tour guide by having him carry your entire group’s excess baggage! Be responsible. It’s called adulting.

6:22AM-8:45AM

     You have to take this 4×4 off –road ride seriously. You will cross streams, go on deep dive and climb steep curves in this 4×4 truck for 2 hours (or more if you’re unlucky to be assigned on a slow and malfunctioning truck such as ours) amidst all the lahar (mudflow of lava) dust. A face mask or anything that can help you cover against dust is surely a must. And prepare your upper body for some major stretching before the hike with this ride.

We greeted the beautiful sunrise inside this truck.

We greeted the beautiful sunrise inside this truck.

     Comfort rooms won’t be a problem as there are lots in the base camp, at the jump off point of your hike after this 4×4 ride, another on 800 meters before the reaching the crater and on the crater vicinity itself. Sanitation is the problem and we cannot tackle that without going deep into Philippine society’s social fiber.

This is where vans stop and where the 4x4 ride begins (above). There are comfort/bathrooms at the base camp and on the starting point of the trek (below).

This is where vans stop and where the 4×4 ride begins (above). There are comfort/bathrooms at the base camp and on the starting point of the trek (below).

8:45AM-11:30AM

     Yup, it took us this long to reach the crater and we’re not even the last group to arrive. Normally this should take 1.5 hours -2.5hours. The trail view was stunning!  Going up isn’t really hard due to lack of steep assaults you might have already experienced with climbing mountains of 2/9 difficulty.

   The trail was a very gradual assault and because on the first few parts, you would be walking on lahar sand, you may still feel a toll on your legs. Plus you would have to do this for hours so endurance is really the name of the game here. I’d say it again, pack light.

The stunning trail view using Zambales route.

The stunning trail view using Zambales route.

     Len and I wore sandals without socks but you can still opt to wear shoes then change into slippers when the parts where you have to cross rivers/streams come. In our case, given that it was January, the river parts came after the registration stop.

rocks all around

More rocks on this part of the trek. Registration is done at this point. Fee is already included in our package.

The Watery Trail

She changed into slippers during the stream/river part.

        We came upon an Aeta village. Actually that was just 4 nipa huts and a basketball ring. A Filipino village won’t be complete without a basketball court no matter what happens! You will find in these Aetas the purest traces of Filipino hospitality. Their warm smile they wear as they welcome hikers with English phrases such as “Good morning!” and “Goodbye” cannot be ignored.

Aetas kids playing with rocks, having the mountains as their playground.

Aetas kids playing with rocks, having the mountains as their playground.These kids can talk short english phrases and one of those is “I love you”. They told me that after they asked for my name.

a small community of Aetas

You’ll pass by this small Aeta village and somehow you’ll have hope that the crater’s near.

11:30AM-12:43PM

     We ate our packed lunch here beside the crater, rested for some 10 minutes lying down on concrete, and went down to the crater itself through some less than a hundred step of stairs to see it more up close. All these in less than an hour.

Rest beside the crater lake

10 minutes of rest after a hearty feast of home-cooked adobo

     I recommend trying to go to Mt. Pinatubo by forming a group of 5 then go on a DIY trip so you own your time. Our group and the other joiners felt that we were so hurried by the organizer. Most joiners did not even had the time to go down to the crater because even before you can actually regain strength, you had to go start your way back to base camp already!

Edge of Crater Lake

Edge of Crater Lake. With other guests who made it a point to go down near the crater.

     I have confirmed it with my own eyes. Mt. Pinatubo is a beautiful disaster. Whenever I travel especially if it the destination is either sea or mountain, I can’t help but sink into my deepest reflections and utter my most honest adoration. You tell me now that there’s no one supreme being out there who created the beauty such as this.

   The mountain tells a story. There’ll be days when everywhere we look at, our surrounding environment is the same shade of grey. Those who feel like their world’s erupting, or their sanity exploding any time, those who are losing breath due to sulfuric acid haze of their own hate and mistakes should look forward to how God can create something beautiful out of all the mess. He will allow problems to shake you, spew hot tears and blood out of you only to rise as powerful and as exquisite as Mt. Pinatubo. Charmed but dangerous. This volcano’s appeal comes from being boastfully lovely with the whole world knowing how tough it can get when necessary. Pretty much like a life peg for me!

A Beautiful Disaster

Lesson learned from this beautiful disaster: make forecasting what you’ll do next a challenge even for experts

      As I hurriedly stare at it for one last time to fight another battle of grit going down it whispered an art-of-war tip: make forecasting what you’ll do next a challenge even for experts. ^_~

12:43PM – 3:07PM

     For me, descend was more challenging. I’m already tired, and because there were around 3 slopes downwards going to the  crater, this time around, it’s time for some climbing action. The trail going back to the base camp is the same so I was glad that the mesmerizing view has a rewind.

A glimpse of the trail's level of difficulty.

Since the trail going to and from the crater lake is the same, we had to both descend and ascend on these rocks.

        If it weren’t for the 1991 eruption, the second most destructive volcanic eruption of the 20th century, the trail won’t be there. What was once a forest is now varying pits covered with trees and plateaus of rocks and streams.

3:07PM – 5:20PM

When the road ends, the journey begins.

When the road ends, the journey begins.

          After your leg workout, be in again for some upper body exercises. Since we barely had sleep, all I really wanted was to catch some nap inside the 4×4 ride. Admittedly, I was a fool for even thinking that was possible! Halfway through, all the sleeplessness I felt was erased by the rough ride. You will be rewarded by the view of beautiful sunrise and sunset during both 4×4 rides.

5:20PM- 6:30PM

         We could have taken a bath before our van takes us back to Manila but we chose to just change clothes. We grabbed some hot instant noodles and crackers being sold by a pop up store in the base  camp. Certificates of conquest were also distributed by our tour organizer.

6:30PM-11PM

          Travel time back to Ortigas. When the van took a stop in a gasoline station in Subic, we grabbed some fast food and ate dinner inside the van.

Tour Organizer Review.

           There are a lot of tour organizers for Mt. Pinatubo. We booked through TRIPinas and I do NOT recommend them. Though they are cheaper, take into consideration the service and most importantly, your safety. This isn’t some juvenile, irresponsible rant as our group was able to voice out what we have experienced to the tour organizer face to face before we packed home. Unfortuantely, the organizer did not respond at all. No consoling words, no apologies nor action whatsoever.

          I won’t go into the details of how other tour organizers could make the trip more fun and informative and more concerned in their approach to their guests and will just focus on safety.

Safety should be number one priority.

What is this piece of wood doing inside a 4×4?! Apparently the organizer also do not know why. Talk about safe practices.

     The 4×4 ride assigned to us was slow, somehow malfunctioning as the driver had to stop more than 4 times just to check its condition (prolonging the ride). What made it worse was the wooden log placed unattached inside the truck for some unknown reason. So when the truck made sudden stoops, that log randomly hits the passengers and my sister was one of the victims. It must be with the driver or the 4×4 itself, either way that is the tour organizer’s responsibility. Our 4×4 ride on the way back to the base camp is exceptionally rough that passengers are already bumping on and hurting each other. The driver said no warning, no apologies and even blurted out, “Dapat kasi kumapit!”. He has a point as it was an off-road ride after all but just as with the coordinator, I didn’t like his approach. I have a high standard when it comes to customer service as my job involves heavy client interface and that’s just not how you respond to inquiries, concerns, issues, etc. I’m not saying they’re way too bad but surely you can find better  from the plethora of tour organizers out there.

     Another of their 4×4 ride got stuck in one major river crossing and that’s fine and definitely part of the fun and adventure but oil splattering out from the exhaust to your skin and clothes is definitely unsafe.

         The beauty of the trail and the crater itself, the company you are with, the experience, the Aetas’ warm welcome, the adrenaline rush, the memories, tons of instagram-worthy pictures, and that sense of fulfillment of conquering yet another mountain would be more than enough to feed your travel hunger. Mt. Pinatubo is a great way to start a series of 2017 travels. I hope you also enjoy as much as we did when it’s your turn to gaze at Mt. Pinatubo’s allure.

       More photos of our adventure below:

a segment of the trail

When I think about it, I may not be that weak after all.

Goofing time at a stop in the Aeta Village

We passed by what they call Aeta Village though we only saw 4 houses. Judging from the number of Aetas we passed on by, there must be a larger village off route the trail.

The trail won't be as it is today had it not been for that 1991 eruption.

The trail won’t be as it is today had it not been for that 1991 eruption.

Orange stream of sulfur

I thought this was mineral deposits disturbed from possible mining/quarrying in the area. One noticeable thing from the trek is the denuded forests. But this orange spec is from sulfur spewed out from the volcano, according to our guide.

Sisters on Trail

Our second mountain to conquer together. We took it slow. Anyway, it’s the journey, not the destination. ^_~

Your body age according to Mt. Pinatubo

Your body age according to Mt. Pinatubo

Overlooking the beautiful disaster.

Kid at heart overlooking the beautiful disaster. Do you see Song Joong Ki?

Glamping at San Rafael River Adventure

Regular Glamping Package at San Rafael River Adventure

Regular Glamping Package

      I first heard “glamping”, a portmanteau of glamorous +  camping from a resort in Visayas maybe two years ago. Fortunately, I didn’t get the chance to really give it a try until the 17th of December this year, which is also a day before Weak and I celebrated our 8th anniversary as a couple. I chanced upon San Rafael River Adventure on the internet, checked it out, saw that it was good, affordable and in Bulacan so I had our reservation pencil-marked.

     Weak and I seldom gets the opportunity to travel somewhere far away together, specifically by plane, because of differing priorities. There would be no use in trying to book a because I knew he would decline. So I intentionally looked for a quick day tour getaway just around Manila and luckily, the ideal location happened to be in my beloved Bulacan.

     Nowadays, a number of resorts offer glamping already. It allows a unique experience reminiscent of girl/boy scouting days when you had to pitch a tent and set up  a bonfire. Since glamping claims to be glamorous, you don’t have to sweat it out and figure out how to pitch a tent because the resort will do that for you.

Inside the tent of SRRA Regular Glamping Package

What’s inside the tent of SRRA? Two mattresses, pillows, a roll of tissue and dental hygiene kits.

     If you’re looking for something really low-key but at the same time, convenient, comfortable and still has that lazy and cozy vacation vibe, then glamping is worth a try. Anyway, for most day tours where there are a lot of other activities to do outside of your accommodations, who would want to stay inside?

     Just to set out your expectations, here are the pros and cons of glamping at San Rafael River Adventure:

Pros:

  • Easy to book. Its Facebook page  is responsive.
  • Ideal for couples, intimate family gatherings like reunions.
  • Accessible being very near Metro Manila.
  • Affordable. We just spent Php3,500 including gas. The glass villa is cost-efficient if you’d share it with a group of friends.
  • No corkage. Staff would even start fire for grilling for you, and will provide free iced tea and drinking water.
  • Clean shower rooms. For those who would avail of the Regular Glamping package, you would have to share the same rest room with guests from 5 other tents.
  • Good customer service by staff from receptionist to food handlers to water activities personnel.
  • With AC power. No need to worry about dead batteries nor powerbanks.
  • Camp in Style

    Camp in Style. With mattress, foods served, electric fan, ac power and parking space in front of your tent. How convenient can camping get!

Cons:

  • It still being developed. If you hate traces of construction going on and consider that an eye sore, you might be just a bit bothered. Like how it was in Dos Palmas when we were there 2 years ago, they are still growing the trees and flowering plants in some areas. This might actually be a good point, because it still strives to cultivate beauty more charming that how it is now.
  • Too silent bordering to boring. It was fully booked then, being a Saturday in December but still it was as if no one’s really there but us and the staff. But then, it’s a matter of preference. Personally, I like vibes like that.
  • No restaurant inside the resort. What they’ll do is they’ll get your order for all the meals during your stay as well as the time when you want those foods to be delivered. They’ll order it for you outside.

    San Rafael River Adventure Menu

    San Rafael River Adventure Menu

     Visit their website here for more details. More photos of us goofing around below. That is, if you’re interested, haha. As I’ve said we tried SRRA for our eighth anniversary. I threw in bits of information to make this less annoying. ^_^ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

Check Mates. We found unique chess pieces beside the inifinity pool.

Check Mates. We found unique chess pieces beside the infinity pool.

Team Building Facilities

Goofing around for photo ops. Guilty as charged. Background photos of flowers are from their garden which I found really attractive. Plants there are for sale!

Happy 8th Anniversary

Happy 8th Anniversary! Pool is clean and is up to 6 feet deep with small jacuzzi. One hour kayaking is included in the package.

Kayaking at SRRA

Kayaking (free for day tours), ATV, jest ski, banana boat are among the water sport activities for additional fees.

Glamping with a Twist

“Glamping with a Twist” is staying in a tent floating on the river.

Intramuros

INTRAMUROS

         It’s not hard to find the walled city but it’s a far 20 minutes walk on heels. We headed here after the 8am ceremony on Rizal Park for the celebration of 118th Philippine Independence Day.

INTRAMUROS 1

Fort Santiago has entrance fee. For adults it’s Php75.

         There is a store right after the gate for refreshments and some souvenir shop of paintings, native handicrafts, tshirts, etc. We decided to take a break in that store when I saw and found Manong’s kalesa charming. And his costume is, too! The horse looked healthy unlike the ones outside of Intramuros or the ones in Baguio. I figured out the Php300 ride to take us round the walls then back again to Fort Santiago may be worth it. And it is!

INTRAMUROS 2

After about 15 minutes, we were back at Fort Santiago.

         We saw a number of souvenir shops and restaurants along the way, saw glimpse of CBCP Office up close, located Manila Cathedral and were at awe at how huge it is in person. We saw religious teenage boys in costume(?) or in their religious habit(?) of brown loose cowl and belt. For a moment it surely felt like the 1800s.There were offers of less- or more expensive tours, some with guides and some were through pedicabs. Up to you to decide which suits you best.

INTRAMUROS 3

“Is this it?!!” was my reaction upon seeing the wall behind the carriage on above photo. This is where some Filipino films were taken and I can understand why. It’s picturesque.

          Below are some snippets of our educational trip of Rizal Museum inside Fort Santiago which is inside Intramuros. I had to explain that to my probinsyana self.

INTRAMUROS 9

This is heroic if not holy ground. I can imagine what tortures our soldiers went through. I just can’t imagine their pain. More so, I can’t imagine it happening to someone I actually know.

INTRAMUROS 14

 

INTRAMUROS 11

Dambanang Rizal sa Fort Santiago.

         I am a fan of Rizal. He’s a very interesting man who lived an extraordinary life. For foreigners who have heard of him for the first time or for Filipinos who have known him all their lives, this museum is worth a visit.

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Rizal was a writer with works that inspired the revolution and changed the course of our history. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. #inspired

INTRAMUROS 5

Josephine Bracken, Rizal’s wife and a woman of her own,I am sure,though it’s not publicly announced in what ways.

INTRAMUROS 7

The one face of Rizal in numerous frames.

INTRAMUROS 8

The real thing! Noli Me Tangere in its original cover, in Spanish, and which is not a high school textbook.

INTRAMUROS 13

We managed to hear 11AM English Mass in Manila Cathedral. This is by far the largest church I’ve been into. Immaculate Concepcion, like in Malolos Cathedral is their patron.

         Foreigners seem to be more interested in Intramuros  judging by the number of Koreans and westerners vs. Filipinos on that day. One good reason, though, why we should look back at the past is because experience is not a very good teacher. Reflected experiences are. Collectively, Filipinos has this tendency to be forgetful. We do not learn despite the rich sources of heroism on our history pages. We even managed to forget completely who we really are as a nation. If only we value our heritage, the lives of our ancestors and their sacrifices, no one would even dare spit on the same streets where battles were once waged for our sake. Greatness runs in our veins. To unleash it is seems to be the really hard quest.

Misfortunes of Raped Beaches

 

Fortunately(2)I don’t know with you but for some drama queens like me, music and scent can teleport me into a different space and time.For this another quick beach get-away, Modest Mouse’s “Lampshades on Fire” was on my playlist big time.The melody is catchy and just kind of get you on the groove for some adventure and exploration. When you dissect the lyrics and meaning, though, it will strike you with guilt and realization.It speaks of inhumanity to our common home and calls for care for the planet we live in.

I have a spiritual approach to traveling so I decided to make this Fortune Island post revolve around parts of this song’s lyrics.  As it had been with my other travel posts, this isn’t so much about directions, itinerary or budget. There are other blogs who are better at that purpose.  There, I just made a disclaimer.

We’re all goin’, we’re all goin’

2

Well, the lampshade’s on fire when the lights go out
The room lit up and we ran about
Well, this is what I really call a party now
Packed up our cars, moved to the next town

Joy, my best friend from college, joined a pool of travelers last January at Bato Springs. We decided to join them once again this time for a daytour at Fortune Island in Nasugbu, Batangas. I was hearing this island last year from my officemates but I wasn’t able to go with them since I was scheduled for a Hongkong Macau trip that time.

We just paid Php1,680 and that includes all transportation, island entrance fee and  hosted lunch. Two vans and two boats took all 24 of us to Fortune Island. We left Manila at 4am.

PhotoGrid_1461844136168Well, the lampshades’s on fire when the lights go out
This is what I really call a party now
Well, fear makes us really, really run around
This one’s done so where to now?

It’s fun! Just the idea of hopping from one beach to another sends chill to my bones (beneath my already sun-burnt skin). I had been to Calaguas just two weeks ago and here I am again on another adventure. Tourism is in bloom, it’s summer, and a lot of people aside from me are making rounds on these “unspoiled” beaches. You know, just about anywhere but the already super populated, Divisoria-like Boracay or Puerto Galera.

received_1003345089754821Our eyes light up, we have no shame at all
Well you all know what I’m talking’ about
Shaved off my eyebrows when I fall to the ground
So I can’t look surprised right now

This “unspoiled” beach isn’t that unspoiled after all. When you look back at this island’s past, you’ll discover that it has been a place where a luxury hotel was erected. After that business did not become successful, it has been a place for campers and backpackers.

7Pack up again, head to the next place
Where we’ll make the same mistakes
Burn it up, or just chop it down
Ah, this one’s done so where to now?

3Buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh-duh-dah
Duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh-duh-dah

We’re all goin’, we’re all goin’

The ruins of the hotel, the swimming pool, the heliport, the remains of a shipwreck and a displayed skull which served as the island’s former attraction and unique selling points are still present. And that’s okay. What will sadden you is the garbage on the white sand beach and in what was left of the old hotel’s cottages. The island is being raped at the moment, not screaming yet, because naive as she can be, she still doesn’t know what’s happening.

4Well, the lampshade’s on fire when the lights go out
This is what I really call a party now
Well, fear makes us really, really run around
Ah, this one’s done so where to now?

Denuded forests because of illegal logging and building of residential subdivisions are old music now.  Crystal water with floating sanitary pads and beer bottles, white beaches turned to burnt sand because of bonfires, garbage-filled campsites, these are all the rage now. We’re blessed to have 7,107 islands. I’m proud knowing that I cannot keep up in exploring all those in this lifetime. But really?8Our eyes light up, we have no shame at all
Well, you all know what I’m talkin’ about
The room lights up, well, we’re still dancing around
We’re havin’ fun, havin’ some for now

1Pack up again, head to the next place
Where we’ll make the same mistakes
Open one up and let it fall to the ground
Pile out the door when it all runs out

I’m glad that there are beaches aside from that of Boracay, Palawan and Puerto Galera which offers a more serene and less commercialized vibe. But seeing Fortune Island now, it will make you wonder just how short people will get to enjoy this beach. It won’t be long before we need another Calaguas and Fortune Island, and it’s all because of man. Bantay-salakay. The creatures assigned to take care of the environment are the same creatures abusing it.

20160424_143817-01We’ll kill you off and then make a clone
Yeah, we got spines, yeah, we have bones
This is how it’s always gone
And this is how it’s goin’ to go

At least for the time being, there’s no other habitable planet yet. One traveler who was with us in this trip suggested that travelers should have licenses! And she has a point. Without proper education on how to care for yourself and the environment, training, tests and sworn obligations, maybe people should not be allowed to travel after all. Be responsible travelers.  Let’s not wait till all the world is just ruins.

Spend some time to float in outer space
Find another planet, make the same mistakes
Our mind’s all shattered when we climb aboard
Hopin’ for the scientists to find another door.

Think of Paradise

Tips for Your Calaguas Adventure     There are lots of ways to do it but this post  revolves around what to expect on going and staying in Calaguas – based on my 2 days and 1 night stay through Best Calaguas Tour.I’m gonna mention the good and the not so good parts but don’t get me wrong. Calaguas is paradise! It’s a must see for everyone.

BASICS

Travel Time: 12 hours from Manila

How We Got There: Bus from Pasay or Cubao to Daet (9hrs); tour-provided jeep from Daet to Vinzon’s port (30mins); boat to Calaguas island (2.5hrs)

Tour Organizer: Best Calaguas Tour (details here) or contact 09179595985

Budget: Bus fare PhP1100 two-way through DLTB and Philtranco, Php2300 for 2D1N tour package

SOME TIPS

Bus
Going to Calaguas, we rode DLTB.Below are the schedule of bus trips of DLTB from Pasay to Daet as of April, 2016. Be on time as the buses have very short grace period for late-comers. Reservation is recommended.

     You will be given tickets like the one also shown below. Do not lose it until you have reached Daet!

DLTB Bus schedule for Daet, Camarines Norte and sample reservation ticket.

DLTB Bus schedule for Daet, Camarines Norte and sample reservation ticket.

     Upon reaching the terminal in Daet, best if you could already purchase ticket from Daet back to Manila. Most of the travelers to Calaguas leave the island by batches and especially on summer time or weekends, seats are a scarcity.

     Going back to Manila, all DLTB trips were fully booked. Across the street is Philtranco terminal. It has newer, better seats but air-con was always on full blast.It’s way too cold for comfort and you must endure it for 9 hours. We have blankets and jackets on us but the cold still creeps in.

Superlines also has trips to and from Daet.

Boat Ride

Tips for Your Calaguas Adventure

Top loading the 2.5hours boat ride is not from your sense of adventure but from necessity.

     Speaking of peak season, it can get congested on Vinzons port. You may have to wait before your boat load and unload because of the number of boats lined up on the port.

Tips for Your Calaguas Adventure

Heal your mind and soul with the view.

     The view 1 hour away from Calaguas is stunning, it will help you endure the butt and back hurt you might experience in the boat.

Tour Package
I usually don’t get tour packages in the Philippines and abroad because I want to “own” my time. But I think Calaguas is something that’s more cost-and-time-efficient and less-hassle when taken as a package from organizers. Basically, all you have to do is show up and pay a fair price.
If you’re like me who will go to Calaguas from Manila or farther, take the 3 days 2 nights package to make the 12 hours or more travel time worth it. We took the 2 days 1 night first just to “test the water”. The shower room and lack of accommodation was one of my main apprehensions before booking. But since now, I get the whole picture already, when I came back, I’ll stay longer. Yes, Calaguas is that beautiful, you’ll plan your next visit even before leaving the island.

Church

     Most people would take Calaguas on a weekend trip. As for us, we had plan to hear Holy Mass before our supposedly 7PM trip back to Manila. Sadly, we had to give this up because of the unexpected traffic at Vinzons port. And oh, Paracele where the Our Lady of Candles Church is located is a whooping 38kms or 1 hour away – that is if you could secure a bus or commuter van immediately. I think Calaguas Island has a chapel, but I doubt it if they celebrate Mass there.

Weather

Tips for Your Calaguas Adventure

Get your scouting mode on!

It’s hot in the island! Since there are almost no shades (no super big trees) and not much accommodations you may be forced to sleep or take shelter in the dining cottages. Tents can be so hot that I worried about my phone and other gadgets inside the tent. I chose to just leave them on our open cottage, risking theft.

Security

Tips for Your Calaguas Adventure

Fire Dancers and the restaurant on the beach. Calaguas is becoming commercialized, a thing I support, but that’s just me.

Luckily, even if our phones and powerbank were exposed, folks in Calaguas can be trusted. When tourism gets even bigger here, of course, security will also be a problem.
There are barangay patrols which roam the island. I saw them checking if some tents aren’t pitched where they aren’t supposed to be. They were also there during the fire dancing show where crowd gather on one part of Mahabang Buhangin.

Food

Tips for Your Calaguas Adventure

Spend 2 days and a night with strangers and learn a lot about people.

      Food is great! I have to commend the cook of Best Calaguas Tour. I saw him and all the other people who prepared our food as their kitchen is situated at the back of our cottage. People preparing food are equipped in food handling and are well-groomed, wearing proper headband,  apron, etc. Servings were big and tasty, composed mainly of rice, 2 seafood and 1 vegetable dishes. There was also unlimited instant coffee and hot water for breakfast and supply of potable water and ice during our entire stay.

     Special fruit salad ice candy priced at Php20 per piece is a must-try!

Itinerary

     This is provided by the tour organizer. Warning: don’t expect that it will be followed. For the waiting time alone in the meeting place (Jollibee Centro, a tricycle away from Daet bus terminal) I knew it’s going to be delayed. True enough, we did nothing on time. But we were able to cover everything inclusive on the package e.g.the trek to Sitio Tinaga around 4pm on the first day instead of early morning on the second day.

     Please click here for details of what to do in Calaguas.

Shower Rooms

     Comfort rooms can be a problem.You have to line up for post-swimming shower, for hours, if you’re unlucky to fall in line with 4 or 5 girls before you. One water boy takes care of transferring fresh water supply to the shower rooms. Put your Girl/Boy Scout mode on! There’s nothing flashy with this facility and if you’re OC, you might not survive here.

     Give a tip to the boy who delivers the fresh water. Maybe he’s already commissioned to do that by our tour organizer, but he works real hard. By the way, some shower rooms are designated for a specific travel organizer. If you are a joiner of their group, you may use the shower rooms for free but if not, you have to pay a certain amount (Php75 for unlimited use).

Electricity

     The genset in the island works most of the time, but for the water supply only.Starting in the afternoon, you can start having your batteries charged for a fee.

Accommodation/Supplies

     There is Waling Waling Resort if you want to take Calaguas a bit luxuriously. You can bring and pitch your own tent, rent a tent upon reaching the island, or rent the tent as an inclusion in the tour package.
Sand where the tents are pitched can be hard which means sleeping on it can cause backache. Best if you could bring blankets to cushion the tent. How you’ll do that while packing light, I don’t know.

     There are stores in the beach where you could buy supplies – toiletries and food. There is one restaurant, too. These same store offers charging phones for a fee, during the late afternoon. Powerbank charging  are at Php50.

Souvenirs

     At Vinzons Port kids sell low-priced pasalubong. If you will be offered small bread with pili nuts inside and that slice of custard with pili cake, buy lots of them. It will be hard to crave for those when you’re back in Manila.

     Souvenir shirts are somehow costly at ph350 each.  Don’t be a cheapskate! Tourism is one of the main sources of income for this underdeveloped community. Let’s love our beautiful country and fellow countrymen. That’s not to say that we should be stupid but every chance we get to help our countrymen, let’s grab it.

Coffee Shop Side Trip

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     If you have some 2-3 hours spare time (waiting time for you bus departure back to Manila) I highly recommend Cafe Morga situated between the bus terminal and the Centro of Daet. It can be reached by riding tricycle. Their caramel macchiato is better than the most popular coffee store. Ambiance and customer service is good. They have some nice books to serve as good reads if you’re reserving your phone’s battery for the long ride ahead. You can charge gadgets here for free and most of all,it has clean restroom where you can freshen up and do your thing comfortably.

Final Note

     See and experience Calaguas for yourself! When you island hop from Mahabang Buhangin you’ll see lots of other white, beautiful beaches which can make you think , how many other paradise are waiting to be discovered. Don’t forget to be responsible travelers. Treat the sea and mountain like cathedrals. They are given to us as God’s gift, allowing us to commune with heaven, here on earth.

Bato Springs in San Pablo Laguna

Bato Springs in San Pablo, Laguna

First out-of-town getaway for year 2016 is also the first “packaged” trip I ever got to join. By packaged I mean, I just had to reserve a slot, pay a certain amount then all is done and arranged for me. I just had to pack my own personal things then show up on the set rendezvous. That means I also had the chance to be mixed with a group of people who were entirely strangers to me. Now it must take me a lot of more packaged trips to fully decide if this works for me (personally) but this first time is good that it makes me want to plan the next trip I’ll join with the same trip organizer.

The Foton View Traveller which carried our group to and fro Bato Springs departed from Buendia at 10:20am. We stopped by an eatery in Sto. Tomas, Batangas for lunch then went on the road again for 2 hours more of travel to Bato Springs.

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Cottages are spacious and are convenient for grilling and cooking. To say that videoke is a hit in this place is an understatement.

A few tips:

  • It is advisable to either bring food and water supply or to buy from stores outside of Bato Springs Resort premises. The nearest store outside is around 100m away and that’s where our group bought gallons of mineral water, toiletries, chips and other stuff. There are vast choices of food, beverages, liquor, and even cooked food from Bato Springs but they come very expensive.
  • Big pots for cooking can be rented with Php500 deposit. Appliances can be taken in at Php50 each. Though it has made the area a bit full of flies,the place is convenient for grilling and washing dishes.
  • There are lots of free power outlets for charging mobile phones per cottage. In our case, we had six plus the ones intended for the adjacent empty cottage. We just had to take turns.
  • Life buoy or salbabida are also for rent at Php50. I assume those are for kids even though 2 adults from our group seriously considered bringing their own. Water is at 6feet deep maximum.
  • Videokes are so prevalent (can be rented at Php500 per day, up to 10pm) in various cottages that it’s a bit difficult to sleep at night. The only counterattack is to make noise as loud as nearby cottages with your own laughter during drinking session.
  • There’s a common/public hall very near the springs which has videoke at Php5/song (also until 10PM only) for everyone’s use.
  • Consider a day trip, just leave Manila really early. I think it’s convenient also for day trippers as the public shower rooms are also well-maintained.

My concern with water pressure in some resorts is no problem here; modest toilet and bath are equipped with very useful hot shower. Water in Bato Springs is veeeeeeeery cold it creates shiver to the spine with just a half-hearted dip of your toes. Night swimming here is only for the brave.

 Deepest part is just 6 feet deep.

Bato Springs is famous for its coooool water.

Bato Springs is a fusion of natural and man-made springs. The swimming pool (usually dominated by kids because it’s shallow) is obviously man-made. We spent the first afternoon guessing which parts of Bato Springs are man-made and which parts are natural.

Dinner and socials a.k.a. drinking session filled the night. I have high regards for well-travelled people because they always have the most interesting stories to tell. Life is really lived differently by people who choose not to live life in a single place. I don’t drink and I’m a.k.a. Ms. Tulog so after eavesdropping  I was the first to retire to bed.

Breakfast is hosted by the organizers on our second day. We explored the rest of Bato Springs until 4pm then headed on our 3.5 hrs way back to Manila.

Some cottages, we noticed, are still under construction. The land is vast and there are still lots of spaces for potential commercial development.

Joy and I camera whoring in the place.

Us, cam whoring.

 

It's not just about springs if you know where to look. Explore!

It’s not just about springs if you know where to look. Explore!

Personally, this trip for me will be memorable because I was with Joy, my college best friend and Karen, my BFF since first day of high school.

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And it’s such a miracle that you and me are still good friends. After all that we’ve been through I know we’re cool. As cool as the water.

For more information on the entrance fee and cottages rates visit Bato Springs Facebook Page.

6

 

Dos Palmas and Puerto Princesa

 

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Underground River, Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Having been cited and voted as one of the best islands-not only in the Philippines but in the whole world-, I think of Palawan as a place where I can just really relax on my chair, sip mango juice, and stare at the beach all day long. My idea of my first time in this place is to just lounge and see the Underground River (UR) just because it’s now one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. I reserved 5 days (almost) and 4 nights here and it is intentional that I didn’t jam-packed it with lots of activities. Nevertheless, we still saw and experienced a lot.

November 18 (Night), Arrival

We got the tickets from a Cebu Pacific sale – Manila to Puerto Princesa International Airport for two pax, two-way trip was just at Php2,300! Good news: We boarded the plane from NAIA Terminal 3 on time. Bad news: the plane did not take off until around 50 minutes after. Cause: traffic on the runway.

Ate Roxanne, our contact from a travel agency referred to me by a friend, welcomed us from Puerto Princesa airport. His husband, Kuya Dong, is a tricycle driver. They assisted us to the first hotel we stayed in – Alta City Pension. It’s a modest hotel from the inside of a narrow street in Rizal Ave. The rate is at Php950 per night for double occupancy plus Php100/person for breakfast with a choice of their available –silog (fried viand-rice-egg) meals. This hotel has basic amenities like hot/cold shower, air-con and cable tv.

For dinner on our first night in Palawan, we aimed one of the more  popular restaurants. Puerto Princesa is a small city so almost all hotels and restaurants are near the airport and each other. First choice was KaLui, the top restaurant here, according to Ate Roxanne. Unfortunately, reservation is needed prior so we can not be accommodated there that same night. Our next choice where we ended up having dinner was Kinabuchs Grill and Bar. Food was great and affordable.

November 19, Underground River Tour

Around 7:30AM, Ate Roxanne already knocked on our door to pick us up for the UR trip. Permits had to be pre-arranged to be able to join the trip and Ate Roxanne did this already for us.This UR tour is going to take the whole day as we were advised before. We brought spare clothes in case we got wet or had the chance to go swimming. But no, there are no swimming chances involved with the UR tour.

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The van bears a banner of Palawan government for tourism.

The package which included the van ride, buffet lunch near the beach, boat transfer to the island (where St. Paul, the mountain that houses the UR, is located) costs Php1,400 per person. Sixty pesos environmental fee is excluded. What I like about this city is that tourism rates are set to standards. It may just deviate a little depending on your bargaining capacity.

A total of eleven tourists are in our van, composed of some Swiss and German nationals and of course, Filipinos. All of us were fetched by the van from our different hotels. Traveling is an opportunity to meet and talk to other people and here inside the van, we made new friends with other four cheery and good-natured Filipinos.

With new-found friends. Van-mates.

With new-found friends. Van-mates.

The tour guide was funny. He spent the first hour of the two hours van ride giving some historical facts and background of the UR, injecting jokes while at it. What we didn’t know is that there is a side trip before heading to UR. The side trip to UR is Ugong Rock Cave where activities are spelunking and zip line.

Patrick and I tried both. Later at night, I realized Ugong Cave adventures aren’t part of our budget but was somehow compulsorily sold to us. Because if we didn’t go and see the cave at Php200/head and went down from it through a sitting-position zip line (Php250/head), we won’t have anything to do until lunch time. Zip line souvenir pictures were available at Php100/shot.

Compared to spelunking I did in Surigao and Sagada, Ugong Rock Cave I should say is for newbies. Aside from the 7 steps of climbing through ropes with 3 guides assisting you, the rest of it is one easy climb. There was an orientation before all things were started in Ugong Rock so tourists will have an idea what it’s going to be like. I said, I considered it easy but definitely still not for super young kids and for four-month pregnant women like the one we were following on the trail. She ended up going back to the start of the cave’s trail at this point below:

The most challenging part.

The most challenging part.

I’m just so not in the mood to go through the cave or stairs again. We chose the easy way and rode a zip line going down.

Gearing for the zip line ride.

Gearing for the zip line ride.

The van was waiting for us on the other line of the zip line. Afterwards, we headed straight to the beach where buffet lunch was served. Filipino foods like rice, pansit, menudo, pinakbet, adobo, sinigang na isda and banana chips for desert were waiting for us. Drinks provided were softdrinks and tap water.

Shortly after our lunch, we were called to ride the boats which transferred us to Mt. St. Paul.  We were on that small boat for around 20 minutes. Just some more meters of hiking from the beach, we finally reached UR.

UR is the longest navigable in the world spanning more than 8km but only 1.5 is accessible to tourists. Another boat is needed to navigate it to the end.

Six people were allowed per boat plus the boat man who paddled for the tourists and was positioned on the rear of the boat. The same boatman also served as the tour guide. Like most people in Palawan who are linked to tourism, he speaks fluent English and knows how to throw  jokes, too. I couldn’t stop from laughing when our boat man hummed “My Heart Will Go On” after he showed us a rock formation resembling a part of Titanic.

One lucky person in the front of the boat will be responsible in holding the spot light and focusing it on the desired rock formation inside the cave -as directed by the boat man. As a reminder, it’s impossible to see anything inside UR without flashlight.

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Enter here.

We are strictly reminded not to touch the stones since they are “alive” or are still forming up to now. To preserve the cave, which forms stalactites and stalagmites at about 1mm only per year, touching them is strictly prohibited. Time and time again, we were reminded that this wonder of nature took millions of years to form. Any unnecessary human intervention may prevent the cave into forming to what it is naturally intended.

The river is at 8 feet deep from the entrance and gets shallower as we progressed to the 1.5km spot. Water is brackish (mixture of saltwater and freshwater) therefore not a habitat for crocodiles. That settled my unfounded fear for this cave.We traversed the same path going out but this time the focus was on the rock formations on the other side of the cave.

It took just 45 minutes to complete the tour. Souvenir photos were taken and sold by the staff employed by the city government. Restroom facilities are also maintained here. Filipino snacks and souvenirs are available back on the beach where we had lunch. At around 3:30PM we were on our way back to the city.

Our new-found friends decided to bond some more in KaLui for dinner. Yes, we did reservation for 6PM. They open at 6PM – reservations are at 6PM and 8PM. Check out the ambiance of KaLui as this is one of the reasons why the KaLui is popular. They serve good food, too.

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We spent another night in Alta City Pension. Official receipt of Php6,500 payment that I handed to Ate Roxanne for one night stay in Dos Palmas Island Resort & Spa was given to me by the receptionist. It’s really cheaper, in this case, to just book when you’re in Palawan already. Published rates online are still more expensive even they say it’s discounted.

November 20 & 21-Dos Palmas

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Too bad not every day can be like this.

Ate Roxanne picked us up early with their tricycle to the office of Dos Palmas. There, a Toyota Grandia van took us to the wharf. The staff took care of our baggage all the way to our beach villa – no hassle at all. Dos Palmas offers daytrips to their island with the following rates and inclusions: (insert pics)

What I’m most happy about is that we were allowed late check out the following day at 3:30PM. We were scheduled to board the last trip from the island to the wharf at 4:15PM. Below are the schedule of boat transfers to and from the island.

We were welcomed by drinks and a group of people playing drums. The remains of a palm tree that was once one of “Dos Palmas” serves as a stand of the drums used in welcoming guests.

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The villas.

A few minutes worth of orientation was given before we were escorted to our assigned beach villa. There are four rooms per beach villa. We were assigned on the second floor. I liked it. I just expected some beach view when I opened this door but instead we were overlooking the mangroves. I think the executive villas nearer the beach and the pool which are priced differently have the view I was looking for. Nevertheless, I’m happy with the amenities inside our room. It just doesn’t have tv. During the orientation, we were advised to forget our busy life in the city. I think this was what they mean by that. Wifi was also only available in the restaurant. Power black outs are also implemented twice daily at 10-11AM and at 4-5PM.

I loooove flowers and the island is definitely not lacking of them! So aside from the innate beauty of Dos Palmas , this is one thing that I really rave about the island. I really took the time and effort to capture photos of the beautiful landscape even if my companion/photographer got tired of it. ^_^

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Flowers, anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FB_IMG_1446712995812It’s also my first time to ride a real bike for I think, four years. Since four years ago, the only bikes I rode are the ones inside a gym. I know Patrick has been eyeing to buy a bike of his own, too, so we had a pretty cool experience using the bikes provided by the resort to explore the island. The bikes are very useful when getting to and from the beach villas. Instead of shuttle services used in other exclusive resorts like in Pico de Loro, Dos Palmas provides bikes for guests which are free for use but on a first come first served basis. You cannot reserve the bike-just as long as nobody’s using it or no items are intentionally left on the bikes to show that bikes would be used again shortly, you may use them.

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Bike seemed to be the most practical means of transportation in Dos Palmas.

Through the bikes, we left no stone unturned in Dos Palmas. We stopped only on prohibited areas. The island’s navigable land surface area isn’t that vast. We passed the little farm where the restaurant gets its own supply of fresh and organic herbs and vegetables. We also checked out the basketball court being used by some of the hotel staff after their work hours. We also noticed some parts of the island where they are still cultivating ornamental plants and shrubs being grown around metal mesh patterns. To be used in the future perhaps. In fact, Beach 1 has contractors digging the area for further renovation/expansion. I have no doubt Dos Palmas will be more alluring when we come back maybe in a year or two.

 

 

I’m glad we took the chance to try Paranarian Spa because this side of the Island offers more amenities like pools, beach and charming couches. (I need to stop myself from marketing this resort and spa since I’m not being paid to do this but I just love the place and the customer service that goes with it.) The best! So far. The thing with traveling and discovering wonderful places is that it will leave you wanting for more. Truly, there are so much more to explore. It’s more fun in the Philippines.

We didn’t realize kayaking can be so fun, we did this twice. Good thing all the activities are unlimited.

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All life vests and snorkeling equipments can be obtained in the Marine Sports Center. For the snorkeling, a speed boat which carried only the two of us transported us to the snorkeling spot. I like the feeling of exclusivity, haha. And the feeling of getting things done at my disposal.

There were very few people in this island. At any given point we were there, there weren’t more than ten people on any part – even during meal times in the restaurant. Clearly, if you love “Boracay vibe”, this is not the place to be.

The customer service is superb – mainly because you don’t get the treatment like this even where they should be present. The waiters really wait for you. They don’t just implement hard rules without consideration for their guests’ convenience. Most importantly, when they know they are responsible for some mishaps, they will not only apologize, they will do something about it. Case in point, we cannot use the toilet during black out times because of water pressure insufficiency. They sent pail of water to our room just so we can use the restroom. And a lot of other little, petty things that really make the difference. I felt like there’s nothing you can ask them that they won’t grant. Every staff greets and smiles at you once they’ve seen you. It requires real effort and coordination as a team to provide a good customer experience.

Isla Puting Buhangin

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On our second day, an island tour in Isla Puting Buhangin was included in our itinerary. It is inclusive on what was paid for a night stay. This island has a sandbar! It wasn’t very low tide that time so the whole stretch of snake-shaped white sandbar wasn’t fully exposed but it still provided sandbar! I like! This got me excited even before really hopping out of the boat.

Is the water here deep? To give you a clue, after the end of the sandbar, you can already see rich coral formations fit for snorkeling. There is a guide assigned here but if you want to snorkel on your own feel free. The guide is there mostly so that someone can take underwater pictures of you. Like!

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We were back on Dos Palmas to take a quick bath and lunch. After that, Weak and I had 60-minute Swedish massage inside a quaint room in Paranarian Spa overlooking the beach. The menu of services is surprisingly affordable. If we had more time I could have tried more of their services.

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A hard goodbye.

Exactly 3:30PM we checked out. I hate leaving this place. But yeah, ’till next time.

Back to City Proper

After checking in at Royal Crown Hotel (Php950/night), we checked out the local stores to buy pasalubong. Lamayo and cashew nuts, the most popular pasalubongs, are at Php250/kg and Php360/kg respectively. Personalized souvenir shirts are at Php250/piece. There are also a lot of food items at three pieces for Php100 and keychains and ref magnets at below Php20.

Dinner was at a floating restaurant.

November 22, Bye bye, Puerto Princesa

We had quick breakfast at Chowking. We were craving for its wanton mami and lomi. Right on the dot as agreed, Kuya Dong fetched us after breakfast to the airport. Kuya Dong and Ate Roxanne are trustworthy, reliable and honest. If you need a guide to Puerto Princesa, you may reach them at 09053522461. Let’s all help boost local tourism!

My Days in Hong Kong

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How I want to remember HK. I spent almost 2 hours fighting a staring contest with this view from Victoria Peak.

Have you ever been to a place where minutes before you landed, you already plan on leaving? I have. And in a span of four days, things turned upside down as well. I started hating Hong Kong on my first day only to leave on the fourth day already planning my next return visit.

Why I hated Hong Kong? Read it here. For why I learned to like it please continue reading below. 🙂

HOTEL

We spent all our nights in Australian Guesthouse inside Chungking Mansion. I’ll cut this short. No matter what happens, never book a hotel in Chungking! Chungking Mansion is an entire building with cheap guesthouses every horror-movie-like floor. It’s cheap but you’ll regret it. Might as well spend a little higher for hotels that are clean, safe, and at least comfortable if not aesthetically pleasing.

Australian Guesthouse (and Chungking Mansion) is located at Block D, Flat D7, 16th Floor, 36-44 Nathan Road, Chung King Mansion, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, Hong Kong. It had cost us just Php10,200 for 4 days of stay. Two beds were given for triple sharing. Water in the bathroom smells so don’t you dare drink from the tap.

A Filipina was in charge of the reception when we checked in. It’s a plus point but still, you’ve been warned!

CITY TOUR

We have to be accustomed to the city. On our first day we just wanted to take it easy. As for me, I still feel nauseous because of what happened on sail Turbojet the night before. So no itinerary, just wherever our feet could take me.

Marlyn on the other hand had this agenda of buying Gundam replicas. While she was at it, I was busy checking and trying on some of the brands I don’t get to see often in Manila. Luxury brands abound malls and streets of Hong Kong. If you’d ask me of suggested budget, I’d say, it varies greatly depending on your goal when visiting Hong Kong. Because if you want to take shopping seriously, you can bring Php1M and  still be short!

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There is such a thing as Shu Uemura mascot?!?

I love perfume and I found Jo Malone store in one of the malls. I was able to test some of the more popular scents. I have White Jasmin and Nectarine Pearl bought from online stores so I made sure to compare my purchase to the real thing. In all fairness, those online stores deliver their claim.

My next perfume would be “Chance” by Channel. I’m captured!

So I have this black Salvatore Ferragamo handbag from one of my ninangs. Quality is so good despite being used-stored-used for years so I decided to check out one from the store. Lo and behold, the cheapest wallet is at around Php26K. I’m just not ready for that yet. Window shopping is fun, though.

It was still raining the entire day in Hong Kong. Storm signal no. 3 was raised (storm signals here are up to signal #9) which is somehow equivalent to signal #1 in the Philippines. It sorts of dampens the mood but this trip has got to be one of the most educational for me so far.

We observed  Filipino communities on the streets of Hong Kong – mostly made up of domestic helpers. I learned that they are to spend their days off compulsorily outside of their employer’s household. The unwritten rule is like, if you want to live in my house, you should be working. So for domestic helpers who don’t have enough money to spend on actual recreations during their days off, they have to slump on the streets, lay their mats there regardless if its raining, and end the day there. It’s just the happy spirits Filipinos have despite adversities that made those gathering look merry and worthwhile. Taken from another perspective, that’s their sad plight. Of course, some domestic helpers are fortunately employed by humane families but for the rest, don’t expect to be treated like family.

By tram, we also went to the Ladies’ Market to buy some souvenirs. Ate Tere knows of a stall where the kind vendor also speaks some Tagalog phrases. She was accommodating and nice in dealing with customers, too, which I appreciated.

AVENUE OF STARS

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Bruce Lee not only has his hand prints in this avenue but also has a well-deserved statue.

After our purchases and some stroll, we took a short ferry ride to Avenue of Stars. So all in a day’s city tour I was able to ride the tram, MTR and ferry for the first time. In all of these modes of transportation, the octopus card can be used. Ate Tere lent us her Octopus Card preloaded with HKD100. If not for her, we also could have deposited HKD50 for the octopus card.

Because of the weather, the Symphony of Lights was announced cancelled in the Avenue of Stars. Avenue of Stars is comparable to Manila Bay, I should say, only better. Peace! Of course, the walkway is more interesting because of its Chinese Hollywood appeal. I also appreciated the fast internet government wifi here. The view overlooking the sea and Hong Kong’s towering buildings beautifully lighted at night is just so relaxing. The view, the bench, the wind, the jazz music from an ongoing open concert and the fast internet connection just got me. This is the life.

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Night skyline view from the Avenue of Stars.

Note: Free wifi are usually free for the first 30minutes. After that you will be prompted to log in to continue. Maybe that’s for a fee already but no worries. There are lots of wifi detected anywhere so you can just transfer connection after your first 30 minutes lapsed.

LANTAU ISLAND

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“Buddhism is a tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development. Buddhists strive for a deep insight into the true nature of life and do not worship gods or deities.” -BBC, UK

Still because of the weather, our plan to ride glass cable car to Big Buddha through Ngong Ping 360 was busted. Instead we had to wait for an hour queuing up a long line to a bus that could take us through zig-zag roads to Big Buddha. View was spectacular though. Rain. Forest. Mountain. Sea. It’s everything. I played Enya songs all the while to complete the senti mode. Joy ride, I should say. 🙂

Hong Kong roads are left-hand drive. I fret when the bus runs at high speed on zig-zag roads on the left side. Like I wanted to step on the brakes myself.

What’s praise-worthy in Lantau Island, is that it’s very serene inside. There are spots especially inside the museum/exhibition hall (directly under Tian Tan Buddha’s bronze statue) where cameras are not allowed and we gladly obliged. Anyway the view from outside of Buddha’s museum are scenic already.

I didn’t grasp the whole principle of Buddhism in all its entirety. It might be impossible to do that with just a simple day trip in single spot no matter how big the statue is. But I kind of like and agree to what little I have understood. Buddha never claimed to be God and Buddhists might be 300 million people that I can somehow agree with.  I knew that there is only one God all along but that day I was more convinced of that. One God, one love. As Pope Francis said, there is no Catholic God. Maybe some day there are more chances to study Buddhism?

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Marlyn and I (captured by Ate Tere). Entrance to Big Buddha is free.

We started our way through Wisdom Path but it was getting dark by then and because of fear that buses might leave already, we decided to not pursue. We saw different souvenir shops inside Ngong Ping Village, though, where we spent some more time before heading back for the MTR.

BIG WAVE BEACH

Original Plan: I’ll hike alone Dragon’s Back Trail where I’ll be rewarded by a dip in the Big Wave Beach while Marlyn, her mom, and Ate Tere will spend the day in Hong Kong Disneyland.

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The end of Dragon’s Back trail was my start. The Big Wave Beach below is on my background.

What happened: I successfully located Big Wave Beach first then reversed track Dragon’s Back halfway through. The rest of my travel buddies shopped for gundam in the morning. In the afternoon we all went our own ways to Victoria Peak, chatted for a while then parted ways again. They went to buy some more souvenirs while I decided to beat Hong Kong in a staring contest.

First of all, I’m so proud to have located Shek-O. I just followed directions from the net and braved the journey alone. The beach’s official location is Big Wave Bay Road, Shek O, Hong Kong Island. Source: http://www.discoverhongkong.com/au/see-do/great-outdoors/beaches/big-wave-bay-beach-shek-o.jsp#ixzz3qJEOgA2w
From TST Station (Tsuen Wan Line), I made it to MTR Shau Kei Wan Station (Island Line). I just followed the sign, loaded my Octopus Card in a 7-11 store, before exiting at Exit A3. Bus terminals are just beside this exit. After 20minutes or so, bus 9 to Big Wave Bay Beach arrived.

What’s good in Hong Kong’s bus transport system, is that they don’t wait for the bus to be 100% occupied, unlike in most provincial buses in the Philippines.

So, bus 9 took me to Shek-O village already. Where is the hike trail? Or at least the beach? In Shek-O village I transferred to a bus which I thought would take me to Big Wave. It was just me and the driver who cannot communicate with me – and a lady who I overheard speaking in Filipino! She advised me to just walk my way to the beach as I am near already.

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I made it. Admittedly, I was also scared. I imagined Blair Witch Project coming to life while walking some 15minutes worth from the bus 9 terminal to the beach – alone. There were hardly buses or even humans passing the road and the sides of the street are nothing but forest on my left and vast, empty golf country club on the right. There are lots of things I do in life which I won’t dare do again. This is one of them.

That time, I reached the beach, there were lots of surfers (usually foreigners) enjoying the waves. They were fun to watch. Just a few minutes on the beach revealed the trail I was originally looking for. I saw people coming out from stairs of the mountain beside the beach so I decided to trace it.

View was spectacular. I’m satisfied, though I bet the view from the highest point of the trail is better. If you wanna shortcut your Dragon’s Back trail just do this reverse trail instead.

I was one with nature then. There were black birds actually which I thought would prey on me as I was climbing the stairs. Yup, stairs as Dragon’s Back is regarded as Asia’s best urban hike. Any healthy person can do it. I spent time writing in my journal under a shed I found up the trail. When I went down, it was again raining.

ST. JOHN CATHEDRAL AND CHEUNG KONG CENTER

Like a Girl Scout that I was, I followed street signs on my way to Peak Tram. I passed through St. John’s Cathedral and Cheung Kong Center.

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St. John’s at Garden Road, Central. It’s the oldest surviving ecclesiastical building in the City.

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Nature in the middle of the city.

Cheung Kong center presents nature right in the middle of the city. I saw people in corporate attires walk the park which is a beautiful sight.. This is how all cities should be.

VICTORIA PEAK

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Souvenirs, souvenirs, souvenirs.

What to do with the rest of the day? Victoria Peak, another landmark, it is! Since I already know how to commute effectively, I did not contact Marlyn until I’m already about to board the Peak Tram. Ate Tere lent us cellphones with preloaded sim (she’s just the best!). I called them once I entered Peak Market so we can meet.

I enjoyed the Peak Tram! Another realization: Architecture is to Macau as Engineering is to Hong Kong. Hong Kong has been using this Peak Tram for centuries now. Their transportation system is so amazing that if you have to go to the mountain top, they can take you there in just minutes! Imagine if we can do this with Baguio,at least for the transport of vegetables and flowers. Imagine how the prices of harvest from there would drop. Sadly imagining could be all there is for now, we don’t even have enough provisions for MRT.

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Victoria Harbour by day.

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Victoria Harbour by night.

Two-way ticket to Victoria Peak.

Two-way ticket to Victoria Peak is at HKD83.

On my way down, I still traveled through the Peak Tram. There is another option to return to TST and that is by bus. It’s cheaper but definitely more time-consuming. Had I done that, I will not experience the best part and that is riding Peak Tram by night.

This felt like an amusement park ride! Try going down in a mountain through a straight line. The tall buildings were inclined and you’re going down backwards because the Peak Tram doesn’t reverses on descent. Cool! Super cool.

As in our ascent, descend also entails long queue of passengers.

There are varieties of packages to choose from upon purchase of tickets so plan well and decide early so you can save some dollars. Madam Tussauds, for example comes cheaper when purchased with the Peak Tram tickets.

This is my last night in Hong Kong so I made the most of it. I walked my way from Peak Tram to Avenue of Stars again to while away time while I wait for Marlyn’s reply. She has room key by the way. I cannot enter without her. I passed through a lot of attractive buildings which might be ordinary especially to Hong Kong nationals but that’s the point of traveling, right? To appreciate the ordinary, see things on a different light.

We weren’t big on food trips during this Hong Kong-Macau trip but details of how we survived can be found here.

Picky Eater in Hong Kong

When travelling, you get giddy with excitement and eating is less of a priority. This is how I, as a picky-eater, survived four days in a foreign land where rice is in scarcity.

DAY 1

SOGO MALL – FRESH MART

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Pork noodles and dimsum with Meiji Choco Panda inside Sogo Mall.

Mindlessly, we fasted for 22 hours. Our first eating stop in Hong Kong on our first day here is at Fresh Mart inside Sogo Mall just a few yards outside our Chung King Mansion guesthouse. Noodles were tasty, I surprisingly liked it. Servings were big and good for sharing. At another stall, rice with curry dishes are available, too. I want rice but I don’t like curry so noodles and biscuits it is.

We bought bottled water and chocolates here for the day ahead.

PIZZA HUT

After looking for Marlyn’s toys in and around Time Square, we looked for a familiar restaurant. Pizza Hut has this “expensive” ambiance in the branch where we had our late lunch. The chocolate milk shake was good. The rest of our orders were fine but still had this pinch taste I cannot figure out and I don’t like. Some items in the menu are not available in the Philippines. That’s just what cute and that’s what we had fun trying.

CAFE DE CORAL

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Minced pork with egg on rice. The most expensive egg I had so far.

Beside Chung King Mansion (Tsim Sha Tsui) is a mall, whose second floor houses Café de Coral. The staffs from the cashier to the people who hand you your orders (you have to line up after payment) and the cleaners are not accommodating. Napakasusungit! It was like you’re really troubling them just by your mere existence. Considering that you are the customers! Weird. Bad. Mad. I’m not used to it. But hey, I’m travelling.

I paid 70HKD for an egg! I ordered minced pork and sunny-side up egg topped on to a bowl of rice with iced tea. I don’t like how the iced tea tasted. I don’t the viand and unfortunately since the minced pork was on top of the rice, the flavor already seeped through. I was left with just the egg.

Times like this, Maltesers saved me. I bought a pint for myself at Sogo Mall at around HKD90.

DAY 2

STARBUCKS

There is a branch near the Avenue of Stars. Actually there are braches nearer our hotel but since they were inside malls, they are still closed before 10AM.

Because of the prices of food in Hong Kong, Starbucks doesn’t feel like an unnecessary luxury. It’s in fact one of the most worth it for me (compared to a 70HKD egg) because prices are near to how items are priced in the Philippines.

I bought a Hong Kong mug here as a souvenir. In Manila, I’ll consider this a splurge but hey, I’m already here.

I had café latter and Choco Danish bread.Nicest breakfast to start our day to Lantau Island.

EATERIES AT LANTAU ISLAND

Before starting our climb to Big Buddha, we had our late lunch first. There are modest eateries on bus terminals. Mostly, what they offer are noodles. The vendor who assisted us isn’t Filipino but it’s nice that she already know simple phrases in our language. I had noodles with luncheon meat and black egg (dipped in tea then boiled) for HKD36. It was good and filling but their serving is just so big I didn’t finish the whole bowl. In these eateries, familiar brands of chips and junk foods can be bought for snacks.

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Mcdo serves yogurt as desert.

Near the MTR station is a mall where middle-priced items and stores can be found. There are lots of store outlets here according to Ate Tere. After having noodles and in search again for something familiar, we had dinner at McDonalds. The fries are the same back home, hallelujah! I thought even the fries will have that distinct taste. McDonalds serve Minute Maid orange juice, thank God, ‘cause I’ve not been drinking sodas for 2 years now. I think I brought home some Thai chili sauce in sachet as souvenir. We don’t have that in McDo here in Manila.

They also serve Nestle yogurt in Mcdo as one of the desserts. Cool!

DAY 3

I just grabbed a HKD9 meat floss bread in a bakery near the bus terminal on my way to Big Wave Beach. I’ll be on a hike so I prepared more water than food with me.

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Overlooking view of Pacific Coffee shop through glass walls.

Lunch following my Big Wave Adventure is Hong Kong Day inside Victoria Peak. Yang Chow here tasted so good, it started my love affair with it. There are convenience stores inside this mall so snacking was easy.

I had let time pass me by by strolling inside the mall and enjoying the view at the peak. I really targeted this Pacific Coffee shop with a great overlooking view of Hong Kong. I patiently waited for my turn to be seated. The view is just spectacular at night. Coffee was good, too. As a bonus, they have good and free wifi connection. Great place to unwind and rest. No pressure with time or anything. I love this trip.

Day 4

JAPANESE RESTAURANT – iSUARE

No need for breakfast. We had brunch in iSquare Building just across Chung King Mansion. Fortunately, we found here this Japanese restaurant with very yummy Japanese rice. Heaven. It’s a bit pricey but worth it. There are also some restaurants we were interested in but they refuse to accommodate us before 10-10:30AM.

This is our last stop in Hong Kong before we board again a ferry to Macau. Good picky-eater escapade ender.

I discovered new loves in my brief stay. For one, you’ll never know how great noodles tasted until noodles is all you’ve got, hehe. Two, yang chow, I’ll never view yang chow the same way again. I need to learn how to cook this. It looks easy but the one I tasted had this very subtle sweetness in it. I got to find that secret last ingredient less I’ll always want to be back in Hong Kong just for that rice.

Macau To and Fro Hongkong

20151003_205736 When every passenger had grabbed their life jackets that must be something serious, right?

Hardly a religious, I had learned how to attend mass consistently just a year ago. For the record, this Hongkong and Macau trip is also the first time I had offered mass intentions for safe travel. One more thing: upon boarding the plane before take off, I already finished praying the rosary. As a test of faith perhaps, this is also my most dangerous travel so far.

The nausea and fear of turbulence I never felt before all came rushing in. For one, I never needed Bonamine, a motion sickness or anti-emetics pill  , even as a child, even when I travel for 12 hours in zigzag mountains, or sail through a small boat.  Never. I don’t even sleep during travels because I want to take everything in. But this…

Turbojet and the weather just got me in a wrong time. Three days before this trip I was already feeling unwell at work. I just couldn’t take a sick leave as I will already be gone for four consecutive days. Then, if 1PM was our last meal (Read about our Macau Food Trip here) and we boarded the ferry from Macau Ferry Terminal and Heliport (Outer Harbor) to Kowloon in Hongkong at 9:25PM, we have strolled around Macau for more than 8 hours without eating anything solid. For me, it’s just the bottle of Minute Maid and a bite of the BLT sandwich before boarding the ferry.

After hearing mass at Igreja de Se, we looked for the bus which we thought could have  taken us to the ferry terminal. Marlyn and I had a clue that we boarded the wrong bus (Bus No. 3 almost right across the front of Senado Square) since a native passenger tried his hardest to communicate it to us through sign language. It was rush hour and was also raining that time so we made this wrong move of not transferring, thinking that our route will eventually loop us to the ferry terminal.

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Do not confuse your path with your destination. We are lost so we just considered this long bus ride during rush hour like a moving city tour of Macau.

There were no traffic in Macau but past 7pm near Senado Square, riding buses entails waiting and standing with a jampacked crowd, too.

From the terminal of Bus #3, there is an interconnecting bus which took us correctly to the ferry terminal. That’s after more than an hour, though. Good thing we did not pay for the ferry tickets ahead as there is also additional fee or fine if it’s rescheduled (around 15HKD).

We got 9:05PM Turbojet trip to Kowloon. There are other terminals in Macau but since our hotel is in Tsim Sha Tsui district and Marlyn’s family friend, Ate Tere, was waiting for us in Kowloon terminal, we choose Kowloon. Fare was HKD185, the highest ferry fare because, we were boarding during a Saturday and on a night trip.  Gates opened 30 minutes prior.

Marlyn buying her tickets from Macau to Kowloon.

Marlyn buying her tickets from Macau to Kowloon.

Suddenly, paged announcement was made. Trip will be postponed for 2o minutes due to some maintenance problem. We were suspecting the rainy weather also played a part. When there’s a storm in the Philippines, there’s a good chance it’s also raining in Macau and Hongkong because of the location particularly in the seas they share. Before we left Manila, weather was bad already. https://jonalynvillafuerte.wordpress.com/2015/10/02/all-my-bags-are-packed-wait/

My boss already warned me of their experience riding this particular ferry. He advised me to take Bonamine  even if I’m not susceptible to drowsiness. I did not listen. What happened halfway the ferry ride seemed to be a scene taken from an end-of-the-world film.

First few minutes of that bumpy ferry ride, passengers were still laughing and shouting like we were all in an amusement park ride. Imagine Enchanted Kingdom’s Anchor’s Away. After half an hour, atmosphere changed dramatically. There were passengers throwing up, an infant crying hard on my left, an elderly being taken away in a stretcher. There wasn’t a second to rest because we felt all the big waves Turbojet was going against. The hardest wave which had hit Turbojet broke the windows of the left side of the ferry! It made such a loud noise accompanied by rain and lighting in the darkness outside. People started to panic. There was a passenger who was crying hard already. She started the mass hysteria which followed, in my opinion. There were more people throwing up on the next minutes which followed, the crew of Turbojet already started to attend to the passengers especially those who attempted to transfer to the other side of the boat when the windows on the left blasted.

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Passengers started to pull out the life vests under their seat or in their front seat. Though it’s admirable for the crew’s capability to control the crowd on the left to transfer to the other side (which could have caused the boat to really capsize), I realized that there are not enough number of crew in scenarios like this. They also did not demonstrate how to get and how to use the life vests at the start of the trip. Language had also became a great barrier. That time it felt like just the three of us – no one to ask to for help because people cannot be bothered by English especially in fight or flight modes like this.

Macau to Hongkong should’ve taken just an hour. Because of the weather we spent one and a half excruciating hours inside the ferry. I was thinking already of what I’ll do when I find myself out in the open sea. We had all thrown our bags and luggages on the side. I should remove my rubber shoes, I thought, so I could swim. Keep calm. Pray. I waited  for the boat to dock – with eyes closed while still feeling nauseous. After 45 minutes, we finally reached Kowloon, tired, hungry, frightened, wanting to book a flight back in Manila as soon as possible.

People on their way to the immigration and inside the bathrooms were still throwing up. Standard procedures followed in the immigration in Kowloon terminal. Ate Tere, Marlyn’s family friend patiently waited for us in Kowloon. We were debriefed somehow of the turmoil we encountered because of her warm welcome.

Locating our hotel was easier because of her. She served as our guide in Hong Kong during the entire trip as she’s been living and working in Hong Kong for more than 10 years already. She can speak Cantonese. Nevertheless, we still had to wait for an hour before we rode taxi to Australian Guesthouse. I felt very dizzy while waiting I thought that was the hardest dizziness I had to endure in life.

We pursued our 6-day trip obviously. We just needed to sleep on our urge to go back to Manila ASAP. We were just determined to ride the ferry back to Macau through Turbojet (it proved to be sturdy despite the harshest conditions) and during daytime. I wore clothes convenient for travel and swimming at the same time on the 5th day of our trip back to Macau. Let that experience be a lesson for me from now on whenever I ride boats. Be alert and be prepared.

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HK to MACAU. Fare was just HKD169, this time from Kowloon to Macau. Cheaper Turbojet fares can be obtained if you arranged a package from some travel agencies.

What confirmed us that our first Turbojet experience was a nightmare was our second time. The weather was so much better that we took the ride for just an hour with no feeling of dizziness at all. We were all smiles that time and ready to conquer Macau!

“The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you’ll not encounter them
unless you carry them within your soul.”

Next time, I know better.

Eating in Macau

Two things – egg tarts and meat jerky! That’s what I’ve been told. Never leave Macau without tasting these 2 delicacies.

LORD STOW’S GARDEN CAFE (COLOANE)

And so because we reached Macau Airport at 11:15AM, the first stop in my itinerary is lunch. I targeted to eat in the famed Lord Stow’s Garden Cafe in Coloane, Macau. With some research I found out that Lord Stow did the original recipe of egg tarts. There are other branches of Lord Stow in Macau but the oldest existing is in Coloane.

After collecting maps and several inqueries from the information center inside MFM, we rode Bus 26 Coloane (3.2HKD per person). Bus 26 takes a different route from Bus 26 Coloane, we were told, so be mindful. No sweat locating this cafe as terminal of this bus route is exactly at Lord Stow’s.

It was luchtime when we arrived so we had to wait to be seated. When the door opened and a staff asked us, “For how many?” I said, “Tatlo (three)” sensing that he is Filipino. He smiled and responded grinning, “Ah, tatlo.” He is indeed Filipino!

We overheard the table next to us speaking in Tagalog also. They are a group of religious man and women on retreat. They later invited us to their conversation as they also recognized us.

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Father John and the nuns on retreat. They were very gracious and made our first few hours in this foreign land felt like home.

Father John, the priest, seemed to be already living in Macau for a while. The Filipino waiter already knows him and jokes with him a lot. If I heard it right, he is assigned in St. Francis Xavier, our next stop. He made sure the rest of his company enjoys their lunch.

Servings in Lord Stow’s is good for sharing! I had half of my order taken out for merienda. Customarily, they serve hot water as “service water”.

The egg tarts were excellent! We didn’t expect it to not taste sweet as it smelled really nice and creamy. That made it all the more enjoyable, though. I especially liked the bread or crust which is flaky and comparable to Cebu’s otap. Worth it! It’s just Day 1 but I have all the intentions to bring this home to Bulacan for pasalubong. Egg tarts are best served hot and we don’t have microwave oven at home so Marlyn had this really great suggestion of buying one just for the egg tarts!

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This restaurant is hard to miss if you ride Bus 26 Coloane from Airport.

Please note that there are Lord Stow’s bakery somewhere in Binondo. Not sure if they have the egg tarts, though.

Maybe because we are still excited to start our tour, we didn’t have a very good appetite for the day. Our next meal was roughly 24 hours later in Hongkong. More of what happened between those meals in my other posts. (Turbojet Experience Link)

PASTELARIA KOI KEI (near SENADO SQUARE)

We came back to Macau, four days after. Upon checking in to our hotel near Senado Square, we started our stroll.

On our way to St. Paul Ruins and Senado Square, we passed by a lot of stores selling egg tarts and meat jerky but one store we were naturally attracted to is Pastelaria Koi Kei.

Unlike other stores, their meat jerky looked sanitary not to mention that everywhere we go, we see people with Pastelaria Koi Kei bags in their hands even during our first day in Macau. We got curious and me especially bought most of my pasalubongs from here.

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The cashier gave me free mooncake because of my purchase. Customer service is good by the way. Coming from not so hospitable experiences in Hongkong, I find Macau kinder to foreigners. They’ve got lots of free tastes, too!

RICE, PLEASE…

We have to try a restaurant which we think ordinary people in the area eat to casually. As they say, when you travel, you eat when you’re hungry and wherever convenient. In a corner, we found this restaurant which served rice meals! Hallelujah!

I rediscovered the glory of Yang Chow! I don’t know if it’s because it saved me from my 6 days of rice deprivation or it really is good especially when authentic. I’m craving for it until these days that I’m already back in Manila.

RESTAURANTS (VENETIAN MACAU)

There is a food court one level up from Venetian Macau’s Casino. They serve American and Asian food. Shops and kiosks, duty free chocolates also abound this hotel and casino. There is in fact a branch of Lord Stow’s inside where I bought Almond (MOP40) and Dark Chocolate Chips (MOP45) cookies.

Nothing special about this ice cream scoop except that it’s Haagen Dazs ice cream and that it was inside Venetian Macau! While paying for this, I keep on telling myself, “Don’t convert! Don’t convert!”, as this scoop was really pricey. Part of traveling like a local is thinking and spending like a local. So think in HKD and MOP not in PHP.

Fastfood is also a life saver. The patty tasted differently so I was fine with just the pancakes, potatoes and coffee. Creamer for Mcdonalds coffee is liquid unlike the customary powdered creamer in Manila. Wala lang, aliw lang. 🙂

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Admittedly, I’m not very adventurous when it comes to food. Even back here at home, I tend to choose home-cooked meals and Filipino dishes more than anything else. I also prefer the classic flavors of almost any food that I’m used to. Therefore, this post is useless if you’re looking for unique food finds in Macau. For the picky eaters like me who would rather starve than eat anything that irks me, this post is a survival guide.

Airport meal before boarding our flight back to Manila.

Fated To Love Macau

Korean dramas inspired this trip! The beginning of Fated to Love You’s plot is set in Venetian Macau while the ending of Goong, my all-time favorite Korean drama, was in St. Francis Xavier Chapel.

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Macau felt more like home  for me because 1.) from arrival to departure we encountered lots of Filipinos and 2.) this peninsula had this Portuguese past just as how Philippines had Spanish.

AIRPORT

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MFM is the IATA (International Air Transport Association) code of Macau International Airport. Checking in of baggages is a bit stricter than in NAIA as per my experience. The underwater camera which passed unnoticed in NAIA wasn’t allowed for checked-in in MFM.

Even if you’ve passed through checking, we were told by frequent passengers in the terminal that airport staff can still require another checking of hand-carry bags. A fine of MOP50 will be imposed PER ITEM of prohibited items!

One thing I noticed in Macau and Hong Kong immigration is that they don’t stamp on the passport pages. They just scan the passport and give you a small slip with what looks like the stamp on it.

CURRENCY

Always check the net for prevailing currency exchange rates. But during this 2015 trip, exchange rates were PHP100 to MOP15.50 (through First International Resources Money Changer Ltd. inside MFM) and PHP6.27 to MOP1 (through Casa de Cambio Soi Cheong inside Macau Ferry Terminal and Heliport). No need to double convert peso to dollar then to MOP.

Caution/Tip: You’ll get the lowest value for you peso in Hong Kong. I even saw an exchange rate of Php7.2 to HKD1 in Tsim Sha Tsui! Best exchange rate I got was from Ate Tere 🙂 If you won’t go to Macau or Hong Kong to meet a friend who is willing to trade HKD to PHP, the best I can recommend is to exchange currency with BPI (one should have existing account with them). They exchanged my peso at Php6.1 to HKD1. HKD can be used in Macau but MOP cannot be used in Hong Kong.

TRANSPORTATION

FB_IMG_1445384487272Buses are very efficient in Macau. Free shuttles going to and fro different casinos also abound. But since we did most of our tour in Macau in the wee hours of night and since we are traveling in four, we deemed taxi to be more convenient.

The bus driver won’t talk to you. He’ll just signal you to drop the coins in the amount indicated in the LED screen. They also don’t give change so better be prepared with the exact amount.

The maps which can be obtained inside MFM for free offered lots of help. Tourist spots, restaurants, churches, hotels and any location of interest are in the maps together with the bus routes. As they say, as long as you can read and are ready for some adventure, commuting in Macau is a bliss. No traffic, too!

Most of the locations especially in Macau Centre can also be reached by walking. There is a spot of interest every 10m or so. I made it sure I’m in comfortable footwear as Macau also entails a lot of walking.

HOTEL

We spent a night (our last night) in Hou Kong Hotel. It’s affordable, modest, with all the essentials to make your stay comfortable. We were provided toiletries and unlike the guesthouse in Honk Kong, a working hot and cold shower. There were comforters too in each of our four small beds. Elevators were working fine. The receptionist cannot speak English but was accommodating. Marlyn had this Hotel Hou Kong reserved online through Booking.com and paid through credit card upon checking in.

We stayed here on the last night of this HK-Macau trip. The first time we were in Macau was on the first day when we had a half day trip then sailed on ferry to Hong Kong.

VENETIAN HOTEL

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Fated to Love You. My inspiration for this trip. Same spots, baby.

I love fragrances and this hotel is just sooooooo fragrant! It’s like they sprayed Bvlgari on their ducting system that the place just smells soooooo great. That scent welcomed me upon entrance in Venetian and so it started the nice experience I had strolling around.

Prior to our trip, I tried to book a room in Venetian Hotel as early as April but unfortunately I received an email from a sales agent  of Sands Macao, The Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel & Sands Cotai Centra that they don’t have available rooms for my desired dates in October. If you want to check room availability in this posh hotel, try the following:

Email: room.reservations@venetian.com.mo  | www.venetianmacao.com |
DID:   +853 2882 8822| FAX: +853.2882.8823

Next time, I’ll be back in Macau with a Venetian reservation. There were lots of Filipinos working here, too so again, it kind of feels like home.

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One of the main reasons why tourists flock to Venetian Macau is this replica of the gondola and river.

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Water is clear you can see the coins tossed by tourists. Make a wish!

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Are these fresh flowers? I rave for their beauty in abundance!

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Ate Tere, also on her vacation! We took pictures of each other while mother and daughter were doing their own pictorial.

You can, of course, ride the gondolas. For a fee, the gondolas are navigated by singers to complete your romantic Venetian experience. Photos are included in the package. The night we were there, we overheard a Filipino song being sung.

We didn’t lay our hands on any casino table because one, we don’t know how to gamble and two, starting bet displayed (more evidently for poker) is staggering 200HKD!

SENADO SQUARE

It was crowded on Saturday we were first here. Being the primary commercial spot, on Wednesday, it was still crowded.

Senado Square is filled with lots of stores and shops and fast food restaurants. One can buy all the “gasgas pasalubong” in the square. Meat jerky litter the side streets.

There are also at least two churches in Senado Square. They are not open to public though especially during hours where religious activities like Holy Mass are ongoing.

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ST. PAUL RUINS

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We’re on each other’s team.

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Lola Nidora in St. Paul Ruins!

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Pabebe girls.

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Ate Tere, another one of the Pabeb Girls.

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Back view of the ruins.

It may nearly be impossible to take photo in front of the ruins with no photobomber. This 17th century structure is the most famous landmark of Macau. If you don’t go to St. Paul Ruins, you’ve never been to Macau.

ST. FRANCIS XAVIER

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Looks familiar? This is where Princess Janelle and Prince Gian of Goong got married in the end.

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Gotta pose like this when in St. Francis Xavier.

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Inside the chapel itself. Say a little prayer upon entry. Mine would be, “Thank you, Lord, for this trip.”

I really considered it an achievement unlocked when we found the chapel! It was raining then but, who cares?

IGREJA DE SE

I will not let a Sunday pass without hearing Mass. Funny because it was in Macau where I first felt how to become a minority. Judging on the attendance of the mass, Catholicism isn’t that big in Macau as it is in the Philippines. Most of the churchgoers were not native of Macau also. Portugese, perhaps, as they look European to me? An old lady even made sure we are inside to hear Mass. What with all the luggage we carried inside the cathedral. She was actually a bit mean as she confiscated the readings guide to be used in the celebration. We got to be nice to her, though.

Anticipated Mass (Saturday) is being held at 6PM. Make use of the “Sambuhay” which can be obtained near the entrance. With this, only the homily will be left not understood.

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I sneaked a photo inside the Cathedral. It felt like we’ll be thrown out if we are suspected to be tourists.

TAM KUNG TEMPLE

Still in Coloane, on our first day. From Lord Stow’s Cafe, we headed to St. Francis Xavier Chapel but we got a little lost along the way. We found Tam Kung Temple first.

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We spent roughly an hour below a waiting shed overlooking this temple. Rest while figuring out what to do next.

As is often said by friends who were here in Macau first, you can consume all of Macau in just one day. That is, if you don’t plan to utilize all that the casinos have to offer. For us, that’s how we spent around 48 hours here. I believe there are lots to be explored though. I’ll surely be back. Around December perhaps when it’s Christmas season so the night lights are in their full glory.

Check out my posts regarding how we survived eating Macau Food trip on my other post.

Boarding for Ithaca

I like traveling because it’s not just “travel” for me. It’s life itself. I delight in the discovery of new places, people, culture, sea, experiences, etc. Basically every line of Ithaca can be a caption of captured moments of my wandering.

In life and in travel, this poem has made so much impact on me. I learned it from Mythology class back in high school and I can remember writing this poem in engineering letters and pasting it on the cover of a telecommunications text book. This poem continuous to draw inspiration and courage for me. I’m sharing this hoping you may benefit the same.

I pay extra to ensure a window seat. The clouds, rainbows, light, and darkness perform amazing shows up there.

 

Ithaca

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Do not fear the Lestrygonians
and the Cyclopes and the angry Poseidon.
You will never meet such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your body and your spirit.
You will never meet the Lestrygonians,
the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not raise them up before you.

Then pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many,
that you will enter ports seen for the first time
with such pleasure, with such joy!
Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and corals, amber and ebony,
and pleasurable perfumes of all kinds,
buy as many pleasurable perfumes as you can;
visit hosts of Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from those who have knowledge.

Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for long years;
and even to anchor at the isle when you are old,
rich with all that you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would never have taken the road.
But she has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you.
With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experience,
you must surely have understood by then what Ithaca means.

All My Bags Are Packed…Wait!

It’s less than 24 hours before my flight. Classes are actually suspended in the Metro as well as in Bulacan (some parts) because of bad weather. God-willing tomorrow, I’ll be heading to Macau, then later on to Hong Kong, for my second out-of-the-country trip. The first was last year, to Vietnam and Cambodia, around the first days of October also. I should make this a tradition, perhaps?

I think I’m all set. I still have to do some last-minute shopping of that ever-important shades tonight. I have to recheck my luggage because I’m really not all set. I have to repaint my nails, etc. But with the hours I still have left I think I can manage.

I’m excited but not as excited during the past days and maybe not as excited as I will be tomorrow morning! I’m gonna be boarding a plane alone for the first time! I’m going to explore a foreign land alone for the first time also since I’m going to Macau alone for the first day. My trip companions and I will meet in Hong Kong at night where we’ll be checked in the same hotel at Tsim Sha Tsui. Below is my itinerary for this 6-day trip.

EXPECTATIONS. I'll post my expectation vs. reality after the trip.

EXPECTATIONS. I’ll post my expectation vs. reality after the trip.

As can be seen, my first day in Macau is detailed. I’m traveling alone so I really made an effort to research. My boss, as he was here last month, assured me that Macau is very hospitable especially to Filipinos because there are lots of Filipinos living and working there. I’m counting in on that and armed myself with printed screenshots of google maps from my points of interest (just in case wi-fi isn’t accessible tomorrow). I also checked the ferry schedules, reviewed the whole map of Macau, followed up BPI everyday if they already have on-hand the Hong Kong Dollars I ordered and finally exchanged 1000HKD just today. I think I’ll survive the first day. Two things though to keep in mind – keep my expectations low and be patient. If you knew me, you’d know that patience is a virtue I’m still just trying to have.

I’ve just been inflicted by cold (clogged nose) by the way. No worries, I can do this.

Okay, Marlyn just messaged me to say that Cebu Pacific might cancel or delay flights tomorrow based on a Manila Bulletin online post. I called Air Asia just now and my flight is confirmed. My flight isn’t affected but of course my trip WILL be affected if Marlyn can’t go to Hong Kong as planned. Update: She buys another tickets via Air Asia to Macau, same flight as mine. First change of plans for this trip. It’s getting more exciting by the minute, baby!

I just had a good customer service experience, Air Asia Call Centre! It’s easy to get through and I got the answer I needed directly and swiftly. Their Facebook page responses also.

Rewind: I purchased the tickets from Mania to Macau (MNL-MFM) last February 26 for Patrick and I. Tickets just cost Php4,901, roundtrip for two. Sadly, Patrick cannot go with me this time. He’ll just accompany me to the airport.

I think this is it for now. Got to go attend to my last-minute fixes and preparation and date tonight! So many thoughts running through my head this time. Those include the fact that I cannot serve as lector for this weekend and miss our monthly meeting for the third time since I joined the ministry. And yes, admittedly, I’m affected by the thought that I cannot watch Aldub tomorrow same time as half of the nation will (#teamreplay). I’m listening to Mandy Moore’s “Cry” right now.

We offered intention for my safe travel this morning on the first Friday Mass at the office (along with some more intentions for a friend). Today also, as I said on Twitter, is not only a Friday – it’s the feast of Guardian Angels! So help me, God.

Angel of God,
my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love commits me here,
ever this day,
be at my side
to light and guard,
to rule and guide.

Amen.