Category Archives: Travel and living

On a high

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I have always been on the prowl for activities that make my head scream of excitement, and my heart pump with exuberance. Free falling from a plane is one of those, and (I would bet) is on any adrenaline junkie’s bucket list. It has been on mine for more than half a decade. With a lot of prodding and a bit of kismet, I booked myself a tandem jump slot last summer with Skydive Legazpi.

The session starts with a brief class on the basics of the activity. The instructor introduces skydiving as a popular high-flying extreme sport. A tandem jump is an easy way to experience skydiving for the first time. Tandem jumps offer the thrill of a free fall while securely harnessed to a professional instructor. The instructor then demonstrates use of the equipment, and completes it with a comprehensive safety instruction. Finally, the support crew fits me with a harness, and ushers me to the tarmac.

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Kalanggaman and its sandbars

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Kalanggaman Island | August 2012

A last minute suggestion and insertion in our itinerary, the Kalanggaman Island sidetrip turned out to be the star of our Leyte trip. Located in the municipality of Palompon, it is an hour-long drive from the city of Ormoc (by private car).

Unspoiled and every bit a beach denizen’s paradise, Kalanggaman is pristine and well-kept by the local tourism office. Its powdery white sand compete with those of Boracay’s.  It has two long stretches of sandbars jutting from its eastern and western portions. The sandbars are visible and do not inconveniently (as a whole) disappear with the tide.

Cottages dot one side of the island with bigger huts located in the middle. There are two sets of clean restrooms and grilling areas on either side of the island’s main structure (that I assume houses the office and store of the keepers). They provide the usual beach activities like snorkeling and kayaking. They also have affordable scuba packages for beginners.

As if a good omen, we were treated to the sight of playing dolphins while we were on our hour-long boat ride to the island. The best experience Kalanggaman offers would be its superb sunset and sunrise views. Arriving just in time when the sun set, we dashed to the western side to witness the play of purple, pink and red above our heads. Since we were camping overnight, we pitched our tents near the island’s lone watchtower that was fronting the east. By the break of dawn, we lumbered towards the top of the wooden tower and waited for the sun to rise.

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Of sandy beaches in a remote resort

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The white expanse of fine sand stretches a good hundreds of meters from the water’s edge. No exaggeration when it comes to the beaches of Cagbalete. At low tide, it stretches too far out that swimming in the clear blue waters of the Pacific will be fruitless. It makes for a lovely lounging spot though.

Still, Cagbalete Island is a great weekend getaway for a quick sun and sand date.

Easily accessible via public commute, buses ply the Mauban route via Lucena or directly from Metro Manila. Our group did the latter going to Mauban since the small buses from Lucena can drop off passengers at the marketplace near the pier. For the trip back to the metro, Manila-bound buses have a terminal right by the entrance to the town proper.

The boat ride to Cagbalete Island lasts between 45 minutes to an hour. The public boats are big enough to ferry around 40 to 50 passengers per way. Two public boats serve each scheduled time:

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Bicol express returns

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The train service to the southern region (from which the famous spicy dish was named after) is back. Chugging and snaking its heavy metal body through a 10- to 11-hour track ride, the Bicol Express makes a formidable competitor to the lazy boy bus rides and the quick plane trips.

Offering three types of service, commuters to Naga City can choose to ride in a reclining seat (Php548.00), a family sleeper (Php665.00) or an executive sleeper (Php998.00). Seeing that it was cheaper than a bus ticket (for the just-concluded CamSur International Marathon weekend), we tried the reclining coach going to Naga and the regular or family cabin on the way back to Manila.

It did not disappoint.

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King of the country’s mountains

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So there we were, at the peak, shivering from head to foot in the cold mountain air and rainfall. Ah, Mt. Apo – indeed the grandfather of all Philippine mountains (2,956 MASL) . Halfway into conquering him, we have already had our fair share of shifting landscapes and contrasting trail types. As nighttime bade hello, we set down our full packs and quickly assembled our tent amidst the biting wind. Good thing we had the entire peak to ourselves. We settled for a spot inside a shallow cave and hoped the tent can take the battering of the winds.

Our gracious host and guide Jezer Paro* (+63 918 7819861) is nothing short of amazing. Contacted at the eleventh hour, we were fortunate he was available and agreeable to our 2-day traverse of the Kapatagan (Davao) and Kidapawan (North Cotabato) trails. His suggested plan was to start at the Kapatagan side and climb all the way to the summit on the first day, make camp at the summit area and descend to Lake Venado and the Kidapawan trail the next day. Whereas the usual itinerary takes three or four days for the entire traverse, we opted to challenge ourselves to finish it overnight. Jezer knew the ins, outs and shortcuts of the mountain by heart. With all his tricks, we were able to cut short our ascent by an hour or two. We negotiated the ascent for a total of seven hours and 25 minutes and the descent for a staggering seven and 15.

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Lucban’s annual fiesta

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We celebrate festivals in every region and province: to give honor to patron saints, to thank the heavens for a bountiful harvest, and to celebrate legends and folklore. One of the Philippines’ famous and most colorful celebrations is the Pahiyas Festival of Lucban, Quezon. Staged every 15th of May, this year’s festivities fell on a weekend.

A huge tourist crowd was expected to attend the Pahiyas. Every year, the local government changes the route to give the houses their chance to decorate with fruits, vegetables, palay and kiping. The kiping is a leaf-shaped wafer made of rice paste and dyed in bright colors. On the eve of May 15, most houses have already been decorated. It is a good time to see the beautifully lighted decors and to stroll along the night markets. In the morning, the image of their patron, San Isidro, will pass along this route in a procession along with the judges who survey the annual entries onboard SUVs.

To get to Lucban, you can either take the route via Lucena or via Sta. Cruz and Luisiana in Laguna. We took the latter route as it is faster and at the same time to avoid the weekend crowd.

Saigon on the move

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Metropolis on the move

The former capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon) is a bustling developing urban center for the average adventure-driven traveler. Colonial structures and rugged buildings comprise the skyline. Motorbikes dominate the streets. Drivers speed through pedestrians and traffic lights. Nonetheless, tourists flock this city. I am not saying this little because of  my Vietnam experience. :) With only a day to spare to tour the city, I can only say this much given the spots we went to.

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Kingdom of wonder

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The Kingdom of Cambodia is a popular adventure destination, especially for western visitors. Before, the only thing I knew about the old Kampuchea is Pol Pot’s communist guerrilla force and the Khmer Rouge carnage. When I was in high school, the end of conflict in Cambodia drove them slowly out of isolation and into an eventual membership in the ASEAN in 1999. On top of that, who does not remember Angelina Jolie’s (popularizing Lara Croft the Tomb Raider) action sequences in striking locations in the country?

Today, Cambodia advances in its economic development process and encourages tourism in the kingdom of wonder. Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanouk are the top cities that showcase a treasure trove of Khmer culture and heritage.

With a limited schedule, my friends and I had time to visit only Phnom Penh. As the country’s capital, Phnom Penh is the economic and cultural center of Cambodia. As visualized by their French colonizers, the city looks like a scene straight from a provincial town in France (interestingly, I’ve read it used to be called the Paris of the East).

The city is very charming in its own way (albeit, dusty, hot and humid) with its old French-style structures and classic colonial village buildings dotting the main thoroughfare, the side streets and the riverfront. The lack of a McDonald’s or a Starbucks bears witness to their status as a fairly new urban center (they do have a KFC and a Gloria Jean’s). And like other third world cities, there are enterprising locals, speeding vehicles, and persistent touts. This rough change from the usual beach and green scenery might well be why western visitors troop to this Indochina destination ala-Lonely Planet style.

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Calaguas and its long beach

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view of Halabang Baybay atop a hill we braved

I first heard about the Calaguas Group of Islands from my Dad while he was sharing stories on how he heard it was really beautiful, who owns which island and which one’s for sale. Ironically though, I only read extensively about this gem of a spot from a non-Bicolano: in Lakwatsero’s site. Even awesome friend Gala Pinoy, who has had an article on the islands published in a major broadsheet, has been to this northern paradise years ahead.

Chances are, by now, you’ve been reading a lot of online entries writing nothing but ooohs and aaahs for the most famous beach in the Calaguas. Indeed, Halabang Baybay (as the locals call it) or Mahabang Buhangin has a very long stretch of fine golden white sand, aquamarine waters and interesting rock formations. Located in Barangay Mangcawayan, under the jurisdiction of the town of Vinzons, the beach is a piece of heaven for wanderers wanting a weekend of communing with the barest Mother Nature has to offer. Beach bummers, sun worshippers and stargazers will fall in love with the Calaguas.

Fast becoming a tourist spot, Mahabang Buhangin is now called the Boracay of the North (sorry Pagudpod). Well, at least they say it is going to be the next Boracay.

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Bagasbas beach and breakers

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Bagasbas Beach

Unknown except to Bicolanos since the 2008 Bagasbas Surf Camp, the beach is quickly gaining attention in the tourism and surfing circles.

Bagasbas Beach has a 2-km long and wide expanse of very fine black sand. It provides an alternative to the waves of Aurora and Zambales, with its year-round big breakers rolling in from the Pacific Ocean. The soft sands and shallow waters counter the strong waves making surfing in Bagasbas ideal for those wanting to test their luck (and, not to mention, “staying power”) in the water action.

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