Saturday, July 5, 2008

Why do I travel?

Everyone knows I love to travel. Almost everyone got very surprised to realize I travel alone.

I travel because I like to move from place to place, I enjoy the sense of freedom it gives me, it pleases me to be rid of ties, responsibilities and duties. I like the unknown, the odd people who amuse and inspire me. I am often tired of myself and I have a notion that by travel I can add something to my personality and so change myself a little.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Killing Time In BICOLANDIA


Far down south of the Luzon island lies the Bicol region composed of Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Sorsogon and Masbate. Although frequently hit by storms and sporadic volcanic activity of the Mayon, the region remains to be vulnerable to these kinds of natural disasters. Evidence of the most recent volcanic eruption were present and an eerie atmosphere will be felt you as you drive around Legazpi City and nearby towns of Albay. Some roads were still being constructed as they were damaged by landslide of boulders and volcanic soil from Mayon. Despite the cold stormy weather and alarming volcanic activity of the Mayon, the Bicolanos remained to be warm and hospitable, continuously building and rebuilding the remnants of the turbulent natural world of the Bicolandia.

Read the rest of my journey and find out how to enjoy Bicolandia amidst the stormy weather conditions and sight of recent catastrophic events.


Maybe it wasn't the most appropriate time of the year when I decided to go on a trip to Bicol. But then, since I have to use my remaining leave for 2007, what else to do but to go on a trip - a road trip perhaps.

January 19, 9:00 pm when I left Manila via Philtranco Bus off to Legazpi City. Bought the ticket for P900.00 de-luxe bus (with toilet inside) which can take me as far as Tabaco City at the same cost. Lesser priced tickets are available (around P700 for an ordinary aircon bus) but since it will be a 10-hr drive I must take the more comfortable ride - so as to catch a nap along the way and energetic by the time I reach Legazpi.

It was raining as I left Manila hoping that the weather would be better as I get to Legaspi but it never happened. Still dizzy from a long trip, I realized I was the only passenger left as the bus approached the terminal. Although I had my map I can't seem to figure out where in the world am I! It was 5 am and still a little dark.

The bus conductor helped me out with directions and soon I was able to find Sampaguita Tourist Inn along Rizal St. I checked inn for P475/night for a single occupancy room (a/c, cable tv, hot/cold shower). Quite cheap, but the service - gosh! The only good thing about Sampaguita is the room rate - but the staff!!! They must be sent out to enroll in a customer service orientation program.

Weather is bad, service is bad, room and the rate is fair, - the oddest of them all - Mayon Volcano was hidden in the clouds!!! I wished myself good luck.

Notwithstanding the weather, I decided to check the whole of the city by taking a jeepney and walking. Since it's never stopped raining, I decided to check out the nearest mall, the LCC Legazpi to buy a cheap umbrella (for 50 pesos). Then after a little tour inside the mall, I walked up the road til I reached Bichara's mall. I remembered when I first visited Legazpi City, this is the only place I remembered where I had a nice chat with locals young people, had some bottles of beer and really had quite a hell of a time. But this time it looked very different as it was. Quite boring now, I guess.

The rain seemed getting harder and harder but it never halted me to go on walking. I ended up entering the nice Pacific Mall. Here I spent the rest of the morning trying some native delicacy like the pinangat (in tagalog - laing). But of course never to be missed nibbling the pili nuts which can only be found here in Bicol.

With my umbrella and map in hand, I took the jeepney the Capitol and City Hall of Legazpi City. In all my trips, I never missed visiting these landmarks. This is by way any town or city can be recognized and distinguished.

The City Hall and the Capitol Building are adjacent to one another, including other public buildings and schools. Opposite the Capitol is the Old Albay church, the Saint Gregory the Great cathedral - the oldest in the city.

In the middle of them all is the Penaranda Park, wherein you can have a good view of the Mayon. But since it never stopped raining - no sight of her majestic perfect cone is visible.

A lot of nice restaurants can be found in this side of the city. Before heading back to the hotel, I had dinner at Bigg's.


Even before I left for Bicol, I was in constant communication with my friend. Joey, who is based in Albay, as a Medical Representative. When he learned I was coming to Bicol he said he would take me on a tour as long as long as he not on a client call. Me met the next day after I arrived in Legazpi. Our first stop, Tabaco City.

It never stopped raining that day in Tabaco city. After taking some photos at the Tabaco church (San Juan Bautista Cathedral, the plaza and the City Hall, we visited some of Joey's doctor friends who treated us for lunch, then left for Daraga and Cagsawa Ruins.

Tabaco is about 20 minutes drive from Legazpi. On our way, the devastation from the most recent eruption of Mayon Volcano and the strong typhoon after that was evident as there were boulders along the road, houses buried in dark ashes and lahar, roads and bridges under construction - what a distressing sight.


There is this attraction here in Albay that's very common to anyone aside from the Mayon Volcano. What else but the Cagsawa Ruins. On our way back to Legaspi City, we dropped by Cagsawa Ruins, the most famous tourist attraction in the provine. Here we found it difficult to reach the site and we have to leave the car somewhere safe. The road was still under construction and there were rocks and volcanic soil everywhere. We were guided by two kids whose names I forgot. The whole area was filled with black sand from the slopes of Mayon. The restaurants and other establishments used to stand there were now ripped off from their location by typhoon. Bad sight.

But all I felt outside was altered when I entered the Cagsawa tower. Everything was intact - fortunate enough not to be buried in mud and boulders from Mayon. It is still a place to sigh and behold.

After Cagsawa Ruins, take a small turn and up to the picturesque baroque church of Daraga. Here you will get a share of a great view of Mayon from top of the hill and a location suitable for a romantic wedding..he he.

Daraga church (Our Lady of the Gates Cathedral) stands on top of the hill and was constructed completely from volcanic rocks. From the church you will have good view of the Daraga town.

Joey had to do some errands that afternoon so I have to go back to the hotel. Later that night we had a nice dinner at the Chick-In Restaurant right across the Penaranda Park.


The following day, Joey told me he will be on a client call to Naga City and asked if I wanted to come with him. Of course I wouldn't say no!

So there we were, on the road again. And this time it will be a 3-hour ride from Legaspi City to Naga City in Camarines Sur. It was a great road trip and I was able to see other adjacent towns after Legazpi in Albay up to Bato, the gateway town of Camarines Sur.

One famous attraction in Camarines Sur is the Camsur Watersports Complex (CWC)- famous for wakeboarding enthusiasts. It is located in the civic center complex of Pili, the capital of Camarines Sur. We have managed to drop by the complex before going to Naga City.

Inside the complex are cabanas for guest accomodations which costs P1,200/night. Use of the facility is rather cheap. Wakeboard rental for the whole day costs P250.00, while the cable pass costs P600/day.

It was nice and windy at the complex - with a view of Mount Isarog in the background.


Next to Pili is Naga City - the center for commerce, industry and entertainment in the entire Bicol region. There are more hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and bars here than in Legazpi City. Plus, Naga is densely populated, slow traffic noticeable on the streets, and starting to get polluted.

Upon arrival, we went directly at the Golden Leaf Hotel (650/night for double-occupancy room) to manage our stuffs and get a little rest. Joey has to attend to this meeting which will begin in less than an hour so I have to be on my own in Naga.

For the rest of the day, I was on-foot around the city. In the center of the distric is the City Plaza with the Quince Martirez monument dedicated to the fifteen martyrs of Camarines Sur. Also, I went to the most signifant Basilica of Our Lady of the Penafrancia, the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Shrine of the Lady of the penafrancia (3 churches in the city but of different locations). Being a mall-rat, finding Nagaland E-mall was a bliss. Good restaurants and bars can be found along Penafrancia Avenue.

Of course, my Naga tour will never be complete without visiting the Naga City Hall.


The following morning Joey and I had to get up early for his appointment in Camalig, Albay. That practically means I had only one day to spend in Naga City - so be it.

After paying the hotel bills, we grabbed our bags and again on the road back to Legazpi City.

It was roughly 2 hours before we reached Camalig, one of the most picturesque towns in Albay. Camalig is also one of the oldest towns and this is where the pinangat (or laing in Tagalog) originated. You will also have a great view of the Mayon from this location.

Again, a must in every trip is visiting St. John the Baptist Cathedral which, just like almost all other centuries-old churches in Bicol, is made entirely from volcanic rocks.


One of the best places to view Mayon Volcano and Legazpi City is the Lignon Hill (also spelled as Ligñon Hill and pronounced as /li-NYON/). This 143-meter high cinder-cone hill located 11 kilometers southeast of the volcano’s summit is the highest location in the city’s downtown area and towers over the adjacent Legazpi Airport. A long and winding road crawls up the sides of Lignon Hill where there is an observation station constructed on top. This is where the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has a permanent station to observe Mayon.

I insisted to go up the hill with Joey to experience what they say is the most exciting place to go in Legazpi. Up the hill, the weather didn't permit me to see Mayon to her fullest. But I had a nice panoramic view of the whole Legazpi City downtown, airport, and nearby Tabaco City.

For the past 3 days I have been able to navigate almost half of the Bicolandia. I definitely had a great time inspite of the bad weather condition during my entire stay and not seeing the full view of Mayon volcano (sigh!).

It was already 12 noon when went down to the airport in time for my 2:00 pm flight back to Manila via Cebu Pacific. Joey drove me directly to the airport and immediately had a quick lunch plus some picture taking at the airport. Upon checking-in I asked the airline staff to seat me next to the window at the right side of the plane. Being such, I was able to have a full view of the peak of the Mayon. At least even for the last time I was able to achieve my goal.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My Travel Map

Perhaps almost everyone has gone to many famous tourist destinations all over the world - the US, Europe, the Carribean, Southeast Asia, Australia, and so many other countries to mention. But how many of you has conquered and traversed the entire Philippines?

Review my travel map and see how many of these places you've been missing. Else, isn't it time to think of packing your bags, hit the road and enjoy the wonders these places could offer as much as I did?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

WESTERN MINDANAO - On Foot For Five Days

Ask anyone about Mindanao, particularly Zamboanga and Basilan, and you’d surely get odd responses mainly because there were so much unpleasant issues to read and hear about this part of the second largest island in the Philippines. Similarly when I told my folks about my plan to travel there, their first reaction was about safety. It may sound like a severe weather forecast but I was still determined to go and discover this side of Mindanao on my own. For me, what could be worse than the traffic, the floods, the rat race, the pollution and political rallies here in Manila?After confirming my flight schedule and looking through existing websites, I finally completed my travel itinerary. With my backpack, map, digicam, handycam, enough money, and moral fiber, I was indomitable to cover as many places and provinces for 5 days.


I took the first flight from the Centennial Airport and arrived 1 ½ hours later at the Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro City, the capital of Misamis Oriental, which is the perfect departure point to most parts of Mindanao. This is where my journey down to Basilan would start.
Taxi from the airport to the city proper costs P120. I noticed, as I enjoy my tapsilog in a restaurant along Velez St., the city is generally unimpressive with noisy mixture of busy streets, tiangge and restaurants, hardly enough to tempt anyone to stay for a day or two. With the Cagayanons speaking in native Cebuano, I felt I was in a foreign land. But these locals were friendly enough to offer assistance, and always mistaken me for a Korean. The city is generally safe with policemen patrolling the entire city.

I opted to stay at the Hotel Ramon (P400/day) with a view of Cagayan River, had lunch at the Only In Cagayan Restaurant along Coralles Ave, and came across the ethnic culture of the Lumads in the Gardens of Malasag Eco-tourism Village, located in Cugman and 20 minutes away from the city center. For mall rats like me, Gaisano and Lim Ket Kai Malls are the most convenient places to look for souvenir items. Later I ended up strolling along D. B. Soria, a long strip of park with lots of tiangge, food and DVD stalls, where Xavier University and Freedom Park were located on opposite ends. After a delicious barbecue for dinner while enjoying the music played by a local band right in the middle of the park, I ceased the day.


6am – I was off to Bulua Bus Station, bought a ticket P80 for an aircon bus to Iligan City, the capital of Lanao Del Norte. 11/2 hrs later, I reached Iligan City and checked-in at the Maria Cristina Hotel (P600/day). From the hotel, I hired a taxi for P500 to take me where the city is well known for - its majestic waterfalls. First stop, the Tinago Falls. Literally hidden in a deep ravine, the falls cascade into beautifully into a basin-like pool – clean, deep and icy cold. One has to painstakingly descend a concrete stair of 500 steps or so down the basin, and up again. It has an elevation of approximately 420 feet. It is 14 kilometers away from the city proper. Access to the falls is through the Iligan Tinago Mountain Resort. Entrance fee is P10.00.

Next stop, Maria Cristina Falls - the greatest heritage and landmark of Iligan City - located 9 kilometers away from the city proper. It is 320 feet high, spews 130 cubic meters per second of water and the source of industrial power in the city. It was a Thursday and I wasn’t able to experience full grandeur viewing of the waterfalls. This event happens only every Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00 am. It was past noon, starving and exhausted, I checked out lunch at a carinderia along the highway as recommended by my taxi driver. Food was simple, delicious and inexpensive.

My day won’t be complete without cruising downtown Iligan City. All the basics are there - bazaars, fastfood chains, and tiangge. The city is generally peaceful and clean, and predominantly populated by Christians. I concluded the day with a light meal at the Big Ben and a visit to the Saint Michael Archangel Cathedral before I headed back to the hotel and retired.


Got up very early again, settled my bill, grabbed my backpack – and headed to the bus terminal to catch the bus to Dipolog City, the capital of Zamboanga del Norte. The trip took 5 hours for P180, en route Tubud RORO Port to Ozamis Port and a few minutes stopover in Ozamis City and Oroquieta City, the capital of Misamis Occidental. Both cities were peaceful and evidently clean. Along the way, I got acquainted with my seatmate who was so surprised to know I was traveling all by my self. He suggested I should drop by Dapitan City and visit the Rizal Shrine, which I did.

A visit to Dapitan City in Zamboanga Del Norte is a must for all tourists. Going around the city, I enjoyed the sight of old houses still preserved to their original designs and likewise the view from the pirturesque Dapitan Bay. Inside the Rizal Shrine, where our National Hero was exciled, the security guards were pleasant enough to show me around. The city plaza is likewise awesome. The old Spanish-era City Hall, St. James Cathedral, the relief map of Mindanao crafted from soil by Dr. Jose Rizal, are adjacent with one another and are must-see attractions. Another local guy I met suggested Dakak Resort, but since I had no plans of beach-ing, and that entrance fee alone is a hefty is P200, I disregarded the idea. Instead, I indulged myself to hearty halo-halo and pastry at the Corazon de Dapitan Restaurant before I moved to Dipolog City, which is 15-20 minutes away drive via mini bus for P17.

It was already late in the afternoon when I reached Dipolog City and my intent to climb the 3003 Steps to Linabo Peak – a famous tourist attraction in the city, was definitely unattainable. With nothing else to do, I decide to walk down the main road towards the newly-built Dipolog Boulevard. There I stayed for a few hours, watched the sun set, tried the native Soriso and Biko Dipolog, and had a little chat with some Dipolognons who are fairly warm yet restrained.

After a delectable dinner at Grandma’s Restaurant located in the downtown area, I was off again to the bus terminal to cathch the bus for my next destination – Zamboanga City. I will be a 300-km 8 hour aircon bus ride for P350. It was 10:00 pm and expected to arrive in Zamboanga City before dawn.

Around midnight, the bus stopped over at Ipil, the capital town of Zamboanga Sibugay, which was once set on fire by the Abu Sayyaf in 1995. I noticed the town had left its violent past and is now heading towards being a viable business center in the region.


It was 4:00 am and very dark when I reached Zamboanga City, 2 hours ahead of schedule. Disoriented by lack of sleep, I asked a driver of one habal-habal or motorcycle to take me to a nice coffee shop to where I can kill my time before my nephews arrive in Zamboanga City by plane. All together, we will catch the early morning ferry to Isabela City, the capital of Basilan. The only restaurant open that time was the one near the airport, and this Zamboangeno here was so nice to sit down with me, chat with his Chavacano accent, and share a large bowl of hot lomi soup while I told him of my odd travel agenda.

A trip to Basilan requires a local guide or military escorts for safety reasons since the conflict between Abu Sayyaf and the military hasn’t been resolved.  We were able to catch the 9:30 a.m. fast craft to Isabela City. The fare for a first class ticket was P130. We arrived in Basilan about an hour later.

Greeting us as we entered the port were villages on stilts, and the minarets of mosques at the center of these communities. From the port, we took a short walk up to the provincial capitol and I was so surprised to see a Jollibee store across the city plaza. I could still feel the turbulent past of this side of Mindanao since we passed by several military check points in addition to presence of military personnel all over the city proper.


First stop is to the beach. There were a lot of run down beach huts and picnic tables all over the place; but just a small group of tourists and locals enjoying the white sand. Upon entry, some of them even greeted us warmly and to my surprise, some of them were friends of my nephews' relatives here. We were offered lunch, one was very hospitable enough to offer his house for me to stay for the night. This made me realized that sometimes there are so many underrated places all over the country worth visiting, little pieces of paradise secretly tucked away for those diligent enough to search for them and enjoy the serenity they offer.

When visiting Malamawi White Beach, one must make arrangements with the motorcycle to come back for you at a later time. After a few photos, it was back to Barangay Carbon, and then back to the port of Isabela just across. We took a habal-habal to Farmland Resort in the forest outskirt of Isabela City. The trip costed P100. I was expecting to see bad roads and I was impressed that the roads here are very well-paved, and not any sign of the publicized hostilities can be felt.


As early as 6:00 am, we headed back to Zamboanga City and prepare for the late afternoon flight from Zamboanga International Airport back to Manila. We spent the remaining hours touring the city - Port Pilar, Zamboanga City Hall, Pasonanca Park. There are fast food places on almost every corner in town where you can enjoy the delectable curacha.

I was leaving with a heavy heart yet fulfilled. The opportunity to explore, observe and socialize with the people relieved me of any notions concerning the paradoxical conflict in Mindanao. These people are impressive in that they combine an infectious enthusiasm to show the true Mindanao. Their effort is one important way Mindanao can truly become the Land of Promise.


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