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Monday, September 29, 2008

Hanging Rice

Puso or hanging rice or rice pouch is rice wrapped in shaped coconut leaves. Making it "portable", not to mention, biodegradable. If you're interested to learn how to make puso, check this out. It comes in different shapes and sizes.

I grew up in a household that eats puso when we go for a picnic at the beach in Mactan, Cebu. Everyday, on my way to work, I pass by a neighborhood that cooks puso in Barangay Day-as, along P. del Rosario Extension, Cebu City. It's best paired with lechon (roast pig) and street food like grilled chicken, pork or seafood and ngohiong (five-spiced fried lumpia). Many argue that it is not uniquely Cebuano. I didn't realize that it's not readily available in other parts of the country, not until a few years back, when my relatives have to order from here and have it shipped to Manila.

Puso sells between P2 to P5, depending on its size and the kind (quality) of rice used. The price hasn't gone up significantly. A restaurateur once commented that it's more viable to serve (simply) rice rather than puso. A cup of cooked rice can be priced P10 to P30 but never with puso.

During my frequent diving trips in Mactan, Cebu last year, I've been in search for the best tasting puso but I can't find any. During my trip to Kawasan Falls, I proudly introduced the puso to my friends from Manila which we bought at Carcar Market, unfortunately, it was too dry and hard, I'm sure my guests weren't happy about it. In my occasional indulgence of lechon at the mall's food court, I was disappointed with CNT Lechon's puso. 'twas dry, it can choke (an exaggeration maybe).

In my most recent island hopping trip in Mactan, my grand aunt brought puso. I haven't had that good tasting puso for a long time. She got it from Willer's Store. I can't help but ask for directions. Willer's Store is a small eatery that sells bar-b-cue, in one side street along Gorordo Avenue, Lahug (between JY Square & Sinangag Express). Puso is sold at P5, with generous serving size, they use ganador rice which explains why their puso tastes good and soft. They can be reached at +639163334779 or (032)4147145. They are open only at night, so you need to call if you need it during the day. I gladly volunteered to bring puso in our recent potluck dinner, I was sure a good puso was the perfect match for our tasty lechon and ngohiong. :D

(credits to the owner of these pics.)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Donsol, Sorsogon Travel Guide: Whale Shark Interaction

I must admit, I've been rambling too much about my two failed attempts. At this point, I'll put them into good use... I have compiled this extensive guide for Whale Shark Interaction in Donsol Sorsogon, probably the most extensive you can find on the net.


The name "whale shark" or locally called "butanding" comes from the fish physiology that is, a shark as huge as a whale that shares the same filter feeder eating mode. As filter feeder, these gentle giants feed on planktons, algae, and small nektonic life.

Donsol Bay has the largest concentration of whale shark in the world.

The interaction site can be reached by outrigger boat in 10 minutes from the shores of Dancalan Beach Area (Baranggay),
Town of Donsol, Province of Sorsogon, Region of Bicol, Southern Luzon, Philippines.


These gentle giants are believed to migrate to the plankton rich warm waters of Donsol Bay between October to June. It's best to go on a sunny day, between March to May. Increase your chances when timed not on a full moon and when you go out at sea early in the morning. Early morning is feeding time and the sea is calmer.


As I spoke to a Butanding Interaction Officer, he stressed that it is not appropriate to say whale shark watching in Donsol but rather whale shark interaction in Donsol. It is their aim for tourists to actually interact with them.

All whale shark interaction tours are managed by the Donsol Tourism Office (Tourist Center), they are open from 7am to 5pm. One shall register and pay the fees at the tourist center, located by the seaside right next to Vitton Resort. Your assigned BIO will lead you to a two minute walk to the shore to board your outrigger boat. Outrigger boats are allowed to sail between 730am to 3pm. During peak season, trips are scheduled to leave at 730am and 1030am with a maximum of 20 boats at a time.

P3,500 per boat upto 7 pax
inclusive of 1 Butanding Interaction Office (BIO), 1 spotter, 1 skipper and lifevests
> children 7 years and below ride for free in excess of the 7pax count.
+ P100 registration for locals (P300 for foreigners) valid for 5 days.
+ P650 for additional BIO (optional)
+ P300 snorkeling set rental (optional)



When you contact your resort of choice, bank to bank payment transfers is generally required to confirm your reservation.

Accommodation in Dancalan, Donsol is very basic, no frills, no tv. I personally suggest Vitton Resort,
since it is located right next to the tourist center. Next option would be Amor Farm Resort (5 minutes by foot from the tourist center), contact them for reservations:

Amor Farm Beach Resort (rate updated as of December 2009)

Located some 5 minutes walk from the tourist center
Contact No. +63 9095181150
Email Add:
Room Rates:
AC with hot and cold shower - 1,800.00php
Ac Room (standard) - 1,700.00php
Fan Rooms - 1,000/ 1,300php
Fan Room with hot and cold shower -1,400.00php
ALL rooms are with ensuite bathroom and private veranda overlooking the beach.
MODE of payment to secure reservations: Bank-bank transfer / Paypal / Western union

Vitton Beach Resort
Located right next to the tourist center
Contact Nora Morales/Ann +639279126313
Rates (starting year 2009):
AC Rooms w/ Hot & Cold P1,800 (for 2 + P300 extra person)
Family Room (for 4) P3,500
Woodland Resort
Located some 5 minutes trike ride from tourist center
Contact Nora Morales/ Marichu +639219699544 / Mel +639182315420
(It may take a while for them to respond since telecom signal is weak in the area.)
Rates: Big Cottages AC (10 pax) P2,700.00
AC Rooms (2 pax) P1,700.00
Non AC Cottages P 800.00

Casa Bianca
Contact Hazel +639213687066/Jun Balmonte +63906-3099372/ Jun (fireflies) +639069320457
Rates: Fan Room P800
AC Room P1,500

If you're on a tight budget, you may pitch a tent, shower rooms are available for rent at the resort or opt to stay in Donsol town proper, about 3kms away, 10 minutes trike ride (P10/pax). The likes of Hernandez Guest House and Erna Guest house offers a bedspace for P200/head with common bath.

For Department of Tourism accredited homestays, please get in touch with Ms. Irma Jimenez (mobile: +63 906 7625955) of the Donsol Inn-Keepers Association (DIKA) or arrange with Salvador "Dudz" Adrao +639272330364


Feast on seafood and try out local delicacies like bicol express (pork strips with chilli cooked in coconut milk).

You may eat at Vitton Resort (order in advance, it takes a while for them to prepare), Amar Farm Resort (good and reasonably priced), Gennevie Resto and Barracuda Resto or opt to go to Donsol Town's Market and get some fresh catch to be cooked at your resort.


(click on links for updated flight/trip schedules)
MANILA - LEGASPI CITY - DONSOL is the best route.

(update: direct flights from Cebu to Legaspi resumes in January 2009)

Option 1. BY PLANE: daily flights from Manila to Legaspi City via flagship airline PAL or budget airline Cebu Pacific (45 mins). or 5 times weekly from Cebu City to Legaspi City via twin-turbopropeller of Cebu Pacific (asked to be seated at the front row or rear most part of the plane, the propeller can be noisy in the middle). If you're coming from other cities like Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Palawan, there are no direct flights, one must go through Manila or Cebu for a connecting flight to Legaspi City Airport. Then see Option A-C below.

Option 2. If flights are full, fly from Manila to Naga City. [You may opt to spend a day wakeboarding at Pili, Camarines Sur.] From Naga, take a trike to the Van/Bus Terminal, ride a van that will take you to Legaspi City for P140 for a 2 to 3-hour ride. Vans headed for Legaspi are in the van Terminal just across of the bus terminal. There are also buses for Legaspi from Naga but they take longer since they stop frequently. Private vans are also available for hire for about P4,000.

Option 3. BY BUS(10-12hours), daily trips from Cubao, Quezon City, Manila to Legaspi City on Philtranco for about P600-900 per way, other bus lines are also available. Transit from Legaspi through Option A or B below.

Option 4. By boat from Cebu to Masbate (P480-P1800, 10 hours) via Trans Asia Shipping Lines (Sulpicio Lines is cancelled as of this writing), take a ferry from Masbate to Pilar Town (P360, 2 hours), take a jeep from Pilar to Donsol Town Proper (30 minutes), take a trike to (Tourist Center) Dancalan, Beach Area (P20-30).

And then transit from Legaspi City to Baranggay Dancalan via Donsol town proper (1 hour):

Option A. From Legaspi airport take the trike (P50) to van terminal at satellite market/Pacific Mall (this is also where the bus from Manila stops), take a van to Donsol town (P60) for an hour and half ride. From Donsol town, take the trike to Dancalan or talk it through for the van to proceed to (Tourist Center) Dancalan Beach Area for a fee of P20 or

Option B. Rent/hire a private van at the airport or bus terminal. (Several drivers are waiting just outside the airport holding a van for hire sign.) You may opt to arrange with the resort for P1,200-1,500 per van, that comfortably fits 10pax sans oversize luggage. (Do request a side trip to Cagsawa Ruins, it's just 15 mins away from the airport.), or

Option C. Approach the tourist desk at Legaspi airport's arrival terminal, they will arrange a private van to pool other tourists, the cost of P1,500 per van shall be split among them.


* swimming attire (skimpy suit may not be appropriate)
* snorkeling set (rental available at P300/set)
* underwater camera
* cash (credit card is not accepted)

For more information, visit Albay Tourism or Sorsogon Tourism. More tips from real travelers .


* Plane tickets comprise the biggest chunk of your expense, fares can go as low as P1,500 or a high of P8,000 per way, so it's best to book early.
* It's ideal to keep your itinerary flexible, flight and bus schedule maybe delayed. You don't want to have the same story as mine.
* On the plane ride to Legaspi, request to be seated on the left side of the plane (facing the cockpit) to get a view of the Mayon Volcano when landing.

* Whale shark sighting is not guaranteed but with high possibility (5-7 sightings on the average). It's best to have at least two mornings in your itinerary to do the tour.
* Check the local weather here. It must be sunny. Bad weather or continuous heavy rain will affect water visibility and an overcast might be difficult for the spotter. The weather in the region is quite unpredictable.
* Avoid peak season, spotting one will be like a race. More than 20 boats will be chasing after one spotted shadow especially when water visibility is limited.
* Start early, the tourist center opens at 730am; limited number of boats is allowed to sail, next batch starts around 1030am and it can be rowdy when there are too many tourists.
* You will be asked to watch a 15-minute interaction guide video, you can do this a day ahead to get started early.
* The tourist center does not accept advance booking (or so they say). They will assign a BIO and his team on rotation. NOTE: Advance booking is not required.
* (But the truth is) Advance booking may be arranged with agents (for a fee) or directly to BIO or through your chosen resort. Contact in advance experienced Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) and spotter (the likes of Omar, Joel, Boyet, Bobby, Jack) [i'll PM you if you need it]
* If you're a solo traveller or small group, you can request the tourist center to match you with other travellers to share the cost of the boat.
* Children are allowed to join, you may request for additional BIO to assist them for a fee.
* Scuba diving is not allowed in Donsol Bay. (rent a boat to Manta Bowl, Ticao Island.)

This is the moment:

* Psyche up yourself to see a huge fish about 5 to 15 meters, as big as a bus! Don't panic these gentle giants are filter feeders. For your safety, observe the interaction guide at all times.
* Gear up once on board, your BIO shouts 1-2-3 jump! anytime. Interaction site is just 10 minutes away from the shore. You don't only watch or swim but interact with the whale sharks; strong swimmers will have an advantage but the adrenalin rush will help you through. An interaction can last from a few seconds upto an hour if you're lucky (5-10 minutes on the average).
* You may have to wait on the boat a few minutes or an hour in between sightings. Have a hearty breakfast and pack enough food and drinks to fill you up.


* Remember to get your Certificate at the tourist center after the interaction, signed by your BIO showing the number of whale sharks seen. (no longer available)
* Bring spare cash, souvenirs like hand painted shirts are available for sale.
* Give your BIO and crew a well deserved tip, interaction with the whale shark is priceless.


P6,992 per pax for group of 6 inclusive of:
* P1,982 Cebu-Legaspi-Cebu
* P240 airport terminal fees
* P1,800 two nights twin share at Vitton Resort (1800x2/2pax)
* P800 whale watching (P3500/6+100+tip)
* P250 fireflies river cruise (P1250/5pax)
* P1,250 meals (5 meals, P250/meal @ vitton)
* P420 private airport transfers with city tour - Legaspi to Donsol(P2,500/way/6pax)
* P250 private airport transfers - Donsol to Legaspi(P1,500/way/6pax)


Day 1
* 1245-1345 CEB-LEG/MLA-LEG
* 1445-1500 Side trip to Cagsawa Ruins and Daraga Church
* 1500-1600 1 hour land trip from Legaspi to Donsol
* 1600-1700 check-in and register at the tourist center
* 1900-2000 fireflies river cruise

Day 2
* 0730-1100 Butanding 1
* afternoon freetime

Day 3
* back to Legaspi for flight home
* or proceed to Camsur Watersports Complex in Pili, Camarines Sur

The locals are exceptionally hospitable so feel free to ask for directions. Communication should not be a problem since English is widely spoken in most part of the country. If you still aren't convinced to do-it-yourself and don't mind to spend a lil, i mean - much more, book package tours with agents or check out or contact Salvador "Dudz" Adrao +639272330364

Connect the Dots, volunteer, or donate in WWF conservation programs contact them.


In Donsol:

*Butanding Festival, in April
*Firefly river cruise (P1,250 per 5 pax)
*Snorkeling in Halea, San Miguel Island (P3,500 per trip)
*Dive in Manta Bowl, Ticao Island (Each resort has their own contact for a Dive Operator)

In Legaspi:

*view of Mayon Volcano along the road, or trekking tours up the volcano.
*visit Cagsawa Church Ruins, 15 mins away from the airport and be welcome by children who will offer their services to be your guide and take some fun poses of you.

In Camarines Sur (like our itinerary):
*wakeboarding in Camsur Wakeboarding Complex
*aquasports in Lago del Rey Camsur Wakeboarding Complex

If I missed out on anything or if you find this useful, do drop me a line. Enjoy discovering the Philippines. :D

(updated April 2009)