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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Quest for Whale Sharks Continues in Sogod Bay, Leyte

If you're looking for the Whale Shark Interaction in Donsol, see my travel Guide here.

Some dive buddies are back from a diving trip in Southern Leyte. Bringing back with them load of pictures to boast about their second encounter with whale sharks, locally known as butanding. Their first was in the waters of Mactan, Cebu. Yes, in rare occasions, they come in the waters of Mactan.

I had my quest for the whale sharks in Donsol, Sorsogon early this year. It seems like it's not going to end there. And, yes... before the year ends I'm going to Southern Leyte with my wetsuit. :) There are some good reason to check out the whale sharks in Pintuyan, Sogod Bay, Southern Leyte:

First, water visibility is way better, chances of seeing it's head to tail even from afar is high. Donsol Bay water tends to have poor visibility, limited to 1 to 2 meters.

Second, diving with the whale sharks is allowed (unlike in Donsol).

Third, taking your own outrigger boat is allowed. It can be reached with dive boats coming from Cebu or Bohol. In Donsol Bay, whale shark interaction is regulated by the government and services are exclusively managed by them.


Kasaka Peoples Organization
Barangay Son-Ok,Pintuyan, Southern Leyte

Boat rental: P700 - 800 pesos (for two)
Spotters: 450 pesos

NOTE: The largest concentration of whalesharks in the world is still in Donsol, Sorsogon.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Off The Beaten Path: What's New in Cebu? Parkmall, Edge Coaster, Imperial Palace Resort Waterpark

In my previous post, I highlighted the usual tourist spot in Cebu.

You must know by now, Cebu's two major malls just recently expanded, SM's new wing boast high end shops and Ayala's Terraces highlight's a range of Manila's best restaurants. But what else is new?

Experience something different in PARKMALL.

Located along Ouano Avenue, Mandaue City, (across Convention Center of Cebu - CICC), Parkmall's charming al fresco dining experience in zen garden offers a wide range of restaurants featuring Cebu and Manila's finest restaurants. Mooon Cafe, Chika-an, Pier One, Manila Foodshope, Joven's Grill, KFC, Out of Africa, You Bar, Tandoori, Da Vinci's Pizza, Shabu Way, Mang Inasal, Bo's Coffee, Postrio, Ice Castle, Fine Cuisine, Kk Fine Dining, Saigon Quan, Tsiboom and more.

Indoor, the kids village is Parkmall's pride. Playmaze Fun Hub is any child's dreamland.

My personal haven are the outlets and the micro-retail shops on the second floor, having the best bargain ever for clothes and accessories with exhibitors from Greenhills, St. Francis, export overruns and local entrepreneurs. I was also excited with the opening of Pixel Pro, (by Henry's Camera from Hidalgo, Quiapo), I shall get my new toy soon. Finally, Visayans now have access to good bargains.

For more info, check out or

Go over the edge with Sky Experience Adventure at Crown Regency Hotel.

Located right in the heart of uptown Cebu, view the city and conquer your fear of heights on the 38th floor, with a thrilling ride on the Edge Coaster or do the sky walk. Check their website for details.

Get wet and scream at the Imperial Palace Resort Waterpark & Spa.

It's located along the coast of Mactan, Cebu (right beside Hadsan Beach Resort). This is Korean owned and aimed to cater Korean tourists. Rack rate starts with a whooping $250, but it's best to contact them for promo rates. Currently, promo rates start at P8,000++/night, day use is pegged at P1,500 with lunch buffet valid until end of September. We spent a night and I had a blast and service was great! The photos speak for itself, isn't it so inviting?

For inquiries and reservations, contact:
call: 63-32)494-5241 to 44

Now, you have even more reason to come visit and revisit Cebu! See ya around! :D

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wander our Wonders: Island Tour of Batan and Sabtang, Batanes

I was off to a well deserved break after the tax men came knocking on the door that left me sleepless and restless for a time.

We had to be awake by three in the morning for our early morning flight. But my blogsy friend Nina was right, we had to wait, flights don't leave earlier than six. "Finally!" is what we blurted out when we landed in Basco, Batanes. After months of hullabaloo, we safely landed aboard the 30-seater plane of seair together with a group of 19 joining the photo safari of Mandy Navasero. See my reviews about the photo safari here.

The view of Mt. Iraya and a stylish stone house airport terminal greeted us on the runway of Basco Airport. We were met at the airport by a local guide. Mang Roger is a typical Ivatan local: hardworking, hospitable and jack of all trade. He was more than just a tour guide. Aboard the jeepney, some were seated on the roof, a thrilling ride zipping on that winding road cliff of Batan. Batanes here we come!

Clockwise (L-R): Batanes runway with Mt. Iraya, Seair, Jeepney Ride, Basco Airport Terminal


First stop was a fifteen minute spelunking in a World War III Japanese Tunnel. True to popular sayings, there's light at the end of the tunnel. As we exit the tunnel, it was our first view of the hedgerow. Hedgerow is a closely spaced shrubs that serves as barriers, protection from wind and prevents soil erosion. These hedgerow are popular in Scotland which earned Batanes the name, Scotland of the Philippines.

The rest of the day was a jeepney ride to Tukon Hills overlooking Basco, a climb up the Mahatao Lighthouse, a walking tour of Basco, a sit on the rocks of Rocky Beach or Chadpidan, a wait for the sunset at Chanarian View Deck and an evening entertained by the Basco palo-palo cultural dance.

Clockwise (L-R): Mahatao Lighthouse, Chanarian View Deck, Tukon Radar, Grazing Cow in Mahatao, Rocky Beach, View from Tukon Hills, Hedgerow View from Tukon Hills (center)


With an early morning wake-up call, we're headed to Ivana port to ride the falowa. With lifevests on, we were prepared to rock with falowa as we crossed the sea to Sabtang Island. The weather was great, the waves was not as rough as I've expected.

We toured the town of Savidug, had buko juice in Chavayan, had lunch in Nakanmuan’s White Beach under the famous Batanes Natural Arc, went to the Sabtang Lighthouse while waiting for our falowa ride back to Batan.

Clockwise (L-R): Kid overlooking the window at Savidug Stone House, Whitebeach Natural Arc, Nakanmuan's White beach, Carabao in streets of Savidug, Chavayan Stone house, Raging waves by Sabtang Lighthouse, Sinakan Stone House, Ruins at Savidug, Peddling Ivatan, Sabtang Lighthouse (center)

Back to Batan Island by four, we dropped by the UNESCO heritage House of Dakay built in 1600. Lola Frestilda Dakay lives in this house alone. This old lady is one of the most photographed person in Batanes. Now she's very old and weak, as much as she wants to get up and sit by the door like she did on a cover of Reader's Digest, she can only hold onto a rope atop of her bed to sit and made a gesture to welcome us inside her house.

Further down in Ivana is the Ivana Church and the one of a kind Honesty Coffee Shop. It's called Honesty for the simple reason that you pay for what you buy even without someone manning the store. There's a price list on the wall, a log book to write what you bought and a box where you'll leave your money. You should bring change, it's keep the change policy here. This is something you'll only find in Batanes.

Clockwise (L-R): Ivana Church, Ivana Port, Ivana Port, Sunset at Ivana Port, Honesty Coffee Shop


It was another early day as we wanted to catch the sunrise, but we were caught offguard, our jeepney ride arrived when the sun has risen. We had breakfast instead and headed to an early morning walk at the Rolling Hills. Lo and behold, the view of the hills overlooking the sea is heavenly. It's tranquility moves the soul and breaks one into tears with a song of prayer. A moving experience felt by one during a group prayer that touched the rest of the group. Who would have thought that someone who chose to go solo on this trip, one who was exceptionally bubbly was feeling empty seven years after her husband's death, found peace on this land and so she speaks, "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want..."

After that enriching experience was a ride back to Tukon Hills. Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge sits on top of Tukon Hills overlooking the sea where the Pacific Ocean meets the South China Sea. It was once the home studio of a great artist Pacita Abad who lost the battle of cancer. The place is reburbished in country style charms with rooms overlooking the sea and mountain. Rooms starts from P3,750 to 8,000.

The so called Marlboro Country, was another breathtaking panoramic view, with velvet green grass and grazing cows. I could hear the sound of music playing in this windy Marlboro Hills. We had a tasty lunch in a hut but I could imagine laying down after having our picnic on a mat right on top of the hill. Wishful thinking maybe, but it's not impossible.

Clockwise (L-R): View from Rolling Hills, Fundacion Pacita du Tukon, View from treking up to Fountain of Youth at Diura, Early morning walk at Rolling Hills, Marlboro Hills, Diura Beach, Rolling Hills, Infinity pool of Fountain of Youth, View from the window of Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge (center)

We moved to Diura fishing village, where we started our trek up the hills to the Fountain of Youth. It's spring water with infinity pool overlooking the sea. Others took a swim while we just laze around waiting for the tides to go low. We continued to walk down by the shore, leading to Crystal Cave for a short spelunking. As we exit the tide went high instead of low. The guide must have overlooked the calendar. We had to brave the raging waters, as we head back to the village. Some didn't want to get wet but in the end, everyone got soaked. Whew, we survived with scratches here and there and a bundle of fond memories to last a lifetime.

Batanes is finally off my wishlist, but wait! Batanes will remain on the list, I'd love go back there with a free and easy itinerary, different from what we had. That is, to laze around Fundacion Pacita sitting on top of a hill overlooking the Pacific and South China Sea... to lay a picnic mat at Marlboro Hills with the real sound of music... and to watch the clouds go by as the sun sets by the Rolling Hills. :D


Mandy Navasero: (02)8991767 or
Nice Travel & Tours: (02)5266363 or


Fly via Seair from Manila to Basco Airport.


1. Pack a Map of Batanes by Ironwulf.
2. Contact a guide. Mang Roger Amboy: +639183331797
3. Discuss your itinerary with your guide, maximize travel time.
4. Hire a jeep or van. (I didn't see any form of public transportation.)


  • Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge Rates: P3750 - 8000+

  • Batanes Resort +639275829078 Rates: P550 - 1500

  • Batanes Seaside Resort and Restaurant +639212290120 +639178825609 Rates: P450 - P1200

  • Shanedel's Inn +639204470737 Rates: P350 - 1200

  • Ivatan Lodge  P300 - 1200
  • Sunday, April 12, 2009

    Batanes Photo Safari with Mandy Navasero

    Along with my sister, we booked this tour five months before the scheduled trip. With early bird discount, we paid P20,000 all inclusive of travel photography workshop, full board and lodging, and airfare from Manila to Basco with Zest Air. Regular rate is at P25,000.

    Zest Air flights are suspended due to unfortunate events. With a sigh of relief we were accommodated with Seair. A few days before the trip, we were informed that our flight was cancelled. It would have been lovely to experience Batanes with the cold front but we were left with no choice but to reschedule it on a later date. Two weeks ago, we finally land on Basco, Batanes at the height of summer.

    We were checked-in at Batanes Seaside Resort, unfortunately, not all bookings were honored. Some overstaying guests occupied our rooms, so some of our companions has to stay for a night in another lodging house. With basic ammenities, rooms are clean and spacious, private bathroom comes with electric hot and cold shower, the suite rooms came with a refrigerator, and there's television too but food was ordinary.

    Mandy Navasero's Photo Safari is unlike the travel photography I've been to. There was no room-in lecture, not even a critique session. Mandy's teaching style is different. Her creative ideas are outrageous and her personality is a standout - at times with comic relief and naughty antics. She remained energetic and passionate with what she is doing inspite of her age.

    Mandy Navasero during an informal lecture at the view deck

    She puts emphasis to shoot with a heart, to pose with an attitude, and to add life into the subject. After a while, I've come to appreciate it. It's not the technical aspect that brings life to a photo. My basic knowledge on travel photography came in handy, but Batanes landscape is lovely as it is, it will come out beautiful in any photo. She puts much emphasis on colors and fashion photography with the so called "S-curve". Frankly, it doesn't come naturally for me, I look awkward in my photos. All throughout the trip, it seemed like we were having a photoshoot. We had our fair share of becoming a bench model, a beauty queen, a lifestyle model and a mastered the art of jumpology. On the otherhand, being the photographer, one must know how to motivate and to bring out the spirit of the subject, flatter if you must.

    This is my second travel photography workshop and I'm getting comfortable with the Nikon D40. No more cheats this time, I managed to pull off some good shots with the manual settings. Yipee! :)

    Joining Batanes Photo Safari with Mandy Navasero:

    I recommend this tour for those adventurous fellows who love to travel and like to shoot and/or appear in them, but not for those hard core photographers who expect point by point photography lecture.

    PROS: hassle free: board & lodging, itinerary & flight bookings and everything else are taken cared of; touring with a group sharing the same passion for travel & photography

    CONS: quite hectic: itinerary needs to be ironed out to maximize travel time and to start on time; for pre-trip briefing: personal appearance was necessary when it could be done remotely via email; no critique session: it would have been necessary for a photography workshop.

    For inquiries, they can be reached at:
    Mandy Navasero: (02)8991767 or
    Nice Travel & Tours: (02)5266363 or

    Read more about my experience on the trip here.

    Thursday, March 12, 2009

    Sagada Travel Guide: Spelunking Sumaging Cave and more

    It has been more than two years, the memories of my Lakbay Cordillera still wows me. :) If there is anywhere in Philippines that should not be missed, I'd say a trip to Banaue and Sagada. The long ride was tiring but it was still worth all the hassle, at least once in your life.

    If you want to go underground without special training and equipment, Sagada is your best bet. The town sits in a limestone valley riddled with over 60 known caves. The Sagada caves feature shimmering underground streams with golden or silvery stalactite and stalagmite formations and cool natural pools inside.

  • Sumaging Cave, the largest, can be explored by anyone with a local guide; the basic tour lasts around three hours but it is possible to spend an entire day inside. If there is anything you should not miss, it's this. I've never seen other cave in the world that clean and nice, the experience was equally great: spelunking barefoot at one point, holding on ropes seemingly wall climbing like spiderman, submerging in ice cold water and who would ever forget the bat dung.

    SPELUNKING FEES (updated as of March 2009):

    1-4 persons - php 500 -1 guide; 5 persons - php 600 - 1 guide; 6-9 persons - php 1000 - 2 guides; 10 persons - php 1200 -2 guides; 11-14 persons - php 1,700 - 3 guides; 15 persons - 1,800; 16 to 20 persons - 2,400 and above is 150 per head.

    SIGHTSEEING FEES: (choice of 3 spots)

    1-10 P400 -1 guide; 11-15 P600 -1 guide; 16-20 P800 -2 guides
    escort to sugong coffins and burial cave @ P200

    * Echo Valley - hanging coffins in limestone cliffs
    * Lumiang Burial Cave - coffins at entrance of cave
    * Sugong Hanging Coffins
    * Walk about the township of Sagada
    * Kiltepan View point - panoramic view of rice terraces
    * Bokong Waterfalls
    * St Mary's Episcopal Church
    * Underground river
    * Taste Yogurt in Yogurt House
    * Taste of pinikpikang manok (order in advance, takes hours to prepare)
    * Weekend buffet at Log Cabin by French Chef Aklay (P250/pax call 09205200463 for reservations)


    * To trek and get wet
    * Tours are managed at the tourist center at fixed rates
    * Very basic accommodations
    * 9pm curfew
    * Rough bumpy ride
    * Cool weather
    * 2 full days would be best, 1 full day would be enough for spelunking and 3 sites to visit

    Saint Joseph Inn and Restaurant contact # 09185595934
    P1,500/room for 3 or 4 (villa, no AC with private CR & hot & cold bath)
    P3,500/room for 8 pax (villa, no AC with private CR & hot & cold bath)
    bed space starts at P200/pax (no AC with common bath)

    backpackers can opt for cheaper accommodation starting from P150/bed space. Others suggest George Guesthouse #09185480406 or 09206070994 or Masferee Inn, complete list of contact info of accommodation found here.

    There are 2 ways of going to/from Sagada - via Banaue and via Baguio. We combined both for maximum experience so we took the Manila - Banaue - Sagada - Baguio - Manila route. You can either:

    1. Hire a van from Manila (10 hrs per way with stops) for P3,000-7,000/day with driver plus gas and board & lodging - this is the most convenient.

    2. Take the public transport.

    Airconditioned Autobus leaves Manila at 10pm daily, and with 2-3 brief stopovers along the way, the bus arrived in Banaue at 7am. Then, a short tricycle ride from the terminal to the town proper to transfer to a jeepney going to Bontoc (2hrs) and transfer to another jeepney bound for Sagada (1hr).

    Leave Sagada at 6am for a 6 hour ride to Baguio via a non-airconditioned Lizardo Transit bus. The fresh air is very soothing to your weary bones. From Baguio, another 7 hour trip in an airconditioned Victory Liner bus to Manila.

    1. Map of Sagada

    2. Quick dry clothes and trekking shoes
    3. Light jacket

    MY DIY POST TRIP ACCOUNTING (December 2006):
    P8,000/pax for group of 6 inclusive of:

    * private van with 2 drivers en route: Manila-Banaue-Sagada (via Bontoc)-Manila (via Baguio)
    * We booked our 8-seater hi-ace through WGC Comml, Rosario Pasig - tel# 6275105 sun cel#09228791716 at P3,000/day, they were kind enough to accommodate our last minute advice, the shocks wasn't so good, if you're willing to shell out more, find a vehicle with good shock absorber since you'll be in for a very bumpy ride.
    * 4D/3N full-board (1N at Banaue Hotel, 2N at St. Joseph Inn - private bath with hot/cold shower)
    * Guided Trek in Batad Rice Terraces, Banaue, Spelunking in Sumaging Cave, Site Seeing in Lumiang Burial Cave, Echo Valley, St. Mary's Church, view of Sugong Hanging Coffins.
    * Our Itinerary:
    * Day1 - 10 hour land trip from Manila to Banaue, overnight in Banaue Hotel - Banaue
    * Day2 - 5 hour trek in Batad Rice Terraces, evening land trip to Sagada (risky!), overnight in St. Joseph Inn - Sagada
    * Day3 - Spelunking in Sumaging Cave and sightseeing, overnight in St. Joseph Inn - Sagada
    * Day4 - land trip from Sagada to Manila via Baguio
  • Banaue Travel Guide


  • Banaue Rice Terraces, Banaue, Ifugao

  • Dubbed as the "Eight Wonder of the World," the Banaue Rice Terraces start from the base of the mountain range and reach up to several thousand feet high. It is said that their length, put end to end, would encircle half of the globe. Made 2,000 years ago, these rice terraces manifest the engineering skill and ingenuity of the sturdy Ifugaos. Streams and springs found in the mountains were tapped and channeled into irrigation canals that run downhill through the rice terraces.

  • Batad Rice Terraces, Banaue, Ifugao

  • Located at Barangay Batad in Banaue, these rice terraces are shaped like an amphitheater. The Batad Rice Terraces can be reached by a 12-kilometer ride from Banaue Hotel to the junction, followed by a 2-hour trek up and down through mountain trails, an hour trek around the terraces, another 2-hour back up to the junction. (You may proceed to Tappiya Falls and may opt to camp overnight in Batad.) Allocate one full day for this.


    * Tam-an village - minutes walk behind Banaue Hotel, it's an old village in Banaue, where native huts and souvenirs are available.
    * Banaue Rice Terraces Viewpoint - there are several decks, where one can get a good view of the rice terraces. One viewpoint is the one featured on the one thousand peso bill.


    Banue Hotel & Youth Hostel (073-3864087)
    this is the only hotel in the area, this high rise building sits on top of the hill managed by Philippine Tourism Authority’s (PTA). Room rates starts from P2,300 and bed space available at P200/bed space.

    Other budget accommodation ranging from P200 to P600 are also available Banaue View Inn (073-3864078), People's Lodge & Restaurant (073-3864014), New Wonder Lodge (073-3864021), Greenview Lodge (073-3864021), Sanafe Lodge (073-3364085).


    People's Lodge & Restaurant, Banaue Hotel, Hidden Valley Restaurant


    * 10 hour land trip per way from Manila to Banaue (with leisurely stop)
    * To trek for hours on the terraces unless you opt see it only at the view deck
    * Tours are optional and managed at the Banaue Tourist Information Center at fixed rates located at town center. (same rate available at Banaue Hotel)
    * 3-star hotel accommodations in Banaue Hotel or very basic accommodations in a lodge
    * Spectacular view of Rice Terraces; we opted to trek Batad Rice Terraces since traveller reviews it's more picturesque than Banaue, and true enough it is awesome!
    * Very Rough roads
    * Cool weather


    1. By private van.

    Two alternate routes via Baguio City. First is via Halsema Mountain Trail and Bontoc, Mt. Province (8 hrs-441kms). Second, is from Baguio City to Banaue via Nueva Ecija (8-9 hrs). Total travel time is approximately 10 hours with lazy stops.

    2. Take the public transport.

    Airconditioned Autobus leaves Manila at 10pm daily, and with 2-3 brief stopovers along the way, the bus arrived in Banaue at 7am.

    MY DIY POST TRIP ACCOUNTING (December 2006):
    P8,000/pax for group of 6 inclusive of:

    * private van with 2 drivers en route: Manila-Banaue-Sagada (via Bontoc)-Manila (via Baguio)
    * We booked our 8-seater hi-ace through WGC Comml, Rosario Pasig - tel# 6275105 sun cel#09228791716 at P3,000/day, they were kind enough to accommodate our last minute advice, the shocks wasn't so good, if you're willing to shell out more, find a vehicle with good shock absorber since you'll be in for a very bumpy ride.
    * 4D/3N full-board (1N at Banaue Hotel, 2N at St. Joseph Inn - private bath with hot/cold shower)
    * Guided Trek in Batad Rice Terraces (P1,500/jeep), Banaue, Spelunking in Sumaging Cave, Site Seeing in Lumiang Burial Cave, Echo Valley, St. Mary's Church, view of Sugong Hanging Coffins.
    * Our Itinerary:
    * Day1 - 10 hour land trip from Manila to Banaue, overnight in Banaue Hotel - Banaue
    * Day2 - 5 hour trek in Batad Rice Terraces, evening land trip to Sagada (risky!), overnight in St. Joseph Inn - Sagada
    * Day3 - Spelunking in Sumaging Cave and sightseeing, overnight in St. Joseph Inn - Sagada
    * Day4 - land trip from Sagada to Manila via Baguio

    more Banaue travel guide at
    for hassle free vacation, join pre-arranged budget tours at

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009

    Himala sa Simala

    Woke up earlier than usual on a Sunday morning for a visit to the Monastery of Holy Eucharist or Mother Mary Shrine in Marian Hills, Lindogon, Sibonga Town, Cebu. I accepted a friend's invitation knowing that I need to say some prayers.

    Devotees from across the globe flock Simala bringing their faith and writing their petitions, longing for answered prayers and some miracle. The shrine became famous after word spread that the image of the Virgin Mary was seen shedding tears of blood, a phenomenon that lacks scientific or official church validation but nevertheless draws more and more people. But long before that, I have an aunt who have personal devotion to her for answering her prayer of bearing her only begotten child.

    DIRECTIONS: It takes at least two hours to get to Sibonga from Cebu City Center via the South Reclamation Project (SRP). Head south of Cebu, upon reaching Carcar's rotunda, go straight. When you reach Sibonga, signs are visible, turn right and proceed on a long winding road uphill.

    We parked the car outside, there are several private lots charging P40 parking fee. Noticeably, there are several restaurants, shops and dormitory sprouting outside the monastery.

    Upon entering its gate, I was surprise to see a long queue of devotees along those concrete slopes and stairs, hundreds or maybe a thousand of them, patiently waiting for their turn to kiss the image inside the church.

    We walked past them and proceeded uphill right outside the church where candles are being sold. Colored candles are available for sale at P35, each color representing your specific intention. Red for love, Green for prosperity, Brown for lifetime partner, Gold for good health, there's violet, yellow, blue and a lot more. Nevertheless, I assume God is color blind, whatever color your candle is, your prayers are heard. It was difficult to keep them alight with the wind blowing.
    Colored candles symbolizes petition for:
    • GOLD - HEALING (Good Health, Recovery, Spiritual, Family Tree)
    • GREEN - PROSPERITY/SUCCESS (Exam, Study, Financial, Business)
    • BLUE - PERSERVERANCE (Employment, Career, Assignment, Promotions)
    • VIOLET - ACHIEVEMENT (Plans in life, Struggles, Endeavors, Journey, Voyage)
    • RED - LOVE (Unity, Friendship, Engagement, Family)
    • YELLOW - PEACE (Courage, Strength, Hope)
    • WHITE - PURITY (Enlightenment, Guidance, Right path)
    • ORANGE - RECONCILATION (Sweetheart, Wife/Husband, Enemy, Family)
    • PINK - THANKSGIVING/HAPPINESS/JOY (Spiritual, Physical)
    • BLACK - SOULS (Forgiveness, Pardon)
    • BROWN -VOCATION (Marriage bond, God’s Servant, Single life)
    • GRAY - DELIVERANCE (Bad ways, Things, Spirits)
    • CREAM - CONVERSION/FAITH (Children, Household, Couples)

    Visitors and devotees who go to Simala are there to offer their petitions. Blank sheets of paper and pens on which to write their intentions are prepared by the Marian monks for one to drop in a box. I wrote mine while we were in the car. With a tougher year ahead, I never thought I had more than two things to ask.

    The church exterior is imposing, sitting on a hill. It's relatively small inside considering its large facade. I wonder how they can house thousands of devotees for mass. (Plans are on its way of making a much bigger venue.) The interior is a work in progress. The ceiling work is done but some parts of the wall wasn't painted yet. The church is filled with wooden pews that look up to an elevated altar, where the miraculous statue of Mary is visible from afar. The stairs on the left are filled with people leading to the image. That's the same line on queue from the gate, that's several hours of waiting.

    Note: Once inside the altar, visitors who wish to pay homage and kiss has to walk barefoot. Since the area is considered sacred ground, shoes and footwear have to be removed and modesty is part of the dress code. Wearing of shorts, body-hugging blouses or sleeveless shirts is not allowed. Visitors who come dressed in this attire are asked to cover up with sarongs or malongs, prepared by the monks at the entrance.

    After our prayers have been said, we walked back down hill, detoured on a bell on the right. It's a wishing bell! One has to let a coin bounce on that bell and it should fall into the well infront of it. TIP: Don't hit the bell too hard, you're coin will definitely bounce outside to an opposite direction. Throw it gently on the center body of the bell, it will just slide down from its body into the well. It's simply physics but not everyone can do it. ;)

    These practices will definitely raise eyebrows. I'm Catholic and I'm quite surprised. It was my first time there so I was quite observant with what was happening. At the end of the day, what matters most is the faith that Mother Mary prays for us and that Jesus hears our prayers.

    M-F: 12nn, Saturdays: 1030am, Sundays: 330pm
    1030-1130pm and 330-430pm every 13th of the month.


    Sacred Heart Church, D. Jakosalem
    6,8,930,11,^6,730 (Anticipated: 6)

    Redemptorist Church
    5*,6*,7,815,930,1045,^330*,445,6,715 (Anticipated:530,645)

    Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Asilo dela Milagrosa, Gorordo, Lahug
    6,7,^530 (Anticipated: 530)

    Capitol Church
    7,11,^4,7 (Anticipated: 530)

    St. Therese, Lahug
    530*,7,9,1030*,^4,530*,7* (Anticipated: 6)

    Basilica Minore del Sto. Nino
    530*,7*,830,10*,1130,^230*,4*,530,7 (Anticipated: 530)

    *Cebuano masses (unmarked are english masses)
    ^afternoon onwards

    For other churches around the Philippines check out this site.

    Saturday, January 17, 2009

    Calamian Islands, Northern Palawan Travel Guide: Club Paradise, Maricaban, Calauit, Coron, Busuanga

    Just like any tourist, I was quite confused with the sights to see in Palawan. I had to see the map before I understood it's geography. Palawan is a huge archipelago, it may take a month to visit the whole island. Puerto Princessa (PP) is at it's center, it is the jump off point for Honda Bay Island Hopping and 7 wonders of the world nominee Underground River Tour. From PP, El Nido is two hours away by land + short boat transfers while Coron is ten hours away by big passenger vessel and Tubbataha Marine Park is twelve hours by boat.

    These three main tourist destinations of Palawan can now be reached by plane. PP and Coron (via Busuanga) via flagship airline PAL, or Cebu Pacific, Zest Airways & Seair. While El Nido can be reached by Seair or charter flights on Island Transvoyager. Since these are small aircraft, free luggage allowance is limited to 10 to 15 kilograms. Click link for more info on flying to Busuanga.

    This is probably the most difficult trip I've organized simply because I wanted to make an itinerary that's off the beaten path. There is limited information on the net, most sites offer tour packages rather than helpful hints and contact information. Mobile phone signal is weak in some areas, it took me some ten tries before I could reach the contacts. Since we have only four days to spare, we've trimmed down the trip to two islands of Calamian Islands, Northern Palawan. Calamian Islands, consists of Busuanga Island, Coron Island, Calauit Island, Culion Island and other neighboring islands. The locals discouraged us to push through our initial plan of cruising around Busuanga Island for three days due to strong northeastern winds (Amihan) in January, so we decided to skip Gutob Bay and came up with plan B:

    Day 1 Getting to Club Paradise Resort
    Busuanga Airport - Maricaban Bay - Dimakya Island - Maricaban Bay

    Planes fly from Manila to Busuanga Airport via PAL, Cebu Pacific, Zest Airways and Seair (while passesnger vessels of Superferry docks in Coron Town). There are several vans awaiting for passengers to be transferred to Coron Town for P150 per pax or P1,500 per van.

    Since we wanted to visit Club Paradise, we went straight to Maricaban Bay. We were met at the airport by our host, Vicky Hefti of Vicky's Lodging House. Her place is an hour away from the the airport, a fishing village, the jump-off point to Club Paradise, Dimakya Island.

    Day use at Club Paradise costs P2,500 inclusive of airport transfers, lunch buffet, and use of facilities. It's a rated AAA resort, which costs as much as $300/night during peak season. Alternatively, we had our lunch at Vicky's Lodging House for P250 and booked a boat through Vicky's/Dugong Dive Center to bring us to Club Paradise. Round trip boat transfers is at P900/pax plus $10/pax day use fee at Club Paradise.

    After lunch, on board fiberglass diving boat Tashina, we were cruising Maricaban Bay. Lovely view of the mountain on one side, a couple of inhabited islands on the other. We cruised passed El Rio Y Mar and Isla Walang Lang-aw. We reached Club Paradise, Dimakya Island, thirty minutes later. We were met with inviting clear blue sea and white sands, I've never seen such clear blue sea water! We had to transfer to a chase boat to get to the shore, one by one we had to time our entry with the strong breaks. It caught me, so I was literally pushed to shore with the guide holding me tightly, obviously, I got soaked (but we all had a good laugh)!

    Two of us went diving at the reef while the rest tried to brave the water snorkeling. 60 feet underwater, water visibilty was bad due to continuous strong winds and waves for the past days. We missed the resident turtle, nevertheless, on that white sandy bottom, we saw stingray and my first ever mandarin fish. If you're lucky you'll find Dugong in this area. Dive rate for Vicky's guests is discounted at P1,000/dive and P400 for gear rental per dive. They provide good condition Scubapro gear (exactly just like mine).

    Too short a time to bum around. Before the sun sets, we had to leave for Vicky's Lodging House where we will spend the night.

    Vicky's Lodging House / Vicky's Guest House provides very basic room accomodation with tiled private toilet & bath. Electricity is not available in the area,  generator is available but is operating only during a limited time.  Rooms are not equipped with aircondition, although a portable one is available on request.  If you're up to somehow immerse yourself in what it's like to live in an island tucked away from town, this is one experience you should not miss.  This experience makes you appreciate the little things of your everyday cosmopolitan life.

    Vicky's home cooked meals are great. We feasted on crabs, fish, pork belly and who would forget the banana flambe. Vicky is definitely a great host, one with pleasing personality and warm hospitality. She even accompanied us in our tours the next day. If you wish to stay with them, do advise her in advance. Logistics in the area is difficult, they have to buy their supplies including food and water from Coron or Manila.

    Day 2 Getting to Calauit Island Safari, Maquinig Hot Springs, Mt. Tapyas
    Maricaban Bay - Calauit Island - Coron Town

    We were set to leave at 5am by land to get to Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary by 7am, when the animals are known to group together before they wander around. We got delayed, we left past 6am and the land trip took more than three hours, so we got there around 930am. By this time, the animals have wandered around and the tour truck has left. So we walked past the unmanned entrance and saw our first, second, then third giraffe in the wild! We tried to get closer but they tend to move away until a small tour truck came to us. These giraffes followed us in our tour truck knowing they will be fed.

    Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary is managed by Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD). Booking is required to enter Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, they have an office in Coron that will take your bookings (I failed to get their numbers, if you have one do post it here). Our host Vicky arranged it for us. Entrance is at P250/pax and tour truck is at P1,000/truck (but we got the small one at P500).

    How to get to Calauit Safari? There are two ways to reach Calauit Island: By Land or By Boat.

    1. hire a van at P6,000 from Coron Town for about 4 hours land trip per way + short outrigger boat to cross the island at P400/boat. Make sure your driver knows where to stop, there are no visible signs as to where to take the boat to cross the island.

    2. rent a boat (rates were based on what I've canvassed)

    From Coron Town, rent an outrigger boat to Calauit Island. It is about P9-11,000 for about 5 to 6 hours per way. You may opt to stay overnight in North Cay Island and go island hopping in Gutob Bay: North Cay/South Cay Island, Black Island.

    From Club Paradise or from Vicky's Guesthouse (Maricaban Bay) it is 2 hours away. Club Paradise charge $46/pax all-in for the tour or you can rent a boat through Vicky at P4,000/boat + entrance fees.

    Boat trips is advisable only from February to May when the sea is calm.

    We left Calauit at noon, and we're in for another 4-hour land trip from the northern most tip of Busuanga to the southern most tip of Busuanga as we head to Coron Town. We had a stop over at Concepcion Falls for our packed lunch of crabs and chicken adobo.

    We reached Coron Town past 5pm, checked-in Princess of Coron and met up with our coron local guide Mang Eran of DIY Coron.

    He was accommodating enough to lead the way up to Mt. Tapyas. That's more than 800 flights of steps uphill where you'll see the whole town of Coron and Coron islands. Going uphill, look to your right and see that island dubbed as the "sleeping giant".

    We had a hearty dinner at Kawayanan Grill. Coron Town is pretty small, you can easily go around town by foot or tricycle. Trikes in coron can fit 7 pax. Feel free to ask for directions, you'll find everything just around the corner.

    Maquinit Hot Springs is about 20 minutes tricycle ride from town center. We paid P300 for round trip tricycle fare. Our driver waited for our return trip. Entrance to Maquinit Hot Springs is at P100/pax, local residents can buy tickets in town at P50/pax - maybe your trike driver can do that for you like ours did. ;)

    Day 3 A must: Coron Island Hopping
    Coron Town - Coron Island Hopping - Coron Town

    The highlight of every tour to Coron is the Coron Island Hopping. We arranged with DIY Coron for a hassle free day. Ours costs P1300/pax for six pax, inclusive of hotel pickup to/fr port, boat rental, entrance fees, hearty lunch and cheesewiz sandwich snack.

    If you decide to go on your own, boats are readily available for hire at P1500 - P2500 per day at the port. Follow this itinerary to maximize your travel time and take note of the following entrance fees:

    SIETE PECADOS (P75): (Seven Sins) snorkel in a marine sanctuary around seven islets.

    KALACHUCHI ISLAND (P0): a marine sanctuary named after the kalachuchi tree on top of it.

    KAYANGAN LAKE (P200): dubbed as one of the cleanest fresh water lake in the world. It can be reached after a hundred steps up then down hill. If there is anything you should not miss, it would be this lake. The lime stone rock formation underwater was breathtaking. Noticeably, floating on fresh water is more difficult, one becomes less bouyant.

    Don't forget to stop by the cave half-way to/fr Kayangan Lake see this view from the top:

    Eat your packed lunch by the Kayangan Cove. There is a long stretch of table available for use near where the boats dock. One thing great about getting a package tour is, you don't have to worry about logistics especially on food and drinks. We would have wanted lobsters but it wasn't available in the market so we had crabs and shrimps instead.

    BARRACUDA LAKE (P75): a very short trek up and down on sharp limestone was a challenge before you reach the brackish lake. Hail to those divers who brought along their scuba gears & tanks.

    TWIN LAGOON (P0): it was high tide when we got there, the gap was really small so we had to swim (less than a meter) underwater to get to the other side. Be mindful of the sharp rocks overhead when you rise. Once inside, experience thermocline, it's amazing to actually see it at shallow depth and actually feel the difference with your hands (a few inches apart) on top of the other. See and try it for yourself, it's amazing.

    SKELETON WRECK (P100): one of the few shallow ship wreck in Coron seen by snorkeling. Wreck diving is popular in Coron at the depths of 60ft or more.

    BANOL BEACH (P100): a small cove of white sand beach front maintained by the Tagbuana Tribe. A cozy place to beach bum. Wish we had more time to spare but the sun is about to set, we had to go back to town.

    After a series of seafood meals, go to Bistro Coron for some tasty Italian pizza, pasta and more in Coron Town. The shrimp & mushroom pasta with fresh tomato sauce was tasty, the marinara pasta was so so, but the pizza was great! Oops, that's still seafood.

    Day 4 AIRPORT

    Our host, Princess of Coron arranged shared airport transfers for us, we didn't have to go to the town center, we were picked up at the resort for P150/pax. Princess of Coron provides the best facilities in town according to a local. Our clean spacious room, located on the second floor was priced at P1,600. It had king size bed and one double deck, large cabinets, a living room on one side, airconditioned, tiled bathroom w/ shower enclosures. It's owned by an Austrian and his Filipina wife. It's not really a resort nor a hotel, but more of a lodging house.

    Busuanga airport, Yulo King Ranch is a 45 minute scenic ride across mountain view and animal ranch from Coron Town.

    This is finally off my wow Philippines wish list. Three more to go! :D

    TIP: Ours was a DIY tour, if you like the itinerary exactly like ours, simply contact Vicky for Day 1 and 2 and Owen of DIY CORON for Day 3. The latter is known for coming up with budget group tours, feel free to contact him and share a tour, he can arrange the tour from Day 1 to 3 also. He certainly was of great help to us and even made ocular inspection on our behalf.


    1. first aid, vitamins, medicine - pharmacy is not readily available
    2. flash light - electricity is not available 24 hours in certain areas
    3. insect repellant: off lotion (a must!)
    4. mask, snorkel and fins (rental is available at P150)
    5. towels and toiletries, sun block
    6. slippers and trekking shoes (for barracuda lake)
    7. dry bag/zip locks
    8. cash! - atm and credit card not available
    9. swim suit, rash guard and quick dry clothes, cap
    10. underwater camera and batteries
    11. rain jacket (for rain and wave splash)

    POST TRIP ACCOUNTING: P8724/pax + 1600 dive/pax + P1115 airfare

    P 200 naia airport terminal fee
    P 250 airport transfers (1500/6)
    P 900 boat to club para
    P 477 club para day use ($10)
    P 400 vickys lodging house (800/2)
    P 950 vickys meals (4meals)
    P 50 1 liter mineral water
    P1000 van rental to vickys-calauit (jump-off point)-coron (6000/6)
    P 67 boat transfers to/fr calauit island (400/6)
    P 250 calauit entrance fee
    P 85 calauit tour truck (1000 less 50%/6)
    P1600 two nights at princess of coron (1600/2*2)
    P 270 POC meals (2bf meals)
    P 60 5 liter mineral water (35x5/3)
    P 200 kawayanan grill
    P 320 coron bistro
    P 50 maquinit hot spring round trip tricycle ride(300/6)
    P 75 maquinit hot spring entrance fee (P100-25 discount)
    P1300 coron island hopping (w/ lunch & entrance fees)
    P 50 tip
    P 150 airport transfers
    P 20 busuanga airport terminal fee
    P1000 dive fee
    P 400 dive gear
    P 200 tip
    P0 mla-busuanga (travel voucher) via CP
    P1115 busuanga-mla via PAL express

    Contact Information:

    Other places to stay:

    Monday, January 12, 2009

    Travel Photography Workshop

    Photoholic Ilocos is a trip to Ilocos organized by Travel Factor. Photoholics is a modern day linggo which refers to those addicts to face the camera or take photographs. It started out as a venue for knowledge sharing among hobbyist.

    A big plus to the trip was their first ever photography workshop facilitated by Cedric Valera. I love to travel and learning to love photography. What could be better than having both at the same time. Undeniably, having a digital camera is fast becoming like having a mobile phone.

    I had to borrow a DSLR for the trip and had to cram reading the manual before we left. For someone who had no background on digital photography, I was challenged and at times frustrated by the workshop not to mention the assignment that went with it. Sir Ced have shared a lot of travel photography tips and he has successfully shared those with his bubbly self and got away with critiquing our shots with his funny antics!

    Let me share some tips I learned during the workshop:

    F16 1/250 ISO 200 is the best exposure for daylight in travel photography.

    (from speak:

    f4.5 = SMALL DEPTH OF FIELD = Best for portraits
    f8.0 = MEDIUM DEPTH OF FIELD = Good for most shots
    f22 = LARGE DEPTH OF FIELD = Best for landscapes

    2000 - 4000 Very fast. (for flying animals.)
    500 - 1000 Fast shutter. (for playing kids.)
    125 - 500 Moderate shutter speed. (portrait.)
    8 - 60 Slow shutter speed with tripod. (show movement)
    8" - 30" Very slow shutter speed with tripod. (night shoot)

    Watch out for CHISMIS: these are distracting elements of a photograph. (Calle Crisologo)

    Watch out for CHISMIS: these are abruptly cut subject. (Bangui Windmills)

    Set CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE for night shoot. CWB sets the benchmark of white in a different lighting condition.(Calle Crisologo, by Ced Valera).

    Go for silhoutte on backlight (against the light). First meter the sky then shoot the subject. The subject must appear dark for a perfect silhoutte, no details just outline. (Paoay Church)

    Take note the intersecting lines of the RULE OF THIRDS.

    Portraiture: The eye shall intersect the lines on rule of thirds. Watch out for growing objects on the head. Don't cut on the joints. (Saud Beach, Pagudpud)

    Landscape: the horizon can be horizontally on the upper or lower thirds. (Bantay Abot)

    Look out for patterns. (Vigan Pottery)

    Play with shadows. (Cobblestones of Vigan)

    Center Balance for doors and windows. (Paoay Church)

    The angle tells a story, it projects different levels of respect or social status. In portraiture, respect is key and consent may be necessary.(Kabigan Falls)

    Staircases are emo. Leading lines shall start at the corner. It leads and draws the eye to the subject. (Cape Bojeador Lighthouse)

    Look for patterns and details. (Paoay Church)

    Leading lines (river) lead to the subject. (Capurpurawan Rock)


    After all that has been learned, I've come to realize it's not so much on the arrow, but it's the Indian.

    I love the experience, I'm excited for another travel photography workshop in Batanes with Mandy Navasero next month. :D

    Note: Pictures taken with Nikon D40.