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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)
• 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.


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.