Monday, May 31, 2010


The road to Sagada is almost as lovely as the place itself. It was one of my most contemplative journeys for two reasons: one, I traveled by myself, and two, the mountainous countryside was such a breath of fresh air- something different for a “beach person” such as myself.

I took the Baguio route (which takes 7 hours, starting from Dangwa market), a road which was sometimes unpaved and rough, that snaked on the side of a cliff, where vehicles have to stop to allow the automobile coming from the opposite direction to pass through the narrow lane.

Sagada town is almost like one of those storybook places- cozy houses with fireplaces, pine forests and a cool climate. Accommodations are abundant with the numerous hostels in town- I stayed at St. Joseph Resthouse (at Php150 per night), one of the popular places for backpackers and tired denizens of Manila seeking to escape urban life for a while.

There are a number of things to do- go trekking or spelunking in different caves (you need a guide, by the way), there’s the big and small waterfalls, sight-seeing around town, especially the hanging coffins.

Stay for a few days, stay for a week, or a month. Maybe its the cool mountain air, or maybe its the peace and quiet (there are no loud parties or clubs in Sagada- mostly folk music), but I guarantee you, by the time you head home you’d be a changed person.

Food: Always fresh and affordable. I once tried spaghetti at Yogurt House and the flavors and taste was so different from those in the city. The tomato sauce was made from scratch (and real BIG tomatoes) which made a big difference. Of course the salad was also outstanding.


Traversing the waterways of Basey, Samar is like going back in time. Despite its proximity to Tacloban (the town is around 30-40 minutes away), majority still use traditional means of transport namely passenger outrigger boats and the motorcycle people call “habal-habal”.

Our trip to Sohoton caves in Rawis was in conjunction with a trip to the gorgeous Balantak falls, also in the same Barangay. Though we hit a few bumps along the way (I was soaked from waist down because of the splashing of water, and the boat had engine problems that had us waiting for 30 minutes before resuming the trip), the places of interest was worth the trouble.

Our guide was an imaginable and jolly 54 year old man, who led the way inside the caverns of Sohoton. The cave itself was not that spectacular- I have tried spelunking with challenging 8-foot drops and underground streams in Sagada, but the redeeming quality was in the hospitality of the guides as well as the completeness of equipment. Helmets with flashlights were provided (at additional cost) for the convenience of tourists.

The trip to Balantak was another 30 minutes on rough road. The roaring waterfall was quite a sight- and at the time we visited we were the only tourists at the site.

Tip: Book a tour at the Tourism office in Basey town proper. Brochures are given so tourists can choose from a number of trips. The 16th century church in the town proper is also a must-see, as well as banig weaving- for which the town is known for.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Puerto Galera

Top five reasons to visits Galera:

5-- SEAFOOD BINGE: Anything from Sizzling Gambas at Peter’s to seafood kebabs at your ihaw-ihaw kainan overlooking the beach. The only strange thing is that food is almost just as expensive as if you’re still in Manila.

4-- SNORKELLING Ask anyone who have been to Galera- this is always a favorite activity, second only to banana boat and people-watching at the beach. Rent a boat for about Php 1,000 to 1,500 (again depending on your haggling skills) and treat yourselves to a little island hopping and snorkelling. Just watch out for jellyfish and bring an underwater camera for fun shots.

3-- SUNBATHING Working forty hours a week inside an airconditioned office in Makati can turn a person as pale as a fish’s belly. A nice suntan brings a certain glow to a tired face.

2-- MINGLE Single people work it in Galera. A sea full of eye candy and twenty-something yuppies in the mood for adventure and romance makes it the perfect place to snag a date.

1-- PARTY Only in Galera- the price of beer is almost as cheap as water (and sometimes they sell it buy-one-take-one). Yup, the food may be expensive but you can definitely drink like a fish. I guess this explains the perpetually festive mood.

Tip: Avoid peak seasons (summer, especially Holy Week) when room rates skyrocket- a room that’s worth 2,000 during off peak could cost as much as double to triple its price!

Cuatro Islas

There is an urban myth in Leyte about a beach- better than Boracay, isolated and pristine, and teeming with marine life like dolphins and sea turtles. Last May we found out, it was not a myth at all but a sanctuary- a marine sactuary that is. The islands are known as Cuatro Islas, a friend told me, and they are off the coast of Inopacan, Leyte. During the last days of summer, me and my significant other, and a few friends decided to find this piece of paradise.

From Tacloban, we traveled by van to the town of Baybay, which is adjacent to Inopacan. The reason for the detour was that Baybay offered more choices when it came to hotel accommodations (unless one has camping equipment and would prefer to stay in the island- but more on this option later). The transport cost was 2,500 for the 14 seater van- although we were only eight people, but we didn’t want to waste time by waiting for other passengers. We arrived at 8:30 am at Palermo Hotel after the one and a half hour travel.

The rates were reasonable at Php600 for four people (bunk beds), with hot and cold water, TV, and airconditioning. We dropped off our things and hurried to the port area. At this point, other than the prior reservations we made at Palermo, we no longer knew where or how to book the trip itself to the island since that kind of information is not available via the internet.

We ended up wasting more time asking pedicab drivers if they knew where the outrigger boats to Cuatro Islas where. In halting Cebuano, I managed to get the needed directions- go to the terminal to get a multicab to Inopacan, then from the wharf we can negotiate with boatmen.

The group was getting a bit frustrated by now. We ended up haggling with jeepney drivers of the price of “pakyaw” (meaning we pay fpr the entire trip, and again won’t wait for other passengers). The final price was Php350, and so once again we hauled our beach gear and food to the jeep and got going.

It was 10:00am by the time we arrived at Inopacan. The next “tribulation” was haggling for the price of the boat trip. Initially the man told us Php3,500- which I promptly dismissed as bull. I mean, we once hired a small outrigger boat in Samar for island hopping for Php500. I’m not falling for this tourist trap. After a few minutes of Oscar winning acting, they finally agreed to Php 2,500 (that’s a thousand off!). I wanted to push for Php2,000 but it was going too far, I mean they would all still be splitting that with the owner. Besides, our boatmen were nice enough to allow us to borrow a cooler for our drinks, and after buying ice, chips, and roasted chicken- we finally on our way.

The boat trip takes around 45 minutes. As it made the approach toward the islands, my breath was caught in my throat. The sandbars floated like illusions on the crystal clear waters. Right then and there I wanted to jump ship and wave goodbye to the others. But oh well, we managed to control ourselves and had enough patience to get off at the farthest, smallest island called Digyo. There were nipa huts in the island already, and the caretakers lived on the other side of the island (You can walk around in around 15 minutes). But from our hut, with the sandbar extending out to the clear waters- it seemed we had the entire island to ourselves.

The sights were certainly worth all the trouble! After taking about a thousand photos, we went snorkeling. Turns out, the marine landscape was even more arresting than the surface. The corals were alive, I’ve never seen so much live anemones and starfishes. And oh, in just waist-deep waters we met Nemo and friends (that’s what we called the clown fishes and other brightly colored marine life). There were a lot of sea urchins,too so one had to be careful not to step on them.

The five hours we spent in Digyo proved too short, but at 5:00pm we had to pack up. The jeep we hired to take us to back to Baybay would be waiting for us by 5:30. And so we bid goodbye to the gorgeous island and our “colorful friends”. And just as we thought the trip couldn’t get any better, three dolphins swam alongside the boat. How’s that for escort?


If I were to choose a place worthy of comparison to Samar in terms of beauty, it would be Palawan. About an hour’s flight from Manila, Coron offers the best of nature- from exotic seascapes, to surreal wreck dives, to charming lagoons and hot springs.

The picturesque Banol beach and the thermal lake, accessible by outrigger boats make a day of island hopping completely unforgettable. It was also my first time to enroll in a diving course from one of the many dive resorts in the area.

Food is plenty and the people are very friendly. Coron town is quite small, so try to spend time exploring the sights and sounds. They also have a viewing deck up a hill that offers a stunning panorama of karst formations in the nearby lagoons.

Where to stay: Accommodation is never a problem in Coron- we even stayed at a hostel that was not listed in travel guides, and the rates were a surprisingly low Php500 per night.

The town is peppered with dive resorts such as Kokosnuss, Evergreen Diving, and Seadive Resort- all with complete diving equipments and qualified dive masters.

Calicoan Island

Few places in the Philippines can rival the beauty of Samar’s dramatic landscapes. Calicoan island is located on the tip of Guiuan, Eastern Samar, and is dubbed the “Surfing capital of Visayas”.

Large waves from the Pacific Ocean lures surfers and adventurers alike, and curiously enough, religious devotees of St. Anthony of Padua. The barrio of Sulangan has a church that is said to be miraculous, and special trips from Tacloban City via vans (travel time around 4 hours) allow people to hear the pilgrim mass around mid-morning.

Seafood is cheap and plentiful at the town market of Guiuan. For sand and surf enthusiasts, white sand beaches circle the coast while comfortable accommodations are available both in the town proper and in Calicoan Island.

This place is particularly memorable for me because the entire family used to travel and stay a few days in Guiuan during summers.

Where to stay: If you favor 4-star accommodations (costing you about Php 14,500 for an overnight stay for two), the fabulous Surf Camp is for you. Amenities include an infinity pool, an Indonesian-style villa with interioir decoration, a restaurant, viewing deck with an awesome view of the Pacific.

Those with more modest pockets can stay at Calicoan Villa- just beside Surf Camp. A cottage with no airconditioning costs somewhere between Php1,500-2,500. 30 minutes away in the town proper are hostels that cost around Php600 for overnight twin accommodations.


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