Monday, March 26, 2012

Tappiyah Falls, Musings on the Trail, and the Bulul

We had no detailed plans for this trip, except to see the terraces and Tappiyah Falls. We told Dandy, our awesome guide (contact him at: 0910.346.5310), of our bare plan and he told us that if we weren't in a hurry, we could hike to Cambulo. Thank you Dandy!  I have not heard of Cambulo, a neighboring community reachable by 2-3 hours of trek.

That was the masterplan.

Finally, it was time to walk along the terraces.

We went on the month of August, and the village was in the middle of the harvest season. That explains why some fields are empty while others still have lush green stalks. The rice terraces is at its greenest during the months of April-May and October-November. For more info on the planting/harvest seasons, please visit Meanne's post.

Notice how some of the huts' roofs are made from GI sheets? The roof of a traditional Ifugao house is made from cogon grass, but this needs to be changed after several years of wear and tear. The practicality of using GI sheets win over the effort of maintaining a cogon grass roof, so here comes the dilemma: when should we choose preservation of millennia-worth of culture over the convenience of  modern technology?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Going Local at Ramon's Homestay

'Go Local!'

We saw Mang Ramon's catchy slogan on the trail to Batad. We made no reservations prior to the trip, but luckily, Ramon's Homestay still had an available traditional Ifugao hut. For P700, we were able to experience living in a 'no-nail' house.

We were drenched by the rain and the almost 4-hr trek made us hungry for dinner at 4PM. Good thing we didn't have to walk outside to find decent food because Ramon's Homestay offered home-cooked meals for a reasonable price. They served us brown rice, from the grains harvested from the terraces in front of us.  

Our home for the night.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Road to Batad

Hearing a French man based in Singapore say that Batad is the best place he's ever visited in Southeast Asia is heartwarming but knowing that you haven't set foot on the rice terraces yet is just, well, sad.

The Rice Terraces in the Cordillera Administrative Region are collectively acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Note that the Rice Terraces is tagged as a RED cultural site, meaning that it is included in the list of heritage in danger.  The listing includes five clusters of terraces: Nagacadan in Kiangan, Hungduan, Mayoyao, Bangaan, and Batad Terraces.

Frequent landslides have threatened to damage the 2000-year old work of the Ifugaos, the last one reducing one section of Batad Terraces to a rubble. With that in mind, I vowed to visit Batad on the next long weekend. Pushing it far back in my calendar might mean not seeing it in its pristine form.

On August 26, Thursday night, we set off for Banaue. We made reservations with Ohayami Trans for the bus scheduled to leave at 10PM. It was a good choice to call ahead because the place was packed with people buying tickets at the last minute. The ride usually takes 9 hours, however, typhoon Mina decided to come with us to North Luzon, so the bus had to take extra caution in avoiding muddy landslides on the road.

We finally arrived at the Ohayami Bus Terminal at 9 in the morning, Friday. We were met by our ever reliable guide, Dandy Umhao, at the station. (Thanks to Chyng Reyes!) Dandy herded us to the People's Lodge and Restaurant for a quick breakfast. There we were joined by a group of 4 other travelers.

This what I love about Benguet and its neighboring provinces like Mt. Province.  They serve brown rice and fresh, crisp veggies! I'm not a fan of vegetables but whenever I'm up north, I transform into a veggie gobbler!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Boracay for P5000

I'm writing about this because the sun is scorching hot.

And this humid weather reminds me of this:

The 4-km long, powder-fine, white sand beach of Boracay! 

When I first visited the island, I did all things the Boracay way -- got myself a henna (and almost had my hair braided), did the zorb, ate a lobster, drooled on cakes and shakes, and bought sand art and wood carvings from the lucky peddlers who happened to ask me, the eager guest. I just had to get all those touristy things done.

The next time I was there, I'd like to think that I was wiser. Boracay, with its grand establishments, need not to be expensive. There are a lot of things to choose from and prices vary from the tourist trap fancy to the backpacker-friendly rates. But hey, if you want to spend, go ahead and do it. 

Going to Boracay during off-peak months gives me almost 25% savings from accommodations and activities. Plus there is no need to worry about the crowd which usually flocks the strip of heaven during summer and long weekends (Well, except for our Korean friends. It seems that they favor the beach all-year round.) Reservations are not necessary and the usual walk-in inquiries and check-ins work. Haggling powers are especially effective during lean months.

The goal for August 2011 trip was to stay in Boracay for 3days and 2nights and get to experience parasailing, for under P5000.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Best Boracay Find - Red Pirates Pub

The search is over for my favorite place in Boracay. 

We were walking along the stretch of the island's fine white sand towards Station 3, with the goal of finding a good spot to see the sunset, without the crowd, vendors, and loud thumping party music.

And there it was, almost at the end of the shoreline, past Angol Point. A stone throw away from the haunted-looking abandoned villas and a 5-minute walk from the last resort at Station 3, Asya Suites. 

It was nearing sunset when we saw a hut with blaring reggae music.  Red Pirates Pub almost looked like a shack from afar, and with trinkets and fishing paraphernalia found all over the place, I felt like walking straight into a pirate's isolated cove. There's an overgrowth of shrubs and vines in front of the hut and when we stepped inside the bushes, we found seats made of driftwood. On the shore were several chairs and tables, mats, and hammocks too - strewn all over the area.

Local fishermen and foreign guests alike were having their bottles of ice-cold beer on the pirate shack.  Beer was sold at an happy hour rate of P40 per bottle. It suited our Boracay-for-P5000 goal (including the parasailing fee -- more of this in another post). 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Notes on the Asia Society Philippine Foundation - Travels on a Shoestring Budget Lecture

From Asia Society Philippine Foundation's page
This poster caught my attention last week. I travel cheaply and I very much enjoy a full-packed (almost no idle time) itinerary. There really are things that you need to be frugal on just so you could have 15 minutes of parasailing, unless, of course, if you want to give it all away and splurge. I like listening to stories and researching for tips on how things can be done the budget-friendly way.  There's a certain satisfaction that I get whenever I pull out my notes at the end of the day to calculate my expenses and finding out that I just spent a fraction of the budget. This lecture was just perfect. I needed some pointers.

The lecture was started off by Harvey Keh, Executive Director of Asia Society Philippine Foundation.  

Thursday, March 08, 2012

What To Do After the Hot Air Balloon Festival

Seeing the balloons gave us a natural high, but by 8AM, it all dwindled down. We've looked up several activities to go with watching the balloons fly. We even thought of visiting Corregidor but the boat rental at Bataan is too pricey for a group of 5, plus given our sleepy and sluggish condition, all we could do was eat.


Several blog posts recommended dining at AC Rumpa, a restaurant located just outside Clark. It seemed to be the perfect spot to get an energy-boosting breakfast. We thought we were going to eat in a restaurant in the midst of the red district in broad daylight,  but thank goodness for GPS, we found our way to AC Rumpa.

How to get there: From the Omni Aviation Complex inside Clark Freeport Zone, take the Manuel Roxas Highway (main road) to exit the gates. Turn right once you reach the Manila North Road/McArthur Highway. Turn right at Surla St.  AC Rumpa is just near the corner, on the right side of the street.

AC Rumpa stands for Angeles City Retired US Military Personnel Association

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fest - Everything that Flies and Anything That's Edible

I have never seen a real, gigantic balloon take off from the ground. The Hot Air Balloon Festival at the Omni Aviation Complex inside Clark Freeport Zone was my first. This festival is held annually, during the month of February, and 2012 marks its 17th year.  It was started in 1994 with the intention of reviving Central Luzon's tourism industry and economy that was stumped by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption.  The participants also hope to awaken the youth's interest for aviation.

With merely 2hours of sleep, we dragged ourselves at 2AM and drove to Clark. We lined up at the entrance at 4:30AM along with several other guests who were also up early, the organizers weren't even there yet. It was a good thing we did our own research prior to the event and brought blankets to sit on. We snatched some nap time before the pick-up trucks started arriving in the field.

The crowd behind us
The preparation started just as the sun was shining up in the horizon. At around 6:30AM, the host called everyone's attention for the Philippine National Anthem and the Philippine Army Flag Jump.
The reward for the lack-of-sleep/early-camp-out at Clark? Good front seats/standing areas! Well, except for the fact that we were in front of SM's balloon, we had a pretty good view of everything.

The balloons started inflating right in front of us. 

My favorite photo
This year's crowd favorites

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Bucas Grande Island - Sohoton National Park

The best thing about not being in charge of the itinerary is that you're definitely in for a surprise. Just make sure you don't google!

Here's two things I knew about Bucas Grande before the trip: it's an island south of Siargao, and there's swimming involved.

We rode the ferry from Dapa Pier in Siargao to the Socorro Municipality at 8AM. More than an hour later, we walked down the streets of Socorro and found ourselves a place to stay for the night. Thirty minutes later, armed with take-out lunch from a carinderia and bottles of softdrinks in a cooler, we rented a smaller boat bound to the Sohoton National Park. We were checking the time since we needed to be there by low tide. Why? That time I still didn't know and I didn't ask. See? I was prepared to be surprised.

On the way, we were surrounded by blue and green calm waters bounded by islets and pristine shores. We also spotted some areas with abundant corals and looked perfect for snorkeling. The boat docked at the Sohoton Visitor's Center where we paid our fees and rented an even smaller boat. Why do we need an even smaller boat?  That added up to the mystery.

Pristine waters in front of the Visitor's Center

By the time we boarded the boat, I was brimming with excitement.   

The only entrance and exit to the Sohoton National Park is through a small and low cave-like entrance that is only passable during low tide (The reason we were pressed for time and the need for a smaller boat!). Only accredited boatmen could take visitors through the entrance as one wrong maneuver could send the boat smashing to the walls.

Here's a video of the cave entrance with me WOWing in the background.