Category Archives: It’s More Fun in the Philippines
I’m not one to broadcast my failures online – Facebook, Twitter, this blog….but I promised myself I’ll be more fearless for this year. Posting this may be a good start. It’s quite poetic that my first post for this year is about failure and probably won’t be the last.
So early last year, I participated in my fourth climb with two of my college friends – Len and Jam. Len had been an avid hiker long before Jam and I got into mountaineering and when she told us about Mt. Tapulao which features Pulag-like scenery and fog, we quickly said yes to the invite without researching about the mountain. Our blood is singing with longing for the Great Outdoors, a veritable escape from the tediousness of city life. Not to mention the package is cheap! Just PHP650.00 for a day hike which includes transportation and guide fee*. There’s no way we’re gonna pass it up.
Mt. Tapulao is the highest mountain range in Zambales region. We left Cubao around 9PM in the evening because we need to get be in the jump-off point at 3 AM to start the trek. The three of us were happily chatting inside the bus, blissfully ignorant to the torturous trek ahead. Looking back now, the whole trip went smoothly. Too smoothly, in my opinion. Knowing my luck, I should have known that was a sign for the things yet to come.
Before the sun rose, we set off to the infamous Rocky Road, the first phase of the trek. Why Rocky Road you ask? Just take a look at the picture below. And if you’re thinking ‘Meh, that’s just the quarter of the trek. It can’t go on forever’ then you’re WRONG. The Rocky Road is like 80% of the trek and by the time you descend Mt. Tapulao, the mere sight of a harmless rock will drive you nuts. Nuts, I tell ya! (I can’t eat a rocky road ice cream without having a flashback of rocks, rocks everywhere)
The rocks don’t disappear. They just keep getting bigger and bigger.
As far as I remember, the route to Mt. Tapulao covers 16 stations of which I don’t know how it was divided. Let’s just say up until Station 14 or 13, you’ll be tripping on rocks until you finally enter the pine tree forest, the most scenic part of the hike. Jam and Len went as far as Station 14 while I, worried about the dusk, decided to climb down earlier. It was around 1 PM and we haven’t reached the peak yet!
In my previous hikes, I used to enjoy the descent more so than the climb. At least, I have some help from gravity when it comes to pacing. With Mt. Tapulao, the hike down is just as painful to the knees as the climb. The rocks are slippery and my knees are close to buckling down from exhaustion. I swear I have to ask my guide to have a rest every ten minutes or so. And when things couldn’t get any worse, it rained. Heavily.
Good thing I brought some extra clothes and underwear for the occasion. When we arrive back to the Rangers’ Station, it was nearly 3 PM and I changed off my wet clothes without some competition from other hikes. After comforting myself with a cup of warm noodles, I collapsed to one of the benches and slept until evening like a wimp.
TIPS BEFORE GOING TO MT. TAPULAO:
- If you’re a beginner, I STRONGLY recommend you to join the the overnight hike instead of the dayhike. If you want to challenge yourself, prepare prepare prepare weeks before the actual hike.
- A walking stick will be very useful especially during descent. By this time, your knees may buckle anytime and it’s good to have a stick to support you.
- Always bring a poncho or a raincoat. Don’t take the weather lightly.
- Wear comfortable footwear. You’re gonna rely on it especially during the Rocky Road.
- Mt. Tapulao is also a perfect pre-major hike climb. If you want to take on Mt. Pulag’s infamous Akiki challenge, Mt. Tapulao can prepare you for the terrain and the altitude.
- And don’t get discouraged! Whether you reach the summit or not within the allotted time, it doesn’t matter. We have revenge hikes for a reason 🙂
- Have fun!
Make sure you file your one-day vacation leave after the hike.
My philosophy in life is to reward myself in every milestone I gained, big or small. Having your 23rd birthday is a major achievement (since you’re still here and all) and what could be a better way of celebrating one’s 23 years of existence than getting your 23-year-old heart to pump faster and your 23-year-old lungs to wheeze harder as you climb one of the highest peaks of the country?
Mai and I decided to climb Mt. Pulag on September 19-20, with her fresh from her climb on Mt. Daraitan and with me just eager to do something different for my birthday. It took every last ounce of willpower to convince my parents to climb on the day of my birthday, but they gave up in the end (happy birthday to me!), deliriously ignorant of what Mt. Pulag has in store for me.
Day 1, Friday, Mai and I meet up with fellow climbers at Cubao Terminal where we’re going to take a van going to Baguio city. From there, a jeepney will take us to Kabayan, Benguet. I had my dinner at Tropical Hut first, aware that this is going to be my last good dinner before the climb since Mai and I have decided to stick with the good ol’ Century Tuna Paella while hiking.
I remembered Mai asking me if I brought an emergency blanket or a sleeping bag. I said I didn’t, since my bag is heavy and bulky enough. Now this is a lesson we will soon learn: A heavy bag is not a problem, but if you come to Pulag with the mindset of ‘The cold never bothered me anyway’, you’re in for some serious frozen hell.
We slept mostly through the van which took off 10PM in the evening. By about 3AM, we reached Baguio and hopped into the jeepney taking us to Benguet. After 2 hours and a half of travelling, our companions had their breakfast at Jang Jang eatery while Mai and I sauntered off to the famous Jang-jang Bridge located behind the eatery.
We proceeded to DENR office to attend a brief orientation about Mt. Pulag. Now for some trivia, Mt. Pulag is the 3rd highest peak in the Philippines and the highest in Luzon. It is world-renowned for its captivating ‘Sea of Clouds’ at its summit. There are four trails to the summit but the two well-known are the Ambangeg trail (for beginners) and the Akiki trail (the killer trail)
Needless to say, we will proceed through the Ambangeg trail. If you’re only interested with the summit, go Ambangeg. If you want to be challenged by the mountain (as if the cold isn’t enough), Akiki is for you.
At the DENR office, we passed by a store selling insulator pads and I thought of buying it just in case. I consulted Mai but in the end, we decided that it will add more bulk to our baggage. Besides, we won’t be using it anymore after the hike. This, kids, is mistake #2.
We started our climb roughly around 10AM. The sun is shining bright and it looks it’s going to be a sunny climb for us. We barely passed the Ranger’s station when we experienced Mt. Pulag’s volatile weather. The fog soon engulfs the sun and we prepared our raincoat once the downpour begins.
I lumbered off to a slow start, enjoying the cold and the sights. Mai is haggling me to go faster but I don’t. I think most of our conversations are spent on arguing which is more efficient: climbing and resting at your own pace or climbing faster than you should and taking only minimal breaks. None of us wins since we were both dead tired in the end anyway.
While climbing, I always have a problem with steep parts of the trail (I mean, who hasn’t, other than Mai and her iron legs) and I would always consider them as a major pain in the neck. Later, the mountain would help me realize that an arduous journey uphill is just a temporary struggle. Later, as you go down the mountain, those steeply-inclined paths will be your source of relief. As the famous line goes, it’s all pretty much downhill from here. Pretty much like life, I guess.
As you climb further and further, the changes of Mt. Pulag’s topography becomes clearer. Here’s a mountain which can’t decide what it is: Pine trees and mossy forests at the base, grassland on top. One of our companions said that when you take the Akiki trail, the stark contrast of the morphing landscape is more evident.
Somewhere along the trail, I found myself walking alone. I told Mai to go on ahead. The weight of a 15-kg baggage is making my knees tremble. I’m now feeling sharp shots of pain in my shoulder whenever I adjust the weight of the bag. The thinning air of the high altitude is not helping either. I’ve always thought climbing in cool temperature is way easier than hiking under the scorching sun but the cold presents an unlikely adversary. I have to rest every 20 minutes and I swear if there are indeed spirits residing in Mt. Pulag, they would probably be angry at my loud, asthma-like panting.
After about four hours of panting, wheezing and almost dying, with my shoulders crying, we finally reached Camp 2.
After setting up camp and resting for a bit, Mai and I decided to explore the sights around Camp 2. Seeing the running hills leading to the summit evokes a certain kind of solitude and renewal that only getting closer to the heavens can bring.
Just after we were having our dinner, it rained. Hard. One of the seasoned climbers said that the rain is actually a good thing. One of the recipes of Sea of Clouds is to rain the night before, but raining till dawn will present a big problem.
Because of the rain, the temperature plunges down. Mai and I settled inside our desolate shelter we call our tent. Without blankets, without sleeping bags, without an insulator pad, we are done for. The cold seeps inside our tent like a Dementor sucking all the warmth in our bones. Mai is already wearing three layers of clothing and still, she feels her feet are frozen inside an ice block. We’ve managed to distract ourselves from the cold by laughing at our own stupidity and making jokes about why our feet is so vulnerable to the cold. Mai, being a professional physical therapist, stated dead serious that unlike hands, you cannot warm your feet under your armpits. I quipped that we should have conditioned our body through Yoga instead of running to prepare for this trip. We were laughing pretty loud and I’m thankful that the campers near our tent didn’t kill us in our sleep.
Day 2: After sleeping fitfully, we awoke at 3AM for our trek to the summit. The rain had just stopped and the night sky greeted us with a wonderful view of the stars and the faint section of the Milky Way. I swear if my camera was as good as a DSLR, I would run out the space on my card of pictures of the night sky than the sunrise.
The trek to the summit lasted about one hour. As expected, it is a long climb and the only source of light we have is our flashlight. I did some breathing exercises, concentrated on the path I’m walking on, but upon reaching Peak 2, I turned my head to the other side and froze on my tracks. The faint rays of the coming dawn offered me a glimpse of mountains drowning under the sea of clouds. If it wasn’t for Mai calling me from above, I would have stood there, transfixed, and waited for the sunrise there.
The last step to the summit is always a memorable one for me. It felt like I overcome something I never thought I could, but it’s far from triumph. It’s more of submission, a tranquil sense of fulfillment and gratitude to the mountain and heavens above for allowing you to glimpse this wonderful view, infusing you with warmth that rivals that of Pulag’s relentless cold, and keeping this memory for you to remember as many sunrises go by.
Mai turned to me and grinned, ‘Happy Birthday!’ I smiled. As far as birthday goes, this is certainly going to be one of the best I’ll ever have.
Our trip is organized by a cool Facebook page called Happy Trail. Check it out here: Happy Trail
Seriously, just look at this picture.
For the past decades or so, the Philippines (or dare we say, Metro Manila) has suffered a great deal of mismanagement in urban planning. Ironically, I’m writing this in a small apartment caught in the urban gridlock where people are just free to live whenever they want (it’s a free country)
I guess this has gone far more than decentralization. I’ve repeatedly called on decentralization of Metro Manila in my other blog posts but hey, if other cities in the Philippines would turn out like this someday, might as well leave Metro Manila alone in its decaying urban state and let it die a natural death. Let its bones serve as a warning to other regions, maybe.
Let’s face it. Any city in this country is destined to be a Metro Manila, without proper management and cooperation of the people. For heaven’s sake, I don’t think we need any lawyers, economists or military men in the government anymore. What we need are planners. Visionaries. I’m not saying the next president or your next mayor should be an engineer; what I like to see is that this next leader will listen to sound planning and adhere to the practicalities of urban management. That he/she has a great respect on public space, urban greenery or to Nature’s territory.
Lest of all, I want him/her to stand by these principles no matter how much big-time corporations or conglomerates shine their flashy cheques to get him/her on their side.
It’s so sad that in this country, our planners are confined (made to think) to confine themselves in the field of research and corporate world only. Provided that we need good scientists and game-changers for engineering (still waiting for PHL to make its own big break on technology someday, or a decent internet connection at least), but we also need more brains on public policies. We need more rational, practical voices like yours in policy-making and law-making, and to be frank we are already tired of all the hot air coming from the government.
This would probably take a long while to be solved, since Metro Manila is the busiest and most commercially-industrialized city in the country, and having it to undergo a massive urban and industrial overhaul may be an expensive and lengthy investment. Yet bear in mind, it won’t be the same way forever. The shadow of the West Valley Fault, the threat of stronger typhoons to come, and the tendency of everything in this city to get caught in a fire that can kill dozens of families living on shanties loom just over the horizon (and don’t forget, zombie apocalypse!)
It may be too late for Metro Manila, but it’s never too late for other regions and cities. We don’t have to wait for a picture showing the devastation of the Big One to make this point. This picture is clear enough.
On a homecoming trip to Romblon, I surprised my mother with a stopover to an island known far and wide, inside and beyond the country: one you can categorically love or categorically hate. An island so mainstream in the local Philippine tourism industry that my inner antisocial self hates with passion but one I couldn’t get enough off since my feet got the feel of its world-famous carpet of sand: Boracay
My last Boracay trip was in January 2015 and I initially thought that the beachfront would be littered with dirty beer cans, lost slippers and other traces of debauchery after years of steady growth of commercialism. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised to find it as pristine and iridescent as ever and so I thought of bringing my mom here so she can relax before we continue our trip to an island nearby.
I kind of expected it would be the same beautiful (crowded) paradise as it was in January . Alas, my hopes are dashed with our personal encounter of the infamous Boracay Algae Bloom (and an even larger crowd – the remnants of LaBoracay Party 2015)
Growing up, I used to hear praises and accolades about this tiny beautiful island. Boracay is the country’s answer to the beautiful Hawaii – our own own paradise island. Aside from boasting one of the greatest beach sands in the Philippines, it is also home to extreme water sports activities and outdoor thrills. Of course, I don’t need to mention how it turns into a mega-crazy place where you can party all night and not ever recall a single thing the morning after. Along with the fame is also the imminent downfall, as they say. After a while, media has shown countless footage and documentaries of how dirty the place is turning to be, how businessmen and investors keep on building their facilities without slightest regard to the island’s natural beauty and how nature is supposedly fighting back by sending legions of green aliens to its shores.
According to what I found in the internet, the Boracay Algae Bloom is more of a structural problem than an environmental one. The island’s underdeveloped sewage system simply can’t keep up with the wave of business and commercial investments coming in. Locals have been dumping their waste on the sea before it became a top-ranked Philippine destination. Imagine the situation now with onslaught of tourists coming in every year in the last twenty years (and counting)
Still, you can’t dismiss the environmental factors surrounding the issue. With great people comes great trash. It’s the sad, painful truth. Congestion, over-development and the island’s inner resources and facilities unable to cope up with the demand of the industry may spell its doom eventually.
I’m not saying anyone shouldn’t visit Boracay from now on. All I’m trying to say is that we should be at least aware of the island’s vulnerability. Most of us come to Boracay to enjoy, to relax, to party, to let loose and return to our normal lives refreshed with the sun’s kiss still warm in our skins. We’re like: “But moooooom, it’s hard to think about the environment when you’re having fun!!” Maybe that’s why the algae bloom is seasonally there to remind us of its vulnerability and violating it further wouldn’t do it (or your future trips) any good. Everything you do in the island is connected to how it will turn out to be. Follow the simple rules of not smoking or bringing any food/beverage to the beachfront. If an establishment is violating the rules in favor of profit than human decency, stop patronizing them. Leave nothing, take nothing. Or as I like to paraphrase it: Make love on the sand but don’t leave your condom behind. (this is an expression. Seriously, get a room). Enjoy the beauty, not abuse it. If you love Boracay and is deeply concerned for its future, join or support an NGO for its protection.
((And to the local government unit and tourism department, maybe we should move now from Promoting to Protecting? The success of tourism lies not on making it a worthy tourist destination now, but making it a worthy tourist destination for generations to come.))
A hotel promo and a sudden whim to go out of the Metro for the weekend brought us to the province up the north – a historic little province called Bataan. My bestfriend seemed to understand my fetish for old houses and structures, historic churches and historical markers so one day, she surprised me that she already booked a hotel room for the two of us in a price we can both afford at a hotel in Balanga.We got more than we bargained for, because the hotel sits literally at the center of the Plaza Mayor, sandwiched between the grand City Hall and an even grander-looking Robinson Mall at one side.
I’ve known Bataan from history books as a site of the infamous Death March during the World War II, when the Imperial Japanese forces overwhelmed the last stand at Corregidor and made the prisoners of war march to their death from Bataan to prison camps spread across Luzon. Thousands of Americans and Filipino soldiers either died out of exhaustion, dehydration, torture or the desire to escape (they were shot on the spot). Even today, markers are spread on the street and main highways, commemorating the ordeal that marked the dark age of Japanese rule over the archipelago.
Our first destination after we reached the hotel is the St. Joseph Cathedral or the Balanga Cathedral. Just a few seconds walk from our hotel, we already reached the doors of the church. Since it’s Sunday, we are lucky that there aren’t any holy masses and we are free to roam around and inside the church. I quickly took notice of the historical marker placed on the side of the wall, meaning the Balanga Cathedral is one of the country’s national cultural treasures. I’ve been around churches for so long now, not entirely out of religious reasons (I consider myself a Protestant ), but because of my love for history and anything old. Catholic churches are the town’s cultural crown jewel – you can trace a place’s history through the consecration of the churches. As I keep saying, if you want a glimpse of a town’s history, visit their churches.
Next stop, we went to the Dambana ng Kagitingan at Mt. Samat. It is a giant memorial cross placed on top of the mountain which commemorates the heroism and courage of joint Filipino-American soldiers as they stood their ground to the waves of Japanese attack during World War II.
You can either walk on foot or take a tricycle going to the top. A tricycle ride is strongly advisable for city bums like me (travelling on foot would take you an hour and a half). On the other hand, a tricycle ride would cost you Php100.00 per head, one-way only, and you’d get to the shrine after 30 minutes.
Tourists can go up as high as to the left and right side of the cross through an elevator which costs around PHP10.00 per head. At the top awaits a magnificent view of the whole Bataan peninsula and the rugged mountain range of neighboring provinces. You can also catch a glimpse of the top of Mt. Mariveles, a dormant volcano beside Mt. Samat that nearly covers all Bataan.
It is an amazing feeling to behold the 90-ft cross standing proud and mighty against the elements. Yet its sheer size and grandiose is nothing but a humble, simple gift for our heroes who fought for our motherland even when the odds are against them. Visiting here made me realize how important it is to be reminded by their sacrifices to protect the liberty they valiantly fought for. Times may have changed now and our former enemies are now our strongest allies, but forgiveness doesn’t have to equate to forgetting. It’s no different than spitting on the graves of our heroes.
For dinner, we ventured to the Balanga Night Market where we got to taste one of the tastiest, juiciest sisig and grilled squid ever. For just Php135.00, we are served with two meals plus two rice. I’m not sure if the Night Market is for Christmas time only, but if you’re looking for an affordable meal, it doesn’t hurt to inquire about it to the locals.
The locals in Bataan are also the friendliest and most helpful people I’ve encountered. They are always quick to help you out and offer you points of interest. Some of the people we met didn’t take advantage of our apparent clueless-ness of the place and offered the best price for the services, like the tricycle driver in Mt. Samat.
The next day, we traveled to the West Nuk Beach at Morong, Rizal, at the farthest point of Bataan, to check out the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. I’ve always wanted to have a tour inside the first and only nuclear plant of the country. It is now called the White Elephant of the Philippines, as useless as any non-functional power plants can go, and the government is spending millions of pesos just to maintain the facilities. Now, it is a tourist sight and people can walk inside the power plant with a tour guide.
Unfortunately, the staff is having their Christmas Party when we arrived. That means no tours for us 😦 The only silver lining we got after taking the grueling trip from Balanga to Morong (Php55.00 each for the hour and a half ride) is that we got to frolic on the calm waves of West Nuk Beach. We didn’t stay long though because we have to catch the check-out time of our hotel.
We bought some Araro Cookies with cashew nuts for pasalubong at the Robinson’s Mall in a rush. Tinapa is Bataan’s own specialty too. The Gabi Ice Cream is also a well-loved specialty and you can try it at Orani, a town before Balanga.
All in all, I think I only spent Php1,000.00 for the activities and the fares for our 2-day stay. Excluding the hotel stay, of course. I would highly recommend staying in a less luxurious place, or in a house of a friend or a relative. Of course, you have to take note that the tour fare in Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is not counted in my breakdown of expenses, though it is recommended to have the tour with a group so you can share the package fee.
* Bus Fare (Cubao-Balanga) P200.00
* Jeep (Balanga-Diwa) – P17.00
* Tricycle (Diwa -Mt. Samat) – P100.00
* Entrance Fee – P20.00
* Elevator Fee – P10.00
* Tricycle (Mt. Samat-Diwa) – P100.00
* Jeep (Diwa-Balanga) – P17.00
* Mini-bus (Balanga-Bataan Nuclear Power Plant) – P65.00
* Bataan Nuclear Power Plant Entrance Fee – P20.00
* Entrance at West Nuk – P120.00
* Picnic Table – P60.00 (P30.00 each)
* Mini-bus (BNPP-Balanga) – 65.00
* Bus (Balanga-Manila) – P200.00
So all in all, Bataan is one of the most affordable out-of-town trips I’ve had. If you’re a fan of history or you just wanted to venture out of the Metro and visit a nearby province to relax, Bataan should be on top of your weekend getaways.
Last 2012, I was part of the media entourage who went to Las Casas Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan. It is a man-made park filled with heritage houses uprooted from different parts of the country; houses that are decaying in their original location. They are henceforth transferred in Bagac for recreational viewing and preservation. You can check out my article here.
Who among you heard this numerous times? Or found yourself saying this more than once? I can say I’m guilty of the latter. When I commuted to Bonifacio Global City and saw the sleek and tall buildings for the very first time, the first thing that floated in my mind is “Parang hindi ka nasa Pilipinas” Feels like I’m not in the Philippines anymore. It’s like a Dorothy and Toto moment when they arrived to Oz.
The statement is oozing with inferiority over our own country. Sure, it comes as just a passing remark, or something not worth mulling about, but the way it is spoken (in jest or in praise) remains throughout the generations. We are probably bombarded by everyday scenarios of hellish traffics, children begging on the streets, shanties beside rivers and seawalls, pollution, and day by day we’re losing a bit of hope of seeing this country’s true progress. Not just in statistics or graphs or investment upgrades. A true progress that involves maturity of the people and the desire to be part of it. Saying this seems to imply we are nowhere near on achieving that vision, or the belief that this country will remain as it is for generations to come.
Just my two cents, though.
It’s not easy to be a Pinoy cinephile in the Philippines. Most copies of classics are not readily available on video stores and online. When you’re gushing on a good classic film you’ve recently watched, chances are people don’t have any idea what movies you’re talking about.
So thanks to this man, this wonderful man, Simon Santos, the cultists of Filipino films finally found an endless source of collection to sate their Filipino cinephilia. The humble but fascinating store is found in West Avenue, Quezon City, near DELTA (almost got lost when finding it but man, it’s worth it).