Category Archives: Wander-lost Adventures

[Traveliries] How Mt. Tapulao brought me to my knees

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.

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What a wonderful day for a hike (HAH!)

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.

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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!

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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.

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Pictures of the pine forest courtesy of my good friend Jam. Check out her amazing blog https://wandergirldiaries.wordpress.com/

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Jam’s cool shots near Camp 1

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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.

 

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A Day at the Garden City

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It’s not easy to go cheap in a city like Singapore where the price of a normal commodity is enough to freak the daylights out of our Filipino frugality, but it is entirely possible to experience the city without spending too much. If you’re a casual tourist like me, or a backpacker just passing through or a student who represents your country for an international conference held here, you can still make the most out of your meager budget in the Garden City.

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Marina Bay Sands

Singapore is a small island-state in Southeast Asia that’s been looked up to by its neighbors for a long time. My country, the Philippines, is one of them.

And for good reason too. Around 50 years ago, Singapore was a just an overlooked, backwater swampland teetering on civil unrest and poverty. It had lost its membership from the Malaysian Federal States due to the “overwhelming” differences on views of their leaders. No one really expected Singapore to make it after the separation but the great thing about Singapore is it did.

Under the guidance of a well-meaning Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the innovative vision of its top government officials and the collective maturity of its people, Singapore is the powerhouse country we know now, a democratic state of people who respects the authority of law and trusts the government to do its job.

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Singapore is often known as the Garden City. I heard that the late Prime Minister Lee’s wife was fond of orchids and I think it played a part in Lee’s overall vision for the city. Singapore may be a concrete jungle for some nature trekkers or backpackers but it’s one damn beautiful concrete jungle. I suspect the shapes, sizes and linings of skyscrapers are intricately planned and designed to form a harmonious, sophisticated feel on the eyes. It would be a great idea if some of government scholars who took up engineering, architecture and urban planning would spend a week in Singapore and just have a pleasant stroll around its streets, hang out on its parks or go inside one of its buildings.

This is what I did. I don’t have any itinerary in mind (partly because of my low-budget plan) I just go where my feet would take me and that has been my motto as a traveler since I consider myself as one.

Dinner at Changi Bay

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A mom and her daughter enjoy the waves

I arrived on Singapore at exactly 6:05 PM. The sky is still clear and bright, unlike in Manila where dusk would have fallen around this time. Travel guides and websites weren’t lying that the Changi International Airport is one of the efficient airports, if not the best, in Asia. It is literally a shopping mall inside an airport. Once your plane made a lay-over in Changi and your transfer flight wouldn’t be due until six hours later, you can avail a tour of Singapore’s most iconic sights and it’s all paid by the airport.

If you’re planning to stay in Singapore for a long time, you can purchase a local sim which costs around $15.00 (PHP 500) inside the airport. They will also get you an affordable internet promo depending on the length of your stay. Internet in Singapore, as I attested, is nothing compared here. It is expensive, but the fast connection is worth it.

At around 7PM, my aunt, who’s been staying at Singapore for more than five years now, picked me up from Terminal 2 and we had our early dinner at Changi Bay. They have a nice boulevard with a road good enough for biking, skating or a leisure jog. We settled ourselves in one of the benches at a food center not far away from the beach and I became easily relaxed with the Monday after-work chill of the people around me.

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My first Singaporean meal – the Satay: skewered pork (and chicken meat) dipped in Indian sauce

Food in Singapore costs about $4.00 – $7.00 SGD (150.00 – 330.00 in Peso), depending on the menu. They also serve this large noodle dish with seafood and spice, and it’s good enough for two people. You can get cheaper food if you’re traveling with a companion or two.

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Long strip of beach along Changi Bay

Taxi Fares 

You can trust the taxi drivers (most, if not all) in Singapore to be honest with what they charge you. I like to think that their meters are reliable and they give you the exact change even in cents. My aunt said refusing a commuter out of preference to traffic, or the race of religion of a commuter is a serious legal offense. Inside the cab, their personal identification cards are displayed along with numbers to contact if the commuter feels harassed or unsafe.

Base fare, as far as I remember, is $4.00 SGD (PHP 150.00) and I recommend taking it as last possible resort or if you’re traveling in groups. Unlike here in Manila, however, five or more people are strictly not allowed inside a cab. For budget tour around the city, you can take a bus which costs around $0.40 – $1.60 SGD (PHP 13.00 – 50.00) depending on your destination.

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We reached my aunt’s place and we settled in for tonight. I learned that an apartment unit in Singapore is only allowed 99 years under your property. It’s one of the drastic measures the government has to take to control the booming of migrants and to maximize the dwindling space in the city. And seeing a lot of cranes and lots being excavated where a skyscraper shall soon rise, it seemed Singapore keeps on growing. It is still at the tail-end of its construction and I doubt the momentum would stop as long as it’s economy is growing.

On the my first night in Singapore, I lay on the couch beside the tall windows, watching at the twinkling of lights on the buildings near my aunt’s apartment. Everything in this city is damn efficient, I remembered thinking before falling asleep.

Lucky Plaza

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I asked my aunt on breakfast where do Filipinos hang out in Singapore. Pinoys thrive in communities and common interests, no matter where they are in the world. Naturally, she took me into a place where Filipinos mostly hang out and that’s the Lucky Plaza Mall.

It’s got everything that can somehow ease your homesickness if you’ve recently come to Singapore to work. It even has Jollibee, for crying out loud! It’s also a convenient place where you can remit your money back home, do some groceries for Filipino products or brands, or just chill with your fellow kababayans on Sunday evenings. My aunt told me they also go on this building at Orchard Road for a disco on Sundays but as a couch potato (I habit I wouldn’t change wherever I am) I refused to go, opting to spend that particular evening enjoying the ultra-fast connection at her apartment.

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Pratas – an egg fried dipped in indian curry – was my first Singaporean breakfast

Marina Bay Sands

After getting some food in Lucky Plaza, we took an MRT going to Marina Bay. I don’t even want to compare the MRT there versus the MRT here. C’mon! What I just like to point out however is that the MRT in Singapore is carefully and well thought off. It’s not a single, linear lane that we have here, but a complex grid of stations and terminals that overlap each other so the commuter would have the fastest, easiest travel on the destination they want.

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MRT rides cost around $1.15 – 2.50 at most (PHP 38.00 – PHP 80.00) at most but it’s still the fastest mode of transportation if you want to avoid traffic that much. Before going up (or down) the terminal, an LED sign would indicate how many minutes until the next train would arrive so that you can calculate your time of travel effectively.

We dropped off Marina Station and strolled towards the world-famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Before that, we passed over an impressive river that is as much as every bit historical as it was picturesque. Fifty years ago, this river has been littered with small bancas and small ships manned by half-naked men whose sweat-stained skin shone under the sun, a typical sight for a busy British outpost. Now, an occasional tourist ship would just pass by, distorting the reflections of the sleek buildings, the bowl-shaped entrance to the Museum of Science and Arts and tourists passing by the wooden platforms lined around it.

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We walked to the Marina Bay Hotel and as we come closer, I feel my jaw dropping more ever so slightly. The whole thing is enormous. I can’t exactly describe how much of an eye-candy it is and I’ll just let my pictures to tell it for you.

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You can gain access at the top of the hotel and get a sweeping view of Singapore for $23.00 (PHP760.00) My aunt asked if I would like to go  up but being a killjoy (and cheap) I am, I decided not too. I’m not really a fan of heights and especially not a fan of a soaring price for entrance tickets (though I’m sure it would be worth it! Getting on top of Marina Bay AT NIGHT is highly-recommended)

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Merlion

Singapore’s proud, iconic Merlion stands against the backdrop of Collyer Quay and other attractions such as the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Museum of Science (that half-egg shaped structure)

We walked through the strip of Raffles Place to where the Merlion is. If you’re coming from any part in Singapore, just take the MRT and get off at Raffles Station.

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Garden by the Bay

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We crossed the hotel to tour around the Garden by the Bay. It’s a recent addition to the Marina Bay attraction and you can get to park free (but some attractions have entrance fees)

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For example, we took an aerial walk for the Cloud Forest for $10.00 (PHP300.00) and you can stay up there as long as you want. It’s a perfect place for selfie shots that I couldn’t resist one.

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Chinatown 

Chinatown is a perfect spot for gifts and souvenirs to take at home. It is also pretty accessible (via MRT or bus) and has lots of things to offer, especially if you are a bargain hunter like me. I managed to snag off 36 keychains just for $10 SGD (P300.00!) There are plenty of goods to choose from.

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The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

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While we’re here, we also visited the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, a jaw-dropping four-storey Temple which stands as an iconic landmark of Singapore’s Chinatown. As a Christian, it was the first time I set foot on a Buddhist Temple and it didn’t certainly disappoint. A strong hymn fill the place, inspiring reverence and peace in one’s soul, even for just a while. We’re supposed to visit Thian Hock Keng Temple, the oldest Chinese Temple in Singapore, but we ran out of time.

 

 

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Chicken Bayanihan – I guess they call this as ‘Bayanihan’ because you need three or more people to finish the chicken

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Musings so Far

Like every traveler with a tight budget, I decided not to go to the world-famous Singapore Sentosa or to the Universal Studios but if you have money (and time) to spare, don’t miss out anymore than I did. To sum it all up, my Singapore experience is nothing short of memorable. Singapore is everything I expected and more. While you’re there, you can also cross over to Malaysia and experience two states at once. That will make the slightly expensive airfare worth it.

Other tips I must share:

  • Nightlife in Singapore is definitely an experience you shouldn’t miss. It’s not hard to commute at night because of friendly drivers and safe streets. Garden by the Bay is especially beautiful at night.
  • Aside from Chinatown, you should also take a look at Little India if you’re in for some authentic Indian food or goods.
  • Always make sure to bring your passport as a tourist.
  • Locals speak in Singlish (Singapore-English) Most of them understand and speak English very well. Signages and street posts markers have English translation.
  • To eat cheap, you can get a decent meal at the food centers below high-rise apartments. Almost every building in SG has one. I heard from my aunt that many Singaporeans opt to dine-out instead of cooking their own meals (due to busy schedule and whatnot)

Being the most sustainable city in ASEAN, as well as the most developed city in the region, we Filipinos can definitely learn a lot from Singapore. Just by experiencing it, we know what to demand from our government because we know it’s possible to achieve it. YET, a big YET, what I’ve noticed from Singapore is that the people, in general, has the highest of respect to their city. They are more than willing to put up with all the rules just to live in harmony with other people. I guess it’s what spelled the difference between us and Singaporeans. They know Singapore wouldn’t become the Singapore now without their cooperation, their trust to the governing institutions and their sense of ‘community’ rather than the self-centric mindset prevailing here in the Philippines.

When Singapore broke away from Malaysia, everyone thought it sealed its fate. With hard work, unity and vision, it proved everyone wrong. Now, it’s time for the Philippines to do the same.

 

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SG is Sustainable Governance. See you again, SG!

PS: For those interested, I only spent $25 SGD (PHP800.00) for a whole-day of exploring Singapore. Considering the number of places I’ve seen, not too bad, I guess.

What to expect on your first climb?

I was never athletic. Never has and never will be. I like the great outdoors and I enjoy nature more than I enjoy most people. Sometimes though, I do wish that my body would keep up with my soul’s wanton desire to be one with nature.

And what amazing work of nature to get lost in than a mountain? I hold an almost reverent, romantic view for these hulking mass of the earth. I am simply enthralled with their hugeness, their constrained power, the mystery they hide beneath the carpet of green. Ever since I graduated from school, one of the things I must do in my list is to climb a mountain. But for reasons of the other, I wasn’t able to.

So when my bestfriend casually invited me for a dayhike at a nearby mountain in Bulacan, who was I to pass up the chance? It’s time to get up close and personal.

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Mt. Balagbag in Bulacan is a minor climb, just right enough for a climber newbie like me. Eme told me that in a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the hardest, it scored a 2. But believe me if I tell you that when you’re done with this mountain, you would think that someone has done this mountain a great injustice by giving it a measly 2.

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The difficulty 2 mountain will never give you the luxury of a flat, even ground. Mt. Balagbag has a steep terrain, riddled with sharp, huge rocks. It will provoke you with 45° steepness which often bends in a narrow curve. The climbers we are with, who are far more experienced than us, has to stop in every big lonesome tree they come across with just to breathe normally again.

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Another thing you should remember in facing Balagbag is the lack of protection from the sun. The climb would have been a hundred times easier if we hike at night or at dawn. I swear it seems like the mountain is frying you like a good sunny-side egg before it can eat you alive. Good thing the wind picks up every once in a while and it’s more than enough to keep us going.

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Reaching the top is a bit anticlimactic but still memorable. One of my friends, Crisel, kept on saying: “Shit, I can’t believe I made it!” and it’s wonderful how our “I’m dying. Just leave me be..” exhaustion minutes earlier is suddenly wiped out by “Yeah, we can take on everything!” elation.

From the experience as someone who is “devirginized” by a mountain, here are some of the musings I can share on what to expect on your first climb:

* Before anything else, condition your body. Before Balagbag, I jog about two times a week to pump up my cardio. I’m still a little sore two days after the climb but I hate to think what it would be like if I sit on my ass all week, thinking it will be a piece of cake.

* Choose comfortable clothes. If you’re in a dayhike climb, wear shorts with leggings underneath. Stretchable armbands are your bestfriend because you can take them off after the climb. Don’t dress to impress. No matter how good you look, the climb will change your appearance so much, you wouldn’t recognize yourself anymore. Do not wear extra clothings as possible, unless you’re about to climb the likes of Mt. Pulag.

* Rubber shoes may be too hot to wear but you will be thankful with them when the trail before you is a steep slide with sharp rocks at the bottom.

* Bring at least two 500ml of water and/or electrolytes. 80% of your bag is for water bottles.

* In a dayhike, travel light. Your backpack should be smaller than usual. In a major climb, make sure to choose a bag with comfortable shoulder straps.

* Bring caps, sun shades, visor or anything thag will protect your head and eyes from the sun.

* Hike in your own pace, especially if it’s your first time. So what if your hike buddies are far ahead of you? Give your poor body a chance to get in grips with that awful decision you made in climbing a damn mountain in the first place! (You’re not the first person who asked yourself: “What did I get myself into?”)

* If you feel like resting, do so. If you’re breathing hard and your heart feels like it’s about to burst on your chest, DO NOT sit down right away. Lean unto something or continue to stand until it finally subsided to a normal pace.

* On the middle of a steep climb, don’t spend most of your time looking far ahead. It will make you think of how high it is or how difficult it will be to make the turn or reach a point. It will make you tired more than you already are. Focus on your pace and at your progress. Before you know it, you’ve reached the top.

* Going down is just as hard as climbing up. But arguably, more fun!

* The view at the top is always worth the sweat.

* No matter how tired you get, or the regrets you thought while climbing, trust me if I say you will be addicted. The fever you will catch in climbing is no ordinary bug. You’ll experience some feverish desire to climb a mountain if you saw one.

Some geological trivia: Dead/dormant volcanoes are mountains without any neighbors. Usually, ordinary mountains are part of a mountain range or a cluster.

Now excuse me while I plan my next climb for the month of April. Pico de Loro, here I come!

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ByaHestory: The Bataan Excursion

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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.

The Balanga Cathedral

The Balanga Cathedral

It's a good thing the Robinson's Mall management agreed to design the mall this way just to blend with the other buildings.

It’s a good thing the Robinson’s Mall management agreed to design the mall this way just to blend with the other buildings.

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.

Inside the Balanga Cathedral

Inside the Balanga Cathedral

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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.

Us on the way to Mt. Samat

Us on the way to Mt. Samat

The long, winding road to the Top

The long, winding road to the Top

The viewing room at the top

The viewing room at the top

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.

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Vertigo

Vertigo

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.

The 90-ft cross

The 90-ft cross

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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 wall recounting the last stand of Bataan

The wall recounting the last stand of Bataan

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.

West Nuk Beach Resort at Morong, Bataan

West Nuk Beach Resort at Morong, Bataan

Just chillin' out

Just chillin’ out

The mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

The mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

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

TOTAL: Php464.00

Second DAY

* 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

TOTAL: 500.00

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

An audience with The King of Philippine Skies

When I first came to Davao, I had a limited time to explore the city on my own and visit the places I’ve always wanted to check out. One of them is the Philippine Eagle Center, the home for the country’s national and majestic bird, the Philippine Eagle. It is one of the largest eagles in the world, endemic to the Philippines. But due to deforestation and human activities, their numbers dwindled out, making them one of the most critically endangered creatures in the world.

The Philippine Eagle Center

The Philippine Eagle Center

I had a strange fascination with the Philippine Eagle for some time. Its appearance, to say the humblest, exudes pride and nobility in every way. It can grow to 3.35 ft (1 meter) and  has a wingspan of 6-7 ft. Its talons are large and menacing enough to claw through the meat of a full-grown monkey (it is also called the Monkey-eating Eagle). When it is angered or it wants to emphasize its territory, its shaggy mane draws up like those in a lion’s. Its brown feathers camouflaged the color of the people, and the fact that it’s only found  nowhere else in the world except here further qualifies it a national symbol.

A grown eagle can stand up to 3 ft

A grown eagle can stand up to 3 ft

So that’s why when I returned to Davao, I promised to myself that I have to go here, even if it means having to go by myself if I have to.  I’m staying in a missionary’s house in Toril, near the SM City Davao, and I only have to take one ride going to Calinan. Davao transportation is slowly transforming like that in Manila; shuttle and van services are beginning to dominate the road going to far-away areas. In my case, I took a van which costs around Php 40.00. I asked the driver to drop me to the “Philippine Eagle” since I’m new in the city and he actually did! Now, I don’t know if drivers in Manila are just being trolls or quite forgetful; either reason you can’t rely on their promise that they will drop you off in your destination.

After dropping off to Calinan, a busy town center, motorcycles and pedicabs are already waiting there for visitors to go to the Eagle Center. I agreed to settle the fare to Php 20.00. Anyway, it is a 5-kilometer ride away from the marketplace, and we have to pass difficult, dusty road to get to the Center.

Entrance fee to the park

Entrance fee to the park

The Eagle Center has a small crowd of visitors during that overcast, slightly drizzly afternoon. Before entering PEC, a guard will charge you a Php10.00 entrance for adults (Php5.00 for kids) in the entrance. The fee is just for the entrance to the Davao City Water District, a small park of sorts where you can have picnics and enjoy some of the park’s kiosks.

The entrance fee for kids and adults are different in PEC. Adults like me (18 years old and above sigh) has to pay Php100.00 for the tour of the whole area, while kids or youth (18 years below) can buy their entrance fee for Php50.00. Of course, proceeds will go to the conservation and breeding of the eagles of the Philippine Eagle Foundation. I think it’s just a small amount you can shed compared to the large difference the Foundation is trying to make.

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The International Union for the Conservation of Nature currently estimates the number of Philippine Eagle to be just around 180-500, making them one of the most critically endangered animals in the world. Killing or poaching an Eagle is a criminal offence in Philippine law but they are mostly captured for zoos. Deforestation, mining, exposure to pesticides that affect breeding, and human activities are the major contribution to its nearing extinction.

Some facts about the Philippine Eagle

So which is larger? The Philippine Eagle or the American Bald Eagle? Depends on who you are asking. I would say ours is larger!

The breeding practice of Philippine Eagle

Filipinos should learn a thing or two on Family Planning from the Philippine Eagle

I think one of those factors for its dwindling numbers is its complex reproduction. Philippine Eagles are inherently monogamous – they seek just one partner for life (see, even in the animal kingdom, the faithful ones are dwindling), and they only breed 1-2 eggs for every two years. They won’t breed again until their baby is old enough to take care of itself. It also takes years for an eagle to sexually mature, and sadly, only few survive to breed in the jungle.

An ideal lover

An ideal lover

The park is small and you can easily navigate around for just 2-3 hours. Aside from eagles, you can see rare species of birds that can be found not just in the Philippines but also in Southeast Asia and India. If you’re still not tired of seeing crocodiles being interviewed on news, you can check out the Estuarine Crocodile at one point in the park. There is also a wide variety of waling-waling (Queen of the Philippine Flower) in the area you take a picture of! The park mostly features endemic creatures in the Philippines, like the Silvery Kingfisher, Pinsker’s Hawk Eagle, Philippine Brown Deer, Giant Scorps Owl and the Philippine Warty Pig.

The Estuarine Crocodile

The Estuarine Crocodile

Meet Scout Binay, a Brahmine Kite

Meet Scout Binay, a Brahminy Kite

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The Philippine Brown Deer

The Philippine Brown Deer

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Long-Tailed Macaques playing in their tiny island

Long-Tailed Macaques playing in their tiny island

But one can’t deny the main attraction is this badass over here: Pag-Asa (Filipino word for Hope). He is the first eagle bred in captivity back in 1992 (we are practically the same age!) and now, he finally had his first chick hatched (Mabuhay) last year! Mabuhay is also bred in artificial insemination, a long, tedious process facilitated by the eagle keepers and biologists in the foundation. Still, I am hoping that the day will arrive that Eagles wouldn’t find it hard to breed in the wild, without human intervention whatsoever.

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Upon leaving the park, I bought some souvenirs from the Foundation. There are stalls outside the park selling the same items but I wanted to show my support to the preservation through my own little way. The items are a bit more expensive, but like I said, it’s a small price to pay for the survival of these eagles.

The Eagle showing off its wings

The Eagle showing off its wings

Drawing up of his shaggy mane shows his agitation

Alert and listening

I want a future where my kids can see the Eagle in the flesh -- not just in textbooks or the internet

I want a future where my kids can see the Eagle in the flesh — not just in textbooks or the internet

The tiles of the trail enumerate the list of donors and sponsors who helped the Foundation in rescuing eagles

The tiles of the trail enumerate the list of donors and sponsors who helped the Foundation in rescuing eagles. Someday, my name will be there. 

The Philippine Eagle is more than just an attraction or a national symbol – it’s an advocacy. After the tour in the park, I made it a lifelong plan to dedicate myself in contributing for the preservation of these wonderful creatures. I’ll make it a mission to advocate the Philippine Eagle as more than icon, but a testament of how everything about the Philippines isn’t hopeless at all. Our country may be facing quite a number of difficulties right now- from natural disasters to government incompetence, lack of education and poverty in rural areas- but just like the Philippine Eagle, we can have that chance to rise again. Everything may be quite helpless and bleak now, but always, let us remember there is Pag-asa.

Look guys, my spirit animal! (look how our hair match!)

Look guys, my spirit animal! (look how similar our hairstyles are!)

The Philippine Eagle Foundation is a private, non-stock, non-profit organization dedicated to saving the endangered Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) and its rainforest habitat.  Organized in 1987, it had before that time been operating as a project undertaking research, rehabilitation, and captive breeding.  Staffed by highly trained and dedicated personnel, it has today evolved into the country’s premiere organization for the conservation of raptors. For more information, visit this website: http://www.philippineeagle.org/foundation/

HELP SAVE THE PHILIPPINE EAGLE AND OTHER PHILIPPINE WILDLIFE! 

http://www.haribon.org.ph/index.php/get-involved

Video 48: A haven for Filipino classics cinephile

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).

Sign outside

Sign outside

Movies movies everywhere!

Movies movies everywhere!

Classic and critically-acclaimed foreign films are also found here

Classic and critically-acclaimed foreign films are also found here

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Also vintage old-school movie posters.

Also vintage old-school movie posters.

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Getting ‘Lost’ in Cebu

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Wander-lost – a strange habit of exploring a new place without giving any thought to where you are going. You go where your feet will take you. The challenge is to blend in with the locals and act as though you’re not getting lost.

When I landed on Cebu for the very first time, I thought it was a bit of anti-climactic. All my life, I’ve been itching to get there for reasons I can’t explain to myself, and here I am, my feet firmly planted on the Mactan International Airport, eyes scanning the big ‘Welcome to Cebu‘ billboard, unable to fully grasp it all.

I remembered just roughly a year ago, when my grandparents and I were walking along the bay at the coast of Dumaguete, enjoying the Visayan sun and the salty breeze, when a cousin suddenly pointed to a long island over the orange-caked horizon. “That’s Cebu Island” he said in broken Tagalog. I gazed over it and it occurred to me how its haughty spine of mountains is turned away from us; a place so near yet so distant.

I’ve always toyed with this crazy idea in my head that I am destined to spend the rest of my latter life in Cebu. The desire is still there, a very strange one at that, since I was born and raised as a Tagalog and Bisaya sounds Chinese for me. The thought of having to migrate to a thriving city full of history, surrounded by people who don’t speak your native language, holds a unique appeal as far as my adventurous spirit is concerned.

The taxi driver we got from the airport gave a brief tour around the city as we ride to the hotel. He discussed the things and activities to do in Cebu in almost perfect English, and pointed out the must-sees around the city like a seasoned tour guide. I smiled to myself, thinking how a tourism of the city falls not only on the burden of tourism officials or tourism slogans, but also with the civilians as well. You ought to show to the tourists that you are excited for them to enjoy your city. Back in Manila, my friends and I used to hang-out in Plaza Roma at Intramuros and we would smile and wave earnestly at the tourists, hoping to our hearts they would have a good time….. and that their bags or cameras or wallets won’t be stolen.

It was past 6pm when we reached the hotel. I decided to have my Wanderlost adventure in downtown Cebu despite the hour. No GPS, no Google Search, no car, no map…Just plain instinct. A lot of you would probably criticize me for safety reasons, but this sort of aimless traveling fills me with thrill just like roller coasters or ziplines do.

First stop: Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. I took a jeep en route to downtown Cebu to the Cathedral, remaining silent throughout the ride as I listened to the rapid but mellowed Cebuano language being spoken inside the jeep, picking up important phrases for my memory. It’s indeed a strange feeling…to get lost in the sea of strangers whose language is a bizarre music to your ears.

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The belltower is now under construction

The cathedral is undergoing some kind of renovation. No doubt for it to withstand future tremors.

The Cathedral is indeed, is magnificent in its own right. Bathed in soft golden light of the plaza, a reverent silence would fill you just by looking at the church itself. Since there’s a mass going on, I was unable to take pictures of the interior of the church, but the grandness of the facade is enough. This church is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, a standing echo of Cebu’s deeply-rooted Catholic roots, just as The Manila Cathedral is for the Manilenos. It’s a big relief that the church itself has been spared from the deadly earthquake that struck Cebu and Bohol last year.

See, even the street reminders are in Cebuano. They are fiercely proud of their language :)

See, even the street reminders are in Cebuano. They are fiercely proud of their language 🙂

As far as my geographical knowledge of Cebu is concerned, Magellan’s Cross would be just nearby the Cathedral. And after several minutes of wandering around, devouring the sights, I finally found it at the front of the Municipal Hall.

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The Magellan’s Cross is also under renovations, but that didn’t stop me from capturing the sacred relic in my camera. On the ceiling, paintings depict the arrival of Catholicism in Cebu island and how the Spaniards were able to penetrate the Philippines through Cebu.

Reflections on Spanish colonialism of the Philippines: During my elementary and highschool days, we are conditioned to think that the Spaniards back in the old days oppressed the Filipinos (indios) and we have to hate them for it. Perhaps it is to glorify the heroes of the revolution or the Filipinos who sacrificed their lives for our independence. Kind of like hating the bad guys in the movies. But I’ve long stopped thinking that colonialism is all-bad and pure evil. Spain formed our nation. Without them, I can’t imagine ourselves being united under one flag. It is out of their selfish interest, yes, but they made it possible to unite us all. I have to credit them for that.

Next stop is the Capitol Building. Going to the Capitol would mean riding through the downtown Cebu area. When traveling alone in Cebu, you can get a guy to let you ride in a motorcycle. It’s a mode of transportation that’s popular in Visayan provinces, and I have yet to see it in Luzon. Rate of fare would be around P20-P50.

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The Capitol: The heart of the whole province of Cebu.

The Capitol is a European-style building that sits in the middle of a busy intersection, facing toward downtown Cebu. For some reason, I have yet to see the Philippine flag being waved in front of the government buildings, which is pretty odd. Who knows, maybe it’s just flag wash day.

It struck me how Cebu is rapidly growing to be the Manila of the South. More and more skyscrapers fill the horizon, there is a constant hustle and bustle of people, and the streets are busy until midnight. They even have huge billboards and giant LEDs on the side of their buildings, kind of like little New York. Traffic and security is also a growing problem. What’s different is probably the absence of mass transportation system, which the government should focus more on. Taxpayers in Cebu and Davao and other parts of the Philippines carry the burden of maintaining the public transit systems in Manila, so it’s time to let them get a share of their taxes by developing major infrastructure projects in their area.

A colonial building preserved for modern use. Kilig! :)

A colonial building preserved for modern use. Kilig! 🙂

I decided to walk some more in downtown, watching as the shoppes close for the day. I’ve heard that when it comes to nightlife, Lapu-lapu city would provide more entertainment, but it was getting pretty late to tour the whole area. I contented myself with the promise of returning here once more, this time of my own time and expenses, to fully enjoy what the other cities have to offer.

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Cebu’s City Hall

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Cebu night scene

The only downside of Wanderlost adventuring is that, you don’t have any idea where to buy the pasalubongs. You don’t know where the cheapest place to eat, or the affordable souvenirs are. Despite that, I accepted the regrets of the Wanderlost Adventures. They would serve as motivation for me to return to that place again, this time going to the places I have missed.

You would ask, by the end of the day, if Cebu matched itself right into my own views of it and reinforced my desire to settle there in the future. Well, I barely scratch the surface, but I can imagine myself as a resident of the area. Sure, there are some issues in terms of security, traffic and congestion, but I can live with that. I wasn’t raised in busy Manila for nothing. Just as long as Cebu retains its historic roots, its livability and the warm Visayan hospitality, I’m willing to live here as a lone Tagalog in the the throng of proud Cebuanos. Well, until I should be able understand them, at least.

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On that note, could you give a must-see place in Cebu I definitely shouldn’t miss? Next time I’ll go wandering in Cebu, I’ll start from there 🙂 Thanks!

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