A Piece of Heaven on Earth: Batanes (Part 1 of 4)

Batanes has been on my travel bucket list for a long time and when a seat sale from Philippine Airlines came last June 2014, I immediately grabbed the opportunity. I had my round trip ticket for a February 23-27 flight at only around Php 2,500. A really great buy as my traveler friends would tell.

As I want my vacation in Batanes to be more relaxed and as I was again going solo, I somehow steered away from the DIY path. About four months before my trip, I started arranging my packaged tour with Ryan Cardona of BISUMI Tour & Services and with Tom and Yana of TRavelYoung. Yes, four months lead time – that was how excited I am. All I have to do after availing the packaged tour was to wait for the day and be on my flight.

Day 1: North Batan (Basco)

It was a wonderful February 23 for me. That giddy feeling on traveling to a dream destination struck me again. The last time I felt this was a year ago when I saw Lake Bababu in Dinagat Islands and Sohoton Cove in Surigao Del Norte.

In going to Basco from Manila, I suggest that you choose a D seat so that you can have an aerial view of Batan Island. Seeing Batanes the first time is a moment every traveler would cherish. I remember hearing from fellow travelers that they almost cried out of joy when they first saw Batanes from the window of the plane. As for me, I had this very big smile and wide-opened amazed eyes.

At Basco Airport, I was welcomed by Jay-Ann of Marfel’s Lodge. If you will be visiting Batanes, especially on a budget, I suggest homestays such as Marfel’s Lodge. Filipino hospitality would be the best in the world but Ivatans have taken hospitality to greater heights. I rested a bit and conversed with my housemates in Marfel’s Lodge-Main while waiting for the start of my tour.

At around lunch time, I and other tour participants were picked up by Ayan of BISUMI Tour& Services for our North Batan. We had our first taste of Ivatan food at Jessica Salamagos Kabaya Restaurant. I enjoyed their kinilaw na pusit and pako salad.
The tour proper started with a visit to Tukon Chapel or Mt Carmel Chapel. This chapel, inspired by Ivatan houses, was a project of the Abad family for the community in Tukon.

Tukon Chapel

Tukon Chapel

Nearby Tukon Chapel is the PAGASA Radar Station, which is also one of the favorite viewpoints in Basco.

View around PAGASA Radar Station

View around PAGASA Radar Station

Also within the vicinity is Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge, the premier accommodation in Batanes and was once a home studio of artist Pacita Abad.

Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge

Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge

Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge

Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge

For the history buffs, Basco has also its offerings. An example is the Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnel which served as shelter for the Japanese forces during the World War II. Another is the Basco Idjang which is an ancient fortress and look-out point for invaders.

Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnel

Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnel

On top of Basco Idjang

On top of Basco Idjang

A beach with powdery white sand might be most people’s default for a beautiful beach but Basco boasts of its Valugan Boulder Beach. Instead of sand, large boulders from Mt Iraya eruption that took beating of the Pacific Ocean waves fringe the shores. It is said to be one of the perfect spots to catch sunrise in Basco.

Valugan Boulder Beach

Valugan Boulder Beach

We also visited the hub of Ivatan artists in Basco called Yaru Nu Artes Ivatan. Here, one can buy beautiful works of arts and souvenirs made by hand by Ivatan artists.

Inside Yaru Nu Artes Ivatan

Inside Yaru Nu Artes Ivatan

Then, we went to Vayang Rolling Hills. The greenery is very inviting that you would not mind going up and down several hills. Every view here is breathtaking.

Vayang Rolling Hills

Vayang Rolling Hills

Vayang Rolling Hills

Vayang Rolling Hills

View of Mt Iraya from Vayang Rolling Hills

View of Mt Iraya from Vayang Rolling Hills

To cap our tour with some sunset viewing, we headed to Naidi Hills where the Basco Lighthouse can also be found. Naidi Hills is also the location of the telegraph facility used during the American era. One of the buildings has been converted to a restaurant called Bunker’s Café which only operates during summer months.

Basco Lighthouse

Basco Lighthouse

Naidi Hills

Naidi Hills

After our tour, we were then dropped-off to our respective lodges. Walking distance from Marfel’s Lodge-Main is Pension Ivatan Hometel and Restaurant where I had my dinner. I just spent the night in Marfel’s Lodge-Main with my temporary housemates. I also had the chance to meet the very kind Nanay Fe, the owner of Marfel’s Lodge. I slept early that night as our call time the following day for Sabtang Island was 6 AM.

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Where Magic Stays With You: Santa Rosa, Laguna

Last February 21, I and dinner-mates from work went to Santa Rosa, Laguna to experience (again – for some of us) Enchanted Kingdom. This was the third time that I visited this famous amusement park in Southern Tagalog.

I thought that it would just be a re-living the rides that I had some years ago but I was surprised that there were new rides such as the Disk-O-Magic and Air Race.

First on our rides list was EKstreme Tower. I tried this way back 2010 and I still remember the feeling so it was just a breeze.

EKstreme Tower

EKstreme Tower

Anchor’s Away was next. This was my third time and my second time seating at the edge of the ship. Being there while the ship was swaying is like being tipped to fall.

On our third ride, I decided to give it a pass as I cannot decipher how being in the Disk-O-Magic would feel like. But it looked like they were having fun as the disco music was complementing the ride.

Disk-O-Magic

Disk-O-Magic

Then, we saw the Air Race. Seeing how it operates, it was somehow similar to my dream few days back – a plane acrobat where the plane would turn 360 degrees. I gave it a shot and I loved it.

Disk-O-Magic

Disk-O-Magic

A trip to Enchanted Kingdom would not be complete without the Space Shuttle and the Rio Grande Rapids; hence, we reserved the two for last. The Rio Grande Rapids was quite funny as it was more like a dodge-your-bag-so-it-won’t-get-wet kind of ride.

Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle

Being in Enchanted Kingdom is like letting the forces to work on you. Do not fight the force and just ride with it to feel the magic in every attraction. And when magic hits you, it stays with you.

The magic stays with me

The magic stays with me

From Where I Work: Bataan

Last 2012, I bid goodbye to Mandaluyong City and embraced living in Bataan to continue my career as an engineer. That was not my first time to Bataan as I, along with my college classmates, had visited before the plant where I am working now. I remember also having a side trip to Dambana ng Kagitingan and climbing to its top.

In the years that I have worked here in Bataan, I only explored a small part of it. Those were mere quick getaways to the beaches of Mariveles and of Bagac. Last January 24-25, I was given again the opportunity to re-visit the province where I work. This time, I am with my officemates.

It was almost Saturday noon when we arrived at Bagac Bay Beach Resort. While others lazed on the hot shores of Bagac, some (including me) belted it out on the videoke.

Fine weather at Bagac Bay Beach Resort

Fine weather at Bagac Bay Beach Resort

After some lunch and quick rest, we headed to our first destination which was Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. We did not pay for any entrance fee as we were visitors of an officemate who is a member of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. This wonderful village is an open museum for heritage architecture romantics out there. These houses, mostly in state of deterioration, were taken from their original location and were rebuilt and restored here. The tour started at the wonderful Casa Jaen I and ended at Casa Bizantina. We had our free time at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar exploring its beachfront area.

Casa Jaen II

Casa Jaen II

Casa Binan

Casa Binan

Casa Mexico

Casa Mexico

Casa Bizantina

Casa Bizantina

Escolta

Escolta

Beachfront of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar

Beachfront of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar

Sitting at the back of pick-up, we raced the sunset that was eclipsed alternately by the houses near the beach. It was almost sundown when we arrived back at Bagac Bay Beach Resort.

Sunset at Bagac Bay Beach Resort

Sunset at Bagac Bay Beach Resort

Evening came and we gathered around a bonfire. We roasted some marshmallows and drank some alcohol. This weekend was not only meant for this kind of fun as this was also a send-off party to one of our officemates.

The morning after, I decided to take an early walk and swim. After we all had our breakfast, we took the boat tour to Sugong Cave and beach near Sun Rise Casilyn Cove.

Sunrise at Bagac Bay Beach Resort

Sunrise at Bagac Bay Beach Resort

Sugong Cave

Sugong Cave

Beach near Sun Rise Casilyn Cove

Beach near Sun Rise Casilyn Cove

After the adventure in Bagac, some of us decided to visit Dambana ng Kagitingan (or Shrine of Valor) atop Mount Samat in Pilar, Bataan. This shrine was built in memoriam of the gallant Filipino and American soldiers who fought during World War II.

Dambana ng Kagitingan

Dambana ng Kagitingan

After spending about an hour in the shrine, we decided to head back to Limay. But with the hungry tummies that we had, we decided to take a lunch stop-over at Ima’s Pamangan which was followed by cup of hot choco at Choco-late de Batirol.

Bataan has been my home for two years and yet I only explored a small part of it. This is also similar to my home province, Batangas. Maybe it is just I am looking far enough that I miss seeing things near to me.

Faith and Love: Lipa City, Batangas

A year ago (January 4, 2014 to be exact), my wandering feet took me to the streets of Lipa City not to go on my usual Limay, Bataan to Ibaan, Batangas route but to explore some of its remaining heritage structures.

First on my list is the San Sebastian Cathedral which stands firmly at the center of the city. The church is adorned with magnificently painted ceilings and walls. The belfry and dome are one of the biggest I’ve seen. The church also has a pipe organ which is the only one in the province of Batangas. I remember back in high school that we contributed for the restoration of this organ by buying a ticket for a religious concert.

Interior of San Sebastian Cathedral

Interior of San Sebastian Cathedral

Dome ceiling of San Sebastian Cathedral

Dome ceiling of San Sebastian Cathedral

San Sebastian Cathedral

San Sebastian Cathedral

Not far from the church is another heritage structure – a bahay na bato to be exact. Casa de Segunda or Luz-Katigbak Ancestral House is the house of Segunda Katigbak, Jose Rizal’s first love. As typical with courtship in early days, Rizal would visit Segunda Katigbak in this house. As I was alone then, I was permitted by the caretaker to roam around the house all by myself.

Casa de Segunda

Casa de Segunda

Interior of Casa de Segunda

Interior of Casa de Segunda

Interior of Casa de Segunda

Interior of Casa de Segunda

After making that tour of Lipa City, I promised to myself that I will explore more of my home province. I missed doing that in 2014 and hopefully, one at a time, I will be able to do that this 2015.

Flower Power: Benguet

Last February 22-23, 2014, I went to Benguet along with other Instagram enthusiasts to experience the action and capture in stills the famed flower festival of Baguio City called Panagbenga. Panagbenga comes from a Kankanaey term meaning “season of blooming”. The festival attracts hordes of tourists, so expect a very crowded Baguio City, especially during the Grand Street Dancing Parade and Grand Float Parade.

Day 1: Grand Street Dancing Parade (and Side Trips)

The Grand Street Dancing Parade is one of the highlights of the Panagbenga and is held every fourth Saturday of February.

Panagbenga '14

Panagbenga ’14

Grand Street Dancing Parade

Grand Street Dancing Parade

Grand Street Dancing Parade

Grand Street Dancing Parade

Grand Street Dancing Parade

Grand Street Dancing Parade

After finishing the parade, we got hungry and took our early lunch at Oh My Gulay, a vegetarian restaurant in Baguio City. Aside from the healthy dishes, the restaurant also boasts of its pretty artsy interiors as it features a permanent gallery for Victor Oteyza.

Inside Oh My Gulay

Inside Oh My Gulay

After the bounty, we crossed jam-packed Burnham Park to get to our van. A colorful view of the man-made Burnham Lake made me capture some pictures.

Burnham Park

Burnham Park

Part of our afternoon itinerary is the journey to the Baguio City’s neighboring town of Tuba for the riding van tour atop Mount Sto. Tomas One can also view the opposite Mount Cabuyao from Mount Sto. Tomas. Sitio Pungayan (or popularly Sitio La Presa) is also just around this area.

View of Mount Cabuyao atop Mount Sto Tomas

View of Mount Cabuyao atop Mount Sto Tomas

Mount Sto Tomas

Mount Sto Tomas

Is this Sitio La Presa? #forevermore

Is this Sitio La Presa? #forevermore

On the way back to Baguio City, we also stopped at Dinosaurs Island and explored the theme park.

Dinosaurs Island

Dinosaurs Island

Then, we went back to Baguio City for a quick visit of Tam-Awan Village where a number of Igorot huts and arts are displayed. We then returned to our accommodation, rested for a while, and prepared for dinner and night activities. We had our dinner in Rancho Norte at Ketchup Food Community where they serve delicious pinakbet with bagnet. Post-dinner coffee and tea was at Café Will.

Art at Tam-Awan Village

Art at Tam-Awan Village

Day 2: Grand Float Parade

Another highlight of the Panagbenga Festival is the Grand Float Parade which is held the day after the Grand Street Dancing Parade. Several floats decorated with colorful and fragrant flowers parade the streets of Baguio City. The parade is accompanied with people dancing and playing music – the essential ingredient in any Filipino festival.

Grand Float Parade

Grand Float Parade

Grand Float Parade

Grand Float Parade

Grand Float Parade

Grand Float Parade

Grand Float Parade

Grand Float Parade

We then had our lunch at Solibao Restaurant at Heritage Mansion. And to continue our love for bagnet, we ordered kare-kare bagnet and crispy dinuguan.

Then, it was parting time for me as I have to catch the Mariveles-bound bus which leaves at around 2 PM.

Sights and Spices: Albay

On my birthday last October 27, I set foot at the port of Tabaco City, Albay coming from a full day adventure in Catanduanes. Immediately after getting out of the port area, I hailed a pedicab and told the driver to take me to the Church of Tabaco, otherwise known as Saint John the Baptist Parish Church. This church was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines last 2012.

Tabaco Church

Tabaco Church

A short walk from Tabaco Church is another imposing heritage structure, Bahay-Kalakal ng Smith, Bell & Co. (also known later as Angela Manalang Gloria Ancestral House). The said ancestral house is a perfect example of Spanish era bahay-na-bato in Albay and the biggest ancestral house in Tabaco City.

Bahay-Kalakal ng Smith, Bell & Co.

Bahay-Kalakal ng Smith, Bell & Co.

Then, I boarded a van bound to Legazpi City at the terminal. Upon arrival at Legazpi City, I hailed a tricycle to bring me to Ellis Ecotel in Embarcadero de Legazpi.

Embarcadero de Legazpi

Embarcadero de Legazpi

My afternoon in Legazpi City was just spent in exploring the city. I managed to have a quick caffeine fix with pili nut twist at La Mia Tazza. Then, I also went to Church of Legaspi (Saint Raphael Church) where its present altar table is made of a single block of solid hardened lava. I then took my early dinner at Graceland and returned to Ellis Ecotel.

La Mia Tazza

La Mia Tazza

Church of Legaspi

Church of Legaspi

On the morning of October 28, I went to the town of Daraga and visited the most famous view point of Mayon Volcano, which is the Cagsawa Ruins. However, the weather was not in favor of me that time as the volcano was covered with clouds. After roaming the vicinity of the ruins, I tried the stalls surrounding the area. I tried the sili shake, bought some sili key chains, and picked the best pili pasalubong.

Cagsawa Ruins

Cagsawa Ruins

Another National Cultural Treasure in Albay is the Daraga Church or Our Lady of the Gate Parish Church. This church is perched on top of a hill and also offers a magnificent view of the Mayon Volcano.

Daraga Church

Daraga Church

After my excursion in Daraga, I went back to Legazpi City to meet my college friend, Doms. We had some catch-up over lunch at Waway’s Restaurant.

Then, it was time to leave Legazpi City. I was lucky to have a window seat at the side of the plane to have an aerial view of the Mayon Volcano.

Aerial view of Mayon Volcano

Aerial view of Mayon Volcano

Truly Majestic: Catanduanes

I have never set foot to any province in the Bicol Region. That was until October 26 when I was welcomed to Bicolandia in the province of Catanduanes. It was drizzling when I arrived at the Virac Airport from a delayed flight. I was fetched there by the owner of Marem Pension House.

After fixing my things at Marem Pension House, I immediately hired a tricycle for my tour of Catanduanes. I already had the list of places I wanted to see and advised the driver.

First on my list is Puraran Beach in the town of Baras. Puraran Beach is known for the Majestic which are long barrel type swells perfect for surfing. The beach is also characterized by its long ochre sandy shore.

Puraran Beach Resort

Puraran Beach Resort

Puraran Beach Resort

Puraran Beach Resort

After the short visit to Puraran Beach, we visited the town of Bato. First on the attractions in Bato is Bato Church (or St John the Baptist Church) which is the oldest church in the province. It is characterized by thick walls of mortar and coral stone enabling it to withstand wars, calamities, and ravages experienced by the procince. Its view overlooking the Bato River is also picturesque.

Bato Church

Bato Church

A tricycle-ride away from Bato Church is another religious site known as Batalay Shrine. Both a historic and religious site for the Catandungans, the shrine is the burial place of Agustinian priest Diego de Herrera, the first missionary of the Legazpi-Urdaneta mission.

Batalay Shrine

Batalay Shrine

On the way from Bato to Virac, we visited Maribina Falls which is named after the barangays of Marinawa and Binanwahan. Marina Falls is the most popular and widely publicized among the waterfalls in Catanduanes. There are open cottages ideal for picnics in the area.

Maribina Falls

Maribina Falls

When we returned to Virac, the tricycle driver took me to Sea Breeze Restaurant for lunch. I ordered laing, Szechuan-style crab, and carabeef steak.

Delicious foods at Sea Breeze Restaurant

Delicious foods at Sea Breeze Restaurant

After the sumptuous lunch, my driver insisted that I should also visit Twinrock Beach Resort in Igang, Virac. This resort is called Twinrock because of the two rocks (though not identical) off its coast.

Twinrock Beach Resort

Twinrock Beach Resort

After the tricycle tour, I rested for a while and then visited the Capitol, Virac Central Mall, and Virac Cathedral. Then, I took my dinner at Jollibee in Virac Central Mall and returned to Marem Pension House to sleep.

The day after, I woke up early in the morning to catch the jeepney trip from Virac to San Andres Port. It did not occur to me immediately that it was my birthday then. It was my first to me to celebrate birthday while on travel.

San Andres Port

San Andres Port

After purchasing the ferry tickets at San Andres Port, I immediately boarded the ferry and bid my farewell to Catanduanes. I was then headed to my next province, Albay.