Oslob Whale Shark Warning

Do not open your mouth and swallow a drop of sea water while whale shark watching. Unnecessary advise, sure. But don’t say you’ve not been warned. Plankton is crispy chickenlicious to butandings (or saucisson, sushi, kimchi, kebab, tajine – whichever food you fancy), diarrhea to human beings.

Oslob is incredibly famous for Whale Sharks interaction. I knew it was known but didn’t realize how famous it was until we arrived in Oslob and saw nothing but order. In the Philippines, any sign of order is something. Good or bad would depend on your birth sign’s compatibility with the planetary alignment of the day. Good luck!

Our group of 7 and a cute little French boy rented a van that took us from Dumaguete to the tip of Cebu Island facing Negros Oriental. It takes less than two hours of travel. Van picked us up at the hostel, went to the pier and got inside a lancha or ferry, we arrived in the municipality of Santander, van got off the ferry and we rode for another 15 minutes to get to Oslob. Nothing crazy and difficult and wild. Since it was everyone’s first time to be in Oslob, we only knew of our arrival when the driver told us we’ve arrived at our destination. The group got out of the van and went to a classroom desk-turned-makeshift cashier with three ladies behind the counter. I wanted to argue why foreigners need to pay higher than locals but who am I kidding right? This is an organized local government + national tourism operations. Thus, begin our encounter with the great whale of the east, ze butanding! To sum up:

Step 1: Pay.
Step 2: Ride a bangka.
Step 3: Put on life jacket and be oriented on the damage we pesky humans can cause (if not already causing) the butandings. Example, you cannot put on sunscreen, you will poison the whale sharks!
Step 4: Ride a bangka to reach 5 meters away from the shore.
Step 5: Swim with the butandings.

The butandings are fed by the kuya (bangka driver). He drops the plankton to attract the butandings, you wait for it to come. And the butanding appears bigger and bigger in sight then disappears swiftly, vacuuming plankton dropped from one bangka to another. So, you hurriedly take photos of yourself with it, and before you know it your mouth is open in awe at the sight of this immense creature who could potentially vacuum you inside its humongous mouth and body. Next thing you know, you’re desperately knocking on the rib cage of the butanding, shouting at the top of your lungs for somebody to help you out! Not a sound! You chuckle and choke, and a wave of plankton carries you in a dizzying swirl and you are awaken by the tap of an abs-filled fisherman by the shore. Fantasy aside, butandings are huge! And amazing! And incredible!

Kuya (bangka driver) and his bangka.

Enjoy the marvel of it all with mouths closed. See top photo for proper whale shark ogling underwater. Comprenez-vous?

Before another round of feeding, the kuya will warn you to get your selfie smiles ready. Then another round of feeding that goes on for 15 minutes top. I know what you’re thinking. But the trip is still worth taking. See photos below.

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Marcela Agoncillo Historical Landmark in Taal, Batangas

I visited the house of Marcela Agoncillo, the woman who is known to Filipinos as the person who made the first and official flag of the first Philippine Republic.

Ideally, that’s a good start.

A group of teens entered the Marcela Agoncillo Historical Landmark and upon seeing the statue fashioned after Marcela sewing the flag, a visiting teenage girl squeaked: “the flag was made here?!” Examining the statue some more and glancing back at her companions she once again exclaimed: “the flag was made here?!” I exhaled heavily and silently exited the crime scene.

Nonetheless, the house is beautiful and the ambiance leaves you exclaiming questions that would (like the teenage girl) lead you back in time. It is located in the old, historical town of Taal, Batangas and open from Wednesday to Sunday from 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M.

I took these photos, you be the judge.

The first Philippine flag made by Marcela Agoncillo was unfurled in May 28, 1898 at the Teatro Caviteño in Cavite Nuevo (now Cavite City) when it used as Aguinaldo’s standard in the Battle of Alapan. The reason for the country’s annual celebration of the Philippine National Flag Day.

We Love Batad!

From Sampaloc, Manila, we took an overnight (Ohayami) bus that left at 9:00 PM (August 20) going to the municipality of Banaue, traversing a series of cliffside roads up North. The roads are long, winding, rough, wet (due to rains this time of the year), and risky. We arrived at around 8:00 AM the next day (Thursday), had breakfast overlooking the Banaue rice terraces, found a special trip (shared with 6 backpackers) at noon to visit the Batad rice terraces, a UNESCO-declared World Heritage.

Spent the night in Batad, slept in a traditional Ifugao house (with the convenience of modernity: a mattress). Pounded rice manually. Hiked up to the highest view point of the Batad ampitheatre terraces. Witnessed a huge rock mountain landslide that sounded like thunderstorms. Hiked back to the Jeepney joint and took a jeep back to Banaue to spend the night there before going to Sagada the morning after.

Sagada was a good 3-hour trip with endless exhilarating scenery. Food choices were the best we’ve had in the trip so far. I devoured a home-made yoghurt. We arrived at around noon of Saturday, spent the whole afternoon sampling food, exploring the streets of Sagada on our own, and admiring the limestone formations and pine trees that generally define the landscape of this charming, isolated, and artsy mountain town.

Tough, rough, exquisite nature. E-x-q-u-i-s-i-t-e!

Exploring More of Dumaguete, Philippines

Some days I get excited at the prospect of discovering new stories, I think about finding my way to new destinations, imagine the beauty of nature, taste local delicacies i.e. some days, I wake-up really excited about traveling. Rightfully so because traveling takes us places as beautiful as the province of Negros Oriental.

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Who wouldn’t want to be a witness to this? A common sight in Sibulan, Negros Oriental. A rural community on the mountainside located just beside the capital city of Dumaguete.

Us, Burburs, took a Cebu Pacific flight from Manila to Dumaguete City, we booked a promo ticket online last April. Upon our arrival at Sibulan airport (popularly known as Dumaguete airport), we rode the local transport – a tricycle for PhP40.00. We asked kuya (aka driver) to take us to the motorbike rental. Another kuya (in-charge of the motorbike rental) asked for an ID deposit + PhP300  for 24 hours rental. After dropping by the gas station, we used the motorbike to look for a hostel. The search led us to a backpacker’s hostel that cost PhP800 per night for an airconditioned room with double bed. We took a quick shower and went out for dinner:

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We devoured our dinner at Lab-as restaurant located on the other end of Rizal boulevard. Lab-as is bisaya for “fresh,” and bisaya is a Filipino language widely spoken in Negros Oriental (Visayas & Mindanao at large).

Now, imagine a live band serenades you as you eat your fresh seafood while you look at the moon by the seaside. That was our Friday night in Dumaguete. Before  going about how even more brilliant the day that followed, we could never let our first night in the “City of Gentle People” end without trying these famous Dumaguete delicacies:

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Sans Rival. Did you know that this pastry name is French? The term translates as “without rival” (sans /sah/ is without, rival /reeval/ has the same meaning as the English word rival). According to one story, the recipe of Sans Rival was taken to the Philippines by some students who came back from France. Sans Rival’s origin can be traced to the French pastry called daquoise.

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Silvanas. The object of everyone’s craving, or at least of my friends who couldn’t resist asking for this as their “pasalubong”.

The next day, the Burburs woke up with a few more pounds and extra determination to explore the province. On the (non-food) itinerary was Balinsasayao Twin Lakes in Sibulan. The sights going to our main destination didn’t disappoint.

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The Philippine’s national animal: carabao (kalabaw, karabaw) seen here taking a well-deserved siesta during early afternoon. A rice farmer’s bestfriend, the carabao plows the field for rice planting that starts at the rainy season, then and now.

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Acacia trees, one of the many beautiful trees that line up the roads leading to the Twin Lakes.

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Wild flowers.

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And some more colorful wild flowers.

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The Burburs at the entrance of the Balinsasayao Lake. Fee is 100 pesos for foreigners (the Bur at the back riding the motorcycle) and 10 pesos for locals (the big-faced Bur infront). Motorcycle is always our preferred means of transportation in exploring the countryside.

Our Negros adventures shall continue…

Dolphins Showing Up Without a Memo in Negros Oriental, Philippines

One of the dive masters shouted “dulpin!”, he pointed at the far horizon and made a hand gesture intended for the boat captain.

I was busy looking at people napping on the boat.
Two Korean guys infront of me were both tall and lean donning the same hairstyle and were in almost identical napping position, a middle-aged Taiwanese couple beside me looked very deep into slumber as the wife’s head rested comfortably on her seated husband’s lap. Their two teenager boys, meanwhile, were silently sleeping (as opposed to their only other state: wide-awake bickering) at the boat’s upper deck.

Either I was too preoccupied or I hardly understood the context of what the dive master was saying. Until moments later, everybody rushed towards the front edge of the boat and the dolphins became visible under the clear, deep blue waters of Dauin, Negros Oriental.

There must’ve been a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand dolphins alternately half-circling on and off the water surface! I couldn’t count, of course, all I know is that they were all over the sea. Some dolphins were staying closer to one another, most of those within our very limited view of them were noticeably staying in small groups as if racing with each other and those staying close to our boat, racing with our captain. My good guess is that there’s one important trait Filipinos and dolphins share: our love to entertain! That impromptu dolphin show was nothing short of magical.

Impressions: Aleph by Paulo Coelho

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My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What I love about the books of Coelho, as exemplary demonstrated in the most translated book of all time, The Alchemist, is their sheer power to give hope with a readable story. Whether you are reading Aleph in a plane, on a boat in the middle of the sea, in a humid, windowless room lying sick on your back, once you open the pages of the book, you are transported immediately to that trans-Siberian journey with the protagonist named Paulo. Everything around you changes; you get the feeling of discomfort Paulo and his companions are going through in one of the oldest & longest trains in the world, the biting cold below zero climate of Russia, especially Siberia, the vastness of the lake & the beautiful rose he recognizes as his home, his love, his wife, the transformation of the shaman, the eagle of Baikal soaring high in the sky, the beautiful Tatiana and the impromptu ritual by the frozen fountain, the tensed confrontation of Yao with one of the members of the Russian mafia, the angel playing Hilal’s violin, the timelessness of love. In other words, you own the book and the story becomes your reality. And since you have traveled with everyone and know each like your old friends, in the end, you are not the same person just as all the characters in the story are not.

Aleph is a great book. It’s for us people who persist on believing the unknown until the destiny we feel in our hearts manifest in our own reality. While we struggle and learn to read our own signs, Paulo Coelho provides us a picture, an accurate narration of what is to come and that is more than enough to keep us going. Obrigado, Paulo!

View all my reviews

Update from Alabang, Muntinlupa, Philippines with Love

Finding time to write down my thoughts has been a luxury since moving continents and countries, hence, the limited update on the blog. Writing will always be a top, personal luxury. In the midst of heavy traffic and noise in Metro Manila, I’d recall that peaceful time spent in Ghent wherein I’d wake up, prepare and have breakfast with Yoyo, clean and organize the flat a bit, sit down, browse through the internet, open my website, start writing, have a coffee/wine break, publish post, and then take a bus to the small vegetable shop in Vrijdagmarkt to prepare for dinner. The entirety without much sound unless I put my earphones on, which I hardly do because I fell hard, head over heels for silence. Such thoughts make me warm and fuzzy with gratitude. But I am also not forgetting the constant cold weather and I snap back to tropical glory.

Moving back to my home country, Philippines, one might readily assume I easily adjusted. I did. It’s more so the fact that I am living in Muntinlupa, south of Manila, that initially bothered me. It doesn’t bother me anymore. Almost four months since I arrived from France, the only major obstacle I face here, only because it happens on a daily basis, is the noisy, lingering neighbors’s maids that happen to congregate just outside our apartment because there is a small shop (sari-sari store) right in front of us. The leader of the pack is the always provocatively dressed transsexual maid who is in-charge of the sari-sari store, who calls everybody baby and curses everyone a whole lot just the same. Her sidekick is a middle-aged woman who wears tight and skimpy shorts, carrying an aggrieved facial expression even while smoking and she smokes all the time. Both are quite a hefty source of hyena laughs. With all due respect to hyenas, I can’t accustom myself to hyena laughter just yet. The third neighboring maid is a girl in her early 20s who blasts the radio as soon as her employer leaves for work in the morning. If the intent is for everyone in the neighborhood to hear her type of sappy radio music, she hits that goal every single day.

Other than these daily nuisances, it’s good to be home. Speaking the local language seals the deal for me. I have long missed being able to overhear and understand people’s random and odd conversations in public places. Some are downright hilarious, like an apparently gay guy supposedly talking to his yaya over the phone while we were inside the uber-crowded PNR from Alabang to Makati. He was giving instructions to his yaya to call a certain “attorney” and to tell Maricel to fetch him in a particular PNR station. How the guy was repeatedly saying the word “yaya” with a certain accent sounded so telenovela-ish, thus, particularly hilarious to me.

Unexpectedly and fortunately, the internet at home is very agreeable that we could’t feel the speed difference between this and the one we had back in Belgium. This one is almost half the price, too! I was able to download the full season two of House of Cards without trouble in a day, which is happiness if you ask me.

Speaking of happiness, I’ve been trying out so many new things and each is making me happy. A classmate back in graduate school and I would’ve had a more thrilling conversation over Phantasmagoria had I known the great feeling of trying out something new each time.

I baked baguette for the first time yesterday and french Yoyo approves of the taste and texture. I also did my discovery SCUBA dive last weekend with the best-vibed people ever. I tried surfing in Boracay last month and that was a bomb because I was able to balance my way through the water with the board more than a few times. And more importantly, I now know how to make an almost-perfect chocolate cake! But I’ve yet to learn how to swim and do a regular workout/sport activity. Bring it all on, life! Yes, including an eardrum-busting, Aegis song slayer maid to the Azkals in my background as I write. More of this, less writing. Don’t say you haven’t been warned, life!

Surfing 101 at bora (with a paddle board still counts!).

Surfing 101 at bora (with a paddle board still counts!).

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Boracay beach.

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Le bakasyunista!

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Diving spot; Bauan, Batangas, Philippines.

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Homemade baguette!

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Plus homemade jam!

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Is not equal to gateau chocolat.

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Great things come from a cozy workplace, our living room!

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Embracing my new city, Muntinlupa, Philippines.

Noise, maids, blasted radios, beach. Welcome to the Philippines!

Witching Hour: Sunrise in Boracay, Philippines

I’m not much of a Boracay fan – only because I don’t like highly touristic places where I constantly have to bargain because I feel like my wallet’s being f*cked all the time. But natural beauty is the point and then Boracay lives up to its paradise reputation. A very useful tip: wake up at dawn, hang out by the shore, and experience the island at its most enchanting. Without the touristic fuzz, just wonderful paradise in all its glorious natural beauty.

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Diving in Sabang, Puerto Galera & Other Expenses

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Without further ado, I present to you the expenses we incurred during our Puerto Galera trip last May 11-14, 2014.

PhP 43,156 cost for 3 nights and 4 days for 2 divers and 1 snorkler in Sabang, Puerto Galera, Philippines. You can plan better to lower your expenses. I personally think this is a bit too much but it was a spur of the moment kind of trip. And indeed, spontaneity has extra cost!

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