Philippines

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.

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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An Overview of Sabang, Puerto Galera, Philippines

I’ve been to Puerto Galera’s local tourist destination of White Beach a couple of times but this was my first visit to Sabang beach. Now, Sabang is quite known to be frequented by foreigner tourists and a notorious hook-up place for old men and Filipina girls. But I never really let hearsay precede my judgment so off I went and here’s a snippet of what I saw:

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Tranquil scenery abounds in Sabang.

But the rumor, too, I found to be true. On the coast (albeit small area) of Sabang, a few steps from the island’s pier is the filthy beat that thrives day in and day out. Clubs that come alive early evenings are reminiscent of Filipino action movies in the 1990s (patay-sindi scenes without the police raids). Girls on stage gyrating their almost naked bodies on a pole, old white men, not-so-old Asian men. Skimpy-dressed, teenager-looking girls in full make-up chatting while munching on green mangoes, aged women falling into short naps along the sidewalk next to their makeshift stores. And on our way back to the hostel is a staple sight of a forsaken woman talking to herself, her back leaning on a huge stone. Kids flank the shore in early afternoons chasing small crabs, some swimming on the shallow, clear water, and little boys swinging by the locally-made boats’ wooden fins.

After a good snorkel, I seated at our hostel’s bar contemplating Sabang’s prostitution industry over two glasses of mango daiquiri cocktail (happy hour is buy one take one!) when the bartender told me an interesting trivia: prostitution is legal in Sabang. Seventy (70) percent of the island’s population is female and half of that is in the business of prostitution. It is a profession if we mean government-registered for purpose of taxation and regulation; prostitutes are required to have tests for sexual diseases every other week.  Jaw-dropping, really, if you take into consideration the backdrop of a conservative Catholic country who couldn’t even pass a decent reproductive bill because the Catholic church thinks population control is immoral and the only valid contraception is abstinence.

Prostitution is a moral issue, I agree, but I doubt one’s disgust has a teeny dint of space in a highly profitable industry that is as old as time. At the very least, the local government’s independence (or escape) from the moral dictates of the Filipino Catholic church is impressive. Liberal, brave, ground-breaking are a few other adjectives I could think of to describe a local government unit in the Philippines. We live in changing times, fellow countrymen!

Upnext: Diving and Other Travel Expenses in Sabang, Puerto Galera. Because diving is yet another side to the Sabang story. sabang fish

How Much to Travel in the Philippines: Camiguin Island Expenses

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Landing in Camiguin.

Des (browsing through the in-flight magazine): Look! There’s an Eiffel Tower in Japan!

Yoann: That’s France, always imitate, never coppayyd. (English translation: always imitated, never copied.)

I am starting a travel inventory. I want to keep a tab of how much Yoann and I spend whenever we travel. Spending money is probably the easiest task there is, and that is even made more true when traveling. So yes, I am starting a travel inventory. I used to do this all the time for my work so doing it again now is only coated with sweet nostalgia. I must say this list is accurate enough at 98%. I was able to keep most of the receipts!

Quantity and unit price is indicated below as (axb); 3×13; 3 qty x 13 unit price = total transaction amount. Laugh all you want at my attempt at Maths but YOU wouldn’t want to miss that for bargaining! Sundry /sundree/ pertains to miscellaneous, infrequent expenses (those that don’t fall under the other categories, basically).

Here we go!

Expenses Summary:

1st Day = PhP 2,595.50

2nd Day = PhP 4,406.00

3rd Day = PhP 2,690.00

4th Day = PhP 886.50

5th Day = PhP 5,650.00

6th Day = PhP 3,175.32

7th Day = PhP 1,827.00

Plane ticket for two = PhP9,062.38

TOTAL: PhP35,292.70 or 17,746.35 pesos per person. 

Remember: 7 days of good food and various island adventures!

 

 

Camiguin… Ang Itawag Mo Sa Akin

Mountains, seas
Here and there.
Fresh water falls
Spring everywhere.

Beach.
Dive.
Island bumming.
Guitar strumming.

As blue.
As green.
As pristine.
As beautiful.
As always,

A paradise.
In Philippines!

Hop in to paradise! Mantigue Island, Camiguin.

Hop in to paradise!

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And embrace your new paradise island-home!

Unless you can’t stand this view on a daily basis.

Chillin’ like a tourist, bargaining like a local! Me in Mantigue Island.

These smiles, I know so well. The islands were my childhood playground. Mantigue Island, Camiguin.

Ardent Hot Spring, Camiguin.

Yoann enjoying the warm waters of Ardent Hot Spring.

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Beautiful seas, beautiful landscapes, beautiful sunset. This island has it all.

The famous Sunken Cemetery.

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It can get dreamy. You on a white sandbar, in the middle of the sky and the sea. Don’t panic, it’s just Camiguin!

Thank you, Camiguin! We will come again.