Monday, April 29, 2013

Holy Week in Puerto Galera 2013

I've have been spending my Holy Week in Puerto Galera since 2006.  It was only in 2010 that I traded it for Sta. Ana, Cagayan with my partner.

This year, I'm spending it with friends Franco and Robert.  They are my Saturday night buddies on weekends I'm not out of town.

We made arrangement weeks before for a room intended for 6 since there would be four of us confirmed.  Last November 2012, I went to Puerto Galera by myself and was able to get the contact details of one of the resort in White Beach.  Las Villas de Natividad was conveniently located near Mikko's Bar ( a favorite hang-out) and figured this would be perfect for us.  We booked a room for 4500php, but they require a down-payment equivalent to one night.  I deposited the money and made confirmations before we arrive.  Keep your transaction slip in case of discrepancies.

Las Villas de Natividad
09174820505, Look for Juliet

Holy Thursday

The night before, we agreed on meeting around 5AM.  My partner has to work during these days but was still able to drive me to our meeting place in Buendia.  After breakfast we went to the bus terminals which are now filled with passengers.  We transferred twice when finally, we found a terminal across Jac Liner, which is CRCG with an organized line and lesser crowd.  We waited a bit until finally, we were on our way to Batangas Port.

The bus fare costs 166 pesos.  We arrived at the Port around 10:00 AM and the earliest available ticket leaves for white beach leaves at 12:30PM. Unlike in 2012, the terminal is packed with people and long ques for every transaction.  We have to line up for the tickets, to the terminal,  to enter the boarding area and to board.

Roundtrip Ticket to White Beach (Father and Son Shipping Line) 500php
Terminal Fee: 50php
Environmental Fee: 50php

Three boats arrived by noon, and we were boarding ahead of our schedule. We would have arrived earlier at the beach, but the boat motor stopped 3x as we cross Verde Strait.  We were finally settled at our resort around 3:45PM after making another stop at Muelle, the town center of Puerto Galera.

Initially, we would have wanted to catch up on sleep, but since arrived late in the afternoon, we decided to make the most of what was left of the day.

Day 1 Itenerary
4:00 PM Swimming
5:00 PM Back at the Resort Freshen Up
6:00 PM Dinner
8:00 PM Bar Hop, Drink Until You Drop

Day 2
11:00 AM Wake Up
12:00 NN Lunch and Swim
2:00 PM Liki Tiki Floating Bar
4:00 PM Back at the Resort
8:00 PM Dinner
10:00 PM Drink at the Resort
12:00 MN Drink until 6AM

Day 3
11:00 AM Wake Up, missed the boat
12:00 NN Lunch, Check out, Re-book Tickets
3:00 PM Depart for Manila

I've been coming back not really for the crowded beach or long lines, but the company you keep and the friendship that becomes stronger.  See you again next year.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

2Go Travel Now has Trips to Coron and Puerto Princesa

Finally they're back.  The trip is convenient for a weekend overnight itinerary leaving manila Friday afternoon and arriving in Coron morning the next day.  You can go directly on Island Hopping and just stay for one night.  The next day you can just explore the city and climb Mt. Tapyas for sunrise, leaving you ample time to go pasalubong shopping before your boarding Sunday afternoon.  You will arrive in Manila Monday morning and still go to work!

Day 0 Friday
5:00 PM ETD Manila

Day 1 Saturday
7:00 AM ETA Coron
8:00 AM Safekeep things at the resort of choice and change to swimming attire for the Island Tour
9:00 AM Depart for Island Hopping, make sure you get a package that includes lunch.
                Siete Pecados
                Twin Lagoon
                Banol Beach
                Kayangan Lake
                There are set destinations when you book an island tour.  The suggested destinations above offers different activities other than snorkeling.
5:00 PM Arrive from the Island Hopping
5:30 PM Check-in and Prep for an early dinner
6:00 PM Dinner
7:00 PM Visit Maquinit Hot Spring
9:00 PM Back at the Resort
10:00 PM Rest

Day 2 Sunday
5:00 AM Depart for Mt. Tapyas
6:00 AM Arrive at the Peak, Sunrise Viewing
7:00 AM Breakfast
9:00 AM Rest, Prepare for Check-out
12:00 NN Lunch and Check Out
1:00 PM Free Time
               Zip Line, City Tour, Pasalubong Shopping
4:30 PM ETD for Manila

Day 3 Monday
6:30 AM ETA Manila

Visit their 2GO website for details.

Also check out my blogs about my visit to Coron.

Hassle Free Coron Palawan Adventure on a Budget

Coron Again... Naturally


Coron Again... Naturally

My Summer Escapade started with a climb to Mt. Pulag for the Palm Sunday Weekend, followed by the Holy Week in Puerto Galera, and a trip back to Coron, Palawan the weekend after.

Coron, Palawan
Mt. Pulag
Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro
My last visit to Coron was October 2012, and the trip was still relatively fresh to me.  This time, I'm going with my architect friends for our annual summer getaway.  Last year, our destination was Nagsasa Cove in Zambales.

Late last year, we already announced the trip at April 6-8, with the option to extend until April 9, for the Araw ng Kagitingan Holiday.  I have been on the lookout for promo fares and was able to book a round trip flight with Cebu Pacific last January for 3200 php.

Since I'm on a budget, I took the afternoon flight on April 5.  Originally it was scheduled to leave at 3PM but due to traffic in the runway, it was moved an hour later.  From the airport, the heat is very evident, not even the air conditioning was enough as huge fans were installed on the crowded pre-departure area.

I still have to report to work that morning and was not able to book myself a room beforehand.  It was only at the airport that I starting panicking to get in touch with a cheap accommodation.

I arrived at Busuanga Airport at 5:30PM.  Since I don't have any baggage with me, I just boarded the van that would take me to downtown Coron.

I got off near the market to have a really late lunch and continue my search for a room for the night.

On my previous visit 10 years ago, I remember a place that charges 100php a night.  I figured, that in ten years time, their prices would still be reasonable.  I asked for directions to LM & Pe Lodging house and was surprised that it’s just across the place where I ate.

I was showed two different rooms when I inquired.  The Aircon rooms prized at 1000 php comes with 2 double beds and a sliding door that opens up to the bay.  The smaller Fan room priced at 700 php has a double bed and a small toilet and bath.  I opted to get the latter since I will be moving to a bigger resort the next day.

LM & Pe Lodge

I was reunited with the rest of my companions who arrived early and had dinner at the floating restaurant where the zip line is located before retiring for the night.

The next day, I was invited to have lunch by our host, our chapter president to have dinner at their house.  After lunch we went to Darayonan, our resort to check-in.  While waiting for the rest of the team, we decided to take a dip in the pool to cool down. 

Darayonan Lodge

Here's our original itinerary:
Day 1 Take PAL or Cebu Pacific from Manila
ETA Busuanga Airport Mid-afternoon.
ETA Darayonan Lodge approx 4:00-4:30PM
ETA of others at Lunch time

Coron Town Tour:
Souvenir Shops, etc. (Walking and Tricycle)
Maquinit Hot Spring (via tricycle)
Dinner at Darayonan
Free time

Day 2 Breakfast at Darayonan
Coron Island Tour:
Kayangan Lake - Swimming in a lake
Twin Lagoon - Swimming under a cliff, kayaking
Siete Pecados Marine Park - Snorkeling
Banol Beach - Swimming, sub bathing, beach volleyball

Although its best to visit Maquinit Hot Spring at night, it would be better to arrive late noon to catch the sunset and to get better photos at the mangrove walkways which gets dark at night.

Maquinit Hot Spring

After the hot spring we went back to the resort for dinner, freshen up, rest a bit, and explored the towns nightlife.  The town is still very laid back amidst the popularity among tourist.  Only few establishments extend their operating hours beyond midnight, even the bars.  On this night we went to have a few beers at Seadive to get a view of the bay.

The next day, we woke up early for breakfast and prepare for the Island Hopping.  After loading all the things we would need on the tricycle, we were off to the port.  We waited longer compared to the other groups at the pier because our original boat need repairs and was replaced.  We were off to the islands mid morning.

The first stop on the tour is snorkeling at Siete Pecados, named after the 7-limestone islet in the cluster.  Although not encouraged, I brought along chunks of bread to feed the fishes that would swarm you at its sight. Snorkels are not included in the tour package so be prepared to pay extra.

Siete Pecados

Next is the twin lagoon.  We navigated our way around limestone islets to reach the first lagoon and docked on a boardwalk made by locals.  When the tide is low, you can opt to swim through a small opening with a clearance just enough for your head to be on top of the water.  Makeshift steps are available in case the tide is high.  Even if you’re a good swimmer, you need to wear your life jacket since its deep, and there’s no place to rest your feet.  Be cautious of the shallow rock protrusions to avoid scrapes and bruises.

The entrance to the 2nd Lagoon of the famous Twin Lagoon, Coron
Twin Lagoon

Our next destination was CYC.  CYC means Coron Youth Club and is the public beach for the locals.  It’s very much different from my visit 10 years ago.  I remember the sand extending farther from the shore.  Now it’s a bit smaller.  We did not visit the beach, but tried our luck to catch something with the local fishing method.  Some swim, but looking down on the clear water, we saw a lot of sea urchin and I decided to just stay on board.

On board the boat at CYC

We did not catch anything so we just went to our next destination, Banol Beach.  Unlike the first two stops wherein the limestone islets protrudes directly from the sea, this one has a beach to re-acquaint yourself with the stable ground after being on board the boat and at the mercy of your life jacket for the last 3 hours.  Huts are available, and the perfect place to have lunch.  There’s a store on the beach in case you are doing the trip yourself and don’t have meals included.

Banol Beach

This is where we stayed the longest.  It’s the best place to swim even at noon, since the limestone offers shade on some parts.  We took a lot of photos, made sand castles and just enjoyed the beach until was time to move to our next destination.
Seeking Shade at Banol Beach

Kayangan Lake was our last stop.  Before the climbing steps, we were oriented about the Island.  A map beside the entrance shows how big Coron is compared to sites tourist was visiting.  Our guide showed us the location of the Tagbanua settlement, the cultural minority group taking care of the island, and we were surprised on how big their population is.

Kayangan Lake

On our climb up, we reached the cliff where all the famous shot of Coron was taken.  We will not miss this opportunity.  Fortunately, we were the only group in the area giving us ample time for the much-needed individual and group shots.  After the photos, we started our descent to the lake.  It is said that this has been voted consistently as the cleanest lake in the Philippines.  Armed with our reliable life jacket, we started swimming and explored what the lake has to offer. 

It was past 5 when we reached loading dock back at Coron Town.  We decided to continue our adventure by conquering the 700 plus steps to the top of Mt. Tapyas to catch the sunset.  Our tricycle can only take us to the main road since were full to the capacity adding 50 more steps than the usual.

Catching the Sunset at Mt. Tapyas

Surprisingly, I together with two other friends reached the top in just 15 minutes.  One by one, the others follow.  The view from the top is just breathtaking.  You can see the town, and Coron Island in the distant. 

After the sunset, we went back to the resort to rest and prepare for dinner.

It was a long day, but since we’re complete, we decided to give the local hotspot a try.  We went to Kawayanan Grill for Videoke after dinner.  We went home a few minutes past midnight since some of us, including me would have to be at the airport by 10 the next morning for the flight back home.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Summer Kick-off with Mt. Pulag

The year started with me and my partner exploring the beaches in the country.  For summer, I opted for a different experience.  I decided to be a part of a group tour to climb Mt. Pulag.  It is the highest peak in the Luzon and 2nd in the country.

 It was an FB post from Arch. Alan Co, a friend and co-chapter that attracted me.  It's been a year since my last climb, and I've always wanted to reach the peak of Mt. Pulag.  I've done a few minor climbs before, and I have been cardio training for the past weeks and thought, I can do this.

It was a tour package organized by Parana Tours.  For 3,500 pesos per head and a minimum party of 10, the package comes with round-trip transportation, tent accommodation, 3 meals, and park and guide fees.  I joined Alan, and the group gathered by his wife Eileen and their kids.

I attended the pre-climb meeting, but its still best to research on what to expect on your own.  The night before the trip, I started packing my things.

My checklist includes:
1. Earth pad
2. Sleeping Bag
3. Clothes for the 2 days (Jackets, sweatshirts, 2 pairs of trek pants that can be converted to shorts, 3 pairs of socks, underwear, bonnet, gloves, and scarf)
4. Head Lamps
5. Rain Gear
6. Personal Care Essentials
7. Trek Shoes
8. Trail Food, although mine did not make it to trail since I was nibbling on it in the office.
9. Water
10. Snacks
12. Sandals/slippers (which i forgot)

Since were leaving on a Friday, I brought my backpack to work and headed straight to Trinoma, our meeting place.

Our van was two hours late from the original schedule, which is 9PM.  We arrived in Baguio at 4:22AM Saturday morning.  Our things were then transferred to a jeep that would take us to the DENR Station in Benguet.

On the way, we made a quick stop for breakfast.  When you order, include your packed lunch to save you time from queuing again.  This is also your last stop for a decent toilet, so take the opportunity to do your business.

Before reaching the DENR Station, we made a quick stop to Ambuclao Dam.  It's is the first among the largest hydro-electric power plants constructed in the Philippines.  It developed the Agno River for the purpose of power generation, flood control, and irrigation in the 1940's.  The size is a sight to behold.

We reached the DENR Station around 8:30 AM.  Here, we need to register and attend an orientation on what to expect and the Do’s and Don’ts at the park.  It is done in batches, so be prepared to wait especially if there’s a throng of people visiting. 

The speaker was very entertaining.  Ms. Emerita Tamiray, the DENR officer tirelessly welcomes all visitors to the park and gives information on what to expect injecting humor in her presentation.  The whole room was filled with laughter as soon as she steps in after making us watch a few videos.  She also made us watch a time-lapse video of the clouds, saying that in case the visibility is poor, we have something to imagine.

After the orientation, we boarded the jeep again to go to the ranger station. We were told that originally, it only takes 45 minutes to reach the station but due to road works, the new route now takes another 3 hours passing through bumpy, steep and dusty portions.

The ranger station is also the last stop to get provisions.  Here we met our guides and porters.  Surprisingly, most of the porters are women who are capable in carrying load almost the same as their body weight.  Here, we ate our lunch packed from our first stop.  We took our time since we were advised that its best that we arrive at the camp site late in the afternoon to avoid the heat from the sun because the area is not shaded.

A few minutes after lunch, we started our trek.  The terrain is gradual, although challenging on some parts especially the climb to Camp 1 which took us more than an hour.  After resting for a few minutes, we continued the longer trek to Camp 2 where we will stay for the night.  

You know that you’re getting higher and higher as the landscape changes.  The trail traverses a mossy forest, which according to the orientation is the sponge of the Cordillera Mountains.  You will pass by 2 natural spring water sources on this leg.  I refilled my water bottle on the second one.  After almost 2 hours, we reached a clearing that is Camp 2.

Our guides went ahead of us, and I was comforted when I saw the tents already pitched and our team leaders busy preparing dinner.  I changed my shirt, removed my shoes, and took the opportunity to lie down before my tent mates arrive.

I got so comfortable that I decided to change pants.  I left my pack outside and changed on one of the empty tents.  As soon as I put the pants on, the rain started to pour.  I immediately secured what was left of my things.  My camera made its way to another tent.  The rain showed no signs of stopping when my tent mates arrived.  Fortunately they have a good quality rain gear. We were left with no choice but to seek refuge in our tent.  All four of us share what I think was intended for 3 persons.  Fortunately, one tent mate brought a portable stove with him.  Although not advisable, we manage to heat some water for the cup noodles we brought along with us.  After eating, we prepared our tent which is now soaked with layers of earth pad and sleeping mats.  We forced ourselves to sleep even if it was just 8PM.  The rain stopped a few minutes later when I heard the invite for dinner.  Since my tent mates were comfortably sleeping, and coming out would be a challenge, I decided to forgo with the meal.  Sleeping became a challenge.  The person beside me is snoring so loud and the weather was so cold.  I checked the weather forecast and it said 9 degrees in the evening, but I think the rain caused it to plummet to about 4.

By midnight, I am having the urgency to use the toilet, but tried to prolong it until the morning.  At 2AM, I had surrender to the need and decided to go out of the tent.  The ground was still wet from the rain and my socks soaked up the cold water left on the tent entrance.  I put on my shoes, and find my way to the latrine, which was not very far.  It was my first time, and up to now I am haunted by the experience.  I went back to our tent area and decided to just wait until everybody wakes up to summit.  While waiting, I took the opportunity to admire the stars we rarely see in the metropolis.

A few minutes later, Alan joined me until eventually, everybody’s up for the climb to the summit.  After coffee, we started trekking 45 minutes after 4AM.  Since most us is still sore from the climb to the campsite, our pacing was slow compared to the more seasoned mountaineers.  After reaching 1/3 of the trail, we can already see the summit.  The trail is lined with a procession of lights from the headlamps of trekkers that looked like stars zigzagging its way to the top. 

The sky became brighter as morning progresses.  We are racing against time to reach the peak before sunrise and we only have 30 minutes left.  Our guide gave us the option to just climb either peak 2 or 3 to give us a better view of the sea of clouds best appreciated as the sun rises.  I personally thought that I would not let all the efforts of coming here go to waste by not reaching the peak.  We told our guide to speed up our pace.  By this time we were almost running.  Nanette another friend joined me as the guide took the shorter and steeper trail to the top.

Our hearts was pounding really fast and we took deep breaths as we reached the summit.  We arrived just before sunrise.  We can’t help but be proud of ourselves as we view the distance from our campsite to the peak.  We we’re rewarded with an amazing view of the sea of clouds in the distance and the amber sky as the sun slowly emerge from the horizon.

A few minutes later, Alan, then her wife Eileen joined us.  We took the opportunity to take pictures to document our achievement.  Their kids arrived a few minutes later with Alma, another friend.  We were surprised to see Alma reaching the summit, considering this is her first climb and have no preparations prior.  Our other group mates and younger contemporaries just settled on Peak 3.  I admired her determination and will power.

The trek back to the campsite was relatively easier.  Our breakfast of Longganisa, Rice, Eggs, and the Adobo we missed during dinner was waiting for us when we arrived.  After eating, we packed our things and prepared for the trek back to the ranger station. 

Since we consider ourselves the slowest being the last group reaching the summit, we decided to went ahead for the trek back to the ranger station.  Together with our porters and guides we started the trek down with the pacing relatively faster than the trek up.  We were surprised on how fast we reached camp 1.  After resting a few minutes, I together with Alan’s kids pursued the trail to the ranger station.  Fortunately, we arrived ahead of the pack and were able to freshen up and use the toilets with little competition from other campers.  We were also able to have snacks while waiting.

The rest of our group mates arrived, and after freshening up and tidying a bit, we boarded the jeepney again that would take us back to the DENR Station for lunch.  We arrived around 2PM and were served with rice, pinikpikan (a local chicken dish with broth where the chicken is tortured before boiling), and sautéed vegetables.  This is where campers usually bathe which what my other group mates did.  I just changed my shirt since, the road to Baguio would still be dusty and I am already on my 15 hour of the third day without bathing.  I will just take a really long shower at home.

We left the DENR station close to 5PM and arrived at Baguio around 8PM where our van was waiting for us.  After loading our things, we were on the ride back to Manila, making stops for pasalubong near the highway and for dinner in La Union.

I reached the house around 1 AM and took a really long shower. I rested for the time that was left of the morning before going work.  

Special thanks to Arch. Eileen Co and Arch Alan Co, for letting me experience this trip with your family and friends.
To Lance and Alex, for racing with me to the toilet on the trek back.
To Arch. Alma for the cheese bread and the the promissory baon that was left in the car.
To Nanette for pacing with me to the summit.
To my tent mates (I'm sorry, I'm bad with names!) for the cup noodles.
To the entire group for making the trip more fun!
To the guides for not letting us get lost.
To the porters (we had a lot of them) for making the trek more bearable.
And to the kuya's from Parana Tours for making it all possible.    

Day 5: Tito's Roadtrip Travel Guide to Bicol

Our last day in Bicol is dedicated to our long drive back home. We decided to leave early around 3AM in order to reach Manila late in the ...