Thursday, July 5, 2007

featured province: surigao del sur

Part of the big Caraga region, Surigao del Sur is the 56th independent Philippine Province. Its capital town, Tandag, is also the seat of the provincial government. A rustic province with most of the national road still unpaved, a trip through Surigao del Sur offers you a spectacular view of the coastline with waves crashing mildly to wildly against the shore, the green to gold hues of rice paddies and the imposing and majestic mountains of the province. Surigao del Sur has one of the remaining largest forest covers in the country.

The municipalities in the area are clustered in three based on their proximity and accessibility to each other, namely Bibahilita, Macasaltabayani, and Canmadcarlancortan. Our road trip took us to the Canmadcarlancortan cluster.

There are two things to enjoy in these areas -- seafood and surfing. Fish are always fresh when you buy from the market. Everyday fisherman would bring in their haul in the morning and in the afternoon. All you need is a grill and some salt for fine feast of roasted fish. Some soy sauce and tomatoes to go with it wouldn’t be bad either. Crustaceans are often costly in most urban areas of the Philippines, but it is relatively cheap here. It is best to get the female crabs for a meaty feast. Steam or curried… it’s definitely heaven to a seafood lover like me.

Then there is the surfing. With the vast coastlines and the waves coming from the Pacific Ocean, there are annual international surfing competitions. Top surfers from Australia and the US would come to the waters of Surigao del Sur, particularly that of Lanuza. The best time of the year for surfing would be from October to November when waves reportedly reach up to two stories high. How cool is that!

For those who are still unsure of surfing, letting yourself ride the waves is a fun enough activity. Smaller waves could carry you along a few feet. You may emerge with a lot of sand on the bottom of your suit, but hey, as long as you fun with your friends!

beach: chiara beach resort

Location: Cagwait, Surigao del Sur

I wasn't exactly sure how we got to Cagwait. It wasn't even part of the plan of our road trip. We left the planning to our newly-married friend whose initial destination was another resort in another municipality which name he just got from the Internet. After following the directions given to him, we found the place and there was a unanimous, "this is it?" reaction. Well, there wasn't any beach to speak of as it was several houses in the middle of a mangrove reservation and no place to swim in.

With words unspoken, it was decided to look for another place. The quest went on for three hours. I drifted in and out of sleep during that time. Around 3pm (we left at 4am), our friend just took a turn somewhere and decided to check in at the first place we saw. This was in Cagwait. The first resort we saw: Chiara Beach Resort.

I thought, what an interesting name for an isolated place like this. The people looked as if they weren't used to visitors because they kept staring at our vehicle as we passed them by. When we met with the owner, he happened to be German. That's why it was Chiara! He has been living in the place for a number of years already and even married a local.

It was settled that we stay there for the night. The beach wasn't exactly that exciting to look at. We've all seen better, but after being on the road for almost twelve hours, anything was acceptable.

I decided to grab a couple of people to play frisbee by the beach. The beach's sand was light brown with some pebbles scattered here and there. The waves were quite inviting for body surfing, with a height from one to two feet. The shoreline was long and littered with coconuts, which could have been brought in from the other island by the waves.

When we got tired of playing frisbee we took a dip, or more appropriately, the water kept dipping us. It was a great game of which person can travel the farthest riding the waves. I think the girls won that one out attributing it to our smaller frames. At the end of the day, the bottoms of our suits were filled with sand but our hearts were brimming with fun.

Everybody trooped to the rooms to change, but my partner and I decided to stay a bit to watch for the sunset. The copse of coconut trees actually covered the sun setting, but the clouds gave us a show as it started changing hues from red to purple to dark blue. It was magnificent.

Even if it was not what we planned for, everybody had a nice time at Cagwait and look back at it with fond memories.

island hopping: auqui island

Location: Cantilan, Surigao del Sur

It was already the second day of our road trip. We left Chiara Beach in Cagwait and decided to proceed to Cantilan, one of the places we originally intended to go.

The trip actually took quite a while, about three hours of traversing more rough roads. Everyone was in a somber mood because the first day didn't turn out as planned. Thankfully, the sea was in sight most of the way to calm our minds and appease our souls.

We finally got to Cantilan, but it took a while before we could find a decent resort. The beach all had dark sands, way below our standard. No one seemed really pleased with how the trip was going. Finally, we just decided to stay in the first resort that we see.

When we went to look at the resort, I saw several islands in the middle of the sea. I asked the lady if it was accessible by boat. It was, which lightened us up a bit. "Let's just go island hopping in the afternoon!" An idea which everyone agreed to.

We settled in our respective rooms and got ready while the resort caretaker contacted the boat operator. After we had our lunch we were on our way.

Our first stop was Auqui Island. The boat ride took almost an hour. But it was well worth it. We could already see the a large volcanic rock outcropping protruding from the ocean. The waves from the Pacific was clashing wildly against it, creating a steady rhtyhm. Its anger was beautiful, mesmerizing.

As out boat neared the island, the water changed from dark blue to turquoise. There were splotches of white sandy bottom but the seabed was mostly covered with sea grass. Since it was low tide, our boat couldn't go too near the island so we walked the rest of the way instead.

We weren't the only people in the area. Some locals from Cantilan were looking around for shells, seaweed, crabs, and conch. Some were having a fun time swimming at the other portion of the island which had brownish sands and clearer water. A far cry from the wild side of nature found just a few hundred meters away.

Finally we got to the outcropping. The volcanic boulders were sharp and slippery, but we continued to climb up. We were too curious to see the Pacific Ocean. And it made great photo ops, of course!

As we settled on the rocks, there was another outcropping much further out in the sea. Bigger waves crashed against it. The mere sight of it looked perilous, especially for a person like me who can't swim.

While I sat there, I thought to myself, God is really creative. He can create quiet beauty and he can make wild mystery. Both tantalizing to people. While I sat there, I felt like I was in a world that was my own.

photos: borrowed from jerry jose

relax: hanging out at prospero pichay, sr. boulevard

Note: The entries here onwards would from my entries in

Location: Lanuza, Surigao del Sur

A whole afternoon of trying out surfing had most of the gang become aware how laundry in the washing machine feels. Everyone tumbled and turned in the waves and would be taking home a souvenir of bruises here and there.

After we have showered and eaten, we decided to go to the Boulevard we saw when we got to Lanuza. Spanning probably more than a kilometer, it actually drew our attention because of its bricked walkway, iron-wrought benches and fancy lamp posts. We all felt it was an odd thing to have for such a small sixth class municipality. For a town which road needs work, the Prospero Pichay, Sr. Boulevard stood out in its extravagance. But we had to give it to whoever made it, it was beautiful.

I had no idea who Prospero Pichay, Sr. was, but logic tells me that he is (was?) the father of the Surigao Congressman running for Senate during the May 2007 elections. And this congressman was someone I would definitely not vote for. But hey, like him or not...that Boulevard is probably a favorite spot during the International Surfing Festival every November.

The day has long gone and the night has nestled itself comfortably into the sky. Everyone was pooped from the afternoon extreme sports. But the cool sea wind was beckoning, telling us to take some time to just sit on the benches and enjoy the sound of the sea.

As we sat, ate chips and told stories, I felt it was a nice way to cap the day. We all lived in a place where the night was greeted by a barrage of lights and drowned by noise pollution. That time, we were facing the ocean, with only pinpricks of light from the houses on the shore and the sounds of nature emphasizing the silence. The light from the lamps actually set the ambience for the evening rather than overpowered it. The crescent moon and the generous sprinkling of stars were simply breathtaking, a sight to behold. The waves that were beating us up just that afternoon has quieted a little. They came at slow intervals, lapping at the shore and sucking at the sand. Our usual loud voices were noticeably slightly toned down, though unintentionally.

I guess in the silence of our hearts, what was happening that moment was something we city folks rarely get to experience and something we want to enjoy the fullest.

When we finally left the Boulevard, our bodies may have been tired but our souls were refreshed by God's wonderful creations.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

must try: chocolate de batirol

Location: Camp John Hay, Baguio City

Getting there: The best way to get there is to simply hire taxi cab to take you. From Session Road, it will cost you about P50. Make sure that you get there before dark because when we went there around 730 in the evening, it was already closed.

One of the things I always look forward to when going to Baguio is having batirol in Camp John Hay. With the cool weather, the hot choco is twice as good!

The Chocolate de Batirol establishment is decorated with plants and flowers and use varnished wood parts for furniture, while the floor is littered with pebbles and small slabs of stone. The place is quite comfortable and homey, like being in your own garden.

The batirol is actually the clay mug where the chocolate is cooked. The chocolate mixture is composed of cocoa and peanut oil, thus a wooden whisk is used to emulsify the two together. Once mixed well and warm, they pour it in a white ceramic mug and served to the guests.

The last time we were there, they already have variations on the flavor, like Kahlua, Strawberry and Cinnamon. I ordered the original flavor because I could have flavored coffee anywhere, but not Baguio’s chocolate batirol. Prices range from P70 to P90.
You could also bring home your own chocolate de batirol. One jar of uncooked batirol costs P350 and comes with a free wooden whisk. I would say this would make a great gift to chocolate drinkers.

So when in Baguio, make sure to have a cup in Chocolate de Batirol. It’s like having a sip of gooey happiness in a mug!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

exciting: lanuza

Location: Lanuza, Surigao del Sur

My buds and I decided to do a road trip for this Holy Week. Early morning of Maundy Thursday, we set of for Surigao del Sur. Our target was to go around the CANCARMADCARLAN (Cantilan, Carmen, Madrid, Carascal and Lanuza) network of Surigao del Sur.

What made me go on this trip was the stuff I found on the internet which showed white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. The images of surfers hanging ten did not particularly appeal to me at that time.

I was pretty disappointed with the Surigao del Sur at first. After spending a day in Canibad beach in Samal (which will be a future post), the beaches of Surigao del Sur were pretty dismal. But we had to do something with our vacation, so we ended up body surfing in Cagwait and island hopping in Cantilan. It was fun, but it falls short from last year’s Holy Week escapade in Marinduque (another future post).

By Black Saturday, we decided to check Lanuza out once again (we already passed it on the way to Cantilan) and see how fare their surfing rates. After asking around, we ended up in Lanuza Bay Surfing Company. Their room rates were pretty reasonable. P200/head for the dormitory rooms, and P450 for twin sharing. Their surfing rates aren’t that bad either, at P200/hour for an instructor and P250/day surf board rental.

They made surfboards from the local tree Amakan which costs P3,500/sq foot. It would seem expensive for those not into the sport, with a short board costing around P20,000++, but other boards are priced more than that. Some of those Lanuza-made beauts are exported to California even! Proudly Pinoy-made surf boards. Yeah!

Anyway, I had first dibs trying the surf board as we crossed the delta to the beach. Lying prone on the board while maintaining balance was not easy during the first time. It kept tilting precariously, and falling off was definitely not an option. But once I got the hang of it, I was able to traverse the delta by paddling. When I got to the other side, I could already feel the adrenaline pumping. o And when I saw the waves racing to the shore, I was ready to hang ten. Or at least try to.

Philip and Ilongo were the instructors assigned to our group of seven. I was among one of the first to reach the part of surfable area of the waters, so Philip instructed me first. I just had to do what I did crossing the delta. Paddle. When a good wave came, Philip gave me the initial push and shouted, “padol!” and paddle I did.

What a rush! I felt my board and I ride the waves! It was only my first try, but I could already understand why some people I know do it every week.

It seemed like I was the most excited about surfing, as I did not stop trying to stand on the board for the last two hours that we were on the beach. The other guys would take breaks or pass the board to another. I kept going at it non-stop. Even after being hit by the board at the gut and on the face. Even after my knees were starting to bruise and my boobs were starting to hurt from climbing onto the board (which is no easy task, when the waves kept coming at me and pushing me off the board). Even when I was on my own, while Philip and Ilongo attending to the others.

Despite my tremendous effort, I could not stand up from the short board though I was already able to more or less determine a good wave to ride. I could already paddle far enough, and balance on my knees. But standing on the board was a different story all together.

Until Philip told me it would be easier using the long board. Once I was able to exchange the short board I was using with the long board, Philip helped me launch. A good wave came. He yelled, “Kini! Padol! Tindog!” (This one! Paddle! Stand!). Lo and behold! I was able to stand for two seconds. Woohoo! The adrenaline just kept pumping harder after that. After I’d paddle, kneel, stand and fall, I’d drag back my surf board and walk or paddle back further down the beach to catch more waves.

I only stopped trying when all the other six people were already on the shore resting. I wanted to try some more, but it was already getting late. The sun was almost setting and it was just the perfect time to take posterity photos. ;p

After everyone had taken their baths, all the bruises and body aches started to come out. I had a cut on my chin, bruises on my pelvis, thigh, knees and right elbow. The back of my neck was hurting from keeping my head up while I lay prone on the board watching out for coming waves. My breasts were hurting from the impact on the board, while the guys felt the same with their pectorals.

Despite all that, I was perfectly satisfied with the day. It was a good end to our long break. And at the back of my head, I was thinking, I can try this again!

This coming November 20-25, they will be having the 3rd International Longboard Invitational and the 5th National Surfing Open at Doot Poktoy, Lanuza, Surigao del Sur. Contact Poktoy Palm Haven at cell number 09064413025 for accommodations and details of the event. If you are interested in surf boards and surfing, contact number for Lanuza Bay Surfing Company is 0915-4471088.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

exotic: miarayon

Author's note: Notice the Exotic label on the title? That means the place being featured is not easily accessible for tourists and would often require you know someone from there. But stories of exotic places will still be posted to allow you to visit these off-the-beaten path but interesting locations.

Getting there: From Malaybalay, take a jeep or mini-bus to Kibanggay ($1.00) which is about three hours. Once in Kibanggay, you have to hire a motorcycle called habal-habal to Miarayon which costs about $3.00.

Warning: Most of the roads are rough and dusty.

Miarayon, mostly inhabited by the Talaandig tribe of bukidnon, is popular with Jesuits and Jesuit volunteers because it is one of their mission areas. They would often leave the place raving of its exquisite charm. JVP friends would attempt to visit just to experience the miarayon magic. Like the others before them, when they leave, they always want to come back.

Back in 2002, I would enjoy my nights in Mia (as JVPs would fondly call the place) with just a gas lamp. By dinnertime, all I can hear are the thrumming of the crickets and maybe a slight gust of wind. But now that there is electricity, the din of the tv, videoke and radio overpower the sounds of nature. Miarayon Purists may feel it has lost a bit of its charm, but for newcomers, its uniqueness remain to be captivating.

It could be that cool baguio-like weather. Fogs would creep in the morning, late afternoon and the evening. There are days when the noon time weather forces you to wear a light sweater. At night, thick woolen blankets are a must if you don’t want to wake up like a popsicle.

As it is on top of Mt. Kalatungan, you get to see the opposite mountain range. There is the feeling that you are before the world itself. Miarayon is also famous for its “photogenic tree” couple by the elementary school. A couple that itches for a myth to be made for it. Visitors like me always take a picture by them.

And of course, there is famous Miarayon spectacular sunset. A gift I have been deprived of, despite the many times I have been there. But I have seen photos as proof, and even on paper I am awed by it. I can imagine how the setting sun sets fire to the sky, permeating the air with enchanting romance.

A new place to visit would be what they call the"asparagusan" or the asparagus plantation. We weren't lucky that day because the vegetables were newly harvested, so we didn't get to see how they were being cleaned and packaged.

Nonetheless, the nun I was with was able to get us access to their demo farm which had a flower farm, pumpkin patches and strawberry fields. If you have a budget of P150.00 ($3.00) to spare, this is worth hiring a motorcycle for. The staff are friendly and would let you try some of the stuff and even bring home some.

There has so been many things that have changed with Miarayon, but whatever they may be, it will remain to be one of the places I don't mind visiting often and showing off. ;p

Thursday, March 22, 2007

must-go: Transfiguration

Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, approximately 15 minutes from downtown

Getting there:
There aren't any public transportation that takes you directly to the Church. Though there are multicabs that would pass the street that leads to it, but it is a very, very long walk. So it is advisable to hire a motorela (a bigger version of the motorcycle) if there are only a few of you or a multicab (a smaller version of the jeepney) if you are a big group.

Negotiating skills are necessary to bargain with the drivers. But a budget of P100-150 ($2-3) would be more than enough. An additional P200 ($4.00) should you decide to have their second Sunday brunch

The Transfiguration located at the outskirts of Malaybalay City. It is a church being managed by the Benedictine Monks. It is not very accessible to public transportation, thus you would need to hire a public utility vehicle to get there, if you do not have your own.

From afar, the Transfiguration looks more like a pyramid than a church. But once you get to the top of the hill where it is located, you are greeted with a speactacular view of Bukidnon. On either side are the mountains of Bukidnon, the famous of which is Mt. Kitanglad. You are surrounded by a sea of green from the trees, the grass, the rice and corn fields. Around November to February, there are dots of yellow from the wild sunflower blossoms.

The inside and outside of the church is separate with glass panels so you still have an unobstructed view. Wooden pews and fixtured and the stone altar contribute to the feeling of oneness with nature.

Whether inside or outside of the Transfiguration, you get the feeling of serenity and tranquility.

Every second Sunday of the month, many out-of-town Churchgoers visit the Transfiguration to enjoy the brunch meal the Monks prepare. For a fee of P200 ($4.00), you can enjoy a buffet rice, fish, chicken and pork adobo, scrambled eggs, tocino and vegetables. There is also bottomless coffee and juice.

So should you plan to visit, make sure its a second Sunday!

eye wander: kaamulan photos

Click on photo to see more!

festival: kaamulan

Location: Malaybalay, Bukidon

Getting there: 2 hrs from Cagayan de Oro City or 4 hours from Davao City by bus

Budget: P3,000.00 is a safe amount for an overnight stay, several meals and some shopping for souvenirs.

Must bring: water, hat/umbrella, camera, extra batteries, comfy walking shoes/slippers

Bukidnon is a quiet paradise of Mindanao that links together Davao and Cagayan de Oro. A road trip gives you an relaxing view of a sea of green because of the wide expanse of fields of rice, corn and sugar cane. In Cebuano, Bukidnon means moutainous. True to its name, there are mountain ranges on either side of the high way.

There are large concentration of indigenous peoples (IPs, or in the native dialect, lumad) in Bukidnon, many of which are located in the uplands, away from the mainland. The Kaamulan Festival celebrates the gathering of cultures and traditions of the IPs. It used to be held every September but recently it has been moved to March for better weather conditions.

In the recent years, the Kaamulan has become bigger and more commercial and has brought about a lot of debates on how far it has strayed from its original purpose. But for many people of Bukidnon, it is still a time to come together and rejoice in their roots.

The street dancing is one of the major highlights of Kaamulan where many local and foreign tourists come to witness the municipalities of Bukidnon showcase their talents through music and dance, interpreting cultural traditions of the lumad. The dance may be of healing, courtship, warfare, livelihood, and other rituals of the IPs. They dance the length of the highway of Malaybalay to the main plaza.

The street dancing in itself is already a colorful visual display of choreographed and timed movements. Once they are in the plaza, they perform in front of a panel of judges. Most of which are government officials and big-time businessmen. Under the sweltering heat, these people dance their heart out to the beat of the steel drums to tell the story of their forefathers.

Witnessing the street dancing is often satisfying enough for a Kaamulan adventure. But those in wanting to do more may enjoy horseback riding, horse fights, flea markets, ethnic dance clinic and live performances by local and famous bands.

Should you be interested to go, mark the first weekend of March for the streetdancing. This ushers in the beginning of the month long celebration. The rest of the activities are spread throughout the month.