Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Davao Del Sur's Hidden Treasures

It was the early part of 2005 when I was lucky enough to discover places in my country where people still walk for days just to go to the market, who wore animal skin as clothing or sometimes wearing nothing at all and places where lobsters are ordinarily eaten.  Yes, there are still places undiscovered like this in my home country, Philippines.
Mindanao Map - grabbed from yahoo

On the southern part of Mindanao, there are still municipalities and barrios that remain untouched.  We were doing a feasibility study on a proposed road network connecting several municipalities in the southern part of Davao del Sur to Sarangani.  It was one of those adventures I’ll never ever forget.

We left Davao city around 9 a.m. traversed the Davao-Cotabato National highway.  When we reached junction of Sulop, we turned and took the Malalag-Malita-Jose Abad Santos Road.  Malita is a small fishing municipality that has been benefitting from the completed road network.  So the next target is to provide a better road network connecting Malita to Jose Abad Santos in the hope of providing more opportunities and social services to the people of this far flung areas.  What makes this trip something that of an adventure is that no proper roads to connect them have been establlished.  If the municipal is lucky enough to have an extra budget to rent a road grader, they could clear a way for the people to use, but most of the time, horse trails are being used.  And because of this horse trails that no cars have yet passed through this area.  So imagine the shock of the people living in the area when they heard the roaring engine of our 4x4 pickup truck.  We stopped at this little barrio, where as I’ve mentioned before, natives live here.  They still haven’t catch up with the invention of clothes and they like to eat lobsters.  It was rumored that during World War II, a lot of Japanese troops stopped over in this area and hid some of their treasures.  That is why most of the tribes also look like Japanese.  Short, fair skinned and almond eyes.  What was really overwhelming is that almost everyone in that barrio came out of their huts and gathered around our vehicle and they were touching and smelling it.  Our guide talked to the tribe leader and informed him of our visit.  They were all happy to help and accommodate our agency to make that road a reality.

I realized, I’m so blessed, being born in the city, I am used to the perks of a city life, and those people who doesn’t even have their own electricity to light their huts can still be happy without the assistance of modern civilization.  We continue with our journey, we drove along swamps, along shorelines and even going down steep terrains just to complete the documentation of the study and established that a road can be constructed connecting municipalities in the southern part of Mindanao.  Most of those areas have no cellphone networks, even if I was carrying two mobile phones of two different network providers, still no signal.  So imagine how petrified I am while we are slowly driving around cliff I was staring down the abyss and was thinking how will my family ever discover where we are if in case the car falls off.  There are even times that we have to push the car just to go forward.

Our journey lasted for two days.  We stopped over at Jose Abad Santos, the municipality that experiences beautiful sunsets everyday.  It was a quiet municipality with very nice people but very shy.  Most of them go to bed at  8 pm and wakes up as early as 4:30 am.  Life in the province - sigh.  We left at 8 am and continued our journey, and feast our eyes on so many white sand beaches.  Untouched and untamed.  Bluish white waves curls over the shores of every view.  That was exactly what paradise should look llke.  Unfortunately, we don’t have enough time to stop and enjoy the beach.  We reached Alabel of Sarangani the same day at 8 pm.  We were driving the whole day.  All my body parts ached, I have mosquito bites everywhere, thirsty and hungry plus the difficulty of peeing in the middle of nowhere - but it was all worth it for a glimpse of a paradise tucked away in the corners of Davao del Sur.
Sarangani - grabbed from yahoo

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Visayas in Fleeting Glances

Among the memorable trips we took was when we visited the Visayas provinces.  Although not as popular as some of the tourist destinations of the country, still these provinces have opened my eyes to our beautiful culture and heritage.

Beautiful Architecture in Iloilo
Iloilo is a small town in the Visayas region of the Philippines where it is famous for the Piaya and their La Paz Batchoy.  Piaya is a famous souvenir food item.  It is a flat bread with a muzcovado sugar.  This delicacy is perfect when it is reheated.  The filling just melts in your mouth.  The batchoy on the other hand, is another Filipino noodle soup, but when you order your batchoy from Iloilo, expect something different with the taste. 

The La Paz batchoy noodle soup is made with pork organs, crushed pork cracklings, shrimp, vegetable and chicken stock.   Famous batchoy restaurants are Deco’s and Ted’s.  Iloilo is also abundant with seafood.  If you feel like having a seafood feast, head to Tatoy’s for their infamous crablets.   They serve fresh from the pond crablets deep fried to perfection.

Enough about food and on to site seeing.  Iloilo, is also famous for its old churches.  Over the years, the city has kept and maintained their churches that was built during the Spanish Era.  Among the famous churches are:

Miagao Church

Molo Church:

Cabatuan Church:

An hour of travel from Iloilo to visit Guimaras will also give you another glimpse of untouched paradise.  Scenic views and beaches lined up this island. This province is also famous for their export quality mangoes.  Visit the Trappist Monastery and find a wide variety of Mango products such as Mango jams, Mango piaya and Mango ketchup.

Iloilo is an hour airplane ride from Manila or a 45 minute airplane ride from Cebu.  Or you can also take an hour boat ride from Bacolod to Iloilo via Super Cat.

Time Travel in Leyte

Leyte is not only the site where General Douglas McArthur delcared “I Shall Return” during the World War II.  Leyte, is also known for its pristine white beaches.  Although not developed for resort facility, the CAlanggaman island can be reached using a small boat or bangka.  Have a picnic in the island with your family the whole day check out the clear water lagoons and interesting caves that decorates the island.

Leyte, is home of the longest and the most beautiful designed bridge in the Philippines, the San Juanico Bridge.  This bridge connects the island of Leyte to the island of Samar and stretches into a total length of 2.16 kilometers.   Also, in Leyte is the Sto. Nino and Heritage Museum.  These palatial structure showcased the opulent lifestyle of the Romuladez-Marcos.  Made famous by the shoe loving Imelda Marcos.  The mansion has different types of rooms decorated in the finest furniture and wall cladding.  Antique chandeliers illuminate the paths.  A must visit site when you are in Leyte.

Mardi Gras in Bacolod City – Silay City
During October, half of the western part of world is celebrating the beer festival another part, I must say a minute part of Asia is celebrating another kind of festival in Bacolod city – the <a href="http://www.themasskarafestival.com/">Masskara festival</a>.

This festival is a week long celebration of food fairs, mask making contest and highlighted by the Mardi Gras-ish parade.  The parade comprises dancers who don elaborate mask designs and dance along the main city streets.  The street party does not stop until the wee hours of the morning.  After a night of partying and booze drinking, a lazy day at the city will help you sober up.

Bacolod city which is known to be the City of Smiles, is famous for its sugar cane.  Thus also made creamy and fuller piaya’s than that of Iloilo.  Bongbong’s piaya orginal flavor and the Ube flavor is a must buy take home goodies.  Also the cheese tart and the Guapol.  Now this guapol has a funny story.  Guapol or simply put as guava pie but has the similar makes and taste of an apple pie thus named Guapol.  The first time I tasted guapol pie I immediately fell in love with it. The cinnamon and the tender meat of the guava fruit is a perfect blend.  Guapol pie can be bought in Silay city.  An hour drive from Bacolod City.

Another thing I remember about Silay and Bacolod is the Mambukal resort.  This is a hot spring resort where a streams of hot water can cure eczema.  Or so my relatives think.  Another landmark is the Balay Negrense this museum showcase the rich history of this cities from being the Spanish colony to an American territory during World War II.

There are more cities and provinces in Visayas that I have yet to discover.  Hopefully, when I have a nother chance it will no longer be fleeting glances but a closer look on more cultural discoveries.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Boracay: The Asia's Ibiza

Where can you find a place where the party never stops, the music stays loud, the booze continuously flow and sexy and hunky bodies mingle 24/7?  You’d think Ibiza right?  But Ibiza is way way too far if you are residing somewhere near the sunrise point.  If you are currently situated in the eastern part of the world and wanting so badly to take a break and have a party either with your friends or simply meet new ones, you don’t really have to book the next flight going to Spain and jump into the ferry going to the Balearic Islands.  You can easily find another version of Ibiza in in a little island in the Philippines called Boracay.

Boracay island is a paradise hidden within the heart of the Philippine archipelago.  This 10.32 sq. kilomter island is blessed with fine white sand beaches.   The sand is perfectly complemented by the aquamarine waters of the beach which could stretch for miles without changing the depth.  This is particular on low tides, the beach is shallow and if you are inclined to do some diving, you better prepare yourself for a long walk.  However, with a breathtaking view of the beach and the sandy beach, the 20 minute walk for a deeper water is hardly noticeable.

A day in boracay is not enough to do everything you want to do in a glorious beach with a clear sky and a cheery sun.  by the time, the sun peaks in the horizon, start your day with a brisk walk along the shoreline.  The cool breeze will cool you down while you sweat off some calories.  Then when its time to take off your shorts for a more sexy bikinis, frolic on the waters with your friends to cool off the morning jog.  Then flaunt sexy bikini bottoms on the sand to dry off while you get your sun tan, your henna tattoo on your lower back and have your hair braid for a totally cool vacay mode do.  Before the sun sets, make sure to visit the small shops in D’Mall.

This compound sells about anything you can ask for in a tropical paradise, sultry dresses for the night, accessories to highlight your look and the usual sourvenir shops to take home.  Then hit your rented cribs and prepare for a big party along the shores of Boracay.

Bars and restaurants in boracay comes alive upon twilight.  You’d hear the competing sounds of bars and restaurants calling out to all partygoers.  Also, fire dancers is a crowd favorite.  Many who dare to learn the dance spend the whole day practicing to showcase their instant talent in fire dancing at night.  The party does not stop until all of the partygoers drop in stupor.   You will find those unlucky ones sleeping along the walkways when you wake up in the morning.

For those, who prefer to spend some quiet nights with their partners, there are spots along the beach where the music is muffled by the crashing of waves.  You can enjoy the cool breeze and cuddle your honey.  Tip: the sand at night are really cool, try burying your beer for 15 minutes, you’ll discover it is still cool. After being out of the fridge for sometime.

Going to boracay is not so complicated.  Most flights come from Manila or Cebu.  It is an hour and 15 minutes plane ride from Manila and 45 minutes plane ride from Cebu.  When you land in Aklan Domestic Airport buses and vans are available to take you to Caticlan where you will ride the ferry going to Boracay island.  The drive from Aklan to Caticlan takes almost an hour.  Although, there are small airlines who also cater flights going directly to Caticlan airport.  From Caticlan airport you can take the tricycle or a jeepney going to the Ferry Terminal.  The ferry ride would take almost 15-20 minutes.  When you get to the island there are three (3) boat stations where the ferry will dock.  If in case you don’t have a booked hotel yet when you get there, it is best that you drop off at station 3 so you could check out all the possible hotels and inns along the stretch the beach.

Here are some of the names of hotels in Boracay:

Station 3:

Dave’s Straw Hat Inn

Website: www.davesstrawhatinn.com

Email:  info@davesstrawhatinn.com

Phone No.: +63 36 328 5466 toll free (UK) (+40) 020 8133 4244

toll free (USA) (781) 579 2273 +1 USA

Sander’s White

Website: http://www.sanderswhitebeachresort.com/

Handphone No.: +63 9302962896 and +639163285695

Station 2:

Boracay Regency Hotel

Website:  boracayregency.com

Email: main@boracayregency.com

Phone No.: +63 36 286 6111 to 117

Boracay Holiday Resort

Website:  http://www.boracayholidayresort.com/

Email: inquiry@boracayholidayresort.com

Phone No.:  (036) 288 4085 to 86; (209) 267 4482 and 474 6785

Bamboo Bungalows Boracay

Website: http://www.bbboracay.com/

Email: reservation@bamboobungalows-boracay.net

Station 1:

Bans Beach Resort

Website: http://www.bansbeachresort.com/

Friday’s Boracay

Website: http://www.fridaysboracay.com/

Email: reservations@fridaysboracay.com


For more hotels and inns in Boracay you can check the website http://www.boracay.com/.   So when is the perfect time to visit Boracay?  Anytime of the year, but it is recommended to visit it on the ssecond week of January when the Ati-Atihan Festival is also celebrated.  Why not hit two birds with one stone?  Witness a street festival at the same time party the Ibiza way in Boracay after all the street dancing in Aklan is over.  Hala Bira!!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

METRO MANILA: The Shopping Mecca of the Philippines

I always look forward when summer vacation is almost over.  Weird, right?  I mean, most kids would have loved to extend the summer for another month of beach frolicking and lazing around.  But, hey, this is just me.  It’s not that I love school so much that I’d like to spend my entire year in it.  What I love about this time is we could finally take our family vacation.  While everyone else were nursing hangovers from their summer vacation, my family are still packing to take our own vacation.  Another thing that makes me so excited aside from flying off to somewhere is the moment when we are going to buy school supplies.  Geeky thing, but truly one of my favorite moments way back, this is because I get to buy my school stuff away from my hometown which again, makes all my stuff more special than the rest of my would be classmates, or so I think.

Back in the mid-1980’s  my hometown is not that blessed yet with malls equipped with a wide variety of school supplies.  So for those who want to stand out among the crowd in owning the only Princess Jasmin pencil case, you have to buy your stuff somewhere else.  And I’m lucky enough to have that opportunity.  And yes, I was the only one with a Princess Jasmin pencil case back then.  So where do we usually buy our “special” school supplies?  Where else? But Metro Manila.

Even after all these years of flying to and from Manila.  I’ll never understand the maze of cities it covers.  I absolutely have no idea where the first city ends and where another city starts.  So let’s just zoom in to one particular city where you can do shopping without breaking a sweat.  Welcome to Makati city.

This city is considered the central business district of Metro Manila.  Aside from the prestigious companies taking offices in the high rise buildings of this city, malls are everywhere.  The Shoe Mart (SM), Rustan’s, Glorietta and Landmark.  The Greenbelt, though not really a mall but sort of a bridge that connects Ayala area to Landmark it also holds few shops like my favorite bookstore .  This bookshop can offer hundreds of books from around the world.  Though a bit pricey, the book is worth its value.  This is because, some of this books are not available in other bookstores.  Another plus factor of Powerbooks is if in case payday is still far from being reality, you can read your fresh from the press books for free.  Find a nook or a comfortable corner within the shop and have a go with the book. 

The Landmark is a shopper’s ideal place for bargain hunting.  Landmark is more like SM it has a wide range of shoes to choose from.  And a very friendly price to go with it.  Landmark also sells plenty of bric-a-brac items perfect for gifts of different occasions.  Connected to this quaint but buzzing mall is the ShoeMart or commonly known as SM. 

SM have been the go-to mall since I could remember.  This is where we buy our special school supplies.  The good thing about SM products, they repackaged or they sell products labeled BONUS as a generic item but with a lower price.  Shoes are also aplenty in this mall from the name itself, the mall started out as a shoe seller and just grew over the years.  SM malls are scattered everywhere in the country.  Only a few cities in the Philippines are yet to be touched by the SM fever.  The SM malls also cater to label brands if you have extra budget for such.  The mother of all SM malls in Manila is the Mall of Asia, which is considered as the biggest mall in the country.

If you belong to the elite group of shoppers, you can shop at Glorietta and Rustan’s.  Still these malls are connected with SM and Landmark.  So you don’t really have to change parking lots just to check another mall.  Rustan’s sells label brands of the highest quality.  So make sure to bring your credit cards when you enter their chic mall.

However, for those budget conscious shoppers who would do anything to get a good buy, you should try and visit and Divisoria.  Inside the air-conditioned establishment, Greenhills gives the ambiance of shabby chic marketplace.  Most stalls sell knock-off shoes of different varieties.  I must say, its looks incredibly genuine. Like the FitFlop slippers, no obvious hints that it is a counterfeit.  But once you wear it.  That’s how you would know.  But who cares?  Shirts and other clothing materials are also sold in this place.  The central stalls specializes in selling Filipino made product.  Though a bit pricey, make sure to haggle.  Even if it is inside an air-conditioned building, you can still get a good price for these items.

For those who would really go further down the budget line, you should venture the wild world of Divisoria.  If you are going to Divisoria from say Makati, you can take the taxi cab and contract the driver.  Usually they would settle for a fixed price of Php 200.00 or if you are good with financial negotiations you can reach Divisoria at a lesser cost.  But if you prefer riding the FX as they call it which looks like an old model for SUV’s, you can ride them in Buendia near the Chowking Fast food in Pasay City.  Drop off is exactly within Divisoria.

Divisoria is not for the fainthearted.  Honestly, it is dirty, noisy and scary but this is where everything cost so cheap and where the pick-pockets flock.  Friendly tip though, if you would like to check Divisoria you can go here around 7:30 am when all shops and vendors are just opening.  You can haggle even to the lowest price and they would accept that this is because of a Filipino belief that it is for <em>bueno mano</em> a good luck for the entire day.  So Divisoria, sells all kinds of stuff you need and you think you need.  Just because it is so cheap you might think you need it so you buy it.  Divisoria is home of cheapest school supplies, school uniforms, Christmas decorations, stuff toys, clothes, bags, hardware stuff, candies, craft materials and almost everything you need in a home.  Aside from that, one street in particular Yllaya St. where an old building stands and houses rolls of beautiful and cheap linens.  If you are a bride on a tight budget, this is definitely the place to buy the cloth/linen for the entire entourage.  This is where I bought everything I need for my wedding gown and for the rest of my entourage.  Vendors can offer good prices and you can even haggle for a lower one if you feel like doing so.  Check every stalls for their prices, most of them compete for a lower price so make sure to round the whole building.

If you are one of those fashionistas on a budget, you can check the latest fashion craze and accessories at the 168 building.  Still within the Divisoria compound, this air conditioned building will give you a respite from the chaos outside.  Still haggling is being practiced here.  Wholesale prices are also offered if you would be buying a minimum of 3 items.   A food court is available at the top of this building where you can rest your feet and pamper your stomach.  A day at Divisoria is not enough.  And because you have discovered the power of haggling, struggling with the crowd and surviving the chaos, you would still want to come back to Divisoria.

Manila, sad to say is more known for the shopping experience that its tourist attractions.  If you are the kind of tourist who would like a picture taken with old churches and parks.  You should try to check out the outer provinces of Metro Manila.  But for now, your shopping experience in the Philippines will just have to take a rest for a while and talk more for another day.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My First Take-Off

I was 7 years old when I had my first airplane ride.  We were on our way to visit our cousins in Silay City, Negros Occidental, Philippines - the city of smiles.

All of us kids, were ecstatic to be going somewhere far and riding the airplane.  We were composed of 3 families with 5 adults and 6 kids.  Imagine the headache we were causing our parents when we decided to 'bond' during the flight.  Our first stop was Cebu City.

Cebu City is famous for being the city discovered by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 and the Sinulog Festival.  In his search for the Spice Islands now known as Indonesia, his ship accidentally veered further west thus landed him in Homonhon Island in the Philippines.  This started the colorful history of Spain in the Philippines which lasted for 300 years.

Since Cebu city is a city that holds quite a number of historical landmarks, we did what most tourists do.  Paid it a visit to the nearest ones and had our go with the picture taking activities.  Actually, the cross displayed is just the wooden casing of the original cross.  This cross is not where Magellan met his demise, but, this is the cross that symbolizes Spain's biggest contribution to the Philippines - Christianity. 

The cross is located inside a small building near the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino.  Back then, we were not really that interested of these things.  We ran around the cobbled path of the area from the chapel to the main Sto. Nino Church.

And that's all I can remember about Cebu on my first trip.

My second visit in Cebu was already 18 years later.  And I went to visit the same tourist attraction which by the way haven't change a bit.  Although, the Sto. Nino Church is more beautiful than ever.  The old Baroque church still evokes the ambiance of being a holy ground housing a very old religious artifact.  What I missed in checking out was what Cebu was really all about aside from its rich history.

Cebu city is known for its very tasty lechon.  Lechon is a suckling pig roasted over charcoal for hours.  The crispy skin is just the appetizer of the whole meat adventure.  I don't know what is it with Lechon Cebu that separates it from the rest of the lechons in the entire Philippines.  They just have their distinct juicy taste that lingers in your tongue.

Another must try delicacy of Cebu is their dried mangoes.  If you are one with the sweet tooth, this is definitely the perfect quick snack.  You can nibble on it for hours.  A little reminder though, drink loads and loads of water after, sore throat would definitely be next in your Cebu experience. 

Often heard on the streets of Cebu is the vendors selling.  Danggit is a dried fish, often fried for breakfast.  It goes well with fried rice and fried egg.  This dried fish is salt marinated, thus paired with vinegar to neutralize the taste.

If you are not a food hunter, then relaxing in the white sand beaches of Cebu should also be in your list to visit.  The Sumilon Island boasts the kind of relaxation one can only achieve when taking a sabbatical leave.  This island is blessed with white sand beaches and a resort that could cater to all your needs while being away from the city bustle.

These are just a few of what I have missed experiencing in Cebu.  Maybe next time, when my plane lands again in this history rich city, I'd grab a friend who lives here and make her my instant tourist guide and make sure I will experience everything Cebu has to offer for somebody who likes to wander off.