Monday, October 23, 2006

Baguio, quo vadis

A city designed for 30,000 is now occupied by about 300,000 people. No wonder Baguio has lost most of its allure... at least in the eyes of the common bakasyonista. Fortunately I'm not one of those. Yes its full of smoke now and the scent of pine is not as readily experienced as before but it still has a few good spots. Its just too bad I couldn't go there later this year. I really wanted to go and pig out on strawberries.

We went there on a Saturday and stayed until Monday. We were lucky enough to get 3 whole days of good, no, excellent Baguio weather! Our day started at 4am when we all woke up to prepare for the long trip up to Baguio. Sadly, not everyone woke up as one of our designated drivers, si ELIAS "BADONG" CONDRILLON SANTOS JUNIOR got too drunk from the previous nights Oktoberfest and not even an intesity 7 earthquake could wake him up. What should have taken 30minutes to organize took us 1.5hrs and we ended up leaving the house at 5:30am. I had to ask my dad to drive and rearrange seating arrangments and supplies.

(photo, above: scene on the way to Asin Hot Springs in Tuba, Benguet. below: 5am at NLEX Balintawak. Taken by AllanBarredo on Olympus C4040Z 10/21/2006)

At last, off we went! Everyone was glad we were on our way. However, our enthusiasm was quickly dampened by a loooong bumper to bumper congestion along NLEX (apalit, pampanga). Cars were being diverted to the opposite lane --- AT 6AM !!! Upon getting closer, we saw that the people in charge of directing or redirecting traffic were all ASLEEP - galing talaga. They probably should have removed the diversion signs a few hours before but were literally sleeping on the job. bobo

Just before we hit Kenon road we chanced upon some folks selling what I first thought were birds because of their size. Upon closer inspection, I was aghast to find out they were not birds but HUGE PRAWNS!!! Some bigger than my hand! I had to stop and buy a few kilos. The blue crabs were very fresh too so I got some of those as well. I was able to get the freakishly large prawns for 300 a kilo but I doubt their scales are honest. We cooked them hilabos style but with a twist - i added lots of crushed garlic in butter and slowly sizzled it in the sauce until it was dry - delicioso! Dad forgot he had uric acid problems and pigged out on the prawns.

I've been reading about the ASIN HOT SPRINGS but never got around to actually visiting it because I really didn't know where it was. SO, after we checked in at Villa Al Pino , a cheap but extremely cozy apartment just above the stores in MinesViewPark, I checked google earth, got my GPS and sequestered one of the cars.
(photo, above right: Kenon Road Lions head. left: prawns on steroids - bigger than mom's hand! below* Scenes on the way down to AsinHotSprings, from left to right: rickety one-car bridge, hot spring pool, isa sa dalawang gabi [two cave-like tunnels on the way to the hot springs. Taken by AllanBarredo on Olympus C4040Z 10/21/2006)

The road to asin hot springs was not as easy as I thought. Basically, we went down session road then beside maharlika building. Take that road from the side of Maharlika building and just go straight. Stay on that road until you get to a department store building( forgot the name ). There is a street going down on its left, take that road and keep going down for about 45minutes. When we asked the locals how far it was to asin hot springs, they all give us this "hay naku!" face and say MALAYO PA! plus... "dadaan kayo sa dalawang gabi" ... what the heck does that mean? "dalawang gabi?" ??? The only DALAWANG GABI that I've ever seen is when I look into the nose of one of the students - hehe - you know who you are.

The hot spring pools abound here in Asin, Tuba, Benguet. Choose one that has no karaoke please!DON'T choose that one at the side of the street. Go down further on the rough road on your left until you reach the building that houses the pumps for the hydroelectric power plant. This facility has two pools, one hot spring pool and one regular pool. The hotspring pool water has a temperature ranging from 27degrees to about 35degrees at its hottest part (near the hot water spout) . Water here is so abundant that they never bother to close their showers. Its amazing. We all soaked up the hot spring water and cooled down in the big pool. It was very relaxing.
(photo, left : Hot spring pool sign. Notice what #1 says... ? Taken by AllanBarredo on Olympus C4040Z 10/21/2006)

We stop on the way back up to baguio to look at the local handicraft. They make those seats that are shaped like a hand as well as small to medium sized woodcraft here by bulk.

The next day, Sunday, we all decided to go up and check out that road to the Radar station.
(photo, below* Scenes taken from MinesView ViewPoint, from left to right: dawn, sunrise and early fog dissipation. Taken by AllanBarredo on Olympus C4040Z 10/22/2006)

We took the Marcos Road and turned left where there was a sign saying "Radar", along the road going to GreenValleySubdivision. When I was in highschool, I vaguely remember hiking this trail all the way up to the radar one summer. All 150 of us kids attending summercamp left at 4am and was at the peak at 6am to watch the sunrise. I remember eating wildberries I found along the way. There were not many houses around then - back in the 80s, now there is electricity and even a school halfway up the mountain. Despite that, going up Mt.Santo Tomas peak where the radar is situated was a very good idea. The road was rough and there was fog everywhere and this at only 2pm! We had to go slowly as visibility dropped to about 10meters. Portions of the road were just wide enough for 1 vehicle so if you meet someone from the opposite direction, one of you have to backoff else be stuck there forever. We saw this toyota altis car on the way down and driven by a foreigner... now how the heck was he able to get that up there (looked like a rental)? Someparts of the road were at a 40degree incline! The road just before the reaching the Radar is particularly steep even for a 4x4. I suggest y'all park and walk the 50meters to the AFP gate that blocks entrance to the radar facility. The scenery was eerily beautiful. I'm sure its beautiful when you can see Pangasinan from this vantage point but having all this fog has a beauty of its own too.

(photo, below* Scenes on the way up to the RADAR, from left to right: eerie scene like something from silent hill, road to nowhere, radar station Taken by AllanBarredo on Olympus C4040Z 10/22/2006)

Time really flies when your having fun. Especially here in Baguio when all your systems simply want to shut down and you feel like going back to sleep within 5 minutes after you wake up! The weather is really excellent for resting. We did the obligatory tour of all the common "tourist" stops like JohnHay, Burnham, Wagwag, and the Market. We even went to the botanical gardens and let the local piranhas disguised as "old women in igorot attire", empty our pockets after they force their way into our picture taking.
(photo, below* Scenes on our last day, from left to right: view of the radar station from GoodShepherd, Botanical Garden with natives, BahayPawid Restaurant at the foot of Kenon Taken by AllanBarredo on Olympus C4040Z 10/23/2006)

Now its time to go back down and face the forces of evil --- actually, just back to reality. Going up Baguio, we noticed that the usual place where we eat lunch on the way home, RIVER VIEW, was closed. We found another place called BAHAY PAWID just after you decend Kenon and before you go onto the national road. They really had great food. Unlike the food in RiverView, the food here in BahayPawid had a very distinct and personal touch to it. The owners hail from QC but thought it wise to setup shop there 10 years ago. Ordinary filipino dishes that tasted extraordinarily delicious. I fully recommend that place.

Monday, October 02, 2006

take two, all together now!

One would think I'd be wise enough NOT to attempt a second shot at going to the beach during the rainy season... well, attempt I did and I'm glad I went through with it. I wanted my family to feel and see, even for a few hours, what I experience when I go out on one of my trips. Experience it they did albeit a very "toned down" version. One cannot really expect my mom, creator of heaven and earth (and me on the side), to sleep in an room without airconditioning. After emailing everyone a very detailed agenda of activities and nagging all concerend to go view my previous blogs on the place, every family member turns to me on that day and blames me for "not telling them what to expect"... err... okay, maybe I should have made them kneel on rock salt or put a candle under their hands until they read every last word of both the agenda and the writeups. Short of that, I don't know how else to make them read what they should have. Anyway, the day started at 4am for everyone. I had a quick breakfast of tocino, eggs and rice. Of course, after insisting that my brother eat breakfast because of the long trip ahead, he refuses for some reason and blamed me later for not giving him breakfast.... 'hirap talaga maging kuya ha...
5am, all the essentials are packed into the two cars and we go fetch mom, dad, k.mel and sarah. On the way , turning right to get some ice in 7-11 my big fat brother obstructs all view of the right-side side-mirror as well as blocks out ALL view of the right windows (what can I say? he's titanic!). I motion him to give me a clear line of sight and he shouts something like "eh di mag ingat ka tanga!" and then goes into a hissifit complete with tears and a litany of woes... as I said, 'hirap talaga maging kuya ha... The things I put up with eh? We finally stop for ice so mel goes to the back to continue his bitching there while my youngest sister goes up front to be my co-pilot. (remaining 99.999% censored out)
So finally, with ice in the cooler, we convoy to Tignoan beach in Real, Quezon. Red and family ,had a nice little last-minute complication and could not convoy with us to the place. They decided to go find it by themselves and , of course, I then get blamed again for not warning them of the zigzag road that cuts through the sierra madre hills. Even though that detail was mentioned in my blog along with the name of the resort, contact numbers, contact person, DETAILED directions on how to get there and even time estimates and distances, I get the blame because, apparently, everyone suffers a lack of reading ability. One may conclude that reading instructions are strictly only for engineers. The rest of the world just looks at the pictures. My parents and siblings will probably view this blog and look at all the nice pictures without reading any of this. Thats why I think its safe to write anything and everything here, don't you worry (wink-wink). So, okay, I get blamed because my brother fails to read and follow instructions - everybody say it with me... once again with feeling ... 'HIRAP MAGING KUYA HA... amen, ramen, somen.
(photo, above: Balagbag falls after typhoon milenyo, below: Paul, mom and dad at the OceanBlueResort , all photos taken by FrancisAtendido with a Panasonic Lumix FZ20)

We arrived at the Ocean Blue Resort and settled into our respective rooms. They still did not have power in Quezon so Mrs.Celia, the manager, apologized and said the most they can do is run the generator at night to power some electric fans. Of course mom was in distress over this news but theres nothing we could do about it. Dad, Paul and I wen to the nearby talipapa to get a look at what was available. Unlike the last time I was here, fish was plentiful and much cheaper. We bought kilo after kilo of LapuLapu, Shrimps, Prawns, gigantic BlueCrabs, Blue Marlin, kitang or spade fish, fresh galunggong or round scad. The spade fish was particularly delicious. I didn't know about this fish until my father introduced me to it that day. Kitang, or "spade fish" is otherwise known to divers as "bat fish" because of their wide shape. I recall seeing a school of giants in one of my wreck dives with Gunter in Coron.

After putting everything on ice, we head back to the resort and unload all the stuff we bought. This time we brought cooking materials so I instruct the cook to make hilabos from the live prawns, spicy ginataan alimango out of the 5kilos of crabs, fry the kitang and cook some rice. I haul mom, dad, paul, k.mel and sarah into the car and we proceed to balagbag waterfalls.

(photo, above: yellowfin tuna at nearby talipapa, below right: Paul at Balagbag falls , all photos taken by FrancisAtendido with a Panasonic Lumix FZ20)

Now, I was impressed with this waterfall during my first visit but it was even more beautiful now! I force my mom to walk the 300+ meters or so to the falls (she's so lazy and abhors walking) because I knew she needed the exercise. She complained every inch of the way but actually thanked me later because she felt stronger and lighter from all that walking. Paul went bonkers and immediately explored the different parts of the falls. The water was much more abundant now oweing to the recent deluge from Typhoon Milenyo. This abundance of water made the falls look more majestic and certainly more fun. Its too bad we could only stay a short while as it was nearing noon and we had to start heading back to the resort (mom walks really slow).

Back at the resort, dad was so famished that he was incoherent. I had to constantly assure him we were eating in a few minutes so he'd settle down and keep still again. As usual he started his "tikim rounds" and was soon happily settled in one of the bamboo huts munching away at all that food. The huts are located close to the beach so we hear the waves pounding and feel the slight moist breeze from the ocean as we eat. I was surprised and very happy when my brother Red actually arrived at about 12:30pm and joined us for lunch. It was a good thing we cooked so much food! Mom was elated to see her grandchildren and was soon fussing over them. We all had a great time slowly eating the rest of the food while catching up and swapping stories on the trip to this place.
(photo, above: mom in a hut beside the falls, below: Sancho and Chino enjoying the water , all photos taken by FrancisAtendido with a Panasonic Lumix FZ20)

After lunch, I again haul Red and his family into the car and the driver took them to the waterfalls where I joined them later. Me, mom and my brother went the opposite way to Real town proper. My mom wanted to sleep but, since there was no aircon in the rooms, went with us so she can stay cool in the car. I bought some more fish, some sasa lambanog and freshly baked spanish bread before going back to the falls to meet Red. This was my third time to go to the falls, twice this day na, but I am again awed and enticed by its beauty. I join my brother and his kids swimming in the lower pond while we eat all the delicious spanish bread. It was a very precious moment.

We head back to the resort at around 5:30pm as it was quickly becoming dark. Me and my brothers were just drinking some beer, fooling around while dinner was being prepared. The kids never tired of running around the pools and screaming their heads off - ah, to be young....

The only thing I didn't like about this trip was the sleeping arrangement. Everyone was afraid of getting dengue so they wanted the doors closed. It was freaking HOT in that room. I tried sleeping but finally could not stand it so at around 2am I opened all the doors and windows. Cool air at last! Unfortunately the occupants of the other two rooms thought it wise to keep their rooms closed and so had to endure the sauna-like sleeping conditions until morning.

On the way home we stopped at the newly constructed statue in honor of the brave soldiers who rebuild the city after the great mudslide of 2004. We left at about 10am and was in Valley Golf at noon for lunch. Its been a long time since I tasted garlic chicken and sizzling gambas! Delicious!

This has been another very successful trip. I truly hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did. To Ate Beth and Liezl, lets plan something similar very soon okay?
(photo, right: Mel, Paul, Mom, Dad and Sarah pose infront of the statue commemorating the soldiers that helped rebuild the city , all photos taken by FrancisAtendido with a Panasonic Lumix FZ20)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Real, Quezon

Going to the beach during the rainy season is risky because you go through all the planning and spending but end up indoors afterall. Pa swerte swerte lang diba? As it turned out, the gods smiled on our little adventure and we ended up getting a nice tan. "Fortune favors the brave..." and all that. I had second thoughts but then I read one of the blogs of suntoksabwan and made up my mind to go. He posted some really good pictures as well. If you'd like to read, please click on this half-life (photo: Left: New statue in honor of brave soldiers that rebuilt the city after the great landslide tragedy of 2004 photo by AllanBarredo Olympus Camedia C4040Z 2006/08/19)

Real, Quezon is only 65 kilometers from Quezon City as the bird flies but its actually a good 150 kilometers away because you have to go through a lot of mountains to get there. Of course I neither knew that nor how to get there at first so I had to fish out the old GPS and bring up the google earth map again. We all got up at 4:30am to start the journey because we had no idea how long it would take. I surmised that we had to pass through Antipolo, then Tanay and then find a way towards the shorelines from there. (photo: Above Right: Early morning breakfast, Below Right: Road to Tanay, Below Left: Allan in good spirits FrancisAtendido Panasonic Lumix FZ20 2006/08/19)

It seemed a good idea to go to Antipolo by way of Taytay so thats what we did. Once in Antipolo, we were surprised to see the locals motioning us to go a certain way. Everyone was doing it, man, woman, child, matanda, bata - just everyone! It was creepy, like some kind of conspiracy. We ended up in the church so we just took the narrow street in front of it to get to the road that would take us to Tanay. It was only later that I realized we did not have license plates yet as the car was new and this was probably why everyone thought we were going to Church at 6:30am -- to have the car blessed. When you reach Tanay, turn left at Jollibee, then an immediate right when you see the sign pointing to Laguna. Keep going until you reach Fami. Fami is the accessgate to Quezon so you must make a left in Fami. Keep left (there's a fork along the way, just keep left).

If you have any kids that get dizzy in the car, I suggest you put them up front as you will have to pass some very heavy zigzag roads. The scenery is beautiful though as you will see vast hectars of rice on the flatlands and beautiful trees and greens in the mountains.

We arrived in Tignoan Beach at a little before 9am. That means that it took us about 3.5hrs to travel the 150km at a very leasurely pace. We decided to stay at the Ocean Blue Resort because they had a good sized swimming pool in case we could not swim in the ocean. (as luck turns out, we were able to swim in a river, the sea and the pool later on) An airconditioned room costs 1,500 only and if your on a tight budget, you can fit 6 to 8 people there. No charge for the extra beds. There is an additional charge of 100 per head for the entrance fee but that includes use of the pool and the dining huts as well. The caretaker, Celia, is very accomodating and kind. Reservations can me made by calling her at 0921-363-4337(for updating) or their manila office at 725-1783(resort owner's name is DELY DELA CUESTA). They can offer to cook for you but it would cost an arm, a leg, and your next grandchild so I suggest you bring a portable cooking stove and cook your own meals. Being the stupid tourists that we were, we had our meals cooked by them and suffered the consequences later. (photo: Above Left: OceanBlueResort pool,rooms and hall , FrancisAtendido Olympus Camedia C4040Z 2006/08/19)

We went to the nearby talipapa after checking in and bought enough for lunch and dinner. I had the presence of mind to bring a couple of coolers, one full of ice and the other empty, so we stuffed all the fare in the empty cooler and filled it with ice. As expected, the price of fish here was really cheap and everything was FRESH! At the market, I was surprised, and saddened by the sight of two dead sharks. They were selling the fins at 9000pesos per kilo - and the meat at 80pesos per kilo. (photo: Above Right: Dead Sharks, AllanBarredo Olympus Camedia C4040Z 2006/08/19)

I turn around and examine the alimango and sugpo and when I look back, on of my friends was already carrying part of the shark. Well, at least this shark was consumed and not left to drown without its fins at the bottom of the ocean. (photo: left: talipapa, right:sugpo, AllanBarredo Olympus Camedia C4040Z 2006/08/19)

We left our cooler at the resort with instructions of how to cook them and headed towards the famous Balagbag falls. To get there, we had to backtrack the way we came for about 10 minutes then head left after the first bridge. The road is not paved so it was a bumpy ride to the falls. You must pay an entrance fee of 10pesos per head. I heard one of the local kids snicker when the lady said "10pesos per head". Apparently, the 10peso fee is only for tourists. (photo, left: heading to the falls, FrancisAtendido Panasonic Lumix FZ20, LowerRight: Balagbag falls, AllanBarredo Olympus Camedia C4040Z , LowerLeft: Dapitan brothers roleplay, FrancisAtendido Panasonic Lumix FZ20 all pictures taken on 2006/08/19)

Its a very short walk from there to the falls. This multilayered falls is really beautiful and the most intricate I've seen in the Philippines so far. Amazing. We took turns staying under the waterfall. Its a great feeling, like some strong hand massaging your back endlessly. some of the kids clambered up higher and just simply had a great time fooling around with all that water. After more than an hour of this it was time to head back and eat lunch at the resort. Everybody wanted just 5 minutes more, then 10 minutes more until I had to put my foot down and say we had to go.

Back at the resort, chose one of the dining huts and waited for the food to arrive. Some , including me, walked on the beach while we waited. The sand is very fine but brown. I find it curious that there are a lot of multicolored pebbles along the shore. Probably from some mineral rock formations nearby.

Lunch was great, but the peaceful slumber after that was even better. I wake up at 1:30pm and find everyone sleeping all over the place. Some at the homemade hammocks, some at the bamboo chairs near the beach and others still at the empty huts. I roused everyone at about 2pm so we could all go to Balute island and see whats there.

Balute island is about 10 kilometers from Tignoan Beach, again, as the bird flies. We had to head up north for about 12 kilometers and find a port that would take passengers to the Island. Its not actually an island as its really connected to the mainland. However, since its inaccessible by car, one must take the local boats or banka to get there. The boat ride starts from the shores of Real town proper and lasts for about 10minutes(2.5kilometers). The beach property on Balute island is supposedly owned by a Dr.Aranda. It has the same fine brown sand but no rocks or sea urchins. Whats more is that the water is much cleaner than that of the shores on the mainland. The boatride will set you back 250pesos and then you have to rent a table near the beach to avail of the facilities like shower and toilet. Apparently, all the fresh water used on the island is painstakingly lugged from the mainland. Thus, renting a table will cost you another 250pesos inclusive of the entrance fee. There were six of us so the prices I mentioned may be because of our number. If your party has more members then be prepared to shell out more. We stayed on the island for about 2 hours. Walking up along the shore, I noticed a portion with a lot of pebbles. This time the rocks were multicolored and very beautiful. There were so many shapes and colors that we spent most of our time picking them up and examining them. We chose the most notable ones for souvenirs. (photo: Above Left: 250peso boat ride for 6 to Balute Island, Above Right: Trees on Aranda estate and resort, Left: colorful pebbles along Balute island, all pics by AllanBarredo Olympus Camedia C4040Z 2006/08/19)

Back at the resort, we start to drown the crabs in beer so their meat would turn out softer after they are cooked. We call on the local cooks again and hand over the fares for that evening. Meanwhile we enjoy the pool and the nearby beach while dinner is readied. Owen even tried walking on water but he tripped and fell. Maybe he should concentrate more.... hehe. (photo: Right: Owen walks on water, AllanBarredo Olympus Camedia C4040Z 2006/08/19)

They had a karaoke room which we rented that evening. We had the food brought over and ate while we sang some old tunes. I wanted to taste some of the local lambanog we bought on the way home from Balute island. It was freaking STRONG ! I don't know how the local folk manage to drink glass after glass of this stuff. I was wasted after 3 pitifully small shots. Next thing I knew, it was morning.

We ate a hasty breakfast of eggs, bread and coffee from the local panideria. Incidentally, this panideria in front of the fish market is open 24hrs - galing no? After another round of "5mins more", "10mins more", I had gather everyone from the pool and the beach and all started getting ready for the trip home. Our fish supply was depleted so before we head home, we stop by the talipapa by the roadside again and buy more fish. My father loves fresh fish so I get all the fresh fish the coolers can hold. (photo: Right: Lazy morning on his GameBoy, FrancisAtendido Olympus Camedia C4040Z 2006/08/20)

On the way home I chanced upon some locals harvesting santol. I'm not sure if they could sell me some but we stopped anyway so I could get a taste. It turns out the santol was small but REALLY sweet so I somehow convince the harvesters to sell me some bags of the stuff. 22kilos for 100pesos - wow.
I got two - 22kilo bags. The harvesters were so kind and chatty with stories about harvests and markets. They even gave us a few more kilos of santol for the road.

All in all I'd say this was another very successful adventure. There are so many thoughts and observations left unsaid but that can be done later. For now, just the facts. Cheers.
(photo: Above Left: Santol, last harvest, Above Right: Slippery road home, AllanBarredo Olympus Camedia C4040Z 2006/08/20)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Anilao, Batangas

I've been going to the Mabini area in Batangas since I first fell in love with diving in 1997. Its changed a lot since then, for the better at that. There are more marine life, more corals, less dead or dying reefs and definitely more people. Nowadays, tourists go there not only to dive now but to surf, snorkel and basically just enjoy the waters surrounding this amazing part of Batangas. My instructor, Mr.Jijo De Guzman, recently acquired a place there and he invited me over. Quite a cozy place really. The beach front is just a bit dirty but its a great place to relax and unwind.

PLUS its in the area where the wind is strongest, so its the best area for wind surfing. It aslo provides a great base for dives as its still in mabini and near the great dive spots. We went to Sepok wall and Arthur's on the first day and then to Saddle and finally to Cathedral on the second day for some fish feeding. The weather cooperated and stayed sunny until we finished our very last dive - awesome! Hisumi, our Japanese techie, went with me and enjoyed snorkling around while we dove and did our S.I.T.

(photos: TopRight:BeachBum resort front, TopLeft: Hisumi in front of rest area with upper deck, UpperRight:dive gear setup station, Right:sails and windsurfing equipmnt)

It takes about 3.5 to 4hours to get to Anilao from Quezon City. There is a (fairly) new expressway called the StarTollway built to bypass LIPA. So far, this is the quickest way to get to Anilao. Take the SLEX and exit at Calamba. Make a right towards Batangas and 7 kilometers later you will see the entrance to this Star Tollways. This bypass is about 20 kilometers from tip to tip and you'd want to go all the way to the other end.

Normal price for an overnight stay in Anilao for a non diver ranges from 2000pesos to 2,900 pesos, and about 3000 to 3900 pesos for a diver including 4 meals and 4 dives. If you plan to rent dive equipment or any watersports equipment then this will go higher of course.

(photos:UpperRight:Jijo taken by ReneDeGuzman on CanonIxus750 June 11, 2006, UpperLeft: Gary with fish swarm, taken by JijoDeGuzman on Sony P10 June 11, 2006)