Friday, May 12, 2006

cursed rains, blessed relief (Caliraya, Laguna)

I've just checked on the progress of typhoon Caloy. It seems to be passing over Manila as I write this. Sadly, summer in the Philippines is almost over I guess. I hear its met with mixed feelings as it gives manilenos a respite from the heat even if all those last minute vacationers are forced to stay home and sit this weekend out. It looks like its going to rain here in Tokyo tomorrow as well. Cold weather with some rains remind me of that wonderful camp site in Caliraya Lake. I've been going there a lot these past few years. I know it always rains there and its always windy but I really like this camping ground called Eco Saddle. I've gotten to know the main caretaker Mr.Benz Abenonar. He's a stocky fellow whom I believe actually cares deeply for the environment. I'd like to take one of his eco tours where you hike up for 4hours or so up one of the mountains closeby. Of course, I'd have to get in good shape for this as we are to bring all the camping gear by foot to and from the campsite in these mountains. (photos taken from Eco Saddle, Caliraya Lake 2005/07/31 -- upper left: Takai and mom, right: Allan-dawn on the lake, lower left: man selling black bass, lower right: 7am and most are still asleep)

I like this campsite because even if the toilets really suck (hey, this is the outdoors right?) the sight and smell and sound of nature all around is really invigorating. Waking up to the sound of birds chirping is theraputic at the least. The constant rustling of leaves and this cool breeze on my face lets me forget all the stench and despair of manila. Here, you bring your cooler, sit and down a couple of beers, swim a little and cook some barbeque over some hot charcoals. You can request the staff to bring wood for a bonfire. They charge you 150 for the wood and they would even light it up for you at your desired time. The best time to go is definitely during summer. Early March is best as the wind is cool and the ground dry. The water also recedes much further during this time and so you have a greater area to walk around on or play with your family or friends. There is a whole lake you can dip into when you feel hot but for those who don't feel like walking around on the soft mud that makes up the lake floor, you can opt to take a shower in the shower stalls beside the toilets. We always bring our bikes so that some can go around the lake or visit the Japanese gardens if they wish. Kulang ulam niyo? No problem, just go out and buy some black bass or tilapiya from the many sari-sari stores that line up the road.

(photos taken by Francis Atendido in Eco-Saddle Caliraya lake using a Panasonic Lumix FZ-20 2005/07/31 left: morning mist - view from eco saddle)

Eco-Saddle in Caliraya lake truly is a great place to bring friends or family. Just respect other people's rights to a quiet weekend and stop using your car boombox in this camp. After all, we're all after some peace and quite here right?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Potipot Island, Zambales

More endings, more changes... its true nothing is more constant than change. Trying to stop it is like trying to stop the tides. I'm sure everyone at some point has
tried building a ditch to stop the water from eroding your sand castle. Eventually the water just washes everything away with the tides. One season ends to begin another. Here in Tokyo spring will soon give way to summer. Days are becoming longer and warmer. Winds of change are blowing. Already I hear sporadic cicada songs which signal the coming of long hot summer days.

I can't wait to get back to Manila. Hopefully I can still catch the hastily waning summer sun before its completely lost to the fast approaching rainy season. I did enjoy a few days of sun and sand before going on this business trip to Tokyo. Me and some of the students went to an island in Zambales called Potipot Island. Owen was kind enough to drive so I could navigate. None of us have ever been there as I just saw it on google earth and just kept googling until I got what info was available on the topic. I brought my laptop, my trusty garmin gps and we headed off to the unknown. Thank god for google earth. It is such a nifty tool and I've been discovering so many places because of it. Just look around for a nice island with white sand bordering it and get on your car and go!

Its funny because one of the students actually had a friend who lived in Zambales.
More amazing was the fact that he lived in Masinloc which is really close to our target island. Without much adeu we kidnapped him, stuffed him in the already packed car and proceeded to look for a good place to park the car overnight. We brought camping gear you see and planned to camp on the island. Its a big risk because as none of us has ever been there, much less ever been in zambales, we didn't even know of what dangers await or if they even allow camping on that tiny island. The only thing I do know is that the sand is soft, white and water is clear and thats enough for me.
I got a kubo in this great resort called Isla Vista which is directly in front of Potipot Island. In my opinion, it's really the best among all the neighboring resorts in Candelaria. Don't ever go to Dawal and the 3 neighbor resorts - terrible noise and everything is cemented. Parang manila rin -sus naman?!
If you want to read more then visit Potipot Island Zambales Part1 and Part 2 to see more details and pictures there. I think what I like most about Potipot is that it was an unexpected pleasure. We all did some swimming at night. The water was so calm I thought I was in a pool. There was a time all of us just took deep breaths and lied down on the water - just floating there looking at a zillion trillion stars in silence. The moonlight washing our faces with its soft glow and throwing sharp reflections of random light on the sandy floor below. Thinking back on that now I believe those were one of those rare moments that commit themselves to one's memory - to be recalled during those times when nothing seems to be going right. Who would have known such a beautiful island existed here in Zambales? I overheard some of the visitors to the island say "still nicer in Bora". 'Was probably some spoiled kid on a temporary moment of frugality... I mean... holy crap man ?! You can bring your family down here and have a truly great beach experience for less than half what it would cost for one person to go to Boracay. Besides, I have this theory on the beaches I go to. They are like apples and oranges, both fruits but you really cannot compare them. Every place is different... best enjoyed for what they are.

(all photos taken by Francis Atendido, Potipot Island Zambales, 2006/04/8-9, Panasonic Lumix FZ-20, 1st pic:friend Joven from Masinloc at IslaVista kubo, 2nd pic: CD and boatman en route to Potipot, 3rd pic:George at Potipot twilight, 4th pic:camp the next day, 5th pic:J.R. and clear calm waters of Potipot beach april 9, 2006)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Stampang Bato (Wawa, Rizal)

I've been aiming to chronicle another trip we had this summer. I should do so before the details slip my mind. The mind is a fickle thing. I remember my highschool teacher quoting "the palest ink is better than the most retentive memory" to me one time. Back then computers were for large companies who could spare "buildings" in which to house a machine equivalent to less than a Pentium I with 24kilobyte memory. Its really crazy how fast the industry has progressed.

(photo: road to kasili from pintong bokawe taken by FrancisAtendido Panasonic Lumix FZ-20 2006/04/22)

I was watching this lesson on rivers featuring one of our local veins somewhere in Mindanao. I commented on how beautiful and clean it was to which George said there was a river like that not far from manila. It turns out it was in Rizal. So a little google earth and some help with my garmin GPS and off we went with our camping gear.
With all the gear we packed it would be impossible to make the 3hr hike from wawa dam so I looked for a way to get to the site by car. Fortunately there was a new road from a little known town called Pintong Bokawe. I found this town's GPS coordinates via the net and made a beeline for it while the rest of the group hiked to the site. Looking at just my coordinates to see if I'm getting warmer or colder... I was led to a place called Timberland. It looked like a private housing development but I asked the guad if I could pass through it going to Pintong Bokawe.

Luckily, they just looked at my drivers license, logged me and let me pass. There is a rough road through Timberland to Pintong Bokawe after all. The rough road will terminate to a cemented road. Take this road for about 4 kilometers until you see a turn to the left (also cemented). Take this turn and just ask around for directions to Pintong Bokawe. The road from pintong bokawe to the river via Kasili town is rough but the scenery was awesome! Kudos to Capitan Danilo of Pintong Bokawe for his staunch efforts in creating that road.
We left the car beside the river and proceeded to hike the 1 kilometer or so upstream to stampang bato. Montalban river is fed by two veins. Unfortunately one of the veins (locally called pormos river) passess through a large piggery farm owned by another chinese conglomerate. Needless to say they've really been fouling it up. One must go upstream of the unpolluted vein to reach stampang bato. Once there, unsatisfied with the depth of the waters immediately infront of the famous stone (incidentally, its a stone where vague religous images appear to have formed in a circular stains on the stone) we headed a few hundred meters more upstream and found what we were looking for. Thankfully some kind soul erected a huge nipa shed in which we decided to establish camp. Apparently it was used for activities during the past holy week.
(above left: Neil testing the waters taken by FrancisAtendido , Right: Owen kamikaze jump taken by AllanBarredo , Lower Left: dusk taken by AllanBarredo Olympus Camedia C4040Z 2006/04/22)

We brought two 35liter coolers packed with ice but unfortunately one fell and displaced all its contents over the river. Too bad, we'd have to make do with one.

The water was clear! And it felt really good to dip in it especially with the hot summer sun over our heads. Another hundred meters upstream was an excellent 15 feet deep portion with huge rocks where you can jump from. It was awesome! Everybody took turns jumping into the clear waters from the surrounding rocks.We headed back towards our campsite at dusk.

One of the team brought his uncle along who expertly caught some small crabs(talangka) and fresh water fish which we cooked for dinner.
We talked with the family who made the shed we were using that night during dinner. We learned that this whole area was covered with huge narra and mulawin trees not long ago. Rampant logging reduced it to pitiful coverings of bamboo and small bushes. I also learned that this was still going on. People hire some kids in wawa to bring the logs downstream, a work that I surmise is very hard as they have little to eat, always wet so fungus grows on their feet, and always tired as they often have to lift some portions over the obstacles in the river.
(photos, upper right:fishes caught ready to be cleaned, upper left: me waiting for dinner while plucking a few songs, lower right: dinner's almost ready, all photos taken by FrancisAtendido 2006/04/22)

Besides being an illegal trade, these kids are taken advantage of and paid a pittance. It bothers me that just a week ago, according to our guest, a congressman with his ever present aides has just been there hunting deer. They had caught 2 and gave some of the meat away. All these people do is take take take from nature and never a thought to giving back. I find it good to learn all these things from people who actually see it. Often times I, like most of manila's work force, tend to see only whats in front of me like horses with covers beside their eyes. We awoke early the next day to a lot of birds chirping and diving around. Hundreds of them catching insects! The sight was truly majical, like a national geographic or a BBC documentary right before our eyes!
(photo, left: campsite at dawn, lower left:horsing around, taken by FrancisAtendido 2006/04/23)

Alas, It was time to packup and leave for manila. However, the waters enticed us to stay a bit longer than what our food supply allowed so thats just what we did and ate the leftover from breakfast and some fruits just to enjoy the waters for a bit longer. We brought snorkling gear and used it to watch the fish underwater. Everyone was enjoying themselves so much that time quickly passed and it was past noon before we could regain our senses and packup our stuff in preparation for the trek back to civilization. This adventure to Stampang Bato was definitely worth the effort. I will definitely go back there next summer. Hopefully we'll be better prepared to stay longer then.
(photos , upper right: George, Neil and Owen in a light moment taken by Francis Atendido 2006/04/22, left: road towards Kasili, then to Pintong Bokawe and home taken by AllanBarredo 2006/04/22)

Monday, May 08, 2006

sandflies(Magalawa Island, Masinloc, Zambales)

This is an old accounting of my Magalawa Island Experiences, you might like to read the latest Magalawa Island experience here ! (May 5,2011)

Ever heard of them? Until a few weeks ago, I must confess that I haven't. We went to to spend the holy week in a place in Zambales called Magalawa Island. As usual all I brought to navigate to this hitherto unknown (to me) place is my gps and google earth on my laptop. Armed with what little info there was on the net, we set out to spend 3 days of sun, fun and sand on what we hoped was another worthwhile gamble. Its really fortunate that our new friend JC was available as he not only lives at the launch port which was Masinloc but he is also an excellent guitarist. Whats a camping activity without a good guitarist eh?

On the way there we passed by quite a number of people participating in the holy week practices. By the time we reached masinloc the car was splattered with blood all over the side doors and mirrors. I lived in Pampanga for a few years and went to highschool there to strengthen my lungs so I could lose my asthma. Its been quite a while since I last saw this spectacle. I'm surprised at how young some of these penitents are. What have they done to merit such drastic penitence anyway? (photos by FrancisAtendido Panasonic Lumix FZ-20, upper left:penitent youth on roads around SanAntonio Zambales, lower left: Magalawa Island south side beach area)
We finally reached Masinloc, parked the car, unloaded the camping gear and 2day supplies and loaded it onto the boat. Being the middle of April, the sun was tremendously hot. In-your-face hot. I have not felt the Philippine summer for about 5 years and it felt great. The boat ride cost a thousand pesos including pickup on Easter Sunday. Not bad realy considering the same distance would cost 2,800 in Anilao since the boat has to do 2 round trips.

There is a small community of fisherfolk on Magalawa Island. Some 200 odd families. Beer is available at 25 a bottle. There are fresh water pumps but only the ones in the village are saltfree. The ones used near the visitors area are so salty its like dipping in the ocean. (photos by FrancisAtendido: right: Magalawa island fisihing community - west side of the island, lower left: camp site on south side beach area 2006/04/14)

We setup camp somewhere on the south side of the island where it was much quiter. The east tip is where the good sandbar and swimming area is. Be careful when you land as the locals, any of them, come up to you and ask for a hefty port fee. We paid only 600 because JC had some distant relatives there.
We left manila at 6am and we were able to setup camp and start swimming by 1:30pm - not bad. The sand was not so bad either, real crushed corals with a slight mixture of common grey sand. There are no live corals to speak of but the waters are clear and there are thousands of starfish. Theres actually so much of them that they become a real nuisance to the beach goers. They have very sharp spines on their backs and stepping on them may prove to be very painful. So we found a lot of them just stacked on the beach either dead or dying. I believe they were purposefully put there by irate bathers or playful kids.
(photo taken by Francis Atendido, lower left: camp site -front view)
The west side of the island has a lot of mangroves, so the sand there is a bit silty, dead leaves are from the sea grass flourishing a few meters from the shore. At night we lit up our coleman, started cooking and lit up a bonfire. Small insects kept biting and at first I thought it was mosquitoes but they were too small and quick. I later found out that these were sandflies and boy do their bites itch!
All in all we really had a great time relaxing, bonding and singing on the top of our lungs (hey, its an island eh?). There were a whole bunch of visitors on the island that Saturday. Huge boats started landing at 7am with hoards of people of all ages. I even saw a few cows but I'm sure those didn't come from the boats. haha (photos by Francis Atendido Magalawa Island Zambales, 2006/04/14 to 2006/04/16 Panasonic Lumix FZ-20 , right: good friend, guide, and excellent guitarist JC)

Over all it was not a bad experience. I wouldn't mind going back