Monday, November 15, 2010

Adventure at Caramoan, Camarines Sur

My flight to Manila was at the 6th of November. It's a planned vacation gone amiss from the major plan because of some unforeseen eventualities. Nevertheless, it's fun, worth remembering with delightful introspection and curiously one which folds your stomach for more excitement.

I arrived in NAIA terminal 3 around midnight. Mj was at terminal 1 so when I texted her, she said she was waiting for me for like hours and that I told her I was in terminal 3. She took a cab and went to the right airport terminal. We then headed for a ride going to Fairview, Quezon City where she's stayed with her office mates. It was a tiring flight and a two hour ride to Fairview so once we arrived at their apartment, we resigned ourselves to bed. Sunday came and we planned to take a bus going to Naga at Cubao. We wanted it a night trip. Since we did not have a decent meal when we left home, we dined at Max restaurant after I withdrawn some cash to be used in Camarines. We had chopsuey and sinigang, paired that with plain white rice and a quenching fresh buko juice. After that hearty meal, we proceeded to the bus station to reserve our tickets. Too bad, the lazy boy chair buses ran-out so we settled for the less comfortable two-sitter bus type. Soon enough we got our skin under the scorching heat of the terminal and the noisy trek from the mall to the bus station, we decided to go back to the mall to chill and wait for our 9pm land trip. What else should we do? Well, we bought some snacks, shop a bit, and then watched a movie. Strolling the crowded mall was fun and the movie completed the day's experience. After having a simple dinner, we went out of the mall an head to the bus station which was a 20-minute walk away. Since the seats were pre-assigned, there was no need to worry of where to settle comfortably. The bus fired up it's engine at around 9:30 - there were some delays as the bus attendant had to wait a bit for some customers. Anyway, the journey was really long and at around 1 or 2 AM we stopped at Sariayaya Quezon for bio break. We then headed straight to Naga and arrived there at 5AM. Just to note, I fell from the bus having my left knee as the victim giving me a painful and a bit deep bruise. It was terribly bleeding and there was no clinic nearby. I had some facial wet wipes and used that to clean the wound. We were looked for some store selling band aid and found one at the other end of the Naga City bus terminal. I had to cover the wound so the bleeding has to be controlled. Anyway, we did not wait for too long and found the bus chartered to Lagonoy, though based on Mj's inquiries we had to stop at San Jose. It was another 2 hour ride. We arrived at San Jose at around 7 and we had to look for a clinic to dress the wound. Good thing there was one located approximately 200 meters from the waiting area. The nurse attended me and Mj was chatting up with the folks. They were so surprised that we were from Cebu. Anyway, the guy nurse told us that Survivor Serbia has just wrapped up the reality show and so he suggested that the islands are for public viewing and that we should visit them. Smiles glistened in our eyes for the adventure that awaits us. After saying thanks etc to the kind people at the clinic, we bid good bye. We were heading to Sabang port and it's a 30 minute ride on motorcycle. The morning breeze was nice and chilling and the air was fresh. One could smell the misty field and the forest walled by verdant mountains from the horizon. Oh we loved the sunrise! After that short trip, we braced ourselves again for a two-hour ride on this huge motorized outrigger. It's a locally designed water craft. While in the boat, we took some naps. The journey was calm as there was no rain or typhoon of some sort. So there were no worries, and everything was fine in a bright morning. We arrived at Guijalon port around 9AM. There lots of people in the area trying to do business with some passengers but since we can managed to carry our stuff, we just head straight to a parked tricycle and headed to the Caramoan central proper. We were hungry so the mission was to go to an eatery and found one courtesy of Mj. After our decent breakfast, we walked to the church and prayed and said some prayers. Oh, there was a nice church at San Jose and visited that one too. The churches were some of Spanish legacy so you could see the structures older than my generation. Anyway, we scoured the internet looking for a place to stay and decided to go to the Aplaya to look for one. We hired another tricycle going to the beach front were inns were scattered in Aplaya. The driver suggested one homestay inn but turned it down as it was not fronting the beach front so we decided to look for another one and found Rex inn, just a few meters fronting the shore. We were so tired from the land trip beginning in Manila and finally to Caramoan so after we ordered something for dinner, we just slept at our very cheap attic room with only one tiny window as our view to the outsides of the inn. Quite a long trip that was. You can try though a plane ride through Cebu Pacific or PhilAir if you want to and would reach Naga in just an hour. Anyway, we had our plans fixed for the next day which was Tuesday, and that was an island hopping at the east side Caramoan islands. At around 7:30 PM, we went to this small resto bar and ate fish sinigang. It's a fresh catch and surely the food was sumptuous to fill our tummy. After dinner, we headed back to our inn and readied to bed.

Tuesday morning, 7AM was our scheduled island hopping. We were greeted by two men who would serve as our guide. The east islands of Caramoan was near so we did not have to bring lunch in there. Anyway, we rode the motor banca and passed by some rock islands, majestic in form and really captivating in sight. I would say the area is blessed with these wonders. Our first stop was Tinago island. The term "Tinago" when translated means hidden. True enough it is hidden as you would pass by some rock islands and its nestled in between two islands behind another island. We had a short swim in the area and some photo taking. There were less fish and most of them were fingerlings. After that, we headed to Lahos Island. It was a short 15 minutes ride going to Lahos. The word "Lahos" would mean something like "pass through". To give you a picture, in an island dale. The small valleys are made of rocks and in between was the sand. You can see both ends of the island, an open sea to see and not just that, but to swim and have fun. The island was beautiful and would want to stay there for the whole morning but at around 9AM and spending more than an hour in Tinago, we headed to another island just opposite to it. It's another short ride. Then we stopped at Matukad island. Sorry, I don't know how to translate it in English. But, I tell you, the island is really perfect. I mean the beautiful powdery ivory sand is just amazing. Plus the view of the other islands surrounding Matukad is also fascinating. There we uttered, "we love Caramoan". Such a wonderful group of islands nestled between Camarines Sur and Catanduanes and beyond that is the Pacific Ocean. Since we were up for adventure, we went to the two caretakers of the island and Mj asked about the lagoon in the island. We did not fail as the caretakers were friendly enough and the one younger guy accompanied us to climb the cliff. We did not mind our injuries. I wouldn't deny that the trek was dangerous as there were no harness or any protective gear we wore. One big mistake and a bad accident like breaking the branch of plant or stone your grabbing would certainly spell death. Just imagine the stones on the sides of the cliff as sharp knives. Even how scary it can be, we just put our trust to the guide. Fortunately, we reached the top of the cliff then descended going to the lagoon. It was an amazing experience climbing and trekking the lagoon. After some few moments of appreciating God's creation, we decided to trek back for safety. When we got down from the lagoon, the pre-ordered lunch came. It was two grilled fish and pork adobo. We were hungry as beast and finished most of the food brought by our guides. Anyway, after lunch we continued to bask under the sun and swim the island's beautiful beach. We came out so tan, perfectly sun-kissed skin. At around 2PM, the guide decided to go for another island opposite of Gota Village. The island was also nice but the beachfront has lots of sea grass and there might be some urchins on it, so I did not swim. Since the island as a beautiful scenery so we just enjoyed the sight and grabbed our lenses to snap some shots. It was around 3PM when we call it a day. We head back to our inn by the beach. We again pre-ordered for dinner. After that, we had our shower and went to have a nap. When the clock struck 7, we went for dinner. The food was really nice. We had grilled fish, boiled eggplant topped with tomatoes and laing. After the meal, we had some fun chit chat. Then we headed to our inn. Before going to bed, we browse through all the photos we took. Mj went to bed first while I stayed night playing on my iphone. Around 10pm, I went to bed.

Wednesday, Peter will be arriving from Manila. He is a high school mate now working at ADB as a CPA. Anyway, he arrived around 10AM and we were planning for another island hopping and this time to the west side of Caramoan. When Peter arrived, we just needed 20 minutes to set everything and off we go to another adventure. The first island was far and it took us around an hour to have reached our destination, Bitang-laya if I am not mistaken. But that long trip paid off as we were greeted with nice sand bar with shallow water to swim and from the horizon is another verdant mountain. On the opposite side would be some rock islands. It was beyond description I supposed as we were left in awe. After basking and enjoying the place we then headed to another island. When we arrived, there some tourists enjoying the place as well. Since it was noon, we decided to take our packed lunch. Another adobo meal with rice but this time its chicken and pork - very sinful to those who are on a diet. We enjoyed the lunch and enjoyed our talks regarding what has happened in our lives after schooling. I was not really close to Peter but he was nice person and easy to deal with. He is also an intelligent and studious one. After lunch, we went to the other side of the island and we were greeted with some isolation. There was no other human being except us and the guides. We took photos of the breathtaking shoreline. It's a long stretch of beautiful white sandy beach. At the near end of the shoreline, we decided to camp and enjoy the beach. We continued our talks basically surrounded about work and life in general.... It's fund listening to people's experiences. Oftentimes it's inspiring especially how one has gained so much in life as years unfold. I personally enjoyed talks I had with Mj and Peter. And sometimes, I would leave the conversation and see underneath some fishes. I guess the area is sort of a breeding ground because there were holes on the sand and there were small and medium sized fishes swimming around not minding our raucous. After an hour spent in the island, we then decided to go east of Caramoan to again visit, Lahos and Matukad. It was another long journey. The seas went a bit rough so when we reached near Lahos, the guide told us that it's difficult to dock so we decided to go to Matukad. The seas were still crumbling and according to the guide there was news that Mayon is having some activity - not alarming though but it brings some seismic activity thereby causing the sea to produce unfavorable waves. Anyway, even if it was such, we reached Matukad safely. When we dock, it was difficult for us to jump out of the boat and there were huge waves. We then successfully got out of the boat and walked near the other side of the shoreline. It sea was a bit rough and it was a high tide. Imagine we were soaked near the shoreline and it was chest deep and were like chatting still. We sometimes would jump on and ride the wave and were like swept to the shoreline and then we just moved forward to the same thing. Please don't think that we were crazy. It's just that I haven't been gone to the beautiful beaches in my country for almost a year already. Well Singapore does not have a world class beach with pristine beauty so you can't blame me. Since the waves were getting bigger and the sky started to be gloomy, we decided to just call it a day. We headed back to the Aplaya where our inn was. That was great fun and adventure and I would say, the Caramoan group of islands is really beautiful. Though they need to improve some roads but I guess it was part of the thrill so not much of a factor. We then paid our dues for the island hopping and then wash up ourselves. Then we ordered for dinner this time good for three persons.

I took some nap while Mj and Peter still had some not so serious conversations I supposed. At around 7:30, we headed for dinner at the resto bar by the beach. It was another sinful meal. After that, we headed back to our inn to prepare for bed. Peter was accommodated downstairs in an air-conditioned room while Mj and I were still staying in the attic room. It was a tiring day and yes we went to our dreams with huge smile in our faces.

Anyway, the next day, 11th of November will be our last stay in the place. We will be heading for a night stay in Naga City and then another night stay in Legazpi City.

In Naga City, our first stop was at SM to eat for lunch. Then we came looking for a place to stay but found none so we decided to go to CWC - it is a world class facility for wake boarding and other water sports. We stayed there until 4PM watching some locals and foreigners doing the sport. It was an exciting thing to try but I had a knee injury and Mj had an ankle injury so we just decided to be spectators. Since it will be getting dark, we decided to look for a place to stay. Half way going out of the facility, the rain poured and it's heavy. So the driver had to stop at the city government hall. Good thing the driver took some initiative and helped us out to look for cheaper room to stay and his friends suggested that we could try the eco-village just with the area. We were surprised that there was a cheaper cabin room with double deck available at 350pesos for a night. So we took the chance and got the cabin room. Compared to the cabanna in CWC proper, it was way cheaper. Many thanks to the driver and his friends who helped us seek refuge at the eco-village. We were a bit soaked from the rain but since were a bit tired, we just jumped to bed and slept. I woke up around 8:30 and was cold and hungry. I checked Mj but she was not eating. So I decided to wear another shirt and went out to the front desk. Good thing, they have two places to dine, one is the mansion and another one is the CWC and they had a service van free of charge in going there so I booked myself to CWC. I arrived there and ordered Hainese chicken rice and a beer. After that dinner I was satisfied and full. The wake boarders were not playing but having some dinner as well. It was getting late so after I finished the beer, I decided to take a walk going back to the eco-village. It was pitch dark and I got lost on the way. I had a wrong turn so when I noticed that I was walking a bit far and seeing nothing, I decided to move back. Good thing there was a motor bike with two people commuting so I asked them where is the eco-village and told me to turn left on the first intersection I encountered. They left and I headed back. It was a bit scary and my crazy imagination of some night creatures did not help. The flash light in my iphone did not help much. I could hear the gushing river and feel the creepy stillness of the night. At last after walking for around 10 minutes, I saw the checkpoint/guardhouse of the eco-village. I was relieved from my self induced fear of the unknown. It was a good exercise though. Before I left I switched off the air condition so when I arrived it was not that cold. I then decided to go to bed.

The next morning, we went to CWC complex again for breakfast and planned to go to Legazpi at around 9AM. After breakfast, and watching some wake boarders sporting their craft, we decided to move out and head for our last destination. We took a bus going to Legazpi. It was a three hour trip and we stopped at Iriga. Since there were few of us passengers left, the driver decided to let us rode another bus going to Legazpi. After an hour of bus ride, we arrived at Guinobatan and since, there were few of us passengers, the driver decided to let us rode a jeepney. It was roller coaster ride indeed and we hoped that we were not going to transfer to another vehicle. there was a girl beside me going to Legazpi and asked her if Legazpi was far and she affirmative. I did not know like how far so when we passed by an intersection, there was a sign board telling me that Legazpi was 37 kilometers away. At somepoint the jeepney had a problem so we stopped and the driver was like fixing the engine of his vehicle. The situation did not help as there was this tattooed guy wearing a black sleeveless and he was skinny. He kept on checking on us. We were heading to Legazpi but we wanted to checkout first the Cagsawa ruins in Albay. Since the jeepney was still being fixed the skinny guy went out of the vehicle. He then talked to me in their local dialect and I was a bit scared of him and all I could reply was nod. Anyway, the vehicle was fixed after 20 minutes of waiting and off we went. When there was a signage telling me that Legazpi was 19 kilometers away, I spoke to Mj that instead of going to Cagsawa, we can head to Legazpi city proper to eat. I did not tell Mj about my scary feeling about the guy so I just asked here that if we could just go to Legazpi first and eat. Thank the heavens Mj agreed. So by the time we arrived at Cagsawa, we told that attendant that we were going to Legazpi instead and we had to add 12 pesos each for he extended trip. After that long land trip and three transfers, we arrived at Legazpi and we checked the LLC mall for a late lunch. Since our stuff were a bit heavy, we decided to check it in the package counter. Then we went to their food court. I had bihon guisado with siopao and lomi soup with empanada while Mj had a sizzler. After lunch, we went out of the mall intentionally leaving our belongings. We took a jeepney bound for Cagsawa. After an hour ride, the driver blurted if were going to Cagsawa and we said yes, then he replied that we missed. A bit pissed off, we alighted from the vehicle and crossed the opposite side of the road and rode another jeep going to Cagsawa. This time we spotted the sign and went out of the vehicle excitedly. Then we asked a local if how far the ruins are and he just told us that it's a walking distance which really was a walking distance. We were greeted by the beautiful, perfect cone Mt. Mayon without it's apex as the cloud surrounded the volcano as it's halo. We just continued walking and found some souvenir shops and after that, the Cagsawa ruins. We took some pictures and explored the place a bit. The were lots of tourists in the place and most of them were students on educational tours. They were from Naga city as one of the three buses had a signage in front of it. After this particular excursion, we headed back to Legazpi. We picked our bags at LLC and then went to another mall to watch a movie but their now-showing movies did not interest us. We walked around the mall and since we were hungry, we decided to dine at Mang Inasal. After the meal, we decided to try to stay at the airport just for the experience of sleeping in the airport. We took a jeepney going to the airport. We alighted after the lady told us there we just arrived and since we do not know the place, we called up a tricycle and asked him to take us to the airport. It was a short distance but he asked 20 pesos for the fare. Anyway, the security told us that the airport was closed and since our trip is for tomorrow, we need to get to a hotel and if we like, there was one airport hotel. Then we tried our luck on the airport hotel and the rate was a bit high. So we decided to take a walk and look for a hotel or lodge or whatever decent inn. We found Pepper's hotel and checked their rates and it's way expensive. Trust me its like more expensive than any nice place in Cebu but the facade of the hotel looked very ordinary. Anyway we found Edgar's lodge and when we inquired they have a 900 pesos air conditioned room. Since we were on a tight budget already, we inquired and got a 500 pesos fan room. It was decent enough for a night sleep so we took it. It was a bit tiring from all those excursion going to Legazpi and so we decided to call it a night.

Check out time was 12 noon. We woke up around 9AM and then we prepared for the trip going back to Manila. We had our brunch at a small local store which served Filipino food. It was a satisfying meal as I ordered another cup of rice. We headed back to our lodge. Since it was still 11AM we decided to take a nap. I was actually playing some games on my iphone while Mj took a real nap. When it was 11:45, we decided to check out and then we headed to the airport. There, we saw Mt. Mayon in its fullness. It was lovely and graceful towering from the horizon. But we were checking in the airport so we just took some photos from afar. When we check in the security personnel wanted me to leave my adidas body spray. She told me that it was flammable so I cannot bring it inside the airport. I told her that I am checking in my bags. Then she explained the flammable sign on the bottle. I told her or rather asked why was I able to check this in when I was in Singapore and not here in Legazpi. Then she asked another officer and the guy told me to it was okay to check in my stuff. After that, things went smoothly. The process of checking in was fast except for that very minor incident. Anyway, our flight would be at around 3 so we had to wait. While waiting Mj was reading Eat, Pray, Love by E. Gilbert while the kid in me played Pigs Vs. Wolves in my iphone. When the clock struck 3, it was boarding time. When the plane shoot off to the sky, we bid good-bye to Legazpi as well as the paradise that is Caramoan.

That was a very long trip. We were actually planning to go North of the Philippines which is the Ilocos region but there was a typhoon and there was an oil spill in Pagudpud. So yeah, we decided to go to Camsur and we were not disappointed with the changes we made in our plans.

Hoping for another great adventure in my beloved country with my friends. Ya voy;)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Travel warning because of terrorism...?

Omg! Allied countries of the Philippines starting with the United States issued travel warnings against the Philippines regarding the imminent danger of its citizens from terrorist attacks. Then, U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and lately, France issued the same warning. What has happened prior to this travel advisory, was that the terrorist plots were mainly discovered to be done to US and UK. Let me emphasize, the plot to terrorize was going to be done on to these two countries. And so why in the world the Philippines be dragged to this whole faux pax. I call it a faux pax because there was no diplomatic intelligence sharing in the first place and the internal intelligence gathering of the Philippines happened to not have this terror threat in major cities.... I wish I knew all the details.

Threat is everywhere not just in the Philippines, but anywhere else.... There are more western tourists in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam or even Singapore and why on earth are these "allied countries" did not have to do such in these countries. Do you still remember the 9/11? What about the Bali and the Jakarta bombing? What about that train bombing in Spain? Well sometimes, bullying doesn't happen only in schools but, even in between countries. Maybe it's easier to pigeonhole the Philippines for this matter. There maybe truth to this perceived threats to the Philippines or should I say threat to the western citizens, but the fact is, the number of western people are more concentrated in the countries that issued the travel warning. How ironic, isn't it?

On a note, good thing the Philippines has heightened its security a month ago which I would say was commendable and also after that disastrous hostage taking in Manila, the government decided to form tourists' police.

Hoping that, more tourists will visit the Philippines and appreciate the beauty of the country especially the 9 million Filipinos sporadically located around the globe.

To the "allied" countries, please be more diplomatic and not just issue travel warnings without prior information to the concerned country. We all know that your intelligence is much more "sophisticated" so why not share these intelligence ....