In the Isle of the Giants

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I had the chance to revisit this wonderful piece of heaven in Carles, Iloilo. The last time I was here was about two months after Typhoon Yolanda ravaged the place, and much have already changed! Bancal port is now bustling with passenger boats ferrying people to and from Isla Gigantes. The “tangke” is cleaner and safer and the climb to the “view deck” in Cabugao Gamay is a lot more safer with the ladders and railings. Scallops and wasay-wasay are still in abundance and the crabs get yummier and yummier!

IMPORTANT: Tourists, especially those arriving via tour boats from Estancia, are now required to register at the Carles Tourism Office, where they will be given “access pass” to the Tangke hidden lagoon after payment of P70 per pax environmental fee.

How to get there:

There are several entry points to Isla de Gigantes, but I would rather you take the route that will lead you to Bancal Port in the town of Carles; Isla Gigantes being a part of Carles.

From Iloilo City airport
  • Make use of the airport shuttles/vans/FX stationed just outside the departure area to take you to SM City Iloilo. From there, take a cab to the Ceres Grand Terminal (Ceres buses now have their own terminal), if you prefer taking the bus or to Tagbak Central Terminal, if you’re taking the van. Just make sure you are on the Carles-bound trip, which will take you directly to Bancal Port. [I’m not sure about the schedule of vans in Tagbak, but Ceres buses leave as early as 3AM]. Alternatively, you can just ask the locals what passenger jeep will take you to the Ceres Grand Terminal or Tagbak Central Terminal (Leganes-bound and Jaro-CPU jeeps are some options).
  • Once in Bancal Port, make sure you register at the Tourism Office before you board any of the passenger boats that will take you to Isla Gigantes.

Where to stay:

Several accommodation options are available. We stayed at Dela Vega Cottages (see photos for their contact details) for P350/pax/night in an A/C room for 6. The resort also offers meal packages (starts at P200 per pax) that will surely satisfy your cravings for seafood.

A white beach on a green island

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Mahabang Buhangin in Brgy San Agustin Kanluran is a mile-long stretch of sandy beach interspersed with coves and rock formations.

Verde Island, particularly Brgy. San Antonio and Brgy. San Agapito, is more popular as a diving destination among local and foreign SCUBA divers. However, with more and more photos of its hidden gems, notably the mile-long Mahabang Buhangin in San Agustin Kanluran (West) appearing in social media sites, beachcombers and island campers began flocking anew to Isla Verde.

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How to get there:

  1. Take a Batangas City Grand Terminal-bound bus, either from Cubao or Buendia [Fare: PHP157 to PHP165 per pax], then ride a jeep to Tabangao Aplaya [Fare: PHP40 to PHP50 per pax].
  2. Board a commuter banca plying the Tabangao-Isla Verde route [Fare: PHP90 to PHP120 per pax]. The boat leaves at around 9AM to 10AM, but it’s better to be at the wharf as early as 8AM to get better seats. Be sure to inform the purser/crew where you will be staying. The boat stops at San Agustin Kanluran, San Agapito and San Antonio.  The return trip is a lot trickier, as the Isla Verde-Tabangao trip leaves as early as 3AM. There is ONLY ONE trip leaving Tabangao, as well as ONLY ONE trip leaving Isla Verde daily.

 

Batanes: Home of the Ivatans

Batanes is a chain of small islands in the northernmost point of the Philippines. Of these islands, only three are inhabited: Batan, Itbayat and Sabtang. These three (3) islands comprise six (6) municipalities collectively known as BISUMI: Basco (the capital), Itbayat, Sabtang, Uyugan, Mahatao and Ivana. Although described as having no real ports, the island chains of Batanes boast small beaches and coves which serve as anchorage for the locals’ small boats.

Inhabiting Batanes are the Ivatans, their name derived from the language they speak: Chirin nu Ibatan or simply Ivatan, an Austronesian language spoken exclusively in the Batanes Islands which is characterized by the dominant use of the letter “v”, as in valuga, vakul and vanuwa.

Also unique to their culture is their limestone houses patterned after the Spaniards and adapted to stand the onslaughts of the notorious Batanes typhoons. Ivatan stone houses — called vernacular houses — are typically windowless cube structures with walls as thick as one meter with thatched roof made of cogon grass.

Where to go in Batanes

Tour destinations in Batanes are subdivided into four (4) clusters:

  • North Batan Island (Basco)
    • Mt. Carmel Chapel
    • Radar Tukon
    • Idjang Viewpoint
    • Fundacion Pacita
    • Japanese Tunnel
    • Valugan Boulder Beach
    • Vayang Rolling Hills
    • Basco Lighthouse in Naidi Hills
    • Sto. Domingo Church
  • South Batan Island (Mahatao, Ivana and Uyugan)
    • Chawa Viewdeck
    • Mahatao Pier
    • San Jose Borromeo Church
    • Diura (Fishing Village)
    • Fountain of Youth
    • Racuh a Payaman (Marlboro Country)
    • Imnajbu Point
    • Old Naval Base
    • Alapad Rock
    • Song Song Ruins
    • San Jose de Ivana Church
    • Honesty Coffee Shop
    • Famous House of Dakay
  • Sabtang Island
    • San Vicenter Ferer Church
    • Savidug Village and Savidug Idjang Rock Fortress
    • Sabtang Vernacular Houses
    • Sabtang Lighthouse
    • Limestone production
    • Chamantad-Tinyan Viewpoint
    • Chavayan Village
    • Nakabuang (Morong) Beach and Ahao Arch
    • Vuhus Island
  • Itbayat Island
    • Chinapoliran Port
    • Sta. Maria Immaculada (Itbayat) Church
    • Lake Kavaywan
    • Mt. Karoboban Viewpoint
    • Torongan Hills and Cave
    • Paganaman Port and Lagoon
    • Rapang Cliffs and Stone Bell
    • Kaxobcan Beach
    • Mt. Riposed
    • Nahili Votox Burial Site
    • Komayasakas Cave and Water Source
    • Manoyok Sinkhole
    • Sarokan, Pevangan and Do’tboran Caves
    • Agosan Rocks
    • Port Mauyen
    • Island hopping (when weather permits):
      • Siayan
      • Dinem
      • Ditarem
      • Yami (Mavolis)

Optional activities

Mt. Iraya Hike (North Batan)
Duration: 3hrs to 4 hrs
Highlights: At 1,900ft ASL, Mt Iraya offers a stunning view of Basco and a wide array of endemic flora and fauna.
Rates/Fees:
PHP1000/pax for 4 pax and more, or
PHP1500/pax for 2 pax

Mt. Matarem Hike (South Batan)
Duration: 1.5hrs to 2hrs
Highlights: An extinct volcano, Mt. Matarem spans the municipalities of Mahatao, Uyugan and Ivana. At the summit, you’ll have a commanding view of Sabtang.
Rates/Fees:
PHP1300/pax for 4 pax and more, or
PHP1800/pax for 2 pax

Hiking/Walking Tour
Duration: 4hrs to 6hrs
Highlights: Hike along the Basco-Mahatao Trail, stopping by Racuh-a-idi Spring of Youth in Diura Fishing Village for a cold, refreshing dip. Then continue on to the radar station, Fundacion Pacita and the wind turbines
Rates/Fees:
PHP800/pax for 4 pax and more, or
PHP1200/pax for 2 pax

SCUBA Diving
Duration: 2hrs to 3hrs, depending on the dive location and number of dives
Highlights: Explore the rich marine life of Sabtang: Pavona coral fields, Trevallies Lair, Canyons, etc.
Rates/Fees:
PHP3000/pax for a single dive, or
PHP2500/pax for 2 dives or more

Fishing/Boating
Duration: Minimum of 1hr
Highlights: Experience “mataw” fishing with local anglers using nylon line and hook.
Rates/Fees:
PHP500/pax/hr for 4 pax and more, or
PHP1000/pax/hr for 2 pax

ATV Touring
Duration: up to whole day
Highlights: Explore Batan at your own pace.
Rates/Fees:
PHP500/pax for halfday, or
PHP1000/pax for whole day

Bicycle (Motorbike) Touring
Duration: up to whole day
Highlights: A visit to Batanes is not complete without trying out one of its iconic symbols, the bicycle. Tour Batan Island on two wheels, either self-powered or motorized. Travel from the heart of Basco to the southernmost parts of Batan.
Rates/Fees:
Bicycle: PHP100/pax/hr
Motorbike: PHP250/pax/hr

Contacts:

BISUMI Tours and Services
Ryan Lara Cardona <+63915.803.4582>
bisumitours@gmail.com

MarFel Lodge
<+63908.893.1475>
<+63920.976.4966>
<+63917.857.4493>
<+63917.883.3249>
marfellodge@gmail.com
http://marfellodgebatanes.com

Dive Batanes
Chico Domingo <+63939.935.1950>

Ivatan ATV Rentals
<+63998.551.9656>

Basco TODA
<+63929.703.8404>

Casa Napoli Pizza
<+63999.990.7553>

Rapang (Itbayat) Guide
Jose Valiente <+63949.620.0184>

Kalanggaman Island: A Secret No More

Welcome to Kalanggaman Island!

Welcome to Kalanggaman Island!

Surrounded by strong currents and rip tides, no wonder this unspoiled island has remained hidden for a long time, until now.

Yes. We ventured the long road to paradise.

From the rough and very rough roads of Camarines Norte and Sur, to the paved stretch of concrete and asphalt highway in the hinterlands of Albay, Sorsogon and Samar, we endured the 20-hour roadtrip to Tacloban City in Leyte — our final takeoff point to Kalanggaman Island, the most talked-about, Instagrammed and Twitted piece of pristine, unadulterated real estate in Palompon, Southern Leyte.

The trip may have been bum-busting and looooooooong, but the views and sceneries were majestic!

An imperfect paradise

Gaining popularity only in 2013, when M/V Europa Cruise Line – with almost 400 passengers – did a pit stop on the island for a couple of hours. Photos of its powdery white sand beach and its sparkling blue waters, accented by a crescent sandbar, posted on various social media sites sparked a frenzy among beach lovers and adventurers.

I must admit, Kalanggaman Island is not without flaws. For one, the treacherous currents surrounding the famed sandbar prohibited the swimmer in me to enjoy its teal blue waters. Moreover, the local tourism office in-charge of the island’s upkeep was not entirely prepared for the sudden influx of sunworshippers and selfie fanatics crowding the beach, especially during weekends. I actually fear that one day soon some parts of Kalanggaman Island will succumb to trash. Let’s not let that happen. Please.

When in Kalanggaman

The now famous sandbar.

The now famous sandbar.

There are no privately owned resorts in Kalanggaman, but overnight camping is allowed. Don’t worry if you don’t own a tent; the Eco-Tourism Office in Palompon rents them out.

Aside from baking under the sun and snorkeling, there are a few other activities one can actually enjoy on the island. You may want to try your hands at kayaking (PHP150/hr) and stand-up paddling (PHP200/hr); just approach any of the “Island Relations Officers” roaming the island. They’d be easy to spot, ‘coz they’re usually dressed in colorful island-inspired polo shirts: Yeah. Channeling their inner Lito Atienza. Harharhar!

And, for a complete Kalanggaman Island experience, go SCUBA diving! There are no dive shops on the island, so you may have to bring your own or rent it from the Palompon Eco-Tourism Office.

To Get There

As earlier mentioned, we chose to go the long way to Kalanggaman, braving the 20-hour roadtrip; albeit, there are a lot more options to choose from. Here are a few that may fit your traveling style… and budget.

From Manila

Take the 2GO Ferry to Cebu. From Cebu, you can travel to Palompon, Leyte either by bus or RORO boats.

Ceres Liner buses bound for Manila via Maharlika Highway leaves Cebu North Bus Terminal every 8AM and arrives at Pulangbato Port in Bogo City, Cebu at around 12NN. From there, you can catch a RORO boat bound for Palompon.

Of course, you can always opt to travel by air to Tacloban City. From there, you can get on a GT van to Palompon or, if you’re in a hurry, just hire a van.

Once in the town of Palompon, take a pedicab (locally called “potpot”) to the Eco-Tourism Office – the yellow building within the municipal office complex.

A trip to Kalanggaman Island requires prior “booking” with the local tourism office, as the local government limits the number of tourists per day to preserve the beauty of the place. Make sure you made a reservation before going.

Travel time from Palompon to Kalanggaman Island is about an hour.

Upon reaching the island, you’re free to find your own sweet spot to pitch your tent for the day – sit back, relax and chew in the scenery.

SCHEDULE OF FEES

Overnight Rate

  • International tourists               PHP750
  • Non-Palompon tourists                   225
  • Palompon tourists                             75
  • Students and senior citizens enjoy a much lower entrance fee.

Outrigger bancas range from PHP3,000 to 4,000, depending on the number of passengers.

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Personal ‘Life Hacks’ That Kept Me Sane Over The Years…

“There is, I have heard, a little thing called sunrise, in which the sun reverses the process we all viewed the night before. You might assume such a thing as mythical as those beasts that guard the corners of the earth, but I have it on the finest authority, and have, indeed, from time to time, regarded it with my own eyes.” ― Lauren Willig, The Garden Intrigue

“There is, I have heard, a little thing called sunrise, in which the sun reverses the process we all viewed the night before. You might assume such a thing as mythical as those beasts that guard the corners of the earth, but I have it on the finest authority, and have, indeed, from time to time, regarded it with my own eyes.” ― Lauren Willig, The Garden Intrigue

Today, I turn 45.

Looking back at the year I had, I have nary a complaint. Yes, I had my ups and downs — and have done things that I am not proud of — yet, the year-that-was was a good year for me still.

And here, I share with you some ‘philosophies’ that have kept me going through the years…

1. Put some S.A.L.T. (Spend special Attention to the Little Things) in everything you do.

Negativity should have no place in our daily lives. But since we do not live in a utopian society, negativism, almost always, finds its way into our day-to-day routines. So, before negative thoughts and emotions creep its way into our psyche and cripple us emotionally, psychologically, and yes, even physically, we’ve gotta purge ’em out of our system!

A good cure to keep negative vibes away is: SALT WATER — Sweat. Tears. The sea.

Feeling lazy and bored? Try running, jogging, trekking. Sweat it out.

Someone broke your heart? Cry yourself an ocean. Wash the grief away with tears.

Stressed from too much work? Let the salty sea breeze caress your face.

2. Just D.O. I.T. (Dare to do Original Ideas Totally)

We are faced with many uncertainties in life. You’ve been through these things millions of times, I’m sure. But how many of those times have you truly taken that advice, and gave something new and different the old college try? It can be as simple as dyeing your hair blonde or it can be something more daring, like sky diving. Whatever you choose to do, don’t ever let the words “I can’t…” escape your lips without actually trying it out first.

Fear can cripple you and prevent you from living the life you shoulda-coulda-woulda lived. Most of the time, these shoulda, coulda, wouldas are generally followed by still wantas.

“Fear, is every problem’s bottom line, and you can’t be afraid to start at the bottom if you want to solve your problems.” — I Would If I Could and I Can, James H. Hoke

3. Do not be S.A.D. (Spending the day in Abject Disillusionment). L.O.L.! (Live Out Loud!)

Today, I choose NOT to be… S.A.D.; instead, I will be here to… L.O.L.

Finally, some "me" time

Finally, some “me” time

Martha Washington declares, “I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.”

I’m gonna do the same.

Maybe, these lines from The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones will clarify my point further:

Have you ever had the odds stacked up so high
You need a strength most don’t possess?
Or has it ever come down to do or die
You’ve got to rise above the rest?

No? Well…
I never had to knock on wood
But I know someone who has
Which makes me wonder if I could
It makes me wonder if
I never had to knock on wood
And I’m glad I haven’t yet
Because I’m sure it isn’t good
That’s the impression that I get.

4. Don’t talk, just K.I.S.S. (Keep It Short and Simple)

brev·i·ty, noun \ˈbre-və-tē\
: the use of few words to say something

Why do we always say that short and simple is good?

Because simplicity is not just about minimalism or the absence of clutter, it is a measure of one’s understanding. Y’see, to be truly simple, you have to go really, really deep into complexity. You have to thoroughly understand the essence of something in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential. Saying “less is more”.

Courtesy of George Orwell, here’s a quick cheat sheet to become more practical as possible:

Always use:

A word instead of phrase
A phrase instead of a sentence
A sentence instead of paragraph
A paragraph instead of a page…

5.  I always W.I.N.G. it (Write Incessantly, Never Giving up)

I seize each day, each opportunity to write. Anything. Everything. The consistency. The monotony. The certainty. All foolish notions and affectations are covered by this daily re-occurrence. After all, you don’t go to a well once but every day, and sleep comes to you each day, so do the muses–Calliope, Euterpe or Erato.

“How do you write? You write, man, you write, that’s how, and you do it the way the old English walnut tree puts forth leaf and fruit every year by the thousands. . . . If you practice an art faithfully, it will make you wise, and most writers can use a little wising up.” — William Saroyan, 1981

… and of course — today, and everyday — I always choose to PRAY:

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

AMEN.

Pink: The Color of Peace and Harmony

Masjid Dimaukom

The Pink Mosque of Maguindanao — constructed in December 2012 and formally opened to devotees in June 2014 — is a gift to the people of Datu Saudi Ampatuan from its mayor, Samsudin Utto Dimaukom, Al-Hadj.

Pink, Mayor Dimaukom revealed, is his favorite color; in fact, it is also the color of choice for the town’s municipal hall and other government structures.

Ni-research namin ‘yan kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng pink, [it means] peaceful, pagmamahal, iba-iba naman ‘yan, pwedeng pagmamahal kay Allah, pagmamahal sa taumbayan, at pagmamahal sa bayan.

Masjid Dimaukom, as the mosque is now called, stands on the Dimaukom family property and has come to symbolize peace and love.

 

To Get There

The national highway that connects Cotabato City and Isulan, Sultan Kudarat passes by Datu Saudi Ampatuan. There are vans coming from Cotabato City bound for Tacurong City (also in Sultan Kudarat) or Isulan and vice versa. If coming from Isulan, ride a Cotabato City-bound jeepney stationed at the Isulan “roundball” or rotonda. First trip leaves around 7AM and every 30mins, thereafter, depending on the volume of passengers. Advise the driver that you’ll get off at Datu Saudi (to avoid any confusion as there is another town called Ampatuan); or, you can simply tell the driver that you’re going to the Pink Mosque. It is now a popular landmark in Maguindanao known to many locals. The  mosque is just a short walk from the main highway and fronting the municipal hall.

The Dreamweavers of Lake Sebu

National Artist Boi Lang Dulay

Boi Lang Dulay (August 03, 1924 – April 03, 2015) elevated T’boli weaving into an art form, earning for her the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan in 1998 for her outstanding craft and masterpieces that made the t’nalak – and the T’bolis – famous the world over.

The T’bolis belong to the many indigenous tribes or “lumads” that live in the hinterlands of the southwestern part of Cotabato. The T’bolis of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato are famous for their dream-inspired and spirit-infused weavings, raised to the level of art by the iconic Boi Lang Dulay, the 1998 Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan Awardee. Lang Dulay has designed and woven over 100 T’nalaks. She stopped weaving in 2011 due to advancing age and concentrated on designing. The last design she made was bought by the NCCA after she died.

The T'bolis are also well-known for their ornate and intricate brass and beadworks.

The T’bolis are also well-known for their ornate and intricate brass and beadworks.

The T’nalak is a deep brown cloth made from “krungon” or abaca fiber, tie-dyed with intricate designs and produced mostly by the womenfolk of the tribe. According to T’boli tradition, T’nalak designs have been passed down through generations and are revealed to the best weavers in dreams, brought to them by their ancestors.

The T’nalak is so ingrained with spiritual meanings that its production and use is surrounded by a variety of traditions and beliefs.  It is believed that in order to maintain the purity of their art, T’boli women must abstain from “worldly pleasures” while weaving a T’nalak. During weaving, one should not step over the loom, for doing so is to risk illness. Also, cutting the cloth, unless done according to the prescribed norm, will cause sickness or death; and if a weaving is sold, a brass ring is often attached to appease the spirits.

T’nalak production is labor-intensive, requiring both skills and knowledge, and learned at a very young age by the women of the tribe.

Along with the its world-famous T’nalak, T’boli music and dances are also among the indigenous cultural heritage being showcased in Lake Sebu.

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