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.

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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I Miss You… SUN!

It has been raining cats and dogs for more than five (5) days… now, I am longing for the sun.

The stunning sunrise at Kiltepan viewpoint in Sagada, Mt. Province.

The stunning sunrise at Kiltepan viewpoint in Sagada, Mt. Province.

Kiltepan Sunrise

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No words. They won’t do justice to such magnificence only God can create.

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Dingalan: Discover why it is Aurora’s answer to Batanes

Dingalan — pronounced di-nga-lan and not ding-ga-lan — gained popularity among nouveaux voyageurs and weekend travelers via the hit local TV travel magazine, “Byahe ni Drew”.

Relatively untapped by commerce, this quiet coastal town in the province of Aurora boasts sights that catered to the insatiable appetites of Y.O.L.O. adventurers seeking for newer thrills, as well as photography enthusiasts wanting to capture verdant landscapes and azure seascapes.

Dubbed as the “Batanes of Northeastern Luzon” because of the majestic view from the new lighthouse atop Sitio White Beach in Brgy. Paltic, Dingalan has become the latest must-visit destination.

Dubbed as the "Batanes of Northeastern Luzon" because of the majestic view from the new lighthouse atop Sitio White Beach in Brgy. Paltic, Dingalan has become the latest must-visit destination.

Dubbed as the “Batanes of Northeastern Luzon” because of the majestic view from the new lighthouse atop Sitio White Beach in Brgy. Paltic, Dingalan has become the latest must-visit destination.

My top picks for Dingalan

Lamao Cove and Caves

Sitio White Beach

 

Dingalan Lighthouse

Dingalan Lighthouse

How to get there

There are several options in reaching Dingalan — via Gen. Nakar in Quezon and the more popular route, via Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. You can take the 0630AM trip of 5 Star Liner in Cubao or Pasay (one way fare is PHP185) inorder to catch the 10AM van trip to Dingalan (one-way fare is PHP100). Once in Dingalan proper, ride a tricycle to the town’s feeder port for the banca ride to Sitio White Beach (boats can be rented for PHP600 up), or you can just opt for the longer route, which is about an hour trek through the shoreline from Brgy. Paltic to Sitio White Beach.

Where to stay

There are several B&B inns in Dingalan, the more popular being Shalom Lodge located just in front of the feeder port. If you’re into beach camping or just want a quiet time on the beach, you may stay at Ate Nene’s Place (+63909.031.6069) or at Lourdes & Buboy’s Cottages (+63918.503.6080). Power on both “resorts” are from a genset which they run until 11PM.

Tall. Tale. Taal.

A lake within a lake; A volcano within a volcano

Geologically unique, this complex formation has confused many, me included.

Taal Crater Lake

Taal Volcano is a 311-meter tuff cone volcano that sits inside a 1.9-km wide, 76-meter deep, 4MASL blue-green crater lake that is within a 23 sq km volcanic rock island formed between 140,000 to 5,380 before present (BP). The volcano island is at the heart of a 267 sq km, 2 MASL lake surrounded by adjacent volcanic structures–Mt Makiling in the northeast; Mt Malipunyo in the east; Mt Batulao in the west; and Mt Maculot in the southeast.*

Confused? Let’s try this:

Taal Volcano is a small volcanic rock island inside a small crater lake of a bigger volcano surrounded by a bigger lake, which is actually a caldera formed after the eruption of a much bigger volcano. Let me illustrate, crudely:

A 311-meter volcano sits inside a crater lake that is within a volcano island surrounded by a lake.

Photo from Flickr.com. Captions, mine.

The Taal Volcano Complex (yes, it is a complex complex) is one of the world’s most beautiful yet dangerous volcano; in fact, it is one of the the country’s most active volcano, having erupted 33 times since the 1500s.

Beauty. Danger. Adventure. No wonder it is a popular destination for people escaping the urban stress of Metro Manila.

A bum-busting, dust-choking adventure
Like most of us, I grew up thinking that THIS is Taal Volcano.

Like most of us, I grew up thinking that THIS is Taal Volcano.

Our initial weekend plan to just chill in Tagaytay City and have ourselves stuffed on bulalo and tawilis turned unexpectedly into an adventure when an “ambulant tour guide” peddling his services talked us into visiting Taal Volcano Complex.

From Tagaytay City, Mang Jong (CP#09289493217) accompanied us on the drive to Talisay, Batangas and brought us to Lago de Taal Resort, where we boarded a motorized banca (regular rate is Php2000 good for six pax) for the 20-minute trip to Volcano Island (entrance fee is PhP100 per pax).

It was already noon when we were “talked into” making this trip. Note that it’s the height of summer and the sun was beating down relentlessly on us–and everyone else–when we arrived. Unprepared is an understatement. The trek hasn’t even started but I was already exhausted and panting from the extreme heat, the dust, and the crowd of eager tourists.

So, we saddled up for bumpy horseback ride (Php450 per horse; please DO tip the horse wranglers, please) through treeless, shadeless, dusty trail…

… and after bumbling through uneven terrain, we finally made it to the mesmerizing Crater Lake — its blue-green color, with the sloping greens surrounding it, is indeed a sight to behold.

My daughter Abby and me.

My daughter Abby and me.

Post Script
The ride home was a lot more... relaxing.

The ride home was a lot more… relaxing.

A trip to Taal Volcano Island is a challenging one, especially during summer. It is best to plan an early morning start, if possible. Wear loose clothing, as well as, comfortable footwear. Be sure to bring sunscreen (lots of it!), a broad-rimmed hat or an umbrella, and a wide bandanna, a handkerchief or a scarf to cover your face with against the dust. Although face masks are available for sale, they’re priced steep.

Overnight camping is not allowed on Volcano Island anymore. Visitors are expected to leave the island by 6PM. Should you wish to spend the night in Talisay, A/C accommodations range from Php1000 to Php2500 a night.

* Figures are from the Philvocs website.

 

 

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