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.

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Pleasure DOES come in twos

One of the nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. ~ Luciano Pavarotti

A trip to Tuguegarao City in Cagayan will never be complete without sampling the locale’s famous duo of stir-fry noodles — Batil Patung (some spell it as “patong”) and pancit Cabagan. For a gastronome like me, a pancit food trip is definitely in my itinerary.

The panciteria is to Tuguegarao, as Starbucks is to Metro Manila. The ubiquitous panciterias dot almost every street corner of this quaint city, with Felicia’s, Gretchen’s and Natan’s being the more popular ones. Having no idea which of these front runners is THE best, I turned to the ever-reliable Mamang Traysi — the friendly tricycle drivers that ply the city’s every nook and cranny. Of the five tricycle drivers I asked, all of them agree that while the top three panciterias are well known, their popularity is hinged on their ambiance. Oh, they’re quick to qualify their answer that the three do serve delicious batil-patong and pansit cabagan, however, they ‘highly recommend’ Lamud for batil patong and Gumiran’s for pancit cabagan. Lamud is located in Brgy. Cataggaman, a few clicks from St. Louis University, while Gumiran’s is within Centro and a short walk from San Jacinto de Ermita Church.

And boy! They were right!

Batil patong (sounds Malaccan or Indon, right?) is made from freshly prepared local pancit miki topped with sauteed carabeef, shredded cabbage and semi-poached egg. It is served with ‘sopa de huevos’ or egg soup, and goes well with a sauce concocted from calamansi, soy sauce, vinegar and a generous heap of chopped onions.

Pancit cabagan, on the other hand, is originally from the town of Cabagan in Isabela. It is made from cabagan miki, which is thinner than the noodles used in batil patong. The main ingredients are lechon de carajay, quail eggs and mixed vegetables. It’s distinct characteristic is a dark thick sauce or broth, typical of cooked cabagan noodles. It goes well with the similar sauce for batil patong: calamansi, soy sauce, vinegar and lots of chopped onions.

Genuflect. Reflect.

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Let me start this piece with a reading from Tom Cochrane’s The Emotional Experience of the Sublime:

The literature on the venerable aesthetic category of the sublime often provides us with lists of sublime phenomena — mountains, storms, deserts, volcanoes, oceans, the starry sky, and so on. But it
has long been recognized that what matters is the experience of such objects. We then find that one of the most consistent claims about this experience is that it involves an element of fear. Meanwhile, the recognition of the sublime as a category of aesthetic appreciation implies that attraction, admiration or pleasure is also present.

However, there is also a sense of fear and attraction when we watch car chases or fights. Neither of these is an occasion for the sublime so much as a visceral sort of excitement.

As such, I will argue that it is not quite fear, but something that often manifests itself as fear that can be located in our experiences of the sublime. I call this a feeling of self-negation. This feeling, which comes in a few varieties, may be less physiologically intense than everyday instances of fear. But it has a certain psychological profundity that coheres well with our intuitions concerning the sublime.Meanwhile, claiming that sublime objects arouse feelings of self-negation rather than simple fear makes our attraction to these objects no less problematic. Note that while it is plausible that our sense of beauty is evolutionarily adaptive, since it attracts us to objects or environments conducive to survival or healthy offspring, the same could not easily be said of the sublime. Mountains, storms, the starry night and so on are in general not conducive to survival. On the contrary, it is quite appropriate that we find these phenomena fearful, horrifying or even monstrous and that we avoid them as much as possible. So to feel any sense of attraction for these phenomena is puzzling. 

Spelunking and/or cave exploration is a sublime experience for me. In the stillness and darkness of the caves, I am transported into the unknown, oft times, greeted with fear — fear of the complex and the inexplicable. The immaculate silence — punctuated only by the sloshing sound of us wading through knee- to waist-deep waters — imploding in my ear, the smell of burnt kerosene and the freezing cold, strike me as both numbing and invigorating. In the grandest part of the Capisaan Cave System in Nueva Vizcaya*, I was suspended in amazement as I gaze at the various unique speleothems — flowstones, columns, drapers, stalagmites and stalactites, and straws formed eons ago… and, crawling through a narrow crevice and exiting into a cavernous chamber gave me a curious experience of being ‘born’ again.

* Extending 4.2km from its main entry in Alayan Cave to the Lion Cave exit point, Capisaan is the fifth longest cave system in the country. Located 700 to 900 MASL in Brgy. Capisaan in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya, the Capisaan Cave System is a geologist’s heaven, full of various unique speleothems — flowstones, columns, drapers, stalagmites and stalactites, and straws. Running through the cave system is a subterranean stream, which can inundate portions of the cave up to 20ft during the rainy season. The very cold water is generally waist-deep all throughout the cave, but there are areas where the water level can reach up to the neck.

Towers of Light

With more than 36,000km of coastline, the Philippines ranks 4th — following Canada, Indonesia and Russia. No wonder our coastal territories are dotted with beautiful lighthouses that date back centuries ago. Visiting some of the more popular light towers can be an exhilarating and breathtaking adventure.

A Solitary Road

“Shishio’s logic dictates that the winner of a battle — in other words, the strong — is always correct, that it does. If the truth could be discovered by winning one or two battles, then we’d all go through life without ever being wrong. A person’s life isn’t so simple a matter, that it isn’t. The true answer is something you find out yourself by how you live your life from this day forward, that it is.” — Kenshin Himura

I was first introduced to Kenshin Himura in the mid-1990s via the animated series Samurai X — and watching the live-action adaptation, Rurouni Kenshin (The Wandering Samurai), evoked in me a certain nostalgia.

A fearless and feared assassin, Kenshin Himura was a prominent figure in the revolution against the Tokugawa Shogunate of feudal Japan — and may have been a Hitokiri of the Bakumatsu war. After the fall of the Tokugawas, Kenshin shed off his Battōsai (manslayer) persona to become a Rurouni (wanderer) and roamed the countrysides of Meiji-era Japan on a quest to atone for his sins by becoming the protector of the innocent. His reverse-blade sword became a testament to his vow not to kill anymore.

No, I am not doing a review of the movie.

Kenshin Himura, in some ways, reminded me of the great real-life samurai, Miyamoto Musashi. Both men perfected the art of sword fighting before the age of 20… only to forsake it and live a life of anonymity.

Musashi was an epitome of a true warrior, however, he’s something of an enigma in Japanese Samurai history. Despite living in a culture where adherence to grandiose protocols and rituals — as well as sacred notions of respect and honor — were the preferred, nay, THE ONLY way, he abhorred all prefectures. He was a self-taught swordsman, as Kenshin Himura was, and adhered to no specific discipline, school or kata. He was an iconoclast, a nonconformist, seemingly unconcerned completely with aesthetics, status, rank, or ‘playing by the rules.’ He lived only by his rules, and strived only to achieve a singular goal — to perfect his art, the art of the long sword. There is a general misconception that Musashi was expert only with the katana — a curved, slender, single-edged blade with a circular or squared guard and long grip to accommodate two hands. This is somewhat inaccurate and limiting. Musashi had no preference for one particular weapon over another — he excelled in the use of all of them — that when he accepts a duel, he almost always allowed his opponent to choose the weapon they’d use in dueling. Yet he never lost, culminating his career with 60 confirmed kills in formal duels and probably at least another 100 unaccounted for in combat. After his final mortal duel at age 30 with Sasaki Kojiro, Musashi never fought opponents to the death again. He would duel only with nonlethal weapons, such as wooden swords. What ushered in this complete turnaround is still a matter of debate among Musashi scholars.

I got interested with Musashi upon reading this passage in the Go Rin Nō Shō:

“Sharpen your wisdom, distinguish principle and its opposite in the world, learn the good and bad of all things, experience all the arts and accomplishments and their various Ways, and act in a way so that you will not be taken in by anyone. This is the heart of the wisdom of the martial arts.” — Miyamoto Musashi

The Go Rin Nō Shō or The Book of Five Rings is just one of the very few philosophical works that I have ever read. Attributed to the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi — perhaps the greatest samurai who ever lived —  the book delves into various martial arts strategy, tactics and philosophy that are also applicable to one’s everyday life and which still hold true today. In 1645, barely one week before his death, Musashi wrote this 21-point philosophy, as an ‘instructional manual’ for Terao Magonojo, his favorite disciple. It expresses a stringent, honest and ascetic view of life.

  1.   Do not turn your back on the various Ways of this world.
  2.   Do not scheme for physical pleasure.
  3.   Do not intend to rely on anything.
  4.   Consider yourself lightly; consider the world deeply.
  5.   Do not ever think in acquisitive terms.
  6.   Do not regret things about your own personal life.
  7.   Do not envy other’s good or evil.
  8.   Do not lament parting on any road whatsoever.
  9.   Do not complain or feel bitterly about yourself or others.
  10.   Have no heart for approaching the path of love.
  11.   Do not have preferences.
  12.   Do not harbor hopes for your own personal home.
  13.   Do not have a liking for delicious food for yourself.
  14.   Do not carry antiques handed down from generation to generation.
  15.   Do not fast so that it affects you physically.
  16.   While it’s different with military equipment, do not be fond of material things.
  17.   While on the Way, do not begrudge death.
  18.   Do not be intent on possessing valuables or a fief in old age.
  19.   Respect the gods and Buddhas, but do not depend on them.
  20.   Though you give up your life, do not give up your honor.
  21.   Never depart from the Way of the Martial Arts.

In the 21-maxim Dokkōdō or The Path of Aloneness or more popularly, The Way of Walking Alone, Musashi wasn’t beating around the bush with his initial salvo: Do not turn your back on the various Ways of this world. This first adage — or sometimes written as “Accept all things just the way it is.” — is perhaps the cornerstone of the entire Dokkōdō‘s philosophy of self-reliance… and it echoes one of  my own personal tenet: The Serenity Prayer.

The key word in his first ‘instruction’ is Ways. What precisely did Musashi mean by ‘Ways’? To have a clear understanding of what he’s trying to tell us, we must first define ‘Ways’ from his perspective, as reflected in some of his other pronouncements:

“Entrusting myself to the principles of my martial art, I have never had a teacher while studying the Ways of the various arts and accomplishments, or in anything at all”.

Here, Musashi talked about several ‘Ways’. Presumably, there is a Way for each ‘art and accomplishment’:

“First, as representatives of Ways, Buddhism is a Way of salvation for man, Confucianism venerates a Way of culture, and medicine is a Way of curing various diseases. Moreover, poets teach the Way of Japanese verse; and then there are tea masters, archers, and others who teach the various arts. All of these practice according to their own thoughts and relish what they do according to their own hearts.”

To Musashi, ‘Way’ is the underlying principle or goal of an art or achievement that dictates its practice — there are many different Ways and one for each different art… and that each person has their own individual Way that they practice, where each different art has as many different Ways as it does practitioners. Thus, “It is essential that each person polish his own Way well”, he reminds his disciple.

Furthermore, he tells us that:

“There is a rhythm to everything, but particularly in the martial arts, if you do not train in its rhythm it is difficult to succeed. To indicate some of the rhythms in the world, there are those for the Way of Noh drama. When the rhythms of the musicians playing wind and stringed instruments are coordinated, the entire rhythm is balanced. In the military arts, there is a rhythm and timing in the release of the bow, in the firing of a rifle and even in mounting a horse. You cannot ignore rhythm in any of the arts and accomplishments… The rhythm is different according to each and every Way. You should discriminate thoroughly between the rhythm of success and the rhythm of failure”.

Each different Way has lessons to teach us, a new way of looking at things that might bring us closer to the best way of achieving success in all things. Just as his fascination with Noh led him to the realization that proper rhythm is necessary to the martial arts; hence, Musashi believed that mastering various Ways will eventually lead us to a similar revelation.

On the other hand, he warns us that although each can practice a Way “according to their own thoughts”, there are still norms to follow:

“How to fix the eyes goes according to the style. Some fix their eyes on their opponent’s sword, while in other styles they fix their eyes on their opponent’s hands. Others fix their eyes on the face, and others on the feet. All of these, as they fix their eyes on one special place, confuse the mind and pose a malady to the martial arts”.

There is a right and a wrong method in practicing a Way, and it is not up to individual interpretation. According to Musashi, correct practice or technique springs forth from the correct understanding of a Way:

“From the time I was young I have set my mind on the Way of the Martial Arts, practiced the one subject of swordsmanship with my entire being and experienced various and different understandings. Looking into other styles, I have found that they were either speaking with clever pretexts or demonstrating detailed hand maneuvers; while they looked good to the eye, none of them had the heart of truth… the true Way of Swordsmanship is to fight with your opponent and win, and this should not be changed in the slightest”.

So, how do we practice a Way correctly?

Musashi propagated the idea that no matter what technique a practitioner employs, as long as he is focused on seeking victory, each Way he chooses will help him succeed. This dictum tells us to focus on our idea of seeking victory over mastering a particular technique — let our goal to succeed be the guiding principle of our technique. Technique is the implement of each different Ways — a tool to be used in accomplishing a Way. For instance, in the Way of Martial Arts, technique is to be used as a tool to overpower an opponent and achieve victory. A dedicated disciple who follows a Way should be able to visualize victory in all things, and should seek it. But not even the most avid practitioner of a Way can attain victory through a singular art; thus it becomes necessary to seek out a different Way to achieve victory.

That is why Musashi exhorts us not to depart from or forget the various Ways. He’s teaching us that success can only be achieved by ‘mastering’ all Ways. In essence, he’s telling us that we cannot fully claim success in one aspect of our life if there is a part of it that suffers. Harmony. Balance. These are the essentials of true victory.

… and that’s just the first maxim of the Way of Walking Alone.

Yes to SAVED SEX!

The recent ruckus over the Reproductive Health Bill or House Bill 4244 is largely centered on the Catholic Church’s protest over artificial contraception as a means to control the burgeoning population. Personally, it is my belief that no one is in a position to tell people that artificial contraception “is bad” and that natural methods “are good” — instead, those in-the-know should provide all the information about both methods without bias and allow the couples to decide for themselves. Section 3, No.5 of HB 4244 states precisely that.

Also, HB 4244 recognizes that abortion is illegal and punishable by law, however those women who are needing care post abortion (remember, there is a difference between an induced abortion and a miscarriage or spontaneous abortion — though in both cases involves the expulsion of the products of conception and the fetus before the age of viability) must be treated without judgment. Another favorable provision in the RH bill is the mention of gender equality, which was defined as “absence of discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in opportunities, allocation of resources or benefits and access to services.”

Now, dear cardinals and bishops, stop with the disinformation already. Stop poisoning the people’s minds with your perceived evil of the RH Bill. Just look at how distorted you’ve made your followers’ minds:

George Carlin couldn’t have said it any better:

Now, speaking of consistency, Catholics — which I was until I reached the age of reason — and other Christians are against abortions, and they’re against homosexuals. Well who has less abortions than homosexuals? Leave these fucking people alone, for Christ sakes! Here is an entire class of people guaranteed never to have an abortion, and the Catholics and Christians are just tossing them aside! You’d think they’d make natural allies. Go look for consistency in religion.

And speaking of my friends — the Catholics, when John Cardinal O’Connor of New York and some of these other cardinals and bishops have experienced their first pregnancies and their first labor pains, and they’ve raised a couple of children on minimum wage, then I’ll be glad to hear what they have to say about abortion. I’m sure it will be interesting and enlightening…

Ode to the crazy ones

Awesome Letterpress Poster! Too bad they  are not available anymore.

“The now iconic quote debuted in a 1997 television commercial for Apple Computer. The text was said to have been partially written by then Apple CEO Steve Jobs (along with Rob Siltanen and Ken Segall). He embodied the characteristics in this quote arguably better than anyone in history. Today it lives on as a mantra for artists, inventors, entrepreneurs and innovators around the world.” — crazyonesquote.com

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