July 22, 2016 Leave a comment
The world through Brahmin eyes…
April 22, 2016 Leave a comment
Summer is a time of simple pleasures and exciting times.
Lying in the grass with my hands behind my head, feeling each blade caress my fingers, is how I remember my childhood summers in the small town of Dingle in Iloilo. With a stalk of amor seco stuck between my teeth, I’d just recline lazily in the vast football field of my elementary school, studying the clouds — almost always, daydreaming.
With school out, weekdays were indistinguishable from weekends. My day-to-day challenge was to find something to do — go out fishing with friends, fly a kite, take a dip in the cold streams, bicycle around town. A lazy way to spend summer, you say? By today’s standards, maybe… but you see, those were the little things children these days do not enjoy. We had freedom then. We can spend an entire day sitting on curbs. We daydreamed, letting our imaginations soar.
But, times have changed.
Today, enjoying a ‘summer getaway’ entails thorough preparation and careful planning. It’s all about logistics, logistics, logistics… and more.
“Is there wifi and cable TV?”
“Is the cellphone signal strong there?”
“Is there a Starbuck’s where we’re going?”
These are just some of the questions we ask when choosing our summer destination… and to most of us, budget-conscious travelers, tour package hunting has become the norm. The rising popularity of packaged tours or group tours has indeed given our local tourism a much-needed boost.
The proliferation of these budget trips, sadly, has also slowly — and dangerously – tipped the balance between providing adequate visitor experiences and services, protecting the ecological and cultural values of the area, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the site. Tour operators, most times, fail miserably in educating their ‘guests’ on the importance of the LNT — Leave No Trace — policy.
Fortunately, there are a few travel organizers that offer activity-based tours, educational and cultural immersion and experiences, and VOLUNTOURISM.
Voluntourism is a relatively new concept — for me at least. Very simply put, voluntourism is volunteerism and tourism, rolled into one. It integrates the best of travel and tourism — the natural environment and geography, arts and culture, history and heritage sites, and recreation — with the opportunity to serve and enhance the destination: its people, points of interests and other scenic highlights. If that definition still sounds complicated, try this: Voluntourism is a great way to spend your vacation AND actively contribute to make your chosen destination more beautiful than when you arrived.
Voluntourism tours cater to the demand for both outreach work (volunteering) and commerce (through staying in local hotels and using local services), in the hope of empowering the local community and generating much-needed revenue for the community. Voluntourism is not limited to clean-up drives, however. I know some mountaineer friends that trek to far-flung areas just to bring school supplies and books to children there.
Integrating any amount of volunteer work into your next trip may sound like your dream vacation. Going on voluntary holidays is a great way to spend the summer, as it not only allows you to immerse yourself in community work, even for just a few hours, but it is also a very rewarding experience. Being able to give back to the community and those who need it most is sure to be something you’ll cherish forever — and these trips could become the best part of your overall summer adventure.
Here are some tips to guide you in choosing which voluntourism tour fits you:
RESEARCH THE PROJECT
Ask questions before you choose a voluntourism trip. Ask yourself, what would it feel like if someone came and did this project in my community? If the organizer collects monetary contributions, ask where would your money go? Will you be working with a local organization? Did it request this project? You may also want to interview other voluntourists: They will tell you the real story.
RESEARCH THE COMMUNITY
Read up on the community you are visiting and learn what challenges they are facing, and identify possible solutions. If you come in only knowing it’s poor, dirty and malnourished, then you’re just looking down on the place, with no real understanding.
MATCH UP YOUR SKILLS
Different groups offer different voluntourism experience. Choose one that matches your expertise or interests. If you are a medical professional, you may want to join a tour providing healthcare to locals. Or, you can sign up for a nature-based trip where you can participate in coastal clean ups and clean up dives, or tree planting activities.
GET OUT OF THE BOX
Forget air-conditioned rooms and fluffy pillows. Bathe yourself in moonlight! On my latest trip to the Mercedes Group of Islands in Camarines Norte, we hit the dirt road and headed for the local community to procure food and supplies. We bought freshly caught fish and a live duck to be dressed and cooked the way locals did. In voluntourism trips, it is important to immerse yourself in local customs. If you see your destination only through the eyes of a transient tourist, you’re missing half the picture.
April 10, 2016 Leave a comment
Palo Cathedral, or the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lord’s Transfiguration, was built in 1596 by the Jesuits and served as their home, until 1768, after being ordered to leave the Philippines, as an aftermath of political wranglings in Europe. They were replaced in Leyte by the Augustinians who in 1834 eventually ceded the northeastern parishes to the Franciscans.
Repairs–after it was hit by a fire and typhoon which caused its roof to be ripped off, and its convent to be destroyed–and construction of its two symmetrical towers began in 1850.
The church became a cathedral on March 25, 1938, with Monsignor Manuel Mascariñas serving as its first bishop. During World War II, the cathedral was converted into an evacuation hospital by American Liberation Forces, and was used as refuge of civilians.
Palo Cathedral was badly damaged by supertyphoon Yolanda (International name: Haiyan) in November 2013. Hurricane-like winds stripped this beautiful infrastructure of its roofs and windows. Yolanda left it almost wiped out. After Yolanda’s devastation, a memorial service for the typhoon’s casualties was held in the cathedral. Bodies were then buried in the cathedral’s grave site.
But like the mythological Phoenix, the Palo Metropolitan Cathedral rose from the “ashes”, signifying renewal and rebirth. In 17 January 2015, Pope Francis held mass here and met with families of survivors of superyyphoon Yolanda.
Today, through the major efforts of private institutions and the people of Palo, the cathedral has been fully restored and once again stand, in all its glory and grandeur.
The celebrated town of Palo, Leyte has also played vital roles in our country’s history and religiosity.
Red Beach in Brgy. Candahug was where Gen. Douglas McArthur fulfilled his promise: I shall return, in 20 October 1944. Bringing with him the full might of the Allied forces, the massive landing in Palo signaled the end of Japanese occupation in the country during World War II.
April 6, 2016 Leave a comment
Geologically unique, this complex formation has confused many, me included.
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:
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.
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.
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.
February 25, 2016 Leave a comment
Sunrise at Salibungot Beach
May good fortune find your doorway
May the bluebird sing your song
May no trouble travel your way
May no worry stay too long…
So goes the song. I dunno why this tune, which actually was one of my high school graduation songs, floated into my consciousness as I was walking along the far corner of Salibungot Beach in Jomalig Island, Quezon.
Maybe, it’s the serenity of the place which transported me to my most favorite phase in my life: adolescence.
It was a time of discovery. Of adventure. Of learning.
A time where innocence gave way to rude awakenings. Restraint to carelessness. Fortitude to self-doubt.
Ah! The purity of youth… a time long gone. Forgotten. Abandoned. Something I would never wish upon this virgin paradise.
May your sands remain unsoiled,
Your waters untapped,
Your pine trees unbent,
And your people unencumbered and good-hearted.
February 15, 2016 Leave a comment
I brought Abby to a beach camping trip for the first time. I really hadn’t elaborately planned for it, so I joined a group I met online who’s going to Masasa Beach in Tingloy, Batangas.
Uhmmm… I’ve seen and been to much better beaches in Batangas, but Masasa’s calm is welcoming. A handful of beachgoers and campers have already been there, yet the rawness of its surroundings shouts out that Masasa Beach is yet to be explored.
There really isn’t much to do in Masasa Beach, ‘cept to swim, relax and just chew in the scenery.
The trek back to Tingloy port was through a narrow winding dirt road in the middle of rice fields and grazing pastures.
On the boat back to Anilao Port:
“Dad, is this what you do when you leave home on weekends?”
I said, yes.
“I can do this with you.”
It wasn’t a question.
It’s a promise.
How to get to Masasa Beach:
Tingloy is the only island municipality in Batangas, nestled on the main island of Maricaban.
From Manila, take a bus to Batangas City Grand Terminal (2-3 hours, P120-P180). Take a jeepney to Anilao Port (P35) and board the passenger boat to Tingloy (P70). To make the most out of your time, make sure you get onboard the first trip at 10:30AM. From the port, take a tricycle to Masasa Beach (P60).
If you’re lucky (like our group), you might be able to catch the boat — M/B Baby Mycel — which sails directly to Masasa Beach. It leaves Anilao Port at 10:30AM.
Alternatively, you may rent a boat for an island-hopping tour at Anilao Port for P5,500 (smaller boats are available from PhP2,500 to PhP3,000). Rate is per boat so it is to be divided by how many you are in the group. Ask your boatman to also make stops at Sombrero Island and Sepoc Point, too!