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.

 

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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The Taong Putik Festival of Aliaga, Nueve Ecija

Forget colorful costumes. Forget fancy dance routines. No streetdancing. No drums. No parties. This is one somber festival.

Devotees burn candles as offering to St John the Baptist.

Devotees burn candles as offering to St John the Baptist.

The Taong Putik Festival is an annual event held in Brgy. Bibiclat in Aliaga, Nueve Ecija. Celebrated every 24th day of June — on the feast of St. John the Baptist, who is also the barangay’s patron saint — the Taong Putik Festival commemorates an event, which if wasn’t averted, would’ve been one of the bloodiest massacres in the annals of World War II.

As early as 3AM, devotees flock to nearby ricefields to bathe in the freezing waters and rub their faces, arms, legs and body with mud. Now draped in mud-soaked dried banana leaves or water hyacinths fashioned into cloaks — usually hiding their faces — the “taong putik” (loosely translated as “mud people”) go from house to house to receive donations of money and candles which they would offer during the mass.

The solemn celebration culminates in a procession around the small community, where the image of St. John the Baptist is paraded. In the afternoon of the 24th, the fiesta atmosphere begins, highlighted by a carabao race and other games.

Nature’s wrath or Divine intervention?

The Taong Putik Festival commemorates an event, which if wasn’t averted, would’ve been one of the bloodiest massacres in the annals of World War II.

The Taong Putik Festival commemorates an event, which if wasn’t averted, would’ve been one of the bloodiest massacres in the annals of World War II.

1944. In retaliation for the killing of their soldiers by Filipino guerrilla fighters, the Japanese Army gathered all adult males in the village of Bibiclat for execution. Held in a small chapel, the men, fearful for their lives, began praying to their patron saint, St. John the Baptist, pleading for deliverance.

Before noon, the scheduled time for their execution, the men were led to the plaza where they were arranged in a single line, ready for the firing squad. As the executioners took their positions, a crowd of women and children gathered to witness the carnage. And as their lamentations and cries of woe echoed throughout the village, torrential rains blotted out the midday sun and drenched everyone in attendance. To the Japanese, this phenomenon indicated that even their gods did not approve of the massacre; thus, called off the firing squad, saving the men from certain death.

The people of Bibiclat erupted into jubilation, thanking St. John for causing the rain and saving the men.

And so began the “Taong Putik” tradition.

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.

VOLUNTOURISTS: A new breed of sightseers

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.


Photos: Bounce Travel, Tours and Events

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.

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