The Island of Siargao

Perfect setting for murder. That was the first thing that came to mind when I saw Cloud 9 in Siargao at night. The sound of the crashing waves will drown out screams, the pitch black night sky will conceal the act and the perpetrator, and the huge waves and the reef breaks will ensure that whoever you want to kill will be dead before dawn. Shove someone off the planks and poof! Gone.

That's my criminal mind talking.

From our island-hopping activity, we proceeded to Cloud 9 around 6PM to drop-off our new Taiwanese friend and check out food options for dinner. I was expecting a vibrant night life comparable to that of Boracay since this is a popular surfing turf, but I was surprised that the shore was free from crowded establishments. The only thing loud is the sound of the waves. Visiting the Surfing Capital of the Philippines in December is a quiet escape from the holiday bustle. Think of the usual province where there's coconut trees, sand, and occasional houses, then somewhere in this setting, add gigantic waves and killer reef breaks!

We decided to go back on our last day to see the famous Cloud 9 before the sunrise. I have tried surfing in La Union before and for some reason I thought that I could do it again in Siargao. Who am I kidding? Though calmer in the morning, Cloud 9 waves are definitely not for beginners, especially not for those who doubt their swimming skills.
The area transforms during competitions, when surfers and enthusiasts all around the globe flock to the small island. The long boardwalk and the 3-story viewing deck is packed and people normally pitch their tents wherever possible.

We wanted to see surfers in action, but apparently, the early morning swells were not huge enough for riding. We watched these two boys walk away with their boards.

We ate at the small restaurant nearby and learned that those boys are the proud recipients of these Surfing Festival awards. It is a good thing to know that the locals themselves take part in the competitions, and some of them take surfing as a way of life.
Aside from Cloud 9, we also visited the Magpupungko Tidal Flats (the first I've ever seen!). I wish I took good photos but unfortunately, it was raining hard that day. The tidal flats can only be seen during low tide. Do trust me when I say that it is one of the must-see places in Siargao. Check out Eazytraveler's photos here for proof.

We went around 8 out of the 9 municipalities of the island in 4 hours, while riding our reliable mode of transportation, the habal-habal.  My back and leg was aching by the time we got back to the hostel, but a sumptuous dinner at De Colores Restaurant in Dapa cured me of my soreness.

PS: There's one thing I've discovered about myself on this trip: I can fall asleep while riding a speeding habal-habal.

This post is part of the Surigao del Norte year-ender trip

For the nitty-gritty of this trip, visit Eazytraveler's posts.

Negros Occidental: The Nitty-Gritty

It's unmistakable. Bacolod is the most laid-back the word 'laid-back' could get.  I like Bacolod City. Try googling Bacolod and you'll find out that it once ranked Number 1 as the Most Competitive Mid-Sized City in 2005 and was named as the Best Place to Live in the Philippines last 2008 by Moneysense magazine, with Makati as second and Manila down at 11.

If one believed in signs, a flight delayed for 7 hours might have been the end of it. Good thing I don't. Instead, I made good use of the time we've camped out at the airport to catch up on my reading. Thanks to Airphil Express, we had  to scratch everything on the itinerary and worked it out from there.

Where to Stay:

We finally arrived at the Bacolod-Silay Airport at 10PM. We saw flyers of Pension Bacolod, which according to the flyer, has been awarded 5 times as the Best Pension House in Bacolod. Their aircon room is priced at P395.  The AC rooms were all rented out so we took the double non-AC room priced at P315. The room was close to the restaurant which had free Wi-Fi. Pension Bacolod is perfect for those who need a cheap place to crash in at night. If you want to stay at something more luxurious, check out L'Fisher Hotel or Saltimboca Tourist Inn. Pension Bacolod is located at #27 11th Street, a short walk from Lacson St.

The pension house looks like a small castle with flags displayed outside. It's indeed 'international' since we saw mostly foreign guests. Contact them at (034) 433-33-77.

Our flight back to Manila was set at 5AM so we opted to stay near the airport on our last night.  We chose the Baldevia Pension House, located in the heart of Silay. Their non-AC double room is priced at P450. Contact them at (034) 496-51-40.

We were able to adjust and fit most into our shortened schedule, but we had to take Danjugan Island off the list. Danjugan Island is a marine reserve and wildlife sanctuary found off the coast of Sipalay, south of Bacolod. That's another reason (aside from food) why I have to go back!


Day 1:
10:30PM -  Provincial Capitol Park and Lagoon - Can easily be found along Lacson St. Best seen at    
11:00PM -  Dinner at Aida's in Manokan Country

Provincial Capitol

Day 2:
06:00AM -  Cathedral of Bacolod - Located at Rizal St., near SM City Bacolod. I forgot which jeep
                         route we took but most jeeps pass by this area. 
07:00AM -  Breakfast at Kaffe Sadtu

08:00AM -  Luzuriaga Family private cemetery which is apparently listed in the Guinness Book of
                          World Records as the the only cemetery in the world at the intersection of two highways
                           -- That was exactly what we saw and nothing more. The cemetery can be found at
                           Lopez Jaena corner Burgos St.
09:00AM -  New City Hall with the majestic Mt. Kanlaon as background - Located at the 
                          Circumferential Road. 
10:00AM -  Endangered species at the Negros Biodiversity Conservation Center
11:00AM -  Negros Museum 
12:00PM -  Negros Showroom for some pasalubong
01:00PM -  Lunch at Bob's
02:30PM -  Cake Time at Calea
03:00PM -  Balay ni Tana Dicang at Talisay -So far this is the best ancestral house in the region.
05:00PM -  Pope John Paul II Tower - near SM Bacolod
06:00PM -  Rest, rest, and freshen up!

Note: The Negros Museum, Negros Biodiversity Conservation Center and Negros Showroom are all located near the Provincial Capitol along Lacson St. It's best to do a walking tour of Lacson St. The whole length of this street is closed for the annual street party during the Masskara Festival.

Bacolod City Hall
Bacolod Cathedral (San Sebastian)
                     Pope John Paul II Tower                                       Flying Fox at the Conservation Center
Bacolod's version of M Cafe
Sugar Laboratory Display

06:00AM -  Rode the bus bound to Victorias City
07:30AM -  Breakfast at Andrew's house
08:00AM -  Penalosa Farm
09:00AM -  Church of the Angry Christ - Located inside the VMC Compound
10:00AM -  Hawaiian-Philippine Company
11:00AM -  Rest, rest, and freshen up!
12:00PM -  Lunch at El Ideal
01:00PM -  Hofilena Ancestral House
03:00PM -  Balay Negrense - Here's a tip: Visit the Bernardino Jalandoni Ancestral House instead.
03:30PM -  Cake Time at Cafe 1925
04:30PM -  En route to The Ruins
05:00PM -  The Ruins - Located at Bata. Ride a jeep bound to Bata from Bacolod City. There is a
                         terminal where you can hire a tricycle to take you to The Ruins.
07:00PM -  Dinner at The Ruins

The Lovely Ruins - Photo by Aaron Manila
Here's my expense notes for the Negros Occidental Trip (all in PhP):

Jeepney fares not included.

There are cheaper alternatives to this. 
* We arrived at 10PM and had no choice but to take the van. A cheaper way is to ride a tricycle just outside the airport to Silay (P10 each if you're sharing the ride with other passengers). From Silay, you can take the bus bound to Bacolod at P15. At the Bata Terminal, cross the street and ride the Bata-Libertad route. The jeep will pass through Lacson St., where most hotels/pension houses are located.
** Ride a jeepeney going to Mandalagan and get down when you see SM City Bacolod. Manokan is along Fr. M. Ferrero St., right across SM.

Commuting is easy in Bacolod. There's a jeepney route in almost every place we visited. The minimum jeepney fare as of Feb.5 is P7.50.

I shelled out a total of P3904 for this trip, including pasalubongs and groceries. That's really cheap for a province that has lots to offer. 

Travel Time: 16 Hours to Palaui Island

The long bus rides to and fro Tuguegarao were reminiscent of the nights we spent on the bus going around Myanmar. This is by far the longest bus ride I ever took in the country. Various airlines offer flights to Tuguegarao but because the trip was a last minute decision (meaning no seat sales), we chose to take the bus instead. I have no trouble catching sleep on the bus so the 13-hour trip was not a biggie. Scoring the bus tickets proved to be a challenge though. The lines in Victory Liner were too long 2 weeks before the Holy Week.

Thank goodness Victory Liner now has online reservation and booking system for trips going to Baguio and Tuguegarao from all terminals in Manila. I reserved seats, paid at Metrobank, and had the tickets delivered to my office. No sweat!

We laid out 2 possible itineraries. Plan A was to check first if there was a ferry bound to Calayan (part of Babuyan Islands) from Santa Ana to join Ed of Eazytraveler. Plan B was to proceed to Palaui Island and visit the famed Cape Engaño lighthouse. This is Plan B.With that set, we exited Manila along with the majority of the population who wanted to spend the 5-day weekend in the provinces.

After 13 hours, we finally walked the streets of Tuguegarao. I enjoyed a cup of coffee on the sidewalk while we waited for a couple of hours for the first trip of the van to Sta. Ana. The 3-hr ride to Santa Ana was brimmed with views of endless rice fields coupled with mountain ranges as backdrops, plus occasional glimpses of the vast Cagayan River.

The last kilometer marker up north is found near the San Vicente port (or SanV as the locals call it) in the municipality of Santa Ana. 642km from 0 point in Luneta!

The Coast Guard at the SanV port informed us that  M/V Eagle Ferry bound to Calayan has not yet returned since it left two days ago. Apparently, Eagle Ferry leaves Sta.Ana in an irregular, weather-permitting schedule. The only way to reach Calayan from San Vicente Port is to hire a boat for a whopping price of P10,000. Due to budget constraints, we scratched off Plan A. Plan B it is then!

From the port, we hired a boat to take us to Punta Verde where the local fishing community in Palaui Island is situated.  Punta Verde is the jump-off point for trekking to Cape Engaño and also, where the 3 homestays in the island are located.  Upon reaching Punta Verde, we signed up with the Coast Guard and got ourselves a guide who also led us to the Bayanihan Hall.

                                                                                                             Bayanihan  Hall          

We were welcomed by the homestay's most gracious caretaker, Charlie Acebedo. The homestay has one room with 1 double-deck and 1 double sized papag equipped with mats, pillows, and mosquito nets. There is no commercial electricity in the island and the community relies on solar power. You can bring food and have Ate Jenny cook them for you, but since we didn't bring anything with us, they agreed to take care of our meals. It was a good thing we didn't bring canned goods! We got to eat a plentiful of fish (in a variety of dishes -- fried, sinigang, paksiw) all fresh from the morning's catch.

Palaui Island has been declared by the government as a Protected Landscape and Seascape Area since 1994. The small community has taken a huge part in maintaining the pristine condition of the island and formed a group called Palaui Environmental Protectors Association. The island's population is more than 600, and all are living in the Punta Verde area. Aside from fishing, the community also generates income from tourism.  All the guides are residents of the island and unlike other guide associations, they do not operate on a my-contact-my-income policy. Instead, all the collected fees are divided equally among the guides, regardless of how many guests they took for the day. The women of Punta Verde also prepare meals for large groups (6 persons and up).

After a filling lunch prepared by Ate Jenny, we braved a high noon trek. Luckily, the trees in the forest provided roof for us. According to our guide Alfredo, a number of wildlife inhabitants like deers, monkeys, and wild boars are found in the island's forest. I wanted to spot one but we were walking way too loud. It was great hearing the bird calls though.

Kasukalan at its finest 
The trail is indistinct, if you plan to to find the way to Cape Engaño yourself, stop and get a guide!
And then the trail broke off to a nice clearing.
The next thing we knew, we were walking on the seashore, under the scorching heat of the sun.

It was a cycle of finding our way through the forest, coming out under the sun at scenic clearings, and going back again into the cool, lush forest.
One of the clearings
After 2.5 hours of letting the island engulf us in its beauty, we finally saw a glimpse of the Cape Engaño lighthouse.
Lighthouse up on the peak
From the bottom of the hill, we took a flight of stairs going up to the lighthouse.  I stopped, caught my breath, and took in the amazing view from above the hill. On the right side is the calm and refreshing strip of white sand beach facing the Babuyan Channel.
On the left, the waves were crashing on the rocky formations facing the Pacific Ocean.
Finally, the lighthouse up close! 
We went up the lighthouse and from the window facing east, the Dos Hermanas Island provided a spectacular view. Outside the lighthouse we saw birds with colorful beaks flitting from tree to tree.

After taking turns in having our photos taken, we descended the hill and went towards the white sand beach.   We rested for a while and chatted with the Coast Guard and the group of Navy personnel assigned to patrol the island. It was 4PM and I was afraid that we won't be able to make it back to Punta Verde before night time if we traveled on foot. We weren't prepared for a night trek (actually, we weren't ready for any kind of trekking!). Fortunately, one of the guides agreed to take us with him on the boat back to Punta Verde.

We came home to Bayanihan Hall, with Kuya Charlie and Ate Jenny waiting for us with a huge bowl of steaming, hot sinigang na isda, several varieties of fish fried to a crisp, a plateful of rice, and a cup of coffee.

It took a total travel time of 16 hours to the northeasternmost island in Luzon. The whole unspoilt island of Palaui in itself was lovely, but staying for a night under the care of Charlie in the homestay made the experience even more pleasant and worth the long hours.

**PS: The Coast Guard called me on Tuesday April 10, and informed me that Eagle Ferry has arrived and was scheduled to leave for Calayan on Wednesday April 11. By that time, I was already back to my regular programming 🙂

Photos taken by me and Aaron Arvin Manila.

For a detailed itinerary, refer to this link.

- To inquire for the availability of the room at the Bayanihan Hall, contact Charlie Acebedo at 63906.845.54.72. Room rate is P200/head for the room. For guests bringing tents, rate is P150/head if they wish to set-up a tent on the yard.

-  For inquiries for the availability of the M/V Eagle Ferry to Calayan and for the rates of the boats to Palaui and nearby islands, contact Berly at 63927.785.4547. Boat rate to Punta Verde is P750 (round trip) , up to a maximum of 8 persons per boat.

Singing Kids and Dancing Fireflies at Cambulo

Back from our morning trek to Tappiyah Falls. We came home to Mang Ramon's Homestay, with our lunch of steaming brown rice and crispy porkchop waiting for us. 
The day's second agenda: visit Cambulo. A village located north of Batad, reachable by 3-4 hours of trekking on rice paddies and terraces. I didn't know a thing about Cambulo but Dandy mentioned guiding a group to the village the previous week. So we said, "Sige kami rin!", gaya-gaya mode ON. He said there's no electricity in Cambulo so there will be no meat for our meals. Patay. I can't live without meat.. yet. So I asked Irene to fry me some porkchop for my baon.
Thankfully, the sun was not shining so harshly when we left Batad.  We listened to Dandy's tales of the trail but most of the time we walked quietly (or hummed a tune) and let ourselves be engulfed by the serenity brought by all the shades of green.


Trekking along the landslide ruins

It drizzled halfway through the trek and we were drenched again on our second day. On our way, we ran into a man with a rifle, with a kid trailing him for a sidekick. Tall, dark, toned, and and yes he was a handsome Ifugao, with a rifle slung on his shoulders, wearing a brown vest. I muttered, "Wow, action star!" I swear he looked like one! May kasamang sidekick pa kasi.

It was almost 5PM when we reached the village. We rested at Cambulo Inn, took a hot bath, and asked them to cook chopsuey for us(with porkchop bits). We met another drenched traveler, Mark from Denmark, who trekked for 7 hours from Pula (without a guide!), another village in Banaue. We marveled at his skills in navigating the trails. It was a good thing he didn't get lost. Well, he said he did get lost, but he found his way back.
The solar-powered lights eventually flickered out. It was raining the past few days and the solar batteries had ran out of charge. What to do with the lights out at 6PM? Do socials.. the Cambulo way!
We went back to the table as the kids started to fill the dining area. The entertainment of the night: song and dance numbers courtesy of the kids of Cambulo!

My favorite kid
We gave out chips for the kids - feeling ko birthday ko

It was great that we took someone's advice from the web and brought matchboxes with us.  We gave it out to the villagers, including the action star. By the way, the action star laid flat on his belly on a wooden bench, with a lady kneading his back. Classic! 
They were teasing us to sing a song for them. If they were a bit more persistent I would have gladly sang one for them, good thing they weren't! Haha! I think they knew we were telling the truth when the 3 of us said we can't sing. We took a photo with the kids instead.
Mark, Aaron, Me, and Dandy - all burnt from the day's trek
By the time we finished with our socials, somebody told us that the fireflies were out already. We went out at the back, and there they were. Wonders like these can really shut me up in awe. I stood there fascinated by the blinking, flying lights. It was Christmas in August! 
The fireflies are right outside our room's window. This was the view that put me to sleep. Plus Cynthia Alexander playing softly on the iPod speakers.
The next day, we woke up to a cold morning, later on eased by the warmth of hot banana pancakes and a fresh cup of coffee for breakfast.  We said goodbye to Mark, who went on his way to Batad, took one last walk around Cambulo, and said goodbye to the friendly villagers. We slowly made our way back to Banaue.

Last look at the terraces
The trek back home was longer than usual because of the landslides brought by Typhoon Mina. The roads were blocked with boulders and no vehicle could pass through.  It took almost 7 hours of walking to get back to Banaue. 

Road blocks ahead

We got back to Banaue, exhausted, muddy, and hungry. The perfect stop for people like us? People's Lodge! They offered the use of their shower for a minimal fee.  They prepared our food while we scrubbed ourselves clean. It was still a few hours before our ETD so we spent the rest of the day walking around the town.

Feel fine when you dine!

And in one of the restaurants, we found them! The friends we made on our first day at Batad. They left a day early to visit Sagada but had to come back because the Sagada-Baguio road was impassable.

We all took the same bus back to Manila. I slept throughout the 9-hr ride, and when I woke up, I was back in the crowded city I call home.
Photos by Aaron Manila, except of course, the ones he's in. 🙂

Call Ohayami Transit for your bus reservations. Manila-Banaue tickets cost P450 as of August 2011. Contact Number: (632) 516.05.01
When in Banaue, contact Dandy Umhao, our knowledgeable and accommodating guide. 
Contact Number: 0910.346.5310

This is Day 3 of a long weekend trip to Banaue:
Day 1: The Road to Batad
Day 2: Tappiyah Falls
              Going Local at Ramon's Homestay