I Was Meant For a Sunny Day

Dear Dumaguete,

Sometimes things don't go your way.

This video sums up what turned out to be a day's stay in your place. Forgive the disheveled, almost dying look. 

I was frustrated. But really, there's no arguing with the screaming human body.

We had plans laid out for a 2-day stay-- go straight to the Twin Lakes of Danao and Balinsasayao on the first day, roam around your streets at night, and visit Bais for dolphin watching on the second day.
I had fever a few days before the trip and it felt like I was coming down with a flu, but Sunday morning I felt fine enough to catch the flight and see you. At the back of my head I thought I was going to see you as Bacolod's twin. But no. You are as different as the opposite sides of the Negros island that you occupy. Your streets are wider, most of your people use motorbike, and foreigners are everywhere. Next to Boracay, I thought you had the most number of foreigners I saw lounging early in the afternoon. I had mixed impressions of you. 
We were feeling low and thought we could use some sleep, so we scratched seeing the Twin Lakes and decided to find ourselves a place to stay first. We found ourselves drawn by Honeycomb Inn facing the bay along Rizal Boulevard. There were cheaper alternatives but Honeycomb was an old house of such a character that we were willing to spend a little extra. The room was priced at PhP1200 with breakfast included. The room was homey and I felt like I was staying in one of the rooms at my Grandma's house. Can you have more inns like this?

It was beyond my budget for accommodations, but looking back, I knew I got my money's worth.

After a couple of minutes of sleep, we dragged our hungry selves out of Honeycomb Inn, not wanting to miss the chance of seeing what you had to offer.
We found Jo's Chicken Inato located a few blocks away from Honeycomb Inn, right beside of one of Silliman University's buildings.

They serve the usual Visayan staple of rice and roasted chicken plus a couple of other pancit varieties. My taste buds were uncooperative but I knew that the chicken was juicy, too bad I just couldn't taste it well.

It was finally time to see you as the university town. Majority of the establishments were closed on a Sunday and most places were deserted. It was the perfect time for an afternoon stroll. We walked around Silliman's perimeter. The huge trees and the scattered buildings reminded me of UP Diliman.

But where are your people? Where do they go on a Sunday? We saw some of them in the town mall but surely, the kolehiyalas must be somewhere else.

By the time we got back to Rizal Boulevard, it was almost sunset. I was surprised to see a small gathering at the far end of the bay. A couple of steps nearer and we found out it was the famed 'tempura' strip! The vendors and their stoves were neatly lined up in rows and several tables were set up at the back. I'm sorry I didn't buy a tempura (which looked like kikiam to me). It was hard to entice my failing appetite. But I promise I will when I see you again. You make eating street food an organized experience.

We walked further into the side streets to see the Quezon Park. We finally found where your people are! They were making their way out of the church across the street. Some were lighting the candles below the belfry. Suddenly, I was in the middle of a busy town.

For dinner, we were supposed to go to Lab-as but we ditched the plan again and headed to the nearby Sans Rival Bistro. I chose a dish with a fancy name and it turned out to be an order of adobong pusit. It's just a dish name. Why complicate it? I thought it was bland but Aaron said the food was fine, even delicious. Forgive my taste buds. They were failing me all day long.

What convinced my difficult taste buds were the chocolate sylvanas. It was the only thing that got through and tasted real good to me. I'm pretty sure their specialty, the sans rival, was fantastic too. Only I couldn't taste it. How unfortunate of me.

I'm sorry for thinking that Zanzibar Lounge across Sans Rival Bistro was a play of words. Zanzibar and Sans Rival sounded funny to me. I didn't know that there is a real place called Zanzibar, part of Tanzania. Forgive me for laughing at that a bit.

The next day was the day we were supposed to see the dolphins! We were up early for breakfast and we were just in time to see the sun bathe you in a golden light. It was a great day to catch the sun at Rizal Boulevard. I sat on the diner, waiting for our breakfast and just enjoying the sun's warmth.

What you didn't know is that while we were having breakfast, I felt so sick I almost vomited. My fever was back again, I had an intense lower back pain, and I was feeling cold. As much as my mind wants to go and see the dolphins, my body just wants to go back to bed and curl up.

I was weighing my option of having myself checked at one of your hospitals but I was afraid that if it was something more than a fever, they might keep me and I won't be able to go home. We decided to go back to Manila on that same day.

By 11AM, we were already on our way out to say goodbye to you. It was too soon. I still haven't tried the fried ice cream, the budbud, and the seafood dishes at Lab-as. I haven't seen the dolphins at Bais and I haven't experienced kayaking at the lake. I haven't been to Apo Island nor to the Mabinay Caves. I haven't heard a single reggae music at Hayahay (which 'sunset' ploy I still hate). I haven't seen how laid-back you could be. I missed a lot.

I hated to leave and I would have not left if I could just will my body to get well to see more of you. But my body defeated me.

It seems that the time is not right for us Dumags. Maybe someday.


PS. I had dengue. And just so you know, I also missed Smashing Pumpkin's concert. I know. Mosquitoes are a  real pain.

-- Photos and video by Aaron Manila

Cagayan Valley: The Nitty-Gritty

Choosing Cagayan Valley was a hasty decision for a Holy Week destination. I can no longer remember what convinced us to choose the province of Cagayan but I'm certain we almost did not push through because of the long lines at the terminal. Luckily, Victory Liner now has an online booking and reservation system for trips to Tuguegarao. Several airlines offer flights to Tuguegarao with a travel time of 1hour but if you plan to take the bus, prepare your arse for a long-haul journey! Or, if you're like me who can doze off anywhere, it's a perfect excuse for a 12-hour long sleep.

Where to Stay:

In Palaui: Bayanihan Hall 

Nothing beats homestays where one can experience living in a local community. When in Palaui, consider staying in Bayanihan Hall. Room rate is P200/head. If you plan to pitch tents, rate is P150/head for setting up tents in the yard. 
Charlie and Jenny also served freshly cooked meals. For PhP150 per meal, we were served 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. The fish served was fresh from the morning's catch. If you plan to bring food, Kuya Charlie and Ate Jenny can cook them for you.

To inquire for the availability of the room, contact Charlie Acebedo at 63906.845.54.72. 

In Tuguegarao: Pensione Joselina

We stayed for a night at a creepy hotel no longer worth mentioning. Good thing we went around Tuguegarao and spotted a fairly new pension house with rooms priced at a cheaper rate as compared to that squeaky hotel. The double room was priced at PhP600 per night.

The place is at Aguinaldo St. Centro 6, right smack in the center of Tuguegarao City and near grocery stores and fastfood chains.

Contact them at numbers 078.844.7318 or 63906.930.1313.

Day 0: 
3PM - Board the bus to Tuguegarao

Day 1: Palaui Island
4AM -   Arrive at Tuguegarao - Breakfast by the road - Walk a few meters away from Victory Liner Terminal to Brickstone Mall and wait for van to Sta.Ana
10AM - Arrive at Sta. Ana - Once you get to Sta. Ana, ride a tricycle bound to the port. At the pier, take the boat to Punta Verde, the jump-off point for trekking to the lighthouse.
11AM - Check in at Bayanihan Hall
12PM - Brunch courtesy of Bayanihan Hall
1PM -   Trek to Cape Engano Lighthouse
4PM -   Boat ride back to Bayanihan Hall
7PM -   Dinner

Sta. Ana Port

Note:  For boat rates 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.

8AM -  Breakfast courtesy of Bayanihan Hall
9AM -  Trek to falls
11AM - Boat back to Sta.Ana
12PM - Lunch at the van terminal
1PM -  Catch the last trip back to Tuguegarao at 1PM. First trip from Sta.Ana-Tuguegarao is at 3AM.
6PM -  Walk around Tuguegarao

Note: There are also vans bound to Aparri from Sta.Ana Terminal. See schedule above.

Day 3: Tuguegarao/Penablanca
12PM - Brunch at Budyok's
1PM -  Found our way to Penablanca Terminal
2PM -  Visit Callao Cave
4PM -  Back to Tuguegarao
7PM -  Dinner

Day 4:
3PM -  Ride bus back to Manila

Here's my expense notes for the Cagayan Valley Trip (all in PhP):

My total expenses amounted to PhP 5500 for a 4-day Holy Week trip to Tuguegarao. It could have been cheaper but considering that Cagayan Valley is a hot, hot city, I did not pass up on the chance to get a huge cup of halo halo and I did guiltily stock up on bottles of soda. 🙂
Tips to get cheaper rates: 
- Visit Callao Cave a early in the day to ensure that there will be traysis waiting for you at the other side of Pinacanauan River. The traysi will charge the same PhP60/head rate. If you go late in the afternoon like we did, chances are there will be no available traysis and you will have to rent the whole traysi for PhP300.
- Do not check in at the first hotel you see 🙂 I know it's hot but just a few blocks away are cheaper and nicer accommodations.
- Tuguegarao is a traysi city. If possible, always go to the traysi terminal to get cheaper rates. 

Manila: Seeing the City in a New Light

And our past tells us that our geography dictates our destiny.

That was one great insight that I got from Carlos Celdran's Walk This Way Intramuros Tour. The walking tour is a great way of introducing Manila to visiting foreigners, and that was highly evident from the number of them in the group, but more than that, it also served as an eye-opener for Filipinos like me who have, in a way, neglected to see Manila for what it is.
Come to think of it, it is not unusual for some people to diss our culture and brand us as un-Asian. Compared to our truly Asian neighbors, our hodge-podge culture is sticking out like a sore thumb. At the end of the 3-hour tour, I left Intramuros enlightened and with a seemingly deeper understanding of Manila.

The tour started at 3PM with the group assembled at the gate of Fort Santiago. The sky was overcast and the rain threatened to pour but the group pushed ahead and started with the tour. Armed with a huge clear book of photos, small flags, an assortment of top hats, a wireless microphone strapped to his waist, and his theatrics, Carlos Celdran led the group by shouting "Walk this way!" for everyone to hear.

The details Carlos mentioned in the tour are not new to us. We all have been taught in school that we were under the Spanish regime for more than 300 years, followed by the Americans for  more than 40 years, and lastly, by the Japanese for 3 years. Only, he told it in such a way that one will be able to truly understand why we ended up the way we are now. 

He discussed the highs and lows during the times that we were colonized, from the 300 stagnant years under Spain to the glorious days of Manila during the American regime down to Manila's destruction during World War II. I don't remember learning in school that Manila was the second most devastated city during WWII, next to Warsaw. Being the gateway to the east and the west, our role as a collateral damage was set early on. 

With Carlos' hushed grave tones when he discussed the events during WWII, and with the ambiance that a dark theater provided, I could not help but feel sad. I remembered the Minsan May Isang Puta article that went around the internet telling the story of a whore that in the end signified the Philippines.

The group spent time going around Fort Santiago, with Carlos making references to the nearby Manila Cathedral as well as Luneta. He also briefly touched on the topic of Andres Bonifacio vs. Jose Rizal as a national hero. For the last leg of the tour, everyone took the kalesa to visit San Agustin Church. Our kalesa driver was a tourguide in his own right as he pointed the old locations of Ateneo, UST, and PMA in the Walled City. 

The myriad of Western, Chinese, and Hispanic cultures is our culture. Much like the dessert halo-halo, we are a mix of everything. The tour was ended with a glass of refreshing halo-halo handed out to everyone.

Truly, I shall never look at Manila the same way again.

For inquiries and tour schedules, visit Carlos Celdran's Walk This Way blog here.