Monday, October 21, 2013

The Best Islands in Caramoan

1. Matukad

The name Matukad in the local dialect means to climb. And this is precisely what visitors to the island must do, if they want to catch a glimpse of the enchanted bangus (milk fish) that resides in a lagoon at the back.

 Legend has it that there used to be a pair if bangus that called the lagoon home. But one day, a fisherman caught one of them and brought it back to his house The poor guy and his family all died when they ate that bangus, and no one has dared disturb the remaining one.

This pretty, pretty island with fine white sand and looming limestone cliffs. The popular reality show, Survivor has shot several of its episodes here. 

2. Lahus

This wide strip of white sand is hugged on both sides by the ocean, creating two shorelines. Lahus Island also has two towering rock formations that flank both ends of its sandy strip. And when the waters surrounding the island become too strong,  the waves from either side meet in the middle for a momentary kiss. 

3. Pitogo

Pitogo is a strange island, mostly because it is entirely made up of rocks -- rocks that are  supposedly "alive," and keep multiplying year by year. Kuya Naro says that this is where the famous Battle of Caramoan took place, between the Bikolanos and the Moros led by Prince Nunye.  

4. Guinahoan

Windswept cliffs and rolling green hills -- when you walk around Guinahoan Island, it feels as if you've been transported to Batanes or even Ireland. Facing the Pacific Ocean, Guinahoan is so wonderfully isolated and incredibly surreal. 

5. Manlawi Sandbar

Manlawi is one of the best sandbars in the world. This circular sandbar, which appears during low-tide is made of fine white sand. Its diameter is as wide as ten football fields, and stepping on its gorgeous expanse prompts a bout of running crazily around, and proclamations of never wanting to leave. 

How to get to Caramoan via bus:
1. Board a bus bound for Naga city at the Cubao bus terminal. The trip takes 8 hours, so it's best to take an evening ride so that you can sleep throughout the trip.
2.  Alight at the Naga's Central Bus Terminal, and head towards the East Bound terminal, which is sandwiched in between SM City Naga, and Naga City Central Bus Terminal
3. Take an aircon van at the East Bound terminal that will bring you to Sabang port. This van ride takes an hour and a half.
4. Board a boat that will ferry you to Caramoan Guijalo port. The boat ride takes an hour and 45 minutes.
If you're taking a plane from Manila, just head towards the East Bound terminal after you arrive at the airport. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Umbrellas All Over The World!

A typhoon is once again upon my country, the Philippines. With the typhoon raging on outside, I thought I'd amuse myself by compiling an "Umbrellas of the world" collection. 

And the realization is this: umbrellas make for the most gorgeous props in travel photos. So, note to self, buy a colorful umbrella and take it with me on my next trip. 

 Kyoto, Japan 

Naples, Italy


Barcelona, Spain

Santorini, Greece

Brussels, Belgium


Chiang Mai, Thailand

Paris, France

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Nami Island, South Korea


Luang Prabang, Laos


Agra, India


London, England

Aman Pulo, Palawan, Philippines


Thursday, October 10, 2013

All Soul's Weekend in Boracay

The first and only time I was in Boracay, was way back in 2006. The magazine I was working for then, was setting up a shop at D'Mall. 

Aside from fixing the small shop that was meant to sell beauty products, our activities consisted of  swimming and sunbathing, visiting Puka Beach, enjoying a shake from Jonah's -- and sleeping promptly at 10 pm.

I haven't been back to Boracay since -- the see-and-be-seen vibe of the island has never appealed to me. I don't like the idea of being accosted by enterprising locals who would offer this or that boat ride, and the thought of walking around in a bikini in front of everyone and their brother mortifies me. 

More so now, when most of my (former) students have come of age, and are dominating Boracay's shores.

I guess I've always been more of the reclusive type -- always happier with my books, my family, or a few close friends. I like my beaches secluded, undeveloped, and hard to get to. I love Caramoan, and Bantayan, the secret beach in El Nido, and the uninhabited island in Pinagcastillohan. I like the emerald pools of Hong Island in Krabi, and I dream of the lovely low-key beaches of Mozambique and Anguilla.

Phra Nang or Princess Island, off the coast of Ao Nang in Krabi, Thailand 

But this October, I've booked a ticket to Boracay. This is because during the All Soul's long weekend, my boyfriend will be in Baguio for a retreat, and my entire family is going to Boracay.

So I was faced with two choices: join my family in Boracay or be left home alone. I also found out that my four-year old niece would be going. And you know what, nothing in the world will make me  miss the opportunity to see that pudgy little girl in a bikini.

Manlawi's secluded sandbar in Caramoan, Philippines 

So what does Boracay have for a family trip and a lola like me? I guess I'll find out. In meantime, I would appreciate suggestions. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Hotel Review: Seda Centrio

Seda is the Spanish word for silk, and it is the name of the Ayala chain of hotels that have opened in key cities in the Philippines. I'm going to write here about the one I stayed in for two nights in Cagayan de Oro.

Seda Centrio is a development by the Ayala Land Hotels and Resorts and the Floirendo's Anflo Group. This boutique hotel opened only last December 2012, and features a sleek, modern design -- with Paco Guerrero paintings adorning its walls, and a lobby designed by renowned architect Conrad Onglao. 

1. Location
It's right smack in the heart of the city, just 30 minutes away from the airport. It is right beside the upscale Centrio mall. Though it shares space with the mall, there's a private entrance that takes guests up to the 4th floor front desk.

Down the road from the hotel are several dining options, as well as nightlife spots.

2. Rooms
The 150 rooms here have California king-sized beds, in-room safes, Ipod docks and speakers, and very handy media panels with USB, HDMI, and audio visual connections which allows guests to view their files or listen to music via the 40-inch LED TV system.

photo courtesy of Seda Centrio 

There is a complimentary wifi, but it was rather slow. Faster wifi could be availed of for a fee.

I checked into a deluxe room on the 11th floor, which has a nice, big comfortable bed and a nice city view of Cagayan de Oro from the window.

The bathrooms have toiletries that are environmentally friendly -- these containers are fully biodegradable.

3. Executive Lounge
There's an Executive Club Lounge that's for exclusive access to those who check into the Club or Premiere Rooms. Their lounge offers all-day refreshments and cocktails, and splendid night-time views of the Maharlika highway.

4. Other amenities
Misto restaurant serves buffet breakfast from 6:30-9:00 am, and the spread is yummy but quite basic. There's an adults and children's pool, plus a gym.

photo courtesy of Seda Centrio

Sunday, October 6, 2013

White Water Rafting in Cagayan De Oro

1. What is white water rafting?

White water rafting is paddling on a raft through a river's rapids. There are different type of rapids that one can ride on. They range from Class I rapids which are the easiest to ride (very few waves or obstructions), Class II or III rapids which are somewhat more challenging (medium-sized waves, some maneuvering required to steer away from rocks), to Class IV rapids which are quite difficult to navigate (fast currents, large, powerful waves and narrow passages).

The Cagayan de Oro river is undoubtedly the most popular place for white water rafting, and here you can choose what type or river course you'd want to ride on.

2. Which one is the best white water rafting company in Cagayan de Oro?

According to Milo Dahilan, who is an accredited DOT (Department of Tourism) guide, the best White Water Rafting company in Cagayan De Oro is Bugsay Rafting. 

All of Bugsay's equipment are top-of-the-line and ordered from abroad. Their raft, in fact, have been especially customized for them, in their signature sky-blue color.

Bugsay's river guides were taught by expert foreign river rafters, and their training requires them to navigate -- all by themselves -- the "Extreme" river route. 

This would explain the scars that I saw on their arms. This alarmed me at first, but then they explained that the route we were taking was the Beginners trail -- and that an 80-year old couple had gone on it, and came out fine.

3. What are the different river courses offered by the Bugsay Rafting Company?

The package includes a pick-up from the hotel 

We took the Beginner's course which is 3-hours, with a boodle lunch at the half-way point. You'd think that three-hours is way too long to be floating down a river, battling rapids. But you know what they say, time really does fly when you're having fun. 

Besides, there are long stretches of just enjoying the beautiful scenery. Twice, our boat glided towards fresh spring water spilling on the side of the mountain, and there took a refreshing shower.  There are times too, when you can jump off the raft and float along the river. 

4. What should I wear?

Regular shirts are fine, but a rashguard is recommended. I for one, wore a Nike dry-fit shirt and that worked out fine. Strapped sandals or aqua shoes are recommended, but if you're riding the Beginner's route, a pair of flip-flops should be okay.

There's a small shack selling arm rashguards at the starting point in Sitio Aura, Barangay Mambuaya. They cost Php 50-100 for a pair,

5. What should I bring?

Bring sunblock, but of course put some on in advance. Bring a towel if you want to dry off, but the jeepney ride back to your hotel should dry you out considerably.

Cameras can be placed inside the dry pack provided by the guides -- but they are no use if the boat flips over. In the Beginner's trail there's no flipping involved so our cameras were safe.

6. What should I expect?

Our guide began his briefing with the question "Sino dito 'di marunong lumangoy?" ("Who here doesn't know how to swim?"). 

When two in our group raised their hands, the guide grinned and said "Good luck sa inyo ha?" ("Well good luck to the both of you!")

Of course he was kidding. Everybody had life vests on, and you will float even if you don't want to. 

We were also taught how to hold the paddle, how to paddle, what to do in case someone (or you yourself) falls out of the boat, and other life and death matters. Then he instructed us to just enjoy ourselves. 

Afterwards, he divided us into two groups (around five to six people each). With our helmets and life vests on, and paddles in hand, we got on the raft.

At first, we floated slowly down the Cagayan de Oro. Whenever our guide Arman commanded us to "Paddle! One, two, three!" we obeyed instantly. 

Soon the first rapid was upon us, and as the boat tilted and swayed, there was much splashing of water and shrieks of laughter.  After the excitement died down, we tipped our paddles up in a high five that marked the successful conquering of a rapid.

The thing about white water rafting is that if it's your first time, the natural fear would be that every rapid that you cross might flip your boat over or smash you against the rocks. But this was the beginner's trail and we had very skilled boat guides with us. There was nothing to fear, and soon we were eagerly looking forward  to the next rapids.

At the half-way point of our three-hour river ride, we stopped for a boodle lunch set up by our guides. They flipped a boat over, and  there arranged adobo, liempo (grilled pork belly), shrimp, grilled bangus (milk fish), lots of rice and pineapples.

The food bloggers in our group hastily took photos of our feast. Later on, the Canadian man who had joined our group admitted to us that he had watched this process with amusement, and thought to himself, "Have these people never seen food before?"

All in all, we rode  14 rapids -- some small, some big, some -- but all of them invigorating. In between these there was the stunning scenery of the rocky river walls and lush vegetation plus the wide open space ahead of us, with its serene mountain views. At certain parts where the water was calm, our guide urged us to jump off the boat and enjoy floating down the ice cold river.


-Hold the paddles such that they are out of the boat and near the water. Have a good grip on them too, keeping the T-grip of the paddle covered by your hand the whole time.

-When you jump out of the boat to float on the river during those times the guide says you can, keep your mouth closed. You will first plunge into the water before you life vest pulls you up. One of the members in our group swallowed quite a bit of water because she had not been expecting this.

7. When is the best time to go?

From January to June, the ride is quite hot and the water is low, making the maneuvering a bit more technical. During the rainy months of July to December, the water is higher and the rapids are more challenging.

When we went in September, the temperature was quite hot, and so our guide would periodically dump water on us to  help us cool down. 

Towards the end of our trip, there was a bit of a rainshower which made the ride a bit chilly.

Also, the water was brown during this time (but clean, since this was just soil from the mountain that had been washed down), and it was quite cold.

8. What about taking photos/videos?

If you have an underwater/waterproof camera then by all means, bring it. But you can probably only take photos during the calm parts of the river. 

In any case, one of the river guide rides on a kayak and positions himself at the various points of interest down the river trail, and he documents your entire white water rafting experience. You can have the CD of your adventure for an extra fee.

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