The day after the wedding, we left the resort we were staying at around 0600H heading to Manjuyod. Truth be told, most of us friends of the groom did not know what will happen as it was entirely the new couple’s itinerary and we are just willing participants. After a quick drive thru and somehow getting ahead of the other vans, our experienced driver Mang Roly, drove northwards from Dumaguete for approximately two hours. I was seated by the window and the thing that catches my eye is the varied landscape we drove by: the plains (more precisely grassy plains), mountainous terrain almost immediately beside the shore, mangrove swamps and there are also small patches of sugar cane plantations here and there.
A few minutes upon crossing the boundary marker of Manjuyod, we drove on a rough road heading into a local beach resort. There is nothing really to see for non-Negrense tourists in that resort other than they offer a boat tour to the sandbar (I was told later on that said resort is one of the lesser known tour providers). The caretaker starts asking us in the local vernacular and when she realizes we’re from Luzon, immediately switching to Filipino asked us if we are associated with (she said the Bride’s now maiden name) Dolphin Tour. We said yes, but we were looking at each other asking “Dolphin Tour?”. It was already past 0930H and about an hour after we arrived that we started loading the two boats and then finally started sailing. The weather is surprisingly sunny given the time of year with the right confluence of sun, cloudiness and humidity that it doesn’t feel like you are being fried. Despite perfectly seeing Cebu on the horizon, the trip actually took us more than an hour and with the gentle breeze, I actually fell asleep sitting for some time (of course it doesn’t help that our boat is the slower one). You can practically spit in Cebu (and I guess were are now technically in the province) when the dolphins started to appear. It was a sight to behold: you can see them in their schools, rising to the ocean every few minutes. Almost all of us at this point are taking the best videos and photos of the dolphins. There are other boats (from the other tour providers in the area) swirling around and with the limited number of schools some of the boats are literally chasing for the ‘showier’ schools (ones who rises from the ocean more prominently). At first, I was concerned that we accidentally bump them but when they see the boats heading towards them they will go deeper into the ocean you could clearly see that they are fast swimmers underneath. It is one thing to see them be showy in marine shows (think Ocean Adventure), it was another to see them in their natural habitat up close with much lesser actual interaction with humans.
We did not notice the elapsed time until the boatmen started grilling fishes and squids and lunch was served. There is something to be said about freshly catch fish as they tasted fantastic. After that boodle lunch, we have to sail almost all the way back near the Negros shoreline to go the sandbar and with almost an hour sail and our stomachs full, all adults onboard have fallen asleep at some point. We arrive at the sandbar around 1300H. The sea level is at normal starting to dwindle down and you could immediately tell at this point that the whitish sandbar is enormous (A google search yields that it is 7 KM long with an estimated area of 600 ha.) with boats docked around its most famous area: An area with five stilted house-like structures akin to what Maldives is known for (the area is famously nicknamed “The Maldives of the Philippines”). The structures are basically outer shells of houses (or resembling resort cottages) standing on stilts about 20 ft. from the sand-floor. There are some people in some of the cottages which I think were being rented mostly because they have some coolers up there and they never seem to traverse far if they decide to submerge themselves in the salty waters. We anchored near the outermost structure and going down the boat, the water is upper chest deep; within a few meters of walking, you can be completely submerged. We took advantage of this and we swam and fool around the boat for hours. The bride and groom (and others) rode the least fun banana boat ride that was so slow that not even the children can fall off from it. By around 1500H, most of us were aboard again tired as the weather is shifting to form whitish cloudy to dark clouds rolling. After eating ‘talaba’ for merienda, we notice that the sand is now starting to emerge. We waited a few more minutes and we decided to go down to the now ankle level waters.
You could clearly see why this place is popular amongst tourists. I’m sure it looks amazing and inviting to take a dip during summer but as we were walking here on a July afternoon, the area looks dramatic. On one side, the dark clouds roll into the structures and on the other side you could still see the clearer skies and juxtaposing it with the contrasting sight of mother nature and the structures, the whole area is really picturesque. As the water dwindle more and the dark clouds kept on rolling by, we started taking pictures of the area and the now exposed creatures like starfishes, small crabs and even some capiz oysters. A few more photos later, we decided it was time to go as it looks like it will rain. During the return trip, the vastness of the sandbar is now much more evident as we have to circumnavigate quite a distance while returning to the resort.
As I was seated once again on the van driving back to Dumaguete, reflecting on the days’ activities, I was wondering why the area hasn’t become more commercialized. I mean, there are these house-like structures there and I’m almost sure there was some plans at some point to fully develop it into a resort or something. But I realize that as it is now, I actually prefer it: Those structures add something extra to that sandbar and it is a selling point to their advantage. Sure income will still be generated if a resort stood there but in doing that, the area will be inaccessible to most people which is a shame. It also protects the dolphins’ habitat which I believe gives them immense wealth biodiversity-wise in Tañon Strait which is much more worth protecting and keeping around than tourists.
Truth be told, I don’t have any expectations on what to expect upon the proposal to do an impromptu trip to Siquijor. I see the posts, the pictures and read the blogs but for some reason the island province is not on my list of places to go to. But seeing as my trips so far have been very planned and structured, this really is a spur of the moment plan and I was excited.
It actually started when we were invited to a wedding in Dumaguete and we have the third day allotted for sight seeing. There have been talks to cross the ocean to the island but most of us wanted to tour the city and its vicinity (I personally wanted to visit Balisasayao Lake). As we were winding down on our second day, one of us asked our locally based driver Roly to take us to the port to ask for ferry schedules, we look for the earliest boat ride (0800H) and our driver gave us a contact person for a van driver that will tour us once we arrive. I guess we just went along and decided that we will go Siquijor. On the day itself, we missed the fast craft by just a few minutes so we got the 1000H ferry which costs PhP 100 (these are the slower boats with no air-conditioning) and we arrived an hour and a half later.
The first thing you’ll notice upon arriving at Siquijor Port, which is different from other ports is how clear the water is. It was inviting to just jump into the water under the humid, semi cloudy, almost noon July day. We met our contacted driver Leo who told us that we will visit the main ones other than the cave that was previously agreed because of time constraints. Our first business was to book the last ferry which was scheduled to leave at 1800H. We have half a day to tour the island. The port is literally beside the ‘downtown’ of the provincial capital also called Siquijor and beside the Rotonda/Town Church is an eatery called Joel’s Lechon Manok. As it was near lunch time, the area is jam-packed and is full of customers looking at the displayed foods inside the ‘calderos’. Despite the eatery’s name we decided to eat like a local and ordered ‘mamsa’ in their vernacular or ‘talakitok ‘in Tagalog. After we ate, as we requested, Leo drove us to the ‘I heart Siquijor’ sign and took some pictures of us there. I actually like Leo because as a tour driver he is courteous, knowledgeable, adaptive to our requests and at the same time is honest when we asks ‘the tough questions’.
We next drove to an area called Paliton Beach and while it is popular with tourists, the beach was virtually untouched (very little commercialization) which Leo iterated that while the area is technically a private property, the local government intends to keep it the way it is now. Driving to the center of San Juan Municipality, we notice something interesting: there is a pool in the middle of the town! We found out that it was a spring emanating from the hilly terrain on the backside and atop on it is the local church.
The municipality of Lazi, Siquijor offers a lot of attractions; the first of which is the Centuries-old Balete Tree in which a spring emanates from its exposed roots (it was said that the deepest part of that spring is 24 feet!). The area is also home to (according to Leo) the biggest souvenir shop in the island. They actually sold voodoo doll key-chains alongside the usual refrigerator magnets! (I personally bought a Capiz magnet with a picture of the tree) Speaking of voodoo; Leo said that the biggest activities they hosts in the island for tourists are: longboarding competition during summer and the Healing Festival which happens around Holy Week – in my head I thought that good for them to embrace what they are previously notorious for and making it into a marketing strategy for the island. I actually asked him about this perception and according to him, maybe because there was no hospital nor affordable doctors in the island until recently so the residents will either travel to Dumaguete or to rely on traditional practices. The balete tree spring also contains doctor fishes (I forgot the local name) and curiously enough, tilapias and for Php 10 you can sit there and enjoy a fish spa underneath the shade of the Balete Tree.
By this time, it was already 1400H and we rushed to go Liza Church. The main road; the Circumferential Road is actually really nice (nicely paved and all) although because of the islands’ terrain you can get dizzy akin to sea sickness mainly due to lots of hilly ascent and descent that will be encountered (I guess this is good for skateboarding and mountain biking). There seems to be a lot of investment in road construction on the province which is good for everyone and with the relatively few vehicles, we arrive in Lazi Church and the convent across the street relatively quick. Lazi is a quaint town with the church, convent and the government buildings seems to make up the Poblacion. A Wikipedia search will reveal that it is on the shortlist for UNESCO World Heritage Sites under the expanded lists of Baroque Churches in the Philippines and with its wooden floors, very Spanish Colonial days charm you can see why it is a popular tourist attraction. The convent, on the other hand is under renovation/conservation and we just took pictures from the outside.
Going a little bit to the interior, we traveled to the Cambugahay Falls. From the road side there is essentially no structures there aside from the signage of the falls, the makeshift tourist information center and (maybe because of the sign of the times) a makeshift nipa hut with soldiers in it. Leo dropped us and said we have an hour in which I monitored religiously. At the makeshift tourist center we have to pay (on our group trips, we gave a specific amount beforehand that will cover for these expenses for convenience so I can’t tell all of our costs – sorry!) for us to have a guide/s which will guide us through the approximately 150 steep steps, the slippery rocks and will take pictures at your request (TBH, their picture taking quality needs improvement). It is actually a series of falls with its turquoise blue waters which is worth all of those descent as it will cool you down with its lukewarm temperature. Sadly though (as the presence of the soldiers made me suspect), an influx of tourists are here both local and foreign (maybe there are about 75 of us tourists there) which is not ideal for your privacy especially if you consider that it is July and that there should be lesser tourists (a report said that Siquijor experiences rapid growth as a tourist destination so I shouldn’t be surprised). On one side of the falls, there is this rope swing contraption in which you will pay an additional Php20 (around $0.40 USD) for its unlimited use you can take advantage of. You will fall from the swing at the ‘uppermost falls’ to a lagoon with a depth of around 8 feet.
We ascent before our hour was up, gave the guides additional money, and Leo drives us to our next location. I asked him about the presence of soldiers and he said that the recent events in Bohol and Mindanao did make security an issue as there is lot of cancellation in the wake of those events. He personally had lost some potential income and he is thankful that there are some (like us) who will come to the island relatively unannounced. It was and is sad because with the recent tourist boom, almost everybody in the island seems to be in the tourism industry nowadays and having cancellations because of events far away is income lost.
Our second to last planned destination is the Salagdoong Beach on the Municipality of Maria (Salagdoong can be translated as bird’s nest: ‘salog’ equates to nest & ‘doong’ is said to mean bird). The beach is actually enclosed by the Salagdoong Forest; a man-made forest with molave trees that are said to be 40 years old (again, according to Leo). Upon entrance, there is an entrance fee of Php 25 per person plus Php 35 for the van.
The white sand beach is fine although it can easily become rocky as you go far from the shore. There are amenities which I suspect is mostly initially for local usage which became for outsiders. There are cliff jumping activities in the area (we arrived during low tide – so alas). There are still soldiers just watching everybody from afar but at that specific time of our trip it was nice to take a dip at the sea and to also to have facilities to rinse off after our consecutive river and sea swim adventures as there are showers available for use in the complex.
As we were traversing the fifth municipality, Enrique Villanueva, we made two detours: one is the Cang-isok House said to be the oldest house structure still standing on the island and ‘Lilibeth’s Pan Bisaya’ bakery beside the Circumferential Road made famous by being featured on ‘Biyahe ni Drew’ (recommended watching – her segment starts at 19:30. BTW, the breads are really really good and freshly baked).
By this time, it was already past 1700H and after buying breads, Leo rushed us to our last destination: Larena Triad Coffee Shop. The coffee shop is situated atop a hill overlooking Larena Municipality and the ocean. To say the least, the view is fabulous. While the weather is cloudy, you could just imagine how it is during a perfect sunset. Due to time constraints (it is coming down the wire at this point) we just take the obligatory nature shots, bought stuff from their bakery and speed down to make it to the port in time.
The trip from Larena to the port can be described as intense. Leo’s driving is now near uncomfortably fast for us to make it back to the port and we are now making impromptu plans if we didn’t make it. (Looking on Google Maps as I am typing this, it was a 9.7 KM drive and approximately 18 minutes) Thank God, we made it in time as we were the last booked ones being waited to board the last ferry back to Dumaguete. We said our thanks to Leo for his work for that day and we said we will come back.
As I am looking out from the ferry into the cloudy July horizon feeling the winds and sometimes the currents, I couldn’t help myself but think that I am going to return to Siquijor. For an island-province that is the third smallest in both population and land area, there is a lot to see and explore that it is unjustifiable to spend just a few minutes in each area. Looking at top searches for ‘Siquijor Tourist Attractions’ there are still a lot of things to explore aside from where we went and Leo’s initial first destination cave (called Cantabon Cave). While initially a side trip, it became the highlight (of course aside from the wedding) and I recommend to do it if you are going to Negros Oriental, but we (you and me) should start considering it a main tourist destination because with its beauty and mostly Spanish Colonial/small town charm it is justified to be such.
City Living can be toxic … really really toxic. Even me: somebody that lives in ‘A Manila Suburb’, I spent more than half of my day in the city and all of the stresses will surely get to you somehow. So every opportunity to get away from the hustling city life is okay even the corporate sponsored activities.
Okay that last part is not as bad as it looks. Every year, the company that I worked for participates in Arbor Day (fun fact: The Philippines institutionalized Arbor Day to be celebrated as early as 1947!) and as much as I love to participate every year, there is some participant quota so this year is my year. The venue for this year is the Biak-na-Bato National Park located in San Miguel, Bulacan. There are some reservations that I have as it is (as of this posting) already the rainy season and the last few news articles about the area is unpleasant.
So almost everything was arranged by the company and for once the weather is fine but as I said earlier, stress will and did come by me in the form of a very nasty flu. I was very perplexed as you could hear me coughing during the trip while everybody else is minding their own business. Going there during the weekday is okay if there is no massive re-concreting of the major highway. We reach the edge of the road near the planting site and the usual pep talk from the organizers and the local government and the first thing I notice is while the area is green, lush even, the trees are really sparse. Sure the road edge is fully planted with trees but the ridges that you could see clearly lack trees.
The descent were brutal. A ten minute walk with high gradient slopes at 10:00 am are not ideal and even before planting a single tree, my back is already wet. Just like the route, The planting site are rolling ridges and I was unfortunate enough to chance upon planting on the steeper ones. And we have to plant ten! And you cannot just plant it, there is a certain way to plant it to make sure the seedlings will have maximum chances of being trees. (I did not know the trees that I planted !shame!, though some of the other seedlings planted are Narra, Mahogany and Caballeros) The descent up was more brutal especially after spending about 20 minutes planting trees.
Of course we need to go the more famous famous part of the park: The park entrance (we actually planted on the other side of the park). Our packed lunch were waiting there courtesy of a fast food chain (The irony of city convenience in a nature park). The first thing you’ll notice is that the water is pristine! It’s very rare to see clean rivers these days that you really are awed. Much rarer are the housewives actually doing laundry in a river. I have always heard of the park of how historical and how good looking it is but I have never been to Biak-na-Bato but the thirty minutes or so of staying within the edges of the whole park made me realize what I could have been missing out (cave adventures!) and I really really want to return to explore the area further.
The return trip was fine but tiring until I stepped down from the bus on EDSA. The unpleasant vehicle noise hit my ears again, sighed and murmered “That was fun” then I started to cough violently. And then an epiphany: I rarely coughed during the whole time in Bulacan even after the activity on the bus going home. Now, I am not saying that being in the lush greenery made me well 100% or cure my flu but I think that de-stressing yourself really help your body and the sweat I produced may have carry out with it some toxins in my body. That made me think that constant activity that makes you sweat is a really good thing. Now I just (realistically, If I have time) need to book myself another trip to nature and sweat it out ASAP!
In my previous post, I specifically said at the start that I am not going to make some sort of travelers’ review about the resort that we checked in during the last vacation but I must admit: I want to share something about that trip so I decided to do this series of posts and this is the first one.
How does this works? Well judging by the title, I will give seven thoughts that I have regarding a certain topic(s) I like to put here plus some other thoughts that aren’t necessarily numerable (is that a word?). There aren’t necessarily categorize (for now) but I believe you can distinguish the positives from the negatives. Okay so here it is:
Just like in every other part of the country, it seems that a major road that is a named highway, road expansion is a thing. While it is a good thing especially since the influx of new cars into our roads in recent years, but for a highway (on Google Maps it is called Pangasinan-Tarlac Road but I believe it is a “named-from-a-person Highway” officially) where there is little road activity going on even during a weekday, I think that the expansion can held off for a few years as evident by, for now, the expanded lanes’ main purpose is to dry corns to become animal feed.
The Agno River is so clean. It almost looks like an ocean! I am not a fan of river swimming but I think that if I only had one river that I’ve seen to swim into for the rest of my life, I will choose this one.
As I mentioned previously, I personally don’t care about white sand beaches. The beach on that specific part of Lingayen is huge (in width terms) and untouched. Granted that it is a gray beach and I believe most part of it goes from shallow to deep in a matter of a meter but I’m shocked to see on the map that there is only one resort on the vicinity and that unlike other seaside cities, there a few houses and establishments by the beach. I think there is some potential for this area as an alternative beach area (Or better yet do they sell properties for those like me who wants a house by the beach?).
As you can see from the right side of the picture above, the resort we stayed into has pools! One of them is a wave pool that is not deep so even the 10 year olds can enjoy it. The thing is that below those pools are the rooms of the resort and they are separated. You need to go out of the property, have tickets (when you checked in to the resort they will give you tickets) and enter the pool area. Now I understand that the pool area is mostly for the daytime swimming crowd and caters predominantly to the local population but they could have had a separate entrance for those that are checked into the resort. (To be totally fair, the resort is seems to be in a re-planning of the area sort of thing so they might be sorting their layouts as of today).
There is such a thing as the Hundred Islands Festival in Alaminos City that I believed started in 2012 (Be honest: have you really heard about it?). We have to be rerouted so that we cannot be bothered by the traffic in the city proper (trust me we were not novices about being stuck in traffic). The only activity that I saw was a massive zumba session and I thought to myself “This seems to be unrelated to their supposed thing they are celebrating”. A quick glance of the activities on the internet confirms this to me.
I guess in keeping up with the influx of tourists, the infrastructure and organization seems to be better than before (I went there last in 2013). There is already an office to pay everything and not talk to as many bangkeros for the best deals (everything is now being payed equally on a per person basis), the life vests are now better (Thank God), and there are new things to do: There is now a floating bridge connecting Governor’s and Virgin Islands, at least two zip lines (one on the previously mentioned two islands) and better cottages and gazebos for tourists plus Solar Panels to boot!
There are also negatives from the sixth item namely that the cellphone reception seemed to be weakened, the amount of cement they use on the stairs, railings etc. destroying the natural formations of the rocks and on Quezon Island there is now a multi level canteen that produces a lot of trash that can be hard to deal with (Quezon Island is one of the farthest island and they have to be mindful of where to put their trashes) . Plus the shower area on the mainland is still the same old mess with longer lines.
And now for the mini random ones:
How few are the vehicles in that area of Pangasinan? even that one massive bridge repair in Lingayen is not causing any traffic on a Friday.
My specific line of work is very evident in there (Ang daming ebidensiya).
I was not happy when the resort gave me a three-in-one coffee: I was expecting something more black and not in a sachet that I can just buy from convenience stores and still be cheaper.
I was trying to do something really cool using my phone but the end result was bad (maybe next time).
We weren’t able to do snorkeling properly because of very strong winds.
There is a hokage moment (how very 2016!) that we saw in Lopez Island. What’s more funny is that somebody from one of the boats passing by, decide to shout out loud “HOKAGE MOVES!” and everybody end up laughing. (Those persons in question were foreigners: German I believe).
When you cannot find local restaurants, Fast Foods are your way to go.
We randomly ate balut at Mangatarem, Pangasinan.
Well, that was fun! I hope this “Seven Random Thoughts” will become a mainstay in here. Until next time ! Ciao!
Let me say this out of the gate: This article is not a post about my likes and dislike about my vacation in Pangasinan a few weeks ago nor it is about a review of said vacation and the resort we stayed into. This is mostly about the personal experience and feelings that I got from my latest vacation.
As you grow older, it is hard to maintain good friendships especially since most of them are working abroad (especially if most of them are your friends from College). So when one of them comes home, we usually set a few days off for a vacation or in this case a mini-vacation (since he is only here for a week and at least two of those days are set for a wedding and a christening). It actually took about two months to plan it, to confirm people and do reservations. There are some who actually decided to pass at the last minute and somebody surprisingly joined in for this trip.
All in all, this trip is memorable one for me (though to be completely fair, every trip I took is memorable for me). Personally it is a good time to take this two day, one night trip. I just started on a process of doing something in my workplace that is already taxing and I’m just scratching the surface: like the calm before the biggest burst of typhoon winds to come my way. I haven’t been spending a lot of time lately doing things of my personal interest (including this blog) and I need some breather before it gets busier. Plus the extreme heat of this El Niño is getting into my head literally: I usually get headaches when the weather is too hot to handle but in recent days it usually starts at 0830H and lasts throughout the day even though I am at an air conditioned room and the only way for this to subside is if I get a shower or put a wet towel to my head but I can’t do the latter often at the office.
My most loved thing about the trip is just being with good friends. There is just something different about being with them: You can be as awkward as you can and they wouldn’t even care because that is you. The stories they share that have accumulated for years are interesting and fascinating. Plus the jokes that only your group can get is a comforting thing. You can still see the familiar but also see the difference in them which can be good nor bad based on whatever view you see it.
This time though, there is also some tinged of sadness that came into me because of the aforementioned difference about them. This trip for me highlights how far I’ve grown apart from them. Outside of the balikbayan person that initiated the trip, most of them still occasionally meet up for inumans and I cannot physically join them because most of them are now based on Southern Metro Manila and I am working in the North (for those not in the know, traffic is a killer in this city). While they would understand the circumstances that I have to go if I join them, over the years those meet-ups is still substantial and now I felt like I was lagging behind on some of their things which cannot be easily discussed on the internet (there is still the issue of compatibility of our times). We always believe that real friends will always be friends no matter the time passed but I’m starting to think that it is not necessarily the case and it worries me.
Until I got my ideal way, I just have to strive to maintain my friendships and hope for the best and dream…
In an ideal world, we would took a week off during the peak summertime (I was elated to find out that our first day is also the official start of Summer 2016), go on a lesser crowded beach (The beach where the resort is located is perfect, I really don’t care about the color of the sand as long as there is very few rocks and I get my requisite sun tan), possibly make some excursions along popular spots, drink all most of the night every night and just talk: talk about everything under the sun from our lives to the latest things of FB. All in a very cost efficient way.