Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pampanga: Are you going to the 12th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta?

There may not be any slots left in our second tour at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta but I'll be updating everyone about it anyway. It was an overwhelming response since we already have 35 reservations for the day tour. Unfortunately, we can only accept 30 people at most for both the day tour and overnight. There's a wait list if you are still interested and if those who reserved do not confirm their reservations by paying on or before January 31, then you might just get that slot.

Good news to those who will be joining us. While the entrance fee to the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is P100, this will only give you access to the general viewing area where you can see the hot air balloons from a distance. They issue 100 photographers' passes per day so that you can have a close encounter with the balloons. The passes are sold out and we managed to get passes for all those who will be joining our tour! And to those asking whether you could ride the hot air balloons, it's US$150 per head.

Also remember, we are opening up the overnight option. Aside from the day tour package, overnighters will go the extra mile and start a step ahead, spending a night in Pampanga. The overnight tour leaves Manila at 3 p.m. on February 9 and as the sun sets, you'll get to watch the colorful hot air balloons illuminate like giant light bulbs during the night glow.

If you choose the overnight package, you won't miss out on the dinner we planned for you. We'll be hosted by Chef Cris Locher at C' Italian Dining, one of the Philippines' best Italian restaurants according to the Philippine Tatler. We'll spend midnight at the Oasis Hotel, Angeles City's serene garden hotel. And to top it off, a one-of-kind walking tour as we bare it all and take down one of the country’s most famous red light districts... Fields Avenue! Package price for overnight trip is P8,888 all inclusive. For bookings or more information, e-mail me at info@ivanhenares.com. So are you going?

Related posts
Up, up and away in Pampanga!
An afternoon in Abe's Farm
Day 3 at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

Day 1 at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Pampanga: Wandering around the Candaba Bird Sanctuary

Many may have noticed the Candaba Viaduct, that long bridge connecting Bulacan and Pampanga along the NLEX, but do not realize that that around it is a very important ecosystem, the Candaba Bird Sanctuary. The Candaba Swamp has always been a vital haven for migratory birds. It is so important that it has been nominated to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

If you haven't seen the Candaba Bird Sanctuary, here's your chance. On February 1 and 2, Candaba will be organizing the Ibon Ebon Festival. And Candaba has enough reason to celebrate. According to the results of the recent Asian Waterbird Census, the conservation efforts of the town are working! The festival features the migratory birds (ibon or ayup in Kapampangan) and the municipality's growing duck-egg (ebun) industry.

For some reason, we found ourselves exploring the Candaba Bird Sanctuary today. I was with my classmates doing a windshield survey in Pampanga for our class project. And we wandered into Candaba's bird watching zone.

We first stopped by the Bird Watching Information Center where Mayor Jerry Pelayo was busy meeting with festival organizers. After asking for directions, we proceeded to the area. And it was a great place to be in indeed! And I'm sure it would be fun to come back on the festival dates since members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines will be there to guide visitors around the whole day. For the festival schedule, click here.

Related entries
Birdwatching at the Candaba Bird Sanctuary
Sunset at the Candaba Swamp Reserve

Municipality of Candaba
Tourist Information Center
+63 45 6321299

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Zambales & Tarlac: Trekking and 4x4 to Mt. Pinatubo

Finally, I got to swim in the crater lake of Mount Pinatubo! And the water was light blue to blue green! There's an annual cycle of water color changes and it usually turns blue when the weather is cold. During other months, it turns murky brown. I still don't know why exactly.

I've always wanted to see Mt. Pinatubo. After all those planned trips that never pushed through, I was getting eager and impatient to see its famed crater lake. That's why when I received a message that our trip today might be canceled due to the weather conditions, I was devastated. It was raining in Batulao when I got the message but I said let's decide later. And so we waited. The final decision was to push through!

And the sun smiled on us this morning. We left Starbucks 6750 at 6:30 a.m. and stopped over at one of the gas stations along NLEX for a quick breakfast and supplies. The drive was relatively quick since it was a Sunday morning and we arrived in Capas at about 8:30 a.m. From the National Highway, you make a left in any of the streets in front of the market and drive towards the Capas Shrine. It's another 30 minutes to Barangay Sta. Juliana and you won't get lost since there are ample signs pointing towards the direction of Mt. Pinatubo.

We arrived at the Pinatubo Spa Town in time for our appointment. The package costs P1,500 and includes the 4x4 vehicle, toll fee for the Skyway (that's the new road they built to access to new jump-off point and there's a P500 fee if you use your own 4x4), a local guide and a heavy Filipino or Korean lunch when you get back.

It was a one-hour 4x4 ride to the jump-off point and that alone was an experience. The scenery was unlike anything I've seen before and the panoramic views of the lahar river beds, grasslands, streams, canyons and mountains made a surreal combination. I made a video for everyone to enjoy.

The Skyway Trail is the shorter route to Pinatubo, 3 kilometers to be exact, which can be completed in 40 minutes to an hour depending how fast you walk. It's actually the same old trail but its jump-off is closer to the crater.

The mix of colors along the way was just wonderful. It was mostly gray lahar. But if you looked closer at the sand, you could see various colors of sandstone. And imagine bright yellow streams of sulfur, streams with reddish rocks, the now healthy growth of grass and shrubs, and all the various colors of sand and stones along the trail. Simply awesome!

It was a leisurely hike thanks to the cool climate. As we neared the summit, there was a cloud cover which made the trek even more pleasant. It was drizzling by the time we made it there. But that did not dampen our spirits since the view of the picturesque lake as it beckoned was no less grand than on a sunny day.

We rushed down so that we could immediately take a dip. Whoever said that the sulfur in the water will damage your clothes should try it out first before talking. The water was very cold but refreshing. But we had to stay near the shore since the water got really deep just a few feet away. You could actually go boating but you'll have to mention this to the people in the barangay since the caretaker will have to tag along to unlock the boats.

After a few minutes swim, we rushed back to make it for lunch. Then a stroke of bad luck. My shoes gave way during the last 500 meters so I had to walk back to the jump-off point barefoot. I dealt with my ordeal silently and it was good that I lost my shoes during the sandy part of the trail so it wasn't that bad. I just had to be careful not to step on sharp rocks.

Back at the Pinatubo Spa, lunch was ready for us. I had a filling bowl of stewed chicken stuffed with sticky rice and ginseng coupled with a generous serving of kimchi. After taking a shower, we opted for the massage for P500. It came with a free facial too. The massage was really good and just the thing I needed after two days of hiking.

I would have wanted the 30-minute volcanic sand shower. This is a Japanese treatment wherein they bury your body under warmed volcanic sand which they say releases toxins and fats from your body. It's another P500 which is not bad but we had to rush back to Manila since it was getting late. We were back by 9 p.m.

Thanks to Anton for organizing this trip and for our photos which he took at the lake; and to Lauren and Maong for joining us.

Pinatubo Spa Town
Mobile +63 928 3410402
Landline +63 45 4930031

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Batangas: Scaling the summit of Mt. Batulao

Another surge of adrenaline! I climbed Mt. Batulao in Nasugbu, Batangas together with the UP Med Outdoor Society. There was a 200-meter rock climb, about 60 to 70 degrees, to get to the peak. I felt I was hanging on for my dear life!

Since I wanted to get as much sleep as I could (my lack of sleep during the past climbs proved deadly), I decided to meet up with the group at the jump-off point in Nasugbu giving me an extra two hours in bed and enough to fuel my adrenaline rush. The group took a bus to Nasugbu and got off at the entrance of the Evercrest Golf and Country Club. If you're familiar with Calaruega, that's the same entrance. We caught up with the group just as they got off the bus. And from there, the long hike up Batulao began.

Instead of making a right to Calaruega, take the road on the left. A few meters away, you will see an old basketball court and a dirt road to the right which is the road that leads to Batulao. It's straight-forward trek from there.

Along the way, you'll pass by several inhabited areas before the trail leads you to rolling hills with a sparse incidence of nipa huts and the occasional drink stand ready to sell you ice-cold soft drinks or a refreshing dose of coconut juice. At the first of ten camps, you'll be asked to register and pay a PHP20 fee to hike towards the peak.

Since it was January, the cool mountain wind made the effort even easier. We just had to deal with a lot of mud and slippery paths along the way no thanks to the random drizzle which would transform the wind from cool to cold. The assault to the summit was another story worth telling. That took a considerable amount of effort on my part given the steep incline we had to overcome. As I mentioned earlier, there were times I felt I was hanging on for my life since one wrong step or hanging on to a loose stone could have meant me rolling down and hitting the jagged rocks along the way.

But the summit was indeed a prize worthy of the climb. We were afforded panoramic views of Cavite, Batangas and the nearby mountains. You could even see the Taal Volcano! Going down was another story, and I literally had to get my butt dirty, carefully sliding down the steep trail of rocks and soil. It was better to be safe than sorry.

After ten hours of hiking, we finally made it back to the jump-off point. And to celebrate the feat, we binged on pizza and pasta at Carlo's Pizza in Tagaytay City. But my weekend was not over since I'm on my way to Pinatubo tomorrow for a swim in its crater lake. Sometimes I feel I'm just too crazy.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Boracay and Cebu top popular beaches list

Yahoo! Travel came out with a list called The Most Popular Beaches of 2007, the ten top-rated beach destinations by Yahoo! users last year. And look what we have here:

1. Boracay Island, Philippines
2. Nassau, The Bahamas
3. Cebu, Philippines
4. Phan Thiet, Vietnam
5. Montego Bay, Jamaica
6. Phuket, Thailand
7. Cozumel, Mexico
8. San Diego, California
9. Honolulu, Hawaii
10. San Juan, Puerto Rico

Philippine beaches are on a roll! Travel + Leisure in their January 2008 issue included the Miniloc and Lagen Island hotels in El Nido in its list of 20 Favorite Green Hotels, "conservation-minded places on a mission to protect the local environment." The magazine cited the active participation of the El Nido resorts in protecting Palawan's giant clam gardens and supporting the re-introduction of endangered Philippine cockatoos.

Conde Nast Traveler recently selected Palawan's sugary beaches, coves and islets as the tourist destination with the best beaches in Asia. While the sunken Japanese warships of Coron island are included in the top 10 best scuba sites in the world of Forbes Traveler.

Bahamas: Lomo in Paradise Island & Nassau, Bahamas

Since Nassau, Bahamas is sandwiched in between two of our great beaches in the best beaches list, I'm posting photos taken by my younger sister Ria in Paradise Island and Lighthouse Beach in Nassau the other week. She's my first guest poster in the blog.

The beaches were beautiful -- blue green water, fine white sand, huge waves in some areas. I was also surprised how the Bahamas looked like a beach area in the Philippines. There were coconut trees lining the beaches and roadside, handicraft and bead shops everywhere, and locals offering hair braiding.

My hotel was right across what is called, Lighthouse Beach (so named because there's a view of the lighthouse in neighboring Paradise Island). From there, you can just walk to downtown Nassau where there's a lot to see -- the pier where the big cruise ships dock, Straw Market (the Bahamas version of our tiangge selling souvenirs, straw and wooden crafts, Bob Marley bags and shirts, rasta hats, and even the usual DVDs and some knock-off bags made in China), Bahamian historic sites, shopping, shopping for jewelry and diamonds, and a choice of local restaurants and fast food chains. US dollars and Bahamian dollars are accepted interchangeably on the island because the exchange rate is US$1 = Bahamian$1.

The locals spoke with a "rasta" accent and the drivers would play some reggae, Bob Marley type of music in their cabs. To get to Paradise Island, you can just ride a taxi or a ferryboat. There's a big hotel/resort/amusement center over there called Atlantis -- casinos, giant aquarium, beach front, etc. The beach in Paradise Island is beautiful as well and the waves are huge. The birds weren't afraid of the people on the beach and would just be hovering nearby. Bottom line, Bahamas is beautiful.

Diana camera 151, Agfa RSXII 120 slide film, cross processed. More photos here.

Lomo LC-A, Agfa Precisa 100, cross processed. More photos here.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pampanga: Up, up and away in Pampanga!

After the success of the Ultimate Kapampangan Show-off, we now bring you our second tour offering: Up, Up and Away!!! Huffing, Puffing and Pumping in Pampanga on Sunday, 10 February 2008.

Really, another way to pump up your boring weekend and get your spirits soaring as we conquer the high and mighty in Pampanga! Gawk at the giant hot air balloons at 12th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta! Conquer and hike up the mystic and majestic Mount Arayat! Finally, we'll rest our weary feet over a sumptuous Kapampangan feast by one the country's most artistic restaurateurs, while soothing the afternoon away at a rustic, relaxing retreat! A feast for the body, mind and soul.

This tour leaves Makati at 3 a.m. and includes the 12th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, breakfast at the VFW Outpost, a five-hour hike up mystic and majestic Mount Arayat (optional), lunch at Abe's Farm owned by Larry Cruz of Cafe Adriatico, a massage at Nurture Spa Pampanga plus more surprises. Package price for the day-trip is PHP4,800 all inclusive.

Overnight Package
Go the extra mile by taking our overnight package from 9 to 10 February. We leave Manila at 2 p.m. and as the sun sets, you'll get to watch the colorful hot air balloons illuminate like giant light bulbs during the night glow. If you choose the overnight package, you won't miss out on the dinner we planned for you. We'll be hosted by Chef Cris Locher at C' Italian Dining, one of the Philippines' best Italian restaurants. We'll spend midnight at the Oasis Hotel, Angeles City's serene garden hotel. For bookings or more information, e-mail me at info@ivanhenares.com.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Boracay: Puka Beach in Boracay

There's more to Boracay than White Beach. Yesterday morning, we were scheduled to go snorkeling and have a lunch picnic in Puka Beach. But since it was raining, that did not materialize. But we went to Puka Beach anyway and had lunch indoors at a nearby restaurant called Tesebel Ihaw-Ihaw.

Puka Beach is named after the puka shells which are abundant in the beach. Puka means "hole" in Hawaiian and these shells are pieces of the cone snail shell and are so named because of the hole which occurs naturally in the shell fragment. They have been popular material for necklaces, bracelets and anklets and there are a lot sold by the beach.

You could see nearby Carabao Island, Romblon which they say is the next big thing. I heard they are planning to build a better airport there to serve Boracay as well as the future development on Carabao Island.

I didn't stay too long since I had to rush back to Manila while the rest of the group stayed behind. So after a souvenir photo, I left for the hotel to get my stuff ready for the trip back.

In Boracay were: Abe Olandres of Yugatech, Lauren Dado of Flail at Life, Noemi Lardizabal-Dado of Touched by an Angel, Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet, Eric Dormido of Byahilo, Gail Villanueva of Kutitots, Marc Villanueva of SheeroMedia, Melo Villareal of Lakbay Pilipinas, Eugene Villar of Lakbayan, Karla Redor of RockersWorld, Ferdinand L. Decena of En Route and Fernando Martinez of ShutterBox. Thanks to Anton for the photo!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Boracay: Cocomangas Boracay delivers pizza!

I was quite worried that I could not get a midnight snack from where I was. It was raining and walking to White Beach to get some grub was out of the question. The restaurants in Diniwid Beach were closed by this time as well. But there was no reason to fret since Cocomangas delivers pizzas up to 2 a.m. anywhere in Boracay!

There were so many kinds to choose from. I asked the lady taking my order to give me a sampling of their best-sellers. But when I found out that their pizzas were the same price for all kinds (XL - PHP482, 16 slices; L - PHP360, 8 slices; and S - PHP228, 4 slices), I got an XL-sized Halo-Halo which was everything on it! And no, I didn't eat the whole pizza. I shared it with Abe, Anton and Lauren.

Cocomangas Pizza
Tel No. +63 36 2884455

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Boracay: Microtel Boracay in Diniwid Beach

Up to now, I can't stop raving about the chiropractic-approved beds of Microtel! I was able to get the much-needed quality sleep worthy of a grand vacation.

As soon as the second batch arrived, we went straight to the ferry that would take us to Boracay. Remember, that there are fees you have to pay including an environmental fee and the terminal fee which has jumped from PHP20 to PHP50. Cabgan is the only gateway to Boracay after the municipal government prohibited the docking of boats at the various beaches to preserve their beauty. It may be an inconvenience for tourists but it's better that way so that the beaches remain pristine.

We took a minicab from the port to Diniwid Beach where Microtel Inn & Suites is located. The only downside of this is we had to deal with all the exhaust from the tricycles. As soon as we arrived, we were given a cold towel, a shell necklace and a welcome drink. Since I was not able to sleep the night before which is usually the case when I have early morning flights, the first thing I did when I got to the room was to check out the famous Microtel bed.

The group had lunch at the hotel restaurant and since everyone was tired, it was free time for the afternoon. While the rest of the bloggers walked to White Beach, I found myself in lala land. And I blame it on the bed! At least I was able to get some sleep.

Anyway, I was up just in time for the sunset. We played some games at the beach before dinner. And after dinner, I was back in lala land again. I had asked the bloggers to wake me up if they were going out but since it started to rain, everyone decided to stay. And the next thing I knew, it was 12 midnight.

Microtel Inn & Suites Boracay
Diniwid Beach, Malay, Aklan
Tel No. +63 36 2884311
Fax +63 36 2884312
Mobile +63 917 7165004
E-mail boracay@microtelphilippines.com

Friday, January 11, 2008

Boracay: Butterfly garden at Seair Caticlan

Since our group was divided into two flights, and I got pushed forward to the earlier one, we had to wait an hour and thirty minutes for the second batch to arrive. It was a good thing there was a new attraction at the back of the Seair office in Caticlan. So if you're killing time at the Caticlan Airport, check out the butterfly garden.

Boracay: Seair's Dornier 328 plane to Caticlan

I've always wondered how it felt to ride those small commercial aircrafts in the Philippines. I had already taken the ATR42/72 from Guam to Saipan before and was surprised by the smooth ride. That's why the prospect of taking Seair's Dornier 328 plane to Caticlan excited me. And it's the fastest flight to Boracay at 35 minutes.

It was an ambitious gathering of Philippine travel and photo bloggers organized by blogging guru Abe Olandres. We were divided into two flights. A group was scheduled to leave at 7 a.m. while I was with the 8:30 a.m. flight. I chose to arrive at the airport early to avoid rush hour traffic and got there 6:30 a.m. in time to watch the first group board. The next thing I knew, my name was called on the PA system for me to board as well!

Since we were flying at an altitude lower than the regular commercial aircraft, the views were different. We were closer thus to the ground and at the level of many mountain peaks. The views were surreal! The sun was resplendently rising behind Mount Banahaw. And below us was a perfect view of the Tagaytay Ridge and Taal Volcano. We also flew past the grand mountains of Mindoro before reaching Caticlan. The Seair flight is itself a must-try with all these great views!

Adventure Pass
Now this is something I'm getting for the summer break. For P18,500++, you can ride all you can for 45 days on Seair. The first two flights are bookable but the rest are based on seat availability which means you'll be a chance passenger. But with so many great destinations from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi, you'll never go wrong with this pass!

South East Asian Airlines (Seair)
Tel No. +63 2 8490100

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Manila: UP turns 100!

Yesterday, the University of the Philippines opened festivities marking its centennial. The day started with a huge motorcade from UP Manila in Padre Faura where the university was first established in 1908. Delegations from Los Banos, Pampanga and Baguio also arrived in full force and converged at the entrance of the Diliman campus.

At 4 p.m., a grand parade of all the delegations from the various constituent universities of UP marched towards the Oblation where a gargantuan crowd of students, faculty, alumni and well-wishers had gathered. The massiveness of the throng of people which converged in Diliman to celebrate UP's 100 years was nothing but surreal!

The Upsilon Sigma Phi joined the parade too as part of the UP Diliman contingent, the only frat that marched to the Oblation. Being the oldest Greek-letter fraternity in the country and in Asia, we made sure to be part of the celebrations!

I didn't get to see much of the program in Quezon Hall anymore since we decided to stay in front of AS. When the parade arrived at Quezon Hall after going around the Academic Oval, ten tambuli players blew their horns from atop the Administration building, amid the ceremonial firing of 100 rockets to announce the start of the program.

But we got to see the 100-torch relay as it passed by. The first flame being lit by a 100-year old alumnus! While UP President Emerlinda Roman lit the 100th flame or the UP Flame, a large cauldron in front of the Oblation. The “UP @ 100” display at the Quezon Hall was also lit simultaneously with the cauldron.

I missed the concert featuring internationally acclaimed UP talents such as the Philippine Madrigal Singers, Ryan Cayabyab, the UP Symphonic Orchestra, Nanette Inventor, and UP Symphonic Band, as well as the grand fireworks display. But above is a video of the fireworks.

I come from a family with a long UP tradition. Both my parents and my younger sister are UP graduates. So were two of my grandparents. On both sides, most of my uncles and aunts went to UP as well. But the first of my forefathers to walk the hallowed halls of the University of the Philippines was my great-grandfather, Dr. Pedro G. Henares, UP Medicine Class of 1915. The photo on the left is from the 1915 Philippinensian. That makes me a fourth-generation UP graduate! And if I complete my third U.P. degree this year, that makes me a centennial graduate as well!

Thanks to Carlos for allowing me to use that really great photo of Quezon Hall and the Oblation above!
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