Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top Philippine destinations for 2008

The year 2008 was a great travel year for me. As of today, I've stepped foot on 62 out of 81 provinces of the Philippines. Here are some of the highlights for this year. Since 2008 was also heavy on international travel, I'll come up with another entry on that!

1. Mt. Pulag, the rooftop of Luzon
I could not imagine myself 2,922 meters above sea level at the summit of Mount Pulag. But I was there! It took a lot of effort on my part but the view from the top was surreal and most definitely worth it. Is Mt. Apo next?

2. Adopting a sea turtle at the Pawikan Conservation Center
We visited the Pawikan Conservation Center early this year to adopt sea turtles. You can include it as part of any Subic itinerary. And this is a great help to efforts to protect the pawikan.

3. Journey across the Ifugao heartland
I was very lucky to join a rice harvest tour to Mayoyao, Ifugao this year which took me through the very core of Ifugao. It was a very enriching experience and it opened my eyes to the culture of our Ifugao brothers. I look forward to joing their planting rice tour this January. I made five entries about this great trip!

4. Trekking and 4x4 to Mt. Pinatubo
The crater lake of Mount Pinatubo is perfect for a swim especially when it is baby blue! It's easy to organize a visit through the Pinatubo Spa Town and when you get back, a sumptuous lunch and massage awaits.

5. Batanes, undiscovered paradise up north
Batanes is pristine and refreshing. It's a must in any traveler's list of places to visit in the Philippines. I'll be blogging about my trip soon.

6. Intro dive at Dive and Trek in Bauan, Batangas
Even if you don't have a license, you can still experience diving with the help of a dive master through an intro dive. And that's exactly what we did in Bauan, Batangas!

7. Ipo Watershed, Angat Dam and the La Mesa Ecopark
Any advocacy to preserve our cultural and natural heritage is close to my heart. Which is why we made a visit to the Ipo Watershed to support the advocacy of the UP Mountaineers to protect it.

8. Romblon, Romblon is a heritage town
Talk about the road less-traveled! Romblon was indeed a surprise. It was fun exploring the old town of Romblon since its heritage is unbelievably intact. I hope to visit again soon.

9. Anawangin Cove in San Antonio, Zambales
Another unbelievable beach destination so close to Manila, I most definitely enjoyed the surreal landscape of this Zambales beach. So remote it is that you need to hike several hours or take a pump boat to get to it.

10. Tawi-Tawi, overnight in Bongao
In one month, I was able to visit the northernmost and southernmost provinces of the Philippines. Despite my short stay, the fact that I was able to set foot in Tawi-Tawi is worth mentioning. And I'm definitely making another trip to explore more!

Read also Top Philippine destinations for 2009.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ilocos Norte: Save the Laoag Central Elementary School!

Another heritage school could soon become a victim of misplaced priorities if nothing is done to stop the rampage. The City Government of Laoag and the Diocese of Laoag have both agreed to demolish the Laoag Central Elementary School (LCES), a Gabaldon school building built in the 1924, to give way to a shopping mall! In fact, there are two Gabaldon buildings in LCES, the other being the Home Economics Building.

The bishop is so excited about relocating the school to a different location because of the income the mall lease would generate for his diocese. And so is the mayor for reasons only he knows. But the parents and teachers of the LCES, and a majority of the Laoag business community expressed strong opposition to the move in published manifestos printed in The Ilocos Times in November and December respectively.

In their manifesto, the parents and teachers of LCES said, "The Laoag Central Elementary School (LCES), for its more than eighty (80) years of existence, has become a historical landmark of the City of Laoag as a "Bastion of Education."

They said further, "Education should never be sacrificed for commercialization, no matter the perceived increase in income that the Roman Catholic Church and the City of Laoag will realize from the conversion."

The business community, in its manifesto, gave fifteen points, among them the negative economic effects on small business establishments and stalls in the Laoag City public market, the displacement of pupils considering they live within striking distance of the school, the worsening of traffic in the central business district, and the destruction of the historical fabric of Laoag since the mall will obscure vital historical, cultural and religious landmarks, particularly the bell tower which is right beside the property. They also said that if the mall was constructed in the outskirts of Laoag, it will be a catalyst for development there and will lead to an expansion of business opportunities.

It's time to put a stop to this foolishness and greed! No to the demolition of a heritage school house! No to a shopping mall in Laoag's already-congested historic core! Save the Laoag Central Elementary School!

Update: The Philippine Daily Inquirer came out with two articles: Death of a Laoag heritage school and Laoag exec defends school transfer

In the second article, the statements of Raul D. Umengan just show us how shallow and uninformed a good number of our government officials are. True heritage advocates know that our country's heritage extends beyond the list of the National Historical Institute (NHI). He should read the definition of heritage before he makes these flimsy statements again. Heritage need not be declared by the NHI for it to be considered heritage. Many LGUs know this and have a lot of heritage sites not in the NHI list but which they value and safeguard. It is sad that Umengan and company do not know what heritage is! And to think I looked up to you as a teacher in grade school. Didn't you teach Araling Panlipunan?

Related entry
Statement of the Heritage Conservation Society on the Laoag Central Elementary School

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Batanes hotels and restaurants plus exploring Batanes by bike

After two great days in Batanes, visiting Batan and Sabtang, we decided to take it easy on our last full day. Had the Itbayat Airport been open, we might have considered flying there. But the runway is still under repair. And the airport won't open until the summer months. The largest of Batanes’ three inhabited islands but the least-populated, Itbayat is the northernmost municipality of the Philippines.

Anyway, by the time we knew it, it was already time for lunch. We rented bicycles in the afternoon to explore Basco and its environs on our own. I had wanted to visit the burial sites north of Basco but we changed plans. Maybe for our next visit, we'll hire a van going there. So we just biked around town and the nearby viewpoints.

For dinner, we made sure to visit Casa Napoli for some pizza. We had planned to have dinner there yesterday but it turns out they are closed on Sundays.

Don't miss out also on traditional Ivatan fare at Therese Coffee Shop which we discovered only the day before we left. We had lunes or Ivatan adobo there for breakfast before our flight back to Manila. It's best to call them in advance to prepare the food so that it's ready when you get there. You can contact them at (0916) 1142632 or (0921) 4040567. Some of the other interesting Batanes dishes are mixed Ivatan salad, venus, uvod balls, lobster and coconut crabs. But since we were in a rush, we could not try them all.

Batanes is simply paradise undiscovered! Many have been asking me about hotels. So I've listed some below. Of course, for the high-end, I've mentioned Fundacion Pacita in a previous post. Remember that room rates vary depending on season and are generally higher during the summer months.

And did I mention I saw the smiley in the sky that night?

Batanes Resort
(0927) 5829078

Batanes Seaside Lodge & Restaurant
(0921) 2290120 / (0915) 9404823

Shanedel's Inn & Cafe
(02) 4130505 / (0920) 4470737

Part 1: Batanes, undiscovered paradise up north
Part 2: Marlboro Country, Mahatao Church and more from Batan Island
Part 3: Batanes stone houses in Savidug and Chavayan, Nakabuang Beach and more from Sabtang Island

Monday, December 01, 2008

Batanes: Stone houses in Savidug and Chavayan, Nakabuang Beach and more from Sabtang Island

You’ve never been to Batanes if you don’t make the trip to Sabtang Island. If you’re motion sick, you’ll have to prepare for a rough ride outside the summer months. But it’s most definitely worth it!

We were up really early today since the first trip was scheduled to leave at 6 a.m. We were there on time but after close to two hours of waiting, the boat had not yet arrived and we were told that the captain was still waiting the for the waves to calm down a bit. It was close to 9 a.m. when we got to board the boat. The ride was terribly rough and I got sea sick. I had to take a breather when we arrived in Sabtang before we left the town proper for a jeep ride around the island.

In Sabtang, you get to visit the traditional villages of Savidug and Chavayan. These barangays remain mostly untouched and take you back in time when life was so simple. In fact, they are candidates for inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List. And I hope the locals keep their village and way of life the way it is.

The first village outside the town proper which you'll stopover at is Savidug. You'll have the chance to walk around the barangay and marvel at all the centuries-old Batanes stone houses that comprise the village. On the way to our next stop, we saw the Savidug idiang. Idiangs are pre-colonial fortified settlements of the ancient Ivatans.

We stopped by the Chamantad Sanctuary where we were afforded panoramic views of the Sabtang coast. It was a grand experience hiking to the edge to the cliffs for a fantastic view of the beach down below. But do be careful since the winds can be very strong. But that's part of the experience.

In Chavayan, it was fun exploring the narrow streets lined by centuries-old stone houses with thick walls and cogon roofs. One could also purchase the traditional vakul head-gear worn by Ivatan women to shield them from the elements. You can also ask the locals to get you a coconut which you can eat the way the locals do, with a makeshift spoon chipped off from the husk.

There’s also a quaint chapel at the edge of the village built amidst the backdrop of grand mountains. I wish the priest didn't add that ugly extension at the back! They should take it out.

Back in San Vicente Port at the town proper, we were served a sumptuous lunch composed of lobster and adobo. You can try to request for coconut crabs, a local treat! I didn't eat much since I knew the ride back would be rough again. So I used my extra time to visit Barangay Malakdang, one of the poblacion barangays. The Sabtang Church is wonderfully preserved as well except for a few cement alterations to the convento which I hope the priest would revert back to its original state.

Before heading back to Batan Island, we visited Nakabuang Beach, famous for its natural rock arch formation. We didn't have time to swim though. And besides, it was too cold. If you have more time and if you're extra adventurous, you could opt to stay overnight and schedule a visit to Sumnanga which is called "Little Hong Kong" because of the cobblestones that used to cover its narrow streets.

We went back to the port and made our way back to Batan. Exhausted from the two boat rides, I decided to rest the whole night. But Sabtang is indeed a treasure!

Part 1: Batanes, undiscovered paradise up north
Part 2: Marlboro Country, Mahatao Church and more from Batan Island
Part 4: Batanes hotels and restaurants plus exploring Batanes by bike

Batanes: Marlboro Country, Mahatao Church and more from Batan Island

We enjoyed our tour around Basco in the morning and were looking forward to our afternoon tour of the rest of Batan Island. After lunch, we had time to take a quick nap before our driver passed by for us at the hotel for the tour. Make sure you ask your guide to stopover at Mahatao Church which is a National Cultural Treasure.

According to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), “ The church was built in the 19th century by the Dominicans and characterized by a stone structure in the courtyard used to house the beaterio, a local institution to assist in the work of the church. Elsewhere in the churchyard are stone monuments used perhaps as guiding lights for fishermen. The entire site gives a good idea of the simplicity of missionary life (as a counter-balance to the ‘baroque’ sensitiveness of more affluent areas).”

A staple of these island tours of Batan is Rakuh a Payaman commonly known as Marlboro Country. It’s one of the best views in Batanes, with cows and carabaos grazing, rolling hills, waves crashing on the shore, with a view of another quaint lighthouse built in the distinct Batanes style. I could imagine how charming and romantic it would be to organize a picnic here. One could stay here the whole day just thinking about nothing, savor the scenery and pass the time away.

There are more stopovers in Uyugan town, of views of waves crashing on the jagged Batanes cliffs in Dekey a Kanayan, of old stone houses in Barangay Itbud and the poblacion of Uyugan. The next town, Ivana, is home to the very popular Honesty CafĂ© where people pay for drinks and snacks they consume on an honesty system since the store is unmanned. Another popular stop in the town is the House of Dakay, said to be the oldest stone house in the town. You’ll get to meet its lone inhabitant, Lola Florestida Estrella who warmly welcomes visitors into her humble home.

We were lucky to meet former Education secretary Butch Abad on the plane to Basco and he had extended to us an invitation to visit his late sister’s former studio, Fundacion Pacita, which had been converted into a wonderful bed and breakfast in, no doubt, the classiest and most charming accommodation in Batanes.

At PHP7500 a night for a regular room, you’ll never go wrong with its breathtaking views worth dying for especially when you wake up in the mornings. They even have a honeymoon suite for lovebirds looking for a romantic vacation in picturesque Batanes. But be sure to book early since I was told bookings for summer were already in as early as November!

We had dinner and called it a night early since we had to wake up the next day for our trip to Sabtang.

Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge
(0917) 7958153

Part 1: Batanes, undiscovered paradise up north
Part 3: Batanes stone houses in Savidug and Chavayan, Nakabuang Beach and more from Sabtang Island
Part 4: Batanes hotels and restaurants plus exploring Batanes by bike
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