Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Leyte: Binagol, moron and other Leyte treats

Day 7, my last day in Eastern Visayas... I stayed in the hotel the whole morning since it was raining cats and dogs. It was a pity since I wanted to explore Palo. Anyway, after lunch, my brod Gil passed by for me at the hotel and we stopped by an area along Zamora Street near the corner of Rizal Street where vendors sell binagol, moron and sagmani.

Binagol is a mixture of talyan (a type of root crop similar to gabi), coconut milk and sugar placed in coconut shells or "bagol" and steamed inside. This is made in the town of Dagami. Chocolate moron is suman made of ground rice cooked in coconut milk flavored with cocoa. Sagmani is another suman made of cassava, gabi or sweet potatoes cooked with coconut cream, sugar and sometimes coconut meat.

We also passed by the Leyte Capitol and the Sto. Nino Shrine. As much as I wanted to enter the shrine, the tickets cost P200 for the first five people. Talk about pricing! We should fry the PCGG for this!

Anyway, my flight was still at 4:50 p.m. but we decided to go to the airport early since there was nothing much we could do given the weather. I'm sure to go back to Eastern Visayas if time and funds permit and when the sun is out most of the time. I heard rainy season here starts in November. There's still a lot to be seen and its a pity I missed Southern Leyte too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Biliran: More waterfalls in Biliran

Biliran is an island province at the northern tip of Leyte. And just like Samar, it's connected by a bridge so there's no need for a boat ride.

From Tacloban, I took a van to Naval which was about 3 hours away. I took some photos at the Biliran Bridge. They don't make infrastructure with character nowadays. If there's one thing I liked about Marcos, he made infrastructure grand such as the San Juanico Bridge, and not like the ugly, kitsch infrastructure our current DPWH churns outs.

The next day, I took a habal-habal ride to Tinago Falls. The drivers charge so much here in Biliran, it's so difficult to get to these out-of-the-way places without creating a big hole in your pockets. The local government should enforce standard rates to get to these places to save tourists from the hard-bargain, especially since they are vigorously promoting their many attractions which are most definitely worth the visit.

There are more waterfalls such as Casiawan Falls, Casabangan Falls, Bagongbong Falls, etc. and the Mainit Hot Springs in Caibiran. Just like Camiguin, they also have a sandbar in Higatangan Island here in Naval. I'm saving them for my next trip. The weather cooperated with me while I was in Biliran since the sun was out. But when I got back to Tacloban, it was raining again. More photos in Multiply.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Samar & Northern Samar: Chasing waterfalls in Samar

Day 4 of my Eastern Visayas trip was around Calbayog, known as the City of Waterfalls. So it's a shame if I didn't visit at least one. After going around the city's historic core, I proceeded to the terminal to take the jeep to Allen. The jump off point in Brgy. Tinaplacan is an hour away, halfway between downtown Calbayog and the port town of Allen in Northern Samar. Looking at the map, Calbayog is almost twice as big as Biliran Province!

I ended up in Brgy. Bugtong, a few meters from Tinaplacan. The waterfall is in the territory of Bugtong but you need to pass through Tinaplacan. It's 3 kilometers from the road. And the locals suggested I hire a habal-habal so I have a guide to the falls which turned out to be a good idea since the path was very muddy. The motorbike actually slipped and we fell off on the way there. Luckily, I escaped with minor scratches.

To get to the main falls, you had to walk on several cascades. There were some slippery parts so I had to take off my shoes. I injured my toe when I slipped on one of the rocks which left me limping for several days. Good thing I had the guide with me since it was really difficult to walk on the rocks.

I asked around if there was another falls nearby and the driver brought me to the next town (the next province too) San Isidro, Northern Samar. Veritao Falls, is in Brgy. Veriato, one of the boundary barangays.

I was planning to stay over in Allen so that I could visit Capul and Biri Islands. But since the weather wasn't cooperating, I decided to abort that plan since I didn't want to ride a pump boat for over an hour with strong waves. I took a jeep back to downtown Calbayog and since I was wet from the rain, I decided to ride on top. That was a great experience and it was fine until it started to rain again just when my clothes where getting dry. What the heck! So I just stayed up the jeep while it was raining cats and dogs.

From Calbayog, I took a bus back to Tacloban City. For dinner, we went to Calle Zaragoza Cafe owned by my brod Gerry Ruiz. The meals were very cheap. The bulalo and ribs were under P100 each. We also checked out the ihawan that are set-up along Rizal Street in the evenings. Reminds me of Larsian in Cebu City. I'll definitely get a bite there when I arrive Cebu next week.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Eastern Samar & Samar: From Guiuan to Catbalogan

From Borongan, we drove to Guiuan which was an hour away. The church there is a national cultural treasure. Before visiting the church, we had lunch at Aling Celing's in the market. We had kind of shell called sambong among others.

Entering the church outside Mass hours is not that easy since they are very protective after incidents of theft. But we got in thanks to some through channels. Aside from being relatively intact, what is unique about the church are the shell ornamentation in the transepts and the baptistry.

If only I had more time, I would have wanted to visit Calico-an Island, the surfers' haven of Eastern Samar. But it looks like I'll have to save that for another day.

After checking out the church, we proceeded to Balangiga to check out the church and monument. We've all heard about Balangiga Massacre and the quest to return the bells to the town. In Balangiga, I boarded a bus to Samar Province.

My plan was to sleep in Catbalogan for the night which was a long way to go. But first, I dropped by the town of Basey to check out the church. The old church in Basey is the most intact colonial church in Samar Province. Outside the church were a group of kids playing and they were excited about my camera and egged me on to take their photos which I happily did to satisfy their curiosity. If I only had time and funds, I would have checked out the caves of Sohoton, also in Basey. But you'll need a whole day to do that.

There's no direct transport to Catbalogan. So I had to try my luck by rushing back to Tacloban's Abucay Terminal to find a van. Another option was to wait at the foot of San Juanico Bridge but it was risky since it was getting dark and I might not find a ride. Good thing I caught the last van which left a little past 6 p.m.

They warned me the roads were bad. But I didn't realize they were that bad. I felt like I was on a speeding moon buggy. From Calbiga to Catbalogan, potholes were like craters on the moon and I pitied the suspension of the van as the driver sped across the bad road.

In Catbalogan, I had dinner at Tony's Kitchen. But I didn't realize that serving sizes were for groups. So I had to eat the sizzling steak all by myself. After dinner, I went around the nicely lit Samar Capitol.

The next day, I went around Catbalogan before taking a bus to Calbayog City.
More photos in Multiply.

Eastern Samar: Overnight in Borongan, Eastern Samar

They call Borongan, Eastern Samar the City of the Golden Sunrise. I finally arrived there after a four-hour van trip from Tacloban City. I asked the van to drop me off at the beach house of my brod, Councilor Jesse Solidon, where I was to stay for the night.

After getting settled, we took a pump boat to nearby Divinubo Island where they are currently organizing an eco-tourism project among the locals.

Aside from it's white sand beach, I was told that behind the island (the side facing the Pacific), there were caves as well as a light house. But since it was getting dark, we could no longer hike to that side. What is peculiar about the island is that during low tide, you can walk to it since a land bridge of coral rocks emerges. This I saw for myself the next morning.

Borongan has a lot of potential as an eco-tourism destination. It's a good place to invest for surf camps. In fact, locals were surfing when I arrived. There are several waterfalls in the city inlcuding Tres Marias, Masakpasak, Hinahanginan, Binabalarawan, Cansoriyaw, Mono, Pangi, Tagpuyucan, Bihid, Kaputian and Tumaligis Falls. There are several caves to explore too. You can also go white-water rafting (that's if you have your own raft since no one has set-up there yet). And I was told the coral reefs are also worth the dive.

I slept early since I literally did not have any sleep the night before. Although I got to enjoy some of the night scenes of Borongan such as watching crabs crossing the street or fireflies light up a nearby tree. The next day, I visited the historical core of the city. I passed by the monument and ancestral home of the local revolutionary hero Major Eugenio S. Daza, as well as the Borongan Cathedral and the Santiago Monument in front of it. Sad to say, the old Borongan Church was demolished a long way back and what's left of it is its circular belfry. There are only two other places where I've seen circular belfries namely Tumauini, Isabela and Mexico, Pampanga. But just like Borongan, Mexico's old church is gone.

Anyway, we proceeded to the town of Guiuan one hour south of Borongan, which is at the southern tip of Samar Island.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Leyte: Transit in Tacloban, Leyte

This trip was in the works since I bought my P1 ticket on Cebu Pacific last February. But the funny thing was I had not planned at all for this trip! I simply rode the plane to Tacloban, Leyte and played everything by ear.

I had informed my brods that I was coming over. But I didn't want to hassle them. I was already seated in the waiting jeepney when I texted my brods informing them that I had arrived. What surprised me though was a reply from one of them for me to wait at the airport since he would pick me up. So I got off the jeep and happily waited. It really touched me since we had never met before.

He took me to the MacArthur Landing Site in the neighboring town of Palo. Just a few days before, on October 20, they had celebrated the anniversary of Mac Arthur's landing. We then had breakfast at the nearby MacArthur Park and Beach Resort, one of those classy resorts built during the Marcos days to house the Miss Universe candidates in 1973. It's supposedly a class "A" resort but service was crummy. When we arrived, they were cleaning up the restaurant from a wedding reception which obviously happened the night before (a real hotel cleans up right after the event) so the place was quite messy. What do you expect from a government agency like the PTA?

We then proceeded to the Duptours terminal to check out the schedule of vans to Borongan. I got a seat on the 11:30 a.m. trip and spent PHP180 for it. Since I still had time, I visited the DOT regional office a few meters away to get brochures since there were none at the airport. At least I could read up while I was in Borongan and decide where to go next.

Then I dropped by the Price Mansion further down the street which served as Gen. MacArthur's headquarters while he was in Leyte. It's now owned by CAP and there is a small museum inside with memorabilia of MacArthur's stay in the house. The even preserved the hole created by a Japanese bomb which luckily did not explode. Before leaving for Borongan, I had lunch in the house of a brod who lived in front of Duptours.

It was a four-hour trip and I got to pass by the San Juanico Bridge as well as Samar Province for the first time. I slept for most of the trip since I did not have sleep the night before (I took the 5:10 a.m. flight). Check out my photos in Multiply.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Around Leyte, Samar and Biliran

I went around Eastern Visayas and I got to visit five of the six provinces there. I've already uploaded my pics in six albums. That should do for now. But I should update the blog before I leave for another week-long trip to Cebu and Panay.

Anyway, here are the albums:
2007-10-25 Leyte & Eastern Samar
2007-10-26 Eastern Samar
2007-10-26/27 Samar

2007-10-28 Samar, Northern Samar & Leyte
2007-10-28/29 Biliran
2007-10-31 Leyte

Monday, October 22, 2007

La Union: Surf's up in San Juan, La Union

I just came back from a great weekend in La Union. I trooped to the San Juan Surf Resort with my brods and other surfer wannabes on Travel Factor's Surfvivor Surfing Tour. We left McDonald's El Pueblo at 12:30 a.m. on three vans loaded with surfing beginners. It was a coincidence that my China-ASEAN batchmate Carly and her friends were also going.

I was so tired and sleepy, I slept all the way. The only thing I remember was the 4 a.m. breakfast stopover in Jollibee Urdaneta. We arrived in San Juan a little before 7 a.m. As soon as we got the keys to our room, we slept.

Tikoy, the organizer, woke us up at about 9:30 a.m. to ask who wanted to join the first group. It may seem short, but the one hour lessons are exhausting. Some of us joined the first group while I took photos. I went for the second group later in the afternoon at 3 p.m.

Training us was Luke Landrigan and his pool of locals who gave us one-on-one lessons. I was elated since I managed to stand up on the board this time around! We decided we wanted more so we scheduled another hour the next morning.

Dinner was at Midway Grill in San Fernando, LU. It was value for money! Burgers and fries were priced at PHP39, while bottomless iced tea at PHP29. For dessert, I got the oreo brownie split for P120. Yummy! If you're on your way to Ilocos, this is a great stopover for lunch of snacks.

Later in the evening, we had drinks in the bar area of the resort with our friends. We got to sleep at 3 a.m. which is a wonder how we managed to wake up in time for the optional morning surfing lessons. After check out, we had lunch in Midway Grill again. Check out the Travel Factor and San Juan Surf Resort websites for more information.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Batangas: Las Haciendas and our Ambon-Ambon Falls trek

Today, we went chasing waterfalls again. I went with Bikoy and Nino to Las Haciendas in Laurel, Batangas. It's an upcoming residential estate and nature resort. And thanks to my MBA classmate, Dennis Morada, we got to visit this great place before the crowds start trooping to the place.

Our main goal was to trek to Ambon-Ambon Falls which is located inside the estate. After lunch at the clubhouse, they toured us around the place. We visited the campsite where overnight huts are available for rent. We also visited the Simbahang Bato, a cave which serves as the church of the local community. Then it was off to the jump-off point for the trek.

The trail to Ambon-Ambon was very easy, laid back trail. We forgot to bring slippers though. But we managed crossing the four streams on the way without getting our shoes wet.

After that easy trek to the falls, we went swimming in the infinity pool. My Pinoy Mountaineer partner Gideon Lasco followed but missed the trek. For more information on trekking to the falls, or if you want to camp overnight, please contact them at (0920) 9255044 or

They have a day tour package at P750 per head (minimum of 15 pax) which includes free entrance, use of mudslide (this looked like so much fun), trekking to Ambon-Ambon Falls, use of swimming pool, lunch and morning and afternoon snacks. There are also overnight rates at P1,500 inclusive of overnight accommodations in the campsite huts, two lunches, one dinner, one breakfast and three snacks as well as use of the facilities. Not bad!

Anyway, the four of us had dinner in Tagaytay where temperatures dropped. I wish we could have stayed there for the night.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Manila: Malabon, Metro Manila's hidden gem

Today, I joined a tour of Malabon called "Halina lusungin natin ang Malabon" organized by concerned people of Malabon led by Atty. Monchet Lucas of Rufina Patis, Leona Nepomuceno of DOT, Terry de Jesus a home owner, and Archt. Richard Bautista of the NCCA.

Our tour began with a briefing and a sumptuous lunch at the Pescadores restaurant at Letre Road corner Dagat-Dagatan Avenue. We then proceeded to our first stop, the San Bartolome Church. I had high expectations for this church knowing that it was one of the untouched churches in Metro Manila. But to our shock, it's in the process of being uglified by the current parish priest who is not even a native of Malabon.

The current hard-headed parish priest, Fr. Ric Torrefiel, has all but listened to the objections of the local community about his kitsch and tasteless renovations. Sadly, he was the same priest who bastardized the interior of the old Concepcion Church, also in Malabon.

I hope the townsfolk of Malabon stops this priest from wreaking more havoc to this historic church by halting all their donations to this utter waste of church funds. Why don't priests simply focus on their spiritual role rather than push their parishioners to cough out money to satisfy their whims and caprices? That money is best spent fulfilling the pastoral needs and responsibilities of the church.

Members of the group were aghast! From a simple but elegant centuries-old church, Fr. Torrefiel has managed to turn it into a cheap, gaudy, tasteless, kitsch, cabaret-like interior enumerating some of the adjectives blurted out by those in the tour. On the exterior, he painted fake brick lines! And when we asked the tour organizers about it, they said that the more the local people stop him, the more he pushes for what he wants. Now where is the CBCP when you need it?

Anyway, after that depressing first stop, we walked to Betsy's Cake House to have a taste of their broas and view the works of the silent artist, Serafin Serna, a contemporary of Fernando Amorsolo.

We went from one house to another. The group first entered the Dionisio House. Then we moved to Concepcion to visit three Luna houses, the Borja House, and Paez House, as well as the Concepcion Church which Fr. Torrefiel had already bastardized. We also dropped by Dolor's Kakanin to check out their sapin-sapin.

We also visited the home and gallery of Angel Cacnio, an artist whose works have been used by the Central Bank on our bills and coins. From Concepcion, we moved to the Rufina Patis Factory, passing by other old houses along the way. Indeed, Malabon is a treasure trove of heritage, which is sadly deteriorating due to the annual flood and subsidence (sinking of the ground).

From Rufina Patis, we were served a sumptuous Malabon merienda at the Martinez House. Of course, there was pancit malabon, puto bumbong, puto sulot, bibingka, pichi-pichi, sumpia (in Malabon, lumpia is fresh, sumpia is fried, what we know as turon is called valencia and when you say turon, it means it's filled with mongo beans), kikiam and camachile biscuits (which we thought were tamarinds), among many others.

Then we moved to the oldest known house of Malabon dated 1861, the Raymundo House. Behind the house, we got to see the Malabon-Navotas shipyards. The two towns are separated by a strait (and not a river) since we always forget that Malabon and Navotas are islands. In fact, during the Spanish colonial period, they were totally detached from the island of Luzon. It was Imelda who reclaimed most of the lagoons around the islands, thus erasing their former charm.

From the Raymundo House, we attended the soft opening of the Bahay Parokiyano Gallery, a place for local artists to showcase their works. Indeed, this trip to Malabon was most worth it! Thanks to the organizers for inviting us, and filling both our stomachs and our minds. For more photos of Malabon and Navotas heritage, check out Richard's Multiply.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Manila: Airbus A380 lands in Manila

The Airbus A380, the largest passenger jet in the world, lands in Manila! That erases all doubts on whether the NAIA is capable of receiving such a large aircraft. I was lucky to witness its arrival first-hand. It's off to Clark today.

Related article
Largest passenger jet touches down in Manila

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Manila: Mixology Sessions at Prince of Japiur

I joined the October 9 Mixology (drink mixing) Session of Happyhours, Inc. at Prince of Jaipur at the Fort. Training us was master mixologist Kaiz Patel, fiance of my college friend Michelle Perez.

Anyway, we learned to dish up four drinks namely Cosmopolitan, Caipirojka (which is similar to a Mojito or Caipirinha), Cucumbertini and Chillax Guava. The drinks were great. I think I'll try doing them at home. Of course, part of the class was a sampling of Indian food from Prince of Jaipur. We were served a kebab sampler of beef and mutton sausages, chicken, fish, vegetables, etc. Yummy! I was yearning for more!

The P750 class fee is most definitely worth it since you get free drinks you mix yourselves, great Indian food, and an better appreciation of mixed drinks. The event is held regularly so check out their website or contact Michelle at (0915) 9977950 for future dates.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Baguio: Save Burnham Park from more development!

Just received some horrible news from Baguio City! They are planning to build a bus terminal and multi-level vending station in Burnham Park. Some Baguio City officials really do not know how to preserve the city's heritage and the little charm it has left. The proponent is Councilor Perlita Rondez, chair of the tourism committee of the Baguio City Council. I hope this project is stopped. Let's keep what's left of Burnham Park an open space!

At least Councilor Elaine Sembrano, chair of market, trade and commerce committee, said that “vending in parks must not be encouraged.” For more details, read Burnham Park market, parking area mulled.

Related article
Here are some excerpts from Remember Teachers Camp?:
"The distinct Baguio identity of mountainous terrain with green-and-white architecture nestled under pine trees is fast vanishing. The single largest remaining ensemble of that identity survives in Teachers Camp. Although no other city in Asia or in the Philippines has an identity like Baguio's, the identity today is vanishing rapidly.

"Unregulated development has caused Baguio to lose its luster as the Philippines' most popular mountain retreat. Nondescript concrete buildings and residences have replaced the traditional green-and-white architecture. Informal settlers' shanties now cover urban mountain vistas, once open green spaces, in sheets of rusted tin roofing.

"Pine trees, once a familiar sight of Baguio landscape, have practically disappeared. Heritage, whether urban, architectural, or landscape, neither protected by legislation or by zoning, does not appear to be within the sphere of interest of most city authorities and residents, therefore urban and architectural heritage is going fast, and vanishing rapidly also is its landmark umbrella of pines and multicolored flowers.

"Present-day Baguio is homogenizing into the generic, typical look of 21st-century Philippine cities. Only its mountainous terrain now reminds us that once this was the glorious Summer Capital of our Land and the only American Hill Station in Asia.

"Since Baguio mystique and tradition are practically gone today, it is necessary to maintain whatever is left of its urban, architectural, and environmental traditions for the future."
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