Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Philippine travel destinations for 2010

It's time again to come up with my personal list of top Philippine travel destinations for 2010! If you haven't visited my Facebook album Travel Year 2010, please do. Almost all my trips for the year are featured there. It looks like this year was my biggest travel year to date.

For 2010, I visited 51 provinces in 16 regions of the Philippines, 17 provinces for the first time. Plus I finally set foot on all 79 provinces of the Philippines! Had I not canceled my trips to Leyte and Samar, I would have visited all 17 regions this year.

So here are my ten favorite travel experiences around the Philippines for 2010!

1. Overnight with the Manobo community of Agusan Marsh
If there was a hidden paradise in the Philippines, it must be the Agusan Marsh. To visit the marsh requires several hours of land and river boat travel to get to the marsh itself. I stayed with the Manobo community in Sitio Panlabuhan, Loreto, Agusan del Sur for a night. No electricity so you're really one with nature. If you want to visit the marsh, e-mail since we are planning a trip there from March 4-6, 2011.

2. Lake Sebu's Seven Falls, Zip Line and Lang Dulay
Lake Sebu, South Cotabato has several cultural and natural attractions which makes it a worthwhile destination for tourists who look for more than the usual destination. For this trip, I visited the Seven Falls and tried out the Seven Falls Zip Line. Plus I met with National Living Treasure t'nalak weaver Lang Dulay.

3. Whitewater tubing, anthropomorphic pottery and pawikan in Maitum, Sarangani
Sarangani is very popular because of Gumasa Beach, a powder white sand beach in Glan. But on the opposite end of the province is Maitum, which has the Pangi River whitewater tubing, Pawikan Sanctuary, and a small museum dedicated to the anthropomorphic pottery that was found in Ayub Cave in Brgy. Piñol. Whitewater tubing in Maitum was fun!

4. Trek to the Batad Rice Terraces in Ifugao
Finally, after all those years planning to visit the Batad Rice Terraces, I finally did!

5. Bantayan Island, Cebu and island hopping to Virgin Island
I found myself back in Bantayan Island, Cebu this January for an Out of Classroom Learning Activity (OCLA) with my Tourism 114 class, 45 students total. One of the best food experiences in the country is the weekend dinner buffet at D'Jungle. Plus this time, we got to visit Virgin Island off the coast of Bantayan.

6. Rice planting experience in Mayoyao, Ifugao
Mayoyao, Ifugao called me back January. I had previously made that long trip to the Mayoyao Rice Terraces for the rice harvest tour in July 2008. This time, I was at the rice planting (Pfukhay ad Majawjaw) tour as part of an OCLA for my Tourism 115 students. And you can experience it too from January 28-30, 2011. Just contact Josh Nalliw at to book a slot!

7. Sandboarding and 4x4 ride in the Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes
Ever heard of sandboarding? Sandboarding is the newest adventure activity in Ilocos Norte, which has its very own desert of sorts - the Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes. An already popular activity are 4x4 jeep rides in the Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes.

8. Dakak Park Beach Resort in Dapitan
When flying to Dipolog, make sure to include Dakak Park Beach Resort in your itinerary. In fact, most tourists fly there to visit Dakak, a really popular beach resort which has maintained its quaint 1980s charm. And when in Dapitan, don't forget to visit all the Rizal-related heritage sites.

9. Danao Adventure Park's E.A.T. Danao in Bohol
Have you heard of Bohol's E.A.T. Danao? The Eco, Educational, Extreme Adventure Tour of the Danao Adventure Park is arguably the country's best adventure attraction! Make sure to try their zip line and canyon swing!

10. Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig City, Surigao del Sur
Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig, Surigao del Sur is one of the most majestic waterfalls in the country. It's not just just the height of the falls but the width that makes it really spectacular. Tinuy-an Falls is 55 meters high and 95 meters wide. And some say that it is the widest waterfalls in the Philippines. I may have been here for just a few minutes, but I genuinely enjoyed the visit.

11. Visiting Jolo, Bud Datu in Indanan and Quezon Beach in Patikul, Sulu
How could I forget that exciting trip to Jolo, Sulu? And yes, Quezon Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. It's a pity thinking of how much potential Sulu has for tourism only if banditry and insurgency is curbed in the province.

This year, I also got to visit over 30 cities in 12 countries and territories. I visited Hong Kong, Macau and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia twice this year; and Portugal, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands for the first time. I also was in Spain, Indonesia and Thailand. I'll make another post on European cities I visited in 2010. Indeed a great year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Following the Rizal Heritage Trail around the Philippines

Happy Rizal Day to everyone! Today is the 114th anniversary of the martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal. As we begin the year-long celebrations for the 150th birth anniversary of Rizal on June 19, 2011, the Heritage Conservation Society, Department of Tourism and Intramuros Administration will be launching the Rizal Heritage Trail to encourage people to revisit places Rizal visited in the Philippines, sites and structures with a connection to Rizal or significant monuments that honor him.

Here is a preliminary list of sites, structures and monuments on the Rizal Heritage Trail:

Region III - Central Luzon
• San Fernando Train Station (San Fernando, Pampanga) - Rizal exited this station on June 27 and 28, 1892 to visit friends in San Fernando and Bacolor as part of his mission to recruit members to his La Liga Filipina. Among the houses he visited were those of  Tiburcio Hilario in San Fernando on June 27 and Ceferino Joven in Bacolor on June 28. An NHI marker was installed in the station in 2004.
• Malolos Train Station (Malolos, Bulacan) - Rizal exited this station on June 27, 1892 to visit friends in Malolos as part of his mission to recruit members to his La Liga Filipina.
• Bautista House (Malolos, Bulacan) - This is one of the houses Rizal is said to have visited when he was recruiting members for the La Liga Filipina on June 27, 1892.
• Women of Malolos Marker (Malolos, Bulacan) - The site of the school of the Women of Malolos whom Rizal wrote to on February 22, 1899 from London.
• Tarlac Train Station (Tarlac, Tarlac) - Rizal exited this station on June 27, 1892 to visit friends during his mission to recruit members to his La Liga Filipina
• Rizal in Tarlac Marker (Tarlac Town Plaza, Tarlac) - Rizal stayed in the house of Evaristo Puno when he visited Tarlac on June 27, 1892 to recruit members to his La Liga Filipina
• Leonor Rivera House (Camiling, Tarlac) - Leonor Rivera is said to be inspiration for Maria Clara in Noli Mi Tangere. Rizal and Rivera were in a relationship for eleven years. But Rivera's mother was against the relationship and intercepted letters from Rizal. She was later convinced by her mother that Rizal no longer love her and reluctantly married Henry Kipping from England.

National Capital Region - Metro Manila
• Rizal Park (Manila) - Also known as Bagumbayan or Luneta, this was the place of execution of Rizal on December 30, 2896
• Rizal Monument (Manila) - A National Monument, it houses the remains of Rizal. It was designed by Richard Kissling of Switzerland.
• Prison Cell of Rizal in Fort Santiago (Intramuros, Manila) - This was where Rizal was incarcerated during his trial from November 3 to December 29, 1896
• Rizal Shrine (Intramuros, Manila)
• Site of the Ateneo Municipal de Manila (Intramuros, Manila) - Rizal was a student of the Ateneo Municipal de Manila
• San Ignacio Church Ruins (Intramuros, Manila) - Rizal heard Mass here as a student of the Ateneo de Manila
• Site of the University of Santo Tomas (Intramuros, Manila) - Rizal was a student of the University of Santo Tomas in Intramuros from 1877 to 1882. A historical marker is located in the UST Campus in Espana, Sampaloc, Manila
• University of Santo Tomas (Sampaloc, Manila) - A historical marker is located in the UST Campus mentioning that Rizal was an alumnus of the university
• Paco Park (Paco, Manila) - Rizal's remains were secretly interred in the Paco Cemetery. They were guarded for fifteen days by the Guardia Civil Veterana. His remains were exhumed on August 17, 1898, placed in an urn and deposited in the Rizal Residence in Estraude Street.
• Rizal Residence (619 Estraude, Binondo, Manila) - The urn containing Rizal's bones were brought to this house until they were transferred to the Rizal Monument on December 30, 1912. Rizal's father Francisco Mercado died in the house on January 5, 1898.
• Residence of Rizal's Family (525 Magdalena, Binondo, Manila) - Site of house owned by Concepcion Leyva where Francisco Mercado, Teodora Alonzo and several of their children and grandchildren lived.
• Tuason House (C. Arellano Street, Malabon) - Rizal was a friend of Lorenzo Tuason, a free mason. According to oral tradition Rizal diagnosed and operated someone in the family. The very table where he had dinner is with an heir. Only the gate of the house is left.
• Paez House (C. Arellano cor. Paez Streets, Malabon) - Among the people Rizal is said to have visited during his trip to Malabon was Lucino Paez.

Region IV - Calabarzon Region
• Rizal Shrine (Calamba, Laguna) - A National Shrine, it is a replica of the Rizal House by Juan Nakpil. Restored by Executive Order No. 145 of President Elpidio Quirino, it was inaugurated on June 19, 1950.
• Calamba Church (Calamba, Laguna) - A National Historical Landmark, Rizal was baptized in the church by Fr. Rufino Collantes on June 22, 1861.
• Rizal in Binan Marker (Binan, Laguna) - Rizal received his first formal schooling under Justiniano Cruz who later advised him to further his studies in Manila.
• Alberto House (Binan, Laguna) - The house of Rizal's grandfather Lorenzo Alberto y Alonzo, Rizal lived there from 1870 to 1871 while he was studying in Binan. Sadly, the house is currently being dismantled and will be transferred to Bagac, Bataan. Such an important heritage structure should remain in Binan, Laguna.
• Paciano Rizal House (Los Banos, Laguna) - The house of Rizal's brother Paciano Rizal
• Casa Segunda (Lipa, Batangas) - A Heritage House, Casa Segunda is the residence of reputedly the first love of Rizal, Segunda Katigbak.

Region V - Bicol Region
• Rizal Monument (Daet, Camarines Norte) - This was the first monument honoring Rizal erected in the country. It was built by voluntary contributions of the people of Camarines Norte and unveiled on December 30, 1898. It is a National Historical Monument.

Region IX - Zamboanga Peninsula
• Rizal Shrine (Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte) - Rizal's estate during his exile in Dapitan, it houses replicas of structures he built there for himself, his family, pupils and patients including the Casa Residencia, Family Kitchen, Casa Redonda, Casa Quadrada, Casitas de Salud and Casa Redonda Pequena among many others.
• Waterworks of Rizal (Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte) - The waterworks Rizal built can still be found in the Rizal Shrine.
• Dapitan Plaza (Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte) - A National Historical Landmark, the Dapitan Plaza was planned and beautified by Rizal during his exile. Acacia trees which he personally planted can still be found in the plaza.
• Site of the Casa Real (Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte) - The official residence and administration building of the politico-military governor of the district, Rizal lived there from July 17, 1892 to March 1893 when he was transferred to Talisay, now the Rizal Dapitan Shrine.

• Dapitan Church (Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte) - Built in 1883, a historical marker can be found in the St. James Church of Dapitan in the exact spot where Rizal stood every Sunday during his exile from 1892 to 1896.
• Relief Map of Mindanao (Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte) - A National Cultural Treasure, Rizal created this map as an aid in teaching history and geography to the locals.
• Santa Cruz Beach (Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte) - On July 17, 1892, Rizal landed on Santa Cruz Beach at 7 p.m. with Captain Delgras and three artillery men. They walked through Sta. Cruz Street with a farol de combate to the Casa Real where he was presented to Don Ricardo Carnicero, the Spanish military governor of the area. A tableau was constructed in the site to commemorate Rizal's arrival in Dapitan.
• Dipolog Cathedral (Dipolog, Zamboanga del Norte) - Rizal is said to have designed the church altars of the Dipolog Cathedral. Although the facade has been extremely renovated, the interior remains relatively intact.
• Rizal Farm (Katipunan, Zamboanga del Norte) - The farm was acquired by Rizal from Calixto Carreon, a blind patient who offered it for free out of gratitude for his successful treatment. Rizal refused and paid him Php200 for the land. He cultivated it every weekend with his pupils.

I'm sure there are more sites which I missed. So if you know of any, please leave a comment below so that we could include the site in this list.

Jose Rizal the global traveler
Rizal was most definitely a jet-setter! Among the cities he visited were Singapore (then a British colony), Colombo (Ceylon now Sri Lanka), Aden (Yemen), Naples, Turin, Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome (Italy), Marseilles, Paris, Dieppe, Vernon, Rouen and Biarritz (France), Barcelona and Madrid (Spain), Strasbourg (then part of Germany), Heidelberg, Wilhelmsfeld, Bonn, Koblenz, Cologne, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, Nuremberg and Ulm (Germany), Leitmeritz or Litomerice, Prague and Brunn or Brno (Bohemia now Czech Republic), Vienna and Salzburg (Austria), Basel, Lausanne and Geneva (Switzerland), Port Said, Suez Canal and Alexandria (Egypt), Saigon and Chelong (Vietnam), Hong Kong (then a British colony), Yokohama and Tokyo (Japan), San Francisco, Sacramento, Reno, Ogden, Denver, Farmington, Salt Lake City, Provo, cities in Colorado, Nebraska, Illinois, Chicago, Albany and New York (United States), Queenstown, Liverpool and London (United Kingdom), Brussels and Ghent (Belgium), and North Borneo.

The first city outside the Philippines Rizal got to visit was Singapore. The first Eurpoean city he set foot on was Naples, Italy. I'm sure there are more cities that Rizal visited which he no longer mentioned in his letters. Note that he traveled to all these places in just a span of ten years from 1882 to 1892.

Do you share in promoting Rizal
Follow the 150th Birth Anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal on Facebook and Twitter @Rizal150. And don't forget use the hashtag #Rizal150 when tweeting about Rizal. Blog about Rizal and share your posts on the Facebook page.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pampanga: Giant Lantern Festival 2010

Better late than never! Congratulations to Barangay Santa Lucia for winning the Giant Lantern Festival 2010. They beat defending champions Barangay Dolores who placed second this year. Completing the top three is Barangay San Nicolas.

It's actually very difficult to judge the competition. But I guess the winners were quite obvious this year. I felt though that we need to jazz up the music next year for better audience impact. It should be a mix and remix of Christmas, pop and traditional music. It's also weird that some entries had similar music for the first round. I hope they become more creative next year and invest on the festival pieces.

See you all at the Giant Lantern Festival 2011 on December 17, 2011!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lady Santas bring cheer on SEAIR Christmas flight to Boracay

Have you every taken a flight on Christmas Day? Well, I did for the first time yesterday. I took a SEAIR flight to Caticlan. And guess the surprise we got! Free goodies from SEAIR courtesy of two Lady Santas. And we got our own Santa hats as well.

Here are the Lady Santas greeting the passengers as they get down from the plane in Caticlan.

I was able to take some photos. Good thing many of the passengers took their own videos and I found this one on YouTube. So enjoy! I hope Glee's Puck enjoyed this Christmas surprise too.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mark Salling of Glee flies to Boracay on Christmas Day

Mark Salling, who plays Noah Puckerman or Puck on Glee, took the last SEAIR flight to Boracay on Christmas Day. I was actually on the same SEAIR flight to Caticlan and got to have a photo taken with him while he was checking-in at the Manila Domestic Airport.

Here's a photo of Mark Salling with the SEAIR flight attendant. It was a really cool Christmas flight which I'll talk about in another post.

Thank you Mark Salling for visiting our beautiful country. And thank you for tweeting that you are in Boracay. It's a great boost to Boracay and Philippine tourism. Welcome and I hope you have a great time!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Masbate: Buntod Reef Marine Sanctuary, Pawa Mangrove Ecosystem & Bituon Beach

Masbate may have been the last province I visited. But it's definitely not the least. It was an exhilarating feeling as I stepped down from the plane into the Masbate Airport, finally having visited all 79 provinces of the Philippines. I wanted to explore as much of Masbate City as I could in a day. So as soon as I found a place to stay for the night, I was off to the beach.

I hired a tricycle to take me to Bituon Beach which is in the neighboring town of Mobo. It's one of the better beach resorts in Masbate. It took about 30 to 45 minutes to get there. If you want accommodation around Masbate City with a beach front you can swim in, this would be it.

But I wanted a more spectacular beach. And after inquiring around, it turned out there was a sandbar off the coast of Masbate City. So I hired a pump boat to take me to the Buntod Islet which is part of the Buntod Reef Marine Sanctuary.

It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to get to Buntod Islet. And from a distance, you could see that the scenery was stunning. On one side of the island was a small forest of dwarf mangroves. This area was covered with a lot of broken shells on the sand.

The opposite end of the island was a long sandbar. On one side of the sandbar, the water was warm, while the other side was cooler. There's also a large wooden structure which acts as a ranger station, where you could have lunch, take a nap or escape the heat of the sun. I didn't realize that Mayor Socrates Tuason was with his family at the hut that Saturday. He even invited us for a drink.

He suggested that I visit the Pawa Mangrove Ecosystem and Wildlife Park which I did. The main attraction is a 1.3-kilometer wooden bridge that connects Barangay Pawa and Sitio Daang Lungsod. It requires some hiking from the National Highway to get to it. There are some huts along the elevated boardwalk where you could have a picnic. And the area is also a great place for bird-watching.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening sleeping and resting from the heatstroke that hit me since the sun was scorching hot that day. In between beaches, I got to see some heritage structures around Masbate city including the Masbate Provincial Capitol, several Gabaldon schools, and the Bayot Ancestral House.

Rodeo Masbateño is the main festival of Masbate. But I'll have to come back in April to experience this rodeo show. If I had more time in Masbate, I would have arranged a visit to one or two ranches which are several hours from Masbate City.

Where to Stay in Masbate
I stayed at Baywalk Garden Hotel for one night which is quite comfortable and has free WiFi. It's actually by the shore (can't swim though since it's too shallow) where the nightlife is. But it's not close to the town proper. I moved to GV Hotel which is in town and closer to the airport since my flight was very early the next day.

Baywalk Hotel - (0907) 3042331 / (056) 3336648
Bituon Beach Resort - (056) 3338065 / (056) 3332242
MG Hotel - (056) 3335614
Hotel Sea Blick - (056) 3336911

Monday, December 20, 2010

Philippine holidays and long-weekend schedule for 2011 (Proclamation No. 84)

Hunyo 12 by Claude Tayag (1989 Fiestas Serigraph Series)
Malacanang issued Proclamation No. 84 declaring the regular holidays, special non-working days, and a special school holiday for 2011. I was right about not giving out tentative dates since Malacanang will not follow holiday economics next year.

Too bad most of the holidays next year fall on a Saturday or Sunday. No rest for our labor force next year! Here is the list of holidays and long-weekends of the Republic of the Philippines for 2011:
  • January 1 (Sat) - New Year's Day (three-day long weekend from December 31 to January 2)
  • February 25 (Fri) - EDSA Revolution Anniversary (holiday and three-day long weekend for schools only) 
  • April 9 (Sat) - Araw ng Kagitingan
  • April 21 (Thu) - Holy Thursday
  • April 22 (Fri) - Good Friday (four-day long weekend from April 21 to 24)
  • May 1 (Sun) - Labor Day
  • June 12 (Sun) - Independence Day
  • June 19 (Sun) - 150th Birth Anniversary of Jose Rizal (proposed legislation to declare a working holiday)
  • August 21 (Sun) - Ninoy Aquino Day 
  • August 29 (Mon) - National Heroes Day (four-day long weekend from August 27 to 30)
  • August 30 (Tue) or 31 (Wed) - Eid't Fitr (calculated date for 2011 pending proclamation)
  • October 31 (Mon) - Special Non-Working Holiday
  • November 1 (Tue) - All Saints Day (four-day long weekend from October 29 to November 1)
  • November 7 (Mon) - Eid'l Adha (three-day long weekend from November 5 to 7)
  • November 30 (Wed) - Bonifacio Day
  • December 25 (Sun) - Christmas Day
  • December 30 (Fri) - Rizal Day
  • December 31 (Sat) - Last Day of the Year (three-day long weekend from December 30 to January 1)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pampanga: Augusto P. Hizon House in San Fernando now a Heritage House

Last Friday, the historical marker of the Augusto P. Hizon Heritage House was unveiled by representatives of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), City Government of San Fernando, Pampanga, and the Hizon Family. The house was declared a Heritage House by the NHCP on July 21, 2010 bringing the number of NHCP-declared houses in San Fernando, Pampanga to five.

This turn-of-the-century Victorian-style house was originally owned by Teodoro Santos and Africa Ventura. It was later purchased by Maria Salome Hizon, a volunteer of the Red Cross during the Philippine Revolution. The property was acquired by her brother Ramon Hizon. And is currently owned by the heirs of his son Augusto P. Hizon.

Heritage updates from San Fernando
As local citizens continue to oppose the construction of an SM mall along San Fernando's heritage street, here is some good news. The Pampanga High School Building or former UP San Fernando is currently being reconstructed. More than a century old, it was the very building where President Diosdado P. Macapagal finished high school in 1929. Once completed next year, it will house the Museong Kapampangan.

Funds have also been approved for the restoration of the San Fernando Train Station. Work on the station will begin in early 2011. It will house a Death March Museum and World War II Memorial once completed.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Nueva Vizcaya: Citrus fruit overload! Perante, satsuma, poncan & pomelo

On the way back to Manila, I was glad to pass by Nueva Vizcaya because I would be able to buy my favorite local citrus fruits, particularly the perante. Nueva Vizcaya is know as the Citrus Capital of the Philippines. And somewhere in Bayombong, between the town propers of Bayombong and Bambang, are stalls that sell really sweet Nueva Vizcaya citrus fruits which includes perante, satsuma, vizcaya poncan and pomelo among other.s

Prices per kilo vary depending on variety, size and ripeness. I got a kilo of perante and satsuma for Php50 each and several kilos of vizcaya poncans at Php30 a kilo. The red chandler pomelos and sanwelocs are a bit more expensive but juicy nonetheless. Have you tried out citrus fruits from Nueva Vizcaya?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Ivan About Town gives away SEAIR tickets to Batanes & Boracay

1. Ivan About Town and South East Asian Airlines (SEAIR) will be giving away two round-trip tickets to Boracay, and two round-trip tickets to Batanes. Two winners will be selected, one winner for the two Boracay tickets and one winner for the two Batanes tickets.

2. To join, simply share any post from as a link on your Facebook wall. Make sure you tag both the SEAIR and Ivan About Town Facebook pages when you share the link. And make sure you invite your friends to visit the link and support Ivan About Town.

3. Each post you share on your Facebook wall will be counted as one entry. Only links appearing in the Ivan About Town page, with complete tags, will be counted. So make sure the security settings (note the little padlock beside the 'share' button) of your link share will allow 'everyone' to see it.

4. You can share an unlimited number of posts from Ivan Henares' Thailand Medical Blog. But you can only have one valid post per day. So watch out for new posts and share them to increase your chances of winning.

5. Posts can be shared on your wall from 12 noon of December 9, 2010 to 11:59 p.m. of January 31, 2011 (Philippine time, +8 GMT).

6. We will pick two lucky winners from all qualified entries on February 3, 2011 (Thursday) in a public draw.

7. Winners will be informed and given instructions on how to claim their prizes via Facebook. Decision of the organizers is final.

8. Join now and have a fun summer in Boracay or Batanes courtesy of South East Asian Airlines (SEAIR) and Ivan About Town!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Quirino: Spelunking at the Aglipay Caves

Among the provinces of Cagayan Valley, Quirino must score the least when it comes to awareness among tourists and travelers. One main reason is it's bypassed by Maharlika Highway. But it has a lot of potential for ecotourism with its many caves, waterfalls and whitewater rapids. Add to the fact that roads to and around the province are in relatively good condition.

During my road trip, I got to enter the Aglipay Caves. Before proceeding to the caves, I stopped by the Quirino Capitol in Cabarroguis to ask for some information from the tourism office. I just wanted to make sure that road condition to Aglipay Caves was good. And it sure was good because they've paved the roads from the National Highway all the way to the cave entrances.

The Aglipay Caves are a few minutes past the town proper of Aglipay. There is a sign on the right that will point you towards the caves. At the park entrance, you'll have to pay Php20 per head as entrance fee. That also includes the guided tour inside. But it's up to you if you want to give the guides a tip. I suggest you do.

Unfortunately, they don't lend you any safety equipment such as helmets or head lamps. Although the guide has a lamp, you might want to bring your own. Note also that you'll be crawling through some narrow passage ways. So prepare to get wet and muddied.

There are eight caves with different difficulty levels. The usual tour passes through four of these caves, namely Caves 1, 8, 2 and 3. Cave 1 is quite straightforward. You exit through the back and walk about 15 minutes to get to the entrance of Cave 8.

Cave 8, 2 and 3 are connected to each other. But the entrance to Cave 2 from Cave 8 is so narrow, you'll have to crawl in to get to the other side. The Aglipay Caves don't have as much live formations as the caves in Cagayan. But it's still worth a visit. Going through the four caves takes about an hour.

Visiting the other caves will entail a steep climb from the entrances and exits. So it's reserved for those who are physically fit and have the composure to navigate the caves.

On the way back to Isabela, you'll pass by Nagbukel Cave. It's difficult to miss since it's a large limestone hill in the middle of a rice field. Unfortunately, I had to rush back to Manila for my early morning flight to Masbate. So I'll reserve entering that cave for another visit.

Meralco lights up Christmas with Toy Town in the Meralco Compound

Meralco turned on its Christmas lights last December 2, 2010 at the Meralco Compound in Ortigas. More than the usual Christmas lights and belen, Meralco created a candy-colored Toy Town complete with a life-sized electric toy train, opened its gates to the public and invited orphans and less-privileged children to be their special guests.

I was present at the lighting ceremony which was attended by Meralco's top brass led by Manny Pangilinan himself, members of the Meralco Bolts PBA team and TV5 celebrities, government officials and guests, including those from their partner charitable institutions this year, namely Caritas Manila, Laura Vicuna Foundation and Childhope Asia.

After enjoying a very Filipino cocktail spread served in the main lobby of the Meralco Building, we were ushered to a stage built right in front of the building for the brief program which culminated in the ceremonial lighting of the Meralco compound.

The program ended with a grand fireworks display. And guests were invited to visit Toy Town as well as Meralco's Paskuhan Village which includes its traditional nativity scene or belen. The village and the belen were fashioned-out of recycled copper wire.

For Meralco, lighting up the Meralco Compound symbolizes the light of Jesus Christ whose coming to the world brings joy and hope to Filipinos, young and old. Getting inspiration in the symbolism of the Christmas lantern or parol, Meralco brings light and warmth to its customers through its different Christmas initiatives, which includes Maliwanag ang Pasko, an annual campaign which recognizes nine of the brightest and best-decorated homes in the Meralco franchise.

So if you happen to pass by the area, note that Meralco opens its head office compound to children and the child-at-heart with its Christmas village! See the Christmas tree and belen made up of copper wires and powered by electricity of course! And ride the train around Toy Town.
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