Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Roomorama offers alternative accommodation to travelers

I wanted to try out other types of accommodations during our trip around Europe. Friends told me about Roomorama and the opportunity they offer to live like a local while traveling. Recommendations and reviews were quite good. So it was thus timely that I was invited by Roomorama to try out their different listed properties.

Roomorama is a website that connects travelers with apartment and bed and breakfast (B&B) owners offering their rooms for daily, weekly or short term rentals at very affordable prices. These usually are apartment units in the inner city area or close to public transportation. Room listing also mentions all the amenities available in the various units.

In Rome, we found ourselves in a very cozy bed and breakfast along via Appia called B&B Rome Davila 25. The owner was very welcoming and showed us all the amenities of the apartment including the specific bathroom assigned to our room plus the kitchen and breakfast available the next day.

We also tried out the service in Prague. We got a room at a low rise apartment building that was very close to the tram line. Both apartments had kitchens and free WiFi which we badly needed. We actually liked both rooms and hoped we could stay longer at these apartments.

If you want to try something new when traveling and are tired of hotel rooms and hostels, you might want to check out Roomorama for their alternative travel accommodations. Make sure you book your rooms as early as possible to give ample time to communicate with owners.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Giant Lantern Festival 2011: Mangan Tamu! The Ultimate Pampanga Food and Heritage Tour (Christmas Edition)

It's Christmas once again and it's time for another Giant Lantern Festival. Join Ultimate Philippines Tours as we journey to the central heartland and immerse ourselves in things Kapampangan on December 17, 2011!

From buro to Baroque, it will be a fun-filled day as we poke around and get intimate with the very best of Pampanga's cultural offerings. Gawk at the jewel-box of a church in Betis while wading through the lahar-buried town of Bacolor.

We'll stuff ourselves silly with a pre-Christmas Kapampangan noche buena fare by one of the country's best known Kapampangan chefs! And to it cap it off, get a front row view of the most dazzling display of Kapmpangan artistry the Ligligan Parul (Giant Lantern Festival) of San Fernando! It's a tour with nothing but Kapampangan cool!

9:00 a.m. ETD Metro Manila
10:30 a.m. Bacolor Church - We stop by this historic town which was almost wiped out by volcanic mud flows. We visit the half-buried San Guilliermo Church
11:30 a.m. Betis Church - Admire the beautiful interior of the province's most treasured Barouqe structure, the 17th century Santiago Apostol Church, a National Cultural Treasure.
1:00 p.m. Bale Dutung in Angeles City - Indulge in a Kapampangan feast as we learn cooking secrets with chef, artist and writer, Claude Tayag.
4:00 p.m. Depart for Giant Lantern Festival
5:00 p.m. Pasalubong Shopping
6:00 p.m. Robinsons Starmills Pampanga - You are free to check out and shop for bargains at Pampanga's biggest outlet mall while waiting for the festival to start.
7:00 p.m. Giant Lantern Festival - Be dazzled by the giant Christmas lanterns of San Fernando as they dance in an interplay of music and lighting artistry!
9:00 p.m. ETD San Fernando
10:30 p.m. ETA Metro Manila

The tour fee is Php4,500 per person inclusive of all meals and transportation. For bookings and inquiries, e-mail us at reservations@ultimatephilippines.com or call (0917) 3291622. For more details, check out the Ultimate Pampanga Christmas Edition event page on Facebook.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Italy: Historic Centre of Florence (November 10-11, 2011)

The historic city of Florence, the capital of the Italian region Tuscany, is one among the cities you have to visit in Italy. With its rich architectural and artistic heritage, especially those from the Renaissance (it is said to be the birthplace of the Renaissance), the city is indeed a feast for your eyes and mind. The Historic Centre of Florence is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of its most important landmarks, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or the Florence Cathedral (Duomo) with its brick dome (the largest in the world) and white, pink and green marble exterior is no doubt impressive. We only had a day to explore and it's obvious it was only the tip of the iceberg with Florence's rich history. Since I'm still in Europe (backlog increasing by the day), I invite you to visit the Florence, Italy album in the Ivan About Town Facebook page.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Driving in Europe: Tips for renting a car and driving around Europe

Driving around Europe was not part of my plans. I had purchased a Eurail Pass in the Philippines before flying to Europe. It had worked quite well when I used it last year. But we met a dead end while trying to get seat allocations out of Paris due to a strike. Exasperated from trying so many options but to no avail, we decided to ditch our passes and see if renting a car was a viable option. The building beside Gare de Lyon had various brands of car rentals which gave us an opportunity to shop. We ended up taking out a car from Europcar, spending €760 for two weeks and unlimited mileage.

1. Make sure you have a valid driver's license and credit card
These are very important when renting a car. The Philippine driver's license simply says NON-PROFESSIONAL and does not say anywhere that it is a driver's license (LTO should do something about that). So I spent some time showing some details in the card to prove it was a driver's license. A credit card is also required since if you damage the car, return it with the gas tank not full, or you get a ticket while driving around, the car rental company will simply charge it to your card.

2. Check for promotions and inclusions such as unlimited mileage and insurance
This actually made the difference. We were checking with the different companies for their two week rates. They were mostly the same, but gave us only 3,500 kilometers of mileage. Their unlimited mileage packages were about €300 more. We ended up getting Europcar, since for the same price as others, they gave us unlimited mileage. We ended up driving close to 6,000 kilometers. Asking for promotions can save you a lot of money.

3. GPS and detailed road maps are non-negotiable
We regret not having any GPS with us. I would like to believe that my sense of direction is already quite good. And yet we got lost several times, missing the turns and exits and going around in circles in city centers because of the confusing signs. Although we got ourselves a really detailed Europe road map. There were still times we would miss exits. And when that happens, we had to backtrack. And that is a waste of gas and time.

On our way from Zurich to Paris, we ended up driving through old towns and villages since we were about fifty kilometers off track. And to back track, we had to take minor roads back to the main road. It would have been a nice view if it wasn't dark. But it was an experience to talk about nonetheless.

Detailed maps of city centers were not included in the book we got. So at times we ended up in wild goose chases, guessing which direction to go. So when driving around Europe, GPS is very important. Next time we go for a drive through Europe's highways and city centers, we will make sure we have one.

In the absence of GPS, Google Maps and Michelin provide detailed directions. But when you're on the road, it's hard to get it printed out and you might end up copying it all by hand.

4. Mind the numbers
Highways and roads are known by numbers such as A1 or E15. And so are exits. So mind the numbers! Make sure you are following the right road number. Sometimes, following the destination instead of the road numbers will lead you away from your planned route.

While driving from Vienna to Prague, we knew that the highway we were to take was going to pass by Brno. But when we reached a fork, we saw signs pointing to both Prague and Brno, when we should have focused on the numbers on the signs. We should have taken the road to Brno which was the main highway and the faster route to Prague. Because we followed the signs to Prague, it took us through minor roads and the drive ended up 30 minutes longer.

5. Make sure to follow traffic signs and lines
Don't bring your bad driving habits to Europe! It could get you a ticket. Avoid swerving and entering one-way streets. Follow traffic lights. And stop when a pedestrian is crossing. Make sure you follow arrows and directional signs because they will warn you when an exit or fork is near. We missed exits simply because we were not on the right lane. That's why GPS or detailed directions are important because it will warn you when to move towards the left or right.

6. Watch out for speed limits
Even if other cars seem to be breaking the speed limits, it's no reason for you to do as well. Maybe they can well afford the speeding fines. GPS devices usually warn you of coming speeding cameras. But it's best to keep within speed limits. Some highways go as high as 130 kph. The common speed limit for major highways is 110 kph. Others could go down to 90 or 70 kph. Again, you might end up with a speeding ticket fine in your credit card bill if a camera catches a violation on your rented car.

7. Note toll fees and vignettes
Germany is the only country we passed through that does not charge toll fees (although I've been reading it requires emission stickers for green zones in some cities). Others have toll gates or barriers. All the while, we though toll was free in Switzerland. Until we got fined for it. It turns out, there are toll stickers or vignettes which are required on your windshield when passing through toll roads. We were just parked at a gas station five kilometers from the Italian border (the police usually check at gas stations) when we were spotted. We got fined 100 Swiss francs (approximately €90) and had to buy the vignette for another 40 francs which was ironic because five kilometers away was Italy. But it was good it happened to us there because it turns out, fines in other countries are bigger.

We almost got fined €150 in Slovenia. And at a gas station in the Czech Republic, a policeman was checking our windshield for the vignette. Good thing we knew better and got them at the last gas stations before entering the country. They are also available at the border. All in all, we had six vignettes (five stickers on our windshield and one e-matrica). Vignettes are also known as matrica or vinjeta and are used in Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Montenegro, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland. Always remember, when you cross a border, it's a different country with different rules.

8. Fill up with gas when you have the chance
Although gas stations are conveniently located along highways, you're always not sure if you'll get to one when you need one. As a practice, we made sure our tank was full all the time. And we'd gas up as soon as we've consumed half the tank. We made sure that it would not go below one fourth since we didn't want to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere.

And since we were travelling quite often at night, we also took advantage of the gas stops to take cat naps when I got really sleepy. It definitely helps.

9. Avoid driving during winter
It need not be said that driving through snow is unknown terrain for a lot of us. It's difficult for locals, much more for us. Even if it wasn't snowing, driving through fog was quite a problem for us, especially at night.

10. Music is a good driving companion
What we would do when we enter a country is to buy CDs of the local music, especially folk or country music, if there was some available in gas stations. It added color to our otherwise long and boring drives. And set the mood as we drove through a country. Those traditional beer songs definitely kept us awake and in high spirits!

11. Park properly and look for those meters
Looking for parking areas can be a challenge. In some cities, it wasn't difficult since directions to parking garages were clearly marked (a white letter "P" on blue background seems to be used throughout Europe). For street parking, you have to check if the parking area is public or restricted, metered or sticker, and if there are time limits.

For metered street parking and in some garages, note that you have to pay for your parking beforehand. Look for the nearest meter and pay the required amount depending on how long you think you will stay. You will get a printed ticket with the expiry time which you have to display on your dashboard. Make sure it can be seen since parking attendants regularly check and will fine or tow cars without tickets or which have exceeded the expiry time. So don't scrimp on time since you don't want to be rushing back before your time expires.

12. Keep your composure when driving
Accidents usually happen when you panic. So always keep your composure when driving. If you have to stop for coffee or to take a nap, you should. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Driving around Europe was indeed an unforgettable experience! It's more tiring than taking the train since you won't get to sleep or rest during the trip, plus travel time is much longer since trains move faster. But you get to enjoy the scenery plus drive through small villages or stop in cities along the way. Plus you follow your own schedule. You can leave when you want and adjust your plans accordingly. Despite the stress involved, we definitely want to do it again. Thanks to my fraternity brod Ted Patulan for joining me around Europe on this trip!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Switzerland: Old City of Bern (November 9, 2011)

From Zürich, we motored to Bern, the Bundesstadt (federal city and de facto capital) of Switzerland. It was an hour and 30 minutes away by car. The Old City of Berne is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It's quite easy to walk around the old town. You can finish the basic route in half a day. We got to see the House of Parliament and Government designed by Hand Auer and finished in 1902; Kafigturm or the Prison Tower which was built in 1643 and served as prison until 1897; Zytglogge or the Clock Tower, a defense tower and part of walls of city; Einstein House which is at 49 Kramgasse, the house where Einstein developed the special theory of relativity; and the Munster Cathedral, the largest in Switzerland and its most important late Medieval church which was built between 1421 to 1893; among many other structures in the old town.

It looks like my backlog is piling up again. In the meantime, check out the Bern, Switzerland album in the Ivan About Town Facebook page for photos from Bern.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Switzerland: An afternoon in Zürich (November 8, 2011)

As soon as we got back from Vaduz, Liechtenstein, we made our way to the historic center of Zürich, Switzerland. The charming buildings along Limmat River and Zürichsee (Lake Zürich) are a must-see.

We had a traditional local dinner which included Ganze Schweinshaxe (ohne Schwarte) mariniert mit frischen Kräutern, im Ofen gebraten, abgelöscht mit dunklem Fassbier. Serviert mit frischem Kartoffelsalat / Whole pork (without rind) marinated with fresh herbs, roasted in the oven, deglazed with dark beer. Served with fresh potato salad; and Burgermeister Schwert - 400 gr marinierte Babybeef-Paillards um die Schwertklinge gewickelt und fettarm gebraten. Dazu eine grosse Schüssel Mischsalat oder Rösti oder Pommes frites, sowie Knoblauchcurry und Barbecuesauce / Burger Master Sword - 400 g marinated Babybeef-Paillards wrapped around the sword blade and fried in fat. Served with salad or French fries or hash browns, garlic and curry and barbecue sauce, which was indeed served with a long sword. Check out the Zürich, Switzerland album in the Ivan About Town Facebook page.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Liechtenstein: Walking around Vaduz (November 8, 2011)

If you happen to be in the area of Zurich, Switzerland and are the type who wants to visit new countries or get your passport stamped, then a trip to Liechtenstein is definitely for you. Liechtenstein is one of the smallest countries in the world with an area of just 160 square kilometers.

The drive to Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, from Zurich is just one hour and thirty minutes. By public transport, you will have to take a train to Sargans or Buchs in Switzerland and catch a bus to Vaduz from there.

Vaduz is quite easy to explore and you can easily cover it in two hours. The main attraction of Vaduz is the Vaduz Castle (Schloss Vaduz). To get your passport stamped, simply proceed to the tourism office and pay €2/CHF3 for it. Visa requirements for Liechtenstein are the same for Switzerland. See more photos of Vaduz, Liechtenstein at the Ivan About Town Facebook page.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Switzerland: Driving through Sargans & the Canton of St. Gallen (November 8, 2011)

My Europe trip began with a disaster that turned into a blessing in disguise. I had purchased a Eurail Pass the day before I left for Europe. But to my dismay, when I tried getting seat reservations in Paris, there were no more allocations for pass holders. We ended up renting a car!

We drove from Paris to Zurich. As soon as we arrived in Zurich and found our hostel, we decided to drive to Vaduz, Liechtenstein which was just an hour and 30 minutes away. We stopped by the town of Sargans to take photos of Schloss Sargans (Sargans Castle). On the way back, we went through one of the stopover areas to enjoy the picturesque view of Walensee (Lake Walen). Here is the album from the canton of St. Gallen on the way to Vaduz. Read more...

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Vietnam: Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

It seemed to me all drivers in Ho Chi Minh City had their hands on the horns most of the time. As I stood in front of Ben Thanh Market in the heart of this Vietnamese city, I could no longer determine who was honking at whom. It was a typical day in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Once called Saigon, I found myself lost in its cosmopolitan hustle and bustle, drowned by the incessant beeping and the noisy motors of the thousands of motorbikes, cars and buses that crowd its streets.

Ben Thanh Market is actually walking distance from Pham Ngu Lao. And to any visitor to HCMC, the street and surrounding areas is synonymous with backpackers, budget accommodation, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, affordable tours and land transportation to other parts of Vietnam and Cambodia. So if you're on a limited budget, Pham Ngu Lao is the place to be and it's the best place to find options for your stay in Saigon.

What's to do in Ho Chi Minh City anyway? Here's a list of things I did over several visits to Ho Chi Minh City. The list of course includes interesting trips close to HCMC:

1. Enjoy a Vietnamese food trip
What I like about Saigon is that food is everywhere from hawker stalls, local fast food to fancy restaurants. Food is good almost anywhere and I'd usually buy bánh mi from the street or find the nearest hole-in-the-wall for a cheap but authentic Vietnamese meal. In the evening, the streets around Ben Thanh are transformed into makeshift restaurants.

During my trip to Ho Chi Minh City this year, Viqui del Rosario sent me an interesting list of places to eat in Saigon. Here are some of her suggestions plus others I also got to try out:
Lemongrass Restaurant, 4 Nguyen Thiep Street - a good place to try authentic Vietnamese food
Brodard Bakery, 11 Nguyen Thiep Street - a small bakeshop just across Lemongrass that sell French pastries but only take out
Ngoc Suong (Le Marina), 19c Le Quy Don - a seafood restaurant, try their deep-fried crabs
Quan Nem, 15e Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street - a good place for spring rools
Wrap and Roll, 62 Hai Ba Trung Street - another good option for spring rolls
Pho 2000, 1-3 D Phan Chu Trinh Street (beside Ben Thanh Market) - while you can get phở almost anywhere, their claim to fame is that Bill Clinton ate here when he was in HCMC for an official visit
Nhu Lan, 50-64-68 Ham Nghi Street - try out their bánh mi or bánh cuốn
Nhà Hàng Ngon, 160 Pasteur Street - bánh hỏi thịt is recommended
Quan An Ngon, 138 Ky Khoi Nghia Street

2. Hire a xe om and explore HCMC like a local
If you're comfortable in the passenger seat for a motorcycle ride through the wild hustle and bustle of HCMC, then this is the best way to absorb the sites of the city. Best to ask your hostel to look for a xe om to take you around. The good thing about a xe om tour is that you decide where to go, what to see and how much time you spend at each attraction.

Make sure you drop by Saigon City Hall, Saigon Opera House, Saigon Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Reunification Palace among many other attractions.

3. Join an HCMC city tour
If motorcycle rides are not your thing, don't fret since it's easy and cheap to book on an HCMC guided bus tour. It's usually less than US$10 for a day tour. But note that it does not include ticket costs to museums and other attractions. And that lunch is really not included since they'll bring you to a restaurant and tell you that you have a US$1 budget and anything beyond that you pay for. But it's all good. These tours are value for money.

The city tour I took this year included stops at the War Remnants Museum (which tells the Vietnamese version of the atrocities done during the Vietnam War), Thiên Hậu Temple and Bình Tây Market in Chợ Lớn or Chinatown (the market is their version of Divisoria, it's very interesting to Westerners who are amazed with the cheap goods, but maybe not to Filipinos who see this kind of market quite regularly), lunch at Pham Ngu Lao Street, a visit to a lacquer factory (which is staple in almost all tours for you to shop so that they could earn commissions), and the Reunification Palace (the former residence of the president of South Vietnam).

4. Watch a water puppet show
This is one craft that is uniquely Vietnamese. If you like watching cultural stuff, then you might want to reserve a night for a Vietnamese water puppet (múa rối nước) show at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre, 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai (beside the Reunification Palace). Shows are 50 minutes long and show times are 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

5. Hop on a Mekong Delta day-tour
There are actually a lot of options for Mekong Delta tours. There are day-trips to My Tho and Ben Tre, and other areas on the Mekong River. During my tour of My Tho and Ben Tre, we visited a coconut candy factory, a bee-keeping farm, got to bike around rural Vietnam, were given a shot of snake liquor, and ate local fruits while being serenaded with Vietnamese folk songs. You'd realize that this is very much like rural Philippines and ask yourself why we aren't bringing foreigners to the countryside since many Westerners like these countryside tours that they don't experience everyday.

You can actually opt for overnight or multi-day tours which will bring you to other attractions including some of the Mekong Delta's famous floating markets. The Cai Be Floating Market seems to be one of the most famous. And most of the activity happens between 6 to 8 a.m. So it's best to be in the area the night before.

6. Visit the Củ Chi Tunnels and Cao Đài Holy See in Tây Ninh
The Củ Chi Tunnels in HCMC (the Viet Cong's base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968) and the Cao Đài Holy See in Tây Ninh are two popular attractions. There are half-day tours to Củ Chi Tunnels (but note that they get you back in HCMC at about 4 p.m.) and whole day tours that include witnessing the noon ceremonies at the Cao Đài Temple.

For the Củ Chi Tunnels tour, you actually have a land or river option (the river option is thrice more expensive) to get there. But the travel time is just the same. For the river option, you take a boat on the Saigon River going there and take a van going back. I spent US$18 for that trip. While the land trip was just US$6 (price varies depending on agent). Note that there is a VND80,000 entrance fees to the tunnels that are not included in the tour price.

If you hate tour groups, there is a public bus option. Take Bus 13 to Cu Chi (VND5,000) from District 1; and Bus 79 from Cu Chi to the tunnels (VND4,000).

7. Shop at Ben Thanh Market
If you're looking for that souvenir or want to take home an export overrun or an expert fake, then shopping Ben Thanh Market is for you. Make sure you keep your valuables out of sight though if you don't want them to go missing. The market also has some interesting food stalls you might want to try out if adventurous.

8. Walk around Saigon's historic center at night
If you've seen many of Saigon's iconic buildings during the day time, you must see them at night! They are elegantly lit early in the evening. So walking around HCMC's historic center at night is worth your time.

9. Beach bum at Mui Ne
Mui Ne is a popular beach resort town of Vietnam, four hours from HCMC. It's best to stay there for a night or two to enjoy not only the beaches, but the town's famous sand dunes, with colors that range from pure white to gold in Bau Trang (White Lake), to a fiery red in other areas. If you don't have that much time, there are sunrise day-tours to Mui Ne which leave early in the morning and give you time to enjoy the beach before returning to HCMC.

Transportation to/from Tan Son Nhat International Airport
Tan Son Nhat is the airport of Ho Chi Minh City. It's about seven kilometers from Pham Ngu Lao and the city center of HCMC. There are regular buses during the day time (Bus152). But in the evening, you will have to take a taxi to get into town. Note that there are safety and honesty issues with taxis (beware of the flying meters that charge low flag down rates but fly while the taxis move). To be safe, limit yourself to the SASCO Taxi inside the airport, or the regular Mai Linh, Vina or Vina Sun Taxis (between US$5 to 10 depending on your haggling skills). Make sure to agree on the price before hopping in. You can also as your hostel to pick you up (this will cost more but it's safer and you won't have problems with directions).

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Vietnam: Water puppet show (múa rối nước) in Ho Chi Minh City

If you can spare a night while in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam you might want to watch a Vietnamese water puppet show (múa rối nước). It's a craft that is uniquely Vietnamese. And if you have kids with you, they'll surely enjoy this wonderful element of Vietnamese culture.

I got to watch the water puppet show at Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre twice on two separate trips. The shows are about fifty minutes long with no intermissions. It could get a little bit boring for some, but this something you have to watch if you're interested in local culture.

Puppets are carved from wood and then lacquered. The puppeteers control the puppets from behind a screen. Water is waist deep and they use rods to move the puppets around. The water thus creates the effect of a lake, river or rice paddies in various scenes. I actually bought myself miniature versions of these water puppets at Ben Thanh Market.

There's a live Vietnamese ensemble which plays music and narrates, with everyone in traditional Vietnamese costumes. Everything is in Vietnamese so you'd have to refer to the English guide at times to understand what is happening. It's definitely something you'd want to watch even just once.

Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre
55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1
Ho Chi Minh City
Showtimes: 5 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Bohol: Rare Pride Campaign launched for Inabanga's Hambongan Island Marine Sanctuary

Lasting change must be community led. That is the rationale behind the environmental conservation programs of Rare, a US-based conservation organization that works globally to equip people in the world's most threatened areas with the tools and motivation they need to care for their natural resources.

Last week, we were invited to join the team from Rare on Hambongan Island as they launched the Inabanga Rare Pride Campaign together with the people of Inabanga, Bohol.

What is a Pride Campaign?
At the cornerstone of Rare's work is a unique tool called the Pride Campaign. Its mix of capacity building and social marketing equips Conservation Fellows in their development of a community led conservation plan.

The goal is to create long-term change in local behavior by inspiring pride in the threatened species and habitats that make their community unique. This begins the transformative process that has led to the growth of marine protected areas and the effective protection of threatened species all over the Philippines.

Rare currently has twelve campaign sites in the Philippines where they have launched programs for sustainable fishing.

Inabanga Rare Pride Campaign
From Tagbilaran City, we motored to Inabanga which was about an hour and 45 minutes away. The first order of business was a parade around town with Meloy, the campaign mascot. He represents a Panther Grouper, a vulnerable species that is sold for food or in the aquarium trade. All Pride Campaigns have their own mascots.

After unveiling the campaign billboard, a program was held to launch the Inabanga Rare Pride Campaign led by Mayor Jose Jono Jumamoy and Rare President and CEO Brett Jenks. Do watch the video about the Inabanga Rare Pride Campaign and the issues they are trying to resolve.

Before noon, participants took two large boats to Hambongan Island for the second part of the launch, this time with the target community of the Rare Pride Campaign. Hambongan Island was really pretty. After a sumptuous lunch, we went around the island to explore.

We were taken to one side of the island where the Hambongan Elementary School is located. The buildings of the school have large cracks due to the strong explosions from dynamite fishing that was rampant before.

To address this, the local government created the Hambongan Island Fish Sanctuary in 2000 out of 14.1 hectares of waters between Hambongan and Bugatusan Islands. A community education campaign was initiated while locals were introduced to other sources of livelihood such as seaweed harvesting and processing, and the sustainable collection of marine wildlife for the aquarium trade. We actually got to tour their small processing facility for aquarium fish.

While dynamite fishing is now less of a threat, the campaign also created a hotline for people to report illegal activities direct to the local government so violators are immediately apprehended.

What makes Rare different from many other international conservation organizations is that their approach is to work directly with the community, preparing them to care for their natural resources on their own. Once the program is completed, locals will be equipped with the necessary knowledge, skill and drive to protect the resources of their community.

If conservation does not happen now, there will be nothing left to be proud of.
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