Tuesday, January 29, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 1 at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Pampanga: Wandering around the Candaba Bird Sanctuary

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

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

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

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

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

Municipality of Candaba
Tourist Information Center
+63 45 6321299

Sunday, January 20, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Batangas: Scaling the summit of Mt. Batulao

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 18, 2008

Boracay and Cebu top popular beaches list

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

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

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

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