Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Samal Island

deserted Dayang beach
Sallie, the cast-away girl

our own private beach

a chunky mermaid

Isla Reta beach-front

the Moncadistas, circa 1920

view from Moncado's attic window

early bats

Sally, ang diwata ng Hagimit Springs

jammin' with the band
Chico's, Davao City
Thinking the bar was full of strangers, I shamelessly sang with the band. Grateful there was no violent reaction from the audience---perhaps, they were all too drunk to protest or I was too wasted to remember (hehehe)!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Samal Island: Life's a beach!

Kaputian Beach, Samal Island
My first trip to Davao City was in October 2006 just when killer-typhoon Melenio had left Metro Manila battered and powerless. I was spared from low-bat anxiety attacks and other inconveniences that the storm left behind---my timing couldn't be more perfect! Flew to Davao City with 2 friends, I was happy to leave behind the devastating sights on the way to the airport. My first impression of the city was the absence of garbage on the streets. Living in Metro Manila for the past 20 years where garbage on the streets is a common sight, the cleanliness of Davao City was a welcome sight. We checked in a small hotel in CM Recto, walked around and found an al fresco restaurant called Madayaw Ihaw-Ihaw along Rizal Street. I introduced grilled bihod (fish roe-our version of caviar) to my 2 city slicker friends, and until now, they are still craving for more bihod! Bihod! Bihod! Bihod! A few meters from Madayaw is Chico's Jazz Bar...where we grooved with the band's salsa and jazz music. The bar looked like the hangout of the city's gentlemen---a city councilor at the bar, a few were still in their office barong, a number of foreign-looking guys behind us, and later, an Eddie Mercado voice-alike, who claimed he's indeed an announcer--- for SuperFerry! Or more of a barker! Then a pretty lady snuck up at me---it was Cecille, a chat-friend who lives in Davao. Cecille welcomed me and my friends with the warmth of an old friend. She even took us to a fiesta the next day where we ate & ran to catch our boat to Samal!
Talicud Island our cottage in Paradise Island Resort Samal Island
A serene escape from crowds, a quiet retreat to soothe my soul---that's my idea of a perfect vacation place. I found it in Paradise Island Park & Resort in Samal Island, a 15-minute boat ride from Davao's wharf. The resort is tucked away in 50 hectares of lush tropical gardens, clear blue water, powdery white sand beaches and nipa-thatched cabanas. Giant talisay trees surround the resort, the orange leaves reminded me of fall! Our cabana has a private veranda and a fenced garden overlooking the beach, surrounded by stunning colors and lyrical sounds of nature. An aviary of rare birds and a mini zoo with a number of deer, sea turtles and a python are added attractions. The service was excellent and the food's great...serenades at dinner-time echo romance and serenity. It adds to the ambiance for enjoying grilled fresh seafood in a pleasantly relaxed atmosphere.
a gumamela in our front yard
sunset at Paraside Island
gulf of Davao
I watched the sunset on our first afternoon in was my first sunset in a long time! Night-owls like me seldom see the sunset [much less a sunrise]. Reclined by the beach, I enjoyed the horizon of water and tranquility of Paradise Island.
My friends woke up early for our inland tour, and I was practically coerced to leave the bed! I don't count getting out of bed at 6am part of my vacation. I only get up at dawn when I have a plane to catch, or somebody's dying! But in this case, I was out-voted and out-numbered. So at 7am, we were at the mouth of a cave which is said to be the world's largest bat colony. The first fingers of the sun were warm on my face as I gazed at the sleeping vampire bats, envious of their slumber party. They looked like bunches of danggit hanging from the cave's ceiling and walls.
Batman's cave
Still sleepwalking when we reached our next stop---Hagimit cold spring. We splashed in the refreshingly cold spring water, unfortunately, we didn't bring our bathing suits. The trek back up the main road made us catch our breath. It was a good morning exercise...good thing I had rice for breakfast.:D
Hagimit cold spring
dragging Miss Sally
We drove for about an hour until we reached Kaputian town to get a boat for Talicud Island. On the way to Kaputian, we bought water, watermelon and pomelo, and breathed in the fresh morning air. I admired the scenic Pearl Farm and the tiny islands along Davao Gulf. After a 45-minute boat ride, we docked along the white beaches of Isla Reta in Talicud Island. There, we bought our lunch of fresh fish they call mulmul, squid and rice. I also bought a sleeveless shirt for my swimwear. We sailed again around Talicud Island...the island is small compared to Samal, perhaps, the size of Boracay. It has rugged cliffs, kaleidoscopic dive sites and pristine white beaches. From the boat, I could see the coral reefs underneath the clear I wish I could dive! Looked out for dolphins but they were shy that day.
Sally and me @ Isla Reta
Finally found our own private beach...Dayang. It was like a scene from the TV series, Lost. The beach was deserted, the pebbled beach and crystal clear water welcomed us. Oh, I forgot to mention our guide, Dondon and driver Manong Rudy told us to take a swim and chill...we will be called when lunch is ready! Yeheyyyyy! I guess, they read our minds... Oh, it was pure bliss! To feel the warm water on my skin, the sun on my face, blue skies, coconut trees, and the sounds of nature...I thought, I'm so glad I came here! I was singing Seals & Crofts' "Summer Breeze" in my head.
lunch prepared by Manong Rudy
On our way back to Paradise, we took a side-trip to see the Moncado settlement and the old white house overlooking Davao Gulf. The white house was built in the 1940's and owned by General Hilario Moncado, a self-proclaimed 5-star general and founder of a religious sect. I would love to visit the old house during a full moon. An ancient Balite tree shaded the front steps, and the general's monument guarded the side of the house. I explored the old house up to the attic...took pictures of old framed photographs of its members. The view from the general's bedroom was remarkable. On a clear day, one could see the city across the gulf from the attic window.

Moncado's [formerly] white mansion
Samal Island is truly an interesting destination. The whole island is relatively small, but without a doubt, it's a grand source of amazement. Back in Davao City, we met Cecille for lunch in Probinsya Restaurant near Victoria Mall. Then she took us to Magsaysay Market for our pasalubong of pomelo, mangosten and durian candies. And the finale---the durian market in San Pedro for our first taste of the infamous fruit. A friend once told me that eating durian is an acquired taste, like uni sashimi...I love uni sashimi so I should be able to eat durian! The fruit was sliced and opened---I braced myself and's not so bad, not as disgusting as I imagined it would be! I tentatively took my first bite and tastes good, the texture was smooth (like tiesa, an orange-colored fruit I hated when I was a kid) and the flavor was very rich (nakakaumay). Cecille recommended Sprite to go with durian. After we demolished the whole fruit, I was happy that I tasted durian before I'm older. The fruits and sweets from Davao and the distinct smell of durian remind me of all the unforgettable experiences I had in Davao and Samal Island.
the infamous durian
our first durian experience

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Exciting Sagada

Kiltepan Viewpoint
While we’re enjoying the cool January weather, summer will be here before we know it. For the past 2 weeks, my friends and I have been talking about places to visit this summer. I’ve been dreaming of visiting Batanes but I learned yesterday that only Asian Spirit flies to Batanes. A bad experience with a small plane from Boracay to Cebu a few years back made me re-think the Batanes trip.

A trip to the mountains is my second option---Bukidnon, Mount Isarog or Mount Pulag. According to a Feng Shui expert (hehehe), it would be safer to go to the mountains instead of going to the ocean, so good-bye El Nido.

If you’re thinking of going to the mountains this summer, why don’t you try Sagada?

Sagada is a town in Mountain Province, 275 kilometers north of Manila (100 kilometers from Baguio). A 6-hour bus ride from Baguio or a 10-hour bus ride from Manila to Banaue plus 2 jeepney rides from Banaue to Sagada. Sagada has caves that can be explored even by trying-hards like me, with the aid of a local guide, waterfalls, underground river for the more adventurous and mountains great for hiking. The place has a quiet serenity only found off the beaten path.
Halsema Highway
Joan and Izsa at Atok rest stop
molesting Machete, Igorot Inn
Sumaging Cave is an exciting cave to explore. It has fascinating chambers and rock formations---there was a ‘cauliflower’, ‘rice granary’, ‘dancing hall’, etc. The guide even showed us a sea shell embedded on the cave’s wall. A part of the cave known as the ‘tunnel’ consists of a series of tiny passages requiring us to crawl on our hands and knees. And to cross from one cavern to the next, we had to hang on by the rope...there's a lagoon below.
Joan aka Spiderwoman

resting after exploring Sumaging Cave
moi, Joan, Izsa and Rey

lunch break with a view

rice terraces---giant steps leading to the sky

During the pre-Christian Sagada, the caves served as burial grounds for the locals. At the Echo Valley, hidden in the dense foliage are the hanging coffins “hanged” from the limestone cliff. The hanging coffins will be there for as long as the elements would allow them. They're precious tokens from a fabled past... adding mystic to an already mystifying place.
Echo Valley limestones

It took us about 4 hours to reach Bomod-ok Waterfalls by foot. Isza and I were the weakest link; our friends had to wait for us most of the time while we crawled our way up. But the refreshing scenery was more than worth the effort. There’s a crystal pool at the foot of the waterfalls where a swim invigorated our tired bodies.
trek to the waterfalls

In this trip to Sagada, we met new friends---officemates Mercy, Rose and Lindsay from MetroBank and college buddies Don, Tina and Cynthia. These new friends accompanied us a few months later to explore a cave in Tanay, Rizal. Don invited us to join his group to Mount Pulag last November but I got scared. I can only manage small mountains.:D

with new friends

breathtaking Benguet countryside
on our way back to Baguio

moi at Kiltepan viewpoint

Sagada locals are inherently friendly, hotels are clean and afforable, food is good, with fresh vegetables and fruits. When the heat of summer hits the city, and you're wiping the sweat on your forehead, think of the cool mountain air in Sagada...then pack your bag and start an adventure.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Subic trip

White Rock in Subic, Zambales
My friends and I drove to Subic one weekend last year to see our friend, Nina, and experience the Zoobic Safari. Rey was the designated driver and I was the navigator, entertainer and all-around commentator. Dowie and Joan were just enjoying the ride and the sights along the way. I don't remember ever visiting a zoo in my life, maybe because I grew up with animals (no pun intended). I also work with monkeys so there was no need really to go to the Manila Zoo. :D
Reason why Zoobic Safari was an exciting trip for me. I had ostrich meat once and it tasted like red meat, but when I was face to face with an ostrich, I silently promised the gentle bird that I would never eat his meat again. The most exciting part of the safari was when we were brought inside the tigers' playground aboard a jeep with protective grille. We were warned by the tour guide not to expose any body part outside the grille but I was desperate for a shot at these big cats. Hanging out from the grille were my hands holding a digital camera, about 2 meters away from the tiger. My heart actually jumped when the big cat looked at me taking his picture.

he's a shy type

up close and personal

The safari also included a tour in the tigers' den where we observed how the giant felines mate. According the guide, the female tiger is fertile for only a few days that copulation is frequent during that time period---from 40-60 times a day! Whew! I took a video of the big cats 'doing it' (hehehe) but it was over after only a few seconds. No wonder they have to do it 60 times a day! :D

Oh, if you're blood-thristy or you hate Chicken Joy, there's a part of the tour where you can feed the tigers with live chicken. My friends and I agreed that we like our chicken dressed and battered so we skipped the live chicken ritual.

here's Tisoy, an albino carabao

There's a Serpentarium where various reptiles are housed. I played with snakes and other reptiles at my grandfather's farm when I was a kid. A childhood friend didn't talk to me for months after I played a prank on her when we were about 8. It was really nothing---I gave her a match box telling her it contained a spider her brother was looking for. Inside was actually a small green snake which I got from my grandmother's vegetable garden.

These reptiles are fascinating.

sleeping with the enemy

National Geographic Channel is where I get to see wild and endangered animals in their natural habitat like this black bear. In Zoobic, the bear was having a tantrum when we visited his cage, the growls were a bit scary. It's understandable---I'll have bad temper every day if I live in a cage, too. Poor bear.
in a bad mood

We rode in this 'choo-choo' train around the park.

view from our hotel, Mirage Resort
lunch at Gerry's Grill-Subic
from left: Rey, Nina, Dowie, moi, and Joan

We planned of going to see the Ocean Adventure after Zoobic Safari but being senior citizens that we are, we voted to drive around Subic then took our afternoon nap in preparation for a night out in 'Gapo. Nina took us to a pizza place, said to be the favorite hangout of local folks, where we pigged out on pizza, chicken, etc. The band was good and one of the singers was an outstanding comic.
Before driving back to Manila the next day, we had lunch at the White Rock Resort.